You certainly must not go alone."
"Dr. Mortimer returns with me."
"But Dr. Mortimer has his practice to attend to, and his house is miles away from yours. With all the good will in the world he may be unable to help you. No, Sir Henry, you must take with you someone, a trusty man, who will be always by your side."
"Is it possible that you could come yourself, Mr. Holmes?"
"If matters came to a crisis I should endeavour to be present in person; but you can understand that, with my extensive consulting practice and with the constant appeals which reach me from many quarters, it is impossible for me to be absent from London for an indefinite time. At the present instant one of the most revered names in England is being besmirched by a blackmailer, and only I can stop a disastrous scandal. You will see how impossible it is for me to go to Dartmoor."
"Whom would you recommend, then?"
Holmes laid his hand upon my arm.
"If my friend would undertake it there is no man who is better worth having at your side when you are in a tight place. No one can say so more confidently than I."
The proposition took me completely by surprise, but before I had time to answer, Baskerville seized me by the hand and wrung it heartily.
"Well, now, that is real kind of you, Dr. Watson," said he. "You see how it is with me, and you know just as much about the matter as I do. If you will come down to Baskerville Hall and see me through I'll never forget it."
The promise of adventure had always a fascination for me, and I was complimented by the words of Holmes and by the eagerness with which the baronet hailed me as a companion.
"I will come, with pleasure," said I. "I do not know how I could employ my time better."
"And you will report very carefully to me," said Holmes. "When a crisis comes, as it will do, I will direct how you shall act. I suppose that by Saturday all might be ready?"
"Would that suit Dr. Watson?"
"Then on Saturday, unless you hear to the contrary, we shall meet at the 10:30 train from Paddington."
We had risen to depart when Baskerville gave a cry, of triumph, and diving into one of the corners of the room he drew a brown boot from under a cabinet.
"My missing boot!" he cried.
"May all our difficulties vanish as easily!" said Sherlock Holmes.
"But it is a very singular thing," Dr. Mortimer remarked. "I searched this room carefully before lunch."
"And so did I," said Baskerville. "Every inch of it."
"There was certainly no boot in it then."
"In that case the waiter must have placed it there while we were lunching."
The German was sent for but professed to know nothing of the matter, nor could any inquiry clear it up. Another item had been added to that constant and apparently purposeless series of small mysteries which had succeeded each other so rapidly. Setting aside the whole grim story of Sir Charles's death, we had a line of inexplicable incidents all within the limits of two days, which included the receipt of the printed letter, the black-bearded spy in the hansom, the loss of the new brown boot, the loss of the old black boot, and now the return of the new brown boot. Holmes sat in silence in the cab as we drove back to Baker Street, and I knew from his drawn brows and keen face that his mind, like my own, was busy in endeavouring to frame some scheme into which all these strange and apparently disconnected episodes could be fitted. All afternoon and late into the evening he sat lost in tobacco and thought.
Just before dinner two telegrams were handed in. The first ran:--
"Have just heard that Barrymore is at the Hall.--BASKERVILLE." The second:--
"Visited twenty-three hotels as directed, but sorry, to report unable to trace cut sheet of Times.--CARTWRIGHT."
"There go two of my threads, Watson. There is nothing more stimulating than a case where everything goes against you. We must cast round for another scent."
"We have still the cabman who drove the spy."
"Exactly. I have wired to get his name and address from the Official Registry.