Less than an hour after William Brown's visit to 221b Baker Street, he and Holmes and I were sitting in a railway carriage heading east to his home town. Normally my friend would not have deigned to take on a mere case of missing sweetmeats, but Holmes seemed most taken with the character of our young client. And I knew Holmes too well not to notice that when young William Brown let drop that he lived near Hadleigh, Holmes's attention had suddenly intensified.
'Tell me more about these gobstoppers, William,' said Holmes.
'They're jolly good ones,' said William. 'Well, they should be. They're jolly expensive. They're about the most expensive things that ole Moss sells in his shop. I dunno, he must be a millionaire, ole Mossy. I've spent thousands of pennies in his shop, and I couldn't even have got the gobstoppers if I hadn't found a ten bob note in the street . . .'
'Yes, but tell me about these gobstoppers, William,' said Holmes patiently.
'Well, they're purple and they're really big and they last about 20 minutes if you don't suck them, if you just put 'em in a corner of your mouth and leave 'em. Look, here's one I brought to show you.'
'And where were they when they vanished?' asked Holmes, shuddering slightly at the sight of the dusty and fluff-bedecked object he drew from his pocket.
'On my bedroom table. I left them there when I went to school and when I came back, they had gone.'
'Would your family have taken them?'
'No. My family hates gobstoppers.' This was said with great finality.
'So, whoever took the sweets wouldn't have known they were there when he entered your room?'
'No, I s'pose not.'
This desultory conversation was thankfully interrupted by our arrival at Hadleigh, where Holmes took a cab.
'Crumbs]' ejaculated William. If only Violet Elizabeth Bott could see me now]'
We let this mysterious remark pass, and William spent the rest of the journey happily waving to imaginary subjects and occasionally throwing conkers at people he did not like whom he spotted on the pavement. Then we arrived at his home.
'Hmm, very instructive,' said Holmes, as he inspected the outside wall of the house.
'That's not instructive,' said William. 'That's just a silly ole wall. You won't get clues off a wall. Clues means bloodstains an' torn clothes an' treasure an' . . . an' . . .'
'Look at this, William.'
Holmes pointed at a series of dark smears on the wall, and produced a magnifying glass. After that I could hear them muttering together, and caught phrases such as 'up the drainpipe', 'head for heights' and 'indubitably on the run'. For a moment, I confess, I felt a tinge of jealousy at being ignored by my old friend for this scruffy child. Then Holmes came over to me.
'Have you got your old service revolver, Watson?'
I patted my pocket.
'Good man. Now, William and I have concluded that there must be someone hiding in the garden shed. He may be armed. He will certainly be violent.'
''But, Holmes, how on earth . . . ?' He motioned me to silence. We took up positions round the garden shed. Holmes flung open the door and before he could say anything was bowled over by a ruffian who burst out of the shed and would no doubt have escaped, had not William put out a foot and tripped him. This enabled the three of us to close in and pinion him.
'He was an escaped murderer called Winsley,' said Holmes later, when the police had removed the man. 'He broke out of Hadleigh Prison two days ago. It was in all the papers. I am surprised the name Hadleigh meant nothing to you.'
'Yes, but . . .'
'Someone had broken into William's room. Someone starving. Pardon me, William, but one would have to be starving to steal gobstoppers.'
'A grown-up, maybe,' conceded William graciously.
'So someone starving was on the run. Then I spotted a movement through the window of the garden shed. There were traces of footsteps outside. The rest was easy.'
'It seems fairly difficult to me,' said I.
'Seems element'ry to me, Watson,' said William.Reuse content