THE STRANGER ON THE ROCK
October 18th. At breakfast I told Sir Henry about my meeting with Dr Mortimer and our conversation about Laura Lyons. It was decided that I should go to Coombe Tracey alone, and I started in the afternoon.
I had no difficulty in finding Mrs Lyon's rooms. She was at home and received me without ceremony. My first impression of her was that she was very beautiful, but when I looked at her more attentively, I noticed something coarse and hard in her face. She asked me about the reason for my visit.
'I have come to speak to you about Sir Charles Baskerville,' I said.
'What can I tell you about him?' she asked nervously. 'All I can say is that he was very kind to me and helped me much.'
'Did you correspond with him?'
The lady looked angry. 'What is the purpose of these questions?' she asked sharply.
'I want to avoid a public scandal, Mrs Lyons,' I answered. 'It's better to speak here than at the police.'
She was silent and her face was very pale. 'Well, I'll answer your questions,' she said.
'I repeat my question,' I said. 'Did you correspond with him?'
'I wrote to him once or twice to thank him for his kindness.'
'Did you ever meet him?'
'Yes, several times, when he came to Coombe Tracey.'
'Did you ever write to Sir Charles asking him to meet you at his gate?'
Mrs Lyons was now red with anger. 'Certainly not!'
'Did you write to him on the day of his death?'
Her face grew white again. She could not speak.
'Surely your memory deceives you. I even remember part of your letter. 'Please, please, as you are a gentleman, burn this letter — but be at the gate by ten o'clock!''
Mrs Lyons was now so pale that I thought she would faint.
'This is a private matter,' she answered almost in a whisper. 'I cannot tell you.'
'Mrs Lyons,' I said,. 'if I have to call in the aid of the police you will find how serious your position is.'
'I will tell you then,' she answered through tears. 'My life has been very hard. I had made an unhappy marriage and my father refused to have anything to do with me. I couldn't get a divorce from my husband without a large sum of money. I thought that if Sir Charles heard the story from my own lips he wouldn't refuse to help me. I wrote to him, but I was afraid that somebody might see the letter, so I begged Sir Charles to burn it.'
'But why did you ask him to meet you at the gate at such a late hour?'
'Because I had only just learned that he was going to London the next day and that he might be away for months.'
'Well, what happened when you got there?'
'I never went there.'
'I swear that I'm telling the truth. At the last moment I received help from another person.'
'But why didn't you warn Sir Charles?'
'It was too late. I wanted to write to him and explain everything in the morning, but I saw the announcement of his death in the papers.'
The woman's story seemed truthful. I could get nothing more out of her, though I felt that she had not told me everything. Things were not clear. Why had she lied at first? Why had she been silent at the time of Sir Charles's death, I asked myself again and again.
On my way home I decided to explore the moor once more and try to find traces of the mysterious stranger whom I had seen on the rock. There were many abandoned huts scattered on the moor and I was sure that the man was hiding in one of them. I climbed a hill to have a better look at the surroundings when suddenly I saw a small figure on the top of one of the hills at the end of the path. The day was clear and, though the distance was great, I could see that it was the figure of a boy carrying a small bundle on his shoulder. In another moment he had disappeared behind the hill and I went quickly in the same direction. I could not overtake the boy. He was nowhere to be seen.
There was silence around. I felt lonely and frightened as I walked from hut to hut. They were all quite ruined. At last I came upon a hut which had something like a roof over it. My heart beat fast. I put my hand upon my revolver and looked in.
The place was empty, but it was clear that somebody lived there. Some blankets lay on the stone floor and a bucket of water stood in the corner. In the middle of the hut lay a small bundle. It looked like the one I had seen on the boy's shoulder. It contained a loaf of bread and some meat. Beneath it was a sheet of paper. 'Dr Watson has gone to Coombe Tracey' was written on it.
It was I then, not Sir Henry, who was followed. What did this all mean? Who could live in this lonely hut on the moor?
Outside the sun was setting. All seemed peaceful in the golden evening light, yet my heart was full of fear as I sat in the dark corner of the hut waiting. And then at last I heard him. Far away, then nearer and nearer came his steps. There was a long pause which showed that he had stopped. I did not move, but held my revolver ready. The footsteps approached again and a shadow fell across the opening of the hut.
' It's a lovely evening, my dear Watson,' said a well-known voice. 'Come outside, please.'