"This is very painful--very painful and terrible," said Mr. Scott Eccles in a querulous voice, "but it is really uncommonly hard on me. I had nothing to do with my host going off upon a nocturnal excursion and meeting so sad an end. How do I come to be mixed up with the case?"
"Very simply, sir," Inspector Baynes answered. "The only document found in the pocket of the deceased was a letter from you saying that you would be with him on the night of his death. It was the envelope of this letter which gave us the dead man's name and address. It was after nine this morning when we reached his house and found neither you nor anyone else inside it. I wired to Mr. Gregson to run you down in London while I examined Wisteria Lodge. Then I came into town, joined Mr. Gregson, and here we are."
"I think now," said Gregson, rising, "we had best put this matter into an official shape. You will come round with us to the station, Mr. Scott Eccles, and let us have your statement in writing."
"Certainly, I will come at once. But I retain your services, Mr. Holmes. I desire you to spare no expense and no pains to get at the truth."
My friend turned to the country inspector.
"I suppose that you have no objection to my collaborating with you, Mr. Baynes?"
"Highly honoured, sir, I am sure."
"You appear to have been very prompt and businesslike in all that you have done. Was there any clue, may I ask, as to the exact hour that the man met his death?"
"He had been there since one o'clock. There was rain about that time, and his death had certainly been before the rain."
"But that is perfectly impossible, Mr. Baynes," cried our client. "His voice is unmistakable. I could swear to it that it was he who addressed me in my bedroom at that very hour."
"Remarkable, but by no means impossible," said Holmes, smiling.
"You have a clue?" asked Gregson.
"On the face of it the case is not a very complex one, though it certainly presents some novel and interesting features. A further knowledge of facts is necessary before I would venture to give a final and definite opinion. By the way, Mr. Baynes, did you find anything remarkable besides this note in your examination of the house?"
The detective looked at my friend in a singular way.
"There were," said he, "one or two VERY remarkable things. Perhaps when I have finished at the police-station you would care to come out and give me your opinion of them."
In am entirely at your service," said Sherlock Holmes, ringing the bell. "You will show these gentlemen out, Mrs. Hudson, and kindly send the boy with this telegram. He is to pay a five- shilling reply."
We sat for some time in silence after our visitors had left. Holmes smoked hard, with his browns drawn down over his keen eyes, and his head thrust forward in the eager way characteristic of the man.
"Well, Watson," he asked, turning suddenly upon me, "what do you make of it?"
"I can make nothing of this mystification of Scott Eccles."
"But the crime?"
"Well, taken with the disappearance of the man's companions, I should say that they were in some way concerned in the murder and had fled from justice."