It was early in June in the year '64 that I woke one morning to find Sherlock Holmes standing, fully dressed, by the side of my bed. He was a late riser, as a rule, and as the clock on the mantelpiece showed me that it was only a quarter-past seven, I blinked up at him in some surprise, and perhaps just a little resentment, for I was myself regular in my habits.
"Come quickly, Watson," said he, "I have lately encountered a case that may prove of considerable interest."
I fairly leapt out of bed, rapidly threw on my clothes and was ready in a few minutes to accompany my friend down to the sitting-room. A lady dressed in black and heavily veiled, who had been sitting in the window, rose as we entered.
"Good-morning, madam," said Holmes cheerily. "My name is Sherlock Holmes. This is my intimate friend and associate, Dr Watson, before whom you can speak as freely as before myself. Ha! I am glad to see that Mrs Hudson has had the good sense to light the fire. Pray draw up to it, and I shall order you a cup of hot coffee, for I observe that you are shivering."
"lt is not cold which makes me shiver," said the woman in a low voice, changing her seat as requested.
"It is fear, Mr Holmes. It is terror." She raised her veil as she spoke, and we could see that she was indeed in a pitiable state of agitation, her face all drawn and gray, with restless frightened eyes, like those of some hunted animal. Her features and figure were those of a woman of thirty, but her hair was shot with premature gray, and her expression was weary and haggard. Sherlock Holmes ran her over with one of his quick, all- comprehensive glances.
"You must not fear," said he soothingly, bending forward and patting her forearm. "We shall soon set matters right, I have no doubt.
I pray that you will, good sir, for my story is terrifying indeed," replied our visitor.
"I am all attention, madam."
"Alas," she began, "I am the last surviving member of my family. My husband, my children, my sister -- all have been taken from me in a matter of months. My family has lived at Hopyard Manor for many years. Have you heard of it?"
"I have some knowledge of it, yes," said Holmes. "It is near Queensbury-on-Roe, is it not?"
"Yes. And we have always led quiet, respectable lives. That is, until this January past, when we discovered on a section of the garden walk that the brick had been replaced by tiles in a most unusual pattern. It was not unpleasing to the eye, but its origin was a complete mystery. When I first came upon it, I was in the company ofmy dear sister Olivia. She found it fascinating and stared at it, transfixed, for some time until I was required to return to the house."
"The very next morning, we found her dead behind the house. She had, it seems, jumped from the roof to her death."
"Did you have the tiles removed?" asked Holmes.
"Yes, I did," she replied, "for I immediately recalled her strange behavior of the day before and feared it was related. But the tiling pattern returned the next day, exactly as before. Once again, we had it removed, and once again, it reappeared. I forbade the chidren and servants from entering the garden. My husband, however, was intent on seeing the phenomenon for himself, and, though I begged him to avoid that evil thing, went to study it for himself. He never returned. My eldest boy discovered him the next morning, hanging in the coach-house."
At this, she broke down into wails of anguish.
When, at length, she had regained some measure of composure, Holmes said, "My dear woman, we need hear no more of your horror. We must see this pattern for ourselves! Stay here until we return. Mrs. Hudson will see to all your needs!"
With that, Holmes rushed down the stairs. I followed as best I could. "Mr. Holmes," I gasped, "what do you think it is?"
"I know not," he said, "but it is certainly most unusual."
Within the hour we found ourselves in a carriage from the station in Queensbury-on-Roe, approaching Hopyard Manor. The bright flowers along the drive belied the terrors reported by our client. Upon reaching the house, Holmes headed directly to the garden, at a pace with which I could hardly keep up. At a turn in the walk, he stopped suddenly.
"What do you make of it, Watson?" he queried. I reached the turn and there, laid out before me, was the pattern -- a perfect square, covered irregularly with small black and white tiles.
"I can see no pattern," I replied.
"And yet there is a peculiar sense to the tiles," said he, studying the pattern most intensely. He paused for a long moment, then spun on his heel and strode back toward the carriage. "I know the secret of the speckled square," he said, "and why it drives men mad. We must proceed to the indicated location immediately."
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