Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
TheAdventure of the Empty House.
IT was inthe spring of the year 1894 that all London wasinterestedand the fashionable world dismayedby the murder oftheHonourable Ronald Adair under most unusual and inexplicablecircumstances. The public has already learned those particularsof thecrime which came out in the police investigation; but agood dealwas suppressed upon that occasionsince the case fortheprosecution was so overwhelmingly strong that it was notnecessaryto bring forward all the facts. Only nowat the endof nearlyten yearsam I allowed to supply those missing linkswhich makeup the whole of that remarkable chain. The crime wasofinterest in itselfbut that interest was as nothing to mecomparedto the inconceivable sequelwhich afforded me thegreatestshock and surprise of any event in my adventurous life.Even nowafter this long intervalI find myself thrilling asI think ofitand feeling once more that sudden flood of joyamazementand incredulity which utterly submerged my mind.Let me sayto that public which has shown some interest in thoseglimpseswhich I have occasionally given them of the thoughtsandactions of a very remarkable man that they are not to blameme if Ihave not shared my knowledge with themfor I shouldhaveconsidered it my first duty to have done so had I not beenbarred bya positive prohibition from his own lipswhich wasonlywithdrawn upon the third of last month.
It can beimagined that my close intimacy with Sherlock Holmeshadinterested me deeply in crimeand that after hisdisappearanceI never failed to read with care the variousproblemswhich came before the publicand I even attempted morethan oncefor my own private satisfaction to employ his methodsin theirsolutionthough with indifferent success. There wasnonehoweverwhich appealed to me like this tragedy of RonaldAdair. As I read the evidence at the inquestwhich led up toa verdictof wilful murder against some person or personsunknownIrealized more clearly than I had ever done the losswhich thecommunity had sustained by the death of SherlockHolmes. There were points about this strange business whichwouldIwas surehave specially appealed to himand theefforts ofthe police would have been supplementedor moreprobablyanticipatedby the trained observation and the alertmind ofthe first criminal agent in Europe. All day as I droveupon myround I turned over the case in my mindand found noexplanationwhich appeared to me to be adequate. At the risk oftelling atwice-told tale I will recapitulate the facts as theywere knownto the public at the conclusion of the inquest.
TheHonourable Ronald Adair was the second son of the EarlofMaynoothat that time Governor of one of the AustralianColonies. Adair's mother had returned from Australia toundergothe operation for cataractand sheher son Ronaldand herdaughter Hilda were living together at 427Park Lane.The youthmoved in the best societyhadso far as was knownnoenemiesand no particular vices. He had been engaged to MissEdithWoodleyof Carstairsbut the engagement had been brokenoff bymutual consent some months beforeand there was no signthat ithad left any very profound feeling behind it. For therest theman's life moved in a narrow and conventional circlefor hishabits were quiet and his nature unemotional. Yet itwas uponthis easy-going young aristocrat that death came inmoststrange and unexpected form between the hours of ten andeleven-twentyon the night of March 301894.
RonaldAdair was fond of cardsplaying continuallybut neverfor suchstakes as would hurt him. He was a member of theBaldwinthe Cavendishand the Bagatelle card clubs. It wasshown thatafter dinner on the day of his death he had playeda rubberof whist at the latter club. He had also played therein theafternoon. The evidence of those who had played with him-- Mr.MurraySir John Hardyand Colonel Moran -- showed thatthe gamewas whistand that there was a fairly equal fall ofthecards. Adair might have lost five poundsbut not more.Hisfortune was a considerable oneand such a loss could not inany wayaffect him. He had played nearly every day at one clubor otherbut he was a cautious playerand usually rose a winner.It cameout in evidence that in partnership with Colonel Moranhe hadactually won as much as four hundred and twenty pounds ina sittingsome weeks before from Godfrey Milner and Lord Balmoral.So muchfor his recent historyas it came out at the inquest.
On theevening of the crime he returned from the club exactly atten. His mother and sister were out spending the evening with arelation. The servant deposed that she heard him enter the frontroom onthe second floorgenerally used as his sitting-room.She hadlit a fire thereand as it smoked she had opened the window.No soundwas heard from the room until eleven-twentythe hour ofthe returnof Lady Maynooth and her daughter. Desiring to saygood-nightshe had attempted to enter her son's room. The doorwas lockedon the insideand no answer could be got to theircries andknocking. Help was obtained and the door forced.Theunfortunate young man was found lying near the table.His headhad been horribly mutilated by an expanding revolverbulletbut no weapon of any sort was to be found in the room.On thetable lay two bank-notes for ten pounds each and seventeenpounds tenin silver and goldthe money arranged in little pilesof varyingamount. There were some figures also upon a sheet ofpaper withthe names of some club friends opposite to themfrom whichit was conjectured that before his death he wasendeavouringto make out his losses or winnings at cards.
A minuteexamination of the circumstances served only to makethe casemore complex. In the first placeno reason could begiven whythe young man should have fastened the door upon theinside. There was the possibility that the murderer had donethis andhad afterwards escaped by the window. The drop was atleasttwenty feethoweverand a bed of crocuses in full bloomlaybeneath. Neither the flowers nor the earth showed any signof havingbeen disturbednor were there any marks upon thenarrowstrip of grass which separated the house from the road.Apparentlythereforeit was the young man himself who hadfastenedthe door. But how did he come by his death?No onecould have climbed up to the window without leaving traces.Suppose aman had fired through the windowit would indeed be aremarkableshot who could with a revolver inflict so deadly awound. AgainPark Lane is a frequented thoroughfareand thereis acab-stand within a hundred yards of the house. No one hadheard ashot. And yet there was the dead manand there therevolverbulletwhich had mushroomed outas soft-nosed bulletswillandso inflicted a wound which must have causedinstantaneousdeath. Such were the circumstances of the ParkLaneMysterywhich were further complicated by entire absenceof motivesinceas I have saidyoung Adair was not known tohave anyenemyand no attempt had been made to remove the moneyorvaluables in the room.
All day Iturned these facts over in my mindendeavouring tohit uponsome theory which could reconcile them alland to findthat lineof least resistance which my poor friend had declaredto be thestarting-point of every investigation. I confess thatI madelittle progress. In the evening I strolled across theParkandfound myself about six o'clock at the Oxford Streetend ofPark Lane. A group of loafers upon the pavementsallstaring upat a particular windowdirected me to the housewhich Ihad come to see. A tallthin man with colouredglasseswhom I strongly suspected of being a plain-clothesdetectivewas pointing out some theory of his ownwhile theotherscrowded round to listen to what he said. I got as nearhim as Icouldbut his observations seemed to me to be absurdso Iwithdrew again in some disgust. As I did so I struckagainst anelderly deformed manwho had been behind meand Iknockeddown several books which he was carrying. I rememberthat as Ipicked them up I observed the title of one of them"TheOrigin of Tree Worship" and it struck me that the fellowmust besome poor bibliophile whoeither as a trade or as ahobbywasa collector of obscure volumes. I endeavoured toapologizefor the accidentbut it was evident that these bookswhich Ihad so unfortunately maltreated were very preciousobjects inthe eyes of their owner. With a snarl of contempthe turnedupon his heeland I saw his curved back and whiteside-whiskersdisappear among the throng.
Myobservations of No. 427Park Lane did little to clear up theproblem inwhich I was interested. The house was separated fromthe streetby a low wall and railingthe whole not more thanfive feethigh. It was perfectly easythereforefor anyoneto getinto the gardenbut the window was entirely inaccessiblesincethere was no water-pipe or anything which could help themostactive man to climb it. More puzzled than ever I retracedmy stepsto Kensington. I had not been in my study five minuteswhen themaid entered to say that a person desired to see me.To myastonishment it was none other than my strange oldbook-collectorhis sharpwizened face peering out from a frameof whitehairand his precious volumesa dozen of them at leastwedgedunder his right arm.
"You'resurprised to see mesir" said hein a strangecroakingvoice.
Iacknowledged that I was.
"WellI've a consciencesirand when I chanced to see you gointo thishouseas I came hobbling after youI thought to myselfI'll juststep in and see that kind gentlemanand tell him thatif I was abit gruff in my manner there was not any harm meantand that Iam much obliged to him for picking up my books."
"Youmake too much of a trifle" said I. "May I ask howyouknew who Iwas?"
"Wellsirif it isn't too great a libertyI am a neighbourof yoursfor you'll find my little bookshop at the corner ofChurchStreetand very happy to see youI am sure. Maybe youcollectyourselfsir; here's `British Birds' and `Catullus'and `TheHoly War' -- a bargain every one of them. With fivevolumesyou could just fill that gap on that second shelf.It looksuntidydoes it notsir?"
I moved myhead to look at the cabinet behind me. When I turnedagainSherlock Holmes was standing smiling at me across mystudytable. I rose to my feetstared at him for some secondsin utteramazementand then it appears that I must have faintedfor thefirst and the last time in my life. Certainly a greymistswirled before my eyesand when it cleared I found mycollar-endsundone and the tingling after-taste of brandy uponmy lips. Holmes was bending over my chairhis flask in his hand.
"Mydear Watson" said the well-remembered voice"I owe you athousandapologies. I had no idea that you would be so affected."
I grippedhim by the arm.
"Holmes!"I cried. "Is it really you? Can it indeed be thatyou arealive? Is it possible that you succeeded in climbingout ofthat awful abyss?"
"Waita moment" said he. "Are you sure that you are reallyfit todiscuss things? I have given you a serious shock by myunnecessarilydramatic reappearance."
"I amall rightbut indeedHolmesI can hardly believe myeyes. Good heavensto think that you -- you of all men --should bestanding in my study!" Again I gripped him by thesleeve andfelt the thinsinewy arm beneath it. "Wellyou'renot aspiritanyhow" said I. "My dear chapI amoverjoyedto seeyou. Sit down and tell me how you came alive out ofthatdreadful chasm."
He satopposite to me and lit a cigarette in his old nonchalantmanner. He was dressed in the seedy frock-coat of the bookmerchantbut the rest of that individual lay in a pile of whitehair andold books upon the table. Holmes looked even thinnerand keenerthan of oldbut there was a dead-white tinge in hisaquilineface which told me that his life recently had not beena healthyone.
"I amglad to stretch myselfWatson" said he. "It is nojokewhen atall man has to take a foot off his stature for severalhours onend. Nowmy dear fellowin the matter of theseexplanationswe haveif I may ask for your co-operationa hardanddangerous night's work in front of us. Perhaps it would bebetter ifI gave you an account of the whole situation when thatwork isfinished."
"I amfull of curiosity. I should much prefer to hear now."
"You'llcome with me to-night?"
"Whenyou like and where you like."
"Thisis indeed like the old days. We shall have time for amouthfulof dinner before we need go. Wellthenabout thatchasm. I had no serious difficulty in getting out of itforthe verysimple reason that I never was in it."
"Younever were in it?"
"NoWatsonI never was in it. My note to you was absolutelygenuine. I had little doubt that I had come to the end of mycareerwhen I perceived the somewhat sinister figure of the lateProfessorMoriarty standing upon the narrow pathway which led tosafety. I read an inexorable purpose in his grey eyes.Iexchanged some remarks with himthereforeand obtained hiscourteouspermission to write the short note which youafterwardsreceived. I left it with my cigarette-box and mystick andI walked along the pathwayMoriarty still at myheels. When I reached the end I stood at bay. He drew noweaponbut he rushed at me and threw his long arms around me.He knewthat his own game was upand was only anxious torevengehimself upon me. We tottered together upon the brinkof thefall. I have some knowledgehoweverof baritsuor theJapanesesystem of wrestlingwhich has more than once been veryuseful tome. I slipped through his gripand he with ahorriblescream kicked madly for a few seconds and clawed theair withboth his hands. But for all his efforts he could notget hisbalanceand over he went. With my face over the brinkI saw himfall for a long way. Then he struck a rockboundedoffandsplashed into the water."
I listenedwith amazement to this explanationwhich Holmesdeliveredbetween the puffs of his cigarette.
"Butthe tracks!" I cried. "I saw with my own eyes thattwowent downthe path and none returned."
"Itcame about in this way. The instant that the Professor haddisappearedit struck me what a really extraordinarily luckychanceFate had placed in my way. I knew that Moriarty was notthe onlyman who had sworn my death. There were at least threeotherswhose desire for vengeance upon me would only beincreasedby the death of their leader. They were all mostdangerousmen. One or other would certainly get me. On theotherhandif all the world was convinced that I was dead theywould takelibertiesthese menthey would lay themselves openand sooneror later I could destroy them. Then it would be timefor me toannounce that I was still in the land of the living.So rapidlydoes the brain act that I believe I had thought thisall outbefore Professor Moriarty had reached the bottomof theReichenbach Fall.
"Istood up and examined the rocky wall behind me. In yourpicturesqueaccount of the matterwhich I read with greatinterestsome months lateryou assert that the wall was sheer.This wasnot literally true. A few small footholds presentedthemselvesand there was some indication of a ledge. The cliffis so highthat to climb it all was an obvious impossibilityand it wasequally impossible to make my way along the wet pathwithoutleaving some tracks. I mightit is truehave reversedmy bootsas I have done on similar occasionsbut the sight ofthree setsof tracks in one direction would certainly havesuggesteda deception. On the wholethenit was best that Ishouldrisk the climb. It was not a pleasant businessWatson.The fallroared beneath me. I am not a fanciful personbutI give youmy word that I seemed to hear Moriarty's voicescreamingat me out of the abyss. A mistake would have been fatal.More thanonceas tufts of grass came out in my hand or my footslipped inthe wet notches of the rockI thought that I was gone.But Istruggled upwardsand at last I reached a ledge several feetdeep andcovered with soft green mosswhere I could lie unseenin themost perfect comfort. There I was stretched when youmy dearWatsonand all your following were investigating in the mostsympatheticand inefficient manner the circumstances of my death.
"Atlastwhen you had all formed your inevitable and totallyerroneousconclusionsyou departed for the hotel and I was leftalone. I had imagined that I had reached the end of my adventuresbut a veryunexpected occurrence showed me that there weresurprisesstill in store for me. A huge rockfalling from aboveboomedpast mestruck the pathand bounded over into the chasm.For aninstant I thought that it was an accident; but a moment laterlookingupI saw a man's head against the darkening skyandanotherstone struck the very ledge upon which I was stretchedwithin afoot of my head. Of coursethe meaning of this was obvious.Moriartyhad not been alone. A confederate -- and even that oneglance hadtold me how dangerous a man that confederate was --had keptguard while the Professor had attacked me. From a distanceunseen bymehe had been a witness of his friend's death and of myescape. He had waitedand thenmaking his way round to the top ofthe cliffhe had endeavoured to succeed where his comrade had failed.
"Idid not take long to think about itWatson. Again I sawthat grimface look over the cliffand I knew that it was theprecursorof another stone. I scrambled down on to the path.I don'tthink I could have done it in cold blood. It was ahundredtimes more difficult than getting up. But I had no timeto thinkof the dangerfor another stone sang past me as I hungby myhands from the edge of the ledge. Halfway down I slippedbut by theblessing of God I landedtorn and bleedingupon thepath. I took to my heelsdid ten miles over the mountains inthedarknessand a week later I found myself in Florence with thecertaintythat no one in the world knew what had become of me.
"Ihad only one confidant -- my brother Mycroft. I owe you manyapologiesmy dear Watsonbut it was all-important that itshould bethought I was deadand it is quite certain that youwould nothave written so convincing an account of my unhappyend hadyou not yourself thought that it was true. Severaltimesduring the last three years I have taken up my pen towrite toyoubut always I feared lest your affectionate regardfor meshould tempt you to some indiscretion which would betraymysecret. For that reason I turned away from you this eveningwhen youupset my booksfor I was in danger at the timeandany showof surprise and emotion upon your part might have drawnattentionto my identity and led to the most deplorable andirreparableresults. As to MycroftI had to confide in him inorder toobtain the money which I needed. The course of eventsin Londondid not run so well as I had hopedfor the trial oftheMoriarty gang left two of its most dangerous membersmy ownmostvindictive enemiesat liberty. I travelled for two yearsin Tibetthereforeand amused myself by visiting Lhassa andspendingsome days with the head Llama. You may have read oftheremarkable explorations of a Norwegian named SigersonbutI am surethat it never occurred to you that you were receivingnews ofyour friend. I then passed through Persialooked in atMeccaandpaid a short but interesting visit to the Khalifa atKhartoumthe results of which I have communicated to theForeignOffice. Returning to France I spent some months in aresearchinto the coal-tar derivativeswhich I conducted in alaboratoryat Montpelierin the South of France. Havingconcludedthis to my satisfactionand learning that only one ofmy enemieswas now left in LondonI was about to return when mymovementswere hastened by the news of this very remarkable ParkLaneMysterywhich not only appealed to me by its own meritsbut whichseemed to offer some most peculiar personalopportunities. I came over at once to Londoncalled in my ownperson atBaker Streetthrew Mrs. Hudson into violent hystericsand foundthat Mycroft had preserved my rooms and my papersexactly asthey had always been. So it wasmy dear Watsonthat attwo o'clock to-day I found myself in my old arm-chair inmy own oldroomand only wishing that I could have seen my oldfriendWatson in the other chair which he has so often adorned."
Such wasthe remarkable narrative to which I listened on thatAprilevening -- a narrative which would have been utterlyincredibleto me had it not been confirmed by the actual sightof thetallspare figure and the keeneager facewhich I hadneverthought to see again. In some manner he had learned of myown sadbereavementand his sympathy was shown in his mannerratherthan in his words. "Work is the best antidote to sorrowmy dearWatson" said he"and I have a piece of work for usbothto-night whichif we can bring it to a successfulconclusionwill in itself justify a man's life on this planet."In vain Ibegged him to tell me more. "You will hear and seeenoughbefore morning" he answered. "We have three years ofthe pastto discuss. Let that suffice until half-past ninewhen westart upon the notable adventure of the empty house."
It wasindeed like old times whenat that hourI found myselfseatedbeside him in a hansommy revolver in my pocket and thethrill ofadventure in my heart. Holmes was cold and stern andsilent. As the gleam of the street-lamps flashed upon hisausterefeatures I saw that his brows were drawn down in thoughtand histhin lips compressed. I knew not what wild beast wewere aboutto hunt down in the dark jungle of criminal Londonbut I waswell assured from the bearing of this master huntsmanthat theadventure was a most grave onewhile the sardonicsmilewhich occasionally broke through his ascetic gloom bodedlittlegood for the object of our quest.
I hadimagined that we were bound for Baker Streetbut Holmesstoppedthe cab at the corner of Cavendish Square. I observedthat as hestepped out he gave a most searching glance to rightand leftand at every subsequent street corner he took theutmostpains to assure that he was not followed. Our route wascertainlya singular one. Holmes's knowledge of the byways ofLondon wasextraordinaryand on this occasion he passed rapidlyand withan assured stepthrough a network of mews and stablesthe veryexistence of which I had never known. We emerged atlast intoa small roadlined with oldgloomy houseswhich ledus intoManchester Streetand so to Blandford Street. Here heturnedswiftly down a narrow passagepassed through a woodengate intoa deserted yardand then opened with a key the backdoor of ahouse. We entered together and he closed it behind us.
The placewas pitch-darkbut it was evident to me that it wasan emptyhouse. Our feet creaked and crackled over the bareplankingand my outstretched hand touched a wall from which thepaper washanging in ribbons. Holmes's coldthin fingersclosedround my wrist and led me forwards down a long halluntil Idimly saw the murky fanlight over the door. Here Holmesturnedsuddenly to the rightand we found ourselves in a largesquareempty roomheavily shadowed in the cornersbut faintlylit in thecentre from the lights of the street beyond. There wasno lampnear and the window was thick with dustso that we couldonly justdiscern each other's figures within. My companion puthis handupon my shoulder and his lips close to my ear.
"Doyou know where we are?" he whispered.
"Surelythat is Baker Street" I answeredstaring through thedimwindow.
"Exactly. We are in Camden Housewhich stands opposite to ourown oldquarters."
"Butwhy are we here?"
"Becauseit commands so excellent a view of that picturesque pile.Might Itrouble youmy dear Watsonto draw a little nearer tothewindowtaking every precaution not to show yourselfand thento look up at our old rooms -- the starting-point of somany ofour little adventures? We will see if my three years ofabsencehave entirely taken away my power to surprise you."
I creptforward and looked across at the familiar window.As my eyesfell upon it I gave a gasp and a cry of amazement.The blindwas down and a strong light was burning in the room.The shadowof a man who was seated in a chair within was thrown inhardblack outline upon the luminous screen of the window.There wasno mistaking the poise of the headthe squareness oftheshouldersthe sharpness of the features. The face wasturnedhalf-roundand the effect was that of one of those blacksilhouetteswhich our grandparents loved to frame. It was aperfectreproduction of Holmes. So amazed was I that I threwout myhand to make sure that the man himself was standingbesideme. He was quivering with silent laughter.
"Well?" said he.
"Goodheavens!" I cried. "It is marvellous."
"Itrust that age doth not wither nor custom stale my infinitevariety'"said heand I recognised in his voice the joy andpridewhich the artist takes in his own creation. "It really isratherlike meis it not?"
"Ishould be prepared to swear that it was you."
"Thecredit of the execution is due to Monsieur Oscar MeunierofGrenoblewho spent some days in doing the moulding. It is abust inwax. The rest I arranged myself during my visit toBakerStreet this afternoon."
"Becausemy dear WatsonI had the strongest possible reasonforwishing certain people to think that I was there when I wasreallyelsewhere."
"Andyou thought the rooms were watched?"
"IKNEW that they were watched."
"Bymy old enemiesWatson. By the charming society whose leaderlies inthe Reichenbach Fall. You must remember that they knewand onlythey knewthat I was still alive. Sooner or later theybelievedthat I should come back to my rooms. They watched themcontinuouslyand this morning they saw me arrive."
"Howdo you know?"
"BecauseI recognised their sentinel when I glanced out of mywindow. He is a harmless enough fellowParker by namea garroterby tradeand a remarkable performer upon the Jew'sharp. I cared nothing for him. But I cared a great deal forthe muchmore formidable person who was behind himthe bosomfriend ofMoriartythe man who dropped the rocks over the cliffthe mostcunning and dangerous criminal in London. That is theman who isafter me to-nightWatsonand that is the man who isquiteunaware that we are after HIM."
Myfriend's plans were gradually revealing themselves.From thisconvenient retreat the watchers were being watched andthetrackers tracked. That angular shadow up yonder was the baitand wewere the hunters. In silence we stood together in thedarknessand watched the hurrying figures who passed andrepassedin front of us. Holmes was silent and motionless;but Icould tell that he was keenly alertand that his eyes werefixedintently upon the stream of passers-by. It was a bleakandboisterous nightand the wind whistled shrilly down thelongstreet. Many people were moving to and fromost of themmuffled intheir coats and cravats. Once or twice it seemed tome that Ihad seen the same figure beforeand I especiallynoticedtwo men who appeared to be sheltering themselves fromthe windin the doorway of a house some distance up the street.I tried todraw my companion's attention to thembut he gave alittleejaculation of impatience and continued to stare into thestreet. More than once he fidgeted with his feet and tappedrapidlywith his fingers upon the wall. It was evident to methat hewas becoming uneasy and that his plans were not workingoutaltogether as he had hoped. At lastas midnight approachedand thestreet gradually clearedhe paced up and down the roominuncontrollable agitation. I was about to make some remark tohim when Iraised my eyes to the lighted window and againexperiencedalmost as great a surprise as before. I clutchedHolmes'sarm and pointed upwards.
"Theshadow has moved!" I cried.
It wasindeedno longer the profilebut the backwhich wasturnedtowards us.
Threeyears had certainly not smoothed the asperities of his temperor hisimpatience with a less active intelligence than his own.
"Ofcourse it has moved" said he. "Am I such a farcicalbunglerWatsonthat I should erect an obvious dummy and expectthat someof the sharpest men in Europe would be deceived by it?We havebeen in this room two hoursand Mrs. Hudson has madesomechange in that figure eight timesor once in every quarterof anhour. She works it from the front so that her shadow maynever beseen. Ah!" He drew in his breath with a shrillexcitedintake. In the dim light I saw his head thrown forwardhis wholeattitude rigid with attention. Outsidethe streetwasabsolutely deserted. Those two men might still be crouchingin thedoorwaybut I could no longer see them. All was stilland darksave only that brilliant yellow screen in front of uswith theblack figure outlined upon its centre. Again in theuttersilence I heard that thinsibilant note which spoke ofintensesuppressed excitement. An instant later he pulled meback intothe blackest corner of the roomand I felt hiswarninghand upon my lips. The fingers which clutched me werequivering. Never had I known my friend more movedand yet thedarkstreet still stretched lonely and motionless before us.
Butsuddenly I was aware of that which his keener senses hadalreadydistinguished. A lowstealthy sound came to my earsnot fromthe direction of Baker Streetbut from the back of thevery housein which we lay concealed. A door opened and shut.An instantlater steps crept down the passage -- steps whichwere meantto be silentbut which reverberated harshly throughthe emptyhouse. Holmes crouched back against the wall and Idid thesamemy hand closing upon the handle of my revolver.Peeringthrough the gloomI saw the vague outline of a mana shadeblacker than the blackness of the open door. He stoodfor aninstantand then he crept forwardcrouchingmenacinginto theroom. He was within three yards of usthis sinisterfigureand I had braced myself to meet his springbefore Irealizedthat he had no idea of our presence. He passed closebeside usstole over to the windowand very softly andnoiselesslyraised it for half a foot. As he sank to the levelof thisopening the light of the streetno longer dimmed by thedustyglassfell full upon his face. The man seemed to bebesidehimself with excitement. His two eyes shone like starsand hisfeatures were working convulsively. He was an elderlymanwitha thinprojecting nosea highbald foreheadand ahugegrizzled moustache. An opera-hat was pushed to the back ofhis headand an evening dress shirt-front gleamed out throughhis openovercoat. His face was gaunt and swarthyscored withdeepsavage lines. In his hand he carried what appeared to bea stickbut as he laid it down upon the floor it gave ametallicclang. Then from the pocket of his overcoat he drew abulkyobjectand he busied himself in some task which endedwith aloudsharp clickas if a spring or bolt had fallen intoitsplace. Still kneeling upon the floor he bent forward andthrew allhis weight and strength upon some leverwith theresultthat there came a longwhirlinggrinding noiseendingonce morein a powerful click. He straightened himself thenand I sawthat what he held in his hand was a sort of gunwithacuriously misshapen butt. He opened it at the breechputsomethinginand snapped the breech-block. Thencrouchingdownherested the end of the barrel upon the ledge of the openwindowand I saw his long moustache droop over the stock andhis eyegleam as it peered along the sights. I heard a littlesigh ofsatisfaction as he cuddled the butt into his shoulderand sawthat amazing targetthe black man on the yellow groundstandingclear at the end of his fore sight. For an instant hewas rigidand motionless. Then his finger tightened on thetrigger. There was a strangeloud whiz and a longsilverytinkle ofbroken glass. At that instant Holmes sprang like atiger onto the marksman's back and hurled him flat upon hisface. He was up again in a momentand with convulsive strengthhe seizedHolmes by the throat; but I struck him on the headwith thebutt of my revolver and he dropped again upon the floor.I fellupon himand as I held him my comrade blew a shrill callupon awhistle. There was the clatter of running feet upon thepavementand two policemen in uniformwith one plain-clothesdetectiverushed through the front entrance and into the room.
"ThatyouLestrade?" said Holmes.
"YesMr. Holmes. I took the job myself. It's good to see youback inLondonsir."
"Ithink you want a little unofficial help. Three undetectedmurders inone year won't doLestrade. But you handled theMoleseyMystery with less than your usual -- that's to sayyouhandled itfairly well."
We had allrisen to our feetour prisoner breathing hardwith astalwart constable on each side of him. Already a fewloiterershad begun to collect in the street. Holmes stepped upto thewindowclosed itand dropped the blinds. Lestrade hadproducedtwo candles and the policemen had uncovered their lanterns.I was ableat last to have a good look at our prisoner.
It was atremendously virile and yet sinister face which wasturnedtowards us. With the brow of a philosopher above and thejaw of asensualist belowthe man must have started with greatcapacitiesfor good or for evil. But one could not look upon hiscruel blueeyeswith their droopingcynical lidsor upon thefierceaggressive nose and the threateningdeep-lined browwithoutreading Nature's plainest danger-signals. He took no heedof any ofusbut his eyes were fixed upon Holmes's face with anexpressionin which hatred and amazement were equally blended."Youfiend!" he kept on muttering. "You clevercleverfiend!"
"AhColonel!" said Holmesarranging his rumpled collar;"`journeysend in lovers' meetings' as the old play says.I don'tthink I have had the pleasure of seeing you since youfavouredme with those attentions as I lay on the ledge abovetheReichenbach Fall."
TheColonel still stared at my friend like a man in a trance."Youcunningcunning fiend!" was all that he could say.
"Ihave not introduced you yet" said Holmes. "Thisgentlemenis ColonelSebastian Moranonce of Her Majesty's Indian Armyand thebest heavy game shot that our Eastern Empire has everproduced. I believe I am correctColonelin saying that yourbag oftigers still remains unrivalled?"
The fierceold man said nothingbut still glared at my companion;with hissavage eyes and bristling moustache he was wonderfullylike atiger himself.
"Iwonder that my very simple stratagem could deceive so oldashikari" said Holmes. "It must be very familiar toyou.Have younot tethered a young kid under a treelain above itwith yourrifleand waited for the bait to bring up your tiger?This emptyhouse is my tree and you are my tiger. You havepossiblyhad other guns in reserve in case there should beseveraltigersor in the unlikely supposition of your own aimfailingyou. These" he pointed around"are my other guns.Theparallel is exact."
ColonelMoran sprang forwardwith a snarl of ragebut theconstablesdragged him back. The fury upon his face wasterribleto look at.
"Iconfess that you had one small surprise for me" said Holmes."Idid not anticipate that you would yourself make use of thisemptyhouse and this convenient front window. I had imaginedyou asoperating from the streetwhere my friend Lestrade andhis merrymen were awaiting you. With that exception all hasgone as Iexpected."
ColonelMoran turned to the official detective.
"Youmay or may not have just cause for arresting me" said he"butat least there can be no reason why I should submit to thegibes ofthis person. If I am in the hands of the law letthings bedone in a legal way."
"Wellthat's reasonable enough" said Lestrade. "Nothingfurtheryou have to sayMr. Holmesbefore we go?"
Holmes hadpicked up the powerful air-gun from the floor andwasexamining its mechanism.
"Anadmirable and unique weapon" said he"noiseless and oftremendouspower. I knew Von Herderthe blind German mechanicwhoconstructed it to the order of the late Professor Moriarty.For yearsI have been aware of its existencethough I haveneverbefore had the opportunity of handling it. I commend itveryspecially to your attentionLestradeand also the bulletswhich fitit."
"Youcan trust us to look after thatMr. Holmes" said Lestradeas thewhole party moved towards the door. "Anything further tosay?"
"Onlyto ask what charge you intend to prefer?"
"Whatchargesir? Whyof coursethe attempted murder of Mr.SherlockHolmes."
"NotsoLestrade. I do not propose to appear in the matter at all.To youand to you onlybelongs the credit of the remarkable arrestwhich youhave effected. YesLestradeI congratulate you! Withyour usualhappy mixture of cunning and audacity you have got him."
"Gothim! Got whomMr. Holmes?"
"Theman that the whole force has been seeking in vain --ColonelSebastian Moranwho shot the Honourable Ronald Adairwith anexpanding bullet from an air-gun through the open windowof thesecond-floor front of No. 427Park Laneupon the 30thof lastmonth. That's the chargeLestrade. And nowWatsonif you canendure the draught from a broken windowI think thathalf anhour in my study over a cigar may afford you someprofitableamusement."
Our oldchambers had been left unchanged through the supervisionof MycroftHolmes and the immediate care of Mrs. Hudson.As Ientered I sawit is truean unwonted tidinessbut the oldlandmarkswere all in their place. There were the chemicalcorner andthe acid-staineddeal-topped table. There upon ashelf wasthe row of formidable scrap-books and books of referencewhich manyof our fellow-citizens would have been so glad to burn.Thediagramsthe violin-caseand the pipe-rack -- even thePersianslipper which contained the tobacco -- all met my eyesas Iglanced round me. There were two occupants of the room --one Mrs.Hudsonwho beamed upon us both as we entered;the otherthe strange dummy which had played so important a part intheevening's adventures. It was a wax-coloured model of my friendsoadmirably done that it was a perfect facsimile. It stood on asmallpedestal table with an old dressing-gown of Holmes's so drapedround itthat the illusion from the street was absolutely perfect.
"Ihope you preserved all precautionsMrs. Hudson?" saidHolmes.
"Iwent to it on my kneessirjust as you told me."
"Excellent. You carried the thing out very well. Did you observewhere thebullet went?"
"Yessir. I'm afraid it has spoilt your beautiful bustfor itpassedright through the head and flattened itself on the wall.I pickedit up from the carpet. Here it is!"
Holmesheld it out to me. "A soft revolver bulletas youperceiveWatson. There's genius in thatfor who would expectto findsuch a thing fired from an air-gun. All rightMrs.HudsonIam much obliged for your assistance. And nowWatsonlet me seeyou in your old seat once morefor there areseveralpoints which I should like to discuss with you."
He hadthrown off the seedy frock-coatand now he was theHolmes ofold in the mouse-coloured dressing-gown which he tookfrom hiseffigy.
"Theold shikari's nerves have not lost their steadiness nor hiseyes theirkeenness" said hewith a laughas he inspected theshatteredforehead of his bust.
"Plumbin the middle of the back of the head and smack throughthebrain. He was the best shot in Indiaand I expect thatthere arefew better in London. Have you heard the name?"
"NoI have not."
"Wellwellsuch is fame! Butthenif I remember arightyou hadnot heard the name of Professor James Moriartywho hadone of thegreat brains of the century. Just give me down myindex ofbiographies from the shelf."
He turnedover the pages lazilyleaning back in his chair andblowinggreat clouds from his cigar.
"Mycollection of M's is a fine one" said he."Moriartyhimself is enough to make any letter illustriousand hereis Morgan the poisonerand Merridew of abominable memoryandMathewswho knocked out my left canine in the waiting-roomat CharingCrossandfinallyhere is our friend of to-night."
He handedover the bookand I read:"MORANSEBASTIANCOLONEL. Unemployed. Formerly 1st BengalorePioneers. Born London1840. Son of Sir Augustus MoranC.B.onceBritish Minister to Persia. Educated Eton and Oxford.Served inJowaki CampaignAfghan CampaignCharasiab (despatches)Sherpurand Cabul. Author of `Heavy Game of the Western Himalayas'1881;`Three Months in the Jungle' 1884. Address: ConduitStreet.Clubs: The Anglo-Indianthe Tankervillethe Bagatelle Card Club."
On themargin was writtenin Holmes's precise hand:"Thesecond most dangerous man in London."
"Thisis astonishing" said Ias I handed back the volume."Theman's career is that of an honourable soldier."
"Itis true" Holmes answered. "Up to a certain point hedidwell. He was always a man of iron nerveand the story is stilltold inIndia how he crawled down a drain after a woundedman-eatingtiger. There are some treesWatsonwhich grow to acertainheight and then suddenly develop some unsightlyeccentricity. You will see it often in humans. I have a theorythat theindividual represents in his development the wholeprocessionof his ancestorsand that such a sudden turn to goodor evilstands for some strong influence which came into theline ofhis pedigree. The person becomesas it weretheepitome ofthe history of his own family."
"Itis surely rather fanciful."
"WellI don't insist upon it. Whatever the causeColonelMoranbegan to go wrong. Without any open scandal he still madeIndia toohot to hold him. He retiredcame to Londonandagainacquired an evil name. It was at this time that he wassought outby Professor Moriartyto whom for a time he waschief ofthe staff. Moriarty supplied him liberally with moneyand usedhim only in one or two very high-class jobs which noordinarycriminal could have undertaken. You may have somerecollectionof the death of Mrs. Stewartof Lauderin 1887.Not? WellI am sure Moran was at the bottom of it; but nothingcould beproved. So cleverly was the Colonel concealed thateven whenthe Moriarty gang was broken up we could notincriminatehim. You remember at that datewhen I called uponyou inyour roomshow I put up the shutters for fear ofair-guns? No doubt you thought me fanciful. I knew exactlywhat I wasdoingfor I knew of the existence of this remarkablegunand Iknew also that one of the best shots in the worldwould bebehind it. When we were in Switzerland he followed uswithMoriartyand it was undoubtedly he who gave me that evilfiveminutes on the Reichenbach ledge.
"Youmay think that I read the papers with some attention duringmy sojournin Franceon the look-out for any chance of layinghim by theheels. So long as he was free in London my lifewouldreally not have been worth living. Night and day theshadowwould have been over meand sooner or later his chancemust havecome. What could I do? I could not shoot him atsightorI should myself be in the dock. There was no useappealingto a magistrate. They cannot interfere on thestrengthof what would appear to them to be a wild suspicion.So I coulddo nothing. But I watched the criminal newsknowingthatsooner or later I should get him. Then came the death ofthisRonald Adair. My chance had come at last! Knowing what Ididwasit not certain that Colonel Moran had done it? He hadplayedcards with the lad; he had followed him home from theclub; hehad shot him through the open window. There was not adoubt ofit. The bullets alone are enough to put his head in anoose. I came over at once. I was seen by the sentinelwhowouldIknewdirect the Colonel's attention to my presence. Hecould notfail to connect my sudden return with his crime and tobeterribly alarmed. I was sure that he would make an attemptto get meout of the way AT ONCEand would bring round hismurderousweapon for that purpose. I left him an excellent markin thewindowandhaving warned the police that they might beneeded --by the wayWatsonyou spotted their presence in thatdoorwaywith unerring accuracy -- I took up what seemed to me tobe ajudicious post for observationnever dreaming that hewouldchoose the same spot for his attack. Nowmy dear Watsondoesanything remain for me to explain?"
"Yes"said I. "You have not made it clear what was ColonelMoran'smotive in murdering the Honourable Ronald Adair."
"Ah! my dear Watsonthere we come into those realms ofconjecturewhere the most logical mind may be at fault.Each mayform his own hypothesis upon the present evidenceand yoursis as likely to be correct as mine."
"Youhave formed onethen?"
"Ithink that it is not difficult to explain the facts.It cameout in evidence that Colonel Moran and young Adair hadbetweenthem won a considerable amount of money. NowMoranundoubtedlyplayed foul -- of that I have long been aware.I believethat on the day of the murder Adair had discovered thatMoran wascheating. Very likely he had spoken to him privatelyand hadthreatened to expose him unless he voluntarily resignedhismembership of the club and promised not to play cards again.It isunlikely that a youngster like Adair would at once make ahideousscandal by exposing a well-known man so much older thanhimself. Probably he acted as I suggest. The exclusion fromhis clubswould mean ruin to Moranwho lived by his ill-gottencardgains. He therefore murdered Adairwho at the time wasendeavouringto work out how much money he should himself returnsince hecould not profit by his partner's foul play. He lockedthe doorlest the ladies should surprise him and insist upon knowingwhat hewas doing with these names and coins. Will it pass?"
"Ihave no doubt that you have hit upon the truth."
"Itwill be verified or disproved at the trial. Meanwhilecome whatmayColonel Moran will trouble us no morethe famousair-gun ofVon Herder will embellish the Scotland Yard Museumand onceagain Mr. Sherlock Holmes is free to devote his life toexaminingthose interesting little problems which the complexlife ofLondon so plentifully presents."
"FROMthe point of view of the criminal expert" said Mr.SherlockHolmes"London has become a singularly uninterestingcity sincethe death of the late lamented Professor Moriarty."
"Ican hardly think that you would find many decent citizensto agreewith you" I answered.
"WellwellI must not be selfish" said hewith a smileas hepushed back his chair from the breakfast-table."Thecommunity is certainly the gainerand no one the losersave thepoor out-of-work specialistwhose occupation has gone.With thatman in the field one's morning paper presentedinfinitepossibilities. Often it was only the smallest traceWatsonthe faintest indicationand yet it was enough to tellme thatthe great malignant brain was thereas the gentlesttremors ofthe edges of the web remind one of the foul spiderwhichlurks in the centre. Petty theftswanton assaultspurposelessoutrage -- to the man who held the clue all couldbe workedinto one connected whole. To the scientific studentof thehigher criminal world no capital in Europe offeredtheadvantages which London then possessed. But now ----"Heshrugged his shoulders in humorous deprecation of the stateof thingswhich he had himself done so much to produce.
At thetime of which I speak Holmes had been back for some monthsand Iathis requesthad sold my practice and returned to sharethe oldquarters in Baker Street. A young doctornamed Vernerhadpurchased my small Kensington practiceand given withastonishinglylittle demur the highest price that I ventured toask -- anincident which only explained itself some years laterwhen Ifound that Verner was a distant relation of Holmes'sandthat itwas my friend who had really found the money.
Our monthsof partnership had not been so uneventful as he hadstatedfor I findon looking over my notesthat this periodincludesthe case of the papers of Ex-President Murilloandalso theshocking affair of the Dutch steamship FRIESLANDwhichso nearlycost us both our lives. His cold and proud nature wasalwaysaversehoweverto anything in the shape of public applauseand hebound me in the most stringent terms to say no further wordofhimselfhis methodsor his successes -- a prohibition whichas I haveexplainedhas only now been removed.
Mr.Sherlock Holmes was leaning back in his chair after hiswhimsicalprotestand was unfolding his morning paper in aleisurelyfashionwhen our attention was arrested by atremendousring at the bellfollowed immediately by a hollowdrummingsoundas if someone were beating on the outer doorwith hisfist. As it opened there came a tumultuous rush intothe hallrapid feet clattered up the stairand an instantlater awild-eyed and frantic young manpaledishevelledandpalpitatingburst into the room. He looked from one to theother ofusand under our gaze of inquiry he became consciousthat someapology was needed for this unceremonious entry.
"I'msorryMr. Holmes" he cried. "You mustn't blame me.I amnearly mad. Mr. HolmesI am the unhappy John HectorMcFarlane."
He madethe announcement as if the name alone would explain bothhis visitand its manner; but I could see by my companion'sunresponsiveface that it meant no more to him than to me.
"Havea cigaretteMr. McFarlane" said hepushing his case across."I amsure that with your symptoms my friend Dr. Watson here wouldprescribea sedative. The weather has been so very warm theselast fewdays. Nowif you feel a little more composedI shouldbe glad ifyou would sit down in that chair and tell us very slowlyandquietly who you are and what it is that you want. You mentionedyour nameas if I should recognise itbut I assure you thatbeyond theobvious facts that you are a bachelora solicitoraFreemasonand an asthmaticI know nothing whatever about you."
Familiaras I was with my friend's methodsit was not difficultfor me tofollow his deductionsand to observe the untidiness ofattirethe sheaf of legal papersthe watch-charmand the breathingwhich hadprompted them. Our clienthoweverstared in amazement.
"YesI am all thatMr. Holmesand in addition I am the mostunfortunateman at this moment in London. For Heaven's sakedon'tabandon meMr. Holmes! If they come to arrest me beforeI havefinished my storymake them give me time so that I maytell youthe whole truth. I could go to gaol happy if I knewthat youwere working for me outside."
"Arrestyou!" said Holmes. "This is really most grati -- mostinteresting. On what charge do you expect to be arrested?"
"Uponthe charge of murdering Mr. Jonas Oldacreof Lower Norwood."
Mycompanion's expressive face showed a sympathy which was notI amafraidentirely unmixed with satisfaction.
"Dearme" said he; "it was only this moment at breakfast thatI wassaying to my friendDr. Watsonthat sensational cases haddisappearedout of our papers."
Ourvisitor stretched forward a quivering hand and picked up theDAILYTELEGRAPHwhich still lay upon Holmes's knee.
"Ifyou had looked at itsiryou would have seen at a glancewhat theerrand is on which I have come to you this morning.I feel asif my name and my misfortune must be in every man'smouth." He turned it over to expose the central page. "Here itisandwith your permission I will read it to you. Listen tothisMr.Holmes. The head-lines are: `Mysterious Affair atLowerNorwood. Disappearance of a Well-known Builder. Suspicionof Murderand Arson. A Clue to the Criminal.' That is the cluewhich theyare already followingMr. Holmesand I know that itleadsinfallibly to me. I have been followed from London BridgeStationand I am sure that they are only waiting for the warrantto arrestme. It will break my mother's heart -- it will breakherheart!" He wrung his hands in an agony of apprehensionand swayedbackwards and forwards in his chair.
I lookedwith interest upon this manwho was accused of beingtheperpetrator of a crime of violence. He was flaxen-hairedandhandsome in a washed-out negative fashionwith frightenedblue eyesand a clean-shaven facewith a weaksensitive mouth.His agemay have been about twenty-seven; his dress and bearingthat of agentleman. From the pocket of his light summerovercoatprotruded the bundle of endorsed papers whichproclaimedhis profession.
"Wemust use what time we have" said Holmes. "Watsonwouldyou havethe kindness to take the paper and to read me theparagraphin question?"
Underneaththe vigorous head-lines which our client had quotedI read thefollowing suggestive narrative:---
Late lastnightor early this morningan incident occurredat LowerNorwood which pointsit is fearedto a serious crime.Mr. JonasOldacre is a well-known resident of that suburbwhere hehas carried on his business as a builder for many years.Mr.Oldacre is a bachelorfifty-two years of ageand lives inDeep DeneHouseat the Sydenham end of the road of that name.He has hadthe reputation of being a man of eccentric habitssecretiveand retiring. For some years he has practicallywithdrawnfrom the businessin which he is said to have amassedconsiderablewealth. A small timber-yard still existshoweverat theback of the houseand last nightabout twelve o'clockan alarmwas given that one of the stacks was on fire. Theengineswere soon upon the spotbut the dry wood burned withgreatfuryand it was impossible to arrest the conflagrationuntil thestack had been entirely consumed. Up to this pointtheincident bore the appearance of an ordinary accidentbutfreshindications seem to point to serious crime. Surprise wasexpressedat the absence of the master of the establishment fromthe sceneof the fireand an inquiry followedwhich showedthat hehad disappeared from the house. An examination of hisroomrevealed that the bed had not been slept inthat a safewhichstood in it was openthat a number of important paperswerescattered about the roomandfinallythat there weresigns of amurderous struggleslight traces of blood beingfoundwithin the roomand an oaken walking-stickwhich alsoshowedstains of blood upon the handle. It is known that Mr.JonasOldacre had received a late visitor in his bedroom uponthatnightand the stick found has been identified as thepropertyof this personwho is a young London solicitor namedJohnHector McFarlanejunior partner of Graham and McFarlaneof 426Gresham BuildingsE.C. The police believe that theyhaveevidence in their possession which supplies a veryconvincingmotive for the crimeand altogether it cannotbe doubtedthat sensational developments will follow.
LATER. --It is rumoured as we go to press that Mr. John HectorMcFarlanehas actually been arrested on the charge of the murderof Mr.Jonas Oldacre. It is at least certain that a warrant hasbeenissued. There have been further and sinister developmentsin theinvestigation at Norwood. Besides the signs of astrugglein the room of the unfortunate builder it is now knownthat theFrench windows of his bedroom (which is on the groundfloor)were found to be openthat there were marks as if somebulkyobject had been dragged across to the wood-pileandfinallyit is asserted that charred remains have been foundamong thecharcoal ashes of the fire. The police theory is thata mostsensational crime has been committedthat the victim wasclubbed todeath in his own bedroomhis papers rifledand hisdead bodydragged across to the wood-stackwhich was thenignited soas to hide all traces of the crime. The conduct ofthecriminal investigation has been left in the experiencedhands ofInspector Lestradeof Scotland Yardwho is followingup theclues with his accustomed energy and sagacity.
SherlockHolmes listened with closed eyes and finger-tipstogetherto this remarkable account.
"Thecase has certainly some points of interest" said hein hislanguid fashion. "May I askin the first placeMr.McFarlanehow it is that you are still at libertysincethereappears to be enough evidence to justify your arrest?"
"Ilive at Torrington LodgeBlackheathwith my parentsMr.Holmes; but last nighthaving to do business very latewith Mr.Jonas OldacreI stayed at an hotel in Norwoodandcame to mybusiness from there. I knew nothing of this affairuntil Iwas in the trainwhen I read what you have just heard.I at oncesaw the horrible danger of my positionand I hurriedto put thecase into your hands. I have no doubt that I shouldhave beenarrested either at my City office or at my home.A manfollowed me from London Bridge Stationand I have nodoubt ---Great Heavenwhat is that?"
It was aclang of the bellfollowed instantly by heavy stepsupon thestair. A moment later our old friend Lestradeappearedin the doorway. Over his shoulder I caught a glimpseof one ortwo uniformed policemen outside.
"Mr.John Hector McFarlane?" said Lestrade.
Ourunfortunate client rose with a ghastly face.
"Iarrest you for the wilful murder of Mr. Jonas Oldacreof LowerNorwood."
McFarlaneturned to us with a gesture of despairand sank intohis chaironce more like one who is crushed.
"OnemomentLestrade" said Holmes. "Half an hour more orlesscan makeno difference to youand the gentleman was about togive us anaccount of this very interesting affairwhich mightaid us inclearing it up."
"Ithink there will be no difficulty in clearing it up"saidLestradegrimly.
"Nonethe lesswith your permissionI should be muchinterestedto hear his account."
"WellMr. Holmesit is difficult for me to refuse you anythingfor youhave been of use to the force once or twice in the pastand we oweyou a good turn at Scotland Yard" said Lestrade."Atthe same time I must remain with my prisonerand I ambound towarn him that anything he may say will appear inevidenceagainst him."
"Iwish nothing better" said our client. "All I ask isthatyou shouldhear and recognise the absolute truth."
Lestradelooked at his watch. "I'll give you half an hour"said he.
"Imust explain first" said McFarlane"that I knew nothingofMr. JonasOldacre. His name was familiar to mefor many yearsago myparents were acquainted with himbut they drifted apart.I was verymuch surprisedthereforewhen yesterdayaboutthreeo'clock in the afternoonhe walked into my office in theCity. But I was still more astonished when he told me the objectof hisvisit. He had in his hand several sheets of a note-bookcoveredwith scribbled writing -- here they are -- and he laidthem on mytable.
"`Hereis my will' said he. `I want youMr. McFarlaneto castit intoproper legal shape. I will sit here while you do so.'
"Iset myself to copy itand you can imagine my astonishmentwhen Ifound thatwith some reservationshe had left all hispropertyto me. He was a strange littleferret-like manwithwhiteeyelashesand when I looked up at him I found his keengrey eyesfixed upon me with an amused expression. I couldhardlybelieve my own senses as I read the terms of the will;but heexplained that he was a bachelor with hardly any livingrelationthat he had known my parents in his youthand that hehad alwaysheard of me as a very deserving young manand wasassuredthat his money would be in worthy hands. Of courseI couldonly stammer out my thanks. The will was duly finishedsignedand witnessed by my clerk. This is it on the blue paperand theseslipsas I have explainedare the rough draft.Mr. JonasOldacre then informed me that there were a number ofdocuments-- building leasestitle-deedsmortgagesscripand soforth -- which it was necessary that I should seeandunderstand. He said that his mind would not be easy untilthe wholething was settledand he begged me to come out to hishouse atNorwood that nightbringing the will with meand toarrangematters. `Remembermy boynot one word to yourparentsabout the affair until everything is settled. We willkeep it asa little surprise for them.' He was very insistentupon thispointand made me promise it faithfully.
"Youcan imagineMr. Holmesthat I was not in a humour torefuse himanything that he might ask. He was my benefactorand all mydesire was to carry out his wishes in every particular.I sent atelegram homethereforeto say that I had importantbusinesson handand that it was impossible for me to say howlate Imight be. Mr. Oldacre had told me that he would like meto havesupper with him at nineas he might not be home beforethathour. I had some difficulty in finding his househoweverand it wasnearly half-past before I reached it. I found him ---"
"Onemoment!" said Holmes. "Who opened the door?"
"Amiddle-aged womanwho wasI supposehis housekeeper."
"Andit was sheI presumewho mentioned your name?"
McFarlanewiped his damp brow and then continued his narrative:--
"Iwas shown by this woman into a sitting-roomwhere a frugalsupper waslaid out. Afterwards Mr. Jonas Oldacre led me intohisbedroomin which there stood a heavy safe. This he openedand tookout a mass of documentswhich we went over together.It wasbetween eleven and twelve when we finished. He remarkedthat wemust not disturb the housekeeper. He showed me outthroughhis own French windowwhich had been open all this time."
"Wasthe blind down?" asked Holmes.
"Iwill not be surebut I believe that it was only half down.YesIremember how he pulled it up in order to swing open thewindow. I could not find my stickand he said`Never mindmyboy; Ishall see a good deal of you nowI hopeand I will keepyour stickuntil you come back to claim it.' I left him therethe safeopenand the papers made up in packets upon the table.It was solate that I could not get back to Blackheathso Ispent thenight at the Anerley Armsand I knew nothing moreuntil Iread of this horrible affair in the morning."
"Anythingmore that you would like to askMr. Holmes?"saidLestradewhose eyebrows had gone up once or twiceduringthis remarkable explanation.
"Notuntil I have been to Blackheath."
"Youmean to Norwood" said Lestrade.
"Ohyes; no doubt that is what I must have meant" said Holmeswith hisenigmatical smile. Lestrade had learned by moreexperiencesthan he would care to acknowledge that thatrazor-likebrain could cut through that which was impenetrableto him. I saw him look curiously at my companion.
"Ithink I should like to have a word with you presentlyMr.Sherlock Holmes" said he. "NowMr. McFarlanetwoofmyconstables are at the door and there is a four-wheelerwaiting." The wretched young man aroseand with a lastbeseechingglance at us walked from the room. The officersconductedhim to the cabbut Lestrade remained.
Holmes hadpicked up the pages which formed the rough draftof thewilland was looking at them with the keenest interestupon hisface.
"Thereare some points about that documentLestradeare therenot?"said hepushing them over.
Theofficial looked at them with a puzzled expression.
"Ican read the first few linesand these in the middle ofthe secondpageand one or two at the end. Those are as clearas print"said he; "but the writing in between is very badand thereare three places where I cannot read it at all."
"Whatdo you make of that?" said Holmes.
"Wellwhat do YOU make of it?"
"Thatit was written in a train; the good writing representsstationsthe bad writing movementand the very bad writingpassingover points. A scientific expert would pronounce atonce thatthis was drawn up on a suburban linesince nowheresave inthe immediate vicinity of a great city could there be soquick asuccession of points. Granting that his whole journeywasoccupied in drawing up the willthen the train was anexpressonly stopping once between Norwood and London Bridge."
Lestradebegan to laugh.
"Youare too many for me when you begin to get on your theoriesMr.Holmes" said he. "How does this bear on the case?"
"Wellit corroborates the young man's story to the extent thatthe willwas drawn up by Jonas Oldacre in his journey yesterday.It iscurious -- is it not? -- that a man should draw up soimportanta document in so haphazard a fashion. It suggeststhat hedid not think it was going to be of much practicalimportance. If a man drew up a will which he did not intendever to beeffective he might do it so."
"Wellhe drew up his own death-warrant at the same time"saidLestrade.
"Ohyou think so?"
"Wellit is quite possible; but the case is not clear to me yet."
"Notclear? Wellif that isn't clearwhat COULD be clear?Here is ayoung man who learns suddenly that if a certain olderman dieshe will succeed to a fortune. What does he do?He saysnothing to anyonebut he arranges that he shall go outon somepretext to see his client that night; he waits untilthe onlyother person in the house is in bedand then in thesolitudeof a man's room he murders himburns his body in thewood-pileand departs to a neighbouring hotel. The blood-stainsin theroom and also on the stick are very slight. It is probablethat heimagined his crime to be a bloodless oneand hoped thatif thebody were consumed it would hide all traces of the methodof hisdeath -- traces which for some reason must have pointedto him. Is all this not obvious?"
"Itstrikes memy good Lestradeas being just a trifle tooobvious"said Holmes. "You do not add imagination to yourothergreat qualities; but if you could for one moment putyourselfin the place of this young manwould you choose thevery nightafter the will had been made to commit your crime?Would itnot seem dangerous to you to make so very close arelationbetween the two incidents? Againwould you chooseanoccasion when you are known to be in the housewhen a servanthas letyou in? Andfinallywould you take the great painsto concealthe body and yet leave your own stick as a signthat youwere the criminal? ConfessLestradethat all thisis veryunlikely."
"Asto the stickMr. Holmesyou know as well as I do thata criminalis often flurried and does things which a cool manwouldavoid. He was very likely afraid to go back to the room.Give meanother theory that would fit the facts."
"Icould very easily give you half-a-dozen" said Holmes."Herefor exampleis a very possible and even probable one.I make youa free present of it. The older man is showingdocumentswhich are of evident value. A passing tramp seesthemthrough the windowthe blind of which is only half down.Exit thesolicitor. Enter the tramp! He seizes a stickwhich heobserves therekills Oldacreand departs afterburningthe body."
"Whyshould the tramp burn the body?"
"Forthe matter of that why should McFarlane?"
"Tohide some evidence."
"Possiblythe tramp wanted to hide that any murder at all hadbeencommitted."
"Andwhy did the tramp take nothing?"
"Becausethey were papers that he could not negotiate."
Lestradeshook his headthough it seemed to me that his mannerwas lessabsolutely assured than before.
"WellMr. Sherlock Holmesyou may look for your trampand whileyou are finding him we will hold on to our man.The futurewill show which is right. Just notice this pointMr.Holmes: that so far as we know none of the papers wereremovedand that the prisoner is the one man in the world whohad noreason for removing themsince he was heir-at-law andwould comeinto them in any case."
My friendseemed struck by this remark.
"Idon't mean to deny that the evidence is in some ways verystronglyin favour of your theory" said he. "I only wish topoint outthat there are other theories possible. As you saythe futurewill decide. Good morning! I dare say that in thecourse ofthe day I shall drop in at Norwood and see how youaregetting on."
When thedetective departed my friend rose and made hispreparationsfor the day's work with the alert air of a man whohas acongenial task before him.
"Myfirst movementWatson" said heas he bustled into hisfrock-coat"mustas I saidbe in the direction of Blackheath."
"Andwhy not Norwood?"
"Becausewe have in this case one singular incident coming closeto theheels of another singular incident. The police aremaking themistake of concentrating their attention upon thesecondbecause it happens to be the one which is actuallycriminal. But it is evident to me that the logical way toapproachthe case is to begin by trying to throw some light uponthe firstincident -- the curious willso suddenly madeand tosounexpected an heir. It may do something to simplify whatfollowed. Nomy dear fellowI don't think you can help me.There isno prospect of dangeror I should not dream ofstirringout without you. I trust that when I see you in theevening Iwill be able to report that I have been able to dosomethingfor this unfortunate youngster who has thrown himselfupon myprotection."
It waslate when my friend returnedand I could see by a glanceat hishaggard and anxious face that the high hopes with whichhe hadstarted had not been fulfilled. For an hour he dronedaway uponhis violinendeavouring to soothe his own ruffledspirits. At last he flung down the instrument and plunged intoa detailedaccount of his misadventures.
"It'sall going wrongWatson -- all as wrong as it can go.I kept abold face before Lestradebutupon my soulI believethat foronce the fellow is on the right track and we are on thewrong. All my instincts are one way and all the facts are theotherandI much fear that British juries have not yet attainedthat pitchof intelligence when they will give the preference tomytheories over Lestrade's facts."
"Didyou go to Blackheath?"
"YesWatsonI went thereand I found very quickly that thelatelamented Oldacre was a pretty considerable black-guard.The fatherwas away in search of his son. The mother was athome -- alittlefluffyblue-eyed personin a tremor of fearandindignation. Of courseshe would not admit even thepossibilityof his guilt. But she would not express eithersurpriseor regret over the fate of Oldacre. On the contraryshe spokeof him with such bitterness that she was unconsciouslyconsiderablystrengthening the case of the policeforof courseif her sonhad heard her speak of the man in this fashion it wouldpredisposehim towards hatred and violence. `He was more likeamalignant and cunning ape than a human being' said she`and healways wasever since he was a young man.'
"`Youknew him at that time?' said I.
"`YesI knew him well; in facthe was an old suitor of mine.ThankHeaven that I had the sense to turn away from him andto marry abetterif a poorerman. I was engaged to himMr.Holmeswhen I heard a shocking story of how he had turneda catloose in an aviaryand I was so horrified at his brutalcrueltythat I would have nothing more to do with him.'Sherummaged in a bureauand presently she produced a photographof awomanshamefully defaced and mutilated with a knife.`That ismy own photograph' she said. `He sent it to me inthatstatewith his curseupon my wedding morning.'
"`Well'said I`at least he has forgiven you nowsince he hasleft allhis property to your son.'
"`Neithermy son nor I want anything from Jonas Oldacredeador alive'she criedwith a proper spirit. `There is a Godin HeavenMr. Holmesand that same God who has punished thatwicked manwill show in His own good time that my son's handsareguiltless of his blood.'
"WellI tried one or two leadsbut could get at nothing whichwould helpour hypothesisand several points which would makeagainstit. I gave it up at last and off I went to Norwood.
"ThisplaceDeep Dene Houseis a big modern villa of staringbrickstanding back in its own groundswith a laurel-clumpedlawn infront of it. To the right and some distance back fromthe roadwas the timber-yard which had been the scene of thefire. Here's a rough plan on a leaf of my note-book. Thiswindow onthe left is the one which opens into Oldacre's room.You canlook into it from the roadyou see. That is about theonly bitof consolation I have had to-day. Lestrade was nottherebuthis head constable did the honours. They had justmade agreat treasure-trove. They had spent the morning rakingamong theashes of the burned wood-pileand besides the charredorganicremains they had secured several discoloured metaldiscs. I examined them with careand there was no doubt thatthey weretrouser buttons. I even distinguished that one ofthem wasmarked with the name of `Hyams' who was Oldacre'stailor. I then worked the lawn very carefully for signs andtracesbut this drought has made everything as hard as iron.Nothingwas to be seen save that some body or bundle had beendraggedthrough a low privet hedge which is in a line with thewood-pile. All thatof coursefits in with the officialtheory. I crawled about the lawn with an August sun on my backbut I gotup at the end of an hour no wiser than before.
"Wellafter this fiasco I went into the bedroom and examinedthatalso. The blood-stains were very slightmere smears anddiscolorationsbut undoubtedly fresh. The stick had been removedbut therealso the marks were slight. There is no doubt aboutthe stickbelonging to our client. He admits it. Footmarks ofboth mencould be made out on the carpetbut none of any thirdpersonwhich again is a trick for the other side. They werepiling uptheir score all the time and we were at a standstill.
"Onlyone little gleam of hope did I get -- and yet it amountedtonothing. I examined the contents of the safemost of whichhad beentaken out and left on the table. The papers had beenmade upinto sealed envelopesone or two of which had beenopened bythe police. They were notso far as I could judgeof anygreat valuenor did the bank-book show that Mr. Oldacrewas insuch very affluent circumstances. But it seemed to methat allthe papers were not there. There were allusions tosome deeds-- possibly the more valuable -- which I could notfind. Thisof courseif we could definitely prove itwouldturnLestrade's argument against himselffor who would steala thing ifhe knew that he would shortly inherit it?
"Finallyhaving drawn every other cover and picked up no scentI tried myluck with the housekeeper. Mrs. Lexington is hernamealittledarksilent personwith suspicious andsidelongeyes. She could tell us something if she would --I amconvinced of it. But she was as close as wax. Yesshehad letMr. McFarlane in at half-past nine. She wished herhand hadwithered before she had done so. She had gone to bed athalf-pastten. Her room was at the other end of the houseandshe couldhear nothing of what passed. Mr. McFarlane had lefthis hatand to the best of her belief his stickin the hall.She hadbeen awakened by the alarm of fire. Her poordearmaster hadcertainly been murdered. Had he any enemies?Wellevery man had enemiesbut Mr. Oldacre kept himself verymuch tohimselfand only met people in the way of business.She hadseen the buttonsand was sure that they belonged to theclotheswhich he had worn last night. The wood-pile was very dryfor it hadnot rained for a month. It burned like tinderand bythe timeshe reached the spot nothing could be seen but flames.She andall the firemen smelled the burned flesh from inside it.She knewnothing of the papersnor of Mr. Oldacre's private affairs.
"Somy dear Watsonthere's my report of a failure. And yet --and yet---" -- he clenched his thin hands in a paroxysm ofconviction-- "I KNOW it's all wrong. I feel it in my bones.There issomething that has not come outand that housekeeperknows it. There was a sort of sulky defiance in her eyeswhichonly goeswith guilty knowledge. Howeverthere's no goodtalkingany more about itWatson; but unless some lucky chancecomes ourway I fear that the Norwood Disappearance Case willnot figurein that chronicle of our successes which I foreseethat apatient public will sooner or later have to endure."
"Surely"said I"the man's appearance would go far with any jury?"
"Thatis a dangerous argumentmy dear Watson. You remember thatterriblemurdererBert Stevenswho wanted us to get him off in '87?Was thereever a more mild-manneredSunday-school young man?"
"Unlesswe succeed in establishing an alternative theory thisman islost. You can hardly find a flaw in the case which cannow bepresented against himand all further investigation hasserved tostrengthen it. By the waythere is one curiouslittlepoint about those papers which may serve us as thestarting-pointfor an inquiry. On looking over the bank-bookI foundthat the low state of the balance was principally dueto largecheques which have been made out during the last yearto Mr.Cornelius. I confess that I should be interested to knowwho thisMr. Cornelius may be with whom a retired builder hassuch verylarge transactions. Is it possible that he has hada hand inthe affair? Cornelius might be a brokerbut we havefound noscrip to correspond with these large payments. Failingany otherindication my researches must now take the directionof aninquiry at the bank for the gentleman who has cashed thesecheques. But I fearmy dear fellowthat our case will endingloriouslyby Lestrade hanging our clientwhich willcertainlybe a triumph for Scotland Yard."
I do notknow how far Sherlock Holmes took any sleep that nightbut when Icame down to breakfast I found him pale and harassedhis brighteyes the brighter for the dark shadows round them.The carpetround his chair was littered with cigarette-ends andwith theearly editions of the morning papers. An open telegramlay uponthe table.
"Whatdo you think of thisWatson?" he askedtossing it across.
It wasfrom Norwoodand ran as follows:--
"IMPORTANTFRESH EVIDENCE TO HAND. MCFARLANE'S GUILT DEFINITELYESTABLISHED. ADVISE YOU TO ABANDON CASE. -- LESTRADE."
"Thissounds serious" said I.
"Itis Lestrade's little cock-a-doodle of victory" Holmes answeredwith abitter smile. "And yet it may be premature to abandon thecase. After allimportant fresh evidence is a two-edged thingand maypossibly cut in a very different direction to that whichLestradeimagines. Take your breakfastWatsonand we will go outtogetherand see what we can do. I feel as if I shall need yourcompanyand your moral support to-day."
My friendhad no breakfast himselffor it was one of hispeculiaritiesthat in his more intense moments he would permithimself nofoodand I have known him presume upon his ironstrengthuntil he has fainted from pure inanition. "At presentI cannotspare energy and nerve force for digestion" he wouldsay inanswer to my medical remonstrances. I was not surprisedthereforewhen this morning he left his untouched meal behindhim andstarted with me for Norwood. A crowd of morbidsightseerswere still gathered round Deep Dene Housewhich wasjust sucha suburban villa as I had pictured. Within the gatesLestrademet ushis face flushed with victoryhis mannergrosslytriumphant.
"WellMr. Holmeshave you proved us to be wrong yet? Have youfound yourtramp?" he cried.
"Ihave formed no conclusion whatever" my companion answered.
"Butwe formed ours yesterdayand now it proves to be correct;so youmust acknowledge that we have been a little in front ofyou thistimeMr. Holmes."
"Youcertainly have the air of something unusual having occurred"saidHolmes.
"Youdon't like being beaten any more than the rest of us do"said he. "A man can't expect always to have it his own waycan heDr. Watson? Step this wayif you pleasegentlemenand Ithink I can convince you once for all that it wasJohnMcFarlane who did this crime."
He led usthrough the passage and out into a dark hall beyond.
"Thisis where young McFarlane must have come out to get his hatafter thecrime was done" said he. "Nowlook at this." Withdramaticsuddenness he struck a match and by its light exposeda stain ofblood upon the whitewashed wall. As he held thematchnearer I saw that it was more than a stain. It was thewell-markedprint of a thumb.
"Lookat that with your magnifying glassMr. Holmes."
"YesI am doing so."
"Youare aware that no two thumb marks are alike?"
"Ihave heard something of the kind."
"Wellthenwill you please compare that print with this waximpressionof young McFarlane's right thumbtaken by my ordersthismorning?"
As he heldthe waxen print close to the blood-stain it did nottake amagnifying glass to see that the two were undoubtedlyfrom thesame thumb. It was evident to me that our unfortunateclient waslost.
"Thatis final" said Lestrade.
"Yesthat is final" I involuntarily echoed.
"Itis final" said Holmes.
Somethingin his tone caught my earand I turned to look athim. An extraordinary change had come over his face. It waswrithingwith inward merriment. His two eyes were shining likestars. It seemed to me that he was making desperate efforts torestrain aconvulsive attack of laughter.
"Dearme! Dear me!" he said at last. "Wellnowwhowouldhavethought it? And how deceptive appearances may beto besure! Such a nice young man to look at! It is a lesson to usnot totrust our own judgmentis it notLestrade?"
"Yessome of us are a little too much inclined to be cocksureMr.Holmes" said Lestrade. The man's insolence was maddeningbut wecould not resent it.
"Whata providential thing that this young man should press hisrightthumb against the wall in taking his hat from the peg!Such avery natural actiontooif you come to think of it."Holmes wasoutwardly calmbut his whole body gave a wriggleofsuppressed excitement as he spoke. "By the wayLestradewho madethis remarkable discovery?"
"Itwas the housekeeperMrs. Lexingtonwho drew the nightconstable'sattention to it."
"Wherewas the night constable?"
"Heremained on guard in the bedroom where the crime wascommittedso as to see that nothing was touched."
"Butwhy didn't the police see this mark yesterday?"
"Wellwe had no particular reason to make a careful examinationof thehall. Besidesit's not in a very prominent placeas yousee."
"Nonoof course not. I suppose there is no doubt that themark wasthere yesterday?"
Lestradelooked at Holmes as if he thought he was going out ofhis mind. I confess that I was myself surprised both at hishilariousmanner and at his rather wild observation.
"Idon't know whether you think that McFarlane came out of gaolin thedead of the night in order to strengthen the evidenceagainsthimself" said Lestrade. "I leave it to any expert inthe worldwhether that is not the mark of his thumb."
"Itis unquestionably the mark of his thumb."
"Therethat's enough" said Lestrade. "I am a practical manMr.Holmesand when I have got my evidence I come to myconclusions. If you have anything to say you will find mewriting myreport in the sitting-room."
Holmes hadrecovered his equanimitythough I still seemed todetectgleams of amusement in his expression.
"Dearmethis is a very sad developmentWatsonis it not?"said he. "And yet there are singular points about it whichhold outsome hopes for our client."
"I amdelighted to hear it" said Iheartily. "I wasafraidit was allup with him."
"Iwould hardly go so far as to say thatmy dear Watson.The factis that there is one really serious flaw in thisevidenceto which our friend attaches so much importance."
"IndeedHolmes! What is it?"
"Onlythis: that I KNOW that that mark was not there whenI examinedthe hall yesterday. And nowWatsonlet us havea littlestroll round in the sunshine."
With aconfused brainbut with a heart into which some warmthof hopewas returningI accompanied my friend in a walk roundthegarden. Holmes took each face of the house in turn andexaminedit with great interest. He then led the way inside andwent overthe whole building from basement to attics. Most ofthe roomswere unfurnishedbut none the less Holmes inspectedthem allminutely. Finallyon the top corridorwhich ranoutsidethree untenanted bedroomshe again was seized witha spasm ofmerriment.
"Thereare really some very unique features about this caseWatson"said he. "I think it is time now that we took ourfriendLestrade into our confidence. He has had his littlesmile atour expenseand perhaps we may do as much by him ifmy readingof this problem proves to be correct. Yesyes;I think Isee how we should approach it."
TheScotland Yard inspector was still writing in the parlourwhenHolmes interrupted him.
"Iunderstood that you were writing a report of this case" saidhe.
"Don'tyou think it may be a little premature? I can't helpthinkingthat your evidence is not complete."
Lestradeknew my friend too well to disregard his words.He laiddown his pen and looked curiously at him.
"Whatdo you meanMr. Holmes?"
"Onlythat there is an important witness whom you have not seen."
"Canyou produce him?"
"Ithink I can."
"Iwill do my best. How many constables have you?"
"Thereare three within call."
"Excellent!"said Holmes. "May I ask if they are all largeable-bodiedmen with powerful voices?"
"Ihave no doubt they arethough I fail to see what theirvoiceshave to do with it."
"PerhapsI can help you to see that and one or two other thingsas well"said Holmes. "Kindly summon your menand I will try."
Fiveminutes later three policemen had assembled in the hall.
"Inthe outhouse you will find a considerable quantity of straw"saidHolmes. "I will ask you to carry in two bundles of it.I think itwill be of the greatest assistance in producing thewitnesswhom I require. Thank you very much. I believe youhave somematches in your pocketWatson. NowMr. LestradeI will askyou all to accompany me to the top landing."
As I havesaidthere was a broad corridor therewhich ran outsidethreeempty bedrooms. At one end of the corridor we were allmarshalledby Sherlock Holmesthe constables grinning and Lestradestaring atmy friend with amazementexpectationand derisionchasingeach other across his features. Holmes stood before uswith theair of a conjurer who is performing a trick.
"Wouldyou kindly send one of your constables for two bucketsof water? Put the straw on the floor herefree from the wallon eitherside. Now I think that we are all ready."
Lestrade'sface had begun to grow red and angry.
"Idon't know whether you are playing a game with usMr.Sherlock Holmes" said he. "If you know anythingyou cansurely say it without all this tomfoolery."
"Iassure youmy good Lestradethat I have an excellent reasonforeverything that I do. You may possibly remember that youchaffed mea little some hours agowhen the sun seemed on yourside ofthe hedgeso you must not grudge me a little pomp andceremonynow. Might I ask youWatsonto open that windowand thento put a match to the edge of the straw?"
I did soanddriven by the draughta coil of grey smoke swirleddown thecorridorwhile the dry straw crackled and flamed.
"Nowwe must see if we can find this witness for youLestrade.Might Iask you all to join in the cry of `Fire!'? Nowthen;onetwothree ---"
"Fire!"we all yelled.
"Thankyou. I will trouble you once again."
"Justonce moregentlemenand all together."
"Fire!" The shout must have rung over Norwood.
It hadhardly died away when an amazing thing happened. A doorsuddenlyflew open out of what appeared to be solid wall at theend of thecorridorand a littlewizened man darted out of itlike arabbit out of its burrow.
"Capital!"said Holmescalmly. "Watsona bucket of water overthestraw. That will do! Lestradeallow me to present youwith yourprincipal missing witnessMr. Jonas Oldacre."
Thedetective stared at the new-comer with blank amazement.The latterwas blinking in the bright light of the corridorandpeering at us and at the smouldering fire. It was an odiousface --craftyviciousmalignantwith shiftylight-grey eyesand whiteeyelashes.
"What'sthisthen?" said Lestrade at last. "What have youbeen doingall this timeeh?"
Oldacregave an uneasy laughshrinking back from the furiousred faceof the angry detective.
"Ihave done no harm."
"Noharm? You have done your best to get an innocent man hanged.If itwasn't for this gentleman hereI am not sure that youwould nothave succeeded."
Thewretched creature began to whimper.
"I amsuresirit was only my practical joke."
"Oh!a jokewas it? You won't find the laugh on your sideI promiseyou. Take him down and keep him in the sitting-roomuntil Icome. Mr. Holmes" he continuedwhen they had gone"Icould not speak before the constablesbut I don't mind sayingin thepresence of Dr. Watsonthat this is the brightest thingthat youhave done yetthough it is a mystery to me how you didit. You have saved an innocent man's lifeand you havepreventeda very grave scandalwhich would have ruined myreputationin the Force."
Holmessmiled and clapped Lestrade upon the shoulder.
"Insteadof being ruinedmy good siryou will find thatyourreputation has been enormously enhanced. Just makea fewalterations in that report which you were writingand theywill understand how hard it is to throw dustin theeyes of Inspector Lestrade."
"Andyou don't want your name to appear?"
"Notat all. The work is its own reward. Perhaps I shall getthe creditalso at some distant day when I permit my zealoushistorianto lay out his foolscap once more -- ehWatson?Wellnowlet us see where this rat has been lurking."
Alath-and-plaster partition had been run across the passagesix feetfrom the endwith a door cunningly concealed in it.It was litwithin by slits under the eaves. A few articles offurnitureand a supply of food and water were withintogetherwith anumber of books and papers.
"There'sthe advantage of being a builder" said Holmesas we cameout. "He was able to fix up his own littlehiding-placewithout any confederate -- saveof coursethatprecious housekeeper of hiswhom I should lose notime inadding to your bagLestrade."
"I'lltake your advice. But how did you know of this placeMr.Holmes?"
"Imade up my mind that the fellow was in hiding in the house.When Ipaced one corridor and found it six feet shorter thanthecorresponding one belowit was pretty clear where he was.I thoughthe had not the nerve to lie quiet before an alarm offire. We couldof coursehave gone in and taken himbut itamused meto make him reveal himself; besidesI owed you alittlemystificationLestradefor your chaff in the morning."
"Wellsiryou certainly got equal with me on that. But howin theworld did you know that he was in the house at all?"
"Thethumb-markLestrade. You said it was final; and so it wasin a verydifferent sense. I knew it had not been there the daybefore. I pay a good deal of attention to matters of detailas you mayhave observedand I had examined the hall and wassure thatthe wall was clear. Thereforeit had been put onduring thenight."
"Verysimply. When those packets were sealed upJonas OldacregotMcFarlane to secure one of the seals by putting his thumbupon thesoft wax. It would be done so quickly and so naturallythat Idare say the young man himself has no recollection of it.Verylikely it just so happenedand Oldacre had himself nonotion ofthe use he would put it to. Brooding over the case inthat denof hisit suddenly struck him what absolutely damningevidencehe could make against McFarlane by using that thumb-mark.It was thesimplest thing in the world for him to take a waximpressionfrom the sealto moisten it in as much blood as hecould getfrom a pin-prickand to put the mark upon the wallduring thenighteither with his own hand or with that of hishousekeeper. If you examine among those documents which he tookwith himinto his retreat I will lay you a wager that you findthe sealwith the thumb-mark upon it."
"Wonderful!"said Lestrade. "Wonderful! It's all as clear ascrystalas you put it. But what is the object of this deepdeceptionMr. Holmes?"
It wasamusing to me to see how the detective's overbearingmanner hadchanged suddenly to that of a child asking questionsof itsteacher.
"WellI don't think that is very hard to explain. A very deepmaliciousvindictive person is the gentleman who is now awaitingusdownstairs. You know that he was once refused by McFarlane'smother? You don't! I told you that you should go to Blackheathfirst andNorwood afterwards. Wellthis injuryas he wouldconsiderithas rankled in his wickedscheming brainand allhis lifehe has longed for vengeancebut never seen his chance.During thelast year or two things have gone against him --secretspeculationI think -- and he finds himself in a bad way.Hedetermines to swindle his creditorsand for this purpose hepays largecheques to a certain Mr. Corneliuswho isI imaginehimselfunder another name. I have not traced these cheques yetbut I haveno doubt that they were banked under that name at someprovincialtown where Oldacre from time to time led a doubleexistence. He intended to change his name altogetherdraw thismoneyandvanishstarting life again elsewhere."
"Wellthat's likely enough."
"Itwould strike him that in disappearing he might throw allpursuitoff his trackand at the same time have an ample andcrushingrevenge upon his old sweetheartif he could give theimpressionthat he had been murdered by her only child. It wasamasterpiece of villainyand he carried it out like a master.The ideaof the willwhich would give an obvious motive for thecrimethesecret visit unknown to his own parentsthe retentionof thestickthe bloodand the animal remains and buttons in thewood-pileall were admirable. It was a net from which it seemedto me afew hours ago that there was no possible escape. But hehad notthat supreme gift of the artistthe knowledge of when tostop. He wished to improve that which was already perfect --to drawthe rope tighter yet round the neck of his unfortunatevictim --and so he ruined all. Let us descendLestrade.There arejust one or two questions that I would ask him."
Themalignant creature was seated in his own parlour with apolicemanupon each side of him.
"Itwas a jokemy good sira practical jokenothing more"he whinedincessantly. "I assure yousirthat I simplyconcealedmyself in order to see the effect of my disappearanceand I amsure that you would not be so unjust as to imagine thatI wouldhave allowed any harm to befall poor young Mr. McFarlane."
"That'sfor a jury to decide" said Lestrade. "Anyhowweshallhave youon a charge of conspiracyif not for attempted murder."
"Andyou'll probably find that your creditors will impound thebankingaccount of Mr. Cornelius" said Holmes.
The littleman started and turned his malignant eyes upon my friend.
"Ihave to thank you for a good deal" said he. "PerhapsI'llpay mydebt some day."
"Ifancy that for some few years you will find your time veryfullyoccupied" said he. "By the waywhat was it you putintothewood-pile besides your old trousers? A dead dogor rabbitsor what? You won't tell? Dear mehow very unkind of you!WellwellI dare say that a couple of rabbits would accountboth forthe blood and for the charred ashes. If ever you writeanaccountWatsonyou can make rabbits serve your turn."
HOLMES hadbeen seated for some hours in silence with his longthin backcurved over a chemical vessel in which he was brewingaparticularly malodorous product. His head was sunk upon hisbreastand he looked from my point of view like a strangelank birdwith dull grey plumage and a black top-knot.
"SoWatson" said hesuddenly"you do not propose to investin SouthAfrican securities?"
I gave astart of astonishment. Accustomed as I was to Holmes'scuriousfacultiesthis sudden intrusion into my most intimatethoughtswas utterly inexplicable.
"Howon earth do you know that?" I asked.
He wheeledround upon his stoolwith a steaming test-tubein hishand and a gleam of amusement in his deep-set eyes.
"NowWatsonconfess yourself utterly taken aback" said he.
"Iought to make you sign a paper to that effect."
"Becausein five minutes you will say that it is all soabsurdlysimple."
"I amsure that I shall say nothing of the kind."
"Youseemy dear Watson" -- he propped his test-tube in therack andbegan to lecture with the air of a professor addressinghis class-- "it is not really difficult to construct a seriesofinferenceseach dependent upon its predecessor and eachsimple initself. Ifafter doing soone simply knocks out allthecentral inferences and presents one's audience with thestarting-pointand the conclusionone may produce a startlingthoughpossibly a meretriciouseffect. Nowit was not reallydifficultby an inspection of the groove between your leftforefingerand thumbto feel sure that you did NOT proposeto investyour small capital in the goldfields."
"Isee no connection."
"Verylikely not; but I can quickly show you a close connection.Here arethe missing links of the very simple chain: 1. You hadchalkbetween your left finger and thumb when you returned from theclub lastnight. 2. You put chalk there when you play billiards tosteady thecue. 3. You never play billiards except with Thurston.4. Youtold me four weeks ago that Thurston had an option on someSouthAfrican property which would expire in a monthand which hedesiredyou to share with him. 5. Your cheque-book is locked in mydrawerand you have not asked for the key. 6. You do not proposeto investyour money in this manner."
"Howabsurdly simple!" I cried.
"Quiteso!" said hea little nettled. "Every problembecomesverychildish when once it is explained to you. Here is anunexplainedone. See what you can make of thatfriend Watson."He tosseda sheet of paper upon the table and turned once moreto hischemical analysis.
I lookedwith amazement at the absurd hieroglyphics upon the paper.
"WhyHolmesit is a child's drawing" I cried.
"Ohthat's your idea!"
"Whatelse should it be?"
"Thatis what Mr. Hilton Cubittof Riding Thorpe ManorNorfolkis veryanxious to know. This little conundrum came by the firstpostandhe was to follow by the next train. There's a ring at thebellWatson. I should not be very much surprised if this were he."
A heavystep was heard upon the stairsand an instant laterthereentered a tallruddyclean-shaven gentlemanwhose cleareyes andflorid cheeks told of a life led far from the fogs ofBakerStreet. He seemed to bring a whiff of his strongfreshbracingeast-coast air with him as he entered. Having shakenhands witheach of ushe was about to sit down when his eyerestedupon the paper with the curious markingswhich I hadjustexamined and left upon the table.
"WellMr. Holmeswhat do you make of these?" he cried."Theytold me that you were fond of queer mysteriesand I don'tthink youcan find a queerer one than that. I sent the paper onahead sothat you might have time to study it before I came."
"Itis certainly rather a curious production" said Holmes."Atfirst sight it would appear to be some childish prank.Itconsists of a number of absurd little figures dancing acrossthe paperupon which they are drawn. Why should you attributeanyimportance to so grotesque an object?"
"Inever shouldMr. Holmes. But my wife does. It isfrighteningher todeath. She says nothingbut I can see terror in her eyes.That's whyI want to sift the matter to the bottom."
Holmesheld up the paper so that the sunlight shone full upon it.It was apage torn from a note-book. The markings were done inpenciland ran in this way:--
Holmesexamined it for some timeand thenfolding it carefully uphe placedit in his pocket-book.
"Thispromises to be a most interesting and unusual case" said he."Yougave me a few particulars in your letterMr. Hilton Cubittbut Ishould be very much obliged if you would kindly go over itall againfor the benefit of my friendDr. Watson."
"I'mnot much of a story-teller" said our visitornervouslyclaspingand unclasping his greatstrong hands. "You'll justask meanything that I don't make clear. I'll begin at the timeof mymarriage last year; but I want to say first of all thatthough I'mnot a rich manmy people have been at Ridling Thorpefor amatter of five centuriesand there is no better knownfamily inthe County of Norfolk. Last year I came up to Londonfor theJubileeand I stopped at a boarding-house in RussellSquarebecause Parkerthe vicar of our parishwas staying init. There was an American young lady there -- Patrick was thename --Elsie Patrick. In some way we became friendsuntilbefore mymonth was up I was as much in love as a man could be.We werequietly married at a registry officeand we returned toNorfolk awedded couple. You'll think it very madMr. Holmesthat a manof a good old family should marry a wife in thisfashionknowing nothing of her past or of her people; but ifyou sawher and knew her it would help you to understand.
"Shewas very straight about itwas Elsie. I can't saythat shedid not give me every chance of getting out of itif Iwished to do so. `I have had some very disagreeableassociationsin my life' said she; `I wish to forget all aboutthem. I would rather never allude to the pastfor it is verypainful tome. If you take meHiltonyou will take a woman whohasnothing that she need be personally ashamed of; but you willhave to becontent with my word for itand to allow me to besilent asto all that passed up to the time when I became yours.If theseconditions are too hardthen go back to Norfolk andleave meto the lonely life in which you found me.' It was onlythe daybefore our wedding that she said those very words to me.I told herthat I was content to take her on her own termsandI havebeen as good as my word.
"Wellwe have been married now for a yearand very happy wehavebeen. But about a month agoat the end of JuneI sawfor thefirst time signs of trouble. One day my wife receiveda letterfrom America. I saw the American stamp. She turneddeadlywhiteread the letterand threw it into the fire.She madeno allusion to it afterwardsand I made nonefor apromise isa promise; but she has never known an easy hour fromthatmoment. There is always a look of fear upon her face --a look asif she were waiting and expecting. She would dobetter totrust me. She would find that I was her best friend.But untilshe speaks I can say nothing. Mind youshe is atruthfulwomanMr. Holmesand whatever trouble there may havebeen inher past life it has been no fault of hers. I am onlya simpleNorfolk squirebut there is not a man in England whoranks hisfamily honour more highly than I do. She knows it welland sheknew it well before she married me. She would neverbring anystain upon it -- of that I am sure.
"Wellnow I come to the queer part of my story. About a weekago -- itwas the Tuesday of last week -- I found on one of thewindow-sillsa number of absurd little dancing figureslikethese uponthe paper. They were scrawled with chalk. I thoughtthat itwas the stable-boy who had drawn thembut the lad sworehe knewnothing about it. Anyhowthey had come there duringthenight. I had them washed outand I only mentioned thematter tomy wife afterwards. To my surprise she took it veryseriouslyand begged me if any more came to let her see them.None didcome for a weekand then yesterday morning I foundthis paperlying on the sun-dial in the garden. I showed it toElsieanddown she dropped in a dead faint. Since then she haslookedlike a woman in a dreamhalf dazedand with terroralwayslurking in her eyes. It was then that I wrote and sentthe paperto youMr. Holmes. It was not a thing that I couldtake tothe policefor they would have laughed at mebut youwill tellme what to do. I am not a rich man; but if there isany dangerthreatening my little woman I would spend my lastcopper toshield her."
He was afine creaturethis man of the old English soilsimplestraightand gentlewith his greatearnest blue eyesand broadcomely face. His love for his wife and his trust inher shonein his features. Holmes had listened to his storywith theutmost attentionand now he sat for some time insilentthought.
"Don'tyou thinkMr. Cubitt" said heat last"that your bestplan wouldbe to make a direct appeal to your wifeand to askher toshare her secret with you?"
HiltonCubitt shook his massive head.
"Apromise is a promiseMr. Holmes. If Elsie wished to tellme shewould. If notit is not for me to force her confidence.But I amjustified in taking my own line -- and I will."
"ThenI will help you with all my heart. In the first placehave youheard of any strangers being seen in your neighbourhood?"
"Ipresume that it is a very quiet place. Any fresh face wouldcausecomment?"
"Inthe immediate neighbourhoodyes. But we have several smallwatering-placesnot very far away. And the farmers take in lodgers."
"Thesehieroglyphics have evidently a meaning. If it is apurelyarbitrary one it may be impossible for us to solve it.Ifon theother handit is systematicI have no doubt thatwe shallget to the bottom of it. But this particular sampleis soshort that I can do nothingand the facts which you havebrought meare so indefinite that we have no basis for aninvestigation. I would suggest that you return to Norfolkthat youkeep a keen look-outand that you take an exact copyof anyfresh dancing men which may appear. It is a thousandpitiesthat we have not a reproduction of those which were donein chalkupon the window-sill. Make a discreet inquiry also asto anystrangers in the neighbourhood. When you have collectedsome freshevidence come to me again. That is the best advicewhich Ican give youMr. Hilton Cubitt. If there are anypressingfresh developments I shall be always ready to run downand seeyou in your Norfolk home."
Theinterview left Sherlock Holmes very thoughtfuland severaltimes inthe next few days I saw him take his slip of paper fromhisnote-book and look long and earnestly at the curious figuresinscribedupon it. He made no allusion to the affairhoweveruntil oneafternoon a fortnight or so later. I was going outwhen hecalled me back.
"Youhad better stay hereWatson."
"BecauseI had a wire from Hilton Cubitt this morning -- yourememberHilton Cubittof the dancing men? He was to reachLiverpoolStreet at one-twenty. He may be here at any moment.I gatherfrom his wire that there have been some new incidentsofimportance."
We had notlong to waitfor our Norfolk squire came straight fromthestation as fast as a hansom could bring him. He was lookingworriedand depressedwith tired eyes and a lined forehead.
"It'sgetting on my nervesthis businessMr. Holmes" said heas hesanklike a wearied maninto an arm-chair. "It's badenough tofeel that you are surrounded by unseenunknown folkwho havesome kind of design upon you; but whenin addition tothatyouknow that it is just killing your wife by inchesthenit becomesas much as flesh and blood can endure. She's wearingaway underit -- just wearing away before my eyes."
"Hasshe said anything yet?"
"NoMr. Holmesshe has not. And yet there have been timeswhen thepoor girl has wanted to speakand yet could not quitebringherself to take the plunge. I have tried to help her;but I daresay I did it clumsilyand scared her off from it.She hasspoken about my old familyand our reputation in the countyand ourpride in our unsullied honourand I always felt it wasleading tothe point; but somehow it turned off before we got there."
"Butyou have found out something for yourself?"
"Agood dealMr. Holmes. I have several fresh dancing menpicturesfor you to examineandwhat is more importantI haveseen the fellow."
"Whatthe man who draws them?"
"YesI saw him at his work. But I will tell you everythingin order. When I got back after my visit to youthe very firstthing Isaw next morning was a fresh crop of dancing men.They hadbeen drawn in chalk upon the black wooden door of thetool-housewhich stands beside the lawn in full view of thefrontwindows. I took an exact copyand here it is."Heunfolded a paper and laid it upon the table. Here is a copyof thehieroglyphics:--
"Excellent!"said Holmes. "Excellent! Pray continue."
"WhenI had taken the copy I rubbed out the marks;but twomornings later a fresh inscription had appeared.I have acopy of it here":--
Holmesrubbed his hands and chuckled with delight.
"Ourmaterial is rapidly accumulating" said he.
"Threedays later a message was left scrawled upon paperand placedunder a pebble upon the sun-dial. Here it is.Thecharacters areas you seeexactly the same as the last one.After thatI determined to lie in wait; so I got out my revolverand I satup in my studywhich overlooks the lawn and garden.About twoin the morning I was seated by the windowall beingdark savefor the moonlight outsidewhen I heard steps behindmeandthere was my wife in her dressing-gown. She implored meto come tobed. I told her frankly that I wished to see who itwas whoplayed such absurd tricks upon us. She answered that itwas somesenseless practical jokeand that I should not takeany noticeof it.
"`Ifit really annoys youHiltonwe might go and travelyou and Iand so avoid this nuisance.'
"`Whatbe driven out of our own house by a practical joker?'said I.`Whywe should have the whole county laughing at us.'
"`Wellcome to bed' said she`and we can discuss itin themorning.'
"Suddenlyas she spokeI saw her white face grow whiter yetin themoonlightand her hand tightened upon my shoulder.Somethingwas moving in the shadow of the tool-house. I saw adarkcreeping figure which crawled round the corner andsquattedin front of the door. Seizing my pistol I was rushingoutwhenmy wife threw her arms round me and held me withconvulsivestrength. I tried to throw her offbut she clungto me mostdesperately. At last I got clearbut by the timeI hadopened the door and reached the house the creature was gone.He hadleft a trace of his presencehoweverfor there on thedoor wasthe very same arrangement of dancing men which hadalreadytwice appearedand which I have copied on that paper.There wasno other sign of the fellow anywherethough I ran allover thegrounds. And yet the amazing thing is that he must havebeen thereall the timefor when I examined the door again inthemorning he had scrawled some more of his pictures under theline whichI had already seen."
"Haveyou that fresh drawing?"
"Yes;it is very shortbut I made a copy of itand here it is."
Again heproduced a paper. The new dance was in this form:--
"Tellme" said Holmes -- and I could see by his eyes thathe wasmuch excited -- "was this a mere addition to the firstor did itappear to be entirely separate?"
"Itwas on a different panel of the door."
"Excellent! This is far the most important of all for ourpurpose. It fills me with hopes. NowMr. Hilton Cubittpleasecontinue your most interesting statement."
"Ihave nothing more to sayMr. Holmesexcept that I was angrywith mywife that night for having held me back when I mighthavecaught the skulking rascal. She said that she feared thatI mightcome to harm. For an instant it had crossed my mindthatperhaps what she really feared was that HE might come toharmforI could not doubt that she knew who this man was andwhat hemeant by these strange signals. But there is a tone inmy wife'svoiceMr. Holmesand a look in her eyes which forbiddoubtandI am sure that it was indeed my own safety that wasin hermind. There's the whole caseand now I want your adviceas to whatI ought to do. My own inclination is to puthalf-a-dozenof my farm lads in the shrubberyand when thisfellowcomes again to give him such a hiding that he will leaveus inpeace for the future."
"Ifear it is too deep a case for such simple remedies"saidHolmes. "How long can you stay in London?"
"Imust go back to-day. I would not leave my wife alone all nightforanything. She is very nervous and begged me to come back."
"Idare say you are right. But if you could have stopped Imightpossibly have been able to return with you in a day ortwo. Meanwhile you will leave me these papersand I thinkthat it isvery likely that I shall be able to pay you a visitshortlyand to throw some light upon your case."
SherlockHolmes preserved his calm professional manner until ourvisitorhad left usalthough it was easy for mewho knew himso wellto see that he was profoundly excited. The moment thatHiltonCubitt's broad back had disappeared through the door mycomraderushed to the tablelaid out all the slips of papercontainingdancing men in front of himand threw himself intoanintricate and elaborate calculation. For two hours I watchedhim as hecovered sheet after sheet of paper with figures andlettersso completely absorbed in his task that he hadevidentlyforgotten my presence. Sometimes he was makingprogressand whistled and sang at his work; sometimes he waspuzzledand would sit for long spells with a furrowed brow anda vacanteye. Finally he sprang from his chair with a cry ofsatisfactionand walked up and down the room rubbing his handstogether. Then he wrote a long telegram upon a cable form. "Ifmy answerto this is as I hopeyou will have a very pretty caseto add toyour collectionWatson" said he. "I expect that weshall beable to go down to Norfolk to-morrowand to take ourfriendsome very definite news as to the secret of his annoyance."
I confessthat I was filled with curiositybut I was aware thatHolmesliked to make his disclosures at his own time and in hisown way;so I waited until it should suit him to take me intohisconfidence.
But therewas a delay in that answering telegramand two daysofimpatience followedduring which Holmes pricked up his earsat everyring of the bell. On the evening of the second therecame aletter from Hilton Cubitt. All was quiet with himsave thata long inscription had appeared that morning upon thepedestalof the sun-dial. He inclosed a copy of itwhich isherereproduced:--
Holmesbent over this grotesque frieze for some minutesand thensuddenly sprang to his feet with an exclamationofsurprise and dismay. His face was haggard with anxiety.
"Wehave let this affair go far enough" said he."Isthere a train to North Walsham to-night?"
I turnedup the time-table. The last had just gone.
"Thenwe shall breakfast early and take the very first in themorning"said Holmes. "Our presence is most urgently needed.Ah! hereis our expected cablegram. One momentMrs. Hudson;there maybe an answer. Nothat is quite as I expected.Thismessage makes it even more essential that we should notlose anhour in letting Hilton Cubitt know how matters standfor it isa singular and a dangerous web in which our simpleNorfolksquire is entangled."
Soindeedit provedand as I come to the dark conclusion ofa storywhich had seemed to me to be only childish and bizarreIexperience once again the dismay and horror with which I wasfilled. Would that I had some brighter ending to communicateto myreadersbut these are the chronicles of factand I mustfollow totheir dark crisis the strange chain of events whichfor somedays made Ridling Thorpe Manor a household word throughthe lengthand breadth of England.
We hadhardly alighted at North Walshamand mentioned the nameof ourdestinationwhen the station-master hurried towards us."Isuppose that you are the detectives from London?" said he.
A look ofannoyance passed over Holmes's face.
"Whatmakes you think such a thing?"
"BecauseInspector Martin from Norwich has just passed through.But maybeyou are the surgeons. She's not dead -- or wasn't bylastaccounts. You may be in time to save her yet -- though itbe for thegallows."
Holmes'sbrow was dark with anxiety.
"Weare going to Ridling Thorpe Manor" said he"but we haveheardnothing of what has passed there."
"It'sa terrible business" said the station-master. "TheyareshotbothMr. Hilton Cubitt and his wife. She shot him andthenherself -- so the servants say. He's dead and her lifeisdespaired of. Deardearone of the oldest families in theCounty ofNorfolkand one of the most honoured."
Without aword Holmes hurried to a carriageand during the longsevenmiles' drive he never opened his mouth. Seldom have Iseen himso utterly despondent. He had been uneasy during allourjourney from townand I had observed that he had turnedover themorning papers with anxious attention; but now thissuddenrealization of his worst fears left him in a blankmelancholy.He leaned back in his seatlost in gloomyspeculation. Yet there was much around to interest usfor wewere passing through as singular a country-side asany inEnglandwhere a few scattered cottages representedthepopulation of to-daywhile on every hand enormoussquare-toweredchurches bristled up from the flatgreenlandscapeand told of the glory and prosperity of old EastAnglia. At last the violet rim of the German Ocean appearedover thegreen edge of the Norfolk coastand the driver pointedwith hiswhip to two old brick and timber gables which projectedfrom agrove of trees. "That's Ridling Thorpe Manor" saidhe.
As wedrove up to the porticoed front door I observed in frontof itbeside the tennis lawnthe black tool-house and thepedestalledsun-dial with which we had such strange associations.A dapperlittle manwith a quickalert manner and a waxedmoustachehad just descended from a high dog-cart.Heintroduced himself as Inspector Martinof the NorfolkConstabularyand he was considerably astonished when he heardthe nameof my companion.
"WhyMr. Holmesthe crime was only committed at three thismorning. How could you hear of it in London and get to the spotas soon asI?"
"Ianticipated it. I came in the hope of preventing it."
"Thenyou must have important evidence of which we are ignorantfor theywere said to be a most united couple."
"Ihave only the evidence of the dancing men" said Holmes."Iwill explain the matter to you later. Meanwhilesince itis toolate to prevent this tragedyI am very anxious that Ishould usethe knowledge which I possess in order to ensure thatjustice bedone. Will you associate me in your investigationor willyou prefer that I should act independently?"
"Ishould be proud to feel that we were acting togetherMr.Holmes" said the inspectorearnestly.
"Inthat case I should be glad to hear the evidence and toexaminethe premises without an instant of unnecessary delay."
InspectorMartin had the good sense to allow my friend to dothings inhis own fashionand contented himself with carefullynoting theresults. The local surgeonan oldwhite-hairedmanhadjust come down from Mrs. Hilton Cubitt's roomand hereportedthat her injuries were seriousbut not necessarilyfatal. The bullet had passed through the front of her brainand itwould probably be some time before she could regainconsciousness. On the question of whether she had been shot orhad shotherself he would not venture to express any decidedopinion. Certainly the bullet had been discharged at very closequarters. There was only the one pistol found in the roomtwobarrels of which had been emptied. Mr. Hilton Cubitt hadbeen shotthrough the heart. It was equally conceivable that hehad shother and then himselfor that she had been the criminalfor therevolver lay upon the floor midway between them.
"Hashe been moved?" asked Holmes.
"Wehave moved nothing except the lady. We could not leave herlyingwounded upon the floor."
"Howlong have you been heredoctor?"
"Yesthe constable here."
"Andyou have touched nothing?"
"Youhave acted with great discretion. Who sent for you?"
"Wasit she who gave the alarm?"
"Sheand Mrs. Kingthe cook."
"Whereare they now?"
"Inthe kitchenI believe."
"ThenI think we had better hear their story at once."
The oldhalloak-panelled and high-windowedhad been turnedinto acourt of investigation. Holmes sat in a greatold-fashionedchairhis inexorable eyes gleaming out of hishaggardface. I could read in them a set purpose to devote hislife tothis quest until the client whom he had failed to saveshould atlast be avenged. The trim Inspector Martinthe oldgrey-headedcountry doctormyselfand a stolid villagepolicemanmade up the rest of that strange company.
The twowomen told their story clearly enough. They had beenarousedfrom their sleep by the sound of an explosionwhich hadbeenfollowed a minute later by a second one. They slept inadjoiningroomsand Mrs. King had rushed in to Saunders.Togetherthey had descended the stairs. The door of the studywas openand a candle was burning upon the table. Their masterlay uponhis face in the centre of the room. He was quite dead.Near thewindow his wife was crouchingher head leaning againstthe wall. She was horribly woundedand the side of her facewas redwith blood. She breathed heavilybut was incapable ofsayinganything. The passageas well as the roomwas full ofsmoke andthe smell of powder. The window was certainly shutandfastened upon the inside. Both women were positive uponthepoint. They had at once sent for the doctor and for theconstable. Thenwith the aid of the groom and the stable-boythey hadconveyed their injured mistress to her room. Both sheand herhusband had occupied the bed. She was clad in her dress-- he inhis dressing-gownover his night clothes. Nothing hadbeen movedin the study. So far as they knew there had neverbeen anyquarrel between husband and wife. They had alwayslookedupon them as a very united couple.
These werethe main points of the servants' evidence. In answertoInspector Martin they were clear that every door was fastenedupon theinsideand that no one could have escaped from thehouse. In answer to Holmes they both remembered that they wereconsciousof the smell of powder from the moment that they ranout oftheir rooms upon the top floor. "I commend that factverycarefully to your attention" said Holmes to hisprofessionalcolleague. "And now I think that we are in apositionto undertake a thorough examination of the room."
The studyproved to be a small chamberlined on three sideswithbooksand with a writing-table facing an ordinary windowwhichlooked out upon the garden. Our first attention was givento thebody of the unfortunate squirewhose huge frame laystretchedacross the room. His disordered dress showed that hehad beenhastily aroused from sleep. The bullet had been firedat himfrom the frontand had remained in his body afterpenetratingthe heart. His death had certainly been instantaneousandpainless. There was no powder-marking either upon hisdressing-gownor on his hands. According to the country surgeonthe ladyhad stains upon her facebut none upon her hand.
"Theabsence of the latter means nothingthough its presencemay meaneverything" said Holmes. "Unless the powder fromabadly-fitting cartridge happens to spurt backwardsone mayfire manyshots without leaving a sign. I would suggest thatMr.Cubitt's body may now be removed. I supposedoctoryou havenot recovered the bullet which wounded the lady?"
"Aserious operation will be necessary before that can be done.But thereare still four cartridges in the revolver. Two havebeen firedand two wounds inflictedso that each bullet can beaccountedfor."
"Soit would seem" said Holmes. "Perhaps you can account alsoforthe bulletwhich has so obviously struck the edge of the window?"
He hadturned suddenlyand his longthin finger was pointingto a holewhich had been drilled right through the lowerwindow-sashabout an inch above the bottom.
"ByGeorge!" cried the inspector. "How ever did you seethat?"
"BecauseI looked for it."
"Wonderful!"said the country doctor. "You are certainly rightsir. Then a third shot has been firedand therefore a thirdpersonmust have been present. But who could that have beenand howcould he have got away?"
"Thatis the problem which we are now about to solve" saidSherlockHolmes. "You rememberInspector Martinwhen theservantssaid that on leaving their room they were at onceconsciousof a smell of powder I remarked that the point wasanextremely important one?"
"Yessir; but I confess I did not quite follow you."
"Itsuggested that at the time of the firing the window as wellas thedoor of the room had been open. Otherwise the fumes ofpowdercould not have been blown so rapidly through the house.A draughtin the room was necessary for that. Both door andwindowwere only open for a very short timehowever."
"Howdo you prove that?"
"Becausethe candle has not guttered."
"Capital!"cried the inspector. "Capital!"
"Feelingsure that the window had been open at the time of thetragedy Iconceived that there might have been a third person intheaffairwho stood outside this opening and fired through it.Any shotdirected at this person might hit the sash. I lookedand theresure enoughwas the bullet mark!"
"Buthow came the window to be shut and fastened?"
"Thewoman's first instinct would be to shut and fasten the window.Buthalloa! what is this?"
It was alady's hand-bag which stood upon the study table --a trimlittle hand-bag of crocodile-skin and silver. Holmesopened itand turned the contents out. There were twentyfifty-poundnotes of the Bank of Englandheld together by anindia-rubberband -- nothing else.
"Thismust be preservedfor it will figure in the trial" saidHolmesashe handed the bag with its contents to the inspector."Itis now necessary that we should try to throw some light uponthis thirdbulletwhich has clearlyfrom the splintering ofthe woodbeen fired from inside the room. I should like to seeMrs. Kingthe cookagain. You saidMrs. Kingthat you wereawakenedby a LOUD explosion. When you said thatdid you meanthat itseemed to you to be louder than the second one?"
"Wellsirit wakened me from my sleepand so it is hard to judge.But it didseem very loud."
"Youdon't think that it might have been two shots fired almostat thesame instant?"
"I amsure I couldn't saysir."
"Ibelieve that it was undoubtedly so. I rather thinkInspectorMartinthat we have now exhausted all that this roomcan teachus. If you will kindly step round with mewe shallsee whatfresh evidence the garden has to offer."
Aflower-bed extended up to the study windowand we all brokeinto anexclamation as we approached it. The flowers weretrampleddownand the soft soil was imprinted all over withfootmarks. Largemasculine feet they werewith peculiarly longsharptoes. Holmes hunted about among the grass and leaves like aretrieverafter a wounded bird. Thenwith a cry of satisfactionhe bentforward and picked up a little brazen cylinder.
"Ithought so" said he; "the revolver had an ejectorandhereis thethird cartridge. I really thinkInspector Martinthatour caseis almost complete."
Thecountry inspector's face had shown his intense amazementat therapid and masterful progress of Holmes's investigation.At firsthe had shown some disposition to assert his own position;but now hewas overcome with admiration and ready to followwithoutquestion wherever Holmes led.
"Whomdo you suspect?" he asked.
"I'llgo into that later. There are several points in thisproblemwhich I have not been able to explain to you yet.Now that Ihave got so far I had best proceed on my own linesand thenclear the whole matter up once and for all."
"Justas you wishMr. Holmesso long as we get our man."
"Ihave no desire to make mysteriesbut it is impossible at themoment ofaction to enter into long and complex explanations.I have thethreads of this affair all in my hand. Even if thisladyshould never recover consciousness we can still reconstructthe eventsof last night and ensure that justice be done.First ofall I wish to know whether there is any inn in thisneighbourhoodknown as `Elrige's'?"
Theservants were cross-questionedbut none of them had heardof such aplace. The stable-boy threw a light upon the matterbyremembering that a farmer of that name lived some miles offin thedirection of East Ruston.
"Isit a lonely farm?"
"Perhapsthey have not heard yet of all that happened hereduring thenight?"
Holmesthought for a little and then a curious smile playedover hisface.
"Saddlea horsemy lad" said he. "I shall wish you to takea note toElrige's Farm."
He tookfrom his pocket the various slips of the dancing men.With thesein front of him he worked for some time at thestudy-table. Finally he handed a note to the boywithdirectionsto put it into the hands of the person to whom it wasaddressedand especially to answer no questions of any sortwhichmight be put to him. I saw the outside of the noteaddressedin stragglingirregular charactersvery unlikeHolmes'susual precise hand. It was consigned to Mr. AbeSlaneyElrige's FarmEast RustonNorfolk.
"Ithinkinspector" Holmes remarked"that you would do welltotelegraph for an escortasif my calculations prove to becorrectyou may have a particularly dangerous prisoner toconvey tothe county gaol. The boy who takes this note couldno doubtforward your telegram. If there is an afternoon trainto townWatsonI think we should do well to take itas I havea chemicalanalysis of some interest to finishand thisinvestigationdraws rapidly to a close."
When theyouth had been dispatched with the noteSherlockHolmesgave his instructions to the servants. If any visitorwere tocall asking for Mrs. Hilton Cubitt no information shouldbe givenas to her conditionbut he was to be shown at onceinto thedrawing-room. He impressed these points upon them withthe utmostearnestness. Finally he led the way into thedrawing-roomwith the remark that the business was now out of ourhandsandthat we must while away the time as best we might untilwe couldsee what was in store for us. The doctor had departedto hispatientsand only the inspector and myself remained.
"Ithink that I can help you to pass an hour in an interestingandprofitable manner" said Holmesdrawing his chair up to thetable andspreading out in front of him the various papers uponwhich wererecorded the antics of the dancing men. "As to youfriendWatsonI owe you every atonement for having allowed yournaturalcuriosity to remain so long unsatisfied. To youinspectorthe whole incident may appeal as a remarkableprofessionalstudy. I must tell you first of all theinterestingcircumstances connected with the previousconsultationswhich Mr. Hilton Cubitt has had with me in BakerStreet." He then shortly recapitulated the facts which havealreadybeen recorded. "I have here in front of me thesesingularproductionsat which one might smile had they notprovedthemselves to be the fore-runners of so terrible atragedy. I am fairly familiar with all forms of secretwritingsand am myself the author of a trifling monograph uponthesubjectin which I analyze one hundred and sixty separateciphers;but I confess that this is entirely new to me.The objectof those who invented the system has apparently beento concealthat these characters convey a messageand to givethe ideathat they are the mere random sketches of children.
"Havingonce recognisedhoweverthat the symbols stood forlettersand having applied the rules which guide us in allforms ofsecret writingsthe solution was easy enough.The firstmessage submitted to me was so short that it wasimpossiblefor me to do more than to say with some confidencethat thesymbol XXX stood for E. As you are awareE is themostcommon letter in the English alphabetand it predominatesto somarked an extent that even in a short sentence one wouldexpect tofind it most often. Out of fifteen symbols in thefirstmessage four were the sameso it was reasonable to setthis downas E. It is true that in some cases the figure wasbearing aflag and in some cases notbut it was probable fromthe way inwhich the flags were distributed that they were usedto breakthe sentence up into words. I accepted this as ahypothesisand noted that E was represented by XXX.
"Butnow came the real difficulty of the inquiry. The order oftheEnglish letters after E is by no means well markedand anypreponderancewhich may be shown in an average of a printedsheet maybe reversed in a single short sentence. SpeakingroughlyTAOINSHRDand L are the numericalorder inwhich letters occur; but TAOand I are very nearlyabreast ofeach otherand it would be an endless task to tryeachcombination until a meaning was arrived at. Ithereforewaited forfresh material. In my second interview with Mr.HiltonCubitt he was able to give me two other short sentencesand onemessagewhich appeared -- since there was no flag --to be asingle word. Here are the symbols. Nowin the singleword Ihave already got the two E's coming second and fourth ina word offive letters. It might be `sever' or `lever' or`never.' There can be no question that the latter as a replyto anappeal is far the most probableand the circumstancespointed toits being a reply written by the lady. Accepting itascorrectwe are now able to say that the symbols XXX standrespectivelyfor NVand R.
"Evennow I was in considerable difficultybut a happy thoughtput me inpossession of several other letters. It occurred tome that ifthese appeals cameas I expectedfrom someone whohad beenintimate with the lady in her early lifea combinationwhichcontained two E's with three letters between might verywell standfor the name `ELSIE.' On examination I found thatsuch acombination formed the termination of the message whichwas threetimes repeated. It was certainly some appeal to `Elsie.'In thisway I had got my LSand I. But what appeal could it be?There wereonly four letters in the word which preceded `Elsie'and itended in E. Surely the word must be `COME.' I tried allother fourletters ending in Ebut could find none to fit the case.So now Iwas in possession of COand Mand I was in a positionto attackthe first message once moredividing it into wordsandputting dots for each symbol which was still unknown.So treatedit worked out in this fashion:--
.M .ERE ..E SL.NE.
"Nowthe first letter CAN only be Awhich is a most usefuldiscoverysince it occurs no fewer than three times in thisshortsentenceand the H is also apparent in the second word.Now itbecomes:--
AM HERE A.E SLANE.
Orfilling in the obvious vacancies in the name:--
AM HERE ABE SLANEY.
I had somany letters now that I could proceed with considerableconfidenceto the second messagewhich worked out in thisfashion:--
Here Icould only make sense by putting T and G for the missinglettersand supposing that the name was that of some house orinn atwhich the writer was staying."
InspectorMartin and I had listened with the utmost interest tothe fulland clear account of how my friend had produced resultswhich hadled to so complete a command over our difficulties.
"Whatdid you do thensir?" asked the inspector.
"Ihad every reason to suppose that this Abe Slaney was anAmericansince Abe is an American contractionand since aletterfrom America had been the starting-point of all thetrouble. I had also every cause to think that there was somecriminalsecret in the matter. The lady's allusions to her pastand herrefusal to take her husband into her confidence bothpointed inthat direction. I therefore cabled to my friendWilsonHargreaveof the New York Police Bureauwho has morethan oncemade use of my knowledge of London crime. I asked himwhetherthe name of Abe Slaney was known to him. Here is hisreply: `The most dangerous crook in Chicago.' On the veryeveningupon which I had his answer Hilton Cubitt sent me thelastmessage from Slaney. Working with known letters it tookthisform:--
ELSIE .RE.ARE TO MEET THY GO.
Theaddition of a P and a D completed a message which showed methat therascal was proceeding from persuasion to threatsandmyknowledge of the crooks of Chicago prepared me to find thathe mightvery rapidly put his words into action. I at once cameto Norfolkwith my friend and colleagueDr. Watsonbutunhappilyonly intime to find that the worst had already occurred."
"Itis a privilege to be associated with you in the handling ofa case"said the inspectorwarmly. "You will excuse mehoweverif I speak frankly to you. You are only answerable toyourselfbut I have to answer to my superiors. If this AbeSlaneyliving at Elrige'sis indeed the murdererand if hehas madehis escape while I am seated hereI should certainlyget intoserious trouble."
"Youneed not be uneasy. He will not try to escape."
"Howdo you know?"
"Tofly would be a confession of guilt."
"Thenlet us go to arrest him."
"Iexpect him here every instant."
"Butwhy should he come?"
"BecauseI have written and asked him."
"Butthis is incredibleMr. Holmes! Why should he come becauseyou haveasked him? Would not such a request rather rouse hissuspicionsand cause him to fly?"
"Ithink I have known how to frame the letter" said SherlockHolmes. "In factif I am not very much mistakenhere is thegentlemanhimself coming up the drive."
A man wasstriding up the path which led to the door. He was atallhandsomeswarthy fellowclad in a suit of grey flannelwith aPanama hata bristling black beardand a greataggressivehooked noseand flourishing a cane as he walked.Heswaggered up the path as if the place belonged to himand weheard his loudconfident peal at the bell.
"Ithinkgentlemen" said Holmesquietly"that we had besttake upour position behind the door. Every precaution isnecessarywhen dealing with such a fellow. You will need yourhandcuffsinspector. You can leave the talking to me."
We waitedin silence for a minute -- one of those minutes whichone cannever forget. Then the door opened and the man steppedin. In an instant Holmes clapped a pistol to his head and Martinslippedthe handcuffs over his wrists. It was all done so swiftlyand deftlythat the fellow was helpless before he knew that he wasattacked. He glared from one to the other of us with a pair ofblazingblack eyes. Then he burst into a bitter laugh.
"Wellgentlemenyou have the drop on me this time. I seem tohaveknocked up against something hard. But I came here inanswer toa letter from Mrs. Hilton Cubitt. Don't tell me that sheis inthis? Don't tell me that she helped to set a trap for me?"
"Mrs.Hilton Cubitt was seriously injured and is at death's door."
The mangave a hoarse cry of grief which rang through the house.
"You'recrazy!" he criedfiercely. "It was he that was hurtnot she. Who would have hurt little Elsie? I may havethreatenedherGod forgive mebut I would not have toucheda hair ofher pretty head. Take it back -- you! Say that sheis nothurt!"
"Shewas found badly wounded by the side of her dead husband."
He sankwith a deep groan on to the settee and buried his face inhismanacled hands. For five minutes he was silent. Then heraisedhis faceonce moreand spoke with the cold composure of despair.
"Ihave nothing to hide from yougentlemen" said he."If Ishot the man he had his shot at meand there's no murderin that. But if you think I could have hurt that womanthen youdon't knoweither me or her. I tell you there was never a manin thisworld loved a woman more than I loved her. I had aright toher. She was pledged to me years ago. Who was thisEnglishmanthat he should come between us? I tell you that Ihad thefirst right to herand that I was only claiming my own."
"Shebroke away from your influence when she found the man thatyou are"said Holmessternly. "She fled from America to avoidyouandshe married an honourable gentleman in England.You doggedher and followed her and made her life a misery to herin orderto induce her to abandon the husband whom she loved andrespectedin order to fly with youwhom she feared and hated.You haveended by bringing about the death of a noble man anddrivinghis wife to suicide. That is your record in thisbusinessMr. Abe Slaneyand you will answer for it to the law."
"IfElsie dies I care nothing what becomes of me" said theAmerican. He opened one of his hands and looked at a notecrumpledup in his palm. "See heremisterhe criedwith agleam ofsuspicion in his eyes"you're not trying to scare meover thisare you? If the lady is hurt as bad as you saywho wasit thatwrote this note?" He tossed it forwards on to the table.
"Iwrote it to bring you here."
"Youwrote it? There was no one on earth outside the Joint whoknew thesecret of the dancing men. How came you to write it?"
"Whatone man can invent another can discover" said Holmes.There is acab coming to convey you to NorwichMr. Slaney.Butmeanwhileyou have time to make some small reparation forthe injuryyou have wrought. Are you aware that Mrs. HiltonCubitt hasherself lain under grave suspicion of the murderof herhusbandand that it was only my presence here and theknowledgewhich I happened to possess which has saved her fromtheaccusation? The least that you owe her is to make it clearto thewhole world that she was in no waydirectly orindirectlyresponsible for his tragic end."
"Iask nothing better" said the American. "I guess theverybest caseI can make for myself is the absolute naked truth."
"Itis my duty to warn you that it will be used against you"cried theinspectorwith the magnificent fair-play of theBritishcriminal law.
Slaneyshrugged his shoulders.
"I'llchance that" said he. "First of allI want yougentlemento understand that I have known this lady since shewas achild. There were seven of us in a gang in ChicagoandElsie'sfather was the boss of the Joint. He was a clever manwas oldPatrick. It was he who invented that writingwhichwould passas a child's scrawl unless you just happened to havethe key toit. WellElsie learned some of our ways; but shecouldn'tstand the businessand she had a bit of honest moneyof herownso she gave us all the slip and got away to London.She hadbeen engaged to meand she would have married meI believeif I had taken over another profession; but she wouldhavenothing to do with anything on the cross. It was onlyafter hermarriage to this Englishman that I was able to findout whereshe was. I wrote to herbut got no answer. Afterthat Icame overandas letters were no useI put my messageswhere shecould read them.
"WellI have been here a month now. I lived in that farmwhere Ihad a room down belowand could get in and out everynightandno one the wiser. I tried all I could to coax Elsieaway. I knew that she read the messagesfor once she wrote ananswerunder one of them. Then my temper got the better of meand Ibegan to threaten her. She sent me a letter thenimploringme to go away and saying that it would break her heartif anyscandal should come upon her husband. She said that shewould comedown when her husband was asleep at three in themorningand speak with me through the end windowif I wouldgo awayafterwards and leave her in peace. She came down andbroughtmoney with hertrying to bribe me to go. This mademe madand I caught her arm and tried to pull her through thewindow. At that moment in rushed the husband with his revolverin hishand. Elsie had sunk down upon the floorand we wereface toface. I was heeled alsoand I held up my gun to scarehim offand let me get away. He fired and missed me. I pulledoff almostat the same instantand down he dropped. I madeawayacross the gardenand as I went I heard the window shutbehindme. That's God's truthgentlemenevery word of itand Iheard no more about it until that lad came riding up witha notewhich made me walk in herelike a jayand give myselfinto yourhands."
A cab haddriven up whilst the American had been talking.Twouniformed policemen sat inside. Inspector Martin roseandtouched his prisoner on the shoulder.
"Itis time for us to go."
"CanI see her first?"
"Noshe is not conscious. Mr. Sherlock HolmesI only hopethat ifever again I have an important case I shall have thegoodfortune to have you by my side."
We stoodat the window and watched the cab drive away. As Iturnedback my eye caught the pellet of paper which the prisonerhad tossedupon the table. It was the note with which Holmeshaddecoyed him.
"Seeif you can read itWatson" said hewith a smile.
Itcontained no wordbut this little line of dancing men:--
"Ifyou use the code which I have explained" said Holmes"youwill find that it simply means `Come here at once.' I wasconvincedthat it was an invitation which he would not refusesince hecould never imagine that it could come from anyone butthe lady. And somy dear Watsonwe have ended by turning thedancingmen to good when they have so often been the agents ofevilandI think that I have fulfilled my promise of giving yousomethingunusual for your note-book. Three-forty is our trainand Ifancy we should be back in Baker Street for dinner.
Only oneword of epilogue. The AmericanAbe Slaneywascondemnedto death at the winter assizes at Norwich; but hispenaltywas changed to penal servitude in consideration ofmitigatingcircumstancesand the certainty that Hilton Cubitthad firedthe first shot. Of Mrs. Hilton Cubitt I only knowthat Ihave heard she recovered entirelyand that she stillremains awidowdevoting her whole life to the care of thepoor andto the administration of her husband's estate.
FROM theyears 1894 to 1901 inclusive Mr. Sherlock Holmes was avery busyman. It is safe to say that there was no public caseof anydifficulty in which he was not consulted during thoseeightyearsand there were hundreds of private casessome ofthem ofthe most intricate and extraordinary characterin whichhe playeda prominent part. Many startling successes and a fewunavoidablefailures were the outcome of this long period ofcontinuouswork. As I have preserved very full notes of allthesecasesand was myself personally engaged in many of themit may beimagined that it is no easy task to know which Ishouldselect to lay before the public. I shallhoweverpreservemy former ruleand give the preference to those caseswhichderive their interest not so much from the brutality ofthe crimeas from the ingenuity and dramatic quality of thesolution. For this reason I will now lay before the reader thefactsconnected with Miss Violet Smiththe solitary cyclist ofCharlingtonand the curious sequel of our investigationwhichculminatedin unexpected tragedy. It is true that thecircumstancesdid not admit of any striking illustration of thosepowers forwhich my friend was famousbut there were somepointsabout the case which made it stand out in those longrecords ofcrime from which I gather the material for theselittlenarratives.
Onreferring to my note-book for the year 1895 I find that itwas uponSaturdaythe 23rd of Aprilthat we first heard ofMissViolet Smith. Her visit wasI rememberextremelyunwelcometo Holmesfor he was immersed at the moment in a veryabstruseand complicated problem concerning the peculiarpersecutionto which John Vincent Hardenthe well-known tobaccomillionairehad been subjected. My friendwho loved above allthingsprecision and concentration of thoughtresented anythingwhichdistracted his attention from the matter in hand. And yetwithout aharshness which was foreign to his nature it wasimpossibleto refuse to listen to the story of the young andbeautifulwomantallgracefuland queenlywho presentedherself atBaker Street late in the evening and implored hisassistanceand advice. It was vain to urge that his time wasalreadyfully occupiedfor the young lady had come with thedeterminationto tell her storyand it was evident that nothingshort offorce could get her out of the room until she had doneso. With a resigned air and a somewhat weary smileHolmesbegged thebeautiful intruder to take a seat and to inform uswhat itwas that was troubling her.
"Atleast it cannot be your health" said heas his keen eyesdartedover her; "so ardent a bicyclist must be full of energy."
Sheglanced down in surprise at her own feetand I observed theslightroughening of the side of the sole caused by the frictionof theedge of the pedal.
"YesI bicycle a good dealMr. Holmesand that has somethingto do withmy visit to you to-day."
My friendtook the lady's ungloved hand and examined it with asclose anattention and as little sentiment as a scientist wouldshow to aspecimen.
"Youwill excuse meI am sure. It is my business" said heas hedropped it. "I nearly fell into the error of supposingthat youwere typewriting. Of courseit is obvious that it ismusic. You observe the spatulate finger-endWatsonwhich iscommon toboth professions? There is a spirituality about thefacehowever" -- he gently turned it towards the light -- "whichthetypewriter does not generate. This lady is a musician."
"YesMr. HolmesI teach music."
"Inthe countryI presumefrom your complexion."
"Yessir; near Farnhamon the borders of Surrey."
"Abeautiful neighbourhood and full of the most interestingassociations. You rememberWatsonthat it was near there thatwe tookArchie Stamfordthe forger. NowMiss Violetwhat hashappenedto you near Farnhamon the borders of Surrey?"
The youngladywith great clearness and composuremade thefollowingcurious statement:--
"Myfather is deadMr. Holmes. He was James Smithwhoconductedthe orchestra at the old Imperial Theatre. My motherand I wereleft without a relation in the world except oneuncleRalph Smithwho went to Africa twenty-five years agoand wehave never had a word from him since. When father diedwe wereleft very poorbut one day we were told that there wasanadvertisement in the TIMES inquiring for our whereabouts. Youcanimagine how excited we werefor we thought that someone hadleft us afortune. We went at once to the lawyer whose name wasgiven inthe paper. There we met two gentlemenMr. Carruthersand Mr.Woodleywho were home on a visit from South Africa.They saidthat my uncle was a friend of theirsthat he diedsomemonths before in great poverty in Johannesburgand that hehad askedthem with his last breath to hunt up his relations andsee thatthey were in no want. It seemed strange to us thatUncleRalphwho took no notice of us when he was aliveshouldbe socareful to look after us when he was dead; but Mr. Carruthersexplainedthat the reason was that my uncle had just heard of thedeath ofhis brotherand so felt responsible for our fate."
"Excuseme" said Holmes; "when was this interview?"
"LastDecember -- four months ago."
"Mr.Woodley seemed to me to be a most odious person.He was forever making eyes at me -- a coarsepuffy-facedred-moustachedyoung manwith his hair plastered down on eachside ofhis forehead. I thought that he was perfectly hateful --and I wassure that Cyril would not wish me to know such a person."
"OhCyril is his name!" said Holmessmiling.
The younglady blushed and laughed.
"YesMr. Holmes; Cyril Mortonan electrical engineerand wehope to be married at the end of the summer. Dear mehow DID Iget talking about him? What I wished to say was thatMr.Woodley was perfectly odiousbut that Mr. Carrutherswhowas a mucholder manwas more agreeable. He was a darksallowclean-shavensilent person; but he had polite manners and apleasantsmile. He inquired how we were leftand on findingthat wewere very poor he suggested that I should come and teachmusic tohis only daughteraged ten. I said that I did notlike toleave my motheron which he suggested that I should gohome toher every week-endand he offered me a hundred a yearwhich wascertainly splendid pay. So it ended by my acceptingand I wentdown to Chiltern Grangeabout six miles fromFarnham. Mr. Carruthers was a widowerbut he had engagedalady-housekeepera very respectableelderly personcalledMrs.Dixonto look after his establishment. The child wasa dearand everything promised well. Mr. Carruthers was verykind andvery musicaland we had most pleasant eveningstogether. Every week-end I went home to my mother in town.
"Thefirst flaw in my happiness was the arrival of thered-moustachedMr. Woodley. He came for a visit of a weekand ohitseemed three months to me! He was a dreadful persona bully toeveryone elsebut to me something infinitely worse.He madeodious love to meboasted of his wealthsaid that ifI marriedhim I would have the finest diamonds in Londonandfinallywhen I would have nothing to do with himhe seized mein hisarms one day after dinner -- he was hideously strong --and heswore that he would not let me go until I had kissed him.Mr.Carruthers came in and tore him off from meon which heturnedupon his own hostknocking him down and cutting his faceopen. That was the end of his visitas you can imagine.Mr.Carruthers apologized to me next dayand assured me thatI shouldnever be exposed to such an insult again. I have notseen Mr.Woodley since.
"AndnowMr. HolmesI come at last to the special thing whichhas causedme to ask your advice to-day. You must know thateverySaturday forenoon I ride on my bicycle to Farnham Stationin orderto get the 12.22 to town. The road from ChilternGrange isa lonely oneand at one spot it is particularly sofor itlies for over a mile between Charlington Heath upon oneside andthe woods which lie round Charlington Hall upon theother. You could not find a more lonely tract of road anywhereand it isquite rare to meet so much as a cartor a peasantuntil youreach the high road near Crooksbury Hill. Two weeksago I waspassing this place when I chanced to look back overmyshoulderand about two hundred yards behind me I saw a manalso on abicycle. He seemed to be a middle-aged manwitha shortdark beard. I looked back before I reached Farnhambut theman was goneso I thought no more about it. But youcanimagine how surprised I wasMr. Holmeswhen on my returnon theMonday I saw the same man on the same stretch of road.Myastonishment was increased when the incident occurred againexactly asbeforeon the following Saturday and Monday.He alwayskept his distance and did not molest me in any waybut stillit certainly was very odd. I mentioned it to Mr.Carrutherswho seemed interested in what I saidand told methat hehad ordered a horse and trapso that in future I shouldnot passover these lonely roads without some companion.
"Thehorse and trap were to have come this weekbut for somereasonthey were not deliveredand again I had to cycle to thestation. That was this morning. You can think that I lookedout when Icame to Charlington Heathand theresure enoughwas themanexactly as he had been the two weeks before.He alwayskept so far from me that I could not clearly seehis facebut it was certainly someone whom I did not know.He wasdressed in a dark suit with a cloth cap. The only thingabout hisface that I could clearly see was his dark beard.To-day Iwas not alarmedbut I was filled with curiosityand Idetermined to find out who he was and what he wanted.I sloweddown my machinebut he slowed down his. Then I stoppedaltogetherbut he stopped also. Then I laid a trap for him.There is asharp turning of the roadand I pedalled veryquicklyround thisand then I stopped and waited. I expectedhim toshoot round and pass me before he could stop. But heneverappeared. Then I went back and looked round the corner.I couldsee a mile of roadbut he was not on it. To make itthe moreextraordinarythere was no side road at this pointdown whichhe could have gone."
Holmeschuckled and rubbed his hands. "This case certainlypresentssome features of its own" said he. "How much timeelapsedbetween your turning the corner and your discoverythat theroad was clear?"
"Twoor three minutes."
"Thenhe could not have retreated down the roadand you saythat thereare no side roads?"
"Thenhe certainly took a footpath on one side or the other."
"Itcould not have been on the side of the heath or I shouldhave seenhim."
"Soby the process of exclusion we arrive at the fact that hemade hisway towards Charlington Hallwhichas I understandissituated in its own grounds on one side of the road.Anythingelse?"
"NothingMr. Holmessave that I was so perplexed that I feltI shouldnot be happy until I had seen you and had your advice."
Holmes satin silence for some little time.
"Whereis the gentleman to whom you are engaged?" he askedat last.
"Heis in the Midland Electrical Companyat Coventry."
"Hewould not pay you a surprise visit?"
"OhMr. Holmes! As if I should not know him!"
"Haveyou had any other admirers?"
"Severalbefore I knew Cyril."
"Therewas this dreadful manWoodleyif you can call himanadmirer."
Our fairclient seemed a little confused.
"Whowas he?" asked Holmes.
"Ohit may be a mere fancy of mine; but it has seemed to mesometimesthat my employerMr. Carrutherstakes a great dealofinterest in me. We are thrown rather together. I play hisaccompanimentsin the evening. He has never said anything.He is aperfect gentleman. But a girl always knows."
"Ha!" Holmes looked grave. "What does he do for a living?"
"Heis a rich man."
"Nocarriages or horses?"
"Wellat least he is fairly well-to-do. But he goes into theCity twoor three times a week. He is deeply interested inSouthAfrican gold shares."
"Youwill let me know any fresh developmentMiss Smith. I amvery busyjust nowbut I will find time to make some inquiriesinto yourcase. In the meantime take no step without letting meknow. Good-byeand I trust that we shall have nothing but goodnews fromyou."
"Itis part of the settled order of Nature that such a girlshouldhave followers" said Holmesas he pulled at his meditativepipe"butfor choice not on bicycles in lonely country roads.Somesecretive loverbeyond all doubt. But there are curiousandsuggestive details about the caseWatson."
"Thathe should appear only at that point?"
"Exactly. Our first effort must be to find who are the tenantsofCharlington Hall. Thenagainhow about the connectionbetweenCarruthers and Woodleysince they appear to be men ofsuch adifferent type? How came they BOTH to be so keen uponlooking upRalph Smith's relations? One more point. What sortof aMENAGE is it which pays double the market price for agovernessbut does not keep a horse although six miles from thestation? OddWatson -- very odd!"
"Youwill go down?"
"Nomy dear fellowYOU will go down. This may be sometriflingintrigueand I cannot break my other importantresearchfor the sake of it. On Monday you will arrive earlyatFarnham; you will conceal yourself near Charlington Heath;you willobserve these facts for yourselfand act as yourownjudgment advises. Thenhaving inquired as to the occupantsof theHallyou will come back to me and report. And nowWatsonnot another word of the matter until we have a few solidstepping-stoneson which we may hope to get across to our solution."
We hadascertained from the lady that she went down upon theMonday bythe train which leaves Waterloo at 9.50so I startedearly andcaught the 9.13. At Farnham Station I had nodifficultyin being directed to Charlington Heath. It wasimpossibleto mistake the scene of the young lady's adventurefor theroad runs between the open heath on one side and an oldyew hedgeupon the othersurrounding a park which is studdedwithmagnificent trees. There was a main gateway oflichen-studdedstoneeach side pillar surmounted by moulderingheraldicemblems; but besides this central carriage driveI observedseveral points where there were gaps in the hedgeand pathsleading through them. The house was invisible fromthe roadbut the surroundings all spoke of gloom and decay.
The heathwas covered with golden patches of flowering gorsegleamingmagnificently in the light of the bright spring sunshine.Behind oneof these clumps I took up my positionso as to commandboth thegateway of the Hall and a long stretch of the road uponeitherside. It had been deserted when I left itbut now Isaw a cyclist riding down it from the oppositedirectionto that in which I had come. He was clad in a darksuitandI saw that he had a black beard. On reaching the endof theCharlington grounds he sprang from his machine and led itthrough agap in the hedgedisappearing from my view.
A quarterof an hour passed and then a second cyclist appeared.This timeit was the young lady coming from the station.I saw herlook about her as she came to the Charlington hedge.An instantlater the man emerged from his hiding-placesprang uponhis cycleand followed her. In all the broad landscape thosewere theonly moving figuresthe graceful girl sitting verystraightupon her machineand the man behind her bending lowover hishandle-barwith a curiously furtive suggestion ineverymovement. She looked back at him and slowed her pace.He slowedalso. She stopped. He at once stopped tookeeping twohundredyards behind her. Her next movement was as unexpectedas it wasspirited. She suddenly whisked her wheels round anddashedstraight at him! He was as quick as shehoweveranddarted offin desperate flight. Presently she came back up theroadagainher head haughtily in the airnot deigning to takeanyfurther notice of her silent attendant. He had turned alsoand stillkept his distance until the curve of the road hid themfrom mysight.
I remainedin my hiding-placeand it was well that I did soforpresently the man reappeared cycling slowly back.He turnedin at the Hall gates and dismounted from his machine.For somefew minutes I could see him standing among the trees.His handswere raised and he seemed to be settling his necktie.Then hemounted his cycle and rode away from me down the drivetowardsthe Hall. I ran across the heath and peered through thetrees. Far away I could catch glimpses of the old grey buildingwith itsbristling Tudor chimneysbut the drive ran through adenseshrubberyand I saw no more of my man.
Howeverit seemed to me that I had done a fairly good morning'sworkandI walked back in high spirits to Farnham. The localhouse-agentcould tell me nothing about Charlington Hallandreferredme to a well-known firm in Pall Mall. There I haltedon my wayhomeand met with courtesy from the representative.NoIcould not have Charlington Hall for the summer.I was justtoo late. It had been let about a month ago.Mr.Williamson was the name of the tenant. He was a respectableelderlygentleman. The polite agent was afraid he could say nomoreasthe affairs of his clients were not matters which hecoulddiscuss.
Mr.Sherlock Holmes listened with attention to the long reportwhich Iwas able to present to him that eveningbut it did notelicitthat word of curt praise which I had hoped for and shouldhavevalued. On the contraryhis austere face was even moreseverethan usual as he commented upon the things that I haddone andthe things that I had not.
"Yourhiding-placemy dear Watsonwas very faulty. You shouldhave beenbehind the hedge; then you would have had a close viewof thisinteresting person. As it is you were some hundredsof yardsawayand can tell me even less than Miss Smith.She thinksshe does not know the man; I am convinced she does.Whyotherwiseshould he be so desperately anxious that sheshould notget so near him as to see his features? You describehim asbending over the handle-bar. Concealment againyou see.You reallyhave done remarkably badly. He returns to the house andyou wantto find out who he is. You come to a London house-agent!"
"Whatshould I have done?" I criedwith some heat.
"Goneto the nearest public-house. That is the centre ofcountrygossip. They would have told you every namefrom themaster tothe scullery-maid. Williamson! It conveys nothing tomy mind. If he is an elderly man he is not this active cyclistwhosprints away from that athletic young lady's pursuit. Whathave wegained by your expedition? The knowledge that thegirl'sstory is true. I never doubted it. That there is aconnectionbetween the cyclist and the Hall. I never doubtedthateither. That the Hall is tenanted by Williamson.Who's thebetter for that? Wellwellmy dear sirdon'tlook sodepressed. We can do little more until next Saturdayand in themeantime I may make one or two inquiries myself."
Nextmorning we had a note from Miss Smithrecounting shortlyandaccurately the very incidents which I had seenbut the pithof theletter lay in the postscript:--
"I amsure that you will respect my confidenceMr. Holmeswhen Itell you that my place here has become difficult owingto thefact that my employer has proposed marriage to me. I amconvincedthat his feelings are most deep and most honourable.At thesame time my promise isof coursegiven. He took myrefusalvery seriouslybut also very gently. You canunderstandhoweverthat the situation is a little strained."
"Ouryoung friend seems to be getting into deep waters"saidHolmesthoughtfullyas he finished the letter."Thecase certainly presents more features of interest andmorepossibility of development than I had originally thought.I shouldbe none the worse for a quietpeaceful day in thecountryand I am inclined to run down this afternoon and testone or twotheories which I have formed."
Holmes'squiet day in the country had a singular terminationfor hearrived at Baker Street late in the evening with a cutlip and adiscoloured lump upon his foreheadbesides a generalair ofdissipation which would have made his own person thefittingobject of a Scotland Yard investigation. He wasimmenselytickled by his own adventuresand laughed heartilyas herecounted them.
"Iget so little active exercise that it is always a treat"said he. "You are aware that I have some proficiency in thegood oldBritish sport of boxing. Occasionally it is ofservice. To-dayfor exampleI should have come to veryignominiousgrief without it."
I beggedhim to tell me what had occurred.
"Ifound that country pub which I had already recommended toyournoticeand there I made my discreet inquiries. I was inthe barand a garrulous landlord was giving me all that Iwanted. Williamson is a white-bearded manand he lives alonewith asmall staff of servants at the Hall. There is some rumourthat he isor has been a clergyman; but one or two incidents ofhis shortresidence at the Hall struck me as peculiarlyunecclesiastical. I have already made some inquiries at aclericalagencyand they tell me that there WAS a man of thatname inorders whose career has been a singularly dark one.Thelandlord further informed me that there are usually week-endvisitors-- `a warm lotsir' -- at the Halland especially onegentlemanwith a red moustacheMr. Woodley by namewho wasalwaysthere. We had got as far as this when who should walk inbut thegentleman himselfwho had been drinking his beer in thetap-roomand had heard the whole conversation. Who was I?What did Iwant? What did I mean by asking questions? He hada fineflow of languageand his adjectives were very vigorous.He ended astring of abuse by a vicious back-hander which I failedtoentirely avoid. The next few minutes were delicious. Itwasa straightleft against a slogging ruffian. I emerged as yousee me. Mr. Woodley went home in a cart. So ended my country tripand itmust be confessed thathowever enjoyablemy day on theSurreyborder has not been much more profitable than your own."
TheThursday brought us another letter from our client.
"Youwill not be surprisedMr. Holmes" said she"to hearthat I amleaving Mr. Carruthers's employment. Even the highpay cannotreconcile me to the discomforts of my situation.OnSaturday I come up to town and I do not intend to return.Mr.Carruthers has got a trapand so the dangers of the lonelyroadifthere ever were any dangersare now over.
"Asto the special cause of my leavingit is not merely thestrainedsituation with Mr. Carruthersbut it is thereappearanceof that odious manMr. Woodley. He was alwayshideousbut he looks more awful than ever nowfor he appearsto havehad an accident and he is much disfigured. I saw himout of thewindowbut I am glad to say I did not meet him.He had along talk with Mr. Carrutherswho seemed much excitedafterwards. Woodley must be staying in the neighbourhoodforhe did notsleep hereand yet I caught a glimpse of him againthismorning slinking about in the shrubbery. I would soonerhave asavage wild animal loose about the place. I loathe andfear himmore than I can say. How CAN Mr. Carruthers enduresuch acreature for a moment? Howeverall my troubles will beover onSaturday."
"So ItrustWatson; so I trust" said Holmesgravely."Thereis some deep intrigue going on round that little womanand it isour duty to see that no one molests her upon that lastjourney. I thinkWatsonthat we must spare time to run downtogetheron Saturday morningand make sure that this curiousandinconclusive investigation has no untoward ending."
I confessthat I had not up to now taken a very serious viewof thecasewhich had seemed to me rather grotesque and bizarrethandangerous. That a man should lie in wait for and followa veryhandsome woman is no unheard-of thingand if he had solittleaudacity that he not only dared not address herbut evenfled fromher approachhe was not a very formidable assailant.Theruffian Woodley was a very different personbutexcept ononeoccasionhe had not molested our clientand now he visitedthe houseof Carruthers without intruding upon her presence.The man onthe bicycle was doubtless a member of those week-endparties atthe Hall of which the publican had spoken; but whohe was orwhat he wanted was as obscure as ever. It was theseverityof Holmes's manner and the fact that he slipped arevolverinto his pocket before leaving our rooms whichimpressedme with the feeling that tragedy might prove tolurkbehind this curious train of events.
A rainynight had been followed by a glorious morningand theheath-coveredcountry-side with the glowing clumps of floweringgorseseemed all the more beautiful to eyes which were weary ofthe dunsand drabs and slate-greys of London. Holmes and Iwalkedalong the broadsandy road inhaling the fresh morningairandrejoicing in the music of the birds and the freshbreath ofthe spring. From a rise of the road on the shoulderofCrooksbury Hill we could see the grim Hall bristling out fromamidst theancient oakswhichold as they werewere stillyoungerthan the building which they surrounded. Holmes pointeddown thelong tract of road which wounda reddish yellow bandbetweenthe brown of the heath and the budding green of thewoods. Far awaya black dotwe could see a vehicle movingin ourdirection. Holmes gave an exclamation of impatience.
"Ihad given a margin of half an hour" said he. "Ifthat isher trapshe must be making for the earlier train. I fearWatsonthat she will be past Charlington before we can possiblymeet her."
From theinstant that we passed the rise we could no longer seethevehiclebut we hastened onwards at such a pace that mysedentarylife began to tell upon meand I was compelled tofallbehind. Holmeshoweverwas always in trainingfor hehadinexhaustible stores of nervous energy upon which to draw.Hisspringy step never slowed until suddenlywhen he was ahundredyards in front of mehe haltedand I saw him throwup hishand with a gesture of grief and despair. At the sameinstant anempty dog-cartthe horse canteringthe reinstrailingappeared round the curve of the road and rattledswiftlytowards us.
"ToolateWatson; too late!" cried Holmesas I ran panting tohis side. "Fool that I was not to allow for that earlier train!It'sabductionWatson -- abduction! Murder! Heaven knowswhat!Block theroad! Stop the horse! That's right. Nowjump inand let ussee if I can repair the consequences of my own blunder."
We hadsprung into the dog-cartand Holmesafter turning thehorsegave it a sharp cut with the whipand we flew back alongthe road. As we turned the curve the whole stretch of roadbetweenthe Hall and the heath was opened up. I graspedHolmes'sarm.
"That'sthe man!" I gasped.
A solitarycyclist was coming towards us. His head was downand hisshoulders rounded as he put every ounce of energy thathepossessed on to the pedals. He was flying like a racer.Suddenlyhe raised his bearded facesaw us close to himandpulled upspringing from his machine. That coal-black beardwas insingular contrast to the pallor of his faceand his eyeswere asbright as if he had a fever. He stared at us and at thedog-cart. Then a look of amazement came over his face.
"Halloa! Stop there!" he shoutedholding his bicycle to blockour road. "Where did you get that dog-cart? Pull upman!"he yelleddrawing a pistol from his side pocket. "Pull upI sayorby GeorgeI'll put a bullet into your horse."
Holmesthrew the reins into my lap and sprang down from the cart.
"You'rethe man we want to see. Where is Miss Violet Smith?"he saidin his quickclear way.
"That'swhat I am asking you. You're in her dog-cart.You oughtto know where she is."
"Wemet the dog-cart on the road. There was no one in it.We droveback to help the young lady."
"GoodLord! Good Lord! what shall I do?" cried the strangerin anecstasy of despair. "They've got herthat hellhoundWoodleyand theblackguard parson. Comemancomeif you really areherfriend. Stand by me and we'll save herif I have to leavemy carcassin Charlington Wood."
He randistractedlyhis pistol in his handtowards a gapin thehedge. Holmes followed himand Ileaving the horsegrazingbeside the roadfollowed Holmes.
"Thisis where they came through" said hepointing to the marksof severalfeet upon the muddy path. "Halloa! Stop a minute!Who's thisin the bush?"
It was ayoung fellow about seventeendressed like an ostlerwithleather cords and gaiters. He lay upon his backhis kneesdrawn upa terrible cut upon his head. He was insensiblebutalive. A glance at his wound told me that it had not penetratedthe bone.
"That'sPeterthe groom" cried the stranger. "He drove her.The beastshave pulled him off and clubbed him. Let him lie;we can'tdo him any goodbut we may save her from the worstfate thatcan befall a woman."
We ranfrantically down the pathwhich wound among the trees.We hadreached the shrubbery which surrounded the house whenHolmespulled up.
"Theydidn't go to the house. Here are their marks on the left-- herebeside the laurel bushes! AhI said so!"
As hespoke a woman's shrill scream -- a scream which vibratedwith afrenzy of horror -- burst from the thick green clump ofbushes infront of us. It ended suddenly on its highest notewith achoke and a gurgle.
"Thisway! This way! They are in the bowling alley" criedthestrangerdarting through the bushes. "Ahthe cowardly dogs!Follow megentlemen! Too late! too late! by the living Jingo!"
We hadbroken suddenly into a lovely glade of greenswardsurroundedby ancient trees. On the farther side of itunderthe shadowof a mighty oakthere stood a singular group ofthreepeople. One was a womanour clientdrooping and faintahandkerchief round her mouth. Opposite her stood a brutalheavy-facedred-moustached young manhis gaitered legs partedwideonearm akimbothe other waving a riding-crophis wholeattitudesuggestive of triumphant bravado. Between them anelderlygrey-bearded manwearing a short surplice over a lighttweedsuithad evidently just completed the wedding servicefor hepocketed his prayer-book as we appeared and slapped thesinisterbridegroom upon the back in jovial congratulation.
"They'remarried!" I gasped.
"Comeon!" cried our guide; "come on!" He rushedacross thegladeHolmes and I at his heels. As we approachedthe ladystaggeredagainst the trunk of the tree for support.Williamsonthe ex-clergymanbowed to us with mock politenessand thebully Woodley advanced with a shout of brutal andexultantlaughter.
"Youcan take your beard offBob" said he. "I know you rightenough. Wellyou and your pals have just come in time for meto be ableto introduce you to Mrs. Woodley."
Ourguide's answer was a singular one. He snatched off thedark beardwhich had disguised him and threw it on the grounddisclosinga longsallowclean-shaven face below it.Then heraised his revolver and covered the young ruffianwho wasadvancing upon him with his dangerous riding-cropswingingin his hand.
"Yes"said our ally"I AM Bob Carruthersand I'll see thiswomanrighted if I have to swing for it. I told you what I'd doif youmolested herandby the LordI'll be as good as my word!"
"You'retoo late. She's my wife!"
"Noshe's your widow."
Hisrevolver crackedand I saw the blood spurt from the frontofWoodley's waistcoat. He spun round with a scream and fellupon hisbackhis hideous red face turning suddenly to adreadfulmottled pallor. The old manstill clad in hissurpliceburst into such a string of foul oaths as I have neverheardandpulled out a revolver of his ownbut before he couldraise ithe was looking down the barrel of Holmes's weapon.
"Enoughof this" said my friendcoldly. "Drop that pistol!Watsonpick it up! Hold it to his head! Thank you. YouCarruthersgive me that revolver. We'll have no more violence.Comehandit over!"
"Myname is Sherlock Holmes."
"Youhave heard of meI see. I will represent the officialpoliceuntil their arrival. Hereyou!" he shouted to afrightenedgroom who had appeared at the edge of the glade."Comehere. Take this note as hard as you can ride to Farnham."Hescribbled a few words upon a leaf from his note-book. "Giveit to thesuperintendent at the police-station. Until he comesI mustdetain you all under my personal custody."
Thestrongmasterful personality of Holmes dominated the tragicsceneandall were equally puppets in his hands. WilliamsonandCarruthers found themselves carrying the wounded Woodleyinto thehouseand I gave my arm to the frightened girl.Theinjured man was laid on his bedand at Holmes's request Iexaminedhim. I carried my report to where he sat in the oldtapestry-hungdining-room with his two prisoners before him.
"Hewill live" said I.
"What!"cried Carruthersspringing out of his chair. "I'll goupstairsand finish him first. Do you tell me that that girlthatangelis to be tied to Roaring Jack Woodley for life?"
"Youneed not concern yourself about that" said Holmes."Thereare two very good reasons why she should under nocircumstancesbe his wife. In the first placewe are very safeinquestioning Mr. Williamson's right to solemnize a marriage."
"Ihave been ordained" cried the old rascal.
"Oncea clergymanalways a clergyman."
"Ithink not. How about the license?"
"Wehad a license for the marriage. I have it here in my pocket."
"Thenyou got it by a trick. But in any case a forced marriageis nomarriagebut it is a very serious felonyas you willdiscoverbefore you have finished. You'll have time to thinkthe pointout during the next ten years or sounless I ammistaken. As to youCarruthersyou would have done betterto keepyour pistol in your pocket."
"Ibegin to think soMr. Holmes; but when I thought of all theprecautionI had taken to shield this girl -- for I loved herMr.Holmesand it is the only time that ever I knew what lovewas -- itfairly drove me mad to think that she was in the powerof thegreatest brute and bully in South Africaa man whosename is aholy terror from Kimberley to Johannesburg. WhyMr.Holmesyou'll hardly believe itbut ever since that girl hasbeen in myemployment I never once let her go past this housewhere Iknew these rascals were lurkingwithout following heron mybicycle just to see that she came to no harm. I kept mydistancefrom herand I wore a beard so that she should notrecognisemefor she is a good and high-spirited girland shewouldn'thave stayed in my employment long if she had thoughtthat I wasfollowing her about the country roads."
"Whydidn't you tell her of her danger?"
"Becausethenagainshe would have left meand I couldn'tbear toface that. Even if she couldn't love me it was a greatdeal to mejust to see her dainty form about the houseand tohear thesound of her voice."
"Well"said I"you call that loveMr. Carruthersbut Ishould call it selfishness."
"Maybethe two things go together. AnyhowI couldn't let hergo. Besideswith this crowd aboutit was well that she shouldhavesomeone near to look after her. Then when the cable cameI knewthey were bound to make a move."
Carrutherstook a telegram from his pocket.
"That'sit" said he.
It wasshort and concise:--
"Theold man is dead."
"Hum!"said Holmes. "I think I see how things workedand I canunderstandhow this message wouldas you saybring them to ahead. But while we wait you might tell me what you can."
The oldreprobate with the surplice burst into a volley of badlanguage.
"ByHeaven" said he"if you squeal on usBob CarruthersI'll serveyou as you served Jack Woodley. You can bleat aboutthe girlto your heart's contentfor that's your own affairbut if youround on your pals to this plain-clothes copperit will bethe worst day's work that ever you did."
"Yourreverence need not be excited" said Holmeslighting acigarette. "The case is clear enough against youand all I askis a fewdetails for my private curiosity. Howeverif there'sanydifficulty in your telling me I'll do the talkingand thenyou willsee how far you have a chance of holding back your secrets.In thefirst placethree of you came from South Africa on thisgame --you Williamsonyou Carruthersand Woodley."
"Lienumber one" said the old man; "I never saw either ofthem untiltwo months agoand I have never been in Africain mylifeso you can put that in your pipe and smoke itMr.Busybody Holmes!"
"Whathe says is true" said Carruthers.
"Wellwelltwo of you came over. His reverence is our ownhome-madearticle. You had known Ralph Smith in South Africa.You hadreason to believe he would not live long. You found outthat hisniece would inherit his fortune. How's that -- eh?"
Carruthersnodded and Williamson swore.
"Shewas next-of-kinno doubtand you were aware that the oldfellowwould make no will."
"Couldn'tread or write" said Carruthers.
"Soyou came overthe two of youand hunted up the girl.The ideawas that one of you was to marry her and the other havea share ofthe plunder. For some reason Woodley was chosen asthehusband. Why was that?"
"Weplayed cards for her on the voyage. He won."
"Isee. You got the young lady into your serviceand thereWoodleywas to do the courting. She recognised the drunkenbrute thathe wasand would have nothing to do with him.Meanwhileyour arrangement was rather upset by the fact thatyou hadyourself fallen in love with the lady. You could nolongerbear the idea of this ruffian owning her."
"Noby GeorgeI couldn't!"
"Therewas a quarrel between you. He left you in a rageand beganto make his own plans independently of you."
"Itstrikes meWilliamsonthere isn't very much that we cantell thisgentleman" cried Carrutherswith a bitter laugh."Yeswe quarreledand he knocked me down. I am level with himon thatanyhow. Then I lost sight of him. That was when hepicked upwith this cast padre here. I found that they had setuphouse-keeping together at this place on the line that shehad topass for the station. I kept my eye on her after thatfor I knewthere was some devilry in the wind. I saw them fromtime totimefor I was anxious to know what they were after.Two daysago Woodley came up to my house with this cablewhichshowedthat Ralph Smith was dead. He asked me if I would standby thebargain. I said I would not. He asked me if I wouldmarry thegirl myself and give him a share. I said I wouldwillinglydo sobut that she would not have me. He said`Let usget her married firstand after a week or two she maysee thingsa bit different.' I said I would have nothing to dowithviolence. So he went off cursinglike the foul-mouthedblackguardthat he wasand swearing that he would have her yet.She wasleaving me this week-endand I had got a trap to takeher to thestationbut I was so uneasy in my mind that Ifollowedher on my bicycle. She had got a starthoweverand beforeI could catch her the mischief was done. The firstthing Iknew about it was when I saw you two gentlemen drivingback inher dog-cart."
Holmesrose and tossed the end of his cigarette into the grate."Ihave been very obtuseWatson" said he. "When inyourreport yousaid that you had seen the cyclist as you thoughtarrangehis necktie in the shrubberythat alone should havetold meall. Howeverwe may congratulate ourselves upon acuriousand in some respects a unique case. I perceive threeof thecounty constabulary in the driveand I am glad to seethat thelittle ostler is able to keep pace with them; so it islikelythat neither he nor the interesting bridegroom will bepermanentlydamaged by their morning's adventures. I thinkWatsonthat in your medical capacity you might wait upon MissSmith andtell her that if she is sufficiently recovered weshall behappy to escort her to her mother's home. If she isnot quiteconvalescent you will find that a hint that we wereabout totelegraph to a young electrician in the Midlands wouldprobablycomplete the cure. As to youMr. CarruthersI thinkthat youhave done what you could to make amends for your sharein an evilplot. There is my cardsirand if my evidence canbe of helpto you in your trial it shall be at your disposal."
In thewhirl of our incessant activity it has often beendifficultfor meas the reader has probably observedto roundoff mynarrativesand to give those final details which thecuriousmight expect. Each case has been the prelude toanotherand the crisis once over the actors have passed forever outof our busy lives. I findhowevera short note atthe end ofmy manuscripts dealing with this casein whichI have putit upon record that Miss Violet Smith did indeedinherit alarge fortuneand that she is now the wife of CyrilMortonthe senior partner of Morton & Kennedythe famousWestminsterelectricians. Williamson and Woodley were bothtried forabduction and assaultthe former getting seven yearsand thelatter ten. Of the fate of Carruthers I have no recordbut I amsure that his assault was not viewed very gravely bythe Courtsince Woodley had the reputation of being a mostdangerousruffianand I think that a few months were sufficientto satisfythe demands of justice.
WE havehad some dramatic entrances and exits upon our smallstage atBaker Streetbut I cannot recollect anything moresudden andstartling than the first appearance of ThorneycroftHuxtableM.A.Ph.D.etc. His cardwhich seemed too small tocarry theweight of his academic distinctionspreceded him by afewsecondsand then he entered himself -- so largeso pompousand sodignified that he was the very embodiment of self-possessionandsolidity. And yet his first action when the door had closedbehind himwas to stagger against the tablewhence he slippeddown uponthe floorand there was that majestic figure prostrateandinsensible upon our bearskin hearthrug.
We hadsprung to our feetand for a few moments we stared insilentamazement at this ponderous piece of wreckagewhich toldof somesudden and fatal storm far out on the ocean of life.ThenHolmes hurried with a cushion for his head and I withbrandy forhis lips. The heavy white face was seamed with linesoftroublethe hanging pouches under the closed eyes wereleaden incolourthe loose mouth drooped dolorously at the cornerstherolling chins were unshaven. Collar and shirt bore the grimeof a longjourneyand the hair bristled unkempt from thewell-shapedhead. It was a sorely-stricken man who lay before us.
"Whatis itWatson?" asked Holmes.
"Absoluteexhaustion -- possibly mere hunger and fatigue" said Iwith myfinger on the thready pulsewhere the stream of lifetrickledthin and small.
"Returnticket from Mackletonin the North of England" said Holmesdrawing itfrom the watch-pocket. "It is not twelve o'clock yet.He hascertainly been an early starter."
Thepuckered eyelids had begun to quiverand now a pair ofvacantgrey eyes looked up at us. An instant later the manhadscrambled on to his feethis face crimson with shame.
"Forgivethis weaknessMr. Holmes; I have been a littleoverwrought. Thank youif I might have a glass of milk anda biscuitI have no doubt that I should be better. I camepersonallyMr. Holmesin order to ensure that you would returnwith me. I feared that no telegram would convince you of theabsoluteurgency of the case."
"Whenyou are quite restored ----"
"I amquite well again. I cannot imagine how I came to be so weak.I wishyouMr. Holmesto come to Mackleton with me by the next train."
My friendshook his head.
"MycolleagueDr. Watsoncould tell you that we are very busyatpresent. I am retained in this case of the Ferrers Documentsand theAbergavenny murder is coming up for trial. Only a veryimportantissue could call me from London at present."
"Important!" Our visitor threw up his hands. "Have you heardnothing ofthe abduction of the only son of the Duke of Holdernesse?"
"What!the late Cabinet Minister?"
"Exactly. We had tried to keep it out of the papersbut therewas somerumour in the GLOBE last night. I thought it mighthavereached your ears."
Holmesshot out his longthin arm and picked out Volume "H"in hisencyclopaedia of reference.
"`Holdernesse6th DukeK.G.P.C.' -- half the alphabet!`BaronBeverleyEarl of Carston' -- dear mewhat a list!`LordLieutenant of Hallamshire since 1900. Married Edithdaughterof Sir Charles Appledore1888. Heir and only childLordSaltire. Owns about two hundred and fifty thousand acres.Mineralsin Lancashire and Wales. Address: Carlton HouseTerrace;Holdernesse HallHallamshire; Carston CastleBangorWales. Lord of the Admiralty1872; Chief Secretary of Statefor --' Wellwellthis man is certainly one of the greatestsubjectsof the Crown!"
"Thegreatest and perhaps the wealthiest. I am awareMr. Holmesthat youtake a very high line in professional mattersand thatyou areprepared to work for the work's sake. I may tell youhoweverthat his Grace has already intimated that a cheque for fivethousandpounds will be handed over to the person who can tell himwhere hisson isand another thousand to him who can name the manor menwho have taken him."
"Itis a princely offer" said Holmes. "WatsonI thinkthatwe shallaccompany Dr. Huxtable back to the North of England.And nowDr. Huxtablewhen you have consumed that milk youwillkindly tell me what has happenedwhen it happenedhow ithappenedandfinallywhat Dr. Thorneycroft Huxtableof thePriory Schoolnear Mackletonhas to do with the matterand why hecomes three days after an event -- the state of yourchin givesthe date -- to ask for my humble services."
Ourvisitor had consumed his milk and biscuits. The light hadcome backto his eyes and the colour to his cheeks as he sethimselfwith great vigour and lucidity to explain the situation.
"Imust inform yougentlementhat the Priory is a preparatoryschoolofwhich I am the founder and principal. `Huxtable'sSidelightson Horace' may possibly recall my name to yourmemories. The Priory iswithout exceptionthe best and mostselectpreparatory school in England. Lord Leverstokethe EarlofBlackwaterSir Cathcart Soames -- they all have entrustedtheir sonsto me. But I felt that my school had reached itszenithwhenthree weeks agothe Duke of Holdernesse sentMr. JamesWilderhis secretarywith the intimation that youngLordSaltireten years oldhis only son and heirwas aboutto becommitted to my charge. Little did I think that thiswould bethe prelude to the most crushing misfortune of my life.
"OnMay 1st the boy arrivedthat being the beginning of thesummerterm. He was a charming youthand he soon fell intoour ways. I may tell you -- I trust that I am not indiscreetbuthalf-confidences are absurd in such a case -- that he wasnotentirely happy at home. It is an open secret that the Duke'smarriedlife had not been a peaceful oneand the matter hadended in aseparation by mutual consentthe Duchess taking upherresidence in the South of France. This had occurred veryshortlybeforeand the boy's sympathies are known to have beenstronglywith his mother. He moped after her departure fromHoldernesseHalland it was for this reason that the Dukedesired tosend him to my establishment. In a fortnight the boywas quiteat home with usand was apparently absolutely happy.
"Hewas last seen on the night of May 13th -- that isthe nightof last Monday. His room was on the second floorand wasapproached through another larger room in which twoboys weresleeping. These boys saw and heard nothingso thatit iscertain that young Saltire did not pass out that way.His windowwas openand there is a stout ivy plant leading totheground. We could trace no footmarks belowbut it is surethat thisis the only possible exit.
"Hisabsence was discovered at seven o'clock on Tuesday morning.His bedhad been slept in. He had dressed himself fully beforegoing offin his usual school suit of black Eton jacket and darkgreytrousers. There were no signs that anyone had entered theroomandit is quite certain that anything in the nature of criesor astrugglewould have been heardsince Caunterthe elder boyin theinner roomis a very light sleeper.
"WhenLord Saltire's disappearance was discovered I at oncecalled aroll of the whole establishmentboysmastersandservants. It was then that we ascertained that Lord Saltirehad notbeen alone in his flight. Heideggerthe German masterwasmissing. His room was on the second floorat the fartherend of thebuildingfacing the same way as Lord Saltire's.His bedhad also been slept in; but he had apparently gone awaypartlydressedsince his shirt and socks were lying on the floor.He hadundoubtedly let himself down by the ivyfor we could seethe marksof his feet where he had landed on the lawn.Hisbicycle was kept in a small shed beside this lawnand italso was gone.
"Hehad been with me for two yearsand came with the bestreferences;but he was a silentmorose mannot very populareitherwith masters or boys. No trace could be found of thefugitivesand now on Thursday morning we are as ignorant aswe were onTuesday. Inquiry wasof coursemade at once atHoldernesseHall. It is only a few miles awayand we imaginedthat insome sudden attack of home-sickness he had gone backto hisfather; but nothing had been heard of him. The Duke isgreatlyagitated -- and as to meyou have seen yourselves thestate ofnervous prostration to which the suspense and theresponsibilityhave reduced me. Mr. Holmesif ever you putforwardyour full powersI implore you to do so nowfor neverin yourlife could you have a case which is more worthy of them."
SherlockHolmes had listened with the utmost intentness to thestatementof the unhappy schoolmaster. His drawn brows and thedeepfurrow between them showed that he needed no exhortation toconcentrateall his attention upon a problem whichapart fromthetremendous interests involvedmust appeal so directly tohis loveof the complex and the unusual. He now drew out hisnote-bookand jotted down one or two memoranda.
"Youhave been very remiss in not coming to me sooner" said heseverely. "You start me on my investigation with a very serioushandicap. It is inconceivablefor examplethat this ivy andthis lawnwould have yielded nothing to an expert observer."
"I amnot to blameMr. Holmes. His Grace was extremelydesirousto avoid all public scandal. He was afraid ofhis familyunhappiness being dragged before the world.He has adeep horror of anything of the kind."
"Butthere has been some official investigation?"
"Yessirand it has proved most disappointing. An apparentclue wasat once obtainedsince a boy and a young man werereportedto have been seen leaving a neighbouring station byan earlytrain. Only last night we had news that the couplehad beenhunted down in Liverpooland they prove to have noconnectionwhatever with the matter in hand. Then it was thatin mydespair and disappointmentafter a sleepless nightI camestraight to you by the early train."
"Isuppose the local investigation was relaxed while this falseclue wasbeing followed up?"
"Itwas entirely dropped."
"Sothat three days have been wasted. The affair has been mostdeplorablyhandled."
"Ifeel itand admit it."
"Andyet the problem should be capable of ultimate solution.I shall bevery happy to look into it. Have you been able to traceanyconnection between the missing boy and this German master?"
"Washe in the master's class?"
"No;he never exchanged a word with him so far as I know."
"Thatis certainly very singular. Had the boy a bicycle?"
"Wasany other bicycle missing?"
"Wellnowyou do not mean to seriously suggest that thisGermanrode off upon a bicycle in the dead of the night bearingthe boy inhis arms?"
"Thenwhat is the theory in your mind?"
"Thebicycle may have been a blind. It may have been hiddensomewhereand the pair gone off on foot."
"Quiteso; but it seems rather an absurd blinddoes it not?Were thereother bicycles in this shed?"
"Wouldhe not have hidden A COUPLE had he desired to give theidea thatthey had gone off upon them?"
"Isuppose he would."
"Ofcourse he would. The blind theory won't do. But theincidentis an admirable starting-point for an investigation.After alla bicycle is not an easy thing to conceal or to destroy.One otherquestion. Did anyone call to see the boy on the daybefore hedisappeared?"
"Didhe get any letters?"
"Doyou open the boys' letters?"
"Howdo you know it was from the father?"
"Thecoat of arms was on the envelopeand it was addressedin theDuke's peculiar stiff hand. Besidesthe Duke remembershavingwritten."
"Whenhad he a letter before that?"
"Notfor several days."
"Hadhe ever one from France?"
"Yousee the point of my questionsof course. Either theboy wascarried off by force or he went of his own free will.In thelatter case you would expect that some prompting fromoutsidewould be needed to make so young a lad do such a thing.If he hashad no visitorsthat prompting must have come inletters. Hence I try to find out who were his correspondents."
"Ifear I cannot help you much. His only correspondentso far asI knowwas his own father."
"Whowrote to him on the very day of his disappearance.Were therelations between father and son very friendly?"
"HisGrace is never very friendly with anyone. He is completelyimmersedin large public questionsand is rather inaccessibleto allordinary emotions. But he was always kind to the boy inhis ownway."
"Butthe sympathies of the latter were with the mother?"
"Didhe say so?"
"Thenhow could you know?"
"Ihave had some confidential talks with Mr. James WilderhisGrace's secretary. It was he who gave me the informationabout LordSaltire's feelings."
"Isee. By the waythat last letter of the Duke's -- was itfound inthe boy's room after he was gone?"
"No;he had taken it with him. I thinkMr. Holmesit is timethat wewere leaving for Euston."
"Iwill order a four-wheeler. In a quarter of an hour we shallbe at yourservice. If you are telegraphing homeMr. Huxtableit wouldbe well to allow the people in your neighbourhood toimaginethat the inquiry is still going on in Liverpoolorwhereverelse that red herring led your pack. In the meantimeI will doa little quiet work at your own doorsand perhapsthe scentis not so cold but that two old hounds like Watsonand myselfmay get a sniff of it."
Thatevening found us in the coldbracing atmosphere of thePeakcountryin which Dr. Huxtable's famous school is situated.It wasalready dark when we reached it. A card was lying on thehalltableand the butler whispered something to his masterwho turnedto us with agitation in every heavy feature.
"TheDuke is here" said he. "The Duke and Mr. Wilder arein thestudy. Comegentlemenand I will introduce you."
I wasofcoursefamiliar with the pictures of the famousstatesmanbut the man himself was very different from hisrepresentation. He was a tall and stately personscrupulouslydressedwith a drawnthin faceand a nose which wasgrotesquelycurved and long. His complexion was of a deadpallorwhich was more startling by contrast with a longdwindlingbeard of vivid redwhich flowed down over his whitewaistcoatwith his watch-chain gleaming through its fringe.Such wasthe stately presence who looked stonily at us from thecentre ofDr. Huxtable's hearthrug. Beside him stood a veryyoung manwhom I understood to be Wilderthe privatesecretary. He was smallnervousalertwith intelligentlight-blueeyes and mobile features. It was he who at oncein anincisive and positive toneopened the conversation.
"Icalled this morningDr. Huxtabletoo late to prevent youfromstarting for London. I learned that your object was toinvite Mr.Sherlock Holmes to undertake the conduct of thiscase. His Grace is surprisedDr. Huxtablethat you shouldhave takensuch a step without consulting him."
"WhenI learned that the police had failed ----"
"HisGrace is by no means convinced that the police have failed."
"ButsurelyMr. Wilder ----"
"Youare well awareDr. Huxtablethat his Grace is particularlyanxious toavoid all public scandal. He prefers to take as fewpeople aspossible into his confidence."
"Thematter can be easily remedied" said the brow-beaten doctor;"Mr.Sherlock Holmes can return to London by the morning train."
"HardlythatDoctorhardly that" said Holmesin hisblandestvoice. "This northern air is invigorating and pleasantso Ipropose to spend a few days upon your moorsand to occupymy mind asbest I may. Whether I have the shelter of your roofor of thevillage inn isof coursefor you to decide."
I couldsee that the unfortunate doctor was in the last stageofindecisionfrom which he was rescued by the deepsonorousvoice ofthe red-bearded Dukewhich boomed out like a dinner-gong.
"Iagree with Mr. WilderDr. Huxtablethat you would have donewisely toconsult me. But since Mr. Holmes has already beentaken intoyour confidenceit would indeed be absurd that weshould notavail ourselves of his services. Far from going tothe innMr. HolmesI should be pleased if you would come andstay withme at Holdernesse Hall."
"Ithank your Grace. For the purposes of my investigationI thinkthat it would be wiser for me to remain at the sceneof themystery."
"Justas you likeMr. Holmes. Any information which Mr. Wilderor I cangive you isof courseat your disposal."
"Itwill probably be necessary for me to see you at the Hall"saidHolmes. "I would only ask you nowsirwhether you haveformed anyexplanation in your own mind as to the mysteriousdisappearanceof your son?"
"NosirI have not."
"Excuseme if I allude to that which is painful to youbut I haveno alternative. Do you think that the Duchesshadanything to do with the matter?"
The greatMinister showed perceptible hesitation.
"I donot think so" he saidat last.
"Theother most obvious explanation is that the childhas beenkidnapped for the purpose of levying ransom.You havenot had any demand of the sort?"
"Onemore questionyour Grace. I understand that you wroteto yourson upon the day when this incident occurred."
"No;I wrote upon the day before."
"Exactly. But he received it on that day?"
"Wasthere anything in your letter which might have unbalancedhim orinduced him to take such a step?"
"Didyou post that letter yourself?"
Thenobleman's reply was interrupted by his secretarywho brokein with some heat.
"HisGrace is not in the habit of posting letters himself"said he."This letter was laid with others upon the study tableand Imyself put them in the post-bag."
"Youare sure this one was among them?"
"Yes;I observed it."
"Howmany letters did your Grace write that day?"
"Twentyor thirty. I have a large correspondence.But surelythis is somewhat irrelevant?"
"Notentirely" said Holmes.
"Formy own part" the Duke continued"I have advised thepolice toturn their attention to the South of France.I havealready said that I do not believe that the Duchess wouldencourageso monstrous an actionbut the lad had the mostwrong-headedopinionsand it is possible that he may have fledto heraided and abetted by this German. I thinkDr. Huxtablethat wewill now return to the Hall."
I couldsee that there were other questions which Holmes wouldhavewished to put; but the nobleman's abrupt manner showed thattheinterview was at an end. It was evident that to hisintenselyaristocratic nature this discussion of his intimatefamilyaffairs with a stranger was most abhorrentand that hefearedlest every fresh question would throw a fiercer lightinto thediscreetly shadowed corners of his ducal history.
When thenobleman and his secretary had leftmy friend flunghimself atonce with characteristic eagerness into theinvestigation.
The boy'schamber was carefully examinedand yielded nothingsave theabsolute conviction that it was only through the windowthat hecould have escaped. The German master's room andeffectsgave no further clue. In his case a trailer of ivy hadgiven wayunder his weightand we saw by the light of a lanternthe markon the lawn where his heels had come down. That onedint inthe short green grass was the only material witness leftof thisinexplicable nocturnal flight.
SherlockHolmes left the house aloneand only returned aftereleven. He had obtained a large ordnance map of theneighbourhoodand this he brought into my roomwhere he laidit out onthe bedandhaving balanced the lamp in the middleof ithebegan to smoke over itand occasionally to point outobjects ofinterest with the reeking amber of his pipe.
"Thiscase grows upon meWatson" said he. "There aredecidedlysomepoints of interest in connection with it. In this earlystage Iwant you to realize those geographical features which mayhave agood deal to do with our investigation.
"Lookat this map. This dark square is the Priory School.I'll put apin in it. Nowthis line is the main road.You seethat it runs east and west past the schooland yousee alsothat there is no side road for a mile either way.If thesetwo folk passed away by road it was THIS road."
"By asingular and happy chance we are able to some extent tocheck whatpassed along this road during the night in question.At thispointwhere my pipe is now restinga country constablewas onduty from twelve to six. It isas you perceivethefirstcross road on the east side. This man declares that hewas notabsent from his post for an instantand he is positivethatneither boy nor man could have gone that way unseen.I havespoken with this policeman to-nightand he appears tome to be aperfectly reliable person. That blocks this end.We havenow to deal with the other. There is an inn herethe RedBullthe landlady of which was ill. She had senttoMackleton for a doctorbut he did not arrive until morningbeingabsent at another case. The people at the inn were alertall nightawaiting his comingand one or other of them seemsto havecontinually had an eye upon the road. They declare thatno onepassed. If their evidence is goodthen we are fortunateenough tobe able to block the westand also to be able to saythat thefugitives did NOT use the road at all."
"Butthe bicycle?" I objected.
"Quiteso. We will come to the bicycle presently. To continueourreasoning: if these people did not go by the roadtheymust havetraversed the country to the north of the house orto thesouth of the house. That is certain. Let us weigh theoneagainst the other. On the south of the house isas youperceivea large district of arable landcut up into smallfieldswith stone walls between them. ThereI admit that abicycle isimpossible. We can dismiss the idea. We turn to thecountry onthe north. Here there lies a grove of treesmarkedas the`Ragged Shaw' and on the farther side stretches a greatrollingmoorLower Gill Moorextending for ten miles andslopinggradually upwards. Hereat one side of thiswildernessis Holdernesse Hallten miles by roadbut only sixacross themoor. It is a peculiarly desolate plain. A few moorfarmershave small holdingswhere they rear sheep and cattle.Exceptthesethe plover and the curlew are the only inhabitantsuntil youcome to the Chesterfield high road. There is a churchthereyouseea few cottagesand an inn. Beyond that thehillsbecome precipitous. Surely it is here to the north thatour questmust lie."
"Butthe bicycle?" I persisted.
"Wellwell!" said Holmesimpatiently. "A good cyclist doesnot need ahigh road. The moor is intersected with paths andthe moonwas at the full. Halloa! what is this?"
There wasan agitated knock at the doorand an instantafterwardsDr. Huxtable was in the room. In his hand he helda bluecricket-capwith a white chevron on the peak.
"Atlast we have a clue!" he cried. "Thank Heaven! atlastwe are onthe dear boy's track! It is his cap."
"Wherewas it found?"
"Inthe van of the gipsies who camped on the moor.They lefton Tuesday. To-day the police traced themdown andexamined their caravan. This was found."
"Howdo they account for it?"
"Theyshuffled and lied -- said that they found it on themoor onTuesday morning. They know where he isthe rascals!Thankgoodnessthey are all safe under lock and key. Eitherthe fearof the law or the Duke's purse will certainly get outof themall that they know."
"Sofarso good" said Holmeswhen the doctor had at lastleft theroom. "It at least bears out the theory that it ison theside of the Lower Gill Moor that we must hope for results.The policehave really done nothing locallysave the arrestof thesegipsies. Look hereWatson! There is a watercourseacross themoor. You see it marked here in the map. In someparts itwidens into a morass. This is particularly so in theregionbetween Holdernesse Hall and the school. It is vain tolookelsewhere for tracks in this dry weather; but at THAT pointthere iscertainly a chance of some record being left. I willcall youearly to-morrow morningand you and I will try if wecan throwsome little light upon the mystery."
The daywas just breaking when I woke to find the longthin formof Holmesby my bedside. He was fully dressedand had apparentlyalreadybeen out.
"Ihave done the lawn and the bicycle shed" said he."Ihave also had a ramble through the Ragged Shaw. NowWatsonthere iscocoa ready in the next room. I must beg you to hurryfor wehave a great day before us."
His eyesshoneand his cheek was flushed with the exhilarationof themaster workman who sees his work lie ready before him.A verydifferent Holmesthis activealert manfrom theintrospectiveand pallid dreamer of Baker Street. I feltas Ilooked upon that supple figurealive with nervous energythat itwas indeed a strenuous day that awaited us.
And yet itopened in the blackest disappointment. With highhopes westruck across the peatyrusset moorintersected witha thousandsheep pathsuntil we came to the broadlight-greenbelt whichmarked the morass between us and Holdernesse.Certainlyif the lad had gone homewardshe must have passedthisandhe could not pass it without leaving his traces.But nosign of him or the German could be seen. With a darkeningface myfriend strode along the margineagerly observant ofeverymuddy stain upon the mossy surface. Sheep-marks therewere inprofusionand at one placesome miles downcows hadleft theirtracks. Nothing more.
"Checknumber one" said Holmeslooking gloomily over therollingexpanse of the moor. "There is another morass downyonder anda narrow neck between. Halloa! halloa! halloa!what havewe here?"
We hadcome on a small black ribbon of pathway. In the middle of itclearlymarked on the sodden soilwas the track of a bicycle.
"Hurrah!"I cried. "We have it."
But Holmeswas shaking his headand his face was puzzled andexpectantrather than joyous.
"Abicyclecertainlybut not THE bicycle" said he."I amfamiliar with forty-two different impressions left by tyres.Thisasyou perceiveis a Dunlopwith a patch upon the outer cover.Heidegger'styres were Palmer'sleaving longitudinal stripes. Avelingthe mathematical masterwas sure upon the point.Thereforeit is not Heidegger's track."
"Possiblyif we could prove a bicycle to have been in hispossession. But this we have utterly failed to do. This trackas youperceivewas made by a rider who was going from thedirectionof the school."
"Nonomy dear Watson. The more deeply sunk impression isof coursethe hind wheelupon which the weight rests.Youperceive several places where it has passed across andobliteratedthe more shallow mark of the front one. It wasundoubtedlyheading away from the school. It may or may notbeconnected with our inquirybut we will follow it backwardsbefore wego any farther."
We did soand at the end of a few hundred yards lost the tracksas weemerged from the boggy portion of the moor. Following thepathbackwardswe picked out another spotwhere a springtrickledacross it. Hereonce againwas the mark of thebicyclethough nearly obliterated by the hoofs of cows. Afterthat therewas no signbut the path ran right on into RaggedShawthewood which backed on to the school. From this woodthe cyclemust have emerged. Holmes sat down on a boulder andrested hischin in his hands. I had smoked two cigarettesbefore hemoved.
"Wellwell" said heat last. "It isof coursepossiblethat acunning man might change the tyre of his bicycle in orderto leaveunfamiliar tracks. A criminal who was capable of sucha thoughtis a man whom I should be proud to do business with.We willleave this question undecided and hark back to ourmorassagainfor we have left a good deal unexplored."
Wecontinued our systematic survey of the edge of the soddenportion ofthe moorand soon our perseverance was gloriouslyrewarded. Right across the lower part of the bog lay a mirypath. Holmes gave a cry of delight as he approached it.Animpression like a fine bundle of telegraph wires ran downthe centreof it. It was the Palmer tyre.
"Hereis Herr Heideggersure enough!" cried Holmesexultantly."Myreasoning seems to have been pretty soundWatson."
"Butwe have a long way still to go. Kindly walk clearof thepath. Now let us follow the trail. I fear thatit willnot lead very far."
We foundhoweveras we advanced that this portion of the moorisintersected with soft patchesandthough we frequently lostsight ofthe trackwe always succeeded in picking it up once more.
"Doyou observe" said Holmes"that the rider is nowundoubtedlyforcing the pace? There can be no doubt of it.Look atthis impressionwhere you get both tyres clear.The one isas deep as the other. That can only mean thatthe rideris throwing his weight on to the handle-baras a mandoes when he is sprinting. By Jove! he has had a fall."
There wasa broadirregular smudge covering some yards of thetrack. Then there were a few footmarksand the tyre reappearedonce more.
"Aside-slip" I suggested.
Holmesheld up a crumpled branch of flowering gorse. To myhorror Iperceived that the yellow blossoms were all dabbledwithcrimson. On the pathtooand among the heather were darkstains ofclotted blood.
"Bad!"said Holmes. "Bad! Stand clearWatson! Not anunnecessaryfootstep! What do I read here? He fell woundedhe stooduphe remountedhe proceeded. But there is no othertrack. Cattle on this side path. He was surely not gored by abull? Impossible! But I see no traces of anyone else. We mustpush onWatson. Surely with stains as well as the track toguide ushe cannot escape us now."
Our searchwas not a very long one. The tracks of the tyrebegan tocurve fantastically upon the wet and shining path.Suddenlyas I looked aheadthe gleam of metal caught my eyefrom amidthe thick gorse bushes. Out of them we dragged abicyclePalmer-tyredone pedal bentand the whole front of ithorriblysmeared and slobbered with blood. On the other side ofthe bushesa shoe was projecting. We ran roundand there laytheunfortunate rider. He was a tall manfull beardedwithspectaclesone glass of which had been knocked out. The causeof hisdeath was a frightful blow upon the headwhich hadcrushed inpart of his skull. That he could have gone on afterreceivingsuch an injury said much for the vitality and courageof theman. He wore shoesbut no socksand his open coatdiscloseda night-shirt beneath it. It was undoubtedly theGermanmaster.
Holmesturned the body over reverentlyand examined it withgreatattention. He then sat in deep thought for a timeand Icould seeby his ruffled brow that this grim discovery had notin hisopinionadvanced us much in our inquiry.
"Itis a little difficult to know what to doWatson" said heat last. "My own inclinations are to push this inquiry onfor wehave already lost so much time that we cannot afford towasteanother hour. On the other handwe are bound to informthe policeof the discoveryand to see that this poor fellow'sbody islooked after."
"Icould take a note back."
"ButI need your company and assistance. Wait a bit!There is afellow cutting peat up yonder. Bring him over hereand hewill guide the police."
I broughtthe peasant acrossand Holmes dispatched thefrightenedman with a note to Dr. Huxtable.
"NowWatson" said he"we have picked up two clues thismorning.One is thebicycle with the Palmer tyreand we see what thathas ledto. The other is the bicycle with the patched Dunlop.Before westart to investigate thatlet us try to realize whatwe DO knowso as to make the most of itand to separate theessentialfrom the accidental."
"Firstof all I wish to impress upon you that the boy certainlyleft ofhis own free will. He got down from his window and hewent offeither alone or with someone. That is sure."
"Wellnowlet us turn to this unfortunate German master.The boywas fully dressed when he fled. Thereforehe foresawwhat hewould do. But the German went without his socks.Hecertainly acted on very short notice."
"Whydid he go? Becausefrom his bedroom windowhe saw theflight ofthe boy. Because he wished to overtake him and bringhim back. He seized his bicyclepursued the ladand inpursuinghim met his death."
"Soit would seem."
"NowI come to the critical part of my argument. The naturalaction ofa man in pursuing a little boy would be to run after him.He wouldknow that he could overtake him. But the German does notdo so. He turns to his bicycle. I am told that he was anexcellentcyclist. He would not do this if he did not see thatthe boyhad some swift means of escape."
"Letus continue our reconstruction. He meets his death fivemiles fromthe school -- not by a bulletmark youwhich evena ladmight conceivably dischargebut by a savage blow dealtby avigorous arm. The ladthenHAD a companion in his flight.And theflight was a swift onesince it took five miles beforean expertcyclist could overtake them. Yet we survey the groundround thescene of the tragedy. What do we find? A few cattletracksnothing more. I took a wide sweep roundand there is nopathwithin fifty yards. Another cyclist could have had nothingto do withthe actual murder. Nor were there any human footmarks."
"Holmes"I cried"this is impossible."
"Admirable!"he said. "A most illuminating remark.It ISimpossible as I state itand therefore I must in somerespecthave stated it wrong. Yet you saw for yourself.Can yousuggest any fallacy?"
"Hecould not have fractured his skull in a fall?"
"I amat my wit's end."
"Tuttut; we have solved some worse problems. At least we haveplenty ofmaterialif we can only use it. Comethenandhavingexhausted the Palmerlet us see what the Dunlop with thepatchedcover has to offer us."
We pickedup the track and followed it onwards for some distance;but soonthe moor rose into a longheather-tufted curveand weleft thewatercourse behind us. No further help from tracks couldbe hopedfor. At the spot where we saw the last of the Dunlop tyreit mightequally have led to Holdernesse Hallthe stately towersof whichrose some miles to our leftor to a lowgrey villagewhich layin front of usand marked the position of theChesterfieldhigh road.
As weapproached the forbidding and squalid innwith thesign of agame-cock above the doorHolmes gave a sudden groanandclutched me by the shoulder to save himself from falling.He had hadone of those violent strains of the ankle which leavea manhelpless. With difficulty he limped up to the doorwherea squatdarkelderly man was smoking a black clay pipe.
"Howare youMr. Reuben Hayes?" said Holmes.
"Whoare youand how do you get my name so pat?" the countrymanansweredwith a suspicious flash of a pair of cunning eyes.
"Wellit's printed on the board above your head. It's easy tosee a manwho is master of his own house. I suppose you haven'tsuch athing as a carriage in your stables?"
"No;I have not."
"Ican hardly put my foot to the ground."
"Don'tput it to the ground."
"ButI can't walk."
Mr. ReubenHayes's manner was far from graciousbut Holmes tookit withadmirable good-humour.
"Lookheremy man" said he. "This is really rather anawkwardfix forme. I don't mind how I get on."
"Neitherdo I" said the morose landlord.
"Thematter is very important. I would offer you a sovereignfor theuse of a bicycle."
Thelandlord pricked up his ears.
"Wheredo you want to go?"
"Palsof the DookI suppose?" said the landlordsurveying ourmud-stainedgarments with ironical eyes.
"He'llbe glad to see usanyhow."
"Becausewe bring him news of his lost son."
Thelandlord gave a very visible start.
"Whatyou're on his track?"
"Hehas been heard of in Liverpool. They expect to get himeveryhour."
Again aswift change passed over the heavyunshaven face.His mannerwas suddenly genial.
"I'veless reason to wish the Dook well than most men" said he"forI was his head coachman onceand cruel bad he treated me.It was himthat sacked me without a character on the word of alyingcorn-chandler. But I'm glad to hear that the young lordwas heardof in Liverpooland I'll help you to take the newsto theHall."
"Thankyou" said Holmes. "We'll have some food first.Then youcan bring round the bicycle."
"Ihaven't got a bicycle."
Holmesheld up a sovereign.
"Itell youmanthat I haven't got one. I'll let you have twohorses asfar as the Hall."
"Wellwell" said Holmes"we'll talk about it when we've hadsomethingto eat."
When wewere left alone in the stone-flagged kitchen it wasastonishinghow rapidly that sprained ankle recovered. It wasnearlynightfalland we had eaten nothing since early morningso that wespent some time over our meal. Holmes was lost inthoughtand once or twice he walked over to the window andstaredearnestly out. It opened on to a squalid courtyard.In the farcorner was a smithywhere a grimy lad was at work.On theother side were the stables. Holmes had sat down againafter oneof these excursionswhen he suddenly sprang out ofhis chairwith a loud exclamation.
"ByHeavenWatsonI believe that I've got it!" he cried."Yesyesit must be so. Watsondo you remember seeing anycow-tracksto-day?"
"Welleverywhere. They were at the morassand againon thepathand again near where poor Heidegger met his death."
"Exactly. WellnowWatsonhow many cows did you see on the moor?"
"Idon't remember seeing any."
"StrangeWatsonthat we should see tracks all along our linebut nevera cow on the whole moor; very strangeWatsoneh?"
"Yesit is strange."
"NowWatsonmake an effort; throw your mind back!Can yousee those tracks upon the path?"
"Canyou recall that the tracks were sometimes like thatWatson"-- he arranged a number of bread-crumbs in this fashion-- : : : :: -- "and sometimes like this" -- : . : . : . : . --"andoccasionally like this" -- . ` . ` . ` . "Can youremember that?"
"ButI can. I could swear to it. Howeverwe will go back atourleisure and verify it. What a blind beetle I have been notto draw myconclusion!"
"Andwhat is your conclusion?"
"Onlythat it is a remarkable cow which walkscantersand gallops.By GeorgeWatsonit was no brain of a country publican thatthoughtout such a blind as that! The coast seems to be clearsave forthat lad in the smithy. Let us slip out and see whatwe cansee."
There weretwo rough-hairedunkempt horses in the tumble-downstable. Holmes raised the hind leg of one of them and laughed aloud.
"Oldshoesbut newly shod -- old shoesbut new nails. Thiscasedeserves to be a classic. Let us go across to the smithy."
The ladcontinued his work without regarding us. I saw Holmes'seyedarting to right and left among the litter of iron and woodwhich wasscattered about the floor. Suddenlyhoweverweheard astep behind usand there was the landlordhis heavyeyebrowsdrawn over his savage eyeshis swarthy featuresconvulsedwith passion. He held a shortmetal-headed stickin hishandand he advanced in so menacing a fashion that I wasright gladto feel the revolver in my pocket.
"Youinfernal spies!" the man cried. "What are you doingthere?"
"WhyMr. Reuben Hayes" said Holmescoolly"one might thinkthat youwere afraid of our finding something out."
The manmastered himself with a violent effortand his grim mouthloosenedinto a false laughwhich was more menacing than his frown.
"You'rewelcome to all you can find out in my smithy" said he."Butlook heremisterI don't care for folk poking about myplacewithout my leaveso the sooner you pay your score and getout ofthis the better I shall be pleased."
"AllrightMr. Hayes -- no harm meant" said Holmes."Wehave been having a look at your horsesbut I think I'llwalk afterall. It's not farI believe."
"Notmore than two miles to the Hall gates. That's the roadto theleft." He watched us with sullen eyes until we hadleft hispremises.
We did notgo very far along the roadfor Holmes stoppedtheinstant that the curve hid us from the landlord's view.
"Wewere warmas the children sayat that inn" said he."Iseem to grow colder every step that I take away from it.Nono; Ican't possibly leave it."
"I amconvinced" said I"that this Reuben Hayes knowsall aboutit. A more self-evident villain I never saw."
"Oh!he impressed you in that waydid he? There are the horsesthere isthe smithy. Yesit is an interesting placethisFighting Cock. I think we shall have another look at itin anunobtrusive way."
A longsloping hillsidedotted with grey limestone bouldersstretchedbehind us. We had turned off the roadand weremaking ourway up the hillwhenlooking in the directionofHoldernesse HallI saw a cyclist coming swiftly along.
"GetdownWatson!" cried Holmeswith a heavy hand upon myshoulder. We had hardly sunk from view when the man flew pastus on theroad. Amid a rolling cloud of dust I caught a glimpseof a paleagitated face -- a face with horror in everylineamentthe mouth openthe eyes staring wildly in front.It waslike some strange caricature of the dapper James Wilderwhom wehad seen the night before.
"TheDuke's secretary!" cried Holmes. "ComeWatsonletus seewhat hedoes."
Wescrambled from rock to rock until in a few moments we hadmade ourway to a point from which we could see the front doorof theinn. Wilder's bicycle was leaning against the wallbesideit. No one was moving about the housenor could wecatch aglimpse of any faces at the windows. Slowly thetwilightcrept down as the sun sank behind the high towers ofHoldernesseHall. Then in the gloom we saw the two side-lampsof a traplight up in the stable yard of the innand shortlyafterwardsheard the rattle of hoofsas it wheeled out into theroad andtore off at a furious pace in the direction of Chesterfield.
"Whatdo you make of thatWatson?" Holmes whispered.
"Itlooks like a flight."
"Asingle man in a dog-cartso far as I could see. Wellitcertainlywas not Mr. James Wilderfor there he is at the door."
A redsquare of light had sprung out of the darkness. In themiddle ofit was the black figure of the secretaryhis headadvancedpeering out into the night. It was evident that hewasexpecting someone. Then at last there were steps in theroadasecond figure was visible for an instant against thelightthedoor shutand all was black once more. Five minuteslater alamp was lit in a room upon the first floor.
"Itseems to be a curious class of custom that is done by theFightingCock" said Holmes.
"Thebar is on the other side."
"Quiteso. These are what one may call the private guests.Nowwhatin the world is Mr. James Wilder doing in that den atthis hourof nightand who is the companion who comes to meethimthere? ComeWatsonwe must really take a risk and try toinvestigatethis a little more closely."
Togetherwe stole down to the road and crept across to thedoor ofthe inn. The bicycle still leaned against the wall.Holmesstruck a match and held it to the back wheeland Iheard himchuckle as the light fell upon a patched Dunlop tyre.Up aboveus was the lighted window.
"Imust have a peep through thatWatson. If you bend your backandsupport yourself upon the wallI think that I can manage."
An instantlater his feet were on my shoulders.But he washardly up before he was down again.
"Comemy friend" said he"our day's work has been quite longenough. I think that we have gathered all that we can. It's along walkto the schooland the sooner we get started the better."
He hardlyopened his lips during that weary trudge across the moornor wouldhe enter the school when he reached itbut went on toMackletonStationwhence he could send some telegrams.Late atnight I heard him consoling Dr. Huxtableprostrated by thetragedy ofhis master's deathand later still he entered my roomas alertand vigorous as he had been when he started in the morning."Allgoes wellmy friend" said he. "I promise thatbeforeto-morrowevening we shall have reached the solution of the mystery."
At eleveno'clock next morning my friend and I were walkingup thefamous yew avenue of Holdernesse Hall. We were usheredthroughthe magnificent Elizabethan doorway and into his Grace'sstudy. There we found Mr. James Wilderdemure and courtlybutwith sometrace of that wild terror of the night before stilllurking inhis furtive eyes and in his twitching features.
"Youhave come to see his Grace? I am sorry; but the fact isthat theDuke is far from well. He has been very much upsetby thetragic news. We received a telegram from Dr. Huxtableyesterdayafternoonwhich told us of your discovery."
"Imust see the DukeMr. Wilder."
"Buthe is in his room."
"ThenI must go to his room."
"Ibelieve he is in his bed."
"Iwill see him there."
Holmes'scold and inexorable manner showed the secretary thatit wasuseless to argue with him.
"VerygoodMr. Holmes; I will tell him that you are here."
After halfan hour's delay the great nobleman appeared.His facewas more cadaverous than everhis shoulders had roundedand heseemed to me to be an altogether older man than he had beenthemorning before. He greeted us with a stately courtesy andseatedhimself athis deskhis red beard streaming down on to the table.
"WellMr. Holmes?" said he.
But myfriend's eyes were fixed upon the secretarywho stood byhismaster's chair.
"Ithinkyour Gracethat I could speak more freely inMr.Wilder's absence."
The manturned a shade paler and cast a malignant glance at Holmes.
"Ifyour Grace wishes ----"
"Yesyes; you had better go. NowMr. Holmeswhat have you to say?"
My friendwaited until the door had closed behind theretreatingsecretary.
"Thefact isyour Grace" said he"that my colleagueDr.Watsonand myself had an assurance from Dr. Huxtablethat areward had been offered in this case. I should liketo havethis confirmed from your own lips."
"Itamountedif I am correctly informedto five thousand poundsto anyonewho will tell you where your son is?"
"Andanother thousand to the man who will name the personor personswho keep him in custody?"
"Underthe latter heading is includedno doubtnot only thosewho mayhave taken him awaybut also those who conspire to keephim in hispresent position?"
"Yesyes" cried the Dukeimpatiently. "If you do yourworkwellMr.Sherlock Holmesyou will have no reason to complainofniggardly treatment."
My friendrubbed his thin hands together with an appearance ofaviditywhich was a surprise to mewho knew his frugal tastes.
"Ifancy that I see your Grace's cheque-book upon the table"said he. "I should be glad if you would make me out a chequefor sixthousand pounds. It would be as wellperhapsfor youto crossit. The Capital and Counties BankOxford Street branchare myagents."
His Gracesat very stern and upright in his chairand lookedstonily atmy friend.
"Isthis a jokeMr. Holmes? It is hardly a subject forpleasantry."
"Notat allyour Grace. I was never more earnest in my life."
"Whatdo you meanthen?"
"Imean that I have earned the reward. I know where your son isand I knowsomeat leastof those who are holding him."
The Duke'sbeard had turned more aggressively red than everagainsthis ghastly white face.
"Whereis he?" he gasped.
"Heisor was last nightat the Fighting Cock Innabout twomiles fromyour park gate."
The Dukefell back in his chair.
"Andwhom do you accuse?"
SherlockHolmes's answer was an astounding one. He steppedswiftlyforward and touched the Duke upon the shoulder.
"Iaccuse YOU" said he. "And nowyour GraceI'lltrouble youfor thatcheque."
Nevershall I forget the Duke's appearance as he sprang up andclawedwith his hands like one who is sinking into an abyss.Thenwithan extraordinary effort of aristocratic self-commandhe satdown and sank his face in his hands. It was some minutesbefore hespoke.
"Howmuch do you know?" he asked at lastwithout raising his head.
"Isaw you together last night."
"Doesanyone else besides your friend know?"
"Ihave spoken to no one."
The Duketook a pen in his quivering fingers and openedhischeque-book.
"Ishall be as good as my wordMr. Holmes. I am about to writeyourchequehowever unwelcome the information which you havegained maybe to me. When the offer was first made I littlethoughtthe turn which events might take. But you and yourfriend aremen of discretionMr. Holmes?"
"Ihardly understand your Grace."
"Imust put it plainlyMr. Holmes. If only you two know ofthisincidentthere is no reason why it should go any farther.I thinktwelve thousand pounds is the sum that I owe youis it not?"
But Holmessmiled and shook his head.
"Ifearyour Gracethat matters can hardly be arranged so easily.There isthe death of this schoolmaster to be accounted for."
"ButJames knew nothing of that. You cannot hold himresponsiblefor that. It was the work of this brutal ruffianwhom hehad the misfortune to employ."
"Imust take the viewyour Gracethat when a man embarksupon acrime he is morally guilty of any other crime whichmay springfrom it."
"MorallyMr. Holmes. No doubt you are right. But surely notin theeyes of the law. A man cannot be condemned for a murderat whichhe was not presentand which he loathes and abhorsas much asyou do. The instant that he heard of it he madea completeconfession to meso filled was he with horror andremorse. He lost not an hour in breaking entirely with themurderer. OhMr. Holmesyou must save him -- you must savehim! I tell you that you must save him!" The Duke had droppedthe lastattempt at self-commandand was pacing the room withaconvulsed face and with his clenched hands raving in the air.At last hemastered himself and sat down once more at his desk."Iappreciate your conduct in coming here before you spoke toanyoneelse" said he. "At leastwe may take counsel howfarwe canminimize this hideous scandal."
"Exactly"said Holmes. "I thinkyour Gracethat this canonly bedone by absolute and complete frankness between us.I amdisposed to help your Grace to the best of my ability; butin orderto do so I must understand to the last detail how thematterstands. I realize that your words applied to Mr. JamesWilderand that he is not the murderer."
"No;the murderer has escaped."
SherlockHolmes smiled demurely.
"YourGrace can hardly have heard of any small reputation whichI possessor you would not imagine that it is so easy to escape me.Mr. ReubenHayes was arrested at Chesterfield on my informationat eleveno'clock last night. I had a telegram from the headof thelocal police before I left the school this morning."
The Dukeleaned back in his chair and stared with amazementat myfriend.
"Youseem to have powers that are hardly human" said he."SoReuben Hayes is taken? I am right glad to hear itif it willnot react upon the fate of James."
"Nosir; my son."
It wasHolmes's turn to look astonished.
"Iconfess that this is entirely new to meyour Grace.I must begyou to be more explicit."
"Iwill conceal nothing from you. I agree with you thatcompletefranknesshowever painful it may be to meis thebestpolicy in this desperate situation to which James's follyandjealousy have reduced us. When I was a very young manMr.HolmesI loved with such a love as comes only once inalifetime. I offered the lady marriagebut she refusedit on thegrounds that such a match might mar my career.Had shelived I would certainly never have married anyone else.She diedand left this one childwhom for her sake I havecherishedand cared for. I could not acknowledge the paternityto theworld; but I gave him the best of educationsand sincehe came tomanhood I have kept him near my person. He surprisedmy secretand has presumed ever since upon the claim which hehas uponme and upon his power of provoking a scandalwhichwould beabhorrent to me. His presence had something to do withtheunhappy issue of my marriage. Above allhe hated my younglegitimateheir from the first with a persistent hatred.You maywell ask me whyunder these circumstancesI still keptJamesunder my roof. I answer that it was because I could seehismother's face in hisand that for her dear sake there wasno end tomy long-suffering. All her pretty waystoo -- therewas notone of them which he could not suggest and bring backto mymemory. I COULD not send him away. But I feared so muchlest heshould do Arthur -- that isLord Saltire -- a mischiefthat Idispatched him for safety to Dr. Huxtable's school.
"Jamescame into contact with this fellow Hayes because the manwas atenant of mineand James acted as agent. The fellow wasa rascalfrom the beginning; but in some extraordinary wayJamesbecame intimate with him. He had always a taste for lowcompany. When James determined to kidnap Lord Saltire it wasof thisman's service that he availed himself. You rememberthat Iwrote to Arthur upon that last day. WellJames openedthe letterand inserted a note asking Arthur to meet him in alittlewood called the Ragged Shawwhich is near to the school.He usedthe Duchess's nameand in that way got the boy to come.Thatevening James bicycled over -- I am telling you what he hashimselfconfessed to me -- and he told Arthurwhom he met inthe woodthat his mother longed to see himthat she wasawaitinghim on the moorand that if he would come back intothe woodat midnight he would find a man with a horsewho wouldtake himto her. Poor Arthur fell into the trap. He came totheappointment and found this fellow Hayes with a led pony.Arthurmountedand they set off together. It appears -- thoughthis Jamesonly heard yesterday -- that they were pursuedthat Hayesstruck the pursuer with his stickand that the mandied ofhis injuries. Hayes brought Arthur to his public-housetheFighting Cockwhere he was confined in an upper roomunder thecare of Mrs. Hayeswho is a kindly womanbutentirely under the control of her brutal husband.
"WellMr. Holmesthat was the state of affairs when I firstsaw youtwo days ago. I had no more idea of the truth than you.You willask me what was James's motive in doing such a deed.I answerthat there was a great deal which was unreasoning andfanaticalin the hatred which he bore my heir. In his view heshouldhimself have been heir of all my estatesand he deeplyresentedthose social laws which made it impossible. At thesame timehe had a definite motive also. He was eager thatI shouldbreak the entailand he was of opinion that it layin mypower to do so. He intended to make a bargain with me --to restoreArthur if I would break the entailand so make itpossiblefor the estate to be left to him by will. He knew wellthat Ishould never willingly invoke the aid of the policeagainsthim. I say that he would have proposed such a bargainto mebuthe did not actually do sofor events moved too quicklyfor himand he had not time to put his plans into practice.
"Whatbrought all his wicked scheme to wreck was your discoveryof thisman Heidegger's dead body. James was seized with horrorat thenews. It came to us yesterday as we sat together inthisstudy. Dr. Huxtable had sent a telegram. James was sooverwhelmedwith grief and agitation that my suspicionswhichhad neverbeen entirely absentrose instantly to a certaintyand Itaxed him with the deed. He made a complete voluntaryconfession. Then he implored me to keep his secret for threedayslongerso as to give his wretched accomplice a chance ofsaving hisguilty life. I yielded -- as I have always yielded-- to hisprayersand instantly James hurried off to theFightingCock to warn Hayes and give him the means of flight.I couldnot go there by daylight without provoking commentbut assoon as night fell I hurried off to see my dear Arthur.I foundhim safe and wellbut horrified beyond expression by thedreadfuldeed he had witnessed. In deference to my promiseandmuchagainst my willI consented to leave him there for threedays underthe charge of Mrs. Hayessince it was evident thatit wasimpossible to inform the police where he was withouttellingthem also who was the murdererand I could not see howthatmurderer could be punished without ruin to my unfortunateJames. You asked for franknessMr. Holmesand I have takenyou atyour wordfor I have now told you everything withoutan attemptat circumlocution or concealment. Do you in turnbe asfrank with me."
"Iwill" said Holmes. "In the first placeyour GraceI am boundto tell you that you have placed yourself in a mostseriousposition in the eyes of the law. You have condoned afelony andyou have aided the escape of a murderer; for I cannotdoubt thatany money which was taken by James Wilder to aid hisaccomplicein his flight came from your Grace's purse."
The Dukebowed his assent.
"Thisis indeed a most serious matter. Even more culpable in myopinionyour Graceis your attitude towards your younger son.You leavehim in this den for three days."
"Undersolemn promises ----"
"Whatare promises to such people as these? You have no guaranteethat hewill not be spirited away again. To humour your guiltyelder sonyou have exposed your innocent younger son to imminentandunnecessary danger. It was a most unjustifiable action."
The proudlord of Holdernesse was not accustomed to be so ratedin his ownducal hall. The blood flushed into his high foreheadbut hisconscience held him dumb.
"Iwill help youbut on one condition only. It is that youring forthe footman and let me give such orders as I like."
Without aword the Duke pressed the electric bell.A servantentered.
"Youwill be glad to hear" said Holmes"that your young masteris found. It is the Duke's desire that the carriage shall go atonce tothe Fighting Cock Inn to bring Lord Saltire home.
"Now"said Holmeswhen the rejoicing lackey had disappeared"havingsecured the futurewe can afford to be more lenientwith thepast. I am not in an official positionand thereis noreasonso long as the ends of justice are servedwhy Ishoulddisclose all that I know. As to Hayes I say nothing.Thegallows awaits himand I would do nothing to save him fromit. What he will divulge I cannot tellbut I have no doubtthat yourGrace could make him understand that it is to hisinterestto be silent. From the police point of view he willhavekidnapped the boy for the purpose of ransom. If they donotthemselves find it out I see no reason why I should promptthem totake a broader point of view. I would warn your Gracehoweverthat the continued presence of Mr. James Wilder inyourhousehold can only lead to misfortune."
"Iunderstand thatMr. Holmesand it is already settled thathe shallleave me for ever and go to seek his fortune in Australia."
"Inthat caseyour Gracesince you have yourself stated thatanyunhappiness in your married life was caused by his presenceI wouldsuggest that you make such amends as you can to theDuchessand that you try to resume those relations which havebeen sounhappily interrupted."
"Thatalso I have arrangedMr. Holmes. I wrote to the Duchessthismorning."
"Inthat case" said Holmesrising"I think that my friendandI cancongratulate ourselves upon several most happy resultsfrom ourlittle visit to the North. There is one other smallpoint uponwhich I desire some light. This fellow Hayes hadshod hishorses with shoes which counterfeited the tracks of cows.Was itfrom Mr. Wilder that he learned so extraordinary a device?"
The Dukestood in thought for a momentwith a look of intensesurpriseon his face. Then he opened a door and showed us intoa largeroom furnished as a museum. He led the way to a glasscase in acornerand pointed to the inscription.
"Theseshoes" it ran"were dug up in the moat of HoldernesseHall. They are for the use of horses; but they are shaped belowwith acloven foot of ironso as to throw pursuers off thetrack. They are supposed to have belonged to some of themaraudingBarons of Holdernesse in the Middle Ages."
Holmesopened the caseand moistening his finger he passed italong theshoe. A thin film of recent mud was left upon his skin.
"Thankyou" said heas he replaced the glass. "It is thesecondmost interesting object that I have seen in the North."
Holmesfolded up his cheque and placed it carefully in hisnote-book. "I am a poor man" said heas he patted itaffectionatelyand thrust it into the depths of his inner pocket.---------------------------------------------------------------
THE STRAND MAGAZINE Vol. 27 MARCH1904 THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. By ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE.
I HAVEnever known my friend to be in better formboth mentalandphysicalthan in the year '95. His increasing fame hadbroughtwith it an immense practiceand I should be guilty ofanindiscretion if I were even to hint at the identity of someof theillustrious clients who crossed our humble threshold inBakerStreet. Holmeshoweverlike all great artistslivedfor hisart's sakeandsave in the case of the Duke ofHoldernesseI have seldom known him claim any large rewardfor hisinestimable services. So unworldly was he -- or socapricious-- that he frequently refused his help to thepowerfuland wealthy where the problem made no appeal to hissympathieswhile he would devote weeks of most intenseapplicationto the affairs of some humble client whose casepresentedthose strange and dramatic qualities which appealedto hisimagination and challenged his ingenuity.
In thismemorable year '95 a curious and incongruous successionof caseshad engaged his attentionranging from his famousinvestigationof the sudden death of Cardinal Tosca -- aninquirywhich was carried out by him at the express desire ofHisHoliness the Pope -- down to his arrest of Wilsonthenotoriouscanary-trainerwhich removed a plague-spot from theEast-Endof London. Close on the heels of these two famouscases camethe tragedy of Woodman's Leeand the very obscurecircumstanceswhich surrounded the death of Captain Peter Carey.No recordof the doings of Mr. Sherlock Holmes would be completewhich didnot include some account of this very unusual affair.
During thefirst week of July my friend had been absent so oftenand solong from our lodgings that I knew he had something onhand. The fact that several rough-looking men called duringthat timeand inquired for Captain Basil made me understand thatHolmes wasworking somewhere under one of the numerous disguisesand nameswith which he concealed his own formidable identity.He had atleast five small refuges in different parts of London inwhich hewas able to change his personality. He said nothing ofhisbusiness to meand it was not my habit to force a confidence.The firstpositive sign which he gave me of the directionwhich hisinvestigation was taking was an extraordinary one.He hadgone out before breakfastand I had sat down to minewhen hestrode into the roomhis hat upon his head and a hugebarbed-headedspear tucked like an umbrella under his arm.
"GoodgraciousHolmes!" I cried. "You don't mean to saythat youhave been walking about London with that thing?"
"Idrove to the butcher's and back."
"AndI return with an excellent appetite. There can be noquestionmy dear Watsonof the value of exercise beforebreakfast. But I am prepared to bet that you will not guessthe formthat my exercise has taken."
"Iwill not attempt it."
Hechuckled as he poured out the coffee.
"Ifyou could have looked into Allardyce's back shop you wouldhave seena dead pig swung from a hook in the ceilingand agentlemanin his shirt-sleeves furiously stabbing at it withthisweapon. I was that energetic personand I have satisfiedmyselfthat by no exertion of my strength can I transfix the pigwith asingle blow. Perhaps you would care to try?"
"Notfor worlds. But why were you doing this?"
"Becauseit seemed to me to have an indirect bearing upon themystery ofWoodman's Lee. AhHopkinsI got your wire lastnightandI have been expecting you. Come and join us."
Ourvisitor was an exceedingly alert manthirty years of agedressed ina quiet tweed suitbut retaining the erect bearingof one whowas accustomed to official uniform. I recognised himat once asStanley Hopkinsa young police inspector for whosefutureHolmes had high hopeswhile he in turn professed theadmirationand respect of a pupil for the scientific methods ofthe famousamateur. Hopkins's brow was cloudedand he sat downwith anair of deep dejection.
"Nothank yousir. I breakfasted before I came round.I spentthe night in townfor I came up yesterday to report."
"Andwhat had you to report?"
"Failuresir; absolute failure."
"Youhave made no progress?"
"Dearme! I must have a look at the matter."
"Iwish to heavens that you wouldMr. Holmes. It's my firstbigchanceand I am at my wit's end. For goodness' sake comedown andlend me a hand."
"Wellwellit just happens that I have already read all theavailableevidenceincluding the report of the inquestwithsomecare. By the waywhat do you make of that tobacco-pouchfound onthe scene of the crime? Is there no clue there?"
"Itwas the man's own pouchsir. His initials were inside it.And it wasof seal-skin -- and he an old sealer."
"Buthe had no pipe."
"Nosirwe could find no pipe; indeedhe smoked very little.And yet hemight have kept some tobacco for his friends."
"Nodoubt. I only mention it because if I had been handling thecase Ishould have been inclined to make that the starting-pointof myinvestigation. Howevermy friend Dr. Watson knowsnothing ofthis matterand I should be none the worse forhearingthe sequence of events once more. Just give us someshortsketch of the essentials."
StanleyHopkins drew a slip of paper from his pocket.
"Ihave a few dates here which will give you the career of thedead manCaptain Peter Carey. He was born in '45 -- fiftyyears ofage. He was a most daring and successful seal andwhalefisher. In 1883 he commanded the steam sealer SEA UNICORNofDundee. He had then had several successful voyagesinsuccessionand in the following year1884he retired.After thathe travelled for some yearsand finally he boughta smallplace called Woodman's Leenear Forest Rowin Sussex.There hehas lived for six yearsand there he died just a weekagoto-day.
"Therewere some most singular points about the man.Inordinary life he was a strict Puritan -- a silentgloomyfellow. His household consisted of his wifehis daughteragedtwentyand two female servants. These last were continuallychangingfor it was never a very cheery situationand sometimesit becamepast all bearing. The man was an intermittent drunkardand whenhe had the fit on him he was a perfect fiend.He hasbeen known to drive his wife and his daughter out of doorsin themiddle of the nightand flog them through the park untilthe wholevillage outside the gates was aroused by their screams.
"Hewas summoned once for a savage assault upon the old vicarwho hadcalled upon him to remonstrate with him upon hisconduct. In shortMr. Holmesyou would go far before youfound amore dangerous man than Peter Careyand I have heardthat hebore the same character when he commanded his ship.He wasknown in the trade as Black Peterand the name was givenhimnotonly on account of his swarthy features and the colourof hishuge beardbut for the humours which were the terror ofall aroundhim. I need not say that he was loathed and avoidedby everyone of his neighboursand that I have not heard onesingleword of sorrow about his terrible end.
"Youmust have read in the account of the inquest about theman'scabinMr. Holmes; but perhaps your friend here has notheard ofit. He had built himself a wooden outhouse -- healwayscalled it `the cabin' -- a few hundred yards from hishouseandit was here that he slept every night. It was alittlesingle-roomed hutsixteen feet by ten. He kept the keyin hispocketmade his own bedcleaned it himselfand allowedno otherfoot to cross the threshold. There are small windowson eachsidewhich were covered by curtains and never opened.One ofthese windows was turned towards the high roadand whenthe lightburned in it at night the folk used to point it outto eachother and wonder what Black Peter was doing in there.That's thewindowMr. Holmeswhich gave us one of the few bitsofpositive evidence that came out at the inquest.
"Youremember that a stonemasonnamed Slaterwalking fromForest Rowabout one o'clock in the morning -- two days beforethe murder-- stopped as he passed the grounds and looked at thesquare oflight still shining among the trees. He swears thatthe shadowof a man's head turned sideways was clearly visibleon theblindand that this shadow was certainly not that ofPeterCareywhom he knew well. It was that of a bearded manbut thebeard was short and bristled forwards in a way verydifferentfrom that of the captain. So he saysbut he hadbeen twohours in the public-houseand it is some distance fromthe roadto the window. Besidesthis refers to the Mondayand thecrime was done upon the Wednesday.
"Onthe Tuesday Peter Carey was in one of his blackest moodsflushedwith drink and as savage as a dangerous wild beast.He roamedabout the houseand the women ran for it when theyheard himcoming. Late in the evening he went down to his own hut.About twoo'clock the following morning his daughterwho sleptwith herwindow openheard a most fearful yell from thatdirectionbut it was no unusual thing for him to bawl and shoutwhen hewas in drinkso no notice was taken. On rising atseven oneof the maids noticed that the door of the hut was openbut sogreat was the terror which the man caused that itwas middaybefore anyone would venture down to see what hadbecome ofhim. Peeping into the open door they saw a sightwhich sentthem flying with white faces into the village.Within anhour I was on the spot and had taken over the case.
"WellI have fairly steady nervesas you knowMr. Holmesbut I giveyou my word that I got a shake when I put my head intothatlittle house. It was droning like a harmonium with theflies andbluebottlesand the floor and walls were like aslaughter-house. He had called it a cabinand a cabin it wassureenoughfor you would have thought that you were in a ship.There wasa bunk at one enda sea-chestmaps and chartsa pictureof the SEA UNICORNa line of log-books on a shelfallexactly as one would expect to find it in a captain's room.And therein the middle of it was the man himselfhis face twistedlike alost soul in tormentand his great brindled beard stuckupwards inhis agony. Right through his broad breast a steelharpoonhad been drivenand it had sunk deep into the wood ofthe wallbehind him. He was pinned like a beetle on a card.Of coursehe was quite deadand had been so from the instantthat hehad uttered that last yell of agony.
"Iknow your methodssirand I applied them.Before Ipermitted anything to be moved I examined mostcarefullythe ground outsideand also the floor of the room.There wereno footmarks."
"Meaningthat you saw none?"
"Iassure yousirthat there were none."
"Mygood HopkinsI have investigated many crimesbut I havenever yetseen one which was committed by a flying creature.As long asthe criminal remains upon two legs so long must therebe someindentationsome abrasionsome trifling displacementwhich canbe detected by the scientific searcher. It isincrediblethat this blood-bespattered room contained no tracewhichcould have aided us. I understandhoweverfrom theinquestthat there were some objects which you failed to overlook?"
The younginspector winced at my companion's ironical comments.
"Iwas a fool not to call you in at the timeMr. Holmes.Howeverthat's past praying for now. Yesthere were severalobjects inthe room which called for special attention.One wasthe harpoon with which the deed was committed.It hadbeen snatched down from a rack on the wall.Two othersremained thereand there was a vacant place forthethird. On the stock was engraved `Ss. SEA UNICORNDundee.'Thisseemed to establish that the crime had been done in a momentof furyand that the murderer had seized the first weapon whichcame inhis way. The fact that the crime was committed at twoin themorningand yet Peter Carey was fully dressedsuggestedthat hehad an appointment with the murdererwhich is borne outby thefact that a bottle of rum and two dirty glasses stood uponthetable."
"Yes"said Holmes; "I think that both inferences are permissible.Was thereany other spirit but rum in the room?"
"Yes;there was a tantalus containing brandy and whisky on thesea-chest. It is of no importance to ushoweversince thedecanterswere fulland it had therefore not been used."
"Forall that its presence has some significance" said Holmes."Howeverlet us hear some more about the objects which do seemto you tobear upon the case."
"Therewas this tobacco-pouch upon the table."
"Whatpart of the table?"
"Itlay in the middle. It was of coarse seal-skin --thestraight-haired skinwith a leather thong to bind it.Inside was`P.C.' on the flap. There was half an ounce ofstrongship's tobacco in it."
"Excellent! What more?"
StanleyHopkins drew from his pocket a drab-covered note-book.Theoutside was rough and wornthe leaves discoloured.On thefirst page were written the initials "J.H.N." and thedate"1883." Holmes laid it on the table and examined itinhis minutewaywhile Hopkins and I gazed over each shoulder.On thesecond page were the printed letters "C.P.R." and thencameseveral sheets of numbers. Another heading was ArgentineanotherCosta Ricaand another San Pauloeach with pages ofsigns andfigures after it.
"Whatdo you make of these?" asked Holmes.
"Theyappear to be lists of Stock Exchange securities.I thoughtthat `J.H.N.' were the initials of a brokerand that`C.P.R.' may have been his client."
"TryCanadian Pacific Railway" said Holmes.
StanleyHopkins swore between his teeth and struck his thighwith hisclenched hand.
"Whata fool I have been!" he cried. "Of courseit is asyou say. Then `J.H.N.' are the only initials we have to solve.I havealready examined the old Stock Exchange listsand I canfind noone in 1883 either in the House or among the outsidebrokerswhose initials correspond with these. Yet I feel thatthe clueis the most important one that I hold. You will admitMr.Holmesthat there is a possibility that these initials arethose ofthe second person who was present -- in other wordsof themurderer. I would also urge that the introduction intothe caseof a document relating to large masses of valuablesecuritiesgives us for the first time some indication of amotive forthe crime."
SherlockHolmes's face showed that he was thoroughly taken abackby thisnew development.
"Imust admit both your points" said he. "I confessthat thisnote-bookwhich did not appear at the inquestmodifies anyviewswhich I may have formed. I had come to a theory of thecrime inwhich I can find no place for this. Have youendeavouredto trace any of the securities here mentioned?"
"Inquiriesare now being made at the officesbut I fear thatthecomplete register of the stockholders of these SouthAmericanconcerns is in South Americaand that some weeks mustelapsebefore we can trace the shares."
Holmes hadbeen examining the cover of the note-book with hismagnifyinglens.
"Surelythere is some discolouration here" said he.
"Yessirit is a blood-stain. I told you that I pickedthe bookoff the floor."
"Wasthe blood-stain above or below?"
"Onthe side next the boards."
"Whichprovesof coursethat the book was dropped afterthe crimewas committed."
"ExactlyMr. Holmes. I appreciated that pointand Iconjectured that it was dropped by the murdererin hishurried flight. It lay near the door."
"Isuppose that none of these securities have been found amongtheproperty of the dead man?"
"Haveyou any reason to suspect robbery?"
"Nosir. Nothing seemed to have been touched."
"Dearmeit is certainly a very interesting case.Then therewas a knifewas there not?"
"Asheath-knifestill in its sheath. It lay at the feetof thedead man. Mrs. Carey has identified it as being herhusband'sproperty."
Holmes waslost in thought for some time.
"Well"said heat last"I suppose I shall have to come outand have alook at it."
StanleyHopkins gave a cry of joy.
"Thankyousir. That will indeed be a weight off my mind."
Holmesshook his finger at the inspector.
"Itwould have been an easier task a week ago" said he."Buteven now my visit may not be entirely fruitless. Watsonif you canspare the time I should be very glad of your company.If youwill call a four-wheelerHopkinswe shall be ready tostart forForest Row in a quarter of an hour."
Alightingat the small wayside stationwe drove for some milesthroughthe remains of widespread woodswhich were once part ofthat greatforest which for so long held the Saxon invaders atbay -- theimpenetrable "weald" for sixty years the bulwark ofBritain. Vast sections of it have been clearedfor this is theseat ofthe first iron-works of the countryand the trees havebeenfelled to smelt the ore. Now the richer fields of theNorth haveabsorbed the tradeand nothing save these ravagedgroves andgreat scars in the earth show the work of the past.Here in aclearing upon the green slope of a hill stood a longlow stonehouseapproached by a curving drive running throughthefields. Nearer the roadand surrounded on three sidesby busheswas a small outhouseone window and the door facingin ourdirection. It was the scene of the murder!
StanleyHopkins led us first to the housewhere he introducedus to ahaggardgrey-haired womanthe widow of the murderedmanwhosegaunt and deep-lined facewith the furtive look ofterror inthe depths of her red-rimmed eyestold of the yearsofhardship and ill-usage which she had endured. With her washerdaughtera palefair-haired girlwhose eyes blazeddefiantlyat us as she told us that she was glad that her fatherwas deadand that she blessed the hand which had struck himdown. It was a terrible household that Black Peter Carey hadmade forhimselfand it was with a sense of relief that wefoundourselves in the sunlight again and making our way alonga pathwhich had been worn across the fields by the feet ofthe deadman.
Theouthouse was the simplest of dwellingswooden-walledshingle-roofedone window beside the door and one on thefartherside. Stanley Hopkins drew the key from his pocketand hadstooped to the lockwhen he paused with a look ofattentionand surprise upon his face.
"Someonehas been tampering with it" he said.
Therecould be no doubt of the fact. The woodwork was cut andthescratches showed white through the paintas if they hadbeen thatinstant done. Holmes had been examining the window.
"Someonehas tried to force this also. Whoever it was has failedto makehis way in. He must have been a very poor burglar."
"Thisis a most extraordinary thing" said the inspector;"Icould swear that these marks were not here yesterday evening."
"Somecurious person from the villageperhaps" I suggested.
"Veryunlikely. Few of them would dare to set foot in thegroundsfar less try to force their way into the cabin.What doyou think of itMr. Holmes?"
"Ithink that fortune is very kind to us."
"Youmean that the person will come again?"
"Itis very probable. He came expecting to find the door open.He triedto get in with the blade of a very small penknife.He couldnot manage it. What would he do?"
"Comeagain next night with a more useful tool."
"So Ishould say. It will be our fault if we are not thereto receivehim. Meanwhilelet me see the inside of the cabin."
The tracesof the tragedy had been removedbut the furniturewithin thelittle room still stood as it had been on the nightof thecrime. For two hourswith most intense concentrationHolmesexamined every object in turnbut his face showed thathis questwas not a successful one. Once only he paused in hispatientinvestigation.
"Haveyou taken anything off this shelfHopkins?"
"No;I have moved nothing."
"Somethinghas been taken. There is less dust in this corner ofthe shelfthan elsewhere. It may have been a book lying on itsside. It may have been a box. WellwellI can do nothingmore. Let us walk in these beautiful woodsWatsonand give afew hoursto the birds and the flowers. We shall meet you herelaterHopkinsand see if we can come to closer quarters withthegentleman who has paid this visit in the night."
It waspast eleven o'clock when we formed our little ambuscade.Hopkinswas for leaving the door of the hut openbut Holmeswas of theopinion that this would rouse the suspicions of thestranger. The lock was a perfectly simple oneand only astrongblade was needed to push it back. Holmes also suggestedthat weshould waitnot inside the hutbut outside it amongthe busheswhich grew round the farther window. In this way weshould beable to watch our man if he struck a lightand seewhat hisobject was in this stealthy nocturnal visit.
It was along and melancholy vigiland yet brought with itsomethingof the thrill which the hunter feels when he liesbeside thewater pool and waits for the coming of the thirstybeast ofprey. What savage creature was it which might stealupon usout of the darkness? Was it a fierce tiger of crimewhichcould only be taken fighting hard with flashing fang andclaworwould it prove to be some skulking jackaldangerousonly tothe weak and unguarded?
Inabsolute silence we crouched amongst the busheswaitingforwhatever might come. At first the steps of a few belatedvillagersor the sound of voices from the villagelightenedour vigil;but one by one these interruptions died away and anabsolutestillness fell upon ussave for the chimes of thedistantchurchwhich told us of the progress of the nightand forthe rustle and whisper of a fine rain falling amid thefoliagewhich roofed us in.
Half-pasttwo had chimedand it was the darkest hour whichprecedesthe dawnwhen we all started as a low but sharp clickcame fromthe direction of the gate. Someone had entered thedrive. Again there was a long silenceand I had begun to fearthat itwas a false alarmwhen a stealthy step was heard uponthe otherside of the hutand a moment later a metallicscrapingand clinking. The man was trying to force the lock!This timehis skill was greater or his tool was betterfor therewas a sudden snap and the creak of the hinges.Then amatch was struckand next instant the steady light froma candlefilled the interior of the hut. Through the gauzecurtainour eyes were all riveted upon the scene within.
Thenocturnal visitor was a young manfrail and thinwith ablackmoustache which intensified the deadly pallor of his face.He couldnot have been much above twenty years of age. I havenever seenany human being who appeared to be in such a pitiablefrightfor his teeth were visibly chattering and he was shakingin everylimb. He was dressed like a gentlemanin Norfolkjacket andknickerbockerswith a cloth cap upon his head.We watchedhim staring round with frightened eyes. Then he laidthecandle-end upon the table and disappeared from our view intoone of thecorners. He returned with a large bookone of thelog-bookswhich formed a line upon the shelves. Leaning on thetable herapidly turned over the leaves of this volume until hecame tothe entry which he sought. Thenwith an angry gestureof hisclenched handhe closed the bookreplaced it in thecornerand put out the light. He had hardly turned to leavethe hutwhen Hopkins's hand was on the fellow's collarand Iheard hisloud gasp of terror as he understood that he wastaken. The candle was re-litand there was our wretchedcaptiveshivering and cowering in the grasp of the detective.He sankdown upon the sea-chestand looked helplessly from oneof us tothe other.
"Nowmy fine fellow" said Stanley Hopkins"who are youand whatdo you want here?"
The manpulled himself together and faced us with an effortatself-composure.
"Youare detectivesI suppose?" said he. "You imagine Iamconnectedwith the death of Captain Peter Carey. I assure youthat I aminnocent."
"We'llsee about that" said Hopkins."Firstof allwhat is your name?"
"Itis John Hopley Neligan."
I sawHolmes and Hopkins exchange a quick glance.
"Whatare you doing here?"
"CanI speak confidentially?"
"Whyshould I tell you?"
"Ifyou have no answer it may go badly with you at the trial."
The youngman winced.
"WellI will tell you" he said. "Why should I not? And yetI hate tothink of this old scandal gaining a new lease of life.Did youever hear of Dawson and Neligan?"
I couldsee from Hopkins's face that he never had; but Holmeswas keenlyinterested.
"Youmean the West-country bankers" said he. "They failedfor amillionruined half the county families of CornwallandNeligan disappeared."
"Exactly. Neligan was my father."
At last wewere getting something positiveand yet it seemeda long gapbetween an absconding banker and Captain Peter Careypinnedagainst the wall with one of his own harpoons. We alllistenedintently to the young man's words.
"Itwas my father who was really concerned. Dawson had retired.I was onlyten years of age at the timebut I was old enough tofeel theshame and horror of it all. It has always been saidthat myfather stole all the securities and fled. It is nottrue. It was his belief that if he were given time in which torealizethem all would be well and every creditor paid in full.He startedin his little yacht for Norway just before thewarrantwas issued for his arrest. I can remember that lastnight whenhe bade farewell to my mother. He left us a list ofthesecurities he was takingand he swore that he would comeback withhis honour clearedand that none who had trusted himwouldsuffer. Wellno word was ever heard from him again.Both theyacht and he vanished utterly. We believedmy motherand Ithat he and itwith the securities that he had takenwith himwere at the bottom of the sea. We had a faithfulfriendhoweverwho is a business manand it was he whodiscoveredsome time ago that some of the securities which myfather hadwith him have reappeared on the London market.You canimagine our amazement. I spent months in trying totracethemand at lastafter many doublings and difficultiesIdiscovered that the original seller had been Captain PeterCareytheowner of this hut.
"NaturallyI made some inquiries about the man. I found thathe hadbeen in command of a whaler which was due to return fromthe Arcticseas at the very time when my father was crossing toNorway. The autumn of that year was a stormy oneand there wasa longsuccession of southerly gales. My father's yacht maywell havebeen blown to the northand there met by CaptainPeterCarey's ship. If that were sowhat had become of myfather? In any caseif I could prove from Peter Carey'sevidencehow these securities came on the market it would be aproof thatmy father had not sold themand that he had no viewtopersonal profit when he took them.
"Icame down to Sussex with the intention of seeing the captainbut it wasat this moment that his terrible death occurred.I read atthe inquest a description of his cabinin which itstatedthat the old log-books of his vessel were preserved in it.It struckme that if I could see what occurred in the monthof August1883on board the SEA UNICORNI might settle themystery ofmy father's fate. I tried last night to get at theselog-booksbut was unable to open the door. To-night I triedagainandsucceeded; but I find that the pages which deal withthat monthhave been torn from the book. It was at that momentI foundmyself a prisoner in your hands."
"Isthat all?" asked Hopkins.
"Yesthat is all." His eyes shifted as he said it.
"Youhave nothing else to tell us?"
"No;there is nothing."
"Youhave not been here before last night?"
"Thenhow do you account for THAT?" cried Hopkinsas he held upthedamning note-bookwith the initials of our prisoner on thefirst leafand the blood-stain on the cover.
Thewretched man collapsed. He sank his face in his hands andtrembledall over.
"Wheredid you get it?" he groaned. "I did not know.I thoughtI had lost it at the hotel."
"Thatis enough" said Hopkinssternly. "Whatever else youhave tosay you must say in court. You will walk down with menow to thepolice-station. WellMr. HolmesI am very muchobliged toyou and to your friend for coming down to help me.As itturns out your presence was unnecessaryand I would havebroughtthe case to this successful issue without you; but nonethe less Iam very grateful. Rooms have been reserved for youat theBrambletye Hotelso we can all walk down to the villagetogether."
"WellWatsonwhat do you think of it?" asked Holmesas wetravelled back next morning.
"Ican see that you are not satisfied."
"Ohyesmy dear WatsonI am perfectly satisfied. At the sametimeStanley Hopkins's methods do not commend themselves to me.I amdisappointed in Stanley Hopkins. I had hoped for betterthingsfrom him. One should always look for a possiblealternativeand provide against it. It is the first rule ofcriminalinvestigation."
"Whatthenis the alternative?"
"Theline of investigation which I have myself been pursuing.It maygive us nothing. I cannot tell. But at least I shallfollow itto the end."
Severalletters were waiting for Holmes at Baker Street.Hesnatched one of them upopened itand burst out intoatriumphant chuckle of laughter.
"ExcellentWatson. The alternative develops. Have youtelegraphforms? Just write a couple of messages for me:`SumnerShipping AgentRatcliff Highway. Send three men onto arriveten to-morrow morning. -- Basil.' That's my name inthoseparts. The other is: `Inspector Stanley Hopkins46LordStreetBrixton. Come breakfast to-morrow at nine-thirty.Important. Wire if unable to come. -- Sherlock Holmes.'ThereWatsonthis infernal case has haunted me for ten days.I herebybanish it completely from my presence. To-morrowI trustthat we shall hear the last of it for ever."
Sharp atthe hour named Inspector Stanley Hopkins appearedand we satdown together to the excellent breakfast whichMrs.Hudson had prepared. The young detective was in highspirits athis success.
"Youreally think that your solution must be correct?" asked Holmes.
"Icould not imagine a more complete case."
"Itdid not seem to me conclusive."
"Youastonish meMr. Holmes. What more could one ask for?"
"Doesyour explanation cover every point?"
"Undoubtedly. I find that young Neligan arrived at theBrambletyeHotel on the very day of the crime. He came onthepretence of playing golf. His room was on the ground-floorand hecould get out when he liked. That very night he went downtoWoodman's Leesaw Peter Carey at the hutquarrelled with himand killedhim with the harpoon. Thenhorrified by what he haddonehefled out of the hutdropping the note-book which hehadbrought with him in order to question Peter Carey aboutthesedifferent securities. You may have observed that some ofthem weremarked with ticksand the others -- the greatmajority-- were not. Those which are ticked have been tracedon theLondon market; but the others presumably were still inthepossession of Careyand young Neliganaccording to his ownaccountwas anxious to recover them in order to do the rightthing byhis father's creditors. After his flight he did notdare toapproach the hut again for some time; but at last heforcedhimself to do so in order to obtain the informationwhich heneeded. Surely that is all simple and obvious?"
Holmessmiled and shook his head.
"Itseems to me to have only one drawbackHopkinsand thatis that itis intrinsically impossible. Have you tried to drivea harpoonthrough a body? No? Tuttutmy dear siryou mustreally payattention to these details. My friend Watson couldtell youthat I spent a whole morning in that exercise.It is noeasy matterand requires a strong and practised arm.But thisblow was delivered with such violence that the head ofthe weaponsank deep into the wall. Do you imagine that thisanaemicyouth was capable of so frightful an assault? Is he theman whohobnobbed in rum and water with Black Peter in the deadof thenight? Was it his profile that was seen on the blind twonightsbefore? NonoHopkins; it is another and a moreformidableperson for whom we must seek."
Thedetective's face had grown longer and longer during Holmes'sspeech. His hopes and his ambitions were all crumbling about him.But hewould not abandon his position without a struggle.
"Youcan't deny that Neligan was present that nightMr. Holmes.The bookwill prove that. I fancy that I have evidence enoughto satisfya juryeven if you are able to pick a hole in it.BesidesMr. HolmesI have laid my hand upon MY man. As tothisterrible person of yourswhere is he?"
"Irather fancy that he is on the stair" said Holmesserenely."IthinkWatsonthat you would do well to put that revolverwhere youcan reach it." He roseand laid a written paperupon aside-table. "Now we are ready" said he.
There hadbeen some talking in gruff voices outsideand nowMrs.Hudson opened the door to say that there were three meninquiringfor Captain Basil.
"Showthem in one by one" said Holmes.
The firstwho entered was a little ribston-pippin of a manwith ruddycheeks and fluffy white side-whiskers. Holmes haddrawn aletter from his pocket.
"Whatname?" he asked.
"I amsorryLancasterbut the berth is full. Here is half asovereignfor your trouble. Just step into this room and waitthere fora few minutes."
The secondman was a longdried-up creaturewith lank hair andsallowcheeks. His name was Hugh Pattins. He also received hisdismissalhis half-sovereignand the order to wait.
The thirdapplicant was a man of remarkable appearance.A fiercebull-dog face was framed in a tangle of hair and beardand twobold dark eyes gleamed behind the cover of thicktuftedoverhungeyebrows. He saluted and stood sailor-fashionturninghis capround in his hands.
"Yourname?" asked Holmes.
"Yessir. Twenty-six voyages."
"Andready to start with an exploring ship?"
"Eightpounds a month."
"Couldyou start at once?"
"Assoon as I get my kit."
"Haveyou your papers?"
"Yessir." He took a sheaf of worn and greasy forms fromhispocket. Holmes glanced over them and returned them.
"Youare just the man I want" said he. "Here's theagreementon theside-table. If you sign it the whole matter will be settled."
The seamanlurched across the room and took up the pen.
"ShallI sign here?" he askedstooping over the table.
Holmesleaned over his shoulder and passed both hands over his neck.
"Thiswill do" said he.
I heard aclick of steel and a bellow like an enraged bull.The nextinstant Holmes and the seaman were rolling on thegroundtogether. He was a man of such gigantic strength thateven withthe handcuffs which Holmes had so deftly fastened uponhiswristshe would have very quickly overpowered my friend hadHopkinsand I not rushed to his rescue. Only when I pressed thecoldmuzzle of the revolver to his temple did he at lastunderstandthat resistance was vain. We lashed his ankles withcord androse breathless from the struggle.
"Imust really apologizeHopkins" said Sherlock Holmes;"Ifear that the scrambled eggs are cold. Howeveryou willenjoy therest of your breakfast all the betterwill you notfor thethought that you have brought your case to a triumphantconclusion."
StanleyHopkins was speechless with amazement.
"Idon't know what to sayMr. Holmes" he blurted out at lastwith avery red face. "It seems to me that I have been makinga fool ofmyself from the beginning. I understand nowwhat Ishouldnever have forgottenthat I am the pupil and you are themaster. Even now I see what you have donebut I don't know howyou diditor what it signifies."
"Wellwell" said Holmesgood-humouredly. "We all learn byexperienceand your lesson this time is that you should neverlose sightof the alternative. You were so absorbed in youngNeliganthat you could not spare a thought to Patrick Cairnsthe truemurderer of Peter Carey."
The hoarsevoice of the seaman broke in on our conversation.
"Seeheremister" said he"I make no complaint ofbeingman-handled in this fashionbut I would have you callthings bytheir right names. You say I murdered Peter Carey;I say IKILLED Peter Careyand there's all the difference.Maybe youdon't believe what I say. Maybe you think I am justslingingyou a yarn."
"Notat all" said Holmes. "Let us hear what you have tosay."
"It'ssoon toldandby the Lordevery word of it is truth.I knewBlack Peterand when he pulled out his knife I whippeda harpoonthrough him sharpfor I knew that it was him or me.That's howhe died. You can call it murder. AnyhowI'd assoon diewith a rope round my neck as with Black Peter's knifein myheart."
"Howcame you there?" asked Holmes.
"I'lltell it you from the beginning. Just sit me up a littleso as Ican speak easy. It was in '83 that it happened --August ofthat year. Peter Carey was master of the SEA UNICORNand I wasspare harpooner. We were coming out of the ice-packon our wayhomewith head winds and a week's southerly galewhen wepicked up a little craft that had been blown north.There wasone man on her -- a landsman. The crew had thoughtshe wouldfounderand had made for the Norwegian coast in thedinghy. I guess they were all drowned. Wellwe took him onboardthis manand he and the skipper had some long talks inthecabin. All the baggage we took off with him was one tin box.So far asI knowthe man's name was never mentionedand on thesecondnight he disappeared as if he had never been. It wasgiven outthat he had either thrown himself overboard or fallenoverboardin the heavy weather that we were having. Only oneman knewwhat had happened to himand that was mefor with myown eyes Isaw the skipper tip up his heels and put him over therail inthe middle watch of a dark nighttwo days before wesightedthe Shetland lights.
"WellI kept my knowledge tomyself andwaited to see what would come of it. When we gotback toScotland it was easily hushed upand nobody asked anyquestions. A stranger died by an accidentand it was nobody'sbusinessto inquire. Shortly after Peter Carey gave up the seaand it waslong years before I could find where he was.I guessedthat he had done the deed for the sake of what was inthat tinboxand that he could afford now to pay me well forkeeping mymouth shut.
"Ifound out where he was through a sailor man that had met himin Londonand down I went to squeeze him. The first night hewasreasonable enoughand was ready to give me what would makeme free ofthe sea for life. We were to fix it all two nightslater. When I came I found him three parts drunk and in a viletemper. We sat down and we drank and we yarned about old timesbut themore he drank the less I liked the look on his face.I spottedthat harpoon upon the walland I thought I mightneed itbefore I was through. Then at last he broke out at mespittingand cursingwith murder in his eyes and a greatclasp-knifein his hand. He had not time to get it from thesheathbefore I had the harpoon through him. Heavens! whata yell hegave; and his face gets between me and my sleep!I stoodtherewith his blood splashing round meand I waitedfor a bit;but all was quietso I took heart once more.I lookedroundand there was the tin box on a shelf. I had asmuch rightto it as Peter Careyanyhowso I took it with me andleft thehut. Like a fool I left my baccy-pouch upon the table.
"NowI'll tell you the queerest part of the whole story.I hadhardly got outside the hut when I heard someone comingand I hidamong the bushes. A man came slinking alongwent intothe hutgave a cry as if he had seen a ghostand leggedit as hard as he could run until he was out of sight.Who he wasor what he wanted is more than I can tell.For mypart I walked ten milesgot a train at Tunbridge Wellsand soreached Londonand no one the wiser.
"Wellwhen I came to examine the box I found there was no moneyin itandnothing but papers that I would not dare to sell.I had lostmy hold on Black Peterand was stranded in Londonwithout ashilling. There was only my trade left. I saw theseadvertisementsabout harpooners and high wagesso I went totheshipping agentsand they sent me here. That's all I knowand I sayagain that if I killed Black Peter the law should giveme thanksfor I saved them the price of a hempen rope."
"Avery clear statement" said Holmesrising and lightinghis pipe. "I thinkHopkinsthat you should lose no timeinconveying your prisoner to a place of safety. This roomis notwell adapted for a celland Mr. Patrick Cairns occupiestoo largea proportion of our carpet."
"Mr.Holmes" said Hopkins"I do not know how to expressmygratitude. Even now I do not understand how you attainedthisresult."
"Simplyby having the good fortune to get the right clue fromthebeginning. It is very possible if I had known about thisnote-bookit might have led away my thoughtsas it did yours.But all Iheard pointed in the one direction. The amazingstrengththe skill in the use of the harpoonthe rum andwatertheseal-skin tobacco-pouchwith the coarse tobacco --all thesepointed to a seamanand one who had been a whaler.I wasconvinced that the initials `P.C.' upon the pouch wereacoincidenceand not those of Peter Careysince he seldomsmokedand no pipe was found in his cabin. You remember thatI askedwhether whisky and brandy were in the cabin. You saidtheywere. How many landsmen are there who would drink rum whenthey couldget these other spirits? YesI was certain it wasa seaman."
"Andhow did you find him?"
"Mydear sirthe problem had become a very simple one. If itwere aseamanit could only be a seaman who had been with himon the SEAUNICORN. So far as I could learn he had sailed in noothership. I spent three days in wiring to Dundeeand at theend ofthat time I had ascertained the names of the crew of theSEAUNICORN in 1883. When I found Patrick Cairns among theharpoonersmy research was nearing its end. I argued that theman wasprobably in Londonand that he would desire to leavethecountry for a time. I therefore spent some days in theEast-enddevised an Arctic expeditionput forth tempting termsforharpooners who would serve under Captain Basil -- and beholdtheresult!"
"Wonderful!"cried Hopkins. "Wonderful!"
"Youmust obtain the release of young Neligan as soon as possible"saidHolmes. "I confess that I think you owe him some apology.The tinbox must be returned to himbutof coursethe securitieswhichPeter Carey has sold are lost for ever. There's the cabHopkinsand you can remove your man. If you want me for the trialmy addressand that of Watson will be somewhere in Norway --I'll sendparticulars later."
IT isyears since the incidents of which I speak took placeand yet itis with diffidence that I allude to them. For a longtimeevenwith the utmost discretion and reticenceit wouldhave beenimpossible to make the facts public; but now theprincipalperson concerned is beyond the reach of human lawand withdue suppression the story may be told in such fashionas toinjure no one. It records an absolutely unique experiencein thecareer both of Mr. Sherlock Holmes and of myself. Thereaderwill excuse me if I conceal the date or any other factby whichhe might trace the actual occurrence.
We hadbeen out for one of our evening ramblesHolmes and Iand hadreturned about six o'clock on a coldfrosty winter'sevening. As Holmes turned up the lamp the light fell upona card onthe table. He glanced at itand thenwith anejaculationof disgustthrew it on the floor.I pickedit up and read:--
CHARLES AUGUSTUS MILVERTON APPLEDORE TOWERS AGENT. HAMPSTEAD.
"Whois he?" I asked.
"Theworst man in London" Holmes answeredas he sat down andstretchedhis legs before the fire. "Is anything on the backof thecard?"
I turnedit over.
"Willcall at 6.30 -- C.A.M." I read.
"Hum! He's about due. Do you feel a creepingshrinkingsensationWatsonwhen you stand before the serpents in theZoo andsee the slitheryglidingvenomous creatureswiththeirdeadly eyes and wickedflattened faces? Wellthat's howMilvertonimpresses me. I've had to do with fifty murderers inmy careerbut the worst of them never gave me the repulsionwhich Ihave for this fellow. And yet I can't get out of doingbusinesswith him -- indeedhe is here at my invitation."
"Butwho is he?"
"I'lltell youWatson. He is the king of all the blackmailers.Heavenhelp the manand still more the womanwhose secret andreputationcome into the power of Milverton. With a smilingface and aheart of marble he will squeeze and squeeze until hehasdrained them dry. The fellow is a genius in his wayandwould havemade his mark in some more savoury trade. His methodis asfollows: He allows it to be known that he is prepared topay veryhigh sums for letters which compromise people of wealthorposition. He receives these wares not only from treacherousvalets ormaidsbut frequently from genteel ruffians who havegained theconfidence and affection of trusting women.He dealswith no niggard hand. I happen to know that he paidsevenhundred pounds to a footman for a note two lines in lengthand thatthe ruin of a noble family was the result. Everythingwhich isin the market goes to Milvertonand there are hundredsin thisgreat city who turn white at his name. No one knowswhere hisgrip may fallfor he is far too rich and far toocunning towork from hand to mouth. He will hold a card backfor yearsin order to play it at the moment when the stake isbest worthwinning. I have said that he is the worst man inLondonand I would ask you how could one compare the ruffianwho in hotblood bludgeons his mate with this manwhomethodicallyand at his leisure tortures the soul and wringsthe nervesin order to add to his already swollen money-bags?"
I hadseldom heard my friend speak with such intensity of feeling.
"Butsurely" said I"the fellow must be within the graspof thelaw?"
"Technicallyno doubtbut practically not. What would itprofit awomanfor exampleto get him a few months'imprisonmentif her own ruin must immediately follow? Hisvictimsdare not hit back. If ever he blackmailed an innocentpersonthenindeedwe should have him; but he is as cunningas theEvil One. Nono; we must find other ways to fight him."
"Andwhy is he here?"
"Becausean illustrious client has placed her piteous casein myhands. It is the Lady Eva Brackwellthe most beautifulDEBUTANTEof last season. She is to be married in a fortnightto theEarl of Dovercourt. This fiend has several imprudentletters --imprudentWatsonnothing worse -- which werewritten toan impecunious young squire in the country.They wouldsuffice to break off the match. Milverton will sendtheletters to the Earl unless a large sum of money is paid him.I havebeen commissioned to meet himand -- to make the bestterms Ican."
At thatinstant there was a clatter and a rattle in the streetbelow. Looking down I saw a stately carriage and pairthebrilliantlamps gleaming on the glossy haunches of the noblechestnuts. A footman opened the doorand a smallstout manin ashaggy astrachan overcoat descended. A minute later hewas in theroom.
CharlesAugustus Milverton was a man of fiftywith a largeintellectualheada roundplumphairless facea perpetualfrozensmileand two keen grey eyeswhich gleamed brightlyfrombehind broadgolden-rimmed glasses. There was somethingof Mr.Pickwick's benevolence in his appearancemarred only bytheinsincerity of the fixed smile and by the hard glitter ofthoserestless and penetrating eyes. His voice was as smoothand suaveas his countenanceas he advanced with a plump littlehandextendedmurmuring his regret for having missed us at hisfirstvisit. Holmes disregarded the outstretched hand andlooked athim with a face of granite. Milverton's smilebroadened;he shrugged his shouldersremoved his overcoatfolded itwith great deliberation over the back of a chairand thentook a seat.
"Thisgentleman?" said hewith a wave in my direction."Isit discreet? Is it right?"
"Dr.Watson is my friend and partner."
"VerygoodMr. Holmes. It is only in your client's intereststhat Iprotested. The matter is so very delicate ----"
"Dr.Watson has already heard of it."
"Thenwe can proceed to business. You say that you are actingfor LadyEva. Has she empowered you to accept my terms?"
"Whatare your terms?"
"Mydear sirit is painful for me to discuss it; but if themoney isnot paid on the 14th there certainly will be nomarriageon the 18th." His insufferable smile was morecomplacentthan ever.
Holmesthought for a little.
"Youappear to me" he saidat last"to be taking matters toomuch forgranted. I amof coursefamiliar with the contentsof theseletters. My client will certainly do what I mayadvise. I shall counsel her to tell her future husband thewholestory and to trust to his generosity."
"Youevidently do not know the Earl" said he.
From thebaffled look upon Holmes's face I could see clearlythat hedid.
"Whatharm is there in the letters?" he asked.
"Theyare sprightly -- very sprightly" Milverton answered."Thelady was a charming correspondent. But I can assure youthat theEarl of Dovercourt would fail to appreciate them.Howeversince you think otherwisewe will let it rest at that.It ispurely a matter of business. If you think that it is inthe bestinterests of your client that these letters shouldbe placedin the hands of the Earlthen you would indeed befoolish topay so large a sum of money to regain them."He roseand seized his astrachan coat.
Holmes wasgrey with anger and mortification.
"Waita little" he said. "You go too fast. We wouldcertainlymake everyeffort to avoid scandal in so delicate a matter."
Milvertonrelapsed into his chair.
"Iwas sure that you would see it in that light" he purred.
"Atthe same time" Holmes continued"Lady Eva is not awealthywoman. I assure you that two thousand pounds would be a drainupon herresourcesand that the sum you name is utterly beyondherpower. I begthereforethat you will moderate yourdemandsand that you will return the letters at the price Iindicatewhich isI assure youthe highest that you can get."
Milverton'ssmile broadened and his eyes twinkled humorously.
"I amaware that what you say is true about the lady'sresources"said he. "At the same timeyou must admit thattheoccasion of a lady's marriage is a very suitable time forherfriends and relatives to make some little effort upon herbehalf. They may hesitate as to an acceptable wedding present.Let meassure them that this little bundle of letters would givemore joythan all the candelabra and butter-dishes in London."
"Itis impossible" said Holmes.
"Dearmedear mehow unfortunate!" cried Milvertontaking outa bulkypocket-book. "I cannot help thinking that ladies areill-advisedin not making an effort. Look at this!" He held upa littlenote with a coat-of-arms upon the envelope. "Thatbelongs to-- wellperhaps it is hardly fair to tell the nameuntilto-morrow morning. But at that time it will be in thehands ofthe lady's husband. And all because she will not finda beggarlysum which she could get by turning her diamonds intopaste. It IS such a pity. Nowyou remember the sudden end oftheengagement between the Honourable Miss Miles and ColonelDorking? Only two days before the wedding there was aparagraphin the MORNING POST to say that it was all off.And why? It is almost incrediblebut the absurd sum of twelvehundredpounds would have settled the whole question.Is it notpitiful? And here I find youa man of sensebogglingabout terms when your client's future and honour areat stake. You surprise meMr. Holmes."
"WhatI say is true" Holmes answered. "The money cannot befound. Surely it is better for you to take the substantial sumwhich Ioffer than to ruin this woman's careerwhich can profityou in noway?"
"Thereyou make a mistakeMr. Holmes. An exposure would profitmeindirectly to a considerable extent. I have eight or tensimilarcases maturing. If it was circulated among them thatI had madea severe example of the Lady Eva I should find all ofthem muchmore open to reason. You see my point?"
Holmessprang from his chair.
"Getbehind himWatson! Don't let him out! Nowsirlet ussee thecontents of that note-book."
Milvertonhad glided as quick as a rat to the side of the roomand stoodwith his back against the wall.
"Mr.HolmesMr. Holmes" he saidturning the front of his coatandexhibiting the butt of a large revolverwhich projectedfrom theinside pocket. "I have been expecting you to dosomethingoriginal. This has been done so oftenand what goodhas evercome from it? I assure you that I am armed to theteethandI am perfectly prepared to use my weaponsknowingthat thelaw will support me. Besidesyour supposition thatI wouldbring the letters here in a note-book is entirelymistaken. I would do nothing so foolish. And nowgentlemenI have oneor two little interviews this eveningand it is along driveto Hampstead." He stepped forwardtook up his coatlaid hishand on his revolverand turned to the door. I pickedup achairbut Holmes shook his head and I laid it down again.With bowa smileand a twinkle Milverton was out of the roomand a fewmoments after we heard the slam of the carriage doorand therattle of the wheels as he drove away.
Holmes satmotionless by the firehis hands buried deep in histrouserpocketshis chin sunk upon his breasthis eyes fixedupon theglowing embers. For half an hour he was silent andstill. Thenwith the gesture of a man who has taken hisdecisionhe sprang to his feet and passed into his bedroom.A littlelater a rakish young workman with a goatee beard and aswaggerlit his clay pipe at the lamp before descending into thestreet. "I'll be back some timeWatson" said heand vanishedinto thenight. I understood that he had opened his campaignagainstCharles Augustus Milverton; but I little dreamed thestrangeshape which that campaign was destined to take.
For somedays Holmes came and went at all hours in this attirebut beyonda remark that his time was spent at Hampsteadand thatit was not wastedI knew nothing of what he was doing.At lasthoweveron a wildtempestuous eveningwhen the windscreamedand rattled against the windowshe returned from hislastexpeditionand having removed his disguise he sat beforethe fireand laughed heartily in his silent inward fashion.
"Youwould not call me a marrying manWatson?"
"You'llbe interested to hear that I am engaged."
"Mydear fellow! I congrat ----"
"Surelyyou have gone too far?"
"Itwas a most necessary step. I am a plumber with a risingbusinessEscott by name. I have walked out with her eacheveningand I have talked with her. Good heavensthose talks!HoweverIhave got all I wanted. I know Milverton's house asI know thepalm of my hand."
Heshrugged his shoulders.
"Youcan't help itmy dear Watson. You must play your cardsas bestyou can when such a stake is on the table. HoweverI rejoiceto say that I have a hated rival who will certainlycut me outthe instant that my back is turned. What a splendidnight itis!"
"Youlike this weather?"
"Itsuits my purpose. WatsonI mean to burgle Milverton'shouseto-night."
I had acatching of the breathand my skin went cold at thewordswhich were slowly uttered in a tone of concentratedresolution. As a flash of lightning in the night shows up inan instantevery detail of a wide landscapeso at one glanceI seemedto see every possible result of such an action -- thedetectionthe capturethe honoured career ending inirreparablefailure and disgracemy friend himself lying atthe mercyof the odious Milverton.
"ForHeaven's sakeHolmesthink what you are doing" I cried.
"Mydear fellowI have given it every consideration. I amneverprecipitate in my actionsnor would I adopt so energeticand indeedso dangerous a course if any other were possible.Let uslook at the matter clearly and fairly. I suppose thatyou willadmit that the action is morally justifiablethoughtechnicallycriminal. To burgle his house is no more than toforciblytake his pocket-book -- an action in which you werepreparedto aid me."
I turnedit over in my mind.
"Yes"I said; "it is morally justifiable so long as our objectis to takeno articles save those which are used for an illegalpurpose."
"Exactly. Since it is morally justifiable I have only toconsiderthe question of personal risk. Surely a gentlemanshould notlay much stress upon this when a lady is in mostdesperateneed of his help?"
"Youwill be in such a false position."
"Wellthat is part of the risk. There is no other possible wayofregaining these letters. The unfortunate lady has not themoneyandthere are none of her people in whom she couldconfide. To-morrow is the last day of graceand unless we canget theletters to-night this villain will be as good as hisword andwill bring about her ruin. I mustthereforeabandonmy clientto her fate or I must play this last card. BetweenourselvesWatsonit's a sporting duel between this fellowMilvertonand me. He hadas you sawthe best of the firstexchanges;but my self-respect and my reputation are concernedto fightit to a finish."
"WellI don't like it; but I suppose it must be" said I."Whendo we start?"
"Youare not coming."
"Thenyou are not going" said I. "I give you my word ofhonour-- and Inever broke it in my life -- that I will take a cabstraightto the police-station and give you away unless you letme sharethis adventure with you."
"Youcan't help me."
"Howdo you know that? You can't tell what may happen.Anywaymyresolution is taken. Other people beside youhaveself-respect and even reputations."
Holmes hadlooked annoyedbut his brow clearedand he clappedme on theshoulder.
"Wellwellmy dear fellowbe it so. We have shared thesame roomfor some yearsand it would be amusing if we endedby sharingthe same cell. You knowWatsonI don't mindconfessingto you that I have always had an idea that I wouldhave madea highly efficient criminal. This is the chance of mylifetimein that direction. See here!" He took a neat littleleathercase out of a drawerand opening it he exhibiteda numberof shining instruments. "This is a first-classup-to-dateburgling kitwith nickel-plated jemmydiamond-tippedglass-cutteradaptable keysand every modern improvement whichthe marchof civilization demands. Heretoois my dark lantern.Everythingis in order. Have you a pair of silent shoes?"
"Ihave rubber-soled tennis shoes."
"Excellent. And a mask?"
"Ican make a couple out of black silk."
"Ican see that you have a strong natural turn for this sortof thing. Very good; do you make the masks. We shall have somecoldsupper before we start. It is now nine-thirty. At elevenwe shalldrive as far as Church Row. It is a quarter of anhour'swalk from there to Appledore Towers. We shall be at workbeforemidnight. Milverton is a heavy sleeper and retirespunctuallyat ten-thirty. With any luck we should be back hereby twowith the Lady Eva's letters in my pocket."
Holmes andI put on our dress-clothesso that we mightappear tobe two theatre-goers homeward bound. In Oxford Streetwe pickedup a hansom and drove to an address in Hampstead.Here wepaid off our caband with our great-coats buttoned upfor it wasbitterly cold and the wind seemed to blow through uswe walkedalong the edge of the Heath.
"It'sa business that needs delicate treatment" said Holmes."Thesedocuments are contained in a safe in the fellow's studyand thestudy is the ante-room of his bed-chamber. On the otherhandlikeall these stoutlittle men who do themselves wellhe is aplethoric sleeper. Agatha -- that's my FIANCEE -- saysit is ajoke in the servants' hall that it's impossible to wakethemaster. He has a secretary who is devoted to his interestsand neverbudges from the study all day. That's why we aregoing atnight. Then he has a beast of a dog which roams thegarden. I met Agatha late the last two eveningsand she locksthe bruteup so as to give me a clear run. This is the housethis bigone in its own grounds. Through the gate -- now tothe rightamong the laurels. We might put on our masks hereI think. You seethere is not a glimmer of light in any ofthewindowsand everything is working splendidly."
With ourblack silk face-coveringswhich turned us into two ofthe mosttruculent figures in Londonwe stole up to the silentgloomyhouse. A sort of tiled veranda extended along one sideof itlined by several windows and two doors.
"That'shis bedroom" Holmes whispered. "This door opensstraightinto the study. It would suit us bestbut it isbolted aswell as lockedand we should make too much noisegettingin. Come round here. There's a greenhouse whichopens intothe drawing-room."
The placewas lockedbut Holmes removed a circle of glass andturned thekey from the inside. An instant afterwards he hadclosed thedoor behind usand we had become felons in the eyesof thelaw. The thickwarm air of the conservatory and therichchoking fragrance of exotic plants took us by the throat.He seizedmy hand in the darkness and led me swiftly past banksof shrubswhich brushed against our faces. Holmes hadremarkablepowerscarefully cultivatedof seeing in the dark.Stillholding my hand in one of his he opened a doorand I wasvaguelyconscious that we had entered a large room in which acigar hadbeen smoked not long before. He felt his way amongthefurnitureopened another doorand closed it behind us.Puttingout my hand I felt several coats hanging from the walland Iunderstood that I was in a passage. We passed along itand Holmesvery gently opened a door upon the right-hand side.Somethingrushed out at us and my heart sprang into my mouthbut Icould have laughed when I realized that it was the cat.A fire wasburning in this new roomand again the air was heavywithtobacco smoke. Holmes entered on tiptoewaited for meto followand then very gently closed the door. We were inMilverton'sstudyand a PORTIERE at the farther side showedtheentrance to his bedroom.
It was agood fireand the room was illuminated by it.Near thedoor I saw the gleam of an electric switchbut itwasunnecessaryeven if it had been safeto turn it on.At oneside of the fireplace was a heavy curtainwhich coveredthe baywindow we had seen from outside. On the other side wasthe doorwhich communicated with the veranda. A desk stood in thecentrewith a turning chair of shining red leather. Oppositewas alarge bookcasewith a marble bust of Athene on the top.In thecorner between the bookcase and the wall there stood atall greensafethe firelight flashing back from the polishedbrassknobs upon its face. Holmes stole across and looked atit. Then he crept to the door of the bedroomand stood withslantinghead listening intently. No sound came from within.Meanwhileit had struck me that it would be wise to secure ourretreatthrough the outer doorso I examined it. To myamazementit was neither locked nor bolted! I touched Holmeson thearmand he turned his masked face in that direction.I saw himstartand he was evidently as surprised as I.
"Idon't like it" he whisperedputting his lips to my very ear."Ican't quite make it out. Anyhowwe have no time to lose."
"CanI do anything?"
"Yes;stand by the door. If you hear anyone comebolt iton theinsideand we can get away as we came. If they comethe otherwaywe can get through the door if our job is doneor hidebehind these window curtains if it is not. Do youunderstand?"
I noddedand stood by the door. My first feeling of fear hadpassedawayand I thrilled now with a keener zest than I hadeverenjoyed when we were the defenders of the law instead ofitsdefiers. The high object of our missionthe consciousnessthat itwas unselfish and chivalrousthe villainous characterof ouropponentall added to the sporting interest of theadventure. Far from feeling guiltyI rejoiced and exultedin ourdangers. With a glow of admiration I watched Holmesunrollinghis case of instruments and choosing his tool with thecalmscientific accuracy of a surgeon who performs a delicateoperation. I knew that the opening of safes was a particularhobby withhimand I understood the joy which it gave him to beconfrontedwith this green and gold monsterthe dragon whichheld inits maw the reputations of many fair ladies. Turning upthe cuffsof his dress-coat -- he had placed his overcoat on achair --Holmes laid out two drillsa jemmyand severalskeletonkeys. I stood at the centre door with my eyes glancingat each ofthe othersready for any emergency; thoughindeedmy planswere somewhat vague as to what I should do if we wereinterrupted. For half an hour Holmes worked with concentratedenergylaying down one toolpicking up anotherhandling eachwith thestrength and delicacy of the trained mechanic. FinallyI heard aclickthe broad green door swung openand insideI had aglimpse of a number of paper packetseach tiedsealedandinscribed. Holmes picked one outbut it was hard to readby theflickering fireand he drew out his little dark lanternfor it wastoo dangerouswith Milverton in the next roomtoswitch onthe electric light. Suddenly I saw him haltlistenintentlyand then in an instant he had swung the door of thesafe topicked up his coatstuffed his tools into the pocketsand dartedbehind the window curtainmotioning me to do the same.
It wasonly when I had joined him there that I heard what hadalarmedhis quicker senses. There was a noise somewhere withinthehouse. A door slammed in the distance. Then a confuseddullmurmur broke itself into the measured thud of heavyfootstepsrapidly approaching. They were in the passage outsidethe room. They paused at the door. The door opened. There wasa sharpsnick as the electric light was turned on. The doorclosedonce moreand the pungent reek of a strong cigar wasborne toour nostrils. Then the footsteps continued backwardsandforwardsbackwards and forwardswithin a few yards of us.Finallythere was a creak from a chairand the footsteps ceased.Then a keyclicked in a lock and I heard the rustle of papers.
So far Ihad not dared to look outbut now I gently parted thedivisionof the curtains in front of me and peeped through.From thepressure of Holmes's shoulder against mine I knewthat hewas sharing my observations. Right in front of usand almostwithin our reachwas the broadrounded back ofMilverton. It was evident that we had entirely miscalculatedhismovementsthat he had never been to his bedroombut thathe hadbeen sitting up in some smoking or billiard room in thefartherwing of the housethe windows of which we had not seen.His broadgrizzled headwith its shining patch of baldnesswas in theimmediate foreground of our vision. He was leaningfar backin the red leather chairhis legs outstretcheda longblackcigar projecting at an angle from his mouth. He wore asemi-militarysmoking jacketclaret-colouredwith a blackvelvetcollar. In his hand he held a long legal documentwhichhe wasreading in an indolent fashionblowing rings of tobaccosmoke fromhis lips as he did so. There was no promise of aspeedydeparture in his composed bearing and his comfortableattitude.
I feltHolmes's hand steal into mine and give me a reassuringshakeasif to say that the situation was within his powers andthat hewas easy in his mind. I was not sure whether he hadseen whatwas only too obvious from my positionthat the doorof thesafe was imperfectly closedand that Milverton might atany momentobserve it. In my own mind I had determined that ifI weresurefrom the rigidity of his gazethat it had caughthis eyeIwould at once spring outthrow my great-coatover hisheadpinion himand leave the rest to Holmes.ButMilverton never looked up. He was languidly interestedby thepapers in his handand page after page was turned as hefollowedthe argument of the lawyer. At leastI thoughtwhenhe hasfinished the document and the cigar he will go to hisroom; butbefore he had reached the end of either there camearemarkable development which turned our thoughts into quiteanotherchannel.
Severaltimes I had observed that Milverton looked at hiswatchandonce he had risen and sat down againwith a gestureofimpatience. The ideahoweverthat he might have anappointmentat so strange an hour never occurred to me untila faintsound reached my ears from the veranda outside.Milvertondropped his papers and sat rigid in his chair.The soundwas repeatedand then there came a gentle tapat thedoor. Milverton rose and opened it.
"Well"said hecurtly"you are nearly half an hour late."
So thiswas the explanation of the unlocked door and of thenocturnalvigil of Milverton. There was the gentle rustle ofa woman'sdress. I had closed the slit between the curtains asMilverton'sface had turned in our directionbut now I venturedverycarefully to open it once more. He had resumed his seatthe cigarstill projecting at an insolent angle from the cornerof hismouth. In front of himin the full glare of theelectriclightthere stood a tallslimdark womana veilover herfacea mantle drawn round her chin. Her breath camequick andfastand every inch of the lithe figure was quiveringwithstrong emotion.
"Well"said Milverton"you've made me lose a good night's restmy dear. I hope you'll prove worth it. You couldn't come anyother time-- eh?"
The womanshook her head.
"Wellif you couldn't you couldn't. If the Countess is ahardmistress you have your chance to get level with her now.Bless thegirlwhat are you shivering about? That's right!Pullyourself together! Nowlet us get down to business."He took anote from the drawer of his desk. "You say thatyou havefive letters which compromise the Countess d'Albert.You wantto sell them. I want to buy them. So far so good.It onlyremains to fix a price. I should want to inspect thelettersof course. If they are really good specimens ---Greatheavensis it you?"
The womanwithout a word had raised her veil and dropped themantlefrom her chin. It was a darkhandsomeclear-cut facewhichconfronted Milvertona face with a curved nosestrongdarkeyebrows shading hardglittering eyesand a straightthin-lippedmouth set in a dangerous smile.
"Itis I" she said; "the woman whose life you have ruined."
Milvertonlaughedbut fear vibrated in his voice. "You wereso veryobstinate" said he. "Why did you drive me to suchextremities? I assure you I wouldn't hurt a fly of my ownaccordbut every man has his businessand what was I to do?I put theprice well within your means. You would not pay."
"Soyou sent the letters to my husbandand he -- the noblestgentlemanthat ever liveda man whose boots I was never worthyto lace --he broke his gallant heart and died. You rememberthat lastnight when I came through that door I begged andprayed youfor mercyand you laughed in my face as you aretrying tolaugh nowonly your coward heart cannot keep yourlips fromtwitching? Yesyou never thought to see me hereagainbutit was that night which taught me how I could meetyou faceto faceand alone. WellCharles Milvertonwhat haveyou tosay?"
"Don'timagine that you can bully me" said herising tohis feet. "I have only to raise my voiceand I could callmyservants and have you arrested. But I will make allowancefor yournatural anger. Leave the room at once as you cameand I willsay no more."
The womanstood with her hand buried in her bosomand the samedeadlysmile on her thin lips.
"Youwill ruin no more lives as you ruined mine. You will wringno morehearts as you wrung mine. I will free the world of apoisonousthing. Take thatyou houndand that! -- and that!-- andthat!"
She haddrawn a littlegleaming revolverand emptied barrelafterbarrel into Milverton's bodythe muzzle within two feetof hisshirt front. He shrank away and then fell forward uponthe tablecoughing furiously and clawing among the papers.Then hestaggered to his feetreceived another shotand rolledupon thefloor. "You've done me" he criedand lay still.The womanlooked at him intently and ground her heel into hisupturnedface. She looked againbut there was no sound ormovement. I heard a sharp rustlethe night air blew into theheatedroomand the avenger was gone.
Nointerference upon our part could have saved the man fromhis fate;but as the woman poured bullet after bullet intoMilverton'sshrinking body I was about to spring outwhen IfeltHolmes's coldstrong grasp upon my wrist. I understoodthe wholeargument of that firmrestraining grip -- that it wasno affairof ours; that justice had overtaken a villain; that wehad ourown duties and our own objects which were not to be lostsight of. But hardly had the woman rushed from the room whenHolmeswith swiftsilent stepswas over at the other door.He turnedthe key in the lock. At the same instant we heardvoices inthe house and the sound of hurrying feet. Therevolvershots had roused the household. With perfect coolnessHolmesslipped across to the safefilled his two arms withbundles oflettersand poured them all into the fire. Againand againhe did ituntil the safe was empty. Someone turnedthe handleand beat upon the outside of the door. Holmes lookedswiftlyround. The letter which had been the messenger of deathforMilverton layall mottled with his bloodupon the table.Holmestossed it in among the blazing papers. Then he drew thekey fromthe outer doorpassed through after meand locked iton theoutside. "This wayWatson" said he; "we canscale thegardenwall in this direction."
I couldnot have believed that an alarm could have spread soswiftly. Looking backthe huge house was one blaze of light.The frontdoor was openand figures were rushing down thedrive. The whole garden was alive with peopleand one fellowraised aview-halloa as we emerged from the veranda and followedhard atour heels. Holmes seemed to know the ground perfectlyand hethreaded his way swiftly among a plantation of smalltreesIclose at his heelsand our foremost pursuer pantingbehindus. It was a six-foot wall which barred our pathbut hesprang tothe top and over. As I did the same I felt the handof the manbehind me grab at my ankle; but I kicked myself freeandscrambled over a glass-strewn coping. I fell upon my faceamong somebushes; but Holmes had me on my feet in an instantandtogether we dashed away across the huge expanse of HampsteadHeath. We had run two milesI supposebefore Holmes at lasthalted andlistened intently. All was absolute silence behind us.We hadshaken off our pursuers and were safe.
We hadbreakfasted and were smoking our morning pipe on theday afterthe remarkable experience which I have recorded whenMr.Lestradeof Scotland Yardvery solemn and impressivewasushered into our modest sitting-room.
"GoodmorningMr. Holmes" said he; "good morning.May I askif you are very busy just now?"
"Nottoo busy to listen to you."
"Ithought thatperhapsif you had nothing particular on handyou mightcare to assist us in a most remarkable case whichoccurredonly last night at Hampstead."
"Dearme!" said Holmes. "What was that?"
"Amurder -- a most dramatic and remarkable murder. I know howkeen youare upon these thingsand I would take it as a greatfavour ifyou would step down to Appledore Towers and give usthebenefit of your advice. It is no ordinary crime. We havehad oureyes upon this Mr. Milverton for some timeandbetweenourselveshe was a bit of a villain. He is known to have heldpaperswhich he used for blackmailing purposes. These papershave allbeen burned by the murderers. No article of value wastakenasit is probable that the criminals were men of goodpositionwhose sole object was to prevent social exposure."
"Criminals!"said Holmes. "Plural!"
"Yesthere were two of them. They wereas nearly as possiblecapturedred-handed. We have their foot-markswe have theirdescription;it's ten to one that we trace them. The firstfellow wasa bit too activebut the second was caught by theunder-gardenerand only got away after a struggle. He was amiddle-sizedstrongly-built man -- square jawthick neckmoustachea mask over his eyes."
"That'srather vague" said Sherlock Holmes."Whyit might be a description of Watson!"
"It'strue" said the inspectorwith much amusement."Itmight be a description of Watson."
"WellI am afraid I can't help youLestrade" said Holmes."Thefact is that I knew this fellow Milvertonthat Iconsideredhim one of the most dangerous men in Londonand thatI thinkthere are certain crimes which the law cannot touchand whichthereforeto some extentjustify private revenge.Noit'sno use arguing. I have made up my mind. My sympathiesare withthe criminals rather than with the victimand I willnot handlethis case."
Holmes hadnot said one word to me about the tragedy which wehadwitnessedbut I observed all the morning that he was in hismostthoughtful moodand he gave me the impressionfrom hisvacanteyes and his abstracted mannerof a man who is strivingto recallsomething to his memory. We were in the middle of ourlunch whenhe suddenly sprang to his feet. "By JoveWatson;I've gotit!" he cried. "Take your hat! Come with me!"He hurriedat his top speed down Baker Street and along OxfordStreetuntil we had almost reached Regent Circus. Here on theleft handthere stands a shop window filled with photographs ofthecelebrities and beauties of the day. Holmes's eyes fixedthemselvesupon one of themand following his gaze I saw thepicture ofa regal and stately lady in Court dresswith a highdiamondtiara upon her noble head. I looked at thatdelicately-curvednoseat the marked eyebrowsat the straightmouthandthe strong little chin beneath it. Then I caught mybreath asI read the time-honoured title of the great noblemanandstatesman whose wife she had been. My eyes met those of Holmesand he puthis finger to his lips as we turned away from the window.
IT was novery unusual thing for Mr. Lestradeof Scotland Yardto look inupon us of an eveningand his visits were welcome toSherlockHolmesfor they enabled him to keep in touch with allthat wasgoing on at the police head-quarters. In return forthe newswhich Lestrade would bringHolmes was always ready tolistenwith attention to the details of any case upon which thedetectivewas engagedand was able occasionallywithout anyactiveinterferenceto give some hint or suggestion drawn fromhis ownvast knowledge and experience.
On thisparticular evening Lestrade had spoken of the weatherand thenewspapers. Then he had fallen silentpuffingthoughtfullyat his cigar. Holmes looked keenly at him.
"Anythingremarkable on hand?" he asked.
"OhnoMr. Holmesnothing very particular."
"Thentell me about it."
"WellMr. Holmesthere is no use denying that there ISsomethingon my mind. And yet it is such an absurd businessthat Ihesitated to bother you about it. On the other handalthoughit is trivialit is undoubtedly queerand I know thatyou have ataste for all that is out of the common. But in myopinion itcomes more in Dr. Watson's line than ours."
"Madnessanyhow. And a queer madness too! You wouldn't thinkthere wasanyone living at this time of day who had such ahatred ofNapoleon the First that he would break any image ofhim thathe could see."
Holmessank back in his chair.
"That'sno business of mine" said he.
"Exactly. That's what I said. But thenwhen the man commitsburglaryin order to break images which are not his ownthatbrings itaway from the doctor and on to the policeman."
Holmes satup again.
"Burglary! This is more interesting. Let me hear the details."
Lestradetook out his official note-book and refreshed hismemoryfrom its pages.
"Thefirst case reported was four days ago" said he. "Itwasat theshop of Morse Hudsonwho has a place for the sale ofpicturesand statues in the Kennington Road. The assistant hadleft thefront shop for an instant when he heard a crashandhurryingin he found a plaster bust of Napoleonwhich stoodwithseveral other works of art upon the counterlying shiveredintofragments. He rushed out into the roadbutalthoughseveralpassers-by declared that they had noticed a man run outof theshophe could neither see anyone nor could he find anymeans ofidentifying the rascal. It seemed to be one of thosesenselessacts of Hooliganism which occur from time to timeand it wasreported to the constable on the beat as such.Theplaster cast was not worth more than a few shillingsand thewhole affair appeared to be too childish for anyparticularinvestigation.
"Thesecond casehoweverwas more serious and also moresingular. It occurred only last night.
"InKennington Roadand within a few hundred yards of MorseHudson'sshopthere lives a well-known medical practitionernamed Dr.Barnicotwho has one of the largest practices uponthe southside of the Thames. His residence and principalconsulting-roomis at Kennington Roadbut he has a branchsurgeryand dispensary at Lower Brixton Roadtwo miles away.This Dr.Barnicot is an enthusiastic admirer of Napoleonandhis houseis full of bookspicturesand relics of the FrenchEmperor. Some little time ago he purchased from Morse Hudsontwoduplicate plaster casts of the famous head of Napoleon bythe FrenchsculptorDevine. One of these he placed in hishall inthe house at Kennington Roadand the other on themantelpieceof the surgery at Lower Brixton. Wellwhen Dr.Barnicotcame down this morning he was astonished to find thathis househad been burgled during the nightbut that nothinghad beentaken save the plaster head from the hall. It had beencarriedout and had been dashed savagely against the gardenwallunder which its splintered fragments were discovered."
Holmesrubbed his hands.
"Thisis certainly very novel" said he.
"Ithought it would please you. But I have not got to the endyet. Dr.Barnicot was due at his surgery at twelve o'clockand youcan imagine his amazement whenon arriving therehe foundthat the window had been opened in the nightand thatthe brokenpieces of his second bust were strewn all over the room.It hadbeen smashed to atoms where it stood. In neither casewere thereany signs which could give us a clue as to thecriminalor lunatic who had done the mischief. NowMr. Holmesyou havegot the facts."
"Theyare singularnot to say grotesque" said Holmes."MayI ask whether the two busts smashed in Dr. Barnicot'srooms werethe exact duplicates of the one which was destroyedin MorseHudson's shop?"
"Theywere taken from the same mould."
"Sucha fact must tell against the theory that the man whobreaksthem is influenced by any general hatred of Napoleon.Consideringhow many hundreds of statues of the great Emperormust existin Londonit is too much to suppose such acoincidenceas that a promiscuous iconoclast should chanceto beginupon three specimens of the same bust."
"WellI thought as you do" said Lestrade. "On the otherhandthis MorseHudson is the purveyor of busts in that part ofLondonand these three were the only ones which had been in hisshop foryears. Soalthoughas you saythere are manyhundredsof statues in Londonit is very probable that thesethree werethe only ones in that district. Thereforea localfanaticwould begin with them. What do you thinkDr. Watson?"
"Thereare no limits to the possibilities of monomania"Ianswered. "There is the condition which the modern Frenchpsychologistshave called the `idee fixe' which may be triflingincharacterand accompanied by complete sanity in every otherway. A man who had read deeply about Napoleonor who hadpossiblyreceived some hereditary family injury through thegreat warmight conceivably form such an `idee fixe' and underitsinfluence be capable of any fantastic outrage."
"Thatwon't domy dear Watson" said Holmesshaking his head;"forno amount of `idee fixe' would enable your interestingmonomaniacto find out where these busts were situated."
"Wellhow do YOU explain it?"
"Idon't attempt to do so. I would only observe that there is acertainmethod in the gentleman's eccentric proceedings. Forexamplein Dr. Barnicot's hallwhere a sound might arouse thefamilythe bust was taken outside before being brokenwhereasin thesurgerywhere there was less danger of an alarmit wassmashedwhere it stood. The affair seems absurdly triflingandyet I darecall nothing trivial when I reflect that some of mymostclassic cases have had the least promising commencement.You willrememberWatsonhow the dreadful business of theAbernettyfamily was first brought to my notice by the depthwhich theparsley had sunk into the butter upon a hot day.I can'taffordthereforeto smile at your three broken bustsLestradeand I shall be very much obliged to you if you willlet mehear of any fresh developments of so singular a chainofevents."
Thedevelopment for which my friend had asked came in a quickerand aninfinitely more tragic form than he could have imagined.I wasstill dressing in my bedroom next morning when there wasa tap atthe door and Holmes entereda telegram in his hand.He read italoud:--
"Comeinstantly131Pitt StreetKensington. -- Lestrade."
"Whatis itthen?" I asked.
"Don'tknow -- may be anything. But I suspect it is thesequel ofthe story of the statues. In that case our friendtheimage-breakerhas begun operations in another quarter ofLondon. There's coffee on the tableWatsonand I have a cabat thedoor."
In half anhour we had reached Pitt Streeta quiet littlebackwaterjust beside one of the briskest currents of Londonlife. No. 131 was one of a rowall flat-chestedrespectableand mostunromantic dwellings. As we drove up we found therailingsin front of the house lined by a curious crowd.Holmeswhistled.
"ByGeorge! it's attempted murder at the least. Nothing lesswill holdthe London message-boy. There's a deed of violenceindicatedin that fellow's round shoulders and outstretchedneck. What's thisWatson? The top steps swilled down and theother onesdry. Footsteps enoughanyhow! Wellwellthere'sLestradeat the front windowand we shall soon know all about it."
Theofficial received us with a very grave face and showed usinto asitting-roomwhere an exceedingly unkempt and agitatedelderlymanclad in a flannel dressing-gownwas pacing up anddown. He was introduced to us as the owner of the house --Mr. HoraceHarkerof the Central Press Syndicate.
"It'sthe Napoleon bust business again" said Lestrade."Youseemed interested last nightMr. Holmesso I thoughtperhapsyou would be glad to be present now that the affairhas takena very much graver turn."
"Whathas it turned tothen?"
"Tomurder. Mr. Harkerwill you tell these gentlemen exactlywhat hasoccurred?"
The man inthe dressing-gown turned upon us with a mostmelancholyface.
"It'san extraordinary thing" said he"that all my life I havebeencollecting other people's newsand now that a real pieceof newshas come my own way I am so confused and bothered thatI can'tput two words together. If I had come in here as ajournalistI should have interviewed myself and had two columnsin everyevening paper. As it is I am giving away valuable copyby tellingmy story over and over to a string of different peopleand I canmake no use of it myself. HoweverI've heard your nameMr.Sherlock Holmesand if you'll only explain this queer businessI shall bepaid for my trouble in telling you the story."
Holmes satdown and listened.
"Itall seems to centre round that bust of Napoleon which Ibought forthis very room about four months ago. I picked it upcheap fromHarding Brotherstwo doors from the High StreetStation. A great deal of my journalistic work is done at nightand Ioften write until the early morning. So it was to-day.I wassitting in my denwhich is at the back of the top of thehouseabout three o'clockwhen I was convinced that I heardsomesounds downstairs. I listenedbut they were not repeatedand Iconcluded that they came from outside. Then suddenlyabout fiveminutes laterthere came a most horrible yell -- themostdreadful soundMr. Holmesthat ever I heard. It willring in myears as long as I live. I sat frozen with horror fora minuteor two. Then I seized the poker and went downstairs.When Ientered this room I found the window wide openand I atonceobserved that the bust was gone from the mantelpiece.Why anyburglar should take such a thing passes my understandingfor it wasonly a plaster cast and of no real value whatever.
"Youcan see for yourself that anyone going out through thatopenwindow could reach the front doorstep by taking a longstride. This was clearly what the burglar had doneso I wentround andopened the door. Stepping out into the dark I nearlyfell overa dead man who was lying there. I ran back for alightandthere was the poor fellowa great gash in his throatand thewhole place swimming in blood. He lay on his backhiskneesdrawn upand his mouth horribly open. I shall see him inmydreams. I had just time to blow on my police-whistleandthen Imust have faintedfor I knew nothing more until I foundthepoliceman standing over me in the hall."
"Wellwho was the murdered man?" asked Holmes.
"There'snothing to show who he was" said Lestrade. "Youshallsee thebody at the mortuarybut we have made nothing of it upto now. He is a tall mansunburnedvery powerfulnot morethanthirty. He is poorly dressedand yet does not appear tobe alabourer. A horn-handled clasp knife was lying in a poolof bloodbeside him. Whether it was the weapon which did thedeedorwhether it belonged to the dead manI do not know.There wasno name on his clothingand nothing in his pocketssave anapplesome stringa shilling map of Londonand aphotograph. Here it is."
It wasevidently taken by a snap-shot from a small camera.Itrepresented an alertsharp-featured simian man with thickeyebrowsand a very peculiar projection of the lower part ofthe facelike the muzzle of a baboon.
"Andwhat became of the bust?" asked Holmesafter a carefulstudy ofthis picture.
"Wehad news of it just before you came. It has been foundin thefront garden of an empty house in Campden House Road.It wasbroken into fragments. I am going round now to see it.Will youcome?"
"Certainly. I must just take one look round." He examined thecarpet andthe window. "The fellow had either very long legs orwas a mostactive man" said he. "With an area beneathit wasno meanfeat to reach that window-ledge and open that window.Gettingback was comparatively simple. Are you coming with usto see theremains of your bustMr. Harker?"
Thedisconsolate journalist had seated himself at a writing-table.
"Imust try and make something of it" said he"though I haveno doubtthat the first editions of the evening papers are outalreadywith full details. It's like my luck! You rememberwhen thestand fell at Doncaster? WellI was the onlyjournalistin the standand my journal the only one that hadno accountof itfor I was too shaken to write it. And nowI'll betoo late with a murder done on my own doorstep."
As we leftthe room we heard his pen travelling shrilly overthefoolscap.
The spotwhere the fragments of the bust had been found was onlya fewhundred yards away. For the first time our eyes restedupon thispresentment of the great Emperorwhich seemed toraise suchfrantic and destructive hatred in the mind of theunknown. It lay scattered in splintered shards upon thegrass. Holmes picked up several of them and examined themcarefully. I was convinced from his intent face and hispurposefulmanner that at last he was upon a clue.
Holmesshrugged his shoulders.
"Wehave a long way to go yet" said he. "And yet -- andyet --wellwehave some suggestive facts to act upon. The possessionof thistrifling bust was worth more in the eyes of thisstrangecriminal than a human life. That is one point.Then thereis the singular fact that he did not break it in thehouseorimmediately outside the houseif to break it was hissoleobject."
"Hewas rattled and bustled by meeting this other fellow.He hardlyknew what he was doing."
"Wellthat's likely enough. But I wish to call your attentionveryparticularly to the position of this house in the gardenof whichthe bust was destroyed."
Lestradelooked about him.
"Itwas an empty houseand so he knew that he would not bedisturbedin the garden."
"Yesbut there is another empty house farther up the streetwhich hemust have passed before he came to this one. Why didhe notbreak it theresince it is evident that every yard thathe carriedit increased the risk of someone meeting him?"
"Igive it up" said Lestrade.
Holmespointed to the street lamp above our heads.
"Hecould see what he was doing here and he could not there.That washis reason."
"ByJove! that's true" said the detective. "Now that Icome tothink ofitDr. Barnicot's bust was broken not far from his redlamp. WellMr. Holmeswhat are we to do with that fact?"
"Toremember it -- to docket it. We may come on somethinglaterwhich will bear upon it. What steps do you proposeto takenowLestrade?"
"Themost practical way of getting at itin my opinionis toidentifythe dead man. There should be no difficulty aboutthat. When we have found who he is and who his associates arewe shouldhave a good start in learning what he was doing inPittStreet last nightand who it was who met him and killedhim on thedoorstep of Mr. Horace Harker. Don't you think so?"
"Nodoubt; and yet it is not quite the way in which I shouldapproachthe case."
"Whatwould you dothen?"
"Ohyou must not let me influence you in any way! I suggestthat yougo on your line and I on mine. We can compare notesafterwardsand each will supplement the other."
"Verygood" said Lestrade.
"Ifyou are going back to Pitt Street you might see Mr. HoraceHarker. Tell him from me that I have quite made up my mindand thatit is certain that a dangerous homicidal lunatic withNapoleonicdelusions was in his house last night. It will beuseful forhis article."
"Youdon't seriously believe that?"
"Don'tI? Wellperhaps I don't. But I am sure that it willinterestMr. Horace Harker and the subscribers of the CentralPressSyndicate. NowWatsonI think that we shall find thatwe have along and rather complex day's work before us.I shouldbe gladLestradeif you could make it convenient tomeet us atBaker Street at six o'clock this evening. Until thenI shouldlike to keep this photograph found in the dead man'spocket. It is possible that I may have to ask your company andassistanceupon a small expedition which will have be undertakento-nightif my chain of reasoning should prove to be correct.Untilthengood-bye and good luck!"
SherlockHolmes and I walked together to the High Streetwherehe stoppedat the shop of Harding Brotherswhence the bust hadbeenpurchased. A young assistant informed us that Mr. Hardingwould beabsent until after noonand that he was himself anewcomerwho could give us no information. Holmes's faceshowed hisdisappointment and annoyance.
"Wellwellwe can't expect to have it all our own wayWatson"he saidat last. "We must come back in the afternoonif Mr.Harding will not be here until then. I amas you haveno doubtsurmisedendeavouring to trace these busts to theirsourceinorder to find if there is not something peculiarwhich mayaccount for their remarkable fate. Let us make forMr. MorseHudsonof the Kennington Roadand see if he canthrow anylight upon the problem."
A drive ofan hour brought us to the picture-dealer'sestablishment. He was a smallstout man with a red faceand apeppery manner.
"Yessir. On my very countersir" said he. "Whatwe payrates andtaxes for I don't knowwhen any ruffian can come inand breakone's goods. Yessirit was I who sold Dr. Barnicothis twostatues. Disgracefulsir! A Nihilist plotthat'swhat Imake it. No one but an Anarchist would go about breakingstatues. Red republicansthat's what I call 'em. Who did Iget thestatues from? I don't see what that has to do with it.Wellifyou really want to knowI got them from Gelder and Co.in ChurchStreetStepney. They are a well-known house in thetradeandhave been this twenty years. How many had I?Three --two and one are three -- two of Dr. Barnicot's and onesmashed inbroad daylight on my own counter. Do I know thatphotograph? NoI don't. YesI dothough. Whyit's Beppo.He was akind of Italian piece-work manwho made himself usefulin theshop. He could carve a bit and gild and frameand doodd jobs. The fellow left me last weekand I've heard nothingof himsince. NoI don't know where he came from nor where hewent to. I have nothing against him while he was here. He wasgone twodays before the bust was smashed."
"Wellthat's all we could reasonably expect to get from MorseHudson"said Holmesas we emerged from the shop. "We have thisBeppo as acommon factorboth in Kennington and in Kensingtonso that isworth a ten-mile drive. NowWatsonlet us makefor Gelderand Co.of Stepneythe source and origin of busts.I shall besurprised if we don't get some help down there."
In rapidsuccession we passed through the fringe of fashionableLondonhotel Londontheatrical Londonliterary LondoncommercialLondonandfinallymaritime Londontill we cameto ariverside city of a hundred thousand soulswhere thetenementhouses swelter and reek with the outcasts of Europe.Herein abroad thoroughfareonce the abode of wealthy Citymerchantswe found the sculpture works for which we searched.Outsidewas a considerable yard full of monumental masonry.Inside wasa large room in which fifty workers were carving ormoulding. The managera big blond Germanreceived us civillyand gave aclear answer to all Holmes's questions. A referenceto hisbooks showed that hundreds of casts had been taken froma marblecopy of Devine's head of Napoleonbut that the threewhich hadbeen sent to Morse Hudson a year or so before had beenhalf of abatch of sixthe other three being sent to HardingBrothersof Kensington. There was no reason why those sixshould bedifferent to any of the other casts. He couldsuggest nopossible cause why anyone should wish to destroythem -- infacthe laughed at the idea. Their wholesale pricewas sixshillingsbut the retailer would get twelve or more.The castwas taken in two moulds from each side of the faceandthen thesetwo profiles of plaster of Paris were joined togetherto makethe complete bust. The work was usually done byItaliansin the room we were in. When finished the busts wereput on atable in the passage to dryand afterwards stored.That wasall he could tell us.
But theproduction of the photograph had a remarkable effectupon themanager. His face flushed with angerand his browsknottedover his blue Teutonic eyes.
"Ahthe rascal!" he cried. "YesindeedI know him verywell.This hasalways been a respectable establishmentand the onlytime thatwe have ever had the police in it was over this veryfellow. It was more than a year ago now. He knifed anotherItalian inthe streetand then he came to the works with thepolice onhis heelsand he was taken here. Beppo was hisname --his second name I never knew. Serve me right forengaging aman with such a face. But he was a good workmanone of thebest."
"Whatdid he get?"
"Theman lived and he got off with a year. I have no doubt he isout now;but he has not dared to show his nose here. We have acousin ofhis hereand I dare say he could tell you where he is."
"Nono" cried Holmes"not a word to the cousin -- not a wordI begyou. The matter is very importantand the farther I gowith itthe more important it seems to grow. When you referredin yourledger to the sale of those casts I observed that thedate wasJune 3rd of last year. Could you give me the date whenBeppo wasarrested?"
"Icould tell you roughly by the pay-list" the manageranswered. "Yes" he continuedafter some turning over ofpages"hewas paid last on May 20th."
"Thankyou" said Holmes. "I don't think that I need intrudeupon yourtime and patience any more." With a last word ofcautionthat he should say nothing as to our researches weturned ourfaces westward once more.
Theafternoon was far advanced before we were able to snatcha hastyluncheon at a restaurant. A news-bill at the entranceannounced"Kensington Outrage. Murder by a Madman" and thecontentsof the paper showed that Mr. Horace Harker had got hisaccountinto print after all. Two columns were occupied witha highlysensational and flowery rendering of the whole incident.Holmespropped it against the cruet-stand and read it while he ate.Once ortwice he chuckled.
"Thisis all rightWatson" said he. "Listen to this:`It issatisfactory to know that there can be no differenceof opinionupon this casesince Mr. Lestradeone of the mostexperiencedmembers of the official forceand Mr. SherlockHolmesthe well-known consulting experthave each come to theconclusionthat the grotesque series of incidentswhich haveended inso tragic a fashionarise from lunacy rather than fromdeliberatecrime. No explanation save mental aberration cancover thefacts.' The PressWatsonis a most valuableinstitutionif you only know how to use it. And nowif youhave quitefinishedwe will hark back to Kensington and seewhat themanager of Harding Brothers has to say to the matter."
Thefounder of that great emporium proved to be a briskcrisplittle personvery dapper and quickwith a clear headand aready tongue.
"YessirI have already read the account in the eveningpapers. Mr. Horace Harker is a customer of ours. We suppliedhim withthe bust some months ago. We ordered three busts ofthat sortfrom Gelder and Co.of Stepney. They are all sold now.To whom? OhI dare say by consulting our sales book we couldveryeasily tell you. Yeswe have the entries here. One toMr.Harkeryou seeand one to Mr. Josiah Brownof LaburnumLodgeLaburnum ValeChiswickand one to Mr. SandefordofLowerGrove RoadReading. NoI have never seen this facewhich youshow me in the photograph. You would hardly forgetitwouldyousirfor I've seldom seen an uglier. Have we anyItalianson the staff? Yessirwe have several among ourworkpeopleand cleaners. I dare say they might get a peep atthat salesbook if they wanted to. There is no particularreason forkeeping a watch upon that book. Wellwellit's averystrange businessand I hope that you'll let me know ifanythingcomes of your inquiries."
Holmes hadtaken several notes during Mr. Harding's evidenceand Icould see that he was thoroughly satisfied by the turnwhichaffairs were taking. He made no remarkhoweversavethatunless we hurriedwe should be late for our appointmentwithLestrade. Sure enoughwhen we reached Baker Street thedetectivewas already thereand we found him pacing up and downin a feverof impatience. His look of importance showed thathis day'swork had not been in vain.
"Well?"he asked. "What luckMr. Holmes?"
"Wehave had a very busy dayand not entirely a wasted one"my friendexplained. "We have seen both the retailers and alsothewholesale manufacturers. I can trace each of the busts nowfrom thebeginning."
"Thebusts!" cried Lestrade. "Wellwellyou have yourownmethodsMr. Sherlock Holmesand it is not for me to say awordagainst thembut I think I have done a better day's workthan you. I have identified the dead man."
"Youdon't say so?"
"Andfound a cause for the crime."
"Wehave an inspector who makes a specialty of Saffron Hill andtheItalian quarter. Wellthis dead man had some Catholicemblemround his neckand thatalong with his colourmade methink hewas from the South. Inspector Hill knew him the momenthe caughtsight of him. His name is Pietro Venuccifrom Naplesand he isone of the greatest cut-throats in London.He isconnected with the Mafiawhichas you knowis a secretpoliticalsocietyenforcing its decrees by murder. Now yousee howthe affair begins to clear up. The other fellow isprobablyan Italian alsoand a member of the Mafia. He hasbroken therules in some fashion. Pietro is set upon his track.Probablythe photograph we found in his pocket is the manhimselfso that he may not knife the wrong person. He dogsthefellowhe sees him enter a househe waits outside for himand in thescuffle he receives his own death-wound. How is thatMr.Sherlock Holmes?"
Holmesclapped his hands approvingly.
"ExcellentLestradeexcellent!" he cried. "But I didn't quitefollowyour explanation of the destruction of the busts."
"Thebusts! You never can get those busts out of your head.After allthat is nothing; petty larcenysix months at the most.It is themurder that we are really investigatingand I tellyou that Iam gathering all the threads into my hands."
"Andthe next stage?"
"Is avery simple one. I shall go down with Hill to the Italianquarterfind the man whose photograph we have gotand arresthim on thecharge of murder. Will you come with us?"
"Ithink not. I fancy we can attain our end in a simpler way.I can'tsay for certainbecause it all depends -- wellit alldependsupon a factor which is completely outside our control.But I havegreat hopes -- in factthe betting is exactly twoto one --that if you will come with us to-night I shall be ableto helpyou to lay him by the heels."
"Inthe Italian quarter?"
"No;I fancy Chiswick is an address which is more likely to findhim. If you will come with me to Chiswick to-nightLestradeI'llpromise to go to the Italian quarter with you to-morrowand noharm will be done by the delay. And now I think that afew hours'sleep would do us all goodfor I do not propose toleavebefore eleven o'clockand it is unlikely that we shallbe backbefore morning. You'll dine with usLestradeand thenyou arewelcome to the sofa until it is time for us to start.In themeantimeWatsonI should be glad if you would ring foran expressmessengerfor I have a letter to sendand it isimportantthat it should go at once."
Holmesspent the evening in rummaging among the files of theold dailypapers with which one of our lumber-rooms was packed.When atlast he descended it was with triumph in his eyesbut hesaid nothing to either of us as to the result of hisresearches. For my own partI had followed step by step themethods bywhich he had traced the various windings of thiscomplexcaseandthough I could not yet perceive the goalwhich wewould reachI understood clearly that Holmes expectedthisgrotesque criminal to make an attempt upon the tworemainingbustsone of whichI rememberedwas at Chiswick.No doubtthe object of our journey was to catch him in the veryactand Icould not but admire the cunning with which my friendhadinserted a wrong clue in the evening paperso as to givethe fellowthe idea that he could continue his scheme withimpunity. I was not surprised when Holmes suggested thatI shouldtake my revolver with me. He had himself picked upthe loadedhunting-crop which was his favourite weapon.
Afour-wheeler was at the door at elevenand in it we drove toa spot atthe other side of Hammersmith Bridge. Here the cabmanwasdirected to wait. A short walk brought us to a secludedroadfringed with pleasant houseseach standing in its owngrounds. In the light of a street lamp we read "Laburnum Villa"upon thegate-post of one of them. The occupants had evidentlyretired torestfor all was dark save for a fanlight over thehall doorwhich shed a single blurred circle on to the gardenpath. The wooden fence which separated the grounds from theroad threwa dense black shadow upon the inner sideand hereit wasthat we crouched.
"Ifear that you'll have a long wait" Holmes whispered."Wemay thank our stars that it is not raining. I don't think wecan evenventure to smoke to pass the time. Howeverit's a twoto onechance that we get something to pay us for our trouble."
It provedhoweverthat our vigil was not to be so long asHolmes hadled us to fearand it ended in a very sudden andsingularfashion. In an instantwithout the least sound towarn us ofhis comingthe garden gate swung openand a lithedarkfigureas swift and active as an aperushed up the gardenpath. We saw it whisk past the light thrown from over the dooranddisappear against the black shadow of the house. There wasa longpauseduring which we held our breathand then a verygentlecreaking sound came to our ears. The window was beingopened. The noise ceasedand again there was a long silence.The fellowwas making his way into the house. We saw the suddenflash of adark lantern inside the room. What he sought wasevidentlynot therefor again we saw the flash through anotherblindandthen through another.
"Letus get to the open window. We will nab him as he climbs out"Lestradewhispered.
But beforewe could move the man had emerged again. As he cameout intothe glimmering patch of light we saw that he carriedsomethingwhite under his arm. He looked stealthily all roundhim. The silence of the deserted street reassured him. Turninghis backupon us he laid down his burdenand the next instantthere wasthe sound of a sharp tapfollowed by a clatter andrattle. The man was so intent upon what he was doing that heneverheard our steps as we stole across the grass plot. Withthe boundof a tiger Holmes was on his backand an instantlaterLestrade and I had him by either wrist and the handcuffshad beenfastened. As we turned him over I saw a hideoussallowfacewith writhingfurious featuresglaring up at usand I knewthat it was indeed the man of the photograph whom wehadsecured.
But it wasnot our prisoner to whom Holmes was giving hisattention. Squatted on the doorstephe was engaged in mostcarefullyexamining that which the man had brought from thehouse. It was a bust of Napoleon like the one which we hadseen thatmorningand it had been broken into similarfragments. Carefully Holmes held each separate shard to thelightbutin no way did it differ from any other shatteredpiece ofplaster. He had just completed his examination whenthe halllights flew upthe door openedand the owner of thehouseajovialrotund figure in shirt and trouserspresentedhimself.
"Mr.Josiah BrownI suppose?" said Holmes.
"Yessir; and youno doubtare Mr. Sherlock Holmes? I hadthe notewhich you sent by the express messengerand I didexactlywhat you told me. We locked every door on the insideandawaited developments. WellI'm very glad to see that youhave gotthe rascal. I hopegentlementhat you will come inand havesome refreshment."
HoweverLestrade was anxious to get his man into safe quartersso withina few minutes our cab had been summoned and we wereall fourupon our way to London. Not a word would our captivesay; buthe glared at us from the shadow of his matted hairandoncewhenmy hand seemed within his reachhe snapped at itlike ahungry wolf. We stayed long enough at the police-stationto learnthat a search of his clothing revealed nothing save afewshillings and a long sheath knifethe handle of which borecopioustraces of recent blood.
"That'sall right" said Lestradeas we parted. "Hill knowsall thesegentryand he will give a name to him. You'll findthat mytheory of the Mafia will work out all right. But I'msure I amexceedingly obliged to youMr. Holmesfor theworkmanlikeway in which you laid hands upon him. I don't quiteunderstandit all yet."
"Ifear it is rather too late an hour for explanations" saidHolmes. "Besidesthere are one or two details which are notfinishedoffand it is one of those cases which are worthworkingout to the very end. If you will come round once moreto myrooms at six o'clock to-morrow I think I shall be able toshow youthat even now you have not grasped the entire meaningof thisbusinesswhich presents some features which make itabsolutelyoriginal in the history of crime. If ever I permityou tochronicle any more of my little problemsWatsonI foreseethat you will enliven your pages by an account ofthesingular adventure of the Napoleonic busts."
When wemet again next evening Lestrade was furnished with muchinformationconcerning our prisoner. His nameit appearedwasBepposecond name unknown. He was a well-known ne'er-do-wellamong theItalian colony. He had once been a skilful sculptorand hadearned an honest livingbut he had taken to evilcoursesand had twice already been in gaol -- once for a pettytheft andonceas we had already heardfor stabbing afellow-countryman. He could talk English perfectly well.Hisreasons for destroying the busts were still unknownand herefused toanswer any questions upon the subject; but the policehaddiscovered that these same busts might very well have beenmade byhis own handssince he was engaged in this class ofwork atthe establishment of Gelder and Co. To all thisinformationmuch of which we already knewHolmes listened withpoliteattention; but Iwho knew him so wellcould clearly seethat histhoughts were elsewhereand I detected a mixture ofmingleduneasiness and expectation beneath that mask which hewas wontto assume. At last he started in his chair and hiseyesbrightened. There had been a ring at the bell. A minutelater weheard steps upon the stairsand an elderlyred-facedman withgrizzled side-whiskers was ushered in. In his righthand hecarried an old-fashioned carpet-bagwhich he placedupon thetable.
"IsMr. Sherlock Holmes here?"
My friendbowed and smiled. "Mr. Sandefordof ReadingI suppose?"said he.
"YessirI fear that I am a little late; but the trains wereawkward. You wrote to me about a bust that is in my possession."
"Ihave your letter here. You said`I desire to possess a copyofDevine's Napoleonand am prepared to pay you ten pounds forthe onewhich is in your possession.' Is that right?"
"Iwas very much surprised at your letterfor I could notimaginehow you knew that I owned such a thing."
"Ofcourse you must have been surprisedbut the explanation isverysimple. Mr. Hardingof Harding Brotherssaid that theyhad soldyou their last copyand he gave me your address."
"Ohthat was itwas it? Did he tell you what I paid for it?"
"Nohe did not."
"WellI am an honest manthough not a very rich one.I onlygave fifteen shillings for the bustand I thinkyou oughtto know that before I take ten pounds from you."
"I amsure the scruple does you honourMr. Sandeford.But I havenamed that priceso I intend to stick to it."
"Wellit is very handsome of youMr. Holmes. I brought thebust upwith meas you asked me to do. Here it is!" Heopenedhis bagand at last we saw placed upon our table a completespecimenof that bust which we had already seen more than onceinfragments.
Holmestook a paper from his pocket and laid a ten-pound noteupon thetable.
"Youwill kindly sign that paperMr. Sandefordin the presenceof thesewitnesses. It is simply to say that you transfer everypossibleright that you ever had in the bust to me. I am amethodicalmanyou seeand you never know what turn eventsmight takeafterwards. Thank youMr. Sandeford; here is yourmoneyandI wish you a very good evening."
When ourvisitor had disappeared Sherlock Holmes's movementswere suchas to rivet our attention. He began by taking a cleanwhitecloth from a drawer and laying it over the table. Then heplaced hisnewly-acquired bust in the centre of the cloth.Finallyhe picked up his hunting-crop and struck Napoleon asharp blowon the top of the head. The figure broke intofragmentsand Holmes bent eagerly over the shattered remains.Nextinstantwith a loud shout of triumphhe held up onesplinterin which a rounddark object was fixed like a plumin apudding.
"Gentlemen"he cried"let me introduce you to the famousblackpearl of the Borgias."
Lestradeand I sat silent for a momentand thenwith aspontaneousimpulsewe both broke out clapping as at thewell-wroughtcrisis of a play. A flush of colour sprang toHolmes'spale cheeksand he bowed to us like the masterdramatistwho receives the homage of his audience. It was atsuchmoments that for an instant he ceased to be a reasoningmachineand betrayed his human love for admiration andapplause. The same singularly proud and reserved nature whichturnedaway with disdain from popular notoriety was capableof beingmoved to its depths by spontaneous wonder and praisefrom afriend.
"Yesgentlemen" said he"it is the most famous pearlnowexisting in the worldand it has been my good fortuneby aconnected chain of inductive reasoningto trace it fromthe Princeof Colonna's bedroom at the Dacre Hotelwhere it waslosttothe interior of thisthe last of the six busts ofNapoleonwhich were manufactured by Gelder and Co.of Stepney.You willrememberLestradethe sensation caused by thedisappearanceof this valuable jeweland the vain efforts of theLondonpolice to recover it. I was myself consulted upon thecase; butI was unable to throw any light upon it. Suspicionfell uponthe maid of the Princesswho was an Italianand itwas provedthat she had a brother in Londonbut we failed totrace anyconnection between them. The maid's name was LucretiaVenucciand there is no doubt in my mind that this Pietro whowasmurdered two nights ago was the brother. I have beenlooking upthe dates in the old files of the paperand I findthat thedisappearance of the pearl was exactly two days beforethe arrestof Beppo for some crime of violencean event whichtook placein the factory of Gelder and Co.at the very momentwhen thesebusts were being made. Now you clearly see thesequenceof eventsthough you see themof coursein theinverseorder to the way in which they presented themselves tome. Beppo had the pearl in his possession. He may have stolenit fromPietrohe may have been Pietro's confederatehe mayhave beenthe go-between of Pietro and his sister. It is of noconsequenceto us which is the correct solution.
"Themain fact is that he HAD the pearland at that momentwhen itwas on his personhe was pursued by the police.He madefor the factory in which he workedand he knew thathe hadonly a few minutes in which to conceal this enormouslyvaluableprizewhich would otherwise be found on him when hewassearched. Six plaster casts of Napoleon were drying inthepassage. One of them was still soft. In an instant Beppoa skilfulworkmanmade a small hole in the wet plasterdroppedin thepearland with a few touches covered over the apertureoncemore. It was an admirable hiding-place. No one couldpossiblyfind it. But Beppo was condemned to a year'simprisonmentand in the meanwhile his six busts were scatteredoverLondon. He could not tell which contained his treasure.Only bybreaking them could he see. Even shaking would tell himnothingfor as the plaster was wet it was probable that thepearlwould adhere to it -- asin factit has done. Beppo didnotdespairand he conducted his search with considerableingenuityand perseverance. Through a cousin who works withGelder hefound out the retail firms who had bought the busts.He managedto find employment with Morse Hudsonand in thatwaytracked down three of them. The pearl was not there.Thenwiththe help of some Italian EMPLOYEhe succeeded infindingout where the other three busts had gone. The first wasatHarker's. There he was dogged by his confederatewho heldBepporesponsible for the loss of the pearland he stabbed himin thescuffle which followed."
"Ifhe was his confederate why should he carry his photograph?"I asked.
"As ameans of tracing him if he wished to inquire about himfrom anythird person. That was the obvious reason. Wellafter themurder I calculated that Beppo would probably hurryratherthan delay his movements. He would fear that the policewould readhis secretand so he hastened on before they shouldget aheadof him. Of courseI could not say that he had notfound thepearl in Harker's bust. I had not even concluded forcertainthat it was the pearl; but it was evident to me that hewaslooking for somethingsince he carried the bust past theotherhouses in order to break it in the garden which had a lampoverlookingit. Since Harker's bust was one in three thechanceswere exactly as I told youtwo to one against the pearlbeinginside it. There remained two bustsand it was obviousthat hewould go for the London one first. I warned the inmatesof thehouseso as to avoid a second tragedyand we went downwith thehappiest results. By that timeof courseI knewforcertain that it was the Borgia pearl that we were after.The nameof the murdered man linked the one event with the other.There onlyremained a single bust -- the Reading one -- and thepearl mustbe there. I bought it in your presence from theowner --and there it lies."
We sat insilence for a moment.
"Well"said Lestrade"I've seen you handle a good many casesMr.Holmesbut I don't know that I ever knew a more workmanlikeone thanthat. We're not jealous of you at Scotland Yard.Nosirwe are very proud of youand if you come down to-morrowthere'snot a manfrom the oldest inspector to the youngestconstablewho wouldn't be glad to shake you by the hand."
"Thankyou!" said Holmes. "Thank you!" and as he turnedawayit seemedto me that he was more nearly moved by the softerhumanemotions than I had ever seen him. A moment later he wasthe coldand practical thinker once more. "Put the pearl in thesafeWatson" said he"and get out the papers of theConk-Singletonforgery case. Good-byeLestrade. If any littleproblemcomes your way I shall be happyif I canto give youa hint ortwo as to its solution."
IT was inthe year '95 that a combination of eventsinto whichI need notentercaused Mr. Sherlock Holmes and myself to spendsome weeksin one of our great University townsand it wasduringthis time that the small but instructive adventure whichI am aboutto relate befell us. It will be obvious that anydetailswhich would help the reader to exactly identify thecollege orthe criminal would be injudicious and offensive.So painfula scandal may well be allowed to die out. With duediscretionthe incident itself mayhoweverbe describedsinceit servesto illustrate some of those qualities for which myfriend wasremarkable. I will endeavour in my statement to avoidsuch termsas would serve to limit the events to any particularplaceorgive a clue as to the people concerned.
We wereresiding at the time in furnished lodgings close to alibrarywhere Sherlock Holmes was pursuing some laboriousresearchesin early English charters -- researches which led toresults sostriking that they may be the subject of one of myfuturenarratives. Here it was that one evening we received avisit froman acquaintanceMr. Hilton Soamestutor and lecturerat theCollege of St. Luke's. Mr. Soames was a tallspare manof anervous and excitable temperament. I had always known himto berestless in his mannerbut on this particular occasion hewas insuch a state of uncontrollable agitation that it was clearsomethingvery unusual had occurred.
"ItrustMr. Holmesthat you can spare me a few hours of yourvaluabletime. We have had a very painful incident at St. Luke'sandreallybut for the happy chance of your being in the townI shouldhave been at a loss what to do."
"I amvery busy just nowand I desire no distractions"my friendanswered. "I should much prefer that you calledin the aidof the police."
"Nonomy dear sir; such a course is utterly impossible.When oncethe law is evoked it cannot be stayed againand thisis justone of those cases wherefor the credit of the collegeit is mostessential to avoid scandal. Your discretion is aswell knownas your powersand you are the one man in the worldwho canhelp me. I beg youMr. Holmesto do what you can."
Myfriend's temper had not improved since he had been deprivedof thecongenial surroundings of Baker Street. Without hisscrap-bookshis chemicalsand his homely untidinesshe wasanuncomfortable man. He shrugged his shoulders in ungraciousacquiescencewhile our visitor in hurried words and with muchexcitablegesticulation poured forth his story.
"Imust explain to youMr. Holmesthat to-morrow is the firstday of theexamination for the Fortescue Scholarship. I am oneof theexaminers. My subject is Greekand the first of thepapersconsists of a large passage of Greek translation whichthecandidate has not seen. This passage is printed on theexaminationpaperand it would naturally be an immense advantageif thecandidate could prepare it in advance. For this reasongreat careis taken to keep the paper secret.
"To-dayabout three o'clock the proofs of this paper arrivedfrom theprinters. The exercise consists of half a chapter ofThucydides. I had to read it over carefullyas the text mustbeabsolutely correct. At four-thirty my task was not yetcompleted. I hadhoweverpromised to take tea in a friend'sroomssoI left the proof upon my desk. I was absent rathermore thanan hour.
"Youare awareMr. Holmesthat our college doors are double-- a greenbaize one within and a heavy oak one without.As Iapproached my outer door I was amazed to see a key in it.For aninstant I imagined that I had left my own therebut onfeeling inmy pocket I found that it was all right. The onlyduplicatewhich existedso far as I knewwas that which belongedto myservantBannistera man who has looked after my roomfor tenyearsand whose honesty is absolutely above suspicion.I foundthat the key was indeed histhat he had entered my roomto know ifI wanted teaand that he had very carelessly leftthe key inthe door when he came out. His visit to my roommust havebeen within a very few minutes of my leaving it.Hisforgetfulness about the key would have mattered littleupon anyother occasionbut on this one day it has producedthe mostdeplorable consequences.
"Themoment I looked at my table I was aware that someone hadrummagedamong my papers. The proof was in three long slips.I had leftthem all together. NowI found that one of them waslying onthe floorone was on the side table near the windowand thethird was where I had left it."
Holmesstirred for the first time.
"Thefirst page on the floorthe second in the windowthe thirdwhere you left it" said he.
"ExactlyMr. Holmes. You amaze me. How could you possiblyknowthat?"
"Praycontinue your very interesting statement."
"Foran instant I imagined that Bannister had taken theunpardonableliberty of examining my papers. He denied ithoweverwith the utmost earnestnessand I am convinced thathe wasspeaking the truth. The alternative was that someonepassinghad observed the key in the doorhad known that I wasoutandhad entered to look at the papers. A large sum of moneyis atstakefor the scholarship is a very valuable oneand anunscrupulousman might very well run a risk in order to gain anadvantageover his fellows.
"Bannisterwas very much upset by the incident. He had nearlyfaintedwhen we found that the papers had undoubtedly beentamperedwith. I gave him a little brandy and left him collapsedin a chairwhile I made a most careful examination of the room.I soon sawthat the intruder had left other traces of hispresencebesides the rumpled papers. On the table in the windowwereseveral shreds from a pencil which had been sharpened.A brokentip of lead was lying there also. Evidently the rascalhad copiedthe paper in a great hurryhad broken his penciland hadbeen compelled to put a fresh point to it."
"Excellent!"said Holmeswho was recovering his good-humouras hisattention became more engrossed by the case."Fortunehas been your friend."
"Thiswas not all. I have a new writing-table with a finesurface ofred leather. I am prepared to swearand so isBannisterthat it was smooth and unstained. Now I found aclean cutin it about three inches long -- not a mere scratchbut apositive cut. Not only thisbut on the table I founda smallball of black doughor claywith specks of somethingwhichlooks like sawdust in it. I am convinced that these markswere leftby the man who rifled the papers. There were no footmarksand noother evidence as to his identity. I was at my wits'endswhensuddenly the happy thought occurred to me that youwere inthe townand I came straight round to put the matterinto yourhands. Do help meMr. Holmes! You see my dilemma. Either Imust find the man or else the examination must bepostponeduntil fresh papers are preparedand since this cannotbe donewithout explanation there will ensue a hideous scandalwhich willthrow a cloud not only on the collegebut on theUniversity. Above all things I desire to settle the matterquietlyand discreetly."
"Ishall be happy to look into it and to give you such adviceas I can"said Holmesrising and putting on his overcoat."Thecase is not entirely devoid of interest. Had anyone visitedyou inyour room after the papers came to you?"
"Yes;young Daulat Rasan Indian student who lives on the samestaircame in to ask me some particulars about the examination."
"Forwhich he was entered?"
"Andthe papers were on your table?"
"Tothe best of my belief they were rolled up."
"Butmight be recognised as proofs?"
"Noone else in your room?"
"Didanyone know that these proofs would be there?"
"Noone save the printer."
"Didthis man Bannister know?"
"Nocertainly not. No one knew."
"Whereis Bannister now?"
"Hewas very illpoor fellow. I left him collapsedin thechair. I was in such a hurry to come to you."
"Youleft your door open?"
"Ilocked up the papers first."
"Thenit amounts to thisMr. Soamesthat unless the Indianstudentrecognised the roll as being proofsthe man who tamperedwith themcame upon them accidentally without knowing that theywerethere."
"Soit seems to me."
Holmesgave an enigmatic smile.
"Well"said he"let us go round. Not one of your casesWatson --mentalnot physical. All right; come if you want to.NowMr.Soames -- at your disposal!"
Thesitting-room of our client opened by a longlowlatticedwindow onto the ancient lichen-tinted court of the old college.A Gothicarched door led to a worn stone staircase. On thegroundfloor was the tutor's room. Above were three studentsone oneach story. It was already twilight when we reached thescene ofour problem. Holmes halted and looked earnestly at thewindow. Then he approached itandstanding on tiptoe with hisneckcranedhe looked into the room.
"Hemust have entered through the door. There is no openingexcept theone pane" said our learned guide.
"Dearme!" said Holmesand he smiled in a singular way as heglanced atour companion. "Wellif there is nothing to belearnedhere we had best go inside."
Thelecturer unlocked the outer door and ushered us into hisroom. We stood at the entrance while Holmes made an examinationof thecarpet.
"I amafraid there are no signs here" said he. "One couldhardlyhope for any upon so dry a day. Your servant seems tohave quiterecovered. You left him in a chairyou say; whichchair?"
"Bythe window there."
"Isee. Near this little table. You can come in now. Ihavefinishedwith the carpet. Let us take the little table first.Of coursewhat has happened is very clear. The man enteredand tookthe paperssheet by sheetfrom the central table.He carriedthem over to the window tablebecause from there hecould seeif you came across the courtyardand so could effectanescape."
"As amatter of fact he could not" said Soames"for I enteredby theside door."
"Ahthat's good! Wellanyhowthat was in his mind. Let mesee thethree strips. No finger impressions -- no! Wellhecarriedover this one first and he copied it. How long would ittake himto do thatusing every possible contraction? A quarterof anhournot less. Then he tossed it down and seized thenext. He was in the midst of that when your return caused himto make avery hurried retreat -- VERY hurriedsince he had nottime toreplace the papers which would tell you that he had beenthere. You were not aware of any hurrying feet on the stair asyouentered the outer door?"
"NoI can't say I was."
"Wellhe wrote so furiously that he broke his penciland hadas youobserveto sharpen it again. This is of interestWatson. The pencil was not an ordinary one. It was above theusualsizewith a soft lead; the outer colour was dark bluethemaker's name was printed in silver letteringand the pieceremainingis only about an inch and a half long. Look for such apencilMr. Soamesand you have got your man. When I add that hepossessesa large and very blunt knifeyou have an additional aid."
Mr. Soameswas somewhat overwhelmed by this flood of information."Ican follow the other points" said he"but reallyin thismatter ofthe length ----"
Holmesheld out a small chip with the letters NN and a space ofclear woodafter them.
"NoI fear that even now ----"
"WatsonI have always done you an injustice. There are others.What couldthis NN be? It is at the end of a word.You areaware that Johann Faber is the most common maker's name.Is it notclear that there is just as much of the pencil leftas usuallyfollows the Johann?" He held the small table sidewaysto theelectric light. "I was hoping that if the paper on whichhe wrotewas thin some trace of it might come through upon thispolishedsurface. NoI see nothing. I don't think there isanythingmore to be learned here. Now for the central table.This smallpellet isI presumethe blackdoughy mass you spokeof. Roughly pyramidal in shape and hollowed outI perceive.As yousaythere appear to be grains of sawdust in it. Dear methis isvery interesting. And the cut -- a positive tearI see.It beganwith a thin scratch and ended in a jagged hole. I ammuchindebted to you for directing my attention to this caseMr.Soames. Where does that door lead to?"
"Haveyou been in it since your adventure?"
"No;I came straight away for you."
"Ishould like to have a glance round. What a charmingold-fashionedroom! Perhaps you will kindly wait a minute untilI haveexamined the floor. NoI see nothing. What about thiscurtain? You hang your clothes behind it. If anyone were forcedto concealhimself in this room he must do it theresince thebed is toolow and the wardrobe too shallow. No one thereIsuppose?"
As Holmesdrew the curtain I was awarefrom some littlerigidityand alertness of his attitudethat he was prepared foranemergency. As a matter of fact the drawn curtain disclosednothingbut three or four suits of clothes hanging from a lineof pegs. Holmes turned away and stooped suddenly to the floor.
"Halloa! What's this?" said he.
It was asmall pyramid of blackputty-like stuffexactly likethe oneupon the table of the study. Holmes held it out on hisopen palmin the glare of the electric light.
"Yourvisitor seems to have left traces in your bedroom as wellas in yoursitting-roomMr. Soames."
"Whatcould he have wanted there?"
"Ithink it is clear enough. You came back by an unexpectedwayandso he had no warning until you were at the very door.What couldhe do? He caught up everything which would betrayhim and herushed into your bedroom to conceal himself."
"GoodgraciousMr. Holmesdo you mean to tell me that all thetime I wastalking to Bannister in this room we had the manprisonerif we had only known it?"
"So Iread it."
"Surelythere is another alternativeMr. Holmes. I don't knowwhetheryou observed my bedroom window?"
"Lattice-panedlead frameworkthree separate windowsoneswinging on hinge and large enough to admit a man."
"Exactly. And it looks out on an angle of the courtyardso as tobe partly invisible. The man might have effected hisentrancethereleft traces as he passed through the bedroomandfinallyfinding the door open have escaped that way."
Holmesshook his head impatiently.
"Letus be practical" said he. "I understand you to saythat thereare three students who use this stair and arein thehabit of passing your door?"
"Andthey are all in for this examination?"
"Haveyou any reason to suspect any one of them more thantheothers?"
"Itis a very delicate question" said he. "One hardlylikesto throwsuspicion where there are no proofs."
"Letus hear the suspicions. I will look after the proofs."
"Iwill tell youthenin a few words the character of thethree menwho inhabit these rooms. The lower of the three isGilchrista fine scholar and athlete; plays in the Rugby teamand thecricket team for the collegeand got his Blue for thehurdlesand the long jump. He is a finemanly fellow. Hisfather wasthe notorious Sir Jabez Gilchristwho ruined himselfon theturf. My scholar has been left very poorbut he ishard-workingand industrious. He will do well.
"Thesecond floor is inhabited by Daulat Rasthe Indian.He is aquietinscrutable fellowas most of those Indians are.He is wellup in his workthough his Greek is his weak subject.He issteady and methodical.
"Thetop floor belongs to Miles McLaren. He is a brilliantfellowwhen he chooses to work -- one of the brightestintellectsof the Universitybut he is waywarddissipatedandunprincipled. He was nearly expelled over a card scandalin hisfirst year. He has been idling all this termand hemust lookforward with dread to the examination."
"Thenit is he whom you suspect?"
"Idare not go so far as that. But of the three he is perhapsthe leastunlikely."
"Exactly. NowMr. Soameslet us have a look at your servantBannister."
He was alittlewhite-facedclean-shavengrizzly-hairedfellow offifty. He was still suffering from this suddendisturbanceof the quiet routine of his life. His plump facewastwitching with his nervousnessand his fingers could notkeepstill.
"Weare investigating this unhappy businessBannister"said hismaster.
"Iunderstand" said Holmes"that you left your key in thedoor?"
"Wasit not very extraordinary that you should do this on thevery daywhen there were these papers inside?"
"Itwas most unfortunatesir. But I have occasionally donethe samething at other times."
"Whendid you enter the room?"
"Itwas about half-past four. That is Mr. Soames's tea time."
"Howlong did you stay?"
"WhenI saw that he was absent I withdrew at once."
"Didyou look at these papers on the table?"
"Nosir; certainly not."
"Howcame you to leave the key in the door?"
"Ihad the tea-tray in my hand. I thought I would come backfor thekey. Then I forgot."
"Hasthe outer door a spring lock?"
"Thenit was open all the time?"
"Anyonein the room could get out?"
"WhenMr. Soames returned and called for youyou were verymuchdisturbed?"
"Yessir. Such a thing has never happened during the manyyears thatI have been here. I nearly faintedsir."
"So Iunderstand. Where were you when you began to feel bad?"
"Wherewas Isir? Whyherenear the door."
"Thatis singularbecause you sat down in that chair overyondernear the corner. Why did you pass these other chairs?"
"Idon't knowsir. It didn't matter to me where I sat."
"Ireally don't think he knew much about itMr. Holmes.He waslooking very bad -- quite ghastly."
"Youstayed here when your master left?"
"Onlyfor a minute or so. Then I locked the door and wentto myroom."
"Whomdo you suspect?"
"OhI would not venture to saysir. I don't believe thereis anygentleman in this University who is capable of profitingby such anaction. NosirI'll not believe it."
"Thankyou; that will do" said Holmes. "Ohone more word.You havenot mentioned to any of the three gentlemen whom youattendthat anything is amiss?"
"Nosir; not a word."
"Youhaven't seen any of them?"
"Verygood. NowMr. Soameswe will take a walk in thequadrangleif you please."
Threeyellow squares of light shone above us in the gatheringgloom."
"Yourthree birds are all in their nests" said Holmeslooking up."Halloa! What's that? One of them seems restless enough."
It was theIndianwhose dark silhouette appeared suddenlyupon hisblind. He was pacing swiftly up and down his room.
"Ishould like to have a peep at each of them" said Holmes."Isit possible?"
"Nodifficulty in the world" Soames answered. "This setofrooms isquite the oldest in the collegeand it is not unusualforvisitors to go over them. Come alongand I will personallyconductyou."
"Nonamesplease!" said Holmesas we knocked at Gilchrist'sdoor. A tallflaxen-hairedslim young fellow opened itandmade uswelcome when he understood our errand. There were somereallycurious pieces of mediaeval domestic architecture within.Holmes wasso charmed with one of them that he insisted ondrawing iton his note-bookbroke his pencilhad to borrow onefrom ourhostand finally borrowed a knife to sharpen his own.The samecurious accident happened to him in the rooms of theIndian --a silentlittlehook-nosed fellowwho eyed usaskanceand was obviously glad when Holmes's architecturalstudieshad come to an end. I could not see that in eithercaseHolmes had come upon the clue for which he was searching.Only atthe third did our visit prove abortive. The outer doorwould notopen to our knockand nothing more substantial thana torrentof bad language came from behind it. "I don't carewho youare. You can go to blazes!" roared the angry voice. "To-morrow'sthe examand I won't be drawn by anyone."
"Arude fellow" said our guideflushing with anger as wewithdrewdown the stair. "Of coursehe did not realize that itwas I whowas knockingbut none the less his conduct was veryuncourteousandindeedunder the circumstances rathersuspicious."
Holmes'sresponse was a curious one.
"Canyou tell me his exact height?" he asked.
"ReallyMr. HolmesI cannot undertake to say. He is tallerthan theIndiannot so tall as Gilchrist. I suppose five footsix wouldbe about it."
"Thatis very important" said Holmes. "And nowMr.SoamesI wish yougood-night."
Our guidecried aloud in his astonishment and dismay. "GoodgraciousMr. Holmesyou are surely not going to leave me inthisabrupt fashion! You don't seem to realize the position.To-morrowis the examination. I must take some definite actionto-night. I cannot allow the examination to be held if one ofthe papershas been tampered with. The situation must be faced."
"Youmust leave it as it is. I shall drop round early to-morrowmorningand chat the matter over. It is possible that I maybe in aposition then to indicate some course of action. Meanwhileyou change nothing -- nothing at all."
"Youcan be perfectly easy in your mind. We shall certainlyfind someway out of your difficulties. I will take the blackclay withmealso the pencil cuttings. Good-bye."
When wewere out in the darkness of the quadrangle we againlooked upat the windows. The Indian still paced his room.The otherswere invisible.
"WellWatsonwhat do you think of it?" Holmes askedas wecame outinto the main street. "Quite a little parlour game --sort ofthree-card trickis it not? There are your three men.It must beone of them. You take your choice. Which is yours?"
"Thefoul-mouthed fellow at the top. He is the one with theworstrecord. And yet that Indian was a sly fellow also.Why shouldhe be pacing his room all the time?"
"Thereis nothing in that. Many men do it when they are tryingto learnanything by heart."
"Helooked at us in a queer way."
"Sowould you if a flock of strangers came in on you when youwerepreparing for an examination next dayand every moment wasof value. NoI see nothing in that. Pencilstooand knives-- all wassatisfactory. But that fellow DOES puzzle me."
"WhyBannisterthe servant. What's his game in the matter?"
"Heimpressed me as being a perfectly honest man."
"Sohe did me. That's the puzzling part. Why should aperfectlyhonest man -- wellwellhere's a large stationer's.We shallbegin our researches here."
There wereonly four stationers of any consequence in the townand ateach Holmes produced his pencil chips and bid high for aduplicate. All were agreed that one could be orderedbut thatit was nota usual size of pencil and that it was seldom kept instock. My friend did not appear to be depressed by his failurebutshrugged his shoulders in half-humorous resignation.
"Nogoodmy dear Watson. Thisthe best and only final cluehas run tonothing. ButindeedI have little doubt that we canbuild up asufficient case without it. By Jove! my dear fellowit isnearly nineand the landlady babbled of green peas atseven-thirty. What with your eternal tobaccoWatsonand yourirregularityat mealsI expect that you will get notice to quitand that Ishall share your downfall -- nothoweverbefore wehavesolved the problem of the nervous tutorthe carelessservantand the three enterprising students."
Holmesmade no further allusion to the matter that daythoughhe satlost in thought for a long time after our belated dinner.At eightin the morning he came into my room just as I finishedmy toilet.
"WellWatson" said he"it is time we went down to St. Luke's.Can you dowithout breakfast?"
"Soameswill be in a dreadful fidget until we are able to tellhimsomething positive."
"Haveyou anything positive to tell him?"
"Youhave formed a conclusion?"
"Yesmy dear Watson; I have solved the mystery."
"Butwhat fresh evidence could you have got?"
"Aha! It is not for nothing that I have turned myself outof bed atthe untimely hour of six. I have put in two hours'hard workand covered at least five mileswith somethingto showfor it. Look at that!"
He heldout his hand. On the palm were three little pyramidsof blackdoughy clay.
"WhyHolmesyou had only two yesterday!"
"Andone more this morning. It is a fair argument that whereverNo. 3 camefrom is also the source of Nos. 1 and 2. EhWatson?Wellcomealong and put friend Soames out of his pain."
Theunfortunate tutor was certainly in a state of pitiableagitationwhen we found him in his chambers. In a few hours theexaminationwould commenceand he was still in the dilemmabetweenmaking the facts public and allowing the culprit tocompetefor the valuable scholarship. He could hardly standstillsogreat was his mental agitationand he ran towardsHolmeswith two eager hands outstretched.
"ThankHeaven that you have come! I feared that you had given itup indespair. What am I to do? Shall the examination proceed?"
"Yes;let it proceed by all means."
"Butthis rascal ----?"
"Heshall not compete."
"Ithink so. If this matter is not to become public we mustgiveourselves certain powersand resolve ourselves into a smallprivatecourt-martial. You thereif you pleaseSoames! Watsonyou here! I'll take the arm-chair in the middle. I think thatwe are nowsufficiently imposing to strike terror into a guiltybreast. Kindly ring the bell!"
Bannisterenteredand shrunk back in evident surprise and fearat ourjudicial appearance.
"Youwill kindly close the door" said Holmes. "NowBannisterwill youplease tell us the truth about yesterday's incident?"
The manturned white to the roots of his hair.
"Ihave told you everythingsir."
"WellthenI must make some suggestions to you. When you satdown onthat chair yesterdaydid you do so in order to concealsomeobject which would have shown who had been in the room?"
Bannister'sface was ghastly.
"Nosir; certainly not."
"Itis only a suggestion" said Holmessuavely. "Ifranklyadmit thatI am unable to prove it. But it seems probableenoughsince the moment that Mr. Soames's back was turnedyoureleased the man who was hiding in that bedroom."
Bannisterlicked his dry lips.
"Therewas no mansir."
"Ahthat's a pityBannister. Up to now you may have spokenthe truthbut now I know that you have lied."
The man'sface set in sullen defiance.
"Therewas no mansir."
"Nosir; there was no one."
"Inthat case you can give us no further information.Would youplease remain in the room? Stand over there nearthebedroom door. NowSoamesI am going to ask you to havethe greatkindness to go up to the room of young Gilchristand to askhim to step down into yours."
An instantlater the tutor returnedbringing with him thestudent. He was a fine figure of a mantalllitheand agilewith aspringy step and a pleasantopen face. His troubled blueeyesglanced at each of usand finally rested with an expressionof blankdismay upon Bannister in the farther corner.
"Justclose the door" said Holmes. "NowMr. Gilchristwe are allquite alone hereand no one need ever know one wordof whatpasses between us. We can be perfectly frank with eachother. We want to knowMr. Gilchristhow youan honourablemanevercame to commit such an action as that of yesterday?"
Theunfortunate young man staggered back and cast a look fullof horrorand reproach at Bannister.
"NonoMr. Gilchristsir; I never said a word -- never oneword!"cried the servant.
"Nobut you have now" said Holmes. "Nowsiryou mustsee thatafter Bannister's words your position is hopelessand thatyour only chance lies in a frank confession."
For amoment Gilchristwith upraised handtried to controlhiswrithing features. The next he had thrown himself on hiskneesbeside the table andburying his face in his handshe hadburst into a storm of passionate sobbing.
"Comecome" said Holmeskindly; "it is human to errand atleast no one can accuse you of being a callous criminal.Perhaps itwould be easier for you if I were to tell Mr. Soameswhatoccurredand you can check me where I am wrong. Shall Ido so? Wellwelldon't trouble to answer. Listenand seethat I doyou no injustice.
"Fromthe momentMr. Soamesthat you said to me that no onenot evenBannistercould have told that the papers were inyour roomthe case began to take a definite shape in my mind.Theprinter one couldof coursedismiss. He could examine thepapers inhis own office. The Indian I also thought nothing of.If theproofs were in a roll he could not possibly know what theywere. On the other handit seemed an unthinkable coincidencethat a manshould dare to enter the roomand that by chance onthat veryday the papers were on the table. I dismissed that.The manwho entered knew that the papers were there. How didhe know?
"WhenI approached your room I examined the window. You amusedme bysupposing that I was contemplating the possibility ofsomeonehaving in broad daylightunder the eyes of all theseoppositeroomsforced himself through it. Such an idea wasabsurd. I was measuring how tall a man would need to be in orderto see ashe passed what papers were on the central table. I amsix feethighand I could do it with an effort. No one lessthan thatwould have a chance. Already you see I had reason tothink thatif one of your three students was a man of unusualheight hewas the most worth watching of the three.
"Ientered and I took you into my confidence as to thesuggestionsof the side table. Of the centre table I could makenothinguntil in your description of Gilchrist you mentionedthat hewas a long-distance jumper. Then the whole thing came tome in aninstantand I only needed certain corroborative proofswhich Ispeedily obtained.
"Whathappened was this. This young fellow had employed hisafternoonat the athletic groundswhere he had been practisingthe jump. He returned carrying his jumping shoeswhich areprovidedas you are awarewith several sharp spikes. As hepassedyour window he sawby means of his great heighttheseproofsupon your tableand conjectured what they were. No harmwould havebeen done had it not been that as he passed your doorheperceived the key which had been left by the carelessness ofyourservant. A sudden impulse came over him to enter and seeif theywere indeed the proofs. It was not a dangerous exploitfor hecould always pretend that he had simply looked in to askaquestion.
"Wellwhen he saw that they were indeed the proofsit wasthen thathe yielded to temptation. He put his shoes on thetable. What was it you put on that chair near the window?"
"Gloves"said the young man.
Holmeslooked triumphantly at Bannister. "He put his gloves onthe chairand he took the proofssheet by sheetto copy them.He thoughtthe tutor must return by the main gateand that hewould seehim. As we knowhe came back by the side gate.Suddenlyhe heard him at the very door. There was no possibleescape. He forgot his glovesbut he caught up his shoes anddartedinto the bedroom. You observe that the scratch on thattable isslight at one sidebut deepens in the direction of thebedroomdoor. That in itself is enough to show us that the shoehad beendrawn in that direction and that the culprit had takenrefugethere. The earth round the spike had been left on thetableanda second sample was loosened and fell in the bedroom.I may addthat I walked out to the athletic grounds this morningsaw thattenacious black clay is used in the jumping-pitandcarriedaway a specimen of ittogether with some of the fine tanor sawdustwhich is strewn over it to prevent the athlete fromslipping. Have I told the truthMr. Gilchrist?"
Thestudent had drawn himself erect.
"Yessirit is true" said he.
"Goodheavenshave you nothing to add?" cried Soames.
"YessirI havebut the shock of this disgraceful exposure hasbewilderedme. I have a letter hereMr. Soameswhich I wroteto youearly this morning in the middle of a restless night.It wasbefore I knew that my sin had found me out. Here it issir. You will see that I have said`I have determined not to goin for theexamination. I have been offered a commission in theRhodesianPoliceand I am going out to South Africa at once."'
"I amindeed pleased to hear that you did not intend to profitby yourunfair advantage" said Soames. "But why did youchangeyourpurpose?"
Gilchristpointed to Bannister.
"Thereis the man who set me in the right path" said he.
"ComenowBannister" said Holmes. "It will be clear toyoufrom whatI have said that only you could have let this youngman outsince you were left in the roomand must have lockedthe doorwhen you went out. As to his escaping by that windowit wasincredible. Can you not clear up the last point in thismysteryand tell us the reasons for your action?"
"Itwas simple enoughsirif you only had known; but with allyourcleverness it was impossible that you could know. Time wassirwhenI was butler to old Sir Jabez Gilchristthis younggentleman'sfather. When he was ruined I came to the college asservantbut I never forgot my old employer because he was downin theworld. I watched his son all I could for the sake of theold days. Wellsirwhen I came into this room yesterday whenthe alarmwas giventhe very first thing I saw was Mr. Gilchrist'stan glovesa-lying in that chair. I knew those gloves welland Iunderstood their message. If Mr. Soames saw them the gamewas up. I flopped down into that chairand nothing would budgeme untilMr. Soames he went for you. Then out came my poor youngmasterwhom I had dandled on my kneeand confessed it all to me.Wasn't itnaturalsirthat I should save himand wasn't itnaturalalso that I should try to speak to him as his dead fatherwould havedoneand make him understand that he could not profitby such adeed? Could you blame mesir?"
"Noindeed" said Holmesheartilyspringing to his feet."WellSoamesI think we have cleared your little problem upandourbreakfast awaits us at home. ComeWatson! As to yousirI trustthat a bright future awaits you in Rhodesia. For once youhavefallen low. Let us see in the future how high you can rise."
WHEN Ilook at the three massive manuscript volumes whichcontainour work for the year 1894 I confess that it is verydifficultfor meout of such a wealth of materialto selectthe caseswhich are most interesting in themselves and at thesame timemost conducive to a display of those peculiar powersfor whichmy friend was famous. As I turn over the pages I seemy notesupon the repulsive story of the red leech and theterribledeath of Crosby the banker. Here also I find anaccount ofthe Addleton tragedy and the singular contentsof theancient British barrow. The famous Smith-Mortimersuccessioncase comes also within this periodand so doesthetracking and arrest of Huretthe Boulevard assassin --an exploitwhich won for Holmes an autograph letter of thanksfrom theFrench President and the Order of the Legion of Honour.Each ofthese would furnish a narrativebut on the whole I amof opinionthat none of them unite so many singular points ofinterestas the episode of Yoxley Old Placewhich includes notonly thelamentable death of young Willoughby Smithbut alsothosesubsequent developments which threw so curious a lightupon thecauses of the crime.
It was awildtempestuous night towards the close of November.Holmes andI sat together in silence all the eveninghe engagedwith apowerful lens deciphering the remains of the originalinscriptionupon a palimpsestI deep in a recent treatise uponsurgery. Outside the wind howled down Baker Streetwhile therain beatfiercely against the windows. It was strange therein thevery depths of the townwith ten miles of man'shandiworkon every side of usto feel the iron grip of Natureand to beconscious that to the huge elemental forces all Londonwas nomore than the molehills that dot the fields.I walkedto the window and looked out on the deserted street.Theoccasional lamps gleamed on the expanse of muddy road andshiningpavement. A single cab was splashing its way from theOxfordStreet end.
"WellWatsonit's as well we have not to turn out to-night"saidHolmeslaying aside his lens and rolling up the palimpsest."I'vedone enough for one sitting. It is trying work for the eyes.So far asI can make out it is nothing more exciting than an Abbey'saccountsdating from the second half of the fifteenth century.Halloa!halloa! halloa! What's this?"
Amid thedroning of the wind there had come the stamping of ahorse'shoofs and the long grind of a wheel as it rasped againstthe kerb. The cab which I had seen had pulled up at our door.
"Whatcan he want?" I ejaculatedas a man stepped out of it.
"Want! He wants us. And wemy poor Watsonwant overcoats andcravatsand goloshesand every aid that man ever invented tofight theweather. Wait a bitthough! There's the cab off again!There'shope yet. He'd have kept it if he had wanted us to come.Run downmy dear fellowand open the doorfor all virtuousfolk havebeen long in bed."
When thelight of the hall lamp fell upon our midnight visitorI had nodifficulty in recognising him. It was young StanleyHopkinsapromising detectivein whose career Holmes hadseveraltimes shown a very practical interest.
"Ishe in?" he askedeagerly.
"Comeupmy dear sir" said Holmes's voice from above."Ihope you have no designs upon us on such a night as this."
Thedetective mounted the stairsand our lamp gleamed upon hisshiningwaterproof. I helped him out of it while Holmesknocked ablaze out of the logs in the grate.
"Nowmy dear Hopkinsdraw up and warm your toes" said he."Here'sa cigarand the doctor has a prescription containing hotwater anda lemon which is good medicine on a night like this.It must besomething important which has brought you outin such agale."
"Itis indeedMr. Holmes. I've had a bustling afternoonI promiseyou. Did you see anything of the Yoxley case inthe latesteditions?"
"I'veseen nothing later than the fifteenth century to-day."
"Wellit was only a paragraphand all wrong at thatso youhave notmissed anything. I haven't let the grass grow undermy feet. It's down in Kentseven miles from Chatham and threefrom therailway line. I was wired for at three-fifteenreachedYoxley OldPlace at fiveconducted my investigationwas backat CharingCross by the last trainand straight to you by cab."
"WhichmeansI supposethat you are not quite clear about your case?"
"Itmeans that I can make neither head nor tail of it.So far asI can see it is just as tangled a business as ever Ihandledand yet at first it seemed so simple that one couldn'tgo wrong. There's no motiveMr. Holmes. That's what bothersme -- Ican't put my hand on a motive. Here's a man dead --there's nodenying that -- butso far as I can seeno reasonon earthwhy anyone should wish him harm."
Holmes lithis cigar and leaned back in his chair.
"Letus hear about it" said he.
"I'vegot my facts pretty clear" said Stanley Hopkins."AllI want now is to know what they all mean. The storyso far asI can make it outis like this. Some years ago thiscountryhouseYoxley Old Placewas taken by an elderly manwho gavethe name of Professor Coram. He was an invalidkeepinghis bed half the timeand the other half hobbling roundthe housewith a stick or being pushed about the grounds by thegardenerin a bath-chair. He was well liked by the few neighbourswho calledupon himand he has the reputation down there ofbeing avery learned man. His household used to consist of anelderlyhousekeeperMrs. Markerand of a maidSusan Tarlton.These haveboth been with him since his arrivaland they seemto bewomen of excellent character. The Professor is writinga learnedbookand he found it necessary about a year ago toengage asecretary. The first two that he tried were notsuccesses;but the thirdMr. Willoughby Smitha very young manstraightfrom the Universityseems to have been just what hisemployerwanted. His work consisted in writing all the morningto theProfessor's dictationand he usually spent the eveningin huntingup references and passages which bore upon the nextday'swork. This Willoughby Smith has nothing against himeither asa boy at Uppingham or as a young man at Cambridge.I haveseen his testimonialsand from the first he was a decentquiethardworking fellowwith no weak spot in him at all.And yetthis is the lad who has met his death this morning in theProfessor'sstudy under circumstances which can point only to murder."
The windhowled and screamed at the windows. Holmes and I drewcloser tothe fire while the young inspector slowly and pointby pointdeveloped his singular narrative.
"Ifyou were to search all England" said he"I don't supposeyou couldfind a household more self-contained or free fromoutsideinfluences. Whole weeks would pass and not one of themgo pastthe garden gate. The Professor was buried in his workandexisted for nothing else. Young Smith knew nobody in theneighbourhoodand lived very much as his employer did. The twowomen hadnothing to take them from the house. Mortimer thegardenerwho wheels the bath-chairis an Army pensioner -- anoldCrimean man of excellent character. He does not live in thehousebutin a three-roomed cottage at the other end of thegarden. Those are the only people that you would find withinthegrounds of Yoxley Old Place. At the same timethe gateof thegarden is a hundred yards from the main London to Chathamroad. It opens with a latchand there is nothing to preventanyonefrom walking in.
"NowI will give you the evidence of Susan Tarltonwho is theonlyperson who can say anything positive about the matter.It was inthe forenoonbetween eleven and twelve.She wasengaged at the moment in hanging some curtains intheupstairs front bedroom. Professor Coram was still in bedfor whenthe weather is bad he seldom rises before midday.Thehousekeeper was busied with some work in the back of the house.WilloughbySmith had been in his bedroomwhich he uses as asitting-room;but the maid heard him at that moment pass alongthepassage and descend to the study immediately below her.She didnot see himbut she says that she could not be mistakenin hisquickfirm tread. She did not hear the study door closebut aminute or so later there was a dreadful cry in the room below.It was awildhoarse screamso strange and unnatural that itmight havecome either from a man or a woman. At the same instantthere wasa heavy thudwhich shook the old houseand then allwassilence. The maid stood petrified for a momentand thenrecoveringher courageshe ran downstairs. The study door was shutand sheopened it. Inside young Mr. Willoughby Smith was stretchedupon thefloor. At first she could see no injurybut as she triedto raisehim she saw that blood was pouring from the underside ofhis neck. It was pierced by a very small but very deep woundwhich haddivided the carotid artery. The instrument with whichthe injuryhad been inflicted lay upon the carpet beside him.It was oneof those small sealing-wax knives to be found onold-fashionedwriting-tableswith an ivory handle and a stiffblade. It was part of the fittings of the Professor's own desk.
"Atfirst the maid thought that young Smith was already deadbut onpouring some water from the carafe over his forehead heopened hiseyes for an instant. `The Professor' he murmured --`it wasshe.' The maid is prepared to swear that those werethe exactwords. He tried desperately to say something elseand heheld his right hand up in the air. Then he fell back dead.
"Inthe meantime the housekeeper had also arrived upon the scenebut shewas just too late to catch the young man's dying words.LeavingSusan with the bodyshe hurried to the Professor's room.He wassitting up in bed horribly agitatedfor he had heardenough toconvince him that something terrible had occurred.Mrs.Marker is prepared to swear that the Professor was stillin hisnight-clothesandindeedit was impossible for him todresswithout the help of Mortimerwhose orders were to comeat twelveo'clock. The Professor declares that he heard thedistantcrybut that he knows nothing more. He can give noexplanationof the young man's last words`The Professor --it wasshe' but imagines that they were the outcome of delirium.Hebelieves that Willoughby Smith had not an enemy in the worldand cangive no reason for the crime. His first action was tosendMortimer the gardener for the local police. A little laterthe chiefconstable sent for me. Nothing was moved before Igot thereand strict orders were given that no one should walkupon thepaths leading to the house. It was a splendid chanceof puttingyour theories into practiceMr. Sherlock Holmes.There wasreally nothing wanting."
"ExceptMr. Sherlock Holmes" said my companionwith a somewhatbittersmile. "Welllet us hear about it. What sort of jobdid youmake of it?"
"Imust ask you firstMr. Holmesto glance at this rough planwhich willgive you a general idea of the position of theProfessor'sstudy and the various points of the case.It willhelp you in following my investigation."
Heunfolded the rough chartwhich I here reproduceand he laidit acrossHolmes's knee. I roseandstanding behind HolmesI studiedit over his shoulder.
"Itis very roughof courseand it only deals with the pointswhich seemto me to be essential. All the rest you will seelater foryourself. Nowfirst of allpresuming that theassassinentered the househow did he or she come in?Undoubtedlyby the garden path and the back doorfrom whichthere isdirect access to the study. Any other way would havebeenexceedingly complicated. The escape must have also beenmade alongthat linefor of the two other exits from the roomone wasblocked by Susan as she ran downstairs and the otherleadsstraight to the Professor's bedroom. I therefore directedmyattention at once to the garden pathwhich was saturatedwithrecent rain and would certainly show any footmarks.
"Myexamination showed me that I was dealing with a cautiousand expertcriminal. No footmarks were to be found on the path.Therecould be no questionhoweverthat someone had passedalong thegrass border which lines the pathand that he haddone so inorder to avoid leaving a track. I could not findanythingin the nature of a distinct impressionbut the grasswastrodden down and someone had undoubtedly passed. It couldonly havebeen the murderersince neither the gardener noranyoneelse had been there that morning and the rain had onlybegunduring the night."
"Onemoment" said Holmes. "Where does this path lead to?"
"Howlong is it?"
"Ahundred yards or so."
"Atthe point where the path passes through the gate you couldsurelypick up the tracks?"
"Unfortunatelythe path was tiled at that point."
"Wellon the road itself?"
"No;it was all trodden into mire."
"Tut-tut! Wellthenthese tracks upon the grasswere theycoming or going?"
"Itwas impossible to say. There was never any outline."
"Alarge foot or a small?"
"Youcould not distinguish."
Holmesgave an ejaculation of impatience.
"Ithas been pouring rain and blowing a hurricane ever since"said he. "It will be harder to read now than that palimpsest.Wellwellit can't be helped. What did you doHopkinsafter youhad made certain that you had made certain of nothing?"
"Ithink I made certain of a good dealMr. Holmes.I knewthat someone had entered the house cautiously from without.I nextexamined the corridor. It is lined with cocoanut mattingand hadtaken no impression of any kind. This brought me into thestudyitself. It is a scantily-furnished room. The main articleis a largewriting-table with a fixed bureau. This bureauconsistsof a double column of drawers with a central smallcupboardbetween them. The drawers were openthe cupboard locked.Thedrawersit seemswere always openand nothing of value waskept inthem. There were some papers of importance in the cupboardbut therewere no signs that this had been tampered withand theProfessorassures me that nothing was missing. It is certain thatno robberyhas been committed.
"Icome now to the body of the young man.It wasfound near the bureauand just to the left of itas markedupon that chart. The stab was on the right sideof theneck and from behind forwardsso that it is almostimpossiblethat it could have been self-inflicted."
"Unlesshe fell upon the knife" said Holmes.
"Exactly. The idea crossed my mind. But we found the knife somefeet awayfrom the bodyso that seems impossible. Thenof coursethere arethe man's own dying words. Andfinallythere was thisveryimportant piece of evidence which was found clasped in thedead man'sright hand."
From hispocket Stanley Hopkins drew a small paper packet.Heunfolded it and disclosed a golden pince-nezwith two brokenends ofblack silk cord dangling from the end of it."WilloughbySmith had excellent sight" he added. "There can benoquestion that this was snatched from the face or the personof theassassin."
SherlockHolmes took the glasses into his hand and examinedthem withthe utmost attention and interest. He held them onhis noseendeavoured to read through themwent to the windowand staredup the street with themlooked at them most minutelyin thefull light of the lampand finallywith a chuckleseatedhimself at the table and wrote a few lines upon a sheetof paperwhich he tossed across to Stanley Hopkins.
"That'sthe best I can do for you" said he."Itmay prove to be of some use."
Theastonished detective read the note aloud. It ran as follows:--
"Wanteda woman of good addressattired like a lady.She has aremarkably thick nosewith eyes which are set closeuponeither side of it. She has a puckered foreheada peeringexpressionand probably rounded shoulders. There areindicationsthat she has had recourse to an optician at leasttwiceduring the last few months. As her glasses are ofremarkablestrength and as opticians are not very numerousthereshould be no difficulty in tracing her."
Holmessmiled at the astonishment of Hopkinswhich must havebeenreflected upon my features.
"Surelymy deductions are simplicity itself" said he."Itwould be difficult to name any articles which afford a finerfield forinference than a pair of glassesespecially soremarkablea pair as these. That they belong to a woman Iinfer fromtheir delicacyand alsoof coursefrom the lastwords ofthe dying man. As to her being a person of refinementand welldressedthey areas you perceivehandsomely mountedin solidgoldand it is inconceivable that anyone who wore suchglassescould be slatternly in other respects. You will findthat theclips are too wide for your noseshowing that thelady'snose was very broad at the base. This sort of nose isusually ashort and coarse onebut there are a sufficient numberofexceptions to prevent me from being dogmatic or from insistingupon thispoint in my description. My own face is a narrow oneand yet Ifind that I cannot get my eyes into the centreornear thecentreof these glasses. Therefore the lady's eyesare setvery near to the sides of the nose. You will perceiveWatsonthat the glasses are concave and of unusual strength.A ladywhose vision has been so extremely contracted all herlife issure to have the physical characteristics of such visionwhich areseen in the foreheadthe eyelidsand the shoulders."
"Yes"I said"I can follow each of your arguments. I confesshoweverthat I am unable to understand how you arrive at thedoublevisit to the optician."
Holmestook the glasses in his hand.
"Youwill perceive" he said"that the clips are lined withtiny bandsof cork to soften the pressure upon the nose. One ofthese isdiscoloured and worn to some slight extentbut theother isnew. Evidently one has fallen off and been replaced.I shouldjudge that the older of them has not been there morethan a fewmonths. They exactly correspondso I gather thatthe ladywent back to the same establishment for the second."
"ByGeorgeit's marvellous!" cried Hopkinsin an ecstasy ofadmiration. "To think that I had all that evidence in my handand neverknew it! I had intendedhoweverto go the round ofthe Londonopticians."
"Ofcourse you would. Meanwhilehave you anything more to tellus aboutthe case?"
"NothingMr. Holmes. I think that you know as much as I donow --probably more. We have had inquiries made as to anystrangerseen on the country roads or at the railway station.We haveheard of none. What beats me is the utter want of allobject inthe crime. Not a ghost of a motive can anyone suggest."
"Ah!there I am not in a position to help you. But I supposeyou wantus to come out to-morrow?"
"Ifit is not asking too muchMr. Holmes. There's a train fromCharingCross to Chatham at six in the morningand we should beat YoxleyOld Place between eight and nine."
"Thenwe shall take it. Your case has certainly some featuresof greatinterestand I shall be delighted to look into it.Wellit'snearly oneand we had best get a few hours' sleep.I dare sayyou can manage all right on the sofa in front of thefire. I'll light my spirit-lamp and give you a cup of coffeebefore westart."
The galehad blown itself out next daybut it was a bittermorningwhen we started upon our journey. We saw the coldwinter sunrise over the dreary marshes of the Thames and thelongsullen reaches of the riverwhich I shall ever associatewith ourpursuit of the Andaman Islander in the earlier days ofourcareer. After a long and weary journey we alighted at asmallstation some miles from Chatham. While a horse was beingput into atrap at the local inn we snatched a hurried breakfastand so wewere all ready for business when we at last arrivedat YoxleyOld Place. A constable met us at the garden gate.
"Noreports of any stranger seen?"
"Nosir. Down at the station they are certain that no strangereithercame or went yesterday."
"Haveyou had inquiries made at inns and lodgings?"
"Yessir; there is no one that we cannot account for."
"Wellit's only a reasonable walk to Chatham. Anyone mightstaythereor take a train without being observed. This is thegardenpath of which I spokeMr. Holmes. I'll pledge my wordthere wasno mark on it yesterday."
"Onwhich side were the marks on the grass?"
"Thissidesir. This narrow margin of grass between the pathand theflower-bed. I can't see the traces nowbut they wereclear tome then."
"Yesyes; someone has passed along" said Holmesstooping overthe grassborder. "Our lady must have picked her steps carefullymust shenotsince on the one side she would leave a track onthe pathand on the other an even clearer one on the soft bed?"
"Yessirshe must have been a cool hand."
I saw anintent look pass over Holmes's face.
"Yousay that she must have come back this way?"
"Yessir; there is no other."
"Onthis strip of grass?"
"Hum! It was a very remarkable performance -- very remarkable.WellIthink we have exhausted the path. Let us go farther.Thisgarden door is usually kept openI suppose? Then thisvisitorhad nothing to do but to walk in. The idea of murderwas not inher mindor she would have provided herself withsome sortof weaponinstead of having to pick this knife offthewriting-table. She advanced along this corridorleaving notracesupon the cocoanut matting. Then she found herself in thisstudy. How long was she there? We have no means of judging."
"Notmore than a few minutessir. I forgot to tell you thatMrs.Markerthe housekeeperhad been in there tidying not verylongbefore -- about a quarter of an hourshe says."
"Wellthat gives us a limit. Our lady enters this room andwhat doesshe do? She goes over to the writing-table.What for? Not for anything in the drawers. If there had beenanythingworth her taking it would surely have been locked up.No; it wasfor something in that wooden bureau. Halloa! whatis thatscratch upon the face of it? Just hold a matchWatson.Why didyou not tell me of thisHopkins?"
The markwhich he was examining began upon the brass work ontheright-hand side of the keyholeand extended for about fourincheswhere it had scratched the varnish from the surface.
"Inoticed itMr. Holmes. But you'll always find scratchesround akeyhole."
"Thisis recentquite recent. See how the brass shines whereit iscut. An old scratch would be the same colour as the surface.Look at itthrough my lens. There's the varnishtoolike earthon eachside of a furrow. Is Mrs. Marker there?"
Asad-facedelderly woman came into the room.
"Didyou dust this bureau yesterday morning?"
"Didyou notice this scratch?"
"NosirI did not."
"I amsure you did notfor a duster would have swept awaytheseshreds of varnish. Who has the key of this bureau?"
"TheProfessor keeps it on his watch-chain."
"Isit a simple key?"
"Nosir; it is a Chubb's key."
"Verygood. Mrs. Markeryou can go. Now we are making alittleprogress. Our lady enters the roomadvances to thebureauand either opens it or tries to do so. While she isthusengaged young Willoughby Smith enters the room. In herhurry towithdraw the key she makes this scratch upon the door.He seizesherand shesnatching up the nearest objectwhichhappens tobe this knifestrikes at him in order to make himlet go hishold. The blow is a fatal one. He falls and sheescapeseither with or without the object for which she hascome. Is Susan the maid there? Could anyone have got awaythroughthat door after the time that you heard the crySusan?"
"Nosir; it is impossible. Before I got down the stair I'd haveseenanyone in the passage. Besidesthe door never openedfor Iwould have heard it."
"Thatsettles this exit. Then no doubt the lady went out theway shecame. I understand that this other passage leads onlyto theProfessor's room. There is no exit that way?"
"Weshall go down it and make the acquaintance of the Professor.HalloaHopkins! this is very importantvery important indeed.TheProfessor's corridor is also lined with cocoanut matting."
"Wellsirwhat of that?"
"Don'tyou see any bearing upon the case? WellwellI don'tinsistupon it. No doubt I am wrong. And yet it seems to me tobesuggestive. Come with me and introduce me."
We passeddown the passagewhich was of the same length as thatwhich ledto the garden. At the end was a short flight of stepsending ina door. Our guide knockedand then ushered us intotheProfessor's bedroom.
It was avery large chamberlined with innumerable volumeswhich hadoverflowed from the shelves and lay in piles in thecornersor were stacked all round at the base of the cases.The bedwas in the centre of the roomand in itpropped upwithpillowswas the owner of the house. I have seldom seen amoreremarkable-looking person. It was a gauntaquiline facewhich wasturned towards uswith piercing dark eyeswhichlurked indeep hollows under overhung and tufted brows. Hishair andbeard were whitesave that the latter was curiouslystainedwith yellow around his mouth. A cigarette glowed amidthe tangleof white hairand the air of the room was fetidwith staletobacco-smoke. As he held out his hand to HolmesIperceived that it also was stained yellow with nicotine.
"AsmokerMr. Holmes?" said hespeaking well-chosen Englishwith acurious little mincing accent. "Pray take a cigarette.And yousir? I can recommend themfor I have themespeciallyprepared by Ionides of Alexandria. He sends me athousandat a timeand I grieve to say that I have to arrangefor afresh supply every fortnight. Badsirvery badbut anold manhas few pleasures. Tobacco and my work -- that is allthat isleft to me."
Holmes hadlit a cigaretteand was shooting little dartingglancesall over the room.
"Tobaccoand my workbut now only tobacco" the old man exclaimed."Alas!what a fatal interruption! Who could have foreseen such aterriblecatastrophe? So estimable a young man! I assure you thatafter afew months' training he was an admirable assistant.What doyou think of the matterMr. Holmes?"
"Ihave not yet made up my mind."
"Ishall indeed be indebted to you if you can throw a lightwhere allis so dark to us. To a poor bookworm and invalid likemyselfsuch a blow is paralyzing. I seem to have lost thefaculty ofthought. But you are a man of action -- you are aman ofaffairs. It is part of the everyday routine of your life.You canpreserve your balance in every emergency. We arefortunateindeed in having you at our side."
Holmes waspacing up and down one side of the room whilst theoldProfessor was talking. I observed that he was smoking withextraordinaryrapidity. It was evident that he shared ourhost'sliking for the fresh Alexandrian cigarettes.
"Yessirit is a crushing blow" said the old man. "Thatismy MAGNUMOPUS -- the pile of papers on the side table yonder.It is myanalysis of the documents found in the Coptic monasteriesof Syriaand Egypta work which will cut deep at the veryfoundationsof revealed religion. With my enfeebled healthI do notknow whether I shall ever be able to complete it nowthat myassistant has been taken from me. Dear me Mr. Holmes;whyyouare even a quicker smoker than I am myself."
"I ama connoisseur" said hetaking another cigarette from thebox -- hisfourth -- and lighting it from the stub of that whichhe hadfinished. "I will not trouble you with any lengthycross-examinationProfessor Coramsince I gather that you werein bed atthe time of the crime and could know nothing about it.I wouldonly ask this. What do you imagine that this poorfellowmeant by his last words: `The Professor -- it was she'?"
TheProfessor shook his head.
"Susanis a country girl" said he"and you know the incrediblestupidityof that class. I fancy that the poor fellow murmuredsomeincoherent delirious wordsand that she twisted them intothismeaningless message."
"Isee. You have no explanation yourself of the tragedy?"
"Possiblyan accident; possibly -- I only breathe it amongourselves-- a suicide. Young men have their hidden troubles --someaffair of the heartperhapswhich we have never known.It is amore probable supposition than murder."
"Ah! I am only a student -- a man of dreams. I cannot explainthepractical things of life. But stillwe are awaremy friendthatlove-gages may take strange shapes. By all means takeanothercigarette. It is a pleasure to see anyone appreciatethem so. A fana gloveglasses -- who knows what article maybe carriedas a token or treasured when a man puts an end to hislife? This gentleman speaks of footsteps in the grass; butafterallit iseasy to be mistaken on such a point. As to the knifeit mightwell be thrown far from the unfortunate man as he fell.It ispossible that I speak as a childbut to me it seems thatWilloughbySmith has met his fate by his own hand."
Holmesseemed struck by the theory thus put forwardand hecontinuedto walk up and down for some timelost in thoughtandconsuming cigarette after cigarette.
"TellmeProfessor Coram" he saidat last"what is in thatcupboardin the bureau?"
"Nothingthat would help a thief. Family papersletters frommy poorwifediplomas of Universities which have done me honour.Here isthe key. You can look for yourself."
Holmespicked up the key and looked at it for an instant;then hehanded it back.
"No;I hardly think that it would help me" said he. "Ishouldprefer togo quietly down to your garden and turn the wholematterover in my head. There is something to be said for thetheory ofsuicide which you have put forward. We must apologizefor havingintruded upon youProfessor Coramand I promisethat wewon't disturb you until after lunch. At two o'clockwe willcome again and report to you anything which may havehappenedin the interval."
Holmes wascuriously distraitand we walked up and down thegardenpath for some time in silence.
"Haveyou a clue?" I askedat last.
"Itdepends upon those cigarettes that I smoked" said he."Itis possible that I am utterly mistaken. The cigaretteswill showme."
"Mydear Holmes" I exclaimed"how on earth ----"
"Wellwellyou may see for yourself. If notthere's no harmdone. Of coursewe always have the optician clue to fall backuponbutI take a short cut when I can get it. Ahhere is thegood Mrs.Marker! Let us enjoy five minutes of instructiveconversationwith her."
I may haveremarked before that Holmes hadwhen he likedapeculiarly ingratiating way with womenand that he very readilyestablishedterms of confidence with them. In half the timewhich hehad named he had captured the housekeeper's goodwilland waschatting with her as if he had known her for years.
"YesMr. Holmesit is as you saysir. He does smokesomethingterrible. All day and sometimes all nightsir.I've seenthat room of a morning -- wellsiryou'd have thoughtit was aLondon fog. Poor young Mr. Smithhe was a smoker alsobut not asbad as the Professor. His health -- wellI don'tknow thatit's better nor worse for the smoking."
"Ah!"said Holmes"but it kills the appetite."
"WellI don't know about thatsir."
"Isuppose the Professor eats hardly anything?"
"Wellhe is variable. I'll say that for him."
"I'llwager he took no breakfast this morningand won't facehis lunchafter all the cigarettes I saw him consume."
"Wellyou're out theresiras it happensfor he ate a remarkablebigbreakfast this morning. I don't know when I've known him makea betteroneand he's ordered a good dish of cutlets for his lunch.I'msurprised myselffor since I came into that room yesterdayand sawyoung Mr. Smith lying there on the floor I couldn't bearto look atfood. Wellit takes all sorts to make a worldand theProfessorhasn't let it take his appetite away."
Weloitered the morning away in the garden. Stanley Hopkins hadgone downto the village to look into some rumours of a strangewoman whohad been seen by some children on the Chatham Road thepreviousmorning. As to my friendall his usual energy seemedto havedeserted him. I had never known him handle a case insuch ahalf-hearted fashion. Even the news brought back byHopkinsthat he had found the children and that they hadundoubtedlyseen a woman exactly corresponding with Holmes'sdescriptionand wearing either spectacles or eye-glassesfailedto rouseany sign of keen interest. He was more attentive whenSusanwhowaited upon us at lunchvolunteered the informationthat shebelieved Mr. Smith had been out for a walk yesterdaymorningand that he had only returned half an hour before thetragedyoccurred. I could not myself see the bearing of thisincidentbut I clearly perceived that Holmes was weaving itinto thegeneral scheme which he had formed in his brain.Suddenlyhe sprang from his chair and glanced at his watch."Twoo'clockgentlemen" said he. "We must go up and haveit outwith our friend the Professor."
The oldman had just finished his lunchand certainly his emptydish boreevidence to the good appetite with which hishousekeeperhad credited him. He wasindeeda weird figureas heturned his white mane and his glowing eyes towards us.Theeternal cigarette smouldered in his mouth. He had beendressedand was seated in an arm-chair by the fire.
"WellMr. Holmeshave you solved this mystery yet?" He shovedthe largetin of cigarettes which stood on a table beside himtowards mycompanion. Holmes stretched out his hand at the samemomentand between them they tipped the box over the edge.For aminute or two we were all on our knees retrieving straycigarettesfrom impossible places. When we rose again I observedthatHolmes's eyes were shining and his cheeks tinged with colour.Only at acrisis have I seen those battle-signals flying.
"Yes"said he"I have solved it."
StanleyHopkins and I stared in amazement. Something like asneerquivered over the gaunt features of the old Professor.
"Indeed! In the garden?"
"Youare surely jokingMr. Sherlock Holmes. You compel me to tellyou thatthis is too serious a matter to be treated in such a fashion."
"Ihave forged and tested every link of my chainProfessor Coramand I amsure that it is sound. What your motives are or whatexact partyou play in this strange business I am not yet able tosay. In a few minutes I shall probably hear it from your own lips.MeanwhileI will reconstruct what is past for your benefitso thatyou mayknow the information which I still require.
"Alady yesterday entered your study. She came with the intentionofpossessing herself of certain documents which were in yourbureau. She had a key of her own. I have had an opportunityofexamining yoursand I do not find that slight discolourationwhich thescratch made upon the varnish would have produced.You werenot an accessorythereforeand she cameso far asI can readthe evidencewithout your knowledge to rob you."
TheProfessor blew a cloud from his lips. "This is mostinterestingand instructive" said he. "Have you no more to add?Surelyhaving traced this lady so faryou can also say what hasbecome ofher."
"Iwill endeavour to do so. In the first place she wasseized byyour secretaryand stabbed him in order to escape.Thiscatastrophe I am inclined to regard as an unhappy accidentfor I amconvinced that the lady had no intention of inflictingsogrievous an injury. An assassin does not come unarmed.Horrifiedby what she had done she rushed wildly away from thescene ofthe tragedy. Unfortunately for her she had lost herglasses inthe scuffleand as she was extremely short-sightedshe wasreally helpless without them. She ran down a corridorwhich sheimagined to be that by which she had come -- both werelined withcocoanut matting -- and it was only when it was toolate thatshe understood that she had taken the wrong passageand thather retreat was cut off behind her. What was she to do?She couldnot go back. She could not remain where she was.She mustgo on. She went on. She mounted a stairpushed opena doorand found herself in your room."
The oldman sat with his mouth open staring wildly at Holmes.Amazementand fear were stamped upon his expressive features.Nowwithan efforthe shrugged his shoulders and burst intoinsincerelaughter.
"Allvery fineMr. Holmes" said he. "But there is onelittleflaw in your splendid theory. I was myself in my roomand Inever left it during the day."
"I amaware of thatProfessor Coram."
"Andyou mean to say that I could lie upon that bed and notbe awarethat a woman had entered my room?"
"Inever said so. You WERE aware of it. You spoke with her.Yourecognised her. You aided her to escape."
Again theProfessor burst into high-keyed laughter.He hadrisen to his feet and his eyes glowed like embers.
"Youare mad!" he cried. "You are talking insanely.I helpedher to escape? Where is she now?"
"Sheis there" said Holmesand he pointed to a high bookcasein thecorner of the room.
I saw theold man throw up his armsa terrible convulsionpassedover his grim faceand he fell back in his chair.At thesame instant the bookcase at which Holmes pointed swunground upona hingeand a woman rushed out into the room."Youare right!" she criedin a strange foreign voice."Youare right! I am here."
She wasbrown with the dust and draped with the cobwebs whichhad comefrom the walls of her hiding-place. Her facetoowasstreaked with grimeand at the best she could never have beenhandsomefor she had the exact physical characteristics whichHolmes haddivinedwithin additiona long and obstinate chin.What withher natural blindnessand what with the change fromdark tolightshe stood as one dazedblinking about her to seewhere andwho we were. And yetin spite of all these disadvantagesthere wasa certain nobility in the woman's bearinga gallantryin thedefiant chin and in the upraised headwhich compelledsomethingof respect and admiration. Stanley Hopkins had laidhis handupon her arm and claimed her as his prisonerbut shewaved himaside gentlyand yet with an overmastering dignitywhichcompelled obedience. The old man lay back in his chairwith atwitching faceand stared at her with brooding eyes.
"YessirI am your prisoner" she said. "From where IstoodI couldhear everythingand I know that you have learned thetruth. I confess it all. It was I who killed the young man.But youare rightyou who say it was an accident. I did noteven knowthat it was a knife which I held in my handfor in mydespair Isnatched anything from the table and struck at him tomake himlet me go. It is the truth that I tell."
"Madam"said Holmes"I am sure that it is the truth.I fearthat you are far from well."
She hadturned a dreadful colourthe more ghastly under thedarkdust-streaks upon her face. She seated herself on theside ofthe bed; then she resumed.
"Ihave only a little time here" she said"but I would haveyou toknow the whole truth. I am this man's wife. He is notanEnglishman. He is a Russian. His name I will not tell."
For thefirst time the old man stirred. "God bless youAnna!"he cried. "God bless you!"
She cast alook of the deepest disdain in his direction."Whyshould you cling so hard to that wretched life of yoursSergius?"said she. "It has done harm to many and good tonone --not even to yourself. Howeverit is not for me tocause thefrail thread to be snapped before God's time.I haveenough already upon my soul since I crossed the thresholdof thiscursed house. But I must speak or I shall be too late.
"Ihave saidgentlementhat I am this man's wife. He wasfifty andI a foolish girl of twenty when we married. It wasin a cityof Russiaa University -- I will not name the place."
"Godbless youAnna!" murmured the old man again.
"Wewere reformers -- revolutionists -- Nihilistsyou understand.He and Iand many more. Then there came a time of troublea policeofficer was killedmany were arrestedevidence waswantedand in order to save his own life and to earn a greatreward myhusband betrayed his own wife and his companions.Yeswewere all arrested upon his confession. Some of us foundour way tothe gallows and some to Siberia. I was among theselastbutmy term was not for life. My husband came to Englandwith hisill-gotten gainsand has lived in quiet ever sinceknowingwell that if the Brotherhood knew where he was nota weekwould pass before justice would be done."
The oldman reached out a trembling hand and helped himselfto acigarette. "I am in your handsAnna" said he."Youwere always good to me."
"Ihave not yet told you the height of his villainy" said she."Amongour comrades of the Order there was one who was thefriend ofmy heart. He was nobleunselfishloving -- all thatmy husbandwas not. He hated violence. We were all guilty --if that isguilt -- but he was not. He wrote for ever dissuadingus fromsuch a course. These letters would have saved him.So wouldmy diaryin which from day to day I had entered bothmyfeelings towards him and the view which each of us had taken.My husbandfound and kept both diary and letters. He hid themand hetried hard to swear away the young man's life. In thishe failedbut Alexis was sent a convict to Siberiawhere nowat thismomenthe works in a salt mine. Think of thatyouvillainyou villain; nownowat this very momentAlexisa manwhose name you are not worthy to speakworks and lives likea slaveand yet I have your life in my hands and I let you go."
"Youwere always a noble womanAnna" said the old manpuffingat hiscigarette.
She hadrisenbut she fell back again with a little cry of pain.
"Imust finish" she said. "When my term was over I setmyselfto get thediary and letters whichif sent to the RussianGovernmentwould procure my friend's release. I knew that myhusbandhad come to England. After months of searching Idiscoveredwhere he was. I knew that he still had the diaryfor when Iwas in Siberia I had a letter from him oncereproachingme and quoting some passages from its pages.Yet I wassure that with his revengeful nature he would nevergive it tome of his own free will. I must get it for myself.With thisobject I engaged an agent from a private detective firmwhoentered my husband's house as secretary -- it was yoursecondsecretarySergiusthe one who left you so hurriedly.He foundthat papers were kept in the cupboardand he got animpressionof the key. He would not go farther. He furnishedme with aplan of the houseand he told me that in the forenoonthe studywas always emptyas the secretary was employed up here.So at lastI took my courage in both hands and I came down toget thepapers for myself. I succeededbut at what a cost!
"Ihad just taken the papers and was locking the cupboard whenthe youngman seized me. I had seen him already that morning.He had metme in the road and I had asked him to tell me whereProfessorCoram livednot knowing that he was in his employ."
"Exactly!exactly!" said Holmes. "The secretary came back andtold hisemployer of the woman he had met. Then in his lastbreath hetried to send a message that it was she -- the she whomhe hadjust discussed with him."
"Youmust let me speak" said the womanin an imperative voiceand herface contracted as if in pain. "When he had fallenI rushedfrom the roomchose the wrong doorand found myselfin myhusband's room. He spoke of giving me up. I showed himthat if hedid so his life was in my hands. If he gave me tothe law Icould give him to the Brotherhood. It was not thatI wishedto live for my own sakebut it was that I desired toaccomplishmy purpose. He knew that I would do what I said --that hisown fate was involved in mine. For that reasonand for noother he shielded me. He thrust me into that darkhiding-placea relic of old daysknown only to himself.He tookhis meals in his own roomand so was able to give mepart ofhis food. It was agreed that when the police leftthe houseI should slip away by night and come back no more.But insome way you have read our plans." She tore from thebosom ofher dress a small packet. "These are my last words"said she;"here is the packet which will save Alexis.I confideit to your honour and to your love of justice.Take it! You will deliver it at the Russian Embassy.Now I havedone my dutyand ----"
"Stopher!" cried Holmes. He had bounded across the roomand hadwrenched a small phial from her hand.
"Toolate!" she saidsinking back on the bed. "Too late!I took thepoison before I left my hiding-place. My head swims!I amgoing! I charge yousirto remember the packet."
"Asimple caseand yet in some ways an instructive one"Holmesremarkedas we travelled back to town. "It hinged fromthe outsetupon the pince-nez. But for the fortunate chance ofthe dyingman having seized these I am not sure that we couldever havereached our solution. It was clear to me from thestrengthof the glasses that the wearer must have been veryblind andhelpless when deprived of them. When you asked me tobelievethat she walked along a narrow strip of grass withoutoncemaking a false step I remarkedas you may rememberthatit was anoteworthy performance. In my mind I set it down as animpossibleperformancesave in the unlikely case that she had asecondpair of glasses. I was forcedthereforeto seriouslyconsiderthe hypothesis that she had remained within the house.Onperceiving the similarity of the two corridors it becameclear thatshe might very easily have made such a mistakeand inthat case it was evident that she must have enteredtheProfessor's room. I was keenly on the alertthereforeforwhatever would bear out this suppositionand I examinedthe roomnarrowly for anything in the shape of a hiding-place.The carpetseemed continuous and firmly nailedso I dismissedthe ideaof a trap-door. There might well be a recess behindthebooks. As you are awaresuch devices are common in oldlibraries. I observed that books were piled on the floor at allotherpointsbut that one bookcase was left clear. Thisthenmight bethe door. I could see no marks to guide mebut thecarpet wasof a dun colourwhich lends itself very well toexamination. I therefore smoked a great number of thoseexcellentcigarettesand I dropped the ash all over the spacein frontof the suspected bookcase. It was a simple trickbutexceedinglyeffective. I then went downstairs and I ascertainedin yourpresenceWatsonwithout your perceiving the drift of myremarksthat Professor Coram's consumption of food had increased-- as onewould expect when he is supplying a second person.We thenascended to the room againwhenby upsetting thecigarette-boxI obtained a very excellent view of the floorand wasable to see quite clearlyfrom the traces upon thecigaretteashthat the prisoner hadin our absencecome outfrom herretreat. WellHopkinshere we are at Charing Crossand Icongratulate you on having brought your case to a successfulconclusion. You are going to head-quartersno doubt. I thinkWatsonyou and I will drive together to the Russian Embassy."
WE werefairly accustomed to receive weird telegrams at BakerStreetbut I have a particular recollection of one which reachedus on agloomy February morning some seven or eight years ago andgave Mr.Sherlock Holmes a puzzled quarter of an hour. It wasaddressedto himand ran thus:--
"Pleaseawait me. Terrible misfortune. Right wing three-quartermissing;indispensable to morrow. -- OVERTON."
"Strandpost-mark and dispatched ten-thirty-six" said Holmesreading itover and over. "Mr. Overton was evidently considerablyexcitedwhen he sent itand somewhat incoherent in consequence.Wellwellhe will be hereI dare sayby the time I have lookedthroughthe TIMESand then we shall know all about it. Even themostinsignificant problem would be welcome in these stagnant days."
Things hadindeed been very slow with usand I had learnedto dreadsuch periods of inactionfor I knew by experiencethat mycompanion's brain was so abnormally active that it wasdangerousto leave it without material upon which to work.For yearsI had gradually weaned him from that drug mania whichhadthreatened once to check his remarkable career. Now I knewthat underordinary conditions he no longer craved for thisartificialstimulusbut I was well aware that the fiend wasnot deadbut sleeping; and I have known that the sleep was alight oneand the waking near when in periods of idleness I haveseen thedrawn look upon Holmes's ascetic faceand the broodingof hisdeep-set and inscrutable eyes. Therefore I blessed thisMr.Overtonwhoever he might besince he had come with hisenigmaticmessage to break that dangerous calm which brought moreperil tomy friend than all the storms of his tempestuous life.
As we hadexpectedthe telegram was soon followed by itssenderand the card of Mr. Cyril Overtonof Trinity CollegeCambridgeannounced the arrival of an enormous young mansixteenstone of solid bone and musclewho spanned the doorwaywith hisbroad shoulders and looked from one of us to the otherwith acomely face which was haggard with anxiety.
"I'vebeen down to Scotland YardMr. Holmes.I sawInspector Stanley Hopkins. He advised me to come to you.He saidthe caseso far as he could seewas more in your linethan inthat of the regular police."
"Praysit down and tell me what is the matter."
"It'sawfulMr. Holmessimply awful! I wonder my hair isn't grey.GodfreyStaunton -- you've heard of himof course? He's simply thehinge thatthe whole team turns on. I'd rather spare two from thepack andhave Godfrey for my three-quarter line. Whether it'spassingor tacklingor dribblingthere's no one to touch him;and thenhe's got the head and can hold us all together.What am Ito do? That's what I ask youMr. Holmes.There'sMoorhousefirst reservebut he is trained as a halfand healways edges right in on to the scrum instead of keepingout on thetouch-line. He's a fine place-kickit's truebutthenhehas no judgmentand he can't sprint for nuts.WhyMorton or Johnsonthe Oxford flierscould romp round him.Stevensonis fast enoughbut he couldn't drop from the twenty-fivelineanda three-quarter who can't either punt or drop isn't wortha placefor pace alone. NoMr. Holmeswe are done unless you canhelp me tofind Godfrey Staunton."
My friendhad listened with amused surprise to this long speechwhich waspoured forth with extraordinary vigour and earnestnesseverypoint being driven home by the slapping of a brawny handupon thespeaker's knee. When our visitor was silent Holmesstretchedout his hand and took down letter "S" of hiscommonplacebook. For once he dug in vain into that mine ofvariedinformation.
"Thereis Arthur H. Stauntonthe rising young forger"said he"and there was Henry Stauntonwhom I helped to hangbutGodfrey Staunton is a new name to me."
It was ourvisitor's turn to look surprised.
"WhyMr. HolmesI thought you knew things" said he."Isupposethenif you have never heard of Godfrey Stauntonyou don'tknow Cyril Overton either?"
Holmesshook his head good-humouredly.
"GreatScot!" cried the athlete. "WhyI was first reserveforEngland against Walesand I've skippered the 'Varsity allthisyear. But that's nothing! I didn't think there was asoul inEngland who didn't know Godfrey Stauntonthe crackthree-quarterCambridgeBlackheathand five Internationals.GoodLord! Mr. Holmeswhere HAVE you lived?"
Holmeslaughed at the young giant's naive astonishment.
"Youlive in a different world to meMr. Overtona sweeterandhealthier one. My ramifications stretch out into manysectionsof societybut neverI am happy to sayinto amateursportwhich is the best and soundest thing in England. Howeveryourunexpected visit this morning shows me that even in thatworld offresh air and fair play there may be work for me to do;so nowmygood sirI beg you to sit down and to tell me slowlyandquietly exactly what it is that has occurredand how youdesirethat I should help you."
YoungOverton's face assumed the bothered look of the man whois moreaccustomed to using his muscles than his wits; but bydegreeswith many repetitions and obscurities which I may omitfrom hisnarrativehe laid his strange story before us.
"It'sthis wayMr. Holmes. As I have saidI am the skipperof theRugger team of Cambridge 'Varsityand Godfrey Stauntonis my bestman. To-morrow we play Oxford. Yesterday weall cameup and we settled at Bentley's private hotel. At teno'clock Iwent round and saw that all the fellows had gone toroostforI believe in strict training and plenty of sleep tokeep ateam fit. I had a word or two with Godfrey before heturnedin. He seemed to me to be pale and bothered. I asked himwhat wasthe matter. He said he was all right -- just a touchofheadache. I bade him good-night and left him. Half anhourlater theporter tells me that a rough-looking man with a beardcalledwith a note for Godfrey. He had not gone to bed and thenote wastaken to his room. Godfrey read it and fell back in achair asif he had been pole-axed. The porter was so scared thathe wasgoing to fetch mebut Godfrey stopped himhad a drink ofwaterandpulled himself together. Then he went downstairssaid a fewwords to the man who was waiting in the halland thetwo ofthem went off together. The last that the porter saw ofthemtheywere almost running down the street in the directionof theStrand. This morning Godfrey's room was emptyhis bedhad neverbeen slept inand his things were all just as I hadseen themthe night before. He had gone off at a moment's noticewith thisstrangerand no word has come from him since. I don'tbelieve hewill ever come back. He was a sportsmanwas Godfreydown tohis marrowand he wouldn't have stopped his training andlet in hisskipper if it were not for some cause that was toostrong forhim. No; I feel as if he were gone for good and weshouldnever see him again."
SherlockHolmes listened with the deepest attention to thissingularnarrative.
"Whatdid you do?" he asked.
"Iwired to Cambridge to learn if anything had been heardof himthere. I have had an answer. No one has seen him."
"Couldhe have got back to Cambridge?"
"Yesthere is a late train -- quarter-past eleven."
"Butso far as you can ascertain he did not take it?"
"Nohe has not been seen."
"Whatdid you do next?"
"Iwired to Lord Mount-James."
"Whyto Lord Mount-James?"
"Godfreyis an orphanand Lord Mount-James is his nearestrelative-- his uncleI believe."
"Indeed. This throws new light upon the matter.LordMount-James is one of the richest men in England."
"SoI've heard Godfrey say."
"Andyour friend was closely related?"
"Yeshe was his heirand the old boy is nearly eighty --cram fullof gouttoo. They say he could chalk his billiard-cuewith hisknuckles. He never allowed Godfrey a shilling in hislifeforhe is an absolute miserbut it will all come to himrightenough."
"Haveyou heard from Lord Mount-James?"
"Whatmotive could your friend have in going to Lord Mount-James?"
"Wellsomething was worrying him the night beforeand ifit was todo with money it is possible that he would make for hisnearestrelative who had so much of itthough from all I haveheard hewould not have much chance of getting it. Godfrey wasnot fondof the old man. He would not go if he could help it."
"Wellwe can soon determine that. If your friend was goingto hisrelativeLord Mount-Jamesyou have then to explainthe visitof this rough-looking fellow at so late an hourand theagitation that was caused by his coming."
CyrilOverton pressed his hands to his head. "I can makenothing ofit" said he.
"WellwellI have a clear dayand I shall be happy to lookinto thematter" said Holmes. "I should strongly recommendyou tomake your preparations for your match without referenceto thisyoung gentleman. It mustas you sayhave been anoverpoweringnecessity which tore him away in such a fashionand thesame necessity is likely to hold him away. Let us steproundtogether to this hoteland see if the porter can throwany freshlight upon the matter."
SherlockHolmes was a past-master in the art of putting ahumblewitness at his easeand very soonin the privacy ofGodfreyStaunton's abandoned roomhe had extracted all thatthe porterhad to tell. The visitor of the night before was notagentlemanneither was he a working man. He was simply whatthe porterdescribed as a "medium-looking chap"; a man of fiftybeardgrizzledpale facequietly dressed. He seemed himselfto beagitated. The porter had observed his hand trembling whenhe hadheld out the note. Godfrey Staunton had crammed the noteinto hispocket. Staunton had not shaken hands with the man inthe hall. They had exchanged a few sentencesof which theporter hadonly distinguished the one word "time." Then theyhadhurried off in the manner described. It was just half-pastten by thehall clock.
"Letme see" said Holmesseating himself on Staunton's bed."Youare the day porterare you not?"
"Yessir; I go off duty at eleven."
"Thenight porter saw nothingI suppose?"
"Nosir; one theatre party came in late. No one else."
"Wereyou on duty all day yesterday?"
"Didyou take any messages to Mr. Staunton?"
"Yessir; one telegram."
"Ah!that's interesting. What o'clock was this?"
"Wherewas Mr. Staunton when he received it?"
"Herein his room."
"Wereyou present when he opened it?"
"Yessir; I waited to see if there was an answer."
"Yessir. He wrote an answer."
"Didyou take it?"
"No;he took it himself."
"Buthe wrote it in your presence?"
"Yessir. I was standing by the doorand he with hisbackturned at that table. When he had written it he said`AllrightporterI will take this myself.'"
"Whatdid he write it with?"
"Wasthe telegraphic form one of these on the table?"
"Yessir; it was the top one."
Holmesrose. Taking the forms he carried them over to thewindow andcarefully examined that which was uppermost.
"Itis a pity he did not write in pencil" said hethrowingthem downagain with a shrug of disappointment. "As you have nodoubtfrequently observedWatsonthe impression usually goesthrough --a fact which has dissolved many a happy marriage.HoweverIcan find no trace here. I rejoicehowevertoperceive that he wrote with a broad-pointed quill penand I canhardly doubt that we will find some impression uponthisblotting-pad. Ahyessurely this is the very thing!"
He toreoff a strip of the blotting-paper and turned towardsus thefollowing hieroglyphic:--
CyrilOverton was much excited. "Hold it to the glass!" hecried.
"Thatis unnecessary" said Holmes. "The paper is thinand thereverse will give the message. Here it is."He turnedit over and we read:--
"Sothat is the tail end of the telegram which Godfrey Stauntondispatchedwithin a few hours of his disappearance.There areat least six words of the message which have escaped us;but whatremains -- `Stand by us for God's sake!' -- proves thatthis youngman saw a formidable danger which approached himand fromwhich someone else could protect him. `US' mark you!Anotherperson was involved. Who should it be but the pale-facedbeardedmanwho seemed himself in so nervous a state?Whatthenis the connection between Godfrey Staunton and thebeardedman? And what is the third source from which each ofthemsought for help against pressing danger? Our inquiry hasalreadynarrowed down to that."
"Wehave only to find to whom that telegram is addressed"Isuggested.
"Exactlymy dear Watson. Your reflectionthough profoundhadalready crossed my mind. But I dare say it may have come toyournotice that if you walk into a post-office and demand tosee thecounterfoil of another man's message there may be somedisinclinationon the part of the officials to oblige you. Thereis so muchred tape in these matters! HoweverI have no doubtthat witha little delicacy and finesse the end may be attained.MeanwhileI should like in your presenceMr. Overtonto gothroughthese papers which have been left upon the table."
There werea number of lettersbillsand note-bookswhichHolmesturned over and examined with quicknervous fingers anddartingpenetrating eyes. "Nothing here" he saidat last."Bythe wayI suppose your friend was a healthy young fellow --nothingamiss with him?"
"Soundas a bell."
"Haveyou ever known him ill?"
"Nota day. He has been laid up with a hackand once heslippedhis knee-capbut that was nothing."
"Perhapshe was not so strong as you suppose. I should thinkhe mayhave had some secret trouble. With your assent I willput one ortwo of these papers in my pocketin case theyshouldbear upon our future inquiry."
"Onemoment! one moment!" cried a querulous voiceand welooked upto find a queer little old manjerking and twitchingin thedoorway. He was dressed in rusty blackwith a verybroadbrimmed top-hat and a loose white necktie -- the wholeeffectbeing that of a very rustic parson or of an undertaker'smute. Yetin spite of his shabby and even absurd appearancehis voicehad a sharp crackleand his manner a quick intensitywhichcommanded attention.
"Whoare yousirand by what right do you touch thisgentleman'spapers?" he asked.
"I ama private detectiveand I am endeavouring to explainhisdisappearance."
"Ohyou areare you? And who instructed youeh?"
"ThisgentlemanMr. Staunton's friendwas referred to mebyScotland Yard."
"I amCyril Overton."
"Thenit is you who sent me a telegram. My name is Lord Mount-James.I cameround as quickly as the Bayswater 'bus would bring me.So youhave instructed a detective?"
"Andare you prepared to meet the cost?"
"Ihave no doubtsirthat my friend Godfreywhen we find himwill beprepared to do that."
"Butif he is never foundeh? Answer me that!"
"Inthat case no doubt his family ----"
"Nothingof the sortsir!" screamed the little man."Don'tlook to me for a penny -- not a penny! You understand thatMr.Detective! I am all the family that this young man has gotand I tellyou that I am not responsible. If he has any expectationsit is dueto the fact that I have never wasted moneyand I donotpropose to begin to do so now. As to those papers with whichyou aremaking so freeI may tell you that in case there shouldbeanything of any value among them you will be held strictlyto accountfor what you do with them."
"Verygoodsir" said Sherlock Holmes. "May I ask in themeanwhilewhether you have yourself any theory to account forthis youngman's disappearance?"
"NosirI have not. He is big enough and old enough to lookafterhimselfand if he is so foolish as to lose himself Ientirelyrefuse to accept the responsibility of hunting for him."
"Iquite understand your position" said Holmeswith amischievoustwinkle in his eyes. "Perhaps you don't quiteunderstandmine. Godfrey Staunton appears to have been a poorman. If he has been kidnapped it could not have been foranythingwhich he himself possesses. The fame of your wealth hasgoneabroadLord Mount-Jamesand it is entirely possible that agang ofthieves have secured your nephew in order to gain from himsomeinformation as to your houseyour habitsand your treasure."
The faceof our unpleasant little visitor turned as white ashisneckcloth.
"Heavenssirwhat an idea! I never thought of such villainy!Whatinhuman rogues there are in the world! But Godfrey is afine lad-- a staunch lad. Nothing would induce him to givehis olduncle away. I'll have the plate moved over to the bankthisevening. In the meantime spare no painsMr. Detective!I beg youto leave no stone unturned to bring him safely back.As tomoneywellso far as a fiveror even a tennergoesyou canalways look to me."
Even inhis chastened frame of mind the noble miser could giveus noinformation which could help usfor he knew little oftheprivate life of his nephew. Our only clue lay in thetruncatedtelegramand with a copy of this in his hand Holmesset forthto find a second link for his chain. We had shaken offLordMount-Jamesand Overton had gone to consult with the othermembers ofhis team over the misfortune which had befallen them.
There wasa telegraph-office at a short distance from the hotel.We haltedoutside it.
"It'sworth tryingWatson" said Holmes. "Of coursewitha warrantwe could demand to see the counterfoilsbut we havenotreached that stage yet. I don't suppose they remember facesin so busya place. Let us venture it."
"I amsorry to trouble you" said hein his blandest mannerto theyoung woman behind the grating; "there is some smallmistakeabout a telegram I sent yesterday. I have had no answerand I verymuch fear that I must have omitted to put my nameat theend. Could you tell me if this was so?"
The youngwoman turned over a sheaf of counterfoils.
"Whato'clock was it?" she asked.
"Alittle after six."
"Whomwas it to?"
Holmes puthis finger to his lips and glanced at me."Thelast words in it were `for God's sake'" he whisperedconfidentially;"I am very anxious at getting no answer."
The youngwoman separated one of the forms.
"Thisis it. There is no name" said shesmoothing it outupon thecounter.
"Thenthatof courseaccounts for my getting no answer"saidHolmes. "Dear mehow very stupid of meto be sure!Goodmorningmissand many thanks for having relieved my mind."Hechuckled and rubbed his hands when we found ourselves in thestreetonce more.
"Weprogressmy dear Watsonwe progress. I had sevendifferentschemes for getting a glimpse of that telegrambut Icould hardly hope to succeed the very first time."
"Andwhat have you gained?"
"Astarting-point for our investigation." He hailed a cab."King'sCross Station" said he.
"Wehave a journeythen?"
"Yes;I think we must run down to Cambridge together.All theindications seem to me to point in that direction."
"Tellme" I askedas we rattled up Gray's Inn Road"haveyou any suspicion yet as to the cause of the disappearance?I don'tthink that among all our cases I have known one where themotivesare more obscure. Surely you don't really imagine thathe may bekidnapped in order to give information against hiswealthyuncle?"
"Iconfessmy dear Watsonthat that does not appeal tome as avery probable explanation. It struck mehoweveras beingthe one which was most likely to interest thatexceedinglyunpleasant old person."
"Itcertainly did that. But what are your alternatives?"
"Icould mention several. You must admit that it is curiousandsuggestive that this incident should occur on the eve of thisimportantmatchand should involve the only man whose presenceseemsessential to the success of the side. It mayof coursebecoincidencebut it is interesting. Amateur sport is freefrombettingbut a good deal of outside betting goes on amongthepublicand it is possible that it might be worth someone'swhile toget at a player as the ruffians of the turf get at arace-horse. There is one explanation. A second very obvious oneis thatthis young man really is the heir of a great propertyhowevermodest his means may at present beand it is notimpossiblethat a plot to hold him for ransom might be concocted."
"Thesetheories take no account of the telegram."
"QuitetrueWatson. The telegram still remains the onlysolidthing with which we have to dealand we must not permitourattention to wander away from it. It is to gain light uponthepurpose of this telegram that we are now upon our way toCambridge. The path of our investigation is at present obscurebut Ishall be very much surprised if before evening we have notcleared itup or made a considerable advance along it."
It wasalready dark when we reached the old University city.Holmestook a cab at the stationand ordered the man to drive tothe houseof Dr. Leslie Armstrong. A few minutes later we hadstopped ata large mansion in the busiest thoroughfare. We wereshown inand after a long wait were at last admitted into theconsulting-roomwhere we found the doctor seated behind his table.
It arguesthe degree in which I had lost touch with myprofessionthat the name of Leslie Armstrong was unknown to me.Now I amaware that he is not only one of the heads of themedicalschool of the Universitybut a thinker of Europeanreputationin more than one branch of science. Yet even withoutknowinghis brilliant record one could not fail to be impressedby a mereglance at the manthe squaremassive facethebroodingeyes under the thatched browsand the granite mouldingof theinflexible jaw. A man of deep charactera man with analertmindgrimasceticself-containedformidable -- so I readDr. LeslieArmstrong. He held my friend's card in his handandhe lookedup with no very pleased expression upon his dour features.
"Ihave heard your nameMr. Sherlock Holmesand I am awareof yourprofessionone of which I by no means approve."
"Inthatdoctoryou will find yourself in agreement witheverycriminal in the country" said my friendquietly.
"Sofar as your efforts are directed towards the suppressionof crimesirthey must have the support of every reasonablemember ofthe communitythough I cannot doubt that the officialmachineryis amply sufficient for the purpose. Where yourcalling ismore open to criticism is when you pry into thesecrets ofprivate individualswhen you rake up family matterswhich arebetter hiddenand when you incidentally waste the timeof men whoare more busy than yourself. At the present momentforexampleI should be writing a treatise instead of conversingwith you."
"Nodoubtdoctor; and yet the conversation may prove moreimportantthan the treatise. Incidentally I may tell you thatwe aredoing the reverse of what you very justly blameand thatwe areendeavouring to prevent anything like public exposure ofprivatematters which must necessarily follow when once the caseis fairlyin the hands of the official police. You may lookupon mesimply as an irregular pioneer who goes in front of theregularforces of the country. I have come to ask you aboutMr.Godfrey Staunton."
"Youknow himdo you not?"
"Heis an intimate friend of mine."
"Youare aware that he has disappeared?"
"Ahindeed!" There was no change of expression in theruggedfeatures of the doctor.
"Heleft his hotel last night. He has not been heard of."
"Nodoubt he will return."
"To-morrowis the 'Varsity football match."
"Ihave no sympathy with these childish games. The youngman's fateinterests me deeplysince I know him and like him.Thefootball match does not come within my horizon at all."
"Iclaim your sympathythenin my investigation of Mr.Staunton'sfate. Do you know where he is?"
"Youhave not seen him since yesterday?"
"NoI have not."
"WasMr. Staunton a healthy man?"
"Didyou ever know him ill?"
Holmespopped a sheet of paper before the doctor's eyes."Thenperhaps you will explain this receipted bill for thirteenguineaspaid by Mr. Godfrey Staunton last month to Dr. LeslieArmstrongof Cambridge. I picked it out from among the papersupon hisdesk."
The doctorflushed with anger.
"I donot feel that there is any reason why I should renderanexplanation to youMr. Holmes."
Holmesreplaced the bill in his note-book. "If you prefera publicexplanation it must come sooner or later" said he."Ihave already told you that I can hush up that which otherswill bebound to publishand you would really be wiser totake meinto your complete confidence."
"Iknow nothing about it."
"Didyou hear from Mr. Staunton in London?"
"Dearmedear me; the post-office again!" Holmes sighedwearily. "A most urgent telegram was dispatched to you fromLondon byGodfrey Staunton at six-fifteen yesterday evening --a telegramwhich is undoubtedly associated with his disappearance-- and yetyou have not had it. It is most culpable. I shallcertainlygo down to the office here and register a complaint."
Dr. LeslieArmstrong sprang up from behind his deskand hisdark facewas crimson with fury.
"I'lltrouble you to walk out of my housesir" said he."Youcan tell your employerLord Mount-Jamesthat I do notwish tohave anything to do either with him or with his agents.Nosirnot another word!" He rang the bell furiously."Johnshow these gentlemen out!" A pompous butler usheredusseverely to the doorand we found ourselves in the street.Holmesburst out laughing.
"Dr.Leslie Armstrong is certainly a man of energy andcharacter"said he. "I have not seen a man whoif he turnedhistalents that waywas more calculated to fill the gap left bytheillustrious Moriarty. And nowmy poor Watsonhere we arestrandedand friendless in this inhospitable townwhich wecannotleave without abandoning our case. This little inn justoppositeArmstrong's house is singularly adapted to our needs.If youwould engage a front room and purchase the necessariesfor thenightI may have time to make a few inquiries."
These fewinquiries provedhoweverto be a more lengthyproceedingthan Holmes had imaginedfor he did not return tothe innuntil nearly nine o'clock. He was pale and dejectedstainedwith dustand exhausted with hunger and fatigue.A coldsupper was ready upon the tableand when his needs weresatisfiedand his pipe alight he was ready to take that half comicand whollyphilosophic view which was natural to him when hisaffairswere going awry. The sound of carriage wheels caused himto riseand glance out of the window. A brougham and pair of greysunder theglare of a gas-lamp stood before the doctor's door.
"It'sbeen out three hours" said Holmes; "started at half-pastsixandhere it is back again. That gives a radius of ten ortwelvemilesand he does it onceor sometimes twicea day."
"Nounusual thing for a doctor in practice."
"ButArmstrong is not really a doctor in practice. He is alecturerand a consultantbut he does not care for generalpracticewhich distracts him from his literary work.Whythendoes he make these long journeyswhich must beexceedinglyirksome to himand who is it that he visits?"
"Mydear Watsoncan you doubt that it was to him that Ifirstapplied? I do not know whether it came from his own innatedepravityor from the promptings of his masterbut he was rudeenough toset a dog at me. Neither dog nor man liked the look ofmy stickhoweverand the matter fell through. Relations werestrainedafter thatand further inquiries out of the question.All that Ihave learned I got from a friendly native in the yardof our owninn. It was he who told me of the doctor's habits andof hisdaily journey. At that instantto give point to hiswordsthecarriage came round to the door."
"Couldyou not follow it?"
"ExcellentWatson! You are scintillating this evening.The ideadid cross my mind. There isas you may have observeda bicycleshop next to our inn. Into this I rushedengaged abicycleand was able to get started before the carriage wasquite outof sight. I rapidly overtook itand thenkeeping ata discreetdistance of a hundred yards or soI followed itslightsuntil we were clear of the town. We had got well out onthecountry road when a somewhat mortifying incident occurred.Thecarriage stoppedthe doctor alightedwalked swiftly back towhere Ihad also haltedand told me in an excellent sardonicfashionthat he feared the road was narrowand that he hoped hiscarriagedid not impede the passage of my bicycle. Nothing couldhave beenmore admirable than his way of putting it. I at oncerode pastthe carriageandkeeping to the main roadI went onfor a fewmilesand then halted in a convenient place to see ifthecarriage passed. There was no sign of ithoweverand so itbecameevident that it had turned down one of several side roadswhich Ihad observed. I rode backbut again saw nothing of thecarriageand nowas you perceiveit has returned after me.Of courseI had at the outset no particular reason to connectthesejourneys with the disappearance of Godfrey Stauntonand wasonly inclined to investigate them on the general groundsthateverything which concerns Dr. Armstrong is at present ofinterestto us; butnow that I find he keeps so keen a look-outuponanyone who may follow him on these excursionsthe affairappearsmore importantand I shall not be satisfied untilI havemade the matter clear."
"Wecan follow him to-morrow."
"Canwe? It is not so easy as you seem to think. You arenotfamiliar with Cambridgeshire sceneryare you? It does notlenditself to concealment. All this country that I passed overto-nightis as flat and clean as the palm of your handand theman we arefollowing is no foolas he very clearly showedto-night. I have wired to Overton to let us know any freshLondondevelopments at this addressand in the meantime we canonlyconcentrate our attention upon Dr. Armstrongwhose nametheobliging young lady at the office allowed me to read uponthecounterfoil of Staunton's urgent message. He knows wherethe youngman is -- to that I'll swear -- and if he knowsthen itmust be our own fault if we cannot manage to know also.At presentit must be admitted that the odd trick is in hispossessionandas you are awareWatsonit is not my habitto leavethe game in that condition."
And yetthe next day brought us no nearer to the solution ofthemystery. A note was handed in after breakfastwhich Holmespassedacross to me with a smile.
"Sir"it ran"I can assure you that you are wasting your timein doggingmy movements. I haveas you discovered last nighta windowat the back of my broughamand if you desire atwenty-mileride which will lead you to the spot from which youstartedyou have only to follow me. MeanwhileI can inform youthat nospying upon me can in any way help Mr. Godfrey Stauntonand I amconvinced that the best service you can do to thatgentlemanis to return at once to London and to report to youremployerthat you are unable to trace him. Your time inCambridgewill certainly be wasted. "Yours faithfully "LESLIE ARMSTRONG."
"Anoutspokenhonest antagonist is the doctor" said Holmes."Wellwellhe excites my curiosityand I must really knowmorebefore I leave him."
"Hiscarriage is at his door now" said I. "There he issteppinginto it. I saw him glance up at our window as he did so.Suppose Itry my luck upon the bicycle?"
"Nonomy dear Watson! With all respect for your naturalacumen Ido not think that you are quite a match for the worthydoctor. I think that possibly I can attain our end by someindependentexplorations of my own. I am afraid that I mustleave youto your own devicesas the appearance of TWO inquiringstrangersupon a sleepy countryside might excite more gossip thanI carefor. No doubt you will find some sights to amuse you inthisvenerable cityand I hope to bring back a more favourablereport toyou before evening."
Once morehowevermy friend was destined to be disappointed.He cameback at night weary and unsuccessful.
"Ihave had a blank dayWatson. Having got the doctor'sgeneraldirectionI spent the day in visiting all the villagesupon thatside of Cambridgeand comparing notes with publicansand otherlocal news agencies. I have covered some ground:ChestertonHistonWaterbeachand Oakington have each beenexploredand have each proved disappointing. The dailyappearanceof a brougham and pair could hardly have beenoverlookedin such Sleepy Hollows. The doctor has scored oncemore. Is there a telegram for me?"
"Yes;I opened it. Here it is: `Ask for Pompey from JeremyDixonTrinity College.' I don't understand it."
"Ohit is clear enough. It is from our friend Overtonand is inanswer to a question from me. I'll just send rounda note toMr. Jeremy Dixonand then I have no doubt that ourluck willturn. By the wayis there any news of the match?"
"Yesthe local evening paper has an excellent account in itslastedition. Oxford won by a goal and two tries. The lastsentencesof the description say: `The defeat of the Light Bluesmay beentirely attributed to the unfortunate absence of the crackInternationalGodfrey Stauntonwhose want was felt at everyinstant ofthe game. The lack of combination in the three-quarterline andtheir weakness both in attack and defence more thanneutralizedthe efforts of a heavy and hard-working pack.'"
"Thenour friend Overton's forebodings have been justified"saidHolmes. "Personally I am in agreement with Dr. Armstrongandfootball does not come within my horizon. Early to bedto-nightWatsonfor I foresee that to-morrow may be an eventful day."
I washorrified by my first glimpse of Holmes next morningfor he satby the fire holding his tiny hypodermic syringe.Iassociated that instrument with the single weakness of hisnatureand I feared the worst when I saw it glittering in hishand. He laughed at my expression of dismayand laid it uponthe table.
"Nonomy dear fellowthere is no cause for alarm. It isnot uponthis occasion the instrument of evilbut it will ratherprove tobe the key which will unlock our mystery. On thissyringe Ibase all my hopes. I have just returned from a smallscoutingexpedition and everything is favourable. Eat a goodbreakfastWatsonfor I propose to get upon Dr. Armstrong'strailto-dayand once on it I will not stop for rest or fooduntil Irun him to his burrow."
"Inthat case" said I"we had best carry our breakfast withusfor he ismaking an early start. His carriage is at the door."
"Nevermind. Let him go. He will be clever if he can drivewhere Icannot follow him. When you have finished comedownstairswith meand I will introduce you to a detective whois a veryeminent specialist in the work that lies before us."
When wedescended I followed Holmes into the stable yardwherehe openedthe door of a loose-box and led out a squatlop-earedwhite-and-tandogsomething between a beagle and a foxhound.
"Letme introduce you to Pompey" said he. "Pompey is thepride ofthe local draghoundsno very great flieras his buildwill showbut a staunch hound on a scent. WellPompeyyou maynot befastbut I expect you will be too fast for a couple ofmiddle-agedLondon gentlemenso I will take the liberty offasteningthis leather leash to your collar. Nowboycomealongandshow what you can do." He led him across to thedoctor'sdoor. The dog sniffed round for an instantand thenwith ashrill whine of excitement started off down the streettugging athis leash in his efforts to go faster. In half an hourwe wereclear of the town and hastening down a country road.
"Whathave you doneHolmes?" I asked.
"Athreadbare and venerable devicebut useful upon occasion.I walkedinto the doctor's yard this morning and shot mysyringefull of aniseed over the hind wheel. A draghound willfollowaniseed from here to John o' Groat'sand our friendArmstrongwould have to drive through the Cam before he wouldshakePompey off his trail. Ohthe cunning rascal!This ishow he gave me the slip the other night."
The doghad suddenly turned out of the main road into agrass-grownlane. Half a mile farther this opened into anotherbroadroadand the trail turned hard to the right in thedirectionof the townwhich we had just quitted. The road tooka sweep tothe south of the town and continued in the oppositedirectionto that in which we started.
"ThisDETOUR has been entirely for our benefitthen?" saidHolmes. "No wonder that my inquiries among those villages ledtonothing. The doctor has certainly played the game for allit isworthand one would like to know the reason for suchelaboratedeception. This should be the village of Trumpingtonto theright of us. Andby Jove! here is the brougham cominground thecorner. QuickWatsonquickor we are done!"
He sprangthrough a gate into a fielddragging thereluctantPompey after him. We had hardly got under the shelterof thehedge when the carriage rattled past. I caught a glimpseof Dr.Armstrong withinhis shoulders bowedhis head sunk onhis handsthe very image of distress. I could tell by mycompanion'sgraver face that he also had seen.
"Ifear there is some dark ending to our quest" said he."Itcannot be long before we know it. ComePompey!Ahit isthe cottage in the field!"
Therecould be no doubt that we had reached the end of ourjourney. Pompey ran about and whined eagerly outside the gatewhere themarks of the brougham's wheels were still to be seen.A footpathled across to the lonely cottage. Holmes tied the dogto thehedgeand we hastened onwards. My friend knocked at thelittlerustic doorand knocked again without response. And yetthecottage was not desertedfor a low sound came to our ears --a kind ofdrone of misery and despairwhich was indescribablymelancholy. Holmes paused irresoluteand then he glanced backat theroad which we had just traversed. A brougham was comingdown itand there could be no mistaking those grey horses.
"ByJovethe doctor is coming back!" cried Holmes. "Thatsettlesit. We are bound to see what it means before he comes."
He openedthe door and we stepped into the hall. The droningsoundswelled louder upon our ears until it became one longdeep wailof distress. It came from upstairs. Holmes dartedup and Ifollowed him. He pushed open a half-closed doorand weboth stood appalled at the sight before us.
A womanyoung and beautifulwas lying dead upon the bed.Her calmpale facewith dimwide-opened blue eyeslookedupwardfrom amid a great tangle of golden hair. At the foot ofthe bedhalf sittinghalf kneelinghis face buried in theclotheswas a young manwhose frame was racked by his sobs. Soabsorbed was he by his bitter grief that he never lookedup untilHolmes's hand was on his shoulder.
"Areyou Mr. Godfrey Staunton?"
"Yesyes; I am -- but you are too late. She is dead."
The manwas so dazed that he could not be made to understandthat wewere anything but doctors who had been sent to hisassistance. Holmes was endeavouring to utter a few words ofconsolationand to explain the alarm which had been caused tohisfriends by his sudden disappearancewhen there was a stepupon thestairsand there was the heavysternquestioningface ofDr. Armstrong at the door.
"Sogentlemen" said he"you have attained your endandhavecertainly chosen a particularly delicate moment for yourintrusion. I would not brawl in the presence of deathbut I canassure youthat if I were a younger man your monstrous conductwould notpass with impunity."
"ExcusemeDr. ArmstrongI think we are a little atcross-purposes"said my friendwith dignity. "If you couldstepdownstairs with us we may each be able to give some lightto theother upon this miserable affair."
A minutelater the grim doctor and ourselves were in thesitting-roombelow.
"Wellsir?" said he.
"Iwish you to understandin the first placethat I am notemployedby Lord Mount-Jamesand that my sympathies in thismatter areentirely against that nobleman. When a man is lost itis my dutyto ascertain his fatebut having done so the matterends sofar as I am concerned; and so long as there is nothingcriminalI am much more anxious to hush up private scandals thanto givethem publicity. Ifas I imaginethere is no breach ofthe law inthis matteryou can absolutely depend upon my discretionand myco-operation in keeping the facts out of the papers."
Dr.Armstrong took a quick step forward and wrung Holmes by the hand.
"Youare a good fellow" said he. "I had misjudged you.I thankHeaven that my compunction at leaving poor Stauntonall alonein this plight caused me to turn my carriage backand so tomake your acquaintance. Knowing as much as you dothesituation is very easily explained. A year ago Godfrey Stauntonlodged inLondon for a timeand became passionately attached tohislandlady's daughterwhom he married. She was as good as shewasbeautifuland as intelligent as she was good. No man needbe ashamedof such a wife. But Godfrey was the heir to thiscrabbedold noblemanand it was quite certain that the news ofhismarriage would have been the end of his inheritance. I knewthe ladwelland I loved him for his many excellent qualities.I did allI could to help him to keep things straight. We didour verybest to keep the thing from everyonefor when once sucha whispergets about it is not long before everyone has heard it.Thanks tothis lonely cottage and his own discretionGodfrey hasup to nowsucceeded. Their secret was known to no one save to meand to oneexcellent servant who has at present gone forassistanceto Trumpington. But at last there came a terribleblow inthe shape of dangerous illness to his wife. It wasconsumptionof the most virulent kind. The poor boy was halfcrazedwith griefand yet he had to go to London to play thismatchforhe could not get out of it without explanations whichwouldexpose his secret. I tried to cheer him up by a wireandhe sent meone in reply imploring me to do all I could. This wasthetelegram which you appear in some inexplicable way to haveseen. I did not tell him how urgent the danger wasfor I knewthat hecould do no good herebut I sent the truth to the girl'sfatherand he very injudiciously communicated it to Godfrey.The resultwas that he came straight away in a state bordering onfrenzyand has remained in the same statekneeling at the endof herbeduntil this morning death put an end to her sufferings.That isallMr. Holmesand I am sure that I can rely upon yourdiscretionand that of your friend."
Holmesgrasped the doctor's hand.
"ComeWatson" said heand we passed from that house of griefinto thepale sunlight of the winter day.
It was ona bitterly cold and frosty morning during the winterof '97that I was awakened by a tugging at my shoulder. It wasHolmes. The candle in his hand shone upon his eagerstoopingface andtold me at a glance that something was amiss.
"ComeWatsoncome!" he cried. "The game is afoot. Not a word!Into yourclothes and come!"
Tenminutes later we were both in a cab and rattling through thesilentstreets on our way to Charing Cross Station. The firstfaintwinter's dawn was beginning to appearand we could dimlysee theoccasional figure of an early workman as he passed usblurredand indistinct in the opalescent London reek. Holmesnestled insilence into his heavy coatand I was glad to do thesameforthe air was most bitter and neither of us had brokenour fast. It was not until we had consumed some hot tea at thestationand taken our places in the Kentish trainthat we weresufficientlythawedhe to speak and I to listen. Holmes drew anote fromhis pocket and read it aloud:--
"Abbey GrangeMarshamKent "3.30 a.m."MYDEAR MR. HOLMES--- I should be very glad of your immediateassistancein what promises to be a most remarkable case.It issomething quite in your line. Except for releasing the ladyI will seethat everything is kept exactly as I have found itbut I begyou not to lose an instantas it is difficult to leaveSirEustace there. "Yours faithfullySTANLEY HOPKINS."
"Hopkinshas called me in seven timesand on each occasionhissummons has been entirely justified" said Holmes."Ifancy that every one of his cases has found its way into yourcollectionand I must admitWatsonthat you have some powerofselection which atones for much which I deplore in yournarratives. Your fatal habit of looking at everything from thepoint ofview of a story instead of as a scientific exercise hasruinedwhat might have been an instructive and even classicalseries ofdemonstrations. You slur over work of the utmostfinesseand delicacy in order to dwell upon sensational detailswhich mayexcitebut cannot possibly instructthe reader."
"Whydo you not write them yourself?" I saidwith some bitterness.
"Iwillmy dear WatsonI will. At present I amas you knowfairlybusybut I propose to devote my declining years to thecompositionof a text-book which shall focus the whole art ofdetectioninto one volume. Our present research appears to bea case ofmurder."
"Youthink this Sir Eustace is deadthen?"
"Ishould say so. Hopkins's writing shows considerableagitationand he is not an emotional man. YesI gather therehas beenviolenceand that the body is left for our inspection.A meresuicide would not have caused him to send for me.As to therelease of the ladyit would appear that she has beenlocked inher room during the tragedy. We are moving in high lifeWatson;crackling paper`E.B.' monogramcoat-of-armspicturesqueaddress. I think that friend Hopkins will live upto hisreputation and that we shall have an interestingmorning. The crime was committed before twelve last night."
"Howcan you possibly tell?"
"Byan inspection of the trains and by reckoning the time.The localpolice had to be called inthey had to communicatewithScotland YardHopkins had to go outand he in turn hadto sendfor me. All that makes a fair night's work.Wellherewe are at Chislehurst Stationand we shall soonset ourdoubts at rest."
A drive ofa couple of miles through narrow country lanesbrought usto a park gatewhich was opened for us by an oldlodge-keeperwhose haggard face bore the reflection of somegreatdisaster. The avenue ran through a noble parkbetweenlines ofancient elmsand ended in a lowwidespread housepillaredin front after the fashion of Palladio. The centralpart wasevidently of a great age and shrouded in ivybut thelargewindows showed that modern changes had been carried outand onewing of the house appeared to be entirely new.Theyouthful figure and alerteager face of Inspector StanleyHopkinsconfronted us in the open doorway.
"I'mvery glad you have comeMr. Holmes. And you tooDr.Watson! Butindeedif I had my time over again Ishould nothave troubled youfor since the lady has come toherselfshe has given so clear an account of the affair thatthere isnot much left for us to do. You remember thatLewishamgang of burglars?"
"Whatthe three Randalls?"
"Exactly;the father and two sons. It's their work.I have nota doubt of it. They did a job at Sydenham afortnightagoand were seen and described. Rather coolto doanother so soon and so nearbut it is theybeyond alldoubt. It's a hanging matter this time."
"SirEustace is deadthen?"
"Yes;his head was knocked in with his own poker."
"SirEustace Brackenstallthe driver tells me."
"Exactly-- one of the richest men in Kent.LadyBrackenstall is in the morning-room. Poor ladyshe hashad a most dreadful experience. She seemed halfdead whenI saw her first. I think you had best see herand hearher account of the facts. Then we will examinethedining-room together."
LadyBrackenstall was no ordinary person. Seldom have I seensograceful a figureso womanly a presenceand so beautifula face. She was a blondegolden-hairedblue-eyedand wouldno doubthave had the perfect complexion which goes with suchcolouringhad not her recent experience left her drawn andhaggard. Her sufferings were physical as well as mentalforover oneeye rose a hideousplum-coloured swellingwhich hermaidatallaustere womanwas bathing assiduously withvinegarand water. The lady lay back exhausted upon a couchbut herquickobservant gaze as we entered the roomand thealertexpression of her beautiful featuresshowed that neitherher witsnor her courage had been shaken by her terribleexperience. She was enveloped in a loose dressing-gown of blueandsilverbut a black sequin-covered dinner-dress was hungupon thecouch beside her.
"Ihave told you all that happenedMr. Hopkins" she saidwearily;"could you not repeat it for me? Wellif you thinkitnecessaryI will tell these gentlemen what occurred.Have theybeen in the dining-room yet?"
"Ithought they had better hear your ladyship's story first."
"Ishall be glad when you can arrange matters. It is horribleto me tothink of him still lying there." She shuddered andburied herface in her hands. As she did so the loose gownfell backfrom her forearms. Holmes uttered an exclamation.
"Youhave other injuriesmadam! What is this?"Two vividred spots stood out on one of the whiteround limbs.Shehastily covered it.
"Itis nothing. It has no connection with the hideous businessof lastnight. If you and your friend will sit down I willtell youall I can.
"I amthe wife of Sir Eustace Brackenstall. I have been marriedabout ayear. I suppose that it is no use my attempting toconcealthat our marriage has not been a happy one.I fearthat all our neighbours would tell you thateven if Iwere toattempt to deny it. Perhaps the fault may be partly mine.I wasbrought up in the freerless conventional atmosphere ofSouthAustraliaand this English lifewith its proprieties anditsprimnessis not congenial to me. But the main reason liesin the onefact which is notorious to everyoneand that is thatSirEustace was a confirmed drunkard. To be with such a man foran hour isunpleasant. Can you imagine what it means for asensitiveand high-spirited woman to be tied to him for day andnight? It is a sacrilegea crimea villainy to hold that sucha marriageis binding. I say that these monstrous laws of yourswill bringa curse upon the land -- Heaven will not let suchwickednessendure." For an instant she sat upher cheeks flushedand hereyes blazing from under the terrible mark upon her brow.Then thestrongsoothing hand of the austere maid drew her headdown on tothe cushionand the wild anger died away intopassionatesobbing. At last she continued:--
"Iwill tell you about last night. You are awareperhapsthat inthis house all servants sleep in the modern wing.Thiscentral block is made up of the dwelling-roomswith thekitchenbehind and our bedroom above. My maid Theresa sleepsabove myroom. There is no one elseand no sound could alarmthose whoare in the farther wing. This must have been wellknown tothe robbersor they would not have acted as they did.
"SirEustace retired about half-past ten. The servants hadalreadygone to their quarters. Only my maid was upand shehadremained in her room at the top of the house until I neededherservices. I sat until after eleven in this roomabsorbedin abook. Then I walked round to see that all was right beforeI wentupstairs. It was my custom to do this myselfforas I haveexplainedSir Eustace was not always to be trusted.I wentinto the kitchenthe butler's pantrythe gun-roomthebilliard-roomthe drawing-roomand finally the dining-room.As Iapproached the windowwhich is covered with thick curtainsI suddenlyfelt the wind blow upon my face and realized that itwas open. I flung the curtain aside and found myself face toface witha broad-shoulderedelderly man who had just steppedinto theroom. The window is a long French onewhich reallyforms adoor leading to the lawn. I held my bedroom candlelit in myhandandby its lightbehind the first man I sawtwootherswho were in the act of entering. I stepped backbut thefellow was on me in an instant. He caught me first bythe wristand then by the throat. I opened my mouth to screambut hestruck me a savage blow with his fist over the eyeand felledme to the ground. I must have been unconscious fora fewminutesfor when I came to myself I found that theyhad torndown the bell-rope and had secured me tightly to theoakenchair which stands at the head of the dining-room table.I was sofirmly bound that I could not moveand a handkerchiefround mymouth prevented me from uttering any sound. It was atthisinstant that my unfortunate husband entered the room.He hadevidently heard some suspicious soundsand he camepreparedfor such a scene as he found. He was dressed in hisshirt andtrouserswith his favourite blackthorn cudgel in hishand. He rushed at one of the burglarsbut another -- it wastheelderly man -- stoopedpicked the poker out of the grateand struckhim a horrible blow as he passed. He fell withouta groanand never moved again. I fainted once morebut againit couldonly have been a very few minutes during which I wasinsensible. When I opened my eyes I found that they hadcollectedthe silver from the sideboardand they had drawna bottleof wine which stood there. Each of them had a glassin hishand. I have already told youhave I notthat onewaselderlywith a beardand the others younghairless lads.They mighthave been a father with his two sons. They talkedtogetherin whispers. Then they came over and made sure thatI wasstill securely bound. Finally they withdrewclosingthe windowafter them. It was quite a quarter of an hourbefore Igot my mouth free. When I did so my screams broughtthe maidto my assistance. The other servants were soon alarmedand wesent for the local policewho instantly communicatedwithLondon. That is really all that I can tell yougentlemenand Itrust that it will not be necessary for me to go over sopainful astory again."
"AnyquestionsMr. Holmes?" asked Hopkins.
"Iwill not impose any further tax upon Lady Brackenstall'spatienceand time" said Holmes. "Before I go into thedining-roomI should like to hear your experience."He lookedat the maid.
"Isaw the men before ever they came into the house" said she."As Isat by my bedroom window I saw three men in the moonlightdown bythe lodge gate yonderbut I thought nothing of it atthe time. It was more than an hour after that I heard mymistressscreamand down I ranto find herpoor lambjust asshe saysand him on the floor with his blood and brains overthe room. It was enough to drive a woman out of her witstiedthereandher very dress spotted with him; but she never wantedcouragedid Miss Mary Fraser of Adelaideand Lady Brackenstallof AbbeyGrange hasn't learned new ways. You've questioned herlongenoughyou gentlemenand now she is coming to her own roomjust withher old Theresato get the rest that she badly needs."
With amotherly tenderness the gaunt woman put her arm round hermistressand led her from the room.
"Shehas been with her all her life" said Hopkins."Nursedher as a babyand came with her to Englandwhen theyfirst left Australia eighteen months ago.TheresaWright is her nameand the kind of maid you don'tpick upnowadays. This wayMr. Holmesif you please!"
The keeninterest had passed out of Holmes's expressive faceand I knewthat with the mystery all the charm of the case haddeparted. There still remained an arrest to be effectedbut whatwere these commonplace rogues that he should soil hishands withthem? An abstruse and learned specialist who findsthat hehas been called in for a case of measles would experiencesomethingof the annoyance which I read in my friend's eyes.Yet thescene in the dining-room of the Abbey Grange wassufficientlystrange to arrest his attention and to recallhis waninginterest.
It was avery large and high chamberwith carved oak ceilingoakenpanellingand a fine array of deer's heads and ancientweaponsaround the walls. At the farther end from the door wasthe highFrench window of which we had heard. Three smallerwindows onthe right-hand side filled the apartment with coldwintersunshine. On the left was a largedeep fireplacewitha massiveover-hanging oak mantelpiece. Beside the fireplacewas aheavy oaken chair with arms and cross-bars at the bottom.In and outthrough the open woodwork was woven a crimson cordwhich wassecured at each side to the crosspiece below.Inreleasing the lady the cord had been slipped off herbut theknots with which it had been secured still remained.Thesedetails only struck our attention afterwardsfor ourthoughtswere entirely absorbed by the terrible object whichlay uponthe tiger-skin hearthrug in front of the fire.
It was thebody of a tallwell-made manabout forty years ofage. He lay upon his backhis face upturnedwith his whiteteethgrinning through his short black beard. His two clenchedhands wereraised above his headand a heavy blackthorn sticklay acrossthem. His darkhandsomeaquiline features wereconvulsedinto a spasm of vindictive hatredwhich had set hisdead facein a terribly fiendish expression. He had evidentlybeen inhis bed when the alarm had broken outfor he wore afoppishembroidered night-shirtand his bare feet projected fromhistrousers. His head was horribly injuredand the whole roomborewitness to the savage ferocity of the blow which had struckhim down. Beside him lay the heavy pokerbent into a curve bytheconcussion. Holmes examined both it and the indescribablewreckwhich it had wrought.
"Hemust be a powerful manthis elder Randall" he remarked.
"Yes"said Hopkins. "I have some record of the fellowand he isa rough customer."
"Youshould have no difficulty in getting him."
"Notthe slightest. We have been on the look-out for himand therewas some idea that he had got away to America.Now thatwe know the gang are here I don't see how theycanescape. We have the news at every seaport alreadyand areward will be offered before evening. What beatsme is howthey could have done so mad a thingknowingthat thelady could describe themand that we could notfail torecognise the description."
"Exactly. One would have expected that they would havesilencedLady Brackenstall as well."
"Theymay not have realized" I suggested"that she hadrecoveredfrom her faint."
"Thatis likely enough. If she seemed to be senseless theywould nottake her life. What about this poor fellowHopkins?I seem tohave heard some queer stories about him."
"Hewas a good-hearted man when he was soberbut a perfectfiend whenhe was drunkor rather when he was half drunkfor heseldom really went the whole way. The devil seemedto be inhim at such timesand he was capable of anything.From whatI hearin spite of all his wealth and his titlehe verynearly came our way once or twice. There was ascandalabout his drenching a dog with petroleum and settingit on fire-- her ladyship's dogto make the matter worse --and thatwas only hushed up with difficulty. Then he threwa decanterat that maidTheresa Wright; there was troubleaboutthat. On the wholeand between ourselvesit will bea brighterhouse without him. What are you looking at now?"
Holmes wasdown on his knees examining with great attention theknots uponthe red cord with which the lady had been secured.Then hecarefully scrutinized the broken and frayed end whereit hadsnapped off when the burglar had dragged it down.
"Whenthis was pulled down the bell in the kitchen must haverungloudly" he remarked.
"Noone could hear it. The kitchen stands right at the backof thehouse."
"Howdid the burglar know no one would hear it? How dared hepull at abell-rope in that reckless fashion?"
"ExactlyMr. Holmesexactly. You put the very question whichI haveasked myself again and again. There can be no doubt thatthisfellow must have known the house and its habits. He musthaveperfectly understood that the servants would all be in bedat thatcomparatively early hourand that no one could possiblyhear abell ring in the kitchen. Therefore he must have been incloseleague with one of the servants. Surely that is evident.But thereare eight servantsand all of good character."
"Otherthings being equal" said Holmes"one would suspect theone atwhose head the master threw a decanter. And yet thatwouldinvolve treachery towards the mistress to whom this womanseemsdevoted. Wellwellthe point is a minor oneand whenyou haveRandall you will probably find no difficulty insecuringhis accomplice. The lady's story certainly seems to becorroboratedif it needed corroborationby every detail whichwe seebefore us." He walked to the French window and threw itopen. "There are no signs herebut the ground is iron hardand onewould not expect them. I see that these candles on themantelpiecehave been lighted."
"Yes;it was by their light and that of the lady's bedroomcandlethat the burglars saw their way about."
"Andwhat did they take?"
"Wellthey did not take much -- only half-a-dozen articles ofplate offthe sideboard. Lady Brackenstall thinks that theywerethemselves so disturbed by the death of Sir Eustace thatthey didnot ransack the house as they would otherwise have done."
"Nodoubt that is true. And yet they drank some wineIunderstand."
"Tosteady their own nerves."
"Exactly. These three glasses upon the sideboard have beenuntouchedI suppose?"
"Yes;and the bottle stands as they left it."
"Letus look at it. Halloa! halloa! what is this?"
The threeglasses were grouped togetherall of them tingedwith wineand one of them containing some dregs of bees-wing.The bottlestood near themtwo-thirds fulland beside it laya longdeeply-stained cork. Its appearance and the dust uponthe bottleshowed that it was no common vintage which themurderershad enjoyed.
A changehad come over Holmes's manner. He had lost his listlessexpressionand again I saw an alert light of interest in his keendeep-seteyes. He raised the cork and examined it minutely.
"Howdid they draw it?" he asked.
Hopkinspointed to a half-opened drawer. In it lay some tablelinen anda large cork-screw.
"DidLady Brackenstall say that screw was used?"
"No;you remember that she was senseless at the moment when thebottle wasopened."
"Quiteso. As a matter of fact that screw was NOT used.Thisbottle was opened by a pocket-screwprobably containedin aknifeand not more than an inch and a half long. If youexaminethe top of the cork you will observe that the screw wasdriven inthree times before the cork was extracted. It has neverbeentransfixed. This long screw would have transfixed it anddrawn itwith a single pull. When you catch this fellow you willfind thathe has one of these multiplex knives in his possession."
"Butthese glasses do puzzle meI confess. Lady BrackenstallactuallySAW the three men drinkingdid she not?"
"Yes;she was clear about that."
"Thenthere is an end of it. What more is to be said?And yetyou must admit that the three glasses are veryremarkableHopkins. Whatyou see nothing remarkable!Wellwelllet it pass. Perhaps when a man has specialknowledgeand special powers like my own it rather encourageshim toseek a complex explanation when a simpler one is at hand.Of courseit must be a mere chance about the glasses.WellgoodmorningHopkins. I don't see that I can be ofany use toyouand you appear to have your case very clear.You willlet me know when Randall is arrestedand any furtherdevelopmentswhich may occur. I trust that I shall soon havetocongratulate you upon a successful conclusion. ComeWatsonI fancythat we may employ ourselves more profitably at home."
During ourreturn journey I could see by Holmes's face thathe wasmuch puzzled by something which he had observed.Every nowand thenby an efforthe would throw off theimpressionand talk as if the matter were clearbut then hisdoubtswould settle down upon him againand his knitted browsandabstracted eyes would show that his thoughts had gone backonce moreto the great dining-room of the Abbey Grange in whichthismidnight tragedy had been enacted. At lastby a suddenimpulsejust as our train was crawling out of a suburban stationhe sprangon to the platform and pulled me out after him.
"Excusememy dear fellow" said heas we watched the rearcarriagesof our train disappearing round a curve; "I am sorryto makeyou the victim of what may seem a mere whimbut on mylifeWatsonI simply CAN'T leave that case in this condition.Everyinstinct that I possess cries out against it.It's wrong-- it's all wrong -- I'll swear that it's wrong.And yetthe lady's story was completethe maid's corroborationwassufficientthe detail was fairly exact. What have I to putagainstthat? Three wine-glassesthat is all. But if I hadnot takenthings for grantedif I had examined everything withcare whichI would have shown had we approached the case DE NOVOand had nocut-and-dried story to warp my mindwould I not thenhave foundsomething more definite to go upon? Of course I should.Sit downon this benchWatsonuntil a train for Chislehurstarrivesand allow me to lay the evidence before youimploringyou in thefirst instance to dismiss from your mind the idea thatanythingwhich the maid or her mistress may have said mustnecessarilybe true. The lady's charming personality must notbepermitted to warp our judgment.
"Surelythere are details in her story whichif we looked at itin coldbloodwould excite our suspicion. These burglars madeaconsiderable haul at Sydenham a fortnight ago. Some accountof themand of their appearance was in the papersand wouldnaturallyoccur to anyone who wished to invent a story in whichimaginaryrobbers should play a part. As a matter of factburglarswho have done a good stroke of business areas a ruleonly tooglad to enjoy the proceeds in peace and quiet withoutembarkingon another perilous undertaking. Againit is unusualforburglars to operate at so early an hour; it is unusual forburglarsto strike a lady to prevent her screamingsince onewouldimagine that was the sure way to make her scream; it isunusualfor them to commit murder when their numbers aresufficientto overpower one man; it is unusual for them to becontentwith a limited plunder when there is much more withintheirreach; and finally I should say that it was very unusualfor suchmen to leave a bottle half empty. How do all theseunusualsstrike youWatson?"
"Theircumulative effect is certainly considerableand yet eachof them isquite possible in itself. The most unusual thing of allas itseems to meis that the lady should be tied to the chair."
"WellI am not so clear about thatWatson; for it is evidentthat theymust either kill her or else secure her in such away thatshe could not give immediate notice of their escape.But at anyrate I have shownhave I notthat there is a certainelement ofimprobability about the lady's story? And nowon the topof this comes the incident of the wine-glasses."
"Whatabout the wine-glasses?"
"Canyou see them in your mind's eye?"
"Isee them clearly."
"Weare told that three men drank from them.Does thatstrike you as likely?"
"Whynot? There was wine in each glass."
"Exactly;but there was bees-wing only in one glass. You musthavenoticed that fact. What does that suggest to your mind?"
"Thelast glass filled would be most likely to contain bees-wing."
"Notat all. The bottle was full of itand it is inconceivablethat thefirst two glasses were clear and the third heavilychargedwith it. There are two possible explanationsand onlytwo. One is that after the second glass was filled the bottlewasviolently agitatedand so the third glass received thebees-wing. That does not appear probable. Nono; I am surethat I amright."
"Whatthendo you suppose?"
"Thatonly two glasses were usedand that the dregs ofboth werepoured into a third glassso as to give the falseimpressionthat three people had been here. In that way allthebees-wing would be in the last glasswould it not? YesI amconvinced that this is so. But if I have hit upon the trueexplanationof this one small phenomenonthen in an instant thecase risesfrom the commonplace to the exceedingly remarkablefor it canonly mean that Lady Brackenstall and her maid havedeliberatelylied to usthat not one word of their story is tobebelievedthat they have some very strong reason for coveringthe realcriminaland that we must construct our case forourselveswithout any help from them. That is the mission whichnow liesbefore usand hereWatsonis the Chislehurst train."
Thehousehold of the Abbey Grange were much surprised at ourreturnbut Sherlock Holmesfinding that Stanley Hopkins hadgone offto report to head-quarterstook possession of thedining-roomlocked the door upon the insideand devotedhimselffor two hours to one of those minute and laboriousinvestigationswhich formed the solid basis on which hisbrilliantedifices of deduction were reared. Seated in acornerlike an interested student who observes the demonstrationof hisprofessorI followed every step of that remarkable research.Thewindowthe curtainsthe carpetthe chairthe rope -- eachin turnwas minutely examined and duly pondered. The body oftheunfortunate baronet had been removedbut all else remainedas we hadseen it in the morning. Thento my astonishmentHolmesclimbed up on to the massive mantelpiece. Far above hishead hungthe few inches of red cord which were still attachedto thewire. For a long time he gazed upward at itand then inan attemptto get nearer to it he rested his knee upon a woodenbracket onthe wall. This brought his hand within a few inchesof thebroken end of the ropebut it was not this so much asthebracket itself which seemed to engage his attention.Finally hesprang down with an ejaculation of satisfaction.
"It'sall rightWatson" said he. "We have got our case --one of themost remarkable in our collection. Butdear mehowslow-witted I have beenand how nearly I have committedtheblunder of my lifetime! NowI think that with a fewmissinglinks my chain is almost complete."
"Youhave got your men?"
"ManWatsonman. Only onebut a very formidable person.Strong asa lion -- witness the blow that bent that poker.Six footthree in heightactive as a squirreldexterouswith hisfingers; finallyremarkably quick-wittedfor thiswholeingenious story is of his concoction. YesWatsonwe havecome upon the handiwork of a very remarkable individual.And yet inthat bell-rope he has given us a clue which shouldnot haveleft us a doubt."
"Wherewas the clue?"
"Wellif you were to pull down a bell-ropeWatsonwhere wouldyou expectit to break? Surely at the spot where it is attachedto thewire. Why should it break three inches from the top asthis onehas done?"
"Becauseit is frayed there?"
"Exactly. This endwhich we can examineis frayed. He wascunningenough to do that with his knife. But the other end isnotfrayed. You could not observe that from herebut if youwere onthe mantelpiece you would see that it is cut clean offwithoutany mark of fraying whatever. You can reconstruct whatoccurred. The man needed the rope. He would not tear it downfor fearof giving the alarm by ringing the bell. What did he do?He sprangup on the mantelpiececould not quite reach itput hisknee on the bracket -- you will see the impression in thedust --and so got his knife to bear upon the cord. I could notreach theplace by at least three inchesfrom which I inferthat he isat least three inches a bigger man than I. Look atthat markupon the seat of the oaken chair! What is it?"
"Undoubtedlyit is blood. This alone puts the lady's story outof court. If she were seated on the chair when the crime wasdonehowcomes that mark? Nono; she was placed in the chairAFTER thedeath of her husband. I'll wager that the black dressshows acorresponding mark to this. We have not yet met ourWaterlooWatsonbut this is our Marengofor it begins indefeat andends in victory. I should like now to have a fewwords withthe nurse Theresa. We must be wary for awhileif we areto get the information which we want."
She was aninteresting personthis stern Australian nurse.Taciturnsuspiciousungraciousit took some time beforeHolmes'spleasant manner and frank acceptance of all that shesaidthawed her into a corresponding amiability. She did notattempt toconceal her hatred for her late employer.
"Yessirit is true that he threw the decanter at me.I heardhim call my mistress a nameand I told him that hewould notdare to speak so if her brother had been there.Then itwas that he threw it at me. He might have thrown adozen ifhe had but left my bonny bird alone. He was for everilltreatingherand she too proud to complain. She will noteven tellme all that he has done to her. She never told meof thosemarks on her arm that you saw this morningbut I knowvery wellthat they come from a stab with a hat-pin.The slyfiend -- Heaven forgive me that I should speak of him sonow thathe is deadbut a fiend he was if ever one walked the earth.He was allhoney when first we met himonly eighteen months agoand weboth feel as if it were eighteen years. She had only justarrived inLondon. Yesit was her first voyage -- she had neverbeen fromhome before. He won her with his title and his moneyand hisfalse London ways. If she made a mistake she has paidfor itifever a woman did. What month did we meet him? WellI tell youit was just after we arrived. We arrived in Juneand it wasJuly. They were married in January of last year.Yessheis down in the morning-room againand I have no doubtshe willsee youbut you must not ask too much of herfor shehas gonethrough all that flesh and blood will stand."
LadyBrackenstall was reclining on the same couchbut lookedbrighterthan before. The maid had entered with usand beganonce moreto foment the bruise upon her mistress's brow.
"Ihope" said the lady"that you have not come tocross-examineme again?"
"No"Holmes answeredin his gentlest voice"I will not causeyou anyunnecessary troubleLady Brackenstalland my wholedesire isto make things easy for youfor I am convinced thatyou are amuch-tried woman. If you will treat me as a friendand trustme you may find that I will justify your trust."
"Whatdo you want me to do?"
"Totell me the truth."
"NonoLady Brackenstallit is no use. You may have heardof anylittle reputation which I possess. I will stake it allon thefact that your story is an absolute fabrication."
Mistressand maid were both staring at Holmes with pale facesandfrightened eyes.
"Youare an impudent fellow!" cried Theresa. "Do you meantosay thatmy mistress has told a lie?"
Holmesrose from his chair.
"Haveyou nothing to tell me?"
"Ihave told you everything."
"Thinkonce moreLady Brackenstall. Would it not be betterto befrank?"
For aninstant there was hesitation in her beautiful face.Then somenew strong thought caused it to set like a mask.
"Ihave told you all I know."
Holmestook his hat and shrugged his shoulders. "I am sorry"he saidand without another word we left the room and thehouse. There was a pond in the parkand to this my friendled theway. It was frozen overbut a single hole was leftfor theconvenience of a solitary swan. Holmes gazed at it andthenpassed on to the lodge gate. There he scribbled a shortnote forStanley Hopkins and left it with the lodge-keeper.
"Itmay be a hit or it may be a missbut we are bound to dosomethingfor friend Hopkinsjust to justify this second visit"said he. "I will not quite take him into my confidence yet.I thinkour next scene of operations must be the shipping officeof theAdelaide-Southampton linewhich stands at the end ofPall Mallif I remember right. There is a second line ofsteamerswhich connect South Australia with Englandbut wewill drawthe larger cover first."
Holmes'scard sent in to the manager ensured instant attentionand he wasnot long in acquiring all the information which heneeded. In June of '95 only one of their line had reached ahomeport. It was the ROCK OF GIBRALTARtheir largest and bestboat. A reference to the passenger list showed that Miss FraserofAdelaidewith her maidhad made the voyage in her. Theboat wasnow on her way to Australiasomewhere to the south ofthe SuezCanal. Her officers were the same as in '95with oneexception. The first officerMr. Jack Crokerhad been made acaptainand was to take charge of their new shipthe BASS ROCKsailing intwo days' time from Southampton. He lived at Sydenhambut he waslikely to be in that morning for instructionsif wecared towait for him.
No; Mr.Holmes had no desire to see himbut would be glad toknow moreabout his record and character.
His recordwas magnificent. There was not an officer in thefleet totouch him. As to his characterhe was reliable ondutybuta wilddesperate fellow off the deck of his shiphot-headedexcitablebut loyalhonestand kind-hearted.That wasthe pith of the information with which Holmes left theoffice ofthe Adelaide-Southampton company. Thence he drove toScotlandYardbut instead of entering he sat in his cab withhis browsdrawn downlost in profound thought. Finally hedroveround to the Charing Cross telegraph officesent off amessageand thenat lastwe made for Baker Street once more.
"NoI couldn't do itWatson" said heas we re-entered ourroom. "Once that warrant was made out nothing on earth wouldsave him. Once or twice in my career I feel that I have donemore realharm by my discovery of the criminal than ever he haddone byhis crime. I have learned caution nowand I had ratherplaytricks with the law of England than with my own conscience.Let usknow a little more before we act."
Beforeevening we had a visit from Inspector Stanley Hopkins.Thingswere not going very well with him.
"Ibelieve that you are a wizardMr. Holmes. I really dosometimesthink that you have powers that are not human.Nowhowon earth could you know that the stolen silver wasat thebottom of that pond?"
"Ididn't know it."
"Butyou told me to examine it."
"YesI got it."
"I amvery glad if I have helped you."
"Butyou haven't helped me. You have made the affair far moredifficult. What sort of burglars are they who steal silver andthen throwit into the nearest pond?"
"Itwas certainly rather eccentric behaviour. I was merelygoing onthe idea that if the silver had been taken by personswho didnot want itwho merely took it for a blind as it werethen theywould naturally be anxious to get rid of it."
"Butwhy should such an idea cross your mind?"
"WellI thought it was possible. When they came out throughthe Frenchwindow there was the pondwith one tempting littlehole inthe iceright in front of their noses. Could there bea betterhiding-place?"
"Aha hiding-place -- that is better!" cried Stanley Hopkins."YesyesI see it all now! It was earlythere were folkupon theroadsthey were afraid of being seen with the silverso theysank it in the pondintending to return for it whenthe coastwas clear. ExcellentMr. Holmes -- that is betterthan youridea of a blind."
"Quiteso; you have got an admirable theory. I have no doubtthat myown ideas were quite wildbut you must admit that theyhave endedin discovering the silver."
"Yessiryes. It was all your doing. But I have hada badset-back."
"YesMr. Holmes. The Randall gang were arrested in New Yorkthismorning."
"DearmeHopkins! That is certainly rather against yourtheorythat they committed a murder in Kent last night."
"Itis fatalMr. Holmesabsolutely fatal. Stillthere areothergangs of three besides the Randallsor it may be somenew gangof which the police have never heard."
"Quiteso; it is perfectly possible. Whatare you off?"
YesMr.Holmes; there is no rest for me until I have got to thebottom ofthe business. I suppose you have no hint to give me?"
"Ihave given you one."
"WellI suggested a blind."
"Ahthat's the questionof course. But I commend the ideato yourmind. You might possibly find that there was somethingin it. You won't stop for dinner? Wellgood-byeand let usknow howyou get on."
Dinner wasover and the table cleared before Holmes alluded tothe matteragain. He had lit his pipe and held his slipperedfeet tothe cheerful blaze of the fire. Suddenly he looked athis watch.
"Now-- within a few minutes. I dare say you thought I actedratherbadly to Stanley Hopkins just now?"
"Itrust your judgment."
"Avery sensible replyWatson. You must look at it this way:what Iknow is unofficial; what he knows is official. I havethe rightto private judgmentbut he has none. He must discloseallor heis a traitor to his service. In a doubtful case Iwould notput him in so painful a positionand so I reserve myinformationuntil my own mind is clear upon the matter."
"Butwhen will that be?"
"Thetime has come. You will now be present at the last sceneof aremarkable little drama."
There wasa sound upon the stairsand our door was opened toadmit asfine a specimen of manhood as ever passed through it.He was avery tall young mangolden-moustachedblue-eyedwith askin which had been burned by tropical sunsand a springystep whichshowed that the huge frame was as active as it wasstrong. He closed the door behind himand then he stood withclenchedhands and heaving breastchoking down someovermasteringemotion.
"SitdownCaptain Croker. You got my telegram?"
Ourvisitor sank into an arm-chair and looked from one to theother ofus with questioning eyes.
"Igot your telegramand I came at the hour you said. I heardthat youhad been down to the office. There was no getting awayfrom you. Let's hear the worst. What are you going to do with me?Arrestme? Speak outman! You can't sit there and play with melike a catwith a mouse."
"Givehim a cigar" said Holmes. "Bite on thatCaptainCrokerand don'tlet your nerves run away with you. I should not sitheresmoking with you if I thought that you were a common criminalyou may besure of that. Be frank with meand we may do some good.Playtricks with meand I'll crush you."
"Whatdo you wish me to do?"
"Togive me a true account of all that happened at the AbbeyGrangelast night -- a TRUE accountmind youwith nothing addedandnothing taken off. I know so much already that if you goone inchoff the straight I'll blow this police whistle from mywindow andthe affair goes out of my hands for ever."
The sailorthought for a little. Then he struck his leg withhis greatsun-burned hand.
"I'llchance it" he cried. "I believe you are a man ofyourwordanda white manand I'll tell you the whole story.But onething I will say first. So far as I am concerned I regretnothingand I fear nothingand I would do it all again and beproud ofthe job. Curse the beastif he had as many lives as acat hewould owe them all to me! But it's the ladyMary --MaryFraser -- for never will I call her by that accursed name.When Ithink of getting her into troubleI who would give my lifejust tobring one smile to her dear faceit's that that turns mysoul intowater. And yet -- and yet -- what less could I do?I'll tellyou my storygentlemenand then I'll ask you as manto manwhat less could I do.
"Imust go back a bit. You seem to know everythingso I expectthat youknow that I met her when she was a passenger and I wasfirstofficer of the ROCK OF GIBRALTAR. From the first day Imet hershe was the only woman to me. Every day of that voyageI lovedher moreand many a time since have I kneeled down inthedarkness of the night watch and kissed the deck of that shipbecause Iknew her dear feet had trod it. She was never engagedto me. She treated me as fairly as ever a woman treated a man.I have nocomplaint to make. It was all love on my sideandall goodcomradeship and friendship on hers. When we parted shewas a freewomanbut I could never again be a free man.
"Nexttime I came back from sea I heard of her marriage.Wellwhyshouldn't she marry whom she liked? Title and money --who couldcarry them better than she? She was born for allthat isbeautiful and dainty. I didn't grieve over her marriage.I was notsuch a selfish hound as that. I just rejoiced that goodluck hadcome her wayand that she had not thrown herself awayon apenniless sailor. That's how I loved Mary Fraser.
"WellI never thought to see her again; but last voyage I waspromotedand the new boat was not yet launchedso I had towait for acouple of months with my people at Sydenham.One dayout in a country lane I met Theresa Wrighther old maid.She toldme about herabout himabout everything. I tell yougentlemenit nearly drove me mad. This drunken houndthat heshoulddare to raise his hand to her whose boots he was not worthyto lick! I met Theresa again. Then I met Mary herself --and mether again. Then she would meet me no more. But theother dayI had a notice that I was to start on my voyage withina weekand I determined that I would see her once before I left.Theresawas always my friendfor she loved Mary and hated thisvillainalmost as much as I did. From her I learnedthe waysof the house. Mary used to sit up reading in her ownlittleroom downstairs. I crept round there last night andscratchedat the window. At first she would not open to mebut in herheart I know that now she loves meand she could notleave mein the frosty night. She whispered to me to come roundto the bigfront windowand I found it open before me so as tolet meinto the dining-room. Again I heard from her own lipsthingsthat made my blood boiland again I cursed this brutewhomishandled the woman that I loved. WellgentlemenI wasstandingwith her just inside the windowin all innocenceas Heavenis my judgewhen he rushed like a madman into the roomcalled herthe vilest name that a man could use to a womanandwelted heracross the face with the stick he had in his hand.I hadsprung for the pokerand it was a fair fight between us.See hereon my arm where his first blow fell. Then it was myturnandI went through him as if he had been a rotten pumpkin.Do youthink I was sorry? Not I! It was his life or minebut farmore than that it was his life or hersfor how could Ileave herin the power of this madman? That was how I killed him.Was Iwrong? Wellthenwhat would either of you gentlemenhave doneif you had been in my position?"
"Shehad screamed when he struck herand that brought oldTheresadown from the room above. There was a bottle of wineon thesideboardand I opened it and poured a little betweenMary'slipsfor she was half dead with the shock. Then I tooka dropmyself. Theresa was as cool as iceand it was her plotas much asmine. We must make it appear that burglars had donethething. Theresa kept on repeating our story to her mistresswhile Iswarmed up and cut the rope of the bell. Then I lashedher in herchairand frayed out the end of the rope to make itlooknaturalelse they would wonder how in the world a burglarcould havegot up there to cut it. Then I gathered up a fewplates andpots of silverto carry out the idea of a robberyand thereI left them with orders to give the alarm when I hada quarterof an hour's start. I dropped the silver into thepond andmade off for Sydenhamfeeling that for once in my lifeI had donea real good night's work. And that's the truth andthe wholetruthMr. Holmesif it costs me my neck."
Holmessmoked for some time in silence. Then he crossedthe roomand shook our visitor by the hand.
"That'swhat I think" said he. "I know that every word istrueforyou have hardly said a word which I did not know.No one butan acrobat or a sailor could have got up to thatbell-ropefrom the bracketand no one but a sailor could havemade theknots with which the cord was fastened to the chair.Only oncehad this lady been brought into contact with sailorsand thatwas on her voyageand it was someone of her own classof lifesince she was trying hard to shield him and so showingthat sheloved him. You see how easy it was for me to lay myhands uponyou when once I had started upon the right trail."
"Ithought the police never could have seen through our dodge."
"Andthe police haven't; nor will theyto the best of my belief.NowlookhereCaptain Crokerthis is a very serious matterthough Iam willing to admit that you acted under the most extremeprovocationto which any man could be subjected. I am not surethat indefence of your own life your action will not be pronouncedlegitimate. Howeverthat is for a British jury to decide.MeanwhileI have so much sympathy for you that if you choose todisappearin the next twenty-four hours I will promise you thatno onewill hinder you."
"Andthen it will all come out?"
"Certainlyit will come out."
The sailorflushed with anger.
"Whatsort of proposal is that to make a man? I know enoughof law tounderstand that Mary would be had as accomplice.Do youthink I would leave her alone to face the music whileI slunkaway? Nosir; let them do their worst upon mebut forHeaven's sakeMr. Holmesfind some way of keepingmy poorMary out of the courts."
Holmes fora second time held out his hand to the sailor.
"Iwas only testing youand you ring true every time.Wellitis a great responsibility that I take upon myselfbut I havegiven Hopkins an excellent hintand if he can'tavailhimself of it I can do no more. See hereCaptain Crokerwe'll dothis in due form of law. You are the prisoner.Watsonyou are a British juryand I never met a man who wasmoreeminently fitted to represent one. I am the judge.Nowgentleman of the juryyou have heard the evidence.Do youfind the prisoner guilty or not guilty?"
"Notguiltymy lord" said I.
"Voxpopulivox Dei. You are acquittedCaptain Croker.So long asthe law does not find some other victim you aresafe fromme. Come back to this lady in a yearand may herfuture andyours justify us in the judgment which we havepronouncedthis night."
I HADintended "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange" to be thelast ofthose exploits of my friendMr. Sherlock HolmeswhichI shouldever communicate to the public. This resolution ofmine wasnot due to any lack of materialsince I have notes ofmanyhundreds of cases to which I have never alludednor was itcaused byany waning interest on the part of my readers in thesingularpersonality and unique methods of this remarkable man.The realreason lay in the reluctance which Mr. Holmes has shownto thecontinued publication of his experiences. So long as hewas inactual professional practice the records of his successeswere ofsome practical value to him; but since he has definitelyretiredfrom London and betaken himself to study and bee-farmingon theSussex Downsnotoriety has become hateful to himand hehasperemptorily requested that his wishes in this matter shouldbestrictly observed. It was only upon my representing to himthat I hadgiven a promise that "The Adventure of the SecondStain"should be published when the times were ripeandpointingout to him that it is only appropriate that this longseries ofepisodes should culminate in the most importantinternationalcase which he has ever been called upon to handlethat I atlast succeeded in obtaining his consent that acarefully-guardedaccount of the incident should at last be laidbefore thepublic. If in telling the story I seem to besomewhatvague in certain details the public will readilyunderstandthat there is an excellent reason for my reticence.
It wasthenin a yearand even in a decadethat shall benamelessthat upon one Tuesday morning in autumn we found twovisitorsof European fame within the walls of our humble roomin BakerStreet. The oneausterehigh-nosedeagle-eyedanddominantwas none other than the illustrious Lord BellingertwicePremier of Britain. The otherdarkclear-cutandeleganthardly yet of middle ageand endowed with every beautyof bodyand of mindwas the Right Honourable Trelawney HopeSecretaryfor European Affairsand the most rising statesmanin thecountry. They sat side by side upon our paper-litteredsetteeand it was easy to see from their worn and anxious facesthat itwas business of the most pressing importance which hadbroughtthem. The Premier's thinblue-veined hands wereclaspedtightly over the ivory head of his umbrellaand hisgauntascetic face looked gloomily from Holmes to me.TheEuropean Secretary pulled nervously at his moustache andfidgetedwith the seals of his watch-chain.
"WhenI discovered my lossMr. Holmeswhich was at eighto'clockthis morningI at once informed the Prime Minister.It was athis suggestion that we have both come to you."
"Haveyou informed the police?"
"Nosir" said the Prime Ministerwith the quickdecisivemanner forwhich he was famous. "We have not done sonor isitpossible that we should do so. To inform the police mustin thelong runmean to inform the public. This is what weparticularlydesire to avoid."
"Becausethe document in question is of such immense importancethat itspublication might very easily -- I might almost sayprobably-- lead to European complications of the utmost moment.It is nottoo much to say that peace or war may hang upon theissue. Unless its recovery can be attended with the utmostsecrecythen it may as well not be recovered at allfor allthat isaimed at by those who have taken it is that its contentsshould begenerally known."
"Iunderstand. NowMr. Trelawney HopeI should be muchobliged ifyou would tell me exactly the circumstances underwhich thisdocument disappeared."
"Thatcan be done in a very few wordsMr. Holmes.The letter-- for it was a letter from a foreign potentate --wasreceived six days ago. It was of such importance that I havenever leftit in my safebut I have taken it across each eveningto myhouse in Whitehall Terraceand kept it in my bedroom in alockeddespatch-box. It was there last night. Of that I amcertain. I actually opened the box while I was dressing fordinnerand saw the document inside. This morning it was gone.Thedespatch-box had stood beside the glass upon my dressing-tableallnight. I am a light sleeperand so is my wife. We arebothpreparedto swear that no one could have entered the room duringthenight. And yet I repeat that the paper is gone."
"Whattime did you dine?"
"Howlong was it before you went to bed?"
"Mywife had gone to the theatre. I waited up for her.It washalf-past eleven before we went to our room."
"Thenfor four hours the despatch-box had lain unguarded?"
"Noone is ever permitted to enter that room save the housemaidin themorningand my valetor my wife's maidduring the restof theday. They are both trusty servants who have been with usfor sometime. Besidesneither of them could possibly haveknown thatthere was anything more valuable than the ordinarydepartmentalpapers in my despatch-box."
"Whodid know of the existence of that letter?"
"Noone in the house."
"Surelyyour wife knew?"
"Nosir; I had said nothing to my wife until I missed thepaper thismorning."
ThePremier nodded approvingly.
"Ihave long knownsirhow high is your sense of public duty"said he. "I am convinced that in the case of a secret of thisimportanceit would rise superior to the most intimate domestic ties."
TheEuropean Secretary bowed.
"Youdo me no more than justicesir. Until this morning I haveneverbreathed one word to my wife upon this matter."
"Couldshe have guessed?"
"NoMr. Holmesshe could not have guessed -- nor could anyonehaveguessed."
"Haveyou lost any documents before?"
"Whois there in England who did know of the existence of this letter?"
"Eachmember of the Cabinet was informed of it yesterday;but thepledge of secrecy which attends every Cabinet meetingwasincreased by the solemn warning which was given by the PrimeMinister. Good heavensto think that within a few hours Ishouldmyself have lost it!" His handsome face was distortedwith aspasm of despairand his hands tore at his hair.For amoment we caught a glimpse of the natural manimpulsiveardentkeenly sensitive. The next the aristocratic mask wasreplacedand the gentle voice had returned. "Besides themembers ofthe Cabinet there are twoor possibly threedepartmentalofficials who know of the letter. No one elseinEnglandMr. HolmesI assure you."
"Ibelieve that no one abroad has seen it save the man who wrote it.I am wellconvinced that his Ministers -- that the usual officialchannelshave not been employed."
Holmesconsidered for some little time.
"NowsirI must ask you more particularly what this document isand whyits disappearance should have such momentous consequences?"
The twostatesmen exchanged a quick glance and the Premier'sshaggyeyebrows gathered in a frown.
"Mr.Holmesthe envelope is a longthin one of pale blue colour.There is aseal of red wax stamped with a crouching lion.It isaddressed in largebold handwriting to ---"
"Ifearsir" said Holmes"thatinteresting and indeedessentialas these details aremy inquiries must go more to theroot ofthings. What WAS the letter?"
"Thatis a State secret of the utmost importanceand I fearthat Icannot tell younor do I see that it is necessary.If by theaid of the powers which you are said to possess youcan findsuch an envelope as I describe with its enclosureyou willhave deserved well of your countryand earned anyrewardwhich it lies in our power to bestow."
SherlockHolmes rose with a smile.
"Youare two of the most busy men in the country" said he"andin my own small way I have also a good many calls upon me.I regretexceedingly that I cannot help you in this matterand anycontinuation of this interview would be a waste of time."
ThePremier sprang to his feet with that quickfierce gleam ofhisdeep-set eyes before which a Cabinet has cowered. "I amnotaccustomedsir ----" he beganbut mastered his anger andresumedhis seat. For a minute or more we all sat in silence.Then theold statesman shrugged his shoulders.
"Wemust accept your termsMr. Holmes. No doubt you are rightand it isunreasonable for us to expect you to act unless wegive youour entire confidence."
"Iagree with yousir" said the younger statesman.
"ThenI will tell yourelying entirely upon your honour andthat ofyour colleagueDr. Watson. I may appeal to yourpatriotismalsofor I could not imagine a greater misfortunefor thecountry than that this affair should come out."
"Youmay safely trust us."
"Theletterthenis from a certain foreign potentate who hasbeenruffled by some recent Colonial developments of thiscountry. It has been written hurriedly and upon his ownresponsibilityentirely. Inquiries have shown that hisMinistersknow nothing of the matter. At the same time it iscouched inso unfortunate a mannerand certain phrases in itare of soprovocative a characterthat its publication wouldundoubtedlylead to a most dangerous state of feeling in thiscountry. There would be such a fermentsirthat I do nothesitateto say that within a week of the publication of thatletterthis country would be involved in a great war."
Holmeswrote a name upon a slip of paper and handed it to thePremier.
"Exactly. It was he. And it is this letter -- this letter whichmay wellmean the expenditure of a thousand millions and thelives of ahundred thousand men -- which has become lost in thisunaccountablefashion."
"Haveyou informed the sender?"
"Yessira cipher telegram has been despatched."
"Perhapshe desires the publication of the letter."
"Nosirwe have strong reason to believe that he alreadyunderstandsthat he has acted in an indiscreet and hot-headedmanner. It would be a greater blow to him and to his countrythan to usif this letter were to come out."
"Ifthis is sowhose interest is it that the letter shouldcome out? Why should anyone desire to steal it or to publish it?"
"ThereMr. Holmesyou take me into regions of highinternationalpolitics. But if you consider the Europeansituationyou will have no difficulty in perceiving the motive.The wholeof Europe is an armed camp. There is a double leaguewhichmakes a fair balance of military power. Great Britainholds thescales. If Britain were driven into war with oneconfederacyit would assure the supremacy of the otherconfederacywhether they joined in the war or not. Do you follow?"
"Veryclearly. It is then the interest of the enemies of thispotentateto secure and publish this letterso as to make abreachbetween his country and ours?"
"Andto whom would this document be sent if it fell into thehands ofan enemy?"
"Toany of the great Chancelleries of Europe. It is probablyspeedingon its way thither at the present instant as fast assteam cantake it."
Mr.Trelawney Hope dropped his head on his chest and groanedaloud. The Premier placed his hand kindly upon his shoulder.
"Itis your misfortunemy dear fellow. No one can blame you.There isno precaution which you have neglected.NowMr.Holmesyou are in full possession of the facts.Whatcourse do you recommend?"
Holmesshook his head mournfully.
"Youthinksirthat unless this document is recovered therewill bewar?"
"Ithink it is very probable."
"Thensirprepare for war."
"Thatis a hard sayingMr. Holmes."
"Considerthe factssir. It is inconceivable that it was takenaftereleven-thirty at nightsince I understand that Mr. Hopeand hiswife were both in the room from that hour until the losswas foundout. It was takenthenyesterday evening betweenseven-thirtyand eleven-thirtyprobably near the earlier hoursincewhoever took it evidently knew that it was there and wouldnaturallysecure it as early as possible. Nowsirif adocumentof this importance were taken at that hourwhere canit benow? No one has any reason to retain it. It has beenpassedrapidly on to those who need it. What chance have we nowtoovertake or even to trace it? It is beyond our reach."
The PrimeMinister rose from the settee.
"Whatyou say is perfectly logicalMr. Holmes. I feel that thematter isindeed out of our hands."
"Letus presumefor argument's sakethat the document wastaken bythe maid or by the valet ----"
"Theyare both old and tried servants."
"Iunderstand you to say that your room is on the second floorthat thereis no entrance from withoutand that from within noone couldgo up unobserved. It mustthenbe somebody in thehouse whohas taken it. To whom would the thief take it?To one ofseveral international spies and secret agentswhosenames aretolerably familiar to me. There are three who may besaid to bethe heads of their profession. I will begin myresearchby going round and finding if each of them is at hispost. If one is missing -- especially if he has disappearedsince lastnight -- we will have some indication as to wherethedocument has gone."
"Whyshould he be missing?" asked the European Secretary."Hewould take the letter to an Embassy in Londonas likely as not."
"Ifancy not. These agents work independentlyand theirrelationswith the Embassies are often strained."
The PrimeMinister nodded his acquiescence.
"Ibelieve you are rightMr. Holmes. He would take so valuablea prize tohead-quarters with his own hands. I think that yourcourse ofaction is an excellent one. MeanwhileHopewe cannotneglect all our other duties on account of this onemisfortune. Should there be any fresh developments during theday weshall communicate with youand you will no doubt let usknow theresults of your own inquiries."
The twostatesmen bowed and walked gravely from the room.
When ourillustrious visitors had departed Holmes lit his pipeinsilenceand sat for some time lost in the deepest thought.I hadopened the morning paper and was immersed in a sensationalcrimewhich had occurred in London the night beforewhen myfriendgave an exclamationsprang to his feetand laid hispipe downupon the mantelpiece.
"Yes"said he"there is no better way of approaching it.Thesituation is desperatebut not hopeless. Even nowif wecould be sure which of them has taken itit is justpossiblethat it has not yet passed out of his hands.After allit is a question of money with these fellowsand I havethe British Treasury behind me. If it's on themarketI'll buy it -- if it means another penny on the income-tax.It isconceivable that the fellow might hold it back to see whatbids comefrom this side before he tries his luck on the other.There areonly those three capable of playing so bold a game;there areObersteinLa Rothiereand Eduardo Lucas.I will seeeach of them."
I glancedat my morning paper.
"Isthat Eduardo Lucas of Godolphin Street?"
"Youwill not see him."
"Hewas murdered in his house last night."
My friendhas so often astonished me in the course of ouradventuresthat it was with a sense of exultation that Irealizedhow completely I had astonished him. He stared inamazementand then snatched the paper from my hands. This wastheparagraph which I had been engaged in reading when he rosefrom hischair:--
"MURDER IN WESTMINSTER.
"Acrime of mysterious character was committed last night at 16GodolphinStreetone of the old-fashioned and secluded rows ofeighteenth-centuryhouses which lie between the river and theAbbeyalmost in the shadow of the great Tower of the Houses ofParliament. This small but select mansion has been inhabitedfor someyears by Mr. Eduardo Lucaswell known in societycirclesboth on account of his charming personality and becausehe has thewell-deserved reputation of being one of the bestamateurtenors in the country. Mr. Lucas is an unmarried manthirty-fouryears of ageand his establishment consists ofMrs.Pringlean elderly housekeeperand of Mittonhis valet.The formerretires early and sleeps at the top of the house.The valetwas out for the eveningvisiting a friend at Hammersmith.From teno'clock onwards Mr. Lucas had the house to himself.Whatoccurred during that time has not yet transpiredbut ata quarterto twelve Police-constable Barrettpassing alongGodolphinStreetobserved that the door of No. 16 was ajar.Heknockedbut received no answer. Perceiving a light inthe frontroom he advanced into the passage and again knockedbutwithout reply. He then pushed open the door and entered.The roomwas in a state of wild disorderthe furniture beingall sweptto one sideand one chair lying on its back in thecentre. Beside this chairand still grasping one of its legslay theunfortunate tenant of the house. He had been stabbedto theheart and must have died instantly. The knife with whichthe crimehad been committed was a curved Indian daggerpluckeddown froma trophy of Oriental arms which adorned one of thewalls. Robbery does not appear to have been the motive of thecrimeforthere had been no attempt to remove the valuablecontentsof the room. Mr. Eduardo Lucas was so well known andpopularthat his violent and mysterious fate will arouse painfulinterestand intense sympathy in a wide-spread circle of friends."
"WellWatsonwhat do you make of this?" asked Holmesafter along pause.
"Itis an amazing coincidence."
"Acoincidence! Here is one of the three men whom we had namedaspossible actors in this dramaand he meets a violent deathduring thevery hours when we know that that drama was beingenacted. The odds are enormous against its being coincidence.No figurescould express them. Nomy dear Watsonthe twoevents areconnected -- MUST be connected. It is for us to findtheconnection."
"Butnow the official police must know all."
"Notat all. They know all they see at Godolphin Street.They know-- and shall know -- nothing of Whitehall Terrace.Only WEknow of both eventsand can trace the relation between them.There isone obvious point which wouldin any casehave turnedmysuspicions against Lucas. Godolphin StreetWestminsteris only afew minutes' walk from Whitehall Terrace. The othersecretagents whom I have named live in the extreme West-end.It waseasierthereforefor Lucas than for the others toestablisha connection or receive a message from the EuropeanSecretary'shousehold -- a small thingand yet where events arecompressedinto a few hours it may prove essential.Halloa!what have we here?"
Mrs.Hudson had appeared with a lady's card upon her salver.Holmesglanced at itraised his eyebrowsand handed it over to me.
"AskLady Hilda Trelawney Hope if she will be kind enough tostep up"said he.
A momentlater our modest apartmentalready so distinguishedthatmorningwas further honoured by the entrance of the mostlovelywoman in London. I had often heard of the beauty of theyoungestdaughter of the Duke of Belminsterbut no descriptionof itandno contemplation of colourless photographshadpreparedme for the subtledelicate charm and the beautifulcolouringof that exquisite head. And yet as we saw it thatautumnmorningit was not its beauty which would be the firstthing toimpress the observer. The cheek was lovelybut itwas paledwith emotion; the eyes were brightbut it was thebrightnessof fever; the sensitive mouth was tight and drawn inan effortafter self-command. Terror -- not beauty -- was whatsprangfirst to the eye as our fair visitor stood framed for aninstant inthe open door.
"Hasmy husband been hereMr. Holmes?"
"Yesmadamhe has been here."
"Mr.HolmesI implore you not to tell him that I came here."Holmesbowed coldlyand motioned the lady to a chair.
"Yourladyship places me in a very delicate position.I beg thatyou will sit down and tell me what you desire;but I fearthat I cannot make any unconditional promise."
She sweptacross the room and seated herself with her backto thewindow. It was a queenly presence -- tallgracefulandintensely womanly.
"Mr.Holmes" she saidand her white-gloved hands clasped andunclaspedas she spoke -- "I will speak frankly to you in thehope thatit may induce you to speak frankly in return. Thereiscomplete confidence between my husband and me on all matterssave one. That one is politics. On this his lips are sealed.He tellsme nothing. NowI am aware that there was a mostdeplorableoccurrence in our house last night. I know that apaper hasdisappeared. But because the matter is political myhusbandrefuses to take me into his complete confidence. Now itisessential -- essentialI say -- that I should thoroughlyunderstandit. You are the only other personsave only thesepoliticianswho knows the true facts. I beg youthenMr.Holmesto tell me exactly what has happened and what itwill leadto. Tell me allMr. Holmes. Let no regard for yourclient'sinterests keep you silentfor I assure you that hisinterestsif he would only see itwould be best served bytaking meinto his complete confidence. What was this paperwhich wasstolen?"
"Madamwhat you ask me is really impossible."
Shegroaned and sank her face in her hands.
"Youmust see that this is somadam. If your husband thinksfit tokeep you in the dark over this matteris it for mewhohas onlylearned the true facts under the pledge of professionalsecrecyto tell what he has withheld? It is not fair to ask it.It is himwhom you must ask."
"Ihave asked him. I come to you as a last resource. Butwithoutyourtelling me anything definiteMr. Holmesyou may do a greatservice ifyou would enlighten me on one point."
"Ismy husband's political career likely to suffer throughthisincident?"
"Wellmadamunless it is set right it may certainly havea veryunfortunate effect."
"Ah!" She drew in her breath sharply as one whose doubtsareresolved.
"Onemore questionMr. Holmes. From an expression which myhusbanddropped in the first shock of this disaster I understoodthatterrible public consequences might arise from the loss ofthisdocument."
"Ifhe said soI certainly cannot deny it."
"Ofwhat nature are they?"
"Naymadamthere again you ask me more than I can possibly answer."
"ThenI will take up no more of your time. I cannot blame youMr.Holmesfor having refused to speak more freelyand you onyour sidewill notI am surethink the worse of me becauseI desireeven against his willto share my husband's anxieties.Once moreI beg that you will say nothing of my visit."She lookedback at us from the doorand I had a last impressionof thatbeautiful haunted facethe startled eyesand the drawnmouth. Then she was gone.
"NowWatsonthe fair sex is your department" said Holmeswith asmilewhen the dwindling frou-frou of skirts had endedin theslam of the front door. "What was the fair lady's game?What didshe really want?"
"Surelyher own statement is clear and her anxiety very natural."
"Hum! Think of her appearanceWatson -- her mannerhersuppressed excitementher restlessnessher tenacityin askingquestions. Remember that she comes of a castewho do notlightly show emotion."
"Shewas certainly much moved."
"Rememberalso the curious earnestness with which she assuredus that itwas best for her husband that she should know all.What didshe mean by that? And you must have observedWatsonhow shemanoeuvred to have the light at her back. She did notwish us toread her expression."
"Yes;she chose the one chair in the room."
"Andyet the motives of women are so inscrutable. You rememberthe womanat Margate whom I suspected for the same reason.No powderon her nose -- that proved to be the correct solution.How canyou build on such a quicksand? Their most trivial actionmay meanvolumesor their most extraordinary conduct may dependupon ahairpin or a curling-tongs. Good morningWatson."
"Yes;I will wile away the morning at Godolphin Street with ourfriends ofthe regular establishment. With Eduardo Lucas liesthesolution of our problemthough I must admit that I have notan inklingas to what form it may take. It is a capital mistaketotheorize in advance of the facts. Do you stay on guardmygoodWatsonand receive any fresh visitors. I'll join you atlunch if Iam able."
All thatday and the next and the next Holmes was in a moodwhich hisfriends would call taciturnand others morose.He ran outand ran insmoked incessantlyplayed snatches onhisviolinsank into reveriesdevoured sandwiches at irregularhoursandhardly answered the casual questions which I put tohim. It was evident to me that things were not going well withhim or hisquest. He would say nothing of the caseand it wasfrom thepapers that I learned the particulars of the inquestand thearrest with the subsequent release of John Mittonthe valetof the deceased. The coroner's jury brought in theobvious"Wilful Murder" but the parties remained as unknown asever. No motive was suggested. The room was full of articlesof valuebut none had been taken. The dead man's papers hadnot beentampered with. They were carefully examinedand showedthat he was a keen student of international politicsanindefatigable gossipa remarkable linguistand an untiringletter-writer. He had been on intimate terms with the leadingpoliticiansof several countries. But nothing sensational wasdiscoveredamong the documents which filled his drawers. As tohisrelations with womenthey appeared to have been promiscuousbutsuperficial. He had many acquaintances among thembut fewfriendsand no one whom he loved. His habits were regularhisconduct inoffensive. His death was an absolute mysteryand likelyto remain so.
As to thearrest of John Mittonthe valetit was a counselof despairas an alternative to absolute inaction. But no casecould besustained against him. He had visited friends inHammersmiththat night. The ALIBI was complete. It is truethat hestarted home at an hour which should have brought himtoWestminster before the time when the crime was discoveredbut hisown explanation that he had walked part of the wayseemedprobable enough in view of the fineness of the night.He hadactually arrived at twelve o'clockand appeared to beoverwhelmedby the unexpected tragedy. He had always been ongood termswith his master. Several of the dead man'spossessions-- notably a small case of razors -- had been found inthevalet's boxesbut he explained that they had been presentsfrom thedeceasedand the housekeeper was able to corroboratethestory. Mitton had been in Lucas's employment for threeyears. It was noticeable that Lucas did not take Mitton on theContinentwith him. Sometimes he visited Paris for three monthson endbut Mitton was left in charge of the Godolphin Streethouse. As to the housekeepershe had heard nothing on thenight ofthe crime. If her master had a visitor he had himselfadmittedhim.
So forthree mornings the mystery remainedso far as I couldfollow itin the papers. If Holmes knew more he kept his owncounselbutas he told me that Inspector Lestrade had takenhim intohis confidence in the caseI knew that he was inclosetouch with every development. Upon the fourth day thereappeared along telegram from Paris which seemed to solve thewholequestion.
"Adiscovery has just been made by the Parisian police" saidthe DAILYTELEGRAPH"which raises the veil which hung round thetragicfate of Mr. Eduardo Lucaswho met his death by violencelastMonday night at Godolphin StreetWestminster. Our readerswillremember that the deceased gentleman was found stabbed inhis roomand that some suspicion attached to his valetbutthat thecase broke down on an ALIBI. Yesterday a ladywho hasbeen knownas Mme. Henri Fournayeoccupying a small villa inthe RueAusterlitzwas reported to the authorities by herservantsas being insane. An examination showed that she hadindeeddeveloped mania of a dangerous and permanent form.On inquirythe police have discovered that Mme. Henri Fournayeonlyreturned from a journey to London on Tuesday lastand thereisevidence to connect her with the crime at Westminster.Acomparison of photographs has proved conclusively that M. HenriFournayeand Eduardo Lucas were really one and the same personand thatthe deceased had for some reason lived a double lifein Londonand Paris. Mme. Fournayewho is of Creole originis of anextremely excitable natureand has suffered in thepast fromattacks of jealousy which have amounted to frenzy.It isconjectured that it was in one of these that she committedtheterrible crime which has caused such a sensation in London.Hermovements upon the Monday night have not yet been tracedbut it isundoubted that a woman answering to her descriptionattractedmuch attention at Charing Cross Station on Tuesdaymorning bythe wildness of her appearance and the violence ofhergestures. It is probablethereforethat the crime waseithercommitted when insaneor that its immediate effect wasto drivethe unhappy woman out of her mind. At present sheis unableto give any coherent account of the pastand thedoctorshold out no hopes of the re-establishment of her reason.There isevidence that a womanwho might have been Mme. Fournayewas seenfor some hours on Monday night watching the house inGodolphinStreet."
"Whatdo you think of thatHolmes?" I had read the accountaloud tohimwhile he finished his breakfast.
"Mydear Watson" said heas he rose from the table and pacedup anddown the room"you are most long-sufferingbut if Ihave toldyou nothing in the last three days it is because thereis nothingto tell. Even now this report from Paris does nothelp usmuch."
"Surelyit is final as regards the man's death."
"Theman's death is a mere incident -- a trivial episode -- incomparisonwith our real taskwhich is to trace this documentand save aEuropean catastrophe. Only one important thing hashappenedin the last three daysand that is that nothing hashappened. I get reports almost hourly from the Governmentand it iscertain that nowhere in Europe is there any sign oftrouble. Nowif this letter were loose -- noit CAN'T beloose --but if it isn't loosewhere can it be? Who has it?Why is itheld back? That's the question that beats in my brainlike ahammer. Was itindeeda coincidence that Lucas shouldmeet hisdeath on the night when the letter disappeared?Did theletter ever reach him? If sowhy is it not among hispapers? Did this mad wife of his carry it off with her? If sois it inher house in Paris? How could I search for it withoutthe Frenchpolice having their suspicions aroused? It is a casemy dearWatsonwhere the law is as dangerous to us as thecriminalsare. Every man's hand is against usand yet theinterestsat stake are colossal. Should I bring it to asuccessfulconclusion it will certainly represent the crowningglory ofmy career. Ahhere is my latest from the front!"He glancedhurriedly at the note which had been handed in."Halloa! Lestrade seems to have observed something of interest.Put onyour hatWatsonand we will stroll down together toWestminster."
It was myfirst visit to the scene of the crime -- a highdingynarrow-chestedhouseprimformaland solidlike the centurywhich gaveit birth. Lestrade's bulldog features gazed out atus fromthe front windowand he greeted us warmly when a bigconstablehad opened the door and let us in. The room intowhich wewere shown was that in which the crime had beencommittedbut no trace of it now remainedsave an uglyirregularstain upon the carpet. This carpet was a small squaredrugget inthe centre of the roomsurrounded by a broad expanseofbeautifulold-fashioned wood-flooring in square blockshighlypolished. Over the fireplace was a magnificent trophyofweaponsone of which had been used on that tragic night.In thewindow was a sumptuous writing-deskand every detail oftheapartmentthe picturesthe rugsand the hangingsallpointed toa taste which was luxurious to the verge of effeminacy.
"Seenthe Paris news?" asked Lestrade.
"OurFrench friends seem to have touched the spot this time.No doubtit's just as they say. She knocked at the door --surprisevisitI guessfor he kept his life in water-tightcompartments. He let her in -- couldn't keep her in the street.She toldhim how she had traced himreproached himone thingled toanotherand then with that dagger so handy the end sooncame. It wasn't all done in an instantthoughfor thesechairswere all swept over yonderand he had one in his hand asif he hadtried to hold her off with it. We've got it all clearas if wehad seen it."
Holmesraised his eyebrows.
"Andyet you have sent for me?"
"Ahyesthat's another matter -- a mere triflebut the sortof thingyou take an interest in -- queeryou knowand whatyou mightcall freakish. It has nothing to do with the mainfact --can't haveon the face of it."
"Wellyou knowafter a crime of this sort we are very carefulto keepthings in their position. Nothing has been moved.Officer incharge here day and night. This morningas the manwas buriedand the investigation over -- so far as this room isconcerned-- we thought we could tidy up a bit. This carpet.You seeit is not fastened down; only just laid there. We hadoccasionto raise it. We found ----"
"Yes? You found ----"
Holmes'sface grew tense with anxiety.
"WellI'm sure you would never guess in a hundred years what wedid find. You see that stain on the carpet? Wella great dealmust havesoaked throughmust it not?"
"Wellyou will be surprised to hear that there is no stain onthe whitewoodwork to correspond."
"Nostain! But there must ----"
"Yes;so you would say. But the fact remains that there isn't."
He tookthe corner of the carpet in his hand andturning it overhe showedthat it was indeed as he said.
"Butthe underside is as stained as the upper. It must haveleft amark."
Lestradechuckled with delight at having puzzled the famous expert.
"NowI'll show you the explanation. There IS a second stainbut itdoes not correspond with the other. See for yourself."As hespoke he turned over another portion of the carpetandtheresure enoughwas a great crimson spill upon the squarewhitefacing of the old-fashioned floor. "What do you make ofthatMr.Holmes?"
"Whyit is simple enough. The two stains did correspondbut thecarpet has been turned round. As it was square andunfastenedit was easily done."
Theofficial police don't need youMr. Holmesto tell themthat thecarpet must have been turned round. That's clear enoughfor thestains lie above each other -- if you lay it over this way.But what Iwant to know iswho shifted the carpetand why?"
I couldsee from Holmes's rigid face that he was vibrating withinwardexcitement.
"LookhereLestrade" said he"has that constable in thepassagebeen in charge of the place all the time?"
"Welltake my advice. Examine him carefully. Don't do itbeforeus. We'll wait here. You take him into the back room.You'll bemore likely to get a confession out of him alone.Ask himhow he dared to admit people and leave them alone in thisroom. Don't ask him if he has done it. Take it for granted.Tell himyou KNOW someone has been here. Press him. Tell himthat afull confession is his only chance of forgiveness.Do exactlywhat I tell you!"
"ByGeorgeif he knows I'll have it out of him!" cried Lestrade.He dartedinto the halland a few moments later his bullyingvoicesounded from the back room.
"NowWatsonnow!" cried Holmeswith frenzied eagerness.All thedemoniacal force of the man masked behind that listlessmannerburst out in a paroxysm of energy. He tore the druggetfrom thefloorand in an instant was down on his hands andkneesclawing at each of the squares of wood beneath it.One turnedsideways as he dug his nails into the edge of it.It hingedback like the lid of a box. A small black cavityopenedbeneath it. Holmes plunged his eager hand into itand drewit out with a bitter snarl of anger and disappointment.It wasempty.
"QuickWatsonquick! Get it back again!" The wooden lidwasreplacedand the drugget had only just been drawn straight whenLestrade'svoice was heard in the passage. He found Holmesleaninglanguidly against the mantelpieceresigned and patientendeavouringto conceal his irrepressible yawns.
"Sorryto keep you waitingMr. Holmes. I can see that you arebored todeath with the whole affair. Wellhe has confessedallright. Come in hereMacPherson. Let these gentlemen hearof yourmost inexcusable conduct."
The bigconstablevery hot and penitentsidled into the room.
"Imeant no harmsirI'm sure. The young woman came to thedoor lastevening -- mistook the houseshe did. And then wegottalking. It's lonesomewhen you're on duty here all day."
"Wellwhat happened then?"
"Shewanted to see where the crime was done -- had read aboutit in thepapersshe said. She was a very respectablewell-spokenyoung womansirand I saw no harm in letting herhave apeep. When she saw that mark on the carpetdown shedropped onthe floorand lay as if she were dead. I ran to theback andgot some waterbut I could not bring her to. Then Iwent roundthe corner to the Ivy Plant for some brandyand bythe time Ihad brought it back the young woman had recovered andwas off --ashamed of herselfI dare sayand dared not face me."
"Howabout moving that drugget?"
"Wellsirit was a bit rumpledcertainlywhen I came back.You seeshe fell on itand it lies on a polished floor withnothing tokeep it in place. I straightened it out afterwards."
"It'sa lesson to you that you can't deceive meConstableMacPherson"said Lestradewith dignity. "No doubt you thoughtthat yourbreach of duty could never be discoveredand yet amereglance at that drugget was enough to convince me thatsomeonehad been admitted to the room. It's lucky for youmy manthat nothing is missingor you would find yourself inQueerStreet. I'm sorry to have called you down over such apettybusinessMr. Holmesbut I thought the point of the secondstain notcorresponding with the first would interest you."
"Certainlyit was most interesting. Has this woman only beenhere onceconstable?"
"Don'tknow the namesir. Was answering an advertisement abouttype-writingand came to the wrong number -- very pleasantgenteelyoung womansir."
"Yessir; she was a well-grown young woman. I suppose youmight sayshe was handsome. Perhaps some would say she wasveryhandsome. `Ohofficerdo let me have a peep!' says she.She hadprettycoaxing waysas you might sayand I thought therewas noharm in letting her just put her head through the door."
"Howwas she dressed?"
"Quietsir -- a long mantle down to her feet."
"Whattime was it?"
"Itwas just growing dusk at the time. They were lighting thelamps as Icame back with the brandy."
"Verygood" said Holmes. "ComeWatsonI think that wehavemoreimportant work elsewhere."
As we leftthe house Lestrade remained in the front roomwhile therepentant constable opened the door to let us out.Holmesturned on the step and held up something in his hand.Theconstable stared intently.
"GoodLordsir!" he criedwith amazement on his face.Holmes puthis finger on his lipsreplaced his hand in hisbreast-pocketand burst out laughing as we turned down the street."Excellent!"said he. "Comefriend Watsonthe curtain ringsup for thelast act. You will be relieved to hear that therewill be nowarthat the Right Honourable Trelawney Hope willsuffer noset-back in his brilliant careerthat the indiscreetSovereignwill receive no punishment for his indiscretionthatthe PrimeMinister will have no European complication to dealwithandthat with a little tact and management upon our partnobodywill be a penny the worse for what might have been a veryuglyincident."
My mindfilled with admiration for this extraordinary man.
"Youhave solved it!" I cried.
"HardlythatWatson. There are some points which are as darkas ever. But we have so much that it will be our own fault ifwe cannotget the rest. We will go straight to WhitehallTerraceand bring the matter to a head."
When wearrived at the residence of the European Secretary itwas forLady Hilda Trelawney Hope that Sherlock Holmes inquired.We wereshown into the morning-room.
"Mr.Holmes!" said the ladyand her face was pink with herindignation "this is surely most unfair and ungenerous uponyourpart. I desiredas I have explainedto keep my visit toyou asecretlest my husband should think that I was intrudinginto hisaffairs. And yet you compromise me by coming here andso showingthat there are business relations between us."
"UnfortunatelymadamI had no possible alternative. I havebeencommissioned to recover this immensely important paper.I musttherefore ask youmadamto be kind enough to placeit in myhands."
The ladysprang to her feetwith the colour all dashed in aninstantfrom her beautiful face. Her eyes glazed -- shetottered-- I thought that she would faint. Then with a grandeffort sherallied from the shockand a supreme astonishmentandindignation chased every other expression from her features.
"You-- you insult meMr. Holmes."
"Comecomemadamit is useless. Give up the letter."
She dartedto the bell.
"Thebutler shall show you out."
"Donot ringLady Hilda. If you dothen all my earnest effortsto avoid ascandal will be frustrated. Give up the letter andall willbe set right. If you will work with me I can arrangeeverything. If you work against me I must expose you."
She stoodgrandly defianta queenly figureher eyes fixed uponhis as ifshe would read his very soul. Her hand was on thebellbutshe had forborne to ring it.
"Youare trying to frighten me. It is not a very manly thingMr.Holmesto come here and browbeat a woman. You say that youknowsomething. What is it that you know?"
"Praysit downmadam. You will hurt yourself there if you fall.I will notspeak until you sit down. Thank you."
"Igive you five minutesMr. Holmes."
"Oneis enoughLady Hilda. I know of your visit to EduardoLucasofyour giving him this documentof your ingeniousreturn tothe room last nightand of the manner in which youtook theletter from the hiding-place under the carpet."
She staredat him with an ashen face and gulped twice before shecouldspeak.
"Youare madMr. Holmes -- you are mad!" she criedat last.
He drew asmall piece of cardboard from his pocket. It was theface of awoman cut out of a portrait.
"Ihave carried this because I thought it might be useful"said he. "The policeman has recognised it."
She gave agasp and her head dropped back in the chair.
"ComeLady Hilda. You have the letter. The matter maystill beadjusted. I have no desire to bring trouble to you.My dutyends when I have returned the lost letter to your husband.Take myadvice and be frank with me; it is your only chance."
Hercourage was admirable. Even now she would not own defeat.
"Itell you againMr. Holmesthat you are under some absurdillusion."
Holmesrose from his chair.
"I amsorry for youLady Hilda. I have done my best for you;I can seethat it is all in vain."
He rangthe bell. The butler entered.
"IsMr. Trelawney Hope at home?"
"Hewill be homesirat a quarter to one."
Holmesglanced at his watch.
"Stilla quarter of an hour" said he. "Very goodI shallwait."
The butlerhad hardly closed the door behind him when Lady Hildawas downon her knees at Holmes's feether hands out-stretchedherbeautiful face upturned and wet with her tears.
"Ohspare meMr. Holmes! Spare me!" she pleadedin a frenzyofsupplication. "For Heaven's sakedon't tell him! Ilovehim so! I would not bring one shadow on his lifeand this Iknow wouldbreak his noble heart."
Holmesraised the lady. "I am thankfulmadamthat you havecome toyour senses even at this last moment! There is not aninstant tolose. Where is the letter?"
She dartedacross to a writing-deskunlocked itand drew outa longblue envelope.
"Hereit isMr. Holmes. Would to Heaven I had never seen it!"
"Howcan we return it?" Holmes muttered. "Quickquickwe mustthink of some way! Where is the despatch-box?"
"Stillin his bedroom."
"Whata stroke of luck! Quickmadambring it here!"
A momentlater she had appeared with a red flat box in her hand.
"Howdid you open it before? You have a duplicate key?Yesofcourse you have. Open it!"
From outof her bosom Lady Hilda had drawn a small key.The boxflew open. It was stuffed with papers. Holmes thrustthe blueenvelope deep down into the heart of thembetweenthe leavesof some other document. The box was shutlockedandreturned to the bedroom.
"Nowwe are ready for him" said Holmes; "we have still tenminutes. I am going far to screen youLady Hilda. In returnyou willspend the time in telling me frankly the real meaningof thisextraordinary affair."
"Mr.HolmesI will tell you everything" cried the lady."OhMr. HolmesI would cut off my right hand before I gave hima momentof sorrow! There is no woman in all London who loves herhusband asI doand yet if he knew how I have acted -- how I havebeencompelled to act -- he would never forgive me. For his ownhonourstands so high that he could not forget or pardon a lapseinanother. Help meMr. Holmes! My happinesshishappinessour verylives are at stake!"
"Quickmadamthe time grows short!"
"Itwas a letter of mineMr. Holmesan indiscreet letterwrittenbefore my marriage -- a foolish lettera letter of animpulsiveloving girl. I meant no harmand yet he would havethought itcriminal. Had he read that letter his confidencewould havebeen for ever destroyed. It is years since I wrote it.I hadthought that the whole matter was forgotten. Then at lastI heardfrom this manLucasthat it had passed into his handsand thathe would lay it before my husband. I implored his mercy.He saidthat he would return my letter if I would bring him acertaindocument which he described in my husband's despatch-box.He hadsome spy in the office who had told him of its existence.He assuredme that no harm could come to my husband. Put yourselfin mypositionMr. Holmes! What was I to do?"
"Takeyour husband into your confidence."
"Icould notMr. HolmesI could not! On the one side seemedcertainruin; on the otherterrible as it seemed to take myhusband'spaperstill in a matter of politics I could notunderstandthe consequenceswhile in a matter of love and trustthey wereonly too clear to me. I did itMr. Holmes! I tookanimpression of his key; this man Lucas furnished a duplicate.I openedhis despatch-boxtook the paperand conveyed it toGodolphinStreet."
"Itapped at the door as agreed. Lucas opened it. I followedhim intohis roomleaving the hall door ajar behind mefor Ifeared tobe alone with the man. I remember that there was awomanoutside as I entered. Our business was soon done. He hadmy letteron his desk; I handed him the document. He gave metheletter. At this instant there was a sound at the door.There weresteps in the passage. Lucas quickly turned back thedruggetthrust the document into some hiding-place thereandcovered itover.
"Whathappened after that is like some fearful dream.I have avision of a darkfrantic faceof a woman's voicewhichscreamed in French`My waiting is not in vain. At lastat last Ihave found you with her!' There was a savage struggle.I saw himwith a chair in his handa knife gleamed in hers.I rushedfrom the horrible sceneran from the houseand onlynextmorning in the paper did I learn the dreadful result.That nightI was happyfor I had my letterand I had not seenyet whatthe future would bring.
"Itwas the next morning that I realized that I had onlyexchangedone trouble for another. My husband's anguish at theloss ofhis paper went to my heart. I could hardly preventmyselffrom there and then kneeling down at his feet and tellinghim what Ihad done. But that again would mean a confession ofthe past. I came to you that morning in order to understand thefullenormity of my offence. From the instant that I grasped itmy wholemind was turned to the one thought of getting back myhusband'spaper. It must still be where Lucas had placed itfor it wasconcealed before this dreadful woman entered theroom. If it had not been for her comingI should not haveknownwhere his hiding-place was. How was I to get into theroom? For two days I watched the placebut the door was neverleftopen. Last night I made a last attempt. What I did andhow Isucceededyou have already learned. I brought the paperback withmeand thought of destroying it since I could see noway ofreturning itwithout confessing my guilt to my husband.HeavensIhear his step upon the stair!"
TheEuropean Secretary burst excitedly into the room.
"AnynewsMr. Holmesany news?" he cried.
"Ihave some hopes."
"Ahthank heaven!" His face became radiant. "ThePrimeMinisteris lunching with me. May he share your hopes? He hasnerves ofsteeland yet I know that he has hardly slept sincethisterrible event. Jacobswill you ask the Prime Ministerto comeup? As to youdearI fear that this is a matter ofpolitics. We will join you in a few minutes in the dining-room."
The PrimeMinister's manner was subduedbut I could see bythe gleamof his eyes and the twitchings of his bony handsthat heshared the excitement of his young colleague.
"Iunderstand that you have something to reportMr. Holmes?"
"Purelynegative as yet" my friend answered. "I haveinquiredat everypoint where it might beand I am sure that there is nodanger tobe apprehended."
"Butthat is not enoughMr. Holmes. We cannot live for everon such avolcano. We must have something definite."
"I amin hopes of getting it. That is why I am here.The more Ithink of the matter the more convinced I amthat theletter has never left this house."
"Ifit had it would certainly have been public by now."
"Butwhy should anyone take it in order to keep it in his house?"
"I amnot convinced that anyone did take it."
"Thenhow could it leave the despatch-box?"
"I amnot convinced that it ever did leave the despatch-box."
"Mr.Holmesthis joking is very ill-timed. You have myassurancethat it left the box."
"Haveyou examined the box since Tuesday morning?"
"No;it was not necessary."
"Youmay conceivably have overlooked it."
"ButI am not convinced of it; I have known such things to happen.I presumethere are other papers there. Wellit may have gotmixed withthem."
"Itwas on the top."
"Someonemay have shaken the box and displaced it."
"Nono; I had everything out."
"Surelyit is easily decidedHope" said the Premier."Letus have the despatch-box brought in."
TheSecretary rang the bell.
"Jacobsbring down my despatch-box. This is a farcical wasteof timebut stillif nothing else will satisfy youit shallbe done. Thank youJacobs; put it here. I have always had thekey on mywatch-chain. Here are the papersyou see. Letterfrom LordMerrowreport from Sir Charles Hardymemorandum fromBelgradenote on the Russo-German grain taxesletter fromMadridnote from Lord Flowers -- good heavens! what is this?LordBellinger! Lord Bellinger!"
ThePremier snatched the blue envelope from his hand.
"Yesit is it -- and the letter is intact. HopeI congratulateyou."
"Thankyou! Thank you! What a weight from my heart. Butthisisinconceivable -- impossible. Mr. Holmesyou are a wizardasorcerer! How did you know it was there?"
"BecauseI knew it was nowhere else."
"Icannot believe my eyes!" He ran wildly to the door."Whereis my wife? I must tell her that all is well.Hilda! Hilda!" we heard his voice on the stairs.
ThePremier looked at Holmes with twinkling eyes.
"Comesir" said he. "There is more in this than meets theeye.How camethe letter back in the box?"
Holmesturned away smiling from the keen scrutiny of thosewonderfuleyes.
"Wealso have our diplomatic secrets" said heand picking uphis hat heturned to the door.