The Mystery in Wisteria House

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This is a Sherlock Holmes Short Story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.




Wisteria House

It was a cold and windy day towards the end of March. Sherlock Holmes and I were sitting at lunch when there was a knock at the door and a telegram was brought in. Holmes read it and quickly wrote a reply, but he said nothing to me about it. The matter must have remained in his thoughts, though, as he kept looking at the telegram. At last, after lunch, he read it out loud to me:

HAVE JUST HAD A STRANGE EXPERIENCE. MAY I CONSULT YOU? SCOTT ECCLES, POST OFFICE, CHARING CROSS.

‘Is Scott Eccles a man or a woman?’ I asked.

‘Oh, a man, of course! No woman would ever send a telegram like that. A woman would have come straight to me.’

‘And did you agree to see Mr Scott Eccles?’

‘My dear Watson, need you ask? You know how much I enjoy exercising my brain.’Just then there was the sound of footsteps on the stairs. ‘Ah! Here comes our visitor now.’

The visitor was tall, fat and very serious. His grey hair stuck out from his head and his red face seemed to be swollen with anger.

‘I have had a very strange and unpleasant experience, Mr Holmes,’ he said immediately, ‘and I have come to you for an explanation!’

‘Please sit down, Mr Scott Eccles,’ said Holmes gently. ‘Now tell me exactly why you have come to me.’

‘Well, sir, there has been no crime, and so I could not go to the police. But when you have heard the facts, you must admit that I could not leave the matter where it was. Of course I have never had any dealings with a private detective before, but …’ ‘Why didn’t you come immediately?’ interrupted Holmes.

‘What do you mean?’ asked Mr Scott Eccles.

Holmes looked at his watch. ‘It is now a quarter past two,’ he said. ‘Your telegram was sent from Charing Cross at about one o’clock. But your clothing and appearance show that your bad experience happened as soon as you woke up this morning.’

Scott Eccles looked down at his untidy clothes, smoothed down his unbrushed hair and felt his rough chin.

‘You are right, Mr Holmes. I had no time to think about my appearance this morning. I wanted to get out of that house as quickly as I could! But I made some inquiries of my own before coming to you. I went to the property company first. They told me that Mr Garcia has paid his rent and that everything is in order at Wisteria House.’

‘My dear sir,’ Holmes said with a laugh, ‘you are like my friend Dr Watson, who has a bad habit of beginning his stories at the end. Please arrange your thoughts and let me know exactly what those events are which have sent you out in search of advice and help. Begin at the beginning.’

But there was an interruption. Mrs Hudson showed Tobias Gregson and another police officer into the room. Gregson was a Scotland Yard detective. He shook hands with Holmes, and introduced the other officer as Mr Baynes of the Surrey police. Then he turned to Mr Scott Eccles.

‘Are you Mr John Scott Eccles, of Popham House, Lee?’

‘Yes, I am.’

‘We have been following you about all morning.’ ‘But why? What do you want?’ he asked.

‘We want a statement from you,’ said Gregson,‘about the death of Mr Aloysius Garcia, of Wisteria House, near Esher.’

Mr Scott Eccles’s face was white now. ‘Dead? Did you say he was dead?’

‘Yes, sir, he died last night.’ ‘But how did he die? Was it an accident?’

‘It was murder, without any doubt.’

‘Oh God! This is terrible! You don’t mean – you don’t mean that I am suspected?’

‘A letter of yours was found in the dead man’s pocket. It shows that you were intending to spend last night at his house.’

‘And so I did.’

‘Ah!’ Gregson took out his notebook.

‘Wait a moment, Gregson,’ said Holmes. ‘You want a plain statement from Mr Scott Eccles, don’t you?’

‘And it is my duty to warn Mr Scott Eccles that it may be used against him.’

‘Mr Scott Eccles was going to tell US about it when you entered the room. Give our friend a glass of brandy, please, Watson. Now, sir, please try to forget the presence of these police officers and tell US everything.’

Our visitor swallowed his brandy, and the colour began to return to his face.

‘I am unmarried,’ he began, ‘and I have many friends. One of these is Mr Melville, an older gentleman who lives in Kensington. A few weeks ago I went to dinner at the Melvilles and they introduced me to a young man called Garcia. He told me that he worked for the Spanish government in London, but he spoke perfect English. He was very good-looking and had excellent manners. He seemed to like me very much, and only two days later he came to see me at Lee. Before long he invited me to spend a few days at his house, Wisteria House, between Esher and Oxshott in Surrey. I arranged to begin my visit yesterday evening.

‘Garcia had already described his household to me. There was a Spanish servant and an excellent American-Indian cook.

‘I hired a carriage at Esher Station. Wisteria House is about two miles away, on the south side of the village. It is quite a big house, in its own grounds, but is in extremely poor condition.

‘Garcia opened the door to me himself, and gave me a very friendly welcome. Then the Spanish servant showed me to my bedroom. He seemed as dark and sad as the house itself.

‘At dinner I was the only guest. Garcia did his best to entertain me, but I could see that his thoughts were wandering. He bit his nails and kept drumming with his fingers on the table. He seemed to be very impatient. The meal itself was neither well cooked nor well served. Many times that evening I wished I was back at home.

‘Towards the end of dinner the servant brought Garcia a note. I noticed that my host’s behaviour became even more strange after he had read it. He no longer attempted to make conversation, but only sat and smoked. At about eleven o’clock I went to bed. Some time later Garcia looked in at my door and asked me if I had rung the bell. I said that I had not. He said he was sorry about coming to my room so late; it was, he told me, nearly one o’clock. When he had gone I fell asleep, and I did not wake up until almost nine. I had asked the Spanish servant to call me at eight, and I was surprised at his forgetfulness. I jumped out of bed and rang the bell. Nobody came. I rang again and again, but still nothing happened. I thought that perhaps the bell was out of order. I dressed quickly and then ran angrily downstairs to order some hot water, but there was no one there. I shouted in the hall. There was no answer. Then I ran from room to room. There was nobody anywhere. I knocked at Garcia’s bedroom door. No reply. I turned the handle and walked in. The room was empty, and the bed had not been slept in. He too had gone! The foreign host, the foreign servant, the foreign cook – all had disappeared in the night! That was the end of my visit to Wisteria House.’

Sherlock Holmes rubbed his hands with pleasure. ‘And what did you do next?’ he asked.

‘I was very angry. At first I thought it was a joke. I packed my bag, left the house, and walked into Esher. I called at Allan Brothers, the main property company in the village, and asked some questions about Mr Garcia and Wisteria House. I thought that perhaps Garcia had gone away suddenly in order to avoid paying the rent. But the man there thanked me for warning them, and told me that Garcia had paid the rent several months ahead. Then I returned to London and made some inquiries about Spanish government employees.The man was unknown to any officials. After this I went to see Melville, at whose house I had first met Garcia, but he really knew very little about the man. Then I sent that telegram to you. A friend of mine had mentioned your name to me: he said you gave advice in difficult cases.’ Mr Scott Eccles turned now to Gregson. ‘I have told the whole truth, officer. I know nothing more about Mr Garcia and his death. I only want to help the police in every possible way.’

‘I’m sure of that, Mr Scott Eccles,’ answered Gregson. ‘Your story agrees perfectly with all the facts of the case. For example, there was that note which arrived during dinner at Wisteria House.

What did Garcia do with it after he had read it?’

‘He rolled it up and threw it into the fire.’

‘Well, Mr Baynes?’ asked Gregson, turning to the other police officer. Baynes was a country detective, a fat man with a red face and bright, clever eyes. He smiled and took a small piece of paper out of his pocket. Its edges were burnt.

‘Garcia threw badly,’ he said. ‘The letter was only slightly burnt, as it fell into the fireplace and not into the fire. Shall I read it out loud to these gentlemen, Mr Gregson?’

‘Certainly, Mr Baynes.’

‘It says: “Our own colours, green and white. Green open, white shut. Main stairs, first passage, seventh on the right, green door. D.” The note is written on cream-coloured paper. It has been folded over three times and is addressed to Mr Garcia, Wisteria House. The letter is in a woman’s handwriting, but we think the address was written by someone else.’ ‘But what has happened to Garcia?’ asked Mr Scott Eccles.

‘He was found dead this morning in a field near Oxshott, about a mile from his home. All the bones in his head had been crushed by several blows from some large heavy weapon. It’s a lonely place, and the nearest house is a quarter of a mile away.’ ‘Had he been robbed?’ asked Holmes.

‘No, there was no attempt at robbery,’ replied Baynes.

‘All this is very painful and terrible,’ said Mr Scott Eccles, ‘but why am I mixed up in the affair?’ ‘Because the only paper in Mr Garcia’s pocket was your letter, sir,’ answered Baynes.‘It was the envelope of this letter which gave us the dead man’s name and address. When we reached his house at half past nine this morning, we found neither you nor anyone else inside. Mr Gregson tracked you down at Charing Cross Post Office by means of your telegram.’

‘And now, sir,’ said Gregson, ‘you must come with US to Scotland Yard and give US your statement in writing.’

‘Certainly, I will come immediately. But I still wish you to help me, Mr Holmes. I want to know the truth about this affair!’

‘Mr Baynes, do you know exactly when the man was killed?’ asked Holmes.

‘He had been lying in the field since one o’clock. There was rain at about that time, and the murder certainly happened before the rain.’

‘But that is quite impossible, Mr Baynes!’ cried Scott Eccles. ‘He spoke to me in my bedroom at one o’clock.’

‘It is certainly strange,’ said Sherlock Holmes with a smile, ‘but not impossible.’

‘Have you formed any opinion about this affair, Watson?’ asked Holmes, later the same afternoon.

‘As the servants have disappeared, I think that perhaps they were concerned in the crime,’ I said.

‘It is possible,’ he said. ‘But why should they attack him on the one night when he had a guest?’ ‘But why did they run away?’ I objected.

‘That, Watson, is the problem. Mr Scott Eccles’s strange experience is also a mystery. Why should a pleasant young man like Garcia want the friendship of a rather stupid middle-aged person Eke

Scott Eccles? What is Scott Eccles’s most noticeable quality? He is clearly an honest man, an oldfashioned Englishman whom other Englishmen believe and trust. You saw how those two policemen accepted his strange story! Garcia wanted him as a witness, Watson.’

‘But what was he supposed to witness?’

‘He could have sworn that his host was at home at one o’clock this morning. When Garcia told him it was one, it was probably no later than midnight.’

‘What is your explanation of the message? “Our own colours, green and white—” ’

‘That sounds like a horse race,’ Holmes replied. ‘And “Green open, white shut” must be a signal. The rest of the note seems to be an appointment. There may be a jealous husband somewhere in this case. Then there is the signature-’

‘The man was a Spaniard. Perhaps the letter D stands for Dolores, since that is a common female name in Spain.’

‘Good, Watson, very good — but quite impossible. A Spaniard would write to another Spaniard in Spanish. The writer of this note is certainly English. The affair is still very mysterious. I have sent a telegram which may bring US some helpful information.’

 

When the answer to Holmes’s telegram came, he passed it across to me. It was only a list of names and addresses. ‘“Lord Harringby,” ’ I read, ‘ “The Dingle; Sir George Ffolliott, Oxshott Towers; Mr Hynes, Purdey Place; Mr James Baker-Williams, Forton Old Hall; Mr Henderson, High Gable;

Mr Joshua Stone, Nether Walsling.” I don’t quite understand, Holmes.’

‘My dear friend, have you forgotten the message that “D” sent to Garcia? “Main stairs, first passage, seventh on the right…” The house we are looking for has more than one staircase, and one of the passages contains at least seven doors. It must be a very large house,Watson, and it is probably within a mile or two of Oxshott. My telegram was to Allan Brothers, the property company. I asked them to send me a fist of all the large houses in the Oxshott area, and here it is.’

             

We travelled down to Esher by train later in the afternoon and took rooms in the village at the Bull Hotel. We went along to Wisteria House with Mr Baynes that evening. The house was in darkness except for a low fight in one window on the ground floor.

‘There’s a policeman inside,’ Baynes explained. ‘I’ll knock at the window.’ He crossed the grass and knocked on the glass. I heard a cry and saw a policeman jump up nervously from his chair. A moment later he opened the front door to US. He was shaking violently.

‘What’s the matter, Walters?’ asked Baynes.

‘I am glad you have come, sir. It has been a long wait; it’s a lonely, silent house, and that strange thing in the kitchen, too. When you knocked at the window, I thought the devil had come again.’ ‘What do you mean?’ Baynes asked sharply.

‘The devil, sir. It was at the window.’

‘What was at the window, and when?’

‘It was about two hours ago. It was just beginning to get dark.

I was reading. I don’t know what made me look up, but there was a horrible face at the window. I shall see it in my dreams, sir, I know I shall.’

‘A policeman should never talk in that way, Walters.’

‘I know, sir. But it really frightened me. It wasn’t black, sir, and it wasn’t white. It was a kind of light brown, the colour of clay. And it was very large, sir — twice the size of your face. And it had big eyes, and great white teeth like a wild animal’s.’

‘I think you must have been dreaming, Walters!’ said Baynes.

‘We can easily find out,’ said Holmes. He lit his small pocket lamp and looked closely at the grass outside the window. ‘Yes, a size twelve shoe, I think. He must have been a big man.’ ‘Where did he go?’ I asked.

‘He seems to have walked through these bushes.’

‘Well,’ said Baynes, ‘we have other things to think of now, Mr Holmes. Let me show you the kitchen.’

This was a high, dark room at the back of the house. We saw a pile of straw and a few bedclothes. It appeared that the cook slept there. The table was covered with dirty plates and half-eaten food – the remains of the meal which Mr Scott Eccles had shared the previous evening.

‘Look at this,’ said Baynes. ‘What do you think it is?’

He held up his lamp to let US see a strange objection top of a cupboard. It was a black, leathery, dried-up thing shaped like a baby or a small monkey. A double band of seashells was tied round it.

‘Interesting!’ said Holmes. ‘Very interesting! Is there anything else?’

In silence Baynes led the way to the other side of the kitchen and held up his lamp again. There, on a small table, we saw the legs, wings, head and body of a large white bird. The feathers were still on them, but the bird had been torn to pieces.

‘How strange!’ said Holmes. ‘This really is a very unusual case.’

Mr Baynes had kept the most horrible thing of all until the last. He bent down and pulled a bucket out from under the small table. It was full of blood.

‘We also found some burnt bones,’ he said. ‘A young goat seems to have been killed here. A young goat and a white bird.’

‘Very strange,’ said Holmes. ‘Very strange and very interesting. Well, there is nothing more for me to do here. Thank you, Mr Baynes. Good night and good luck!’

             

Over the next few days, Holmes told me nothing of the results of his inquiries. One day he visited a library in London, but he spent most of his time in country walks around Esher and Oxshott. He pretended to be a collector of rare plants, but he spent many hours in conversation with the village people. His plant box was usually almost empty in the evenings when he came back to the hotel where we were staying.

About five days after the crime I opened my morning paper and saw in large letters:

THE OXSHOTT MYSTERY

A SOLUTION

MURDERER CAUGHT

When I read this out to Holmes, he jumped out of his chair as if he had been stung.

‘Good heavens!’ he cried. ‘So Baynes has got him?’

‘It appears that he has,’ I replied, and read the report out loud to him.

‘Great excitement was caused in Esher and the neighbouring area last night when a man was charged in connection with the Oxshott murder. Our readers will remember that Mr Garcia, of Wisteria House, was found dead near Oxshott last week. His body showed signs of extreme violence. On the same night his servant and his cook disappeared. Their flight seemed to show that they had something to do with the murder. The police thought that the dead man might have had gold or jewels in the house, and that robbery was the real reason for the crime. Mr Baynes of the

Surrey police made great efforts to track the two servants down. He believed that they had not gone far, and that it would be easy to find their hiding place. The cook in particular was a man of very noticeable appearance, a large, dark-skinned foreigner. This man was seen by one of Baynes’s men, Walters, at Wisteria House on the day after the crime. After this, Mr Baynes decided to move his men from the house to the grounds, where they hid behind the trees every evening. The cook walked into this trap last night. In the struggle Downing, another policeman, was badly bitten, but the man was overpowered and taken to the police station. We are told that the prisoner has been charged with the murder of Mr Garcia.’

‘We must see Baynes immediately!’ cried Holmes, picking up his hat.

The house where Baynes was staying was only a short distance away. We hurried down the village street and found that he was just leaving.

‘You’ve seen the paper, Mr Holmes?’ he asked, holding one out to us.

‘Yes, Baynes, I’ve seen it. Please don’t be angry with me if I give you a word of friendly warning.’ ‘Of warning, Mr Holmes?’

‘I have looked into the case very carefully, and I think you may be making a mistake. I don’t want you to do anything unless you are sure.’ ‘You’re very kind, Mr Holmes.’

‘I am only speaking for your own good.’

It seemed to me that Mr Baynes closed one of his eyes for a moment and gave a slight smile.

‘You have your methods, Mr Holmes, and I have mine.’

‘Oh, very good,’ said Holmes. ‘But don’t blame me if things go wrong.’

‘No, sir. I believe you mean well. But I am dealing with this case in my own way.’

‘Let us say no more about it …’

‘But let me tell you about the cook. He’s a wild man, as strong as a carthorse and as violent as the devil. He nearly bit Downing’s thumb off before they could master him. He hardly speaks a word of English, and only makes noises in his throat like an animal.’

‘And you think that he murdered his master?’

‘I didn’t say so, Mr Holmes; I didn’t say so. We all have our own methods.You can try yours and I will try mine.’

 ‘I don’t understand Baynes at all,’ said Holmes as we walked away together.‘He seems to be on completely the wrong track. Well, as he says, each of US must try his own way. We shall see the results!’

When we were back in our sitting room at the Bull Hotel, Holmes asked me to sit down.

‘I have many things to tell you about this case, Watson,’ he said. ‘And I may need your help tonight.

‘First of all,’ he went on, ‘I have been thinking about the note that Garcia received on the evening of the murder. We can dismiss the idea that his servants had anything to do with his death. It was Garcia who was planning a crime that night. It was he who invited Scott Eccles, the perfect witness. And it was he who bed to him about the time. I believe Garcia died in the course of a criminal adventure.

‘Who, then,’ Holmes continued, ‘is most likely to have taken his life? Surely the person against whom Garcias criminal plan was directed.

‘We can now see a reason for the disappearance of the people in Garcia’s house. They were all involved in his plan. If the plan had succeeded, Garcia would have returned home and Scott Eccles would have been useful to him as a witness. All would have been well. But the attempt was a dangerous one, and if Garcia did not return by a certain time the servants would know he was probably dead. It had been arranged, therefore, that in such a case they would escape to their hiding place. From that hiding place they could make another attempt to carry out the plan. That would fully explain the facts, wouldn’t it?’

The mystery seemed much clearer to me now. I wondered, as I always did with Holmes, why I had not thought of the explanation myself.

‘But why should one of the servants return to Wisteria House?’ I objected.

‘I think that perhaps in the confusion of flight something valuable, something he could not bear to lose, had been left behind. That would explain both his visits, wouldn’t it?’

‘Yes, you’re right,’ I said. ‘But you were going to tell me about the note that Garcia received at dinner on the evening of the murder.’

‘Ah, yes. That note shows that the woman who wrote it was involved in the plan too. But where was she? I have already shown you that the place could only be some large house, and that the number of large houses is limited. Since we arrived in Esher I have looked at all these houses and made inquiries about their owners. One house, and only one, especially attracted my attention. This was the famous old house called High Gable, one mile out of Oxshott. High Gable is less than half a mile from the place where Garcia’s body was found. The other big houses belong to ordinary, old-fashioned people to whom nothing exciting ever happens. But Mr Henderson, of High Gable, is certainly an unusual man – a man who would be likely to have strange adventures. I therefore decided to give all my attention to Mr Henderson and the people in his house.

‘They are a strange set of people, Watson. The man himself is the strangest of them all. I managed to think of a reason for asking to see him. But I think he guessed my real purpose. He is about fifty years old, strong and active, with grey hair and dark, deepset, troubled eyes. He is a strong, hard, masterful man. Either he is a foreigner or else he has spent most of his life in very hot countries. His face is like leather.There is no doubt that his friend and secretary, Mr Lucas, is a foreigner. He is chocolate brown, a cat-like person with a very gentle, polite voice. Gentle, but poisonous, and evil, I am sure. You see, Watson, we now know of two separate groups of foreigners — one at Wisteria House and the other at High Gable. I think we shall find the solution of our mystery in the connection between these two groups.

‘Henderson and Lucas, who are close and trusted friends, are at the centre of the High Gable group. But there is one other person who may be even more important to US in our present inquiries. Henderson has two young daughters. One is thirteen and the other is eleven. They are taught by a lady called Miss Burnet. She is an Englishwoman, about forty years old. I am particularly interested in Miss Burnet, Watson. There is also one personal servant — a man.

‘This little group forms the real family. They all travel about together. Henderson is a great traveller and is always on the move. It is only within the last few weeks that he has returned to High Gable after being away for a whole year. He is extremely rich, you see. He can easily afford to satisfy any desire as soon as he becomes conscious of it.

‘The house is full of other servants of every kind. You know what the servants of a large English country house are like. They have very little work to do, but they eat meat four times a day!

‘Servants can be very useful to a detective, you know. There is no better way of getting information than making friends with one of them. I was lucky enough to find a former gardener of Hendersons. His name is John Warner. Henderson dismissed him recently in a moment of temper. Luckily Warner still has friends among the High Gable servants, who all greatly fear and dislike their master. So I had a key to all the secrets of the place.

‘And what a strange group of people it is, Watson! I don’t understand everything yet, but it is certainly unusual. There are two wings to the house. The servants five on one side and the family on the other. The only connection between the two is Henderson’s own personal servant, who serves the family’s meals. Everything is carried to a certain door in the servants’ wing. This door is the only one that communicates with the other wing of the house. The girls and their teacher hardly ever go out, except into the garden. And Henderson never goes out alone. His dark secretary is Eke his shadow. The servants say that their master is terribly afraid of something. Warner says that he has sold his soul to the devil in exchange for money. “The master’s afraid that the ground will open and that the devil will come up to claim him!” he says. Nobody knows where the Hendersons came from, or who they are. They are very violent people. Twice Henderson has struck people with his whip, and has had to pay them a lot of money in order to stay out of the courts.

‘Well, now, Watson, all this new information should help US to judge the situation. It seems certain that the letter came out of this strange house. I believe it was an invitation to Garcia to carry out some attempt which had already been planned. Who can have written the note? It was someone inside the house, and it was a woman. Isn’t the only possible person Miss Burnet, the teacher? All our reasoning seems to support that idea. But Miss Burnet’s age and character make any idea of a love affair impossible.

‘If she wrote the note, she must have been involved in her friend Garcia’s plan. Now he died in trying to carry out that plan. So she must have felt great bitterness and hatred towards their enemies. She must want revenge, Watson. Could we see her, then, and try to use her?

‘That was my first thought. But Miss Burnet has not been seen since the night of the murder. She has completely disappeared. Is she still alive? Or was she perhaps killed on the night of Garcia’s death? Or is she only being kept prisoner somewhere? If so, her life may still be in danger.

‘Unfortunately the police cannot help US here. It would not be possible to get a court order to search the place. We still lack proof. So I am watching the house. I am employing Warner to stand on guard near the gates. But we can’t let this situation continue. If the law can do nothing, we must take the risk ourselves.’

‘What do you suggest?’ I asked.

‘I know which Miss Burnet’s room is. There is a low roof outside the window. My suggestion is that you and I go there tonight and climb in.’

This idea did not seem very attractive to me. The thought of  that old house with its frightening owner and its connections with violent death worried me. And I did not really want to break the law. But I could never refuse Holmes anything; his reasoning always persuaded me. I knew that his plan was the only way of solving the mystery of Garcia’s death. I pressed his hand silently to show that I would be ready for even the wildest adventure.

But our inquiries did not have such an adventurous ending. It was about five o’clock, and the shadows of the March evening were beginning to fall, when a countryman rushed into our sitting room in a state of great excitement.

‘They’ve gone, Mr Holmes. They went by the last train. The lady ran away, and I’ve got her in a carriage down below.’

‘Excellent, Warner!’ cried Holmes, jumping to his feet. ‘We shall know the solution very soon now, Watson.’

The woman in the carriage seemed to be very weak and tired. Her head hung down, but she slowly raised it to look up at US. Her face was thin and sad. In the centre of each of her dull eyes I saw the signs of opium. She had been drugged!

‘I watched the gates, as you told me to, Mr Holmes,’ said Warner, Henderson’s former gardener. ‘When the carriage came out I followed it to the station. She was Eke a person walking in her sleep. But when they tried to get her into the train she came to life and struggled. They pushed her in, but she fought her way out again. I took her arm and helped her. I got her into a carriage, and here we are. I shan’t easily forget the master’s face at the window of that train! I could see murder in his eyes. The black- eyed devil!’

We carried Miss Burnet upstairs and laid her on one of the beds. Two cups of the strongest coffee quickly cleared her brain from the mists of opium.

Mr Baynes, whom we had sent for immediately, shook Holmes by the hand. ‘Well done, Mr

Holmes! I was on the same track as you from the first.’

‘What! You were after Henderson?’

‘That’s right. While you were hiding in the garden at High Gable I was up in one of the trees. I saw you down below.’

‘Then why did you lock up Garcia’s cook?’ Baynes laughed.

‘I took the wrong man in to make Henderson think he was safe,’ he said. ‘He would think we weren’t watching him. I knew he would be likely to run away then. That would give US a chance of getting hold of Miss Burnet.’

‘Tell me, Baynes, who is Henderson?’

‘Henderson is really Juan Murillo, who was once known as “the Tiger of San Pedro”. He was an evil Central American ruler who escaped from the area after an uprising against him, taking with him many valuables belonging to the nation that he had governed with fear. He was a cruel, coldhearted thief and everybody hated him.

‘Yes,’ Baynes continued, ‘he escaped. He completely disappeared, and none of his enemies knew where he was. But they wanted revenge, and they did not rest until they found him.

‘The national colours of San Pedro are green and white, as in Miss Burnet’s letter. Murillo called himself Henderson, but he had other names in Paris, Rome, Madrid and Barcelona. His enemies have only recently found his hiding place.’

‘They discovered him a year ago,’ said Miss Burnet, who had sat up and was listening with keen attention. ‘This time Garcia has been killed, but before long our plan will succeed and the Tiger of San Pedro will be put to death!’ Her thin hands tightened with the violence of her hatred.

‘But why are you mixed up in these foreign political affairs, Miss Burnet?’ Holmes asked. ‘One does not expect to find an English lady concerned in murder.’

‘I must take part!’ she cried. ‘Through me this criminal will be punished. Justice will be done. He has carried out many murders and stolen so many valuables. To you his robberies and murders are just crimes that are done in some faraway place. But we know. We have learned the truth in sorrow and in suffering. To US there is no devil as bad as Juan Murillo. For US there can be no peace until we have had our revenge.’

‘No doubt he was a very bad ruler,’ said Holmes. ‘But how are you concerned in the affairs of the State of San Pedro?’

‘I will tell you everything. My real name is Mrs Victor Durando. My husband was the London representative of the San Pedro government. He met me and married me in this country. Oh, he was a fine, honest man! And because he was so honest, Murillo had him shot. All his property was taken away too.

‘Then came the uprising. A secret society was formed with the aim of punishing Juan Murillo for all his crimes. At last we managed to find out that Mr Henderson of High Gable, Oxshott, was really the Tiger of San Pedro. I was given the job of getting closer to him and watching all his movements. I smiled at him, carried out my duties with his children, and waited. The society had attempted to kill him in Paris oiice before, but had failed.

‘It was not easy to plan our revenge. Aloysius Garcia and his two servants, all of whom had suffered under the evil rule of Murillo, came to five in the area. But Garcia could do little during the day, as the Tiger was very careful. He never went out alone. His friend Lucas, whose real name is Lopez, always went with him. But at night he slept alone. This gave US our chance. We arranged to make our attempt on a certain evening. Murillo often changed his bedroom, and it was necessary to send Garcia a note on the day itself. The signal of a green light in a window would mean that the doors were open and that it was safe. A white fight would mean “Don’t come in tonight”.

‘But everything went wrong for US. Lopez, the secretary, became suspicious. He came up behind me quietly as I was writing the note, and jumped on me as soon as I had finished it. He and his master dragged me to my room, and then discussed whether or not to murder me with their knives there and then. In the end they decided that it would be too dangerous. But Garcia had to die! Murillo twisted my arm until I gave them the address. Lopez addressed the note which I had written. Then he sent José, the servant, with it. Murillo must have been responsible for the actual murder, as Lopez remained to guard me.

‘After that terrible night, they kept me locked in my room. Oh, they treated me very cruelly! Look at these red marks on my arms! Once I tried to call out from the window, but they tied a thick cloth across my mouth. For five days this cruel treatment continued. They hardly gave me any food. This afternoon a good meal was brought in to me, but it must have contained opium. The journey to the station was like a dream. But my energy came back at the station and I managed to break away, with the help of that kind gardener.’

 

About six months later Lord Montalva and Mr Rulli, his secretary, were murdered in their rooms at the Hotel Escorial in Madrid. The murderers were never caught. Mr Baynes came to see us in Baker Street, and showed US the newspaper report. The descriptions of the two men showed clearly who they really were. Justice had come at last to Murillo and Lopez.

‘It hasn’t been a very neat case, Watson,’ said Holmes later. ‘But everything seems clear now, doesn’t it?’

‘I still don’t understand why that cook returned to Wisteria House,’ I said.

‘There are some strange religions in the State of San Pedro, Watson. Perhaps you have heard of one called Voodooism?3 Look in this book here.’

I turned to a page that was already marked, and read:

InVoodooism certain animals must be killed to please the gods. The usual animals are a white bird, which is torn to pieces while it is still alive, and a black goat, whose throat is cut and whose body is burned.

I looked up. ‘But what about the leathery black baby that we found?’ I asked.

‘Oh, that was only one of the cook’s gods,’ replied Holmes. ‘Nothing out of the ordinary.’







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