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The Best of Sherlock Holmes
The Adventure of the Unique Hamlet by Vincent Starrett
(continued from page 2)
"Dear me," quoth Sherlock Holmes, "it must indeed be a handsome volume, and from your description, together with a realization of its importance by reason of its association, I gather that it is something beyond what might be termed a valuable book."
"Priceless!" cried Mr. Harrington Edwards. "The combined wealth of India, Mexico and Wall Street would be all too little for its purchase!"
"You are anxious to recover this book?" Holmes asked, looking at him keenly.
"My God!" shrieked the collector, rolling up his eyes and clawing the air with his hands. "Do you suppose—"
"Tut, tut!" Holmes interrupted. "I was only testing you. It is a book that might move even you, Mr. Harrington Edwards, to theft—but we may put aside that notion at once. Your emotion is too sincere, and besides you know too well the difficulties of hiding such a volume as you describe. Indeed, only a very daring man would purloin it and keep it long in his possession. Pray tell us how you came to suffer it to be lost."
Mr. Harrington Edwards seized the brandy flask, which stood at his elbow, and drained it at a gulp. With the renewed strength thus obtained, he continued his story:
"As I have said, Sir Nathaniel forced me to accept the loan of the book, much against my own wishes. On the evening that I called for it, he told me that two of his trusted servants, heavily armed, would accompany me across the grounds to my home. 'There is no danger,' he said, 'but you will feel better,' and I heartily agreed with him. How shall I tell you what happened? Mr. Holmes, it was those very servants who assailed me and robbed me of my priceless borrowing!"
Sherlock Holmes rubbed his lean hands with satisfaction. "Splendid!" he murmured. "It is a case after my own heart. Watson, these are deep waters in which we are sailing. But you are rather lengthy about this, Mr. Edwards. Perhaps it will help matters if I ask you a few questions. By what road did you go to your home?"
"By the main road, a good highway which lies in front of our estates. I preferred it to the shadows of the wood."
"And there were some 200 yards between your doors. At what point did the assault occur?"
"Almost midway between the two entrance drives, I should say."
"There was no light?"
"That of the moon only."
"Did you know these servants who accompanied you?"
"One I knew slightly; the other I had not seen before."
"Describe them to me, please."
"The man who is known to me, is called Miles. He is clean-shaven, short and powerful, although somewhat elderly. He was known, I believe, as Sir Nathaniel's most trusted servant; he had been with Sir Nathaniel for years. I cannot describe him minutely for, of course, I never paid much attention to him. The other was tall and thickset, and wore a heavy beard. He was a silent fellow; I do not believe he spoke a word during the journey."
"Miles was more communicative?"
"Oh yes—even garrulous, perhaps. He talked about the weather and the moon, and I forget what all."
"Never about books?"
"There was no mention of books between any of us."
"Just how did the attack occur?"
"It was very sudden. We had reached, as I say, about the halfway point, when the big man seized me by the throat—to prevent outcry, I suppose—and on the instant, Miles snatched the volume from my grasp and was off. In a moment his companion followed him. I had been half throttled and could not immediately cry out; when I could articulate, I made the countryside ring with my cries. I ran after them, but failed even to catch another sight of them. They had disappeared completely. "
"Did you all leave the house together?"
"Miles and I left together; the second man joined us at the porter's lodge. He had been attending to some of his duties."
"And Sir Nathaniel—where was he?"
"He said good-night on the threshold."
"What has he had to say about all this?"
"I have not told him."
"You have not told him!" echoed Sherlock Holmes, in astonishment.
"I have not dared," miserably confessed our client. "It will kill him. That book was the breath of his life."
"When did this occur?" I put in, with a glance at Holmes.
"Excellent, Watson," said my friend, answering my glance. "I was about to ask the same question."
"Just last night," was Mr. Harrington Edwards' reply. "I was crazy most of the night; I didn't sleep a wink. I came to you the first thing this morning. Indeed, I tried to raise you on the telephone, last night, but could not establish a connection."
"Yes," said Holmes, reminiscently, "we were attending Mme. Trontini's first night. You remember, Watson, we dined later at Albani's?"
"Oh, Mr. Holmes, do you think you can help me?" cried the abject collector.
"I trust so," declared my friend, cheerfully. "Indeed, I am certain that I can. At any rate, I shall make a gallant attempt, with Watson's aid. Such a book, as you remark, is not easily hidden. What say you, Watson, to a run down to Walton-on-Walton?"
"There is a train in half an hour," said Mr. Harrington Edwards, looking at his watch. "Will you return with me?"
"No, no," laughed Holmes, "that would never do. We must not be seen together just yet, Mr. Edwards. Go back yourself on the first train, by all means, unless you have further business in London. My friend and I will go together. There is another train this morning?"
"An hour later."
"Excellent. Until we meet, then!"