The Project Gutenberg Book of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle (2022)

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Title: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Author: Arthur Conan Doyle

Release Date: November 29, 2002 [eBook #1661]
[Most recently updated: May 20, 2019]

Language: English

Character set encoding: UTF-8

Produced by: an anonymous Project Gutenberg volunteer and Jose Menendez

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The Project Gutenberg Book of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle (1)

by Arthur Conan Doyle

Contents

I. A Scandal in Bohemia
II. The Red-Headed League
III. A Case of Identity
IV. The Boscombe Valley Mystery
V. The Five Orange Pips
VI. The Man with the Twisted Lip
VII. The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
VIII. The Adventure of the Speckled Band
IX. The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb
X. The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor
XI. The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet
XII. The Adventure of the Copper Beeches

I.
A SCANDAL IN BOHEMIA

I.

To Sherlock Holmes sheis always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any othername. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It wasnot that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, andthat one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirablybalanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observingmachine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself ina false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and asneer. They were admirable things for the observer—excellent for drawingthe veil from men’s motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner toadmit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament wasto introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mentalresults. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his ownhigh-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in anature such as his. And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman wasthe late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.

I had seen little of Holmes lately. My marriage had drifted us away from eachother. My own complete happiness, and the home-centred interests which rise uparound the man who first finds himself master of his own establishment, weresufficient to absorb all my attention, while Holmes, who loathed every form ofsociety with his whole Bohemian soul, remained in our lodgings in Baker Street,buried among his old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaineand ambition, the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own keennature. He was still, as ever, deeply attracted by the study of crime, andoccupied his immense faculties and extraordinary powers of observation infollowing out those clues, and clearing up those mysteries which had beenabandoned as hopeless by the official police. From time to time I heard somevague account of his doings: of his summons to Odessa in the case of theTrepoff murder, of his clearing up of the singular tragedy of the Atkinsonbrothers at Trincomalee, and finally of the mission which he had accomplishedso delicately and successfully for the reigning family of Holland. Beyond thesesigns of his activity, however, which I merely shared with all the readers ofthe daily press, I knew little of my former friend and companion.

One night—it was on the twentieth of March, 1888—I was returningfrom a journey to a patient (for I had now returned to civil practice), when myway led me through Baker Street. As I passed the well-remembered door, whichmust always be associated in my mind with my wooing, and with the darkincidents of the Study in Scarlet, I was seized with a keen desire to seeHolmes again, and to know how he was employing his extraordinary powers. Hisrooms were brilliantly lit, and, even as I looked up, I saw his tall, sparefigure pass twice in a dark silhouette against the blind. He was pacing theroom swiftly, eagerly, with his head sunk upon his chest and his hands claspedbehind him. To me, who knew his every mood and habit, his attitude and mannertold their own story. He was at work again. He had risen out of hisdrug-created dreams and was hot upon the scent of some new problem. I rang thebell and was shown up to the chamber which had formerly been in part my own.

His manner was not effusive. It seldom was; but he was glad, I think, to seeme. With hardly a word spoken, but with a kindly eye, he waved me to anarmchair, threw across his case of cigars, and indicated a spirit case and agasogene in the corner. Then he stood before the fire and looked me over in hissingular introspective fashion.

“Wedlock suits you,” he remarked. “I think, Watson, that youhave put on seven and a half pounds since I saw you.”

“Seven!” I answered.

“Indeed, I should have thought a little more. Just a trifle more, Ifancy, Watson. And in practice again, I observe. You did not tell me that youintended to go into harness.”

“Then, how do you know?”

“I see it, I deduce it. How do I know that you have been getting yourselfvery wet lately, and that you have a most clumsy and careless servantgirl?”

“My dear Holmes,” said I, “this is too much. You wouldcertainly have been burned, had you lived a few centuries ago. It is true thatI had a country walk on Thursday and came home in a dreadful mess, but as Ihave changed my clothes I can’t imagine how you deduce it. As to MaryJane, she is incorrigible, and my wife has given her notice, but there, again,I fail to see how you work it out.”

He chuckled to himself and rubbed his long, nervous hands together.

“It is simplicity itself,” said he; “my eyes tell me that onthe inside of your left shoe, just where the firelight strikes it, the leatheris scored by six almost parallel cuts. Obviously they have been caused bysomeone who has very carelessly scraped round the edges of the sole in order toremove crusted mud from it. Hence, you see, my double deduction that you hadbeen out in vile weather, and that you had a particularly malignantboot-slitting specimen of the London slavey. As to your practice, if agentleman walks into my rooms smelling of iodoform, with a black mark ofnitrate of silver upon his right forefinger, and a bulge on the right side ofhis top-hat to show where he has secreted his stethoscope, I must be dull,indeed, if I do not pronounce him to be an active member of the medicalprofession.”

I could not help laughing at the ease with which he explained his process ofdeduction. “When I hear you give your reasons,” I remarked,“the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I couldeasily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning I ambaffled until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are asgood as yours.”

“Quite so,” he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himselfdown into an armchair. “You see, but you do not observe. The distinctionis clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up fromthe hall to this room.”

“Frequently.”

“How often?”

“Well, some hundreds of times.”

“Then how many are there?”

“How many? I don’t know.”

“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just mypoint. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen andobserved. By the way, since you are interested in these little problems, andsince you are good enough to chronicle one or two of my trifling experiences,you may be interested in this.” He threw over a sheet of thick,pink-tinted notepaper which had been lying open upon the table. “It cameby the last post,” said he. “Read it aloud.”

The note was undated, and without either signature or address.

“There will call upon you to-night, at a quarter to eighto’clock,” it said, “a gentleman who desires to consult youupon a matter of the very deepest moment. Your recent services to one of theroyal houses of Europe have shown that you are one who may safely be trustedwith matters which are of an importance which can hardly be exaggerated. Thisaccount of you we have from all quarters received. Be in your chamber then atthat hour, and do not take it amiss if your visitor wear a mask.”

“This is indeed a mystery,” I remarked. “What do you imaginethat it means?”

“I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorise before one hasdata. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead oftheories to suit facts. But the note itself. What do you deduce from it?”

I carefully examined the writing, and the paper upon which it was written.

“The man who wrote it was presumably well to do,” I remarked,endeavouring to imitate my companion’s processes. “Such paper couldnot be bought under half a crown a packet. It is peculiarly strong andstiff.”

“Peculiar—that is the very word,” said Holmes. “It isnot an English paper at all. Hold it up to the light.”

I did so, and saw a large “E” with a small “g,” a“P,” and a large “G” with a small “t” woveninto the texture of the paper.

“What do you make of that?” asked Holmes.

“The name of the maker, no doubt; or his monogram, rather.”

“Not at all. The ‘G’ with the small ‘t’ standsfor ‘Gesellschaft,’ which is the German for ‘Company.’It is a customary contraction like our ‘Co.’ ‘P,’ ofcourse, stands for ‘Papier.’ Now for the ‘Eg.’ Let usglance at our Continental Gazetteer.” He took down a heavy brown volumefrom his shelves. “Eglow, Eglonitz—here we are, Egria. It is in aGerman-speaking country—in Bohemia, not far from Carlsbad.‘Remarkable as being the scene of the death of Wallenstein, and for itsnumerous glass-factories and paper-mills.’ Ha, ha, my boy, what do youmake of that?” His eyes sparkled, and he sent up a great blue triumphantcloud from his cigarette.

“The paper was made in Bohemia,” I said.

“Precisely. And the man who wrote the note is a German. Do you note thepeculiar construction of the sentence—‘This account of you we havefrom all quarters received.’ A Frenchman or Russian could not havewritten that. It is the German who is so uncourteous to his verbs. It onlyremains, therefore, to discover what is wanted by this German who writes uponBohemian paper and prefers wearing a mask to showing his face. And here hecomes, if I am not mistaken, to resolve all our doubts.”

As he spoke there was the sharp sound of horses’ hoofs and grating wheelsagainst the curb, followed by a sharp pull at the bell. Holmes whistled.

“A pair, by the sound,” said he. “Yes,” he continued,glancing out of the window. “A nice little brougham and a pair ofbeauties. A hundred and fifty guineas apiece. There’s money in this case,Watson, if there is nothing else.”

“I think that I had better go, Holmes.”

“Not a bit, Doctor. Stay where you are. I am lost without my Boswell. Andthis promises to be interesting. It would be a pity to miss it.”

“But your client—”

“Never mind him. I may want your help, and so may he. Here he comes. Sitdown in that armchair, Doctor, and give us your best attention.”

A slow and heavy step, which had been heard upon the stairs and in the passage,paused immediately outside the door. Then there was a loud and authoritativetap.

“Come in!” said Holmes.

A man entered who could hardly have been less than six feet six inches inheight, with the chest and limbs of a Hercules. His dress was rich with arichness which would, in England, be looked upon as akin to bad taste. Heavybands of astrakhan were slashed across the sleeves and fronts of hisdouble-breasted coat, while the deep blue cloak which was thrown over hisshoulders was lined with flame-coloured silk and secured at the neck with abrooch which consisted of a single flaming beryl. Boots which extended halfwayup his calves, and which were trimmed at the tops with rich brown fur,completed the impression of barbaric opulence which was suggested by his wholeappearance. He carried a broad-brimmed hat in his hand, while he wore acrossthe upper part of his face, extending down past the cheekbones, a black vizardmask, which he had apparently adjusted that very moment, for his hand was stillraised to it as he entered. From the lower part of the face he appeared to be aman of strong character, with a thick, hanging lip, and a long, straight chinsuggestive of resolution pushed to the length of obstinacy.

“You had my note?” he asked with a deep harsh voice and a stronglymarked German accent. “I told you that I would call.” He lookedfrom one to the other of us, as if uncertain which to address.

“Pray take a seat,” said Holmes. “This is my friend andcolleague, Dr. Watson, who is occasionally good enough to help me in my cases.Whom have I the honour to address?”

“You may address me as the Count Von Kramm, a Bohemian nobleman. Iunderstand that this gentleman, your friend, is a man of honour and discretion,whom I may trust with a matter of the most extreme importance. If not, I shouldmuch prefer to communicate with you alone.”

I rose to go, but Holmes caught me by the wrist and pushed me back into mychair. “It is both, or none,” said he. “You may say beforethis gentleman anything which you may say to me.”

The Count shrugged his broad shoulders. “Then I must begin,” saidhe, “by binding you both to absolute secrecy for two years; at the end ofthat time the matter will be of no importance. At present it is not too much tosay that it is of such weight it may have an influence upon Europeanhistory.”

“I promise,” said Holmes.

“And I.”

“You will excuse this mask,” continued our strange visitor.“The august person who employs me wishes his agent to be unknown to you,and I may confess at once that the title by which I have just called myself isnot exactly my own.”

“I was aware of it,” said Holmes dryly.

“The circumstances are of great delicacy, and every precaution has to betaken to quench what might grow to be an immense scandal and seriouslycompromise one of the reigning families of Europe. To speak plainly, the matterimplicates the great House of Ormstein, hereditary kings of Bohemia.”

“I was also aware of that,” murmured Holmes, settling himself downin his armchair and closing his eyes.

Our visitor glanced with some apparent surprise at the languid, lounging figureof the man who had been no doubt depicted to him as the most incisive reasonerand most energetic agent in Europe. Holmes slowly reopened his eyes and lookedimpatiently at his gigantic client.

“If your Majesty would condescend to state your case,” he remarked,“I should be better able to advise you.”

The man sprang from his chair and paced up and down the room in uncontrollableagitation. Then, with a gesture of desperation, he tore the mask from his faceand hurled it upon the ground. “You are right,” he cried; “Iam the King. Why should I attempt to conceal it?”

“Why, indeed?” murmured Holmes. “Your Majesty had not spokenbefore I was aware that I was addressing Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond vonOrmstein, Grand Duke of Cassel-Felstein, and hereditary King of Bohemia.”

“But you can understand,” said our strange visitor, sitting downonce more and passing his hand over his high white forehead, “you canunderstand that I am not accustomed to doing such business in my own person.Yet the matter was so delicate that I could not confide it to an agent withoutputting myself in his power. I have come incognito from Prague for thepurpose of consulting you.”

“Then, pray consult,” said Holmes, shutting his eyes once more.

“The facts are briefly these: Some five years ago, during a lengthy visitto Warsaw, I made the acquaintance of the well-known adventuress, Irene Adler.The name is no doubt familiar to you.”

“Kindly look her up in my index, Doctor,” murmured Holmes withoutopening his eyes. For many years he had adopted a system of docketing allparagraphs concerning men and things, so that it was difficult to name asubject or a person on which he could not at once furnish information. In thiscase I found her biography sandwiched in between that of a Hebrew rabbi andthat of a staff-commander who had written a monograph upon the deep-sea fishes.

“Let me see!” said Holmes. “Hum! Born in New Jersey in theyear 1858. Contralto—hum! La Scala, hum! Prima donna Imperial Opera ofWarsaw—yes! Retired from operatic stage—ha! Living inLondon—quite so! Your Majesty, as I understand, became entangled withthis young person, wrote her some compromising letters, and is now desirous ofgetting those letters back.”

“Precisely so. But how—”

“Was there a secret marriage?”

“None.”

“No legal papers or certificates?”

“None.”

“Then I fail to follow your Majesty. If this young person should produceher letters for blackmailing or other purposes, how is she to prove theirauthenticity?”

“There is the writing.”

“Pooh, pooh! Forgery.”

“My private note-paper.”

“Stolen.”

“My own seal.”

“Imitated.”

“My photograph.”

“Bought.”

“We were both in the photograph.”

“Oh, dear! That is very bad! Your Majesty has indeed committed anindiscretion.”

“I was mad—insane.”

“You have compromised yourself seriously.”

“I was only Crown Prince then. I was young. I am but thirty now.”

“It must be recovered.”

“We have tried and failed.”

“Your Majesty must pay. It must be bought.”

“She will not sell.”

“Stolen, then.”

“Five attempts have been made. Twice burglars in my pay ransacked herhouse. Once we diverted her luggage when she travelled. Twice she has beenwaylaid. There has been no result.”

“No sign of it?”

“Absolutely none.”

Holmes laughed. “It is quite a pretty little problem,” said he.

“But a very serious one to me,” returned the King reproachfully.

“Very, indeed. And what does she propose to do with thephotograph?”

“To ruin me.”

“But how?”

“I am about to be married.”

“So I have heard.”

“To Clotilde Lothman von Saxe-Meningen, second daughter of the King ofScandinavia. You may know the strict principles of her family. She is herselfthe very soul of delicacy. A shadow of a doubt as to my conduct would bring thematter to an end.”

“And Irene Adler?”

“Threatens to send them the photograph. And she will do it. I know thatshe will do it. You do not know her, but she has a soul of steel. She has theface of the most beautiful of women, and the mind of the most resolute of men.Rather than I should marry another woman, there are no lengths to which shewould not go—none.”

“You are sure that she has not sent it yet?”

“I am sure.”

“And why?”

“Because she has said that she would send it on the day when thebetrothal was publicly proclaimed. That will be next Monday.”

“Oh, then we have three days yet,” said Holmes with a yawn.“That is very fortunate, as I have one or two matters of importance tolook into just at present. Your Majesty will, of course, stay in London for thepresent?”

“Certainly. You will find me at the Langham under the name of the CountVon Kramm.”

“Then I shall drop you a line to let you know how we progress.”

“Pray do so. I shall be all anxiety.”

“Then, as to money?”

“You have carte blanche.”

“Absolutely?”

“I tell you that I would give one of the provinces of my kingdom to havethat photograph.”

“And for present expenses?”

The King took a heavy chamois leather bag from under his cloak and laid it onthe table.

“There are three hundred pounds in gold and seven hundred innotes,” he said.

Holmes scribbled a receipt upon a sheet of his note-book and handed it to him.

“And Mademoiselle’s address?” he asked.

“Is Briony Lodge, Serpentine Avenue, St. John’s Wood.”

Holmes took a note of it. “One other question,” said he. “Wasthe photograph a cabinet?”

“It was.”

“Then, good-night, your Majesty, and I trust that we shall soon have somegood news for you. And good-night, Watson,” he added, as the wheels ofthe royal brougham rolled down the street. “If you will be good enough tocall to-morrow afternoon at three o’clock I should like to chat thislittle matter over with you.”

II.

At three o’clock precisely I was at Baker Street, but Holmes had not yetreturned. The landlady informed me that he had left the house shortly aftereight o’clock in the morning. I sat down beside the fire, however, withthe intention of awaiting him, however long he might be. I was already deeplyinterested in his inquiry, for, though it was surrounded by none of the grimand strange features which were associated with the two crimes which I havealready recorded, still, the nature of the case and the exalted station of hisclient gave it a character of its own. Indeed, apart from the nature of theinvestigation which my friend had on hand, there was something in his masterlygrasp of a situation, and his keen, incisive reasoning, which made it apleasure to me to study his system of work, and to follow the quick, subtlemethods by which he disentangled the most inextricable mysteries. So accustomedwas I to his invariable success that the very possibility of his failing hadceased to enter into my head.

It was close upon four before the door opened, and a drunken-looking groom,ill-kempt and side-whiskered, with an inflamed face and disreputable clothes,walked into the room. Accustomed as I was to my friend’s amazing powersin the use of disguises, I had to look three times before I was certain that itwas indeed he. With a nod he vanished into the bedroom, whence he emerged infive minutes tweed-suited and respectable, as of old. Putting his hands intohis pockets, he stretched out his legs in front of the fire and laughedheartily for some minutes.

“Well, really!” he cried, and then he choked and laughed againuntil he was obliged to lie back, limp and helpless, in the chair.

“What is it?”

“It’s quite too funny. I am sure you could never guess how Iemployed my morning, or what I ended by doing.”

“I can’t imagine. I suppose that you have been watching the habits,and perhaps the house, of Miss Irene Adler.”

“Quite so; but the sequel was rather unusual. I will tell you, however. Ileft the house a little after eight o’clock this morning in the characterof a groom out of work. There is a wonderful sympathy and freemasonry amonghorsey men. Be one of them, and you will know all that there is to know. I soonfound Briony Lodge. It is a bijou villa, with a garden at the back, butbuilt out in front right up to the road, two stories. Chubb lock to the door.Large sitting-room on the right side, well furnished, with long windows almostto the floor, and those preposterous English window fasteners which a childcould open. Behind there was nothing remarkable, save that the passage windowcould be reached from the top of the coach-house. I walked round it andexamined it closely from every point of view, but without noting anything elseof interest.

“I then lounged down the street and found, as I expected, that there wasa mews in a lane which runs down by one wall of the garden. I lent the ostlersa hand in rubbing down their horses, and received in exchange twopence, a glassof half-and-half, two fills of shag tobacco, and as much information as I coulddesire about Miss Adler, to say nothing of half a dozen other people in theneighbourhood in whom I was not in the least interested, but whose biographiesI was compelled to listen to.”

“And what of Irene Adler?” I asked.

“Oh, she has turned all the men’s heads down in that part. She isthe daintiest thing under a bonnet on this planet. So say the Serpentine-mews,to a man. She lives quietly, sings at concerts, drives out at five every day,and returns at seven sharp for dinner. Seldom goes out at other times, exceptwhen she sings. Has only one male visitor, but a good deal of him. He is dark,handsome, and dashing, never calls less than once a day, and often twice. He isa Mr. Godfrey Norton, of the Inner Temple. See the advantages of a cabman as aconfidant. They had driven him home a dozen times from Serpentine-mews, andknew all about him. When I had listened to all they had to tell, I began towalk up and down near Briony Lodge once more, and to think over my plan ofcampaign.

“This Godfrey Norton was evidently an important factor in the matter. Hewas a lawyer. That sounded ominous. What was the relation between them, andwhat the object of his repeated visits? Was she his client, his friend, or hismistress? If the former, she had probably transferred the photograph to hiskeeping. If the latter, it was less likely. On the issue of this questiondepended whether I should continue my work at Briony Lodge, or turn myattention to the gentleman’s chambers in the Temple. It was a delicatepoint, and it widened the field of my inquiry. I fear that I bore you withthese details, but I have to let you see my little difficulties, if you are tounderstand the situation.”

“I am following you closely,” I answered.

“I was still balancing the matter in my mind when a hansom cab drove upto Briony Lodge, and a gentleman sprang out. He was a remarkably handsome man,dark, aquiline, and moustached—evidently the man of whom I had heard. Heappeared to be in a great hurry, shouted to the cabman to wait, and brushedpast the maid who opened the door with the air of a man who was thoroughly athome.

“He was in the house about half an hour, and I could catch glimpses ofhim in the windows of the sitting-room, pacing up and down, talking excitedly,and waving his arms. Of her I could see nothing. Presently he emerged, lookingeven more flurried than before. As he stepped up to the cab, he pulled a goldwatch from his pocket and looked at it earnestly, ‘Drive like thedevil,’ he shouted, ‘first to Gross & Hankey’s in RegentStreet, and then to the Church of St. Monica in the Edgeware Road. Half aguinea if you do it in twenty minutes!’

“Away they went, and I was just wondering whether I should not do well tofollow them when up the lane came a neat little landau, the coachman with hiscoat only half-buttoned, and his tie under his ear, while all the tags of hisharness were sticking out of the buckles. It hadn’t pulled up before sheshot out of the hall door and into it. I only caught a glimpse of her at themoment, but she was a lovely woman, with a face that a man might die for.

“‘The Church of St. Monica, John,’ she cried,‘and half a sovereign if you reach it in twenty minutes.’

“This was quite too good to lose, Watson. I was just balancing whether Ishould run for it, or whether I should perch behind her landau when a cab camethrough the street. The driver looked twice at such a shabby fare, but I jumpedin before he could object. ‘The Church of St. Monica,’ said I,‘and half a sovereign if you reach it in twenty minutes.’ It wastwenty-five minutes to twelve, and of course it was clear enough what was inthe wind.

“My cabby drove fast. I don’t think I ever drove faster, but theothers were there before us. The cab and the landau with their steaming horseswere in front of the door when I arrived. I paid the man and hurried into thechurch. There was not a soul there save the two whom I had followed and asurpliced clergyman, who seemed to be expostulating with them. They were allthree standing in a knot in front of the altar. I lounged up the side aislelike any other idler who has dropped into a church. Suddenly, to my surprise,the three at the altar faced round to me, and Godfrey Norton came running ashard as he could towards me.

“‘Thank God,’ he cried. ‘You’ll do. Come!Come!’

“‘What then?’ I asked.

“‘Come, man, come, only three minutes, or it won’t belegal.’

“I was half-dragged up to the altar, and before I knew where I was Ifound myself mumbling responses which were whispered in my ear, and vouchingfor things of which I knew nothing, and generally assisting in the secure tyingup of Irene Adler, spinster, to Godfrey Norton, bachelor. It was all done in aninstant, and there was the gentleman thanking me on the one side and the ladyon the other, while the clergyman beamed on me in front. It was the mostpreposterous position in which I ever found myself in my life, and it was thethought of it that started me laughing just now. It seems that there had beensome informality about their license, that the clergyman absolutely refused tomarry them without a witness of some sort, and that my lucky appearance savedthe bridegroom from having to sally out into the streets in search of a bestman. The bride gave me a sovereign, and I mean to wear it on my watch chain inmemory of the occasion.”

“This is a very unexpected turn of affairs,” said I; “andwhat then?”

“Well, I found my plans very seriously menaced. It looked as if the pairmight take an immediate departure, and so necessitate very prompt and energeticmeasures on my part. At the church door, however, they separated, he drivingback to the Temple, and she to her own house. ‘I shall drive out in thepark at five as usual,’ she said as she left him. I heard no more. Theydrove away in different directions, and I went off to make my ownarrangements.”

“Which are?”

“Some cold beef and a glass of beer,” he answered, ringing thebell. “I have been too busy to think of food, and I am likely to bebusier still this evening. By the way, Doctor, I shall want yourco-operation.”

“I shall be delighted.”

“You don’t mind breaking the law?”

“Not in the least.”

“Nor running a chance of arrest?”

“Not in a good cause.”

“Oh, the cause is excellent!”

“Then I am your man.”

“I was sure that I might rely on you.”

“But what is it you wish?”

“When Mrs. Turner has brought in the tray I will make it clear to you.Now,” he said as he turned hungrily on the simple fare that our landladyhad provided, “I must discuss it while I eat, for I have not much time.It is nearly five now. In two hours we must be on the scene of action. MissIrene, or Madame, rather, returns from her drive at seven. We must be at BrionyLodge to meet her.”

“And what then?”

“You must leave that to me. I have already arranged what is to occur.There is only one point on which I must insist. You must not interfere, comewhat may. You understand?”

“I am to be neutral?”

“To do nothing whatever. There will probably be some smallunpleasantness. Do not join in it. It will end in my being conveyed into thehouse. Four or five minutes afterwards the sitting-room window will open. Youare to station yourself close to that open window.”

“Yes.”

“You are to watch me, for I will be visible to you.”

“Yes.”

“And when I raise my hand—so—you will throw into the roomwhat I give you to throw, and will, at the same time, raise the cry of fire.You quite follow me?”

“Entirely.”

“It is nothing very formidable,” he said, taking a longcigar-shaped roll from his pocket. “It is an ordinary plumber’ssmoke-rocket, fitted with a cap at either end to make it self-lighting. Yourtask is confined to that. When you raise your cry of fire, it will be taken upby quite a number of people. You may then walk to the end of the street, and Iwill rejoin you in ten minutes. I hope that I have made myself clear?”

“I am to remain neutral, to get near the window, to watch you, and at thesignal to throw in this object, then to raise the cry of fire, and to wait youat the corner of the street.”

“Precisely.”

“Then you may entirely rely on me.”

“That is excellent. I think, perhaps, it is almost time that I preparefor the new role I have to play.”

He disappeared into his bedroom and returned in a few minutes in the characterof an amiable and simple-minded Nonconformist clergyman. His broad black hat,his baggy trousers, his white tie, his sympathetic smile, and general look ofpeering and benevolent curiosity were such as Mr. John Hare alone could haveequalled. It was not merely that Holmes changed his costume. His expression,his manner, his very soul seemed to vary with every fresh part that he assumed.The stage lost a fine actor, even as science lost an acute reasoner, when hebecame a specialist in crime.

It was a quarter past six when we left Baker Street, and it still wanted tenminutes to the hour when we found ourselves in Serpentine Avenue. It wasalready dusk, and the lamps were just being lighted as we paced up and down infront of Briony Lodge, waiting for the coming of its occupant. The house wasjust such as I had pictured it from Sherlock Holmes’ succinctdescription, but the locality appeared to be less private than I expected. Onthe contrary, for a small street in a quiet neighbourhood, it was remarkablyanimated. There was a group of shabbily dressed men smoking and laughing in acorner, a scissors-grinder with his wheel, two guardsmen who were flirting witha nurse-girl, and several well-dressed young men who were lounging up and downwith cigars in their mouths.

“You see,” remarked Holmes, as we paced to and fro in front of thehouse, “this marriage rather simplifies matters. The photograph becomes adouble-edged weapon now. The chances are that she would be as averse to itsbeing seen by Mr. Godfrey Norton, as our client is to its coming to the eyes ofhis princess. Now the question is, Where are we to find the photograph?”

“Where, indeed?”

“It is most unlikely that she carries it about with her. It is cabinetsize. Too large for easy concealment about a woman’s dress. She knowsthat the King is capable of having her waylaid and searched. Two attempts ofthe sort have already been made. We may take it, then, that she does not carryit about with her.”

“Where, then?”

“Her banker or her lawyer. There is that double possibility. But I aminclined to think neither. Women are naturally secretive, and they like to dotheir own secreting. Why should she hand it over to anyone else? She couldtrust her own guardianship, but she could not tell what indirect or politicalinfluence might be brought to bear upon a business man. Besides, remember thatshe had resolved to use it within a few days. It must be where she can lay herhands upon it. It must be in her own house.”

“But it has twice been burgled.”

“Pshaw! They did not know how to look.”

“But how will you look?”

“I will not look.”

“What then?”

“I will get her to show me.”

“But she will refuse.”

“She will not be able to. But I hear the rumble of wheels. It is hercarriage. Now carry out my orders to the letter.”

As he spoke the gleam of the sidelights of a carriage came round the curve ofthe avenue. It was a smart little landau which rattled up to the door of BrionyLodge. As it pulled up, one of the loafing men at the corner dashed forward toopen the door in the hope of earning a copper, but was elbowed away by anotherloafer, who had rushed up with the same intention. A fierce quarrel broke out,which was increased by the two guardsmen, who took sides with one of theloungers, and by the scissors-grinder, who was equally hot upon the other side.A blow was struck, and in an instant the lady, who had stepped from hercarriage, was the centre of a little knot of flushed and struggling men, whostruck savagely at each other with their fists and sticks. Holmes dashed intothe crowd to protect the lady; but, just as he reached her, he gave a cry anddropped to the ground, with the blood running freely down his face. At his fallthe guardsmen took to their heels in one direction and the loungers in theother, while a number of better dressed people, who had watched the scufflewithout taking part in it, crowded in to help the lady and to attend to theinjured man. Irene Adler, as I will still call her, had hurried up the steps;but she stood at the top with her superb figure outlined against the lights ofthe hall, looking back into the street.

“Is the poor gentleman much hurt?” she asked.

“He is dead,” cried several voices.

“No, no, there’s life in him!” shouted another. “Buthe’ll be gone before you can get him to hospital.”

“He’s a brave fellow,” said a woman. “They would havehad the lady’s purse and watch if it hadn’t been for him. They werea gang, and a rough one, too. Ah, he’s breathing now.”

“He can’t lie in the street. May we bring him in, marm?”

“Surely. Bring him into the sitting-room. There is a comfortable sofa.This way, please!”

Slowly and solemnly he was borne into Briony Lodge and laid out in theprincipal room, while I still observed the proceedings from my post by thewindow. The lamps had been lit, but the blinds had not been drawn, so that Icould see Holmes as he lay upon the couch. I do not know whether he was seizedwith compunction at that moment for the part he was playing, but I know that Inever felt more heartily ashamed of myself in my life than when I saw thebeautiful creature against whom I was conspiring, or the grace and kindlinesswith which she waited upon the injured man. And yet it would be the blackesttreachery to Holmes to draw back now from the part which he had intrusted tome. I hardened my heart, and took the smoke-rocket from under my ulster. Afterall, I thought, we are not injuring her. We are but preventing her frominjuring another.

Holmes had sat up upon the couch, and I saw him motion like a man who is inneed of air. A maid rushed across and threw open the window. At the sameinstant I saw him raise his hand and at the signal I tossed my rocket into theroom with a cry of “Fire!” The word was no sooner out of my mouththan the whole crowd of spectators, well dressed and ill—gentlemen,ostlers, and servant maids—joined in a general shriek of“Fire!” Thick clouds of smoke curled through the room and out atthe open window. I caught a glimpse of rushing figures, and a moment later thevoice of Holmes from within assuring them that it was a false alarm. Slippingthrough the shouting crowd I made my way to the corner of the street, and inten minutes was rejoiced to find my friend’s arm in mine, and to get awayfrom the scene of uproar. He walked swiftly and in silence for some few minutesuntil we had turned down one of the quiet streets which lead towards theEdgeware Road.

“You did it very nicely, Doctor,” he remarked. “Nothing couldhave been better. It is all right.”

“You have the photograph?”

“I know where it is.”

“And how did you find out?”

“She showed me, as I told you she would.”

“I am still in the dark.”

“I do not wish to make a mystery,” said he, laughing. “Thematter was perfectly simple. You, of course, saw that everyone in the streetwas an accomplice. They were all engaged for the evening.”

“I guessed as much.”

“Then, when the row broke out, I had a little moist red paint in the palmof my hand. I rushed forward, fell down, clapped my hand to my face, and becamea piteous spectacle. It is an old trick.”

“That also I could fathom.”

“Then they carried me in. She was bound to have me in. What else couldshe do? And into her sitting-room, which was the very room which I suspected.It lay between that and her bedroom, and I was determined to see which. Theylaid me on a couch, I motioned for air, they were compelled to open the window,and you had your chance.”

“How did that help you?”

“It was all-important. When a woman thinks that her house is on fire, herinstinct is at once to rush to the thing which she values most. It is aperfectly overpowering impulse, and I have more than once taken advantage ofit. In the case of the Darlington Substitution Scandal it was of use to me, andalso in the Arnsworth Castle business. A married woman grabs at her baby; anunmarried one reaches for her jewel-box. Now it was clear to me that our ladyof to-day had nothing in the house more precious to her than what we are inquest of. She would rush to secure it. The alarm of fire was admirably done.The smoke and shouting were enough to shake nerves of steel. She respondedbeautifully. The photograph is in a recess behind a sliding panel just abovethe right bell-pull. She was there in an instant, and I caught a glimpse of itas she half drew it out. When I cried out that it was a false alarm, shereplaced it, glanced at the rocket, rushed from the room, and I have not seenher since. I rose, and, making my excuses, escaped from the house. I hesitatedwhether to attempt to secure the photograph at once; but the coachman had comein, and as he was watching me narrowly, it seemed safer to wait. A littleover-precipitance may ruin all.”

“And now?” I asked.

“Our quest is practically finished. I shall call with the King to-morrow,and with you, if you care to come with us. We will be shown into thesitting-room to wait for the lady, but it is probable that when she comes shemay find neither us nor the photograph. It might be a satisfaction to hisMajesty to regain it with his own hands.”

“And when will you call?”

“At eight in the morning. She will not be up, so that we shall have aclear field. Besides, we must be prompt, for this marriage may mean a completechange in her life and habits. I must wire to the King without delay.”

We had reached Baker Street and had stopped at the door. He was searching hispockets for the key when someone passing said:

“Good-night, Mister Sherlock Holmes.”

There were several people on the pavement at the time, but the greetingappeared to come from a slim youth in an ulster who had hurried by.

“I’ve heard that voice before,” said Holmes, staring down thedimly lit street. “Now, I wonder who the deuce that could havebeen.”

III.

I slept at Baker Street that night, and we were engaged upon our toast andcoffee in the morning when the King of Bohemia rushed into the room.

“You have really got it!” he cried, grasping Sherlock Holmes byeither shoulder and looking eagerly into his face.

“Not yet.”

“But you have hopes?”

“I have hopes.”

“Then, come. I am all impatience to be gone.”

“We must have a cab.”

“No, my brougham is waiting.”

“Then that will simplify matters.” We descended and started offonce more for Briony Lodge.

“Irene Adler is married,” remarked Holmes.

“Married! When?”

“Yesterday.”

“But to whom?”

“To an English lawyer named Norton.”

“But she could not love him.”

“I am in hopes that she does.”

“And why in hopes?”

“Because it would spare your Majesty all fear of future annoyance. If thelady loves her husband, she does not love your Majesty. If she does not loveyour Majesty, there is no reason why she should interfere with yourMajesty’s plan.”

“It is true. And yet—! Well! I wish she had been of my own station!What a queen she would have made!” He relapsed into a moody silence,which was not broken until we drew up in Serpentine Avenue.

The door of Briony Lodge was open, and an elderly woman stood upon the steps.She watched us with a sardonic eye as we stepped from the brougham.

“Mr. Sherlock Holmes, I believe?” said she.

“I am Mr. Holmes,” answered my companion, looking at her with aquestioning and rather startled gaze.

“Indeed! My mistress told me that you were likely to call. She left thismorning with her husband by the 5:15 train from Charing Cross for theContinent.”

“What!” Sherlock Holmes staggered back, white with chagrin andsurprise. “Do you mean that she has left England?”

“Never to return.”

“And the papers?” asked the King hoarsely. “All islost.”

“We shall see.” He pushed past the servant and rushed into thedrawing-room, followed by the King and myself. The furniture was scatteredabout in every direction, with dismantled shelves and open drawers, as if thelady had hurriedly ransacked them before her flight. Holmes rushed at thebell-pull, tore back a small sliding shutter, and, plunging in his hand, pulledout a photograph and a letter. The photograph was of Irene Adler herself inevening dress, the letter was superscribed to “Sherlock Holmes, Esq. Tobe left till called for.” My friend tore it open, and we all three readit together. It was dated at midnight of the preceding night and ran in thisway:

“MY DEAR MR. SHERLOCK HOLMES,—You really did it very well. You tookme in completely. Until after the alarm of fire, I had not a suspicion. Butthen, when I found how I had betrayed myself, I began to think. I had beenwarned against you months ago. I had been told that, if the King employed anagent, it would certainly be you. And your address had been given me. Yet, withall this, you made me reveal what you wanted to know. Even after I becamesuspicious, I found it hard to think evil of such a dear, kind old clergyman.But, you know, I have been trained as an actress myself. Male costume isnothing new to me. I often take advantage of the freedom which it gives. I sentJohn, the coachman, to watch you, ran upstairs, got into my walking clothes, asI call them, and came down just as you departed.
“Well, I followed you to your door, and so made sure that I was really anobject of interest to the celebrated Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Then I, ratherimprudently, wished you good-night, and started for the Temple to see myhusband.
“We both thought the best resource was flight, when pursued byso formidable an antagonist; so you will find the nest empty when you callto-morrow. As to the photograph, your client may rest in peace. I love and amloved by a better man than he. The King may do what he will without hindrancefrom one whom he has cruelly wronged. I keep it only to safeguard myself, andto preserve a weapon which will always secure me from any steps which he mighttake in the future. I leave a photograph which he might care to possess; and Iremain, dear Mr. Sherlock Holmes,

“Very truly yours,
“IRENE NORTON, née ADLER.”

“What a woman—oh, what a woman!” cried the King of Bohemia,when we had all three read this epistle. “Did I not tell you how quickand resolute she was? Would she not have made an admirable queen? Is it not apity that she was not on my level?”

“From what I have seen of the lady, she seems, indeed, to be on a verydifferent level to your Majesty,” said Holmes coldly. “I am sorrythat I have not been able to bring your Majesty’s business to a moresuccessful conclusion.”

“On the contrary, my dear sir,” cried the King; “nothingcould be more successful. I know that her word is inviolate. The photograph isnow as safe as if it were in the fire.”

“I am glad to hear your Majesty say so.”

“I am immensely indebted to you. Pray tell me in what way I can rewardyou. This ring—” He slipped an emerald snake ring from his fingerand held it out upon the palm of his hand.

“Your Majesty has something which I should value even more highly,”said Holmes.

“You have but to name it.”

“This photograph!”

The King stared at him in amazement.

“Irene’s photograph!” he cried. “Certainly, if you wishit.”

“I thank your Majesty. Then there is no more to be done in the matter. Ihave the honour to wish you a very good morning.” He bowed, and, turningaway without observing the hand which the King had stretched out to him, he setoff in my company for his chambers.

And that was how a great scandal threatened to affect the kingdom of Bohemia,and how the best plans of Mr. Sherlock Holmes were beaten by a woman’swit. He used to make merry over the cleverness of women, but I have not heardhim do it of late. And when he speaks of Irene Adler, or when he refers to herphotograph, it is always under the honourable title of the woman.

II.
THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE

I hadcalled upon my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, one day in the autumn of last yearand found him in deep conversation with a very stout, florid-faced, elderlygentleman with fiery red hair. With an apology for my intrusion, I was about towithdraw when Holmes pulled me abruptly into the room and closed the doorbehind me.

“You could not possibly have come at a better time, my dearWatson,” he said cordially.

“I was afraid that you were engaged.”

“So I am. Very much so.”

“Then I can wait in the next room.”

“Not at all. This gentleman, Mr. Wilson, has been my partner and helperin many of my most successful cases, and I have no doubt that he will be of theutmost use to me in yours also.”

The stout gentleman half rose from his chair and gave a bob of greeting, with aquick little questioning glance from his small fat-encircled eyes.

“Try the settee,” said Holmes, relapsing into his armchair andputting his fingertips together, as was his custom when in judicial moods.“I know, my dear Watson, that you share my love of all that is bizarreand outside the conventions and humdrum routine of everyday life. You haveshown your relish for it by the enthusiasm which has prompted you to chronicle,and, if you will excuse my saying so, somewhat to embellish so many of my ownlittle adventures.”

“Your cases have indeed been of the greatest interest to me,” Iobserved.

“You will remember that I remarked the other day, just before we wentinto the very simple problem presented by Miss Mary Sutherland, that forstrange effects and extraordinary combinations we must go to life itself, whichis always far more daring than any effort of the imagination.”

“A proposition which I took the liberty of doubting.”

“You did, Doctor, but none the less you must come round to my view, forotherwise I shall keep on piling fact upon fact on you until your reason breaksdown under them and acknowledges me to be right. Now, Mr. Jabez Wilson here hasbeen good enough to call upon me this morning, and to begin a narrative whichpromises to be one of the most singular which I have listened to for some time.You have heard me remark that the strangest and most unique things are veryoften connected not with the larger but with the smaller crimes, andoccasionally, indeed, where there is room for doubt whether any positive crimehas been committed. As far as I have heard, it is impossible for me to saywhether the present case is an instance of crime or not, but the course ofevents is certainly among the most singular that I have ever listened to.Perhaps, Mr. Wilson, you would have the great kindness to recommence yournarrative. I ask you not merely because my friend Dr. Watson has not heard theopening part but also because the peculiar nature of the story makes me anxiousto have every possible detail from your lips. As a rule, when I have heard someslight indication of the course of events, I am able to guide myself by thethousands of other similar cases which occur to my memory. In the presentinstance I am forced to admit that the facts are, to the best of my belief,unique.”

The portly client puffed out his chest with an appearance of some little prideand pulled a dirty and wrinkled newspaper from the inside pocket of hisgreatcoat. As he glanced down the advertisement column, with his head thrustforward and the paper flattened out upon his knee, I took a good look at theman and endeavoured, after the fashion of my companion, to read the indicationswhich might be presented by his dress or appearance.

I did not gain very much, however, by my inspection. Our visitor bore everymark of being an average commonplace British tradesman, obese, pompous, andslow. He wore rather baggy grey shepherd’s check trousers, a notover-clean black frock-coat, unbuttoned in the front, and a drab waistcoat witha heavy brassy Albert chain, and a square pierced bit of metal dangling down asan ornament. A frayed top-hat and a faded brown overcoat with a wrinkled velvetcollar lay upon a chair beside him. Altogether, look as I would, there wasnothing remarkable about the man save his blazing red head, and the expressionof extreme chagrin and discontent upon his features.

Sherlock Holmes’ quick eye took in my occupation, and he shook his headwith a smile as he noticed my questioning glances. “Beyond the obviousfacts that he has at some time done manual labour, that he takes snuff, that heis a Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done a considerableamount of writing lately, I can deduce nothing else.”

Mr. Jabez Wilson started up in his chair, with his forefinger upon the paper,but his eyes upon my companion.

“How, in the name of good-fortune, did you know all that, Mr.Holmes?” he asked. “How did you know, for example, that I didmanual labour. It’s as true as gospel, for I began as a ship’scarpenter.”

“Your hands, my dear sir. Your right hand is quite a size larger thanyour left. You have worked with it, and the muscles are more developed.”

“Well, the snuff, then, and the Freemasonry?”

“I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you how I read that,especially as, rather against the strict rules of your order, you use anarc-and-compass breastpin.”

“Ah, of course, I forgot that. But the writing?”

“What else can be indicated by that right cuff so very shiny for fiveinches, and the left one with the smooth patch near the elbow where you rest itupon the desk?”

“Well, but China?”

“The fish that you have tattooed immediately above your right wrist couldonly have been done in China. I have made a small study of tattoo marks andhave even contributed to the literature of the subject. That trick of stainingthe fishes’ scales of a delicate pink is quite peculiar to China. When,in addition, I see a Chinese coin hanging from your watch-chain, the matterbecomes even more simple.”

Mr. Jabez Wilson laughed heavily. “Well, I never!” said he.“I thought at first that you had done something clever, but I see thatthere was nothing in it after all.”

“I begin to think, Watson,” said Holmes, “that I make amistake in explaining. ‘Omne ignotum pro magnifico,’ youknow, and my poor little reputation, such as it is, will suffer shipwreck if Iam so candid. Can you not find the advertisement, Mr. Wilson?”

“Yes, I have got it now,” he answered with his thick red fingerplanted halfway down the column. “Here it is. This is what began it all.You just read it for yourself, sir.”

I took the paper from him and read as follows:

“TO THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE: On account of the bequest of the late EzekiahHopkins, of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., there is now another vacancy openwhich entitles a member of the League to a salary of £ 4 a week for purelynominal services. All red-headed men who are sound in body and mind and abovethe age of twenty-one years, are eligible. Apply in person on Monday, at eleveno’clock, to Duncan Ross, at the offices of the League, 7 Pope’sCourt, Fleet Street.”

“What on earth does this mean?” I ejaculated after I had twice readover the extraordinary announcement.

Holmes chuckled and wriggled in his chair, as was his habit when in highspirits. “It is a little off the beaten track, isn’t it?”said he. “And now, Mr. Wilson, off you go at scratch and tell us allabout yourself, your household, and the effect which this advertisement hadupon your fortunes. You will first make a note, Doctor, of the paper and thedate.”

“It is The Morning Chronicle of April 27, 1890. Just two monthsago.”

“Very good. Now, Mr. Wilson?”

“Well, it is just as I have been telling you, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,”said Jabez Wilson, mopping his forehead; “I have a smallpawnbroker’s business at Coburg Square, near the City. It’s not avery large affair, and of late years it has not done more than just give me aliving. I used to be able to keep two assistants, but now I only keep one; andI would have a job to pay him but that he is willing to come for half wages soas to learn the business.”

“What is the name of this obliging youth?” asked Sherlock Holmes.

“His name is Vincent Spaulding, and he’s not such a youth, either.It’s hard to say his age. I should not wish a smarter assistant, Mr.Holmes; and I know very well that he could better himself and earn twice what Iam able to give him. But, after all, if he is satisfied, why should I put ideasin his head?”

“Why, indeed? You seem most fortunate in having an employé whocomes under the full market price. It is not a common experience amongemployers in this age. I don’t know that your assistant is not asremarkable as your advertisement.”

“Oh, he has his faults, too,” said Mr. Wilson. “Never wassuch a fellow for photography. Snapping away with a camera when he ought to beimproving his mind, and then diving down into the cellar like a rabbit into itshole to develop his pictures. That is his main fault, but on the wholehe’s a good worker. There’s no vice in him.”

“He is still with you, I presume?”

“Yes, sir. He and a girl of fourteen, who does a bit of simple cookingand keeps the place clean—that’s all I have in the house, for I ama widower and never had any family. We live very quietly, sir, the three of us;and we keep a roof over our heads and pay our debts, if we do nothing more.

“The first thing that put us out was that advertisement. Spaulding, hecame down into the office just this day eight weeks, with this very paper inhis hand, and he says:

“‘I wish to the Lord, Mr. Wilson, that I was a red-headedman.’

“‘Why that?’ I asks.

“‘Why,’ says he, ‘here’s another vacancy onthe League of the Red-headed Men. It’s worth quite a little fortune toany man who gets it, and I understand that there are more vacancies than thereare men, so that the trustees are at their wits’ end what to do with themoney. If my hair would only change colour, here’s a nice little crib allready for me to step into.’

“‘Why, what is it, then?’ I asked. You see, Mr. Holmes,I am a very stay-at-home man, and as my business came to me instead of myhaving to go to it, I was often weeks on end without putting my foot over thedoor-mat. In that way I didn’t know much of what was going on outside,and I was always glad of a bit of news.

“‘Have you never heard of the League of the Red-headedMen?’ he asked with his eyes open.

“‘Never.’

“‘Why, I wonder at that, for you are eligible yourself forone of the vacancies.’

“‘And what are they worth?’ I asked.

“‘Oh, merely a couple of hundred a year, but the work isslight, and it need not interfere very much with one’s otheroccupations.’

“Well, you can easily think that that made me prick up my ears, for thebusiness has not been over good for some years, and an extra couple of hundredwould have been very handy.

“‘Tell me all about it,’ said I.

“‘Well,’ said he, showing me the advertisement,‘you can see for yourself that the League has a vacancy, and there is theaddress where you should apply for particulars. As far as I can make out, theLeague was founded by an American millionaire, Ezekiah Hopkins, who was verypeculiar in his ways. He was himself red-headed, and he had a great sympathyfor all red-headed men; so, when he died, it was found that he had left hisenormous fortune in the hands of trustees, with instructions to apply theinterest to the providing of easy berths to men whose hair is of that colour.From all I hear it is splendid pay and very little to do.’

“‘But,’ said I, ‘there would be millions ofred-headed men who would apply.’

“‘Not so many as you might think,’ he answered.‘You see it is really confined to Londoners, and to grown men. ThisAmerican had started from London when he was young, and he wanted to do the oldtown a good turn. Then, again, I have heard it is no use your applying if yourhair is light red, or dark red, or anything but real bright, blazing, fieryred. Now, if you cared to apply, Mr. Wilson, you would just walk in; butperhaps it would hardly be worth your while to put yourself out of the way forthe sake of a few hundred pounds.’

“Now, it is a fact, gentlemen, as you may see for yourselves, that myhair is of a very full and rich tint, so that it seemed to me that if there wasto be any competition in the matter I stood as good a chance as any man that Ihad ever met. Vincent Spaulding seemed to know so much about it that I thoughthe might prove useful, so I just ordered him to put up the shutters for the dayand to come right away with me. He was very willing to have a holiday, so weshut the business up and started off for the address that was given us in theadvertisement.

“I never hope to see such a sight as that again, Mr. Holmes. From north,south, east, and west every man who had a shade of red in his hair had trampedinto the city to answer the advertisement. Fleet Street was choked withred-headed folk, and Pope’s Court looked like a coster’s orangebarrow. I should not have thought there were so many in the whole country aswere brought together by that single advertisement. Every shade of colour theywere—straw, lemon, orange, brick, Irish-setter, liver, clay; but, asSpaulding said, there were not many who had the real vivid flame-coloured tint.When I saw how many were waiting, I would have given it up in despair; butSpaulding would not hear of it. How he did it I could not imagine, but hepushed and pulled and butted until he got me through the crowd, and right up tothe steps which led to the office. There was a double stream upon the stair,some going up in hope, and some coming back dejected; but we wedged in as wellas we could and soon found ourselves in the office.”

“Your experience has been a most entertaining one,” remarked Holmesas his client paused and refreshed his memory with a huge pinch of snuff.“Pray continue your very interesting statement.”

“There was nothing in the office but a couple of wooden chairs and a dealtable, behind which sat a small man with a head that was even redder than mine.He said a few words to each candidate as he came up, and then he always managedto find some fault in them which would disqualify them. Getting a vacancy didnot seem to be such a very easy matter, after all. However, when our turn camethe little man was much more favourable to me than to any of the others, and heclosed the door as we entered, so that he might have a private word with us.

“‘This is Mr. Jabez Wilson,’ said my assistant,‘and he is willing to fill a vacancy in the League.’

“‘And he is admirably suited for it,’ the otheranswered. ‘He has every requirement. I cannot recall when I have seenanything so fine.’ He took a step backward, cocked his head on one side,and gazed at my hair until I felt quite bashful. Then suddenly he plungedforward, wrung my hand, and congratulated me warmly on my success.

“‘It would be injustice to hesitate,’ said he.‘You will, however, I am sure, excuse me for taking an obviousprecaution.’ With that he seized my hair in both his hands, and tuggeduntil I yelled with the pain. ‘There is water in your eyes,’ saidhe as he released me. ‘I perceive that all is as it should be. But wehave to be careful, for we have twice been deceived by wigs and once by paint.I could tell you tales of cobbler’s wax which would disgust you withhuman nature.’ He stepped over to the window and shouted through it atthe top of his voice that the vacancy was filled. A groan of disappointmentcame up from below, and the folk all trooped away in different directions untilthere was not a red-head to be seen except my own and that of the manager.

“‘My name,’ said he, ‘is Mr. Duncan Ross, and Iam myself one of the pensioners upon the fund left by our noble benefactor. Areyou a married man, Mr. Wilson? Have you a family?’

“I answered that I had not.

“His face fell immediately.

“‘Dear me!’ he said gravely, ‘that is veryserious indeed! I am sorry to hear you say that. The fund was, of course, forthe propagation and spread of the red-heads as well as for their maintenance.It is exceedingly unfortunate that you should be a bachelor.’

“My face lengthened at this, Mr. Holmes, for I thought that I was not tohave the vacancy after all; but after thinking it over for a few minutes hesaid that it would be all right.

“‘In the case of another,’ said he, ‘theobjection might be fatal, but we must stretch a point in favour of a man withsuch a head of hair as yours. When shall you be able to enter upon your newduties?’

“‘Well, it is a little awkward, for I have a businessalready,’ said I.

“‘Oh, never mind about that, Mr. Wilson!’ said VincentSpaulding. ‘I should be able to look after that for you.’

“‘What would be the hours?’ I asked.

“‘Ten to two.’

“Now a pawnbroker’s business is mostly done of an evening, Mr.Holmes, especially Thursday and Friday evening, which is just before pay-day;so it would suit me very well to earn a little in the mornings. Besides, I knewthat my assistant was a good man, and that he would see to anything that turnedup.

“‘That would suit me very well,’ said I. ‘And thepay?’

“‘Is £ 4 a week.’

“‘And the work?’

“‘Is purely nominal.’

“‘What do you call purely nominal?’

“‘Well, you have to be in the office, or at least in thebuilding, the whole time. If you leave, you forfeit your whole positionforever. The will is very clear upon that point. You don’t comply withthe conditions if you budge from the office during that time.’

“‘It’s only four hours a day, and I should not think ofleaving,’ said I.

“‘No excuse will avail,’ said Mr. Duncan Ross;‘neither sickness nor business nor anything else. There you must stay, oryou lose your billet.’

“‘And the work?’

“‘Is to copy out the Encyclopædia Britannica. There is thefirst volume of it in that press. You must find your own ink, pens, andblotting-paper, but we provide this table and chair. Will you be readyto-morrow?’

“‘Certainly,’ I answered.

“‘Then, good-bye, Mr. Jabez Wilson, and let me congratulateyou once more on the important position which you have been fortunate enough togain.’ He bowed me out of the room and I went home with my assistant,hardly knowing what to say or do, I was so pleased at my own good fortune.

“Well, I thought over the matter all day, and by evening I was in lowspirits again; for I had quite persuaded myself that the whole affair must besome great hoax or fraud, though what its object might be I could not imagine.It seemed altogether past belief that anyone could make such a will, or thatthey would pay such a sum for doing anything so simple as copying out theEncyclopædia Britannica. Vincent Spaulding did what he could to cheer meup, but by bedtime I had reasoned myself out of the whole thing. However, inthe morning I determined to have a look at it anyhow, so I bought a pennybottle of ink, and with a quill-pen, and seven sheets of foolscap paper, Istarted off for Pope’s Court.

“Well, to my surprise and delight, everything was as right as possible.The table was set out ready for me, and Mr. Duncan Ross was there to see that Igot fairly to work. He started me off upon the letter A, and then he left me;but he would drop in from time to time to see that all was right with me. Attwo o’clock he bade me good-day, complimented me upon the amount that Ihad written, and locked the door of the office after me.

“This went on day after day, Mr. Holmes, and on Saturday the manager camein and planked down four golden sovereigns for my week’s work. It was thesame next week, and the same the week after. Every morning I was there at ten,and every afternoon I left at two. By degrees Mr. Duncan Ross took to coming inonly once of a morning, and then, after a time, he did not come in at all.Still, of course, I never dared to leave the room for an instant, for I was notsure when he might come, and the billet was such a good one, and suited me sowell, that I would not risk the loss of it.

“Eight weeks passed away like this, and I had written about Abbots andArchery and Armour and Architecture and Attica, and hoped with diligence that Imight get on to the B’s before very long. It cost me something infoolscap, and I had pretty nearly filled a shelf with my writings. And thensuddenly the whole business came to an end.”

“To an end?”

“Yes, sir. And no later than this morning. I went to my work as usual atten o’clock, but the door was shut and locked, with a little square ofcardboard hammered on to the middle of the panel with a tack. Here it is, andyou can read for yourself.”

He held up a piece of white cardboard about the size of a sheet of note-paper.It read in this fashion:

“THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE IS DISSOLVED. October 9, 1890.”

Sherlock Holmes and I surveyed this curt announcement and the rueful facebehind it, until the comical side of the affair so completely overtopped everyother consideration that we both burst out into a roar of laughter.

“I cannot see that there is anything very funny,” cried our client,flushing up to the roots of his flaming head. “If you can do nothingbetter than laugh at me, I can go elsewhere.”

“No, no,” cried Holmes, shoving him back into the chair from whichhe had half risen. “I really wouldn’t miss your case for the world.It is most refreshingly unusual. But there is, if you will excuse my saying so,something just a little funny about it. Pray what steps did you take when youfound the card upon the door?”

“I was staggered, sir. I did not know what to do. Then I called at theoffices round, but none of them seemed to know anything about it. Finally, Iwent to the landlord, who is an accountant living on the ground floor, and Iasked him if he could tell me what had become of the Red-headed League. He saidthat he had never heard of any such body. Then I asked him who Mr. Duncan Rosswas. He answered that the name was new to him.

“‘Well,’ said I, ‘the gentleman at No. 4.’

“‘What, the red-headed man?’

“‘Yes.’

“‘Oh,’ said he, ‘his name was William Morris. Hewas a solicitor and was using my room as a temporary convenience until his newpremises were ready. He moved out yesterday.’

“‘Where could I find him?’

“‘Oh, at his new offices. He did tell me the address. Yes, 17King Edward Street, near St. Paul’s.’

“I started off, Mr. Holmes, but when I got to that address it was amanufactory of artificial knee-caps, and no one in it had ever heard of eitherMr. William Morris or Mr. Duncan Ross.”

“And what did you do then?” asked Holmes.

“I went home to Saxe-Coburg Square, and I took the advice of myassistant. But he could not help me in any way. He could only say that if Iwaited I should hear by post. But that was not quite good enough, Mr. Holmes. Idid not wish to lose such a place without a struggle, so, as I had heard thatyou were good enough to give advice to poor folk who were in need of it, I cameright away to you.”

“And you did very wisely,” said Holmes. “Your case is anexceedingly remarkable one, and I shall be happy to look into it. From what youhave told me I think that it is possible that graver issues hang from it thanmight at first sight appear.”

“Grave enough!” said Mr. Jabez Wilson. “Why, I have lost fourpound a week.”

“As far as you are personally concerned,” remarked Holmes, “Ido not see that you have any grievance against this extraordinary league. Onthe contrary, you are, as I understand, richer by some £ 30, to say nothing ofthe minute knowledge which you have gained on every subject which comes underthe letter A. You have lost nothing by them.”

“No, sir. But I want to find out about them, and who they are, and whattheir object was in playing this prank—if it was a prank—upon me.It was a pretty expensive joke for them, for it cost them two and thirtypounds.”

“We shall endeavour to clear up these points for you. And, first, one ortwo questions, Mr. Wilson. This assistant of yours who first called yourattention to the advertisement—how long had he been with you?”

“About a month then.”

“How did he come?”

“In answer to an advertisement.”

“Was he the only applicant?”

“No, I had a dozen.”

“Why did you pick him?”

“Because he was handy and would come cheap.”

“At half wages, in fact.”

“Yes.”

“What is he like, this Vincent Spaulding?”

“Small, stout-built, very quick in his ways, no hair on his face, thoughhe’s not short of thirty. Has a white splash of acid upon hisforehead.”

Holmes sat up in his chair in considerable excitement. “I thought asmuch,” said he. “Have you ever observed that his ears are piercedfor earrings?”

“Yes, sir. He told me that a gipsy had done it for him when he was alad.”

“Hum!” said Holmes, sinking back in deep thought. “He isstill with you?”

“Oh, yes, sir; I have only just left him.”

“And has your business been attended to in your absence?”

“Nothing to complain of, sir. There’s never very much to do of amorning.”

“That will do, Mr. Wilson. I shall be happy to give you an opinion uponthe subject in the course of a day or two. To-day is Saturday, and I hope thatby Monday we may come to a conclusion.”

“Well, Watson,” said Holmes when our visitor had left us,“what do you make of it all?”

“I make nothing of it,” I answered frankly. “It is a mostmysterious business.”

“As a rule,” said Holmes, “the more bizarre a thing is theless mysterious it proves to be. It is your commonplace, featureless crimeswhich are really puzzling, just as a commonplace face is the most difficult toidentify. But I must be prompt over this matter.”

“What are you going to do, then?” I asked.

“To smoke,” he answered. “It is quite a three pipe problem,and I beg that you won’t speak to me for fifty minutes.” He curledhimself up in his chair, with his thin knees drawn up to his hawk-like nose,and there he sat with his eyes closed and his black clay pipe thrusting outlike the bill of some strange bird. I had come to the conclusion that he haddropped asleep, and indeed was nodding myself, when he suddenly sprang out ofhis chair with the gesture of a man who has made up his mind and put his pipedown upon the mantelpiece.

“Sarasate plays at the St. James’s Hall this afternoon,” heremarked. “What do you think, Watson? Could your patients spare you for afew hours?”

“I have nothing to do to-day. My practice is never very absorbing.”

“Then put on your hat and come. I am going through the City first, and wecan have some lunch on the way. I observe that there is a good deal of Germanmusic on the programme, which is rather more to my taste than Italian orFrench. It is introspective, and I want to introspect. Come along!”

We travelled by the Underground as far as Aldersgate; and a short walk took usto Saxe-Coburg Square, the scene of the singular story which we had listened toin the morning. It was a poky, little, shabby-genteel place, where four linesof dingy two-storied brick houses looked out into a small railed-in enclosure,where a lawn of weedy grass and a few clumps of faded laurel bushes made a hardfight against a smoke-laden and uncongenial atmosphere. Three gilt balls and abrown board with “JABEZ WILSON” in white letters, upon a cornerhouse, announced the place where our red-headed client carried on his business.Sherlock Holmes stopped in front of it with his head on one side and looked itall over, with his eyes shining brightly between puckered lids. Then he walkedslowly up the street, and then down again to the corner, still looking keenlyat the houses. Finally he returned to the pawnbroker’s, and, havingthumped vigorously upon the pavement with his stick two or three times, he wentup to the door and knocked. It was instantly opened by a bright-looking,clean-shaven young fellow, who asked him to step in.

“Thank you,” said Holmes, “I only wished to ask you how youwould go from here to the Strand.”

“Third right, fourth left,” answered the assistant promptly,closing the door.

“Smart fellow, that,” observed Holmes as we walked away. “Heis, in my judgment, the fourth smartest man in London, and for daring I am notsure that he has not a claim to be third. I have known something of himbefore.”

“Evidently,” said I, “Mr. Wilson’s assistant counts fora good deal in this mystery of the Red-headed League. I am sure that youinquired your way merely in order that you might see him.”

“Not him.”

“What then?”

“The knees of his trousers.”

“And what did you see?”

“What I expected to see.”

“Why did you beat the pavement?”

“My dear doctor, this is a time for observation, not for talk. We arespies in an enemy’s country. We know something of Saxe-Coburg Square. Letus now explore the parts which lie behind it.”

The road in which we found ourselves as we turned round the corner from theretired Saxe-Coburg Square presented as great a contrast to it as the front ofa picture does to the back. It was one of the main arteries which conveyed thetraffic of the City to the north and west. The roadway was blocked with theimmense stream of commerce flowing in a double tide inward and outward, whilethe footpaths were black with the hurrying swarm of pedestrians. It wasdifficult to realise as we looked at the line of fine shops and statelybusiness premises that they really abutted on the other side upon the faded andstagnant square which we had just quitted.

“Let me see,” said Holmes, standing at the corner and glancingalong the line, “I should like just to remember the order of the houseshere. It is a hobby of mine to have an exact knowledge of London. There isMortimer’s, the tobacconist, the little newspaper shop, the Coburg branchof the City and Suburban Bank, the Vegetarian Restaurant, and McFarlane’scarriage-building depot. That carries us right on to the other block. And now,Doctor, we’ve done our work, so it’s time we had some play. Asandwich and a cup of coffee, and then off to violin-land, where all issweetness and delicacy and harmony, and there are no red-headed clients to vexus with their conundrums.”

My friend was an enthusiastic musician, being himself not only a very capableperformer but a composer of no ordinary merit. All the afternoon he sat in thestalls wrapped in the most perfect happiness, gently waving his long, thinfingers in time to the music, while his gently smiling face and his languid,dreamy eyes were as unlike those of Holmes the sleuth-hound, Holmes therelentless, keen-witted, ready-handed criminal agent, as it was possible toconceive. In his singular character the dual nature alternately asserteditself, and his extreme exactness and astuteness represented, as I have oftenthought, the reaction against the poetic and contemplative mood whichoccasionally predominated in him. The swing of his nature took him from extremelanguor to devouring energy; and, as I knew well, he was never so trulyformidable as when, for days on end, he had been lounging in his armchair amidhis improvisations and his black-letter editions. Then it was that the lust ofthe chase would suddenly come upon him, and that his brilliant reasoning powerwould rise to the level of intuition, until those who were unacquainted withhis methods would look askance at him as on a man whose knowledge was not thatof other mortals. When I saw him that afternoon so enwrapped in the music atSt. James’s Hall I felt that an evil time might be coming upon those whomhe had set himself to hunt down.

“You want to go home, no doubt, Doctor,” he remarked as we emerged.

“Yes, it would be as well.”

“And I have some business to do which will take some hours. This businessat Coburg Square is serious.”

“Why serious?”

“A considerable crime is in contemplation. I have every reason to believethat we shall be in time to stop it. But to-day being Saturday rathercomplicates matters. I shall want your help to-night.”

“At what time?”

“Ten will be early enough.”

“I shall be at Baker Street at ten.”

“Very well. And, I say, Doctor, there may be some little danger, sokindly put your army revolver in your pocket.” He waved his hand, turnedon his heel, and disappeared in an instant among the crowd.

I trust that I am not more dense than my neighbours, but I was always oppressedwith a sense of my own stupidity in my dealings with Sherlock Holmes. Here Ihad heard what he had heard, I had seen what he had seen, and yet from hiswords it was evident that he saw clearly not only what had happened but whatwas about to happen, while to me the whole business was still confused andgrotesque. As I drove home to my house in Kensington I thought over it all,from the extraordinary story of the red-headed copier of theEncyclopædia down to the visit to Saxe-Coburg Square, and the ominouswords with which he had parted from me. What was this nocturnal expedition, andwhy should I go armed? Where were we going, and what were we to do? I had thehint from Holmes that this smooth-faced pawnbroker’s assistant was aformidable man—a man who might play a deep game. I tried to puzzle itout, but gave it up in despair and set the matter aside until night shouldbring an explanation.

It was a quarter-past nine when I started from home and made my way across thePark, and so through Oxford Street to Baker Street. Two hansoms were standingat the door, and as I entered the passage I heard the sound of voices fromabove. On entering his room, I found Holmes in animated conversation with twomen, one of whom I recognised as Peter Jones, the official police agent, whilethe other was a long, thin, sad-faced man, with a very shiny hat andoppressively respectable frock-coat.

“Ha! Our party is complete,” said Holmes, buttoning up hispea-jacket and taking his heavy hunting crop from the rack. “Watson, Ithink you know Mr. Jones, of Scotland Yard? Let me introduce you to Mr.Merryweather, who is to be our companion in to-night’s adventure.”

“We’re hunting in couples again, Doctor, you see,” said Jonesin his consequential way. “Our friend here is a wonderful man forstarting a chase. All he wants is an old dog to help him to do the runningdown.”

“I hope a wild goose may not prove to be the end of our chase,”observed Mr. Merryweather gloomily.

“You may place considerable confidence in Mr. Holmes, sir,” saidthe police agent loftily. “He has his own little methods, which are, ifhe won’t mind my saying so, just a little too theoretical and fantastic,but he has the makings of a detective in him. It is not too much to say thatonce or twice, as in that business of the Sholto murder and the Agra treasure,he has been more nearly correct than the official force.”

“Oh, if you say so, Mr. Jones, it is all right,” said the strangerwith deference. “Still, I confess that I miss my rubber. It is the firstSaturday night for seven-and-twenty years that I have not had my rubber.”

“I think you will find,” said Sherlock Holmes, “that you willplay for a higher stake to-night than you have ever done yet, and that the playwill be more exciting. For you, Mr. Merryweather, the stake will be some £30,000; and for you, Jones, it will be the man upon whom you wish to lay yourhands.”

“John Clay, the murderer, thief, smasher, and forger. He’s a youngman, Mr. Merryweather, but he is at the head of his profession, and I wouldrather have my bracelets on him than on any criminal in London. He’s aremarkable man, is young John Clay. His grandfather was a royal duke, and hehimself has been to Eton and Oxford. His brain is as cunning as his fingers,and though we meet signs of him at every turn, we never know where to find theman himself. He’ll crack a crib in Scotland one week, and be raisingmoney to build an orphanage in Cornwall the next. I’ve been on his trackfor years and have never set eyes on him yet.”

“I hope that I may have the pleasure of introducing you to-night.I’ve had one or two little turns also with Mr. John Clay, and I agreewith you that he is at the head of his profession. It is past ten, however, andquite time that we started. If you two will take the first hansom, Watson and Iwill follow in the second.”

Sherlock Holmes was not very communicative during the long drive and lay backin the cab humming the tunes which he had heard in the afternoon. We rattledthrough an endless labyrinth of gas-lit streets until we emerged intoFarrington Street.

“We are close there now,” my friend remarked. “This fellowMerryweather is a bank director, and personally interested in the matter. Ithought it as well to have Jones with us also. He is not a bad fellow, thoughan absolute imbecile in his profession. He has one positive virtue. He is asbrave as a bulldog and as tenacious as a lobster if he gets his claws uponanyone. Here we are, and they are waiting for us.”

We had reached the same crowded thoroughfare in which we had found ourselves inthe morning. Our cabs were dismissed, and, following the guidance of Mr.Merryweather, we passed down a narrow passage and through a side door, which heopened for us. Within there was a small corridor, which ended in a very massiveiron gate. This also was opened, and led down a flight of winding stone steps,which terminated at another formidable gate. Mr. Merryweather stopped to lighta lantern, and then conducted us down a dark, earth-smelling passage, and so,after opening a third door, into a huge vault or cellar, which was piled allround with crates and massive boxes.

“You are not very vulnerable from above,” Holmes remarked as heheld up the lantern and gazed about him.

“Nor from below,” said Mr. Merryweather, striking his stick uponthe flags which lined the floor. “Why, dear me, it sounds quitehollow!” he remarked, looking up in surprise.

“I must really ask you to be a little more quiet!” said Holmesseverely. “You have already imperilled the whole success of ourexpedition. Might I beg that you would have the goodness to sit down upon oneof those boxes, and not to interfere?”

The solemn Mr. Merryweather perched himself upon a crate, with a very injuredexpression upon his face, while Holmes fell upon his knees upon the floor and,with the lantern and a magnifying lens, began to examine minutely the cracksbetween the stones. A few seconds sufficed to satisfy him, for he sprang to hisfeet again and put his glass in his pocket.

“We have at least an hour before us,” he remarked, “for theycan hardly take any steps until the good pawnbroker is safely in bed. Then theywill not lose a minute, for the sooner they do their work the longer time theywill have for their escape. We are at present, Doctor—as no doubt youhave divined—in the cellar of the City branch of one of the principalLondon banks. Mr. Merryweather is the chairman of directors, and he willexplain to you that there are reasons why the more daring criminals of Londonshould take a considerable interest in this cellar at present.”

“It is our French gold,” whispered the director. “We have hadseveral warnings that an attempt might be made upon it.”

“Your French gold?”

“Yes. We had occasion some months ago to strengthen our resources andborrowed for that purpose 30,000 napoleons from the Bank of France. It hasbecome known that we have never had occasion to unpack the money, and that itis still lying in our cellar. The crate upon which I sit contains 2,000napoleons packed between layers of lead foil. Our reserve of bullion is muchlarger at present than is usually kept in a single branch office, and thedirectors have had misgivings upon the subject.”

“Which were very well justified,” observed Holmes. “And nowit is time that we arranged our little plans. I expect that within an hourmatters will come to a head. In the meantime Mr. Merryweather, we must put thescreen over that dark lantern.”

“And sit in the dark?”

“I am afraid so. I had brought a pack of cards in my pocket, and Ithought that, as we were a partie carrée, you might have your rubberafter all. But I see that the enemy’s preparations have gone so far thatwe cannot risk the presence of a light. And, first of all, we must choose ourpositions. These are daring men, and though we shall take them at adisadvantage, they may do us some harm unless we are careful. I shall standbehind this crate, and do you conceal yourselves behind those. Then, when Iflash a light upon them, close in swiftly. If they fire, Watson, have nocompunction about shooting them down.”

I placed my revolver, cocked, upon the top of the wooden case behind which Icrouched. Holmes shot the slide across the front of his lantern and left us inpitch darkness—such an absolute darkness as I have never beforeexperienced. The smell of hot metal remained to assure us that the light wasstill there, ready to flash out at a moment’s notice. To me, with mynerves worked up to a pitch of expectancy, there was something depressing andsubduing in the sudden gloom, and in the cold dank air of the vault.

“They have but one retreat,” whispered Holmes. “That is backthrough the house into Saxe-Coburg Square. I hope that you have done what Iasked you, Jones?”

“I have an inspector and two officers waiting at the front door.”

“Then we have stopped all the holes. And now we must be silent andwait.”

What a time it seemed! From comparing notes afterwards it was but an hour and aquarter, yet it appeared to me that the night must have almost gone, and thedawn be breaking above us. My limbs were weary and stiff, for I feared tochange my position; yet my nerves were worked up to the highest pitch oftension, and my hearing was so acute that I could not only hear the gentlebreathing of my companions, but I could distinguish the deeper, heavierin-breath of the bulky Jones from the thin, sighing note of the bank director.From my position I could look over the case in the direction of the floor.Suddenly my eyes caught the glint of a light.

At first it was but a lurid spark upon the stone pavement. Then it lengthenedout until it became a yellow line, and then, without any warning or sound, agash seemed to open and a hand appeared, a white, almost womanly hand, whichfelt about in the centre of the little area of light. For a minute or more thehand, with its writhing fingers, protruded out of the floor. Then it waswithdrawn as suddenly as it appeared, and all was dark again save the singlelurid spark which marked a chink between the stones.

Its disappearance, however, was but momentary. With a rending, tearing sound,one of the broad, white stones turned over upon its side and left a square,gaping hole, through which streamed the light of a lantern. Over the edge therepeeped a clean-cut, boyish face, which looked keenly about it, and then, with ahand on either side of the aperture, drew itself shoulder-high and waist-high,until one knee rested upon the edge. In another instant he stood at the side ofthe hole and was hauling after him a companion, lithe and small like himself,with a pale face and a shock of very red hair.

“It’s all clear,” he whispered. “Have you the chiseland the bags? Great Scott! Jump, Archie, jump, and I’ll swing forit!”

Sherlock Holmes had sprung out and seized the intruder by the collar. The otherdived down the hole, and I heard the sound of rending cloth as Jones clutchedat his skirts. The light flashed upon the barrel of a revolver, butHolmes’ hunting crop came down on the man’s wrist, and the pistolclinked upon the stone floor.

“It’s no use, John Clay,” said Holmes blandly. “Youhave no chance at all.”

“So I see,” the other answered with the utmost coolness. “Ifancy that my pal is all right, though I see you have got hiscoat-tails.”

“There are three men waiting for him at the door,” said Holmes.

“Oh, indeed! You seem to have done the thing very completely. I mustcompliment you.”

“And I you,” Holmes answered. “Your red-headed idea was verynew and effective.”

“You’ll see your pal again presently,” said Jones.“He’s quicker at climbing down holes than I am. Just hold out whileI fix the derbies.”

“I beg that you will not touch me with your filthy hands,” remarkedour prisoner as the handcuffs clattered upon his wrists. “You may not beaware that I have royal blood in my veins. Have the goodness, also, when youaddress me always to say ‘sir’ and‘please.’”

“All right,” said Jones with a stare and a snigger. “Well,would you please, sir, march upstairs, where we can get a cab to carry yourHighness to the police-station?”

“That is better,” said John Clay serenely. He made a sweeping bowto the three of us and walked quietly off in the custody of the detective.

“Really, Mr. Holmes,” said Mr. Merryweather as we followed themfrom the cellar, “I do not know how the bank can thank you or repay you.There is no doubt that you have detected and defeated in the most completemanner one of the most determined attempts at bank robbery that have ever comewithin my experience.”

“I have had one or two little scores of my own to settle with Mr. JohnClay,” said Holmes. “I have been at some small expense over thismatter, which I shall expect the bank to refund, but beyond that I am amplyrepaid by having had an experience which is in many ways unique, and by hearingthe very remarkable narrative of the Red-headed League.”

“You see, Watson,” he explained in the early hours of the morningas we sat over a glass of whisky and soda in Baker Street, “it wasperfectly obvious from the first that the only possible object of this ratherfantastic business of the advertisement of the League, and the copying of theEncyclopædia, must be to get this not over-bright pawnbroker out of theway for a number of hours every day. It was a curious way of managing it, but,really, it would be difficult to suggest a better. The method was no doubtsuggested to Clay’s ingenious mind by the colour of hisaccomplice’s hair. The £ 4 a week was a lure which must draw him, andwhat was it to them, who were playing for thousands? They put in theadvertisement, one rogue has the temporary office, the other rogue incites theman to apply for it, and together they manage to secure his absence everymorning in the week. From the time that I heard of the assistant having comefor half wages, it was obvious to me that he had some strong motive forsecuring the situation.”

“But how could you guess what the motive was?”

“Had there been women in the house, I should have suspected a mere vulgarintrigue. That, however, was out of the question. The man’s business wasa small one, and there was nothing in his house which could account for suchelaborate preparations, and such an expenditure as they were at. It must, then,be something out of the house. What could it be? I thought of theassistant’s fondness for photography, and his trick of vanishing into thecellar. The cellar! There was the end of this tangled clue. Then I madeinquiries as to this mysterious assistant and found that I had to deal with oneof the coolest and most daring criminals in London. He was doing something inthe cellar—something which took many hours a day for months on end. Whatcould it be, once more? I could think of nothing save that he was running atunnel to some other building.

“So far I had got when we went to visit the scene of action. I surprisedyou by beating upon the pavement with my stick. I was ascertaining whether thecellar stretched out in front or behind. It was not in front. Then I rang thebell, and, as I hoped, the assistant answered it. We have had some skirmishes,but we had never set eyes upon each other before. I hardly looked at his face.His knees were what I wished to see. You must yourself have remarked how worn,wrinkled, and stained they were. They spoke of those hours of burrowing. Theonly remaining point was what they were burrowing for. I walked round thecorner, saw the City and Suburban Bank abutted on our friend’s premises,and felt that I had solved my problem. When you drove home after the concert Icalled upon Scotland Yard and upon the chairman of the bank directors, with theresult that you have seen.”

“And how could you tell that they would make their attemptto-night?” I asked.

“Well, when they closed their League offices that was a sign that theycared no longer about Mr. Jabez Wilson’s presence—in other words,that they had completed their tunnel. But it was essential that they should useit soon, as it might be discovered, or the bullion might be removed. Saturdaywould suit them better than any other day, as it would give them two days fortheir escape. For all these reasons I expected them to come to-night.”

“You reasoned it out beautifully,” I exclaimed in unfeignedadmiration. “It is so long a chain, and yet every link rings true.”

“It saved me from ennui,” he answered, yawning. “Alas! Ialready feel it closing in upon me. My life is spent in one long effort toescape from the commonplaces of existence. These little problems help me to doso.”

“And you are a benefactor of the race,” said I.

He shrugged his shoulders. “Well, perhaps, after all, it is of somelittle use,” he remarked. “‘L’hommec’est rien—l’œuvre c’est tout,’ as GustaveFlaubert wrote to George Sand.”

III.
A CASE OF IDENTITY

“My dearfellow,” said Sherlock Holmes as we sat on either side of the fire in hislodgings at Baker Street, “life is infinitely stranger than anythingwhich the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the thingswhich are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of thatwindow hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, andpeep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, theplannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working throughgenerations, and leading to the most outré results, it would make allfiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale andunprofitable.”

“And yet I am not convinced of it,” I answered. “The caseswhich come to light in the papers are, as a rule, bald enough, and vulgarenough. We have in our police reports realism pushed to its extreme limits, andyet the result is, it must be confessed, neither fascinating norartistic.”

“A certain selection and discretion must be used in producing a realisticeffect,” remarked Holmes. “This is wanting in the police report,where more stress is laid, perhaps, upon the platitudes of the magistrate thanupon the details, which to an observer contain the vital essence of the wholematter. Depend upon it, there is nothing so unnatural as thecommonplace.”

I smiled and shook my head. “I can quite understand your thinkingso,” I said. “Of course, in your position of unofficial adviser andhelper to everybody who is absolutely puzzled, throughout three continents, youare brought in contact with all that is strange and bizarre. Buthere”—I picked up the morning paper from theground—“let us put it to a practical test. Here is the firstheading upon which I come. ‘A husband’s cruelty to his wife.’There is half a column of print, but I know without reading it that it is allperfectly familiar to me. There is, of course, the other woman, the drink, thepush, the blow, the bruise, the sympathetic sister or landlady. The crudest ofwriters could invent nothing more crude.”

“Indeed, your example is an unfortunate one for your argument,”said Holmes, taking the paper and glancing his eye down it. “This is theDundas separation case, and, as it happens, I was engaged in clearing up somesmall points in connection with it. The husband was a teetotaler, there was noother woman, and the conduct complained of was that he had drifted into thehabit of winding up every meal by taking out his false teeth and hurling themat his wife, which, you will allow, is not an action likely to occur to theimagination of the average story-teller. Take a pinch of snuff, Doctor, andacknowledge that I have scored over you in your example.”

He held out his snuffbox of old gold, with a great amethyst in the centre ofthe lid. Its splendour was in such contrast to his homely ways and simple lifethat I could not help commenting upon it.

“Ah,” said he, “I forgot that I had not seen you for someweeks. It is a little souvenir from the King of Bohemia in return for myassistance in the case of the Irene Adler papers.”

“And the ring?” I asked, glancing at a remarkable brilliant whichsparkled upon his finger.

“It was from the reigning family of Holland, though the matter in which Iserved them was of such delicacy that I cannot confide it even to you, who havebeen good enough to chronicle one or two of my little problems.”

“And have you any on hand just now?” I asked with interest.

“Some ten or twelve, but none which present any feature of interest. Theyare important, you understand, without being interesting. Indeed, I have foundthat it is usually in unimportant matters that there is a field for theobservation, and for the quick analysis of cause and effect which gives thecharm to an investigation. The larger crimes are apt to be the simpler, for thebigger the crime the more obvious, as a rule, is the motive. In these cases,save for one rather intricate matter which has been referred to me fromMarseilles, there is nothing which presents any features of interest. It ispossible, however, that I may have something better before very many minutesare over, for this is one of my clients, or I am much mistaken.”

He had risen from his chair and was standing between the parted blinds gazingdown into the dull neutral-tinted London street. Looking over his shoulder, Isaw that on the pavement opposite there stood a large woman with a heavy furboa round her neck, and a large curling red feather in a broad-brimmed hatwhich was tilted in a coquettish Duchess of Devonshire fashion over her ear.From under this great panoply she peeped up in a nervous, hesitating fashion atour windows, while her body oscillated backward and forward, and her fingersfidgeted with her glove buttons. Suddenly, with a plunge, as of the swimmer wholeaves the bank, she hurried across the road, and we heard the sharp clang ofthe bell.

“I have seen those symptoms before,” said Holmes, throwing hiscigarette into the fire. “Oscillation upon the pavement always means anaffaire de cœur. She would like advice, but is not sure that the matteris not too delicate for communication. And yet even here we may discriminate.When a woman has been seriously wronged by a man she no longer oscillates, andthe usual symptom is a broken bell wire. Here we may take it that there is alove matter, but that the maiden is not so much angry as perplexed, or grieved.But here she comes in person to resolve our doubts.”

As he spoke there was a tap at the door, and the boy in buttons entered toannounce Miss Mary Sutherland, while the lady herself loomed behind his smallblack figure like a full-sailed merchant-man behind a tiny pilot boat. SherlockHolmes welcomed her with the easy courtesy for which he was remarkable, and,having closed the door and bowed her into an armchair, he looked her over inthe minute and yet abstracted fashion which was peculiar to him.

“Do you not find,” he said, “that with your short sight it isa little trying to do so much typewriting?”

“I did at first,” she answered, “but now I know where theletters are without looking.” Then, suddenly realising the full purportof his words, she gave a violent start and looked up, with fear andastonishment upon her broad, good-humoured face. “You’ve heardabout me, Mr. Holmes,” she cried, “else how could you know allthat?”

“Never mind,” said Holmes, laughing; “it is my business toknow things. Perhaps I have trained myself to see what others overlook. If not,why should you come to consult me?”

“I came to you, sir, because I heard of you from Mrs. Etherege, whosehusband you found so easy when the police and everyone had given him up fordead. Oh, Mr. Holmes, I wish you would do as much for me. I’m not rich,but still I have a hundred a year in my own right, besides the little that Imake by the machine, and I would give it all to know what has become of Mr.Hosmer Angel.”

“Why did you come away to consult me in such a hurry?” askedSherlock Holmes, with his finger-tips together and his eyes to the ceiling.

Again a startled look came over the somewhat vacuous face of Miss MarySutherland. “Yes, I did bang out of the house,” she said,“for it made me angry to see the easy way in which Mr.Windibank—that is, my father—took it all. He would not go to thepolice, and he would not go to you, and so at last, as he would do nothing andkept on saying that there was no harm done, it made me mad, and I just on withmy things and came right away to you.”

“Your father,” said Holmes, “your stepfather, surely, sincethe name is different.”

“Yes, my stepfather. I call him father, though it sounds funny, too, forhe is only five years and two months older than myself.”

“And your mother is alive?”

“Oh, yes, mother is alive and well. I wasn’t best pleased, Mr.Holmes, when she married again so soon after father’s death, and a manwho was nearly fifteen years younger than herself. Father was a plumber in theTottenham Court Road, and he left a tidy business behind him, which mothercarried on with Mr. Hardy, the foreman; but when Mr. Windibank came he made hersell the business, for he was very superior, being a traveller in wines. Theygot £ 4700 for the goodwill and interest, which wasn’t near as much asfather could have got if he had been alive.”

I had expected to see Sherlock Holmes impatient under this rambling andinconsequential narrative, but, on the contrary, he had listened with thegreatest concentration of attention.

“Your own little income,” he asked, “does it come out of thebusiness?”

“Oh, no, sir. It is quite separate and was left me by my uncle Ned inAuckland. It is in New Zealand stock, paying 4½ per cent. Two thousand fivehundred pounds was the amount, but I can only touch the interest.”

“You interest me extremely,” said Holmes. “And since you drawso large a sum as a hundred a year, with what you earn into the bargain, you nodoubt travel a little and indulge yourself in every way. I believe that asingle lady can get on very nicely upon an income of about £ 60.”

“I could do with much less than that, Mr. Holmes, but you understand thatas long as I live at home I don’t wish to be a burden to them, and sothey have the use of the money just while I am staying with them. Of course,that is only just for the time. Mr. Windibank draws my interest every quarterand pays it over to mother, and I find that I can do pretty well with what Iearn at typewriting. It brings me twopence a sheet, and I can often do fromfifteen to twenty sheets in a day.”

“You have made your position very clear to me,” said Holmes.“This is my friend, Dr. Watson, before whom you can speak as freely asbefore myself. Kindly tell us now all about your connection with Mr. HosmerAngel.”

A flush stole over Miss Sutherland’s face, and she picked nervously atthe fringe of her jacket. “I met him first at the gasfitters’ball,” she said. “They used to send father tickets when he wasalive, and then afterwards they remembered us, and sent them to mother. Mr.Windibank did not wish us to go. He never did wish us to go anywhere. He wouldget quite mad if I wanted so much as to join a Sunday-school treat. But thistime I was set on going, and I would go; for what right had he to prevent? Hesaid the folk were not fit for us to know, when all father’s friends wereto be there. And he said that I had nothing fit to wear, when I had my purpleplush that I had never so much as taken out of the drawer. At last, whennothing else would do, he went off to France upon the business of the firm, butwe went, mother and I, with Mr. Hardy, who used to be our foreman, and it wasthere I met Mr. Hosmer Angel.”

“I suppose,” said Holmes, “that when Mr. Windibank came backfrom France he was very annoyed at your having gone to the ball.”

“Oh, well, he was very good about it. He laughed, I remember, andshrugged his shoulders, and said there was no use denying anything to a woman,for she would have her way.”

“I see. Then at the gasfitters’ ball you met, as I understand, agentleman called Mr. Hosmer Angel.”

“Yes, sir. I met him that night, and he called next day to ask if we hadgot home all safe, and after that we met him—that is to say, Mr. Holmes,I met him twice for walks, but after that father came back again, and Mr.Hosmer Angel could not come to the house any more.”

“No?”

“Well, you know father didn’t like anything of the sort. Hewouldn’t have any visitors if he could help it, and he used to say that awoman should be happy in her own family circle. But then, as I used to say tomother, a woman wants her own circle to begin with, and I had not got mineyet.”

“But how about Mr. Hosmer Angel? Did he make no attempt to seeyou?”

“Well, father was going off to France again in a week, and Hosmer wroteand said that it would be safer and better not to see each other until he hadgone. We could write in the meantime, and he used to write every day. I tookthe letters in in the morning, so there was no need for father to know.”

“Were you engaged to the gentleman at this time?”

“Oh, yes, Mr. Holmes. We were engaged after the first walk that we took.Hosmer—Mr. Angel—was a cashier in an office in LeadenhallStreet—and—”

“What office?”

“That’s the worst of it, Mr. Holmes, I don’t know.”

“Where did he live, then?”

“He slept on the premises.”

“And you don’t know his address?”

“No—except that it was Leadenhall Street.”

“Where did you address your letters, then?”

“To the Leadenhall Street Post Office, to be left till called for. Hesaid that if they were sent to the office he would be chaffed by all the otherclerks about having letters from a lady, so I offered to typewrite them, likehe did his, but he wouldn’t have that, for he said that when I wrote themthey seemed to come from me, but when they were typewritten he always felt thatthe machine had come between us. That will just show you how fond he was of me,Mr. Holmes, and the little things that he would think of.”

“It was most suggestive,” said Holmes. “It has long been anaxiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important. Can youremember any other little things about Mr. Hosmer Angel?”

“He was a very shy man, Mr. Holmes. He would rather walk with me in theevening than in the daylight, for he said that he hated to be conspicuous. Veryretiring and gentlemanly he was. Even his voice was gentle. He’d had thequinsy and swollen glands when he was young, he told me, and it had left himwith a weak throat, and a hesitating, whispering fashion of speech. He wasalways well dressed, very neat and plain, but his eyes were weak, just as mineare, and he wore tinted glasses against the glare.”

“Well, and what happened when Mr. Windibank, your stepfather, returned toFrance?”

“Mr. Hosmer Angel came to the house again and proposed that we shouldmarry before father came back. He was in dreadful earnest and made me swear,with my hands on the Testament, that whatever happened I would always be trueto him. Mother said he was quite right to make me swear, and that it was a signof his passion. Mother was all in his favour from the first and was even fonderof him than I was. Then, when they talked of marrying within the week, I beganto ask about father; but they both said never to mind about father, but just totell him afterwards, and mother said she would make it all right with him. Ididn’t quite like that, Mr. Holmes. It seemed funny that I should ask hisleave, as he was only a few years older than me; but I didn’t want to doanything on the sly, so I wrote to father at Bordeaux, where the company hasits French offices, but the letter came back to me on the very morning of thewedding.”

“It missed him, then?”

“Yes, sir; for he had started to England just before it arrived.”

“Ha! that was unfortunate. Your wedding was arranged, then, for theFriday. Was it to be in church?”

“Yes, sir, but very quietly. It was to be at St. Saviour’s, nearKing’s Cross, and we were to have breakfast afterwards at the St. PancrasHotel. Hosmer came for us in a hansom, but as there were two of us he put usboth into it and stepped himself into a four-wheeler, which happened to be theonly other cab in the street. We got to the church first, and when thefour-wheeler drove up we waited for him to step out, but he never did, and whenthe cabman got down from the box and looked there was no one there! The cabmansaid that he could not imagine what had become of him, for he had seen him getin with his own eyes. That was last Friday, Mr. Holmes, and I have never seenor heard anything since then to throw any light upon what became of him.”

“It seems to me that you have been very shamefully treated,” saidHolmes.

“Oh, no, sir! He was too good and kind to leave me so. Why, all themorning he was saying to me that, whatever happened, I was to be true; and thateven if something quite unforeseen occurred to separate us, I was always toremember that I was pledged to him, and that he would claim his pledge sooneror later. It seemed strange talk for a wedding-morning, but what has happenedsince gives a meaning to it.”

“Most certainly it does. Your own opinion is, then, that some unforeseencatastrophe has occurred to him?”

“Yes, sir. I believe that he foresaw some danger, or else he would nothave talked so. And then I think that what he foresaw happened.”

“But you have no notion as to what it could have been?”

“None.”

“One more question. How did your mother take the matter?”

“She was angry, and said that I was never to speak of the matteragain.”

“And your father? Did you tell him?”

“Yes; and he seemed to think, with me, that something had happened, andthat I should hear of Hosmer again. As he said, what interest could anyone havein bringing me to the doors of the church, and then leaving me? Now, if he hadborrowed my money, or if he had married me and got my money settled on him,there might be some reason, but Hosmer was very independent about money andnever would look at a shilling of mine. And yet, what could have happened? Andwhy could he not write? Oh, it drives me half-mad to think of it, and Ican’t sleep a wink at night.” She pulled a little handkerchief outof her muff and began to sob heavily into it.

“I shall glance into the case for you,” said Holmes, rising,“and I have no doubt that we shall reach some definite result. Let theweight of the matter rest upon me now, and do not let your mind dwell upon itfurther. Above all, try to let Mr. Hosmer Angel vanish from your memory, as hehas done from your life.”

“Then you don’t think I’ll see him again?”

“I fear not.”

“Then what has happened to him?”

“You will leave that question in my hands. I should like an accuratedescription of him and any letters of his which you can spare.”

“I advertised for him in last Saturday’s Chronicle,”said she. “Here is the slip and here are four letters from him.”

“Thank you. And your address?”

“No. 31 Lyon Place, Camberwell.”

“Mr. Angel’s address you never had, I understand. Where is yourfather’s place of business?”

“He travels for Westhouse & Marbank, the great claret importers ofFenchurch Street.”

“Thank you. You have made your statement very clearly. You will leave thepapers here, and remember the advice which I have given you. Let the wholeincident be a sealed book, and do not allow it to affect your life.”

“You are very kind, Mr. Holmes, but I cannot do that. I shall be true toHosmer. He shall find me ready when he comes back.”

For all the preposterous hat and the vacuous face, there was something noble inthe simple faith of our visitor which compelled our respect. She laid herlittle bundle of papers upon the table and went her way, with a promise to comeagain whenever she might be summoned.

Sherlock Holmes sat silent for a few minutes with his fingertips still pressedtogether, his legs stretched out in front of him, and his gaze directed upwardto the ceiling. Then he took down from the rack the old and oily clay pipe,which was to him as a counsellor, and, having lit it, he leaned back in hischair, with the thick blue cloud-wreaths spinning up from him, and a look ofinfinite languor in his face.

“Quite an interesting study, that maiden,” he observed. “Ifound her more interesting than her little problem, which, by the way, israther a trite one. You will find parallel cases, if you consult my index, inAndover in ’77, and there was something of the sort at The Hague lastyear. Old as is the idea, however, there were one or two details which were newto me. But the maiden herself was most instructive.”

“You appeared to read a good deal upon her which was quite invisible tome,” I remarked.

“Not invisible but unnoticed, Watson. You did not know where to look, andso you missed all that was important. I can never bring you to realise theimportance of sleeves, the suggestiveness of thumb-nails, or the great issuesthat may hang from a boot-lace. Now, what did you gather from thatwoman’s appearance? Describe it.”

“Well, she had a slate-coloured, broad-brimmed straw hat, with a featherof a brickish red. Her jacket was black, with black beads sewn upon it, and afringe of little black jet ornaments. Her dress was brown, rather darker thancoffee colour, with a little purple plush at the neck and sleeves. Her gloveswere greyish and were worn through at the right forefinger. Her boots Ididn’t observe. She had small round, hanging gold earrings, and a generalair of being fairly well-to-do in a vulgar, comfortable, easy-going way.”

Sherlock Holmes clapped his hands softly together and chuckled.

“’Pon my word, Watson, you are coming along wonderfully. Youhave really done very well indeed. It is true that you have missed everythingof importance, but you have hit upon the method, and you have a quick eye forcolour. Never trust to general impressions, my boy, but concentrate yourselfupon details. My first glance is always at a woman’s sleeve. In a man itis perhaps better first to take the knee of the trouser. As you observe, thiswoman had plush upon her sleeves, which is a most useful material for showingtraces. The double line a little above the wrist, where the typewritist pressesagainst the table, was beautifully defined. The sewing-machine, of the handtype, leaves a similar mark, but only on the left arm, and on the side of itfarthest from the thumb, instead of being right across the broadest part, asthis was. I then glanced at her face, and, observing the dint of a pince-nez ateither side of her nose, I ventured a remark upon short sight and typewriting,which seemed to surprise her.”

“It surprised me.”

“But, surely, it was obvious. I was then much surprised and interested onglancing down to observe that, though the boots which she was wearing were notunlike each other, they were really odd ones; the one having a slightlydecorated toe-cap, and the other a plain one. One was buttoned only in the twolower buttons out of five, and the other at the first, third, and fifth. Now,when you see that a young lady, otherwise neatly dressed, has come away fromhome with odd boots, half-buttoned, it is no great deduction to say that shecame away in a hurry.”

“And what else?” I asked, keenly interested, as I always was, by myfriend’s incisive reasoning.

“I noted, in passing, that she had written a note before leaving home butafter being fully dressed. You observed that her right glove was torn at theforefinger, but you did not apparently see that both glove and finger werestained with violet ink. She had written in a hurry and dipped her pen toodeep. It must have been this morning, or the mark would not remain clear uponthe finger. All this is amusing, though rather elementary, but I must go backto business, Watson. Would you mind reading me the advertised description ofMr. Hosmer Angel?”

I held the little printed slip to the light. “Missing,” it said,“on the morning of the fourteenth, a gentleman named Hosmer Angel. Aboutfive ft. seven in. in height; strongly built, sallow complexion, black hair, alittle bald in the centre, bushy, black side-whiskers and moustache; tintedglasses, slight infirmity of speech. Was dressed, when last seen, in blackfrock-coat faced with silk, black waistcoat, gold Albert chain, and grey Harristweed trousers, with brown gaiters over elastic-sided boots. Known to have beenemployed in an office in Leadenhall Street. Anybody bringing,” &c,&c.

“That will do,” said Holmes. “As to the letters,” hecontinued, glancing over them, “they are very commonplace. Absolutely noclue in them to Mr. Angel, save that he quotes Balzac once. There is oneremarkable point, however, which will no doubt strike you.”

“They are typewritten,” I remarked.

“Not only that, but the signature is typewritten. Look at the neat little‘Hosmer Angel’ at the bottom. There is a date, you see, but nosuperscription except Leadenhall Street, which is rather vague. The point aboutthe signature is very suggestive—in fact, we may call itconclusive.”

“Of what?”

“My dear fellow, is it possible you do not see how strongly it bears uponthe case?”

“I cannot say that I do unless it were that he wished to be able to denyhis signature if an action for breach of promise were instituted.”

“No, that was not the point. However, I shall write two letters, whichshould settle the matter. One is to a firm in the City, the other is to theyoung lady’s stepfather, Mr. Windibank, asking him whether he could meetus here at six o’clock to-morrow evening. It is just as well that weshould do business with the male relatives. And now, Doctor, we can do nothinguntil the answers to those letters come, so we may put our little problem uponthe shelf for the interim.”

I had had so many reasons to believe in my friend’s subtle powers ofreasoning and extraordinary energy in action that I felt that he must have somesolid grounds for the assured and easy demeanour with which he treated thesingular mystery which he had been called upon to fathom. Once only had I knownhim to fail, in the case of the King of Bohemia and of the Irene Adlerphotograph; but when I looked back to the weird business of the Sign of Four,and the extraordinary circumstances connected with the Study in Scarlet, I feltthat it would be a strange tangle indeed which he could not unravel.

I left him then, still puffing at his black clay pipe, with the conviction thatwhen I came again on the next evening I would find that he held in his handsall the clues which would lead up to the identity of the disappearingbridegroom of Miss Mary Sutherland.

A professional case of great gravity was engaging my own attention at the time,and the whole of next day I was busy at the bedside of the sufferer. It was notuntil close upon six o’clock that I found myself free and was able tospring into a hansom and drive to Baker Street, half afraid that I might be toolate to assist at the dénouement of the little mystery. I found SherlockHolmes alone, however, half asleep, with his long, thin form curled up in therecesses of his armchair. A formidable array of bottles and test-tubes, withthe pungent cleanly smell of hydrochloric acid, told me that he had spent hisday in the chemical work which was so dear to him.

“Well, have you solved it?” I asked as I entered.

“Yes. It was the bisulphate of baryta.”

“No, no, the mystery!” I cried.

“Oh, that! I thought of the salt that I have been working upon. There wasnever any mystery in the matter, though, as I said yesterday, some of thedetails are of interest. The only drawback is that there is no law, I fear,that can touch the scoundrel.”

“Who was he, then, and what was his object in deserting MissSutherland?”

The question was hardly out of my mouth, and Holmes had not yet opened his lipsto reply, when we heard a heavy footfall in the passage and a tap at the door.

“This is the girl’s stepfather, Mr. James Windibank,” saidHolmes. “He has written to me to say that he would be here at six. Comein!”

The man who entered was a sturdy, middle-sized fellow, some thirty years ofage, clean-shaven, and sallow-skinned, with a bland, insinuating manner, and apair of wonderfully sharp and penetrating grey eyes. He shot a questioningglance at each of us, placed his shiny top-hat upon the sideboard, and with aslight bow sidled down into the nearest chair.

“Good-evening, Mr. James Windibank,” said Holmes. “I thinkthat this typewritten letter is from you, in which you made an appointment withme for six o’clock?”

“Yes, sir. I am afraid that I am a little late, but I am not quite my ownmaster, you know. I am sorry that Miss Sutherland has troubled you about thislittle matter, for I think it is far better not to wash linen of the sort inpublic. It was quite against my wishes that she came, but she is a veryexcitable, impulsive girl, as you may have noticed, and she is not easilycontrolled when she has made up her mind on a point. Of course, I did not mindyou so much, as you are not connected with the official police, but it is notpleasant to have a family misfortune like this noised abroad. Besides, it is auseless expense, for how could you possibly find this Hosmer Angel?”

“On the contrary,” said Holmes quietly; “I have every reasonto believe that I will succeed in discovering Mr. Hosmer Angel.”

Mr. Windibank gave a violent start and dropped his gloves. “I amdelighted to hear it,” he said.

“It is a curious thing,” remarked Holmes, “that a typewriterhas really quite as much individuality as a man’s handwriting. Unlessthey are quite new, no two of them write exactly alike. Some letters get moreworn than others, and some wear only on one side. Now, you remark in this noteof yours, Mr. Windibank, that in every case there is some little slurring overof the ‘e,’ and a slight defect in the tail of the ‘r.’There are fourteen other characteristics, but those are the moreobvious.”

“We do all our correspondence with this machine at the office, and nodoubt it is a little worn,” our visitor answered, glancing keenly atHolmes with his bright little eyes.

“And now I will show you what is really a very interesting study, Mr.Windibank,” Holmes continued. “I think of writing another littlemonograph some of these days on the typewriter and its relation to crime. It isa subject to which I have devoted some little attention. I have here fourletters which purport to come from the missing man. They are all typewritten.In each case, not only are the ‘e’s’ slurred and the‘r’s’ tailless, but you will observe, if you care to use mymagnifying lens, that the fourteen other characteristics to which I havealluded are there as well.”

Mr. Windibank sprang out of his chair and picked up his hat. “I cannotwaste time over this sort of fantastic talk, Mr. Holmes,” he said.“If you can catch the man, catch him, and let me know when you have doneit.”

“Certainly,” said Holmes, stepping over and turning the key in thedoor. “I let you know, then, that I have caught him!”

“What! where?” shouted Mr. Windibank, turning white to his lips andglancing about him like a rat in a trap.

“Oh, it won’t do—really it won’t,” said Holmessuavely. “There is no possible getting out of it, Mr. Windibank. It isquite too transparent, and it was a very bad compliment when you said that itwas impossible for me to solve so simple a question. That’s right! Sitdown and let us talk it over.”

Our visitor collapsed into a chair, with a ghastly face and a glitter ofmoisture on his brow. “It—it’s not actionable,” hestammered.

“I am very much afraid that it is not. But between ourselves, Windibank,it was as cruel and selfish and heartless a trick in a petty way as ever camebefore me. Now, let me just run over the course of events, and you willcontradict me if I go wrong.”

The man sat huddled up in his chair, with his head sunk upon his breast, likeone who is utterly crushed. Holmes stuck his feet up on the corner of themantelpiece and, leaning back with his hands in his pockets, began talking,rather to himself, as it seemed, than to us.

“The man married a woman very much older than himself for hermoney,” said he, “and he enjoyed the use of the money of thedaughter as long as she lived with them. It was a considerable sum, for peoplein their position, and the loss of it would have made a serious difference. Itwas worth an effort to preserve it. The daughter was of a good, amiabledisposition, but affectionate and warm-hearted in her ways, so that it wasevident that with her fair personal advantages, and her little income, shewould not be allowed to remain single long. Now her marriage would mean, ofcourse, the loss of a hundred a year, so what does her stepfather do to preventit? He takes the obvious course of keeping her at home and forbidding her toseek the company of people of her own age. But soon he found that that wouldnot answer forever. She became restive, insisted upon her rights, and finallyannounced her positive intention of going to a certain ball. What does herclever stepfather do then? He conceives an idea more creditable to his headthan to his heart. With the connivance and assistance of his wife he disguisedhimself, covered those keen eyes with tinted glasses, masked the face with amoustache and a pair of bushy whiskers, sunk that clear voice into aninsinuating whisper, and doubly secure on account of the girl’s shortsight, he appears as Mr. Hosmer Angel, and keeps off other lovers by makinglove himself.”

“It was only a joke at first,” groaned our visitor. “We neverthought that she would have been so carried away.”

“Very likely not. However that may be, the young lady was very decidedlycarried away, and, having quite made up her mind that her stepfather was inFrance, the suspicion of treachery never for an instant entered her mind. Shewas flattered by the gentleman’s attentions, and the effect was increasedby the loudly expressed admiration of her mother. Then Mr. Angel began to call,for it was obvious that the matter should be pushed as far as it would go if areal effect were to be produced. There were meetings, and an engagement, whichwould finally secure the girl’s affections from turning towards anyoneelse. But the deception could not be kept up forever. These pretended journeysto France were rather cumbrous. The thing to do was clearly to bring thebusiness to an end in such a dramatic manner that it would leave a permanentimpression upon the young lady’s mind and prevent her from looking uponany other suitor for some time to come. Hence those vows of fidelity exactedupon a Testament, and hence also the allusions to a possibility of somethinghappening on the very morning of the wedding. James Windibank wished MissSutherland to be so bound to Hosmer Angel, and so uncertain as to his fate,that for ten years to come, at any rate, she would not listen to another man.As far as the church door he brought her, and then, as he could go no farther,he conveniently vanished away by the old trick of stepping in at one door of afour-wheeler and out at the other. I think that was the chain of events, Mr.Windibank!”

Our visitor had recovered something of his assurance while Holmes had beentalking, and he rose from his chair now with a cold sneer upon his pale face.

“It may be so, or it may not, Mr. Holmes,” said he, “but ifyou are so very sharp you ought to be sharp enough to know that it is you whoare breaking the law now, and not me. I have done nothing actionable from thefirst, but as long as you keep that door locked you lay yourself open to anaction for assault and illegal constraint.”

“The law cannot, as you say, touch you,” said Holmes, unlocking andthrowing open the door, “yet there never was a man who deservedpunishment more. If the young lady has a brother or a friend, he ought to lay awhip across your shoulders. By Jove!” he continued, flushing up at thesight of the bitter sneer upon the man’s face, “it is not part ofmy duties to my client, but here’s a hunting crop handy, and I think Ishall just treat myself to—” He took two swift steps to the whip,but before he could grasp it there was a wild clatter of steps upon the stairs,the heavy hall door banged, and from the window we could see Mr. JamesWindibank running at the top of his speed down the road.

“There’s a cold-blooded scoundrel!” said Holmes, laughing, ashe threw himself down into his chair once more. “That fellow will risefrom crime to crime until he does something very bad, and ends on a gallows.The case has, in some respects, been not entirely devoid of interest.”

“I cannot now entirely see all the steps of your reasoning,” Iremarked.

“Well, of course it was obvious from the first that this Mr. Hosmer Angelmust have some strong object for his curious conduct, and it was equally clearthat the only man who really profited by the incident, as far as we could see,was the stepfather. Then the fact that the two men were never together, butthat the one always appeared when the other was away, was suggestive. So werethe tinted spectacles and the curious voice, which both hinted at a disguise,as did the bushy whiskers. My suspicions were all confirmed by his peculiaraction in typewriting his signature, which, of course, inferred that hishandwriting was so familiar to her that she would recognise even the smallestsample of it. You see all these isolated facts, together with many minor ones,all pointed in the same direction.”

“And how did you verify them?”

“Having once spotted my man, it was easy to get corroboration. I knew thefirm for which this man worked. Having taken the printed description. Ieliminated everything from it which could be the result of a disguise—thewhiskers, the glasses, the voice, and I sent it to the firm, with a requestthat they would inform me whether it answered to the description of any oftheir travellers. I had already noticed the peculiarities of the typewriter,and I wrote to the man himself at his business address asking him if he wouldcome here. As I expected, his reply was typewritten and revealed the sametrivial but characteristic defects. The same post brought me a letter fromWesthouse & Marbank, of Fenchurch Street, to say that the descriptiontallied in every respect with that of their employé, James Windibank. Voilàtout!”

“And Miss Sutherland?”

“If I tell her she will not believe me. You may remember the old Persiansaying, ‘There is danger for him who taketh the tiger cub, and dangeralso for whoso snatches a delusion from a woman.’ There is as much sensein Hafiz as in Horace, and as much knowledge of the world.”

IV.
THE BOSCOMBE VALLEY MYSTERY

We were seated atbreakfast one morning, my wife and I, when the maid brought in a telegram. Itwas from Sherlock Holmes and ran in this way:

“Have you a couple of days to spare? Have just been wired for from thewest of England in connection with Boscombe Valley tragedy. Shall be glad ifyou will come with me. Air and scenery perfect. Leave Paddington by the11:15.”

“What do you say, dear?” said my wife, looking across at me.“Will you go?”

“I really don’t know what to say. I have a fairly long list atpresent.”

“Oh, Anstruther would do your work for you. You have been looking alittle pale lately. I think that the change would do you good, and you arealways so interested in Mr. Sherlock Holmes’ cases.”

“I should be ungrateful if I were not, seeing what I gained through oneof them,” I answered. “But if I am to go, I must pack at once, forI have only half an hour.”

My experience of camp life in Afghanistan had at least had the effect of makingme a prompt and ready traveller. My wants were few and simple, so that in lessthan the time stated I was in a cab with my valise, rattling away to PaddingtonStation. Sherlock Holmes was pacing up and down the platform, his tall, gauntfigure made even gaunter and taller by his long grey travelling-cloak andclose-fitting cloth cap.

“It is really very good of you to come, Watson,” said he. “Itmakes a considerable difference to me, having someone with me on whom I canthoroughly rely. Local aid is always either worthless or else biassed. If youwill keep the two corner seats I shall get the tickets.”

We had the carriage to ourselves save for an immense litter of papers whichHolmes had brought with him. Among these he rummaged and read, with intervalsof note-taking and of meditation, until we were past Reading. Then he suddenlyrolled them all into a gigantic ball and tossed them up onto the rack.

“Have you heard anything of the case?” he asked.

“Not a word. I have not seen a paper for some days.”

“The London press has not had very full accounts. I have just beenlooking through all the recent papers in order to master the particulars. Itseems, from what I gather, to be one of those simple cases which are soextremely difficult.”

“That sounds a little paradoxical.”

“But it is profoundly true. Singularity is almost invariably a clue. Themore featureless and commonplace a crime is, the more difficult it is to bringit home. In this case, however, they have established a very serious caseagainst the son of the murdered man.”

“It is a murder, then?”

“Well, it is conjectured to be so. I shall take nothing for granted untilI have the opportunity of looking personally into it. I will explain the stateof things to you, as far as I have been able to understand it, in a very fewwords.

“Boscombe Valley is a country district not very far from Ross, inHerefordshire. The largest landed proprietor in that part is a Mr. John Turner,who made his money in Australia and returned some years ago to the old country.One of the farms which he held, that of Hatherley, was let to Mr. CharlesMcCarthy, who was also an ex-Australian. The men had known each other in thecolonies, so that it was not unnatural that when they came to settle down theyshould do so as near each other as possible. Turner was apparently the richerman, so McCarthy became his tenant but still remained, it seems, upon terms ofperfect equality, as they were frequently together. McCarthy had one son, a ladof eighteen, and Turner had an only daughter of the same age, but neither ofthem had wives living. They appear to have avoided the society of theneighbouring English families and to have led retired lives, though both theMcCarthys were fond of sport and were frequently seen at the race-meetings ofthe neighbourhood. McCarthy kept two servants—a man and a girl. Turnerhad a considerable household, some half-dozen at the least. That is as much asI have been able to gather about the families. Now for the facts.

“On June 3rd, that is, on Monday last, McCarthy left his house atHatherley about three in the afternoon and walked down to the Boscombe Pool,which is a small lake formed by the spreading out of the stream which runs downthe Boscombe Valley. He had been out with his serving-man in the morning atRoss, and he had told the man that he must hurry, as he had an appointment ofimportance to keep at three. From that appointment he never came back alive.

“From Hatherley Farmhouse to the Boscombe Pool is a quarter of a mile,and two people saw him as he passed over this ground. One was an old woman,whose name is not mentioned, and the other was William Crowder, a game-keeperin the employ of Mr. Turner. Both these witnesses depose that Mr. McCarthy waswalking alone. The game-keeper adds that within a few minutes of his seeing Mr.McCarthy pass he had seen his son, Mr. James McCarthy, going the same way witha gun under his arm. To the best of his belief, the father was actually insight at the time, and the son was following him. He thought no more of thematter until he heard in the evening of the tragedy that had occurred.

“The two McCarthys were seen after the time when William Crowder, thegame-keeper, lost sight of them. The Boscombe Pool is thickly wooded round,with just a fringe of grass and of reeds round the edge. A girl of fourteen,Patience Moran, who is the daughter of the lodge-keeper of the Boscombe Valleyestate, was in one of the woods picking flowers. She states that while she wasthere she saw, at the border of the wood and close by the lake, Mr. McCarthyand his son, and that they appeared to be having a violent quarrel. She heardMr. McCarthy the elder using very strong language to his son, and she saw thelatter raise up his hand as if to strike his father. She was so frightened bytheir violence that she ran away and told her mother when she reached home thatshe had left the two McCarthys quarrelling near Boscombe Pool, and that she wasafraid that they were going to fight. She had hardly said the words when youngMr. McCarthy came running up to the lodge to say that he had found his fatherdead in the wood, and to ask for the help of the lodge-keeper. He was muchexcited, without either his gun or his hat, and his right hand and sleeve wereobserved to be stained with fresh blood. On following him they found the deadbody stretched out upon the grass beside the pool. The head had been beaten inby repeated blows of some heavy and blunt weapon. The injuries were such asmight very well have been inflicted by the butt-end of his son’s gun,which was found lying on the grass within a few paces of the body. Under thesecircumstances the young man was instantly arrested, and a verdict of‘wilful murder’ having been returned at the inquest on Tuesday, hewas on Wednesday brought before the magistrates at Ross, who have referred thecase to the next Assizes. Those are the main facts of the case as they came outbefore the coroner and the police-court.”

“I could hardly imagine a more damning case,” I remarked. “Ifever circumstantial evidence pointed to a criminal it does so here.”

“Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing,” answered Holmesthoughtfully. “It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but ifyou shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing in anequally uncompromising manner to something entirely different. It must beconfessed, however, that the case looks exceedingly grave against the youngman, and it is very possible that he is indeed the culprit. There are severalpeople in the neighbourhood, however, and among them Miss Turner, the daughterof the neighbouring landowner, who believe in his innocence, and who haveretained Lestrade, whom you may recollect in connection with the Study inScarlet, to work out the case in his interest. Lestrade, being rather puzzled,has referred the case to me, and hence it is that two middle-aged gentlemen areflying westward at fifty miles an hour instead of quietly digesting theirbreakfasts at home.”

“I am afraid,” said I, “that the facts are so obvious thatyou will find little credit to be gained out of this case.”

“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact,” heanswered, laughing. “Besides, we may chance to hit upon some otherobvious facts which may have been by no means obvious to Mr. Lestrade. You knowme too well to think that I am boasting when I say that I shall either confirmor destroy his theory by means which he is quite incapable of employing, oreven of understanding. To take the first example to hand, I very clearlyperceive that in your bedroom the window is upon the right-hand side, and yet Iquestion whether Mr. Lestrade would have noted even so self-evident a thing asthat.”

“How on earth—”

“My dear fellow, I know you well. I know the military neatness whichcharacterises you. You shave every morning, and in this season you shave by thesunlight; but since your shaving is less and less complete as we get fartherback on the left side, until it becomes positively slovenly as we get round theangle of the jaw, it is surely very clear that that side is less illuminatedthan the other. I could not imagine a man of your habits looking at himself inan equal light and being satisfied with such a result. I only quote this as atrivial example of observation and inference. Therein lies my métier,and it is just possible that it may be of some service in the investigationwhich lies before us. There are one or two minor points which were brought outin the inquest, and which are worth considering.”

“What are they?”

“It appears that his arrest did not take place at once, but after thereturn to Hatherley Farm. On the inspector of constabulary informing him thathe was a prisoner, he remarked that he was not surprised to hear it, and thatit was no more than his deserts. This observation of his had the natural effectof removing any traces of doubt which might have remained in the minds of thecoroner’s jury.”

“It was a confession,” I ejaculated.

“No, for it was followed by a protestation of innocence.”

“Coming on the top of such a damning series of events, it was at least amost suspicious remark.”

“On the contrary,” said Holmes, “it is the brightest riftwhich I can at present see in the clouds. However innocent he might be, hecould not be such an absolute imbecile as not to see that the circumstanceswere very black against him. Had he appeared surprised at his own arrest, orfeigned indignation at it, I should have looked upon it as highly suspicious,because such surprise or anger would not be natural under the circumstances,and yet might appear to be the best policy to a scheming man. His frankacceptance of the situation marks him as either an innocent man, or else as aman of considerable self-restraint and firmness. As to his remark about hisdeserts, it was also not unnatural if you consider that he stood beside thedead body of his father, and that there is no doubt that he had that very dayso far forgotten his filial duty as to bandy words with him, and even,according to the little girl whose evidence is so important, to raise his handas if to strike him. The self-reproach and contrition which are displayed inhis remark appear to me to be the signs of a healthy mind rather than of aguilty one.”

I shook my head. “Many men have been hanged on far slighterevidence,” I remarked.

“So they have. And many men have been wrongfully hanged.”

“What is the young man’s own account of the matter?”

“It is, I am afraid, not very encouraging to his supporters, though thereare one or two points in it which are suggestive. You will find it here, andmay read it for yourself.”

He picked out from his bundle a copy of the local Herefordshire paper, andhaving turned down the sheet he pointed out the paragraph in which theunfortunate young man had given his own statement of what had occurred. Isettled myself down in the corner of the carriage and read it very carefully.It ran in this way:

“Mr. James McCarthy, the only son of the deceased, was then called andgave evidence as follows: ‘I had been away from home for three days atBristol, and had only just returned upon the morning of last Monday, the 3rd.My father was absent from home at the time of my arrival, and I was informed bythe maid that he had driven over to Ross with John Cobb, the groom. Shortlyafter my return I heard the wheels of his trap in the yard, and, looking out ofmy window, I saw him get out and walk rapidly out of the yard, though I was notaware in which direction he was going. I then took my gun and strolled out inthe direction of the Boscombe Pool, with the intention of visiting the rabbitwarren which is upon the other side. On my way I saw William Crowder, thegame-keeper, as he had stated in his evidence; but he is mistaken in thinkingthat I was following my father. I had no idea that he was in front of me. Whenabout a hundred yards from the pool I heard a cry of “Cooee!” whichwas a usual signal between my father and myself. I then hurried forward, andfound him standing by the pool. He appeared to be much surprised at seeing meand asked me rather roughly what I was doing there. A conversation ensued whichled to high words and almost to blows, for my father was a man of a veryviolent temper. Seeing that his passion was becoming ungovernable, I left himand returned towards Hatherley Farm. I had not gone more than 150 yards,however, when I heard a hideous outcry behind me, which caused me to run backagain. I found my father expiring upon the ground, with his head terriblyinjured. I dropped my gun and held him in my arms, but he almost instantlyexpired. I knelt beside him for some minutes, and then made my way to Mr.Turner’s lodge-keeper, his house being the nearest, to ask forassistance. I saw no one near my father when I returned, and I have no idea howhe came by his injuries. He was not a popular man, being somewhat cold andforbidding in his manners, but he had, as far as I know, no active enemies. Iknow nothing further of the matter.’

“The Coroner: Did your father make any statement to you before he died?

“Witness: He mumbled a few words, but I could only catch some allusion toa rat.

“The Coroner: What did you understand by that?

“Witness: It conveyed no meaning to me. I thought that he was delirious.

“The Coroner: What was the point upon which you and your father had thisfinal quarrel?

“Witness: I should prefer not to answer.

“The Coroner: I am afraid that I must press it.

“Witness: It is really impossible for me to tell you. I can assure youthat it has nothing to do with the sad tragedy which followed.

“The Coroner: That is for the court to decide. I need not point out toyou that your refusal to answer will prejudice your case considerably in anyfuture proceedings which may arise.

“Witness: I must still refuse.

“The Coroner: I understand that the cry of ‘Cooee’ was acommon signal between you and your father?

“Witness: It was.

“The Coroner: How was it, then, that he uttered it before he saw you, andbefore he even knew that you had returned from Bristol?

“Witness (with considerable confusion): I do not know.

“A Juryman: Did you see nothing which aroused your suspicions when youreturned on hearing the cry and found your father fatally injured?

“Witness: Nothing definite.

“The Coroner: What do you mean?

“Witness: I was so disturbed and excited as I rushed out into the open,that I could think of nothing except of my father. Yet I have a vagueimpression that as I ran forward something lay upon the ground to the left ofme. It seemed to me to be something grey in colour, a coat of some sort, or aplaid perhaps. When I rose from my father I looked round for it, but it wasgone.

“‘Do you mean that it disappeared before you went forhelp?’

“‘Yes, it was gone.’

“ ‘You cannot say what it was?’

“‘No, I had a feeling something was there.’

“‘How far from the body?’

“‘A dozen yards or so.’

“‘And how far from the edge of the wood?’

“‘About the same.’

“‘Then if it was removed it was while you were within a dozenyards of it?’

“‘Yes, but with my back towards it.’

“This concluded the examination of the witness.”

“I see,” said I as I glanced down the column, “that thecoroner in his concluding remarks was rather severe upon young McCarthy. Hecalls attention, and with reason, to the discrepancy about his father havingsignalled to him before seeing him, also to his refusal to give details of hisconversation with his father, and his singular account of his father’sdying words. They are all, as he remarks, very much against the son.”

Holmes laughed softly to himself and stretched himself out upon the cushionedseat. “Both you and the coroner have been at some pains,” said he,“to single out the very strongest points in the young man’s favour.Don’t you see that you alternately give him credit for having too muchimagination and too little? Too little, if he could not invent a cause ofquarrel which would give him the sympathy of the jury; too much, if he evolvedfrom his own inner consciousness anything so outré as a dying referenceto a rat, and the incident of the vanishing cloth. No, sir, I shall approachthis case from the point of view that what this young man says is true, and weshall see whither that hypothesis will lead us. And now here is my pocketPetrarch, and not another word shall I say of this case until we are on thescene of action. We lunch at Swindon, and I see that we shall be there intwenty minutes.”

It was nearly four o’clock when we at last, after passing through thebeautiful Stroud Valley, and over the broad gleaming Severn, found ourselves atthe pretty little country-town of Ross. A lean, ferret-like man, furtive andsly-looking, was waiting for us upon the platform. In spite of the light browndustcoat and leather-leggings which he wore in deference to his rusticsurroundings, I had no difficulty in recognising Lestrade, of Scotland Yard.With him we drove to the Hereford Arms where a room had already been engagedfor us.

“I have ordered a carriage,” said Lestrade as we sat over a cup oftea. “I knew your energetic nature, and that you would not be happy untilyou had been on the scene of the crime.”

“It was very nice and complimentary of you,” Holmes answered.“It is entirely a question of barometric pressure.”

Lestrade looked startled. “I do not quite follow,” he said.

“How is the glass? Twenty-nine, I see. No wind, and not a cloud in thesky. I have a caseful of cigarettes here which need smoking, and the sofa isvery much superior to the usual country hotel abomination. I do not think thatit is probable that I shall use the carriage to-night.”

Lestrade laughed indulgently. “You have, no doubt, already formed yourconclusions from the newspapers,” he said. “The case is as plain asa pikestaff, and the more one goes into it the plainer it becomes. Still, ofcourse, one can’t refuse a lady, and such a very positive one, too. Shehas heard of you, and would have your opinion, though I repeatedly told herthat there was nothing which you could do which I had not already done. Why,bless my soul! here is her carriage at the door.”

He had hardly spoken before there rushed into the room one of the most lovelyyoung women that I have ever seen in my life. Her violet eyes shining, her lipsparted, a pink flush upon her cheeks, all thought of her natural reserve lostin her overpowering excitement and concern.

“Oh, Mr. Sherlock Holmes!” she cried, glancing from one to theother of us, and finally, with a woman’s quick intuition, fastening uponmy companion, “I am so glad that you have come. I have driven down totell you so. I know that James didn’t do it. I know it, and I want you tostart upon your work knowing it, too. Never let yourself doubt upon that point.We have known each other since we were little children, and I know his faultsas no one else does; but he is too tender-hearted to hurt a fly. Such a chargeis absurd to anyone who really knows him.”

“I hope we may clear him, Miss Turner,” said Sherlock Holmes.“You may rely upon my doing all that I can.”

“But you have read the evidence. You have formed some conclusion? Do younot see some loophole, some flaw? Do you not yourself think that he isinnocent?”

“I think that it is very probable.”

“There, now!” she cried, throwing back her head and lookingdefiantly at Lestrade. “You hear! He gives me hopes.”

Lestrade shrugged his shoulders. “I am afraid that my colleague has beena little quick in forming his conclusions,” he said.

“But he is right. Oh! I know that he is right. James never did it. Andabout his quarrel with his father, I am sure that the reason why he would notspeak about it to the coroner was because I was concerned in it.”

“In what way?” asked Holmes.

“It is no time for me to hide anything. James and his father had manydisagreements about me. Mr. McCarthy was very anxious that there should be amarriage between us. James and I have always loved each other as brother andsister; but of course he is young and has seen very little of life yet,and—and—well, he naturally did not wish to do anything like thatyet. So there were quarrels, and this, I am sure, was one of them.”

“And your father?” asked Holmes. “Was he in favour of such aunion?”

“No, he was averse to it also. No one but Mr. McCarthy was in favour ofit.” A quick blush passed over her fresh young face as Holmes shot one ofhis keen, questioning glances at her.

“Thank you for this information,” said he. “May I see yourfather if I call to-morrow?”

“I am afraid the doctor won’t allow it.”

“The doctor?”

“Yes, have you not heard? Poor father has never been strong for yearsback, but this has broken him down completely. He has taken to his bed, and Dr.Willows says that he is a wreck and that his nervous system is shattered. Mr.McCarthy was the only man alive who had known dad in the old days inVictoria.”

“Ha! In Victoria! That is important.”

“Yes, at the mines.”

“Quite so; at the gold-mines, where, as I understand, Mr. Turner made hismoney.”

“Yes, certainly.”

“Thank you, Miss Turner. You have been of material assistance tome.”

“You will tell me if you have any news to-morrow. No doubt you will go tothe prison to see James. Oh, if you do, Mr. Holmes, do tell him that I know himto be innocent.”

“I will, Miss Turner.”

“I must go home now, for dad is very ill, and he misses me so if I leavehim. Good-bye, and God help you in your undertaking.” She hurried fromthe room as impulsively as she had entered, and we heard the wheels of hercarriage rattle off down the street.

“I am ashamed of you, Holmes,” said Lestrade with dignity after afew minutes’ silence. “Why should you raise up hopes which you arebound to disappoint? I am not over-tender of heart, but I call it cruel.”

“I think that I see my way to clearing James McCarthy,” saidHolmes. “Have you an order to see him in prison?”

“Yes, but only for you and me.”

“Then I shall reconsider my resolution about going out. We have stilltime to take a train to Hereford and see him to-night?”

“Ample.”

“Then let us do so. Watson, I fear that you will find it very slow, but Ishall only be away a couple of hours.”

I walked down to the station with them, and then wandered through the streetsof the little town, finally returning to the hotel, where I lay upon the sofaand tried to interest myself in a yellow-backed novel. The puny plot of thestory was so thin, however, when compared to the deep mystery through which wewere groping, and I found my attention wander so continually from the action tothe fact, that I at last flung it across the room and gave myself up entirelyto a consideration of the events of the day. Supposing that this unhappy youngman’s story were absolutely true, then what hellish thing, whatabsolutely unforeseen and extraordinary calamity could have occurred betweenthe time when he parted from his father, and the moment when, drawn back by hisscreams, he rushed into the glade? It was something terrible and deadly. Whatcould it be? Might not the nature of the injuries reveal something to mymedical instincts? I rang the bell and called for the weekly county paper,which contained a verbatim account of the inquest. In the surgeon’sdeposition it was stated that the posterior third of the left parietal bone andthe left half of the occipital bone had been shattered by a heavy blow from ablunt weapon. I marked the spot upon my own head. Clearly such a blow must havebeen struck from behind. That was to some extent in favour of the accused, aswhen seen quarrelling he was face to face with his father. Still, it did not gofor very much, for the older man might have turned his back before the blowfell. Still, it might be worth while to call Holmes’ attention to it.Then there was the peculiar dying reference to a rat. What could that mean? Itcould not be delirium. A man dying from a sudden blow does not commonly becomedelirious. No, it was more likely to be an attempt to explain how he met hisfate. But what could it indicate? I cudgelled my brains to find some possibleexplanation. And then the incident of the grey cloth seen by young McCarthy. Ifthat were true the murderer must have dropped some part of his dress,presumably his overcoat, in his flight, and must have had the hardihood toreturn and to carry it away at the instant when the son was kneeling with hisback turned not a dozen paces off. What a tissue of mysteries andimprobabilities the whole thing was! I did not wonder at Lestrade’sopinion, and yet I had so much faith in Sherlock Holmes’ insight that Icould not lose hope as long as every fresh fact seemed to strengthen hisconviction of young McCarthy’s innocence.

It was late before Sherlock Holmes returned. He came back alone, for Lestradewas staying in lodgings in the town.

“The glass still keeps very high,” he remarked as he sat down.“It is of importance that it should not rain before we are able to goover the ground. On the other hand, a man should be at his very best andkeenest for such nice work as that, and I did not wish to do it when fagged bya long journey. I have seen young McCarthy.”

“And what did you learn from him?”

“Nothing.”

“Could he throw no light?”

“None at all. I was inclined to think at one time that he knew who haddone it and was screening him or her, but I am convinced now that he is aspuzzled as everyone else. He is not a very quick-witted youth, though comely tolook at and, I should think, sound at heart.”

“I cannot admire his taste,” I remarked, “if it is indeed afact that he was averse to a marriage with so charming a young lady as thisMiss Turner.”

“Ah, thereby hangs a rather painful tale. This fellow is madly, insanely,in love with her, but some two years ago, when he was only a lad, and before hereally knew her, for she had been away five years at a boarding-school, whatdoes the idiot do but get into the clutches of a barmaid in Bristol and marryher at a registry office? No one knows a word of the matter, but you canimagine how maddening it must be to him to be upbraided for not doing what hewould give his very eyes to do, but what he knows to be absolutely impossible.It was sheer frenzy of this sort which made him throw his hands up into the airwhen his father, at their last interview, was goading him on to propose to MissTurner. On the other hand, he had no means of supporting himself, and hisfather, who was by all accounts a very hard man, would have thrown him overutterly had he known the truth. It was with his barmaid wife that he had spentthe last three days in Bristol, and his father did not know where he was. Markthat point. It is of importance. Good has come out of evil, however, for thebarmaid, finding from the papers that he is in serious trouble and likely to behanged, has thrown him over utterly and has written to him to say that she hasa husband already in the Bermuda Dockyard, so that there is really no tiebetween them. I think that that bit of news has consoled young McCarthy for allthat he has suffered.”

“But if he is innocent, who has done it?”

“Ah! who? I would call your attention very particularly to two points.One is that the murdered man had an appointment with someone at the pool, andthat the someone could not have been his son, for his son was away, and he didnot know when he would return. The second is that the murdered man was heard tocry ‘Cooee!’ before he knew that his son had returned. Those arethe crucial points upon which the case depends. And now let us talk aboutGeorge Meredith, if you please, and we shall leave all minor matters untilto-morrow.”

There was no rain, as Holmes had foretold, and the morning broke bright andcloudless. At nine o’clock Lestrade called for us with the carriage, andwe set off for Hatherley Farm and the Boscombe Pool.

“There is serious news this morning,” Lestrade observed. “Itis said that Mr. Turner, of the Hall, is so ill that his life is despairedof.”

“An elderly man, I presume?” said Holmes.

“About sixty; but his constitution has been shattered by his life abroad,and he has been in failing health for some time. This business has had a verybad effect upon him. He was an old friend of McCarthy’s, and, I may add,a great benefactor to him, for I have learned that he gave him Hatherley Farmrent free.”

“Indeed! That is interesting,” said Holmes.

“Oh, yes! In a hundred other ways he has helped him. Everybody about herespeaks of his kindness to him.”

“Really! Does it not strike you as a little singular that this McCarthy,who appears to have had little of his own, and to have been under suchobligations to Turner, should still talk of marrying his son to Turner’sdaughter, who is, presumably, heiress to the estate, and that in such a verycocksure manner, as if it were merely a case of a proposal and all else wouldfollow? It is the more strange, since we know that Turner himself was averse tothe idea. The daughter told us as much. Do you not deduce something fromthat?”

“We have got to the deductions and the inferences,” said Lestrade,winking at me. “I find it hard enough to tackle facts, Holmes, withoutflying away after theories and fancies.”

“You are right,” said Holmes demurely; “you do find it veryhard to tackle the facts.”

“Anyhow, I have grasped one fact which you seem to find it difficult toget hold of,” replied Lestrade with some warmth.

“And that is—”

“That McCarthy senior met his death from McCarthy junior and that alltheories to the contrary are the merest moonshine.”

“Well, moonshine is a brighter thing than fog,” said Holmes,laughing. “But I am very much mistaken if this is not Hatherley Farm uponthe left.”

“Yes, that is it.” It was a widespread, comfortable-lookingbuilding, two-storied, slate-roofed, with great yellow blotches of lichen uponthe grey walls. The drawn blinds and the smokeless chimneys, however, gave it astricken look, as though the weight of this horror still lay heavy upon it. Wecalled at the door, when the maid, at Holmes’ request, showed us theboots which her master wore at the time of his death, and also a pair of theson’s, though not the pair which he had then had. Having measured thesevery carefully from seven or eight different points, Holmes desired to be ledto the court-yard, from which we all followed the winding track which led toBoscombe Pool.

Sherlock Holmes was transformed when he was hot upon such a scent as this. Menwho had only known the quiet thinker and logician of Baker Street would havefailed to recognise him. His face flushed and darkened. His brows were drawninto two hard black lines, while his eyes shone out from beneath them with asteely glitter. His face was bent downward, his shoulders bowed, his lipscompressed, and the veins stood out like whipcord in his long, sinewy neck. Hisnostrils seemed to dilate with a purely animal lust for the chase, and his mindwas so absolutely concentrated upon the matter before him that a question orremark fell unheeded upon his ears, or, at the most, only provoked a quick,impatient snarl in reply. Swiftly and silently he made his way along the trackwhich ran through the meadows, and so by way of the woods to the Boscombe Pool.It was damp, marshy ground, as is all that district, and there were marks ofmany feet, both upon the path and amid the short grass which bounded it oneither side. Sometimes Holmes would hurry on, sometimes stop dead, and once hemade quite a little detour into the meadow. Lestrade and I walked behind him,the detective indifferent and contemptuous, while I watched my friend with theinterest which sprang from the conviction that every one of his actions wasdirected towards a definite end.

The Boscombe Pool, which is a little reed-girt sheet of water some fifty yardsacross, is situated at the boundary between the Hatherley Farm and the privatepark of the wealthy Mr. Turner. Above the woods which lined it upon the fartherside we could see the red, jutting pinnacles which marked the site of the richlandowner’s dwelling. On the Hatherley side of the pool the woods grewvery thick, and there was a narrow belt of sodden grass twenty paces acrossbetween the edge of the trees and the reeds which lined the lake. Lestradeshowed us the exact spot at which the body had been found, and, indeed, somoist was the ground, that I could plainly see the traces which had been leftby the fall of the stricken man. To Holmes, as I could see by his eager faceand peering eyes, very many other things were to be read upon the trampledgrass. He ran round, like a dog who is picking up a scent, and then turned uponmy companion.

“What did you go into the pool for?” he asked.

“I fished about with a rake. I thought there might be some weapon orother trace. But how on earth—”

“Oh, tut, tut! I have no time! That left foot of yours with its inwardtwist is all over the place. A mole could trace it, and there it vanishes amongthe reeds. Oh, how simple it would all have been had I been here before theycame like a herd of buffalo and wallowed all over it. Here is where the partywith the lodge-keeper came, and they have covered all tracks for six or eightfeet round the body. But here are three separate tracks of the samefeet.” He drew out a lens and lay down upon his waterproof to have abetter view, talking all the time rather to himself than to us. “Theseare young McCarthy’s feet. Twice he was walking, and once he ran swiftly,so that the soles are deeply marked and the heels hardly visible. That bearsout his story. He ran when he saw his father on the ground. Then here are thefather’s feet as he paced up and down. What is this, then? It is thebutt-end of the gun as the son stood listening. And this? Ha, ha! What have wehere? Tiptoes! tiptoes! Square, too, quite unusual boots! They come, they go,they come again—of course that was for the cloak. Now where did they comefrom?” He ran up and down, sometimes losing, sometimes finding the trackuntil we were well within the edge of the wood and under the shadow of a greatbeech, the largest tree in the neighbourhood. Holmes traced his way to thefarther side of this and lay down once more upon his face with a little cry ofsatisfaction. For a long time he remained there, turning over the leaves anddried sticks, gathering up what seemed to me to be dust into an envelope andexamining with his lens not only the ground but even the bark of the tree asfar as he could reach. A jagged stone was lying among the moss, and this alsohe carefully examined and retained. Then he followed a pathway through the wooduntil he came to the highroad, where all traces were lost.

“It has been a case of considerable interest,” he remarked,returning to his natural manner. “I fancy that this grey house on theright must be the lodge. I think that I will go in and have a word with Moran,and perhaps write a little note. Having done that, we may drive back to ourluncheon. You may walk to the cab, and I shall be with you presently.”

It was about ten minutes before we regained our cab and drove back into Ross,Holmes still carrying with him the stone which he had picked up in the wood.

“This may interest you, Lestrade,” he remarked, holding it out.“The murder was done with it.”

“I see no marks.”

“There are none.”

“How do you know, then?”

“The grass was growing under it. It had only lain there a few days. Therewas no sign of a place whence it had been taken. It corresponds with theinjuries. There is no sign of any other weapon.”

“And the murderer?”

“Is a tall man, left-handed, limps with the right leg, wears thick-soledshooting-boots and a grey cloak, smokes Indian cigars, uses a cigar-holder, andcarries a blunt pen-knife in his pocket. There are several other indications,but these may be enough to aid us in our search.”

Lestrade laughed. “I am afraid that I am still a sceptic,” he said.“Theories are all very well, but we have to deal with a hard-headedBritish jury.”

Nous verrons,” answered Holmes calmly. “You work yourown method, and I shall work mine. I shall be busy this afternoon, and shallprobably return to London by the evening train.”

“And leave your case unfinished?”

“No, finished.”

“But the mystery?”

“It is solved.”

“Who was the criminal, then?”

“The gentleman I describe.”

“But who is he?”

“Surely it would not be difficult to find out. This is not such apopulous neighbourhood.”

Lestrade shrugged his shoulders. “I am a practical man,” he said,“and I really cannot undertake to go about the country looking for aleft-handed gentleman with a game leg. I should become the laughing-stock ofScotland Yard.”

“All right,” said Holmes quietly. “I have given you thechance. Here are your lodgings. Good-bye. I shall drop you a line before Ileave.”

Having left Lestrade at his rooms, we drove to our hotel, where we found lunchupon the table. Holmes was silent and buried in thought with a painedexpression upon his face, as one who finds himself in a perplexing position.

“Look here, Watson,” he said when the cloth was cleared “justsit down in this chair and let me preach to you for a little. I don’tknow quite what to do, and I should value your advice. Light a cigar and let meexpound.”

“Pray do so.”

“Well, now, in considering this case there are two points about youngMcCarthy’s narrative which struck us both instantly, although theyimpressed me in his favour and you against him. One was the fact that hisfather should, according to his account, cry ‘Cooee!’ before seeinghim. The other was his singular dying reference to a rat. He mumbled severalwords, you understand, but that was all that caught the son’s ear. Nowfrom this double point our research must commence, and we will begin it bypresuming that what the lad says is absolutely true.”

“What of this ‘Cooee!’ then?”

“Well, obviously it could not have been meant for the son. The son, asfar as he knew, was in Bristol. It was mere chance that he was within earshot.The ‘Cooee!’ was meant to attract the attention of whoever it wasthat he had the appointment with. But ‘Cooee’ is a distinctlyAustralian cry, and one which is used between Australians. There is a strongpresumption that the person whom McCarthy expected to meet him at Boscombe Poolwas someone who had been in Australia.”

“What of the rat, then?”

Sherlock Holmes took a folded paper from his pocket and flattened it out on thetable. “This is a map of the Colony of Victoria,” he said. “Iwired to Bristol for it last night.” He put his hand over part of themap. “What do you read?”

“ARAT,” I read.

“And now?” He raised his hand.

“BALLARAT.”

“Quite so. That was the word the man uttered, and of which his son onlycaught the last two syllables. He was trying to utter the name of his murderer.So and so, of Ballarat.”

“It is wonderful!” I exclaimed.

“It is obvious. And now, you see, I had narrowed the field downconsiderably. The possession of a grey garment was a third point which,granting the son’s statement to be correct, was a certainty. We have comenow out of mere vagueness to the definite conception of an Australian fromBallarat with a grey cloak.”

“Certainly.”

“And one who was at home in the district, for the pool can only beapproached by the farm or by the estate, where strangers could hardlywander.”

“Quite so.”

“Then comes our expedition of to-day. By an examination of the ground Igained the trifling details which I gave to that imbecile Lestrade, as to thepersonality of the criminal.”

“But how did you gain them?”

“You know my method. It is founded upon the observation oftrifles.”

“His height I know that you might roughly judge from the length of hisstride. His boots, too, might be told from their traces.”

“Yes, they were peculiar boots.”

“But his lameness?”

“The impression of his right foot was always less distinct than his left.He put less weight upon it. Why? Because he limped—he was lame.”

“But his left-handedness.”

“You were yourself struck by the nature of the injury as recorded by thesurgeon at the inquest. The blow was struck from immediately behind, and yetwas upon the left side. Now, how can that be unless it were by a left-handedman? He had stood behind that tree during the interview between the father andson. He had even smoked there. I found the ash of a cigar, which my specialknowledge of tobacco ashes enables me to pronounce as an Indian cigar. I have,as you know, devoted some attention to this, and written a little monograph onthe ashes of 140 different varieties of pipe, cigar, and cigarette tobacco.Having found the ash, I then looked round and discovered the stump among themoss where he had tossed it. It was an Indian cigar, of the variety which arerolled in Rotterdam.”

“And the cigar-holder?”

“I could see that the end had not been in his mouth. Therefore he used aholder. The tip had been cut off, not bitten off, but the cut was not a cleanone, so I deduced a blunt pen-knife.”

“Holmes,” I said, “you have drawn a net round this man fromwhich he cannot escape, and you have saved an innocent human life as truly asif you had cut the cord which was hanging him. I see the direction in which allthis points. The culprit is—”

“Mr. John Turner,” cried the hotel waiter, opening the door of oursitting-room, and ushering in a visitor.

The man who entered was a strange and impressive figure. His slow, limping stepand bowed shoulders gave the appearance of decrepitude, and yet his hard,deep-lined, craggy features, and his enormous limbs showed that he waspossessed of unusual strength of body and of character. His tangled beard,grizzled hair, and outstanding, drooping eyebrows combined to give an air ofdignity and power to his appearance, but his face was of an ashen white, whilehis lips and the corners of his nostrils were tinged with a shade of blue. Itwas clear to me at a glance that he was in the grip of some deadly and chronicdisease.

“Pray sit down on the sofa,” said Holmes gently. “You had mynote?”

“Yes, the lodge-keeper brought it up. You said that you wished to see mehere to avoid scandal.”

“I thought people would talk if I went to the Hall.”

“And why did you wish to see me?” He looked across at my companionwith despair in his weary eyes, as though his question was already answered.

“Yes,” said Holmes, answering the look rather than the words.“It is so. I know all about McCarthy.”

The old man sank his face in his hands. “God help me!” he cried.“But I would not have let the young man come to harm. I give you my wordthat I would have spoken out if it went against him at the Assizes.”

“I am glad to hear you say so,” said Holmes gravely.

“I would have spoken now had it not been for my dear girl. It would breakher heart—it will break her heart when she hears that I amarrested.”

“It may not come to that,” said Holmes.

“What?”

“I am no official agent. I understand that it was your daughter whorequired my presence here, and I am acting in her interests. Young McCarthymust be got off, however.”

“I am a dying man,” said old Turner. “I have had diabetes foryears. My doctor says it is a question whether I shall live a month. Yet Iwould rather die under my own roof than in a gaol.”

Holmes rose and sat down at the table with his pen in his hand and a bundle ofpaper before him. “Just tell us the truth,” he said. “I shalljot down the facts. You will sign it, and Watson here can witness it. Then Icould produce your confession at the last extremity to save young McCarthy. Ipromise you that I shall not use it unless it is absolutely needed.”

“It’s as well,” said the old man; “it’s aquestion whether I shall live to the Assizes, so it matters little to me, but Ishould wish to spare Alice the shock. And now I will make the thing clear toyou; it has been a long time in the acting, but will not take me long to tell.

“You didn’t know this dead man, McCarthy. He was a devil incarnate.I tell you that. God keep you out of the clutches of such a man as he. His griphas been upon me these twenty years, and he has blasted my life. I’lltell you first how I came to be in his power.

“It was in the early ’60’s at the diggings. I was a youngchap then, hot-blooded and reckless, ready to turn my hand at anything; I gotamong bad companions, took to drink, had no luck with my claim, took to thebush, and in a word became what you would call over here a highway robber.There were six of us, and we had a wild, free life of it, sticking up a stationfrom time to time, or stopping the wagons on the road to the diggings. BlackJack of Ballarat was the name I went under, and our party is still rememberedin the colony as the Ballarat Gang.

“One day a gold convoy came down from Ballarat to Melbourne, and we layin wait for it and attacked it. There were six troopers and six of us, so itwas a close thing, but we emptied four of their saddles at the first volley.Three of our boys were killed, however, before we got the swag. I put my pistolto the head of the wagon-driver, who was this very man McCarthy. I wish to theLord that I had shot him then, but I spared him, though I saw his wicked littleeyes fixed on my face, as though to remember every feature. We got away withthe gold, became wealthy men, and made our way over to England without beingsuspected. There I parted from my old pals and determined to settle down to aquiet and respectable life. I bought this estate, which chanced to be in themarket, and I set myself to do a little good with my money, to make up for theway in which I had earned it. I married, too, and though my wife died young sheleft me my dear little Alice. Even when she was just a baby her wee hand seemedto lead me down the right path as nothing else had ever done. In a word, Iturned over a new leaf and did my best to make up for the past. All was goingwell when McCarthy laid his grip upon me.

“I had gone up to town about an investment, and I met him in RegentStreet with hardly a coat to his back or a boot to his foot.

“‘Here we are, Jack,’ says he, touching me on the arm;‘we’ll be as good as a family to you. There’s two of us, meand my son, and you can have the keeping of us. If youdon’t—it’s a fine, law-abiding country is England, andthere’s always a policeman within hail.’

“Well, down they came to the west country, there was no shaking them off,and there they have lived rent free on my best land ever since. There was norest for me, no peace, no forgetfulness; turn where I would, there was hiscunning, grinning face at my elbow. It grew worse as Alice grew up, for he soonsaw I was more afraid of her knowing my past than of the police. Whatever hewanted he must have, and whatever it was I gave him without question, land,money, houses, until at last he asked a thing which I could not give. He askedfor Alice.

“His son, you see, had grown up, and so had my girl, and as I was knownto be in weak health, it seemed a fine stroke to him that his lad should stepinto the whole property. But there I was firm. I would not have his cursedstock mixed with mine; not that I had any dislike to the lad, but his blood wasin him, and that was enough. I stood firm. McCarthy threatened. I braved him todo his worst. We were to meet at the pool midway between our houses to talk itover.

“When I went down there I found him talking with his son, so I smoked acigar and waited behind a tree until he should be alone. But as I listened tohis talk all that was black and bitter in me seemed to come uppermost. He wasurging his son to marry my daughter with as little regard for what she mightthink as if she were a slut from off the streets. It drove me mad to think thatI and all that I held most dear should be in the power of such a man as this.Could I not snap the bond? I was already a dying and a desperate man. Thoughclear of mind and fairly strong of limb, I knew that my own fate was sealed.But my memory and my girl! Both could be saved if I could but silence that foultongue. I did it, Mr. Holmes. I would do it again. Deeply as I have sinned, Ihave led a life of martyrdom to atone for it. But that my girl should beentangled in the same meshes which held me was more than I could suffer. Istruck him down with no more compunction than if he had been some foul andvenomous beast. His cry brought back his son; but I had gained the cover of thewood, though I was forced to go back to fetch the cloak which I had dropped inmy flight. That is the true story, gentlemen, of all that occurred.”

“Well, it is not for me to judge you,” said Holmes as the old mansigned the statement which had been drawn out. “I pray that we may neverbe exposed to such a temptation.”

“I pray not, sir. And what do you intend to do?”

“In view of your health, nothing. You are yourself aware that you willsoon have to answer for your deed at a higher court than the Assizes. I willkeep your confession, and if McCarthy is condemned I shall be forced to use it.If not, it shall never be seen by mortal eye; and your secret, whether you bealive or dead, shall be safe with us.”

“Farewell, then,” said the old man solemnly. “Your owndeathbeds, when they come, will be the easier for the thought of the peacewhich you have given to mine.” Tottering and shaking in all his giantframe, he stumbled slowly from the room.

“God help us!” said Holmes after a long silence. “Why doesfate play such tricks with poor, helpless worms? I never hear of such a case asthis that I do not think of Baxter’s words, and say, ‘There, butfor the grace of God, goes Sherlock Holmes.’”

James McCarthy was acquitted at the Assizes on the strength of a number ofobjections which had been drawn out by Holmes and submitted to the defendingcounsel. Old Turner lived for seven months after our interview, but he is nowdead; and there is every prospect that the son and daughter may come to livehappily together in ignorance of the black cloud which rests upon their past.

V.
THE FIVE ORANGE PIPS

When I glance over mynotes and records of the Sherlock Holmes cases between the years ’82 and’90, I am faced by so many which present strange and interesting featuresthat it is no easy matter to know which to choose and which to leave. Some,however, have already gained publicity through the papers, and others have notoffered a field for those peculiar qualities which my friend possessed in sohigh a degree, and which it is the object of these papers to illustrate. Some,too, have baffled his analytical skill, and would be, as narratives, beginningswithout an ending, while others have been but partially cleared up, and havetheir explanations founded rather upon conjecture and surmise than on thatabsolute logical proof which was so dear to him. There is, however, one ofthese last which was so remarkable in its details and so startling in itsresults that I am tempted to give some account of it in spite of the fact thatthere are points in connection with it which never have been, and probablynever will be, entirely cleared up.

The year ’87 furnished us with a long series of cases of greater or lessinterest, of which I retain the records. Among my headings under this onetwelve months I find an account of the adventure of the Paradol Chamber, of theAmateur Mendicant Society, who held a luxurious club in the lower vault of afurniture warehouse, of the facts connected with the loss of the British barqueSophy Anderson, of the singular adventures of the Grice Patersons in theisland of Uffa, and finally of the Camberwell poisoning case. In the latter, asmay be remembered, Sherlock Holmes was able, by winding up the dead man’swatch, to prove that it had been wound up two hours before, and that thereforethe deceased had gone to bed within that time—a deduction which was ofthe greatest importance in clearing up the case. All these I may sketch out atsome future date, but none of them present such singular features as thestrange train of circumstances which I have now taken up my pen to describe.

It was in the latter days of September, and the equinoctial gales had set inwith exceptional violence. All day the wind had screamed and the rain hadbeaten against the windows, so that even here in the heart of great, hand-madeLondon we were forced to raise our minds for the instant from the routine oflife and to recognise the presence of those great elemental forces which shriekat mankind through the bars of his civilisation, like untamed beasts in a cage.As evening drew in, the storm grew higher and louder, and the wind cried andsobbed like a child in the chimney. Sherlock Holmes sat moodily at one side ofthe fireplace cross-indexing his records of crime, while I at the other wasdeep in one of Clark Russell’s fine sea-stories until the howl of thegale from without seemed to blend with the text, and the splash of the rain tolengthen out into the long swash of the sea waves. My wife was on a visit toher mother’s, and for a few days I was a dweller once more in my oldquarters at Baker Street.

“Why,” said I, glancing up at my companion, “that was surelythe bell. Who could come to-night? Some friend of yours, perhaps?”

“Except yourself I have none,” he answered. “I do notencourage visitors.”

“A client, then?”

“If so, it is a serious case. Nothing less would bring a man out on sucha day and at such an hour. But I take it that it is more likely to be somecrony of the landlady’s.”

Sherlock Holmes was wrong in his conjecture, however, for there came a step inthe passage and a tapping at the door. He stretched out his long arm to turnthe lamp away from himself and towards the vacant chair upon which a newcomermust sit.

“Come in!” said he.

The man who entered was young, some two-and-twenty at the outside, well-groomedand trimly clad, with something of refinement and delicacy in his bearing. Thestreaming umbrella which he held in his hand, and his long shining waterprooftold of the fierce weather through which he had come. He looked about himanxiously in the glare of the lamp, and I could see that his face was pale andhis eyes heavy, like those of a man who is weighed down with some greatanxiety.

“I owe you an apology,” he said, raising his golden pince-nez tohis eyes. “I trust that I am not intruding. I fear that I have broughtsome traces of the storm and rain into your snug chamber.”

“Give me your coat and umbrella,” said Holmes. “They may resthere on the hook and will be dry presently. You have come up from thesouth-west, I see.”

“Yes, from Horsham.”

“That clay and chalk mixture which I see upon your toe caps is quitedistinctive.”

“I have come for advice.”

“That is easily got.”

“And help.”

“That is not always so easy.”

“I have heard of you, Mr. Holmes. I heard from Major Prendergast how yousaved him in the Tankerville Club scandal.”

“Ah, of course. He was wrongfully accused of cheating at cards.”

“He said that you could solve anything.”

“He said too much.”

“That you are never beaten.”

“I have been beaten four times—three times by men, and once by awoman.”

“But what is that compared with the number of your successes?”

“It is true that I have been generally successful.”

“Then you may be so with me.”

“I beg that you will draw your chair up to the fire and favour me withsome details as to your case.”

“It is no ordinary one.”

“None of those which come to me are. I am the last court ofappeal.”

“And yet I question, sir, whether, in all your experience, you have everlistened to a more mysterious and inexplicable chain of events than those whichhave happened in my own family.”

“You fill me with interest,” said Holmes. “Pray give us theessential facts from the commencement, and I can afterwards question you as tothose details which seem to me to be most important.”

The young man pulled his chair up and pushed his wet feet out towards theblaze.

“My name,” said he, “is John Openshaw, but my own affairshave, as far as I can understand, little to do with this awful business. It isa hereditary matter; so in order to give you an idea of the facts, I must goback to the commencement of the affair.

“You must know that my grandfather had two sons—my uncle Elias andmy father Joseph. My father had a small factory at Coventry, which he enlargedat the time of the invention of bicycling. He was a patentee of the Openshawunbreakable tire, and his business met with such success that he was able tosell it and to retire upon a handsome competence.

“My uncle Elias emigrated to America when he was a young man and became aplanter in Florida, where he was reported to have done very well. At the timeof the war he fought in Jackson’s army, and afterwards under Hood, wherehe rose to be a colonel. When Lee laid down his arms my uncle returned to hisplantation, where he remained for three or four years. About 1869 or 1870 hecame back to Europe and took a small estate in Sussex, near Horsham. He hadmade a very considerable fortune in the States, and his reason for leaving themwas his aversion to the negroes, and his dislike of the Republican policy inextending the franchise to them. He was a singular man, fierce andquick-tempered, very foul-mouthed when he was angry, and of a most retiringdisposition. During all the years that he lived at Horsham, I doubt if ever heset foot in the town. He had a garden and two or three fields round his house,and there he would take his exercise, though very often for weeks on end hewould never leave his room. He drank a great deal of brandy and smoked veryheavily, but he would see no society and did not want any friends, not even hisown brother.

“He didn’t mind me; in fact, he took a fancy to me, for at the timewhen he saw me first I was a youngster of twelve or so. This would be in theyear 1878, after he had been eight or nine years in England. He begged myfather to let me live with him and he was very kind to me in his way. When hewas sober he used to be fond of playing backgammon and draughts with me, and hewould make me his representative both with the servants and with thetradespeople, so that by the time that I was sixteen I was quite master of thehouse. I kept all the keys and could go where I liked and do what I liked, solong as I did not disturb him in his privacy. There was one singular exception,however, for he had a single room, a lumber-room up among the attics, which wasinvariably locked, and which he would never permit either me or anyone else toenter. With a boy’s curiosity I have peeped through the keyhole, but Iwas never able to see more than such a collection of old trunks and bundles aswould be expected in such a room.

“One day—it was in March, 1883—a letter with a foreign stamplay upon the table in front of the colonel’s plate. It was not a commonthing for him to receive letters, for his bills were all paid in ready money,and he had no friends of any sort. ‘From India!’ said he as he tookit up, ‘Pondicherry postmark! What can this be?’ Opening ithurriedly, out there jumped five little dried orange pips, which pattered downupon his plate. I began to laugh at this, but the laugh was struck from my lipsat the sight of his face. His lip had fallen, his eyes were protruding, hisskin the colour of putty, and he glared at the envelope which he still held inhis trembling hand, ‘K. K. K.!’ he shrieked, and then, ‘MyGod, my God, my sins have overtaken me!’

“‘What is it, uncle?’ I cried.

“‘Death,’ said he, and rising from the table he retiredto his room, leaving me palpitating with horror. I took up the envelope and sawscrawled in red ink upon the inner flap, just above the gum, the letter K threetimes repeated. There was nothing else save the five dried pips. What could bethe reason of his overpowering terror? I left the breakfast-table, and as Iascended the stair I met him coming down with an old rusty key, which must havebelonged to the attic, in one hand, and a small brass box, like a cashbox, inthe other.

“‘They may do what they like, but I’ll checkmate themstill,’ said he with an oath. ‘Tell Mary that I shall want a firein my room to-day, and send down to Fordham, the Horsham lawyer.’

“I did as he ordered, and when the lawyer arrived I was asked to step upto the room. The fire was burning brightly, and in the grate there was a massof black, fluffy ashes, as of burned paper, while the brass box stood open andempty beside it. As I glanced at the box I noticed, with a start, that upon thelid was printed the treble K which I had read in the morning upon the envelope.

“‘I wish you, John,’ said my uncle, ‘to witnessmy will. I leave my estate, with all its advantages and all its disadvantages,to my brother, your father, whence it will, no doubt, descend to you. If youcan enjoy it in peace, well and good! If you find you cannot, take my advice,my boy, and leave it to your deadliest enemy. I am sorry to give you such atwo-edged thing, but I can’t say what turn things are going to take.Kindly sign the paper where Mr. Fordham shows you.’

“I signed the paper as directed, and the lawyer took it away with him.The singular incident made, as you may think, the deepest impression upon me,and I pondered over it and turned it every way in my mind without being able tomake anything of it. Yet I could not shake off the vague feeling of dread whichit left behind, though the sensation grew less keen as the weeks passed andnothing happened to disturb the usual routine of our lives. I could see achange in my uncle, however. He drank more than ever, and he was less inclinedfor any sort of society. Most of his time he would spend in his room, with thedoor locked upon the inside, but sometimes he would emerge in a sort of drunkenfrenzy and would burst out of the house and tear about the garden with arevolver in his hand, screaming out that he was afraid of no man, and that hewas not to be cooped up, like a sheep in a pen, by man or devil. When these hotfits were over, however, he would rush tumultuously in at the door and lock andbar it behind him, like a man who can brazen it out no longer against theterror which lies at the roots of his soul. At such times I have seen his face,even on a cold day, glisten with moisture, as though it were new raised from abasin.

“Well, to come to an end of the matter, Mr. Holmes, and not to abuse yourpatience, there came a night when he made one of those drunken sallies fromwhich he never came back. We found him, when we went to search for him, facedownward in a little green-scummed pool, which lay at the foot of the garden.There was no sign of any violence, and the water was but two feet deep, so thatthe jury, having regard to his known eccentricity, brought in a verdict of‘suicide.’ But I, who knew how he winced from the very thought ofdeath, had much ado to persuade myself that he had gone out of his way to meetit. The matter passed, however, and my father entered into possession of theestate, and of some £ 14,000, which lay to his credit at the bank.”

“One moment,” Holmes interposed, “your statement is, Iforesee, one of the most remarkable to which I have ever listened. Let me havethe date of the reception by your uncle of the letter, and the date of hissupposed suicide.”

“The letter arrived on March 10, 1883. His death was seven weeks later,upon the night of May 2nd.”

“Thank you. Pray proceed.”

“When my father took over the Horsham property, he, at my request, made acareful examination of the attic, which had been always locked up. We found thebrass box there, although its contents had been destroyed. On the inside of thecover was a paper label, with the initials of K. K. K. repeated upon it, and‘Letters, memoranda, receipts, and a register’ written beneath.These, we presume, indicated the nature of the papers which had been destroyedby Colonel Openshaw. For the rest, there was nothing of much importance in theattic save a great many scattered papers and note-books bearing upon myuncle’s life in America. Some of them were of the war time and showedthat he had done his duty well and had borne the repute of a brave soldier.Others were of a date during the reconstruction of the Southern states, andwere mostly concerned with politics, for he had evidently taken a strong partin opposing the carpet-bag politicians who had been sent down from the North.

“Well, it was the beginning of ’84 when my father came to live atHorsham, and all went as well as possible with us until the January of’85. On the fourth day after the new year I heard my father give a sharpcry of surprise as we sat together at the breakfast-table. There he was,sitting with a newly opened envelope in one hand and five dried orange pips inthe outstretched palm of the other one. He had always laughed at what he calledmy cock-and-bull story about the colonel, but he looked very scared and puzzlednow that the same thing had come upon himself.

“‘Why, what on earth does this mean, John?’ hestammered.

“My heart had turned to lead. ‘It is K. K. K.,’ said I.

“He looked inside the envelope. ‘So it is,’ he cried.‘Here are the very letters. But what is this written above them?’

“‘Put the papers on the sundial,’ I read, peeping overhis shoulder.

“‘What papers? What sundial?’ he asked.

“‘The sundial in the garden. There is no other,’ saidI; ‘but the papers must be those that are destroyed.’

“‘Pooh!’ said he, gripping hard at his courage.‘We are in a civilised land here, and we can’t have tomfoolery ofthis kind. Where does the thing come from?’

“‘From Dundee,’ I answered, glancing at the postmark.

“‘Some preposterous practical joke,’ said he.‘What have I to do with sundials and papers? I shall take no notice ofsuch nonsense.’

“‘I should certainly speak to the police,’ I said.

“‘And be laughed at for my pains. Nothing of the sort.’

“‘Then let me do so?’

“‘No, I forbid you. I won’t have a fuss made about suchnonsense.’

“It was in vain to argue with him, for he was a very obstinate man. Iwent about, however, with a heart which was full of forebodings.

“On the third day after the coming of the letter my father went from hometo visit an old friend of his, Major Freebody, who is in command of one of theforts upon Portsdown Hill. I was glad that he should go, for it seemed to methat he was farther from danger when he was away from home. In that, however, Iwas in error. Upon the second day of his absence I received a telegram from themajor, imploring me to come at once. My father had fallen over one of the deepchalk-pits which abound in the neighbourhood, and was lying senseless, with ashattered skull. I hurried to him, but he passed away without having everrecovered his consciousness. He had, as it appears, been returning from Farehamin the twilight, and as the country was unknown to him, and the chalk-pitunfenced, the jury had no hesitation in bringing in a verdict of ‘deathfrom accidental causes.’ Carefully as I examined every fact connectedwith his death, I was unable to find anything which could suggest the idea ofmurder. There were no signs of violence, no footmarks, no robbery, no record ofstrangers having been seen upon the roads. And yet I need not tell you that mymind was far from at ease, and that I was well-nigh certain that some foul plothad been woven round him.

“In this sinister way I came into my inheritance. You will ask me why Idid not dispose of it? I answer, because I was well convinced that our troubleswere in some way dependent upon an incident in my uncle’s life, and thatthe danger would be as pressing in one house as in another.

“It was in January, ’85, that my poor father met his end, and twoyears and eight months have elapsed since then. During that time I have livedhappily at Horsham, and I had begun to hope that this curse had passed awayfrom the family, and that it had ended with the last generation. I had begun totake comfort too soon, however; yesterday morning the blow fell in the veryshape in which it had come upon my father.”

The young man took from his waistcoat a crumpled envelope, and turning to thetable he shook out upon it five little dried orange pips.

“This is the envelope,” he continued. “The postmark isLondon—eastern division. Within are the very words which were upon myfather’s last message: ‘K. K. K.’; and then ‘Put thepapers on the sundial.’”

“What have you done?” asked Holmes.

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“To tell the truth”—he sank his face into his thin, whitehands—“I have felt helpless. I have felt like one of those poorrabbits when the snake is writhing towards it. I seem to be in the grasp ofsome resistless, inexorable evil, which no foresight and no precautions canguard against.”

“Tut! tut!” cried Sherlock Holmes. “You must act, man, or youare lost. Nothing but energy can save you. This is no time for despair.”

“I have seen the police.”

“Ah!”

“But they listened to my story with a smile. I am convinced that theinspector has formed the opinion that the letters are all practical jokes, andthat the deaths of my relations were really accidents, as the jury stated, andwere not to be connected with the warnings.”

Holmes shook his clenched hands in the air. “Incredibleimbecility!” he cried.

“They have, however, allowed me a policeman, who may remain in the housewith me.”

“Has he come with you to-night?”

“No. His orders were to stay in the house.”

Again Holmes raved in the air.

“Why did you come to me?” he said, “and, above all, why didyou not come at once?”

“I did not know. It was only to-day that I spoke to Major Prendergastabout my troubles and was advised by him to come to you.”

“It is really two days since you had the letter. We should have actedbefore this. You have no further evidence, I suppose, than that which you haveplaced before us—no suggestive detail which might help us?”

“There is one thing,” said John Openshaw. He rummaged in his coatpocket, and, drawing out a piece of discoloured, blue-tinted paper, he laid itout upon the table. “I have some remembrance,” said he, “thaton the day when my uncle burned the papers I observed that the small, unburnedmargins which lay amid the ashes were of this particular colour. I found thissingle sheet upon the floor of his room, and I am inclined to think that it maybe one of the papers which has, perhaps, fluttered out from among the others,and in that way has escaped destruction. Beyond the mention of pips, I do notsee that it helps us much. I think myself that it is a page from some privatediary. The writing is undoubtedly my uncle’s.”

Holmes moved the lamp, and we both bent over the sheet of paper, which showedby its ragged edge that it had indeed been torn from a book. It was headed,“March, 1869,” and beneath were the following enigmatical notices:

“4th. Hudson came. Same old platform.

“7th. Set the pips on McCauley, Paramore, and John Swain of St.Augustine.

“9th. McCauley cleared.

“10th. John Swain cleared.

“12th. Visited Paramore. All well.”

“Thank you!” said Holmes, folding up the paper and returning it toour visitor. “And now you must on no account lose another instant. Wecannot spare time even to discuss what you have told me. You must get homeinstantly and act.”

“What shall I do?”

“There is but one thing to do. It must be done at once. You must put thispiece of paper which you have shown us into the brass box which you havedescribed. You must also put in a note to say that all the other papers wereburned by your uncle, and that this is the only one which remains. You mustassert that in such words as will carry conviction with them. Having done this,you must at once put the box out upon the sundial, as directed. Do youunderstand?”

“Entirely.”

“Do not think of revenge, or anything of the sort, at present. I thinkthat we may gain that by means of the law; but we have our web to weave, whiletheirs is already woven. The first consideration is to remove the pressingdanger which threatens you. The second is to clear up the mystery and to punishthe guilty parties.”

“I thank you,” said the young man, rising and pulling on hisovercoat. “You have given me fresh life and hope. I shall certainly do asyou advise.”

“Do not lose an instant. And, above all, take care of yourself in themeanwhile, for I do not think that there can be a doubt that you are threatenedby a very real and imminent danger. How do you go back?”

“By train from Waterloo.”

“It is not yet nine. The streets will be crowded, so I trust that you maybe in safety. And yet you cannot guard yourself too closely.”

“I am armed.”

“That is well. To-morrow I shall set to work upon your case.”

“I shall see you at Horsham, then?”

“No, your secret lies in London. It is there that I shall seek it.”

“Then I shall call upon you in a day, or in two days, with news as to thebox and the papers. I shall take your advice in every particular.” Heshook hands with us and took his leave. Outside the wind still screamed and therain splashed and pattered against the windows. This strange, wild story seemedto have come to us from amid the mad elements—blown in upon us like asheet of sea-weed in a gale—and now to have been reabsorbed by them oncemore.

Sherlock Holmes sat for some time in silence, with his head sunk forward andhis eyes bent upon the red glow of the fire. Then he lit his pipe, and leaningback in his chair he watched the blue smoke-rings as they chased each other upto the ceiling.

“I think, Watson,” he remarked at last, “that of all ourcases we have had none more fantastic than this.”

“Save, perhaps, the Sign of Four.”

“Well, yes. Save, perhaps, that. And yet this John Openshaw seems to meto be walking amid even greater perils than did the Sholtos.”

“But have you,” I asked, “formed any definite conception asto what these perils are?”

“There can be no question as to their nature,” he answered.

“Then what are they? Who is this K. K. K., and why does he pursue thisunhappy family?”

Sherlock Holmes closed his eyes and placed his elbows upon the arms of hischair, with his finger-tips together. “The ideal reasoner,” heremarked, “would, when he had once been shown a single fact in all itsbearings, deduce from it not only all the chain of events which led up to itbut also all the results which would follow from it. As Cuvier could correctlydescribe a whole animal by the contemplation of a single bone, so the observerwho has thoroughly understood one link in a series of incidents should be ableto accurately state all the other ones, both before and after. We have not yetgrasped the results which the reason alone can attain to. Problems may besolved in the study which have baffled all those who have sought a solution bythe aid of their senses. To carry the art, however, to its highest pitch, it isnecessary that the reasoner should be able to utilise all the facts which havecome to his knowledge; and this in itself implies, as you will readily see, apossession of all knowledge, which, even in these days of free education andencyclopædias, is a somewhat rare accomplishment. It is not so impossible,however, that a man should possess all knowledge which is likely to be usefulto him in his work, and this I have endeavoured in my case to do. If I rememberrightly, you on one occasion, in the early days of our friendship, defined mylimits in a very precise fashion.”

“Yes,” I answered, laughing. “It was a singular document.Philosophy, astronomy, and politics were marked at zero, I remember. Botanyvariable, geology profound as regards the mud-stains from any region withinfifty miles of town, chemistry eccentric, anatomy unsystematic, sensationalliterature and crime records unique, violin-player, boxer, swordsman, lawyer,and self-poisoner by cocaine and tobacco. Those, I think, were the main pointsof my analysis.”

Holmes grinned at the last item. “Well,” he said, “I say now,as I said then, that a man should keep his little brain-attic stocked with allthe furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in thelumber-room of his library, where he can get it if he wants it. Now, for such acase as the one which has been submitted to us to-night, we need certainly tomuster all our resources. Kindly hand me down the letter K of the AmericanEncyclopædia which stands upon the shelf beside you. Thank you. Now let usconsider the situation and see what may be deduced from it. In the first place,we may start with a strong presumption that Colonel Openshaw had some verystrong reason for leaving America. Men at his time of life do not change alltheir habits and exchange willingly the charming climate of Florida for thelonely life of an English provincial town. His extreme love of solitude inEngland suggests the idea that he was in fear of someone or something, so wemay assume as a working hypothesis that it was fear of someone or somethingwhich drove him from America. As to what it was he feared, we can only deducethat by considering the formidable letters which were received by himself andhis successors. Did you remark the postmarks of those letters?”

“The first was from Pondicherry, the second from Dundee, and the thirdfrom London.”

“From East London. What do you deduce from that?”

“They are all seaports. That the writer was on board of a ship.”

“Excellent. We have already a clue. There can be no doubt that theprobability—the strong probability—is that the writer was on boardof a ship. And now let us consider another point. In the case of Pondicherry,seven weeks elapsed between the threat and its fulfilment, in Dundee it wasonly some three or four days. Does that suggest anything?”

“A greater distance to travel.”

“But the letter had also a greater distance to come.”

“Then I do not see the point.”

“There is at least a presumption that the vessel in which the man or menare is a sailing-ship. It looks as if they always send their singular warningor token before them when starting upon their mission. You see how quickly thedeed followed the sign when it came from Dundee. If they had come fromPondicherry in a steamer they would have arrived almost as soon as theirletter. But, as a matter of fact, seven weeks elapsed. I think that those sevenweeks represented the difference between the mail-boat which brought the letterand the sailing vessel which brought the writer.”

“It is possible.”

“More than that. It is probable. And now you see the deadly urgency ofthis new case, and why I urged young Openshaw to caution. The blow has alwaysfallen at the end of the time which it would take the senders to travel thedistance. But this one comes from London, and therefore we cannot count upondelay.”

“Good God!” I cried. “What can it mean, this relentlesspersecution?”

“The papers which Openshaw carried are obviously of vital importance tothe person or persons in the sailing-ship. I think that it is quite clear thatthere must be more than one of them. A single man could not have carried outtwo deaths in such a way as to deceive a coroner’s jury. There must havebeen several in it, and they must have been men of resource and determination.Their papers they mean to have, be the holder of them who it may. In this wayyou see K. K. K. ceases to be the initials of an individual and becomes thebadge of a society.”

“But of what society?”

“Have you never—” said Sherlock Holmes, bending forward andsinking his voice—“have you never heard of the Ku Klux Klan?”

“I never have.”

Holmes turned over the leaves of the book upon his knee. “Here itis,” said he presently:

“‘Ku Klux Klan. A name derived from the fanciful resemblanceto the sound produced by cocking a rifle. This terrible secret society wasformed by some ex-Confederate soldiers in the Southern states after the CivilWar, and it rapidly formed local branches in different parts of the country,notably in Tennessee, Louisiana, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. Its powerwas used for political purposes, principally for the terrorising of the negrovoters and the murdering and driving from the country of those who were opposedto its views. Its outrages were usually preceded by a warning sent to themarked man in some fantastic but generally recognised shape—a sprig ofoak-leaves in some parts, melon seeds or orange pips in others. On receivingthis the victim might either openly abjure his former ways, or might fly fromthe country. If he braved the matter out, death would unfailingly come uponhim, and usually in some strange and unforeseen manner. So perfect was theorganisation of the society, and so systematic its methods, that there ishardly a case upon record where any man succeeded in braving it with impunity,or in which any of its outrages were traced home to the perpetrators. For someyears the organisation flourished in spite of the efforts of the United Statesgovernment and of the better classes of the community in the South. Eventually,in the year 1869, the movement rather suddenly collapsed, although there havebeen sporadic outbreaks of the same sort since that date.’

“You will observe,” said Holmes, laying down the volume,“that the sudden breaking up of the society was coincident with thedisappearance of Openshaw from America with their papers. It may well have beencause and effect. It is no wonder that he and his family have some of the moreimplacable spirits upon their track. You can understand that this register anddiary may implicate some of the first men in the South, and that there may bemany who will not sleep easy at night until it is recovered.”

“Then the page we have seen—”

“Is such as we might expect. It ran, if I remember right, ‘sent thepips to A, B, and C’—that is, sent the society’s warning tothem. Then there are successive entries that A and B cleared, or left thecountry, and finally that C was visited, with, I fear, a sinister result for C.Well, I think, Doctor, that we may let some light into this dark place, and Ibelieve that the only chance young Openshaw has in the meantime is to do what Ihave told him. There is nothing more to be said or to be done to-night, so handme over my violin and let us try to forget for half an hour the miserableweather and the still more miserable ways of our fellow men.”

It had cleared in the morning, and the sun was shining with a subduedbrightness through the dim veil which hangs over the great city. SherlockHolmes was already at breakfast when I came down.

“You will excuse me for not waiting for you,” said he; “Ihave, I foresee, a very busy day before me in looking into this case of youngOpenshaw’s.”

“What steps will you take?” I asked.

“It will very much depend upon the results of my first inquiries. I mayhave to go down to Horsham, after all.”

“You will not go there first?”

“No, I shall commence with the City. Just ring the bell and the maid willbring up your coffee.”

As I waited, I lifted the unopened newspaper from the table and glanced my eyeover it. It rested upon a heading which sent a chill to my heart.

“Holmes,” I cried, “you are too late.”

“Ah!” said he, laying down his cup, “I feared as much. Howwas it done?” He spoke calmly, but I could see that he was deeply moved.

“My eye caught the name of Openshaw, and the heading ‘Tragedy NearWaterloo Bridge.’ Here is the account:

“‘Between nine and ten last night Police-Constable Cook, ofthe H Division, on duty near Waterloo Bridge, heard a cry for help and a splashin the water. The night, however, was extremely dark and stormy, so that, inspite of the help of several passers-by, it was quite impossible to effect arescue. The alarm, however, was given, and, by the aid of the water-police, thebody was eventually recovered. It proved to be that of a young gentleman whosename, as it appears from an envelope which was found in his pocket, was JohnOpenshaw, and whose residence is near Horsham. It is conjectured that he mayhave been hurrying down to catch the last train from Waterloo Station, and thatin his haste and the extreme darkness he missed his path and walked over theedge of one of the small landing-places for river steamboats. The bodyexhibited no traces of violence, and there can be no doubt that the deceasedhad been the victim of an unfortunate accident, which should have the effect ofcalling the attention of the authorities to the condition of the riversidelanding-stages.’”

We sat in silence for some minutes, Holmes more depressed and shaken than I hadever seen him.

“That hurts my pride, Watson,” he said at last. “It is apetty feeling, no doubt, but it hurts my pride. It becomes a personal matterwith me now, and, if God sends me health, I shall set my hand upon this gang.That he should come to me for help, and that I should send him away to hisdeath—!” He sprang from his chair and paced about the room inuncontrollable agitation, with a flush upon his sallow cheeks and a nervousclasping and unclasping of his long thin hands.

“They must be cunning devils,” he exclaimed at last. “Howcould they have decoyed him down there? The Embankment is not on the directline to the station. The bridge, no doubt, was too crowded, even on such anight, for their purpose. Well, Watson, we shall see who will win in the longrun. I am going out now!”

“To the police?”

“No; I shall be my own police. When I have spun the web they may take theflies, but not before.”

All day I was engaged in my professional work, and it was late in the eveningbefore I returned to Baker Street. Sherlock Holmes had not come back yet. Itwas nearly ten o’clock before he entered, looking pale and worn. Hewalked up to the sideboard, and tearing a piece from the loaf he devoured itvoraciously, washing it down with a long draught of water.

“You are hungry,” I remarked.

“Starving. It had escaped my memory. I have had nothing sincebreakfast.”

“Nothing?”

“Not a bite. I had no time to think of it.”

“And how have you succeeded?”

“Well.”

“You have a clue?”

“I have them in the hollow of my hand. Young Openshaw shall not longremain unavenged. Why, Watson, let us put their own devilish trade-mark uponthem. It is well thought of!”

“What do you mean?”

He took an orange from the cupboard, and tearing it to pieces he squeezed outthe pips upon the table. Of these he took five and thrust them into anenvelope. On the inside of the flap he wrote “S. H. for J. O.” Thenhe sealed it and addressed it to “Captain James Calhoun, Barque LoneStar, Savannah, Georgia.”

“That will await him when he enters port,” said he, chuckling.“It may give him a sleepless night. He will find it as sure a precursorof his fate as Openshaw did before him.”

“And who is this Captain Calhoun?”

“The leader of the gang. I shall have the others, but he first.”

“How did you trace it, then?”

He took a large sheet of paper from his pocket, all covered with dates andnames.

“I have spent the whole day,” said he, “over Lloyd’sregisters and files of the old papers, following the future career of everyvessel which touched at Pondicherry in January and February in ’83. Therewere thirty-six ships of fair tonnage which were reported there during thosemonths. Of these, one, the Lone Star, instantly attracted my attention,since, although it was reported as having cleared from London, the name is thatwhich is given to one of the states of the Union.”

“Texas, I think.”

“I was not and am not sure which; but I knew that the ship must have anAmerican origin.”

“What then?”

“I searched the Dundee records, and when I found that the barque LoneStar was there in January, ’85, my suspicion became a certainty. Ithen inquired as to the vessels which lay at present in the port ofLondon.”

“Yes?”

“The Lone Star had arrived here last week. I went down to theAlbert Dock and found that she had been taken down the river by the early tidethis morning, homeward bound to Savannah. I wired to Gravesend and learned thatshe had passed some time ago, and as the wind is easterly I have no doubt thatshe is now past the Goodwins and not very far from the Isle of Wight.”

“What will you do, then?”

“Oh, I have my hand upon him. He and the two mates, are as I learn, theonly native-born Americans in the ship. The others are Finns and Germans. Iknow, also, that they were all three away from the ship last night. I had itfrom the stevedore who has been loading their cargo. By the time that theirsailing-ship reaches Savannah the mail-boat will have carried this letter, andthe cable will have informed the police of Savannah that these three gentlemenare badly wanted here upon a charge of murder.”

There is ever a flaw, however, in the best laid of human plans, and themurderers of John Openshaw were never to receive the orange pips which wouldshow them that another, as cunning and as resolute as themselves, was upontheir track. Very long and very severe were the equinoctial gales that year. Wewaited long for news of the Lone Star of Savannah, but none ever reachedus. We did at last hear that somewhere far out in the Atlantic a shatteredstern-post of a boat was seen swinging in the trough of a wave, with theletters “L. S.” carved upon it, and that is all which we shall everknow of the fate of the Lone Star.

VI.
THE MAN WITH THE TWISTED LIP

Isa Whitney, brother ofthe late Elias Whitney, D.D., Principal of the Theological College of St.George’s, was much addicted to opium. The habit grew upon him, as Iunderstand, from some foolish freak when he was at college; for having read DeQuincey’s description of his dreams and sensations, he had drenched histobacco with laudanum in an attempt to produce the same effects. He found, asso many more have done, that the practice is easier to attain than to get ridof, and for many years he continued to be a slave to the drug, an object ofmingled horror and pity to his friends and relatives. I can see him now, withyellow, pasty face, drooping lids, and pin-point pupils, all huddled in achair, the wreck and ruin of a noble man.

One night—it was in June, ’89—there came a ring to my bell,about the hour when a man gives his first yawn and glances at the clock. I satup in my chair, and my wife laid her needle-work down in her lap and made alittle face of disappointment.

“A patient!” said she. “You’ll have to go out.”

I groaned, for I was newly come back from a weary day.

We heard the door open, a few hurried words, and then quick steps upon thelinoleum. Our own door flew open, and a lady, clad in some dark-coloured stuff,with a black veil, entered the room.

“You will excuse my calling so late,” she began, and then, suddenlylosing her self-control, she ran forward, threw her arms about my wife’sneck, and sobbed upon her shoulder. “Oh, I’m in suchtrouble!” she cried; “I do so want a little help.”

“Why,” said my wife, pulling up her veil, “it is KateWhitney. How you startled me, Kate! I had not an idea who you were when youcame in.”

“I didn’t know what to do, so I came straight to you.” Thatwas always the way. Folk who were in grief came to my wife like birds to alighthouse.

“It was very sweet of you to come. Now, you must have some wine andwater, and sit here comfortably and tell us all about it. Or should you ratherthat I sent James off to bed?”

“Oh, no, no! I want the doctor’s advice and help, too. It’sabout Isa. He has not been home for two days. I am so frightened abouthim!”

It was not the first time that she had spoken to us of her husband’strouble, to me as a doctor, to my wife as an old friend and school companion.We soothed and comforted her by such words as we could find. Did she know whereher husband was? Was it possible that we could bring him back to her?

It seems that it was. She had the surest information that of late he had, whenthe fit was on him, made use of an opium den in the farthest east of the City.Hitherto his orgies had always been confined to one day, and he had come back,twitching and shattered, in the evening. But now the spell had been upon himeight-and-forty hours, and he lay there, doubtless among the dregs of thedocks, breathing in the poison or sleeping off the effects. There he was to befound, she was sure of it, at the Bar of Gold, in Upper Swandam Lane. But whatwas she to do? How could she, a young and timid woman, make her way into such aplace and pluck her husband out from among the ruffians who surrounded him?

There was the case, and of course there was but one way out of it. Might I notescort her to this place? And then, as a second thought, why should she come atall? I was Isa Whitney’s medical adviser, and as such I had influenceover him. I could manage it better if I were alone. I promised her on my wordthat I would send him home in a cab within two hours if he were indeed at theaddress which she had given me. And so in ten minutes I had left my armchairand cheery sitting-room behind me, and was speeding eastward in a hansom on astrange errand, as it seemed to me at the time, though the future only couldshow how strange it was to be.

But there was no great difficulty in the first stage of my adventure. UpperSwandam Lane is a vile alley lurking behind the high wharves which line thenorth side of the river to the east of London Bridge. Between a slop-shop and agin-shop, approached by a steep flight of steps leading down to a black gaplike the mouth of a cave, I found the den of which I was in search. Ordering mycab to wait, I passed down the steps, worn hollow in the centre by theceaseless tread of drunken feet; and by the light of a flickering oil-lampabove the door I found the latch and made my way into a long, low room, thickand heavy with the brown opium smoke, and terraced with wooden berths, like theforecastle of an emigrant ship.

Through the gloom one could dimly catch a glimpse of bodies lying in strangefantastic poses, bowed shoulders, bent knees, heads thrown back, and chinspointing upward, with here and there a dark, lack-lustre eye turned upon thenewcomer. Out of the black shadows there glimmered little red circles of light,now bright, now faint, as the burning poison waxed or waned in the bowls of themetal pipes. The most lay silent, but some muttered to themselves, and otherstalked together in a strange, low, monotonous voice, their conversation comingin gushes, and then suddenly tailing off into silence, each mumbling out hisown thoughts and paying little heed to the words of his neighbour. At thefarther end was a small brazier of burning charcoal, beside which on athree-legged wooden stool there sat a tall, thin old man, with his jaw restingupon his two fists, and his elbows upon his knees, staring into the fire.

As I entered, a sallow Malay attendant had hurried up with a pipe for me and asupply of the drug, beckoning me to an empty berth.

“Thank you. I have not come to stay,” said I. “There is afriend of mine here, Mr. Isa Whitney, and I wish to speak with him.”

There was a movement and an exclamation from my right, and peering through thegloom, I saw Whitney, pale, haggard, and unkempt, staring out at me.

“My God! It’s Watson,” said he. He was in a pitiable state ofreaction, with every nerve in a twitter. “I say, Watson, whato’clock is it?”

“Nearly eleven.”

“Of what day?”

“Of Friday, June 19th.”

“Good heavens! I thought it was Wednesday. It is Wednesday. Whatd’you want to frighten a chap for?” He sank his face onto his armsand began to sob in a high treble key.

“I tell you that it is Friday, man. Your wife has been waiting this twodays for you. You should be ashamed of yourself!”

“So I am. But you’ve got mixed, Watson, for I have only been here afew hours, three pipes, four pipes—I forget how many. But I’ll gohome with you. I wouldn’t frighten Kate—poor little Kate. Give meyour hand! Have you a cab?”

“Yes, I have one waiting.”

“Then I shall go in it. But I must owe something. Find what I owe,Watson. I am all off colour. I can do nothing for myself.”

I walked down the narrow passage between the double row of sleepers, holding mybreath to keep out the vile, stupefying fumes of the drug, and looking aboutfor the manager. As I passed the tall man who sat by the brazier I felt asudden pluck at my skirt, and a low voice whispered, “Walk past me, andthen look back at me.” The words fell quite distinctly upon my ear. Iglanced down. They could only have come from the old man at my side, and yet hesat now as absorbed as ever, very thin, very wrinkled, bent with age, an opiumpipe dangling down from between his knees, as though it had dropped in sheerlassitude from his fingers. I took two steps forward and looked back. It tookall my self-control to prevent me from breaking out into a cry of astonishment.He had turned his back so that none could see him but I. His form had filledout, his wrinkles were gone, the dull eyes had regained their fire, and there,sitting by the fire and grinning at my surprise, was none other than SherlockHolmes. He made a slight motion to me to approach him, and instantly, as heturned his face half round to the company once more, subsided into a doddering,loose-lipped senility.

“Holmes!” I whispered, “what on earth are you doing in thisden?”

“As low as you can,” he answered; “I have excellent ears. Ifyou would have the great kindness to get rid of that sottish friend of yours Ishould be exceedingly glad to have a little talk with you.”

“I have a cab outside.”

“Then pray send him home in it. You may safely trust him, for he appearsto be too limp to get into any mischief. I should recommend you also to send anote by the cabman to your wife to say that you have thrown in your lot withme. If you will wait outside, I shall be with you in five minutes.”

It was difficult to refuse any of Sherlock Holmes’ requests, for theywere always so exceedingly definite, and put forward with such a quiet air ofmastery. I felt, however, that when Whitney was once confined in the cab mymission was practically accomplished; and for the rest, I could not wishanything better than to be associated with my friend in one of those singularadventures which were the normal condition of his existence. In a few minutes Ihad written my note, paid Whitney’s bill, led him out to the cab, andseen him driven through the darkness. In a very short time a decrepit figurehad emerged from the opium den, and I was walking down the street with SherlockHolmes. For two streets he shuffled along with a bent back and an uncertainfoot. Then, glancing quickly round, he straightened himself out and burst intoa hearty fit of laughter.

“I suppose, Watson,” said he, “that you imagine that I haveadded opium-smoking to cocaine injections, and all the other little weaknesseson which you have favoured me with your medical views.”

“I was certainly surprised to find you there.”

“But not more so than I to find you.”

“I came to find a friend.”

“And I to find an enemy.”

“An enemy?”

“Yes; one of my natural enemies, or, shall I say, my natural prey.Briefly, Watson, I am in the midst of a very remarkable inquiry, and I havehoped to find a clue in the incoherent ramblings of these sots, as I have donebefore now. Had I been recognised in that den my life would not have been worthan hour’s purchase; for I have used it before now for my own purposes,and the rascally Lascar who runs it has sworn to have vengeance upon me. Thereis a trap-door at the back of that building, near the corner of Paul’sWharf, which could tell some strange tales of what has passed through it uponthe moonless nights.”

“What! You do not mean bodies?”

“Ay, bodies, Watson. We should be rich men if we had £ 1000 for everypoor devil who has been done to death in that den. It is the vilest murder-trapon the whole riverside, and I fear that Neville St. Clair has entered it neverto leave it more. But our trap should be here.” He put his twoforefingers between his teeth and whistled shrilly—a signal which wasanswered by a similar whistle from the distance, followed shortly by the rattleof wheels and the clink of horses’ hoofs.

“Now, Watson,” said Holmes, as a tall dog-cart dashed up throughthe gloom, throwing out two golden tunnels of yellow light from its sidelanterns. “You’ll come with me, won’t you?”

“If I can be of use.”

“Oh, a trusty comrade is always of use; and a chronicler still more so.My room at The Cedars is a double-bedded one.”

“The Cedars?”

“Yes; that is Mr. St. Clair’s house. I am staying there while Iconduct the inquiry.”

“Where is it, then?”

“Near Lee, in Kent. We have a seven-mile drive before us.”

“But I am all in the dark.”

“Of course you are. You’ll know all about it presently. Jump uphere. All right, John; we shall not need you. Here’s half a crown. Lookout for me to-morrow, about eleven. Give her her head. So long, then!”

He flicked the horse with his whip, and we dashed away through the endlesssuccession of sombre and deserted streets, which widened gradually, until wewere flying across a broad balustraded bridge, with the murky river flowingsluggishly beneath us. Beyond lay another dull wilderness of bricks and mortar,its silence broken only by the heavy, regular footfall of the policeman, or thesongs and shouts of some belated party of revellers. A dull wrack was driftingslowly across the sky, and a star or two twinkled dimly here and there throughthe rifts of the clouds. Holmes drove in silence, with his head sunk upon hisbreast, and the air of a man who is lost in thought, while I sat beside him,curious to learn what this new quest might be which seemed to tax his powers sosorely, and yet afraid to break in upon the current of his thoughts. We haddriven several miles, and were beginning to get to the fringe of the belt ofsuburban villas, when he shook himself, shrugged his shoulders, and lit up hispipe with the air of a man who has satisfied himself that he is acting for thebest.

“You have a grand gift of silence, Watson,” said he. “Itmakes you quite invaluable as a companion. ’Pon my word, it is a greatthing for me to have someone to talk to, for my own thoughts are notover-pleasant. I was wondering what I should say to this dear little womanto-night when she meets me at the door.”

“You forget that I know nothing about it.”

“I shall just have time to tell you the facts of the case before we getto Lee. It seems absurdly simple, and yet, somehow I can get nothing to goupon. There’s plenty of thread, no doubt, but I can’t get the endof it into my hand. Now, I’ll state the case clearly and concisely toyou, Watson, and maybe you can see a spark where all is dark to me.”

“Proceed, then.”

“Some years ago—to be definite, in May, 1884—there came toLee a gentleman, Neville St. Clair by name, who appeared to have plenty ofmoney. He took a large villa, laid out the grounds very nicely, and livedgenerally in good style. By degrees he made friends in the neighbourhood, andin 1887 he married the daughter of a local brewer, by whom he now has twochildren. He had no occupation, but was interested in several companies andwent into town as a rule in the morning, returning by the 5:14 from CannonStreet every night. Mr. St. Clair is now thirty-seven years of age, is a man oftemperate habits, a good husband, a very affectionate father, and a man who ispopular with all who know him. I may add that his whole debts at the presentmoment, as far as we have been able to ascertain, amount to £ 88 10s.,while he has £ 220 standing to his credit in the Capital and Counties Bank.There is no reason, therefore, to think that money troubles have been weighingupon his mind.

“Last Monday Mr. Neville St. Clair went into town rather earlier thanusual, remarking before he started that he had two important commissions toperform, and that he would bring his little boy home a box of bricks. Now, bythe merest chance, his wife received a telegram upon this same Monday, veryshortly after his departure, to the effect that a small parcel of considerablevalue which she had been expecting was waiting for her at the offices of theAberdeen Shipping Company. Now, if you are well up in your London, you willknow that the office of the company is in Fresno Street, which branches out ofUpper Swandam Lane, where you found me to-night. Mrs. St. Clair had her lunch,started for the City, did some shopping, proceeded to the company’soffice, got her packet, and found herself at exactly 4:35 walking throughSwandam Lane on her way back to the station. Have you followed me sofar?”

“It is very clear.”

“If you remember, Monday was an exceedingly hot day, and Mrs. St. Clairwalked slowly, glancing about in the hope of seeing a cab, as she did not likethe neighbourhood in which she found herself. While she was walking in this waydown Swandam Lane, she suddenly heard an ejaculation or cry, and was struckcold to see her husband looking down at her and, as it seemed to her, beckoningto her from a second-floor window. The window was open, and she distinctly sawhis face, which she describes as being terribly agitated. He waved his handsfrantically to her, and then vanished from the window so suddenly that itseemed to her that he had been plucked back by some irresistible force frombehind. One singular point which struck her quick feminine eye was thatalthough he wore some dark coat, such as he had started to town in, he had onneither collar nor necktie.

“Convinced that something was amiss with him, she rushed down thesteps—for the house was none other than the opium den in which you foundme to-night—and running through the front room she attempted to ascendthe stairs which led to the first floor. At the foot of the stairs, however,she met this Lascar scoundrel of whom I have spoken, who thrust her back and,aided by a Dane, who acts as assistant there, pushed her out into the street.Filled with the most maddening doubts and fears, she rushed down the lane and,by rare good-fortune, met in Fresno Street a number of constables with aninspector, all on their way to their beat. The inspector and two menaccompanied her back, and in spite of the continued resistance of theproprietor, they made their way to the room in which Mr. St. Clair had lastbeen seen. There was no sign of him there. In fact, in the whole of that floorthere was no one to be found save a crippled wretch of hideous aspect, who, itseems, made his home there. Both he and the Lascar stoutly swore that no oneelse had been in the front room during the afternoon. So determined was theirdenial that the inspector was staggered, and had almost come to believe thatMrs. St. Clair had been deluded when, with a cry, she sprang at a small dealbox which lay upon the table and tore the lid from it. Out there fell a cascadeof children’s bricks. It was the toy which he had promised to bring home.

“This discovery, and the evident confusion which the cripple showed, madethe inspector realise that the matter was serious. The rooms were carefullyexamined, and results all pointed to an abominable crime. The front room wasplainly furnished as a sitting-room and led into a small bedroom, which lookedout upon the back of one of the wharves. Between the wharf and the bedroomwindow is a narrow strip, which is dry at low tide but is covered at high tidewith at least four and a half feet of water. The bedroom window was a broad oneand opened from below. On examination traces of blood were to be seen upon thewindowsill, and several scattered drops were visible upon the wooden floor ofthe bedroom. Thrust away behind a curtain in the front room were all theclothes of Mr. Neville St. Clair, with the exception of his coat. His boots,his socks, his hat, and his watch—all were there. There were no signs ofviolence upon any of these garments, and there were no other traces of Mr.Neville St. Clair. Out of the window he must apparently have gone for no otherexit could be discovered, and the ominous bloodstains upon the sill gave littlepromise that he could save himself by swimming, for the tide was at its veryhighest at the moment of the tragedy.

“And now as to the villains who seemed to be immediately implicated inthe matter. The Lascar was known to be a man of the vilest antecedents, but as,by Mrs. St. Clair’s story, he was known to have been at the foot of thestair within a very few seconds of her husband’s appearance at thewindow, he could hardly have been more than an accessory to the crime. Hisdefence was one of absolute ignorance, and he protested that he had noknowledge as to the doings of Hugh Boone, his lodger, and that he could notaccount in any way for the presence of the missing gentleman’s clothes.

“So much for the Lascar manager. Now for the sinister cripple who livesupon the second floor of the opium den, and who was certainly the last humanbeing whose eyes rested upon Neville St. Clair. His name is Hugh Boone, and hishideous face is one which is familiar to every man who goes much to the City.He is a professional beggar, though in order to avoid the police regulations hepretends to a small trade in wax vestas. Some little distance down ThreadneedleStreet, upon the left-hand side, there is, as you may have remarked, a smallangle in the wall. Here it is that this creature takes his daily seat,cross-legged with his tiny stock of matches on his lap, and as he is a piteousspectacle a small rain of charity descends into the greasy leather cap whichlies upon the pavement beside him. I have watched the fellow more than oncebefore ever I thought of making his professional acquaintance, and I have beensurprised at the harvest which he has reaped in a short time. His appearance,you see, is so remarkable that no one can pass him without observing him. Ashock of orange hair, a pale face disfigured by a horrible scar, which, by itscontraction, has turned up the outer edge of his upper lip, a bulldog chin, anda pair of very penetrating dark eyes, which present a singular contrast to thecolour of his hair, all mark him out from amid the common crowd of mendicantsand so, too, does his wit, for he is ever ready with a reply to any piece ofchaff which may be thrown at him by the passers-by. This is the man whom we nowlearn to have been the lodger at the opium den, and to have been the last manto see the gentleman of whom we are in quest.”

“But a cripple!” said I. “What could he have donesingle-handed against a man in the prime of life?”

“He is a cripple in the sense that he walks with a limp; but in otherrespects he appears to be a powerful and well-nurtured man. Surely your medicalexperience would tell you, Watson, that weakness in one limb is oftencompensated for by exceptional strength in the others.”

“Pray continue your narrative.”

“Mrs. St. Clair had fainted at the sight of the blood upon the window,and she was escorted home in a cab by the police, as her presence could be ofno help to them in their investigations. Inspector Barton, who had charge ofthe case, made a very careful examination of the premises, but without findinganything which threw any light upon the matter. One mistake had been made innot arresting Boone instantly, as he was allowed some few minutes during whichhe might have communicated with his friend the Lascar, but this fault was soonremedied, and he was seized and searched, without anything being found whichcould incriminate him. There were, it is true, some blood-stains upon his rightshirt-sleeve, but he pointed to his ring-finger, which had been cut near thenail, and explained that the bleeding came from there, adding that he had beento the window not long before, and that the stains which had been observedthere came doubtless from the same source. He denied strenuously having everseen Mr. Neville St. Clair and swore that the presence of the clothes in hisroom was as much a mystery to him as to the police. As to Mrs. St.Clair’s assertion that she had actually seen her husband at the window,he declared that she must have been either mad or dreaming. He was removed,loudly protesting, to the police-station, while the inspector remained upon thepremises in the hope that the ebbing tide might afford some fresh clue.

“And it did, though they hardly found upon the mud-bank what they hadfeared to find. It was Neville St. Clair’s coat, and not Neville St.Clair, which lay uncovered as the tide receded. And what do you think theyfound in the pockets?”

“I cannot imagine.”

“No, I don’t think you would guess. Every pocket stuffed withpennies and half-pennies—421 pennies and 270 half-pennies. It was nowonder that it had not been swept away by the tide. But a human body is adifferent matter. There is a fierce eddy between the wharf and the house. Itseemed likely enough that the weighted coat had remained when the stripped bodyhad been sucked away into the river.”

“But I understand that all the other clothes were found in the room.Would the body be dressed in a coat alone?”

“No, sir, but the facts might be met speciously enough. Suppose that thisman Boone had thrust Neville St. Clair through the window, there is no humaneye which could have seen the deed. What would he do then? It would of courseinstantly strike him that he must get rid of the tell-tale garments. He wouldseize the coat, then, and be in the act of throwing it out, when it would occurto him that it would swim and not sink. He has little time, for he has heardthe scuffle downstairs when the wife tried to force her way up, and perhaps hehas already heard from his Lascar confederate that the police are hurrying upthe street. There is not an instant to be lost. He rushes to some secret hoard,where he has accumulated the fruits of his beggary, and he stuffs all the coinsupon which he can lay his hands into the pockets to make sure of thecoat’s sinking. He throws it out, and would have done the same with theother garments had not he heard the rush of steps below, and only just had timeto close the window when the police appeared.”

“It certainly sounds feasible.”

“Well, we will take it as a working hypothesis for want of a better.Boone, as I have told you, was arrested and taken to the station, but it couldnot be shown that there had ever before been anything against him. He had foryears been known as a professional beggar, but his life appeared to have been avery quiet and innocent one. There the matter stands at present, and thequestions which have to be solved—what Neville St. Clair was doing in theopium den, what happened to him when there, where is he now, and what HughBoone had to do with his disappearance—are all as far from a solution asever. I confess that I cannot recall any case within my experience which lookedat the first glance so simple and yet which presented such difficulties.”

While Sherlock Holmes had been detailing this singular series of events, we hadbeen whirling through the outskirts of the great town until the last stragglinghouses had been left behind, and we rattled along with a country hedge uponeither side of us. Just as he finished, however, we drove through two scatteredvillages, where a few lights still glimmered in the windows.

“We are on the outskirts of Lee,” said my companion. “We havetouched on three English counties in our short drive, starting in Middlesex,passing over an angle of Surrey, and ending in Kent. See that light among thetrees? That is The Cedars, and beside that lamp sits a woman whose anxious earshave already, I have little doubt, caught the clink of our horse’sfeet.”

“But why are you not conducting the case from Baker Street?” Iasked.

“Because there are many inquiries which must be made out here. Mrs. St.Clair has most kindly put two rooms at my disposal, and you may rest assuredthat she will have nothing but a welcome for my friend and colleague. I hate tomeet her, Watson, when I have no news of her husband. Here we are. Whoa, there,whoa!”

We had pulled up in front of a large villa which stood within its own grounds.A stable-boy had run out to the horse’s head, and springing down, Ifollowed Holmes up the small, winding gravel-drive which led to the house. Aswe approached, the door flew open, and a little blonde woman stood in theopening, clad in some sort of light mousseline de soie, with a touch of fluffypink chiffon at her neck and wrists. She stood with her figure outlined againstthe flood of light, one hand upon the door, one half-raised in her eagerness,her body slightly bent, her head and face protruded, with eager eyes and partedlips, a standing question.

“Well?” she cried, “well?” And then, seeing that therewere two of us, she gave a cry of hope which sank into a groan as she saw thatmy companion shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.

“No good news?”

“None.”

“No bad?”

“No.”

“Thank God for that. But come in. You must be weary, for you have had along day.”

“This is my friend, Dr. Watson. He has been of most vital use to me inseveral of my cases, and a lucky chance has made it possible for me to bringhim out and associate him with this investigation.”

“I am delighted to see you,” said she, pressing my hand warmly.“You will, I am sure, forgive anything that may be wanting in ourarrangements, when you consider the blow which has come so suddenly uponus.”

“My dear madam,” said I, “I am an old campaigner, and if Iwere not I can very well see that no apology is needed. If I can be of anyassistance, either to you or to my friend here, I shall be indeed happy.”

“Now, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” said the lady as we entered a well-litdining-room, upon the table of which a cold supper had been laid out, “Ishould very much like to ask you one or two plain questions, to which I begthat you will give a plain answer.”

“Certainly, madam.”

“Do not trouble about my feelings. I am not hysterical, nor given tofainting. I simply wish to hear your real, real opinion.”

“Upon what point?”

“In your heart of hearts, do you think that Neville is alive?”

Sherlock Holmes seemed to be embarrassed by the question. “Frankly,now!” she repeated, standing upon the rug and looking keenly down at himas he leaned back in a basket-chair.

“Frankly, then, madam, I do not.”

“You think that he is dead?”

“I do.”

“Murdered?”

“I don’t say that. Perhaps.”

“And on what day did he meet his death?”

“On Monday.”

“Then perhaps, Mr. Holmes, you will be good enough to explain how it isthat I have received a letter from him to-day.”

Sherlock Holmes sprang out of his chair as if he had been galvanised.

“What!” he roared.

“Yes, to-day.” She stood smiling, holding up a little slip of paperin the air.

“May I see it?”

“Certainly.”

He snatched it from her in his eagerness, and smoothing it out upon the tablehe drew over the lamp and examined it intently. I had left my chair and wasgazing at it over his shoulder. The envelope was a very coarse one and wasstamped with the Gravesend postmark and with the date of that very day, orrather of the day before, for it was considerably after midnight.

“Coarse writing,” murmured Holmes. “Surely this is not yourhusband’s writing, madam.”

“No, but the enclosure is.”

“I perceive also that whoever addressed the envelope had to go andinquire as to the address.”

“How can you tell that?”

“The name, you see, is in perfectly black ink, which has dried itself.The rest is of the greyish colour, which shows that blotting-paper has beenused. If it had been written straight off, and then blotted, none would be of adeep black shade. This man has written the name, and there has then been apause before he wrote the address, which can only mean that he was not familiarwith it. It is, of course, a trifle, but there is nothing so important astrifles. Let us now see the letter. Ha! there has been an enclosurehere!”

“Yes, there was a ring. His signet-ring.”

“And you are sure that this is your husband’s hand?”

“One of his hands.”

“One?”

“His hand when he wrote hurriedly. It is very unlike his usual writing,and yet I know it well.”

“‘Dearest do not be frightened. All will come well. There isa huge error which it may take some little time to rectify. Wait inpatience.—NEVILLE.’ Written in pencil upon the fly-leaf of a book,octavo size, no water-mark. Hum! Posted to-day in Gravesend by a man with adirty thumb. Ha! And the flap has been gummed, if I am not very much in error,by a person who had been chewing tobacco. And you have no doubt that it is yourhusband’s hand, madam?”

“None. Neville wrote those words.”

“And they were posted to-day at Gravesend. Well, Mrs. St. Clair, theclouds lighten, though I should not venture to say that the danger isover.”

“But he must be alive, Mr. Holmes.”

“Unless this is a clever forgery to put us on the wrong scent. The ring,after all, proves nothing. It may have been taken from him.”

“No, no; it is, it is his very own writing!”

“Very well. It may, however, have been written on Monday and only postedto-day.”

“That is possible.”

“If so, much may have happened between.”

“Oh, you must not discourage me, Mr. Holmes. I know that all is well withhim. There is so keen a sympathy between us that I should know if evil cameupon him. On the very day that I saw him last he cut himself in the bedroom,and yet I in the dining-room rushed upstairs instantly with the utmostcertainty that something had happened. Do you think that I would respond tosuch a trifle and yet be ignorant of his death?”

“I have seen too much not to know that the impression of a woman may bemore valuable than the conclusion of an analytical reasoner. And in this letteryou certainly have a very strong piece of evidence to corroborate your view.But if your husband is alive and able to write letters, why should he remainaway from you?”

“I cannot imagine. It is unthinkable.”

“And on Monday he made no remarks before leaving you?”

“No.”

“And you were surprised to see him in Swandam Lane?”

“Very much so.”

“Was the window open?”

“Yes.”

“Then he might have called to you?”

“He might.”

“He only, as I understand, gave an inarticulate cry?”

“Yes.”

“A call for help, you thought?”

“Yes. He waved his hands.”

“But it might have been a cry of surprise. Astonishment at the unexpectedsight of you might cause him to throw up his hands?”

“It is possible.”

“And you thought he was pulled back?”

“He disappeared so suddenly.”

“He might have leaped back. You did not see anyone else in theroom?”

“No, but this horrible man confessed to having been there, and the Lascarwas at the foot of the stairs.”

“Quite so. Your husband, as far as you could see, had his ordinaryclothes on?”

“But without his collar or tie. I distinctly saw his bare throat.”

“Had he ever spoken of Swandam Lane?”

“Never.”

“Had he ever showed any signs of having taken opium?”

“Never.”

“Thank you, Mrs. St. Clair. Those are the principal points about which Iwished to be absolutely clear. We shall now have a little supper and thenretire, for we may have a very busy day to-morrow.”

A large and comfortable double-bedded room had been placed at our disposal, andI was quickly between the sheets, for I was weary after my night of adventure.Sherlock Holmes was a man, however, who, when he had an unsolved problem uponhis mind, would go for days, and even for a week, without rest, turning itover, rearranging his facts, looking at it from every point of view until hehad either fathomed it or convinced himself that his data were insufficient. Itwas soon evident to me that he was now preparing for an all-night sitting. Hetook off his coat and waistcoat, put on a large blue dressing-gown, and thenwandered about the room collecting pillows from his bed and cushions from thesofa and armchairs. With these he constructed a sort of Eastern divan, uponwhich he perched himself cross-legged, with an ounce of shag tobacco and a boxof matches laid out in front of him. In the dim light of the lamp I saw himsitting there, an old briar pipe between his lips, his eyes fixed vacantly uponthe corner of the ceiling, the blue smoke curling up from him, silent,motionless, with the light shining upon his strong-set aquiline features. So hesat as I dropped off to sleep, and so he sat when a sudden ejaculation causedme to wake up, and I found the summer sun shining into the apartment. The pipewas still between his lips, the smoke still curled upward, and the room wasfull of a dense tobacco haze, but nothing remained of the heap of shag which Ihad seen upon the previous night.

“Awake, Watson?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Game for a morning drive?”

“Certainly.”

“Then dress. No one is stirring yet, but I know where the stable-boysleeps, and we shall soon have the trap out.” He chuckled to himself ashe spoke, his eyes twinkled, and he seemed a different man to the sombrethinker of the previous night.

As I dressed I glanced at my watch. It was no wonder that no one was stirring.It was twenty-five minutes past four. I had hardly finished when Holmesreturned with the news that the boy was putting in the horse.

“I want to test a little theory of mine,” said he, pulling on hisboots. “I think, Watson, that you are now standing in the presence of oneof the most absolute fools in Europe. I deserve to be kicked from here toCharing Cross. But I think I have the key of the affair now.”

“And where is it?” I asked, smiling.

“In the bathroom,” he answered. “Oh, yes, I am notjoking,” he continued, seeing my look of incredulity. “I have justbeen there, and I have taken it out, and I have got it in this Gladstone bag.Come on, my boy, and we shall see whether it will not fit the lock.”

We made our way downstairs as quietly as possible, and out into the brightmorning sunshine. In the road stood our horse and trap, with the half-cladstable-boy waiting at the head. We both sprang in, and away we dashed down theLondon Road. A few country carts were stirring, bearing in vegetables to themetropolis, but the lines of villas on either side were as silent and lifelessas some city in a dream.

“It has been in some points a singular case,” said Holmes, flickingthe horse on into a gallop. “I confess that I have been as blind as amole, but it is better to learn wisdom late than never to learn it atall.”

In town the earliest risers were just beginning to look sleepily from theirwindows as we drove through the streets of the Surrey side. Passing down theWaterloo Bridge Road we crossed over the river, and dashing up WellingtonStreet wheeled sharply to the right and found ourselves in Bow Street. SherlockHolmes was well known to the force, and the two constables at the door salutedhim. One of them held the horse’s head while the other led us in.

“Who is on duty?” asked Holmes.

“Inspector Bradstreet, sir.”

“Ah, Bradstreet, how are you?” A tall, stout official had come downthe stone-flagged passage, in a peaked cap and frogged jacket. “I wish tohave a quiet word with you, Bradstreet.”

“Certainly, Mr. Holmes. Step into my room here.”

It was a small, office-like room, with a huge ledger upon the table, and atelephone projecting from the wall. The inspector sat down at his desk.

“What can I do for you, Mr. Holmes?”

“I called about that beggarman, Boone—the one who was charged withbeing concerned in the disappearance of Mr. Neville St. Clair, of Lee.”

“Yes. He was brought up and remanded for further inquiries.”

“So I heard. You have him here?”

“In the cells.”

“Is he quiet?”

“Oh, he gives no trouble. But he is a dirty scoundrel.”

“Dirty?”

“Yes, it is all we can do to make him wash his hands, and his face is asblack as a tinker’s. Well, when once his case has been settled, he willhave a regular prison bath; and I think, if you saw him, you would agree withme that he needed it.”

“I should like to see him very much.”

“Would you? That is easily done. Come this way. You can leave yourbag.”

“No, I think that I’ll take it.”

“Very good. Come this way, if you please.” He led us down apassage, opened a barred door, passed down a winding stair, and brought us to awhitewashed corridor with a line of doors on each side.

“The third on the right is his,” said the inspector. “Here itis!” He quietly shot back a panel in the upper part of the door andglanced through.

“He is asleep,” said he. “You can see him very well.”

We both put our eyes to the grating. The prisoner lay with his face towards us,in a very deep sleep, breathing slowly and heavily. He was a middle-sized man,coarsely clad as became his calling, with a coloured shirt protruding throughthe rent in his tattered coat. He was, as the inspector had said, extremelydirty, but the grime which covered his face could not conceal its repulsiveugliness. A broad wheal from an old scar ran right across it from eye to chin,and by its contraction had turned up one side of the upper lip, so that threeteeth were exposed in a perpetual snarl. A shock of very bright red hair grewlow over his eyes and forehead.

“He’s a beauty, isn’t he?” said the inspector.

“He certainly needs a wash,” remarked Holmes. “I had an ideathat he might, and I took the liberty of bringing the tools with me.” Heopened the Gladstone bag as he spoke, and took out, to my astonishment, a verylarge bath-sponge.

“He! he! You are a funny one,” chuckled the inspector.

“Now, if you will have the great goodness to open that door very quietly,we will soon make him cut a much more respectable figure.”

“Well, I don’t know why not,” said the inspector. “Hedoesn’t look a credit to the Bow Street cells, does he?” He slippedhis key into the lock, and we all very quietly entered the cell. The sleeperhalf turned, and then settled down once more into a deep slumber. Holmesstooped to the water-jug, moistened his sponge, and then rubbed it twicevigorously across and down the prisoner’s face.

“Let me introduce you,” he shouted, “to Mr. Neville St.Clair, of Lee, in the county of Kent.”

Never in my life have I seen such a sight. The man’s face peeled offunder the sponge like the bark from a tree. Gone was the coarse brown tint!Gone, too, was the horrid scar which had seamed it across, and the twisted lipwhich had given the repulsive sneer to the face! A twitch brought away thetangled red hair, and there, sitting up in his bed, was a pale, sad-faced,refined-looking man, black-haired and smooth-skinned, rubbing his eyes andstaring about him with sleepy bewilderment. Then suddenly realising theexposure, he broke into a scream and threw himself down with his face to thepillow.

“Great heavens!” cried the inspector, “it is, indeed, themissing man. I know him from the photograph.”

The prisoner turned with the reckless air of a man who abandons himself to hisdestiny. “Be it so,” said he. “And pray what am I chargedwith?”

“With making away with Mr. Neville St.— Oh, come, you can’tbe charged with that unless they make a case of attempted suicide of it,”said the inspector with a grin. “Well, I have been twenty-seven years inthe force, but this really takes the cake.”

“If I am Mr. Neville St. Clair, then it is obvious that no crime has beencommitted, and that, therefore, I am illegally detained.”

“No crime, but a very great error has been committed,” said Holmes.“You would have done better to have trusted your wife.”

“It was not the wife; it was the children,” groaned the prisoner.“God help me, I would not have them ashamed of their father. My God! Whatan exposure! What can I do?”

Sherlock Holmes sat down beside him on the couch and patted him kindly on theshoulder.

“If you leave it to a court of law to clear the matter up,” saidhe, “of course you can hardly avoid publicity. On the other hand, if youconvince the police authorities that there is no possible case against you, Ido not know that there is any reason that the details should find their wayinto the papers. Inspector Bradstreet would, I am sure, make notes uponanything which you might tell us and submit it to the proper authorities. Thecase would then never go into court at all.”

“God bless you!” cried the prisoner passionately. “I wouldhave endured imprisonment, ay, even execution, rather than have left mymiserable secret as a family blot to my children.

“You are the first who have ever heard my story. My father was aschoolmaster in Chesterfield, where I received an excellent education. Itravelled in my youth, took to the stage, and finally became a reporter on anevening paper in London. One day my editor wished to have a series of articlesupon begging in the metropolis, and I volunteered to supply them. There was thepoint from which all my adventures started. It was only by trying begging as anamateur that I could get the facts upon which to base my articles. When anactor I had, of course, learned all the secrets of making up, and had beenfamous in the green-room for my skill. I took advantage now of my attainments.I painted my face, and to make myself as pitiable as possible I made a goodscar and fixed one side of my lip in a twist by the aid of a small slip offlesh-coloured plaster. Then with a red head of hair, and an appropriate dress,I took my station in the business part of the city, ostensibly as amatch-seller but really as a beggar. For seven hours I plied my trade, and whenI returned home in the evening I found to my surprise that I had received noless than 26s. 4d.

“I wrote my articles and thought little more of the matter until, sometime later, I backed a bill for a friend and had a writ served upon me for £25. I was at my wit’s end where to get the money, but a sudden idea cameto me. I begged a fortnight’s grace from the creditor, asked for aholiday from my employers, and spent the time in begging in the City under mydisguise. In ten days I had the money and had paid the debt.

“Well, you can imagine how hard it was to settle down to arduous work at£ 2 a week when I knew that I could earn as much in a day by smearing my facewith a little paint, laying my cap on the ground, and sitting still. It was along fight between my pride and the money, but the dollars won at last, and Ithrew up reporting and sat day after day in the corner which I had firstchosen, inspiring pity by my ghastly face and filling my pockets with coppers.Only one man knew my secret. He was the keeper of a low den in which I used tolodge in Swandam Lane, where I could every morning emerge as a squalid beggarand in the evenings transform myself into a well-dressed man about town. Thisfellow, a Lascar, was well paid by me for his rooms, so that I knew that mysecret was safe in his possession.

“Well, very soon I found that I was saving considerable sums of money. Ido not mean that any beggar in the streets of London could earn £ 700 ayear—which is less than my average takings—but I had exceptionaladvantages in my power of making up, and also in a facility of repartee, whichimproved by practice and made me quite a recognised character in the City. Allday a stream of pennies, varied by silver, poured in upon me, and it was a verybad day in which I failed to take £ 2.

“As I grew richer I grew more ambitious, took a house in the country, andeventually married, without anyone having a suspicion as to my real occupation.My dear wife knew that I had business in the City. She little knew what.

“Last Monday I had finished for the day and was dressing in my room abovethe opium den when I looked out of my window and saw, to my horror andastonishment, that my wife was standing in the street, with her eyes fixed fullupon me. I gave a cry of surprise, threw up my arms to cover my face, and,rushing to my confidant, the Lascar, entreated him to prevent anyone fromcoming up to me. I heard her voice downstairs, but I knew that she could notascend. Swiftly I threw off my clothes, pulled on those of a beggar, and put onmy pigments and wig. Even a wife’s eyes could not pierce so complete adisguise. But then it occurred to me that there might be a search in the room,and that the clothes might betray me. I threw open the window, reopening by myviolence a small cut which I had inflicted upon myself in the bedroom thatmorning. Then I seized my coat, which was weighted by the coppers which I hadjust transferred to it from the leather bag in which I carried my takings. Ihurled it out of the window, and it disappeared into the Thames. The otherclothes would have followed, but at that moment there was a rush of constablesup the stair, and a few minutes after I found, rather, I confess, to my relief,that instead of being identified as Mr. Neville St. Clair, I was arrested ashis murderer.

“I do not know that there is anything else for me to explain. I wasdetermined to preserve my disguise as long as possible, and hence my preferencefor a dirty face. Knowing that my wife would be terribly anxious, I slipped offmy ring and confided it to the Lascar at a moment when no constable waswatching me, together with a hurried scrawl, telling her that she had no causeto fear.”

“That note only reached her yesterday,” said Holmes.

“Good God! What a week she must have spent!”

“The police have watched this Lascar,” said Inspector Bradstreet,“and I can quite understand that he might find it difficult to post aletter unobserved. Probably he handed it to some sailor customer of his, whoforgot all about it for some days.”

“That was it,” said Holmes, nodding approvingly; “I have nodoubt of it. But have you never been prosecuted for begging?”

“Many times; but what was a fine to me?”

“It must stop here, however,” said Bradstreet. “If the policeare to hush this thing up, there must be no more of Hugh Boone.”

“I have sworn it by the most solemn oaths which a man can take.”

“In that case I think that it is probable that no further steps may betaken. But if you are found again, then all must come out. I am sure, Mr.Holmes, that we are very much indebted to you for having cleared the matter up.I wish I knew how you reach your results.”

“I reached this one,” said my friend, “by sitting upon fivepillows and consuming an ounce of shag. I think, Watson, that if we drive toBaker Street we shall just be in time for breakfast.”

VII.
THE ADVENTURE OF THE BLUE CARBUNCLE

I had called upon myfriend Sherlock Holmes upon the second morning after Christmas, with theintention of wishing him the compliments of the season. He was lounging uponthe sofa in a purple dressing-gown, a pipe-rack within his reach upon theright, and a pile of crumpled morning papers, evidently newly studied, near athand. Beside the couch was a wooden chair, and on the angle of the back hung avery seedy and disreputable hard-felt hat, much the worse for wear, and crackedin several places. A lens and a forceps lying upon the seat of the chairsuggested that the hat had been suspended in this manner for the purpose ofexamination.

“You are engaged,” said I; “perhaps I interrupt you.”

“Not at all. I am glad to have a friend with whom I can discuss myresults. The matter is a perfectly trivial one”—he jerked his thumbin the direction of the old hat—“but there are points in connectionwith it which are not entirely devoid of interest and even ofinstruction.”

I seated myself in his armchair and warmed my hands before his crackling fire,for a sharp frost had set in, and the windows were thick with the ice crystals.“I suppose,” I remarked, “that, homely as it looks, thisthing has some deadly story linked on to it—that it is the clue whichwill guide you in the solution of some mystery and the punishment of somecrime.”

“No, no. No crime,” said Sherlock Holmes, laughing. “Only oneof those whimsical little incidents which will happen when you have fourmillion human beings all jostling each other within the space of a few squaremiles. Amid the action and reaction of so dense a swarm of humanity, everypossible combination of events may be expected to take place, and many a littleproblem will be presented which may be striking and bizarre without beingcriminal. We have already had experience of such.”

“So much so,” I remarked, “that of the last six cases which Ihave added to my notes, three have been entirely free of any legalcrime.”

“Precisely. You allude to my attempt to recover the Irene Adler papers,to the singular case of Miss Mary Sutherland, and to the adventure of the manwith the twisted lip. Well, I have no doubt that this small matter will fallinto the same innocent category. You know Peterson, the commissionaire?”

“Yes.”

“It is to him that this trophy belongs.”

“It is his hat.”

“No, no, he found it. Its owner is unknown. I beg that you will look uponit not as a battered billycock but as an intellectual problem. And, first, asto how it came here. It arrived upon Christmas morning, in company with a goodfat goose, which is, I have no doubt, roasting at this moment in front ofPeterson’s fire. The facts are these: about four o’clock onChristmas morning, Peterson, who, as you know, is a very honest fellow, wasreturning from some small jollification and was making his way homeward downTottenham Court Road. In front of him he saw, in the gaslight, a tallish man,walking with a slight stagger, and carrying a white goose slung over hisshoulder. As he reached the corner of Goodge Street, a row broke out betweenthis stranger and a little knot of roughs. One of the latter knocked off theman’s hat, on which he raised his stick to defend himself and, swingingit over his head, smashed the shop window behind him. Peterson had rushedforward to protect the stranger from his assailants; but the man, shocked athaving broken the window, and seeing an official-looking person in uniformrushing towards him, dropped his goose, took to his heels, and vanished amidthe labyrinth of small streets which lie at the back of Tottenham Court Road.The roughs had also fled at the appearance of Peterson, so that he was left inpossession of the field of battle, and also of the spoils of victory in theshape of this battered hat and a most unimpeachable Christmas goose.”

“Which surely he restored to their owner?”

“My dear fellow, there lies the problem. It is true that ‘For Mrs.Henry Baker’ was printed upon a small card which was tied to thebird’s left leg, and it is also true that the initials ‘H.B.’ are legible upon the lining of this hat, but as there are somethousands of Bakers, and some hundreds of Henry Bakers in this city of ours, itis not easy to restore lost property to any one of them.”

“What, then, did Peterson do?”

“He brought round both hat and goose to me on Christmas morning, knowingthat even the smallest problems are of interest to me. The goose we retaineduntil this morning, when there were signs that, in spite of the slight frost,it would be well that it should be eaten without unnecessary delay. Its finderhas carried it off, therefore, to fulfil the ultimate destiny of a goose, whileI continue to retain the hat of the unknown gentleman who lost his Christmasdinner.”

“Did he not advertise?”

“No.”

“Then, what clue could you have as to his identity?”

“Only as much as we can deduce.”

“From his hat?”

“Precisely.”

“But you are joking. What can you gather from this old batteredfelt?”

“Here is my lens. You know my methods. What can you gather yourself as tothe individuality of the man who has worn this article?”

I took the tattered object in my hands and turned it over rather ruefully. Itwas a very ordinary black hat of the usual round shape, hard and much the worsefor wear. The lining had been of red silk, but was a good deal discoloured.There was no maker’s name; but, as Holmes had remarked, the initials“H. B.” were scrawled upon one side. It was pierced in the brim fora hat-securer, but the elastic was missing. For the rest, it was cracked,exceedingly dusty, and spotted in several places, although there seemed to havebeen some attempt to hide the discoloured patches by smearing them with ink.

“I can see nothing,” said I, handing it back to my friend.

“On the contrary, Watson, you can see everything. You fail, however, toreason from what you see. You are too timid in drawing your inferences.”

“Then, pray tell me what it is that you can infer from this hat?”

He picked it up and gazed at it in the peculiar introspective fashion which wascharacteristic of him. “It is perhaps less suggestive than it might havebeen,” he remarked, “and yet there are a few inferences which arevery distinct, and a few others which represent at least a strong balance ofprobability. That the man was highly intellectual is of course obvious upon theface of it, and also that he was fairly well-to-do within the last three years,although he has now fallen upon evil days. He had foresight, but has less nowthan formerly, pointing to a moral retrogression, which, when taken with thedecline of his fortunes, seems to indicate some evil influence, probably drink,at work upon him. This may account also for the obvious fact that his wife hasceased to love him.”

“My dear Holmes!”

“He has, however, retained some degree of self-respect,” hecontinued, disregarding my remonstrance. “He is a man who leads asedentary life, goes out little, is out of training entirely, is middle-aged,has grizzled hair which he has had cut within the last few days, and which heanoints with lime-cream. These are the more patent facts which are to bededuced from his hat. Also, by the way, that it is extremely improbable that hehas gas laid on in his house.”

“You are certainly joking, Holmes.”

“Not in the least. Is it possible that even now, when I give you theseresults, you are unable to see how they are attained?”

“I have no doubt that I am very stupid, but I must confess that I amunable to follow you. For example, how did you deduce that this man wasintellectual?”

For answer Holmes clapped the hat upon his head. It came right over theforehead and settled upon the bridge of his nose. “It is a question ofcubic capacity,” said he; “a man with so large a brain must havesomething in it.”

“The decline of his fortunes, then?”

“This hat is three years old. These flat brims curled at the edge came inthen. It is a hat of the very best quality. Look at the band of ribbed silk andthe excellent lining. If this man could afford to buy so expensive a hat threeyears ago, and has had no hat since, then he has assuredly gone down in theworld.”

“Well, that is clear enough, certainly. But how about the foresight andthe moral retrogression?”

Sherlock Holmes laughed. “Here is the foresight,” said he puttinghis finger upon the little disc and loop of the hat-securer. “They arenever sold upon hats. If this man ordered one, it is a sign of a certain amountof foresight, since he went out of his way to take this precaution against thewind. But since we see that he has broken the elastic and has not troubled toreplace it, it is obvious that he has less foresight now than formerly, whichis a distinct proof of a weakening nature. On the other hand, he hasendeavoured to conceal some of these stains upon the felt by daubing them withink, which is a sign that he has not entirely lost his self-respect.”

“Your reasoning is certainly plausible.”

“The further points, that he is middle-aged, that his hair is grizzled,that it has been recently cut, and that he uses lime-cream, are all to begathered from a close examination of the lower part of the lining. The lensdiscloses a large number of hair-ends, clean cut by the scissors of the barber.They all appear to be adhesive, and there is a distinct odour of lime-cream.This dust, you will observe, is not the gritty, grey dust of the street but thefluffy brown dust of the house, showing that it has been hung up indoors mostof the time, while the marks of moisture upon the inside are proof positivethat the wearer perspired very freely, and could therefore, hardly be in thebest of training.”

“But his wife—you said that she had ceased to love him.”

“This hat has not been brushed for weeks. When I see you, my dear Watson,with a week’s accumulation of dust upon your hat, and when your wifeallows you to go out in such a state, I shall fear that you also have beenunfortunate enough to lose your wife’s affection.”

“But he might be a bachelor.”

“Nay, he was bringing home the goose as a peace-offering to his wife.Remember the card upon the bird’s leg.”

“You have an answer to everything. But how on earth do you deduce thatthe gas is not laid on in his house?”

“One tallow stain, or even two, might come by chance; but when I see noless than five, I think that there can be little doubt that the individual mustbe brought into frequent contact with burning tallow—walks upstairs atnight probably with his hat in one hand and a guttering candle in the other.Anyhow, he never got tallow-stains from a gas-jet. Are you satisfied?”

“Well, it is very ingenious,” said I, laughing; “but since,as you said just now, there has been no crime committed, and no harm done savethe loss of a goose, all this seems to be rather a waste of energy.”

Sherlock Holmes had opened his mouth to reply, when the door flew open, andPeterson, the commissionaire, rushed into the apartment with flushed cheeks andthe face of a man who is dazed with astonishment.

“The goose, Mr. Holmes! The goose, sir!” he gasped.

“Eh? What of it, then? Has it returned to life and flapped off throughthe kitchen window?” Holmes twisted himself round upon the sofa to get afairer view of the man’s excited face.

“See here, sir! See what my wife found in its crop!” He held outhis hand and displayed upon the centre of the palm a brilliantly scintillatingblue stone, rather smaller than a bean in size, but of such purity and radiancethat it twinkled like an electric point in the dark hollow of his hand.

Sherlock Holmes sat up with a whistle. “By Jove, Peterson!” saidhe, “this is treasure trove indeed. I suppose you know what you havegot?”

“A diamond, sir? A precious stone. It cuts into glass as though it wereputty.”

“It’s more than a precious stone. It is the preciousstone.”

“Not the Countess of Morcar’s blue carbuncle!” I ejaculated.

“Precisely so. I ought to know its size and shape, seeing that I haveread the advertisement about it in The Times every day lately. It isabsolutely unique, and its value can only be conjectured, but the rewardoffered of £ 1000 is certainly not within a twentieth part of the marketprice.”

“A thousand pounds! Great Lord of mercy!” The commissionaireplumped down into a chair and stared from one to the other of us.

“That is the reward, and I have reason to know that there are sentimentalconsiderations in the background which would induce the Countess to part withhalf her fortune if she could but recover the gem.”

“It was lost, if I remember aright, at the Hotel Cosmopolitan,” Iremarked.

“Precisely so, on December 22nd, just five days ago. John Horner, aplumber, was accused of having abstracted it from the lady’s jewel-case.The evidence against him was so strong that the case has been referred to theAssizes. I have some account of the matter here, I believe.” He rummagedamid his newspapers, glancing over the dates, until at last he smoothed oneout, doubled it over, and read the following paragraph:

“Hotel Cosmopolitan Jewel Robbery. John Horner, 26, plumber, was broughtup upon the charge of having upon the 22nd inst., abstracted from thejewel-case of the Countess of Morcar the valuable gem known as the bluecarbuncle. James Ryder, upper-attendant at the hotel, gave his evidence to theeffect that he had shown Horner up to the dressing-room of the Countess ofMorcar upon the day of the robbery in order that he might solder the second barof the grate, which was loose. He had remained with Horner some little time,but had finally been called away. On returning, he found that Horner haddisappeared, that the bureau had been forced open, and that the small moroccocasket in which, as it afterwards transpired, the Countess was accustomed tokeep her jewel, was lying empty upon the dressing-table. Ryder instantly gavethe alarm, and Horner was arrested the same evening; but the stone could not befound either upon his person or in his rooms. Catherine Cusack, maid to theCountess, deposed to having heard Ryder’s cry of dismay on discoveringthe robbery, and to having rushed into the room, where she found matters asdescribed by the last witness. Inspector Bradstreet, B division, gave evidenceas to the arrest of Horner, who struggled frantically, and protested hisinnocence in the strongest terms. Evidence of a previous conviction for robberyhaving been given against the prisoner, the magistrate refused to dealsummarily with the offence, but referred it to the Assizes. Horner, who hadshown signs of intense emotion during the proceedings, fainted away at theconclusion and was carried out of court.”

“Hum! So much for the police-court,” said Holmes thoughtfully,tossing aside the paper. “The question for us now to solve is thesequence of events leading from a rifled jewel-case at one end to the crop of agoose in Tottenham Court Road at the other. You see, Watson, our littledeductions have suddenly assumed a much more important and less innocentaspect. Here is the stone; the stone came from the goose, and the goose camefrom Mr. Henry Baker, the gentleman with the bad hat and all the othercharacteristics with which I have bored you. So now we must set ourselves veryseriously to finding this gentleman and ascertaining what part he has played inthis little mystery. To do this, we must try the simplest means first, andthese lie undoubtedly in an advertisement in all the evening papers. If thisfail, I shall have recourse to other methods.”

“What will you say?”

“Give me a pencil and that slip of paper. Now, then: ‘Found at thecorner of Goodge Street, a goose and a black felt hat. Mr. Henry Baker can havethe same by applying at 6:30 this evening at 221B, Baker Street.’ That isclear and concise.”

“Very. But will he see it?”

“Well, he is sure to keep an eye on the papers, since, to a poor man, theloss was a heavy one. He was clearly so scared by his mischance in breaking thewindow and by the approach of Peterson that he thought of nothing but flight,but since then he must have bitterly regretted the impulse which caused him todrop his bird. Then, again, the introduction of his name will cause him to seeit, for everyone who knows him will direct his attention to it. Here you are,Peterson, run down to the advertising agency and have this put in the eveningpapers.”

“In which, sir?”

“Oh, in the Globe, Star, Pall Mall, St.James’s Gazette, Evening News, Standard, Echo,and any others that occur to you.”

“Very well, sir. And this stone?”

“Ah, yes, I shall keep the stone. Thank you. And, I say, Peterson, justbuy a goose on your way back and leave it here with me, for we must have one togive to this gentleman in place of the one which your family is nowdevouring.”

When the commissionaire had gone, Holmes took up the stone and held it againstthe light. “It’s a bonny thing,” said he. “Just see howit glints and sparkles. Of course it is a nucleus and focus of crime. Everygood stone is. They are the devil’s pet baits. In the larger and olderjewels every facet may stand for a bloody deed. This stone is not yet twentyyears old. It was found in the banks of the Amoy River in southern China and isremarkable in having every characteristic of the carbuncle, save that it isblue in shade instead of ruby red. In spite of its youth, it has already asinister history. There have been two murders, a vitriol-throwing, a suicide,and several robberies brought about for the sake of this forty-grain weight ofcrystallised charcoal. Who would think that so pretty a toy would be a purveyorto the gallows and the prison? I’ll lock it up in my strong box now anddrop a line to the Countess to say that we have it.”

“Do you think that this man Horner is innocent?”

“I cannot tell.”

“Well, then, do you imagine that this other one, Henry Baker, hadanything to do with the matter?”

“It is, I think, much more likely that Henry Baker is an absolutelyinnocent man, who had no idea that the bird which he was carrying was ofconsiderably more value than if it were made of solid gold. That, however, Ishall determine by a very simple test if we have an answer to ouradvertisement.”

“And you can do nothing until then?”

“Nothing.”

“In that case I shall continue my professional round. But I shall comeback in the evening at the hour you have mentioned, for I should like to seethe solution of so tangled a business.”

“Very glad to see you. I dine at seven. There is a woodcock, I believe.By the way, in view of recent occurrences, perhaps I ought to ask Mrs. Hudsonto examine its crop.”

I had been delayed at a case, and it was a little after half-past six when Ifound myself in Baker Street once more. As I approached the house I saw a tallman in a Scotch bonnet with a coat which was buttoned up to his chin waitingoutside in the bright semicircle which was thrown from the fanlight. Just as Iarrived the door was opened, and we were shown up together to Holmes’room.

“Mr. Henry Baker, I believe,” said he, rising from his armchair andgreeting his visitor with the easy air of geniality which he could so readilyassume. “Pray take this chair by the fire, Mr. Baker. It is a cold night,and I observe that your circulation is more adapted for summer than for winter.Ah, Watson, you have just come at the right time. Is that your hat, Mr.Baker?”

“Yes, sir, that is undoubtedly my hat.”

He was a large man with rounded shoulders, a massive head, and a broad,intelligent face, sloping down to a pointed beard of grizzled brown. A touch ofred in nose and cheeks, with a slight tremor of his extended hand, recalledHolmes’ surmise as to his habits. His rusty black frock-coat was buttonedright up in front, with the collar turned up, and his lank wrists protrudedfrom his sleeves without a sign of cuff or shirt. He spoke in a slow staccatofashion, choosing his words with care, and gave the impression generally of aman of learning and letters who had had ill-usage at the hands of fortune.

“We have retained these things for some days,” said Holmes,“because we expected to see an advertisement from you giving youraddress. I am at a loss to know now why you did not advertise.”

Our visitor gave a rather shamefaced laugh. “Shillings have not been soplentiful with me as they once were,” he remarked. “I had no doubtthat the gang of roughs who assaulted me had carried off both my hat and thebird. I did not care to spend more money in a hopeless attempt at recoveringthem.”

“Very naturally. By the way, about the bird, we were compelled to eatit.”

“To eat it!” Our visitor half rose from his chair in hisexcitement.

“Yes, it would have been of no use to anyone had we not done so. But Ipresume that this other goose upon the sideboard, which is about the sameweight and perfectly fresh, will answer your purpose equally well?”

“Oh, certainly, certainly,” answered Mr. Baker with a sigh ofrelief.

“Of course, we still have the feathers, legs, crop, and so on of your ownbird, so if you wish—”

The man burst into a hearty laugh. “They might be useful to me as relicsof my adventure,” said he, “but beyond that I can hardly see whatuse the disjecta membra of my late acquaintance are going to be to me.No, sir, I think that, with your permission, I will confine my attentions tothe excellent bird which I perceive upon the sideboard.”

Sherlock Holmes glanced sharply across at me with a slight shrug of hisshoulders.

“There is your hat, then, and there your bird,” said he. “Bythe way, would it bore you to tell me where you got the other one from? I amsomewhat of a fowl fancier, and I have seldom seen a better grown goose.”

“Certainly, sir,” said Baker, who had risen and tucked his newlygained property under his arm. “There are a few of us who frequent theAlpha Inn, near the Museum—we are to be found in the Museum itself duringthe day, you understand. This year our good host, Windigate by name, instituteda goose club, by which, on consideration of some few pence every week, we wereeach to receive a bird at Christmas. My pence were duly paid, and the rest isfamiliar to you. I am much indebted to you, sir, for a Scotch bonnet is fittedneither to my years nor my gravity.” With a comical pomposity of mannerhe bowed solemnly to both of us and strode off upon his way.

“So much for Mr. Henry Baker,” said Holmes when he had closed thedoor behind him. “It is quite certain that he knows nothing whateverabout the matter. Are you hungry, Watson?”

“Not particularly.”

“Then I suggest that we turn our dinner into a supper and follow up thisclue while it is still hot.”

“By all means.”

It was a bitter night, so we drew on our ulsters and wrapped cravats about ourthroats. Outside, the stars were shining coldly in a cloudless sky, and thebreath of the passers-by blew out into smoke like so many pistol shots. Ourfootfalls rang out crisply and loudly as we swung through the doctors’quarter, Wimpole Street, Harley Street, and so through Wigmore Street intoOxford Street. In a quarter of an hour we were in Bloomsbury at the Alpha Inn,which is a small public-house at the corner of one of the streets which runsdown into Holborn. Holmes pushed open the door of the private bar and orderedtwo glasses of beer from the ruddy-faced, white-aproned landlord.

“Your beer should be excellent if it is as good as your geese,”said he.

“My geese!” The man seemed surprised.

“Yes. I was speaking only half an hour ago to Mr. Henry Baker, who was amember of your goose club.”

“Ah! yes, I see. But you see, sir, them’s not ourgeese.”

“Indeed! Whose, then?”

“Well, I got the two dozen from a salesman in Covent Garden.”

“Indeed? I know some of them. Which was it?”

“Breckinridge is his name.”

“Ah! I don’t know him. Well, here’s your good healthlandlord, and prosperity to your house. Good-night.”

“Now for Mr. Breckinridge,” he continued, buttoning up his coat aswe came out into the frosty air. “Remember, Watson that though we have sohomely a thing as a goose at one end of this chain, we have at the other a manwho will certainly get seven years’ penal servitude unless we canestablish his innocence. It is possible that our inquiry may but confirm hisguilt; but, in any case, we have a line of investigation which has been missedby the police, and which a singular chance has placed in our hands. Let usfollow it out to the bitter end. Faces to the south, then, and quickmarch!”

We passed across Holborn, down Endell Street, and so through a zigzag of slumsto Covent Garden Market. One of the largest stalls bore the name ofBreckinridge upon it, and the proprietor a horsey-looking man, with a sharpface and trim side-whiskers was helping a boy to put up the shutters.

“Good-evening. It’s a cold night,” said Holmes.

The salesman nodded and shot a questioning glance at my companion.

“Sold out of geese, I see,” continued Holmes, pointing at the bareslabs of marble.

“Let you have five hundred to-morrow morning.”

“That’s no good.”

“Well, there are some on the stall with the gas-flare.”

“Ah, but I was recommended to you.”

“Who by?”

“The landlord of the Alpha.”

“Oh, yes; I sent him a couple of dozen.”

“Fine birds they were, too. Now where did you get them from?”

To my surprise the question provoked a burst of anger from the salesman.

“Now, then, mister,” said he, with his head cocked and his armsakimbo, “what are you driving at? Let’s have it straight,now.”

“It is straight enough. I should like to know who sold you the geesewhich you supplied to the Alpha.”

“Well then, I shan’t tell you. So now!”

“Oh, it is a matter of no importance; but I don’t know why youshould be so warm over such a trifle.”

“Warm! You’d be as warm, maybe, if you were as pestered as I am.When I pay good money for a good article there should be an end of thebusiness; but it’s ‘Where are the geese?’ and ‘Who didyou sell the geese to?’ and ‘What will you take for thegeese?’ One would think they were the only geese in the world, to hearthe fuss that is made over them.”

“Well, I have no connection with any other people who have been makinginquiries,” said Holmes carelessly. “If you won’t tell us thebet is off, that is all. But I’m always ready to back my opinion on amatter of fowls, and I have a fiver on it that the bird I ate is countrybred.”

“Well, then, you’ve lost your fiver, for it’s townbred,” snapped the salesman.

“It’s nothing of the kind.”

“I say it is.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“D’you think you know more about fowls than I, who have handledthem ever since I was a nipper? I tell you, all those birds that went to theAlpha were town bred.”

“You’ll never persuade me to believe that.”

“Will you bet, then?”

“It’s merely taking your money, for I know that I am right. ButI’ll have a sovereign on with you, just to teach you not to beobstinate.”

The salesman chuckled grimly. “Bring me the books, Bill,” said he.

The small boy brought round a small thin volume and a great greasy-backed one,laying them out together beneath the hanging lamp.

“Now then, Mr. Cocksure,” said the salesman, “I thought thatI was out of geese, but before I finish you’ll find that there is stillone left in my shop. You see this little book?”

“Well?”

“That’s the list of the folk from whom I buy. D’you see?Well, then, here on this page are the country folk, and the numbers after theirnames are where their accounts are in the big ledger. Now, then! You see thisother page in red ink? Well, that is a list of my town suppliers. Now, look atthat third name. Just read it out to me.”

“Mrs. Oakshott, 117, Brixton Road—249,” read Holmes.

“Quite so. Now turn that up in the ledger.”

Holmes turned to the page indicated. “Here you are, ‘Mrs. Oakshott,117, Brixton Road, egg and poultry supplier.’”

“Now, then, what’s the last entry?”

“‘December 22nd. Twenty-four geese at 7s.6d.’”

“Quite so. There you are. And underneath?”

“‘Sold to Mr. Windigate of the Alpha, at12s.’”

“What have you to say now?”

Sherlock Holmes looked deeply chagrined. He drew a sovereign from his pocketand threw it down upon the slab, turning away with the air of a man whosedisgust is too deep for words. A few yards off he stopped under a lamp-post andlaughed in the hearty, noiseless fashion which was peculiar to him.

“When you see a man with whiskers of that cut and the ‘Pink’un’ protruding out of his pocket, you can always draw him by abet,” said he. “I daresay that if I had put £ 100 down in front ofhim, that man would not have given me such complete information as was drawnfrom him by the idea that he was doing me on a wager. Well, Watson, we are, Ifancy, nearing the end of our quest, and the only point which remains to bedetermined is whether we should go on to this Mrs. Oakshott to-night, orwhether we should reserve it for to-morrow. It is clear from what that surlyfellow said that there are others besides ourselves who are anxious about thematter, and I should—”

His remarks were suddenly cut short by a loud hubbub which broke out from thestall which we had just left. Turning round we saw a little rat-faced fellowstanding in the centre of the circle of yellow light which was thrown by theswinging lamp, while Breckinridge, the salesman, framed in the door of hisstall, was shaking his fists fiercely at the cringing figure.

“I’ve had enough of you and your geese,” he shouted. “Iwish you were all at the devil together. If you come pestering me any more withyour silly talk I’ll set the dog at you. You bring Mrs. Oakshott here andI’ll answer her, but what have you to do with it? Did I buy the geese offyou?”

“No; but one of them was mine all the same,” whined the little man.

“Well, then, ask Mrs. Oakshott for it.”

“She told me to ask you.”

“Well, you can ask the King of Proosia, for all I care. I’ve hadenough of it. Get out of this!” He rushed fiercely forward, and theinquirer flitted away into the darkness.

“Ha! this may save us a visit to Brixton Road,” whispered Holmes.“Come with me, and we will see what is to be made of this fellow.”Striding through the scattered knots of people who lounged round the flaringstalls, my companion speedily overtook the little man and touched him upon theshoulder. He sprang round, and I could see in the gas-light that every vestigeof colour had been driven from his face.

“Who are you, then? What do you want?” he asked in a quaveringvoice.

“You will excuse me,” said Holmes blandly, “but I could nothelp overhearing the questions which you put to the salesman just now. I thinkthat I could be of assistance to you.”

“You? Who are you? How could you know anything of the matter?”

“My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other peopledon’t know.”

“But you can know nothing of this?”

“Excuse me, I know everything of it. You are endeavouring to trace somegeese which were sold by Mrs. Oakshott, of Brixton Road, to a salesman namedBreckinridge, by him in turn to Mr. Windigate, of the Alpha, and by him to hisclub, of which Mr. Henry Baker is a member.”

“Oh, sir, you are the very man whom I have longed to meet,” criedthe little fellow with outstretched hands and quivering fingers. “I canhardly explain to you how interested I am in this matter.”

Sherlock Holmes hailed a four-wheeler which was passing. “In that case wehad better discuss it in a cosy room rather than in this wind-sweptmarket-place,” said he. “But pray tell me, before we go farther,who it is that I have the pleasure of assisting.”

The man hesitated for an instant. “My name is John Robinson,” heanswered with a sidelong glance.

“No, no; the real name,” said Holmes sweetly. “It is alwaysawkward doing business with an alias.”

A flush sprang to the white cheeks of the stranger. “Well then,”said he, “my real name is James Ryder.”

“Precisely so. Head attendant at the Hotel Cosmopolitan. Pray step intothe cab, and I shall soon be able to tell you everything which you would wishto know.”

The little man stood glancing from one to the other of us with half-frightened,half-hopeful eyes, as one who is not sure whether he is on the verge of awindfall or of a catastrophe. Then he stepped into the cab, and in half an hourwe were back in the sitting-room at Baker Street. Nothing had been said duringour drive, but the high, thin breathing of our new companion, and the claspingsand unclaspings of his hands, spoke of the nervous tension within him.

“Here we are!” said Holmes cheerily as we filed into the room.“The fire looks very seasonable in this weather. You look cold, Mr.Ryder. Pray take the basket-chair. I will just put on my slippers before wesettle this little matter of yours. Now, then! You want to know what became ofthose geese?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Or rather, I fancy, of that goose. It was one bird, I imagine in whichyou were interested—white, with a black bar across the tail.”

Ryder quivered with emotion. “Oh, sir,” he cried, “can youtell me where it went to?”

“It came here.”

“Here?”

“Yes, and a most remarkable bird it proved. I don’t wonder that youshould take an interest in it. It laid an egg after it was dead—thebonniest, brightest little blue egg that ever was seen. I have it here in mymuseum.”

Our visitor staggered to his feet and clutched the mantelpiece with his righthand. Holmes unlocked his strong-box and held up the blue carbuncle, whichshone out like a star, with a cold, brilliant, many-pointed radiance. Ryderstood glaring with a drawn face, uncertain whether to claim or to disown it.

“The game’s up, Ryder,” said Holmes quietly. “Hold up,man, or you’ll be into the fire! Give him an arm back into his chair,Watson. He’s not got blood enough to go in for felony with impunity. Givehim a dash of brandy. So! Now he looks a little more human. What a shrimp itis, to be sure!”

For a moment he had staggered and nearly fallen, but the brandy brought a tingeof colour into his cheeks, and he sat staring with frightened eyes at hisaccuser.

“I have almost every link in my hands, and all the proofs which I couldpossibly need, so there is little which you need tell me. Still, that littlemay as well be cleared up to make the case complete. You had heard, Ryder, ofthis blue stone of the Countess of Morcar’s?”

“It was Catherine Cusack who told me of it,” said he in a cracklingvoice.

“I see—her ladyship’s waiting-maid. Well, the temptation ofsudden wealth so easily acquired was too much for you, as it has been forbetter men before you; but you were not very scrupulous in the means you used.It seems to me, Ryder, that there is the making of a very pretty villain inyou. You knew that this man Horner, the plumber, had been concerned in somesuch matter before, and that suspicion would rest the more readily upon him.What did you do, then? You made some small job in my lady’sroom—you and your confederate Cusack—and you managed that he shouldbe the man sent for. Then, when he had left, you rifled the jewel-case, raisedthe alarm, and had this unfortunate man arrested. You then—”

Ryder threw himself down suddenly upon the rug and clutched at mycompanion’s knees. “For God’s sake, have mercy!” heshrieked. “Think of my father! Of my mother! It would break their hearts.I never went wrong before! I never will again. I swear it. I’ll swear iton a Bible. Oh, don’t bring it into court! For Christ’s sake,don’t!”

“Get back into your chair!” said Holmes sternly. “It is verywell to cringe and crawl now, but you thought little enough of this poor Hornerin the dock for a crime of which he knew nothing.”

“I will fly, Mr. Holmes. I will leave the country, sir. Then the chargeagainst him will break down.”

“Hum! We will talk about that. And now let us hear a true account of thenext act. How came the stone into the goose, and how came the goose into theopen market? Tell us the truth, for there lies your only hope of safety.”

Ryder passed his tongue over his parched lips. “I will tell you it justas it happened, sir,” said he. “When Horner had been arrested, itseemed to me that it would be best for me to get away with the stone at once,for I did not know at what moment the police might not take it into their headsto search me and my room. There was no place about the hotel where it would besafe. I went out, as if on some commission, and I made for my sister’shouse. She had married a man named Oakshott, and lived in Brixton Road, whereshe fattened fowls for the market. All the way there every man I met seemed tome to be a policeman or a detective; and, for all that it was a cold night, thesweat was pouring down my face before I came to the Brixton Road. My sisterasked me what was the matter, and why I was so pale; but I told her that I hadbeen upset by the jewel robbery at the hotel. Then I went into the back yardand smoked a pipe and wondered what it would be best to do.

“I had a friend once called Maudsley, who went to the bad, and has justbeen serving his time in Pentonville. One day he had met me, and fell into talkabout the ways of thieves, and how they could get rid of what they stole. Iknew that he would be true to me, for I knew one or two things about him; so Imade up my mind to go right on to Kilburn, where he lived, and take him into myconfidence. He would show me how to turn the stone into money. But how to getto him in safety? I thought of the agonies I had gone through in coming fromthe hotel. I might at any moment be seized and searched, and there would be thestone in my waistcoat pocket. I was leaning against the wall at the time andlooking at the geese which were waddling about round my feet, and suddenly anidea came into my head which showed me how I could beat the best detective thatever lived.

“My sister had told me some weeks before that I might have the pick ofher geese for a Christmas present, and I knew that she was always as good asher word. I would take my goose now, and in it I would carry my stone toKilburn. There was a little shed in the yard, and behind this I drove one ofthe birds—a fine big one, white, with a barred tail. I caught it, andprying its bill open, I thrust the stone down its throat as far as my fingercould reach. The bird gave a gulp, and I felt the stone pass along its gulletand down into its crop. But the creature flapped and struggled, and out came mysister to know what was the matter. As I turned to speak to her the brute brokeloose and fluttered off among the others.

“‘Whatever were you doing with that bird, Jem?’ saysshe.

“‘Well,’ said I, ‘you said you’d give meone for Christmas, and I was feeling which was the fattest.’

“‘Oh,’ says she, ‘we’ve set yours aside foryou—Jem’s bird, we call it. It’s the big white one overyonder. There’s twenty-six of them, which makes one for you, and one forus, and two dozen for the market.’

“‘Thank you, Maggie,’ says I; ‘but if it is allthe same to you, I’d rather have that one I was handling just now.’

“‘The other is a good three pound heavier,’ said she,‘and we fattened it expressly for you.’

“‘Never mind. I’ll have the other, and I’ll takeit now,’ said I.

“‘Oh, just as you like,’ said she, a little huffed.‘Which is it you want, then?’

“‘That white one with the barred tail, right in the middle ofthe flock.’

“‘Oh, very well. Kill it and take it with you.’

“Well, I did what she said, Mr. Holmes, and I carried the bird all theway to Kilburn. I told my pal what I had done, for he was a man that it waseasy to tell a thing like that to. He laughed until he choked, and we got aknife and opened the goose. My heart turned to water, for there was no sign ofthe stone, and I knew that some terrible mistake had occurred. I left the bird,rushed back to my sister’s, and hurried into the back yard. There was nota bird to be seen there.

“‘Where are they all, Maggie?’ I cried.

“‘Gone to the dealer’s, Jem.’

“‘Which dealer’s?’

“‘Breckinridge, of Covent Garden.’

“‘But was there another with a barred tail?’ I asked,‘the same as the one I chose?’

“‘Yes, Jem; there were two barred-tailed ones, and I couldnever tell them apart.’

“Well, then, of course I saw it all, and I ran off as hard as my feetwould carry me to this man Breckinridge; but he had sold the lot at once, andnot one word would he tell me as to where they had gone. You heard himyourselves to-night. Well, he has always answered me like that. My sisterthinks that I am going mad. Sometimes I think that I am myself. Andnow—and now I am myself a branded thief, without ever having touched thewealth for which I sold my character. God help me! God help me!” He burstinto convulsive sobbing, with his face buried in his hands.

There was a long silence, broken only by his heavy breathing and by themeasured tapping of Sherlock Holmes’ finger-tips upon the edge of thetable. Then my friend rose and threw open the door.

“Get out!” said he.

“What, sir! Oh, Heaven bless you!”

“No more words. Get out!”

And no more words were needed. There was a rush, a clatter upon the stairs, thebang of a door, and the crisp rattle of running footfalls from the street.

“After all, Watson,” said Holmes, reaching up his hand for his claypipe, “I am not retained by the police to supply their deficiencies. IfHorner were in danger it would be another thing; but this fellow will notappear against him, and the case must collapse. I suppose that I am commuting afelony, but it is just possible that I am saving a soul. This fellow will notgo wrong again; he is too terribly frightened. Send him to gaol now, and youmake him a gaol-bird for life. Besides, it is the season of forgiveness. Chancehas put in our way a most singular and whimsical problem, and its solution isits own reward. If you will have the goodness to touch the bell, Doctor, wewill begin another investigation, in which, also a bird will be the chieffeature.”

VIII.
THE ADVENTURE OF THE SPECKLED BAND

On glancing over mynotes of the seventy odd cases in which I have during the last eight yearsstudied the methods of my friend Sherlock Holmes, I find many tragic, somecomic, a large number merely strange, but none commonplace; for, working as hedid rather for the love of his art than for the acquirement of wealth, herefused to associate himself with any investigation which did not tend towardsthe unusual, and even the fantastic. Of all these varied cases, however, Icannot recall any which presented more singular features than that which wasassociated with the well-known Surrey family of the Roylotts of Stoke Moran.The events in question occurred in the early days of my association withHolmes, when we were sharing rooms as bachelors in Baker Street. It is possiblethat I might have placed them upon record before, but a promise of secrecy wasmade at the time, from which I have only been freed during the last month bythe untimely death of the lady to whom the pledge was given. It is perhaps aswell that the facts should now come to light, for I have reasons to know thatthere are widespread rumours as to the death of Dr. Grimesby Roylott which tendto make the matter even more terrible than the truth.

It was early in April in the year ’83 that I woke one morning to findSherlock Holmes standing, fully dressed, by the side of my bed. He was a lateriser, as a rule, and as the clock on the mantelpiece showed me that it wasonly a quarter-past seven, I blinked up at him in some surprise, and perhapsjust a little resentment, for I was myself regular in my habits.

“Very sorry to knock you up, Watson,” said he, “butit’s the common lot this morning. Mrs. Hudson has been knocked up, sheretorted upon me, and I on you.”

“What is it, then—a fire?”

“No; a client. It seems that a young lady has arrived in a considerablestate of excitement, who insists upon seeing me. She is waiting now in thesitting-room. Now, when young ladies wander about the metropolis at this hourof the morning, and knock sleepy people up out of their beds, I presume that itis something very pressing which they have to communicate. Should it prove tobe an interesting case, you would, I am sure, wish to follow it from theoutset. I thought, at any rate, that I should call you and give you thechance.”

“My dear fellow, I would not miss it for anything.”

I had no keener pleasure than in following Holmes in his professionalinvestigations, and in admiring the rapid deductions, as swift as intuitions,and yet always founded on a logical basis with which he unravelled the problemswhich were submitted to him. I rapidly threw on my clothes and was ready in afew minutes to accompany my friend down to the sitting-room. A lady dressed inblack and heavily veiled, who had been sitting in the window, rose as weentered.

“Good-morning, madam,” said Holmes cheerily. “My name isSherlock Holmes. This is my intimate friend and associate, Dr. Watson, beforewhom 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 Ishall order you a cup of hot coffee, for I observe that you areshivering.”

“It is not cold which makes me shiver,” said the woman in a lowvoice, changing her seat as requested.

“What, then?”

“It is fear, Mr. Holmes. It is terror.” She raised her veil as shespoke, and we could see that she was indeed in a pitiable state of agitation,her face all drawn and grey, with restless frightened eyes, like those of somehunted animal. Her features and figure were those of a woman of thirty, but herhair was shot with premature grey, 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 andpatting her forearm. “We shall soon set matters right, I have no doubt.You have come in by train this morning, I see.”

“You know me, then?”

“No, but I observe the second half of a return ticket in the palm of yourleft glove. You must have started early, and yet you had a good drive in adog-cart, along heavy roads, before you reached the station.”

The lady gave a violent start and stared in bewilderment at my companion.

“There is no mystery, my dear madam,” said he, smiling. “Theleft arm of your jacket is spattered with mud in no less than seven places. Themarks are perfectly fresh. There is no vehicle save a dog-cart which throws upmud in that way, and then only when you sit on the left-hand side of thedriver.”

“Whatever your reasons may be, you are perfectly correct,” saidshe. “I started from home before six, reached Leatherhead at twenty past,and came in by the first train to Waterloo. Sir, I can stand this strain nolonger; I shall go mad if it continues. I have no one to turn to—none,save only one, who cares for me, and he, poor fellow, can be of little aid. Ihave heard of you, Mr. Holmes; I have heard of you from Mrs. Farintosh, whomyou helped in the hour of her sore need. It was from her that I had youraddress. Oh, sir, do you not think that you could help me, too, and at leastthrow a little light through the dense darkness which surrounds me? At presentit is out of my power to reward you for your services, but in a month or sixweeks I shall be married, with the control of my own income, and then at leastyou shall not find me ungrateful.”

Holmes turned to his desk and, unlocking it, drew out a small case-book, whichhe consulted.

“Farintosh,” said he. “Ah yes, I recall the case; it wasconcerned with an opal tiara. I think it was before your time, Watson. I canonly say, madam, that I shall be happy to devote the same care to your case asI did to that of your friend. As to reward, my profession is its own reward;but you are at liberty to defray whatever expenses I may be put to, at the timewhich suits you best. And now I beg that you will lay before us everything thatmay help us in forming an opinion upon the matter.”

“Alas!” replied our visitor, “the very horror of my situationlies in the fact that my fears are so vague, and my suspicions depend soentirely upon small points, which might seem trivial to another, that even heto whom of all others I have a right to look for help and advice looks upon allthat I tell him about it as the fancies of a nervous woman. He does not say so,but I can read it from his soothing answers and averted eyes. But I have heard,Mr. Holmes, that you can see deeply into the manifold wickedness of the humanheart. You may advise me how to walk amid the dangers which encompassme.”

“I am all attention, madam.”

“My name is Helen Stoner, and I am living with my stepfather, who is thelast survivor of one of the oldest Saxon families in England, the Roylotts ofStoke Moran, on the western border of Surrey.”

Holmes nodded his head. “The name is familiar to me,” said he.

“The family was at one time among the richest in England, and the estatesextended over the borders into Berkshire in the north, and Hampshire in thewest. In the last century, however, four successive heirs were of a dissoluteand wasteful disposition, and the family ruin was eventually completed by agambler in the days of the Regency. Nothing was left save a few acres ofground, and the two-hundred-year-old house, which is itself crushed under aheavy mortgage. The last squire dragged out his existence there, living thehorrible life of an aristocratic pauper; but his only son, my stepfather,seeing that he must adapt himself to the new conditions, obtained an advancefrom a relative, which enabled him to take a medical degree and went out toCalcutta, where, by his professional skill and his force of character, heestablished a large practice. In a fit of anger, however, caused by somerobberies which had been perpetrated in the house, he beat his native butler todeath and narrowly escaped a capital sentence. As it was, he suffered a longterm of imprisonment and afterwards returned to England a morose anddisappointed man.

“When Dr. Roylott was in India he married my mother, Mrs. Stoner, theyoung widow of Major-General Stoner, of the Bengal Artillery. My sister Juliaand I were twins, and we were only two years old at the time of mymother’s re-marriage. She had a considerable sum of money—not lessthan £ 1000 a year—and this she bequeathed to Dr. Roylott entirely whilewe resided with him, with a provision that a certain annual sum should beallowed to each of us in the event of our marriage. Shortly after our return toEngland my mother died—she was killed eight years ago in a railwayaccident near Crewe. Dr. Roylott then abandoned his attempts to establishhimself in practice in London and took us to live with him in the old ancestralhouse at Stoke Moran. The money which my mother had left was enough for all ourwants, and there seemed to be no obstacle to our happiness.

“But a terrible change came over our stepfather about this time. Insteadof making friends and exchanging visits with our neighbours, who had at firstbeen overjoyed to see a Roylott of Stoke Moran back in the old family seat, heshut himself up in his house and seldom came out save to indulge in ferociousquarrels with whoever might cross his path. Violence of temper approaching tomania has been hereditary in the men of the family, and in mystepfather’s case it had, I believe, been intensified by his longresidence in the tropics. A series of disgraceful brawls took place, two ofwhich ended in the police-court, until at last he became the terror of thevillage, and the folks would fly at his approach, for he is a man of immensestrength, and absolutely uncontrollable in his anger.

“Last week he hurled the local blacksmith over a parapet into a stream,and it was only by paying over all the money which I could gather together thatI was able to avert another public exposure. He had no friends at all save thewandering gipsies, and he would give these vagabonds leave to encamp upon thefew acres of bramble-covered land which represent the family estate, and wouldaccept in return the hospitality of their tents, wandering away with themsometimes for weeks on end. He has a passion also for Indian animals, which aresent over to him by a correspondent, and he has at this moment a cheetah and ababoon, which wander freely over his grounds and are feared by the villagersalmost as much as their master.

“You can imagine from what I say that my poor sister Julia and I had nogreat pleasure in our lives. No servant would stay with us, and for a long timewe did all the work of the house. She was but thirty at the time of her death,and yet her hair had already begun to whiten, even as mine has.”

“Your sister is dead, then?”

“She died just two years ago, and it is of her death that I wish to speakto you. You can understand that, living the life which I have described, wewere little likely to see anyone of our own age and position. We had, however,an aunt, my mother’s maiden sister, Miss Honoria Westphail, who livesnear Harrow, and we were occasionally allowed to pay short visits at thislady’s house. Julia went there at Christmas two years ago, and met therea half-pay major of marines, to whom she became engaged. My stepfather learnedof the engagement when my sister returned and offered no objection to themarriage; but within a fortnight of the day which had been fixed for thewedding, the terrible event occurred which has deprived me of my onlycompanion.”

Sherlock Holmes had been leaning back in his chair with his eyes closed and hishead sunk in a cushion, but he half opened his lids now and glanced across athis visitor.

“Pray be precise as to details,” said he.

“It is easy for me to be so, for every event of that dreadful time isseared into my memory. The manor-house is, as I have already said, very old,and only one wing is now inhabited. The bedrooms in this wing are on the groundfloor, the sitting-rooms being in the central block of the buildings. Of thesebedrooms the first is Dr. Roylott’s, the second my sister’s, andthe third my own. There is no communication between them, but they all open outinto the same corridor. Do I make myself plain?”

“Perfectly so.”

“The windows of the three rooms open out upon the lawn. That fatal nightDr. Roylott had gone to his room early, though we knew that he had not retiredto rest, for my sister was troubled by the smell of the strong Indian cigarswhich it was his custom to smoke. She left her room, therefore, and came intomine, where she sat for some time, chatting about her approaching wedding. Ateleven o’clock she rose to leave me, but she paused at the door andlooked back.

“‘Tell me, Helen,’ said she, ‘have you ever heardanyone whistle in the dead of the night?’

“‘Never,’ said I.

“‘I suppose that you could not possibly whistle, yourself, inyour sleep?’

“‘Certainly not. But why?’

“‘Because during the last few nights I have always, aboutthree in the morning, heard a low, clear whistle. I am a light sleeper, and ithas awakened me. I cannot tell where it came from—perhaps from the nextroom, perhaps from the lawn. I thought that I would just ask you whether youhad heard it.’

“‘No, I have not. It must be those wretched gipsies in theplantation.’

“‘Very likely. And yet if it were on the lawn, I wonder thatyou did not hear it also.’

“‘Ah, but I sleep more heavily than you.’

“‘Well, it is of no great consequence, at any rate.’She smiled back at me, closed my door, and a few moments later I heard her keyturn in the lock.”

“Indeed,” said Holmes. “Was it your custom always to lockyourselves in at night?”

“Always.”

“And why?”

“I think that I mentioned to you that the Doctor kept a cheetah and ababoon. We had no feeling of security unless our doors were locked.”

“Quite so. Pray proceed with your statement.”

“I could not sleep that night. A vague feeling of impending misfortuneimpressed me. My sister and I, you will recollect, were twins, and you know howsubtle are the links which bind two souls which are so closely allied. It was awild night. The wind was howling outside, and the rain was beating andsplashing against the windows. Suddenly, amid all the hubbub of the gale, thereburst forth the wild scream of a terrified woman. I knew that it was mysister’s voice. I sprang from my bed, wrapped a shawl round me, andrushed into the corridor. As I opened my door I seemed to hear a low whistle,such as my sister described, and a few moments later a clanging sound, as if amass of metal had fallen. As I ran down the passage, my sister’s door wasunlocked, and revolved slowly upon its hinges. I stared at it horror-stricken,not knowing what was about to issue from it. By the light of the corridor-lampI saw my sister appear at the opening, her face blanched with terror, her handsgroping for help, her whole figure swaying to and fro like that of a drunkard.I ran to her and threw my arms round her, but at that moment her knees seemedto give way and she fell to the ground. She writhed as one who is in terriblepain, and her limbs were dreadfully convulsed. At first I thought that she hadnot recognised me, but as I bent over her she suddenly shrieked out in a voicewhich I shall never forget, ‘Oh, my God! Helen! It was the band! Thespeckled band!’ There was something else which she would fain have said,and she stabbed with her finger into the air in the direction of theDoctor’s room, but a fresh convulsion seized her and choked her words. Irushed out, calling loudly for my stepfather, and I met him hastening from hisroom in his dressing-gown. When he reached my sister’s side she wasunconscious, and though he poured brandy down her throat and sent for medicalaid from the village, all efforts were in vain, for she slowly sank and diedwithout having recovered her consciousness. Such was the dreadful end of mybeloved sister.”

“One moment,” said Holmes, “are you sure about this whistleand metallic sound? Could you swear to it?”

“That was what the county coroner asked me at the inquiry. It is mystrong impression that I heard it, and yet, among the crash of the gale and thecreaking of an old house, I may possibly have been deceived.”

“Was your sister dressed?”

“No, she was in her night-dress. In her right hand was found the charredstump of a match, and in her left a match-box.”

“Showing that she had struck a light and looked about her when the alarmtook place. That is important. And what conclusions did the coroner cometo?”

“He investigated the case with great care, for Dr. Roylott’sconduct had long been notorious in the county, but he was unable to find anysatisfactory cause of death. My evidence showed that the door had been fastenedupon the inner side, and the windows were blocked by old-fashioned shutterswith broad iron bars, which were secured every night. The walls were carefullysounded, and were shown to be quite solid all round, and the flooring was alsothoroughly examined, with the same result. The chimney is wide, but is barredup by four large staples. It is certain, therefore, that my sister was quitealone when she met her end. Besides, there were no marks of any violence uponher.”

“How about poison?”

“The doctors examined her for it, but without success.”

“What do you think that this unfortunate lady died of, then?”

“It is my belief that she died of pure fear and nervous shock, thoughwhat it was that frightened her I cannot imagine.”

“Were there gipsies in the plantation at the time?”

“Yes, there are nearly always some there.”

“Ah, and what did you gather from this allusion to a band—aspeckled band?”

“Sometimes I have thought that it was merely the wild talk of delirium,sometimes that it may have referred to some band of people, perhaps to thesevery gipsies in the plantation. I do not know whether the spotted handkerchiefswhich so many of them wear over their heads might have suggested the strangeadjective which she used.”

Holmes shook his head like a man who is far from being satisfied.

“These are very deep waters,” said he; “pray go on with yournarrative.”

“Two years have passed since then, and my life has been until latelylonelier than ever. A month ago, however, a dear friend, whom I have known formany years, has done me the honour to ask my hand in marriage. His name isArmitage—Percy Armitage—the second son of Mr. Armitage, of CraneWater, near Reading. My stepfather has offered no opposition to the match, andwe are to be married in the course of the spring. Two days ago some repairswere started in the west wing of the building, and my bedroom wall has beenpierced, so that I have had to move into the chamber in which my sister died,and to sleep in the very bed in which she slept. Imagine, then, my thrill ofterror when last night, as I lay awake, thinking over her terrible fate, Isuddenly heard in the silence of the night the low whistle which had been theherald of her own death. I sprang up and lit the lamp, but nothing was to beseen in the room. I was too shaken to go to bed again, however, so I dressed,and as soon as it was daylight I slipped down, got a dog-cart at the Crown Inn,which is opposite, and drove to Leatherhead, from whence I have come on thismorning with the one object of seeing you and asking your advice.”

“You have done wisely,” said my friend. “But have you told meall?”

“Yes, all.”

“Miss Roylott, you have not. You are screening your stepfather.”

“Why, what do you mean?”

For answer Holmes pushed back the frill of black lace which fringed the handthat lay upon our visitor’s knee. Five little livid spots, the marks offour fingers and a thumb, were printed upon the white wrist.

“You have been cruelly used,” said Holmes.

The lady coloured deeply and covered over her injured wrist. “He is ahard man,” she said, “and perhaps he hardly knows his ownstrength.”

There was a long silence, during which Holmes leaned his chin upon his handsand stared into the crackling fire.

“This is a very deep business,” he said at last. “There are athousand details which I should desire to know before I decide upon our courseof action. Yet we have not a moment to lose. If we were to come to Stoke Moranto-day, would it be possible for us to see over these rooms without theknowledge of your stepfather?”

“As it happens, he spoke of coming into town to-day upon some mostimportant business. It is probable that he will be away all day, and that therewould be nothing to disturb you. We have a housekeeper now, but she is old andfoolish, and I could easily get her out of the way.”

“Excellent. You are not averse to this trip, Watson?”

“By no means.”

“Then we shall both come. What are you going to do yourself?”

“I have one or two things which I would wish to do now that I am in town.But I shall return by the twelve o’clock train, so as to be there in timefor your coming.”

“And you may expect us early in the afternoon. I have myself some smallbusiness matters to attend to. Will you not wait and breakfast?”

“No, I must go. My heart is lightened already since I have confided mytrouble to you. I shall look forward to seeing you again this afternoon.”She dropped her thick black veil over her face and glided from the room.

“And what do you think of it all, Watson?” asked Sherlock Holmes,leaning back in his chair.

“It seems to me to be a most dark and sinister business.”

“Dark enough and sinister enough.”

“Yet if the lady is correct in saying that the flooring and walls aresound, and that the door, window, and chimney are impassable, then her sistermust have been undoubtedly alone when she met her mysterious end.”

“What becomes, then, of these nocturnal whistles, and what of the verypeculiar words of the dying woman?”

“I cannot think.”

“When you combine the ideas of whistles at night, the presence of a bandof gipsies who are on intimate terms with this old doctor, the fact that wehave every reason to believe that the doctor has an interest in preventing hisstepdaughter’s marriage, the dying allusion to a band, and, finally, thefact that Miss Helen Stoner heard a metallic clang, which might have beencaused by one of those metal bars that secured the shutters falling back intoits place, I think that there is good ground to think that the mystery may becleared along those lines.”

“But what, then, did the gipsies do?”

“I cannot imagine.”

“I see many objections to any such theory.”

“And so do I. It is precisely for that reason that we are going to StokeMoran this day. I want to see whether the objections are fatal, or if they maybe explained away. But what in the name of the devil!”

The ejaculation had been drawn from my companion by the fact that our door hadbeen suddenly dashed open, and that a huge man had framed himself in theaperture. His costume was a peculiar mixture of the professional and of theagricultural, having a black top-hat, a long frock-coat, and a pair of highgaiters, with a hunting-crop swinging in his hand. So tall was he that his hatactually brushed the cross bar of the doorway, and his breadth seemed to spanit across from side to side. A large face, seared with a thousand wrinkles,burned yellow with the sun, and marked with every evil passion, was turned fromone to the other of us, while his deep-set, bile-shot eyes, and his high, thin,fleshless nose, gave him somewhat the resemblance to a fierce old bird of prey.

“Which of you is Holmes?” asked this apparition.

“My name, sir; but you have the advantage of me,” said my companionquietly.

“I am Dr. Grimesby Roylott, of Stoke Moran.”

“Indeed, Doctor,” said Holmes blandly. “Pray take aseat.”

“I will do nothing of the kind. My stepdaughter has been here. I havetraced her. What has she been saying to you?”

“It is a little cold for the time of the year,” said Holmes.

“What has she been saying to you?” screamed the old man furiously.

“But I have heard that the crocuses promise well,” continued mycompanion imperturbably.

“Ha! You put me off, do you?” said our new visitor, taking a stepforward and shaking his hunting-crop. “I know you, you scoundrel! I haveheard of you before. You are Holmes, the meddler.”

My friend smiled.

“Holmes, the busybody!”

His smile broadened.

“Holmes, the Scotland Yard Jack-in-office!”

Holmes chuckled heartily. “Your conversation is most entertaining,”said he. “When you go out close the door, for there is a decideddraught.”

“I will go when I have had my say. Don’t you dare to meddle with myaffairs. I know that Miss Stoner has been here. I traced her! I am a dangerousman to fall foul of! See here.” He stepped swiftly forward, seized thepoker, and bent it into a curve with his huge brown hands.

“See that you keep yourself out of my grip,” he snarled, andhurling the twisted poker into the fireplace he strode out of the room.

“He seems a very amiable person,” said Holmes, laughing. “Iam not quite so bulky, but if he had remained I might have shown him that mygrip was not much more feeble than his own.” As he spoke he picked up thesteel poker and, with a sudden effort, straightened it out again.

“Fancy his having the insolence to confound me with the officialdetective force! This incident gives zest to our investigation, however, and Ionly trust that our little friend will not suffer from her imprudence inallowing this brute to trace her. And now, Watson, we shall order breakfast,and afterwards I shall walk down to Doctors’ Commons, where I hope to getsome data which may help us in this matter.”

It was nearly one o’clock when Sherlock Holmes returned from hisexcursion. He held in his hand a sheet of blue paper, scrawled over with notesand figures.

“I have seen the will of the deceased wife,” said he. “Todetermine its exact meaning I have been obliged to work out the present pricesof the investments with which it is concerned. The total income, which at thetime of the wife’s death was little short of £ 1,100, is now, through thefall in agricultural prices, not more than £ 750. Each daughter can claim anincome of £ 250, in case of marriage. It is evident, therefore, that if bothgirls had married, this beauty would have had a mere pittance, while even oneof them would cripple him to a very serious extent. My morning’s work hasnot been wasted, since it has proved that he has the very strongest motives forstanding in the way of anything of the sort. And now, Watson, this is tooserious for dawdling, especially as the old man is aware that we areinteresting ourselves in his affairs; so if you are ready, we shall call a caband drive to Waterloo. I should be very much obliged if you would slip yourrevolver into your pocket. An Eley’s No. 2 is an excellent argument withgentlemen who can twist steel pokers into knots. That and a tooth-brush are, Ithink, all that we need.”

At Waterloo we were fortunate in catching a train for Leatherhead, where wehired a trap at the station inn and drove for four or five miles through thelovely Surrey lanes. It was a perfect day, with a bright sun and a few fleecyclouds in the heavens. The trees and wayside hedges were just throwing outtheir first green shoots, and the air was full of the pleasant smell of themoist earth. To me at least there was a strange contrast between the sweetpromise of the spring and this sinister quest upon which we were engaged. Mycompanion sat in the front of the trap, his arms folded, his hat pulled downover his eyes, and his chin sunk upon his breast, buried in the deepestthought. Suddenly, however, he started, tapped me on the shoulder, and pointedover the meadows.

“Look there!” said he.

A heavily timbered park stretched up in a gentle slope, thickening into a groveat the highest point. From amid the branches there jutted out the grey gablesand high roof-tree of a very old mansion.

“Stoke Moran?” said he.

“Yes, sir, that be the house of Dr. Grimesby Roylott,” remarked thedriver.

“There is some building going on there,” said Holmes; “thatis where we are going.”

“There’s the village,” said the driver, pointing to a clusterof roofs some distance to the left; “but if you want to get to the house,you’ll find it shorter to get over this stile, and so by the footpathover the fields. There it is, where the lady is walking.”

“And the lady, I fancy, is Miss Stoner,” observed Holmes, shadinghis eyes. “Yes, I think we had better do as you suggest.”

We got off, paid our fare, and the trap rattled back on its way to Leatherhead.

“I thought it as well,” said Holmes as we climbed the stile,“that this fellow should think we had come here as architects, or on somedefinite business. It may stop his gossip. Good-afternoon, Miss Stoner. You seethat we have been as good as our word.”

Our client of the morning had hurried forward to meet us with a face whichspoke her joy. “I have been waiting so eagerly for you,” she cried,shaking hands with us warmly. “All has turned out splendidly. Dr. Roylotthas gone to town, and it is unlikely that he will be back beforeevening.”

“We have had the pleasure of making the Doctor’sacquaintance,” said Holmes, and in a few words he sketched out what hadoccurred. Miss Stoner turned white to the lips as she listened.

“Good heavens!” she cried, “he has followed me, then.”

“So it appears.”

“He is so cunning that I never know when I am safe from him. What will hesay when he returns?”

“He must guard himself, for he may find that there is someone morecunning than himself upon his track. You must lock yourself up from himto-night. If he is violent, we shall take you away to your aunt’s atHarrow. Now, we must make the best use of our time, so kindly take us at onceto the rooms which we are to examine.”

The building was of grey, lichen-blotched stone, with a high central portionand two curving wings, like the claws of a crab, thrown out on each side. Inone of these wings the windows were broken and blocked with wooden boards,while the roof was partly caved in, a picture of ruin. The central portion wasin little better repair, but the right-hand block was comparatively modern, andthe blinds in the windows, with the blue smoke curling up from the chimneys,showed that this was where the family resided. Some scaffolding had beenerected against the end wall, and the stone-work had been broken into, butthere were no signs of any workmen at the moment of our visit. Holmes walkedslowly up and down the ill-trimmed lawn and examined with deep attention theoutsides of the windows.

“This, I take it, belongs to the room in which you used to sleep, thecentre one to your sister’s, and the one next to the main building to Dr.Roylott’s chamber?”

“Exactly so. But I am now sleeping in the middle one.”

“Pending the alterations, as I understand. By the way, there does notseem to be any very pressing need for repairs at that end wall.”

“There were none. I believe that it was an excuse to move me from myroom.”

“Ah! that is suggestive. Now, on the other side of this narrow wing runsthe corridor from which these three rooms open. There are windows in it, ofcourse?”

“Yes, but very small ones. Too narrow for anyone to pass through.”

“As you both locked your doors at night, your rooms were unapproachablefrom that side. Now, would you have the kindness to go into your room and baryour shutters?”

Miss Stoner did so, and Holmes, after a careful examination through the openwindow, endeavoured in every way to force the shutter open, but withoutsuccess. There was no slit through which a knife could be passed to raise thebar. Then with his lens he tested the hinges, but they were of solid iron,built firmly into the massive masonry. “Hum!” said he, scratchinghis chin in some perplexity, “my theory certainly presents somedifficulties. No one could pass these shutters if they were bolted. Well, weshall see if the inside throws any light upon the matter.”

A small side door led into the whitewashed corridor from which the threebedrooms opened. Holmes refused to examine the third chamber, so we passed atonce to the second, that in which Miss Stoner was now sleeping, and in whichher sister had met with her fate. It was a homely little room, with a lowceiling and a gaping fireplace, after the fashion of old country-houses. Abrown chest of drawers stood in one corner, a narrow white-counterpaned bed inanother, and a dressing-table on the left-hand side of the window. Thesearticles, with two small wicker-work chairs, made up all the furniture in theroom save for a square of Wilton carpet in the centre. The boards round and thepanelling of the walls were of brown, worm-eaten oak, so old and discolouredthat it may have dated from the original building of the house. Holmes drew oneof the chairs into a corner and sat silent, while his eyes travelled round andround and up and down, taking in every detail of the apartment.

“Where does that bell communicate with?” he asked at last pointingto a thick bell-rope which hung down beside the bed, the tassel actually lyingupon the pillow.

“It goes to the housekeeper’s room.”

“It looks newer than the other things?”

“Yes, it was only put there a couple of years ago.”

“Your sister asked for it, I suppose?”

“No, I never heard of her using it. We used always to get what we wantedfor ourselves.”

“Indeed, it seemed unnecessary to put so nice a bell-pull there. You willexcuse me for a few minutes while I satisfy myself as to this floor.” Hethrew himself down upon his face with his lens in his hand and crawled swiftlybackward and forward, examining minutely the cracks between the boards. Then hedid the same with the wood-work with which the chamber was panelled. Finally hewalked over to the bed and spent some time in staring at it and in running hiseye up and down the wall. Finally he took the bell-rope in his hand and gave ita brisk tug.

“Why, it’s a dummy,” said he.

“Won’t it ring?”

“No, it is not even attached to a wire. This is very interesting. You cansee now that it is fastened to a hook just above where the little opening forthe ventilator is.”

“How very absurd! I never noticed that before.”

“Very strange!” muttered Holmes, pulling at the rope. “Thereare one or two very singular points about this room. For example, what a fool abuilder must be to open a ventilator into another room, when, with the sametrouble, he might have communicated with the outside air!”

“That is also quite modern,” said the lady.

“Done about the same time as the bell-rope?” remarked Holmes.

“Yes, there were several little changes carried out about thattime.”

“They seem to have been of a most interesting character—dummybell-ropes, and ventilators which do not ventilate. With your permission, MissStoner, we shall now carry our researches into the inner apartment.”

Dr. Grimesby Roylott’s chamber was larger than that of his step-daughter,but was as plainly furnished. A camp-bed, a small wooden shelf full of books,mostly of a technical character, an armchair beside the bed, a plain woodenchair against the wall, a round table, and a large iron safe were the principalthings which met the eye. Holmes walked slowly round and examined each and allof them with the keenest interest.

“What’s in here?” he asked, tapping the safe.

“My stepfather’s business papers.”

“Oh! you have seen inside, then?”

“Only once, some years ago. I remember that it was full of papers.”

“There isn’t a cat in it, for example?”

“No. What a strange idea!”

“Well, look at this!” He took up a small saucer of milk which stoodon the top of it.

“No; we don’t keep a cat. But there is a cheetah and ababoon.”

“Ah, yes, of course! Well, a cheetah is just a big cat, and yet a saucerof milk does not go very far in satisfying its wants, I daresay. There is onepoint which I should wish to determine.” He squatted down in front of thewooden chair and examined the seat of it with the greatest attention.

“Thank you. That is quite settled,” said he, rising and putting hislens in his pocket. “Hullo! Here is something interesting!”

The object which had caught his eye was a small dog lash hung on one corner ofthe bed. The lash, however, was curled upon itself and tied so as to make aloop of whipcord.

“What do you make of that, Watson?”

“It’s a common enough lash. But I don’t know why it should betied.”

“That is not quite so common, is it? Ah, me! it’s a wicked world,and when a clever man turns his brains to crime it is the worst of all. I thinkthat I have seen enough now, Miss Stoner, and with your permission we shallwalk out upon the lawn.”

I had never seen my friend’s face so grim or his brow so dark as it waswhen we turned from the scene of this investigation. We had walked severaltimes up and down the lawn, neither Miss Stoner nor myself liking to break inupon his thoughts before he roused himself from his reverie.

“It is very essential, Miss Stoner,” said he, “that youshould absolutely follow my advice in every respect.”

“I shall most certainly do so.”

“The matter is too serious for any hesitation. Your life may depend uponyour compliance.”

“I assure you that I am in your hands.”

“In the first place, both my friend and I must spend the night in yourroom.”

Both Miss Stoner and I gazed at him in astonishment.

“Yes, it must be so. Let me explain. I believe that that is the villageinn over there?”

“Yes, that is the Crown.”

“Very good. Your windows would be visible from there?”

“Certainly.”

“You must confine yourself to your room, on pretence of a headache, whenyour stepfather comes back. Then when you hear him retire for the night, youmust open the shutters of your window, undo the hasp, put your lamp there as asignal to us, and then withdraw quietly with everything which you are likely towant into the room which you used to occupy. I have no doubt that, in spite ofthe repairs, you could manage there for one night.”

“Oh, yes, easily.”

“The rest you will leave in our hands.”

“But what will you do?”

“We shall spend the night in your room, and we shall investigate thecause of this noise which has disturbed you.”

“I believe, Mr. Holmes, that you have already made up your mind,”said Miss Stoner, laying her hand upon my companion’s sleeve.

“Perhaps I have.”

“Then, for pity’s sake, tell me what was the cause of mysister’s death.”

“I should prefer to have clearer proofs before I speak.”

“You can at least tell me whether my own thought is correct, and if shedied from some sudden fright.”

“No, I do not think so. I think that there was probably some moretangible cause. And now, Miss Stoner, we must leave you for if Dr. Roylottreturned and saw us our journey would be in vain. Good-bye, and be brave, forif you will do what I have told you, you may rest assured that we shall soondrive away the dangers that threaten you.”

Sherlock Holmes and I had no difficulty in engaging a bedroom and sitting-roomat the Crown Inn. They were on the upper floor, and from our window we couldcommand a view of the avenue gate, and of the inhabited wing of Stoke MoranManor House. At dusk we saw Dr. Grimesby Roylott drive past, his huge formlooming up beside the little figure of the lad who drove him. The boy had someslight difficulty in undoing the heavy iron gates, and we heard the hoarse roarof the Doctor’s voice and saw the fury with which he shook his clinchedfists at him. The trap drove on, and a few minutes later we saw a sudden lightspring up among the trees as the lamp was lit in one of the sitting-rooms.

“Do you know, Watson,” said Holmes as we sat together in thegathering darkness, “I have really some scruples as to taking youto-night. There is a distinct element of danger.”

“Can I be of assistance?”

“Your presence might be invaluable.”

“Then I shall certainly come.”

“It is very kind of you.”

“You speak of danger. You have evidently seen more in these rooms thanwas visible to me.”

“No, but I fancy that I may have deduced a little more. I imagine thatyou saw all that I did.”

“I saw nothing remarkable save the bell-rope, and what purpose that couldanswer I confess is more than I can imagine.”

“You saw the ventilator, too?”

“Yes, but I do not think that it is such a very unusual thing to have asmall opening between two rooms. It was so small that a rat could hardly passthrough.”

“I knew that we should find a ventilator before ever we came to StokeMoran.”

“My dear Holmes!”

“Oh, yes, I did. You remember in her statement she said that her sistercould smell Dr. Roylott’s cigar. Now, of course that suggested at oncethat there must be a communication between the two rooms. It could only be asmall one, or it would have been remarked upon at the coroner’s inquiry.I deduced a ventilator.”

“But what harm can there be in that?”

“Well, there is at least a curious coincidence of dates. A ventilator ismade, a cord is hung, and a lady who sleeps in the bed dies. Does not thatstrike you?”

“I cannot as yet see any connection.”

“Did you observe anything very peculiar about that bed?”

“No.”

“It was clamped to the floor. Did you ever see a bed fastened like thatbefore?”

“I cannot say that I have.”

“The lady could not move her bed. It must always be in the same relativeposition to the ventilator and to the rope—or so we may call it, since itwas clearly never meant for a bell-pull.”

“Holmes,” I cried, “I seem to see dimly what you are hintingat. We are only just in time to prevent some subtle and horrible crime.”

“Subtle enough and horrible enough. When a doctor does go wrong he is thefirst of criminals. He has nerve and he has knowledge. Palmer and Pritchardwere among the heads of their profession. This man strikes even deeper, but Ithink, Watson, that we shall be able to strike deeper still. But we shall havehorrors enough before the night is over; for goodness’ sake let us have aquiet pipe and turn our minds for a few hours to something morecheerful.”

About nine o’clock the light among the trees was extinguished, and allwas dark in the direction of the Manor House. Two hours passed slowly away, andthen, suddenly, just at the stroke of eleven, a single bright light shone outright in front of us.

“That is our signal,” said Holmes, springing to his feet; “itcomes from the middle window.”

As we passed out he exchanged a few words with the landlord, explaining that wewere going on a late visit to an acquaintance, and that it was possible that wemight spend the night there. A moment later we were out on the dark road, achill wind blowing in our faces, and one yellow light twinkling in front of usthrough the gloom to guide us on our sombre errand.

There was little difficulty in entering the grounds, for unrepaired breachesgaped in the old park wall. Making our way among the trees, we reached thelawn, crossed it, and were about to enter through the window when out from aclump of laurel bushes there darted what seemed to be a hideous and distortedchild, who threw itself upon the grass with writhing limbs and then ran swiftlyacross the lawn into the darkness.

“My God!” I whispered; “did you see it?”

Holmes was for the moment as startled as I. His hand closed like a vice upon mywrist in his agitation. Then he broke into a low laugh and put his lips to myear.

“It is a nice household,” he murmured. “That is thebaboon.”

I had forgotten the strange pets which the Doctor affected. There was acheetah, too; perhaps we might find it upon our shoulders at any moment. Iconfess that I felt easier in my mind when, after following Holmes’example and slipping off my shoes, I found myself inside the bedroom. Mycompanion noiselessly closed the shutters, moved the lamp onto the table, andcast his eyes round the room. All was as we had seen it in the daytime. Thencreeping up to me and making a trumpet of his hand, he whispered into my earagain so gently that it was all that I could do to distinguish the words:

“The least sound would be fatal to our plans.”

I nodded to show that I had heard.

“We must sit without light. He would see it through theventilator.”

I nodded again.

“Do not go asleep; your very life may depend upon it. Have your pistolready in case we should need it. I will sit on the side of the bed, and you inthat chair.”

I took out my revolver and laid it on the corner of the table.

Holmes had brought up a long thin cane, and this he placed upon the bed besidehim. By it he laid the box of matches and the stump of a candle. Then he turneddown the lamp, and we were left in darkness.

How shall I ever forget that dreadful vigil? I could not hear a sound, not eventhe drawing of a breath, and yet I knew that my companion sat open-eyed, withina few feet of me, in the same state of nervous tension in which I was myself.The shutters cut off the least ray of light, and we waited in absolutedarkness.

From outside came the occasional cry of a night-bird, and once at our verywindow a long drawn catlike whine, which told us that the cheetah was indeed atliberty. Far away we could hear the deep tones of the parish clock, whichboomed out every quarter of an hour. How long they seemed, those quarters!Twelve struck, and one and two and three, and still we sat waiting silently forwhatever might befall.

Suddenly there was the momentary gleam of a light up in the direction of theventilator, which vanished immediately, but was succeeded by a strong smell ofburning oil and heated metal. Someone in the next room had lit a dark-lantern.I heard a gentle sound of movement, and then all was silent once more, thoughthe smell grew stronger. For half an hour I sat with straining ears. Thensuddenly another sound became audible—a very gentle, soothing sound, likethat of a small jet of steam escaping continually from a kettle. The instantthat we heard it, Holmes sprang from the bed, struck a match, and lashedfuriously with his cane at the bell-pull.

“You see it, Watson?” he yelled. “You see it?”

But I saw nothing. At the moment when Holmes struck the light I heard a low,clear whistle, but the sudden glare flashing into my weary eyes made itimpossible for me to tell what it was at which my friend lashed so savagely. Icould, however, see that his face was deadly pale and filled with horror andloathing. He had ceased to strike and was gazing up at the ventilator whensuddenly there broke from the silence of the night the most horrible cry towhich I have ever listened. It swelled up louder and louder, a hoarse yell ofpain and fear and anger all mingled in the one dreadful shriek. They say thataway down in the village, and even in the distant parsonage, that cry raisedthe sleepers from their beds. It struck cold to our hearts, and I stood gazingat Holmes, and he at me, until the last echoes of it had died away into thesilence from which it rose.

“What can it mean?” I gasped.

“It means that it is all over,” Holmes answered. “Andperhaps, after all, it is for the best. Take your pistol, and we will enter Dr.Roylott’s room.”

With a grave face he lit the lamp and led the way down the corridor. Twice hestruck at the chamber door without any reply from within. Then he turned thehandle and entered, I at his heels, with the cocked pistol in my hand.

It was a singular sight which met our eyes. On the table stood a dark-lanternwith the shutter half open, throwing a brilliant beam of light upon the ironsafe, the door of which was ajar. Beside this table, on the wooden chair, satDr. Grimesby Roylott clad in a long grey dressing-gown, his bare anklesprotruding beneath, and his feet thrust into red heelless Turkish slippers.Across his lap lay the short stock with the long lash which we had noticedduring the day. His chin was cocked upward and his eyes were fixed in adreadful, rigid stare at the corner of the ceiling. Round his brow he had apeculiar yellow band, with brownish speckles, which seemed to be bound tightlyround his head. As we entered he made neither sound nor motion.

“The band! the speckled band!” whispered Holmes.

I took a step forward. In an instant his strange headgear began to move, andthere reared itself from among his hair the squat diamond-shaped head andpuffed neck of a loathsome serpent.

“It is a swamp adder!” cried Holmes; “the deadliest snake inIndia. He has died within ten seconds of being bitten. Violence does, in truth,recoil upon the violent, and the schemer falls into the pit which he digs foranother. Let us thrust this creature back into its den, and we can then removeMiss Stoner to some place of shelter and let the county police know what hashappened.”

As he spoke he drew the dog-whip swiftly from the dead man’s lap, andthrowing the noose round the reptile’s neck he drew it from its horridperch and, carrying it at arm’s length, threw it into the iron safe,which he closed upon it.

Such are the true facts of the death of Dr. Grimesby Roylott, of Stoke Moran.It is not necessary that I should prolong a narrative which has already run totoo great a length by telling how we broke the sad news to the terrified girl,how we conveyed her by the morning train to the care of her good aunt atHarrow, of how the slow process of official inquiry came to the conclusion thatthe doctor met his fate while indiscreetly playing with a dangerous pet. Thelittle which I had yet to learn of the case was told me by Sherlock Holmes aswe travelled back next day.

“I had,” said he, “come to an entirely erroneous conclusionwhich shows, my dear Watson, how dangerous it always is to reason frominsufficient data. The presence of the gipsies, and the use of the word‘band,’ which was used by the poor girl, no doubt, to explain theappearance which she had caught a hurried glimpse of by the light of her match,were sufficient to put me upon an entirely wrong scent. I can only claim themerit that I instantly reconsidered my position when, however, it became clearto me that whatever danger threatened an occupant of the room could not comeeither from the window or the door. My attention was speedily drawn, as I havealready remarked to you, to this ventilator, and to the bell-rope which hungdown to the bed. The discovery that this was a dummy, and that the bed wasclamped to the floor, instantly gave rise to the suspicion that the rope wasthere as a bridge for something passing through the hole and coming to the bed.The idea of a snake instantly occurred to me, and when I coupled it with myknowledge that the doctor was furnished with a supply of creatures from India,I felt that I was probably on the right track. The idea of using a form ofpoison which could not possibly be discovered by any chemical test was justsuch a one as would occur to a clever and ruthless man who had had an Easterntraining. The rapidity with which such a poison would take effect would also,from his point of view, be an advantage. It would be a sharp-eyed coroner,indeed, who could distinguish the two little dark punctures which would showwhere the poison fangs had done their work. Then I thought of the whistle. Ofcourse he must recall the snake before the morning light revealed it to thevictim. He had trained it, probably by the use of the milk which we saw, toreturn to him when summoned. He would put it through this ventilator at thehour that he thought best, with the certainty that it would crawl down the ropeand land on the bed. It might or might not bite the occupant, perhaps she mightescape every night for a week, but sooner or later she must fall a victim.

“I had come to these conclusions before ever I had entered his room. Aninspection of his chair showed me that he had been in the habit of standing onit, which of course would be necessary in order that he should reach theventilator. The sight of the safe, the saucer of milk, and the loop of whipcordwere enough to finally dispel any doubts which may have remained. The metallicclang heard by Miss Stoner was obviously caused by her stepfather hastilyclosing the door of his safe upon its terrible occupant. Having once made up mymind, you know the steps which I took in order to put the matter to the proof.I heard the creature hiss as I have no doubt that you did also, and I instantlylit the light and attacked it.”

“With the result of driving it through the ventilator.”

“And also with the result of causing it to turn upon its master at theother side. Some of the blows of my cane came home and roused its snakishtemper, so that it flew upon the first person it saw. In this way I am no doubtindirectly responsible for Dr. Grimesby Roylott’s death, and I cannot saythat it is likely to weigh very heavily upon my conscience.”

IX.
THE ADVENTURE OF THE ENGINEER’S THUMB

Of all the problemswhich have been submitted to my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, for solutionduring the years of our intimacy, there were only two which I was the means ofintroducing to his notice—that of Mr. Hatherley’s thumb, and thatof Colonel Warburton’s madness. Of these the latter may have afforded afiner field for an acute and original observer, but the other was so strange inits inception and so dramatic in its details that it may be the more worthy ofbeing placed upon record, even if it gave my friend fewer openings for thosedeductive methods of reasoning by which he achieved such remarkable results.The story has, I believe, been told more than once in the newspapers, but, likeall such narratives, its effect is much less striking when set forth enbloc in a single half-column of print than when the facts slowly evolvebefore your own eyes, and the mystery clears gradually away as each newdiscovery furnishes a step which leads on to the complete truth. At the timethe circumstances made a deep impression upon me, and the lapse of two yearshas hardly served to weaken the effect.

It was in the summer of ’89, not long after my marriage, that the eventsoccurred which I am now about to summarise. I had returned to civil practiceand had finally abandoned Holmes in his Baker Street rooms, although Icontinually visited him and occasionally even persuaded him to forgo hisBohemian habits so far as to come and visit us. My practice had steadilyincreased, and as I happened to live at no very great distance from PaddingtonStation, I got a few patients from among the officials. One of these, whom Ihad cured of a painful and lingering disease, was never weary of advertising myvirtues and of endeavouring to send me on every sufferer over whom he mighthave any influence.

One morning, at a little before seven o’clock, I was awakened by the maidtapping at the door to announce that two men had come from Paddington and werewaiting in the consulting-room. I dressed hurriedly, for I knew by experiencethat railway cases were seldom trivial, and hastened downstairs. As Idescended, my old ally, the guard, came out of the room and closed the doortightly behind him.

“I’ve got him here,” he whispered, jerking his thumb over hisshoulder; “he’s all right.”

“What is it, then?” I asked, for his manner suggested that it wassome strange creature which he had caged up in my room.

“It’s a new patient,” he whispered. “I thoughtI’d bring him round myself; then he couldn’t slip away. There heis, all safe and sound. I must go now, Doctor; I have my dooties, just the sameas you.” And off he went, this trusty tout, without even giving me timeto thank him.

I entered my consulting-room and found a gentleman seated by the table. He wasquietly dressed in a suit of heather tweed with a soft cloth cap which he hadlaid down upon my books. Round one of his hands he had a handkerchief wrapped,which was mottled all over with bloodstains. He was young, not more thanfive-and-twenty, I should say, with a strong, masculine face; but he wasexceedingly pale and gave me the impression of a man who was suffering fromsome strong agitation, which it took all his strength of mind to control.

“I am sorry to knock you up so early, Doctor,” said he, “butI have had a very serious accident during the night. I came in by train thismorning, and on inquiring at Paddington as to where I might find a doctor, aworthy fellow very kindly escorted me here. I gave the maid a card, but I seethat she has left it upon the side-table.”

I took it up and glanced at it. “Mr. Victor Hatherley, hydraulicengineer, 16A, Victoria Street (3rd floor).” That was the name, style,and abode of my morning visitor. “I regret that I have kept youwaiting,” said I, sitting down in my library-chair. “You are freshfrom a night journey, I understand, which is in itself a monotonousoccupation.”

“Oh, my night could not be called monotonous,” said he, andlaughed. He laughed very heartily, with a high, ringing note, leaning back inhis chair and shaking his sides. All my medical instincts rose up against thatlaugh.

“Stop it!” I cried; “pull yourself together!” and Ipoured out some water from a caraffe.

It was useless, however. He was off in one of those hysterical outbursts whichcome upon a strong nature when some great crisis is over and gone. Presently hecame to himself once more, very weary and pale-looking.

“I have been making a fool of myself,” he gasped.

“Not at all. Drink this.” I dashed some brandy into the water, andthe colour began to come back to his bloodless cheeks.

“That’s better!” said he. “And now, Doctor, perhaps youwould kindly attend to my thumb, or rather to the place where my thumb used tobe.”

He unwound the handkerchief and held out his hand. It gave even my hardenednerves a shudder to look at it. There were four protruding fingers and a horridred, spongy surface where the thumb should have been. It had been hacked ortorn right out from the roots.

“Good heavens!” I cried, “this is a terrible injury. It musthave bled considerably.”

“Yes, it did. I fainted when it was done, and I think that I must havebeen senseless for a long time. When I came to I found that it was stillbleeding, so I tied one end of my handkerchief very tightly round the wrist andbraced it up with a twig.”

“Excellent! You should have been a surgeon.”

“It is a question of hydraulics, you see, and came within my ownprovince.”

“This has been done,” said I, examining the wound, “by a veryheavy and sharp instrument.”

“A thing like a cleaver,” said he.

“An accident, I presume?”

“By no means.”

“What! a murderous attack?”

“Very murderous indeed.”

“You horrify me.”

I sponged the wound, cleaned it, dressed it, and finally covered it over withcotton wadding and carbolised bandages. He lay back without wincing, though hebit his lip from time to time.

“How is that?” I asked when I had finished.

“Capital! Between your brandy and your bandage, I feel a new man. I wasvery weak, but I have had a good deal to go through.”

“Perhaps you had better not speak of the matter. It is evidently tryingto your nerves.”

“Oh, no, not now. I shall have to tell my tale to the police; but,between ourselves, if it were not for the convincing evidence of this wound ofmine, I should be surprised if they believed my statement, for it is a veryextraordinary one, and I have not much in the way of proof with which to backit up; and, even if they believe me, the clues which I can give them are sovague that it is a question whether justice will be done.”

“Ha!” cried I, “if it is anything in the nature of a problemwhich you desire to see solved, I should strongly recommend you to come to myfriend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, before you go to the official police.”

“Oh, I have heard of that fellow,” answered my visitor, “andI should be very glad if he would take the matter up, though of course I mustuse the official police as well. Would you give me an introduction tohim?”

“I’ll do better. I’ll take you round to him myself.”

“I should be immensely obliged to you.”

“We’ll call a cab and go together. We shall just be in time to havea little breakfast with him. Do you feel equal to it?”

“Yes; I shall not feel easy until I have told my story.”

“Then my servant will call a cab, and I shall be with you in aninstant.” I rushed upstairs, explained the matter shortly to my wife, andin five minutes was inside a hansom, driving with my new acquaintance to BakerStreet.

Sherlock Holmes was, as I expected, lounging about his sitting-room in hisdressing-gown, reading the agony column of The Times and smoking hisbefore-breakfast pipe, which was composed of all the plugs and dottles leftfrom his smokes of the day before, all carefully dried and collected on thecorner of the mantelpiece. He received us in his quietly genial fashion,ordered fresh rashers and eggs, and joined us in a hearty meal. When it wasconcluded he settled our new acquaintance upon the sofa, placed a pillowbeneath his head, and laid a glass of brandy and water within his reach.

“It is easy to see that your experience has been no common one, Mr.Hatherley,” said he. “Pray, lie down there and make yourselfabsolutely at home. Tell us what you can, but stop when you are tired and keepup your strength with a little stimulant.”

“Thank you,” said my patient, “but I have felt another mansince the doctor bandaged me, and I think that your breakfast has completed thecure. I shall take up as little of your valuable time as possible, so I shallstart at once upon my peculiar experiences.”

Holmes sat in his big armchair with the weary, heavy-lidded expression whichveiled his keen and eager nature, while I sat opposite to him, and we listenedin silence to the strange story which our visitor detailed to us.

“You must know,” said he, “that I am an orphan and abachelor, residing alone in lodgings in London. By profession I am a hydraulicengineer, and I have had considerable experience of my work during the sevenyears that I was apprenticed to Venner & Matheson, the well-known firm, ofGreenwich. Two years ago, having served my time, and having also come into afair sum of money through my poor father’s death, I determined to startin business for myself and took professional chambers in Victoria Street.

“I suppose that everyone finds his first independent start in business adreary experience. To me it has been exceptionally so. During two years I havehad three consultations and one small job, and that is absolutely all that myprofession has brought me. My gross takings amount to £ 27 10s. Everyday, from nine in the morning until four in the afternoon, I waited in mylittle den, until at last my heart began to sink, and I came to believe that Ishould never have any practice at all.

“Yesterday, however, just as I was thinking of leaving the office, myclerk entered to say there was a gentleman waiting who wished to see me uponbusiness. He brought up a card, too, with the name of ‘Colonel LysanderStark’ engraved upon it. Close at his heels came the colonel himself, aman rather over the middle size, but of an exceeding thinness. I do not thinkthat I have ever seen so thin a man. His whole face sharpened away into noseand chin, and the skin of his cheeks was drawn quite tense over his outstandingbones. Yet this emaciation seemed to be his natural habit, and due to nodisease, for his eye was bright, his step brisk, and his bearing assured. Hewas plainly but neatly dressed, and his age, I should judge, would be nearerforty than thirty.

“‘Mr. Hatherley?’ said he, with something of a Germanaccent. ‘You have been recommended to me, Mr. Hatherley, as being a manwho is not only proficient in his profession but is also discreet and capableof preserving a secret.’

“I bowed, feeling as flattered as any young man would at such an address.‘May I ask who it was who gave me so good a character?’

“‘Well, perhaps it is better that I should not tell you thatjust at this moment. I have it from the same source that you are both an orphanand a bachelor and are residing alone in London.’

“‘That is quite correct,’ I answered; ‘but youwill excuse me if I say that I cannot see how all this bears upon myprofessional qualifications. I understand that it was on a professional matterthat you wished to speak to me?’

“‘Undoubtedly so. But you will find that all I say is reallyto the point. I have a professional commission for you, but absolute secrecy isquite essential—absolute secrecy, you understand, and of course we mayexpect that more from a man who is alone than from one who lives in the bosomof his family.’

“‘If I promise to keep a secret,’ said I, ‘youmay absolutely depend upon my doing so.’

“He looked very hard at me as I spoke, and it seemed to me that I hadnever seen so suspicious and questioning an eye.

“‘Do you promise, then?’ said he at last.

“‘Yes, I promise.’

“‘Absolute and complete silence before, during, and after? Noreference to the matter at all, either in word or writing?’

“‘I have already given you my word.’

“‘Very good.’ He suddenly sprang up, and darting likelightning across the room he flung open the door. The passage outside wasempty.

“‘That’s all right,’ said he, coming back.‘I know that clerks are sometimes curious as to their master’saffairs. Now we can talk in safety.’ He drew up his chair very close tomine and began to stare at me again with the same questioning and thoughtfullook.

“A feeling of repulsion, and of something akin to fear had begun to risewithin me at the strange antics of this fleshless man. Even my dread of losinga client could not restrain me from showing my impatience.

“‘I beg that you will state your business, sir,’ saidI; ‘my time is of value.’ Heaven forgive me for that last sentence,but the words came to my lips.

“‘How would fifty guineas for a night’s work suityou?’ he asked.

“‘Most admirably.’

“‘I say a night’s work, but an hour’s would benearer the mark. I simply want your opinion about a hydraulic stamping machinewhich has got out of gear. If you show us what is wrong we shall soon set itright ourselves. What do you think of such a commission as that?’

“‘The work appears to be light and the pay munificent.’

“‘Precisely so. We shall want you to come to-night by thelast train.’

“‘Where to?’

“‘To Eyford, in Berkshire. It is a little place near theborders of Oxfordshire, and within seven miles of Reading. There is a trainfrom Paddington which would bring you there at about 11:15.’

“‘Very good.’

“‘I shall come down in a carriage to meet you.’

“‘There is a drive, then?’

“‘Yes, our little place is quite out in the country. It is agood seven miles from Eyford Station.’

“‘Then we can hardly get there before midnight. I supposethere would be no chance of a train back. I should be compelled to stop thenight.’

“‘Yes, we could easily give you a shake-down.’

“‘That is very awkward. Could I not come at some moreconvenient hour?’

“‘We have judged it best that you should come late. It is torecompense you for any inconvenience that we are paying to you, a young andunknown man, a fee which would buy an opinion from the very heads of yourprofession. Still, of course, if you would like to draw out of the business,there is plenty of time to do so.’

“I thought of the fifty guineas, and of how very useful they would be tome. ‘Not at all,’ said I, ‘I shall be very happy toaccommodate myself to your wishes. I should like, however, to understand alittle more clearly what it is that you wish me to do.’

“‘Quite so. It is very natural that the pledge of secrecywhich we have exacted from you should have aroused your curiosity. I have nowish to commit you to anything without your having it all laid before you. Isuppose that we are absolutely safe from eavesdroppers?’

“‘Entirely.’

“‘Then the matter stands thus. You are probably aware thatfuller’s-earth is a valuable product, and that it is only found in one ortwo places in England?’

“‘I have heard so.’

“‘Some little time ago I bought a small place—a verysmall place—within ten miles of Reading. I was fortunate enough todiscover that there was a deposit of fuller’s-earth in one of my fields.On examining it, however, I found that this deposit was a comparatively smallone, and that it formed a link between two very much larger ones upon the rightand left—both of them, however, in the grounds of my neighbours. Thesegood people were absolutely ignorant that their land contained that which wasquite as valuable as a gold-mine. Naturally, it was to my interest to buy theirland before they discovered its true value, but unfortunately I had no capitalby which I could do this. I took a few of my friends into the secret, however,and they suggested that we should quietly and secretly work our own littledeposit and that in this way we should earn the money which would enable us tobuy the neighbouring fields. This we have now been doing for some time, and inorder to help us in our operations we erected a hydraulic press. This press, asI have already explained, has got out of order, and we wish your advice uponthe subject. We guard our secret very jealously, however, and if it once becameknown that we had hydraulic engineers coming to our little house, it would soonrouse inquiry, and then, if the facts came out, it would be good-bye to anychance of getting these fields and carrying out our plans. That is why I havemade you promise me that you will not tell a human being that you are going toEyford to-night. I hope that I make it all plain?’

“‘I quite follow you,’ said I. ‘The only pointwhich I could not quite understand was what use you could make of a hydraulicpress in excavating fuller’s-earth, which, as I understand, is dug outlike gravel from a pit.’

“‘Ah!’ said he carelessly, ‘we have our ownprocess. We compress the earth into bricks, so as to remove them withoutrevealing what they are. But that is a mere detail. I have taken you fully intomy confidence now, Mr. Hatherley, and I have shown you how I trust you.’He rose as he spoke. ‘I shall expect you, then, at Eyford at11:15.’

“‘I shall certainly be there.’

“‘And not a word to a soul.’ He looked at me with alast long, questioning gaze, and then, pressing my hand in a cold, dank grasp,he hurried from the room.

“Well, when I came to think it all over in cool blood I was very muchastonished, as you may both think, at this sudden commission which had beenintrusted to me. On the one hand, of course, I was glad, for the fee was atleast tenfold what I should have asked had I set a price upon my own services,and it was possible that this order might lead to other ones. On the otherhand, the face and manner of my patron had made an unpleasant impression uponme, and I could not think that his explanation of the fuller’s-earth wassufficient to explain the necessity for my coming at midnight, and his extremeanxiety lest I should tell anyone of my errand. However, I threw all fears tothe winds, ate a hearty supper, drove to Paddington, and started off, havingobeyed to the letter the injunction as to holding my tongue.

“At Reading I had to change not only my carriage but my station. However,I was in time for the last train to Eyford, and I reached the little dim-litstation after eleven o’clock. I was the only passenger who got out there,and there was no one upon the platform save a single sleepy porter with alantern. As I passed out through the wicket gate, however, I found myacquaintance of the morning waiting in the shadow upon the other side. Withouta word he grasped my arm and hurried me into a carriage, the door of which wasstanding open. He drew up the windows on either side, tapped on the wood-work,and away we went as fast as the horse could go.”

“One horse?” interjected Holmes.

“Yes, only one.”

“Did you observe the colour?”

“Yes, I saw it by the side-lights when I was stepping into the carriage.It was a chestnut.”

“Tired-looking or fresh?”

“Oh, fresh and glossy.”

“Thank you. I am sorry to have interrupted you. Pray continue your mostinteresting statement.”

“Away we went then, and we drove for at least an hour. Colonel LysanderStark had said that it was only seven miles, but I should think, from the ratethat we seemed to go, and from the time that we took, that it must have beennearer twelve. He sat at my side in silence all the time, and I was aware, morethan once when I glanced in his direction, that he was looking at me with greatintensity. The country roads seem to be not very good in that part of theworld, for we lurched and jolted terribly. I tried to look out of the windowsto see something of where we were, but they were made of frosted glass, and Icould make out nothing save the occasional bright blur of a passing light. Nowand then I hazarded some remark to break the monotony of the journey, but thecolonel answered only in monosyllables, and the conversation soon flagged. Atlast, however, the bumping of the road was exchanged for the crisp smoothnessof a gravel-drive, and the carriage came to a stand. Colonel Lysander Starksprang out, and, as I followed after him, pulled me swiftly into a porch whichgaped in front of us. We stepped, as it were, right out of the carriage andinto the hall, so that I failed to catch the most fleeting glance of the frontof the house. The instant that I had crossed the threshold the door slammedheavily behind us, and I heard faintly the rattle of the wheels as the carriagedrove away.

“It was pitch dark inside the house, and the colonel fumbled aboutlooking for matches and muttering under his breath. Suddenly a door opened atthe other end of the passage, and a long, golden bar of light shot out in ourdirection. It grew broader, and a woman appeared with a lamp in her hand, whichshe held above her head, pushing her face forward and peering at us. I couldsee that she was pretty, and from the gloss with which the light shone upon herdark dress I knew that it was a rich material. She spoke a few words in aforeign tongue in a tone as though asking a question, and when my companionanswered in a gruff monosyllable she gave such a start that the lamp nearlyfell from her hand. Colonel Stark went up to her, whispered something in herear, and then, pushing her back into the room from whence she had come, hewalked towards me again with the lamp in his hand.

“‘Perhaps you will have the kindness to wait in this room fora few minutes,’ said he, throwing open another door. It was a quiet,little, plainly furnished room, with a round table in the centre, on whichseveral German books were scattered. Colonel Stark laid down the lamp on thetop of a harmonium beside the door. ‘I shall not keep you waiting aninstant,’ said he, and vanished into the darkness.

“I glanced at the books upon the table, and in spite of my ignorance ofGerman I could see that two of them were treatises on science, the others beingvolumes of poetry. Then I walked across to the window, hoping that I mightcatch some glimpse of the country-side, but an oak shutter, heavily barred, wasfolded across it. It was a wonderfully silent house. There was an old clockticking loudly somewhere in the passage, but otherwise everything was deadlystill. A vague feeling of uneasiness began to steal over me. Who were theseGerman people, and what were they doing living in this strange, out-of-the-wayplace? And where was the place? I was ten miles or so from Eyford, that was allI knew, but whether north, south, east, or west I had no idea. For that matter,Reading, and possibly other large towns, were within that radius, so the placemight not be so secluded, after all. Yet it was quite certain, from theabsolute stillness, that we were in the country. I paced up and down the room,humming a tune under my breath to keep up my spirits and feeling that I wasthoroughly earning my fifty-guinea fee.

“Suddenly, without any preliminary sound in the midst of the utterstillness, the door of my room swung slowly open. The woman was standing in theaperture, the darkness of the hall behind her, the yellow light from my lampbeating upon her eager and beautiful face. I could see at a glance that she wassick with fear, and the sight sent a chill to my own heart. She held up oneshaking finger to warn me to be silent, and she shot a few whispered words ofbroken English at me, her eyes glancing back, like those of a frightened horse,into the gloom behind her.

“‘I would go,’ said she, trying hard, as it seemed tome, to speak calmly; ‘I would go. I should not stay here. There is nogood for you to do.’

“‘But, madam,’ said I, ‘I have not yet done whatI came for. I cannot possibly leave until I have seen the machine.’

“‘It is not worth your while to wait,’ she went on.‘You can pass through the door; no one hinders.’ And then, seeingthat I smiled and shook my head, she suddenly threw aside her constraint andmade a step forward, with her hands wrung together. ‘For the love ofHeaven!’ she whispered, ‘get away from here before it is toolate!’

“But I am somewhat headstrong by nature, and the more ready to engage inan affair when there is some obstacle in the way. I thought of my fifty-guineafee, of my wearisome journey, and of the unpleasant night which seemed to bebefore me. Was it all to go for nothing? Why should I slink away without havingcarried out my commission, and without the payment which was my due? This womanmight, for all I knew, be a monomaniac. With a stout bearing, therefore, thoughher manner had shaken me more than I cared to confess, I still shook my headand declared my intention of remaining where I was. She was about to renew herentreaties when a door slammed overhead, and the sound of several footsteps washeard upon the stairs. She listened for an instant, threw up her hands with adespairing gesture, and vanished as suddenly and as noiselessly as she hadcome.

“The newcomers were Colonel Lysander Stark and a short thick man with achinchilla beard growing out of the creases of his double chin, who wasintroduced to me as Mr. Ferguson.

“‘This is my secretary and manager,’ said the colonel.‘By the way, I was under the impression that I left this door shut justnow. I fear that you have felt the draught.’

“‘On the contrary,’ said I, ‘I opened the doormyself because I felt the room to be a little close.’

“He shot one of his suspicious looks at me. ‘Perhaps we had betterproceed to business, then,’ said he. ‘Mr. Ferguson and I will takeyou up to see the machine.’

“‘I had better put my hat on, I suppose.’

“‘Oh, no, it is in the house.’

“‘What, you dig fuller’s-earth in the house?’

“‘No, no. This is only where we compress it. But never mindthat. All we wish you to do is to examine the machine and to let us know whatis wrong with it.’

“We went upstairs together, the colonel first with the lamp, the fatmanager and I behind him. It was a labyrinth of an old house, with corridors,passages, narrow winding staircases, and little low doors, the thresholds ofwhich were hollowed out by the generations who had crossed them. There were nocarpets and no signs of any furniture above the ground floor, while the plasterwas peeling off the walls, and the damp was breaking through in green,unhealthy blotches. I tried to put on as unconcerned an air as possible, but Ihad not forgotten the warnings of the lady, even though I disregarded them, andI kept a keen eye upon my two companions. Ferguson appeared to be a morose andsilent man, but I could see from the little that he said that he was at least afellow-countryman.

“Colonel Lysander Stark stopped at last before a low door, which heunlocked. Within was a small, square room, in which the three of us couldhardly get at one time. Ferguson remained outside, and the colonel ushered mein.

“‘We are now,’ said he, ‘actually within thehydraulic press, and it would be a particularly unpleasant thing for us ifanyone were to turn it on. The ceiling of this small chamber is really the endof the descending piston, and it comes down with the force of many tons uponthis metal floor. There are small lateral columns of water outside whichreceive the force, and which transmit and multiply it in the manner which isfamiliar to you. The machine goes readily enough, but there is some stiffnessin the working of it, and it has lost a little of its force. Perhaps you willhave the goodness to look it over and to show us how we can set itright.’

“I took the lamp from him, and I examined the machine very thoroughly. Itwas indeed a gigantic one, and capable of exercising enormous pressure. When Ipassed outside, however, and pressed down the levers which controlled it, Iknew at once by the whishing sound that there was a slight leakage, whichallowed a regurgitation of water through one of the side cylinders. Anexamination showed that one of the india-rubber bands which was round the headof a driving-rod had shrunk so as not quite to fill the socket along which itworked. This was clearly the cause of the loss of power, and I pointed it outto my companions, who followed my remarks very carefully and asked severalpractical questions as to how they should proceed to set it right. When I hadmade it clear to them, I returned to the main chamber of the machine and took agood look at it to satisfy my own curiosity. It was obvious at a glance thatthe story of the fuller’s-earth was the merest fabrication, for it wouldbe absurd to suppose that so powerful an engine could be designed for soinadequate a purpose. The walls were of wood, but the floor consisted of alarge iron trough, and when I came to examine it I could see a crust ofmetallic deposit all over it. I had stooped and was scraping at this to seeexactly what it was when I heard a muttered exclamation in German and saw thecadaverous face of the colonel looking down at me.

“‘What are you doing there?’ he asked.

“I felt angry at having been tricked by so elaborate a story as thatwhich he had told me. ‘I was admiring your fuller’s-earth,’said I; ‘I think that I should be better able to advise you as to yourmachine if I knew what the exact purpose was for which it was used.’

“The instant that I uttered the words I regretted the rashness of myspeech. His face set hard, and a baleful light sprang up in his grey eyes.

“‘Very well,’ said he, ‘you shall know all aboutthe machine.’ He took a step backward, slammed the little door, andturned the key in the lock. I rushed towards it and pulled at the handle, butit was quite secure, and did not give in the least to my kicks and shoves.‘Hullo!’ I yelled. ‘Hullo! Colonel! Let me out!’

“And then suddenly in the silence I heard a sound which sent my heartinto my mouth. It was the clank of the levers and the swish of the leakingcylinder. He had set the engine at work. The lamp still stood upon the floorwhere I had placed it when examining the trough. By its light I saw that theblack ceiling was coming down upon me, slowly, jerkily, but, as none knewbetter than myself, with a force which must within a minute grind me to ashapeless pulp. I threw myself, screaming, against the door, and dragged withmy nails at the lock. I implored the colonel to let me out, but the remorselessclanking of the levers drowned my cries. The ceiling was only a foot or twoabove my head, and with my hand upraised I could feel its hard, rough surface.Then it flashed through my mind that the pain of my death would depend verymuch upon the position in which I met it. If I lay on my face the weight wouldcome upon my spine, and I shuddered to think of that dreadful snap. Easier theother way, perhaps; and yet, had I the nerve to lie and look up at that deadlyblack shadow wavering down upon me? Already I was unable to stand erect, whenmy eye caught something which brought a gush of hope back to my heart.

“I have said that though the floor and ceiling were of iron, the wallswere of wood. As I gave a last hurried glance around, I saw a thin line ofyellow light between two of the boards, which broadened and broadened as asmall panel was pushed backward. For an instant I could hardly believe thathere was indeed a door which led away from death. The next instant I threwmyself through, and lay half-fainting upon the other side. The panel had closedagain behind me, but the crash of the lamp, and a few moments afterwards theclang of the two slabs of metal, told me how narrow had been my escape.

“I was recalled to myself by a frantic plucking at my wrist, and I foundmyself lying upon the stone floor of a narrow corridor, while a woman bent overme and tugged at me with her left hand, while she held a candle in her right.It was the same good friend whose warning I had so foolishly rejected.

“‘Come! come!’ she cried breathlessly. ‘They willbe here in a moment. They will see that you are not there. Oh, do not waste theso-precious time, but come!’

“This time, at least, I did not scorn her advice. I staggered to my feetand ran with her along the corridor and down a winding stair. The latter led toanother broad passage, and just as we reached it we heard the sound of runningfeet and the shouting of two voices, one answering the other from the floor onwhich we were and from the one beneath. My guide stopped and looked about herlike one who is at her wit’s end. Then she threw open a door which ledinto a bedroom, through the window of which the moon was shining brightly.

“‘It is your only chance,’ said she. ‘It is high,but it may be that you can jump it.’

“As she spoke a light sprang into view at the further end of the passage,and I saw the lean figure of Colonel Lysander Stark rushing forward with alantern in one hand and a weapon like a butcher’s cleaver in the other. Irushed across the bedroom, flung open the window, and looked out. How quiet andsweet and wholesome the garden looked in the moonlight, and it could not bemore than thirty feet down. I clambered out upon the sill, but I hesitated tojump until I should have heard what passed between my saviour and the ruffianwho pursued me. If she were ill-used, then at any risks I was determined to goback to her assistance. The thought had hardly flashed through my mind beforehe was at the door, pushing his way past her; but she threw her arms round himand tried to hold him back.

“‘Fritz! Fritz!’ she cried in English, ‘rememberyour promise after the last time. You said it should not be again. He will besilent! Oh, he will be silent!’

“‘You are mad, Elise!’ he shouted, struggling to breakaway from her. ‘You will be the ruin of us. He has seen too much. Let mepass, I say!’ He dashed her to one side, and, rushing to the window, cutat me with his heavy weapon. I had let myself go, and was hanging by the handsto the sill, when his blow fell. I was conscious of a dull pain, my griploosened, and I fell into the garden below.

“I was shaken but not hurt by the fall; so I picked myself up and rushedoff among the bushes as hard as I could run, for I understood that I was farfrom being out of danger yet. Suddenly, however, as I ran, a deadly dizzinessand sickness came over me. I glanced down at my hand, which was throbbingpainfully, and then, for the first time, saw that my thumb had been cut off andthat the blood was pouring from my wound. I endeavoured to tie my handkerchiefround it, but there came a sudden buzzing in my ears, and next moment I fell ina dead faint among the rose-bushes.

“How long I remained unconscious I cannot tell. It must have been a verylong time, for the moon had sunk, and a bright morning was breaking when I cameto myself. My clothes were all sodden with dew, and my coat-sleeve was drenchedwith blood from my wounded thumb. The smarting of it recalled in an instant allthe particulars of my night’s adventure, and I sprang to my feet with thefeeling that I might hardly yet be safe from my pursuers. But to myastonishment, when I came to look round me, neither house nor garden were to beseen. I had been lying in an angle of the hedge close by the highroad, and justa little lower down was a long building, which proved, upon my approaching it,to be the very station at which I had arrived upon the previous night. Were itnot for the ugly wound upon my hand, all that had passed during those dreadfulhours might have been an evil dream.

“Half dazed, I went into the station and asked about the morning train.There would be one to Reading in less than an hour. The same porter was onduty, I found, as had been there when I arrived. I inquired of him whether hehad ever heard of Colonel Lysander Stark. The name was strange to him. Had heobserved a carriage the night before waiting for me? No, he had not. Was therea police-station anywhere near? There was one about three miles off.

“It was too far for me to go, weak and ill as I was. I determined to waituntil I got back to town before telling my story to the police. It was a littlepast six when I arrived, so I went first to have my wound dressed, and then thedoctor was kind enough to bring me along here. I put the case into your handsand shall do exactly what you advise.”

We both sat in silence for some little time after listening to thisextraordinary narrative. Then Sherlock Holmes pulled down from the shelf one ofthe ponderous commonplace books in which he placed his cuttings.

“Here is an advertisement which will interest you,” said he.“It appeared in all the papers about a year ago. Listen to this:‘Lost, on the 9th inst., Mr. Jeremiah Hayling, aged twenty-six, ahydraulic engineer. Left his lodgings at ten o’clock at night, and hasnot been heard of since. Was dressed in,’ etc., etc. Ha! That representsthe last time that the colonel needed to have his machine overhauled, Ifancy.”

“Good heavens!” cried my patient. “Then that explains whatthe girl said.”

“Undoubtedly. It is quite clear that the colonel was a cool and desperateman, who was absolutely determined that nothing should stand in the way of hislittle game, like those out-and-out pirates who will leave no survivor from acaptured ship. Well, every moment now is precious, so if you feel equal to itwe shall go down to Scotland Yard at once as a preliminary to starting forEyford.”

Some three hours or so afterwards we were all in the train together, bound fromReading to the little Berkshire village. There were Sherlock Holmes, thehydraulic engineer, Inspector Bradstreet, of Scotland Yard, a plain-clothesman, and myself. Bradstreet had spread an ordnance map of the county out uponthe seat and was busy with his compasses drawing a circle with Eyford for itscentre.

“There you are,” said he. “That circle is drawn at a radiusof ten miles from the village. The place we want must be somewhere near thatline. You said ten miles, I think, sir.”

“It was an hour’s good drive.”

“And you think that they brought you back all that way when you wereunconscious?”

“They must have done so. I have a confused memory, too, of having beenlifted and conveyed somewhere.”

“What I cannot understand,” said I, “is why they should havespared you when they found you lying fainting in the garden. Perhaps thevillain was softened by the woman’s entreaties.”

“I hardly think that likely. I never saw a more inexorable face in mylife.”

“Oh, we shall soon clear up all that,” said Bradstreet.“Well, I have drawn my circle, and I only wish I knew at what point uponit the folk that we are in search of are to be found.”

“I think I could lay my finger on it,” said Holmes quietly.

“Really, now!” cried the inspector, “you have formed youropinion! Come, now, we shall see who agrees with you. I say it is south, forthe country is more deserted there.”

“And I say east,” said my patient.

“I am for west,” remarked the plain-clothes man. “There areseveral quiet little villages up there.”

“And I am for north,” said I, “because there are no hillsthere, and our friend says that he did not notice the carriage go upany.”

“Come,” cried the inspector, laughing; “it’s a verypretty diversity of opinion. We have boxed the compass among us. Who do yougive your casting vote to?”

“You are all wrong.”

“But we can’t all be.”

“Oh, yes, you can. This is my point.” He placed his finger in thecentre of the circle. “This is where we shall find them.”

“But the twelve-mile drive?” gasped Hatherley.

“Six out and six back. Nothing simpler. You say yourself that the horsewas fresh and glossy when you got in. How could it be that if it had gonetwelve miles over heavy roads?”

“Indeed, it is a likely ruse enough,” observed Bradstreetthoughtfully. “Of course there can be no doubt as to the nature of thisgang.”

“None at all,” said Holmes. “They are coiners on a largescale, and have used the machine to form the amalgam which has taken the placeof silver.”

“We have known for some time that a clever gang was at work,” saidthe inspector. “They have been turning out half-crowns by the thousand.We even traced them as far as Reading, but could get no farther, for they hadcovered their traces in a way that showed that they were very old hands. Butnow, thanks to this lucky chance, I think that we have got them rightenough.”

But the inspector was mistaken, for those criminals were not destined to fallinto the hands of justice. As we rolled into Eyford Station we saw a giganticcolumn of smoke which streamed up from behind a small clump of trees in theneighbourhood and hung like an immense ostrich feather over the landscape.

“A house on fire?” asked Bradstreet as the train steamed off againon its way.

“Yes, sir!” said the station-master.

“When did it break out?”

“I hear that it was during the night, sir, but it has got worse, and thewhole place is in a blaze.”

“Whose house is it?”

“Dr. Becher’s.”

“Tell me,” broke in the engineer, “is Dr. Becher a German,very thin, with a long, sharp nose?”

The station-master laughed heartily. “No, sir, Dr. Becher is anEnglishman, and there isn’t a man in the parish who has a better-linedwaistcoat. But he has a gentleman staying with him, a patient, as I understand,who is a foreigner, and he looks as if a little good Berkshire beef would dohim no harm.”

The station-master had not finished his speech before we were all hastening inthe direction of the fire. The road topped a low hill, and there was a greatwidespread whitewashed building in front of us, spouting fire at every chinkand window, while in the garden in front three fire-engines were vainlystriving to keep the flames under.

“That’s it!” cried Hatherley, in intense excitement.“There is the gravel-drive, and there are the rose-bushes where I lay.That second window is the one that I jumped from.”

“Well, at least,” said Holmes, “you have had your revengeupon them. There can be no question that it was your oil-lamp which, when itwas crushed in the press, set fire to the wooden walls, though no doubt theywere too excited in the chase after you to observe it at the time. Now keepyour eyes open in this crowd for your friends of last night, though I very muchfear that they are a good hundred miles off by now.”

And Holmes’ fears came to be realised, for from that day to this no wordhas ever been heard either of the beautiful woman, the sinister German, or themorose Englishman. Early that morning a peasant had met a cart containingseveral people and some very bulky boxes driving rapidly in the direction ofReading, but there all traces of the fugitives disappeared, and evenHolmes’ ingenuity failed ever to discover the least clue as to theirwhereabouts.

The firemen had been much perturbed at the strange arrangements which they hadfound within, and still more so by discovering a newly severed human thumb upona window-sill of the second floor. About sunset, however, their efforts were atlast successful, and they subdued the flames, but not before the roof hadfallen in, and the whole place been reduced to such absolute ruin that, savesome twisted cylinders and iron piping, not a trace remained of the machinerywhich had cost our unfortunate acquaintance so dearly. Large masses of nickeland of tin were discovered stored in an out-house, but no coins were to befound, which may have explained the presence of those bulky boxes which havebeen already referred to.

How our hydraulic engineer had been conveyed from the garden to the spot wherehe recovered his senses might have remained forever a mystery were it not forthe soft mould, which told us a very plain tale. He had evidently been carrieddown by two persons, one of whom had remarkably small feet and the otherunusually large ones. On the whole, it was most probable that the silentEnglishman, being less bold or less murderous than his companion, had assistedthe woman to bear the unconscious man out of the way of danger.

“Well,” said our engineer ruefully as we took our seats to returnonce more to London, “it has been a pretty business for me! I have lostmy thumb and I have lost a fifty-guinea fee, and what have I gained?”

“Experience,” said Holmes, laughing. “Indirectly it may be ofvalue, you know; you have only to put it into words to gain the reputation ofbeing excellent company for the remainder of your existence.”

X.
THE ADVENTURE OF THE NOBLE BACHELOR

The Lord St. Simonmarriage, and its curious termination, have long ceased to be a subject ofinterest in those exalted circles in which the unfortunate bridegroom moves.Fresh scandals have eclipsed it, and their more piquant details have drawn thegossips away from this four-year-old drama. As I have reason to believe,however, that the full facts have never been revealed to the general public,and as my friend Sherlock Holmes had a considerable share in clearing thematter up, I feel that no memoir of him would be complete without some littlesketch of this remarkable episode.

It was a few weeks before my own marriage, during the days when I was stillsharing rooms with Holmes in Baker Street, that he came home from an afternoonstroll to find a letter on the table waiting for him. I had remained indoorsall day, for the weather had taken a sudden turn to rain, with high autumnalwinds, and the jezail bullet which I had brought back in one of my limbs as arelic of my Afghan campaign throbbed with dull persistence. With my body in oneeasy-chair and my legs upon another, I had surrounded myself with a cloud ofnewspapers until at last, saturated with the news of the day, I tossed them allaside and lay listless, watching the huge crest and monogram upon the envelopeupon the table and wondering lazily who my friend’s noble correspondentcould be.

“Here is a very fashionable epistle,” I remarked as he entered.“Your morning letters, if I remember right, were from a fish-monger and atide-waiter.”

“Yes, my correspondence has certainly the charm of variety,” heanswered, smiling, “and the humbler are usually the more interesting.This looks like one of those unwelcome social summonses which call upon a maneither to be bored or to lie.”

He broke the seal and glanced over the contents.

“Oh, come, it may prove to be something of interest, after all.”

“Not social, then?”

“No, distinctly professional.”

“And from a noble client?”

“One of the highest in England.”

“My dear fellow, I congratulate you.”

“I assure you, Watson, without affectation, that the status of my clientis a matter of less moment to me than the interest of his case. It is justpossible, however, that that also may not be wanting in this new investigation.You have been reading the papers diligently of late, have you not?”

“It looks like it,” said I ruefully, pointing to a huge bundle inthe corner. “I have had nothing else to do.”

“It is fortunate, for you will perhaps be able to post me up. I readnothing except the criminal news and the agony column. The latter is alwaysinstructive. But if you have followed recent events so closely you must haveread about Lord St. Simon and his wedding?”

“Oh, yes, with the deepest interest.”

“That is well. The letter which I hold in my hand is from Lord St. Simon.I will read it to you, and in return you must turn over these papers and let mehave whatever bears upon the matter. This is what he says:

“‘MY DEAR MR. SHERLOCK HOLMES,—Lord Backwater tells methat I may place implicit reliance upon your judgment and discretion. I havedetermined, therefore, to call upon you and to consult you in reference to thevery painful event which has occurred in connection with my wedding. Mr.Lestrade, of Scotland Yard, is acting already in the matter, but he assures methat he sees no objection to your co-operation, and that he even thinks that itmight be of some assistance. I will call at four o’clock in theafternoon, and, should you have any other engagement at that time, I hope thatyou will postpone it, as this matter is of paramount importance. Yoursfaithfully,

“‘ROBERT ST. SIMON.’

“It is dated from Grosvenor Mansions, written with a quill pen, and thenoble lord has had the misfortune to get a smear of ink upon the outer side ofhis right little finger,” remarked Holmes as he folded up the epistle.

“He says four o’clock. It is three now. He will be here in anhour.”

“Then I have just time, with your assistance, to get clear upon thesubject. Turn over those papers and arrange the extracts in their order oftime, while I take a glance as to who our client is.” He picked ared-covered volume from a line of books of reference beside the mantelpiece.“Here he is,” said he, sitting down and flattening it out upon hisknee. “‘Lord Robert Walsingham de Vere St. Simon, second sonof the Duke of Balmoral.’ Hum! ‘Arms: Azure, three caltrops inchief over a fess sable. Born in 1846.’ He’s forty-one years ofage, which is mature for marriage. Was Under-Secretary for the colonies in alate administration. The Duke, his father, was at one time Secretary forForeign Affairs. They inherit Plantagenet blood by direct descent, and Tudor onthe distaff side. Ha! Well, there is nothing very instructive in all this. Ithink that I must turn to you Watson, for something more solid.”

“I have very little difficulty in finding what I want,” said I,“for the facts are quite recent, and the matter struck me as remarkable.I feared to refer them to you, however, as I knew that you had an inquiry onhand and that you disliked the intrusion of other matters.”

“Oh, you mean the little problem of the Grosvenor Square furniture van.That is quite cleared up now—though, indeed, it was obvious from thefirst. Pray give me the results of your newspaper selections.”

“Here is the first notice which I can find. It is in the personal columnof the Morning Post, and dates, as you see, some weeks back: ‘Amarriage has been arranged,’ it says, ‘and will, if rumour iscorrect, very shortly take place, between Lord Robert St. Simon, second son ofthe Duke of Balmoral, and Miss Hatty Doran, the only daughter of AloysiusDoran. Esq., of San Francisco, Cal., U.S.A.’ That is all.”

“Terse and to the point,” remarked Holmes, stretching his long,thin legs towards the fire.

“There was a paragraph amplifying this in one of the society papers ofthe same week. Ah, here it is: ‘There will soon be a call for protectionin the marriage market, for the present free-trade principle appears to tellheavily against our home product. One by one the management of the noble housesof Great Britain is passing into the hands of our fair cousins from across theAtlantic. An important addition has been made during the last week to the listof the prizes which have been borne away by these charming invaders. Lord St.Simon, who has shown himself for over twenty years proof against the littlegod’s arrows, has now definitely announced his approaching marriage withMiss Hatty Doran, the fascinating daughter of a California millionaire. MissDoran, whose graceful figure and striking face attracted much attention at theWestbury House festivities, is an only child, and it is currently reported thather dowry will run to considerably over the six figures, with expectancies forthe future. As it is an open secret that the Duke of Balmoral has beencompelled to sell his pictures within the last few years, and as Lord St. Simonhas no property of his own save the small estate of Birchmoor, it is obviousthat the Californian heiress is not the only gainer by an alliance which willenable her to make the easy and common transition from a Republican lady to aBritish peeress.’”

“Anything else?” asked Holmes, yawning.

“Oh, yes; plenty. Then there is another note in the Morning Postto say that the marriage would be an absolutely quiet one, that it would be atSt. George’s, Hanover Square, that only half a dozen intimate friendswould be invited, and that the party would return to the furnished house atLancaster Gate which has been taken by Mr. Aloysius Doran. Two dayslater—that is, on Wednesday last—there is a curt announcement thatthe wedding had taken place, and that the honeymoon would be passed at LordBackwater’s place, near Petersfield. Those are all the notices whichappeared before the disappearance of the bride.”

“Before the what?” asked Holmes with a start.

“The vanishing of the lady.”

“When did she vanish, then?”

“At the wedding breakfast.”

“Indeed. This is more interesting than it promised to be; quite dramatic,in fact.”

“Yes; it struck me as being a little out of the common.”

“They often vanish before the ceremony, and occasionally during thehoneymoon; but I cannot call to mind anything quite so prompt as this. Pray letme have the details.”

“I warn you that they are very incomplete.”

“Perhaps we may make them less so.”

“Such as they are, they are set forth in a single article of a morningpaper of yesterday, which I will read to you. It is headed, ‘SingularOccurrence at a Fashionable Wedding’:

“‘The family of Lord Robert St. Simon has been thrown intothe greatest consternation by the strange and painful episodes which have takenplace in connection with his wedding. The ceremony, as shortly announced in thepapers of yesterday, occurred on the previous morning; but it is only now thatit has been possible to confirm the strange rumours which have been sopersistently floating about. In spite of the attempts of the friends to hushthe matter up, so much public attention has now been drawn to it that no goodpurpose can be served by affecting to disregard what is a common subject forconversation.

“‘The ceremony, which was performed at St. George’s,Hanover Square, was a very quiet one, no one being present save the father ofthe bride, Mr. Aloysius Doran, the Duchess of Balmoral, Lord Backwater, LordEustace and Lady Clara St. Simon (the younger brother and sister of thebridegroom), and Lady Alicia Whittington. The whole party proceeded afterwardsto the house of Mr. Aloysius Doran, at Lancaster Gate, where breakfast had beenprepared. It appears that some little trouble was caused by a woman, whose namehas not been ascertained, who endeavoured to force her way into the house afterthe bridal party, alleging that she had some claim upon Lord St. Simon. It wasonly after a painful and prolonged scene that she was ejected by the butler andthe footman. The bride, who had fortunately entered the house before thisunpleasant interruption, had sat down to breakfast with the rest, when shecomplained of a sudden indisposition and retired to her room. Her prolongedabsence having caused some comment, her father followed her, but learned fromher maid that she had only come up to her chamber for an instant, caught up anulster and bonnet, and hurried down to the passage. One of the footmen declaredthat he had seen a lady leave the house thus apparelled, but had refused tocredit that it was his mistress, believing her to be with the company. Onascertaining that his daughter had disappeared, Mr. Aloysius Doran, inconjunction with the bridegroom, instantly put themselves in communication withthe police, and very energetic inquiries are being made, which will probablyresult in a speedy clearing up of this very singular business. Up to a latehour last night, however, nothing had transpired as to the whereabouts of themissing lady. There are rumours of foul play in the matter, and it is said thatthe police have caused the arrest of the woman who had caused the originaldisturbance, in the belief that, from jealousy or some other motive, she mayhave been concerned in the strange disappearance of thebride.’”

“And is that all?”

“Only one little item in another of the morning papers, but it is asuggestive one.”

“And it is—”

“That Miss Flora Millar, the lady who had caused the disturbance, hasactually been arrested. It appears that she was formerly a danseuse atthe Allegro, and that she has known the bridegroom for some years. There are nofurther particulars, and the whole case is in your hands now—so far as ithas been set forth in the public press.”

“And an exceedingly interesting case it appears to be. I would not havemissed it for worlds. But there is a ring at the bell, Watson, and as the clockmakes it a few minutes after four, I have no doubt that this will prove to beour noble client. Do not dream of going, Watson, for I very much prefer havinga witness, if only as a check to my own memory.”

“Lord Robert St. Simon,” announced our page-boy, throwing open thedoor. A gentleman entered, with a pleasant, cultured face, high-nosed and pale,with something perhaps of petulance about the mouth, and with the steady,well-opened eye of a man whose pleasant lot it had ever been to command and tobe obeyed. His manner was brisk, and yet his general appearance gave an undueimpression of age, for he had a slight forward stoop and a little bend of theknees as he walked. His hair, too, as he swept off his very curly-brimmed hat,was grizzled round the edges and thin upon the top. As to his dress, it wascareful to the verge of foppishness, with high collar, black frock-coat, whitewaistcoat, yellow gloves, patent-leather shoes, and light-coloured gaiters. Headvanced slowly into the room, turning his head from left to right, andswinging in his right hand the cord which held his golden eyeglasses.

“Good-day, Lord St. Simon,” said Holmes, rising and bowing.“Pray take the basket-chair. This is my friend and colleague, Dr. Watson.Draw up a little to the fire, and we will talk this matter over.”

“A most painful matter to me, as you can most readily imagine, Mr.Holmes. I have been cut to the quick. I understand that you have alreadymanaged several delicate cases of this sort, sir, though I presume that theywere hardly from the same class of society.”

“No, I am descending.”

“I beg pardon.”

“My last client of the sort was a king.”

“Oh, really! I had no idea. And which king?”

“The King of Scandinavia.”

“What! Had he lost his wife?”

“You can understand,” said Holmes suavely, “that I extend tothe affairs of my other clients the same secrecy which I promise to you inyours.”

“Of course! Very right! very right! I’m sure I beg pardon. As to myown case, I am ready to give you any information which may assist you informing an opinion.”

“Thank you. I have already learned all that is in the public prints,nothing more. I presume that I may take it as correct—this article, forexample, as to the disappearance of the bride.”

Lord St. Simon glanced over it. “Yes, it is correct, as far as itgoes.”

“But it needs a great deal of supplementing before anyone could offer anopinion. I think that I may arrive at my facts most directly by questioningyou.”

“Pray do so.”

“When did you first meet Miss Hatty Doran?”

“In San Francisco, a year ago.”

“You were travelling in the States?”

“Yes.”

“Did you become engaged then?”

“No.”

“But you were on a friendly footing?”

“I was amused by her society, and she could see that I was amused.”

“Her father is very rich?”

“He is said to be the richest man on the Pacific slope.”

“And how did he make his money?”

“In mining. He had nothing a few years ago. Then he struck gold, investedit, and came up by leaps and bounds.”

“Now, what is your own impression as to the young lady’s—yourwife’s character?”

The nobleman swung his glasses a little faster and stared down into the fire.“You see, Mr. Holmes,” said he, “my wife was twenty beforeher father became a rich man. During that time she ran free in a mining campand wandered through woods or mountains, so that her education has come fromNature rather than from the schoolmaster. She is what we call in England atomboy, with a strong nature, wild and free, unfettered by any sort oftraditions. She is impetuous—volcanic, I was about to say. She is swiftin making up her mind and fearless in carrying out her resolutions. On theother hand, I would not have given her the name which I have the honour tobear”—he gave a little stately cough—“had I not thoughther to be at bottom a noble woman. I believe that she is capable of heroicself-sacrifice and that anything dishonourable would be repugnant toher.”

“Have you her photograph?”

“I brought this with me.” He opened a locket and showed us the fullface of a very lovely woman. It was not a photograph but an ivory miniature,and the artist had brought out the full effect of the lustrous black hair, thelarge dark eyes, and the exquisite mouth. Holmes gazed long and earnestly atit. Then he closed the locket and handed it back to Lord St. Simon.

“The young lady came to London, then, and you renewed youracquaintance?”

“Yes, her father brought her over for this last London season. I met herseveral times, became engaged to her, and have now married her.”

“She brought, I understand, a considerable dowry?”

“A fair dowry. Not more than is usual in my family.”

“And this, of course, remains to you, since the marriage is a faitaccompli?”

“I really have made no inquiries on the subject.”

“Very naturally not. Did you see Miss Doran on the day before thewedding?”

“Yes.”

“Was she in good spirits?”

“Never better. She kept talking of what we should do in our futurelives.”

“Indeed! That is very interesting. And on the morning of thewedding?”

“She was as bright as possible—at least until after theceremony.”

“And did you observe any change in her then?”

“Well, to tell the truth, I saw then the first signs that I had ever seenthat her temper was just a little sharp. The incident however, was too trivialto relate and can have no possible bearing upon the case.”

“Pray let us have it, for all that.”

“Oh, it is childish. She dropped her bouquet as we went towards thevestry. She was passing the front pew at the time, and it fell over into thepew. There was a moment’s delay, but the gentleman in the pew handed itup to her again, and it did not appear to be the worse for the fall. Yet when Ispoke to her of the matter, she answered me abruptly; and in the carriage, onour way home, she seemed absurdly agitated over this trifling cause.”

“Indeed! You say that there was a gentleman in the pew. Some of thegeneral public were present, then?”

“Oh, yes. It is impossible to exclude them when the church isopen.”

“This gentleman was not one of your wife’s friends?”

“No, no; I call him a gentleman by courtesy, but he was quite acommon-looking person. I hardly noticed his appearance. But really I think thatwe are wandering rather far from the point.”

“Lady St. Simon, then, returned from the wedding in a less cheerful frameof mind than she had gone to it. What did she do on re-entering herfather’s house?”

“I saw her in conversation with her maid.”

“And who is her maid?”

“Alice is her name. She is an American and came from California withher.”

“A confidential servant?”

“A little too much so. It seemed to me that her mistress allowed her totake great liberties. Still, of course, in America they look upon these thingsin a different way.”

“How long did she speak to this Alice?”

“Oh, a few minutes. I had something else to think of.”

“You did not overhear what they said?”

“Lady St. Simon said something about ‘jumping a claim.’ Shewas accustomed to use slang of the kind. I have no idea what she meant.”

“American slang is very expressive sometimes. And what did your wife dowhen she finished speaking to her maid?”

“She walked into the breakfast-room.”

“On your arm?”

“No, alone. She was very independent in little matters like that. Then,after we had sat down for ten minutes or so, she rose hurriedly, muttered somewords of apology, and left the room. She never came back.”

“But this maid, Alice, as I understand, deposes that she went to herroom, covered her bride’s dress with a long ulster, put on a bonnet, andwent out.”

“Quite so. And she was afterwards seen walking into Hyde Park in companywith Flora Millar, a woman who is now in custody, and who had already made adisturbance at Mr. Doran’s house that morning.”

“Ah, yes. I should like a few particulars as to this young lady, and yourrelations to her.”

Lord St. Simon shrugged his shoulders and raised his eyebrows. “We havebeen on a friendly footing for some years—I may say on a veryfriendly footing. She used to be at the Allegro. I have not treated herungenerously, and she had no just cause of complaint against me, but you knowwhat women are, Mr. Holmes. Flora was a dear little thing, but exceedinglyhot-headed and devotedly attached to me. She wrote me dreadful letters when sheheard that I was about to be married, and, to tell the truth, the reason why Ihad the marriage celebrated so quietly was that I feared lest there might be ascandal in the church. She came to Mr. Doran’s door just after wereturned, and she endeavoured to push her way in, uttering very abusiveexpressions towards my wife, and even threatening her, but I had foreseen thepossibility of something of the sort, and I had two police fellows there inprivate clothes, who soon pushed her out again. She was quiet when she saw thatthere was no good in making a row.”

“Did your wife hear all this?”

“No, thank goodness, she did not.”

“And she was seen walking with this very woman afterwards?”

“Yes. That is what Mr. Lestrade, of Scotland Yard, looks upon as soserious. It is thought that Flora decoyed my wife out and laid some terribletrap for her.”

“Well, it is a possible supposition.”

“You think so, too?”

“I did not say a probable one. But you do not yourself look upon this aslikely?”

“I do not think Flora would hurt a fly.”

“Still, jealousy is a strange transformer of characters. Pray what isyour own theory as to what took place?”

“Well, really, I came to seek a theory, not to propound one. I have givenyou all the facts. Since you ask me, however, I may say that it has occurred tome as possible that the excitement of this affair, the consciousness that shehad made so immense a social stride, had the effect of causing some littlenervous disturbance in my wife.”

“In short, that she had become suddenly deranged?”

“Well, really, when I consider that she has turned her back—I willnot say upon me, but upon so much that many have aspired to withoutsuccess—I can hardly explain it in any other fashion.”

“Well, certainly that is also a conceivable hypothesis,” saidHolmes, smiling. “And now, Lord St. Simon, I think that I have nearly allmy data. May I ask whether you were seated at the breakfast-table so that youcould see out of the window?”

“We could see the other side of the road and the Park.”

“Quite so. Then I do not think that I need to detain you longer. I shallcommunicate with you.”

“Should you be fortunate enough to solve this problem,” said ourclient, rising.

“I have solved it.”

“Eh? What was that?”

“I say that I have solved it.”

“Where, then, is my wife?”

“That is a detail which I shall speedily supply.”

Lord St. Simon shook his head. “I am afraid that it will take wiser headsthan yours or mine,” he remarked, and bowing in a stately, old-fashionedmanner he departed.

“It is very good of Lord St. Simon to honour my head by putting it on alevel with his own,” said Sherlock Holmes, laughing. “I think thatI shall have a whisky and soda and a cigar after all this cross-questioning. Ihad formed my conclusions as to the case before our client came into theroom.”

“My dear Holmes!”

“I have notes of several similar cases, though none, as I remarkedbefore, which were quite as prompt. My whole examination served to turn myconjecture into a certainty. Circumstantial evidence is occasionally veryconvincing, as when you find a trout in the milk, to quote Thoreau’sexample.”

“But I have heard all that you have heard.”

“Without, however, the knowledge of pre-existing cases which serves me sowell. There was a parallel instance in Aberdeen some years back, and somethingon very much the same lines at Munich the year after the Franco-Prussian War.It is one of these cases—but, hullo, here is Lestrade! Good-afternoon,Lestrade! You will find an extra tumbler upon the sideboard, and there arecigars in the box.”

The official detective was attired in a pea-jacket and cravat, which gave him adecidedly nautical appearance, and he carried a black canvas bag in his hand.With a short greeting he seated himself and lit the cigar which had beenoffered to him.

“What’s up, then?” asked Holmes with a twinkle in his eye.“You look dissatisfied.”

“And I feel dissatisfied. It is this infernal St. Simon marriage case. Ican make neither head nor tail of the business.”

“Really! You surprise me.”

“Who ever heard of such a mixed affair? Every clue seems to slip throughmy fingers. I have been at work upon it all day.”

“And very wet it seems to have made you,” said Holmes laying hishand upon the arm of the pea-jacket.

“Yes, I have been dragging the Serpentine.”

“In Heaven’s name, what for?”

“In search of the body of Lady St. Simon.”

Sherlock Holmes leaned back in his chair and laughed heartily.

“Have you dragged the basin of Trafalgar Square fountain?” heasked.

“Why? What do you mean?”

“Because you have just as good a chance of finding this lady in the oneas in the other.”

Lestrade shot an angry glance at my companion. “I suppose you know allabout it,” he snarled.

“Well, I have only just heard the facts, but my mind is made up.”

“Oh, indeed! Then you think that the Serpentine plays no part in thematter?”

“I think it very unlikely.”

“Then perhaps you will kindly explain how it is that we found this init?” He opened his bag as he spoke, and tumbled onto the floor awedding-dress of watered silk, a pair of white satin shoes and a bride’swreath and veil, all discoloured and soaked in water. “There,” saidhe, putting a new wedding-ring upon the top of the pile. “There is alittle nut for you to crack, Master Holmes.”

“Oh, indeed!” said my friend, blowing blue rings into the air.“You dragged them from the Serpentine?”

“No. They were found floating near the margin by a park-keeper. They havebeen identified as her clothes, and it seemed to me that if the clothes werethere the body would not be far off.”

“By the same brilliant reasoning, every man’s body is to be foundin the neighbourhood of his wardrobe. And pray what did you hope to arrive atthrough this?”

“At some evidence implicating Flora Millar in the disappearance.”

“I am afraid that you will find it difficult.”

“Are you, indeed, now?” cried Lestrade with some bitterness.“I am afraid, Holmes, that you are not very practical with yourdeductions and your inferences. You have made two blunders in as many minutes.This dress does implicate Miss Flora Millar.”

“And how?”

“In the dress is a pocket. In the pocket is a card-case. In the card-caseis a note. And here is the very note.” He slapped it down upon the tablein front of him. “Listen to this: ‘You will see me when all isready. Come at once. F. H. M.’ Now my theory all along has been that LadySt. Simon was decoyed away by Flora Millar, and that she, with confederates, nodoubt, was responsible for her disappearance. Here, signed with her initials,is the very note which was no doubt quietly slipped into her hand at the doorand which lured her within their reach.”

“Very good, Lestrade,” said Holmes, laughing. “You really arevery fine indeed. Let me see it.” He took up the paper in a listless way,but his attention instantly became riveted, and he gave a little cry ofsatisfaction. “This is indeed important,” said he.

“Ha! you find it so?”

“Extremely so. I congratulate you warmly.”

Lestrade rose in his triumph and bent his head to look. “Why,” heshrieked, “you’re looking at the wrong side!”

“On the contrary, this is the right side.”

“The right side? You’re mad! Here is the note written in pencilover here.”

“And over here is what appears to be the fragment of a hotel bill, whichinterests me deeply.”

“There’s nothing in it. I looked at it before,” saidLestrade. “‘Oct. 4th, rooms 8s., breakfast 2s.6d., cocktail 1s., lunch 2s. 6d., glass sherry,8d.’ I see nothing in that.”

“Very likely not. It is most important, all the same. As to the note, itis important also, or at least the initials are, so I congratulate youagain.”

“I’ve wasted time enough,” said Lestrade, rising. “Ibelieve in hard work and not in sitting by the fire spinning fine theories.Good-day, Mr. Holmes, and we shall see which gets to the bottom of the matterfirst.” He gathered up the garments, thrust them into the bag, and madefor the door.

“Just one hint to you, Lestrade,” drawled Holmes before his rivalvanished; “I will tell you the true solution of the matter. Lady St.Simon is a myth. There is not, and there never has been, any suchperson.”

Lestrade looked sadly at my companion. Then he turned to me, tapped hisforehead three times, shook his head solemnly, and hurried away.

He had hardly shut the door behind him when Holmes rose to put on his overcoat.“There is something in what the fellow says about outdoor work,” heremarked, “so I think, Watson, that I must leave you to your papers for alittle.”

It was after five o’clock when Sherlock Holmes left me, but I had no timeto be lonely, for within an hour there arrived a confectioner’s man witha very large flat box. This he unpacked with the help of a youth whom he hadbrought with him, and presently, to my very great astonishment, a quiteepicurean little cold supper began to be laid out upon our humble lodging-housemahogany. There were a couple of brace of cold woodcock, a pheasant, a pâtéde foie gras pie with a group of ancient and cobwebby bottles. Having laidout all these luxuries, my two visitors vanished away, like the genii of theArabian Nights, with no explanation save that the things had been paid for andwere ordered to this address.

Just before nine o’clock Sherlock Holmes stepped briskly into the room.His features were gravely set, but there was a light in his eye which made methink that he had not been disappointed in his conclusions.

“They have laid the supper, then,” he said, rubbing his hands.

“You seem to expect company. They have laid for five.”

“Yes, I fancy we may have some company dropping in,” said he.“I am surprised that Lord St. Simon has not already arrived. Ha! I fancythat I hear his step now upon the stairs.”

It was indeed our visitor of the afternoon who came bustling in, dangling hisglasses more vigorously than ever, and with a very perturbed expression uponhis aristocratic features.

“My messenger reached you, then?” asked Holmes.

“Yes, and I confess that the contents startled me beyond measure. Haveyou good authority for what you say?”

“The best possible.”

Lord St. Simon sank into a chair and passed his hand over his forehead.

“What will the Duke say,” he murmured, “when he hears thatone of the family has been subjected to such humiliation?”

“It is the purest accident. I cannot allow that there is anyhumiliation.”

“Ah, you look on these things from another standpoint.”

“I fail to see that anyone is to blame. I can hardly see how the ladycould have acted otherwise, though her abrupt method of doing it wasundoubtedly to be regretted. Having no mother, she had no one to advise her atsuch a crisis.”

“It was a slight, sir, a public slight,” said Lord St. Simon,tapping his fingers upon the table.

“You must make allowance for this poor girl, placed in so unprecedented aposition.”

“I will make no allowance. I am very angry indeed, and I have beenshamefully used.”

“I think that I heard a ring,” said Holmes. “Yes, there aresteps on the landing. If I cannot persuade you to take a lenient view of thematter, Lord St. Simon, I have brought an advocate here who may be moresuccessful.” He opened the door and ushered in a lady and gentleman.“Lord St. Simon,” said he “allow me to introduce you to Mr.and Mrs. Francis Hay Moulton. The lady, I think, you have already met.”

At the sight of these newcomers our client had sprung from his seat and stoodvery erect, with his eyes cast down and his hand thrust into the breast of hisfrock-coat, a picture of offended dignity. The lady had taken a quick stepforward and had held out her hand to him, but he still refused to raise hiseyes. It was as well for his resolution, perhaps, for her pleading face was onewhich it was hard to resist.

“You’re angry, Robert,” said she. “Well, I guess youhave every cause to be.”

“Pray make no apology to me,” said Lord St. Simon bitterly.

“Oh, yes, I know that I have treated you real bad and that I should havespoken to you before I went; but I was kind of rattled, and from the time whenI saw Frank here again I just didn’t know what I was doing or saying. Ionly wonder I didn’t fall down and do a faint right there before thealtar.”

“Perhaps, Mrs. Moulton, you would like my friend and me to leave the roomwhile you explain this matter?”

“If I may give an opinion,” remarked the strange gentleman,“we’ve had just a little too much secrecy over this businessalready. For my part, I should like all Europe and America to hear the rightsof it.” He was a small, wiry, sunburnt man, clean-shaven, with a sharpface and alert manner.

“Then I’ll tell our story right away,” said the lady.“Frank here and I met in ’84, in McQuire’s camp, near theRockies, where Pa was working a claim. We were engaged to each other, Frank andI; but then one day father struck a rich pocket and made a pile, while poorFrank here had a claim that petered out and came to nothing. The richer Pa grewthe poorer was Frank; so at last Pa wouldn’t hear of our engagementlasting any longer, and he took me away to ’Frisco. Frank wouldn’tthrow up his hand, though; so he followed me there, and he saw me without Paknowing anything about it. It would only have made him mad to know, so we justfixed it all up for ourselves. Frank said that he would go and make his pile,too, and never come back to claim me until he had as much as Pa. So then Ipromised to wait for him to the end of time and pledged myself not to marryanyone else while he lived. ‘Why shouldn’t we be married rightaway, then,’ said he, ‘and then I will feel sure of you; and Iwon’t claim to be your husband until I come back?’ Well, we talkedit over, and he had fixed it all up so nicely, with a clergyman all ready inwaiting, that we just did it right there; and then Frank went off to seek hisfortune, and I went back to Pa.

“The next I heard of Frank was that he was in Montana, and then he wentprospecting in Arizona, and then I heard of him from New Mexico. After thatcame a long newspaper story about how a miners’ camp had been attacked byApache Indians, and there was my Frank’s name among the killed. I fainteddead away, and I was very sick for months after. Pa thought I had a decline andtook me to half the doctors in ’Frisco. Not a word of news came for ayear and more, so that I never doubted that Frank was really dead. Then LordSt. Simon came to ’Frisco, and we came to London, and a marriage wasarranged, and Pa was very pleased, but I felt all the time that no man on thisearth would ever take the place in my heart that had been given to my poorFrank.

“Still, if I had married Lord St. Simon, of course I’d have done myduty by him. We can’t command our love, but we can our actions. I went tothe altar with him with the intention to make him just as good a wife as it wasin me to be. But you may imagine what I felt when, just as I came to the altarrails, I glanced back and saw Frank standing and looking at me out of the firstpew. I thought it was his ghost at first; but when I looked again there he wasstill, with a kind of question in his eyes, as if to ask me whether I were glador sorry to see him. I wonder I didn’t drop. I know that everything wasturning round, and the words of the clergyman were just like the buzz of a beein my ear. I didn’t know what to do. Should I stop the service and make ascene in the church? I glanced at him again, and he seemed to know what I wasthinking, for he raised his finger to his lips to tell me to be still. Then Isaw him scribble on a piece of paper, and I knew that he was writing me a note.As I passed his pew on the way out I dropped my bouquet over to him, and heslipped the note into my hand when he returned me the flowers. It was only aline asking me to join him when he made the sign to me to do so. Of course Inever doubted for a moment that my first duty was now to him, and I determinedto do just whatever he might direct.

“When I got back I told my maid, who had known him in California, and hadalways been his friend. I ordered her to say nothing, but to get a few thingspacked and my ulster ready. I know I ought to have spoken to Lord St. Simon,but it was dreadful hard before his mother and all those great people. I justmade up my mind to run away and explain afterwards. I hadn’t been at thetable ten minutes before I saw Frank out of the window at the other side of theroad. He beckoned to me and then began walking into the Park. I slipped out,put on my things, and followed him. Some woman came talking something or otherabout Lord St. Simon to me—seemed to me from the little I heard as if hehad a little secret of his own before marriage also—but I managed to getaway from her and soon overtook Frank. We got into a cab together, and away wedrove to some lodgings he had taken in Gordon Square, and that was my truewedding after all those years of waiting. Frank had been a prisoner among theApaches, had escaped, came on to ’Frisco, found that I had given him upfor dead and had gone to England, followed me there, and had come upon me atlast on the very morning of my second wedding.”

“I saw it in a paper,” explained the American. “It gave thename and the church but not where the lady lived.”

“Then we had a talk as to what we should do, and Frank was all foropenness, but I was so ashamed of it all that I felt as if I should like tovanish away and never see any of them again—just sending a line to Pa,perhaps, to show him that I was alive. It was awful to me to think of all thoselords and ladies sitting round that breakfast-table and waiting for me to comeback. So Frank took my wedding-clothes and things and made a bundle of them, sothat I should not be traced, and dropped them away somewhere where no one couldfind them. It is likely that we should have gone on to Paris to-morrow, onlythat this good gentleman, Mr. Holmes, came round to us this evening, though howhe found us is more than I can think, and he showed us very clearly and kindlythat I was wrong and that Frank was right, and that we should be puttingourselves in the wrong if we were so secret. Then he offered to give us achance of talking to Lord St. Simon alone, and so we came right away round tohis rooms at once. Now, Robert, you have heard it all, and I am very sorry if Ihave given you pain, and I hope that you do not think very meanly of me.”

Lord St. Simon had by no means relaxed his rigid attitude, but had listenedwith a frowning brow and a compressed lip to this long narrative.

“Excuse me,” he said, “but it is not my custom to discuss mymost intimate personal affairs in this public manner.”

“Then you won’t forgive me? You won’t shake hands before Igo?”

“Oh, certainly, if it would give you any pleasure.” He put out hishand and coldly grasped that which she extended to him.

“I had hoped,” suggested Holmes, “that you would have joinedus in a friendly supper.”

“I think that there you ask a little too much,” responded hisLordship. “I may be forced to acquiesce in these recent developments, butI can hardly be expected to make merry over them. I think that with yourpermission I will now wish you all a very good-night.” He included us allin a sweeping bow and stalked out of the room.

“Then I trust that you at least will honour me with your company,”said Sherlock Holmes. “It is always a joy to meet an American, Mr.Moulton, for I am one of those who believe that the folly of a monarch and theblundering of a minister in far-gone years will not prevent our children frombeing some day citizens of the same world-wide country under a flag which shallbe a quartering of the Union Jack with the Stars and Stripes.”

“The case has been an interesting one,” remarked Holmes when ourvisitors had left us, “because it serves to show very clearly how simplethe explanation may be of an affair which at first sight seems to be almostinexplicable. Nothing could be more natural than the sequence of events asnarrated by this lady, and nothing stranger than the result when viewed, forinstance, by Mr. Lestrade of Scotland Yard.”

“You were not yourself at fault at all, then?”

“From the first, two facts were very obvious to me, the one that the ladyhad been quite willing to undergo the wedding ceremony, the other that she hadrepented of it within a few minutes of returning home. Obviously something hadoccurred during the morning, then, to cause her to change her mind. What couldthat something be? She could not have spoken to anyone when she was out, forshe had been in the company of the bridegroom. Had she seen someone, then? Ifshe had, it must be someone from America because she had spent so short a timein this country that she could hardly have allowed anyone to acquire so deep aninfluence over her that the mere sight of him would induce her to change herplans so completely. You see we have already arrived, by a process ofexclusion, at the idea that she might have seen an American. Then who couldthis American be, and why should he possess so much influence over her? Itmight be a lover; it might be a husband. Her young womanhood had, I knew, beenspent in rough scenes and under strange conditions. So far I had got before Iever heard Lord St. Simon’s narrative. When he told us of a man in a pew,of the change in the bride’s manner, of so transparent a device forobtaining a note as the dropping of a bouquet, of her resort to herconfidential maid, and of her very significant allusion toclaim-jumping—which in miners’ parlance means taking possession ofthat which another person has a prior claim to—the whole situation becameabsolutely clear. She had gone off with a man, and the man was either a loveror was a previous husband—the chances being in favour of thelatter.”

“And how in the world did you find them?”

“It might have been difficult, but friend Lestrade held information inhis hands the value of which he did not himself know. The initials were, ofcourse, of the highest importance, but more valuable still was it to know thatwithin a week he had settled his bill at one of the most select Londonhotels.”

“How did you deduce the select?”

“By the select prices. Eight shillings for a bed and eightpence for aglass of sherry pointed to one of the most expensive hotels. There are not manyin London which charge at that rate. In the second one which I visited inNorthumberland Avenue, I learned by an inspection of the book that Francis H.Moulton, an American gentleman, had left only the day before, and on lookingover the entries against him, I came upon the very items which I had seen inthe duplicate bill. His letters were to be forwarded to 226 Gordon Square; sothither I travelled, and being fortunate enough to find the loving couple athome, I ventured to give them some paternal advice and to point out to themthat it would be better in every way that they should make their position alittle clearer both to the general public and to Lord St. Simon in particular.I invited them to meet him here, and, as you see, I made him keep theappointment.”

“But with no very good result,” I remarked. “His conduct wascertainly not very gracious.”

“Ah, Watson,” said Holmes, smiling, “perhaps you would not bevery gracious either, if, after all the trouble of wooing and wedding, youfound yourself deprived in an instant of wife and of fortune. I think that wemay judge Lord St. Simon very mercifully and thank our stars that we are neverlikely to find ourselves in the same position. Draw your chair up and hand memy violin, for the only problem we have still to solve is how to while awaythese bleak autumnal evenings.”

XI.
THE ADVENTURE OF THE BERYL CORONET

“Holmes,”said I as I stood one morning in our bow-window looking down the street,“here is a madman coming along. It seems rather sad that his relativesshould allow him to come out alone.”

My friend rose lazily from his armchair and stood with his hands in the pocketsof his dressing-gown, looking over my shoulder. It was a bright, crisp Februarymorning, and the snow of the day before still lay deep upon the ground,shimmering brightly in the wintry sun. Down the centre of Baker Street it hadbeen ploughed into a brown crumbly band by the traffic, but at either side andon the heaped-up edges of the footpaths it still lay as white as when it fell.The grey pavement had been cleaned and scraped, but was still dangerouslyslippery, so that there were fewer passengers than usual. Indeed, from thedirection of the Metropolitan Station no one was coming save the singlegentleman whose eccentric conduct had drawn my attention.

He was a man of about fifty, tall, portly, and imposing, with a massive,strongly marked face and a commanding figure. He was dressed in a sombre yetrich style, in black frock-coat, shining hat, neat brown gaiters, and well-cutpearl-grey trousers. Yet his actions were in absurd contrast to the dignity ofhis dress and features, for he was running hard, with occasional littlesprings, such as a weary man gives who is little accustomed to set any tax uponhis legs. As he ran he jerked his hands up and down, waggled his head, andwrithed his face into the most extraordinary contortions.

“What on earth can be the matter with him?” I asked. “He islooking up at the numbers of the houses.”

“I believe that he is coming here,” said Holmes, rubbing his hands.

“Here?”

“Yes; I rather think he is coming to consult me professionally. I thinkthat I recognise the symptoms. Ha! did I not tell you?” As he spoke, theman, puffing and blowing, rushed at our door and pulled at our bell until thewhole house resounded with the clanging.

A few moments later he was in our room, still puffing, still gesticulating, butwith so fixed a look of grief and despair in his eyes that our smiles wereturned in an instant to horror and pity. For a while he could not get his wordsout, but swayed his body and plucked at his hair like one who has been drivento the extreme limits of his reason. Then, suddenly springing to his feet, hebeat his head against the wall with such force that we both rushed upon him andtore him away to the centre of the room. Sherlock Holmes pushed him down intothe easy-chair and, sitting beside him, patted his hand and chatted with him inthe easy, soothing tones which he knew so well how to employ.

“You have come to me to tell your story, have you not?” said he.“You are fatigued with your haste. Pray wait until you have recoveredyourself, and then I shall be most happy to look into any little problem whichyou may submit to me.”

The man sat for a minute or more with a heaving chest, fighting against hisemotion. Then he passed his handkerchief over his brow, set his lips tight, andturned his face towards us.

“No doubt you think me mad?” said he.

“I see that you have had some great trouble,” responded Holmes.

“God knows I have!—a trouble which is enough to unseat my reason,so sudden and so terrible is it. Public disgrace I might have faced, although Iam a man whose character has never yet borne a stain. Private affliction alsois the lot of every man; but the two coming together, and in so frightful aform, have been enough to shake my very soul. Besides, it is not I alone. Thevery noblest in the land may suffer unless some way be found out of thishorrible affair.”

“Pray compose yourself, sir,” said Holmes, “and let me have aclear account of who you are and what it is that has befallen you.”

“My name,” answered our visitor, “is probably familiar toyour ears. I am Alexander Holder, of the banking firm of Holder &Stevenson, of Threadneedle Street.”

The name was indeed well known to us as belonging to the senior partner in thesecond largest private banking concern in the City of London. What could havehappened, then, to bring one of the foremost citizens of London to this mostpitiable pass? We waited, all curiosity, until with another effort he bracedhimself to tell his story.

“I feel that time is of value,” said he; “that is why Ihastened here when the police inspector suggested that I should secure yourco-operation. I came to Baker Street by the Underground and hurried from thereon foot, for the cabs go slowly through this snow. That is why I was so out ofbreath, for I am a man who takes very little exercise. I feel better now, and Iwill put the facts before you as shortly and yet as clearly as I can.

“It is, of course, well known to you that in a successful bankingbusiness as much depends upon our being able to find remunerative investmentsfor our funds as upon our increasing our connection and the number of ourdepositors. One of our most lucrative means of laying out money is in the shapeof loans, where the security is unimpeachable. We have done a good deal in thisdirection during the last few years, and there are many noble families to whomwe have advanced large sums upon the security of their pictures, libraries, orplate.

“Yesterday morning I was seated in my office at the bank when a card wasbrought in to me by one of the clerks. I started when I saw the name, for itwas that of none other than—well, perhaps even to you I had better say nomore than that it was a name which is a household word all over theearth—one of the highest, noblest, most exalted names in England. I wasoverwhelmed by the honour and attempted, when he entered, to say so, but heplunged at once into business with the air of a man who wishes to hurry quicklythrough a disagreeable task.

“‘Mr. Holder,’ said he, ‘I have been informedthat you are in the habit of advancing money.’

“‘The firm does so when the security is good.’ Ianswered.

“‘It is absolutely essential to me,’ said he, ‘that Ishould have £ 50,000 at once. I could, of course, borrow so trifling a sum tentimes over from my friends, but I much prefer to make it a matter of businessand to carry out that business myself. In my position you can readilyunderstand that it is unwise to place one’s self under obligations.’

“‘For how long, may I ask, do you want this sum?’ Iasked.

“‘Next Monday I have a large sum due to me, and I shall thenmost certainly repay what you advance, with whatever interest you think itright to charge. But it is very essential to me that the money should be paidat once.’

“‘I should be happy to advance it without further parley frommy own private purse,’ said I, ‘were it not that the strain wouldbe rather more than it could bear. If, on the other hand, I am to do it in thename of the firm, then in justice to my partner I must insist that, even inyour case, every businesslike precaution should be taken.’

“‘I should much prefer to have it so,’ said he, raisingup a square, black morocco case which he had laid beside his chair. ‘Youhave doubtless heard of the Beryl Coronet?’

“‘One of the most precious public possessions of theempire,’ said I.

“‘Precisely.’ He opened the case, and there, imbeddedin soft, flesh-coloured velvet, lay the magnificent piece of jewellery which hehad named. ‘There are thirty-nine enormous beryls,’ said he,‘and the price of the gold chasing is incalculable. The lowest estimatewould put the worth of the coronet at double the sum which I have asked. I amprepared to leave it with you as my security.’

“I took the precious case into my hands and looked in some perplexityfrom it to my illustrious client.

“‘You doubt its value?’ he asked.

“‘Not at all. I only doubt—’

“‘The propriety of my leaving it. You may set your mind atrest about that. I should not dream of doing so were it not absolutely certainthat I should be able in four days to reclaim it. It is a pure matter of form.Is the security sufficient?’

“‘Ample.’

“‘You understand, Mr. Holder, that I am giving you a strongproof of the confidence which I have in you, founded upon all that I have heardof you. I rely upon you not only to be discreet and to refrain from all gossipupon the matter but, above all, to preserve this coronet with every possibleprecaution because I need not say that a great public scandal would be causedif any harm were to befall it. Any injury to it would be almost as serious asits complete loss, for there are no beryls in the world to match these, and itwould be impossible to replace them. I leave it with you, however, with everyconfidence, and I shall call for it in person on Monday morning.’

“Seeing that my client was anxious to leave, I said no more but, callingfor my cashier, I ordered him to pay over fifty £ 1000 notes. When I was aloneonce more, however, with the precious case lying upon the table in front of me,I could not but think with some misgivings of the immense responsibility whichit entailed upon me. There could be no doubt that, as it was a nationalpossession, a horrible scandal would ensue if any misfortune should occur toit. I already regretted having ever consented to take charge of it. However, itwas too late to alter the matter now, so I locked it up in my private safe andturned once more to my work.

“When evening came I felt that it would be an imprudence to leave soprecious a thing in the office behind me. Bankers’ safes had been forcedbefore now, and why should not mine be? If so, how terrible would be theposition in which I should find myself! I determined, therefore, that for thenext few days I would always carry the case backward and forward with me, sothat it might never be really out of my reach. With this intention, I called acab and drove out to my house at Streatham, carrying the jewel with me. I didnot breathe freely until I had taken it upstairs and locked it in the bureau ofmy dressing-room.

“And now a word as to my household, Mr. Holmes, for I wish you tothoroughly understand the situation. My groom and my page sleep out of thehouse, and may be set aside altogether. I have three maid-servants who havebeen with me a number of years and whose absolute reliability is quite abovesuspicion. Another, Lucy Parr, the second waiting-maid, has only been in myservice a few months. She came with an excellent character, however, and hasalways given me satisfaction. She is a very pretty girl and has attractedadmirers who have occasionally hung about the place. That is the only drawbackwhich we have found to her, but we believe her to be a thoroughly good girl inevery way.

“So much for the servants. My family itself is so small that it will nottake me long to describe it. I am a widower and have an only son, Arthur. Hehas been a disappointment to me, Mr. Holmes—a grievous disappointment. Ihave no doubt that I am myself to blame. People tell me that I have spoiledhim. Very likely I have. When my dear wife died I felt that he was all I had tolove. I could not bear to see the smile fade even for a moment from his face. Ihave never denied him a wish. Perhaps it would have been better for both of ushad I been sterner, but I meant it for the best.

“It was naturally my intention that he should succeed me in my business,but he was not of a business turn. He was wild, wayward, and, to speak thetruth, I could not trust him in the handling of large sums of money. When hewas young he became a member of an aristocratic club, and there, havingcharming manners, he was soon the intimate of a number of men with long pursesand expensive habits. He learned to play heavily at cards and to squander moneyon the turf, until he had again and again to come to me and implore me to givehim an advance upon his allowance, that he might settle his debts of honour. Hetried more than once to break away from the dangerous company which he waskeeping, but each time the influence of his friend, Sir George Burnwell, wasenough to draw him back again.

“And, indeed, I could not wonder that such a man as Sir George Burnwellshould gain an influence over him, for he has frequently brought him to myhouse, and I have found myself that I could hardly resist the fascination ofhis manner. He is older than Arthur, a man of the world to his finger-tips, onewho had been everywhere, seen everything, a brilliant talker, and a man ofgreat personal beauty. Yet when I think of him in cold blood, far away from theglamour of his presence, I am convinced from his cynical speech and the lookwhich I have caught in his eyes that he is one who should be deeply distrusted.So I think, and so, too, thinks my little Mary, who has a woman’s quickinsight into character.

“And now there is only she to be described. She is my niece; but when mybrother died five years ago and left her alone in the world I adopted her, andhave looked upon her ever since as my daughter. She is a sunbeam in myhouse—sweet, loving, beautiful, a wonderful manager and housekeeper, yetas tender and quiet and gentle as a woman could be. She is my right hand. I donot know what I could do without her. In only one matter has she ever goneagainst my wishes. Twice my boy has asked her to marry him, for he loves herdevotedly, but each time she has refused him. I think that if anyone could havedrawn him into the right path it would have been she, and that his marriagemight have changed his whole life; but now, alas! it is too late—forevertoo late!

“Now, Mr. Holmes, you know the people who live under my roof, and I shallcontinue with my miserable story.

“When we were taking coffee in the drawing-room that night after dinner,I told Arthur and Mary my experience, and of the precious treasure which we hadunder our roof, suppressing only the name of my client. Lucy Parr, who hadbrought in the coffee, had, I am sure, left the room; but I cannot swear thatthe door was closed. Mary and Arthur were much interested and wished to see thefamous coronet, but I thought it better not to disturb it.

“‘Where have you put it?’ asked Arthur.

“‘In my own bureau.’

“‘Well, I hope to goodness the house won’t be burgledduring the night.’ said he.

“‘It is locked up,’ I answered.

“‘Oh, any old key will fit that bureau. When I was ayoungster I have opened it myself with the key of the box-room cupboard.’

“He often had a wild way of talking, so that I thought little of what hesaid. He followed me to my room, however, that night with a very grave face.

“‘Look here, dad,’ said he with his eyes cast down,‘can you let me have £ 200?’

“‘No, I cannot!’ I answered sharply. ‘I have beenfar too generous with you in money matters.’

“‘You have been very kind,’ said he, ‘but I musthave this money, or else I can never show my face inside the club again.’

“‘And a very good thing, too!’ I cried.

“‘Yes, but you would not have me leave it a dishonouredman,’ said he. ‘I could not bear the disgrace. I must raise themoney in some way, and if you will not let me have it, then I must try othermeans.’

“I was very angry, for this was the third demand during the month.‘You shall not have a farthing from me,’ I cried, on which he bowedand left the room without another word.

“When he was gone I unlocked my bureau, made sure that my treasure wassafe, and locked it again. Then I started to go round the house to see that allwas secure—a duty which I usually leave to Mary but which I thought itwell to perform myself that night. As I came down the stairs I saw Mary herselfat the side window of the hall, which she closed and fastened as I approached.

“‘Tell me, dad,’ said she, looking, I thought, a littledisturbed, ‘did you give Lucy, the maid, leave to go out to-night?’

“‘Certainly not.’

“‘She came in just now by the back door. I have no doubt thatshe has only been to the side gate to see someone, but I think that it ishardly safe and should be stopped.’

“‘You must speak to her in the morning, or I will if youprefer it. Are you sure that everything is fastened?’

“‘Quite sure, dad.’

“‘Then, good-night.’ I kissed her and went up to mybedroom again, where I was soon asleep.

“I am endeavouring to tell you everything, Mr. Holmes, which may have anybearing upon the case, but I beg that you will question me upon any point whichI do not make clear.”

“On the contrary, your statement is singularly lucid.”

“I come to a part of my story now in which I should wish to beparticularly so. I am not a very heavy sleeper, and the anxiety in my mindtended, no doubt, to make me even less so than usual. About two in the morning,then, I was awakened by some sound in the house. It had ceased ere I was wideawake, but it had left an impression behind it as though a window had gentlyclosed somewhere. I lay listening with all my ears. Suddenly, to my horror,there was a distinct sound of footsteps moving softly in the next room. Islipped out of bed, all palpitating with fear, and peeped round the corner ofmy dressing-room door.

“‘Arthur!’ I screamed, ‘you villain! you thief!How dare you touch that coronet?’

“The gas was half up, as I had left it, and my unhappy boy, dressed onlyin his shirt and trousers, was standing beside the light, holding the coronetin his hands. He appeared to be wrenching at it, or bending it with all hisstrength. At my cry he dropped it from his grasp and turned as pale as death. Isnatched it up and examined it. One of the gold corners, with three of theberyls in it, was missing.

“‘You blackguard!’ I shouted, beside myself with rage.‘You have destroyed it! You have dishonoured me forever! Where are thejewels which you have stolen?’

“‘Stolen!’ he cried.

“‘Yes, thief!’ I roared, shaking him by the shoulder.

“‘There are none missing. There cannot be any missing,’said he.

“‘There are three missing. And you know where they are. MustI call you a liar as well as a thief? Did I not see you trying to tear offanother piece?’

“‘You have called me names enough,’ said he, ‘Iwill not stand it any longer. I shall not say another word about this business,since you have chosen to insult me. I will leave your house in the morning andmake my own way in the world.’

“‘You shall leave it in the hands of the police!’ Icried half-mad with grief and rage. ‘I shall have this matter probed tothe bottom.’

“‘You shall learn nothing from me,’ said he with apassion such as I should not have thought was in his nature. ‘If youchoose to call the police, let the police find what they can.’

“By this time the whole house was astir, for I had raised my voice in myanger. Mary was the first to rush into my room, and, at the sight of thecoronet and of Arthur’s face, she read the whole story and, with ascream, fell down senseless on the ground. I sent the housemaid for the policeand put the investigation into their hands at once. When the inspector and aconstable entered the house, Arthur, who had stood sullenly with his armsfolded, asked me whether it was my intention to charge him with theft. Ianswered that it had ceased to be a private matter, but had become a publicone, since the ruined coronet was national property. I was determined that thelaw should have its way in everything.

“‘At least,’ said he, ‘you will not have mearrested at once. It would be to your advantage as well as mine if I mightleave the house for five minutes.’

“‘That you may get away, or perhaps that you may conceal whatyou have stolen,’ said I. And then, realising the dreadful position inwhich I was placed, I implored him to remember that not only my honour but thatof one who was far greater than I was at stake; and that he threatened to raisea scandal which would convulse the nation. He might avert it all if he wouldbut tell me what he had done with the three missing stones.

“‘You may as well face the matter,’ said I; ‘youhave been caught in the act, and no confession could make your guilt moreheinous. If you but make such reparation as is in your power, by telling uswhere the beryls are, all shall be forgiven and forgotten.’

“‘Keep your forgiveness for those who ask for it,’ heanswered, turning away from me with a sneer. I saw that he was too hardened forany words of mine to influence him. There was but one way for it. I called inthe inspector and gave him into custody. A search was made at once not only ofhis person but of his room and of every portion of the house where he couldpossibly have concealed the gems; but no trace of them could be found, norwould the wretched boy open his mouth for all our persuasions and our threats.This morning he was removed to a cell, and I, after going through all thepolice formalities, have hurried round to you to implore you to use your skillin unravelling the matter. The police have openly confessed that they can atpresent make nothing of it. You may go to any expense which you thinknecessary. I have already offered a reward of £ 1000. My God, what shall I do!I have lost my honour, my gems, and my son in one night. Oh, what shall Ido!”

He put a hand on either side of his head and rocked himself to and fro, droningto himself like a child whose grief has got beyond words.

Sherlock Holmes sat silent for some few minutes, with his brows knitted and hiseyes fixed upon the fire.

“Do you receive much company?” he asked.

“None save my partner with his family and an occasional friend ofArthur’s. Sir George Burnwell has been several times lately. No one else,I think.”

“Do you go out much in society?”

“Arthur does. Mary and I stay at home. We neither of us care forit.”

“That is unusual in a young girl.”

“She is of a quiet nature. Besides, she is not so very young. She isfour-and-twenty.”

“This matter, from what you say, seems to have been a shock to heralso.”

“Terrible! She is even more affected than I.”

“You have neither of you any doubt as to your son’s guilt?”

“How can we have when I saw him with my own eyes with the coronet in hishands.”

“I hardly consider that a conclusive proof. Was the remainder of thecoronet at all injured?”

“Yes, it was twisted.”

“Do you not think, then, that he might have been trying to straightenit?”

“God bless you! You are doing what you can for him and for me. But it istoo heavy a task. What was he doing there at all? If his purpose were innocent,why did he not say so?”

“Precisely. And if it were guilty, why did he not invent a lie? Hissilence appears to me to cut both ways. There are several singular points aboutthe case. What did the police think of the noise which awoke you from yoursleep?”

“They considered that it might be caused by Arthur’s closing hisbedroom door.”

“A likely story! As if a man bent on felony would slam his door so as towake a household. What did they say, then, of the disappearance of thesegems?”

“They are still sounding the planking and probing the furniture in thehope of finding them.”

“Have they thought of looking outside the house?”

“Yes, they have shown extraordinary energy. The whole garden has alreadybeen minutely examined.”

“Now, my dear sir,” said Holmes, “is it not obvious to younow that this matter really strikes very much deeper than either you or thepolice were at first inclined to think? It appeared to you to be a simple case;to me it seems exceedingly complex. Consider what is involved by your theory.You suppose that your son came down from his bed, went, at great risk, to yourdressing-room, opened your bureau, took out your coronet, broke off by mainforce a small portion of it, went off to some other place, concealed three gemsout of the thirty-nine, with such skill that nobody can find them, and thenreturned with the other thirty-six into the room in which he exposed himself tothe greatest danger of being discovered. I ask you now, is such a theorytenable?”

“But what other is there?” cried the banker with a gesture ofdespair. “If his motives were innocent, why does he not explainthem?”

“It is our task to find that out,” replied Holmes; “so now,if you please, Mr. Holder, we will set off for Streatham together, and devotean hour to glancing a little more closely into details.”

My friend insisted upon my accompanying them in their expedition, which I waseager enough to do, for my curiosity and sympathy were deeply stirred by thestory to which we had listened. I confess that the guilt of the banker’sson appeared to me to be as obvious as it did to his unhappy father, but stillI had such faith in Holmes’ judgment that I felt that there must be somegrounds for hope as long as he was dissatisfied with the accepted explanation.He hardly spoke a word the whole way out to the southern suburb, but sat withhis chin upon his breast and his hat drawn over his eyes, sunk in the deepestthought. Our client appeared to have taken fresh heart at the little glimpse ofhope which had been presented to him, and he even broke into a desultory chatwith me over his business affairs. A short railway journey and a shorter walkbrought us to Fairbank, the modest residence of the great financier.

Fairbank was a good-sized square house of white stone, standing back a littlefrom the road. A double carriage-sweep, with a snow-clad lawn, stretched downin front to two large iron gates which closed the entrance. On the right sidewas a small wooden thicket, which led into a narrow path between two neathedges stretching from the road to the kitchen door, and forming thetradesmen’s entrance. On the left ran a lane which led to the stables,and was not itself within the grounds at all, being a public, though littleused, thoroughfare. Holmes left us standing at the door and walked slowly allround the house, across the front, down the tradesmen’s path, and soround by the garden behind into the stable lane. So long was he that Mr. Holderand I went into the dining-room and waited by the fire until he should return.We were sitting there in silence when the door opened and a young lady came in.She was rather above the middle height, slim, with dark hair and eyes, whichseemed the darker against the absolute pallor of her skin. I do not think thatI have ever seen such deadly paleness in a woman’s face. Her lips, too,were bloodless, but her eyes were flushed with crying. As she swept silentlyinto the room she impressed me with a greater sense of grief than the bankerhad done in the morning, and it was the more striking in her as she wasevidently a woman of strong character, with immense capacity forself-restraint. Disregarding my presence, she went straight to her uncle andpassed her hand over his head with a sweet womanly caress.

“You have given orders that Arthur should be liberated, have you not,dad?” she asked.

“No, no, my girl, the matter must be probed to the bottom.”

“But I am so sure that he is innocent. You know what woman’sinstincts are. I know that he has done no harm and that you will be sorry forhaving acted so harshly.”

“Why is he silent, then, if he is innocent?”

“Who knows? Perhaps because he was so angry that you should suspecthim.”

“How could I help suspecting him, when I actually saw him with thecoronet in his hand?”

“Oh, but he had only picked it up to look at it. Oh, do, do take my wordfor it that he is innocent. Let the matter drop and say no more. It is sodreadful to think of our dear Arthur in prison!”

“I shall never let it drop until the gems are found—never, Mary!Your affection for Arthur blinds you as to the awful consequences to me. Farfrom hushing the thing up, I have brought a gentleman down from London toinquire more deeply into it.”

“This gentleman?” she asked, facing round to me.

“No, his friend. He wished us to leave him alone. He is round in thestable lane now.”

“The stable lane?” She raised her dark eyebrows. “What can hehope to find there? Ah! this, I suppose, is he. I trust, sir, that you willsucceed in proving, what I feel sure is the truth, that my cousin Arthur isinnocent of this crime.”

“I fully share your opinion, and I trust, with you, that we may proveit,” returned Holmes, going back to the mat to knock the snow from hisshoes. “I believe I have the honour of addressing Miss Mary Holder. MightI ask you a question or two?”

“Pray do, sir, if it may help to clear this horrible affair up.”

“You heard nothing yourself last night?”

“Nothing, until my uncle here began to speak loudly. I heard that, and Icame down.”

“You shut up the windows and doors the night before. Did you fasten allthe windows?”

“Yes.”

“Were they all fastened this morning?”

“Yes.”

“You have a maid who has a sweetheart? I think that you remarked to youruncle last night that she had been out to see him?”

“Yes, and she was the girl who waited in the drawing-room, and who mayhave heard uncle’s remarks about the coronet.”

“I see. You infer that she may have gone out to tell her sweetheart, andthat the two may have planned the robbery.”

“But what is the good of all these vague theories,” cried thebanker impatiently, “when I have told you that I saw Arthur with thecoronet in his hands?”

“Wait a little, Mr. Holder. We must come back to that. About this girl,Miss Holder. You saw her return by the kitchen door, I presume?”

“Yes; when I went to see if the door was fastened for the night I met herslipping in. I saw the man, too, in the gloom.”

“Do you know him?”

“Oh, yes! he is the greengrocer who brings our vegetables round. Hisname is Francis Prosper.”

“He stood,” said Holmes, “to the left of the door—thatis to say, farther up the path than is necessary to reach the door?”

“Yes, he did.”

“And he is a man with a wooden leg?”

Something like fear sprang up in the young lady’s expressive black eyes.“Why, you are like a magician,” said she. “How do you knowthat?” She smiled, but there was no answering smile in Holmes’thin, eager face.

“I should be very glad now to go upstairs,” said he. “I shallprobably wish to go over the outside of the house again. Perhaps I had bettertake a look at the lower windows before I go up.”

He walked swiftly round from one to the other, pausing only at the large onewhich looked from the hall onto the stable lane. This he opened and made a verycareful examination of the sill with his powerful magnifying lens. “Nowwe shall go upstairs,” said he at last.

The banker’s dressing-room was a plainly furnished little chamber, with agrey carpet, a large bureau, and a long mirror. Holmes went to the bureau firstand looked hard at the lock.

“Which key was used to open it?” he asked.

“That which my son himself indicated—that of the cupboard of thelumber-room.”

“Have you it here?”

“That is it on the dressing-table.”

Sherlock Holmes took it up and opened the bureau.

“It is a noiseless lock,” said he. “It is no wonder that itdid not wake you. This case, I presume, contains the coronet. We must have alook at it.” He opened the case, and taking out the diadem he laid itupon the table. It was a magnificent specimen of the jeweller’s art, andthe thirty-six stones were the finest that I have ever seen. At one side of thecoronet was a cracked edge, where a corner holding three gems had been tornaway.

“Now, Mr. Holder,” said Holmes, “here is the corner whichcorresponds to that which has been so unfortunately lost. Might I beg that youwill break it off.”

The banker recoiled in horror. “I should not dream of trying,” saidhe.

“Then I will.” Holmes suddenly bent his strength upon it, butwithout result. “I feel it give a little,” said he; “but,though I am exceptionally strong in the fingers, it would take me all my timeto break it. An ordinary man could not do it. Now, what do you think wouldhappen if I did break it, Mr. Holder? There would be a noise like a pistolshot. Do you tell me that all this happened within a few yards of your bed andthat you heard nothing of it?”

“I do not know what to think. It is all dark to me.”

“But perhaps it may grow lighter as we go. What do you think, MissHolder?”

“I confess that I still share my uncle’s perplexity.”

“Your son had no shoes or slippers on when you saw him?”

“He had nothing on save only his trousers and shirt.”

“Thank you. We have certainly been favoured with extraordinary luckduring this inquiry, and it will be entirely our own fault if we do not succeedin clearing the matter up. With your permission, Mr. Holder, I shall nowcontinue my investigations outside.”

He went alone, at his own request, for he explained that any unnecessaryfootmarks might make his task more difficult. For an hour or more he was atwork, returning at last with his feet heavy with snow and his features asinscrutable as ever.

“I think that I have seen now all that there is to see, Mr.Holder,” said he; “I can serve you best by returning to myrooms.”

“But the gems, Mr. Holmes. Where are they?”

“I cannot tell.”

The banker wrung his hands. “I shall never see them again!” hecried. “And my son? You give me hopes?”

“My opinion is in no way altered.”

“Then, for God’s sake, what was this dark business which was actedin my house last night?”

“If you can call upon me at my Baker Street rooms to-morrow morningbetween nine and ten I shall be happy to do what I can to make it clearer. Iunderstand that you give me carte blanche to act for you, provided onlythat I get back the gems, and that you place no limit on the sum I maydraw.”

“I would give my fortune to have them back.”

“Very good. I shall look into the matter between this and then. Good-bye;it is just possible that I may have to come over here again beforeevening.”

It was obvious to me that my companion’s mind was now made up about thecase, although what his conclusions were was more than I could even dimlyimagine. Several times during our homeward journey I endeavoured to sound himupon the point, but he always glided away to some other topic, until at last Igave it over in despair. It was not yet three when we found ourselves in ourrooms once more. He hurried to his chamber and was down again in a few minutesdressed as a common loafer. With his collar turned up, his shiny, seedy coat,his red cravat, and his worn boots, he was a perfect sample of the class.

“I think that this should do,” said he, glancing into the glassabove the fireplace. “I only wish that you could come with me, Watson,but I fear that it won’t do. I may be on the trail in this matter, or Imay be following a will-o’-the-wisp, but I shall soon know which it is. Ihope that I may be back in a few hours.” He cut a slice of beef from thejoint upon the sideboard, sandwiched it between two rounds of bread, andthrusting this rude meal into his pocket he started off upon his expedition.

I had just finished my tea when he returned, evidently in excellent spirits,swinging an old elastic-sided boot in his hand. He chucked it down into acorner and helped himself to a cup of tea.

“I only looked in as I passed,” said he. “I am going righton.”

“Where to?”

“Oh, to the other side of the West End. It may be some time before I getback. Don’t wait up for me in case I should be late.”

“How are you getting on?”

“Oh, so so. Nothing to complain of. I have been out to Streatham since Isaw you last, but I did not call at the house. It is a very sweet littleproblem, and I would not have missed it for a good deal. However, I must notsit gossiping here, but must get these disreputable clothes off and return tomy highly respectable self.”

I could see by his manner that he had stronger reasons for satisfaction thanhis words alone would imply. His eyes twinkled, and there was even a touch ofcolour upon his sallow cheeks. He hastened upstairs, and a few minutes later Iheard the slam of the hall door, which told me that he was off once more uponhis congenial hunt.

I waited until midnight, but there was no sign of his return, so I retired tomy room. It was no uncommon thing for him to be away for days and nights on endwhen he was hot upon a scent, so that his lateness caused me no surprise. I donot know at what hour he came in, but when I came down to breakfast in themorning there he was with a cup of coffee in one hand and the paper in theother, as fresh and trim as possible.

“You will excuse my beginning without you, Watson,” said he,“but you remember that our client has rather an early appointment thismorning.”

“Why, it is after nine now,” I answered. “I should not besurprised if that were he. I thought I heard a ring.”

It was, indeed, our friend the financier. I was shocked by the change which hadcome over him, for his face which was naturally of a broad and massive mould,was now pinched and fallen in, while his hair seemed to me at least a shadewhiter. He entered with a weariness and lethargy which was even more painfulthan his violence of the morning before, and he dropped heavily into thearmchair which I pushed forward for him.

“I do not know what I have done to be so severely tried,” said he.“Only two days ago I was a happy and prosperous man, without a care inthe world. Now I am left to a lonely and dishonoured age. One sorrow comesclose upon the heels of another. My niece, Mary, has deserted me.”

“Deserted you?”

“Yes. Her bed this morning had not been slept in, her room was empty, anda note for me lay upon the hall table. I had said to her last night, in sorrowand not in anger, that if she had married my boy all might have been well withhim. Perhaps it was thoughtless of me to say so. It is to that remark that sherefers in this note:

“‘MY DEAREST UNCLE,—I feel that I have brought troubleupon you, and that if I had acted differently this terrible misfortune mightnever have occurred. I cannot, with this thought in my mind, ever again behappy under your roof, and I feel that I must leave you forever. Do not worryabout my future, for that is provided for; and, above all, do not search forme, for it will be fruitless labour and an ill-service to me. In life or indeath, I am ever your loving,

“‘MARY.’

“What could she mean by that note, Mr. Holmes? Do you think it points tosuicide?”

“No, no, nothing of the kind. It is perhaps the best possible solution. Itrust, Mr. Holder, that you are nearing the end of your troubles.”

“Ha! You say so! You have heard something, Mr. Holmes; you have learnedsomething! Where are the gems?”

“You would not think £ 1000 apiece an excessive sum forthem?”

“I would pay ten.”

“That would be unnecessary. Three thousand will cover the matter. Andthere is a little reward, I fancy. Have you your cheque-book? Here is a pen.Better make it out for £ 4000.”

With a dazed face the banker made out the required check. Holmes walked over tohis desk, took out a little triangular piece of gold with three gems in it, andthrew it down upon the table.

With a shriek of joy our client clutched it up.

“You have it!” he gasped. “I am saved! I am saved!”

The reaction of joy was as passionate as his grief had been, and he hugged hisrecovered gems to his bosom.

“There is one other thing you owe, Mr. Holder,” said SherlockHolmes rather sternly.

“Owe!” He caught up a pen. “Name the sum, and I will payit.”

“No, the debt is not to me. You owe a very humble apology to that noblelad, your son, who has carried himself in this matter as I should be proud tosee my own son do, should I ever chance to have one.”

“Then it was not Arthur who took them?”

“I told you yesterday, and I repeat to-day, that it was not.”

“You are sure of it! Then let us hurry to him at once to let him knowthat the truth is known.”

“He knows it already. When I had cleared it all up I had an interviewwith him, and finding that he would not tell me the story, I told it to him, onwhich he had to confess that I was right and to add the very few details whichwere not yet quite clear to me. Your news of this morning, however, may openhis lips.”

“For Heaven’s sake, tell me, then, what is this extraordinarymystery!”

“I will do so, and I will show you the steps by which I reached it. Andlet me say to you, first, that which it is hardest for me to say and for you tohear: there has been an understanding between Sir George Burnwell and yourniece Mary. They have now fled together.”

“My Mary? Impossible!”

“It is unfortunately more than possible; it is certain. Neither you noryour son knew the true character of this man when you admitted him into yourfamily circle. He is one of the most dangerous men in England—a ruinedgambler, an absolutely desperate villain, a man without heart or conscience.Your niece knew nothing of such men. When he breathed his vows to her, as hehad done to a hundred before her, she flattered herself that she alone hadtouched his heart. The devil knows best what he said, but at least she becamehis tool and was in the habit of seeing him nearly every evening.”

“I cannot, and I will not, believe it!” cried the banker with anashen face.

“I will tell you, then, what occurred in your house last night. Yourniece, when you had, as she thought, gone to your room, slipped down and talkedto her lover through the window which leads into the stable lane. His footmarkshad pressed right through the snow, so long had he stood there. She told him ofthe coronet. His wicked lust for gold kindled at the news, and he bent her tohis will. I have no doubt that she loved you, but there are women in whom thelove of a lover extinguishes all other loves, and I think that she must havebeen one. She had hardly listened to his instructions when she saw you comingdownstairs, on which she closed the window rapidly and told you about one ofthe servants’ escapade with her wooden-legged lover, which was allperfectly true.

“Your boy, Arthur, went to bed after his interview with you but he sleptbadly on account of his uneasiness about his club debts. In the middle of thenight he heard a soft tread pass his door, so he rose and, looking out, wassurprised to see his cousin walking very stealthily along the passage until shedisappeared into your dressing-room. Petrified with astonishment, the ladslipped on some clothes and waited there in the dark to see what would come ofthis strange affair. Presently she emerged from the room again, and in thelight of the passage-lamp your son saw that she carried the precious coronet inher hands. She passed down the stairs, and he, thrilling with horror, ran alongand slipped behind the curtain near your door, whence he could see what passedin the hall beneath. He saw her stealthily open the window, hand out thecoronet to someone in the gloom, and then closing it once more hurry back toher room, passing quite close to where he stood hid behind the curtain.

“As long as she was on the scene he could not take any action without ahorrible exposure of the woman whom he loved. But the instant that she was gonehe realised how crushing a misfortune this would be for you, and howall-important it was to set it right. He rushed down, just as he was, in hisbare feet, opened the window, sprang out into the snow, and ran down the lane,where he could see a dark figure in the moonlight. Sir George Burnwell tried toget away, but Arthur caught him, and there was a struggle between them, yourlad tugging at one side of the coronet, and his opponent at the other. In thescuffle, your son struck Sir George and cut him over the eye. Then somethingsuddenly snapped, and your son, finding that he had the coronet in his hands,rushed back, closed the window, ascended to your room, and had just observedthat the coronet had been twisted in the struggle and was endeavouring tostraighten it when you appeared upon the scene.”

“Is it possible?” gasped the banker.

“You then roused his anger by calling him names at a moment when he feltthat he had deserved your warmest thanks. He could not explain the true stateof affairs without betraying one who certainly deserved little enoughconsideration at his hands. He took the more chivalrous view, however, andpreserved her secret.”

“And that was why she shrieked and fainted when she saw thecoronet,” cried Mr. Holder. “Oh, my God! what a blind fool I havebeen! And his asking to be allowed to go out for five minutes! The dear fellowwanted to see if the missing piece were at the scene of the struggle. Howcruelly I have misjudged him!”

“When I arrived at the house,” continued Holmes, “I at oncewent very carefully round it to observe if there were any traces in the snowwhich might help me. I knew that none had fallen since the evening before, andalso that there had been a strong frost to preserve impressions. I passed alongthe tradesmen’s path, but found it all trampled down andindistinguishable. Just beyond it, however, at the far side of the kitchendoor, a woman had stood and talked with a man, whose round impressions on oneside showed that he had a wooden leg. I could even tell that they had beendisturbed, for the woman had run back swiftly to the door, as was shown by thedeep toe and light heel marks, while Wooden-leg had waited a little, and thenhad gone away. I thought at the time that this might be the maid and hersweetheart, of whom you had already spoken to me, and inquiry showed it was so.I passed round the garden without seeing anything more than random tracks,which I took to be the police; but when I got into the stable lane a very longand complex story was written in the snow in front of me.

“There was a double line of tracks of a booted man, and a second doubleline which I saw with delight belonged to a man with naked feet. I was at onceconvinced from what you had told me that the latter was your son. The first hadwalked both ways, but the other had run swiftly, and as his tread was marked inplaces over the depression of the boot, it was obvious that he had passed afterthe other. I followed them up and found they led to the hall window, whereBoots had worn all the snow away while waiting. Then I walked to the other end,which was a hundred yards or more down the lane. I saw where Boots had facedround, where the snow was cut up as though there had been a struggle, and,finally, where a few drops of blood had fallen, to show me that I was notmistaken. Boots had then run down the lane, and another little smudge of bloodshowed that it was he who had been hurt. When he came to the highroad at theother end, I found that the pavement had been cleared, so there was an end tothat clue.

“On entering the house, however, I examined, as you remember, the silland framework of the hall window with my lens, and I could at once see thatsomeone had passed out. I could distinguish the outline of an instep where thewet foot had been placed in coming in. I was then beginning to be able to forman opinion as to what had occurred. A man had waited outside the window;someone had brought the gems; the deed had been overseen by your son; he hadpursued the thief; had struggled with him; they had each tugged at the coronet,their united strength causing injuries which neither alone could have effected.He had returned with the prize, but had left a fragment in the grasp of hisopponent. So far I was clear. The question now was, who was the man and who wasit brought him the coronet?

“It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible,whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. Now, I knew that itwas not you who had brought it down, so there only remained your niece and themaids. But if it were the maids, why should your son allow himself to beaccused in their place? There could be no possible reason. As he loved hiscousin, however, there was an excellent explanation why he should retain hersecret—the more so as the secret was a disgraceful one. When I rememberedthat you had seen her at that window, and how she had fainted on seeing thecoronet again, my conjecture became a certainty.

“And who could it be who was her confederate? A lover evidently, for whoelse could outweigh the love and gratitude which she must feel to you? I knewthat you went out little, and that your circle of friends was a very limitedone. But among them was Sir George Burnwell. I had heard of him before as beinga man of evil reputation among women. It must have been he who wore those bootsand retained the missing gems. Even though he knew that Arthur had discoveredhim, he might still flatter himself that he was safe, for the lad could not saya word without compromising his own family.

“Well, your own good sense will suggest what measures I took next. I wentin the shape of a loafer to Sir George’s house, managed to pick up anacquaintance with his valet, learned that his master had cut his head the nightbefore, and, finally, at the expense of six shillings, made all sure by buyinga pair of his cast-off shoes. With these I journeyed down to Streatham and sawthat they exactly fitted the tracks.”

“I saw an ill-dressed vagabond in the lane yesterday evening,” saidMr. Holder.

“Precisely. It was I. I found that I had my man, so I came home andchanged my clothes. It was a delicate part which I had to play then, for I sawthat a prosecution must be avoided to avert scandal, and I knew that so astutea villain would see that our hands were tied in the matter. I went and saw him.At first, of course, he denied everything. But when I gave him every particularthat had occurred, he tried to bluster and took down a life-preserver from thewall. I knew my man, however, and I clapped a pistol to his head before hecould strike. Then he became a little more reasonable. I told him that we wouldgive him a price for the stones he held—£ 1000 apiece. That brought outthe first signs of grief that he had shown. ‘Why, dash it all!’said he, ‘I’ve let them go at six hundred for the three!’ Isoon managed to get the address of the receiver who had them, on promising himthat there would be no prosecution. Off I set to him, and after much chafferingI got our stones at £ 1000 apiece. Then I looked in upon your son, told himthat all was right, and eventually got to my bed about two o’clock, afterwhat I may call a really hard day’s work.”

“A day which has saved England from a great public scandal,” saidthe banker, rising. “Sir, I cannot find words to thank you, but you shallnot find me ungrateful for what you have done. Your skill has indeed exceededall that I have heard of it. And now I must fly to my dear boy to apologise tohim for the wrong which I have done him. As to what you tell me of poor Mary,it goes to my very heart. Not even your skill can inform me where she isnow.”

“I think that we may safely say,” returned Holmes, “that sheis wherever Sir George Burnwell is. It is equally certain, too, that whateverher sins are, they will soon receive a more than sufficient punishment.”

XII.
THE ADVENTURE OF THE COPPER BEECHES

“To the man wholoves art for its own sake,” remarked Sherlock Holmes, tossing aside theadvertisement sheet of The Daily Telegraph, “it is frequently inits least important and lowliest manifestations that the keenest pleasure is tobe derived. It is pleasant to me to observe, Watson, that you have so fargrasped this truth that in these little records of our cases which you havebeen good enough to draw up, and, I am bound to say, occasionally to embellish,you have given prominence not so much to the many causes célèbres andsensational trials in which I have figured but rather to those incidents whichmay have been trivial in themselves, but which have given room for thosefaculties of deduction and of logical synthesis which I have made my specialprovince.”

“And yet,” said I, smiling, “I cannot quite hold myselfabsolved from the charge of sensationalism which has been urged against myrecords.”

“You have erred, perhaps,” he observed, taking up a glowing cinderwith the tongs and lighting with it the long cherry-wood pipe which was wont toreplace his clay when he was in a disputatious rather than a meditativemood—“you have erred perhaps in attempting to put colour and lifeinto each of your statements instead of confining yourself to the task ofplacing upon record that severe reasoning from cause to effect which is reallythe only notable feature about the thing.”

“It seems to me that I have done you full justice in the matter,” Iremarked with some coldness, for I was repelled by the egotism which I had morethan once observed to be a strong factor in my friend’s singularcharacter.

“No, it is not selfishness or conceit,” said he, answering, as washis wont, my thoughts rather than my words. “If I claim full justice formy art, it is because it is an impersonal thing—a thing beyond myself.Crime is common. Logic is rare. Therefore it is upon the logic rather than uponthe crime that you should dwell. You have degraded what should have been acourse of lectures into a series of tales.”

It was a cold morning of the early spring, and we sat after breakfast on eitherside of a cheery fire in the old room at Baker Street. A thick fog rolled downbetween the lines of dun-coloured houses, and the opposing windows loomed likedark, shapeless blurs through the heavy yellow wreaths. Our gas was lit andshone on the white cloth and glimmer of china and metal, for the table had notbeen cleared yet. Sherlock Holmes had been silent all the morning, dippingcontinuously into the advertisement columns of a succession of papers until atlast, having apparently given up his search, he had emerged in no very sweettemper to lecture me upon my literary shortcomings.

“At the same time,” he remarked after a pause, during which he hadsat puffing at his long pipe and gazing down into the fire, “you canhardly be open to a charge of sensationalism, for out of these cases which youhave been so kind as to interest yourself in, a fair proportion do not treat ofcrime, in its legal sense, at all. The small matter in which I endeavoured tohelp the King of Bohemia, the singular experience of Miss Mary Sutherland, theproblem connected with the man with the twisted lip, and the incident of thenoble bachelor, were all matters which are outside the pale of the law. But inavoiding the sensational, I fear that you may have bordered on thetrivial.”

“The end may have been so,” I answered, “but the methods Ihold to have been novel and of interest.”

“Pshaw, my dear fellow, what do the public, the great unobservant public,who could hardly tell a weaver by his tooth or a compositor by his left thumb,care about the finer shades of analysis and deduction! But, indeed, if you aretrivial, I cannot blame you, for the days of the great cases are past. Man, orat least criminal man, has lost all enterprise and originality. As to my ownlittle practice, it seems to be degenerating into an agency for recovering lostlead pencils and giving advice to young ladies from boarding-schools. I thinkthat I have touched bottom at last, however. This note I had this morning marksmy zero-point, I fancy. Read it!” He tossed a crumpled letter across tome.

It was dated from Montague Place upon the preceding evening, and ran thus:

“DEAR MR. HOLMES,—I am very anxious to consult you as to whether Ishould or should not accept a situation which has been offered to me asgoverness. I shall call at half-past ten to-morrow if I do not inconvenienceyou. Yours faithfully,

“VIOLET HUNTER.”

“Do you know the young lady?” I asked.

“Not I.”

“It is half-past ten now.”

“Yes, and I have no doubt that is her ring.”

“It may turn out to be of more interest than you think. You remember thatthe affair of the blue carbuncle, which appeared to be a mere whim at first,developed into a serious investigation. It may be so in this case, also.”

“Well, let us hope so. But our doubts will very soon be solved, for here,unless I am much mistaken, is the person in question.”

As he spoke the door opened and a young lady entered the room. She was plainlybut neatly dressed, with a bright, quick face, freckled like a plover’segg, and with the brisk manner of a woman who has had her own way to make inthe world.

“You will excuse my troubling you, I am sure,” said she, as mycompanion rose to greet her, “but I have had a very strange experience,and as I have no parents or relations of any sort from whom I could ask advice,I thought that perhaps you would be kind enough to tell me what I shoulddo.”

“Pray take a seat, Miss Hunter. I shall be happy to do anything that Ican to serve you.”

I could see that Holmes was favourably impressed by the manner and speech ofhis new client. He looked her over in his searching fashion, and then composedhimself, with his lids drooping and his finger-tips together, to listen to herstory.

“I have been a governess for five years,” said she, “in thefamily of Colonel Spence Munro, but two months ago the colonel received anappointment at Halifax, in Nova Scotia, and took his children over to Americawith him, so that I found myself without a situation. I advertised, and Ianswered advertisements, but without success. At last the little money which Ihad saved began to run short, and I was at my wit’s end as to what Ishould do.

“There is a well-known agency for governesses in the West End calledWestaway’s, and there I used to call about once a week in order to seewhether anything had turned up which might suit me. Westaway was the name ofthe founder of the business, but it is really managed by Miss Stoper. She sitsin her own little office, and the ladies who are seeking employment wait in ananteroom, and are then shown in one by one, when she consults her ledgers andsees whether she has anything which would suit them.

“Well, when I called last week I was shown into the little office asusual, but I found that Miss Stoper was not alone. A prodigiously stout manwith a very smiling face and a great heavy chin which rolled down in fold uponfold over his throat sat at her elbow with a pair of glasses on his nose,looking very earnestly at the ladies who entered. As I came in he gave quite ajump in his chair and turned quickly to Miss Stoper.

“‘That will do,’ said he; ‘I could not ask foranything better. Capital! capital!’ He seemed quite enthusiastic andrubbed his hands together in the most genial fashion. He was such acomfortable-looking man that it was quite a pleasure to look at him.

“‘You are looking for a situation, miss?’ he asked.

“‘Yes, sir.’

“‘As governess?’

“‘Yes, sir.’

“‘And what salary do you ask?’

“‘I had £ 4 a month in my last place with Colonel SpenceMunro.’

“‘Oh, tut, tut! sweating—rank sweating!’ hecried, throwing his fat hands out into the air like a man who is in a boilingpassion. ‘How could anyone offer so pitiful a sum to a lady with suchattractions and accomplishments?’

“‘My accomplishments, sir, may be less than youimagine,’ said I. ‘A little French, a little German, music, anddrawing—’

“‘Tut, tut!’ he cried. ‘This is all quite besidethe question. The point is, have you or have you not the bearing and deportmentof a lady? There it is in a nutshell. If you have not, you are not fitted forthe rearing of a child who may some day play a considerable part in the historyof the country. But if you have why, then, how could any gentleman ask you tocondescend to accept anything under the three figures? Your salary with me,madam, would commence at £ 100 a year.’

“You may imagine, Mr. Holmes, that to me, destitute as I was, such anoffer seemed almost too good to be true. The gentleman, however, seeing perhapsthe look of incredulity upon my face, opened a pocket-book and took out a note.

“‘It is also my custom,’ said he, smiling in the mostpleasant fashion until his eyes were just two little shining slits amid thewhite creases of his face, ‘to advance to my young ladies half theirsalary beforehand, so that they may meet any little expenses of their journeyand their wardrobe.’

“It seemed to me that I had never met so fascinating and so thoughtful aman. As I was already in debt to my tradesmen, the advance was a greatconvenience, and yet there was something unnatural about the whole transactionwhich made me wish to know a little more before I quite committed myself.

“‘May I ask where you live, sir?’ said I.

“‘Hampshire. Charming rural place. The Copper Beeches, fivemiles on the far side of Winchester. It is the most lovely country, my dearyoung lady, and the dearest old country-house.’

“‘And my duties, sir? I should be glad to know what theywould be.’

“‘One child—one dear little romper just six years old.Oh, if you could see him killing cockroaches with a slipper! Smack! smack!smack! Three gone before you could wink!’ He leaned back in his chair andlaughed his eyes into his head again.

“I was a little startled at the nature of the child’s amusement,but the father’s laughter made me think that perhaps he was joking.

“‘My sole duties, then,’ I asked, ‘are to takecharge of a single child?’

“‘No, no, not the sole, not the sole, my dear younglady,’ he cried. ‘Your duty would be, as I am sure your good sensewould suggest, to obey any little commands my wife might give, provided alwaysthat they were such commands as a lady might with propriety obey. You see nodifficulty, heh?’

“‘I should be happy to make myself useful.’

“‘Quite so. In dress now, for example. We are faddy people,you know—faddy but kind-hearted. If you were asked to wear any dresswhich we might give you, you would not object to our little whim. Heh?’

“‘No,’ said I, considerably astonished at his words.

“‘Or to sit here, or sit there, that would not be offensiveto you?’

“‘Oh, no.’

“‘Or to cut your hair quite short before you come tous?’

“I could hardly believe my ears. As you may observe, Mr. Holmes, my hairis somewhat luxuriant, and of a rather peculiar tint of chestnut. It has beenconsidered artistic. I could not dream of sacrificing it in this offhandfashion.

“‘I am afraid that that is quite impossible,’ said I.He had been watching me eagerly out of his small eyes, and I could see a shadowpass over his face as I spoke.

“‘I am afraid that it is quite essential,’ said he.‘It is a little fancy of my wife’s, and ladies’ fancies, youknow, madam, ladies’ fancies must be consulted. And so you won’tcut your hair?’

“‘No, sir, I really could not,’ I answered firmly.

“‘Ah, very well; then that quite settles the matter. It is apity, because in other respects you would really have done very nicely. In thatcase, Miss Stoper, I had best inspect a few more of your young ladies.’

“The manageress had sat all this while busy with her papers without aword to either of us, but she glanced at me now with so much annoyance upon herface that I could not help suspecting that she had lost a handsome commissionthrough my refusal.

“‘Do you desire your name to be kept upon the books?’she asked.

“‘If you please, Miss Stoper.’

“‘Well, really, it seems rather useless, since you refuse themost excellent offers in this fashion,’ said she sharply. ‘You canhardly expect us to exert ourselves to find another such opening for you.Good-day to you, Miss Hunter.’ She struck a gong upon the table, and Iwas shown out by the page.

“Well, Mr. Holmes, when I got back to my lodgings and found little enoughin the cupboard, and two or three bills upon the table, I began to ask myselfwhether I had not done a very foolish thing. After all, if these people hadstrange fads and expected obedience on the most extraordinary matters, theywere at least ready to pay for their eccentricity. Very few governesses inEngland are getting £ 100 a year. Besides, what use was my hair to me? Manypeople are improved by wearing it short and perhaps I should be among thenumber. Next day I was inclined to think that I had made a mistake, and by theday after I was sure of it. I had almost overcome my pride so far as to go backto the agency and inquire whether the place was still open when I received thisletter from the gentleman himself. I have it here and I will read it to you:

“‘The Copper Beeches, near Winchester.
“‘DEAR MISS HUNTER,—Miss Stoper has very kindly given me youraddress, and I write from here to ask you whether you have reconsidered yourdecision. My wife is very anxious that you should come, for she has been muchattracted by my description of you. We are willing to give £ 30 a quarter, or £120 a year, so as to recompense you for any little inconvenience which our fadsmay cause you. They are not very exacting, after all. My wife is fond of aparticular shade of electric blue and would like you to wear such a dressindoors in the morning. You need not, however, go to the expense of purchasingone, as we have one belonging to my dear daughter Alice (now in Philadelphia),which would, I should think, fit you very well. Then, as to sitting here orthere, or amusing yourself in any manner indicated, that need cause you noinconvenience. As regards your hair, it is no doubt a pity, especially as Icould not help remarking its beauty during our short interview, but I am afraidthat I must remain firm upon this point, and I only hope that the increasedsalary may recompense you for the loss. Your duties, as far as the child isconcerned, are very light. Now do try to come, and I shall meet you with thedog-cart at Winchester. Let me know your train. Yours faithfully,

“‘JEPHRO RUCASTLE.’

“That is the letter which I have just received, Mr. Holmes, and my mindis made up that I will accept it. I thought, however, that before taking thefinal step I should like to submit the whole matter to yourconsideration.”

“Well, Miss Hunter, if your mind is made up, that settles thequestion,” said Holmes, smiling.

“But you would not advise me to refuse?”

“I confess that it is not the situation which I should like to see asister of mine apply for.”

“What is the meaning of it all, Mr. Holmes?”

“Ah, I have no data. I cannot tell. Perhaps you have yourself formed someopinion?”

“Well, there seems to me to be only one possible solution. Mr. Rucastleseemed to be a very kind, good-natured man. Is it not possible that his wife isa lunatic, that he desires to keep the matter quiet for fear she should betaken to an asylum, and that he humours her fancies in every way in order toprevent an outbreak?”

“That is a possible solution—in fact, as matters stand, it is themost probable one. But in any case it does not seem to be a nice household fora young lady.”

“But the money, Mr. Holmes, the money!”

“Well, yes, of course the pay is good—too good. That is what makesme uneasy. Why should they give you £ 120 a year, when they could have theirpick for £ 40? There must be some strong reason behind.”

“I thought that if I told you the circumstances you would understandafterwards if I wanted your help. I should feel so much stronger if I felt thatyou were at the back of me.”

“Oh, you may carry that feeling away with you. I assure you that yourlittle problem promises to be the most interesting which has come my way forsome months. There is something distinctly novel about some of the features. Ifyou should find yourself in doubt or in danger—”

“Danger! What danger do you foresee?”

Holmes shook his head gravely. “It would cease to be a danger if we coulddefine it,” said he. “But at any time, day or night, a telegramwould bring me down to your help.”

“That is enough.” She rose briskly from her chair with the anxietyall swept from her face. “I shall go down to Hampshire quite easy in mymind now. I shall write to Mr. Rucastle at once, sacrifice my poor hairto-night, and start for Winchester to-morrow.” With a few grateful wordsto Holmes she bade us both good-night and bustled off upon her way.

“At least,” said I as we heard her quick, firm steps descending thestairs, “she seems to be a young lady who is very well able to take careof herself.”

“And she would need to be,” said Holmes gravely. “I am muchmistaken if we do not hear from her before many days are past.”

It was not very long before my friend’s prediction was fulfilled. Afortnight went by, during which I frequently found my thoughts turning in herdirection and wondering what strange side-alley of human experience this lonelywoman had strayed into. The unusual salary, the curious conditions, the lightduties, all pointed to something abnormal, though whether a fad or a plot, orwhether the man were a philanthropist or a villain, it was quite beyond mypowers to determine. As to Holmes, I observed that he sat frequently for halfan hour on end, with knitted brows and an abstracted air, but he swept thematter away with a wave of his hand when I mentioned it. “Data! data!data!” he cried impatiently. “I can’t make bricks withoutclay.” And yet he would always wind up by muttering that no sister of hisshould ever have accepted such a situation.

The telegram which we eventually received came late one night just as I wasthinking of turning in and Holmes was settling down to one of those all-nightchemical researches which he frequently indulged in, when I would leave himstooping over a retort and a test-tube at night and find him in the sameposition when I came down to breakfast in the morning. He opened the yellowenvelope, and then, glancing at the message, threw it across to me.

“Just look up the trains in Bradshaw,” said he, and turned back tohis chemical studies.

The summons was a brief and urgent one.

“Please be at the Black Swan Hotel at Winchester at middayto-morrow,” it said. “Do come! I am at my wit’s end.

“HUNTER.”

“Will you come with me?” asked Holmes, glancing up.

“I should wish to.”

“Just look it up, then.”

“There is a train at half-past nine,” said I, glancing over myBradshaw. “It is due at Winchester at 11:30.”

“That will do very nicely. Then perhaps I had better postpone my analysisof the acetones, as we may need to be at our best in the morning.”

By eleven o’clock the next day we were well upon our way to the oldEnglish capital. Holmes had been buried in the morning papers all the way down,but after we had passed the Hampshire border he threw them down and began toadmire the scenery. It was an ideal spring day, a light blue sky, flecked withlittle fleecy white clouds drifting across from west to east. The sun wasshining very brightly, and yet there was an exhilarating nip in the air, whichset an edge to a man’s energy. All over the countryside, away to therolling hills around Aldershot, the little red and grey roofs of thefarm-steadings peeped out from amid the light green of the new foliage.

“Are they not fresh and beautiful?” I cried with all the enthusiasmof a man fresh from the fogs of Baker Street.

But Holmes shook his head gravely.

“Do you know, Watson,” said he, “that it is one of the cursesof a mind with a turn like mine that I must look at everything with referenceto my own special subject. You look at these scattered houses, and you areimpressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes tome is a feeling of their isolation and of the impunity with which crime may becommitted there.”

“Good heavens!” I cried. “Who would associate crime withthese dear old homesteads?”

“They always fill me with a certain horror. It is my belief, Watson,founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do notpresent a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautifulcountryside.”

“You horrify me!”

“But the reason is very obvious. The pressure of public opinion can do inthe town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that thescream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard’s blow, does notbeget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the wholemachinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set itgoing, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look atthese lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poorignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellishcruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in suchplaces, and none the wiser. Had this lady who appeals to us for help gone tolive in Winchester, I should never have had a fear for her. It is the fivemiles of country which makes the danger. Still, it is clear that she is notpersonally threatened.”

“No. If she can come to Winchester to meet us she can get away.”

“Quite so. She has her freedom.”

“What can be the matter, then? Can you suggest noexplanation?”

“I have devised seven separate explanations, each of which would coverthe facts as far as we know them. But which of these is correct can only bedetermined by the fresh information which we shall no doubt find waiting forus. Well, there is the tower of the cathedral, and we shall soon learn all thatMiss Hunter has to tell.”

The Black Swan is an inn of repute in the High Street, at no distance from thestation, and there we found the young lady waiting for us. She had engaged asitting-room, and our lunch awaited us upon the table.

“I am so delighted that you have come,” she said earnestly.“It is so very kind of you both; but indeed I do not know what I shoulddo. Your advice will be altogether invaluable to me.”

“Pray tell us what has happened to you.”

“I will do so, and I must be quick, for I have promised Mr. Rucastle tobe back before three. I got his leave to come into town this morning, though helittle knew for what purpose.”

“Let us have everything in its due order.” Holmes thrust his longthin legs out towards the fire and composed himself to listen.

“In the first place, I may say that I have met, on the whole, with noactual ill-treatment from Mr. and Mrs. Rucastle. It is only fair to them to saythat. But I cannot understand them, and I am not easy in my mind aboutthem.”

“What can you not understand?”

“Their reasons for their conduct. But you shall have it all just as itoccurred. When I came down, Mr. Rucastle met me here and drove me in hisdog-cart to the Copper Beeches. It is, as he said, beautifully situated, but itis not beautiful in itself, for it is a large square block of a house,whitewashed, but all stained and streaked with damp and bad weather. There aregrounds round it, woods on three sides, and on the fourth a field which slopesdown to the Southampton highroad, which curves past about a hundred yards fromthe front door. This ground in front belongs to the house, but the woods allround are part of Lord Southerton’s preserves. A clump of copper beechesimmediately in front of the hall door has given its name to the place.

“I was driven over by my employer, who was as amiable as ever, and wasintroduced by him that evening to his wife and the child. There was no truth,Mr. Holmes, in the conjecture which seemed to us to be probable in your roomsat Baker Street. Mrs. Rucastle is not mad. I found her to be a silent,pale-faced woman, much younger than her husband, not more than thirty, I shouldthink, while he can hardly be less than forty-five. From their conversation Ihave gathered that they have been married about seven years, that he was awidower, and that his only child by the first wife was the daughter who hasgone to Philadelphia. Mr. Rucastle told me in private that the reason why shehad left them was that she had an unreasoning aversion to her stepmother. Asthe daughter could not have been less than twenty, I can quite imagine that herposition must have been uncomfortable with her father’s young wife.

“Mrs. Rucastle seemed to me to be colourless in mind as well as infeature. She impressed me neither favourably nor the reverse. She was anonentity. It was easy to see that she was passionately devoted both to herhusband and to her little son. Her light grey eyes wandered continually fromone to the other, noting every little want and forestalling it if possible. Hewas kind to her also in his bluff, boisterous fashion, and on the whole theyseemed to be a happy couple. And yet she had some secret sorrow, this woman.She would often be lost in deep thought, with the saddest look upon her face.More than once I have surprised her in tears. I have thought sometimes that itwas the disposition of her child which weighed upon her mind, for I have nevermet so utterly spoiled and so ill-natured a little creature. He is small forhis age, with a head which is quite disproportionately large. His whole lifeappears to be spent in an alternation between savage fits of passion and gloomyintervals of sulking. Giving pain to any creature weaker than himself seems tobe his one idea of amusement, and he shows quite remarkable talent in planningthe capture of mice, little birds, and insects. But I would rather not talkabout the creature, Mr. Holmes, and, indeed, he has little to do with mystory.”

“I am glad of all details,” remarked my friend, “whether theyseem to you to be relevant or not.”

“I shall try not to miss anything of importance. The one unpleasant thingabout the house, which struck me at once, was the appearance and conduct of theservants. There are only two, a man and his wife. Toller, for that is his name,is a rough, uncouth man, with grizzled hair and whiskers, and a perpetual smellof drink. Twice since I have been with them he has been quite drunk, and yetMr. Rucastle seemed to take no notice of it. His wife is a very tall and strongwoman with a sour face, as silent as Mrs. Rucastle and much less amiable. Theyare a most unpleasant couple, but fortunately I spend most of my time in thenursery and my own room, which are next to each other in one corner of thebuilding.

“For two days after my arrival at the Copper Beeches my life was veryquiet; on the third, Mrs. Rucastle came down just after breakfast and whisperedsomething to her husband.

“‘Oh, yes,’ said he, turning to me, ‘we are verymuch obliged to you, Miss Hunter, for falling in with our whims so far as tocut your hair. I assure you that it has not detracted in the tiniest iota fromyour appearance. We shall now see how the electric-blue dress will become you.You will find it laid out upon the bed in your room, and if you would be sogood as to put it on we should both be extremely obliged.’

“The dress which I found waiting for me was of a peculiar shade of blue.It was of excellent material, a sort of beige, but it bore unmistakable signsof having been worn before. It could not have been a better fit if I had beenmeasured for it. Both Mr. and Mrs. Rucastle expressed a delight at the look ofit, which seemed quite exaggerated in its vehemence. They were waiting for mein the drawing-room, which is a very large room, stretching along the entirefront of the house, with three long windows reaching down to the floor. A chairhad been placed close to the central window, with its back turned towards it.In this I was asked to sit, and then Mr. Rucastle, walking up and down on theother side of the room, began to tell me a series of the funniest stories thatI have ever listened to. You cannot imagine how comical he was, and I laugheduntil I was quite weary. Mrs. Rucastle, however, who has evidently no sense ofhumour, never so much as smiled, but sat with her hands in her lap, and a sad,anxious look upon her face. After an hour or so, Mr. Rucastle suddenly remarkedthat it was time to commence the duties of the day, and that I might change mydress and go to little Edward in the nursery.

“Two days later this same performance was gone through under exactlysimilar circumstances. Again I changed my dress, again I sat in the window, andagain I laughed very heartily at the funny stories of which my employer had animmense répertoire, and which he told inimitably. Then he handed me ayellow-backed novel, and moving my chair a little sideways, that my own shadowmight not fall upon the page, he begged me to read aloud to him. I read forabout ten minutes, beginning in the heart of a chapter, and then suddenly, inthe middle of a sentence, he ordered me to cease and to change my dress.

“You can easily imagine, Mr. Holmes, how curious I became as to what themeaning of this extraordinary performance could possibly be. They were alwaysvery careful, I observed, to turn my face away from the window, so that Ibecame consumed with the desire to see what was going on behind my back. Atfirst it seemed to be impossible, but I soon devised a means. My hand-mirrorhad been broken, so a happy thought seized me, and I concealed a piece of theglass in my handkerchief. On the next occasion, in the midst of my laughter, Iput my handkerchief up to my eyes, and was able with a little management to seeall that there was behind me. I confess that I was disappointed. There wasnothing. At least that was my first impression. At the second glance, however,I perceived that there was a man standing in the Southampton Road, a smallbearded man in a grey suit, who seemed to be looking in my direction. The roadis an important highway, and there are usually people there. This man, however,was leaning against the railings which bordered our field and was lookingearnestly up. I lowered my handkerchief and glanced at Mrs. Rucastle to findher eyes fixed upon me with a most searching gaze. She said nothing, but I amconvinced that she had divined that I had a mirror in my hand and had seen whatwas behind me. She rose at once.

“‘Jephro,’ said she, ‘there is an impertinentfellow upon the road there who stares up at Miss Hunter.’

“‘No friend of yours, Miss Hunter?’ he asked.

“‘No, I know no one in these parts.’

“‘Dear me! How very impertinent! Kindly turn round and motionto him to go away.’

“‘Surely it would be better to take no notice.’

“‘No, no, we should have him loitering here always. Kindlyturn round and wave him away like that.’

“I did as I was told, and at the same instant Mrs. Rucastle drew down theblind. That was a week ago, and from that time I have not sat again in thewindow, nor have I worn the blue dress, nor seen the man in the road.”

“Pray continue,” said Holmes. “Your narrative promises to bea most interesting one.”

“You will find it rather disconnected, I fear, and there may prove to belittle relation between the different incidents of which I speak. On the veryfirst day that I was at the Copper Beeches, Mr. Rucastle took me to a smallouthouse which stands near the kitchen door. As we approached it I heard thesharp rattling of a chain, and the sound as of a large animal moving about.

“‘Look in here!’ said Mr. Rucastle, showing me a slitbetween two planks. ‘Is he not a beauty?’

“I looked through and was conscious of two glowing eyes, and of a vaguefigure huddled up in the darkness.

“‘Don’t be frightened,’ said my employer,laughing at the start which I had given. ‘It’s only Carlo, mymastiff. I call him mine, but really old Toller, my groom, is the only man whocan do anything with him. We feed him once a day, and not too much then, sothat he is always as keen as mustard. Toller lets him loose every night, andGod help the trespasser whom he lays his fangs upon. For goodness’ sakedon’t you ever on any pretext set your foot over the threshold at night,for it’s as much as your life is worth.’

“The warning was no idle one, for two nights later I happened to look outof my bedroom window about two o’clock in the morning. It was a beautifulmoonlight night, and the lawn in front of the house was silvered over andalmost as bright as day. I was standing, rapt in the peaceful beauty of thescene, when I was aware that something was moving under the shadow of thecopper beeches. As it emerged into the moonshine I saw what it was. It was agiant dog, as large as a calf, tawny tinted, with hanging jowl, black muzzle,and huge projecting bones. It walked slowly across the lawn and vanished intothe shadow upon the other side. That dreadful sentinel sent a chill to my heartwhich I do not think that any burglar could have done.

“And now I have a very strange experience to tell you. I had, as youknow, cut off my hair in London, and I had placed it in a great coil at thebottom of my trunk. One evening, after the child was in bed, I began to amusemyself by examining the furniture of my room and by rearranging my own littlethings. There was an old chest of drawers in the room, the two upper ones emptyand open, the lower one locked. I had filled the first two with my linen, andas I had still much to pack away I was naturally annoyed at not having the useof the third drawer. It struck me that it might have been fastened by a mereoversight, so I took out my bunch of keys and tried to open it. The very firstkey fitted to perfection, and I drew the drawer open. There was only one thingin it, but I am sure that you would never guess what it was. It was my coil ofhair.

“I took it up and examined it. It was of the same peculiar tint, and thesame thickness. But then the impossibility of the thing obtruded itself uponme. How could my hair have been locked in the drawer? With trembling hands Iundid my trunk, turned out the contents, and drew from the bottom my own hair.I laid the two tresses together, and I assure you that they were identical. Wasit not extraordinary? Puzzle as I would, I could make nothing at all of what itmeant. I returned the strange hair to the drawer, and I said nothing of thematter to the Rucastles as I felt that I had put myself in the wrong by openinga drawer which they had locked.

“I am naturally observant, as you may have remarked, Mr. Holmes, and Isoon had a pretty good plan of the whole house in my head. There was one wing,however, which appeared not to be inhabited at all. A door which faced thatwhich led into the quarters of the Tollers opened into this suite, but it wasinvariably locked. One day, however, as I ascended the stair, I met Mr.Rucastle coming out through this door, his keys in his hand, and a look on hisface which made him a very different person to the round, jovial man to whom Iwas accustomed. His cheeks were red, his brow was all crinkled with anger, andthe veins stood out at his temples with passion. He locked the door and hurriedpast me without a word or a look.

“This aroused my curiosity, so when I went out for a walk in the groundswith my charge, I strolled round to the side from which I could see the windowsof this part of the house. There were four of them in a row, three of whichwere simply dirty, while the fourth was shuttered up. They were evidently alldeserted. As I strolled up and down, glancing at them occasionally, Mr.Rucastle came out to me, looking as merry and jovial as ever.

“‘Ah!’ said he, ‘you must not think me rude if Ipassed you without a word, my dear young lady. I was preoccupied with businessmatters.’

“I assured him that I was not offended. ‘By the way,’ said I,‘you seem to have quite a suite of spare rooms up there, and one of themhas the shutters up.’

“He looked surprised and, as it seemed to me, a little startled at myremark.

“‘Photography is one of my hobbies,’ said he. ‘Ihave made my dark room up there. But, dear me! what an observant young lady wehave come upon. Who would have believed it? Who would have ever believedit?’ He spoke in a jesting tone, but there was no jest in his eyes as helooked at me. I read suspicion there and annoyance, but no jest.

“Well, Mr. Holmes, from the moment that I understood that there wassomething about that suite of rooms which I was not to know, I was all on fireto go over them. It was not mere curiosity, though I have my share of that. Itwas more a feeling of duty—a feeling that some good might come from mypenetrating to this place. They talk of woman’s instinct; perhaps it waswoman’s instinct which gave me that feeling. At any rate, it was there,and I was keenly on the lookout for any chance to pass the forbidden door.

“It was only yesterday that the chance came. I may tell you that, besidesMr. Rucastle, both Toller and his wife find something to do in these desertedrooms, and I once saw him carrying a large black linen bag with him through thedoor. Recently he has been drinking hard, and yesterday evening he was verydrunk; and when I came upstairs there was the key in the door. I have no doubtat all that he had left it there. Mr. and Mrs. Rucastle were both downstairs,and the child was with them, so that I had an admirable opportunity. I turnedthe key gently in the lock, opened the door, and slipped through.

“There was a little passage in front of me, unpapered and uncarpeted,which turned at a right angle at the farther end. Round this corner were threedoors in a line, the first and third of which were open. They each led into anempty room, dusty and cheerless, with two windows in the one and one in theother, so thick with dirt that the evening light glimmered dimly through them.The centre door was closed, and across the outside of it had been fastened oneof the broad bars of an iron bed, padlocked at one end to a ring in the wall,and fastened at the other with stout cord. The door itself was locked as well,and the key was not there. This barricaded door corresponded clearly with theshuttered window outside, and yet I could see by the glimmer from beneath itthat the room was not in darkness. Evidently there was a skylight which let inlight from above. As I stood in the passage gazing at the sinister door andwondering what secret it might veil, I suddenly heard the sound of steps withinthe room and saw a shadow pass backward and forward against the little slit ofdim light which shone out from under the door. A mad, unreasoning terror roseup in me at the sight, Mr. Holmes. My overstrung nerves failed me suddenly, andI turned and ran—ran as though some dreadful hand were behind meclutching at the skirt of my dress. I rushed down the passage, through thedoor, and straight into the arms of Mr. Rucastle, who was waiting outside.

“‘So,’ said he, smiling, ‘it was you, then. Ithought that it must be when I saw the door open.’

“‘Oh, I am so frightened!’ I panted.

“‘My dear young lady! my dear young lady!’—youcannot think how caressing and soothing his manner was—‘and whathas frightened you, my dear young lady?’

“But his voice was just a little too coaxing. He overdid it. I was keenlyon my guard against him.

“‘I was foolish enough to go into the empty wing,’ Ianswered. ‘But it is so lonely and eerie in this dim light that I wasfrightened and ran out again. Oh, it is so dreadfully still in there!’

“‘Only that?’ said he, looking at me keenly.

“‘Why, what did you think?’ I asked.

“‘Why do you think that I lock this door?’

“‘I am sure that I do not know.’

“‘It is to keep people out who have no business there. Do yousee?’ He was still smiling in the most amiable manner.

“‘I am sure if I had known—’

“‘Well, then, you know now. And if you ever put your footover that threshold again’—here in an instant the smile hardenedinto a grin of rage, and he glared down at me with the face of ademon—‘I’ll throw you to the mastiff.’

“I was so terrified that I do not know what I did. I suppose that I musthave rushed past him into my room. I remember nothing until I found myselflying on my bed trembling all over. Then I thought of you, Mr. Holmes. I couldnot live there longer without some advice. I was frightened of the house, ofthe man, of the woman, of the servants, even of the child. They were allhorrible to me. If I could only bring you down all would be well. Of course Imight have fled from the house, but my curiosity was almost as strong as myfears. My mind was soon made up. I would send you a wire. I put on my hat andcloak, went down to the office, which is about half a mile from the house, andthen returned, feeling very much easier. A horrible doubt came into my mind asI approached the door lest the dog might be loose, but I remembered that Tollerhad drunk himself into a state of insensibility that evening, and I knew thathe was the only one in the household who had any influence with the savagecreature, or who would venture to set him free. I slipped in in safety and layawake half the night in my joy at the thought of seeing you. I had nodifficulty in getting leave to come into Winchester this morning, but I must beback before three o’clock, for Mr. and Mrs. Rucastle are going on avisit, and will be away all the evening, so that I must look after the child.Now I have told you all my adventures, Mr. Holmes, and I should be very glad ifyou could tell me what it all means, and, above all, what I should do.”

Holmes and I had listened spellbound to this extraordinary story. My friendrose now and paced up and down the room, his hands in his pockets, and anexpression of the most profound gravity upon his face.

“Is Toller still drunk?” he asked.

“Yes. I heard his wife tell Mrs. Rucastle that she could do nothing withhim.”

“That is well. And the Rucastles go out to-night?”

“Yes.”

“Is there a cellar with a good strong lock?”

“Yes, the wine-cellar.”

“You seem to me to have acted all through this matter like a very braveand sensible girl, Miss Hunter. Do you think that you could perform one morefeat? I should not ask it of you if I did not think you a quite exceptionalwoman.”

“I will try. What is it?”

“We shall be at the Copper Beeches by seven o’clock, my friend andI. The Rucastles will be gone by that time, and Toller will, we hope, beincapable. There only remains Mrs. Toller, who might give the alarm. If youcould send her into the cellar on some errand, and then turn the key upon her,you would facilitate matters immensely.”

“I will do it.”

“Excellent! We shall then look thoroughly into the affair. Of coursethere is only one feasible explanation. You have been brought there topersonate someone, and the real person is imprisoned in this chamber. That isobvious. As to who this prisoner is, I have no doubt that it is the daughter,Miss Alice Rucastle, if I remember right, who was said to have gone to America.You were chosen, doubtless, as resembling her in height, figure, and the colourof your hair. Hers had been cut off, very possibly in some illness throughwhich she has passed, and so, of course, yours had to be sacrificed also. By acurious chance you came upon her tresses. The man in the road was undoubtedlysome friend of hers—possibly her fiancé—and no doubt, as youwore the girl’s dress and were so like her, he was convinced from yourlaughter, whenever he saw you, and afterwards from your gesture, that MissRucastle was perfectly happy, and that she no longer desired his attentions.The dog is let loose at night to prevent him from endeavouring to communicatewith her. So much is fairly clear. The most serious point in the case is thedisposition of the child.”

“What on earth has that to do with it?” I ejaculated.

“My dear Watson, you as a medical man are continually gaining light as tothe tendencies of a child by the study of the parents. Don’t you see thatthe converse is equally valid. I have frequently gained my first real insightinto the character of parents by studying their children. This child’sdisposition is abnormally cruel, merely for cruelty’s sake, and whetherhe derives this from his smiling father, as I should suspect, or from hismother, it bodes evil for the poor girl who is in their power.”

“I am sure that you are right, Mr. Holmes,” cried our client.“A thousand things come back to me which make me certain that you havehit it. Oh, let us lose not an instant in bringing help to this poorcreature.”

“We must be circumspect, for we are dealing with a very cunning man. Wecan do nothing until seven o’clock. At that hour we shall be with you,and it will not be long before we solve the mystery.”

We were as good as our word, for it was just seven when we reached the CopperBeeches, having put up our trap at a wayside public-house. The group of trees,with their dark leaves shining like burnished metal in the light of the settingsun, were sufficient to mark the house even had Miss Hunter not been standingsmiling on the door-step.

“Have you managed it?” asked Holmes.

A loud thudding noise came from somewhere downstairs. “That is Mrs.Toller in the cellar,” said she. “Her husband lies snoring on thekitchen rug. Here are his keys, which are the duplicates of Mr.Rucastle’s.”

“You have done well indeed!” cried Holmes with enthusiasm.“Now lead the way, and we shall soon see the end of this blackbusiness.”

We passed up the stair, unlocked the door, followed on down a passage, andfound ourselves in front of the barricade which Miss Hunter had described.Holmes cut the cord and removed the transverse bar. Then he tried the variouskeys in the lock, but without success. No sound came from within, and at thesilence Holmes’ face clouded over.

“I trust that we are not too late,” said he. “I think, MissHunter, that we had better go in without you. Now, Watson, put your shoulder toit, and we shall see whether we cannot make our way in.”

It was an old rickety door and gave at once before our united strength.Together we rushed into the room. It was empty. There was no furniture save alittle pallet bed, a small table, and a basketful of linen. The skylight abovewas open, and the prisoner gone.

“There has been some villainy here,” said Holmes; “thisbeauty has guessed Miss Hunter’s intentions and has carried his victimoff.”

“But how?”

“Through the skylight. We shall soon see how he managed it.” Heswung himself up onto the roof. “Ah, yes,” he cried,“here’s the end of a long light ladder against the eaves. That ishow he did it.”

“But it is impossible,” said Miss Hunter; “the ladder was notthere when the Rucastles went away.”

“He has come back and done it. I tell you that he is a clever anddangerous man. I should not be very much surprised if this were he whose step Ihear now upon the stair. I think, Watson, that it would be as well for you tohave your pistol ready.”

The words were hardly out of his mouth before a man appeared at the door of theroom, a very fat and burly man, with a heavy stick in his hand. Miss Hunterscreamed and shrunk against the wall at the sight of him, but Sherlock Holmessprang forward and confronted him.

“You villain!” said he, “where’s your daughter?”

The fat man cast his eyes round, and then up at the open skylight.

“It is for me to ask you that,” he shrieked, “you thieves!Spies and thieves! I have caught you, have I? You are in my power. I’llserve you!” He turned and clattered down the stairs as hard as he couldgo.

“He’s gone for the dog!” cried Miss Hunter.

“I have my revolver,” said I.

“Better close the front door,” cried Holmes, and we all rushed downthe stairs together. We had hardly reached the hall when we heard the baying ofa hound, and then a scream of agony, with a horrible worrying sound which itwas dreadful to listen to. An elderly man with a red face and shaking limbscame staggering out at a side door.

“My God!” he cried. “Someone has loosed the dog. It’snot been fed for two days. Quick, quick, or it’ll be too late!”

Holmes and I rushed out and round the angle of the house, with Toller hurryingbehind us. There was the huge famished brute, its black muzzle buried inRucastle’s throat, while he writhed and screamed upon the ground. Runningup, I blew its brains out, and it fell over with its keen white teeth stillmeeting in the great creases of his neck. With much labour we separated themand carried him, living but horribly mangled, into the house. We laid him uponthe drawing-room sofa, and having dispatched the sobered Toller to bear thenews to his wife, I did what I could to relieve his pain. We were all assembledround him when the door opened, and a tall, gaunt woman entered the room.

“Mrs. Toller!” cried Miss Hunter.

“Yes, miss. Mr. Rucastle let me out when he came back before he went upto you. Ah, miss, it is a pity you didn’t let me know what you wereplanning, for I would have told you that your pains were wasted.”

“Ha!” said Holmes, looking keenly at her. “It is clear thatMrs. Toller knows more about this matter than anyone else.”

“Yes, sir, I do, and I am ready enough to tell what I know.”

“Then, pray, sit down, and let us hear it for there are several points onwhich I must confess that I am still in the dark.”

“I will soon make it clear to you,” said she; “and I’dhave done so before now if I could ha’ got out from the cellar. Ifthere’s police-court business over this, you’ll remember that I wasthe one that stood your friend, and that I was Miss Alice’s friend too.

“She was never happy at home, Miss Alice wasn’t, from the time thather father married again. She was slighted like and had no say in anything, butit never really became bad for her until after she met Mr. Fowler at afriend’s house. As well as I could learn, Miss Alice had rights of herown by will, but she was so quiet and patient, she was, that she never said aword about them but just left everything in Mr. Rucastle’s hands. He knewhe was safe with her; but when there was a chance of a husband coming forward,who would ask for all that the law would give him, then her father thought ittime to put a stop on it. He wanted her to sign a paper, so that whether shemarried or not, he could use her money. When she wouldn’t do it, he kepton worrying her until she got brain-fever, and for six weeks was atdeath’s door. Then she got better at last, all worn to a shadow, and withher beautiful hair cut off; but that didn’t make no change in her youngman, and he stuck to her as true as man could be.”

“Ah,” said Holmes, “I think that what you have been goodenough to tell us makes the matter fairly clear, and that I can deduce all thatremains. Mr. Rucastle then, I presume, took to this system ofimprisonment?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And brought Miss Hunter down from London in order to get rid of thedisagreeable persistence of Mr. Fowler.”

“That was it, sir.”

“But Mr. Fowler being a persevering man, as a good seaman should be,blockaded the house, and having met you succeeded by certain arguments,metallic or otherwise, in convincing you that your interests were the same ashis.”

“Mr. Fowler was a very kind-spoken, free-handed gentleman,” saidMrs. Toller serenely.

“And in this way he managed that your good man should have no want ofdrink, and that a ladder should be ready at the moment when your master hadgone out.”

“You have it, sir, just as it happened.”

“I am sure we owe you an apology, Mrs. Toller,” said Holmes,“for you have certainly cleared up everything which puzzled us. And herecomes the country surgeon and Mrs. Rucastle, so I think, Watson, that we hadbest escort Miss Hunter back to Winchester, as it seems to me that our locusstandi now is rather a questionable one.”

And thus was solved the mystery of the sinister house with the copper beechesin front of the door. Mr. Rucastle survived, but was always a broken man, keptalive solely through the care of his devoted wife. They still live with theirold servants, who probably know so much of Rucastle’s past life that hefinds it difficult to part from them. Mr. Fowler and Miss Rucastle weremarried, by special license, in Southampton the day after their flight, and heis now the holder of a government appointment in the island of Mauritius. As toMiss Violet Hunter, my friend Holmes, rather to my disappointment, manifestedno further interest in her when once she had ceased to be the centre of one ofhis problems, and she is now the head of a private school at Walsall, where Ibelieve that she has met with considerable success.

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