two other rooms empty and deserted at the top. There was no one at all in the whole house. The furniture and pictures were of the most common and vulgar description, save in the one chamber at the window of which I had seen the strange face. That was comfortable and elegant, and all my suspicions rose into a fierce bitter flame when I saw that on the mantelpiece stood a copy of a fell-length photograph of my wife, which had been taken at my request only three months ago.
"I stayed long enough to make certain that the house was absolutely empty. Then I left it, feeling a weight at my heart such as I had never had before. My wife came out into the hall as I entered my house; but I was too hurt and angry to speak with her, and pushing past her, I made my way into my study. She followed me, however, before I could close the door.
"'I am sorry that I broke my promise, Jack,' said she; 'but if you knew all the circumstances I am sure that you would forgive me.'
"'Tell me everything, then,' said I.
"'I cannot, Jack, I cannot,' she cried.
"'Until you tell me who it is that has been living in that cottage, and who it is to whom you have given that photograph, there can never be any confidence between us,' said I, and breaking away from her, I left the house. That was yesterday, Mr. Holmes, and I have not seen her since, nor do I know anything more about this strange business. It is the first shadow that has come between us, and it has so shaken me that I do not know what I should do for the best. Suddenly this morning it occurred to me that you were the man to advise me, so I have hurried to you now, and I place myself unreservedly in your hands. If there is any point which I have not made clear, pray question me about it. But, above all, tell me quickly what I am to do, for this misery is more than I can bear."
Holmes and I had listened with the utmost interest to this extraordinary statement, which had been delivered in the jerky, broken fashion of a man who is under the influence of extreme emotions. My companion sat silent for some time, with his chin upon his hand, lost in thought.
"Tell me," said he at last, "could you swear that this was a man's face which you saw at the window?"
"Each time that I saw it I was some distance away from it, so that it is impossible for me to say."
"You appear, however, to have been disagreeably impressed by it."
"It seemed to be of an unnatural color, and to have a strange rigidity about the features. When I approached, it vanished with a jerk."
"How long is it since your wife asked you for a hundred pounds?"
"Nearly two months."
"Have you ever seen a photograph of her first husband?"
"No; there was a great fire at Atlanta very shortly after his death, and all her papers were destroyed."
"And yet she had a certificate of death. You say that you saw it."
"Yes; she got a duplicate after the fire."
"Did you ever meet any one who knew her in America?"
"Did she ever talk of revisiting the place?"
"Or get letters from it?"
"Thank you. I should like to think over the matter a little now. If the cottage is now permanently deserted we may have some difficulty. If, on the other hand, as I fancy is more likely, the inmates were warned of you coming, and left before you entered yesterday, then they may be back now, and we should clear it all up easily. Let me advise you, then, to return to Norbury, and to examine the windows of the cottage again. If you have reason to believe that is inhabited, do not force your way in, but send a wire to my friend and me. We shall be with you within an hour of receiving it, and we shall then very soon get to the bottom of the business."
"And if it is still empty?"
"In that case I shall come out to-morrow and talk it over with you. Good-by; and, above all, do not fret until you know that you really have a cause for it."
"I am afraid that this is a bad business, Watson," said my companion, as he returned after accompanying Mr.