I stood there with the card in my hand for many minutes, stunned at the latest turn in this grotesque business. There was now a second kidnapping – and, I feared, a second murder – alongside the first.
I still had no means of alerting Holmes to this terrible series of events, and I was horribly afraid that the worst was already upon us. Even had Holmes been alerted, a young couple on the eve of their marriage had been snatched away to their doom already. He would undoubtedly be able to identify the miscreant responsible, but nobody could now protect Courtenay or Rose Travers from whatever grisly fate had awaited them.
I trudged back to Hernshire Hall with a heavy heart. No doubt they would be as unwelcoming as they had been the previous evening, yet I had to inform them of this latest dreadful turn of events.
My presentiments proved correct. After several entreaties, I could not persuade the butler even to grant me entrance to the hall, and so eventually told the man the barest facts of the matter, presented him with the card, singed round the edges from the fire, and departed to the railway station.
In keeping with the recent course of events, I arrived at the railway station just in time to see, from behind, a single passenger boarding the train to London and the train departing. I had to wait another three hours for the next train, with no-one for company, and nothing to do but to think over my failure.
I determined that upon my arrival I should seek out Lestrade and, no matter what the consequences, inform him of the terrible events that had been taking place in Hernshire. While Lestrade might not be of the same intellectual calibre as Holmes, it was becoming increasingly clear that nor was I.
There were mysteries within mysteries here; the elder Miss Travers’ refusal to admit to having met me, in particular, beggared comprehension. Why should someone so desperate for help be so quick to disavow all knowledge of the man to whom she had so recently turned for assistance?
These thoughts and others went through my head during that long train journey back to London, and in my short cab ride thereafter to Baker Street. I wanted to collect my thoughts and make myself presentable, as my clothing was somewhat damaged by the smoke from the previous night’s fire, before bringing the dreadful news to Inspector Lestrade.
But by a curious coincidence, or so it seemed at the time, I was not the only one desirous of such a meeting. I had barely had time to button my waistcoat when there came a banging on the door. I opened it to see a young street-urchin there, one of the lads occasionally employed by Holmes. This time, though, he was in the employ of Lestrade.
“Inspector Lestrade sent me. ‘E says ‘e wants to see yer. Yer to meet ‘im at your ‘ouse in ‘alf an ‘our.”
“How extraordinary! I was just on my way to visit Lestrade at Scotland Yard, but I shall make my way to my house instead. Was there any other message?”
“Yer. ‘E said you was to give me a shillin’ for my trouble.”
“Oh, he did, did he? More likely he said to give you tuppence – if he didn’t give it to you himself. Am I correct?”
The young lad had the grace to look sheepish at this deduction, which had hardly taken my whole intellect to produce, and so I gave him sixpence, because he had after all been of some assistance to me.
I made my way again to my former abode, musing on the strange twists of fate that had driven me twice in two days to the home of my all-too-short-lived happiness, after I had spent so many months studiously avoiding it. First I had come here to give Cynthia Travers a safe haven in which to avoid her fate (and why had she returned to Hernshire? And why had she feigned ignorance of me? And why had Roger Courtenay, not Cynthia Travers, been the next victim? Was Cynthia still in danger?). Now I was going to inform Lestrade about what was possibly the most macabre series of events I could recall. (And why was Lestrade at my house? And why did he wish to meet with me and not Holmes?)
Even more astonishingly, when I arrived at my house, I noticed the door was already open, and a bearded police constable was standing outside! Had I been burgled? I bounded up the steps and asked the constable what was going on.
“I can’t help you, I’m afraid, sir,” the constable replied, “my duty is merely to prevent entry by members of the public.”
“Then would you mind letting me in, so I could speak to someone who can help me?”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, sir. As I explained, my duty is to prevent entry.”
“But dash it, man, this is my house! I’m John Watson!”
At this point, a voice from inside intruded on our discussion. “Doctor Watson! I’ve been waiting for you. Let him in, Watkins.”
I entered to see, in the drawing room, Inspector Lestrade waiting with several of his colleagues.
“Lestrade! My dear sir, it is a pleasure to see you. I apologise for my delay in arriving, but I was changing my clothing when your boy arrived.”
At this, Lestrade looked significantly at one of the other policemen, who raised an eyebrow. I continued, regardless.
“I actually have some business with you myself, but perhaps you’d like to say why you sent for me, first of all?”
Lestrade looked at me, his face devoid of that human sympathy with which he was normally so endowed, and said, in a colder voice than I had ever heard from him, words which chilled me.
“Doctor John Watson, you are under arrest for the murder of Cynthia Travers.”