it is done, I beg that you will use your best efforts to keep him where he is until we can get there.”

“And of the utmost importance that we should have the opportunity to examine St Vincent’s itself,” I said quickly.

“Well done, Watson! You see, gentlemen? Watson is ahead of you there!”

“And when do you suggest your examinations will begin?” Mycroft Holmes inquired sceptically.

Sherlock Holmes got up from his chair and walked across to the door of the room. Beside it, on the wall, hung a handsome wheel-barometer of polished walnut. It was inherited from his parents and made by an English craftsman a hundred years ago. He tapped the glass and watched the delicate metal hand move slowly round the dial in a clockwise direction. Its prediction settled midway between “fair” and “set fair.”

“I had almost thought we should have to leave this afternoon,” he said, “At present, however, the glass is rising and I think tomorrow promises to be excellent ‘detective weather.’ It is of some importance that it should not rain before we have a chance to go over the ground. We shall entrust ourselves to an early train from Waterloo station to Portsmouth Harbour. The steamer crossings to the Isle of Wight are frequent. If we reach Ryde Pier by noon we shall take the local train to—Ventnor, I suppose?”

Sir John Fisher inclined his head. “Ventnor indeed.”

“If my geography of the island is correct, a cab will then take us westwards to Bradstone St Lawrence and St Vincent’s. I suppose we should arrive by two-thirty or three o’clock. I take it the bird will not have flown by then and that the venerable Mr Winter will be available?”

“I may guarantee it,” said Sir John enthusiastically. His good-natured features began to work into a smile of grateful acceptance. “I shall authorise the commissary office to book rooms for you both at the King Charles Hotel in Bradstone St Lawrence.”

Sherlock Holmes stooped over the tea-table, and lifted the cover of the muffin-dish. He inspected the contents and then held it out to our Admiral of the Fleet.

“Pray take another, Sir John, before my brother Mycroft has the chance to eat them all.”

“The Case of the Greek Key” in The Execution of Sherlock Holmes, Pegasus Books, New York, 2007; “The Case of the Zimmermann Telegram” in Sherlock Holmes and the King’s Evil, Pegasus Books, New York, 2009.


Shortly before noon on the following day we stepped out of a green South-Coast Railway carriage on to the platform of Portsmouth Harbour station. A stiff channel breeze was blowing and a red- funnelled paddle-steamer was waiting at the jetty. An hour later we were in an island railway carriage for the coastal journey to Ventnor. I had never seen the south-east coast of the Isle of Wight and was much taken by the little resort with its coastguard station and sheltered cove. Holmes, who seldom forgot anything that he read, assured me that Dr Thomas Arnold compared it for beauty to a resort on the Bay of Genoa. Mediterranean, Alpine and herbal flowers occupied the crevices of the rocks.

Behind the line of the shore rose a green hill that becomes St Boniface Down. Gentility was everywhere in the villas, rising in crescents, row upon row, like the boxes at a theatre with the sea as their stage. The elegant terraces of Clifton or Cheltenham might have been snatched up and set down again in this quiet resort. Thanks to Fisher’s efficiency, a cab was waiting for us at the station. We followed the shore westwards, until the road levelled out among gabled houses, set back in their own gardens. Beyond the town, we passed at length through the small village of Bradstone St Lawrence. Ahead of us through a screen of trees rose the outlines of several buildings in red-brick gothic. One of them boasted a short spire and a stained-glass chapel window.

Such was St Vincent’s Naval Academy, named in honour of John Jervis, victor of the battle of Cape St Vincent against the Spanish fleet in 1797. I recalled from my school lessons that his ferocity in the face of the enemy was equalled only by the grim acts of retribution by which he kept order among his men.

Our cab set us down in a gravelled yard, from which an archway led to a portico, double doors and porter’s lodge. We followed the route to the “Headmaster’s Corridor” on which Mr Winter’s study was located. A single Persian runner lay the length of it with black varnish either side. Beyond a tall bookcase, several beechwood chairs with horsehair seats accommodated those summoned to his presence. The walls were hung on either side with long photographs of past intakes and shorter ones of Cricket XI or Rugby XV teams, and regatta crews. In a final alcove rose a hall-stand with a central mirror, hooks on either side for hats and coats, a drawer for gloves, a well on each side for umbrellas or walking-sticks and a rack at floor-level for boots and shoes. Holmes paused to remove his deer-stalker and hang it on a convenient hook.

Winter was a somewhat younger man than Sir John Fisher had led me to expect but still closer to fifty than forty. A curiosity was that his expression, even under strong emotion, appeared to alter very little. His head, almost entirely bald, shone for all the world as if he polished it.

Reginald Winter shook us strongly by the hand, indicated two chairs, but himself remained standing before his fireplace. How much does a room tell one of its tenant? Pride of place at the centre of the mantelpiece was held by the most exquisite model of HMS Warrior, Britain’s first ironclad battleship, easily recognised by her black hull and stumpy yellow funnels. To one side stood an old-fashioned pipe-rack with a row of half-a-dozen briar-root pipes, a tobacco jar and a soft leather pouch. A new briar remained in its unopened box, bearing the familiar advertising scroll “Thinking Men Smoke Petersen Pipes.” Mr Winter plainly saw himself as a “thinking man.”

At the other end of the shelf, I noticed a business card advertising “William Fortescue, Army, Navy, And General Outfitter, Royal Opera Arcade, Pall Mall. Price Lists and Instructions for Self-Measurement Sent on Application.” The effect of Mr Winter was to make me wonder how much commission our host received for each garment bought by the parents from Mr Fortescue.

Everywhere, the study certified the manliness of its occupant. Walking-sticks, golf-clubs, even a fencing-mask and a pair of foils, competed with a tiger-skin rug before the fender and the stuffed head of a stag above the mantelpiece.

The headmaster seated himself a little above us by perching on the padded leather top of the iron fender surrounding his hearth. He smiled without humour, as if to assure us that he was the master of the place and we should know it.

Before he could begin, Holmes said, “Let us come to the matter of Patrick Riley.” His voice was cool and detached with all the amiability of a crocodile. I was unhappily aware of the instinctive mutual dislike of these two men.

Reginald Winter looked him straight in the eye.

“I have agreed to discuss this matter with you on the advice of Admiral Fisher. However, gentlemen, with the evidence of the witnesses before me I cannot reasonably doubt that an act of theft has taken place and Riley himself has ceased to deny his part in it.”

“Or admit it,” said Holmes casually.

“Quite so. Against this, I grieve that the shame of that act and its discovery drove the poor boy to an attempt against his own life.”


“Indeed, Mr Holmes. I am a firm man, as my duty here requires. At the same time, believe me, I am neither vindictive nor callous. Between ourselves, Riley comes from what I am bound to call a starveling background. The temptation to theft must have been tragically potent. To keep him as a pupil, with all his schoolfellows knowing what he had done, would be impossible. It would be crueller to him than to them.”

“Though not as cruel as to destroy the future hope of an innocent boy?”

Winter spread out his hands in a gesture of sincerity and boundless generosity.

“At the worst, I suppose, the poor fellow has been criminal. I prefer to think that, on both occasions, he was merely weak. The second occasion appears to confirm the first, does it not?”

A familiar look in Holmes’s eye assured me that Winter had just stepped neatly into a trap.

“Without it we should lack that confirmation, should we?”

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