He had spoken in jesting vein, but the twitching of his bushy eyebrows bespoke his disappointment and irritation. I sat helpless and unhappy, staring into the fire. A long silence was broken by a sudden exclamation from Holmes, who dashed at a cupboard, from which he emerged with a second yellow-covered volume in his hand.
“We pay the price, Watson, for being too up-to-date!”
he cried. “We are before our time, and
suffer the usual penalties. Being the seventh
of January, we have very properly laid in the new
almanac. It is more than likely that Porlock
took his message from the old one. No doubt
he would have told us so had his letter of explanation
been written. Now let us see what page 534 has
in store for us. Number thirteen is ‘There,’
which is much more promising. Number one hundred
and twenty-seven is ‘is’—’There
is’ “—Holmes’s eyes were
gleaming with excitement, and his thin, nervous fingers
twitched as he counted the words— “‘danger.’
Ha! Ha! Capital! Put that down, Watson.
’There is danger—may—come—very—soon—one.’
Then we have the name ’Douglas’—&rsqu
o;rich—country—now—at—Birlstone—House—Birlstone— confidence—is—pressing.’ There, Watson! What do you think of pure reason and its fruit? If the green-grocer had such a thing as a laurel wreath, I should send Billy round for it.”
I was staring at the strange message which I had scrawled, as he deciphered it, upon a sheet of foolscap on my knee.
“What a queer, scrambling way of expressing his meaning!” said I.
“On the contrary, he has done quite remarkably well,” said Holmes. “When you search a single column for words with which to express your meaning, you can hardly expect to get everything you want. You are bound to leave something to the intelligence of your correspondent. The purport is perfectly clear. Some deviltry is intended against one Douglas, whoever he may be, residing as stated, a rich country gentleman. He is sure—’confidence’ was as near as he could get to ’confident’—that it is pressing. There is our result—and a very workmanlike little bit of analysis it was!”
Holmes had the impersonal joy of the true artist in his better work, even as he mourned darkly when it fell below the high level to which he aspired. He was still chuckling over his success when Billy swung open the door and Inspector MacDonald of Scotland Yard was ushered into the room.