The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Audiobook by A. Conan Doyle | P1 of 3 | Unabridged full audiobook

August 20, 2019

Adventures of Sherlock Holmes a collection of short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
ADVENTURE I. A SCANDAL IN BOHEMIA To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.
I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and
predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love
for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold,
precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and
observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself
in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer.
They were admirable things for the observer—excellent for drawing the veil from men’s motives
and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate
and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt
upon all his mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power
lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his.
And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious
and questionable memory. I had seen little of Holmes lately. My marriage
had drifted us away from each other. My own complete happiness, and the home-centred interests
which rise up around the man who first finds himself master of his own establishment, were
sufficient to absorb all my attention, while Holmes, who loathed every form of society
with his whole Bohemian soul, remained in our lodgings in Baker Street, buried among
his old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness
of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own keen nature. He was still, as ever, deeply
attracted by the study of crime, and occupied his immense faculties and extraordinary powers
of observation in following out those clues, and clearing up those mysteries which had
been abandoned as hopeless by the official police. From time to time I heard some vague
account of his doings: of his summons to Odessa in the case of the Trepoff murder, of his
clearing up of the singular tragedy of the Atkinson brothers at Trincomalee, and finally
of the mission which he had accomplished so delicately and successfully for the reigning
family of Holland. Beyond these signs of his activity, however, which I merely shared with
all the readers of the daily press, I knew little of my former friend and companion.
One night—it was on the twentieth of March, 1888—I was returning from a journey to a
patient (for I had now returned to civil practice), when my way led me through Baker Street. As
I passed the well-remembered door, which must always be associated in my mind with my wooing,
and with the dark incidents of the Study in Scarlet, I was seized with a keen desire to
see Holmes again, and to know how he was employing his extraordinary powers. His rooms were brilliantly
lit, and, even as I looked up, I saw his tall, spare figure pass twice in a dark silhouette
against the blind. He was pacing the room swiftly, eagerly, with his head sunk upon
his chest and his hands clasped behind him. To me, who knew his every mood and habit,
his attitude and manner told their own story. He was at work again. He had risen out of
his drug-created dreams and was hot upon the scent of some new problem. I rang the bell
and was shown up to the chamber which had formerly been in part my own.
His manner was not effusive. It seldom was; but he was glad, I think, to see me. With
hardly a word spoken, but with a kindly eye, he waved me to an armchair, threw across his
case of cigars, and indicated a spirit case and a gasogene in the corner. Then he stood
before the fire and looked me over in his singular introspective fashion.
“Wedlock suits you,” he remarked. “I think, Watson, that you have put on seven
and a half pounds since I saw you.” “Seven!” I answered.
“Indeed, I should have thought a little more. Just a trifle more, I fancy, Watson.
And in practice again, I observe. You did not tell me that you intended to go into harness.”
“Then, how do you know?” “I see it, I deduce it. How do I know that
you have been getting yourself very wet lately, and that you have a most clumsy and careless
servant girl?” “My dear Holmes,” said I, “this is too
much. You would certainly have been burned, had you lived a few centuries ago. It is true
that I had a country walk on Thursday and came home in a dreadful mess, but as I have
changed my clothes I can’t imagine how you deduce it. As to Mary Jane, she is incorrigible,
and my wife has given her notice, but there, again, I fail to see how you work it out.”
He chuckled to himself and rubbed his long, nervous hands together.
“It is simplicity itself,” said he; “my eyes tell me that on the inside of your left
shoe, just where the firelight strikes it, the leather is scored by six almost parallel
cuts. Obviously they have been caused by someone who has very carelessly scraped round the
edges of the sole in order to remove crusted mud from it. Hence, you see, my double deduction
that you had been out in vile weather, and that you had a particularly malignant boot-slitting
specimen of the London slavey. As to your practice, if a gentleman walks into my rooms
smelling of iodoform, with a black mark of nitrate of silver upon his right forefinger,
and a bulge on the right side of his top-hat to show where he has secreted his stethoscope,
I must be dull, indeed, if I do not pronounce him to be an active member of the medical
profession.” I could not help laughing at the ease with
which he explained his process of deduction. “When I hear you give your reasons,” I
remarked, “the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could
easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning I am baffled until
you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours.”
“Quite so,” he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an armchair.
“You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently
seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”
“Frequently.” “How often?”
“Well, some hundreds of times.” “Then how many are there?”
“How many? I don’t know.” “Quite so! You have not observed. And yet
you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because
I have both seen and observed. By the way, since you are interested in these little problems,
and since you are good enough to chronicle one or two of my trifling experiences, you
may be interested in this.” He threw over a sheet of thick, pink-tinted notepaper which
had been lying open upon the table. “It came by the last post,” said he. “Read
it aloud.” The note was undated, and without either signature
or address. “There will call upon you to-night, at a
quarter to eight o’clock,” it said, “a gentleman who desires to consult you upon
a matter of the very deepest moment. Your recent services to one of the royal houses
of Europe have shown that you are one who may safely be trusted with matters which are
of an importance which can hardly be exaggerated. This account of you we have from all quarters
received. Be in your chamber then at that hour, and do not take it amiss if your visitor
wear a mask.” “This is indeed a mystery,” I remarked.
“What do you imagine that it means?” “I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake
to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories,
instead of theories to suit facts. But the note itself. What do you deduce from it?”
I carefully examined the writing, and the paper upon which it was written.
“The man who wrote it was presumably well to do,” I remarked, endeavouring to imitate
my companion’s processes. “Such paper could not be bought under half a crown a packet.
It is peculiarly strong and stiff.” “Peculiar—that is the very word,” said
Holmes. “It is not an English paper at all. Hold it up to the light.”
I did so, and saw a large “E” with a small “g,” a “P,” and a large “G” with
a small “t” woven into the texture of the paper.
“What do you make of that?” asked Holmes. “The name of the maker, no doubt; or his
monogram, rather.” “Not at all. The ‘G’ with the small
‘t’ stands for ‘Gesellschaft,’ which is the German for ‘Company.’ It is a customary
contraction like our ‘Co.’ ‘P,’ of course, stands for ‘Papier.’ Now for the
‘Eg.’ Let us glance at our Continental Gazetteer.” He took down a heavy brown volume
from his shelves. “Eglow, Eglonitz—here we are, Egria. It is in a German-speaking
country—in Bohemia, not far from Carlsbad. ‘Remarkable as being the scene of the death
of Wallenstein, and for its numerous glass-factories and paper-mills.’ Ha, ha, my boy, what do
you make of that?” His eyes sparkled, and he sent up a great blue triumphant cloud from
his cigarette. “The paper was made in Bohemia,” I said.
“Precisely. And the man who wrote the note is a German. Do you note the peculiar construction
of the sentence—‘This account of you we have from all quarters received.’ A Frenchman
or Russian could not have written that. It is the German who is so uncourteous to his
verbs. It only remains, therefore, to discover what is wanted by this German who writes upon
Bohemian paper and prefers wearing a mask to showing his face. And here he comes, if
I am not mistaken, to resolve all our doubts.” As he spoke there was the sharp sound of horses’
hoofs and grating wheels against the curb, followed by a sharp pull at the bell. Holmes
whistled. “A pair, by the sound,” said he. “Yes,”
he continued, glancing out of the window. “A nice little brougham and a pair of beauties.
A hundred and fifty guineas apiece. There’s money in this case, Watson, if there is nothing
else.” “I think that I had better go, Holmes.”
“Not a bit, Doctor. Stay where you are. I am lost without my Boswell. And this promises
to be interesting. It would be a pity to miss it.”
“But your client—” “Never mind him. I may want your help, and
so may he. Here he comes. Sit down in that armchair, Doctor, and give us your best attention.”
A slow and heavy step, which had been heard upon the stairs and in the passage, paused
immediately outside the door. Then there was a loud and authoritative tap.
“Come in!” said Holmes. A man entered who could hardly have been less
than six feet six inches in height, with the chest and limbs of a Hercules. His dress was
rich with a richness which would, in England, be looked upon as akin to bad taste. Heavy
bands of astrakhan were slashed across the sleeves and fronts of his double-breasted
coat, while the deep blue cloak which was thrown over his shoulders was lined with flame-coloured
silk and secured at the neck with a brooch which consisted of a single flaming beryl.
Boots which extended halfway up his calves, and which were trimmed at the tops with rich
brown fur, completed the impression of barbaric opulence which was suggested by his whole
appearance. He carried a broad-brimmed hat in his hand, while he wore across the upper
part of his face, extending down past the cheekbones, a black vizard mask, which he
had apparently adjusted that very moment, for his hand was still raised to it as he
entered. From the lower part of the face he appeared to be a man of strong character,
with a thick, hanging lip, and a long, straight chin suggestive of resolution pushed to the
length of obstinacy. “You had my note?” he asked with a deep
harsh voice and a strongly marked German accent. “I told you that I would call.” He looked
from one to the other of us, as if uncertain which to address.
“Pray take a seat,” said Holmes. “This is my friend and colleague, Dr. Watson, who
is occasionally good enough to help me in my cases. Whom have I the honour to address?”
“You may address me as the Count Von Kramm, a Bohemian nobleman. I understand that this
gentleman, your friend, is a man of honour and discretion, whom I may trust with a matter
of the most extreme importance. If not, I should much prefer to communicate with you
alone.” I rose to go, but Holmes caught me by the
wrist and pushed me back into my chair. “It is both, or none,” said he. “You may say
before this gentleman anything which you may say to me.”
The Count shrugged his broad shoulders. “Then I must begin,” said he, “by binding you
both to absolute secrecy for two years; at the end of that time the matter will be of
no importance. At present it is not too much to say that it is of such weight it may have
an influence upon European history.” “I promise,” said Holmes.
“And I.” “You will excuse this mask,” continued
our strange visitor. “The august person who employs me wishes his agent to be unknown
to you, and I may confess at once that the title by which I have just called myself is
not exactly my own.” “I was aware of it,” said Holmes dryly.
“The circumstances are of great delicacy, and every precaution has to be taken to quench
what might grow to be an immense scandal and seriously compromise one of the reigning families
of Europe. To speak plainly, the matter implicates the great House of Ormstein, hereditary kings
of Bohemia.” “I was also aware of that,” murmured Holmes,
settling himself down in his armchair and closing his eyes.
Our visitor glanced with some apparent surprise at the languid, lounging figure of the man
who had been no doubt depicted to him as the most incisive reasoner and most energetic
agent in Europe. Holmes slowly reopened his eyes and looked impatiently at his gigantic
client. “If your Majesty would condescend to state
your case,” he remarked, “I should be better able to advise you.”
The man sprang from his chair and paced up and down the room in uncontrollable agitation.
Then, with a gesture of desperation, he tore the mask from his face and hurled it upon
the ground. “You are right,” he cried; “I am the King. Why should I attempt to
conceal it?” “Why, indeed?” murmured Holmes. “Your
Majesty had not spoken before I was aware that I was addressing Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond
von Ormstein, Grand Duke of Cassel-Felstein, and hereditary King of Bohemia.”
“But you can understand,” said our strange visitor, sitting down once more and passing
his hand over his high white forehead, “you can understand that I am not accustomed to
doing such business in my own person. Yet the matter was so delicate that I could not
confide it to an agent without putting myself in his power. I have come incognito from Prague
for the purpose of consulting you.” “Then, pray consult,” said Holmes, shutting
his eyes once more. “The facts are briefly these: Some five
years ago, during a lengthy visit to Warsaw, I made the acquaintance of the well-known
adventuress, Irene Adler. The name is no doubt familiar to you.”
“Kindly look her up in my index, Doctor,” murmured Holmes without opening his eyes.
For many years he had adopted a system of docketing all paragraphs concerning men and
things, so that it was difficult to name a subject or a person on which he could not
at once furnish information. In this case I found her biography sandwiched in between
that of a Hebrew rabbi and that of a staff-commander who had written a monograph upon the deep-sea
fishes. “Let me see!” said Holmes. “Hum! Born
in New Jersey in the year 1858. Contralto—hum! La Scala, hum! Prima donna Imperial Opera
of Warsaw—yes! Retired from operatic stage—ha! Living in London—quite so! Your Majesty,
as I understand, became entangled with this young person, wrote her some compromising
letters, and is now desirous of getting those letters back.”
“Precisely so. But how—” “Was there a secret marriage?”
“None.” “No legal papers or certificates?”
“None.” “Then I fail to follow your Majesty. If
this young person should produce her letters for blackmailing or other purposes, how is
she to prove their authenticity?” “There is the writing.”
“Pooh, pooh! Forgery.” “My private note-paper.”
“Stolen.” “My own seal.”
“Imitated.” “My photograph.”
“Bought.” “We were both in the photograph.”
“Oh, dear! That is very bad! Your Majesty has indeed committed an indiscretion.”
“I was mad—insane.” “You have compromised yourself seriously.”
“I was only Crown Prince then. I was young. I am but thirty now.”
“It must be recovered.” “We have tried and failed.”
“Your Majesty must pay. It must be bought.” “She will not sell.”
“Stolen, then.” “Five attempts have been made. Twice burglars
in my pay ransacked her house. Once we diverted her luggage when she travelled. Twice she
has been waylaid. There has been no result.” “No sign of it?”
“Absolutely none.” Holmes laughed. “It is quite a pretty little
problem,” said he. “But a very serious one to me,” returned
the King reproachfully. “Very, indeed. And what does she propose
to do with the photograph?” “To ruin me.”
“But how?” “I am about to be married.”
“So I have heard.” “To Clotilde Lothman von Saxe-Meningen,
second daughter of the King of Scandinavia. You may know the strict principles of her
family. She is herself the very soul of delicacy. A shadow of a doubt as to my conduct would
bring the matter to an end.” “And Irene Adler?”
“Threatens to send them the photograph. And she will do it. I know that she will do
it. You do not know her, but she has a soul of steel. She has the face of the most beautiful
of women, and the mind of the most resolute of men. Rather than I should marry another
woman, there are no lengths to which she would not go—none.”
“You are sure that she has not sent it yet?” “I am sure.”
“And why?” “Because she has said that she would send
it on the day when the betrothal was publicly proclaimed. That will be next Monday.”
“Oh, then we have three days yet,” said Holmes with a yawn. “That is very fortunate,
as I have one or two matters of importance to look into just at present. Your Majesty
will, of course, stay in London for the present?” “Certainly. You will find me at the Langham
under the name of the Count Von Kramm.” “Then I shall drop you a line to let you
know how we progress.” “Pray do so. I shall be all anxiety.”
“Then, as to money?” “You have carte blanche.”
“Absolutely?” “I tell you that I would give one of the
provinces of my kingdom to have that photograph.” “And for present expenses?”
The King took a heavy chamois leather bag from under his cloak and laid it on the table.
“There are three hundred pounds in gold and seven hundred in notes,” he said.
Holmes scribbled a receipt upon a sheet of his note-book and handed it to him.
“And Mademoiselle’s address?” he asked. “Is Briony Lodge, Serpentine Avenue, St.
John’s Wood.” Holmes took a note of it. “One other question,”
said he. “Was the photograph a cabinet?” “It was.”
“Then, good-night, your Majesty, and I trust that we shall soon have some good news for
you. And good-night, Watson,” he added, as the wheels of the royal brougham rolled
down the street. “If you will be good enough to call to-morrow afternoon at three o’clock
I should like to chat this little matter over with you.” II. At three o’clock precisely I was at Baker
Street, but Holmes had not yet returned. The landlady informed me that he had left the
house shortly after eight o’clock in the morning. I sat down beside the fire, however,
with the intention of awaiting him, however long he might be. I was already deeply interested
in his inquiry, for, though it was surrounded by none of the grim and strange features which
were associated with the two crimes which I have already recorded, still, the nature
of the case and the exalted station of his client gave it a character of its own. Indeed,
apart from the nature of the investigation which my friend had on hand, there was something
in his masterly grasp of a situation, and his keen, incisive reasoning, which made it
a pleasure to me to study his system of work, and to follow the quick, subtle methods by
which he disentangled the most inextricable mysteries. So accustomed was I to his invariable
success that the very possibility of his failing had ceased to enter into my head.
It was close upon four before the door opened, and a drunken-looking groom, ill-kempt and
side-whiskered, with an inflamed face and disreputable clothes, walked into the room.
Accustomed as I was to my friend’s amazing powers in the use of disguises, I had to look
three times before I was certain that it was indeed he. With a nod he vanished into the
bedroom, whence he emerged in five minutes tweed-suited and respectable, as of old. Putting
his hands into his pockets, he stretched out his legs in front of the fire and laughed
heartily for some minutes. “Well, really!” he cried, and then he
choked and laughed again until he was obliged to lie back, limp and helpless, in the chair.
“What is it?” “It’s quite too funny. I am sure you could
never guess how I employed my morning, or what I ended by doing.”
“I can’t imagine. I suppose that you have been watching the habits, and perhaps the
house, of Miss Irene Adler.” “Quite so; but the sequel was rather unusual.
I will tell you, however. I left the house a little after eight o’clock this morning
in the character of a groom out of work. There is a wonderful sympathy and freemasonry among
horsey men. Be one of them, and you will know all that there is to know. I soon found Briony
Lodge. It is a bijou villa, with a garden at the back, but built out in front right
up to the road, two stories. Chubb lock to the door. Large sitting-room on the right
side, well furnished, with long windows almost to the floor, and those preposterous English
window fasteners which a child could open. Behind there was nothing remarkable, save
that the passage window could be reached from the top of the coach-house. I walked round
it and examined it closely from every point of view, but without noting anything else
of interest. “I then lounged down the street and found,
as I expected, that there was a mews in a lane which runs down by one wall of the garden.
I lent the ostlers a hand in rubbing down their horses, and received in exchange twopence,
a glass of half-and-half, two fills of shag tobacco, and as much information as I could
desire about Miss Adler, to say nothing of half a dozen other people in the neighbourhood
in whom I was not in the least interested, but whose biographies I was compelled to listen
to.” “And what of Irene Adler?” I asked.
“Oh, she has turned all the men’s heads down in that part. She is the daintiest thing
under a bonnet on this planet. So say the Serpentine-mews, to a man. She lives quietly,
sings at concerts, drives out at five every day, and returns at seven sharp for dinner.
Seldom goes out at other times, except when she sings. Has only one male visitor, but
a good deal of him. He is dark, handsome, and dashing, never calls less than once a
day, and often twice. He is a Mr. Godfrey Norton, of the Inner Temple. See the advantages
of a cabman as a confidant. They had driven him home a dozen times from Serpentine-mews,
and knew all about him. When I had listened to all they had to tell, I began to walk up
and down near Briony Lodge once more, and to think over my plan of campaign.
“This Godfrey Norton was evidently an important factor in the matter. He was a lawyer. That
sounded ominous. What was the relation between them, and what the object of his repeated
visits? Was she his client, his friend, or his mistress? If the former, she had probably
transferred the photograph to his keeping. If the latter, it was less likely. On the
issue of this question depended whether I should continue my work at Briony Lodge, or
turn my attention to the gentleman’s chambers in the Temple. It was a delicate point, and
it widened the field of my inquiry. I fear that I bore you with these details, but I
have to let you see my little difficulties, if you are to understand the situation.”
“I am following you closely,” I answered. “I was still balancing the matter in my
mind when a hansom cab drove up to Briony Lodge, and a gentleman sprang out. He was
a remarkably handsome man, dark, aquiline, and moustached—evidently the man of whom
I had heard. He appeared to be in a great hurry, shouted to the cabman to wait, and
brushed past the maid who opened the door with the air of a man who was thoroughly at
home. “He was in the house about half an hour,
and I could catch glimpses of him in the windows of the sitting-room, pacing up and down, talking
excitedly, and waving his arms. Of her I could see nothing. Presently he emerged, looking
even more flurried than before. As he stepped up to the cab, he pulled a gold watch from
his pocket and looked at it earnestly, ‘Drive like the devil,’ he shouted, ‘first to
Gross & Hankey’s in Regent Street, and then to the Church of St. Monica in the Edgeware
Road. Half a guinea if you do it in twenty minutes!’
“Away they went, and I was just wondering whether I should not do well to follow them
when up the lane came a neat little landau, the coachman with his coat only half-buttoned,
and his tie under his ear, while all the tags of his harness were sticking out of the buckles.
It hadn’t pulled up before she shot out of the hall door and into it. I only caught
a glimpse of her at the moment, but she was a lovely woman, with a face that a man might
die for. “ ‘The Church of St. Monica, John,’
she cried, ‘and half a sovereign if you reach it in twenty minutes.’
“This was quite too good to lose, Watson. I was just balancing whether I should run
for it, or whether I should perch behind her landau when a cab came through the street.
The driver looked twice at such a shabby fare, but I jumped in before he could object. ‘The
Church of St. Monica,’ said I, ‘and half a sovereign if you reach it in twenty minutes.’
It was twenty-five minutes to twelve, and of course it was clear enough what was in
the wind. “My cabby drove fast. I don’t think I
ever drove faster, but the others were there before us. The cab and the landau with their
steaming horses were in front of the door when I arrived. I paid the man and hurried
into the church. There was not a soul there save the two whom I had followed and a surpliced
clergyman, who seemed to be expostulating with them. They were all three standing in
a knot in front of the altar. I lounged up the side aisle like any other idler who has
dropped into a church. Suddenly, to my surprise, the three at the altar faced round to me,
and Godfrey Norton came running as hard as he could towards me.
“ ‘Thank God,’ he cried. ‘You’ll do. Come! Come!’
“ ‘What then?’ I asked. “ ‘Come, man, come, only three minutes,
or it won’t be legal.’ “I was half-dragged up to the altar, and
before I knew where I was I found myself mumbling responses which were whispered in my ear,
and vouching for things of which I knew nothing, and generally assisting in the secure tying
up of Irene Adler, spinster, to Godfrey Norton, bachelor. It was all done in an instant, and
there was the gentleman thanking me on the one side and the lady on the other, while
the clergyman beamed on me in front. It was the most preposterous position in which I
ever found myself in my life, and it was the thought of it that started me laughing just
now. It seems that there had been some informality about their license, that the clergyman absolutely
refused to marry them without a witness of some sort, and that my lucky appearance saved
the bridegroom from having to sally out into the streets in search of a best man. The bride
gave me a sovereign, and I mean to wear it on my watch chain in memory of the occasion.”
“This is a very unexpected turn of affairs,” said I; “and what then?”
“Well, I found my plans very seriously menaced. It looked as if the pair might take an immediate
departure, and so necessitate very prompt and energetic measures on my part. At the
church door, however, they separated, he driving back to the Temple, and she to her own house.
‘I shall drive out in the park at five as usual,’ she said as she left him. I heard
no more. They drove away in different directions, and I went off to make my own arrangements.”
“Which are?” “Some cold beef and a glass of beer,”
he answered, ringing the bell. “I have been too busy to think of food, and I am likely
to be busier still this evening. By the way, Doctor, I shall want your co-operation.”
“I shall be delighted.” “You don’t mind breaking the law?”
“Not in the least.” “Nor running a chance of arrest?”
“Not in a good cause.” “Oh, the cause is excellent!”
“Then I am your man.” “I was sure that I might rely on you.”
“But what is it you wish?” “When Mrs. Turner has brought in the tray
I will make it clear to you. Now,” he said as he turned hungrily on the simple fare that
our landlady had provided, “I must discuss it while I eat, for I have not much time.
It is nearly five now. In two hours we must be on the scene of action. Miss Irene, or
Madame, rather, returns from her drive at seven. We must be at Briony Lodge to meet
her.” “And what then?”
“You must leave that to me. I have already arranged what is to occur. There is only one
point on which I must insist. You must not interfere, come what may. You understand?”
“I am to be neutral?” “To do nothing whatever. There will probably
be some small unpleasantness. Do not join in it. It will end in my being conveyed into
the house. Four or five minutes afterwards the sitting-room window will open. You are
to station yourself close to that open window.” “Yes.”
“You are to watch me, for I will be visible to you.”
“Yes.” “And when I raise my hand—so—you will
throw into the room what I give you to throw, and will, at the same time, raise the cry
of fire. You quite follow me?” “Entirely.”
“It is nothing very formidable,” he said, taking a long cigar-shaped roll from his pocket.
“It is an ordinary plumber’s smoke-rocket, fitted with a cap at either end to make it
self-lighting. Your task is confined to that. When you raise your cry of fire, it will be
taken up by quite a number of people. You may then walk to the end of the street, and
I will rejoin you in ten minutes. I hope that I have made myself clear?”
“I am to remain neutral, to get near the window, to watch you, and at the signal to
throw in this object, then to raise the cry of fire, and to wait you at the corner of
the street.” “Precisely.”
“Then you may entirely rely on me.” “That is excellent. I think, perhaps, it
is almost time that I prepare for the new role I have to play.”
He disappeared into his bedroom and returned in a few minutes in the character of an amiable
and simple-minded Nonconformist clergyman. His broad black hat, his baggy trousers, his
white tie, his sympathetic smile, and general look of peering and benevolent curiosity were
such as Mr. John Hare alone could have equalled. It was not merely that Holmes changed his
costume. His expression, his manner, his very soul seemed to vary with every fresh part
that he assumed. The stage lost a fine actor, even as science lost an acute reasoner, when
he became a specialist in crime. It was a quarter past six when we left Baker
Street, and it still wanted ten minutes to the hour when we found ourselves in Serpentine
Avenue. It was already dusk, and the lamps were just being lighted as we paced up and
down in front of Briony Lodge, waiting for the coming of its occupant. The house was
just such as I had pictured it from Sherlock Holmes’ succinct description, but the locality
appeared to be less private than I expected. On the contrary, for a small street in a quiet
neighbourhood, it was remarkably animated. There was a group of shabbily dressed men
smoking and laughing in a corner, a scissors-grinder with his wheel, two guardsmen who were flirting
with a nurse-girl, and several well-dressed young men who were lounging up and down with
cigars in their mouths. “You see,” remarked Holmes, as we paced
to and fro in front of the house, “this marriage rather simplifies matters. The photograph
becomes a double-edged weapon now. The chances are that she would be as averse to its being
seen by Mr. Godfrey Norton, as our client is to its coming to the eyes of his princess.
Now the question is, Where are we to find the photograph?”
“Where, indeed?” “It is most unlikely that she carries it
about with her. It is cabinet size. Too large for easy concealment about a woman’s dress.
She knows that the King is capable of having her waylaid and searched. Two attempts of
the sort have already been made. We may take it, then, that she does not carry it about
with her.” “Where, then?”
“Her banker or her lawyer. There is that double possibility. But I am inclined to think
neither. Women are naturally secretive, and they like to do their own secreting. Why should
she hand it over to anyone else? She could trust her own guardianship, but she could
not tell what indirect or political influence might be brought to bear upon a business man.
Besides, remember that she had resolved to use it within a few days. It must be where
she can lay her hands upon it. It must be in her own house.”
“But it has twice been burgled.” “Pshaw! They did not know how to look.”
“But how will you look?” “I will not look.”
“What then?” “I will get her to show me.”
“But she will refuse.” “She will not be able to. But I hear the
rumble of wheels. It is her carriage. Now carry out my orders to the letter.”
As he spoke the gleam of the sidelights of a carriage came round the curve of the avenue.
It was a smart little landau which rattled up to the door of Briony Lodge. As it pulled
up, one of the loafing men at the corner dashed forward to open the door in the hope of earning
a copper, but was elbowed away by another loafer, who had rushed up with the same intention.
A fierce quarrel broke out, which was increased by the two guardsmen, who took sides with
one of the loungers, and by the scissors-grinder, who was equally hot upon the other side. A
blow was struck, and in an instant the lady, who had stepped from her carriage, was the
centre of a little knot of flushed and struggling men, who struck savagely at each other with
their fists and sticks. Holmes dashed into the crowd to protect the lady; but, just as
he reached her, he gave a cry and dropped to the ground, with the blood running freely
down his face. At his fall the guardsmen took to their heels in one direction and the loungers
in the other, while a number of better dressed people, who had watched the scuffle without
taking part in it, crowded in to help the lady and to attend to the injured man. Irene
Adler, as I will still call her, had hurried up the steps; but she stood at the top with
her superb figure outlined against the lights of the hall, looking back into the street.
“Is the poor gentleman much hurt?” she asked.
“He is dead,” cried several voices. “No, no, there’s life in him!” shouted
another. “But he’ll be gone before you can get him to hospital.”
“He’s a brave fellow,” said a woman. “They would have had the lady’s purse
and watch if it hadn’t been for him. They were a gang, and a rough one, too. Ah, he’s
breathing now.” “He can’t lie in the street. May we bring
him in, marm?” “Surely. Bring him into the sitting-room.
There is a comfortable sofa. This way, please!” Slowly and solemnly he was borne into Briony
Lodge and laid out in the principal room, while I still observed the proceedings from
my post by the window. The lamps had been lit, but the blinds had not been drawn, so
that I could see Holmes as he lay upon the couch. I do not know whether he was seized
with compunction at that moment for the part he was playing, but I know that I never felt
more heartily ashamed of myself in my life than when I saw the beautiful creature against
whom I was conspiring, or the grace and kindliness with which she waited upon the injured man.
And yet it would be the blackest treachery to Holmes to draw back now from the part which
he had intrusted to me. I hardened my heart, and took the smoke-rocket from under my ulster.
After all, I thought, we are not injuring her. We are but preventing her from injuring
another. Holmes had sat up upon the couch, and I saw
him motion like a man who is in need of air. A maid rushed across and threw open the window.
At the same instant I saw him raise his hand and at the signal I tossed my rocket into
the room with a cry of “Fire!” The word was no sooner out of my mouth than the whole
crowd of spectators, well dressed and ill—gentlemen, ostlers, and servant maids—joined in a general
shriek of “Fire!” Thick clouds of smoke curled through the room and out at the open
window. I caught a glimpse of rushing figures, and a moment later the voice of Holmes from
within assuring them that it was a false alarm. Slipping through the shouting crowd I made
my way to the corner of the street, and in ten minutes was rejoiced to find my friend’s
arm in mine, and to get away from the scene of uproar. He walked swiftly and in silence
for some few minutes until we had turned down one of the quiet streets which lead towards
the Edgeware Road. “You did it very nicely, Doctor,” he remarked.
“Nothing could have been better. It is all right.”
“You have the photograph?” “I know where it is.”
“And how did you find out?” “She showed me, as I told you she would.”
“I am still in the dark.” “I do not wish to make a mystery,” said
he, laughing. “The matter was perfectly simple. You, of course, saw that everyone
in the street was an accomplice. They were all engaged for the evening.”
“I guessed as much.” “Then, when the row broke out, I had a little
moist red paint in the palm of my hand. I rushed forward, fell down, clapped my hand
to my face, and became a piteous spectacle. It is an old trick.”
“That also I could fathom.” “Then they carried me in. She was bound
to have me in. What else could she do? And into her sitting-room, which was the very
room which I suspected. It lay between that and her bedroom, and I was determined to see
which. They laid me on a couch, I motioned for air, they were compelled to open the window,
and you had your chance.” “How did that help you?”
“It was all-important. When a woman thinks that her house is on fire, her instinct is
at once to rush to the thing which she values most. It is a perfectly overpowering impulse,
and I have more than once taken advantage of it. In the case of the Darlington Substitution
Scandal it was of use to me, and also in the Arnsworth Castle business. A married woman
grabs at her baby; an unmarried one reaches for her jewel-box. Now it was clear to me
that our lady of to-day had nothing in the house more precious to her than what we are
in quest of. She would rush to secure it. The alarm of fire was admirably done. The
smoke and shouting were enough to shake nerves of steel. She responded beautifully. The photograph
is in a recess behind a sliding panel just above the right bell-pull. She was there in
an instant, and I caught a glimpse of it as she half drew it out. When I cried out that
it was a false alarm, she replaced it, glanced at the rocket, rushed from the room, and I
have not seen her since. I rose, and, making my excuses, escaped from the house. I hesitated
whether to attempt to secure the photograph at once; but the coachman had come in, and
as he was watching me narrowly, it seemed safer to wait. A little over-precipitance
may ruin all.” “And now?” I asked.
“Our quest is practically finished. I shall call with the King to-morrow, and with you,
if you care to come with us. We will be shown into the sitting-room to wait for the lady,
but it is probable that when she comes she may find neither us nor the photograph. It
might be a satisfaction to his Majesty to regain it with his own hands.”
“And when will you call?” “At eight in the morning. She will not be
up, so that we shall have a clear field. Besides, we must be prompt, for this marriage may mean
a complete change in her life and habits. I must wire to the King without delay.”
We had reached Baker Street and had stopped at the door. He was searching his pockets
for the key when someone passing said: “Good-night, Mister Sherlock Holmes.”
There were several people on the pavement at the time, but the greeting appeared to
come from a slim youth in an ulster who had hurried by.
“I’ve heard that voice before,” said Holmes, staring down the dimly lit street.
“Now, I wonder who the deuce that could have been.” III. I slept at Baker Street that night, and we
were engaged upon our toast and coffee in the morning when the King of Bohemia rushed
into the room. “You have really got it!” he cried, grasping
Sherlock Holmes by either shoulder and looking eagerly into his face.
“Not yet.” “But you have hopes?”
“I have hopes.” “Then, come. I am all impatience to be gone.”
“We must have a cab.” “No, my brougham is waiting.”
“Then that will simplify matters.” We descended and started off once more for Briony
Lodge. “Irene Adler is married,” remarked Holmes.
“Married! When?” “Yesterday.”
“But to whom?” “To an English lawyer named Norton.”
“But she could not love him.” “I am in hopes that she does.”
“And why in hopes?” “Because it would spare your Majesty all
fear of future annoyance. If the lady loves her husband, she does not love your Majesty.
If she does not love your Majesty, there is no reason why she should interfere with your
Majesty’s plan.” “It is true. And yet—! Well! I wish she
had been of my own station! What a queen she would have made!” He relapsed into a moody
silence, which was not broken until we drew up in Serpentine Avenue.
The door of Briony Lodge was open, and an elderly woman stood upon the steps. She watched
us with a sardonic eye as we stepped from the brougham.
“Mr. Sherlock Holmes, I believe?” said she.
“I am Mr. Holmes,” answered my companion, looking at her with a questioning and rather
startled gaze. “Indeed! My mistress told me that you were
likely to call. She left this morning with her husband by the 5:15 train from Charing
Cross for the Continent.” “What!” Sherlock Holmes staggered back,
white with chagrin and surprise. “Do you mean that she has left England?”
“Never to return.” “And the papers?” asked the King hoarsely.
“All is lost.” “We shall see.” He pushed past the servant
and rushed into the drawing-room, followed by the King and myself. The furniture was
scattered about in every direction, with dismantled shelves and open drawers, as if the lady had
hurriedly ransacked them before her flight. Holmes rushed at the bell-pull, tore back
a small sliding shutter, and, plunging in his hand, pulled out a photograph and a letter.
The photograph was of Irene Adler herself in evening dress, the letter was superscribed
to “Sherlock Holmes, Esq. To be left till called for.” My friend tore it open, and
we all three read it together. It was dated at midnight of the preceding night and ran
in this way: “MY DEAR MR. SHERLOCK HOLMES,—You really
did it very well. You took me in completely. Until after the alarm of fire, I had not a
suspicion. But then, when I found how I had betrayed myself, I began to think. I had been
warned against you months ago. I had been told that, if the King employed an agent,
it would certainly be you. And your address had been given me. Yet, with all this, you
made me reveal what you wanted to know. Even after I became suspicious, I found it hard
to think evil of such a dear, kind old clergyman. But, you know, I have been trained as an actress
myself. Male costume is nothing new to me. I often take advantage of the freedom which
it gives. I sent John, the coachman, to watch you, ran upstairs, got into my walking clothes,
as I call them, and came down just as you departed.
“Well, I followed you to your door, and so made sure that I was really an object of
interest to the celebrated Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Then I, rather imprudently, wished you good-night,
and started for the Temple to see my husband. “We both thought the best resource was flight,
when pursued by so formidable an antagonist; so you will find the nest empty when you call
to-morrow. As to the photograph, your client may rest in peace. I love and am loved by
a better man than he. The King may do what he will without hindrance from one whom he
has cruelly wronged. I keep it only to safeguard myself, and to preserve a weapon which will
always secure me from any steps which he might take in the future. I leave a photograph which
he might care to possess; and I remain, dear Mr. Sherlock Holmes, “Very truly yours,
“IRENE NORTON, née ADLER.” “What a woman—oh, what a woman!” cried
the King of Bohemia, when we had all three read this epistle. “Did I not tell you how
quick and resolute she was? Would she not have made an admirable queen? Is it not a
pity that she was not on my level?” “From what I have seen of the lady, she
seems, indeed, to be on a very different level to your Majesty,” said Holmes coldly. “I
am sorry that I have not been able to bring your Majesty’s business to a more successful
conclusion.” “On the contrary, my dear sir,” cried
the King; “nothing could be more successful. I know that her word is inviolate. The photograph
is now as safe as if it were in the fire.” “I am glad to hear your Majesty say so.”
“I am immensely indebted to you. Pray tell me in what way I can reward you. This ring—”
He slipped an emerald snake ring from his finger and held it out upon the palm of his
hand. “Your Majesty has something which I should
value even more highly,” said Holmes. “You have but to name it.”
“This photograph!” The King stared at him in amazement.
“Irene’s photograph!” he cried. “Certainly, if you wish it.”
“I thank your Majesty. Then there is no more to be done in the matter. I have the
honour to wish you a very good morning.” He bowed, and, turning away without observing
the hand which the King had stretched out to him, he set off in my company for his chambers. And that was how a great scandal threatened
to affect the kingdom of Bohemia, and how the best plans of Mr. Sherlock Holmes were
beaten by a woman’s wit. He used to make merry over the cleverness of women, but I
have not heard him do it of late. And when he speaks of Irene Adler, or when he refers
to her photograph, it is always under the honourable title of the woman. ADVENTURE II. THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE I had called upon my friend, Mr. Sherlock
Holmes, one day in the autumn of last year and found him in deep conversation with a
very stout, florid-faced, elderly gentleman with fiery red hair. With an apology for my
intrusion, I was about to withdraw when Holmes pulled me abruptly into the room and closed
the door behind me. “You could not possibly have come at a better
time, my dear Watson,” he said cordially. “I was afraid that you were engaged.”
“So I am. Very much so.” “Then I can wait in the next room.”
“Not at all. This gentleman, Mr. Wilson, has been my partner and helper in many of
my most successful cases, and I have no doubt that he will be of the utmost use to me in
yours also.” The stout gentleman half rose from his chair
and gave a bob of greeting, with a quick little questioning glance from his small fat-encircled
eyes. “Try the settee,” said Holmes, relapsing
into his armchair and putting his fingertips together, as was his custom when in judicial
moods. “I know, my dear Watson, that you share my love of all that is bizarre and outside
the conventions and humdrum routine of everyday life. You have shown your relish for it by
the enthusiasm which has prompted you to chronicle, and, if you will excuse my saying so, somewhat
to embellish so many of my own little adventures.” “Your cases have indeed been of the greatest
interest to me,” I observed. “You will remember that I remarked the other
day, just before we went into the very simple problem presented by Miss Mary Sutherland,
that for strange effects and extraordinary combinations we must go to life itself, which
is always far more daring than any effort of the imagination.”
“A proposition which I took the liberty of doubting.”
“You did, Doctor, but none the less you must come round to my view, for otherwise
I shall keep on piling fact upon fact on you until your reason breaks down under them and
acknowledges me to be right. Now, Mr. Jabez Wilson here has been good enough to call upon
me this morning, and to begin a narrative which promises to be one of the most singular
which I have listened to for some time. You have heard me remark that the strangest and
most unique things are very often connected not with the larger but with the smaller crimes,
and occasionally, indeed, where there is room for doubt whether any positive crime has been
committed. As far as I have heard, it is impossible for me to say whether the present case is
an instance of crime or not, but the course of events is certainly among the most singular
that I have ever listened to. Perhaps, Mr. Wilson, you would have the great kindness
to recommence your narrative. I ask you not merely because my friend Dr. Watson has not
heard the opening part but also because the peculiar nature of the story makes me anxious
to have every possible detail from your lips. As a rule, when I have heard some slight indication
of the course of events, I am able to guide myself by the thousands of other similar cases
which occur to my memory. In the present instance I am forced to admit that the facts are, to
the best of my belief, unique.” The portly client puffed out his chest with
an appearance of some little pride and pulled a dirty and wrinkled newspaper from the inside
pocket of his greatcoat. As he glanced down the advertisement column, with his head thrust
forward and the paper flattened out upon his knee, I took a good look at the man and endeavoured,
after the fashion of my companion, to read the indications which might be presented by
his dress or appearance. I did not gain very much, however, by my inspection.
Our visitor bore every mark of being an average commonplace British tradesman, obese, pompous,
and slow. He wore rather baggy grey shepherd’s check trousers, a not over-clean black frock-coat,
unbuttoned in the front, and a drab waistcoat with a heavy brassy Albert chain, and a square
pierced bit of metal dangling down as an ornament. A frayed top-hat and a faded brown overcoat
with a wrinkled velvet collar lay upon a chair beside him. Altogether, look as I would, there
was nothing remarkable about the man save his blazing red head, and the expression of
extreme chagrin and discontent upon his features. Sherlock Holmes’ quick eye took in my occupation,
and he shook his head with a smile as he noticed my questioning glances. “Beyond the obvious
facts that he has at some time done manual labour, that he takes snuff, that he is a
Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done a considerable amount of
writing lately, I can deduce nothing else.” Mr. Jabez Wilson started up in his chair,
with his forefinger upon the paper, but his eyes upon my companion.
“How, in the name of good-fortune, did you know all that, Mr. Holmes?” he asked. “How
did you know, for example, that I did manual labour. It’s as true as gospel, for I began
as a ship’s carpenter.” “Your hands, my dear sir. Your right hand
is quite a size larger than your left. You have worked with it, and the muscles are more
developed.” “Well, the snuff, then, and the Freemasonry?”
“I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you how I read that, especially as, rather
against the strict rules of your order, you use an arc-and-compass breastpin.”
“Ah, of course, I forgot that. But the writing?” “What else can be indicated by that right
cuff so very shiny for five inches, and the left one with the smooth patch near the elbow
where you rest it upon the desk?” “Well, but China?”
“The fish that you have tattooed immediately above your right wrist could only have been
done in China. I have made a small study of tattoo marks and have even contributed to
the literature of the subject. That trick of staining the fishes’ scales of a delicate
pink is quite peculiar to China. When, in addition, I see a Chinese coin hanging from
your watch-chain, the matter becomes even more simple.”
Mr. Jabez Wilson laughed heavily. “Well, I never!” said he. “I thought at first
that you had done something clever, but I see that there was nothing in it after all.”
“I begin to think, Watson,” said Holmes, “that I make a mistake in explaining. ‘Omne
ignotum pro magnifico,’ you know, and my poor little reputation, such as it is, will
suffer shipwreck if I am so candid. Can you not find the advertisement, Mr. Wilson?”
“Yes, I have got it now,” he answered with his thick red finger planted halfway
down the column. “Here it is. This is what began it all. You just read it for yourself,
sir.” I took the paper from him and read as follows:
“TO THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE: On account of the bequest of the late Ezekiah Hopkins, of
Lebanon, Pennsylvania, U. S. A., there is now another vacancy open which entitles a
member of the League to a salary of £4 a week for purely nominal services. All red-headed
men who are sound in body and mind and above the age of twenty-one years, are eligible.
Apply in person on Monday, at eleven o’clock, to Duncan Ross, at the offices of the League,
7 Pope’s Court, Fleet Street.” “What on earth does this mean?” I ejaculated
after I had twice read over the extraordinary announcement.
Holmes chuckled and wriggled in his chair, as was his habit when in high spirits. “It
is a little off the beaten track, isn’t it?” said he. “And now, Mr. Wilson, off
you go at scratch and tell us all about yourself, your household, and the effect which this
advertisement had upon your fortunes. You will first make a note, Doctor, of the paper
and the date.” “It is The Morning Chronicle of April 27,
1890. Just two months ago.” “Very good. Now, Mr. Wilson?”
“Well, it is just as I have been telling you, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” said Jabez Wilson,
mopping his forehead; “I have a small pawnbroker’s business at Coburg Square, near the City.
It’s not a very large affair, and of late years it has not done more than just give
me a living. I used to be able to keep two assistants, but now I only keep one; and I
would have a job to pay him but that he is willing to come for half wages so as to learn
the business.” “What is the name of this obliging youth?”
asked Sherlock Holmes. “His name is Vincent Spaulding, and he’s
not such a youth, either. It’s hard to say his age. I should not wish a smarter assistant,
Mr. Holmes; and I know very well that he could better himself and earn twice what I am able
to give him. But, after all, if he is satisfied, why should I put ideas in his head?”
“Why, indeed? You seem most fortunate in having an employé who comes under the full
market price. It is not a common experience among employers in this age. I don’t know
that your assistant is not as remarkable as your advertisement.”
“Oh, he has his faults, too,” said Mr. Wilson. “Never was such a fellow for photography.
Snapping away with a camera when he ought to be improving his mind, and then diving
down into the cellar like a rabbit into its hole to develop his pictures. That is his
main fault, but on the whole he’s a good worker. There’s no vice in him.”
“He is still with you, I presume?” “Yes, sir. He and a girl of fourteen, who
does a bit of simple cooking and keeps the place clean—that’s all I have in the house,
for I am a widower and never had any family. We live very quietly, sir, the three of us;
and we keep a roof over our heads and pay our debts, if we do nothing more.
“The first thing that put us out was that advertisement. Spaulding, he came down into
the office just this day eight weeks, with this very paper in his hand, and he says:
“ ‘I wish to the Lord, Mr. Wilson, that I was a red-headed man.’
“ ‘Why that?’ I asks. “ ‘Why,’ says he, ‘here’s another
vacancy on the League of the Red-headed Men. It’s worth quite a little fortune to any
man who gets it, and I understand that there are more vacancies than there are men, so
that the trustees are at their wits’ end what to do with the money. If my hair would
only change colour, here’s a nice little crib all ready for me to step into.’
“ ‘Why, what is it, then?’ I asked. You see, Mr. Holmes, I am a very stay-at-home
man, and as my business came to me instead of my having to go to it, I was often weeks
on end without putting my foot over the door-mat. In that way I didn’t know much of what was
going on outside, and I was always glad of a bit of news.
“ ‘Have you never heard of the League of the Red-headed Men?’ he asked with his
eyes open. “ ‘Never.’
“ ‘Why, I wonder at that, for you are eligible yourself for one of the vacancies.’
“ ‘And what are they worth?’ I asked. “ ‘Oh, merely a couple of hundred a year,
but the work is slight, and it need not interfere very much with one’s other occupations.’
“Well, you can easily think that that made me prick up my ears, for the business has
not been over good for some years, and an extra couple of hundred would have been very
handy. “ ‘Tell me all about it,’ said I.
“ ‘Well,’ said he, showing me the advertisement, ‘you can see for yourself that the League
has a vacancy, and there is the address where you should apply for particulars. As far as
I can make out, the League was founded by an American millionaire, Ezekiah Hopkins,
who was very peculiar in his ways. He was himself red-headed, and he had a great sympathy
for all red-headed men; so, when he died, it was found that he had left his enormous
fortune in the hands of trustees, with instructions to apply the interest to the providing of
easy berths to men whose hair is of that colour. From all I hear it is splendid pay and very
little to do.’ “ ‘But,’ said I, ‘there would be millions
of red-headed men who would apply.’ “ ‘Not so many as you might think,’
he answered. ‘You see it is really confined to Londoners, and to grown men. This American
had started from London when he was young, and he wanted to do the old town a good turn.
Then, again, I have heard it is no use your applying if your hair is light red, or dark
red, or anything but real bright, blazing, fiery red. Now, if you cared to apply, Mr.
Wilson, you would just walk in; but perhaps it would hardly be worth your while to put
yourself out of the way for the sake of a few hundred pounds.’
“Now, it is a fact, gentlemen, as you may see for yourselves, that my hair is of a very
full and rich tint, so that it seemed to me that if there was to be any competition in
the matter I stood as good a chance as any man that I had ever met. Vincent Spaulding
seemed to know so much about it that I thought he might prove useful, so I just ordered him
to put up the shutters for the day and to come right away with me. He was very willing
to have a holiday, so we shut the business up and started off for the address that was
given us in the advertisement. “I never hope to see such a sight as that
again, Mr. Holmes. From north, south, east, and west every man who had a shade of red
in his hair had tramped into the city to answer the advertisement. Fleet Street was choked
with red-headed folk, and Pope’s Court looked like a coster’s orange barrow. I should
not have thought there were so many in the whole country as were brought together by
that single advertisement. Every shade of colour they were—straw, lemon, orange, brick,
Irish-setter, liver, clay; but, as Spaulding said, there were not many who had the real
vivid flame-coloured tint. When I saw how many were waiting, I would have given it up
in despair; but Spaulding would not hear of it. How he did it I could not imagine, but
he pushed and pulled and butted until he got me through the crowd, and right up to the
steps which led to the office. There was a double stream upon the stair, some going up
in hope, and some coming back dejected; but we wedged in as well as we could and soon
found ourselves in the office.” “Your experience has been a most entertaining
one,” remarked Holmes as his client paused and refreshed his memory with a huge pinch
of snuff. “Pray continue your very interesting statement.”
“There was nothing in the office but a couple of wooden chairs and a deal table, behind
which sat a small man with a head that was even redder than mine. He said a few words
to each candidate as he came up, and then he always managed to find some fault in them
which would disqualify them. Getting a vacancy did not seem to be such a very easy matter,
after all. However, when our turn came the little man was much more favourable to me
than to any of the others, and he closed the door as we entered, so that he might have
a private word with us. “ ‘This is Mr. Jabez Wilson,’ said my
assistant, ‘and he is willing to fill a vacancy in the League.’
“ ‘And he is admirably suited for it,’ the other answered. ‘He has every requirement.
I cannot recall when I have seen anything so fine.’ He took a step backward, cocked
his head on one side, and gazed at my hair until I felt quite bashful. Then suddenly
he plunged forward, wrung my hand, and congratulated me warmly on my success.
“ ‘It would be injustice to hesitate,’ said he. ‘You will, however, I am sure,
excuse me for taking an obvious precaution.’ With that he seized my hair in both his hands,
and tugged until I yelled with the pain. ‘There is water in your eyes,’ said he as he released
me. ‘I perceive that all is as it should be. But we have to be careful, for we have
twice been deceived by wigs and once by paint. I could tell you tales of cobbler’s wax
which would disgust you with human nature.’ He stepped over to the window and shouted
through it at the top of his voice that the vacancy was filled. A groan of disappointment
came up from below, and the folk all trooped away in different directions until there was
not a red-head to be seen except my own and that of the manager.
“ ‘My name,’ said he, ‘is Mr. Duncan Ross, and I am myself one of the pensioners
upon the fund left by our noble benefactor. Are you a married man, Mr. Wilson? Have you
a family?’ “I answered that I had not.
“His face fell immediately. “ ‘Dear me!’ he said gravely, ‘that
is very serious indeed! I am sorry to hear you say that. The fund was, of course, for
the propagation and spread of the red-heads as well as for their maintenance. It is exceedingly
unfortunate that you should be a bachelor.’ “My face lengthened at this, Mr. Holmes,
for I thought that I was not to have the vacancy after all; but after thinking it over for
a few minutes he said that it would be all right.
“ ‘In the case of another,’ said he, ‘the objection might be fatal, but we must
stretch a point in favour of a man with such a head of hair as yours. When shall you be
able to enter upon your new duties?’ “ ‘Well, it is a little awkward, for I
have a business already,’ said I. “ ‘Oh, never mind about that, Mr. Wilson!’
said Vincent Spaulding. ‘I should be able to look after that for you.’
“ ‘What would be the hours?’ I asked. “ ‘Ten to two.’
“Now a pawnbroker’s business is mostly done of an evening, Mr. Holmes, especially
Thursday and Friday evening, which is just before pay-day; so it would suit me very well
to earn a little in the mornings. Besides, I knew that my assistant was a good man, and
that he would see to anything that turned up.
“ ‘That would suit me very well,’ said I. ‘And the pay?’
“ ‘Is £4 a week.’ “ ‘And the work?’
“ ‘Is purely nominal.’ “ ‘What do you call purely nominal?’
“ ‘Well, you have to be in the office, or at least in the building, the whole time.
If you leave, you forfeit your whole position forever. The will is very clear upon that
point. You don’t comply with the conditions if you budge from the office during that time.’
“ ‘It’s only four hours a day, and I should not think of leaving,’ said I.
“ ‘No excuse will avail,’ said Mr. Duncan Ross; ‘neither sickness nor business nor
anything else. There you must stay, or you lose your billet.’
“ ‘And the work?’ “ ‘Is to copy out the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
There is the first volume of it in that press. You must find your own ink, pens, and blotting-paper,
but we provide this table and chair. Will you be ready to-morrow?’
“ ‘Certainly,’ I answered. “ ‘Then, good-bye, Mr. Jabez Wilson, and
let me congratulate you once more on the important position which you have been fortunate enough
to gain.’ He bowed me out of the room and I went home with my assistant, hardly knowing
what to say or do, I was so pleased at my own good fortune.
“Well, I thought over the matter all day, and by evening I was in low spirits again;
for I had quite persuaded myself that the whole affair must be some great hoax or fraud,
though what its object might be I could not imagine. It seemed altogether past belief
that anyone could make such a will, or that they would pay such a sum for doing anything
so simple as copying out the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Vincent Spaulding did what he
could to cheer me up, but by bedtime I had reasoned myself out of the whole thing. However,
in the morning I determined to have a look at it anyhow, so I bought a penny bottle of
ink, and with a quill-pen, and seven sheets of foolscap paper, I started off for Pope’s
Court. “Well, to my surprise and delight, everything
was as right as possible. The table was set out ready for me, and Mr. Duncan Ross was
there to see that I got fairly to work. He started me off upon the letter A, and then
he left me; but he would drop in from time to time to see that all was right with me.
At two o’clock he bade me good-day, complimented me upon the amount that I had written, and
locked the door of the office after me. “This went on day after day, Mr. Holmes,
and on Saturday the manager came in and planked down four golden sovereigns for my week’s
work. It was the same next week, and the same the week after. Every morning I was there
at ten, and every afternoon I left at two. By degrees Mr. Duncan Ross took to coming
in only once of a morning, and then, after a time, he did not come in at all. Still,
of course, I never dared to leave the room for an instant, for I was not sure when he
might come, and the billet was such a good one, and suited me so well, that I would not
risk the loss of it. “Eight weeks passed away like this, and
I had written about Abbots and Archery and Armour and Architecture and Attica, and hoped
with diligence that I might get on to the B’s before very long. It cost me something
in foolscap, and I had pretty nearly filled a shelf with my writings. And then suddenly
the whole business came to an end.” “To an end?”
“Yes, sir. And no later than this morning. I went to my work as usual at ten o’clock,
but the door was shut and locked, with a little square of cardboard hammered on to the middle
of the panel with a tack. Here it is, and you can read for yourself.”
He held up a piece of white cardboard about the size of a sheet of note-paper. It read
in this fashion: THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE IS DISSOLVED. October 9, 1890. Sherlock Holmes and I surveyed this curt announcement
and the rueful face behind it, until the comical side of the affair so completely overtopped
every other consideration that we both burst out into a roar of laughter.
“I cannot see that there is anything very funny,” cried our client, flushing up to
the roots of his flaming head. “If you can do nothing better than laugh at me, I can
go elsewhere.” “No, no,” cried Holmes, shoving him back
into the chair from which he had half risen. “I really wouldn’t miss your case for
the world. It is most refreshingly unusual. But there is, if you will excuse my saying
so, something just a little funny about it. Pray what steps did you take when you found
the card upon the door?” “I was staggered, sir. I did not know what
to do. Then I called at the offices round, but none of them seemed to know anything about
it. Finally, I went to the landlord, who is an accountant living on the ground floor,
and I asked him if he could tell me what had become of the Red-headed League. He said that
he had never heard of any such body. Then I asked him who Mr. Duncan Ross was. He answered
that the name was new to him. “ ‘Well,’ said I, ‘the gentleman at
No. 4.’ “ ‘What, the red-headed man?’
“ ‘Yes.’ “ ‘Oh,’ said he, ‘his name was William
Morris. He was a solicitor and was using my room as a temporary convenience until his
new premises were ready. He moved out yesterday.’ “ ‘Where could I find him?’
“ ‘Oh, at his new offices. He did tell me the address. Yes, 17 King Edward Street,
near St. Paul’s.’ “I started off, Mr. Holmes, but when I got
to that address it was a manufactory of artificial knee-caps, and no one in it had ever heard
of either Mr. William Morris or Mr. Duncan Ross.”
“And what did you do then?” asked Holmes. “I went home to Saxe-Coburg Square, and
I took the advice of my assistant. But he could not help me in any way. He could only
say that if I waited I should hear by post. But that was not quite good enough, Mr. Holmes.
I did not wish to lose such a place without a struggle, so, as I had heard that you were
good enough to give advice to poor folk who were in need of it, I came right away to you.”
“And you did very wisely,” said Holmes. “Your case is an exceedingly remarkable
one, and I shall be happy to look into it. From what you have told me I think that it
is possible that graver issues hang from it than might at first sight appear.”
“Grave enough!” said Mr. Jabez Wilson. “Why, I have lost four pound a week.”
“As far as you are personally concerned,” remarked Holmes, “I do not see that you
have any grievance against this extraordinary league. On the contrary, you are, as I understand,
richer by some £30, to say nothing of the minute knowledge which you have gained on
every subject which comes under the letter A. You have lost nothing by them.”
“No, sir. But I want to find out about them, and who they are, and what their object was
in playing this prank—if it was a prank—upon me. It was a pretty expensive joke for them,
for it cost them two and thirty pounds.” “We shall endeavour to clear up these points
for you. And, first, one or two questions, Mr. Wilson. This assistant of yours who first
called your attention to the advertisement—how long had he been with you?”
“About a month then.” “How did he come?”
“In answer to an advertisement.” “Was he the only applicant?”
“No, I had a dozen.” “Why did you pick him?”
“Because he was handy and would come cheap.” “At half wages, in fact.”
“Yes.” “What is he like, this Vincent Spaulding?”
“Small, stout-built, very quick in his ways, no hair on his face, though he’s not short
of thirty. Has a white splash of acid upon his forehead.”
Holmes sat up in his chair in considerable excitement. “I thought as much,” said
he. “Have you ever observed that his ears are pierced for earrings?”
“Yes, sir. He told me that a gipsy had done it for him when he was a lad.”
“Hum!” said Holmes, sinking back in deep thought. “He is still with you?”
“Oh, yes, sir; I have only just left him.” “And has your business been attended to
in your absence?” “Nothing to complain of, sir. There’s
never very much to do of a morning.” “That will do, Mr. Wilson. I shall be happy
to give you an opinion upon the subject in the course of a day or two. To-day is Saturday,
and I hope that by Monday we may come to a conclusion.”
“Well, Watson,” said Holmes when our visitor had left us, “what do you make of it all?”
“I make nothing of it,” I answered frankly. “It is a most mysterious business.”
“As a rule,” said Holmes, “the more bizarre a thing is the less mysterious it
proves to be. It is your commonplace, featureless crimes which are really puzzling, just as
a commonplace face is the most difficult to identify. But I must be prompt over this matter.”
“What are you going to do, then?” I asked. “To smoke,” he answered. “It is quite
a three pipe problem, and I beg that you won’t speak to me for fifty minutes.” He curled
himself up in his chair, with his thin knees drawn up to his hawk-like nose, and there
he sat with his eyes closed and his black clay pipe thrusting out like the bill of some
strange bird. I had come to the conclusion that he had dropped asleep, and indeed was
nodding myself, when he suddenly sprang out of his chair with the gesture of a man who
has made up his mind and put his pipe down upon the mantelpiece.
“Sarasate plays at the St. James’s Hall this afternoon,” he remarked. “What do
you think, Watson? Could your patients spare you for a few hours?”
“I have nothing to do to-day. My practice is never very absorbing.”
“Then put on your hat and come. I am going through the City first, and we can have some
lunch on the way. I observe that there is a good deal of German music on the programme,
which is rather more to my taste than Italian or French. It is introspective, and I want
to introspect. Come along!” We travelled by the Underground as far as
Aldersgate; and a short walk took us to Saxe-Coburg Square, the scene of the singular story which
we had listened to in the morning. It was a poky, little, shabby-genteel place, where
four lines of dingy two-storied brick houses looked out into a small railed-in enclosure,
where a lawn of weedy grass and a few clumps of faded laurel bushes made a hard fight against
a smoke-laden and uncongenial atmosphere. Three gilt balls and a brown board with “JABEZ
WILSON” in white letters, upon a corner house, announced the place where our red-headed
client carried on his business. Sherlock Holmes stopped in front of it with his head on one
side and looked it all over, with his eyes shining brightly between puckered lids. Then
he walked slowly up the street, and then down again to the corner, still looking keenly
at the houses. Finally he returned to the pawnbroker’s, and, having thumped vigorously
upon the pavement with his stick two or three times, he went up to the door and knocked.
It was instantly opened by a bright-looking, clean-shaven young fellow, who asked him to
step in. “Thank you,” said Holmes, “I only wished
to ask you how you would go from here to the Strand.”
“Third right, fourth left,” answered the assistant promptly, closing the door.
“Smart fellow, that,” observed Holmes as we walked away. “He is, in my judgment,
the fourth smartest man in London, and for daring I am not sure that he has not a claim
to be third. I have known something of him before.”
“Evidently,” said I, “Mr. Wilson’s assistant counts for a good deal in this mystery
of the Red-headed League. I am sure that you inquired your way merely in order that you
might see him.” “Not him.”
“What then?” “The knees of his trousers.”
“And what did you see?” “What I expected to see.”
“Why did you beat the pavement?” “My dear doctor, this is a time for observation,
not for talk. We are spies in an enemy’s country. We know something of Saxe-Coburg
Square. Let us now explore the parts which lie behind it.”
The road in which we found ourselves as we turned round the corner from the retired Saxe-Coburg
Square presented as great a contrast to it as the front of a picture does to the back.
It was one of the main arteries which conveyed the traffic of the City to the north and west.
The roadway was blocked with the immense stream of commerce flowing in a double tide inward
and outward, while the footpaths were black with the hurrying swarm of pedestrians. It
was difficult to realise as we looked at the line of fine shops and stately business premises
that they really abutted on the other side upon the faded and stagnant square which we
had just quitted. “Let me see,” said Holmes, standing at
the corner and glancing along the line, “I should like just to remember the order of
the houses here. It is a hobby of mine to have an exact knowledge of London. There is
Mortimer’s, the tobacconist, the little newspaper shop, the Coburg branch of the City
and Suburban Bank, the Vegetarian Restaurant, and McFarlane’s carriage-building depot.
That carries us right on to the other block. And now, Doctor, we’ve done our work, so
it’s time we had some play. A sandwich and a cup of coffee, and then off to violin-land,
where all is sweetness and delicacy and harmony, and there are no red-headed clients to vex
us with their conundrums.” My friend was an enthusiastic musician, being
himself not only a very capable performer but a composer of no ordinary merit. All the
afternoon he sat in the stalls wrapped in the most perfect happiness, gently waving
his long, thin fingers in time to the music, while his gently smiling face and his languid,
dreamy eyes were as unlike those of Holmes the sleuth-hound, Holmes the relentless, keen-witted,
ready-handed criminal agent, as it was possible to conceive. In his singular character the
dual nature alternately asserted itself, and his extreme exactness and astuteness represented,
as I have often thought, the reaction against the poetic and contemplative mood which occasionally
predominated in him. The swing of his nature took him from extreme languor to devouring
energy; and, as I knew well, he was never so truly formidable as when, for days on end,
he had been lounging in his armchair amid his improvisations and his black-letter editions.
Then it was that the lust of the chase would suddenly come upon him, and that his brilliant
reasoning power would rise to the level of intuition, until those who were unacquainted
with his methods would look askance at him as on a man whose knowledge was not that of
other mortals. When I saw him that afternoon so enwrapped in the music at St. James’s
Hall I felt that an evil time might be coming upon those whom he had set himself to hunt
down. “You want to go home, no doubt, Doctor,”
he remarked as we emerged. “Yes, it would be as well.”
“And I have some business to do which will take some hours. This business at Coburg Square
is serious.” “Why serious?”
“A considerable crime is in contemplation. I have every reason to believe that we shall
be in time to stop it. But to-day being Saturday rather complicates matters. I shall want your
help to-night.” “At what time?”
“Ten will be early enough.” “I shall be at Baker Street at ten.”
“Very well. And, I say, Doctor, there may be some little danger, so kindly put your
army revolver in your pocket.” He waved his hand, turned on his heel, and disappeared
in an instant among the crowd. I trust that I am not more dense than my neighbours,
but I was always oppressed with a sense of my own stupidity in my dealings with Sherlock
Holmes. Here I had heard what he had heard, I had seen what he had seen, and yet from
his words it was evident that he saw clearly not only what had happened but what was about
to happen, while to me the whole business was still confused and grotesque. As I drove
home to my house in Kensington I thought over it all, from the extraordinary story of the
red-headed copier of the Encyclopaedia down to the visit to Saxe-Coburg Square, and the
ominous words with which he had parted from me. What was this nocturnal expedition, and
why should I go armed? Where were we going, and what were we to do? I had the hint from
Holmes that this smooth-faced pawnbroker’s assistant was a formidable man—a man who
might play a deep game. I tried to puzzle it out, but gave it up in despair and set
the matter aside until night should bring an explanation.
It was a quarter-past nine when I started from home and made my way across the Park,
and so through Oxford Street to Baker Street. Two hansoms were standing at the door, and
as I entered the passage I heard the sound of voices from above. On entering his room,
I found Holmes in animated conversation with two men, one of whom I recognised as Peter
Jones, the official police agent, while the other was a long, thin, sad-faced man, with
a very shiny hat and oppressively respectable frock-coat.
“Ha! Our party is complete,” said Holmes, buttoning up his pea-jacket and taking his
heavy hunting crop from the rack. “Watson, I think you know Mr. Jones, of Scotland Yard?
Let me introduce you to Mr. Merryweather, who is to be our companion in to-night’s
adventure.” “We’re hunting in couples again, Doctor,
you see,” said Jones in his consequential way. “Our friend here is a wonderful man
for starting a chase. All he wants is an old dog to help him to do the running down.”
“I hope a wild goose may not prove to be the end of our chase,” observed Mr. Merryweather
gloomily. “You may place considerable confidence in
Mr. Holmes, sir,” said the police agent loftily. “He has his own little methods,
which are, if he won’t mind my saying so, just a little too theoretical and fantastic,
but he has the makings of a detective in him. It is not too much to say that once or twice,
as in that business of the Sholto murder and the Agra treasure, he has been more nearly
correct than the official force.” “Oh, if you say so, Mr. Jones, it is all
right,” said the stranger with deference. “Still, I confess that I miss my rubber.
It is the first Saturday night for seven-and-twenty years that I have not had my rubber.”
“I think you will find,” said Sherlock Holmes, “that you will play for a higher
stake to-night than you have ever done yet, and that the play will be more exciting. For
you, Mr. Merryweather, the stake will be some £30,000; and for you, Jones, it will be the
man upon whom you wish to lay your hands.” “John Clay, the murderer, thief, smasher,
and forger. He’s a young man, Mr. Merryweather, but he is at the head of his profession, and
I would rather have my bracelets on him than on any criminal in London. He’s a remarkable
man, is young John Clay. His grandfather was a royal duke, and he himself has been to Eton
and Oxford. His brain is as cunning as his fingers, and though we meet signs of him at
every turn, we never know where to find the man himself. He’ll crack a crib in Scotland
one week, and be raising money to build an orphanage in Cornwall the next. I’ve been
on his track for years and have never set eyes on him yet.”
“I hope that I may have the pleasure of introducing you to-night. I’ve had one or
two little turns also with Mr. John Clay, and I agree with you that he is at the head
of his profession. It is past ten, however, and quite time that we started. If you two
will take the first hansom, Watson and I will follow in the second.”
Sherlock Holmes was not very communicative during the long drive and lay back in the
cab humming the tunes which he had heard in the afternoon. We rattled through an endless
labyrinth of gas-lit streets until we emerged into Farrington Street.
“We are close there now,” my friend remarked. “This fellow Merryweather is a bank director,
and personally interested in the matter. I thought it as well to have Jones with us also.
He is not a bad fellow, though an absolute imbecile in his profession. He has one positive
virtue. He is as brave as a bulldog and as tenacious as a lobster if he gets his claws
upon anyone. Here we are, and they are waiting for us.”
We had reached the same crowded thoroughfare in which we had found ourselves in the morning.
Our cabs were dismissed, and, following the guidance of Mr. Merryweather, we passed down
a narrow passage and through a side door, which he opened for us. Within there was a
small corridor, which ended in a very massive iron gate. This also was opened, and led down
a flight of winding stone steps, which terminated at another formidable gate. Mr. Merryweather
stopped to light a lantern, and then conducted us down a dark, earth-smelling passage, and
so, after opening a third door, into a huge vault or cellar, which was piled all round
with crates and massive boxes. “You are not very vulnerable from above,”
Holmes remarked as he held up the lantern and gazed about him.
“Nor from below,” said Mr. Merryweather, striking his stick upon the flags which lined
the floor. “Why, dear me, it sounds quite hollow!” he remarked, looking up in surprise.
“I must really ask you to be a little more quiet!” said Holmes severely. “You have
already imperilled the whole success of our expedition. Might I beg that you would have
the goodness to sit down upon one of those boxes, and not to interfere?”
The solemn Mr. Merryweather perched himself upon a crate, with a very injured expression
upon his face, while Holmes fell upon his knees upon the floor and, with the lantern
and a magnifying lens, began to examine minutely the cracks between the stones. A few seconds
sufficed to satisfy him, for he sprang to his feet again and put his glass in his pocket.
“We have at least an hour before us,” he remarked, “for they can hardly take any
steps until the good pawnbroker is safely in bed. Then they will not lose a minute,
for the sooner they do their work the longer time they will have for their escape. We are
at present, Doctor—as no doubt you have divined—in the cellar of the City branch
of one of the principal London banks. Mr. Merryweather is the chairman of directors,
and he will explain to you that there are reasons why the more daring criminals of London
should take a considerable interest in this cellar at present.”
“It is our French gold,” whispered the director. “We have had several warnings
that an attempt might be made upon it.” “Your French gold?”
“Yes. We had occasion some months ago to strengthen our resources and borrowed for
that purpose 30,000 napoleons from the Bank of France. It has become known that we have
never had occasion to unpack the money, and that it is still lying in our cellar. The
crate upon which I sit contains 2,000 napoleons packed between layers of lead foil. Our reserve
of bullion is much larger at present than is usually kept in a single branch office,
and the directors have had misgivings upon the subject.”
“Which were very well justified,” observed Holmes. “And now it is time that we arranged
our little plans. I expect that within an hour matters will come to a head. In the meantime
Mr. Merryweather, we must put the screen over that dark lantern.”
“And sit in the dark?” “I am afraid so. I had brought a pack of
cards in my pocket, and I thought that, as we were a partie carrée, you might have your
rubber after all. But I see that the enemy’s preparations have gone so far that we cannot
risk the presence of a light. And, first of all, we must choose our positions. These are
daring men, and though we shall take them at a disadvantage, they may do us some harm
unless we are careful. I shall stand behind this crate, and do you conceal yourselves
behind those. Then, when I flash a light upon them, close in swiftly. If they fire, Watson,
have no compunction about shooting them down.” I placed my revolver, cocked, upon the top
of the wooden case behind which I crouched. Holmes shot the slide across the front of
his lantern and left us in pitch darkness—such an absolute darkness as I have never before
experienced. The smell of hot metal remained to assure us that the light was still there,
ready to flash out at a moment’s notice. To me, with my nerves worked up to a pitch
of expectancy, there was something depressing and subduing in the sudden gloom, and in the
cold dank air of the vault. “They have but one retreat,” whispered
Holmes. “That is back through the house into Saxe-Coburg Square. I hope that you have
done what I asked you, Jones?” “I have an inspector and two officers waiting
at the front door.” “Then we have stopped all the holes. And
now we must be silent and wait.” What a time it seemed! From comparing notes
afterwards it was but an hour and a quarter, yet it appeared to me that the night must
have almost gone, and the dawn be breaking above us. My limbs were weary and stiff, for
I feared to change my position; yet my nerves were worked up to the highest pitch of tension,
and my hearing was so acute that I could not only hear the gentle breathing of my companions,
but I could distinguish the deeper, heavier in-breath of the bulky Jones from the thin,
sighing note of the bank director. From my position I could look over the case in the
direction of the floor. Suddenly my eyes caught the glint of a light.
At first it was but a lurid spark upon the stone pavement. Then it lengthened out until
it became a yellow line, and then, without any warning or sound, a gash seemed to open
and a hand appeared, a white, almost womanly hand, which felt about in the centre of the
little area of light. For a minute or more the hand, with its writhing fingers, protruded
out of the floor. Then it was withdrawn as suddenly as it appeared, and all was dark
again save the single lurid spark which marked a chink between the stones.
Its disappearance, however, was but momentary. With a rending, tearing sound, one of the
broad, white stones turned over upon its side and left a square, gaping hole, through which
streamed the light of a lantern. Over the edge there peeped a clean-cut, boyish face,
which looked keenly about it, and then, with a hand on either side of the aperture, drew
itself shoulder-high and waist-high, until one knee rested upon the edge. In another
instant he stood at the side of the hole and was hauling after him a companion, lithe and
small like himself, with a pale face and a shock of very red hair.
“It’s all clear,” he whispered. “Have you the chisel and the bags? Great Scott!
Jump, Archie, jump, and I’ll swing for it!” Sherlock Holmes had sprung out and seized
the intruder by the collar. The other dived down the hole, and I heard the sound of rending
cloth as Jones clutched at his skirts. The light flashed upon the barrel of a revolver,
but Holmes’ hunting crop came down on the man’s wrist, and the pistol clinked upon
the stone floor. “It’s no use, John Clay,” said Holmes
blandly. “You have no chance at all.” “So I see,” the other answered with the
utmost coolness. “I fancy that my pal is all right, though I see you have got his coat-tails.”
“There are three men waiting for him at the door,” said Holmes.
“Oh, indeed! You seem to have done the thing very completely. I must compliment you.”
“And I you,” Holmes answered. “Your red-headed idea was very new and effective.”
“You’ll see your pal again presently,” said Jones. “He’s quicker at climbing
down holes than I am. Just hold out while I fix the derbies.”
“I beg that you will not touch me with your filthy hands,” remarked our prisoner as
the handcuffs clattered upon his wrists. “You may not be aware that I have royal blood in
my veins. Have the goodness, also, when you address me always to say ‘sir’ and ‘please.’
” “All right,” said Jones with a stare and
a snigger. “Well, would you please, sir, march upstairs, where we can get a cab to
carry your Highness to the police-station?” “That is better,” said John Clay serenely.
He made a sweeping bow to the three of us and walked quietly off in the custody of the
detective. “Really, Mr. Holmes,” said Mr. Merryweather
as we followed them from the cellar, “I do not know how the bank can thank you or
repay you. There is no doubt that you have detected and defeated in the most complete
manner one of the most determined attempts at bank robbery that have ever come within
my experience.” “I have had one or two little scores of
my own to settle with Mr. John Clay,” said Holmes. “I have been at some small expense
over this matter, which I shall expect the bank to refund, but beyond that I am amply
repaid by having had an experience which is in many ways unique, and by hearing the very
remarkable narrative of the Red-headed League.” “You see, Watson,” he explained in the
early hours of the morning as we sat over a glass of whisky and soda in Baker Street,
“it was perfectly obvious from the first that the only possible object of this rather
fantastic business of the advertisement of the League, and the copying of the Encyclopaedia,
must be to get this not over-bright pawnbroker out of the way for a number of hours every
day. It was a curious way of managing it, but, really, it would be difficult to suggest
a better. The method was no doubt suggested to Clay’s ingenious mind by the colour of
his accomplice’s hair. The £4 a week was a lure which must draw him, and what was it
to them, who were playing for thousands? They put in the advertisement, one rogue has the
temporary office, the other rogue incites the man to apply for it, and together they
manage to secure his absence every morning in the week. From the time that I heard of
the assistant having come for half wages, it was obvious to me that he had some strong
motive for securing the situation.” “But how could you guess what the motive
was?” “Had there been women in the house, I should
have suspected a mere vulgar intrigue. That, however, was out of the question. The man’s
business was a small one, and there was nothing in his house which could account for such
elaborate preparations, and such an expenditure as they were at. It must, then, be something
out of the house. What could it be? I thought of the assistant’s fondness for photography,
and his trick of vanishing into the cellar. The cellar! There was the end of this tangled
clue. Then I made inquiries as to this mysterious assistant and found that I had to deal with
one of the coolest and most daring criminals in London. He was doing something in the cellar—something
which took many hours a day for months on end. What could it be, once more? I could
think of nothing save that he was running a tunnel to some other building.
“So far I had got when we went to visit the scene of action. I surprised you by beating
upon the pavement with my stick. I was ascertaining whether the cellar stretched out in front
or behind. It was not in front. Then I rang the bell, and, as I hoped, the assistant answered
it. We have had some skirmishes, but we had never set eyes upon each other before. I hardly
looked at his face. His knees were what I wished to see. You must yourself have remarked
how worn, wrinkled, and stained they were. They spoke of those hours of burrowing. The
only remaining point was what they were burrowing for. I walked round the corner, saw the City
and Suburban Bank abutted on our friend’s premises, and felt that I had solved my problem.
When you drove home after the concert I called upon Scotland Yard and upon the chairman of
the bank directors, with the result that you have seen.”
“And how could you tell that they would make their attempt to-night?” I asked.
“Well, when they closed their League offices that was a sign that they cared no longer
about Mr. Jabez Wilson’s presence—in other words, that they had completed their tunnel.
But it was essential that they should use it soon, as it might be discovered, or the
bullion might be removed. Saturday would suit them better than any other day, as it would
give them two days for their escape. For all these reasons I expected them to come to-night.”
“You reasoned it out beautifully,” I exclaimed in unfeigned admiration. “It is so long
a chain, and yet every link rings true.” “It saved me from ennui,” he answered,
yawning. “Alas! I already feel it closing in upon me. My life is spent in one long effort
to escape from the commonplaces of existence. These little problems help me to do so.”
“And you are a benefactor of the race,” said I.
He shrugged his shoulders. “Well, perhaps, after all, it is of some little use,” he
remarked. “ ‘L’homme c’est rien—l’oeuvre c’est tout,’ as Gustave Flaubert wrote
to George Sand.” ADVENTURE III. A CASE OF IDENTITY “My dear fellow,” said Sherlock Holmes
as we sat on either side of the fire in his lodgings at Baker Street, “life is infinitely
stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive
the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that
window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in
at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes,
the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outré
results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions
most stale and unprofitable.” “And yet I am not convinced of it,” I
answered. “The cases which come to light in the papers are, as a rule, bald enough,
and vulgar enough. We have in our police reports realism pushed to its extreme limits, and
yet the result is, it must be confessed, neither fascinating nor artistic.”
“A certain selection and discretion must be used in producing a realistic effect,”
remarked Holmes. “This is wanting in the police report, where more stress is laid,
perhaps, upon the platitudes of the magistrate than upon the details, which to an observer
contain the vital essence of the whole matter. Depend upon it, there is nothing so unnatural
as the commonplace.” I smiled and shook my head. “I can quite
understand your thinking so,” I said. “Of course, in your position of unofficial adviser
and helper to everybody who is absolutely puzzled, throughout three continents, you
are brought in contact with all that is strange and bizarre. But here”—I picked up the
morning paper from the ground—“let us put it to a practical test. Here is the first
heading upon which I come. ‘A husband’s cruelty to his wife.’ There is half a column
of print, but I know without reading it that it is all perfectly familiar to me. There
is, of course, the other woman, the drink, the push, the blow, the bruise, the sympathetic
sister or landlady. The crudest of writers could invent nothing more crude.”
“Indeed, your example is an unfortunate one for your argument,” said Holmes, taking
the paper and glancing his eye down it. “This is the Dundas separation case, and, as it
happens, I was engaged in clearing up some small points in connection with it. The husband
was a teetotaler, there was no other woman, and the conduct complained of was that he
had drifted into the habit of winding up every meal by taking out his false teeth and hurling
them at his wife, which, you will allow, is not an action likely to occur to the imagination
of the average story-teller. Take a pinch of snuff, Doctor, and acknowledge that I have
scored over you in your example.” He held out his snuffbox of old gold, with
a great amethyst in the centre of the lid. Its splendour was in such contrast to his
homely ways and simple life that I could not help commenting upon it.
“Ah,” said he, “I forgot that I had not seen you for some weeks. It is a little
souvenir from the King of Bohemia in return for my assistance in the case of the Irene
Adler papers.” “And the ring?” I asked, glancing at a
remarkable brilliant which sparkled upon his finger.
“It was from the reigning family of Holland, though the matter in which I served them was
of such delicacy that I cannot confide it even to you, who have been good enough to
chronicle one or two of my little problems.” “And have you any on hand just now?” I
asked with interest. “Some ten or twelve, but none which present
any feature of interest. They are important, you understand, without being interesting.
Indeed, I have found that it is usually in unimportant matters that there is a field
for the observation, and for the quick analysis of cause and effect which gives the charm
to an investigation. The larger crimes are apt to be the simpler, for the bigger the
crime the more obvious, as a rule, is the motive. In these cases, save for one rather
intricate matter which has been referred to me from Marseilles, there is nothing which
presents any features of interest. It is possible, however, that I may have something better
before very many minutes are over, for this is one of my clients, or I am much mistaken.”
He had risen from his chair and was standing between the parted blinds gazing down into
the dull neutral-tinted London street. Looking over his shoulder, I saw that on the pavement
opposite there stood a large woman with a heavy fur boa round her neck, and a large
curling red feather in a broad-brimmed hat which was tilted in a coquettish Duchess of
Devonshire fashion over her ear. From under this great panoply she peeped up in a nervous,
hesitating fashion at our windows, while her body oscillated backward and forward, and
her fingers fidgeted with her glove buttons. Suddenly, with a plunge, as of the swimmer
who leaves the bank, she hurried across the road, and we heard the sharp clang of the
bell. “I have seen those symptoms before,” said
Holmes, throwing his cigarette into the fire. “Oscillation upon the pavement always means
an affaire de coeur. She would like advice, but is not sure that the matter is not too
delicate for communication. And yet even here we may discriminate. When a woman has been
seriously wronged by a man she no longer oscillates, and the usual symptom is a broken bell wire.
Here we may take it that there is a love matter, but that the maiden is not so much angry as
perplexed, or grieved. But here she comes in person to resolve our doubts.”
As he spoke there was a tap at the door, and the boy in buttons entered to announce Miss
Mary Sutherland, while the lady herself loomed behind his small black figure like a full-sailed
merchant-man behind a tiny pilot boat. Sherlock Holmes welcomed her with the easy courtesy
for which he was remarkable, and, having closed the door and bowed her into an armchair, he
looked her over in the minute and yet abstracted fashion which was peculiar to him.
“Do you not find,” he said, “that with your short sight it is a little trying to
do so much typewriting?” “I did at first,” she answered, “but
now I know where the letters are without looking.” Then, suddenly realising the full purport
of his words, she gave a violent start and looked up, with fear and astonishment upon
her broad, good-humoured face. “You’ve heard about me, Mr. Holmes,” she cried,
“else how could you know all that?” “Never mind,” said Holmes, laughing; “it
is my business to know things. Perhaps I have trained myself to see what others overlook.
If not, why should you come to consult me?” “I came to you, sir, because I heard of
you from Mrs. Etherege, whose husband you found so easy when the police and everyone
had given him up for dead. Oh, Mr. Holmes, I wish you would do as much for me. I’m
not rich, but still I have a hundred a year in my own right, besides the little that I
make by the machine, and I would give it all to know what has become of Mr. Hosmer Angel.”
“Why did you come away to consult me in such a hurry?” asked Sherlock Holmes, with
his finger-tips together and his eyes to the ceiling.
Again a startled look came over the somewhat vacuous face of Miss Mary Sutherland. “Yes,
I did bang out of the house,” she said, “for it made me angry to see the easy way
in which Mr. Windibank—that is, my father—took it all. He would not go to the police, and
he would not go to you, and so at last, as he would do nothing and kept on saying that
there was no harm done, it made me mad, and I just on with my things and came right away
to you.” “Your father,” said Holmes, “your stepfather,
surely, since the name is different.” “Yes, my stepfather. I call him father,
though it sounds funny, too, for he is only five years and two months older than myself.”
“And your mother is alive?” “Oh, yes, mother is alive and well. I wasn’t
best pleased, Mr. Holmes, when she married again so soon after father’s death, and
a man who was nearly fifteen years younger than herself. Father was a plumber in the
Tottenham Court Road, and he left a tidy business behind him, which mother carried on with Mr.
Hardy, the foreman; but when Mr. Windibank came he made her sell the business, for he
was very superior, being a traveller in wines. They got £4700 for the goodwill and interest,
which wasn’t near as much as father could have got if he had been alive.”
I had expected to see Sherlock Holmes impatient under this rambling and inconsequential narrative,
but, on the contrary, he had listened with the greatest concentration of attention.
“Your own little income,” he asked, “does it come out of the business?”
“Oh, no, sir. It is quite separate and was left me by my uncle Ned in Auckland. It is
in New Zealand stock, paying 4½ per cent. Two thousand five hundred pounds was the amount,
but I can only touch the interest.” “You interest me extremely,” said Holmes.
“And since you draw so large a sum as a hundred a year, with what you earn into the
bargain, you no doubt travel a little and indulge yourself in every way. I believe that
a single lady can get on very nicely upon an income of about £60.”
“I could do with much less than that, Mr. Holmes, but you understand that as long as
I live at home I don’t wish to be a burden to them, and so they have the use of the money
just while I am staying with them. Of course, that is only just for the time. Mr. Windibank
draws my interest every quarter and pays it over to mother, and I find that I can do pretty
well with what I earn at typewriting. It brings me twopence a sheet, and I can often do from
fifteen to twenty sheets in a day.” “You have made your position very clear
to me,” said Holmes. “This is my friend, Dr. Watson, before whom you can speak as freely
as before myself. Kindly tell us now all about your connection with Mr. Hosmer Angel.”
A flush stole over Miss Sutherland’s face, and she picked nervously at the fringe of
her jacket. “I met him first at the gasfitters’ ball,” she said. “They used to send father
tickets when he was alive, and then afterwards they remembered us, and sent them to mother.
Mr. Windibank did not wish us to go. He never did wish us to go anywhere. He would get quite
mad if I wanted so much as to join a Sunday-school treat. But this time I was set on going, and
I would go; for what right had he to prevent? He said the folk were not fit for us to know,
when all father’s friends were to be there. And he said that I had nothing fit to wear,
when I had my purple plush that I had never so much as taken out of the drawer. At last,
when nothing else would do, he went off to France upon the business of the firm, but
we went, mother and I, with Mr. Hardy, who used to be our foreman, and it was there I
met Mr. Hosmer Angel.” “I suppose,” said Holmes, “that when
Mr. Windibank came back from France he was very annoyed at your having gone to the ball.”
“Oh, well, he was very good about it. He laughed, I remember, and shrugged his shoulders,
and said there was no use denying anything to a woman, for she would have her way.”
“I see. Then at the gasfitters’ ball you met, as I understand, a gentleman called Mr.
Hosmer Angel.” “Yes, sir. I met him that night, and he
called next day to ask if we had got home all safe, and after that we met him—that
is to say, Mr. Holmes, I met him twice for walks, but after that father came back again,
and Mr. Hosmer Angel could not come to the house any more.”
“No?” “Well, you know father didn’t like anything
of the sort. He wouldn’t have any visitors if he could help it, and he used to say that
a woman should be happy in her own family circle. But then, as I used to say to mother,
a woman wants her own circle to begin with, and I had not got mine yet.”
“But how about Mr. Hosmer Angel? Did he make no attempt to see you?”
“Well, father was going off to France again in a week, and Hosmer wrote and said that
it would be safer and better not to see each other until he had gone. We could write in
the meantime, and he used to write every day. I took the letters in in the morning, so there
was no need for father to know.” “Were you engaged to the gentleman at this
time?” “Oh, yes, Mr. Holmes. We were engaged after
the first walk that we took. Hosmer—Mr. Angel—was a cashier in an office in Leadenhall
Street—and—” “What office?”
“That’s the worst of it, Mr. Holmes, I don’t know.”
“Where did he live, then?” “He slept on the premises.”
“And you don’t know his address?” “No—except that it was Leadenhall Street.”
“Where did you address your letters, then?” “To the Leadenhall Street Post Office, to
be left till called for. He said that if they were sent to the office he would be chaffed
by all the other clerks about having letters from a lady, so I offered to typewrite them,
like he did his, but he wouldn’t have that, for he said that when I wrote them they seemed
to come from me, but when they were typewritten he always felt that the machine had come between
us. That will just show you how fond he was of me, Mr. Holmes, and the little things that
he would think of.” “It was most suggestive,” said Holmes.
“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most
important. Can you remember any other little things about Mr. Hosmer Angel?”
“He was a very shy man, Mr. Holmes. He would rather walk with me in the evening than in
the daylight, for he said that he hated to be conspicuous. Very retiring and gentlemanly
he was. Even his voice was gentle. He’d had the quinsy and swollen glands when he
was young, he told me, and it had left him with a weak throat, and a hesitating, whispering
fashion of speech. He was always well dressed, very neat and plain, but his eyes were weak,
just as mine are, and he wore tinted glasses against the glare.”
“Well, and what happened when Mr. Windibank, your stepfather, returned to France?”
“Mr. Hosmer Angel came to the house again and proposed that we should marry before father
came back. He was in dreadful earnest and made me swear, with my hands on the Testament,
that whatever happened I would always be true to him. Mother said he was quite right to
make me swear, and that it was a sign of his passion. Mother was all in his favour from
the first and was even fonder of him than I was. Then, when they talked of marrying
within the week, I began to ask about father; but they both said never to mind about father,
but just to tell him afterwards, and mother said she would make it all right with him.
I didn’t quite like that, Mr. Holmes. It seemed funny that I should ask his leave,
as he was only a few years older than me; but I didn’t want to do anything on the
sly, so I wrote to father at Bordeaux, where the company has its French offices, but the
letter came back to me on the very morning of the wedding.”
“It missed him, then?” “Yes, sir; for he had started to England
just before it arrived.” “Ha! that was unfortunate. Your wedding
was arranged, then, for the Friday. Was it to be in church?”
“Yes, sir, but very quietly. It was to be at St. Saviour’s, near King’s Cross, and
we were to have breakfast afterwards at the St. Pancras Hotel. Hosmer came for us in a
hansom, but as there were two of us he put us both into it and stepped himself into a
four-wheeler, which happened to be the only other cab in the street. We got to the church
first, and when the four-wheeler drove up we waited for him to step out, but he never
did, and when the cabman got down from the box and looked there was no one there! The
cabman said that he could not imagine what had become of him, for he had seen him get
in with his own eyes. That was last Friday, Mr. Holmes, and I have never seen or heard
anything since then to throw any light upon what became of him.”
“It seems to me that you have been very shamefully treated,” said Holmes.
“Oh, no, sir! He was too good and kind to leave me so. Why, all the morning he was saying
to me that, whatever happened, I was to be true; and that even if something quite unforeseen
occurred to separate us, I was always to remember that I was pledged to him, and that he would
claim his pledge sooner or later. It seemed strange talk for a wedding-morning, but what
has happened since gives a meaning to it.” “Most certainly it does. Your own opinion
is, then, that some unforeseen catastrophe has occurred to him?”
“Yes, sir. I believe that he foresaw some danger, or else he would not have talked so.
And then I think that what he foresaw happened.” “But you have no notion as to what it could
have been?” “None.”
“One more question. How did your mother take the matter?”
“She was angry, and said that I was never to speak of the matter again.”
“And your father? Did you tell him?” “Yes; and he seemed to think, with me, that
something had happened, and that I should hear of Hosmer again. As he said, what interest
could anyone have in bringing me to the doors of the church, and then leaving me? Now, if
he had borrowed my money, or if he had married me and got my money settled on him, there
might be some reason, but Hosmer was very independent about money and never would look
at a shilling of mine. And yet, what could have happened? And why could he not write?
Oh, it drives me half-mad to think of it, and I can’t sleep a wink at night.” She
pulled a little handkerchief out of her muff and began to sob heavily into it.
“I shall glance into the case for you,” said Holmes, rising, “and I have no doubt
that we shall reach some definite result. Let the weight of the matter rest upon me
now, and do not let your mind dwell upon it further. Above all, try to let Mr. Hosmer
Angel vanish from your memory, as he has done from your life.”
“Then you don’t think I’ll see him again?” “I fear not.”
“Then what has happened to him?” “You will leave that question in my hands.
I should like an accurate description of him and any letters of his which you can spare.”
“I advertised for him in last Saturday’s Chronicle,” said she. “Here is the slip
and here are four letters from him.” “Thank you. And your address?”
“No. 31 Lyon Place, Camberwell.” “Mr. Angel’s address you never had, I
understand. Where is your father’s place of business?”
“He travels for Westhouse & Marbank, the great claret importers of Fenchurch Street.”
“Thank you. You have made your statement very clearly. You will leave the papers here,
and remember the advice which I have given you. Let the whole incident be a sealed book,
and do not allow it to affect your life.” “You are very kind, Mr. Holmes, but I cannot
do that. I shall be true to Hosmer. He shall find me ready when he comes back.”
For all the preposterous hat and the vacuous face, there was something noble in the simple
faith of our visitor which compelled our respect. She laid her little bundle of papers upon
the table and went her way, with a promise to come again whenever she might be summoned.
Sherlock Holmes sat silent for a few minutes with his fingertips still pressed together,
his legs stretched out in front of him, and his gaze directed upward to the ceiling. Then
he took down from the rack the old and oily clay pipe, which was to him as a counsellor,
and, having lit it, he leaned back in his chair, with the thick blue cloud-wreaths spinning
up from him, and a look of infinite languor in his face.
“Quite an interesting study, that maiden,” he observed. “I found her more interesting
than her little problem, which, by the way, is rather a trite one. You will find parallel
cases, if you consult my index, in Andover in ’77, and there was something of the sort
at The Hague last year. Old as is the idea, however, there were one or two details which
were new to me. But the maiden herself was most instructive.”
“You appeared to read a good deal upon her which was quite invisible to me,” I remarked.
“Not invisible but unnoticed, Watson. You did not know where to look, and so you missed
all that was important. I can never bring you to realise the importance of sleeves,
the suggestiveness of thumb-nails, or the great issues that may hang from a boot-lace.
Now, what did you gather from that woman’s appearance? Describe it.”
“Well, she had a slate-coloured, broad-brimmed straw hat, with a feather of a brickish red.
Her jacket was black, with black beads sewn upon it, and a fringe of little black jet
ornaments. Her dress was brown, rather darker than coffee colour, with a little purple plush
at the neck and sleeves. Her gloves were greyish and were worn through at the right forefinger.
Her boots I didn’t observe. She had small round, hanging gold earrings, and a general
air of being fairly well-to-do in a vulgar, comfortable, easy-going way.”
Sherlock Holmes clapped his hands softly together and chuckled.
“ ’Pon my word, Watson, you are coming along wonderfully. You have really done very
well indeed. It is true that you have missed everything of importance, but you have hit
upon the method, and you have a quick eye for colour. Never trust to general impressions,
my boy, but concentrate yourself upon details. My first glance is always at a woman’s sleeve.
In a man it is perhaps better first to take the knee of the trouser. As you observe, this
woman had plush upon her sleeves, which is a most useful material for showing traces.
The double line a little above the wrist, where the typewritist presses against the
table, was beautifully defined. The sewing-machine, of the hand type, leaves a similar mark, but
only on the left arm, and on the side of it farthest from the thumb, instead of being
right across the broadest part, as this was. I then glanced at her face, and, observing
the dint of a pince-nez at either side of her nose, I ventured a remark upon short sight
and typewriting, which seemed to surprise her.”
“It surprised me.” “But, surely, it was obvious. I was then
much surprised and interested on glancing down to observe that, though the boots which
she was wearing were not unlike each other, they were really odd ones; the one having
a slightly decorated toe-cap, and the other a plain one. One was buttoned only in the
two lower buttons out of five, and the other at the first, third, and fifth. Now, when
you see that a young lady, otherwise neatly dressed, has come away from home with odd
boots, half-buttoned, it is no great deduction to say that she came away in a hurry.”
“And what else?” I asked, keenly interested, as I always was, by my friend’s incisive
reasoning. “I noted, in passing, that she had written
a note before leaving home but after being fully dressed. You observed that her right
glove was torn at the forefinger, but you did not apparently see that both glove and
finger were stained with violet ink. She had written in a hurry and dipped her pen too
deep. It must have been this morning, or the mark would not remain clear upon the finger.
All this is amusing, though rather elementary, but I must go back to business, Watson. Would
you mind reading me the advertised description of Mr. Hosmer Angel?”
I held the little printed slip to the light. “Missing,” it said, “on the morning
of the fourteenth, a gentleman named Hosmer Angel. About five ft. seven in. in height;
strongly built, sallow complexion, black hair, a little bald in the centre, bushy, black
side-whiskers and moustache; tinted glasses, slight infirmity of speech. Was dressed, when
last seen, in black frock-coat faced with silk, black waistcoat, gold Albert chain,
and grey Harris tweed trousers, with brown gaiters over elastic-sided boots. Known to
have been employed in an office in Leadenhall Street. Anybody bringing—”
“That will do,” said Holmes. “As to the letters,” he continued, glancing over
them, “they are very commonplace. Absolutely no clue in them to Mr. Angel, save that he
quotes Balzac once. There is one remarkable point, however, which will no doubt strike
you.” “They are typewritten,” I remarked.
“Not only that, but the signature is typewritten. Look at the neat little ‘Hosmer Angel’
at the bottom. There is a date, you see, but no superscription except Leadenhall Street,
which is rather vague. The point about the signature is very suggestive—in fact, we
may call it conclusive.” “Of what?”
“My dear fellow, is it possible you do not see how strongly it bears upon the case?”
“I cannot say that I do unless it were that he wished to be able to deny his signature
if an action for breach of promise were instituted.” “No, that was not the point. However, I
shall write two letters, which should settle the matter. One is to a firm in the City,
the other is to the young lady’s stepfather, Mr. Windibank, asking him whether he could
meet us here at six o’clock to-morrow evening. It is just as well that we should do business
with the male relatives. And now, Doctor, we can do nothing until the answers to those
letters come, so we may put our little problem upon the shelf for the interim.”
I had had so many reasons to believe in my friend’s subtle powers of reasoning and
extraordinary energy in action that I felt that he must have some solid grounds for the
assured and easy demeanour with which he treated the singular mystery which he had been called
upon to fathom. Once only had I known him to fail, in the case of the King of Bohemia
and of the Irene Adler photograph; but when I looked back to the weird business of the
Sign of Four, and the extraordinary circumstances connected with the Study in Scarlet, I felt
that it would be a strange tangle indeed which he could not unravel.
I left him then, still puffing at his black clay pipe, with the conviction that when I
came again on the next evening I would find that he held in his hands all the clues which
would lead up to the identity of the disappearing bridegroom of Miss Mary Sutherland.
A professional case of great gravity was engaging my own attention at the time, and the whole
of next day I was busy at the bedside of the sufferer. It was not until close upon six
o’clock that I found myself free and was able to spring into a hansom and drive to
Baker Street, half afraid that I might be too late to assist at the dénouement of the
little mystery. I found Sherlock Holmes alone, however, half asleep, with his long, thin
form curled up in the recesses of his armchair. A formidable array of bottles and test-tubes,
with the pungent cleanly smell of hydrochloric acid, told me that he had spent his day in
the chemical work which was so dear to him. “Well, have you solved it?” I asked as
I entered. “Yes. It was the bisulphate of baryta.”
“No, no, the mystery!” I cried. “Oh, that! I thought of the salt that I
have been working upon. There was never any mystery in the matter, though, as I said yesterday,
some of the details are of interest. The only drawback is that there is no law, I fear,
that can touch the scoundrel.” “Who was he, then, and what was his object
in deserting Miss Sutherland?” The question was hardly out of my mouth, and
Holmes had not yet opened his lips to reply, when we heard a heavy footfall in the passage
and a tap at the door. “This is the girl’s stepfather, Mr. James
Windibank,” said Holmes. “He has written to me to say that he would be here at six.
Come in!” The man who entered was a sturdy, middle-sized
fellow, some thirty years of age, clean-shaven, and sallow-skinned, with a bland, insinuating
manner, and a pair of wonderfully sharp and penetrating grey eyes. He shot a questioning
glance at each of us, placed his shiny top-hat upon the sideboard, and with a slight bow
sidled down into the nearest chair. “Good-evening, Mr. James Windibank,” said
Holmes. “I think that this typewritten letter is from you, in which you made an appointment
with me for six o’clock?” “Yes, sir. I am afraid that I am a little
late, but I am not quite my own master, you know. I am sorry that Miss Sutherland has
troubled you about this little matter, for I think it is far better not to wash linen
of the sort in public. It was quite against my wishes that she came, but she is a very
excitable, impulsive girl, as you may have noticed, and she is not easily controlled
when she has made up her mind on a point. Of course, I did not mind you so much, as
you are not connected with the official police, but it is not pleasant to have a family misfortune
like this noised abroad. Besides, it is a useless expense, for how could you possibly
find this Hosmer Angel?” “On the contrary,” said Holmes quietly;
“I have every reason to believe that I will succeed in discovering Mr. Hosmer Angel.”
Mr. Windibank gave a violent start and dropped his gloves. “I am delighted to hear it,”
he said. “It is a curious thing,” remarked Holmes,
“that a typewriter has really quite as much individuality as a man’s handwriting. Unless
they are quite new, no two of them write exactly alike. Some letters get more worn than others,
and some wear only on one side. Now, you remark in this note of yours, Mr. Windibank, that
in every case there is some little slurring over of the ‘e,’ and a slight defect in
the tail of the ‘r.’ There are fourteen other characteristics, but those are the more
obvious.” “We do all our correspondence with this
machine at the office, and no doubt it is a little worn,” our visitor answered, glancing
keenly at Holmes with his bright little eyes. “And now I will show you what is really
a very interesting study, Mr. Windibank,” Holmes continued. “I think of writing another
little monograph some of these days on the typewriter and its relation to crime. It is
a subject to which I have devoted some little attention. I have here four letters which
purport to come from the missing man. They are all typewritten. In each case, not only
are the ‘e’s’ slurred and the ‘r’s’ tailless, but you will observe, if you care
to use my magnifying lens, that the fourteen other characteristics to which I have alluded
are there as well.” Mr. Windibank sprang out of his chair and
picked up his hat. “I cannot waste time over this sort of fantastic talk, Mr. Holmes,”
he said. “If you can catch the man, catch him, and let me know when you have done it.”
“Certainly,” said Holmes, stepping over and turning the key in the door. “I let
you know, then, that I have caught him!” “What! where?” shouted Mr. Windibank,
turning white to his lips and glancing about him like a rat in a trap.
“Oh, it won’t do—really it won’t,” said Holmes suavely. “There is no possible
getting out of it, Mr. Windibank. It is quite too transparent, and it was a very bad compliment
when you said that it was impossible for me to solve so simple a question. That’s right!
Sit down and let us talk it over.” Our visitor collapsed into a chair, with a
ghastly face and a glitter of moisture on his brow. “It—it’s not actionable,”
he stammered. “I am very much afraid that it is not. But
between ourselves, Windibank, it was as cruel and selfish and heartless a trick in a petty
way as ever came before me. Now, let me just run over the course of events, and you will
contradict me if I go wrong.” The man sat huddled up in his chair, with
his head sunk upon his breast, like one who is utterly crushed. Holmes stuck his feet
up on the corner of the mantelpiece and, leaning back with his hands in his pockets, began
talking, rather to himself, as it seemed, than to us.
“The man married a woman very much older than himself for her money,” said he, “and
he enjoyed the use of the money of the daughter as long as she lived with them. It was a considerable
sum, for people in their position, and the loss of it would have made a serious difference.
It was worth an effort to preserve it. The daughter was of a good, amiable disposition,
but affectionate and warm-hearted in her ways, so that it was evident that with her fair
personal advantages, and her little income, she would not be allowed to remain single
long. Now her marriage would mean, of course, the loss of a hundred a year, so what does
her stepfather do to prevent it? He takes the obvious course of keeping her at home
and forbidding her to seek the company of people of her own age. But soon he found that
that would not answer forever. She became restive, insisted upon her rights, and finally
announced her positive intention of going to a certain ball. What does her clever stepfather
do then? He conceives an idea more creditable to his head than to his heart. With the connivance
and assistance of his wife he disguised himself, covered those keen eyes with tinted glasses,
masked the face with a moustache and a pair of bushy whiskers, sunk that clear voice into
an insinuating whisper, and doubly secure on account of the girl’s short sight, he
appears as Mr. Hosmer Angel, and keeps off other lovers by making love himself.”
“It was only a joke at first,” groaned our visitor. “We never thought that she
would have been so carried away.” “Very likely not. However that may be, the
young lady was very decidedly carried away, and, having quite made up her mind that her
stepfather was in France, the suspicion of treachery never for an instant entered her
mind. She was flattered by the gentleman’s attentions, and the effect was increased by
the loudly expressed admiration of her mother. Then Mr. Angel began to call, for it was obvious
that the matter should be pushed as far as it would go if a real effect were to be produced.
There were meetings, and an engagement, which would finally secure the girl’s affections
from turning towards anyone else. But the deception could not be kept up forever. These
pretended journeys to France were rather cumbrous. The thing to do was clearly to bring the business
to an end in such a dramatic manner that it would leave a permanent impression upon the
young lady’s mind and prevent her from looking upon any other suitor for some time to come.
Hence those vows of fidelity exacted upon a Testament, and hence also the allusions
to a possibility of something happening on the very morning of the wedding. James Windibank
wished Miss Sutherland to be so bound to Hosmer Angel, and so uncertain as to his fate, that
for ten years to come, at any rate, she would not listen to another man. As far as the church
door he brought her, and then, as he could go no farther, he conveniently vanished away
by the old trick of stepping in at one door of a four-wheeler and out at the other. I
think that was the chain of events, Mr. Windibank!” Our visitor had recovered something of his
assurance while Holmes had been talking, and he rose from his chair now with a cold sneer
upon his pale face. “It may be so, or it may not, Mr. Holmes,”
said he, “but if you are so very sharp you ought to be sharp enough to know that it is
you who are breaking the law now, and not me. I have done nothing actionable from the
first, but as long as you keep that door locked you lay yourself open to an action for assault
and illegal constraint.” “The law cannot, as you say, touch you,”
said Holmes, unlocking and throwing open the door, “yet there never was a man who deserved
punishment more. If the young lady has a brother or a friend, he ought to lay a whip across
your shoulders. By Jove!” he continued, flushing up at the sight of the bitter sneer
upon the man’s face, “it is not part of my duties to my client, but here’s a hunting
crop handy, and I think I shall just treat myself to—” He took two swift steps to
the whip, but before he could grasp it there was a wild clatter of steps upon the stairs,
the heavy hall door banged, and from the window we could see Mr. James Windibank running at
the top of his speed down the road. “There’s a cold-blooded scoundrel!”
said Holmes, laughing, as he threw himself down into his chair once more. “That fellow
will rise from crime to crime until he does something very bad, and ends on a gallows.
The case has, in some respects, been not entirely devoid of interest.”
“I cannot now entirely see all the steps of your reasoning,” I remarked.
“Well, of course it was obvious from the first that this Mr. Hosmer Angel must have
some strong object for his curious conduct, and it was equally clear that the only man
who really profited by the incident, as far as we could see, was the stepfather. Then
the fact that the two men were never together, but that the one always appeared when the
other was away, was suggestive. So were the tinted spectacles and the curious voice, which
both hinted at a disguise, as did the bushy whiskers. My suspicions were all confirmed
by his peculiar action in typewriting his signature, which, of course, inferred that
his handwriting was so familiar to her that she would recognise even the smallest sample
of it. You see all these isolated facts, together with many minor ones, all pointed in the same
direction.” “And how did you verify them?”
“Having once spotted my man, it was easy to get corroboration. I knew the firm for
which this man worked. Having taken the printed description. I eliminated everything from
it which could be the result of a disguise—the whiskers, the glasses, the voice, and I sent
it to the firm, with a request that they would inform me whether it answered to the description
of any of their travellers. I had already noticed the peculiarities of the typewriter,
and I wrote to the man himself at his business address asking him if he would come here.
As I expected, his reply was typewritten and revealed the same trivial but characteristic
defects. The same post brought me a letter from Westhouse & Marbank, of Fenchurch Street,
to say that the description tallied in every respect with that of their employé, James
Windibank. Voilà tout!” “And Miss Sutherland?”
“If I tell her she will not believe me. You may remember the old Persian saying, ‘There
is danger for him who taketh the tiger cub, and danger also for whoso snatches a delusion
from a woman.’ There is as much sense in Hafiz as in Horace, and as much knowledge
of the world.” ADVENTURE IV. THE BOSCOMBE VALLEY MYSTERY We were seated at breakfast one morning, my
wife and I, when the maid brought in a telegram. It was from Sherlock Holmes and ran in this
way: “Have you a couple of days to spare? Have
just been wired for from the west of England in connection with Boscombe Valley tragedy.
Shall be glad if you will come with me. Air and scenery perfect. Leave Paddington by the
11:15.” “What do you say, dear?” said my wife,
looking across at me. “Will you go?” “I really don’t know what to say. I have
a fairly long list at present.” “Oh, Anstruther would do your work for you.
You have been looking a little pale lately. I think that the change would do you good,
and you are always so interested in Mr. Sherlock Holmes’ cases.”
“I should be ungrateful if I were not, seeing what I gained through one of them,” I answered.
“But if I am to go, I must pack at once, for I have only half an hour.”
My experience of camp life in Afghanistan had at least had the effect of making me a
prompt and ready traveller. My wants were few and simple, so that in less than the time
stated I was in a cab with my valise, rattling away to Paddington Station. Sherlock Holmes
was pacing up and down the platform, his tall, gaunt figure made even gaunter and taller
by his long grey travelling-cloak and close-fitting cloth cap.
“It is really very good of you to come, Watson,” said he. “It makes a considerable
difference to me, having someone with me on whom I can thoroughly rely. Local aid is always
either worthless or else biassed. If you will keep the two corner seats I shall get the
tickets.” We had the carriage to ourselves save for
an immense litter of papers which Holmes had brought with him. Among these he rummaged
and read, with intervals of note-taking and of meditation, until we were past Reading.
Then he suddenly rolled them all into a gigantic ball and tossed them up onto the rack.
“Have you heard anything of the case?” he asked.
“Not a word. I have not seen a paper for some days.”
“The London press has not had very full accounts. I have just been looking through
all the recent papers in order to master the particulars. It seems, from what I gather,
to be one of those simple cases which are so extremely difficult.”
“That sounds a little paradoxical.” “But it is profoundly true. Singularity
is almost invariably a clue. The more featureless and commonplace a crime is, the more difficult
it is to bring it home. In this case, however, they have established a very serious case
against the son of the murdered man.” “It is a murder, then?”
“Well, it is conjectured to be so. I shall take nothing for granted until I have the
opportunity of looking personally into it. I will explain the state of things to you,
as far as I have been able to understand it, in a very few words.
“Boscombe Valley is a country district not very far from Ross, in Herefordshire. The
largest landed proprietor in that part is a Mr. John Turner, who made his money in Australia
and returned some years ago to the old country. One of the farms which he held, that of Hatherley,
was let to Mr. Charles McCarthy, who was also an ex-Australian. The men had known each other
in the colonies, so that it was not unnatural that when they came to settle down they should
do so as near each other as possible. Turner was apparently the richer man, so McCarthy
became his tenant but still remained, it seems, upon terms of perfect equality, as they were
frequently together. McCarthy had one son, a lad of eighteen, and Turner had an only
daughter of the same age, but neither of them had wives living. They appear to have avoided
the society of the neighbouring English families and to have led retired lives, though both
the McCarthys were fond of sport and were frequently seen at the race-meetings of the
neighbourhood. McCarthy kept two servants—a man and a girl. Turner had a considerable
household, some half-dozen at the least. That is as much as I have been able to gather about
the families. Now for the facts. “On June 3rd, that is, on Monday last, McCarthy
left his house at Hatherley about three in the afternoon and walked down to the Boscombe
Pool, which is a small lake formed by the spreading out of the stream which runs down
the Boscombe Valley. He had been out with his serving-man in the morning at Ross, and
he had told the man that he must hurry, as he had an appointment of importance to keep
at three. From that appointment he never came back alive.
“From Hatherley Farmhouse to the Boscombe Pool is a quarter of a mile, and two people
saw him as he passed over this ground. One was an old woman, whose name is not mentioned,
and the other was William Crowder, a game-keeper in the employ of Mr. Turner. Both these witnesses
depose that Mr. McCarthy was walking alone. The game-keeper adds that within a few minutes
of his seeing Mr. McCarthy pass he had seen his son, Mr. James McCarthy, going the same
way with a gun under his arm. To the best of his belief, the father was actually in
sight at the time, and the son was following him. He thought no more of the matter until
he heard in the evening of the tragedy that had occurred.
“The two McCarthys were seen after the time when William Crowder, the game-keeper, lost
sight of them. The Boscombe Pool is thickly wooded round, with just a fringe of grass
and of reeds round the edge. A girl of fourteen, Patience Moran, who is the daughter of the
lodge-keeper of the Boscombe Valley estate, was in one of the woods picking flowers. She
states that while she was there she saw, at the border of the wood and close by the lake,
Mr. McCarthy and his son, and that they appeared to be having a violent quarrel. She heard
Mr. McCarthy the elder using very strong language to his son, and she saw the latter raise up
his hand as if to strike his father. She was so frightened by their violence that she ran
away and told her mother when she reached home that she had left the two McCarthys quarrelling
near Boscombe Pool, and that she was afraid that they were going to fight. She had hardly
said the words when young Mr. McCarthy came running up to the lodge to say that he had
found his father dead in the wood, and to ask for the help of the lodge-keeper. He was
much excited, without either his gun or his hat, and his right hand and sleeve were observed
to be stained with fresh blood. On following him they found the dead body stretched out
upon the grass beside the pool. The head had been beaten in by repeated blows of some heavy
and blunt weapon. The injuries were such as might very well have been inflicted by the
butt-end of his son’s gun, which was found lying on the grass within a few paces of the
body. Under these circumstances the young man was instantly arrested, and a verdict
of ‘wilful murder’ having been returned at the inquest on Tuesday, he was on Wednesday
brought before the magistrates at Ross, who have referred the case to the next Assizes.
Those are the main facts of the case as they came out before the coroner and the police-court.”
“I could hardly imagine a more damning case,” I remarked. “If ever circumstantial evidence
pointed to a criminal it does so here.” “Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky
thing,” answered Holmes thoughtfully. “It may seem to point very straight to one thing,
but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally
uncompromising manner to something entirely different. It must be confessed, however,
that the case looks exceedingly grave against the young man, and it is very possible that
he is indeed the culprit. There are several people in the neighbourhood, however, and
among them Miss Turner, the daughter of the neighbouring landowner, who believe in his
innocence, and who have retained Lestrade, whom you may recollect in connection with
the Study in Scarlet, to work out the case in his interest. Lestrade, being rather puzzled,
has referred the case to me, and hence it is that two middle-aged gentlemen are flying
westward at fifty miles an hour instead of quietly digesting their breakfasts at home.”
“I am afraid,” said I, “that the facts are so obvious that you will find little credit
to be gained out of this case.” “There is nothing more deceptive than an
obvious fact,” he answered, laughing. “Besides, we may chance to hit upon some other obvious
facts which may have been by no means obvious to Mr. Lestrade. You know me too well to think
that I am boasting when I say that I shall either confirm or destroy his theory by means
which he is quite incapable of employing, or even of understanding. To take the first
example to hand, I very clearly perceive that in your bedroom the window is upon the right-hand
side, and yet I question whether Mr. Lestrade would have noted even so self-evident a thing
as that.” “How on earth—”
“My dear fellow, I know you well. I know the military neatness which characterises
you. You shave every morning, and in this season you shave by the sunlight; but since
your shaving is less and less complete as we get farther back on the left side, until
it becomes positively slovenly as we get round the angle of the jaw, it is surely very clear
that that side is less illuminated than the other. I could not imagine a man of your habits
looking at himself in an equal light and being satisfied with such a result. I only quote
this as a trivial example of observation and inference. Therein lies my métier, and it
is just possible that it may be of some service in the investigation which lies before us.
There are one or two minor points which were brought out in the inquest, and which are
worth considering.” “What are they?”
“It appears that his arrest did not take place at once, but after the return to Hatherley
Farm. On the inspector of constabulary informing him that he was a prisoner, he remarked that
he was not surprised to hear it, and that it was no more than his deserts. This observation
of his had the natural effect of removing any traces of doubt which might have remained
in the minds of the coroner’s jury.” “It was a confession,” I ejaculated.
“No, for it was followed by a protestation of innocence.”
“Coming on the top of such a damning series of events, it was at least a most suspicious
remark.” “On the contrary,” said Holmes, “it
is the brightest rift which I can at present see in the clouds. However innocent he might
be, he could not be such an absolute imbecile as not to see that the circumstances were
very black against him. Had he appeared surprised at his own arrest, or feigned indignation
at it, I should have looked upon it as highly suspicious, because such surprise or anger
would not be natural under the circumstances, and yet might appear to be the best policy
to a scheming man. His frank acceptance of the situation marks him as either an innocent
man, or else as a man of considerable self-restraint and firmness. As to his remark about his deserts,
it was also not unnatural if you consider that he stood beside the dead body of his
father, and that there is no doubt that he had that very day so far forgotten his filial
duty as to bandy words with him, and even, according to the little girl whose evidence
is so important, to raise his hand as if to strike him. The self-reproach and contrition
which are displayed in his remark appear to me to be the signs of a healthy mind rather
than of a guilty one.” I shook my head. “Many men have been hanged
on far slighter evidence,” I remarked. “So they have. And many men have been wrongfully
hanged.” “What is the young man’s own account of
the matter?” “It is, I am afraid, not very encouraging
to his supporters, though there are one or two points in it which are suggestive. You
will find it here, and may read it for yourself.” He picked out from his bundle a copy of the
local Herefordshire paper, and having turned down the sheet he pointed out the paragraph
in which the unfortunate young man had given his own statement of what had occurred. I
settled myself down in the corner of the carriage and read it very carefully. It ran in this
way: “Mr. James McCarthy, the only son of the
deceased, was then called and gave evidence as follows: ‘I had been away from home for
three days at Bristol, and had only just returned upon the morning of last Monday, the 3rd.
My father was absent from home at the time of my arrival, and I was informed by the maid
that he had driven over to Ross with John Cobb, the groom. Shortly after my return I
heard the wheels of his trap in the yard, and, looking out of my window, I saw him get
out and walk rapidly out of the yard, though I was not aware in which direction he was
going. I then took my gun and strolled out in the direction of the Boscombe Pool, with
the intention of visiting the rabbit warren which is upon the other side. On my way I
saw William Crowder, the game-keeper, as he had stated in his evidence; but he is mistaken
in thinking that I was following my father. I had no idea that he was in front of me.
When about a hundred yards from the pool I heard a cry of “Cooee!” which was a usual
signal between my father and myself. I then hurried forward, and found him standing by
the pool. He appeared to be much surprised at seeing me and asked me rather roughly what
I was doing there. A conversation ensued which led to high words and almost to blows, for
my father was a man of a very violent temper. Seeing that his passion was becoming ungovernable,
I left him and returned towards Hatherley Farm. I had not gone more than 150 yards,
however, when I heard a hideous outcry behind me, which caused me to run back again. I found
my father expiring upon the ground, with his head terribly injured. I dropped my gun and
held him in my arms, but he almost instantly expired. I knelt beside him for some minutes,
and then made my way to Mr. Turner’s lodge-keeper, his house being the nearest, to ask for assistance.
I saw no one near my father when I returned, and I have no idea how he came by his injuries.
He was not a popular man, being somewhat cold and forbidding in his manners, but he had,
as far as I know, no active enemies. I know nothing further of the matter.’
“The Coroner: Did your father make any statement to you before he died?
“Witness: He mumbled a few words, but I could only catch some allusion to a rat.
“The Coroner: What did you understand by that?
“Witness: It conveyed no meaning to me. I thought that he was delirious.
“The Coroner: What was the point upon which you and your father had this final quarrel?
“Witness: I should prefer not to answer. “The Coroner: I am afraid that I must press
it. “Witness: It is really impossible for me
to tell you. I can assure you that it has nothing to do with the sad tragedy which followed.
“The Coroner: That is for the court to decide. I need not point out to you that your refusal
to answer will prejudice your case considerably in any future proceedings which may arise.
“Witness: I must still refuse. “The Coroner: I understand that the cry
of ‘Cooee’ was a common signal between you and your father?
“Witness: It was. “The Coroner: How was it, then, that he
uttered it before he saw you, and before he even knew that you had returned from Bristol?
“Witness (with considerable confusion): I do not know.
“A Juryman: Did you see nothing which aroused your suspicions when you returned on hearing
the cry and found your father fatally injured? “Witness: Nothing definite.
“The Coroner: What do you mean? “Witness: I was so disturbed and excited
as I rushed out into the open, that I could think of nothing except of my father. Yet
I have a vague impression that as I ran forward something lay upon the ground to the left
of me. It seemed to me to be something grey in colour, a coat of some sort, or a plaid
perhaps. When I rose from my father I looked round for it, but it was gone.
“ ‘Do you mean that it disappeared before you went for help?’
“ ‘Yes, it was gone.’ “ ‘You cannot say what it was?’
“ ‘No, I had a feeling something was there.’ “ ‘How far from the body?’
“ ‘A dozen yards or so.’ “ ‘And how far from the edge of the wood?’
“ ‘About the same.’ “ ‘Then if it was removed it was while
you were within a dozen yards of it?’ “ ‘Yes, but with my back towards it.’
“This concluded the examination of the witness.” “I see,” said I as I glanced down the
column, “that the coroner in his concluding remarks was rather severe upon young McCarthy.
He calls attention, and with reason, to the discrepancy about his father having signalled
to him before seeing him, also to his refusal to give details of his conversation with his
father, and his singular account of his father’s dying words. They are all, as he remarks,
very much against the son.” Holmes laughed softly to himself and stretched
himself out upon the cushioned seat. “Both you and the coroner have been at some pains,”
said he, “to single out the very strongest points in the young man’s favour. Don’t
you see that you alternately give him credit for having too much imagination and too little?
Too little, if he could not invent a cause of quarrel which would give him the sympathy
of the jury; too much, if he evolved from his own inner consciousness anything so outré
as a dying reference to a rat, and the incident of the vanishing cloth. No, sir, I shall approach
this case from the point of view that what this young man says is true, and we shall
see whither that hypothesis will lead us. And now here is my pocket Petrarch, and not
another word shall I say of this case until we are on the scene of action. We lunch at
Swindon, and I see that we shall be there in twenty minutes.”
It was nearly four o’clock when we at last, after passing through the beautiful Stroud
Valley, and over the broad gleaming Severn, found ourselves at the pretty little country-town
of Ross. A lean, ferret-like man, furtive and sly-looking, was waiting for us upon the
platform. In spite of the light brown dustcoat and leather-leggings which he wore in deference
to his rustic surroundings, I had no difficulty in recognising Lestrade, of Scotland Yard.
With him we drove to the Hereford Arms where a room had already been engaged for us.
“I have ordered a carriage,” said Lestrade as we sat over a cup of tea. “I knew your
energetic nature, and that you would not be happy until you had been on the scene of the
crime.” “It was very nice and complimentary of you,”
Holmes answered. “It is entirely a question of barometric pressure.”
Lestrade looked startled. “I do not quite follow,” he said.
“How is the glass? Twenty-nine, I see. No wind, and not a cloud in the sky. I have a
caseful of cigarettes here which need smoking, and the sofa is very much superior to the
usual country hotel abomination. I do not think that it is probable that I shall use
the carriage to-night.” Lestrade laughed indulgently. “You have,
no doubt, already formed your conclusions from the newspapers,” he said. “The case
is as plain as a pikestaff, and the more one goes into it the plainer it becomes. Still,
of course, one can’t refuse a lady, and such a very positive one, too. She has heard
of you, and would have your opinion, though I repeatedly told her that there was nothing
which you could do which I had not already done. Why, bless my soul! here is her carriage
at the door.” He had hardly spoken before there rushed into
the room one of the most lovely young women that I have ever seen in my life. Her violet
eyes shining, her lips parted, a pink flush upon her cheeks, all thought of her natural
reserve lost in her overpowering excitement and concern.
“Oh, Mr. Sherlock Holmes!” she cried, glancing from one to the other of us, and
finally, with a woman’s quick intuition, fastening upon my companion, “I am so glad
that you have come. I have driven down to tell you so. I know that James didn’t do
it. I know it, and I want you to start upon your work knowing it, too. Never let yourself
doubt upon that point. We have known each other since we were little children, and I
know his faults as no one else does; but he is too tender-hearted to hurt a fly. Such
a charge is absurd to anyone who really knows him.”
“I hope we may clear him, Miss Turner,” said Sherlock Holmes. “You may rely upon
my doing all that I can.” “But you have read the evidence. You have
formed some conclusion? Do you not see some loophole, some flaw? Do you not yourself think
that he is innocent?” “I think that it is very probable.”
“There, now!” she cried, throwing back her head and looking defiantly at Lestrade.
“You hear! He gives me hopes.” Lestrade shrugged his shoulders. “I am afraid
that my colleague has been a little quick in forming his conclusions,” he said.
“But he is right. Oh! I know that he is right. James never did it. And about his quarrel
with his father, I am sure that the reason why he would not speak about it to the coroner
was because I was concerned in it.” “In what way?” asked Holmes.
“It is no time for me to hide anything. James and his father had many disagreements
about me. Mr. McCarthy was very anxious that there should be a marriage between us. James
and I have always loved each other as brother and sister; but of course he is young and
has seen very little of life yet, and—and—well, he naturally did not wish to do anything like
that yet. So there were quarrels, and this, I am sure, was one of them.”
“And your father?” asked Holmes. “Was he in favour of such a union?”
“No, he was averse to it also. No one but Mr. McCarthy was in favour of it.” A quick
blush passed over her fresh young face as Holmes shot one of his keen, questioning glances
at her. “Thank you for this information,” said
he. “May I see your father if I call to-morrow?” “I am afraid the doctor won’t allow it.”
“The doctor?” “Yes, have you not heard? Poor father has
never been strong for years back, but this has broken him down completely. He has taken
to his bed, and Dr. Willows says that he is a wreck and that his nervous system is shattered.
Mr. McCarthy was the only man alive who had known dad in the old days in Victoria.”
“Ha! In Victoria! That is important.” “Yes, at the mines.”
“Quite so; at the gold-mines, where, as I understand, Mr. Turner made his money.”
“Yes, certainly.” “Thank you, Miss Turner. You have been of
material assistance to me.” “You will tell me if you have any news to-morrow.
No doubt you will go to the prison to see James. Oh, if you do, Mr. Holmes, do tell
him that I know him to be innocent.” “I will, Miss Turner.”
“I must go home now, for dad is very ill, and he misses me so if I leave him. Good-bye,
and God help you in your undertaking.” She hurried from the room as impulsively as she
had entered, and we heard the wheels of her carriage rattle off down the street.
“I am ashamed of you, Holmes,” said Lestrade with dignity after a few minutes’ silence.
“Why should you raise up hopes which you are bound to disappoint? I am not over-tender
of heart, but I call it cruel.” “I think that I see my way to clearing James
McCarthy,” said Holmes. “Have you an order to see him in prison?”
“Yes, but only for you and me.” “Then I shall reconsider my resolution about
going out. We have still time to take a train to Hereford and see him to-night?”
“Ample.” “Then let us do so. Watson, I fear that
you will find it very slow, but I shall only be away a couple of hours.”
I walked down to the station with them, and then wandered through the streets of the little
town, finally returning to the hotel, where I lay upon the sofa and tried to interest
myself in a yellow-backed novel. The puny plot of the story was so thin, however, when
compared to the deep mystery through which we were groping, and I found my attention
wander so continually from the action to the fact, that I at last flung it across the room
and gave myself up entirely to a consideration of the events of the day. Supposing that this
unhappy young man’s story were absolutely true, then what hellish thing, what absolutely
unforeseen and extraordinary calamity could have occurred between the time when he parted
from his father, and the moment when, drawn back by his screams, he rushed into the glade?
It was something terrible and deadly. What could it be? Might not the nature of the injuries
reveal something to my medical instincts? I rang the bell and called for the weekly
county paper, which contained a verbatim account of the inquest. In the surgeon’s deposition
it was stated that the posterior third of the left parietal bone and the left half of
the occipital bone had been shattered by a heavy blow from a blunt weapon. I marked the
spot upon my own head. Clearly such a blow must have been struck from behind. That was
to some extent in favour of the accused, as when seen quarrelling he was face to face
with his father. Still, it did not go for very much, for the older man might have turned
his back before the blow fell. Still, it might be worth while to call Holmes’ attention
to it. Then there was the peculiar dying reference to a rat. What could that mean? It could not
be delirium. A man dying from a sudden blow does not commonly become delirious. No, it
was more likely to be an attempt to explain how he met his fate. But what could it indicate?
I cudgelled my brains to find some possible explanation. And then the incident of the
grey cloth seen by young McCarthy. If that were true the murderer must have dropped some
part of his dress, presumably his overcoat, in his flight, and must have had the hardihood
to return and to carry it away at the instant when the son was kneeling with his back turned
not a dozen paces off. What a tissue of mysteries and improbabilities the whole thing was! I
did not wonder at Lestrade’s opinion, and yet I had so much faith in Sherlock Holmes’
insight that I could not lose hope as long as every fresh fact seemed to strengthen his
conviction of young McCarthy’s innocence. It was late before Sherlock Holmes returned.
He came back alone, for Lestrade was staying in lodgings in the town.
“The glass still keeps very high,” he remarked as he sat down. “It is of importance
that it should not rain before we are able to go over the ground. On the other hand,
a man should be at his very best and keenest for such nice work as that, and I did not
wish to do it when fagged by a long journey. I have seen young McCarthy.”
“And what did you learn from him?” “Nothing.”
“Could he throw no light?” “None at all. I was inclined to think at
one time that he knew who had done it and was screening him or her, but I am convinced
now that he is as puzzled as everyone else. He is not a very quick-witted youth, though
comely to look at and, I should think, sound at heart.”
“I cannot admire his taste,” I remarked, “if it is indeed a fact that he was averse
to a marriage with so charming a young lady as this Miss Turner.”
“Ah, thereby hangs a rather painful tale. This fellow is madly, insanely, in love with
her, but some two years ago, when he was only a lad, and before he really knew her, for
she had been away five years at a boarding-school, what does the idiot do but get into the clutches
of a barmaid in Bristol and marry her at a registry office? No one knows a word of the
matter, but you can imagine how maddening it must be to him to be upbraided for not
doing what he would give his very eyes to do, but what he knows to be absolutely impossible.
It was sheer frenzy of this sort which made him throw his hands up into the air when his
father, at their last interview, was goading him on to propose to Miss Turner. On the other
hand, he had no means of supporting himself, and his father, who was by all accounts a
very hard man, would have thrown him over utterly had he known the truth. It was with
his barmaid wife that he had spent the last three days in Bristol, and his father did
not know where he was. Mark that point. It is of importance. Good has come out of evil,
however, for the barmaid, finding from the papers that he is in serious trouble and likely
to be hanged, has thrown him over utterly and has written to him to say that she has
a husband already in the Bermuda Dockyard, so that there is really no tie between them.
I think that that bit of news has consoled young McCarthy for all that he has suffered.”
“But if he is innocent, who has done it?” “Ah! who? I would call your attention very
particularly to two points. One is that the murdered man had an appointment with someone
at the pool, and that the someone could not have been his son, for his son was away, and
he did not know when he would return. The second is that the murdered man was heard
to cry ‘Cooee!’ before he knew that his son had returned. Those are the crucial points
upon which the case depends. And now let us talk about George Meredith, if you please,
and we shall leave all minor matters until to-morrow.”
There was no rain, as Holmes had foretold, and the morning broke bright and cloudless.
At nine o’clock Lestrade called for us with the carriage, and we set off for Hatherley
Farm and the Boscombe Pool. “There is serious news this morning,”
Lestrade observed. “It is said that Mr. Turner, of the Hall, is so ill that his life
is despaired of.” “An elderly man, I presume?” said Holmes.
“About sixty; but his constitution has been shattered by his life abroad, and he has been
in failing health for some time. This business has had a very bad effect upon him. He was
an old friend of McCarthy’s, and, I may add, a great benefactor to him, for I have
learned that he gave him Hatherley Farm rent free.”
“Indeed! That is interesting,” said Holmes. “Oh, yes! In a hundred other ways he has
helped him. Everybody about here speaks of his kindness to him.”
“Really! Does it not strike you as a little singular that this McCarthy, who appears to
have had little of his own, and to have been under such obligations to Turner, should still
talk of marrying his son to Turner’s daughter, who is, presumably, heiress to the estate,
and that in such a very cocksure manner, as if it were merely a case of a proposal and
all else would follow? It is the more strange, since we know that Turner himself was averse
to the idea. The daughter told us as much. Do you not deduce something from that?”
“We have got to the deductions and the inferences,” said Lestrade, winking at me. “I find it
hard enough to tackle facts, Holmes, without flying away after theories and fancies.”
“You are right,” said Holmes demurely; “you do find it very hard to tackle the
facts.” “Anyhow, I have grasped one fact which you
seem to find it difficult to get hold of,” replied Lestrade with some warmth.
“And that is—” “That McCarthy senior met his death from
McCarthy junior and that all theories to the contrary are the merest moonshine.”
“Well, moonshine is a brighter thing than fog,” said Holmes, laughing. “But I am
very much mistaken if this is not Hatherley Farm upon the left.”
“Yes, that is it.” It was a widespread, comfortable-looking building, two-storied,
slate-roofed, with great yellow blotches of lichen upon the grey walls. The drawn blinds
and the smokeless chimneys, however, gave it a stricken look, as though the weight of
this horror still lay heavy upon it. We called at the door, when the maid, at Holmes’ request,
showed us the boots which her master wore at the time of his death, and also a pair
of the son’s, though not the pair which he had then had. Having measured these very
carefully from seven or eight different points, Holmes desired to be led to the court-yard,
from which we all followed the winding track which led to Boscombe Pool.
Sherlock Holmes was transformed when he was hot upon such a scent as this. Men who had
only known the quiet thinker and logician of Baker Street would have failed to recognise
him. His face flushed and darkened. His brows were drawn into two hard black lines, while
his eyes shone out from beneath them with a steely glitter. His face was bent downward,
his shoulders bowed, his lips compressed, and the veins stood out like whipcord in his
long, sinewy neck. His nostrils seemed to dilate with a purely animal lust for the chase,
and his mind was so absolutely concentrated upon the matter before him that a question
or remark fell unheeded upon his ears, or, at the most, only provoked a quick, impatient
snarl in reply. Swiftly and silently he made his way along the track which ran through
the meadows, and so by way of the woods to the Boscombe Pool. It was damp, marshy ground,
as is all that district, and there were marks of many feet, both upon the path and amid
the short grass which bounded it on either side. Sometimes Holmes would hurry on, sometimes
stop dead, and once he made quite a little detour into the meadow. Lestrade and I walked
behind him, the detective indifferent and contemptuous, while I watched my friend with
the interest which sprang from the conviction that every one of his actions was directed
towards a definite end. The Boscombe Pool, which is a little reed-girt
sheet of water some fifty yards across, is situated at the boundary between the Hatherley
Farm and the private park of the wealthy Mr. Turner. Above the woods which lined it upon
the farther side we could see the red, jutting pinnacles which marked the site of the rich
landowner’s dwelling. On the Hatherley side of the pool the woods grew very thick, and
there was a narrow belt of sodden grass twenty paces across between the edge of the trees
and the reeds which lined the lake. Lestrade showed us the exact spot at which the body
had been found, and, indeed, so moist was the ground, that I could plainly see the traces
which had been left by the fall of the stricken man. To Holmes, as I could see by his eager
face and peering eyes, very many other things were to be read upon the trampled grass. He
ran round, like a dog who is picking up a scent, and then turned upon my companion.
“What did you go into the pool for?” he asked.
“I fished about with a rake. I thought there might be some weapon or other trace. But how
on earth—” “Oh, tut, tut! I have no time! That left
foot of yours with its inward twist is all over the place. A mole could trace it, and
there it vanishes among the reeds. Oh, how simple it would all have been had I been here
before they came like a herd of buffalo and wallowed all over it. Here is where the party
with the lodge-keeper came, and they have covered all tracks for six or eight feet round
the body. But here are three separate tracks of the same feet.” He drew out a lens and
lay down upon his waterproof to have a better view, talking all the time rather to himself
than to us. “These are young McCarthy’s feet. Twice he was walking, and once he ran
swiftly, so that the soles are deeply marked and the heels hardly visible. That bears out
his story. He ran when he saw his father on the ground. Then here are the father’s feet
as he paced up and down. What is this, then? It is the butt-end of the gun as the son stood
listening. And this? Ha, ha! What have we here? Tiptoes! tiptoes! Square, too, quite
unusual boots! They come, they go, they come again—of course that was for the cloak.
Now where did they come from?” He ran up and down, sometimes losing, sometimes finding
the track until we were well within the edge of the wood and under the shadow of a great
beech, the largest tree in the neighbourhood. Holmes traced his way to the farther side
of this and lay down once more upon his face with a little cry of satisfaction. For a long
time he remained there, turning over the leaves and dried sticks, gathering up what seemed
to me to be dust into an envelope and examining with his lens not only the ground but even
the bark of the tree as far as he could reach. A jagged stone was lying among the moss, and
this also he carefully examined and retained. Then he followed a pathway through the wood
until he came to the highroad, where all traces were lost.
“It has been a case of considerable interest,” he remarked, returning to his natural manner.
“I fancy that this grey house on the right must be the lodge. I think that I will go
in and have a word with Moran, and perhaps write a little note. Having done that, we
may drive back to our luncheon. You may walk to the cab, and I shall be with you presently.”
It was about ten minutes before we regained our cab and drove back into Ross, Holmes still
carrying with him the stone which he had picked up in the wood.
“This may interest you, Lestrade,” he remarked, holding it out. “The murder was
done with it.” “I see no marks.”
“There are none.” “How do you know, then?”
“The grass was growing under it. It had only lain there a few days. There was no sign
of a place whence it had been taken. It corresponds with the injuries. There is no sign of any
other weapon.” “And the murderer?”
“Is a tall man, left-handed, limps with the right leg, wears thick-soled shooting-boots
and a grey cloak, smokes Indian cigars, uses a cigar-holder, and carries a blunt pen-knife
in his pocket. There are several other indications, but these may be enough to aid us in our search.”
Lestrade laughed. “I am afraid that I am still a sceptic,” he said. “Theories are
all very well, but we have to deal with a hard-headed British jury.”
“Nous verrons,” answered Holmes calmly. “You work your own method, and I shall work
mine. I shall be busy this afternoon, and shall probably return to London by the evening
train.” “And leave your case unfinished?”
“No, finished.” “But the mystery?”
“It is solved.” “Who was the criminal, then?”
“The gentleman I describe.” “But who is he?”
“Surely it would not be difficult to find out. This is not such a populous neighbourhood.”
Lestrade shrugged his shoulders. “I am a practical man,” he said, “and I really
cannot undertake to go about the country looking for a left-handed gentleman with a game leg.
I should become the laughing-stock of Scotland Yard.”
“All right,” said Holmes quietly. “I have given you the chance. Here are your lodgings.
Good-bye. I shall drop you a line before I leave.”
Having left Lestrade at his rooms, we drove to our hotel, where we found lunch upon the
table. Holmes was silent and buried in thought with a pained expression upon his face, as
one who finds himself in a perplexing position. “Look here, Watson,” he said when the
cloth was cleared “just sit down in this chair and let me preach to you for a little.
I don’t know quite what to do, and I should value your advice. Light a cigar and let me
expound.” “Pray do so.”
“Well, now, in considering this case there are two points about young McCarthy’s narrative
which struck us both instantly, although they impressed me in his favour and you against
him. One was the fact that his father should, according to his account, cry ‘Cooee!’
before seeing him. The other was his singular dying reference to a rat. He mumbled several
words, you understand, but that was all that caught the son’s ear. Now from this double
point our research must commence, and we will begin it by presuming that what the lad says
is absolutely true.” “What of this ‘Cooee!’ then?”
“Well, obviously it could not have been meant for the son. The son, as far as he knew,
was in Bristol. It was mere chance that he was within earshot. The ‘Cooee!’ was meant
to attract the attention of whoever it was that he had the appointment with. But ‘Cooee’
is a distinctly Australian cry, and one which is used between Australians. There is a strong
presumption that the person whom McCarthy expected to meet him at Boscombe Pool was
someone who had been in Australia.” “What of the rat, then?”
Sherlock Holmes took a folded paper from his pocket and flattened it out on the table.
“This is a map of the Colony of Victoria,” he said. “I wired to Bristol for it last
night.” He put his hand over part of the map. “What do you read?”
“ARAT,” I read. “And now?” He raised his hand.
“BALLARAT.” “Quite so. That was the word the man uttered,
and of which his son only caught the last two syllables. He was trying to utter the
name of his murderer. So and so, of Ballarat.” “It is wonderful!” I exclaimed.
“It is obvious. And now, you see, I had narrowed the field down considerably. The
possession of a grey garment was a third point which, granting the son’s statement to be
correct, was a certainty. We have come now out of mere vagueness to the definite conception
of an Australian from Ballarat with a grey cloak.”
“Certainly.” “And one who was at home in the district,
for the pool can only be approached by the farm or by the estate, where strangers could
hardly wander.” “Quite so.”
“Then comes our expedition of to-day. By an examination of the ground I gained the
trifling details which I gave to that imbecile Lestrade, as to the personality of the criminal.”
“But how did you gain them?” “You know my method. It is founded upon
the observation of trifles.” “His height I know that you might roughly
judge from the length of his stride. His boots, too, might be told from their traces.”
“Yes, they were peculiar boots.” “But his lameness?”
“The impression of his right foot was always less distinct than his left. He put less weight
upon it. Why? Because he limped—he was lame.” “But his left-handedness.”
“You were yourself struck by the nature of the injury as recorded by the surgeon at
the inquest. The blow was struck from immediately behind, and yet was upon the left side. Now,
how can that be unless it were by a left-handed man? He had stood behind that tree during
the interview between the father and son. He had even smoked there. I found the ash
of a cigar, which my special knowledge of tobacco ashes enables me to pronounce as an
Indian cigar. I have, as you know, devoted some attention to this, and written a little
monograph on the ashes of 140 different varieties of pipe, cigar, and cigarette tobacco. Having
found the ash, I then looked round and discovered the stump among the moss where he had tossed
it. It was an Indian cigar, of the variety which are rolled in Rotterdam.”
“And the cigar-holder?” “I could see that the end had not been in
his mouth. Therefore he used a holder. The tip had been cut off, not bitten off, but
the cut was not a clean one, so I deduced a blunt pen-knife.”
“Holmes,” I said, “you have drawn a net round this man from which he cannot escape,
and you have saved an innocent human life as truly as if you had cut the cord which
was hanging him. I see the direction in which all this points. The culprit is—”
“Mr. John Turner,” cried the hotel waiter, opening the door of our sitting-room, and
ushering in a visitor. The man who entered was a strange and impressive
figure. His slow, limping step and bowed shoulders gave the appearance of decrepitude, and yet
his hard, deep-lined, craggy features, and his enormous limbs showed that he was possessed
of unusual strength of body and of character. His tangled beard, grizzled hair, and outstanding,
drooping eyebrows combined to give an air of dignity and power to his appearance, but
his face was of an ashen white, while his lips and the corners of his nostrils were
tinged with a shade of blue. It was clear to me at a glance that he was in the grip
of some deadly and chronic disease. “Pray sit down on the sofa,” said Holmes
gently. “You had my note?” “Yes, the lodge-keeper brought it up. You
said that you wished to see me here to avoid scandal.”
“I thought people would talk if I went to the Hall.”
“And why did you wish to see me?” He looked across at my companion with despair in his
weary eyes, as though his question was already answered.
“Yes,” said Holmes, answering the look rather than the words. “It is so. I know
all about McCarthy.” The old man sank his face in his hands. “God
help me!” he cried. “But I would not have let the young man come to harm. I give you
my word that I would have spoken out if it went against him at the Assizes.”
“I am glad to hear you say so,” said Holmes gravely.
“I would have spoken now had it not been for my dear girl. It would break her heart—it
will break her heart when she hears that I am arrested.”
“It may not come to that,” said Holmes. “What?”
“I am no official agent. I understand that it was your daughter who required my presence
here, and I am acting in her interests. Young McCarthy must be got off, however.”
“I am a dying man,” said old Turner. “I have had diabetes for years. My doctor says
it is a question whether I shall live a month. Yet I would rather die under my own roof than
in a gaol.” Holmes rose and sat down at the table with
his pen in his hand and a bundle of paper before him. “Just tell us the truth,”
he said. “I shall jot down the facts. You will sign it, and Watson here can witness
it. Then I could produce your confession at the last extremity to save young McCarthy.
I promise you that I shall not use it unless it is absolutely needed.”
“It’s as well,” said the old man; “it’s a question whether I shall live to the Assizes,
so it matters little to me, but I should wish to spare Alice the shock. And now I will make
the thing clear to you; it has been a long time in the acting, but will not take me long
to tell. “You didn’t know this dead man, McCarthy.
He was a devil incarnate. I tell you that. God keep you out of the clutches of such a
man as he. His grip has been upon me these twenty years, and he has blasted my life.
I’ll tell you first how I came to be in his power.
“It was in the early ’60’s at the diggings. I was a young chap then, hot-blooded and reckless,
ready to turn my hand at anything; I got among bad companions, took to drink, had no luck
with my claim, took to the bush, and in a word became what you would call over here
a highway robber. There were six of us, and we had a wild, free life of it, sticking up
a station from time to time, or stopping the wagons on the road to the diggings. Black
Jack of Ballarat was the name I went under, and our party is still remembered in the colony
as the Ballarat Gang. “One day a gold convoy came down from Ballarat
to Melbourne, and we lay in wait for it and attacked it. There were six troopers and six
of us, so it was a close thing, but we emptied four of their saddles at the first volley.
Three of our boys were killed, however, before we got the swag. I put my pistol to the head
of the wagon-driver, who was this very man McCarthy. I wish to the Lord that I had shot
him then, but I spared him, though I saw his wicked little eyes fixed on my face, as though
to remember every feature. We got away with the gold, became wealthy men, and made our
way over to England without being suspected. There I parted from my old pals and determined
to settle down to a quiet and respectable life. I bought this estate, which chanced
to be in the market, and I set myself to do a little good with my money, to make up for
the way in which I had earned it. I married, too, and though my wife died young she left
me my dear little Alice. Even when she was just a baby her wee hand seemed to lead me
down the right path as nothing else had ever done. In a word, I turned over a new leaf
and did my best to make up for the past. All was going well when McCarthy laid his grip
upon me. “I had gone up to town about an investment,
and I met him in Regent Street with hardly a coat to his back or a boot to his foot.
“ ‘Here we are, Jack,’ says he, touching me on the arm; ‘we’ll be as good as a
family to you. There’s two of us, me and my son, and you can have the keeping of us.
If you don’t—it’s a fine, law-abiding country is England, and there’s always a
policeman within hail.’ “Well, down they came to the west country,
there was no shaking them off, and there they have lived rent free on my best land ever
since. There was no rest for me, no peace, no forgetfulness; turn where I would, there
was his cunning, grinning face at my elbow. It grew worse as Alice grew up, for he soon
saw I was more afraid of her knowing my past than of the police. Whatever he wanted he
must have, and whatever it was I gave him without question, land, money, houses, until
at last he asked a thing which I could not give. He asked for Alice.
“His son, you see, had grown up, and so had my girl, and as I was known to be in weak
health, it seemed a fine stroke to him that his lad should step into the whole property.
But there I was firm. I would not have his cursed stock mixed with mine; not that I had
any dislike to the lad, but his blood was in him, and that was enough. I stood firm.
McCarthy threatened. I braved him to do his worst. We were to meet at the pool midway
between our houses to talk it over. “When I went down there I found him talking
with his son, so I smoked a cigar and waited behind a tree until he should be alone. But
as I listened to his talk all that was black and bitter in me seemed to come uppermost.
He was urging his son to marry my daughter with as little regard for what she might think
as if she were a slut from off the streets. It drove me mad to think that I and all that
I held most dear should be in the power of such a man as this. Could I not snap the bond?
I was already a dying and a desperate man. Though clear of mind and fairly strong of
limb, I knew that my own fate was sealed. But my memory and my girl! Both could be saved
if I could but silence that foul tongue. I did it, Mr. Holmes. I would do it again. Deeply
as I have sinned, I have led a life of martyrdom to atone for it. But that my girl should be
entangled in the same meshes which held me was more than I could suffer. I struck him
down with no more compunction than if he had been some foul and venomous beast. His cry
brought back his son; but I had gained the cover of the wood, though I was forced to
go back to fetch the cloak which I had dropped in my flight. That is the true story, gentlemen,
of all that occurred.” “Well, it is not for me to judge you,”
said Holmes as the old man signed the statement which had been drawn out. “I pray that we
may never be exposed to such a temptation.” “I pray not, sir. And what do you intend
to do?” “In view of your health, nothing. You are
yourself aware that you will soon have to answer for your deed at a higher court than
the Assizes. I will keep your confession, and if McCarthy is condemned I shall be forced
to use it. If not, it shall never be seen by mortal eye; and your secret, whether you
be alive or dead, shall be safe with us.” “Farewell, then,” said the old man solemnly.
“Your own deathbeds, when they come, will be the easier for the thought of the peace
which you have given to mine.” Tottering and shaking in all his giant frame, he stumbled
slowly from the room. “God help us!” said Holmes after a long
silence. “Why does fate play such tricks with poor, helpless worms? I never hear of
such a case as this that I do not think of Baxter’s words, and say, ‘There, but for
the grace of God, goes Sherlock Holmes.’ ”
James McCarthy was acquitted at the Assizes on the strength of a number of objections
which had been drawn out by Holmes and submitted to the defending counsel. Old Turner lived
for seven months after our interview, but he is now dead; and there is every prospect
that the son and daughter may come to live happily together in ignorance of the black
cloud which rests upon their past.

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