You know that particular quarter, the monotonous brick streets, the weary suburban highways. Right in the middle of them, a little island of ancient culture and comfort, lies this old home, surrounded by a high sun-baked wall mottled with lichens and topped with moss, the sort of wall —”
“Cut out the poetry, Watson,” said Holmes severely. “I note that it was a high brick wall.”
“Exactly. I should not have known which was The Haven had I not asked a lounger who was smoking in the street. I have a reason for mentioning him. He was a tall, dark, heavily moustached, rather military-looking man. He nodded in answer to my inquiry and gave me a curiously questioning glance, which came back to my memory a little later.
“I had hardly entered the gateway before I saw Mr. Amberley coming down the drive. I only had a glimpse of him this morning, and he certainly gave me the impression of a strange creature, but when I saw him in full light his appearance was even more abnormal.”
“I have, of course, studied it, and yet I should be interested to have your impression,” said Holmes.
“He seemed to me like a man who was literally bowed down by care. His back was curved as though he carried a heavy burden. Yet he was not the weakling that I had at first imagined, for his shoulders and chest have the framework of a giant, though his figure tapers away into a pair of spindled legs.”
“Left shoe wrinkled, right one smooth.”
“I did not observe that.”
“No, you wouldn’t. I spotted his artificial limb. But proceed.”
“I was struck by the snaky locks of grizzled hair which curled from under his old straw hat, and his face with its fierce, eager expression and the deeply lined features.”
“Very good, Watson. What did he say?”
“He began pouring out the story of his grievances. We walked down the drive together, and of course I took a good look round. I have never seen a worse-kept place. The garden was all running to seed, giving me an impression of wild neglect in which the plants had been allowed to find the way of Nature rather than of art. How any decent woman could have tolerated such a state of things, I don’t know. The house, too, was slatternly to the last degree, but the poor man seemed himself to be aware of it and to be trying to remedy it, for a great pot of green paint stood in the centre of the hall, and he was carrying a thick brush in his left hand. He had been working on the woodwork.
“He took me into his dingy sanctum, and we had a long chat. Of course, he was disappointed that you had not come yourself. ‘I hardly expected,’ he said, ‘that so humble an individual as myself, especially after my heavy financial loss, could obtain the complete attention of so famous a man as Mr. Sherlock Holmes.’
“I assured him that the financial question did not arise. ‘No of course, it is art for art’s sake with him,’ said he, ‘but even on the artistic side of crime he might have found something here to study. And human nature, Dr. Watson — the black ingratitude of it all! When did I ever refuse one of her requests? Was ever a woman so pampered? And that young man — he might have been my own son. He had the run of my house. And yet see how they have treated me! Oh, Dr. Watson, it is a dreadful, dreadful world!’
“That was the burden of his song for an hour or more. He had, it seems, no suspicion of an intrigue. They lived alone save for a woman who comes in by the day and leaves every evening at six. On that particular evening old Amberley, wishing to give his wife a treat, had taken two upper circle seats at the Haymarket Theatre. At the last moment she had complained of a headache and had refused to go. He had gone alone. There seemed to be no doubt about the fact, for he produced the unused ticket which he had taken for his wife.”
“That is remarkable — most remarkable,” said Holmes, whose interest in the case seemed to be rising. “Pray continue, Watson. I find your narrative most arresting. Did you personally examine this ticket? You did not, perchance, take the number?”
“It so happens that I did,” I answered with some pride.