Grace has already intimated that a check for five thousand pounds will
be handed over to the person who can tell him where his son is, and
another thousand to him who can name the man or men who have taken him."
"It is a princely offer," said Holmes. "Watson, I think that we shall
accompany Dr. Huxtable back to the north of England. And now, Dr.
Huxtable, when you have consumed that milk, you will kindly tell me what
has happened, when it happened, how it happened, and, finally, what Dr.
Thorneycroft Huxtable, of the Priory School, near Mackleton, has to do
with the matter, and why he comes three days after an event - the state
of your chin gives the date - to ask for my humble services."
Our visitor had consumed his milk and biscuits. The light had come back
to his eyes and the colour to his cheeks, as he set himself with great
vigour and lucidity to explain the situation.
"I must inform you, gentlemen, that the Priory is a preparatory school,
of which I am the founder and principal. HUXTABLE'S SIDELIGHTS ON HORACE
may possibly recall my name to your memories. The Priory is, without
exception, the best and most select preparatory school in England. Lord
Leverstoke, the Earl of Blackwater, Sir Cathcart Soames - they all have
intrusted their sons to me. But I felt that my school had reached its
zenith when, weeks ago, the Duke of Holdernesse sent Mr. James Wilder,
his secretary, with intimation that young Lord Saltire, ten years old,
his only son and heir, was about to be committed to my charge. Little
did I think that this would be the prelude to the most crushing
misfortune of my life.
"On May 1st the boy arrived, that being the beginning of the summer
term. He was a charming youth, and he soon fell into our ways. I may
tell you - I trust that I am not indiscreet, but half-confidences are
absurd in such a case - that he was not entirely happy at home. It is an
open secret that the Duke's married life had not been a peaceful one,
and the matter had ended in a separation by mutual consent, the Duchess
taking up her residence in the south of France. This had occurred very
shortly before, and the boy's sympathies are known to have been strongly
with his mother. He moped after her departure from Holdernesse Hall,
and it was for this reason that the Duke desired to send him to my
establishment. In a fortnight the boy was quite at home with us and was
apparently absolutely happy.
"He was last seen on the night of May 13th - that is, the night of last
Monday. His room was on the second floor and was approached through
another larger room, in which two boys were sleeping. These boys saw and
heard nothing, so that it is certain that young Saltire did not pass out
that way. His window was open, and there is a stout ivy plant leading to
the ground. We could trace no footmarks below, but it is sure that this
is the only possible exit.
"His absence was discovered at seven o'clock on Tuesday morning. His bed
had been slept in. He had dressed himself fully, before going off, in
his usual school suit of black Eton jacket and dark gray trousers. There
were no signs that anyone had entered the room, and it is quite certain
that anything in the nature of cries or ones struggle would have been
heard, since Caunter, the elder boy in the inner room, is a very light
"When Lord Saltire's disappearance was discovered, I at once called a
roll of the whole establishment - boys, masters, and servants. It was
then that we ascertained that Lord Saltire had not been alone in his
flight. Heidegger, the German master, was missing. His room was on the
second floor, at the farther end of the building, facing the same way
as Lord Saltire's. His bed had also been slept in, but he had apparently
gone away partly dressed, since his shirt and socks were lying on the
floor. He had undoubtedly let himself down by the ivy, for we could see
the marks of his feet where he had landed on the lawn. His bicycle was
kept in a small shed beside this lawn, and it also was gone.
"He had been with me for two years, and came with the best references,
but he was a silent, morose man, not very popular either with masters
or boys. No trace could be found of the fugitives, and now, on Thursday
morning, we are as ignorant as we were on Tuesday. Inquiry was, of
course, made at once at Holdernesse Hall. It is only a few miles away,
and we imagined that, in some sudden attack of homesickness, he had
gone back to his father, but nothing had been heard of him. The Duke is
greatly agitated, and, as to me, you have seen yourselves the state of
nervous prostration to which the suspense and the responsibility have
reduced me. Mr. Holmes, if ever you put forward your full powers, I
implore you to do so now, for never in your life could you have a case
which is more worthy of them."
Sherlock Holmes had listened with the utmost intentness to the statement
of the unhappy schoolmaster. His drawn brows and the deep furrow
between them showed that he needed no exhortation to concentrate all
his attention upon a problem which, apart from the tremendous interests
involved must appeal so directly to his love of the complex and the
unusual. He now drew out his notebook and jotted down one or two
"You have been very remiss in not coming to me sooner," said he,
severely. "You start me on my investigation with a very serious
handicap. It is inconceivable, for example, that this ivy and this lawn
would have yielded nothing to an expert observer."
"I am not to blame, Mr. Holmes. His Grace was extremely desirous to
avoid all public scandal. He was afraid of his family unhappiness being
dragged before the world. He has a deep horror of anything of the kind."
"But there has been some official investigation?"
"Yes, sir, and it has proved most disappointing. An apparent clue was
at once obtained, since a boy and a young man were reported to have been
seen leaving a neighbouring station by an early train. Only last night
we had news that the couple had been hunted down in Liverpool, and they
prove to have no connection whatever with the matter in hand. Then it
was that in my despair and disappointment, after a sleepless night, I
came straight to you by the early train."
"I suppose the local investigation was relaxed while this false clue was
being followed up?"
"It was entirely dropped."
"So that three days have been wasted. The affair has been most
"I feel it and admit it."
"And yet the problem should be capable of ultimate solution. I shall be
very happy to look into it. Have you been able to trace any connection
between the missing boy and this German master?"
"None at all."
"Was he in the master's class?"
"No, he never exchanged a word with him, so far as I know."
"That is certainly very singular. Had the boy a bicycle?"
"Was any other bicycle missing?"
"Is that certain?"
"Well, now, you do not mean to seriously suggest that this German rode
off upon a bicycle in the dead of the night, bearing the boy in his
"Then what is the theory in your mind?"
"The bicycle may have been a blind. It may have been hidden somewhere,
and the pair gone off on foot."
"Quite so, but it seems rather an absurd blind, does it not? Were there
other bicycles in this shed?"
"Would he not have hidden a couple, had he desired to give the idea that
they had gone off upon them?"
"I suppose he would."
"Of course he would. The blind theory won't do. But the incident is an
admirable starting-point for an investigation. After all, a bicycle
is not an easy thing to conceal or to destroy. One other question. Did
anyone call to see the boy on the day before he disappeared?"
"Did he get any letters?"
"Yes, one letter."
"From his father."
"Do you open the boys' letters?"
"How do you know it was from the father?"
"The coat of arms was on the envelope, and it was addressed in the
Duke's peculiar stiff hand. Besides, the Duke remembers having written."
"When had he a letter before that?"
"Not for several days."
"Had he ever one from France?"
"You see the point of my questions, of course. Either the boy was
carried off by force or he went of his own free will. In the latter
case, you would expect that some prompting from outside would be needed
to make so young a lad do such a thing. If he has had no visitors, that
prompting must have come in letters; hence I try to find out who were
"I fear I cannot help you much. His only correspondent, so far as I
know, was his own father."
"Who wrote to him on the very day of his disappearance. Were the
relations between father and son very friendly?"
"His Grace is never very friendly with anyone. He is completely immersed
in large public questions, and is rather inaccessible to all ordinary
emotions. But he was always kind to the boy in his own way."
"But the sympathies of the latter were with the mother?"
"Did he say so?"
"The Duke, then?"
"Good heaven, no!"
"Then how could you know?"
"I have had some confidential talks with Mr. James Wilder, his Graces
secretary. It was he who gave me the information about Lord Saltire's
"I see. By the way, that last letter of the Dukes - was it found in the
boy's room after he was gone?"
"No, he had taken it with him. I think, Mr. Holmes, it is time that we
were leaving for Euston."
"I will order a four-wheeler. In a quarter of an hour, we shall be at
your service. If you are telegraphing home, Mr. Huxtable, it would
be well to allow the people in your neighbourhood to imagine that
the inquiry is still going on in Liverpool, or wherever else that red
herring led your pack. In the meantime I will do a little quiet work at
your own doors, and perhaps the scent is not so cold but that two old
hounds like Watson and myself may get a sniff of it."
That evening found us in the cold, bracing atmosphere of the Peak
country, in which Dr. Huxtable's famous school is situated. It was
already dark when we reached it. A card was lying on the hall table,
and the butler whispered something to his master, who turned to us with
agitation in every heavy feature.
"The Duke is here," said he. "The Duke and Mr. Wilder are in the study.
Come, gentlemen, and I will introduce you."
I was, of course, familiar with the pictures of the famous statesman,
but the man himself was very different from his representation. He was a
tall and stately person, scrupulously dressed, with a drawn, thin face,
and a nose which was grotesquely curved and long. His complexion was
of a dead pallor, which was more startling by contrast with a long,
dwindling beard of vivid red, which flowed down over his white waistcoat
with his watch-chain gleaming through its fringe. Such was the stately
presence who looked stonily at us from the centre of Dr. Huxtable's
hearthrug. Beside him stood a very young man, whom I understood to
be Wilder, the private secretary. He was small, nervous, alert with
intelligent light-blue eyes and mobile features. It was he who at once,
in an incisive and positive tone, opened the conversation.
"I called this morning, Dr. Huxtable, too late to prevent you from
starting for London. I learned that your object was to invite Mr.
Sherlock Holmes to undertake the conduct of this case. His Grace is
surprised, Dr. Huxtable, that you should have taken such a step without
"When I learned that the police had failed - - "
"His Grace is by no means convinced that the police have failed."
"But surely, Mr. Wilder - - "
"You are well aware, Dr. Huxtable, that his Grace is particularly
anxious to avoid all public scandal. He prefers to take as few people as
possible into his confidence."
"The matter can be easily remedied," said the brow-beaten doctor; "Mr.
Sherlock Holmes can return to London by the morning train."
"Hardly that, Doctor, hardly that," said Holmes, in his blandest voice.
"This northern air is invigorating and pleasant, so I propose to spend a
few days upon your moors, and to occupy my mind as best I may. Whether
I have the shelter of your roof or of the village inn is, of course, for
you to decide."
I could see that the unfortunate doctor was in the last stage of
indecision, from which he was rescued by the deep, sonorous voice of the
red-bearded Duke, which boomed out like a dinner-gong.
"I agree with Mr. Wilder, Dr. Huxtable, that you would have done wisely
to consult me. But since Mr. Holmes has already been taken into your
confidence, it would indeed be absurd that we should not avail ourselves
of his services. Far from going to the inn, Mr. Holmes, I should be
pleased if you would come and stay with me at Holdernesse Hall."
"I thank your Grace. For the purposes of my investigation, I think that
it would be wiser for me to remain at the scene of the mystery."
"Just as you like, Mr. Holmes. Any information which Mr. Wilder or I can
give you is, of course, at your disposal."
"It will probably be necessary for me to see you at the Hall," said
Holmes. "I would only ask you now, sir, whether you have formed any
explanation in your own mind as to the mysterious disappearance of your
"No sir I have not."
"Excuse me if I allude to that which is painful to you, but I have no
alternative. Do you think that the Duchess had anything to do with the
The great minister showed perceptible hesitation.
"I do not think so," he said, at last.
"The other most obvious explanation is that the child has been kidnapped
for the purpose of levying ransom. You have not had any demand of the
"One more question, your Grace. I understand that you wrote to your son
upon the day when this incident occurred."
"No, I wrote upon the day before."
"Exactly. But he received it on that day?"
"Was there anything in your letter which might have unbalanced him or
induced him to take such a step?"
"No, sir, certainly not."
"Did you post that letter yourself?"
The nobleman's reply was interrupted by his secretary, who broke in with
"His Grace is not in the habit of posting letters himself," said he.
"This letter was laid with others upon the study table, and I myself put
them in the post-bag."
"You are sure this one was among them?"
"Yes, I observed it."
"How many letters did your Grace write that day?"
"Twenty or thirty. I have a large correspondence. But surely this is
"Not entirely," said Holmes.
"For my own part," the Duke continued, "I have advised the police to
turn their attention to the south of France. I have already said that I
do not believe that the Duchess would encourage so monstrous an action,
but the lad had the most wrong-headed opinions, and it is possible that
he may have fled to her, aided and abetted by this German. I think, Dr.
Huxtable, that we will now return to the Hall."
I could see that there were other questions which Holmes would have
wished to put, but the nobleman's abrupt manner showed that the
interview was at an end. It was evident that to his intensely
aristocratic nature this discussion of his intimate family affairs
with a stranger was most abhorrent, and that he feared lest every
fresh question would throw a fiercer light into the discreetly shadowed
corners of his ducal history.
When the nobleman and his secretary had left, my friend flung himself at
once with characteristic eagerness into the investigation.
The boy's chamber was carefully examined, and yielded nothing save the
absolute conviction that it was only through the window that he could
have escaped. The German master's room and effects gave no further clue.
In his case a trailer of ivy had given way under his weight, and we saw
by the light of a lantern the mark on the lawn where his heels had come
down. That one dint in the short, green grass was the only material
witness left of this inexplicable nocturnal flight.
Sherlock Holmes left the house alone, and only returned after eleven.
He had obtained a large ordnance map of the neighbourhood, and this
he brought into my room, where he laid it out on the bed, and, having
balanced the lamp in the middle of it, he began to smoke over it, and
occasionally to point out objects of interest with the reeking amber of
"This case grows upon me, Watson," said he. "There are decidedly some
points of interest in connection with it. In this early stage, I want
you to realize those geographical features which may have a good deal to
do with our investigation.
"Look at this map. This dark square is the Priory School. I'll put a pin
in it. Now, this line is the main road. You see that it runs east and
west past the school, and you see also that there is no side road for
a mile either way. If these two folk passed away by road, it was THIS
"By a singular and happy chance, we are able to some extent to check
what passed along this road during the night in question. At this point,
where my pipe is now resting, a county constable was on duty from twelve
to six. It is, as you perceive, the first cross-road on the east side.
This man declares that he was not absent from his post for an instant,
and he is positive that neither boy nor man could have gone that way
unseen. I have spoken with this policeman to-night and he appears to me
to be a perfectly reliable person. That blocks this end. We have now to
deal with the other. There is an inn here, the Red Bull, the landlady
of which was ill. She had sent to Mackleton for a doctor, but he did not
arrive until morning, being absent at another case. The people at the
inn were alert all night, awaiting his coming, and one or other of them
seems to have continually had an eye upon the road. They declare that no
one passed. If their evidence is good, then we are fortunate enough to
be able to block the west, and also to be able to say that the fugitives
did NOT use the road at all."
"But the bicycle?" I objected.
"Quite so. We will come to the bicycle presently. To continue our
reasoning: if these people did not go by the road, they must have
traversed the country to the north of the house or to the south of the
house. That is certain. Let us weigh the one against the other. On the
south of the house is, as you perceive, a large district of arable land,
cut up into small fields, with stone walls between them. There, I admit
that a bicycle is impossible. We can dismiss the idea. We turn to the
country on the north. Here there lies a grove of trees, marked as the
'Ragged Shaw,' and on the farther side stretches a great rolling moor,
Lower Gill Moor, extending for ten miles and sloping gradually upward.
Here, at one side of this wilderness, is Holdernesse Hall, ten miles by
road, but only six across the moor. It is a peculiarly desolate plain. A
few moor farmers have small holdings, where they rear sheep and cattle.
Except these, the plover and the curlew are the only inhabitants until
you come to the Chesterfield high road. There is a church there,
you see, a few cottages, and an inn. Beyond that the hills become
precipitous. Surely it is here to the north that our quest must lie."
"But the bicycle?" I persisted.
"Well, well!" said Holmes, impatiently. "A good cyclist does not need a
high road. The moor is intersected with paths, and the moon was at the
full. Halloa! what is this?"
There was an agitated knock at the door, and an instant afterwards Dr.
Huxtable was in the room. In his hand he held a blue cricket-cap with a
white chevron on the peak.
"At last we have a clue!" he cried. "Thank heaven! at last we are on the
dear boy's track! It is his cap."
"Where was it found?"
"In the van of the gipsies who camped on the moor. They left on Tuesday.
To-day the police traced them down and examined their caravan. This was
"How do they account for it?"
"They shuffled and lied - said that they found it on the moor on Tuesday
morning. They know where he is, the rascals! Thank goodness, they are
all safe under lock and key. Either the fear of the law or the Duke's
purse will certainly get out of them all that they know."
"So far, so good," said Holmes, when the doctor had at last left the
room. "It at least bears out the theory that it is on the side of the
Lower Gill Moor that we must hope for results. The police have really
done nothing locally, save the arrest of these gipsies. Look here,
Watson! There is a watercourse across the moor. You see it marked here
in the map. In some parts it widens into a morass. This is particularly
so in the region between Holdernesse Hall and the school. It is vain to
look elsewhere for tracks in this dry weather, but at THAT point there
is certainly a chance of some record being left. I will call you early
to-morrow morning, and you and I will try if we can throw some little
light upon the mystery."
The day was just breaking when I woke to find the long, thin form of
Holmes by my bedside. He was fully dressed, and had apparently already
"I have done the lawn and the bicycle shed," said, he. "I have also had
a rumble through the Ragged Shaw. Now, Watson, there is cocoa ready in
the next room. I must beg you to hurry, for we have a great day before
His eyes shone, and his cheek was flushed with the exhilaration of the
master workman who sees his work lie ready before him. A very different
Holmes, this active, alert man, from the introspective and pallid
dreamer of Baker Street. I felt, as I looked upon that supple, figure,
alive with nervous energy, that it was indeed a strenuous day that
And yet it opened in the blackest disappointment. With high hopes we
struck across the peaty, russet moor, intersected with a thousand sheep
paths, until we came to the broad, light-green belt which marked the
morass between us and Holdernesse. Certainly, if the lad had gone
homeward, he must have passed this, and he could not pass it without
leaving his traces. But no sign of him or the German could be seen. With
a darkening face my friend strode along the margin, eagerly observant
of every muddy stain upon the mossy surface. Sheep-marks there were
in profusion, and at one place, some miles down, cows had left their
tracks. Nothing more.
"Check number one," said Holmes, looking gloomily over the rolling
expanse of the moor. "There is another morass down yonder, and a narrow
neck between. Halloa! halloa! halloa! what have we here?"
We had come on a small black ribbon of pathway. In the middle of it,
clearly marked on the sodden soil, was the track of a bicycle.
"Hurrah!" I cried. "We have it."
But Holmes was shaking his head, and his face was puzzled and expectant
rather than joyous.
"A bicycle, certainly, but not THE bicycle," said he. "I am familiar
with forty-two different impressions left by tires. This, as you
perceive, is a Dunlop, with a patch upon the outer cover. Heidegger's
tires were Palmer's, leaving longitudinal stripes. Aveling, the
mathematical master, was sure upon the point. Therefore, it is not
"The boy's, then?"
"Possibly, if we could prove a bicycle to have been in his possession.
But this we have utterly failed to do. This track, as you perceive, was
made by a rider who was going from the direction of the school."
"Or towards it?"
"No, no, my dear Watson. The more deeply sunk impression is, of course,
the hind wheel, upon which the weight rests. You perceive several places
where it has passed across and obliterated the more shallow mark of the
front one. It was undoubtedly heading away from the school. It may or
may not be connected with our inquiry, but we will follow it backwards
before we go any farther."
We did so, and at the end of a few hundred yards lost the tracks as
we emerged from the boggy portion of the moor. Following the path
backwards, we picked out another spot, where a spring trickled across
it. Here, once again, was the mark of the bicycle, though nearly
obliterated by the hoofs of cows. After that there was no sign, but
the path ran right on into Ragged Shaw, the wood which backed on to the
school. From this wood the cycle must have emerged. Holmes sat down on
a boulder and rested his chin in his hands. I had smoked two cigarettes
before he moved.
"Well, well," said he, at last. "It is, of course, possible that a
cunning man might change the tires of his bicycle in order to leave
unfamiliar tracks. A criminal who was capable of such a thought is a man