Mrs. Oldmore, too; I seem to remember the name. Excuse my curiosity, but often in calling upon one friend one finds another."
"She is an invalid lady, sir. Her husband was once mayor of Gloucester. She always comes to us when she is in town."
"Thank you; I am afraid I cannot claim her acquaintance. We have established a most important fact by these questions, Watson," he continued in a low voice as we went upstairs together. "We know now that the people who are so interested in our friend have not settled down in his own hotel. That means that while they are, as we have seen, very anxious to watch him, they are equally anxious that he should not see them. Now, this is a most suggestive fact."
"What does it suggest?"
"It suggests--halloa, my dear fellow, what on earth is the matter?"
As we came round the top of the stairs we had run up against Sir Henry Baskerville himself. His face was flushed with anger, and he held an old and dusty boot in one of his hands. So furious was he that he was hardly articulate, and when he did speak it was in a much broader and more Western dialect than any which we had heard from him in the morning.
"Seems to me they are playing me for a sucker in this hotel," he cried. "They'll find they've started in to monkey with the wrong man unless they are careful. By thunder, if that chap can't find my missing boot there will be trouble. I can take a joke with the best, Mr. Holmes, but they've got a bit over the mark this time."
"Still looking for your boot?"
"Yes, sir, and mean to find it."
"But, surely, you said that it was a new brown boot?"
"So it was, sir. And now it's an old black one."
"What! you don't mean to say----?"
"That's just what I do mean to say. I only had three pairs in the world--the new brown, the old black, and the patent leathers, which I am wearing. Last night they took one of my brown ones, and to-day they have sneaked one of the black. Well, have you got it? Speak out, man, and don't stand staring!"
An agitated German waiter had appeared upon the scene.
"No, sir; I have made inquiry all over the hotel, but I can hear no word of it."
"Well, either that boot comes back before sundown or I'll see the manager and tell him that I go right straight out of this hotel."
"It shall be found, sir--I promise you that if you will have a little patience it will be found."
"Mind it is, for it's the last thing of mine that I'll lose in this den of thieves. Well, well, Mr. Holmes, you'll excuse my troubling you about such a trifle----"
"I think it's well worth troubling about."
"Why, you look very serious over it."
"How do you explain it?"
"I just don't attempt to explain it. It seems the very maddest, queerest thing that ever happened to me."
"The queerest perhaps----" said Holmes, thoughtfully.
"What do you make of it yourself?"
"Well, I don't profess to understand it yet. This case of yours is very complex, Sir Henry. When taken in conjunction with your uncle's death I am not sure that of all the five hundred cases of capital importance which I have handled there is one which cuts so deep. But we hold several threads in our hands, and the odds are that one or other of them guides us to the truth. We may waste time in following the wrong one, but sooner or later we must come upon the right."
We had a pleasant luncheon in which little was said of the business which had brought us together. It was in the private sitting-room to which we afterwards repaired that Holmes asked Baskerville what were his intentions.
"To go to Baskerville Hall."
"At the end of the week."
"On the whole," said Holmes, "I think that your decision is a wise one. I have ample evidence that you are being dogged in London, and amid the millions of this great city it is difficult to discover who these people are or what their object can be. If their intentions are evil they might do you a mischief, and we should be powerless to prevent it. You did not know, Dr. Mortimer, that you were followed this morning from my house?"