The Adventure of the Literary Innkeeper
I had a solemn time travelling north that day. It was fine May weather, with the hawthorn
flowering on every hedge, and I asked myself why, when I was still a free man, I had
stayed on in London and not got the good of this heavenly country. I didn't dare face the
restaurant car, but I got a luncheon-basket at Leeds and shared it with the fat woman.
Also I got the morning's papers, with news about starters for the Derby and the beginning
of the cricket season, and some paragraphs about how Balkan affairs were settling down
and a British squadron was going to Kiel.
When I had done with them I got out Scudder's little black pocket-book and studied it. It
was pretty well filled with jottings, chiefly figures, though now and then a name was
printed in. For example, I found the words 'Hofgaard', 'Luneville', and 'Avocado' pretty
often, and especially the word 'Pavia'.
Now I was certain that Scudder never did anything without a reason, and I was pretty
sure that there was a cypher in all this. That is a subject which has always interested me,
and I did a bit at it myself once as intelligence officer at Delagoa Bay during the Boer
War. I have a head for things like chess and puzzles, and I used to reckon myself pretty
good at finding out cyphers. This one looked like the numerical kind where sets of figures
correspond to the letters of the alphabet, but any fairly shrewd man can find the clue to
that sort after an hour or two's work, and I didn't think Scudder would have been content
with anything so easy. So I fastened on the printed words, for you can make a pretty good
numerical cypher if you have a key word which gives you the sequence of the letters.
I tried for hours, but none of the words answered. Then I fell asleep and woke at
Dumfries just in time to bundle out and get into the slow Galloway train. There was a
man on the platform whose looks I didn't like, but he never glanced at me, and when I
caught sight of myself in the mirror of an automatic machine I didn't wonder. With my
brown face, my old tweeds, and my slouch, I was the very model of one of the hill
farmers who were crowding into the third-class carriages.
I travelled with half a dozen in an atmosphere of shag and clay pipes. They had come
from the weekly market, and their mouths were full of prices. I heard accounts of how the
lambing had gone up the Cairn and the Deuch and a dozen other mysterious waters.
Above half the men had lunched heavily and were highly flavoured with whisky, but they
took no notice of me. We rumbled slowly into a land of little wooded glens and then to a
great wide moorland place, gleaming with lochs, with high blue hills showing
About five o'clock the carriage had emptied, and I was left alone as I had hoped. I got out
at the next station, a little place whose name I scarcely noted, set right in the heart of a
bog. It reminded me of one of those forgotten little stations in the Karroo. An old station-
master was digging in his garden, and with his spade over his shoulder sauntered to the
train, took charge of a parcel, and went back to his potatoes. A child of ten received my
ticket, and I emerged on a white road that straggled over the brown moor.