"You have been very remiss in not coming to me sooner," said he, severely. "You start me on my investigation with a very serious handicap. It is inconceivable, for example, that this ivy and this lawn would have yielded nothing to an expert observer."
"I am not to blame, Mr. Holmes. His Grace was extremely desirous to avoid all public scandal. He was afraid of his family unhappiness being dragged before the world. He has a deep horror of anything of the kind."
"But there has been some official investigation?"
"Yes, sir, and it has proved most disappointing. An apparent clue was at once obtained, since a boy and a young man were reported to have been seen leaving a neighbouring station by an early train. Only last night we had news that the couple had been hunted down in Liverpool, and they prove to have no connection whatever with the matter in hand. Then it was that in my despair and disappointment, after a sleepless night, I came straight to you by the early train."
"I suppose the local investigation was relaxed while this false clue was being followed up?"
"It was entirely dropped."
"So that three days have been wasted. The affair has been most deplorably handled."
"I feel it, and admit it."
"And yet the problem should be capable of ultimate solution. I shall be very happy to look into it. Have you been able to trace any connection between the missing boy and this German master?"
"None at all."
"Was he in the master's class?"
"No; he never exchanged a word with him so far as I know."
"That is certainly very singular. Had the boy a bicycle?"
"Was any other bicycle missing?"
"Is that certain?"
"Well, now, you do not mean to seriously suggest that this German rode off upon a bicycle in the dead of the night bearing the boy in his arms?"
"Then what is the theory in your mind?"
"The bicycle may have been a blind. It may have been hidden somewhere and the pair gone off on foot."
"Quite so; but it seems rather an absurd blind, does it not? Were there other bicycles in this shed?"
"Would he not have hidden A COUPLE had he desired to give the idea that they had gone off upon them?"
"I suppose he would."
"Of course he would. The blind theory won't do. But the incident is an admirable starting-point for an investigation. After all, a bicycle is not an easy thing to conceal or to destroy. One other question. Did anyone call to see the boy on the day before he disappeared?"
"Did he get any letters?"
"Yes; one letter."
"From his father."
"Do you open the boys' letters?"
"How do you know it was from the father?"
"The coat of arms was on the envelope, and it was addressed in the Duke's peculiar stiff hand. Besides, the Duke remembers having written."
"When had he a letter before that?"
"Not for several days."
"Had he ever one from France?"