“Was Woodforde Soames present when Mr Whiting returned?”
Miss Greville shook her head. “No,” said she. “He had gone for a walk shortly after the archery contest ended, as had several of the others. All had returned within an hour or two, except Mr Soames. Then one of Sir George Kirkman’s servants ran onto the terrace, his face as white as a sheet, and whispered something to Sir George, who then stood up and announced that one of his gamekeepers had found Mr Woodforde Soames dead in the woods. It appeared, he said, that he had been struck by an arrow. I don’t think that anyone there could believe it. Mr Soames had had an air of indestructibility about him and had, moreover, just returned unscathed from six months in the most dangerous parts of the world. That he should shortly thereafter lose his life in a wood in Hampshire seemed simply too fantastic to be true.”
“Much of life seems too fantastic to be true,” remarked Holmes drily. “What action was taken?”
“Sir George sent one of his men to notify the local police authorities. They later sent for a detective from London, who arrived early in the evening and interviewed everyone there. In little over an hour he had arrested Neville.”
“On what grounds?”
“The quarrel we had had earlier in the day had been witnessed by several people, who had overheard Neville’s wild remarks concerning Mr Woodforde Soames.”
“That is all?” said Holmes in surprise.
The young lady shook her head but did not reply immediately. “No,” said she at length. “The arrow that killed Mr Soames was one of Neville’s.”
“How was that established?”
“The shafts of the arrows were stained in a variety of colours, and each man taking part in the archery contest was given a quiver containing a dozen arrows of the same colour. Neville’s were crimson, and it was a crimson arrow that killed Mr Woodforde Soames. But, Mr Holmes,” our visitor cried in an impassioned voice, “Neville could not have done it! It is simply inconceivable! No one who knows his gentle character could believe it for an instant!”
Holmes considered the matter for a while in silence. “What is the name of the detective inspector from London?” he asked at length.
“Mr Lestrade,” replied Miss Greville.
“Ha! So Lestrade is on the trail! Is he still at Buckler’s Fold?”
“Yes. He stayed in the area last night, and returned to the house this morning to take further statements from everyone. When it came to my turn to be interviewed, I asked him if there was any possibility that his conclusions might be mistaken. He shook his head briskly and declared that the circumstances admitted of no doubt whatever.
“But is it possible, in such a case,” I persisted, “to seek a second opinion, as in medical matters, where one’s general practitioner can call upon a consultant?”
“‘There is Mr Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street,’ said he after a moment, in a dubious tone. ‘No doubt he would provide you with a second opinion, but I very much fear that it would differ little from mine. Still, I understand your relation to the accused and appreciate that you would wish to clutch at any straw.’”
“Why, the impudent scoundrel!” cried Holmes, rising to his feet. “I certainly shall give you a second opinion, Miss Greville. Would you care to accompany us, Watson?”
“Then get your hat, my boy! We leave for Hampshire at once!”
In thirty minutes we were in a fast train bound for the south coast, and two hours later, having changed at Basingstoke, we alighted at a small wayside halt, deep in the Hampshire countryside. I have remarked before on the singular ability of Sherlock Holmes to drive from his mind those things he did not for the moment wish to consider, and our journey that day provided a particularly striking illustration of this, for having spent the first part of the journey silently engrossed in his bundle of newspapers, he had then cast them aside, and passed the remainder of the time in cheery and incongruous conversation with Miss Greville, for all the world as if he were bound for a carefree day at the coast. As we boarded the station fly, however, and set off upon the final part of our journey, a tension returned to his sharp, hawk-like features, and there was an air of concentration in his manner, like that of a hound keen to be upon the scent.
We had wired ahead from Waterloo, and upon our arrival at the house, as Miss Greville hurried off to find her mother, we were shown into a small study, where Inspector Lestrade was sitting at a desk, writing.
“Mr Holmes!” cried the policeman, turning as we entered. “I was surprised to receive your telegram – I had not expected to see you down here so quickly!”
“I felt obliged to match the speed with which you moved to an arrest,” returned Holmes. “You are confident you have the right man?”
“There is no doubt of it.”
“Then you will not mind if we conduct our own investigation of the matter.”
“Not at all. Indeed, I will show you where the crime occurred, although, in truth, there is little enough to be seen there.”
He led us along a corridor and out at a door which gave onto a paved terrace at the rear of the house. Several people were sitting there, taking tea. A large, clean-shaven, portly man stood up from a table as we passed, the rolls of fat about his jaw and throat wobbling as he did so.
“Who are these men, Inspector?” he demanded of Lestrade.
“Mr Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, Sir George,” the policeman replied. “Miss Greville has engaged them to look into the matter on her behalf.”
“You are wasting your time,” Sir George Kirkman remarked in a blunt tone.
“A few hours spent in the pleasant Hampshire countryside is never a waste of time,” Holmes responded placidly.
Sir George Kirkman snorted. “Still,” he continued, “if the young lady insists, there is nothing to be done about it. And I suppose you would not wish to turn down an easy fee, if times are slack.”
I saw a spark of anger spring up in Holmes’s eye. “You must speak for yourself, Sir George,” said he at length, “and I will answer for my own work. Come along, Lestrade, there are clouds in the sky, and I should not wish to be hampered by rain!”
“I’ll come with you,” said Kirkman. “It will be interesting to watch an expert at work.”
We descended a steep flight of steps from the terrace to the lawn. There, Lestrade indicated a door immediately to the side of the steps, which gave access to a storeroom built under the terrace itself.
“The archery equipment is kept in here,” said he, opening the door.
Inside, hanging up behind gardening tools and similar implements, were a dozen or more longbows and quivers.
Holmes took down one of the quivers and extracted an arrow. The shaft was stained dark green. For a moment he turned it over in his hands.
“The murder weapon was crimson, I understand,” said he at length to Lestrade.
“That’s right. From the quiver that Whiting had been using.”
“It hardly proves that Whiting fired the shot,” remarked Holmes. “Surely anyone could have used one of the crimson arrows?”
Lestrade shook his head. “Each of the quivers contains twelve arrows of a single colour, and all the quivers are different – blue, green, crimson, purple and so on. Whiting took his bow and quiver off with him into the woods – to practise, he said – and did not return until much later, so it would have been impossible for anyone else to have used his arrows.”
“I understand, however,” said Holmes, “that Whiting left early, before the competition was finished.”
“That is so,” said Lestrade, “but I cannot see that that makes any difference to the matter.”