Here is another free graded reader for students of English. This time it is a Sherlock Holmes story called Silver Blaze. This graded reader is for pre-intermediate or intermediate learners of English.
Silver Blaze – Sherlock Holmes – pre-intermediate graded reader
“I am afraid, Watson, that I will have to leave London,” said Holmes, as we were sitting together having breakfast one morning.
“Where do you want to go?”
“To Dartmoor, to Kings Pyland.”
I was not surprised. In fact, I had expected Holmes to get mixed up with this strange case a long time ago.
“Can I come with you?” I asked.
“My dear Watson, I would be really happy if you came with me.”
An hour or so later we were sitting on the train which was going to Exeter.
“This is a very interesting case. On Tuesday evening I received messages from colonel Ross and inspector Gregory. Colonel Ross owns the horse, and Inspector Gregory is the policeman who is looking after the case. They asked me for help.”
“Tuesday evening! Is this Thursday morning now. Why didn’t you go there yesterday?”
“Because I made a mistake, my dear Watson. I thought that the horse would appear. But when another morning came and nothing happened I decided to take action. But I was thinking a lot yesterday.”
“So you have an idea?”
“Not really. But I got the hold of all the basic facts of the case. I will tell them to you now, because nothing helps as much as telling them to another person.”
I relaxed in my seat and Holmes went through all the facts that were known and published in the newspapers.
“Silver Blaze belongs to Colonel Ross. He has been the favourite for the Wessex Cup. People believe him and bet on him a lot, because he has never lost. So a lot of money is on him. It is clear that there are many people who would be happy if he didn’t run next Tuesday.
Of course, they know all this at King’s Pyland and they did everything to protect the favourite. His trainer is John Straker and he has worked for colonel Ross for 12 years. He has three men to help him. One of the men each night slept with horse. There are no houses near the place. About half a mile to the north there are several houses for people who want to enjoy the good Dartmoor air. Then there is the village Tavistock which is 2 miles to the west. And also about two miles away there is quite a big training place called Mapleton, which belongs to Lord Backwater and is run by Sillas Brown. Around the place there are only a few gypsies who travel around this wild country.”
On Monday evening the horses trained and they locked everything at nine o’clock. Two of the men went to the trainer’s house, where they ate dinner in the kitchen, while the third man, Ned Hunter, was with the horse. A few minutes after nine a girl took the dinner to Ned Hunter. The dinner was a dish of curried mutton. She had the dish in one hand and a lamp in the other. It was dark.
She was 30 yards from the house when a man came out of the darkness and called to her to stop. She saw that the man looked like a gentleman. He was wearing a suit. He had a heavy stick in his hand. He was nervous.
“Can you tell me where I am?” he asked.
“You are and the Kings Pyland training place,” she said.
“Oh really! Then I am lucky.” he cried. “Look, I will give you a lot of money if you give this to the boy who is sleeping with the horse tonight.” The man took out something white from his pocket.
The girl was scared and ran past him to the window through which they passed the meal. It was open and Ned was waiting for her. She was telling him what happened when the stranger came there again.
“Good evening,” he said, and looked through the window. “I want to have a word with you.” The girl said that as he spoke she saw a corner of a little paper in his closed hand.
“What do you want?” Ned asked.
“I will give you some money for a little information. You will have two horses in the Wessex Cup – Silver Blaze and Bayard. Is it true that Bayard is quicker then Silver Blaze?”
Ned got angry, took a dog and ran out. But when he got out the man wasn’t there.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Did the man, when he ran out, lock the door behind him?”
“Excellent, Watson!” Said Holmes. “I asked the inspector about this and he told me that the boy locked the door before he left and that the window is too small for anyone to get through.”
“Hunter then told the trainer Mr Staker about it. Mr Straker was nervous after that. Mrs Straker woke up at one in the morning and found that her husband was getting dressed. She asked him to stay at home, because it was raining outside, but he took his coat and left the house.
“When Mrs Straker woke up in the morning she found out that her husband had not returned yet. She called the girl and they went out. The door of the place where the horse was was open, Hunter was sleeping and no one could wake him up. And the horse was gone and so was the trainer.
“No one heard anything during the night. Hunter was under the some drug. Everyone was looking for the horse and the trainer.
About a quarter of a mile from the house John Straker’s coat was a tree. A bit farther they found the dead body of the trainer. His head was broken by something heavy. His leg was cut too. He probably fought with his murderer, because in his hand he held a small knife on which there was a lot of blood. And in his left hand he held a scarf which the girl saw on the stranger who she had met when she was carrying the dinner. When Hunter woke he recognised the scarf too. On the wet ground there were the horses’ traces. The horse went away from this place but even though a lot of money was offered no one has found it yet. Finally, an analysis has shown that there was opium in his dinner.
Those are the main facts. Now let’s have a look at what the police have done. They quickly found the stranger. His name is Fitzroy Simpson. He earned a lot of money by betting and we know that he put Ł5000 against the favourite. When he was arrested he said that he had come to Dartmoor to get some information about Silver Blaze. But he said that he didn’t do anything else. When he saw his scarf he got nervous and couldn’t explain how it got to the murdered man. His wet clothes prove that he was out in the rain the night before and the stick could be the thing which killed the trainer. But he was not hurt, so Straker didn’t cut him with the knife. Now, Watson, if you can give me any help I will be happy.”
“It is possible,” I suggested, “that Straker hurt himself with the knife.”
“Yes, you are right. In that case the main point in favour of the stranger disappears,” said Holmes.
“He could put the opium into the meal, get a key, open the door and take the horse. But when he was out with the horse the trainer surprised him, there was a fight and Mr Simpson killed the trainer with his stick,” I suggested.
“You might be right,” Holmes said. “But I think this explanation in is very improbable. We will know more when we get to the place.
When we came to Tavistock it was evening. At the station there were two men waiting for us. One of them was Colonel Ross and the other one was inspector Gregory.
“Is there anything new?” Holmes asked.
“I’m sorry to say that we have no new information,” said the inspector. “There is a carriage outside the station that will take us to the place of crime.”
While we were in the carriage Inspector Gregory told us his explanation. Surprisingly it was very similar to the one I created on the train.
“It doesn’t look very good for Fitzroy Simpson, and I believe that he did it,” finished Gregory.
“And what about Straker’s knife?”
“We are quite sure that he hurt himself with his knife.”
“And what does Simpson say about the paper which he wanted the girl to give to the boy?” Holmes asked.
“He says that it was a Ł10 note.”
“And what about the scarf?”
“He admits that it is his. But he says that he lost it. But there is something new,” the inspector said.
“We have found that a party of gypsies was on Monday quite close to the place where the murder happened. But on Tuesday they were gone. He might have paid the gypsies to take the horse away,” the inspector said.
“It is possible. But I understand that there is another place for horses quite close,” Holmes said.
“Yes, and we think it might be important too. The horse they train in there is the second favourite. But there is nothing that would connect Simpson and this place.”
“Nothing at all?” Holmes asked.
The conversation stopped. Holmes made himself comfortable in the carriage and seemed to be thinking about something hard. A few minutes later we stopped near to a nice house. We all got out of the carriage except for Holmes. I touched his arm and he stood up quickly.
“Excuse me,” he said and turned to Colonel Ross, who looked at him in surprise. “I was daydreaming.” His eyes were shining and I knew that he had an idea.
“You will probably want to go to the scene of crime, Mr Holmes?” Gregory said.
“Not yet. First, I would like to check some details here. I suppose that you made a list of the things that he the murdered man had in his pockets at the time of his death?”
“Yes, in fact you can see all the things for yourself. They are in the sitting room. Do you want to see them?”
“I would be very happy.” We went into the room and sat around a table. The inspector took a small box, unlocked it and put several things in front of us. There will was a box of matches, two pieces of candle, silver watch, five pounds, a pencil, a few papers, and a very sharp knife.
“This is a very special knife,” said Holmes.
“Yes, this is a scalpel.” I said.
“I thought so. It is used for very precise work. It is a strange thing for a man to carry with him for his protection.”
“He probably couldn’t find anything better,” the inspector suggested.
“Yes, it is possible. What are these papers?” Holmes asked.
“Three of them are receipts from some shops. One of them is a letter from Colonel Ross. Another one is a bill from a clothes shop for Ł37. Madam Lesurier sent it to William Derbyshire to pay it. Mrs Straker told us that Derbyshire was her husband’s friend and sometimes his letters were sent here.”
“This woman likes expensive things,” said Holmes. “Ł37 is quite a lot for one dress. It appears that there is nothing more to learn, so we may now go to the scene of the crime.”
As we went out there was a woman waiting for us. It was Mrs Straker.
“Have you found the murderer?” she asked.
“No, Mrs Straker. But Mr Holmes here has come from London to help us.”
“Haven’t I met you in Plymouth at the garden party some little time ago, Mrs Straker?” Holmes asked.
“No, sir, you are mistaken”
“Really? I could have sworn that I saw you in a wonderful red dress.”
“I never had such a dress, sir,” the lady answered.
“So I must have mistaken you for someone else,” Holmes said and we went out to the place where the body had been found.
“There was no wind that night, was there,” Holmes broke the silence.
“No, but it was raining heavily.”
“It means that the coat was not blown against the tree. Someone hanged it there.”
“Yes, it was on one of the branches.”
“Interesting, I can see that the ground has been stepped on a lot. There have been many people here since Monday night.”
“No, we didn’t let anyone come to the place.”
“In this bag I have the boots which Straker wore, one of Fitzroy Simpson’s shoes, and the horseshoe of Silver Blaze,” the inspector said proudly.
“Inspector, you surprise me.” Holmes took the bag and checked the place carefully.
“Hey, what’s this?”
There was a half burnt match which was so dirty that at first it looked like a piece of wood.
“I can’t understand how come we didn’t see it,” the inspector said angrily. “It was in the mud. I only saw it because I was looking for it.”
“What! You expected to find it?”
Holmes took the boots out of the bag, and compared them with the traces in the mud. Then he looked around.
“There are no more tracks,” the inspector said. “We have checked the ground very carefully for 100 yards in each direction.”
“Really. I believe that you did a great job. But I would like to take a little walk around here before it gets too dark.”
Colonel Ross was a bit angry. “You will find us and in the house when you finish your walk,” he said and went away with the inspector.
I and Holmes walked slowly. The sun was going down. We were quiet.
“Let’s forget the question who killed Straker for the moment and it let’s find out what has happened to the horse. Let’s suppose that the horse ran away during or after the murder. Where would he go? Horses are quite clever animals so I suppose that he would either return to King’s Pyland or ran to the other place. I don’t think that the gypsies stole him because there would be no chance that they could sell such a horse.”
“Where is he then?”
“As he is not at King’s Pyland, I think that he must be at Mapleton. Look over there. There are is a strip of land which was certainly very wet on Monday night. If I am not mistaken then the horse must have crossed the place and there will be his tracks.”
Holmes was right. The track was very clear and when he took out the horseshoe it fitted perfectly. We went on and after some time we again came across the tracks. And the horseshoe fitted again. But this time there were human tracks too. Holmes saw them first.
“The horse was alone before,” I cried.
“Yes, you are right. It was alone before, but now someone is walking next to it,” Holmes agreed.
We went on and we didn’t have to go far. We soon came to a road which led to Mapleton. As we came nearer a man ran out of it.
“We don’t want any strangers here,” he shouted.
“I only wanted to ask a question,” Holmes said. “Would it be too early, if I came to see your master, Mr. Silas Brown, at five o’clock in the morning?”
“No, he is always the first person up. But he is here, sir, and he you can talk to him now. You do not have to come that early.”
An angry looking old man came out.
“What do you want here?”
“I want to talk with you for ten minutes,” Holmes said in the sweetest voice.
“I have no time to talk! We don’t want any strangers here! Go away or I will call a dog.”
Holmes came nearer to the man and said something in his ear. The man shook and looked shocked.
“It’s a lie!” he shouted.
“Very well. Shall we argue about it here in public or shall we discuss it in your house?”
“So come in. We can discuss it in my house.”
Holmes smiled. “Watson, I will be back in a few minutes.”
It was twenty minutes before Holmes came. Behind him was Silas Brown whose face was white and scared. He looked like a dog with its master.
“I will do everything as you told me.”
“There must be no mistake,” Holmes said.
“I tell you, there will be no mistake.” Mr Brown looked really scared. He offered Holmes his hand to shake but Holmes just ignored it and we went away.
“Has he got the horse?” I asked when we where quite far from the place.
“He tried to lie, but I described so exactly what he did that night, that he is sure that I saw him,” Holmes said.
“But the police searched this place?”
“Ah, he knows how to change a horse.”
“Aren’t you afraid to leave the horse in his place? He can hurt it.”
“Oh no, he will do nothing to it because he knows that his only hope is to produce the horse safe. And now we have to find out who killed Mr Straker.”
“And now you’ll do only that, won´t you?”
“Not really. We will both go to London by the night train.”
I was shocked. But I couldn’t get anything more out of Holmes until we were back in the trainer’s house.
“My friend and I will return to London by night express,“ Holmes said. “It was wonderful to be here. The air is so fresh.”
The inspector opened his eyes widely and Colonel Ross was angry.
“So you cannot arrest the murderer of Straker, can you?” he asked.
“Yes there are some difficulties,” Holmes said. “But I believe that your horse will start on Tuesday. Have your jockey ready. Could I have a photograph of Mr Straker?”
The inspector took one from his pocket and gave it to Holmes.
“Thank you very much.”
“And now, could you please wait here for a moment, I have to ask the girl a question.”
“I must say that I expected more from Mr Holmes,” said Colonel Ross as soon as my friend left the room.
“At least you know that your horse will run,” I said.
“Yes, he told me so,” the colonel said, “but I would prefer to have the horse.”
Holmes returned to the room. “Now we can go to London.”
As we got into the carriage, Holmes suddenly stopped and asked one of the men a question.
“You have a few sheep here. Who looks after them?”
“Have you noticed anything strange about them recently?”
“Well, nothing important. But three of them have started to walk strangely.”
I could see that Holmes was extremely happy. “Inspector, I think that this is extremely important.”
Inspectors face was serious.
“You think that it is important?” he asked.
“Is there anything else that I should pay attention to?”
“Yes, the dog’s behaviour that night is very interesting too.”
“The dog did nothing that night.”
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about,” Holmes said.
Four days later Holmes and I were again on a train which went to Winchester. We went to see the race for the Wessex Cup. Colonel Ross met us outside the station. He was serious and he was very cold to us.
“I haven’t seen my horse,” he said
“I believe that you would know your horse when you saw him?” Holmes asked
The colonel was very angry. “I have had horses for 20 years. Everyone knows Silver Blaze because it has white head and a white spot on his leg.”
“How are the bets going?”
“Well that is interesting. The bets on Silver Blaze are very low now. Everyone believes that he will win.”
“Hmm,” Holmes said. “Somebody knows something.”
We went to the course in silence. The Colonel was very angry and Holmes didn’t want to say anything.
“Look there is the list of the horses. All six of them are running.” I cried.
“All six? Then my horse is running,” the colonel shouted. “But I can’t see him.”
“There he is,” I pointed to the last horse which was carrying a jockey in colonel’s colours.
“That’s not my horse,” cried the Colonel. “It is black. There is not one white hair on its body.”
“Well, let’s see how well he runs,” my friend said.
The start was perfect. The horses were coming very close to each other. We had a perfect view as the horses came to the straight. The second favourite from Mapleton showed in the front. But he wasn’t first for long. Colonel’s horse came out and passed the finishing line ten meters before the other horses. The Colonel was really happy.
“I won, but I don’t understand. Please, Mr Holmes, could you explain.”
“Certainly, I will tell you everything. If you use a bit of water and wash your horse’s face with it, you will see your old Silver Blaze.”
“I am shocked. You have done wonders. The horse looks a very fit and well. It never ran better. I am sorry for having doubted your ability. But do you know who killed John Straker?”
“Yes, I do. He is here next to me at the moment.”
The Cornell got angry. “This is a bad joke!”
Sherlock Holmes laughed. “No, I have never thought that you killed the trainer, Colonel,” he said. “The real murderer is standing behind you,” Holmes said and put his hand on the horse.
“The horse!” me and the Colonel cried.
“Yes, the horse. But he did it in self defence.”
“Can you explain that?” I asked.
“Yes, let’s start at the beginning. The first important point was the opium. It has a very strong flavour and if you mixed it with normal food you would feel it and you would probably stop eating. But curry is so strong that it hid the drug. So who decided to have curry for dinner that night? Certainly not Fitzroy Simpson he couldn’t plan this and so it was not him.
The only people who could decide this were the trainer, Mr Straker, and his wife. And here comes the fact that the dog was quiet. Someone came to the horse, took him and the dog was quiet. The dog must have known this person very well. So again it couldn´t be Fitzroy Simpson.
I am pretty sure that John Straker went there that night and took the horse. But why?
We must not forget the special knife he had with him. As my friend Watson told us, it is a knife which is used for operations. So what did Straker want to do with the knife? He wanted to cut the horse, so that it could not run in the race.
And when we looked through the things he had in his pockets we could see why he did it too. There was the bill for Mr Derbyshire for 37 pounds. So I went to the clothes shop and showed them Straker´s photo. They told me that it was Mr Derbyshire and that he had a beautiful wife. So John Straker needed money to pay for his lover.
Then I thought that Straker would not risk such an operation without some training. So I asked about the sheep and learnt that they started to walk badly recently. I believe that Straker tried the cutting on them.
So that night Straker put the drug into the meal and took the horse out and went to a place where he could not be seen. He probably found Simpson’s scarf and wanted to use it to stop the blood. But the animal felt that something was wrong or it may have seen the knife. It got wild and kicked Straker into head several times and then it ran away.
Fortunately it didn’t run far and one of your neighbours took care of him.”
Colonel Ross was surprised.
“What a strange case.”
„Yes, it was. But it is over now. Let’s watch the races now.“