“Dear me!” said Holmes sympathetically. “Now, Mr. Mac and you, Mr. White Mason, I wish to give you a very earnest piece of advice. When I went into this case with you I bargained, as you will no doubt remember, that I should not present you with half-proved theories, but that I should retain and work out my own ideas until I had satisfied myself that they were correct. For this reason I am not at the present moment telling you all that is in my mind. On the other hand, I said that I would play the game fairly by you, and I do not think it is a fair game to allow you for one unnecessary moment to waste your energies upon a profitless task. Therefore I am here to advise you this morning, and my advice to you is summed up in three words—abandon the case.”
MacDonald and White Mason stared in amazement at their celebrated colleague.
“You consider it hopeless!” cried the inspector.
“I consider your case to be hopeless. I do not consider that it is hopeless to arrive at the truth.”
“But this cyclist. He is not an invention. We have his description, his valise, his bicycle. The fellow must be somewhere. Why should we not get him?”
“Yes, yes, no doubt he is somewhere, and no doubt we shall get him; but I would not have you waste your energies in East Ham or Liverpool. I am sure that we can find some shorter cut to a result.”
“You are holding something back. It’s hardly fair of you, Mr. Holmes.” The inspector was annoyed.
“You know my methods of work, Mr. Mac. But I will hold it back for the shortest time possible. I only wish to verify my details in one way, which can very readily be done, and then I make my bow and return to London, leaving my results entirely at your service. I owe you too much to act otherwise; for in all my experience I cannot recall any more singular and interesting study.”
“This is clean beyond me, Mr. Holmes. We saw you when we returned from Tunbridge Wells last night, and you were in general agreement with our results. What has happened since then to give you a completely new idea of the case?”
“Well, since you ask me, I spent, as I told you that I would, some hours last night at the Manor House.”
“Well, what happened?”
“Ah, I can only give you a very general answer to that for the moment. By the way, I have been reading a short but clear and interesting account of the old building, purchasable at the modest sum of one penny from the local tobacconist.”
Here Holmes drew a small tract, embellished with a rude engraving of the ancient Manor House, from his waistcoat pocket.
“It immensely adds to the zest of an investigation, my dear Mr. Mac, when one is in conscious sympathy with the historical atmosphere of one’s surroundings. Don’t look so impatient; for I assure you that even so bald an account as this raises some sort of picture of the past in one’s mind. Permit me to give you a sample. ’Erected in the fifth year of the reign of James I, and standing upon the site of a much older building, the Manor House of Birlstone presents one of the finest surviving examples of the moated Jacobean residence—’”