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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Contents

Title Page

Copyright

Preface

About the Authors

I – A Scandal In Bohemia

II – The Red-headed League

III – A Case of Identity

IV – The Boscombe Valley Mystery

V – The Five Orange Pips

VI – The Woman with the Twisted Lip

VII – The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle

VIII – The Adventure of the Speckled Band

IX – The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb

X – The Adventure of the Noble Spinster

XI – The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet

XII – The Adventure of the Copper Beeches

Author’s Note

Other Works

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s

*The Adventures of *

Sherlock Holmes

[* *]

REGENDERED BY

L.E. SMART

[* *]

[* *]

Copyright © 2016 by Leif Smart

www.leifsmart.com

Cover Design by Impact Marketing Services (AU/NZ)

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and events are fictitious and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, places or organizations is entirely coincidental.

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Preface

You’re probably asking yourself, what exactly is a regendered novel? In a nutshell, it’s a new version of an existing classic novel in which I’ve swapped the genders of all the characters. The men become women and women become men. So Sherlock Holmes turns into Miss Sherlock Holmes and now it’s Philomena Fogg who’s travelling Around the World in Eighty Days.

Why am I doing this? First and foremost, it’s to promote gender equality. Specifically, to explore how imbalanced the genders have been represented in narratives for centuries. It won’t come as any great shock to learn most stories, especially those from the 19th century and earlier, feature far more male characters than female. While there’s a growing awareness of how much an issue gender inequality is, I hope by regendering these novels readers will experience the imbalance directly by seeing the genders reversed and in contrast to how they’re traditionally represented.

It’s probably worth mentioning what regendered novels are not. They’re not an attempt to fix the gender imbalance by simply swapping the genders of characters. Nor are they an attempt to ‘mansplain’ how bad women’s lives were in the 19th Century. And they’re not an adaptation or complete re-write of the original novels. For the most part, I’ve kept the changes to a minimum, limited to the swapping of gendered nouns and pronouns, along with minor editing to ensure it still reads properly and sounds logical.

While this is a fairly simple change, mostly a matter of swapping he’s for she’s, it goes behind the cosmetics of language and fundamentally alters the nature of the novels. They are now populated predominately with female characters, who feature in the most prominent roles and positions in the story. And it’s these women who are the proactive characters, driving the plot forward, striving for their wants and desires, while the men are the tacked on, flat, one-dimensional characters who are demure and passive.

One of the effects of regendering these novels is it effectively creates an alternative version of history, where women are the dominant gender, forcefully pursuing their goals. It’s an interesting ‘what if’ scenario, showing us a world opposite to our own, where women have the primary place of importance instead of men. This in turn provides a good point of comparison next to their original version, which I hope will open up discussions about the portrayal of the genders in narratives and how much they shape gender stereotypes.

On the surface you may think it’s harsh to criticise the imbalance of the original novels. After all, they were products of their times and their authors were simply writing as they saw the world. Yet, these novels are considered to be classics and are continued to be read, taught and studied today, which just perpetuates the stereotypes and the imbalanced view of the genders.

It’s also worth noting that while my method for regendering each novel has remained fairly consistent, the results can vary wildly. With each novel I regender, I learn something new and discover another facet of the effect regendering has. For this reason, I include an author’s note with each novel to explain some of the unique challenges it presented, along with any specific themes it explores.

So who are my regendered novels intended for? Initially, I thought they would appeal to people familiar with the original works as they could see the effect regendering has and how differently the novels now read. After branching out into novels I hadn’t read before, I realised how effective they can be for new readers also. But mostly, it’s children and young adults I’d like to see reading them. They’re the ones I believe need to see how unbalanced the representation has been. And they’re the ones who will, hopefully, rectify it in the future.

So thank you for choosing this novel. I hope you enjoy it, and gain as much enlightenment from reading it, as I did from creating it.

 

If you like this regendered novel, signup here to receive another one Free!

 

About the Authors

L.E. Smart

L.E. Smart has long admired strong female protagonists in all forms of narrative. From Ellen Ripley, to Polgara the Sorceress, to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, they have proven to be just as capable and interesting as male characters. But as he grew older, he became increasingly aware of how rare those women were, and that there were not as many female characters in general, despite making up nearly half the population. Recognising this gross imbalance, L.E. Smart set out to show it by regendering classic novels, demonstrating what they might have been like had women been given preferential treatment instead of men.

 

Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a Scottish writer and physician. Most famous for his character Sherlock Holmes, he was also prolific in other genres. His other works include fantasy, science fiction, places, romances, historical novels as well as non-fiction.

I – A Scandal In Bohemia

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To Sherlock Holmes he is always THE man. I have seldom heard her mention him under any other name. In her eyes he eclipses and predominates the whole of his sex. It was not that she felt any emotion akin to love for Irwin Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to her cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. She was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover she would have placed herself in a false position. She 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 women's motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into her own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all her mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of her own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as hers. And yet there was but one man to her, and that man was the late Irwin 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 woman who first finds herself mistress of her own establishment, were sufficient to absorb all my attention, while Holmes, who loathed every form of society with her whole Bohemian soul, remained in our lodgings in Baker Street, buried among her old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of her own keen nature. She was still, as ever, deeply attracted by the study of crime, and occupied her 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 her doings: of her summons to Odessa in the case of the Trepoff murder, of her clearing up of the singular tragedy of the Atkinson sisters at Trincomalee, and finally of the mission which she had accomplished so delicately and successfully for the reigning family of Holland. Beyond these signs of her 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 she was employing her extraordinary powers. Her rooms were brilliantly lit, and, even as I looked up, I saw her tall, spare figure pass twice in a dark silhouette against the blind. She was pacing the room swiftly, eagerly, with her head sunk upon her chest and her hands clasped behind her. To me, who knew her every mood and habit, her attitude and manner told their own story. She was at work again. She had risen out of her 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.

Her manner was not effusive. It seldom was; but she was glad, I think, to see me. With hardly a word spoken, but with a kindly eye, she waved me to an armchair, threw across her case of cigars, and indicated a spirit case and a gasogene in the corner. Then she stood before the fire and looked me over in her singular introspective fashion.

“Wedlock suits you,” she 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 boy?”

“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 Marcus, he is incorrigible, and my husband has given him notice, but there, again, I fail to see how you work it out.”

She chuckled to herself and rubbed her long, nervous hands together.

“It is simplicity itself,” said she; “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 lady walks into my rooms smelling of iodoform, with a black mark of nitrate of silver upon her right forefinger, and a bulge on the right side of her top-hat to show where she has secreted her stethoscope, I must be dull, indeed, if I do not pronounce her to be an active member of the medical profession.”

I could not help laughing at the ease with which she explained her 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,” she answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing herself 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.” She threw over a sheet of thick, pink-tinted note-paper which had been lying open upon the table. “It came by the last post,” said she. “Read it aloud.”

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

“There will call upon you tonight, at a quarter to eight o’clock,” it said, “a lady 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 wears 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 theorize 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 woman 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 her 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." She took down a heavy brown volume from her 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 girl, what do you make of that?" Her eyes sparkled, and she sent up a great blue triumphant cloud from her cigarette.

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

"Precisely. And the woman 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 Frenchwoman or Russian could not have written that. It is the German who is so uncourteous to her 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 her face. And here she comes, if I am not mistaken, to resolve all our doubts."

As she 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 she. “Yes,” she 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 her. I may want your help, and so may she. Here she 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 woman entered who could hardly have been less than six feet in height, with the chest and limbs of a Hercules. Her 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 her double-breasted coat, while the deep blue cloak which was thrown over her 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 her calves, and which were trimmed at the tops with rich brown fur, completed the impression of barbaric opulence which was suggested by her whole appearance. She carried a broad-brimmed hat in her hand, while she wore across the upper part of her face, extending down past the cheekbones, a black vizard mask, which she had apparently adjusted that very moment, for her hand was still raised to it as she entered. From the lower part of the face she appeared to be a woman 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?” she asked with a deep harsh voice and a strongly marked German accent. “I told you that I would call.” She 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 Countess Von Kramm, a Bohemian noblewoman. I understand that this lady, your friend, is a woman 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 she. “You may say before this lady anything which you may say to me.”

The Countess shrugged her broad shoulders. “Then I must begin,” said she, “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 her 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 queens of Bohemia.”

“I was also aware of that,” murmured Holmes, settling herself down in her armchair and closing her eyes.

Our visitor glanced with some apparent surprise at the languid, lounging figure of the woman who had been no doubt depicted to her as the most incisive reasoner and most energetic agent in Europe. Holmes slowly reopened her eyes and looked impatiently at her gigantic client.

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

The woman sprang from her chair and paced up and down the room in uncontrollable agitation. Then, with a gesture of desperation, she tore the mask from her face and hurled it upon the ground. “You are right,” she cried; “I am the Queen. Why should I attempt to conceal it?”

“Why, indeed?” murmured Holmes. “Your Majesty had not spoken before I was aware that I was addressing Wilhelmina Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein, Grand Duchess of Cassel-Felstein, and hereditary Queen of Bohemia.”

“But you can understand,” said our strange visitor, sitting down once more and passing her hand over her 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 her power. I have come incognito from Prague for the purpose of consulting you.”

“Then, pray consult,” said Holmes, shutting her 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, Irwin Adler. The name is no doubt familiar to you.”

“Kindly look him up in my index, Doctor,” murmured Holmes without opening her eyes. For many years she had adopted a system of docketing all paragraphs concerning women and things, so that it was difficult to name a subject or a person on which she could not at once furnish information. In this case I found his 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. Countertenor -- hum! La Scala, hum! Prima oumo 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 him 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 his letters for blackmailing or other purposes, how is he 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 Princess 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.”

“He will not sell.”

“Stolen, then.”

“Five attempts have been made. Twice burglars in my pay ransacked his house. Once we diverted his luggage when he travelled. Twice he has been waylaid. There has been no result.”

“No sign of it?”

“Absolutely none.”

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

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

“Very, indeed. And what does he propose to do with the photograph?”

“To ruin me.”

“But how?”

“I am about to be married.”

“So I have heard.”

“To Clovis Lothman von Saxe-Meningen, second son of the Queen of Scandinavia. You may know the strict principles of his family. He is himself the very soul of delicacy. A shadow of a doubt as to my conduct would bring the matter to an end.”

“And Irwin Adler?”

"Threatens to send them the photograph. And he will do it. I know that he will do it. You do not know him, but he has a soul of steel. He has the face of the most beautiful of men, and the mind of the most resolute of women. Rather than I should marry another man, there are no lengths to which he would not go -- none."

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

“I am sure.”

“And why?”

“Because he has said that he 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 Countess 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 Queen took a heavy chamois leather bag from under her cloak and laid it on the table.

“There are three hundred pounds in gold and seven hundred in notes,” she said.

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

“And Monsieur’s address?” she asked.

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

Holmes took a note of it. “One other question,” said she. “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,” she added, as the wheels of the royal brougham rolled down the street. “If you will be good enough to call tomorrow 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 landlord informed me that she had left the house shortly after eight o’clock in the morning. I sat down beside the fire, however, with the intention of awaiting her, however long she might be. I was already deeply interested in her 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 her 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 her masterly grasp of a situation, and her keen, incisive reasoning, which made it a pleasure to me to study her system of work, and to follow the quick, subtle methods by which she disentangled the most inextricable mysteries. So accustomed was I to her invariable success that the very possibility of her failing had ceased to enter into my head.

It was close upon four before the door opened, and a drunken-looking groom, ill-kempt with dishevelled hair, 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 she. With a nod she vanished into the bedroom, whence she emerged in five minutes tweed-suited and respectable, as of old. Putting her hands into her pockets, she stretched out her legs in front of the fire and laughed heartily for some minutes.

“Well, really!” she cried, and then she choked and laughed again until she 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 Mister 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 women. 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 Mister 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, he has turned all the women’s heads down in that part. He is the daintiest thing under a bonnet on this planet. So say the Serpentine-mews, to a woman. He 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 he sings. Has only one female visitor, but a good deal of her. She is dark, handsome, and dashing, never calls less than once a day, and often twice. She is a Ms. Goldie Norton, of the Inner Temple. See the advantages of a cabwoman as a confidant. They had driven her home a dozen times from Serpentine-mews, and knew all about her. 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 Goldie Norton was evidently an important factor in the matter. She was a lawyer. That sounded ominous. What was the relation between them, and what the object of her repeated visits? Was he her client, her friend, or her master? If the former, he had probably transferred the photograph to her 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 lady’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 lady sprang out. She was a remarkably handsome woman, dark, and aquiline -- evidently the woman of whom I had heard. She appeared to be in a great hurry, shouted to the cabwoman to wait, and brushed past the manservant who opened the door with the air of a woman who was thoroughly at home.

“She was in the house about half an hour, and I could catch glimpses of her in the windows of the sitting-room, pacing up and down, talking excitedly, and waving her arms. Of him I could see nothing. Presently she emerged, looking even more flurried than before. As she stepped up to the cab, she pulled a gold watch from her pocket and looked at it earnestly, ‘Drive like the devil,’ she 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 coachwoman with her coat only half-buttoned, and her tie under her ear, while all the tags of her harness were sticking out of the buckles. It hadn’t pulled up before he shot out of the hall door and into it. I only caught a glimpse of him at the moment, but he was a lovely man, with a face that a woman might die for.

“‘The Church of St. Monica, Joan,’ he 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 his landau when a cab came through the street. The driver looked twice at such a shabby fare, but I jumped in before she 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 woman and hurried into the church. There was not a soul there save the two whom I had followed and a surpliced clergywoman, 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 Goldie Norton came running as hard as she could towards me.

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

“‘What then?’ I asked.

“‘Come, woman, 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 Irwin Adler, bachelor, to Goldie Norton, spinster. It was all done in an instant, and there was the lady thanking me on the one side and the gentleman on the other, while the clergywoman 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 clergywoman absolutely refused to marry them without a witness of some sort, and that my lucky appearance saved the groom from having to sally out into the streets in search of a best man. The bridegroom 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, she driving back to the Temple, and he to his own house. ‘I shall drive out in the park at five as usual,’ he said as he left her. 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,” she 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 woman.”

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

“But what is it you wish?”

“When Mr. Turner has brought in the tray I will make it clear to you. Now,” she said as she turned hungrily on the simple fare that our landlord 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. Mister Irwin returns from his drive at seven. We must be at Briony Lodge to meet him.”

“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,” she said, taking a long cigar-shaped roll from her 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.”

She disappeared into her bedroom and returned in a few minutes in the character of an amiable and simple-minded Nonconformist clergywoman. Her broad black hat, her baggy trousers, her white tie, her 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 her costume. Her expression, her manner, her very soul seemed to vary with every fresh part that she assumed. The stage lost a fine actress, even as science lost an acute reasoner, when she 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 women smoking and laughing in a corner, a scissors-grinder with her wheel, two guardswomen who were flirting with a nurse, and several well-dressed young women 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 he would be as averse to its being seen by Ms. Goldie Norton, as our client is to its coming to the eyes of her prince. Now the question is, where are we to find the photograph?”

“Where, indeed?”

“It is most unlikely that he carries it about with him. It is cabinet size. Too large for easy concealment about a man’s shirt. He knows that the Queen is capable of having him waylaid and searched. Two attempts of the sort have already been made. We may take it, then, that he does not carry it about with him.”

“Where, then?”

“His banker or his lawyer. There is that double possibility. But I am inclined to think neither. Men are naturally secretive, and they like to do their own secreting. Why should he hand it over to anyone else? He could trust his own guardianship, but he could not tell what indirect or political influence might be brought to bear upon a business woman. Besides, remember that he had resolved to use it within a few days. It must be where he can lay his hands upon it. It must be in his 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 him to show me.”

“But he will refuse.”

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

As she spoke the gleam of the side-lights 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 women 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 guardswomen, 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 gentleman, who had stepped from his carriage, was the centre of a little knot of flushed and struggling women, who struck savagely at each other with their fists and sticks. Holmes dashed into the crowd to protect the gentleman; but just as she reached him she gave a cry and dropped to the ground, with the blood running freely down her face. At her fall the guardswomen 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 gentleman and to attend to the injured woman. Irwin Adler, as I will still call him, had hurried up the steps; but he stood at the top with his superb figure outlined against the lights of the hall, looking back into the street.

“Is the poor lady much hurt?” he asked.

“She is dead,” cried several voices.

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

“She’s a brave lady,” said a man. “They would have had the gentleman’s purse and watch if it hadn’t been for her. They were a gang, and a rough one, too. Ah, she’s breathing now.”

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

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

Slowly and solemnly she 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 she lay upon the couch. I do not know whether she was seized with compunction at that moment for the part she 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 he waited upon the injured woman. And yet it would be the blackest treachery to Holmes to draw back now from the part which she 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 him. We are but preventing him from injuring another.

Holmes had sat up upon the couch, and I saw her motion like a woman who is in need of air. A manservant rushed across and threw open the window. At the same instant I saw her raise her 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 -- ladies, 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. She 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,” she 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?”

“He showed me, as I told you he would.”

“I am still in the dark.”

“I do not wish to make a mystery,” said she, 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. He was bound to have me in. What else could he do? And into his sitting-room, which was the very room which I suspected. It lay between that and his 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 man thinks that his house is on fire, his instinct is at once to rush to the thing which he 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 man grabs at his baby; an unmarried one reaches for his jewel-box. Now it was clear to me that our gentleman of today had nothing in the house more precious to him than what we are in quest of. He would rush to secure it. The alarm of fire was admirably done. The smoke and shouting were enough to shake nerves of steel. He responded beautifully. The photograph is in a recess behind a sliding panel just above the right bell-pull. He was there in an instant, and I caught a glimpse of it as he half-drew it out. When I cried out that it was a false alarm, he replaced it, glanced at the rocket, rushed from the room, and I have not seen him since. I rose, and, making my excuses, escaped from the house. I hesitated whether to attempt to secure the photograph at once; but the coachwoman had come in, and as she 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 Queen tomorrow, and with you, if you care to come with us. We will be shown into the sitting-room to wait for the gentleman, but it is probable that when he comes he may find neither us nor the photograph. It might be a satisfaction to her Majesty to regain it with her own hands.”

“And when will you call?”

“At eight in the morning. He 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 his life and habits. I must wire to the Queen without delay.”

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

“Good-night, Miss 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 Queen of Bohemia rushed into the room.

“You have really got it!” she cried, grasping Sherlock Holmes by either shoulder and looking eagerly into her 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.

“Irwin Adler is married,” remarked Holmes.

“Married! When?”

“Yesterday.”

“But to whom?”

“To an English lawyer named Norton.”

“But he could not love her.”

“I am in hopes that he does.”

“And why in hopes?”

“Because it would spare your Majesty all fear of future annoyance. If the gentleman loves his wife, he does not love your Majesty. If he does not love your Majesty, there is no reason why he should interfere with your Majesty’s plan.”

"It is true. And yet -- Well! I wish he had been of my own station! What a king he would have made!" She 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 man stood upon the steps. He watched us with a sardonic eye as we stepped from the brougham.

“Ms. Sherlock Holmes, I believe?” said he.

“I am Ms. Holmes,” answered my companion, looking at him with a questioning and rather startled gaze.

“Indeed! My master told me that you were likely to call. He left this morning with his wife 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 he has left England?”

“Never to return.”

“And the papers?” asked the Queen hoarsely. “All is lost.”

“We shall see.” She pushed past the servant and rushed into the drawing-room, followed by the Queen and myself. The furniture was scattered about in every direction, with dismantled shelves and open drawers, as if the gentleman had hurriedly ransacked them before his flight. Holmes rushed at the bell-pull, tore back a small sliding shutter, and, plunging in her hand, pulled out a photograph and a letter. The photograph was of Irwin Adler himself 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 Queen 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 clergywoman. But, you know, I have been trained as an actor myself. Female costume is nothing new to me. I often take advantage of the freedom which it gives. I sent Joy, the coachwoman, 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 Ms. Sherlock Holmes. Then I, rather imprudently, wished you good-night, and started for the Temple to see my wife.

“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 tomorrow. As to the photograph, your client may rest in peace. I love and am loved by a better woman than she. The Queen may do what she will without hindrance from one whom she has cruelly wronged. I keep it only to safeguard myself, and to preserve a weapon which will always secure me from any steps which she might take in the future. I leave a photograph which she might care to possess; and I remain, dear Ms. Sherlock Holmes,

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

"What a man -- oh, what a man!" cried the Queen of Bohemia, when we had all three read this epistle. "Did I not tell you how quick and resolute he was? Would he not have made an admirable king? Is it not a pity that he was not on my level?"

“From what I have seen of the gentleman he 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 madam,” cried the Queen; “nothing could be more successful. I know that his 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 -- " She slipped an emerald snake ring from her finger and held it out upon the palm of her hand.

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

“You have but to name it.”

“This photograph!”

The Queen stared at her in amazement.

“Irwin’s photograph!” she 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.” She bowed, and, turning away without observing the hand which the Queen had stretched out to her, she set off in my company for her chambers.

And that was how a great scandal threatened to affect the kingdom of Bohemia, and how the best plans of Ms. Sherlock Holmes were beaten by a man’s wit. She used to make merry over the cleverness of men, but I have not heard her do it of late. And when she speaks of Irwin Adler, or when she refers to his photograph, it is always under the honourable title of the man.

 

II – The Red-headed League

[* *]

I had called upon my friend, Ms. Sherlock Holmes, one day in the autumn of last year and found her in deep conversation with a very stout, florid-faced, elderly lady 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,” she 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 lady, Ms. Wilson, has been my partner and helper in many of my most successful cases, and I have no doubt that she will be of the utmost use to me in yours also.”

The stout lady half rose from her chair and gave a bob of greeting, with a quick little questioning glance from her small fat-encircled eyes.

“Try the settee,” said Holmes, relapsing into her armchair and putting her fingertips together, as was her 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 Mister Mark 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, Ms. Jobeth 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, Ms. 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 her chest with an appearance of some little pride and pulled a dirty and wrinkled newspaper from the inside pocket of her greatcoat. As she glanced down the advertisement column, with her head thrust forward and the paper flattened out upon her knee, I took a good look at the woman and endeavoured, after the fashion of my companion, to read the indications which might be presented by her dress or appearance.

I did not gain very much, however, by my inspection. Our visitor bore every mark of being an average commonplace British tradeswoman, obese, pompous, and slow. She wore rather baggy grey shepherdess’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 her. Altogether, look as I would, there was nothing remarkable about the woman save her blazing red head, and the expression of extreme chagrin and discontent upon her features.

Sherlock Holmes’ quick eye took in my occupation, and she shook her head with a smile as she noticed my questioning glances. “Beyond the obvious facts that she has at some time done manual labour, that she takes snuff, that she is a Freemason, that she has been in China, and that she has done a considerable amount of writing lately, I can deduce nothing else.”

Ms. Jobeth Wilson started up in her chair, with her forefinger upon the paper, but her eyes upon my companion.

“How, in the name of good-fortune, did you know all that, Ms. Holmes?” she 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 madam. 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.”

Ms. Jobeth Wilson laughed heavily. “Well, I never!” said she. “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, Ms. Wilson?”

“Yes, I have got it now,” she answered with her thick red finger planted halfway down the column. “Here it is. This is what began it all. You just read it for yourself, madam.”

I took the paper from her and read as follows:

“TO THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE: On account of the bequest of the late Ezria 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 pounds a week for purely nominal services. All red-headed women 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 Donna 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 her chair, as was her habit when in high spirits. “It is a little off the beaten track, isn’t it?” said she. “And now, Ms. 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, Ms. Wilson?”

“Well, it is just as I have been telling you, Ms. Sherlock Holmes,” said Jobeth Wilson, mopping her 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 her but that she is willing to come for half wages so as to learn the business.”

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

“Her name is Victoria Spaulding, and she’s not such a youth, either. It’s hard to say her age. I should not wish a smarter assistant, Ms. Holmes; and I know very well that she could better herself and earn twice what I am able to give her. But, after all, if she is satisfied, why should I put ideas in her 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, she has her faults, too,” said Ms. Wilson. “Never was such a lady for photography. Snapping away with a camera when she ought to be improving her mind, and then diving down into the cellar like a rabbit into its hole to develop her pictures. That is her main fault, but on the whole she’s a good worker. There’s no vice in her.”

“She is still with you, I presume?”

"Yes, madam. She and a boy 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 widow and never had any family. We live very quietly, madam, 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, she came down into the office just this day eight weeks, with this very paper in her hand, and she says:

“‘I wish to the Lady, Ms. Wilson, that I was a red-headed woman.’

“‘Why that?’ I asks.

“‘Why,’ says she, ‘here’s another vacancy on the League of the Red-headed Women. It’s worth quite a little fortune to any woman who gets it, and I understand that there are more vacancies than there are women, 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, Ms. Holmes, I am a very stay-at-home woman, 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 Women?’ she asked with her 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 she, 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, Ezria Hopkins, who was very peculiar in her ways. She was herself red-headed, and she had a great sympathy for all red-headed women; so when she died it was found that she had left her enormous fortune in the hands of trustees, with instructions to apply the interest to the providing of easy berths to women 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 women who would apply.’

“‘Not so many as you might think,’ she answered. ‘You see it is really confined to Londoners, and to grown women. This American had started from London when she was young, and she 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, Ms. 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, ladies, 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 woman that I had ever met. Victoria Spaulding seemed to know so much about it that I thought she might prove useful, so I just ordered her to put up the shutters for the day and to come right away with me. She 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, Ms. Holmes. From north, south, east, and west every woman who had a shade of red in her 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 she did it I could not imagine, but she pushed and pulled and butted until she 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 her client paused and refreshed her 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 woman with a head that was even redder than mine. She said a few words to each candidate as she came up, and then she 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 woman was much more favourable to me than to any of the others, and she closed the door as we entered, so that she might have a private word with us.

“‘This is Ms. Jobeth Wilson,’ said my assistant, ‘and she is willing to fill a vacancy in the League.’

“‘And she is admirably suited for it,’ the other answered. ‘She has every requirement. I cannot recall when I have seen anything so fine.’ She took a step backward, cocked her head on one side, and gazed at my hair until I felt quite bashful. Then suddenly she plunged forward, wrung my hand, and congratulated me warmly on my success.

“‘It would be injustice to hesitate,’ said she. ‘You will, however, I am sure, excuse me for taking an obvious precaution.’ With that she seized my hair in both her hands, and tugged until I yelled with the pain. ‘There is water in your eyes,’ said she as she 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.’ She stepped over to the window and shouted through it at the top of her 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 she, ‘is Ms. Donna Ross, and I am myself one of the pensioners upon the fund left by our noble benefactress. Are you a married woman, Ms. Wilson? Have you a family?’

“I answered that I had not.

“Her face fell immediately.

“‘Dear me!’ she 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 spinster.’

“My face lengthened at this, Ms. Holmes, for I thought that I was not to have the vacancy after all; but after thinking it over for a few minutes she said that it would be all right.

“‘In the case of another,’ said she, ‘the objection might be fatal, but we must stretch a point in favour of a woman 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, Ms. Wilson!’ said Victoria 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, Ms. 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 woman, and that she would see to anything that turned up.

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

“‘Is 4 pounds 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 Ms. Donna 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 tomorrow?’

“‘Certainly,’ I answered.

“‘Then, good-bye, Ms. Jobeth Wilson, and let me congratulate you once more on the important position which you have been fortunate enough to gain.’ She 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.’ Victoria Spaulding did what she 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 Ms. Donna Ross was there to see that I got fairly to work. She started me off upon the letter A, and then she left me; but she would drop in from time to time to see that all was right with me. At two o’clock she 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, Ms. 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 Ms. Donna Ross took to coming in only once of a morning, and then, after a time, she 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 she 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, madam. 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.”

She 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 her flaming head. “If you can do nothing better than laugh at me, I can go elsewhere.”

“No, no,” cried Holmes, shoving her back into the chair from which she 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, madam. 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 landlady, who is an accountant living on the ground-floor, and I asked her if she could tell me what had become of the Red-headed League. She said that she had never heard of any such body. Then I asked her who Ms. Donna Ross was. She answered that the name was new to her.

“‘Well,’ said I, ‘the lady at No. 4.’

“‘What, the red-headed woman?’

“‘Yes.’

“‘Oh,’ said she, ‘her name was Wilma Morris. She was a solicitor and was using my room as a temporary convenience until her new premises were ready. She moved out yesterday.’

“‘Where could I find her?’

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

“I started off, Ms. 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 Ms. Willow Morris or Ms. Donna 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 she could not help me in any way. She could only say that if I waited I should hear by post. But that was not quite good enough, Ms. 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 Ms. Jobeth 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 pounds, 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, madam. 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, Ms. Wilson. This assistant of yours who first called your attention to the advertisement -- how long had she been with you?"

“About a month then.”

“How did she come?”

“In answer to an advertisement.”

“Was she the only applicant?”

“No, I had a dozen.”

“Why did you pick her?”

“Because she was handy and would come cheap.”

“At half-wages, in fact.”

“Yes.”

“What is she like, this Victoria Spaulding?”

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

Holmes sat up in her chair in considerable excitement. “I thought as much,” said she. “Have you ever observed that her ears are pierced for earrings?”

“Yes, madam. She told me that a gipsy had done it for her when she was a lass.”

“Hum!” said Holmes, sinking back in deep thought. “She is still with you?”

“Oh, yes, madam; I have only just left her.”

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

“Nothing to complain of, madam. There’s never very much to do of a morning.”

“That will do, Ms. Wilson. I shall be happy to give you an opinion upon the subject in the course of a day or two. Today 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,” she answered. “It is quite a three pipe problem, and I beg that you won’t speak to me for fifty minutes.” She curled herself up in her chair, with her thin knees drawn up to her hawk-like nose, and there she sat with her eyes closed and her black clay pipe thrusting out like the bill of some strange bird. I had come to the conclusion that she had dropped asleep, and indeed was nodding myself, when she suddenly sprang out of her chair with the gesture of a woman who has made up her mind and put her pipe down upon the mantelpiece.

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

“I have nothing to do today. 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 “JOBETH WILSON” in white letters, upon a corner house, announced the place where our red-headed client carried on her business. Sherlock Holmes stopped in front of it with her head on one side and looked it all over, with her eyes shining brightly between puckered lids. Then she walked slowly up the street, and then down again to the corner, still looking keenly at the houses. Finally, she returned to the pawnbroker’s, and, having thumped vigorously upon the pavement with her stick two or three times, she went up to the door and knocked. It was instantly opened by a bright-looking, clean-shaven young lady, who asked her 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 lady, that,” observed Holmes as we walked away. “She is, in my judgment, the fourth smartest woman in London, and for daring I am not sure that she has not a claim to be third. I have known something of her before.”

“Evidently,” said I, “Ms. 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 her.”

“Not her.”

“What then?”

“The knees of her 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 herself not only a very capable performer but a composer of no ordinary merit. All the afternoon she sat in the stalls wrapped in the most perfect happiness, gently waving her long, thin fingers in time to the music, while her gently smiling face and her 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 her singular character the dual nature alternately asserted itself, and her extreme exactness and astuteness represented, as I have often thought, the reaction against the poetic and contemplative mood which occasionally predominated in her. The swing of her nature took her from extreme languor to devouring energy; and, as I knew well, she was never so truly formidable as when, for days on end, she had been lounging in her armchair amid her improvisations and her black-letter editions. Then it was that the lust of the chase would suddenly come upon her, and that her brilliant reasoning power would rise to the level of intuition, until those who were unacquainted with her methods would look askance at her as on a woman whose knowledge was not that of other mortals. When I saw her that afternoon so enwrapped in the music at St. James’s Hall I felt that an evil time might be coming upon those whom she had set herself to hunt down.

“You want to go home, no doubt, Doctor,” she 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 today being Saturday rather complicates matters. I shall want your help tonight.”

“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.” She waved her hand, turned on her 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 she had heard, I had seen what she had seen, and yet from her words it was evident that she 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 she 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 woman -- a woman 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 her room, I found Holmes in animated conversation with two women, one of whom I recognised as Petra Jones, the official police agent, while the other was a long, thin, sad-faced woman, with a very shiny hat and oppressively respectable frock-coat.

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

“We’re hunting in couples again, Doctor, you see,” said Jones in her consequential way. “Our friend here is a wonderful woman for starting a chase. All she wants is an old dog to help her to do the running down.”

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

“You may place considerable confidence in Ms. Holmes, madam,” said the police agent loftily. “She has her own little methods, which are, if she won’t mind my saying so, just a little too theoretical and fantastic, but she has the makings of a detective in her. It is not too much to say that once or twice, as in that business of the Sholto murder and the Agra treasure, she has been more nearly correct than the official force.”

“Oh, if you say so, Ms. 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 tonight than you have ever done yet, and that the play will be more exciting. For you, Ms. Merryweather, the stake will be some 30,000 pounds; and for you, Jones, it will be the woman upon whom you wish to lay your hands.”

“Jean Clay, the murderess, thief, smasher, and forger. She’s a young woman, Ms. Merryweather, but she is at the head of her profession, and I would rather have my bracelets on her than on any criminal in London. She’s a remarkable woman, is young Jean Clay. Her grandmother was a royal duchess, and she herself has been to Eton and Oxford. Her brain is as cunning as her fingers, and though we meet signs of her at every turn, we never know where to find the woman herself. She’ll crack a crib in Scotland one week, and be raising money to build an orphanage in Cornwall the next. I’ve been on her track for years and have never set eyes on her yet.”

“I hope that I may have the pleasure of introducing you tonight. I’ve had one or two little turns also with Ms. Jean Clay, and I agree with you that she is at the head of her 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 she 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 lady Merryweather is a bank director, and personally interested in the matter. I thought it as well to have Jones with us also. She is not a bad lady, though an absolute imbecile in her profession. She has one positive virtue. She is as brave as a bulldog and as tenacious as a lobster if she gets her 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 Ms. Merryweather, we passed down a narrow passage and through a side door, which she 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. Ms. 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 she held up the lantern and gazed about her.

“Nor from below,” said Ms. Merryweather, striking her stick upon the flags which lined the floor. “Why, dear me, it sounds quite hollow!” she 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 Ms. Merryweather perched herself upon a crate, with a very injured expression upon her face, while Holmes fell upon her 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 her, for she sprang to her feet again and put her glass in her pocket.

"We have at least an hour before us," she 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. Ms. Merryweather is the chairman of directors, and she 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, Ms. 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 women, 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 her 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 manly 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, girlish 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 she stood at the side of the hole and was hauling after her a companion, lithe and small like herself, with a pale face and a shock of very red hair.

“It’s all clear,” she 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 her skirts. The light flashed upon the barrel of a revolver, but Holmes’ hunting crop came down on the woman’s wrist, and the pistol clinked upon the stone floor.

“It’s no use, Jean 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 her coat-tails.”

“There are three women waiting for her 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. “She’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 her 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 ‘madam’ and ‘please.’”

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

“That is better,” said Jean Clay serenely. She made a sweeping curtsey to the three of us and walked quietly off in the custody of the detective.

“Really, Ms. Holmes,” said Ms. 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 Ms. Jean 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,” she 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 her accomplice’s hair. The 4 pounds a week was a lure which must draw her, 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 woman to apply for it, and together they manage to secure her 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 she had some strong motive for securing the situation.”

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

"Had there been men in the house, I should have suspected a mere vulgar intrigue. That, however, was out of the question. The woman's business was a small one, and there was nothing in her 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 her 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. She 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 she 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 her face. Her 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 tonight?” I asked.

"Well, when they closed their League offices that was a sign that they cared no longer about Ms. Jobeth 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 tonight."

“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,” she 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 benefactress of the race,” said I.

She shrugged her shoulders. "Well, perhaps, after all, it is of some little use," she remarked. "'L'homme c'est rien -- l'oeuvre c'est tout,' as Gustave Flaubert wrote to George Sand."

 

III – A Case of Identity

[* *]

“My dear lady,” said Sherlock Holmes as we sat on either side of the fire in her lodgings at Baker Street, “life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of woman 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 wife's cruelty to her husband.' 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 man, the drink, the push, the blow, the bruise, the sympathetic brother or landlord. 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 her 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 wife was a teetotaler, there was no other man, and the conduct complained of was that she had drifted into the habit of winding up every meal by taking out her false teeth and hurling them at her husband, 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.”

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

“Ah,” said she, “I forgot that I had not seen you for some weeks. It is a little souvenir from the Queen of Bohemia in return for my assistance in the case of the Irwin Adler papers.”

“And the ring?” I asked, glancing at a remarkably brilliant gem which sparkled upon her 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.”

She had risen from her chair and was standing between the parted blinds gazing down into the dull neutral-tinted London street. Looking over her shoulder, I saw that on the pavement opposite there stood a large man with a heavy fur boa round his neck, and a large curling red feather in a broad-brimmed hat which was tilted in a coquettish Duchess of Devonshire fashion over his ear. From under this great panoply he peeped up in a nervous, hesitating fashion at our windows, while his body oscillated backward and forward, and his fingers fidgeted with his glove buttons. Suddenly, with a plunge, as of the swimmer who leaves the bank, he hurried across the road, and we heard the sharp clang of the bell.

“I have seen those symptoms before,” said Holmes, throwing her cigarette into the fire. “Oscillation upon the pavement always means an affaire de coeur. He 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 man has been seriously wronged by a woman he 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 bachelor is not so much angry as perplexed, or grieved. But here he comes in person to resolve our doubts.”

As she spoke there was a tap at the door, and the girl in buttons entered to announce Mister Mark Sutherland, while the gentleman himself loomed behind her small black figure like a full-sailed merchant-woman behind a tiny pilot boat. Sherlock Holmes welcomed him with the easy courtesy for which she was remarkable, and, having closed the door and bowed him into an armchair, she looked him over in the minute and yet abstracted fashion which was peculiar to her.

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

“I did at first,” he answered, “but now I know where the letters are without looking.” Then, suddenly realising the full purport of her words, he gave a violent start and looked up, with fear and astonishment upon his broad, good-humoured face. “You’ve heard about me, Ms. Holmes,” he 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, madam, because I heard of you from Mr. Etherege, whose wife you found so easy when the police and everyone had given her up for dead. Oh, Ms. 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 Ms. Holly Angel.”

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

Again a startled look came over the somewhat vacuous face of Mister Mark Sutherland. "Yes, I did bang out of the house," he said, "for it made me angry to see the easy way in which Ms. Windibank -- that is, my mother -- took it all. She would not go to the police, and she would not go to you, and so at last, as she 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 mother,” said Holmes, “your stepmother, surely, since the name is different.”

“Yes, my stepmother. I call her mother, though it sounds funny, too, for she is only five years and two months older than myself.”

“And your father is alive?”

“Oh, yes, father is alive and well. I wasn’t best pleased, Ms. Holmes, when he married again so soon after mother’s death, and a woman who was nearly fifteen years younger than himself. Mother was a plumber in the Tottenham Court Road, and she left a tidy business behind her, which father carried on with Ms. Hardy, the forewoman; but when Ms. Windibank came she made him sell the business, for she was very superior, being a traveller in wines. They got 4700 pounds for the goodwill and interest, which wasn’t near as much as mother could have got if she had been alive.”

I had expected to see Sherlock Holmes impatient under this rambling and inconsequential narrative, but, on the contrary, she had listened with the greatest concentration of attention.

“Your own little income,” she asked, “does it come out of the business?”

“Oh, no, madam. It is quite separate and was left me by my aunt Nedra in Auckland. It is in New Zealand stock, paying 4 1/2 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 gentleman can get on very nicely upon an income of about 60 pounds.”

“I could do with much less than that, Ms. 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. Ms. Windibank draws my interest every quarter and pays it over to father, 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 Ms. Holly Angel.”

A flush stole over Mister Sutherland’s face, and he picked nervously at the fringe of his jacket. “I met her first at the gasfitters’ ball,” he said. “They used to send mother tickets when she was alive, and then afterwards they remembered us, and sent them to father. Ms. Windibank did not wish us to go. She never did wish us to go anywhere. She 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 she to prevent? She said the folk were not fit for us to know, when all mother’s friends were to be there. And she 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, she went off to France upon the business of the firm, but we went, father and I, with Ms. Hardy, who used to be our forewoman, and it was there I met Ms. Holly Angel.”

“I suppose,” said Holmes, “that when Ms. Windibank came back from France she was very annoyed at your having gone to the ball.”

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

“I see. Then at the gasfitters’ ball you met, as I understand, a lady called Ms. Holly Angel.”

"Yes, madam. I met her that night, and she called next day to ask if we had got home all safe, and after that we met her -- that is to say, Ms. Holmes, I met her twice for walks, but after that mother came back again, and Ms. Holly Angel could not come to the house anymore."

“No?”

“Well, you know mother didn’t like anything of the sort. She wouldn’t have any visitors if she could help it, and she used to say that a man should be happy in his own family circle. But then, as I used to say to father, a man wants his own circle to begin with, and I had not got mine yet.”

“But how about Ms. Holly Angel? Did she make no attempt to see you?”

“Well, mother was going off to France again in a week, and Holly wrote and said that it would be safer and better not to see each other until she had gone. We could write in the meantime, and she used to write every day. I took the letters in in the morning, so there was no need for mother to know.”

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

"Oh, yes, Ms. Holmes. We were engaged after the first walk that we took. Holly -- Ms. Angel -- was a cashier in an office in Leadenhall Street -- and -- "

“What office?”

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

“Where did she live, then?”

“She slept on the premises.”

“And you don’t know her 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. She said that if they were sent to the office she would be chaffed by all the other clerks about having letters from a gentleman, so I offered to typewrite them, like she did hers, but she wouldn’t have that, for she said that when I wrote them they seemed to come from me, but when they were typewritten she always felt that the machine had come between us. That will just show you how fond she was of me, Ms. Holmes, and the little things that she 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 Ms. Holly Angel?”

“She was a very shy woman, Ms. Holmes. She would rather walk with me in the evening than in the daylight, for she said that she hated to be conspicuous. Very retiring and ladylike she was. Even her voice was gentle. She’d had the quinsy and swollen glands when she was young, she told me, and it had left her with a weak throat, and a hesitating, whispering fashion of speech. She was always well dressed, very neat and plain, but her eyes were weak, just as mine are, and she wore tinted glasses against the glare.”

“Well, and what happened when Ms. Windibank, your stepmother, returned to France?”

“Ms. Holly Angel came to the house again and proposed that we should marry before mother came back. She was in dreadful earnest and made me swear, with my hands on the Testament, that whatever happened I would always be true to her. Father said she was quite right to make me swear, and that it was a sign of her passion. Father was all in her favour from the first and was even fonder of her than I was. Then, when they talked of marrying within the week, I began to ask about mother; but they both said never to mind about mother, but just to tell her afterwards, and father said he would make it all right with her. I didn’t quite like that, Ms. Holmes. It seemed funny that I should ask her leave, as she was only a few years older than me; but I didn’t want to do anything on the sly, so I wrote to mother 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 her, then?”

“Yes, madam; for she 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, madam, 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. Holly came for us in a hansom, but as there were two of us she put us both into it and stepped herself 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 her to step out, but she never did, and when the cabwoman got down from the box and looked there was no one there! The cabwoman said that she could not imagine what had become of her, for she had seen her get in with her own eyes. That was last Friday, Ms. Holmes, and I have never seen or heard anything since then to throw any light upon what became of her.”

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

“Oh, no, madam! She was too good and kind to leave me so. Why, all the morning she 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 her, and that she would claim her 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 her?”

“Yes, madam. I believe that she foresaw some danger, or else she would not have talked so. And then I think that what she foresaw happened.”

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

“None.”

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

“He was angry, and said that I was never to speak of the matter again.”

“And your mother? Did you tell her?”

“Yes; and she seemed to think, with me, that something had happened, and that I should hear of Holly again. As she said, what interest could anyone have in bringing me to the doors of the church, and then leaving me? Now, if she had borrowed my money, or if she had married me and got my money settled on her, there might be some reason, but Holly was very independent about money and never would look at a shilling of mine. And yet, what could have happened? And why could she not write? Oh, it drives me half-mad to think of it, and I can’t sleep a wink at night.” He pulled a little handkerchief out of his 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 Ms. Holly Angel vanish from your memory, as she has done from your life.”

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

“I fear not.”

“Then what has happened to her?”

“You will leave that question in my hands. I should like an accurate description of her and any letters of hers which you can spare.”

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

“Thank you. And your address?”

“No. 31 Lyon Place, Camberwell.”

“Ms. Angel’s address you never had, I understand. Where is your mother’s place of business?”

“She 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, Ms. Holmes, but I cannot do that. I shall be true to Holly. She shall find me ready when she 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. He laid his little bundle of papers upon the table and went his way, with a promise to come again whenever he might be summoned.

Sherlock Holmes sat silent for a few minutes with her fingertips still pressed together, her legs stretched out in front of her, and her gaze directed upward to the ceiling. Then she took down from the rack the old and oily clay pipe, which was to her as a counsellor, and, having lit it, she leaned back in her chair, with the thick blue cloud-wreaths spinning up from her, and a look of infinite languor in her face.

“Quite an interesting study, that bachelor,” she observed. “I found him more interesting than his 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 bachelor himself was most instructive.”

“You appeared to read a good deal upon him 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 man’s appearance? Describe it.”

“Well, he had a slate-coloured, broad-brimmed straw hat, with a feather of a brickish red. His jacket was black, with black beads sewn upon it, and a fringe of little black jet ornaments. His pants was brown, rather darker than coffee colour, with a little purple plush at the neck and sleeves. His gloves were greyish and were worn through at the right forefinger. His boots I didn’t observe. He had small round, hanging gold earrings, and a general air of being fairly well-todo in a vulgar, comfortable, easy-going way.”

Sherlock Holmes clapped her 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 girl, but concentrate yourself upon details. My first glance is always at a man’s sleeve. In a woman it is perhaps better first to take the knee of the trouser. As you observe, this man had plush upon his 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 his face, and, observing the dint of a pince-nez at either side of his nose, I ventured a remark upon short sight and typewriting, which seemed to surprise him.”

“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 he 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 gentleman, otherwise neatly dressed, has come away from home with odd boots, half-buttoned, it is no great deduction to say that he 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 he had written a note before leaving home but after being fully dressed. You observed that his right glove was torn at the forefinger, but you did not apparently see that both glove and finger were stained with violet ink. He had written in a hurry and dipped his 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 Ms. Holly Angel?”

I held the little printed slip to the light.

"Missing," it said, "on the morning of the fourteenth, a lady named Holly Angel. About five ft. seven in. in height; strongly built, sallow complexion, black hair; 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,” she continued, glancing over them, “they are very commonplace. Absolutely no clue in them to Ms. Angel, save that she 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 'Holly 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 lady, is it possible you do not see how strongly it bears upon the case?”

“I cannot say that I do unless it were that she wished to be able to deny her 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 gentleman’s stepmother, Ms. Windibank, asking her whether she could meet us here at six o’clock tomorrow evening. It is just as well that we should do business with the female 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 she must have some solid grounds for the assured and easy demeanour with which she treated the singular mystery which she had been called upon to fathom. Once only had I known her to fail, in the case of the Queen of Bohemia and of the Irwin 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 she could not unravel.

I left her then, still puffing at her black clay pipe, with the conviction that when I came again on the next evening I would find that she held in her hands all the clues which would lead up to the identity of the disappearing bride of Mister Mark 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 her long, thin form curled up in the recesses of her armchair. A formidable array of bottles and test-tubes, with the pungent cleanly smell of hydrochloric acid, told me that she had spent her day in the chemical work which was so dear to her.

“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 she, then, and what was her object in deserting Mister Sutherland?”

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

“This is the boy’s stepmother, Ms. Jade Windibank,” said Holmes. “She has written to me to say that she would be here at six. Come in!”

The woman who entered was a sturdy, middle-sized lady, 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. She shot a questioning glance at each of us, placed her shiny top-hat upon the sideboard, and with a slight curtsey sidled down into the nearest chair.

“Good-evening, Ms. Jade 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, madam. I am afraid that I am a little late, but I am not quite my own mistress, you know. I am sorry that Mister 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 he came, but he is a very excitable, impulsive boy, as you may have noticed, and he is not easily controlled when he has made up his 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 Holly Angel?”

“On the contrary,” said Holmes quietly; “I have every reason to believe that I will succeed in discovering Ms. Holly Angel.”

Ms. Windibank gave a violent start and dropped her gloves. “I am delighted to hear it,” she said.

“It is a curious thing,” remarked Holmes, “that a typewriter has really quite as much individuality as a woman’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, Ms. 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 her bright little eyes.

“And now I will show you what is really a very interesting study, Ms. 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 woman. 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.”

Ms. Windibank sprang out of her chair and picked up her hat. “I cannot waste time over this sort of fantastic talk, Ms. Holmes,” she said. “If you can catch the woman, catch her, 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 her!”

“What! where?” shouted Ms. Windibank, turning white to her lips and glancing about her 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, Ms. 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 her brow. "It -- it's not actionable," she 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 woman sat huddled up in her chair, with her head sunk upon her breast, like one who is utterly crushed. Holmes stuck her feet up on the corner of the mantelpiece and, leaning back with her hands in her pockets, began talking, rather to herself, as it seemed, than to us.

“The woman married a man very much older than herself for his money,” said she, “and she enjoyed the use of the money of the son as long as he 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 son was of a good, amiable disposition, but affectionate and warm-hearted in his ways, so that it was evident that with his fair personal advantages, and his little income, he would not be allowed to remain single long. Now his marriage would mean, of course, the loss of a hundred a year, so what does his stepmother do to prevent it? She takes the obvious course of keeping him at home and forbidding him to seek the company of people of his own age. But soon she found that that would not answer forever. He became restive, insisted upon his rights, and finally announced his positive intention of going to a certain ball. What does his clever stepmother do then? She conceives an idea more creditable to her head than to her heart. With the connivance and assistance of her husband she disguised herself, covered those keen eyes with tinted glasses, masked the face, sunk that clear voice into an insinuating whisper, and doubly secure on account of the boy’s short sight, she appears as Ms. Holly Angel, and keeps off other lovers by making love herself.”

“It was only a joke at first,” groaned our visitor. “We never thought that he would have been so carried away.”

“Very likely not. However that may be, the young gentleman was very decidedly carried away, and, having quite made up his mind that his stepmother was in France, the suspicion of treachery never for an instant entered his mind. He was flattered by the lady’s attentions, and the effect was increased by the loudly expressed admiration of his father. Then Ms. 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 boy’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 gentleman’s mind and prevent him 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. Jade Windibank wished Mister Sutherland to be so bound to Holly Angel, and so uncertain as to her fate, that for ten years to come, at any rate, he would not listen to another woman. As far as the church door she brought him, and then, as she could go no farther, she 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, Ms. Windibank!”

Our visitor had recovered something of her assurance while Holmes had been talking, and she rose from her chair now with a cold sneer upon her pale face.

“It may be so, or it may not, Ms. Holmes,” said she, “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 woman who deserved punishment more. If the young gentleman has a sister or a friend, she ought to lay a whip across your shoulders. By Jove!" she continued, flushing up at the sight of the bitter sneer upon the woman'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 -- " She took two swift steps to the whip, but before she 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 Ms. Jade Windibank running at the top of her speed down the road.

“There’s a cold-blooded scoundrel!” said Holmes, laughing, as she threw herself down into her chair once more. “That lady will rise from crime to crime until she 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 Ms. Holly Angel must have some strong object for her curious conduct, and it was equally clear that the only woman who really profited by the incident, as far as we could see, was the stepmother. Then the fact that the two women 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 her peculiar action in typewriting her signature, which, of course, inferred that her handwriting was so familiar to him that he 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 woman, it was easy to get corroboration. I knew the firm for which this woman 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 woman herself at her business address asking her if she would come here. As I expected, her 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, Jade Windibank. Voilà tout!"

“And Mister Sutherland?”

“If I tell him he will not believe me. You may remember the old Persian saying, ‘There is danger for her who taketh the tiger cub, and danger also for whoso snatches a delusion from a man.’ There is as much sense in Hafiz as in Horace, and as much knowledge of the world.”

IV – The Boscombe Valley Mystery

[* *]

We were seated at breakfast one morning, my husband and I, when the manservant 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 husband, 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 Ms. 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, her tall, gaunt figure made even gaunter and taller by her long grey travelling-cloak and close-fitting cloth cap.

“It is really very good of you to come, Watson,” said she. “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 her. Among these she rummaged and read, with intervals of note-taking and of meditation, until we were past Reading. Then she suddenly rolled them all into a gigantic ball and tossed them up onto the rack.

“Have you heard anything of the case?” she 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 daughter of the murdered woman.”

“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 Ms. Janette Turner, who made her money in Australia and returned some years ago to the old country. One of the farms which she held, that of Hatherley, was let to Ms. Charlotte McCarthy, who was also an ex-Australian. The women 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 woman, so McCarthy became her tenant but still remained, it seems, upon terms of perfect equality, as they were frequently together. McCarthy had one daughter, a lass of eighteen, and Turner had an only son of the same age, but neither of them had husbands 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 woman and a boy. 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 her 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. She had been out with her serving-woman in the morning at Ross, and she had told the woman that she must hurry, as she had an appointment of importance to keep at three. From that appointment she never came back alive.

“From Hatherley Farm-house to the Boscombe Pool is a quarter of a mile, and two people saw her as she passed over this ground. One was an old man, whose name is not mentioned, and the other was Willa Crowder, a game-keeper in the employ of Ms. Turner. Both these witnesses depose that Mrs. McCarthy was walking alone. The game-keeper adds that within a few minutes of her seeing Mrs. McCarthy pass she had seen her daughter, Ms. Janice McCarthy, going the same way with a gun under her arm. To the best of her belief, the mother was actually in sight at the time, and the daughter was following her. She thought no more of the matter until she heard in the evening of the tragedy that had occurred.

“The two McCarthys were seen after the time when Willa 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 boy of fourteen, Patrick Moran, who is the son of the lodge-keeper of the Boscombe Valley estate, was in one of the woods picking flowers. He states that while he was there he saw, at the border of the wood and close by the lake, Mrs. McCarthy and her daughter, and that they appeared to be having a violent quarrel. He heard Mrs. McCarthy the elder using very strong language to her daughter, and he saw the latter raise up her hand as if to strike her mother. He was so frightened by their violence that he ran away and told his father when he reached home that he had left the two McCarthys quarrelling near Boscombe Pool, and that he was afraid that they were going to fight. He had hardly said the words when young Mrs. McCarthy came running up to the lodge to say that she had found her mother dead in the wood, and to ask for the help of the lodge-keeper. She was much excited, without either her gun or her hat, and her right hand and sleeve were observed to be stained with fresh blood. On following her 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 her daughter’s gun, which was found lying on the grass within a few paces of the body. Under these circumstances the young woman was instantly arrested, and a verdict of ‘wilful murder’ having been returned at the inquest on Tuesday, she 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 woman, and it is very possible that she is indeed the culprit. There are several people in the neighbourhood, however, and among them Mister Turner, the son of the neighbouring landowner, who believe in her innocence, and who have retained Lestrade, whom you may recollect in connection with the Study in Scarlet, to work out the case in her interest. Lestrade, being rather puzzled, has referred the case to me, and hence it is that two middle-aged ladies 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,” she answered, laughing. “Besides, we may chance to hit upon some other obvious facts which may have been by no means obvious to Ms. Lestrade. You know me too well to think that I am boasting when I say that I shall either confirm or destroy her theory by means which she 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 Ms. Lestrade would have noted even so self-evident a thing as that.”

"How on earth -- "

“My dear lady, I know you well. I know the military neatness which characterises you. You brush your hair every morning, and this season, you brush by sunlight; but since your brushing is less and less complete as we get further back on the left side, until it becomes positively slovenly as we get round behind the ear, it is surely very clear that side is less illuminated than the other. I could not imagine a woman of your habits looking at herself 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 her arrest did not take place at once, but after the return to Hatherley Farm. On the inspector of constabulary informing her that she was a prisoner, she remarked that she was not surprised to hear it, and that it was no more than her deserts. This observation of her 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 she might be, she could not be such an absolute imbecile as not to see that the circumstances were very black against her. Had she appeared surprised at her 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 woman. Her frank acceptance of the situation marks her as either an innocent woman, or else as a woman of considerable self-restraint and firmness. As to her remark about her deserts, it was also not unnatural if you consider that she stood beside the dead body of her mother, and that there is no doubt that she had that very day so far forgotten her filial duty as to bandy words with her, and even, according to the little boy whose evidence is so important, to raise her hand as if to strike her. The self-reproach and contrition which are displayed in her remark appear to me to be the signs of a healthy mind rather than of a guilty one.”

I shook my head. “Many women have been hanged on far slighter evidence,” I remarked.

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

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

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

She picked out from her bundle a copy of the local Herefordshire paper, and having turned down the sheet she pointed out the paragraph in which the unfortunate young woman had given her 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:

“Ms. Janice McCarthy, the only daughter 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 mother was absent from home at the time of my arrival, and I was informed by the manservant that she had driven over to Ross with Jorja Cobb, the bride. Shortly after my return I heard the wheels of her trap in the yard, and, looking out of my window, I saw her get out and walk rapidly out of the yard, though I was not aware in which direction she 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 Willa Crowder, the game-keeper, as she had stated in her evidence; but she is mistaken in thinking that I was following my mother. I had no idea that she 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 mother and myself. I then hurried forward, and found her standing by the pool. She 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 mother was a woman of a very violent temper. Seeing that her passion was becoming ungovernable, I left her 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 mother expiring upon the ground, with her head terribly injured. I dropped my gun and held her in my arms, but she almost instantly expired. I knelt beside her for some minutes, and then made my way to Ms. Turner’s lodge-keeper, her house being the nearest, to ask for assistance. I saw no one near my mother when I returned, and I have no idea how she came by her injuries. She was not a popular woman, being somewhat cold and forbidding in her manners, but she had, as far as I know, no active enemies. I know nothing further of the matter.’

“The Coroner: Did your mother make any statement to you before she died?

“Witness: She 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 she was delirious.

“The Coroner: What was the point upon which you and your mother 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 mother?

“Witness: It was.

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

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

“A Jurywoman: Did you see nothing which aroused your suspicions when you returned on hearing the cry and found your mother 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 mother. 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 mother 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 her concluding remarks was rather severe upon young McCarthy. She calls attention, and with reason, to the discrepancy about her mother having signalled to her before seeing her, also to her refusal to give details of her conversation with her mother, and her singular account of her mother’s dying words. They are all, as she remarks, very much against the daughter.”

Holmes laughed softly to herself and stretched herself out upon the cushioned seat. “Both you and the coroner have been at some pains,” said she, “to single out the very strongest points in the young woman’s favour. Don’t you see that you alternately give her credit for having too much imagination and too little? Too little, if she could not invent a cause of quarrel which would give her the sympathy of the jury; too much, if she evolved from her own inner consciousness anything so outré as a dying reference to a rat, and the incident of the vanishing cloth. No, madam, I shall approach this case from the point of view that what this young woman 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 woman, furtive and sly-looking, was waiting for us upon the platform. In spite of the light brown dustcoat and leather-leggings which she wore in deference to her rustic surroundings, I had no difficulty in recognising Lestrade, of Scotland Yard. With her 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,” she 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 tonight.”

Lestrade laughed indulgently. “You have, no doubt, already formed your conclusions from the newspapers,” she 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 gentleman, and such a very positive one, too. He has heard of you, and would have your opinion, though I repeatedly told him that there was nothing which you could do which I had not already done. Why, bless my soul! here is his carriage at the door.”

She had hardly spoken before there rushed into the room one of the most lovely young men that I have ever seen in my life. His violet eyes shining, his lips parted, a pink flush upon his cheeks, all thought of his natural reserve lost in his overpowering excitement and concern.

“Oh, Ms. Sherlock Holmes!” he cried, glancing from one to the other of us, and finally, with a man’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 Janice 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 her faults as no one else does; but she is too tender-hearted to hurt a fly. Such a charge is absurd to anyone who really knows her.”

“I hope we may clear her, Mister 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 she is innocent?”

“I think that it is very probable.”

“There, now!” he cried, throwing back his head and looking defiantly at Lestrade. “You hear! She gives me hopes.”

Lestrade shrugged her shoulders. “I am afraid that my colleague has been a little quick in forming her conclusions,” she said.

“But she is right. Oh! I know that she is right. Janice never did it. And about her quarrel with her mother, I am sure that the reason why she 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. Janice and her mother had many disagreements about me. Mrs. McCarthy was very anxious that there should be a marriage between us. Janice and I have always loved each other as sister and brother; but of course she is young and has seen very little of life yet, and -- and -- well, she 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 mother?” asked Holmes. “Was she in favour of such a union?”

“No, she was averse to it also. No one but Mrs. McCarthy was in favour of it.” A quick blush passed over his fresh young face as Holmes shot one of her keen, questioning glances at him.

“Thank you for this information,” said she. “May I see your mother if I call tomorrow?”

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

“The doctor?”

“Yes, have you not heard? Poor mother has never been strong for years back, but this has broken her down completely. She has taken to her bed, and Dr. Willows says that she is a wreck and that her nervous system is shattered. Mrs. McCarthy was the only woman alive who had known mum 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, Ms. Turner made her money.”

“Yes, certainly.”

“Thank you, Mister Turner. You have been of material assistance to me.”

“You will tell me if you have any news tomorrow. No doubt you will go to the prison to see Janice. Oh, if you do, Ms. Holmes, do tell her that I know her to be innocent.”

“I will, Mister Turner.”

“I must go home now, for mum is very ill, and she misses me so if I leave her. Good-bye, and God help you in your undertaking.” He hurried from the room as impulsively as he had entered, and we heard the wheels of his 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 Janice McCarthy,” said Holmes. “Have you an order to see her 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 her tonight?”

“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 woman’s story were absolutely true, then what hellish thing, what absolutely unforeseen and extraordinary calamity could have occurred between the time when she parted from her mother, and the moment when, drawn back by her screams, she 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 she was face to face with her mother. Still, it did not go for very much, for the older woman might have turned her 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 woman dying from a sudden blow does not commonly become delirious. No, it was more likely to be an attempt to explain how she met her 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 murderess must have dropped some part of her dress, presumably her overcoat, in her flight, and must have had the hardihood to return and to carry it away at the instant when the daughter was kneeling with her 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 her conviction of young McCarthy’s innocence.

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

“The glass still keeps very high,” she remarked as she 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 woman should be at her 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 her?”

“Nothing.”

“Could she throw no light?”

“None at all. I was inclined to think at one time that she knew who had done it and was screening her or him, but I am convinced now that she is as puzzled as everyone else. She is not a very quick-witted youth, though comely to look at and, I should think, sound at heart.”

“I cannot admire her taste,” I remarked, “if it is indeed a fact that she was averse to a marriage with so charming a young gentleman as this Mister Turner.”

“Ah, thereby hangs a rather painful tale. This lady is madly, insanely, in love with him, but some two years ago, when she was only a lass, and before she really knew him, for he had been away five years at a boarding-school, what does the idiot do but get into the clutches of a barman in Bristol and marry him at a registry office? No one knows a word of the matter, but you can imagine how maddening it must be to her to be upbraided for not doing what she would give her very eyes to do, but what she knows to be absolutely impossible. It was sheer frenzy of this sort which made her throw her hands up into the air when her mother, at their last interview, was goading her on to propose to Mister Turner. On the other hand, she had no means of supporting herself, and her mother, who was by all accounts a very hard woman, would have thrown her over utterly had she known the truth. It was with her barmaid husband that she had spent the last three days in Bristol, and her mother did not know where she was. Mark that point. It is of importance. Good has come out of evil, however, for the barmaid, finding from the papers that she is in serious trouble and likely to be hanged, has thrown her over utterly and has written to her to say that he has a wife 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 she has suffered.”

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

“Ah! who? I would call your attention very particularly to two points. One is that the murdered woman had an appointment with someone at the pool, and that the someone could not have been her daughter, for her daughter was away, and she did not know when she would return. The second is that the murdered woman was heard to cry ‘Cooee!’ before she knew that her daughter had returned. Those are the crucial points upon which the case depends. And now let us talk about Georgina Meredith, if you please, and we shall leave all minor matters until tomorrow.”

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 Ms. Turner, of the Hall, is so ill that her life is despaired of.”

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

“About sixty; but her constitution has been shattered by her life abroad, and she has been in failing health for some time. This business has had a very bad effect upon her. She was an old friend of McCarthy’s, and, I may add, a great benefactress to her, for I have learned that she gave her Hatherley Farm rent free.”

“Indeed! That is interesting,” said Holmes.

“Oh, yes! In a hundred other ways she has helped her. Everybody about here speaks of her kindness to her.”

“Really! Does it not strike you as a little singular that this McCarthy, who appears to have had little of her own, and to have been under such obligations to Turner, should still talk of marrying her daughter to Turner’s son, who is, presumably, heir 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 herself was averse to the idea. The son 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 her 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 manservant, at Holmes’ request, showed us the boots which his mistress wore at the time of her death, and also a pair of the daughter’s, though not the pair which she 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 she was hot upon such a scent as this. Women who had only known the quiet thinker and logician of Baker Street would have failed to recognise her. Her face flushed and darkened. Her brows were drawn into two hard black lines, while her eyes shone out from beneath them with a steely glitter. Her face was bent downward, her shoulders bowed, her lips compressed, and the veins stood out like whipcord in her long, sinewy neck. Her nostrils seemed to dilate with a purely animal lust for the chase, and her mind was so absolutely concentrated upon the matter before her that a question or remark fell unheeded upon her ears, or, at the most, only provoked a quick, impatient snarl in reply. Swiftly and silently she made her 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 she made quite a little detour into the meadow. Lestrade and I walked behind her, the detective indifferent and contemptuous, while I watched my friend with the interest which sprang from the conviction that every one of her 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 Ms. 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 woman. To Holmes, as I could see by her eager face and peering eyes, very many other things were to be read upon the trampled grass. She 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?” she 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." She drew out a lens and lay down upon her waterproof to have a better view, talking all the time rather to herself than to us. "These are young McCarthy's feet. Twice she was walking, and once she ran swiftly, so that the soles are deeply marked and the heels hardly visible. That bears out her story. She ran when she saw her mother on the ground. Then here are the mother's feet as she paced up and down. What is this, then? It is the butt-end of the gun as the daughter 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?" She 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 her way to the farther side of this and lay down once more upon her face with a little cry of satisfaction. For a long time she remained there, turning over the leaves and dried sticks, gathering up what seemed to me to be dust into an envelope and examining with her lens not only the ground but even the bark of the tree as far as she could reach. A jagged stone was lying among the moss, and this also she carefully examined and retained. Then she followed a pathway through the wood until she came to the highroad, where all traces were lost.

“It has been a case of considerable interest,” she remarked, returning to her 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 her the stone which she had picked up in the wood.

“This may interest you, Lestrade,” she 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 murderess?”

“Is a tall woman, 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 her 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,” she 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 lady I describe.”

“But who is she?”

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

Lestrade shrugged her shoulders. “I am a practical woman,” she said, “and I really cannot undertake to go about the country looking for a left-handed lady 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 her 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 her face, as one who finds herself in a perplexing position.

“Look here, Watson,” she 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 her favour and you against her. One was the fact that her mother should, according to her account, cry ‘Cooee!’ before seeing her. The other was her singular dying reference to a rat. She mumbled several words, you understand, but that was all that caught the daughter’s ear. Now from this double point our research must commence, and we will begin it by presuming that what the lass says is absolutely true.”

“What of this ‘Cooee!’ then?”

“Well, obviously it could not have been meant for the daughter. The daughter, as far as she knew, was in Bristol. It was mere chance that she was within earshot. The ‘Cooee!’ was meant to attract the attention of whoever it was that she 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 her at Boscombe Pool was someone who had been in Australia.”

“What of the rat, then?”

Sherlock Holmes took a folded paper from her pocket and flattened it out on the table. “This is a map of the Colony of Victoria,” she said. “I wired to Bristol for it last night.” She put her hand over part of the map. “What do you read?”

ARAT,” I read.

“And now?” She raised her hand.

BALLARAT.”

“Quite so. That was the word the woman uttered, and of which her daughter only caught the last two syllables. She was trying to utter the name of her murderess. 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 daughter’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 today. 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.”

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

“Yes, they were peculiar boots.”

“But her lameness?”

"The impression of her right foot was always less distinct than her left. She put less weight upon it. Why? Because she limped -- she was lame."

“But her 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 woman? She had stood behind that tree during the interview between the mother and daughter. She 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 she 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 her mouth. Therefore, she 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 woman from which she cannot escape, and you have saved an innocent human life as truly as if you had cut the cord which was hanging her. I see the direction in which all this points. The culprit is -- "

“Ms. Janette Turner,” cried the hotel waitress, opening the door of our sitting-room, and ushering in a visitor.

The woman who entered was a strange and impressive figure. Her slow, limping step and bowed shoulders gave the appearance of decrepitude, and yet her hard, deep-lined, craggy features, and her enormous limbs showed that she was possessed of unusual strength of body and of character. Her grizzled hair, and outstanding, drooping eyebrows combined to give an air of dignity and power to her appearance, but her face was of an ashen white, while her lips and the corners of her nostrils were tinged with a shade of blue. It was clear to me at a glance that she 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?” She looked across at my companion with despair in her weary eyes, as though her question was already answered.

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

The old woman sank her face in her hands. “God help me!” she cried. “But I would not have let the young woman come to harm. I give you my word that I would have spoken out if it went against her 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 boy. It would break his heart -- it will break his heart when he 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 son who required my presence here, and I am acting in his interests. Young McCarthy must be got off, however.”

“I am a dying woman,” 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 her pen in her hand and a bundle of paper before her. “Just tell us the truth,” she 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 woman; “it’s a question whether I shall live to the Assizes, so it matters little to me, but I should wish to spare Alvin 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 woman, McCarthy. She was a devil incarnate. I tell you that. God keep you out of the clutches of such a woman as she. Her grip has been upon me these twenty years, and she has blasted my life. I’ll tell you first how I came to be in her power.

“It was in the early ’60’s at the diggings. I was a young lass 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 girls were killed, however, before we got the swag. I put my pistol to the head of the wagon-driver, who was this very woman McCarthy. I wish to the Lord that I had shot her then, but I spared her, though I saw her wicked little eyes fixed on my face, as though to remember every feature. We got away with the gold, became wealthy women, 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 husband died young he left me my dear little Alvin. Even when he was just a baby his 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 her grip upon me.

“I had gone up to town about an investment, and I met her in Regent Street with hardly a coat to her back or a boot to her foot.

"'Here we are, Jack,' says she, touching me on the arm; 'we'll be as good as a family to you. There's two of us, me and my daughter, 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 policewoman 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 her cunning, grinning face at my elbow. It grew worse as Alvin grew up, for she soon saw I was more afraid of him knowing my past than of the police. Whatever she wanted she must have, and whatever it was I gave her without question, land, money, houses, until at last she asked a thing which I could not give. She asked for Alvin.

“Her daughter, you see, had grown up, and so had my boy, and as I was known to be in weak health, it seemed a fine stroke to her that her lass should step into the whole property. But there I was firm. I would not have her cursed stock mixed with mine; not that I had any dislike to the lass, but her blood was in her, and that was enough. I stood firm. McCarthy threatened. I braved her to do her worst. We were to meet at the pool midway between our houses to talk it over.

“When I went down there I found her talking with her daughter, so I smoked a cigar and waited behind a tree until she should be alone. But as I listened to her talk all that was black and bitter in me seemed to come uppermost. She was urging her daughter to marry my son with as little regard for what he might think as if he 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 woman as this. Could I not snap the bond? I was already a dying and a desperate woman. Though clear of mind and fairly strong of limb, I knew that my own fate was sealed. But my memory and my boy! Both could be saved if I could but silence that foul tongue. I did it, Ms. 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 boy should be entangled in the same meshes which held me was more than I could suffer. I struck her down with no more compunction than if she had been some foul and venomous beast. Her cry brought back her daughter; 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, ladies, of all that occurred.”

“Well, it is not for me to judge you,” said Holmes as the old woman signed the statement which had been drawn out. “I pray that we may never be exposed to such a temptation.”

“I pray not, madam. 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 woman 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 her giantess frame, she 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.’”

Janice 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 she is now dead; and there is every prospect that the daughter and son may come to live happily together in ignorance of the black cloud which rests upon their past.

V – The Five Orange Pips

[* *]

When I glance over my notes and records of the Sherlock Holmes cases between the years ’82 and ’90, I am faced by so many which present strange and interesting features that it is no easy matter to know which to choose and which to leave. Some, however, have already gained publicity through the papers, and others have not offered a field for those peculiar qualities which my friend possessed in so high a degree, and which it is the object of these papers to illustrate. Some, too, have baffled her analytical skill, and would be, as narratives, beginnings without an ending, while others have been but partially cleared up, and have their explanations founded rather upon conjecture and surmise than on that absolute logical proof which was so dear to her. There is, however, one of these last which was so remarkable in its details and so startling in its results that I am tempted to give some account of it in spite of the fact that there are points in connection with it which never have been, and probably never will be, entirely cleared up.

The year '87 furnished us with a long series of cases of greater or less interest, of which I retain the records. Among my headings under this one twelve months I find an account of the adventure of the Paradol Chamber, of the Amateur Mendicant Society, who held a luxurious club in the lower vault of a furniture warehouse, of the facts connected with the loss of the British barque "Sophy Anderson", of the singular adventures of the Grice Patersons in the island of Uffa, and finally of the Camberwell poisoning case. In the latter, as may be remembered, Sherlock Holmes was able, by winding up the dead woman's watch, to prove that it had been wound up two hours before, and that therefore the deceased had gone to bed within that time -- a deduction which was of the greatest importance in clearing up the case. All these I may sketch out at some future date, but none of them present such singular features as the strange train of circumstances which I have now taken up my pen to describe.

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

“Why,” said I, glancing up at my companion, “that was surely the bell. Who could come tonight? Some friend of yours, perhaps?”

“Except yourself I have none,” she answered. “I do not encourage visitors.”

“A client, then?”

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

Sherlock Holmes was wrong in her conjecture, however, for there came a step in the passage and a tapping at the door. She stretched out her long arm to turn the lamp away from herself and towards the vacant chair upon which a newcomer must sit.

“Come in!” said she.

The woman who entered was young, some two-and-twenty at the outside, well-groomed and trimly clad, with something of refinement and delicacy in her bearing. The streaming umbrella which she held in her hand, and her long shining waterproof told of the fierce weather through which she had come. She looked about her anxiously in the glare of the lamp, and I could see that her face was pale and her eyes heavy, like those of a woman who is weighed down with some great anxiety.

“I owe you an apology,” she said, raising her golden pince-nez to her eyes. “I trust that I am not intruding. I fear that I have brought some traces of the storm and rain into your snug chamber.”

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

“Yes, from Horsham.”

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

“I have come for advice.”

“That is easily got.”

“And help.”

“That is not always so easy.”

“I have heard of you, Ms. Holmes. I heard from Major Prendergast how you saved her in the Tankerville Club scandal.”

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

“She said that you could solve anything.”

“She said too much.”

“That you are never beaten.”

"I have been beaten four times -- three times by women, and once by a man."

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

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

“Then you may be so with me.”

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

“It is no ordinary one.”

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

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

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

The young woman pulled her chair up and pushed her wet feet out towards the blaze.

“My name,” said she, “is Josie Openshaw, but my own affairs have, as far as I can understand, little to do with this awful business. It is a hereditary matter; so in order to give you an idea of the facts, I must go back to the commencement of the affair.

"You must know that my grandmother had two daughters -- my aunt Ellen and my mother Joseph. My mother had a small factory at Coventry, which she enlarged at the time of the invention of bicycling. She was a patentee of the Openshaw unbreakable tire, and her business met with such success that she was able to sell it and to retire upon a handsome competence.

“My aunt Ellen emigrated to America when she was a young woman and became a planter in Florida, where she was reported to have done very well. At the time of the war she fought in Jackson’s army, and afterwards under Hood, where she rose to be a colonel. When Lee laid down her arms my aunt returned to her plantation, where she remained for three or four years. About 1869 or 1870 she came back to Europe and took a small estate in Sussex, near Horsham. She had made a very considerable fortune in the States, and her reason for leaving them was her aversion to the negroes, and her dislike of the Republican policy in extending the franchise to them. She was a singular woman, fierce and quick-tempered, very foul-mouthed when she was angry, and of a most retiring disposition. During all the years that she lived at Horsham, I doubt if ever she set foot in the town. She had a garden and two or three fields round her house, and there she would take her exercise, though very often for weeks on end she would never leave her room. She drank a great deal of brandy and smoked very heavily, but she would see no society and did not want any friends, not even her own sister.

“She didn’t mind me; in fact, she took a fancy to me, for at the time when she saw me first I was a youngster of twelve or so. This would be in the year 1878, after she had been eight or nine years in England. She begged my mother to let me live with her and she was very kind to me in her way. When she was sober she used to be fond of playing backgammon and draughts with me, and she would make me her representative both with the servants and with the tradespeople, so that by the time that I was sixteen I was quite mistress of the house. I kept all the keys and could go where I liked and do what I liked, so long as I did not disturb her in her privacy. There was one singular exception, however, for she had a single room, a lumber-room up among the attics, which was invariably locked, and which she would never permit either me or anyone else to enter. With a girl’s curiosity I have peeped through the keyhole, but I was never able to see more than such a collection of old trunks and bundles as would be expected in such a room.

"One day -- it was in March, 1883 -- a letter with a foreign stamp lay upon the table in front of the colonel's plate. It was not a common thing for her to receive letters, for her bills were all paid in ready money, and she had no friends of any sort. 'From India!' said she as she took it up, 'Pondicherry postmark! What can this be?' Opening it hurriedly, out there jumped five little dried orange pips, which pattered down upon her plate. I began to laugh at this, but the laugh was struck from my lips at the sight of her face. Her lip had fallen, her eyes were protruding, her skin the colour of putty, and she glared at the envelope which she still held in her trembling hand, 'K. K. K.!' she shrieked, and then, 'My God, my God, my sins have overtaken me!'

“‘What is it, aunt?’ I cried.

“‘Death,’ said she, and rising from the table she retired to her room, leaving me palpitating with horror. I took up the envelope and saw scrawled in red ink upon the inner flap, just above the gum, the letter K three times repeated. There was nothing else save the five dried pips. What could be the reason of her overpowering terror? I left the breakfast-table, and as I ascended the stair I met her coming down with an old rusty key, which must have belonged to the attic, in one hand, and a small brass box, like a cashbox, in the other.

“‘They may do what they like, but I’ll checkmate them still,’ said she with an oath. ‘Tell Mark that I shall want a fire in my room today, and send down to Fordham, the Horsham lawyer.’

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

“‘I wish you, Joan,’ said my aunt, ‘to witness my will. I leave my estate, with all its advantages and all its disadvantages, to my sister, your mother, whence it will, no doubt, descend to you. If you can enjoy it in peace, well and good! If you find you cannot, take my advice, my girl, and leave it to your deadliest enemy. I am sorry to give you such a two-edged thing, but I can’t say what turn things are going to take. Kindly sign the paper where Ms. Fordham shows you.’

“I signed the paper as directed, and the lawyer took it away with her. The singular incident made, as you may think, the deepest impression upon me, and I pondered over it and turned it every way in my mind without being able to make anything of it. Yet I could not shake off the vague feeling of dread which it left behind, though the sensation grew less keen as the weeks passed and nothing happened to disturb the usual routine of our lives. I could see a change in my aunt, however. She drank more than ever, and she was less inclined for any sort of society. Most of her time she would spend in her room, with the door locked upon the inside, but sometimes she would emerge in a sort of drunken frenzy and would burst out of the house and tear about the garden with a revolver in her hand, screaming out that she was afraid of no woman, and that she was not to be cooped up, like a sheep in a pen, by woman or devil. When these hot fits were over, however, she would rush tumultuously in at the door and lock and bar it behind her, like a woman who can brazen it out no longer against the terror which lies at the roots of her soul. At such times I have seen her face, even on a cold day, glisten with moisture, as though it were new raised from a basin.

“Well, to come to an end of the matter, Ms. Holmes, and not to abuse your patience, there came a night when she made one of those drunken sallies from which she never came back. We found her, when we went to search for her, face downward in a little green-scummed pool, which lay at the foot of the garden. There was no sign of any violence, and the water was but two feet deep, so that the jury, having regard to her known eccentricity, brought in a verdict of ‘suicide.’ But I, who knew how she winced from the very thought of death, had much ado to persuade myself that she had gone out of her way to meet it. The matter passed, however, and my mother entered into possession of the estate, and of some 14,000 pounds, which lay to her credit at the bank.”

“One moment,” Holmes interposed, “your statement is, I foresee, one of the most remarkable to which I have ever listened. Let me have the date of the reception by your aunt of the letter, and the date of her supposed suicide.”

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

“Thank you. Pray proceed.”

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

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

“‘Why, what on earth does this mean, Joan?’ she stammered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“‘Then let me do so?’

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

“It was in vain to argue with her, for she was a very obstinate woman. I went about, however, with a heart which was full of forebodings.

“On the third day after the coming of the letter my mother went from home to visit an old friend of her, Major Freebody, who is in command of one of the forts upon Portsdown Hill. I was glad that she should go, for it seemed to me that she was farther from danger when she was away from home. In that, however, I was in error. Upon the second day of her absence I received a telegram from the major, imploring me to come at once. My mother had fallen over one of the deep chalk-pits which abound in the neighbourhood, and was lying senseless, with a shattered skull. I hurried to her, but she passed away without having ever recovered her consciousness. She had, as it appears, been returning from Fareham in the twilight, and as the country was unknown to her, and the chalk-pit unfenced, the jury had no hesitation in bringing in a verdict of ‘death from accidental causes.’ Carefully as I examined every fact connected with her death, I was unable to find anything which could suggest the idea of murder. There were no signs of violence, no footmarks, no robbery, no record of strangers having been seen upon the roads. And yet I need not tell you that my mind was far from at ease, and that I was well-nigh certain that some foul plot had been woven round her.

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

“It was in January, ’85, that my poor mother met her end, and two years and eight months have elapsed since then. During that time I have lived happily at Horsham, and I had begun to hope that this curse had passed away from the family, and that it had ended with the last generation. I had begun to take comfort too soon, however; yesterday morning the blow fell in the very shape in which it had come upon my mother.”

The young woman took from her waistcoat a crumpled envelope, and turning to the table she shook out upon it five little dried orange pips.

"This is the envelope," she continued. "The postmark is London -- eastern division. Within are the very words which were upon my mother's last message: 'K. K. K.'; and then 'Put the papers on the sundial.'"

“What have you done?” asked Holmes.

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

"To tell the truth" -- she sank her face into her thin, white hands -- "I have felt helpless. I have felt like one of those poor rabbits when the snake is writhing towards it. I seem to be in the grasp of some resistless, inexorable evil, which no foresight and no precautions can guard against."

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

“I have seen the police.”

“Ah!”

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

Holmes shook her clenched hands in the air. “Incredible imbecility!” she cried.

“They have, however, allowed me a policewoman, who may remain in the house with me.”

“Has she come with you tonight?”

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

Again Holmes raved in the air.

“Why did you come to me,” she cried, “and, above all, why did you not come at once?”

“I did not know. It was only today that I spoke to Major Prendergast about my troubles and was advised by her to come to you.”

"It is really two days since you had the letter. We should have acted before this. You have no further evidence, I suppose, than that which you have placed before us -- no suggestive detail which might help us?"

“There is one thing,” said Josie Openshaw. She rummaged in her coat pocket, and, drawing out a piece of discoloured, blue-tinted paper, she laid it out upon the table. “I have some remembrance,” said she, “that on the day when my aunt burned the papers I observed that the small, unburned margins which lay amid the ashes were of this particular colour. I found this single sheet upon the floor of her room, and I am inclined to think that it may be one of the papers which has, perhaps, fluttered out from among the others, and in that way has escaped destruction. Beyond the mention of pips, I do not see that it helps us much. I think myself that it is a page from some private diary. The writing is undoubtedly my aunt’s.”

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

“4th. Hudson came. Same old platform.

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

“9th. McCauley cleared.

“10th. Jocelyn Swain cleared.

“12th. Visited Paramore. All well.”

“Thank you!” said Holmes, folding up the paper and returning it to our visitor. “And now you must on no account lose another instant. We cannot spare time even to discuss what you have told me. You must get home instantly and act.”

“What shall I do?”

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

“Entirely.”

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

“I thank you,” said the young woman, rising and pulling on her overcoat. “You have given me fresh life and hope. I shall certainly do as you advise.”

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

“By train from Waterloo.”

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

“I am armed.”

“That is well. Tomorrow I shall set to work upon your case.”

“I shall see you at Horsham, then?”

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

"Then I shall call upon you in a day, or in two days, with news as to the box and the papers. I shall take your advice in every particular." She shook hands with us and took her leave. Outside the wind still screamed and the rain splashed and pattered against the windows. This strange, wild story seemed to have come to us from amid the mad elements -- blown in upon us like a sheet of sea-weed in a gale -- and now to have been reabsorbed by them once more.

Sherlock Holmes sat for some time in silence, with her head sunk forward and her eyes bent upon the red glow of the fire. Then she lit her pipe, and leaning back in her chair she watched the blue smoke-rings as they chased each other up to the ceiling.

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

“Save, perhaps, the Sign of Four.”

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

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

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

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

Sherlock Holmes closed her eyes and placed her elbows upon the arms of her chair, with her finger-tips together. “The ideal reasoner,” she remarked, “would, when she had once been shown a single fact in all its bearings, deduce from it not only all the chain of events which led up to it but also all the results which would follow from it. As Cuvier could correctly describe a whole animal by the contemplation of a single bone, so the observer who has thoroughly understood one link in a series of incidents should be able to accurately state all the other ones, both before and after. We have not yet grasped the results which the reason alone can attain to. Problems may be solved in the study which have baffled all those who have sought a solution by the aid of their senses. To carry the art, however, to its highest pitch, it is necessary that the reasoner should be able to utilise all the facts which have come to her knowledge; and this in itself implies, as you will readily see, a possession of all knowledge, which, even in these days of free education and encyclopaedias, is a somewhat rare accomplishment. It is not so impossible, however, that a woman should possess all knowledge which is likely to be useful to her in her work, and this I have endeavoured in my case to do. If I remember rightly, you on one occasion, in the early days of our friendship, defined my limits in a very precise fashion.”

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

Holmes grinned at the last item. “Well,” she said, “I say now, as I said then, that a woman should keep her little brain-attic stocked with all the furniture that she is likely to use, and the rest she can put away in the lumber-room of her library, where she can get it if she wants it. Now, for such a case as the one which has been submitted to us tonight, we need certainly to muster all our resources. Kindly hand me down the letter K of the ‘American Encyclopaedia’ which stands upon the shelf beside you. Thank you. Now let us consider the situation and see what may be deduced from it. In the first place, we may start with a strong presumption that Colonel Openshaw had some very strong reason for leaving America. Women at her time of life do not change all their habits and exchange willingly the charming climate of Florida for the lonely life of an English provincial town. Her extreme love of solitude in England suggests the idea that she was in fear of someone or something, so we may assume as a working hypothesis that it was fear of someone or something which drove her from America. As to what it was she feared, we can only deduce that by considering the formidable letters which were received by herself and her successors. Did you remark the postmarks of those letters?”

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

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

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

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

“A greater distance to travel.”

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

“Then I do not see the point.”

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

“It is possible.”

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

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

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

“But of what society?”

"Have you never -- " said Sherlock Holmes, bending forward and sinking her voice -- "have you never heard of the Ku Klux Klan?"

“I never have.”

Holmes turned over the leaves of the book upon her knee. “Here it is,” said she presently:

"'Ku Klux Klan. A name derived from the fanciful resemblance to the sound produced by cocking a rifle. This terrible secret society was formed by some ex-Confederate soldiers in the Southern states after the Civil War, and it rapidly formed local branches in different parts of the country, notably in Tennessee, Louisiana, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. Its power was used for political purposes, principally for the terrorising of the negro voters and the murdering and driving from the country of those who were opposed to its views. Its outrages were usually preceded by a warning sent to the marked woman in some fantastic but generally recognised shape -- a sprig of oak-leaves in some parts, melon seeds or orange pips in others. On receiving this the victim might either openly abjure her former ways, or might fly from the country. If she braved the matter out, death would unfailingly come upon her, and usually in some strange and unforeseen manner. So perfect was the organisation of the society, and so systematic its methods, that there is hardly a case upon record where any woman succeeded in braving it with impunity, or in which any of its outrages were traced home to the perpetrators. For some years the organisation flourished in spite of the efforts of the United States government and of the better classes of the community in the South. Eventually, in the year 1869, the movement rather suddenly collapsed, although there have been sporadic outbreaks of the same sort since that date.'

“You will observe,” said Holmes, laying down the volume, “that the sudden breaking up of the society was coincident with the disappearance of Openshaw from America with their papers. It may well have been cause and effect. It is no wonder that she and her family have some of the more implacable spirits upon their track. You can understand that this register and diary may implicate some of the first women in the South, and that there may be many who will not sleep easy at night until it is recovered.”

"Then the page we have seen -- "

"Is such as we might expect. It ran, if I remember right, 'sent the pips to A, B, and C' -- that is, sent the society's warning to them. Then there are successive entries that A and B cleared, or left the country, and finally that C was visited, with, I fear, a sinister result for C. Well, I think, Doctor, that we may let some light into this dark place, and I believe that the only chance young Openshaw has in the meantime is to do what I have told her. There is nothing more to be said or to be done tonight, so hand me over my violin and let us try to forget for half an hour the miserable weather and the still more miserable ways of our fellow-women."

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

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

“What steps will you take?” I asked.

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

“You will not go there first?”

“No, I shall commence with the City. Just ring the bell and the manservant will bring up your coffee.”

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

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

“Ah!” said she, laying down her cup, “I feared as much. How was it done?” She spoke calmly, but I could see that she was deeply moved.

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

“Between nine and ten last night Police-Constable Cook, of the H Division, on duty near Waterloo Bridge, heard a cry for help and a splash in the water. The night, however, was extremely dark and stormy, so that, in spite of the help of several passers-by, it was quite impossible to effect a rescue. The alarm, however, was given, and, by the aid of the water-police, the body was eventually recovered. It proved to be that of a young lady whose name, as it appears from an envelope which was found in her pocket, was Josie Openshaw, and whose residence is near Horsham. It is conjectured that she may have been hurrying down to catch the last train from Waterloo Station, and that in her haste and the extreme darkness she missed her path and walked over the edge of one of the small landing-places for river steamboats. The body exhibited no traces of violence, and there can be no doubt that the deceased had been the victim of an unfortunate accident, which should have the effect of calling the attention of the authorities to the condition of the riverside landing-stages.”

We sat in silence for some minutes, Holmes more depressed and shaken than I had ever seen her.

"That hurts my pride, Watson," she said at last. "It is a petty feeling, no doubt, but it hurts my pride. It becomes a personal matter with me now, and, if God sends me health, I shall set my hand upon this gang. That she should come to me for help, and that I should send her away to her death --!" She sprang from her chair and paced about the room in uncontrollable agitation, with a flush upon her sallow cheeks and a nervous clasping and unclasping of her long thin hands.

“They must be cunning devils,” she exclaimed at last. “How could they have decoyed her down there? The Embankment is not on the direct line to the station. The bridge, no doubt, was too crowded, even on such a night, for their purpose. Well, Watson, we shall see who will win in the long run. I am going out now!”

“To the police?”

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

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

“You are hungry,” I remarked.

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

“Nothing?”

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

“And how have you succeeded?”

“Well.”

“You have a clue?”

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

“What do you mean?”

She took an orange from the cupboard, and tearing it to pieces she squeezed out the pips upon the table. Of these she took five and thrust them into an envelope. On the inside of the flap she wrote “S. H. for J. O.” Then she sealed it and addressed it to “Captain Jamie Calhoun, Barque ‘Lone Star,’ Savannah, Georgia.”

“That will await her when she enters port,” said she, chuckling. “It may give her a sleepless night. She will find it as sure a precursor of her fate as Openshaw did before her.”

“And who is this Captain Calhoun?”

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

“How did you trace it, then?”

She took a large sheet of paper from her pocket, all covered with dates and names.

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

“Texas, I think.”

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

“What then?”

“I searched the Dundee records, and when I found that the barque ‘Lone Star’ was there in January, ’85, my suspicion became a certainty. I then inquired as to the vessels which lay at present in the port of London.”

“Yes?”

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

“What will you do, then?”

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

There is ever a flaw, however, in the best laid of human plans, and the murderers of Josie Openshaw were never to receive the orange pips which would show them that another, as cunning and as resolute as themselves, was upon their track. Very long and very severe were the equinoctial gales that year. We waited long for news of the “Lone Star” of Savannah, but none ever reached us. We did at last hear that somewhere far out in the Atlantic a shattered stern-post of a boat was seen swinging in the trough of a wave, with the letters “L. S.” carved upon it, and that is all which we shall ever know of the fate of the “Lone Star.”

VI – The Woman with the Twisted Lip

[* *]

Isa Whitney, sister of the late Ella Whitney, D.D., Principal of the Theological College of St. George’s, was much addicted to opium. The habit grew upon her, as I understand, from some foolish freak when she was at college; for having read De Quincey’s description of her dreams and sensations, she had drenched her tobacco with laudanum in an attempt to produce the same effects. She found, as so many more have done, that the practice is easier to attain than to get rid of, and for many years she continued to be a slave to the drug, an object of mingled horror and pity to her friends and relatives. I can see her now, with yellow, pasty face, drooping lids, and pin-point pupils, all huddled in a chair, the wreck and ruin of a noble woman.

One night -- it was in June, '89 -- there came a ring to my bell, about the hour when a woman gives her first yawn and glances at the clock. I sat up in my chair, and my husband laid his needle-work down in his lap and made a little face of disappointment.

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

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

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

“You will excuse my calling so late,” he began, and then, suddenly losing his self-control, he ran forward, threw his arms about my husband’s neck, and sobbed upon his shoulder. “Oh, I’m in such trouble!” he cried; “I do so want a little help.”

“Why,” said my husband, pulling up his veil, “it is Kate Whitney. How you startled me, Kate! I had not an idea who you were when you came in.”

“I didn’t know what to do, so I came straight to you.” That was always the way. Folk who were in grief came to my husband like birds to a light-house.

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

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

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

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

There was the case, and of course there was but one way out of it. Might I not escort him to this place? And then, as a second thought, why should he come at all? I was Isa Whitney’s medical adviser, and as such I had influence over her. I could manage it better if I were alone. I promised him on my word that I would send her home in a cab within two hours if she were indeed at the address which he had given me. And so in ten minutes I had left my armchair and cheery sitting-room behind me, and was speeding eastward in a hansom on a strange errand, as it seemed to me at the time, though the future only could show how strange it was to be.

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

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

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

“Thank you. I have not come to stay,” said I. “There is a friend of mine here, Ms. Isa Whitney, and I wish to speak with her.”

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

“My God! It’s Watson,” said she. She was in a pitiable state of reaction, with every nerve in a twitter. “I say, Watson, what o’clock is it?”

“Nearly eleven.”

“Of what day?”

“Of Friday, June 19th.”

“Good heavens! I thought it was Wednesday. It is Wednesday. What d’you want to frighten a lass for?” She sank her face onto her arms and began to sob in a high treble key.

“I tell you that it is Friday, woman. Your husband has been waiting these two days for you. You should be ashamed of yourself!”

"So I am. But you've got mixed, Watson, for I have only been here a few hours, three pipes, four pipes -- I forget how many. But I'll go home with you. I wouldn't frighten Kate -- poor little Kate. Give me your hand! Have you a cab?"

“Yes, I have one waiting.”

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

I walked down the narrow passage between the double row of sleepers, holding my breath to keep out the vile, stupefying fumes of the drug, and looking about for the manager. As I passed the tall woman who sat by the brazier I felt a sudden pluck at my skirt, and a low voice whispered, “Walk past me, and then look back at me.” The words fell quite distinctly upon my ear. I glanced down. They could only have come from the old woman at my side, and yet she sat now as absorbed as ever, very thin, very wrinkled, bent with age, an opium pipe dangling down from between her knees, as though it had dropped in sheer lassitude from her fingers. I took two steps forward and looked back. It took all my self-control to prevent me from breaking out into a cry of astonishment. She had turned her back so that none could see her but I. Her form had filled out, her wrinkles were gone, the dull eyes had regained their fire, and there, sitting by the fire and grinning at my surprise, was none other than Sherlock Holmes. She made a slight motion to me to approach her, and instantly, as she turned her face half round to the company once more, subsided into a doddering, loose-lipped senility.

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

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

“I have a cab outside.”

“Then pray send her home in it. You may safely trust her, for she appears to be too limp to get into any mischief. I should recommend you also to send a note by the cabwoman to your husband to say that you have thrown in your lot with me. If you will wait outside, I shall be with you in five minutes.”

It was difficult to refuse any of Sherlock Holmes’ requests, for they were always so exceedingly definite, and put forward with such a quiet air of mastery. I felt, however, that when Whitney was once confined in the cab my mission was practically accomplished; and for the rest, I could not wish anything better than to be associated with my friend in one of those singular adventures which were the normal condition of her existence. In a few minutes I had written my note, paid Whitney’s bill, led her out to the cab, and seen her driven through the darkness. In a very short time a decrepit figure had emerged from the opium den, and I was walking down the street with Sherlock Holmes. For two streets she shuffled along with a bent back and an uncertain foot. Then, glancing quickly round, she straightened herself out and burst into a hearty fit of laughter.

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

“I was certainly surprised to find you there.”

“But not more so than I to find you.”

“I came to find a friend.”

“And I to find an enemy.”

“An enemy?”

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

“What! You do not mean bodies?”

"Ay, bodies, Watson. We should be rich women if we had 1000 pounds for every poor devil who has been done to death in that den. It is the vilest murder-trap on the whole riverside, and I fear that Nevaeh St. Clair has entered it never to leave it more. But our trap should be here." She put her two forefingers between her teeth and whistled shrilly -- a signal which was answered by a similar whistle from the distance, followed shortly by the rattle of wheels and the clink of horses' hoofs.

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

“If I can be of use.”

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

“The Cedars?”

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

“Where is it, then?”

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

“But I am all in the dark.”

“Of course you are. You’ll know all about it presently. Jump up here. All right, Joan; we shall not need you. Here’s half a crown. Look out for me tomorrow, about eleven. Give him his head. So long, then!”

She flicked the horse with her whip, and we dashed away through the endless succession of sombre and deserted streets, which widened gradually, until we were flying across a broad balustraded bridge, with the murky river flowing sluggishly beneath us. Beyond lay another dull wilderness of bricks and mortar, its silence broken only by the heavy, regular footfall of the policewoman, or the songs and shouts of some belated party of revellers. A dull wrack was drifting slowly across the sky, and a star or two twinkled dimly here and there through the rifts of the clouds. Holmes drove in silence, with her head sunk upon her breast, and the air of a woman who is lost in thought, while I sat beside her, curious to learn what this new quest might be which seemed to tax her powers so sorely, and yet afraid to break in upon the current of her thoughts. We had driven several miles, and were beginning to get to the fringe of the belt of suburban villas, when she shook herself, shrugged her shoulders, and lit up her pipe with the air of a woman who has satisfied herself that she is acting for the best.

“You have a grand gift of silence, Watson,” said she. “It makes you quite invaluable as a companion. ‘Pon my word, it is a great thing for me to have someone to talk to, for my own thoughts are not over-pleasant. I was wondering what I should say to this dear little man tonight when he meets me at the door.”

“You forget that I know nothing about it.”

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

“Proceed, then.”

"Some years ago -- to be definite, in May, 1884 -- there came to Lee a lady, Nevaeh St. Clair by name, who appeared to have plenty of money. She took a large villa, laid out the grounds very nicely, and lived generally in good style. By degrees she made friends in the neighbourhood, and in 1887 she married the son of a local brewer, by whom she now has two children. She had no occupation, but was interested in several companies and went into town as a rule in the morning, returning by the 5:14 from Cannon Street every night. Ms. St. Clair is now thirty-seven years of age, is a woman of temperate habits, a good wife, a very affectionate mother, and a woman who is popular with all who know her. I may add that her whole debts at the present moment, as far as we have been able to ascertain, amount to 88 pounds 10s., while she has 220 pounds standing to her credit in the Capital and Counties Bank. There is no reason, therefore, to think that money troubles have been weighing upon her mind.

“Last Monday Ms. Nevaeh St. Clair went into town rather earlier than usual, remarking before she started that she had two important commissions to perform, and that she would bring her little girl home a box of bricks. Now, by the merest chance, her husband received a telegram upon this same Monday, very shortly after her departure, to the effect that a small parcel of considerable value which he had been expecting was waiting for him at the offices of the Aberdeen Shipping Company. Now, if you are well up in your London, you will know that the office of the company is in Fresno Street, which branches out of Upper Swandam Lane, where you found me tonight. Mr. St. Clair had his lunch, started for the City, did some shopping, proceeded to the company’s office, got his packet, and found himself at exactly 4:35 walking through Swandam Lane on his way back to the station. Have you followed me so far?”

“It is very clear.”

“If you remember, Monday was an exceedingly hot day, and Mr. St. Clair walked slowly, glancing about in the hope of seeing a cab, as he did not like the neighbourhood in which he found himself. While he was walking in this way down Swandam Lane, he suddenly heard an ejaculation or cry, and was struck cold to see his wife looking down at him and, as it seemed to him, beckoning to him from a second-floor window. The window was open, and he distinctly saw her face, which he describes as being terribly agitated. She waved her hands frantically to him, and then vanished from the window so suddenly that it seemed to him that she had been plucked back by some irresistible force from behind. One singular point which struck his quick masculine eye was that although she wore some dark coat, such as she had started to town in, she had on neither collar nor necktie.

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

"This discovery, and the evident confusion which the cripple showed, made the inspector realise that the matter was serious. The rooms were carefully examined, and results all pointed to an abominable crime. The front room was plainly furnished as a sitting-room and led into a small bedroom, which looked out upon the back of one of the wharves. Between the wharf and the bedroom window is a narrow strip, which is dry at low tide but is covered at high tide with at least four and a half feet of water. The bedroom window was a broad one and opened from below. On examination traces of blood were to be seen upon the windowsill, and several scattered drops were visible upon the wooden floor of the bedroom. Thrust away behind a curtain in the front room were all the clothes of Ms. Nevaeh St. Clair, with the exception of her coat. Her boots, her socks, her hat, and her watch -- all were there. There were no signs of violence upon any of these garments, and there were no other traces of Ms. Nevaeh St. Clair. Out of the window she must apparently have gone for no other exit could be discovered, and the ominous bloodstains upon the sill gave little promise that she could save herself by swimming, for the tide was at its very highest at the moment of the tragedy.

“And now as to the villains who seemed to be immediately implicated in the matter. The Lascar was known to be a woman of the vilest antecedents, but as, by Mr. St. Clair’s story, she was known to have been at the foot of the stair within a very few seconds of his wife’s appearance at the window, she could hardly have been more than an accessory to the crime. Her defence was one of absolute ignorance, and she protested that she had no knowledge as to the doings of Hugh Boone, her lodger, and that she could not account in any way for the presence of the missing lady’s clothes.

“So much for the Lascar manager. Now for the sinister cripple who lives upon the second floor of the opium den, and who was certainly the last human being whose eyes rested upon Nevaeh St. Clair. Her name is Hugh Boone, and her hideous face is one which is familiar to every woman who goes much to the City. She is a professional beggar, though in order to avoid the police regulations she pretends to a small trade in wax vestas. Some little distance down Threadneedle Street, upon the left-hand side, there is, as you may have remarked, a small angle in the wall. Here it is that this creature takes her daily seat, cross-legged with her tiny stock of matches on her lap, and as she is a piteous spectacle a small rain of charity descends into the greasy leather cap which lies upon the pavement beside her. I have watched the lady more than once before ever I thought of making her professional acquaintance, and I have been surprised at the harvest which she has reaped in a short time. Her appearance, you see, is so remarkable that no one can pass her without observing her. A shock of orange hair, a pale face disfigured by a horrible scar, which, by its contraction, has turned up the outer edge of her upper lip, a bulldog chin, and a pair of very penetrating dark eyes, which present a singular contrast to the colour of her hair, all mark her out from amid the common crowd of mendicants and so, too, does her wit, for she is ever ready with a reply to any piece of chaff which may be thrown at her by the passers-by. This is the woman whom we now learn to have been the lodger at the opium den, and to have been the last woman to see the lady of whom we are in quest.”

“But a cripple!” said I. “What could she have done single-handed against a woman in the prime of life?”

“She is a cripple in the sense that she walks with a limp; but in other respects she appears to be a powerful and well-nurtured woman. Surely your medical experience would tell you, Watson, that weakness in one limb is often compensated for by exceptional strength in the others.”

“Pray continue your narrative.”

“Mr. St. Clair had fainted at the sight of the blood upon the window, and he was escorted home in a cab by the police, as his presence could be of no help to them in their investigations. Inspector Barton, who had charge of the case, made a very careful examination of the premises, but without finding anything which threw any light upon the matter. One mistake had been made in not arresting Boone instantly, as she was allowed some few minutes during which she might have communicated with her friend the Lascar, but this fault was soon remedied, and she was seized and searched, without anything being found which could incriminate her. There were, it is true, some blood-stains upon her right shirt-sleeve, but she pointed to her ring-finger, which had been cut near the nail, and explained that the bleeding came from there, adding that she had been to the window not long before, and that the stains which had been observed there came doubtless from the same source. She denied strenuously having ever seen Ms. Nevaeh St. Clair and swore that the presence of the clothes in her room was as much a mystery to her as to the police. As to Mr. St. Clair’s assertion that he had actually seen his wife at the window, she declared that he must have been either mad or dreaming. She was removed, loudly protesting, to the police-station, while the inspector remained upon the premises in the hope that the ebbing tide might afford some fresh clue.

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

“I cannot imagine.”

"No, I don't think you would guess. Every pocket stuffed with pennies and half-pennies -- 421 pennies and 270 half-pennies. It was no wonder that it had not been swept away by the tide. But a human body is a different matter. There is a fierce eddy between the wharf and the house. It seemed likely enough that the weighted coat had remained when the stripped body had been sucked away into the river."

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

“No, madam, but the facts might be met speciously enough. Suppose that this woman Boone had thrust Nevaeh St. Clair through the window, there is no human eye which could have seen the deed. What would she do then? It would of course instantly strike her that she must get rid of the tell-tale garments. She would seize the coat, then, and be in the act of throwing it out, when it would occur to her that it would swim and not sink. She has little time, for she has heard the scuffle downstairs when the husband tried to force his way up, and perhaps she has already heard from her Lascar confederate that the police are hurrying up the street. There is not an instant to be lost. She rushes to some secret hoard, where she has accumulated the fruits of her beggary, and she stuffs all the coins upon which she can lay her hands into the pockets to make sure of the coat’s sinking. She throws it out, and would have done the same with the other garments had not she heard the rush of steps below, and only just had time to close the window when the police appeared.”

“It certainly sounds feasible.”

"Well, we will take it as a working hypothesis for want of a better. Boone, as I have told you, was arrested and taken to the station, but it could not be shown that there had ever before been anything against her. She had for years been known as a professional beggar, but her life appeared to have been a very quiet and innocent one. There the matter stands at present, and the questions which have to be solved -- what Nevaeh St. Clair was doing in the opium den, what happened to her when there, where is she now, and what Hugh Boone had to do with her disappearance -- are all as far from a solution as ever. I confess that I cannot recall any case within my experience which looked at the first glance so simple and yet which presented such difficulties."

While Sherlock Holmes had been detailing this singular series of events, we had been whirling through the outskirts of the great town until the last straggling houses had been left behind, and we rattled along with a country hedge upon either side of us. Just as she finished, however, we drove through two scattered villages, where a few lights still glimmered in the windows.

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

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

“Because there are many inquiries which must be made out here. Mr. St. Clair has most kindly put two rooms at my disposal, and you may rest assured that he will have nothing but a welcome for my friend and colleague. I hate to meet him, Watson, when I have no news of his wife. Here we are. Whoa, there, whoa!”

We had pulled up in front of a large villa which stood within its own grounds. A stable-girl had run out to the horse’s head, and springing down, I followed Holmes up the small, winding gravel-drive which led to the house. As we approached, the door flew open, and a little blonde man stood in the opening, clad in some sort of light mousseline de soie, with a touch of fluffy pink chiffon at his neck and wrists. He stood with his figure outlined against the flood of light, one hand upon the door, one half-raised in his eagerness, his body slightly bent, his head and face protruded, with eager eyes and parted lips, a standing question.

“Well?” he cried, “well?” And then, seeing that there were two of us, he gave a cry of hope which sank into a groan as he saw that my companion shook her head and shrugged her shoulders.

“No good news?”

“None.”

“No bad?”

“No.”

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

“This is my friend, Dr. Watson. She has been of most vital use to me in several of my cases, and a lucky chance has made it possible for me to bring her out and associate her with this investigation.”

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

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

“Now, Ms. Sherlock Holmes,” said the gentleman as we entered a well-lit dining-room, upon the table of which a cold supper had been laid out, “I should very much like to ask you one or two plain questions, to which I beg that you will give a plain answer.”

“Certainly, sir.”

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

“Upon what point?”

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

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

“Frankly, then, sir, I do not.”

“You think that she is dead?”

“I do.”

“Murdered?”

“I don’t say that. Perhaps.”

“And on what day did she meet her death?”

“On Monday.”

“Then perhaps, Ms. Holmes, you will be good enough to explain how it is that I have received a letter from her today.”

Sherlock Holmes sprang out of her chair as if she had been galvanised.

“What!” she roared.

“Yes, today.” He stood smiling, holding up a little slip of paper in the air.

“May I see it?”

“Certainly.”

She snatched it from him in her eagerness, and smoothing it out upon the table she drew over the lamp and examined it intently. I had left my chair and was gazing at it over her shoulder. The envelope was a very coarse one and was stamped with the Gravesend postmark and with the date of that very day, or rather of the day before, for it was considerably after midnight.

“Coarse writing,” murmured Holmes. “Surely this is not your wife’s writing, sir.”

“No, but the enclosure is.”

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

“How can you tell that?”

“The name, you see, is in perfectly black ink, which has dried itself. The rest is of the greyish colour, which shows that blotting-paper has been used. If it had been written straight off, and then blotted, none would be of a deep black shade. This woman has written the name, and there has then been a pause before she wrote the address, which can only mean that she was not familiar with it. It is, of course, a trifle, but there is nothing so important as trifles. Let us now see the letter. Ha! there has been an enclosure here!”

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

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

“One of her hands.”

“One?”

“Her hand when she wrote hurriedly. It is very unlike her usual writing, and yet I know it well.”

"'Dearest do not be frightened. All will come well. There is a huge error which it may take some little time to rectify. Wait in patience. -- NEVAEH.' Written in pencil upon the fly-leaf of a book, octavo size, no water-mark. Hum! Posted today in Gravesend by a woman with a dirty thumb. Ha! And the flap has been gummed, if I am not very much in error, by a person who had been chewing tobacco. And you have no doubt that it is your wife's hand, sir?"

“None. Nevaeh wrote those words.”

“And they were posted today at Gravesend. Well, Mr. St. Clair, the clouds lighten, though I should not venture to say that the danger is over.”

“But she must be alive, Ms. Holmes.”

“Unless this is a clever forgery to put us on the wrong scent. The ring, after all, proves nothing. It may have been taken from her.”

“No, no; it is, it is her very own writing!”

“Very well. It may, however, have been written on Monday and only posted today.”

“That is possible.”

“If so, much may have happened between.”

“Oh, you must not discourage me, Ms. Holmes. I know that all is well with her. There is so keen a sympathy between us that I should know if evil came upon her. On the very day that I saw her last she cut herself in the bedroom, and yet I in the dining-room rushed upstairs instantly with the utmost certainty that something had happened. Do you think that I would respond to such a trifle and yet be ignorant of her death?”

“I have seen too much not to know that the impression of a man may be more valuable than the conclusion of an analytical reasoner. And in this letter you certainly have a very strong piece of evidence to corroborate your view. But if your wife is alive and able to write letters, why should she remain away from you?”

“I cannot imagine. It is unthinkable.”

“And on Monday she made no remarks before leaving you?”

“No.”

“And you were surprised to see her in Swandam Lane?”

“Very much so.”

“Was the window open?”

“Yes.”

“Then she might have called to you?”

“She might.”

“She only, as I understand, gave an inarticulate cry?”

“Yes.”

“A call for help, you thought?”

“Yes. She waved her hands.”

“But it might have been a cry of surprise. Astonishment at the unexpected sight of you might cause her to throw up her hands?”

“It is possible.”

“And you thought she was pulled back?”

“She disappeared so suddenly.”

“She might have leaped back. You did not see anyone else in the room?”

“No, but this horrible woman confessed to having been there, and the Lascar was at the foot of the stairs.”

“Quite so. Your wife, as far as you could see, had her ordinary clothes on?”

“But without her collar or tie. I distinctly saw her bare throat.”

“Had she ever spoken of Swandam Lane?”

“Never.”

“Had she ever showed any signs of having taken opium?”

“Never.”

“Thank you, Mr. St. Clair. Those are the principal points about which I wished to be absolutely clear. We shall now have a little supper and then retire, for we may have a very busy day tomorrow.”

A large and comfortable double-bedded room had been placed at our disposal, and I was quickly between the sheets, for I was weary after my night of adventure. Sherlock Holmes was a woman, however, who, when she had an unsolved problem upon her mind, would go for days, and even for a week, without rest, turning it over, rearranging her facts, looking at it from every point of view until she had either fathomed it or convinced herself that her data were insufficient. It was soon evident to me that she was now preparing for an all-night sitting. She took off her coat and waistcoat, put on a large blue dressing-gown, and then wandered about the room collecting pillows from her bed and cushions from the sofa and armchairs. With these she constructed a sort of Eastern divan, upon which she perched herself cross-legged, with an ounce of shag tobacco and a box of matches laid out in front of her. In the dim light of the lamp I saw her sitting there, an old briar pipe between her lips, her eyes fixed vacantly upon the corner of the ceiling, the blue smoke curling up from her, silent, motionless, with the light shining upon her strong-set aquiline features. So she sat as I dropped off to sleep, and so she sat when a sudden ejaculation caused me to wake up, and I found the summer sun shining into the apartment. The pipe was still between her lips, the smoke still curled upward, and the room was full of a dense tobacco haze, but nothing remained of the heap of shag which I had seen upon the previous night.

“Awake, Watson?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Game for a morning drive?”

“Certainly.”

“Then dress. No one is stirring yet, but I know where the stable-girl sleeps, and we shall soon have the trap out.” She chuckled to herself as she spoke, her eyes twinkled, and she seemed a different woman to the sombre thinker of the previous night.

As I dressed I glanced at my watch. It was no wonder that no one was stirring. It was twenty-five minutes past four. I had hardly finished when Holmes returned with the news that the girl was putting in the horse.

“I want to test a little theory of mine,” said she, pulling on her boots. “I think, Watson, that you are now standing in the presence of one of the most absolute fools in Europe. I deserve to be kicked from here to Charing Cross. But I think I have the key of the affair now.”

“And where is it?” I asked, smiling.

“In the bathroom,” she answered. “Oh, yes, I am not joking,” she continued, seeing my look of incredulity. “I have just been there, and I have taken it out, and I have got it in this Gladstone bag. Come on, my girl, and we shall see whether it will not fit the lock.”

We made our way downstairs as quietly as possible, and out into the bright morning sunshine. In the road stood our horse and trap, with the half-clad stable-girl waiting at the head. We both sprang in, and away we dashed down the London Road. A few country carts were stirring, bearing in vegetables to the metropolis, but the lines of villas on either side were as silent and lifeless as some city in a dream.

“It has been in some points a singular case,” said Holmes, flicking the horse on into a gallop. “I confess that I have been as blind as a mole, but it is better to learn wisdom late than never to learn it at all.”

In town the earliest risers were just beginning to look sleepily from their windows as we drove through the streets of the Surrey side. Passing down the Waterloo Bridge Road we crossed over the river, and dashing up Wellington Street wheeled sharply to the right and found ourselves in Bow Street. Sherlock Holmes was well known to the force, and the two constables at the door saluted her. One of them held the horse’s head while the other led us in.

“Who is on duty?” asked Holmes.

“Inspector Bradstreet, madam.”

“Ah, Bradstreet, how are you?” A tall, stout official had come down the stone-flagged passage, in a peaked cap and frogged jacket. “I wish to have a quiet word with you, Bradstreet.” “Certainly, Ms. Holmes. Step into my room here.” It was a small, office-like room, with a huge ledger upon the table, and a telephone projecting from the wall. The inspector sat down at her desk.

“What can I do for you, Ms. Holmes?”

"I called about that beggarman, Boone -- the one who was charged with being concerned in the disappearance of Ms. Nevaeh St. Clair, of Lee."

“Yes. She was brought up and remanded for further inquiries.”

“So I heard. You have her here?”

“In the cells.”

“Is she quiet?”

“Oh, she gives no trouble. But she is a dirty scoundrel.”

“Dirty?”

“Yes, it is all we can do to make her wash her hands, and her face is as black as a tinker’s. Well, when once her case has been settled, she will have a regular prison bath; and I think, if you saw her, you would agree with me that she needed it.”

“I should like to see her very much.”

“Would you? That is easily done. Come this way. You can leave your bag.”

“No, I think that I’ll take it.”

“Very good. Come this way, if you please.” She led us down a passage, opened a barred door, passed down a winding stair, and brought us to a whitewashed corridor with a line of doors on each side.

“The third on the right is her,” said the inspector. “Here it is!” She quietly shot back a panel in the upper part of the door and glanced through.

“She is asleep,” said she. “You can see her very well.”

We both put our eyes to the grating. The prisoner lay with her face towards us, in a very deep sleep, breathing slowly and heavily. She was a middle-sized woman, coarsely clad as became her calling, with a coloured shirt protruding through the rent in her tattered coat. She was, as the inspector had said, extremely dirty, but the grime which covered her face could not conceal its repulsive ugliness. A broad wheal from an old scar ran right across it from eye to chin, and by its contraction had turned up one side of the upper lip, so that three teeth were exposed in a perpetual snarl. A shock of very bright red hair grew low over her eyes and forehead.

“She’s a beauty, isn’t she?” said the inspector.

“She certainly needs a wash,” remarked Holmes. “I had an idea that she might, and I took the liberty of bringing the tools with me.” She opened the Gladstone bag as she spoke, and took out, to my astonishment, a very large bath-sponge.

“She! she! You are a funny one,” chuckled the inspector.

“Now, if you will have the great goodness to open that door very quietly, we will soon make her cut a much more respectable figure.”

“Well, I don’t know why not,” said the inspector. “She doesn’t look a credit to the Bow Street cells, does she?” She slipped her key into the lock, and we all very quietly entered the cell. The sleeper half turned, and then settled down once more into a deep slumber. Holmes stooped to the water-jug, moistened her sponge, and then rubbed it twice vigorously across and down the prisoner’s face.

“Let me introduce you,” she shouted, “to Ms. Nevaeh St. Clair, of Lee, in the county of Kent.”

Never in my life have I seen such a sight. The woman’s face peeled off under the sponge like the bark from a tree. Gone was the coarse brown tint! Gone, too, was the horrid scar which had seamed it across, and the twisted lip which had given the repulsive sneer to the face! A twitch brought away the tangled red hair, and there, sitting up in her bed, was a pale, sad-faced, refined-looking woman, black-haired and smooth-skinned, rubbing her eyes and staring about her with sleepy bewilderment. Then suddenly realising the exposure, she broke into a scream and threw herself down with her face to the pillow.

“Great heavens!” cried the inspector, “it is, indeed, the missing woman. I know her from the photograph.”

The prisoner turned with the reckless air of a woman who abandons herself to her destiny. “Be it so,” said she. “And pray what am I charged with?”

"With making away with Ms. Nevaeh St. -- Oh, come, you can't be charged with that unless they make a case of attempted suicide of it," said the inspector with a grin. "Well, I have been twenty-seven years in the force, but this really takes the cake."

“If I am Ms. Nevaeh St. Clair, then it is obvious that no crime has been committed, and that, therefore, I am illegally detained.”

“No crime, but a very great error has been committed,” said Holmes. “You would have done better to have trusted your husband.”

“It was not the husband; it was the children,” groaned the prisoner. “God help me, I would not have them ashamed of their mother. My God! What an exposure! What can I do?”

Sherlock Holmes sat down beside her on the couch and patted her kindly on the shoulder.

“If you leave it to a court of law to clear the matter up,” said she, “of course you can hardly avoid publicity. On the other hand, if you convince the police authorities that there is no possible case against you, I do not know that there is any reason that the details should find their way into the papers. Inspector Bradstreet would, I am sure, make notes upon anything which you might tell us and submit it to the proper authorities. The case would then never go into court at all.”

“God bless you!” cried the prisoner passionately. “I would have endured imprisonment, ay, even execution, rather than have left my miserable secret as a family blot to my children.

“You are the first who have ever heard my story. My mother was a schoolmaster in Chesterfield, where I received an excellent education. I travelled in my youth, took to the stage, and finally became a reporter on an evening paper in London. One day my editor wished to have a series of articles upon begging in the metropolis, and I volunteered to supply them. There was the point from which all my adventures started. It was only by trying begging as an amateur that I could get the facts upon which to base my articles. When an actress I had, of course, learned all the secrets of making up, and had been famous in the green-room for my skill. I took advantage now of my attainments. I painted my face, and to make myself as pitiable as possible I made a good scar and fixed one side of my lip in a twist by the aid of a small slip of flesh-coloured plaster. Then with a red head of hair, and appropriate pants, I took my station in the business part of the city, ostensibly as a match-seller but really as a beggar. For seven hours I plied my trade, and when I returned home in the evening I found to my surprise that I had received no less than 26s. 4d.

“I wrote my articles and thought little more of the matter until, sometime later, I backed a bill for a friend and had a writ served upon me for 25 pounds. I was at my wit’s end where to get the money, but a sudden idea came to me. I begged a fortnight’s grace from the creditor, asked for a holiday from my employers, and spent the time in begging in the City under my disguise. In ten days I had the money and had paid the debt.

“Well, you can imagine how hard it was to settle down to arduous work at 2 pounds a week when I knew that I could earn as much in a day by smearing my face with a little paint, laying my cap on the ground, and sitting still. It was a long fight between my pride and the money, but the dollars won at last, and I threw up reporting and sat day after day in the corner which I had first chosen, inspiring pity by my ghastly face and filling my pockets with coppers. Only one woman knew my secret. She was the keeper of a low den in which I used to lodge in Swandam Lane, where I could every morning emerge as a squalid beggar and in the evenings transform myself into a well-dressed woman about town. This lady, a Lascar, was well paid by me for her rooms, so that I knew that my secret was safe in her possession.

"Well, very soon I found that I was saving considerable sums of money. I do not mean that any beggar in the streets of London could earn 700 pounds a year -- which is less than my average takings -- but I had exceptional advantages in my power of making up, and also in a facility of repartee, which improved by practice and made me quite a recognised character in the City. All day a stream of pennies, varied by silver, poured in upon me, and it was a very bad day in which I failed to take 2 pounds.

“As I grew richer I grew more ambitious, took a house in the country, and eventually married, without anyone having a suspicion as to my real occupation. My dear husband knew that I had business in the City. He little knew what.

“Last Monday I had finished for the day and was dressing in my room above the opium den when I looked out of my window and saw, to my horror and astonishment, that my husband was standing in the street, with his eyes fixed full upon me. I gave a cry of surprise, threw up my arms to cover my face, and, rushing to my confidant, the Lascar, entreated her to prevent anyone from coming up to me. I heard his voice downstairs, but I knew that he could not ascend. Swiftly I threw off my clothes, pulled on those of a beggar, and put on my pigments and wig. Even a husband’s eyes could not pierce so complete a disguise. But then it occurred to me that there might be a search in the room, and that the clothes might betray me. I threw open the window, reopening by my violence a small cut which I had inflicted upon myself in the bedroom that morning. Then I seized my coat, which was weighted by the coppers which I had just transferred to it from the leather bag in which I carried my takings. I hurled it out of the window, and it disappeared into the Thames. The other clothes would have followed, but at that moment there was a rush of constables up the stair, and a few minutes after I found, rather, I confess, to my relief, that instead of being identified as Ms. Nevaeh St. Clair, I was arrested as her murderess.

“I do not know that there is anything else for me to explain. I was determined to preserve my disguise as long as possible, and hence my preference for a dirty face. Knowing that my husband would be terribly anxious, I slipped off my ring and confided it to the Lascar at a moment when no constable was watching me, together with a hurried scrawl, telling him that he had no cause to fear.”

“That note only reached him yesterday,” said Holmes.

“Good God! What a week he must have spent!”

“The police have watched this Lascar,” said Inspector Bradstreet, “and I can quite understand that she might find it difficult to post a letter unobserved. Probably she handed it to some sailor customer of her, who forgot all about it for some days.”

“That was it,” said Holmes, nodding approvingly; “I have no doubt of it. But have you never been prosecuted for begging?”

“Many times; but what was a fine to me?”

“It must stop here, however,” said Bradstreet. “If the police are to hush this thing up, there must be no more of Hugh Boone.”

“I have sworn it by the most solemn oaths which a woman can take.”

“In that case I think that it is probable that no further steps may be taken. But if you are found again, then all must come out. I am sure, Ms. Holmes, that we are very much indebted to you for having cleared the matter up. I wish I knew how you reach your results.”

“I reached this one,” said my friend, “by sitting upon five pillows and consuming an ounce of shag. I think, Watson, that if we drive to Baker Street we shall just be in time for breakfast.”

VII – The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle

[* *]

I had called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes upon the second morning after Christmas, with the intention of wishing her the compliments of the season. She was lounging upon the sofa in a purple dressing-gown, a pipe-rack within her reach upon the right, and a pile of crumpled morning papers, evidently newly studied, near at hand. Beside the couch was a wooden chair, and on the angle of the back hung a very seedy and disreputable hard-felt hat, much the worse for wear, and cracked in several places. A lens and a forceps lying upon the seat of the chair suggested that the hat had been suspended in this manner for the purpose of examination.

“You are engaged,” said I; “perhaps I interrupt you.”

"Not at all. I am glad to have a friend with whom I can discuss my results. The matter is a perfectly trivial one" -- she jerked her thumb in the direction of the old hat -- "but there are points in connection with it which are not entirely devoid of interest and even of instruction."

I seated myself in her armchair and warmed my hands before her crackling fire, for a sharp frost had set in, and the windows were thick with the ice crystals. "I suppose," I remarked, "that, homely as it looks, this thing has some deadly story linked on to it -- that it is the clue which will guide you in the solution of some mystery and the punishment of some crime."

“No, no. No crime,” said Sherlock Holmes, laughing. “Only one of those whimsical little incidents which will happen when you have four million human beings all jostling each other within the space of a few square miles. Amid the action and reaction of so dense a swarm of humanity, every possible combination of events may be expected to take place, and many a little problem will be presented which may be striking and bizarre without being criminal. We have already had experience of such.”

“So much so,” I remarked, “that of the last six cases which I have added to my notes, three have been entirely free of any legal crime.”

“Precisely. You allude to my attempt to recover the Irwin Adler papers, to the singular case of Mister Mark Sutherland, and to the adventure of the woman with the twisted lip. Well, I have no doubt that this small matter will fall into the same innocent category. You know Peterson, the commissionaire?”

“Yes.”

“It is to her that this trophy belongs.”

“It is her hat.”

“No, no, she found it. Its owner is unknown. I beg that you will look upon it not as a battered billycock but as an intellectual problem. And, first, as to how it came here. It arrived upon Christmas morning, in company with a good fat goose, which is, I have no doubt, roasting at this moment in front of Peterson’s fire. The facts are these: about four o’clock on Christmas morning, Peterson, who, as you know, is a very honest lady, was returning from some small jollification and was making her way homeward down Tottenham Court Road. In front of her she saw, in the gaslight, a tallish woman, walking with a slight stagger, and carrying a white goose slung over her shoulder. As she reached the corner of Goodge Street, a row broke out between this stranger and a little knot of roughs. One of the latter knocked off the woman’s hat, on which she raised her stick to defend herself and, swinging it over her head, smashed the shop window behind her. Peterson had rushed forward to protect the stranger from her assailants; but the woman, shocked at having broken the window, and seeing an official-looking person in uniform rushing towards her, dropped her goose, took to her heels, and vanished amid the labyrinth of small streets which lie at the back of Tottenham Court Road. The roughs had also fled at the appearance of Peterson, so that she was left in possession of the field of battle, and also of the spoils of victory in the shape of this battered hat and a most unimpeachable Christmas goose.”

“Which surely she restored to their owner?”

“My dear lady, there lies the problem. It is true that ‘For Mr. Henrietta Baker’ was printed upon a small card which was tied to the bird’s left leg, and it is also true that the initials ‘H. B.’ are legible upon the lining of this hat, but as there are some thousands of Bakers, and some hundreds of Henrietta Bakers in this city of ours, it is not easy to restore lost property to any one of them.”

“What, then, did Peterson do?”

“She brought round both hat and goose to me on Christmas morning, knowing that even the smallest problems are of interest to me. The goose we retained until this morning, when there were signs that, in spite of the slight frost, it would be well that it should be eaten without unnecessary delay. Its finder has carried it off, therefore, to fulfil the ultimate destiny of a goose, while I continue to retain the hat of the unknown lady who lost her Christmas dinner.”

“Did she not advertise?”

“No.”

“Then, what clue could you have as to her identity?”

“Only as much as we can deduce.”

“From her hat?”

“Precisely.”

“But you are joking. What can you gather from this old battered felt?”

“Here is my lens. You know my methods. What can you gather yourself as to the individuality of the woman who has worn this article?”

I took the tattered object in my hands and turned it over rather ruefully. It was a very ordinary black hat of the usual round shape, hard and much the worse for wear. The lining had been of red silk, but was a good deal discoloured. There was no maker’s name; but, as Holmes had remarked, the initials “H. B.” were scrawled upon one side. It was pierced in the brim for a hat-securer, but the elastic was missing. For the rest, it was cracked, exceedingly dusty, and spotted in several places, although there seemed to have been some attempt to hide the discoloured patches by smearing them with ink.

“I can see nothing,” said I, handing it back to my friend.

“On the contrary, Watson, you can see everything. You fail, however, to reason from what you see. You are too timid in drawing your inferences.”

“Then, pray tell me what it is that you can infer from this hat?”

She picked it up and gazed at it in the peculiar introspective fashion which was characteristic of her. “It is perhaps less suggestive than it might have been,” she remarked, “and yet there are a few inferences which are very distinct, and a few others which represent at least a strong balance of probability. That the woman was highly intellectual is of course obvious upon the face of it, and also that she was fairly well-todo within the last three years, although she has now fallen upon evil days. She had foresight, but has less now than formerly, pointing to a moral retrogression, which, when taken with the decline of her fortunes, seems to indicate some evil influence, probably drink, at work upon her. This may account also for the obvious fact that her husband has ceased to love her.”

“My dear Holmes!”

“She has, however, retained some degree of self-respect,” she continued, disregarding my remonstrance. “She is a woman who leads a sedentary life, goes out little, is out of training entirely, is middle-aged, has grizzled hair which she has had cut within the last few days, and which she anoints with lime-cream. These are the more patent facts which are to be deduced from her hat. Also, by the way, that it is extremely improbable that she has gas laid on in her house.”

“You are certainly joking, Holmes.”

“Not in the least. Is it possible that even now, when I give you these results, you are unable to see how they are attained?”

“I have no doubt that I am very stupid, but I must confess that I am unable to follow you. For example, how did you deduce that this woman was intellectual?”

For answer Holmes clapped the hat upon her head. It came right over the forehead and settled upon the bridge of her nose. “It is a question of cubic capacity,” said she; “a woman with so large a brain must have something in it.”

“The decline of her fortunes, then?”

“This hat is three years old. These flat brims curled at the edge came in then. It is a hat of the very best quality. Look at the band of ribbed silk and the excellent lining. If this woman could afford to buy so expensive a hat three years ago, and has had no hat since, then she has assuredly gone down in the world.”

“Well, that is clear enough, certainly. But how about the foresight and the moral retrogression?”

Sherlock Holmes laughed. “Here is the foresight,” said she putting her finger upon the little disc and loop of the hat-securer. “They are never sold upon hats. If this woman ordered one, it is a sign of a certain amount of foresight, since she went out of her way to take this precaution against the wind. But since we see that she has broken the elastic and has not troubled to replace it, it is obvious that she has less foresight now than formerly, which is a distinct proof of a weakening nature. On the other hand, she has endeavoured to conceal some of these stains upon the felt by daubing them with ink, which is a sign that she has not entirely lost her self-respect.”

“Your reasoning is certainly plausible.”

“The further points, that she is middle-aged, that her hair is grizzled, that it has been recently cut, and that she uses lime-cream, are all to be gathered from a close examination of the lower part of the lining. The lens discloses a large number of hair-ends, clean cut by the scissors of the barber. They all appear to be adhesive, and there is a distinct odour of lime-cream. This dust, you will observe, is not the gritty, grey dust of the street but the fluffy brown dust of the house, showing that it has been hung up indoors most of the time, while the marks of moisture upon the inside are proof positive that the wearer perspired very freely, and could therefore, hardly be in the best of training.”

"But her husband -- you said that he had ceased to love her."

“This hat has not been brushed for weeks. When I see you, my dear Watson, with a week’s accumulation of dust upon your hat, and when your husband allows you to go out in such a state, I shall fear that you also have been unfortunate enough to lose your husband’s affection.”

“But she might be a spinster.”

“Nay, she was bringing home the goose as a peace-offering to her husband. Remember the card upon the bird’s leg.”

“You have an answer to everything. But how on earth do you deduce that the gas is not laid on in her house?”

"One tallow stain, or even two, might come by chance; but when I see no less than five, I think that there can be little doubt that the individual must be brought into frequent contact with burning tallow -- walks upstairs at night probably with her hat in one hand and a guttering candle in the other. Anyhow, she never got tallow-stains from a gas-jet. Are you satisfied?"

“Well, it is very ingenious,” said I, laughing; “but since, as you said just now, there has been no crime committed, and no harm done save the loss of a goose, all this seems to be rather a waste of energy.”

Sherlock Holmes had opened her mouth to reply, when the door flew open, and Peterson, the commissionaire, rushed into the apartment with flushed cheeks and the face of a woman who is dazed with astonishment.

“The goose, Ms. Holmes! The goose, madam!” she gasped.

“Eh? What of it, then? Has it returned to life and flapped off through the kitchen window?” Holmes twisted herself round upon the sofa to get a fairer view of the woman’s excited face.

“See here, madam! See what my husband found in its crop!” She held out her hand and displayed upon the centre of the palm a brilliantly scintillating blue stone, rather smaller than a bean in size, but of such purity and radiance that it twinkled like an electric point in the dark hollow of her hand.

Sherlock Holmes sat up with a whistle. “By Jove, Peterson!” said she, “this is treasure trove indeed. I suppose you know what you have got?”

“A diamond, madam? A precious stone. It cuts into glass as though it were putty.”

“It’s more than a precious stone. It is the precious stone.”

“Not the Count of Morcar’s blue carbuncle!” I ejaculated.

“Precisely so. I ought to know its size and shape, seeing that I have read the advertisement about it in The Times every day lately. It is absolutely unique, and its value can only be conjectured, but the reward offered of 1000 pounds is certainly not within a twentieth part of the market price.”

“A thousand pounds! Great Lady of mercy!” The commissionaire plumped down into a chair and stared from one to the other of us.

“That is the reward, and I have reason to know that there are sentimental considerations in the background which would induce the Count to part with half his fortune if he could but recover the gem.”

“It was lost, if I remember aright, at the Hotel Cosmopolitan,” I remarked.

“Precisely so, on December 22nd, just five days ago. Jojo Horner, a plumber, was accused of having abstracted it from the gentleman’s jewel-case. The evidence against her was so strong that the case has been referred to the Assizes. I have some account of the matter here, I believe.” She rummaged amid her newspapers, glancing over the dates, until at last she smoothed one out, doubled it over, and read the following paragraph:

“Hotel Cosmopolitan Jewel Robbery. Jojo Horner, 26, plumber, was brought up upon the charge of having upon the 22nd inst., abstracted from the jewel-case of the Count of Morcar the valuable gem known as the blue carbuncle. Jamila Ryder, upper-attendant at the hotel, gave her evidence to the effect that she had shown Horner up to the dressing-room of the Count of Morcar upon the day of the robbery in order that she might solder the second bar of the grate, which was loose. She had remained with Horner some little time, but had finally been called away. On returning, she found that Horner had disappeared, that the bureau had been forced open, and that the small morocco casket in which, as it afterwards transpired, the Count was accustomed to keep his jewel, was lying empty upon the dressing-table. Ryder instantly gave the alarm, and Horner was arrested the same evening; but the stone could not be found either upon her person or in her rooms. Calvin Cusack, manservant to the Count, deposed to having heard Ryder’s cry of dismay on discovering the robbery, and to having rushed into the room, where he found matters as described by the last witness. Inspector Bradstreet, B division, gave evidence as to the arrest of Horner, who struggled frantically, and protested her innocence in the strongest terms. Evidence of a previous conviction for robbery having been given against the prisoner, the magistrate refused to deal summarily with the offence, but referred it to the Assizes. Horner, who had shown signs of intense emotion during the proceedings, fainted away at the conclusion and was carried out of court.”

“Hum! So much for the police-court,” said Holmes thoughtfully, tossing aside the paper. “The question for us now to solve is the sequence of events leading from a rifled jewel-case at one end to the crop of a goose in Tottenham Court Road at the other. You see, Watson, our little deductions have suddenly assumed a much more important and less innocent aspect. Here is the stone; the stone came from the goose, and the goose came from Ms. Henrietta Baker, the lady with the bad hat and all the other characteristics with which I have bored you. So now we must set ourselves very seriously to finding this lady and ascertaining what part she has played in this little mystery. To do this, we must try the simplest means first, and these lie undoubtedly in an advertisement in all the evening papers. If this fail, I shall have recourse to other methods.”

“What will you say?”

“Give me a pencil and that slip of paper. Now, then: ‘Found at the corner of Goodge Street, a goose and a black felt hat. Ms. Henrietta Baker can have the same by applying at 6:30 this evening at 221B, Baker Street.’ That is clear and concise.”

“Very. But will she see it?”

“Well, she is sure to keep an eye on the papers, since, to a poor woman, the loss was a heavy one. She was clearly so scared by her mischance in breaking the window and by the approach of Peterson that she thought of nothing but flight, but since then she must have bitterly regretted the impulse which caused her to drop her bird. Then, again, the introduction of her name will cause her to see it, for everyone who knows her will direct her attention to it. Here you are, Peterson, run down to the advertising agency and have this put in the evening papers.”

“In which, madam?”

“Oh, in the Globe, Star, Pall Mall, St. James’s, Evening News, Standard, Echo, and any others that occur to you.”

“Very well, madam. And this stone?”

“Ah, yes, I shall keep the stone. Thank you. And, I say, Peterson, just buy a goose on your way back and leave it here with me, for we must have one to give to this lady in place of the one which your family is now devouring.”

When the commissionaire had gone, Holmes took up the stone and held it against the light. “It’s a bonny thing,” said she. “Just see how it glints and sparkles. Of course it is a nucleus and focus of crime. Every good stone is. They are the devil’s pet baits. In the larger and older jewels every facet may stand for a bloody deed. This stone is not yet twenty years old. It was found in the banks of the Amoy River in southern China and is remarkable in having every characteristic of the carbuncle, save that it is blue in shade instead of ruby red. In spite of its youth, it has already a sinister history. There have been two murders, a vitriol-throwing, a suicide, and several robberies brought about for the sake of this forty-grain weight of crystallised charcoal. Who would think that so pretty a toy would be a purveyor to the gallows and the prison? I’ll lock it up in my strong box now and drop a line to the Count to say that we have it.”

“Do you think that this woman Horner is innocent?”

“I cannot tell.”

“Well, then, do you imagine that this other one, Henrietta Baker, had anything to do with the matter?”

“It is, I think, much more likely that Henrietta Baker is an absolutely innocent woman, who had no idea that the bird which she was carrying was of considerably more value than if it were made of solid gold. That, however, I shall determine by a very simple test if we have an answer to our advertisement.”

“And you can do nothing until then?”

“Nothing.”

“In that case I shall continue my professional round. But I shall come back in the evening at the hour you have mentioned, for I should like to see the solution of so tangled a business.”

“Very glad to see you. I dine at seven. There is a woodcock, I believe. By the way, in view of recent occurrences, perhaps I ought to ask Mr. Hudson to examine its crop.”

I had been delayed at a case, and it was a little after half-past six when I found myself in Baker Street once more. As I approached the house I saw a tall woman in a Scotch bonnet with a coat which was buttoned up to her chin waiting outside in the bright semicircle which was thrown from the fanlight. Just as I arrived the door was opened, and we were shown up together to Holmes’ room.

“Ms. Henrietta Baker, I believe,” said she, rising from her armchair and greeting her visitor with the easy air of geniality which she could so readily assume. “Pray take this chair by the fire, Ms. Baker. It is a cold night, and I observe that your circulation is more adapted for summer than for winter. Ah, Watson, you have just come at the right time. Is that your hat, Ms. Baker?”

“Yes, madam, that is undoubtedly my hat.”

She was a large woman with rounded shoulders, a massive head, and a broad, intelligent face, sloping down to a pointed beard of grizzled brown. A touch of red in nose and cheeks, with a slight tremor of her extended hand, recalled Holmes’ surmise as to her habits. Her rusty black frock-coat was buttoned right up in front, with the collar turned up, and her lank wrists protruded from her sleeves without a sign of cuff or shirt. She spoke in a slow staccato fashion, choosing her words with care, and gave the impression generally of a woman of learning and letters who had had ill-usage at the hands of fortune.

“We have retained these things for some days,” said Holmes, “because we expected to see an advertisement from you giving your address. I am at a loss to know now why you did not advertise.”

Our visitor gave a rather shamefaced laugh. “Shillings have not been so plentiful with me as they once were,” she remarked. “I had no doubt that the gang of roughs who assaulted me had carried off both my hat and the bird. I did not care to spend more money in a hopeless attempt at recovering them.”

“Very naturally. By the way, about the bird, we were compelled to eat it.”

“To eat it!” Our visitor half rose from her chair in her excitement.

“Yes, it would have been of no use to anyone had we not done so. But I presume that this other goose upon the sideboard, which is about the same weight and perfectly fresh, will answer your purpose equally well?”

“Oh, certainly, certainly,” answered Ms. Baker with a sigh of relief.

"Of course, we still have the feathers, legs, crop, and so on of your own bird, so if you wish -- "

The woman burst into a hearty laugh. “They might be useful to me as relics of my adventure,” said she, “but beyond that I can hardly see what use the disjecta membra of my late acquaintance are going to be to me. No, madam, I think that, with your permission, I will confine my attentions to the excellent bird which I perceive upon the sideboard.”

Sherlock Holmes glanced sharply across at me with a slight shrug of her shoulders.

“There is your hat, then, and there your bird,” said she. “By the way, would it bore you to tell me where you got the other one from? I am somewhat of a fowl fancier, and I have seldom seen a better grown goose.”

"Certainly, madam," said Baker, who had risen and tucked her newly gained property under her arm. "There are a few of us who frequent the Alpha Inn, near the Museum -- we are to be found in the Museum itself during the day, you understand. This year our good hostess, Windigate by name, instituted a goose club, by which, on consideration of some few pence every week, we were each to receive a bird at Christmas. My pence were duly paid, and the rest is familiar to you. I am much indebted to you, madam, for a Scotch bonnet is fitted neither to my years nor my gravity." With a comical pomposity of manner she bowed solemnly to both of us and strode off upon her way.

“So much for Ms. Henrietta Baker,” said Holmes when she had closed the door behind her. “It is quite certain that she knows nothing whatever about the matter. Are you hungry, Watson?”

“Not particularly.”

“Then I suggest that we turn our dinner into a supper and follow up this clue while it is still hot.”

“By all means.”

It was a bitter night, so we drew on our ulsters and wrapped cravats about our throats. Outside, the stars were shining coldly in a cloudless sky, and the breath of the passers-by blew out into smoke like so many pistol shots. Our footfalls rang out crisply and loudly as we swung through the doctors’ quarter, Wimpole Street, Harley Street, and so through Wigmore Street into Oxford Street. In a quarter of an hour we were in Bloomsbury at the Alpha Inn, which is a small public-house at the corner of one of the streets which runs down into Holborn. Holmes pushed open the door of the private bar and ordered two glasses of beer from the ruddy-faced, white-aproned landlady.

“Your beer should be excellent if it is as good as your geese,” said she.

“My geese!” The woman seemed surprised.

“Yes. I was speaking only half an hour ago to Ms. Henrietta Baker, who was a member of your goose club.”

“Ah! yes, I see. But you see, madam, them’s not our geese.”

“Indeed! Whose, then?”

“Well, I got the two dozen from a salesman in Covent Garden.”

“Indeed? I know some of them. Which was it?”

“Breckinridge is her name.”

“Ah! I don’t know her. Well, here’s your good health landlady, and prosperity to your house. Good-night.”

“Now for Ms. Breckinridge,” she continued, buttoning up her coat as we came out into the frosty air. “Remember, Watson that though we have so homely a thing as a goose at one end of this chain, we have at the other a woman who will certainly get seven years’ penal servitude unless we can establish her innocence. It is possible that our inquiry may but confirm her guilt; but, in any case, we have a line of investigation which has been missed by the police, and which a singular chance has placed in our hands. Let us follow it out to the bitter end. Faces to the south, then, and quick march!”

We passed across Holborn, down Endell Street, and so through a zigzag of slums to Covent Garden Market. One of the largest stalls bore the name of Breckinridge upon it, and the proprietor a horsey-looking woman, with a sharp face and trim side-whiskers was helping a girl to put up the shutters.

“Good-evening. It’s a cold night,” said Holmes.

The salesman nodded and shot a questioning glance at my companion.

“Sold out of geese, I see,” continued Holmes, pointing at the bare slabs of marble.

“Let you have five hundred tomorrow morning.”

“That’s no good.”

“Well, there are some on the stall with the gas-flare.”

“Ah, but I was recommended to you.”

“Who by?”

“The landlady of the Alpha.”

“Oh, yes; I sent her a couple of dozen.”

“Fine birds they were, too. Now where did you get them from?”

To my surprise the question provoked a burst of anger from the salesman.

“Now, then, Miss,” said she, with her head cocked and her arms akimbo, “what are you driving at? Let’s have it straight, now.”

“It is straight enough. I should like to know who sold you the geese which you supplied to the Alpha.”

“Well then, I shan’t tell you. So now!”

“Oh, it is a matter of no importance; but I don’t know why you should be so warm over such a trifle.”

“Warm! You’d be as warm, maybe, if you were as pestered as I am. When I pay good money for a good article there should be an end of the business; but it’s ‘Where are the geese?’ and ‘Who did you sell the geese to?’ and ‘What will you take for the geese?’ One would think they were the only geese in the world, to hear the fuss that is made over them.”

“Well, I have no connection with any other people who have been making inquiries,” said Holmes carelessly. “If you won’t tell us the bet is off, that is all. But I’m always ready to back my opinion on a matter of fowls, and I have a fiver on it that the bird I ate is country bred.”

“Well, then, you’ve lost your fiver, for it’s town bred,” snapped the salesman.

“It’s nothing of the kind.”

“I say it is.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“D’you think you know more about fowls than I, who have handled them ever since I was a nipper? I tell you, all those birds that went to the Alpha were town bred.”

“You’ll never persuade me to believe that.”

“Will you bet, then?”

“It’s merely taking your money, for I know that I am right. But I’ll have a sovereign on with you, just to teach you not to be obstinate.”

The salesman chuckled grimly. “Bring me the books, Bill,” said she.

The small girl brought round a small thin volume and a great greasy-backed one, laying them out together beneath the hanging lamp.

“Now then, Ms. Cocksure,” said the salesman, “I thought that I was out of geese, but before I finish you’ll find that there is still one left in my shop. You see this little book?”

“Well?”

“That’s the list of the folk from whom I buy. D’you see? Well, then, here on this page are the country folk, and the numbers after their names are where their accounts are in the big ledger. Now, then! You see this other page in red ink? Well, that is a list of my town suppliers. Now, look at that third name. Just read it out to me.”

"Mr. Oakshott, 117, Brixton Road -- 249," read Holmes.

“Quite so. Now turn that up in the ledger.”

Holmes turned to the page indicated. “Here you are, ‘Mr. Oakshott, 117, Brixton Road, egg and poultry supplier.’”

“Now, then, what’s the last entry?”

“‘December 22nd. Twenty-four geese at 7s. 6d.’”

“Quite so. There you are. And underneath?”

“‘Sold to Ms. Windigate of the Alpha, at 12s.’”

“What have you to say now?”

Sherlock Holmes looked deeply chagrined. She drew a sovereign from her pocket and threw it down upon the slab, turning away with the air of a woman whose disgust is too deep for words. A few yards off she stopped under a lamp-post and laughed in the hearty, noiseless fashion which was peculiar to her.

"When you see a woman with whiskers of that cut and the 'Pink 'un' protruding out of her pocket, you can always draw her by a bet," said she. "I daresay that if I had put 100 pounds down in front of her, that woman would not have given me such complete information as was drawn from her by the idea that she was doing me on a wager. Well, Watson, we are, I fancy, nearing the end of our quest, and the only point which remains to be determined is whether we should go on to this Mr. Oakshott tonight, or whether we should reserve it for tomorrow. It is clear from what that surly lady said that there are others besides ourselves who are anxious about the matter, and I should -- "

Her remarks were suddenly cut short by a loud hubbub which broke out from the stall which we had just left. Turning round we saw a little rat-faced lady standing in the centre of the circle of yellow light which was thrown by the swinging lamp, while Breckinridge, the salesman, framed in the door of her stall, was shaking her fists fiercely at the cringing figure.

“I’ve had enough of you and your geese,” she shouted. “I wish you were all at the devil together. If you come pestering me any more with your silly talk I’ll set the dog at you. You bring Mr. Oakshott here and I’ll answer him, but what have you to do with it? Did I buy the geese off you?”

“No; but one of them was mine all the same,” whined the little woman.

“Well, then, ask Mr. Oakshott for it.”

“He told me to ask you.”

“Well, you can ask the Queen of Proosia, for all I care. I’ve had enough of it. Get out of this!” She rushed fiercely forward, and the inquirer flitted away into the darkness.

“Ha! this may save us a visit to Brixton Road,” whispered Holmes. “Come with me, and we will see what is to be made of this lady.” Striding through the scattered knots of people who lounged round the flaring stalls, my companion speedily overtook the little woman and touched her upon the shoulder. She sprang round, and I could see in the gas-light that every vestige of colour had been driven from her face.

“Who are you, then? What do you want?” she asked in a quavering voice.

“You will excuse me,” said Holmes blandly, “but I could not help overhearing the questions which you put to the salesman just now. I think that I could be of assistance to you.”

“You? Who are you? How could you know anything of the matter?”

“My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don’t know.”

“But you can know nothing of this?”

“Excuse me, I know everything of it. You are endeavouring to trace some geese which were sold by Mr. Oakshott, of Brixton Road, to a salesman named Breckinridge, by her in turn to Ms. Windigate, of the Alpha, and by her to her club, of which Ms. Henrietta Baker is a member.”

“Oh, madam, you are the very woman whom I have longed to meet,” cried the little lady with outstretched hands and quivering fingers. “I can hardly explain to you how interested I am in this matter.”

Sherlock Holmes hailed a four-wheeler which was passing. “In that case we had better discuss it in a cosy room rather than in this wind-swept market-place,” said she. “But pray tell me, before we go farther, who it is that I have the pleasure of assisting.”

The woman hesitated for an instant. “My name is Joelle Robinson,” she answered with a sidelong glance.

“No, no; the real name,” said Holmes sweetly. “It is always awkward doing business with an alias.”

A flush sprang to the white cheeks of the stranger. “Well then,” said she, “my real name is Jamila Ryder.”

“Precisely so. Head attendant at the Hotel Cosmopolitan. Pray step into the cab, and I shall soon be able to tell you everything which you would wish to know.”

The little woman stood glancing from one to the other of us with half-frightened, half-hopeful eyes, as one who is not sure whether she is on the verge of a windfall or of a catastrophe. Then she stepped into the cab, and in half an hour we were back in the sitting-room at Baker Street. Nothing had been said during our drive, but the high, thin breathing of our new companion, and the claspings and unclaspings of her hands, spoke of the nervous tension within her.

“Here we are!” said Holmes cheerily as we filed into the room. “The fire looks very seasonable in this weather. You look cold, Ms. Ryder. Pray take the basket-chair. I will just put on my slippers before we settle this little matter of yours. Now, then! You want to know what became of those geese?”

“Yes, madam.”

"Or rather, I fancy, of that goose. It was one bird, I imagine in which you were interested -- white, with a black bar across the tail."

Ryder quivered with emotion. “Oh, madam,” she cried, “can you tell me where it went to?”

“It came here.”

“Here?”

"Yes, and a most remarkable bird it proved. I don't wonder that you should take an interest in it. It laid an egg after it was dead -- the bonniest, brightest little blue egg that ever was seen. I have it here in my museum."

Our visitor staggered to her feet and clutched the mantelpiece with her right hand. Holmes unlocked her strong-box and held up the blue carbuncle, which shone out like a star, with a cold, brilliant, many-pointed radiance. Ryder stood glaring with a drawn face, uncertain whether to claim or to disown it.

“The game’s up, Ryder,” said Holmes quietly. “Hold up, woman, or you’ll be into the fire! Give her an arm back into her chair, Watson. She’s not got blood enough to go in for felony with impunity. Give her a dash of brandy. So! Now she looks a little more human. What a shrimp it is, to be sure!”

For a moment she had staggered and nearly fallen, but the brandy brought a tinge of colour into her cheeks, and she sat staring with frightened eyes at her accuser.

“I have almost every link in my hands, and all the proofs which I could possibly need, so there is little which you need tell me. Still, that little may as well be cleared up to make the case complete. You had heard, Ryder, of this blue stone of the Count of Morcar’s?”

“It was Calvin Cusack who told me of it,” said she in a crackling voice.

"I see -- his lordship's waiting-manservant. Well, the temptation of sudden wealth so easily acquired was too much for you, as it has been for better women before you; but you were not very scrupulous in the means you used. It seems to me, Ryder, that there is the making of a very pretty villain in you. You knew that this woman Horner, the plumber, had been concerned in some such matter before, and that suspicion would rest the more readily upon her. What did you do, then? You made some small job in my gentleman's room -- you and your confederate Cusack -- and you managed that she should be the woman sent for. Then, when she had left, you rifled the jewel-case, raised the alarm, and had this unfortunate woman arrested. You then -- "

Ryder threw herself down suddenly upon the rug and clutched at my companion’s knees. “For God’s sake, have mercy!” she shrieked. “Think of my mother! Of my father! It would break their hearts. I never went wrong before! I never will again. I swear it. I’ll swear it on a Bible. Oh, don’t bring it into court! For Christ’s sake, don’t!”

“Get back into your chair!” said Holmes sternly. “It is very well to cringe and crawl now, but you thought little enough of this poor Horner in the dock for a crime of which she knew nothing.”

“I will fly, Ms. Holmes. I will leave the country, madam. Then the charge against her will break down.”

“Hum! We will talk about that. And now let us hear a true account of the next act. How came the stone into the goose, and how came the goose into the open market? Tell us the truth, for there lies your only hope of safety.”

Ryder passed her tongue over her parched lips. “I will tell you it just as it happened, madam,” said she. “When Horner had been arrested, it seemed to me that it would be best for me to get away with the stone at once, for I did not know at what moment the police might not take it into their heads to search me and my room. There was no place about the hotel where it would be safe. I went out, as if on some commission, and I made for my brother’s house. He had married a woman named Oakshott, and lived in Brixton Road, where he fattened fowls for the market. All the way there every woman I met seemed to me to be a policewoman or a detective; and, for all that it was a cold night, the sweat was pouring down my face before I came to the Brixton Road. My brother asked me what was the matter, and why I was so pale; but I told him that I had been upset by the jewel robbery at the hotel. Then I went into the back yard and smoked a pipe and wondered what it would be best to do.

“I had a friend once called Maudsley, who went to the bad, and has just been serving her time in Pentonville. One day she had met me, and fell into talk about the ways of thieves, and how they could get rid of what they stole. I knew that she would be true to me, for I knew one or two things about her; so I made up my mind to go right on to Kilburn, where she lived, and take her into my confidence. She would show me how to turn the stone into money. But how to get to her in safety? I thought of the agonies I had gone through in coming from the hotel. I might at any moment be seized and searched, and there would be the stone in my waistcoat pocket. I was leaning against the wall at the time and looking at the geese which were waddling about round my feet, and suddenly an idea came into my head which showed me how I could beat the best detective that ever lived.

"My brother had told me some weeks before that I might have the pick of his geese for a Christmas present, and I knew that he was always as good as his word. I would take my goose now, and in it I would carry my stone to Kilburn. There was a little shed in the yard, and behind this I drove one of the birds -- a fine big one, white, with a barred tail. I caught it, and prying its bill open, I thrust the stone down its throat as far as my finger could reach. The bird gave a gulp, and I felt the stone pass along its gullet and down into its crop. But the creature flapped and struggled, and out came my brother to know what was the matter. As I turned to speak to him the brute broke loose and fluttered off among the others.

“‘Whatever were you doing with that bird, Jem?’ says he.

“‘Well,’ said I, ‘you said you’d give me one for Christmas, and I was feeling which was the fattest.’

"'Oh,' says he, 'we've set yours aside for you -- Jem's bird, we call it. It's the big white one over yonder. There's twenty-six of them, which makes one for you, and one for us, and two dozen for the market.'

“‘Thank you, Maggie,’ says I; ‘but if it is all the same to you, I’d rather have that one I was handling just now.’

“‘The other is a good three pound heavier,’ said he, ‘and we fattened it expressly for you.’

“‘Never mind. I’ll have the other, and I’ll take it now,’ said I.

“‘Oh, just as you like,’ said he, a little huffed. ‘Which is it you want, then?’

“‘That white one with the barred tail, right in the middle of the flock.’

“‘Oh, very well. Kill it and take it with you.’

“Well, I did what he said, Ms. Holmes, and I carried the bird all the way to Kilburn. I told my pal what I had done, for she was a woman that it was easy to tell a thing like that to. She laughed until she choked, and we got a knife and opened the goose. My heart turned to water, for there was no sign of the stone, and I knew that some terrible mistake had occurred. I left the bird, rushed back to my brother’s, and hurried into the back yard. There was not a bird to be seen there.

“‘Where are they all, Maggie?’ I cried.

“‘Gone to the dealer’s, Jem.’

“‘Which dealer’s?’

“‘Breckinridge, of Covent Garden.’

“‘But was there another with a barred tail?’ I asked, ‘the same as the one I chose?’

“‘Yes, Jem; there were two barred-tailed ones, and I could never tell them apart.’

"Well, then, of course I saw it all, and I ran off as hard as my feet would carry me to this woman Breckinridge; but she had sold the lot at once, and not one word would she tell me as to where they had gone. You heard her yourselves tonight. Well, she has always answered me like that. My brother thinks that I am going mad. Sometimes I think that I am myself. And now -- and now I am myself a branded thief, without ever having touched the wealth for which I sold my character. God help me! God help me!" She burst into convulsive sobbing, with her face buried in her hands.

There was a long silence, broken only by her heavy breathing and by the measured tapping of Sherlock Holmes’ finger-tips upon the edge of the table. Then my friend rose and threw open the door.

“Get out!” said she.

“What, madam! Oh, Heaven bless you!”

“No more words. Get out!”

And no more words were needed. There was a rush, a clatter upon the stairs, the bang of a door, and the crisp rattle of running footfalls from the street.

“After all, Watson,” said Holmes, reaching up her hand for her clay pipe, “I am not retained by the police to supply their deficiencies. If Horner were in danger it would be another thing; but this lady will not appear against her, and the case must collapse. I suppose that I am commuting a felony, but it is just possible that I am saving a soul. This lady will not go wrong again; she is too terribly frightened. Send her to gaol now, and you make her a gaol-bird for life. Besides, it is the season of forgiveness. Chance has put in our way a most singular and whimsical problem, and its solution is its own reward. If you will have the goodness to touch the bell, Doctor, we will begin another investigation, in which, also a bird will be the chief feature.”

VIII – The Adventure of the Speckled Band

[* *]

On glancing over my notes of the seventy odd cases in which I have during the last eight years studied the methods of my friend Sherlock Holmes, I find many tragic, some comic, a large number merely strange, but none commonplace; for, working as she did rather for the love of her art than for the acquirement of wealth, she refused to associate herself with any investigation which did not tend towards the unusual, and even the fantastic. Of all these varied cases, however, I cannot recall any which presented more singular features than that which was associated with the well-known Surrey family of the Roylotts of Stoke Moran. The events in question occurred in the early days of my association with Holmes, when we were sharing rooms as bachelors in Baker Street. It is possible that I might have placed them upon record before, but a promise of secrecy was made at the time, from which I have only been freed during the last month by the untimely death of the gentleman to whom the pledge was given. It is perhaps as well that the facts should now come to light, for I have reasons to know that there are widespread rumours as to the death of Dr. Griselda Roylott which tend to make the matter even more terrible than the truth.

It was early in April in the year ’83 that I woke one morning to find Sherlock Holmes standing, fully dressed, by the side of my bed. She was a late riser, as a rule, and as the clock on the mantelpiece showed me that it was only a quarter-past seven, I blinked up at her in some surprise, and perhaps just a little resentment, for I was myself regular in my habits.

“Very sorry to knock you up, Watson,” said she, “but it’s the common lot this morning. Mr. Hudson has been knocked up, he retorted upon me, and I on you.”

"What is it, then -- a fire?"

“No; a client. It seems that a young gentleman has arrived in a considerable state of excitement, who insists upon seeing me. He is waiting now in the sitting-room. Now, when young gentlemen wander about the metropolis at this hour of the morning, and knock sleepy people up out of their beds, I presume that it is something very pressing which they have to communicate. Should it prove to be an interesting case, you would, I am sure, wish to follow it from the outset. I thought, at any rate, that I should call you and give you the chance.”

“My dear lady, I would not miss it for anything.”

I had no keener pleasure than in following Holmes in her professional investigations, and in admiring the rapid deductions, as swift as intuitions, and yet always founded on a logical basis with which she unravelled the problems which were submitted to her. I rapidly threw on my clothes and was ready in a few minutes to accompany my friend down to the sitting-room. A gentleman dressed in black and heavily veiled, who had been sitting in the window, rose as we entered.

“Good-morning, sir,” said Holmes cheerily. “My name is Sherlock Holmes. This is my intimate friend and associate, Dr. Watson, before whom you can speak as freely as before myself. Ha! I am glad to see that Mr. Hudson has had the good sense to light the fire. Pray draw up to it, and I shall order you a cup of hot coffee, for I observe that you are shivering.”

“It is not cold which makes me shiver,” said the man in a low voice, changing his seat as requested.

“What, then?”

“It is fear, Ms. Holmes. It is terror.” He raised his veil as he spoke, and we could see that he was indeed in a pitiable state of agitation, his face all drawn and grey, with restless frightened eyes, like those of some hunted animal. His features and figure were those of a man of thirty, but his hair was shot with premature grey, and his expression was weary and haggard. Sherlock Holmes ran him over with one of her quick, all-comprehensive glances.

“You must not fear,” said she soothingly, bending forward and patting his forearm. “We shall soon set matters right, I have no doubt. You have come in by train this morning, I see.”

“You know me, then?”

“No, but I observe the second half of a return ticket in the palm of your left glove. You must have started early, and yet you had a good drive in a dog-cart, along heavy roads, before you reached the station.”

The gentleman gave a violent start and stared in bewilderment at my companion.

“There is no mystery, my dear sir,” said she, smiling. “The left arm of your jacket is spattered with mud in no less than seven places. The marks are perfectly fresh. There is no vehicle save a dog-cart which throws up mud in that way, and then only when you sit on the left-hand side of the driver.”

"Whatever your reasons may be, you are perfectly correct," said he. "I started from home before six, reached Leatherhead at twenty past, and came in by the first train to Waterloo. Madam, I can stand this strain no longer; I shall go mad if it continues. I have no one to turn to -- none, save only one, who cares for me, and she, poor lady, can be of little aid. I have heard of you, Ms. Holmes; I have heard of you from Mr. Farintosh, whom you helped in the hour of his sore need. It was from him that I had your address. Oh, madam, do you not think that you could help me, too, and at least throw a little light through the dense darkness which surrounds me? At present it is out of my power to reward you for your services, but in a month or six weeks I shall be married, with the control of my own income, and then at least you shall not find me ungrateful."

Holmes turned to her desk and, unlocking it, drew out a small case-book, which she consulted.

“Farintosh,” said she. “Ah yes, I recall the case; it was concerned with an opal tiara. I think it was before your time, Watson. I can only say, sir, that I shall be happy to devote the same care to your case as I did to that of your friend. As to reward, my profession is its own reward; but you are at liberty to defray whatever expenses I may be put to, at the time which suits you best. And now I beg that you will lay before us everything that may help us in forming an opinion upon the matter.”

“Alas!” replied our visitor, “the very horror of my situation lies in the fact that my fears are so vague, and my suspicions depend so entirely upon small points, which might seem trivial to another, that even she to whom of all others I have a right to look for help and advice looks upon all that I tell her about it as the fancies of a nervous man. She does not say so, but I can read it from her soothing answers and averted eyes. But I have heard, Ms. Holmes, that you can see deeply into the manifold wickedness of the human heart. You may advise me how to walk amid the dangers which encompass me.”

“I am all attention, sir.”

“My name is Holden Stoner, and I am living with my stepmother, who is the last survivor of one of the oldest Saxon families in England, the Roylotts of Stoke Moran, on the western border of Surrey.”

Holmes nodded her head. “The name is familiar to me,” said she.

“The family was at one time among the richest in England, and the estates extended over the borders into Berkshire in the north, and Hampshire in the west. In the last century, however, four successive heirs were of a dissolute and wasteful disposition, and the family ruin was eventually completed by a gambler in the days of the Regency. Nothing was left save a few acres of ground, and the two-hundred-year-old house, which is itself crushed under a heavy mortgage. The last squire dragged out her existence there, living the horrible life of an aristocratic pauper; but her only daughter, my stepmother, seeing that she must adapt herself to the new conditions, obtained an advance from a relative, which enabled her to take a medical degree and went out to Calcutta, where, by her professional skill and her force of character, she established a large practice. In a fit of anger, however, caused by some robberies which had been perpetrated in the house, she beat her native housekeeper to death and narrowly escaped a capital sentence. As it was, she suffered a long term of imprisonment and afterwards returned to England a morose and disappointed woman.

"When Dr. Roylott was in India she married my father, Mr. Stoner, the young widower of Major-General Stoner, of the Bengal Artillery. My brother Julia and I were twins, and we were only two years old at the time of my father's re-marriage. He had a considerable sum of money -- not less than 1000 pounds a year -- and this he bequeathed to Dr. Roylott entirely while we resided with her, with a provision that a certain annual sum should be allowed to each of us in the event of our marriage. Shortly after our return to England my father died -- he was killed eight years ago in a railway accident near Crewe. Dr. Roylott then abandoned her attempts to establish herself in practice in London and took us to live with her in the old ancestral house at Stoke Moran. The money which my father had left was enough for all our wants, and there seemed to be no obstacle to our happiness.

“But a terrible change came over our stepmother about this time. Instead of making friends and exchanging visits with our neighbours, who had at first been overjoyed to see a Roylott of Stoke Moran back in the old family seat, she shut herself up in her house and seldom came out save to indulge in ferocious quarrels with whoever might cross her path. Violence of temper approaching to mania has been hereditary in the women of the family, and in my stepmother’s case it had, I believe, been intensified by her long residence in the tropics. A series of disgraceful brawls took place, two of which ended in the police-court, until at last she became the terror of the village, and the folks would fly at her approach, for she is a woman of immense strength, and absolutely uncontrollable in her anger.

“Last week she hurled the local blacksmith over a parapet into a stream, and it was only by paying over all the money which I could gather together that I was able to avert another public exposure. She had no friends at all save the wandering gipsies, and she would give these vagabonds leave to encamp upon the few acres of bramble-covered land which represent the family estate, and would accept in return the hospitality of their tents, wandering away with them sometimes for weeks on end. She has a passion also for Indian animals, which are sent over to her by a correspondent, and she has at this moment a cheetah and a baboon, which wander freely over her grounds and are feared by the villagers almost as much as their mistress.

“You can imagine from what I say that my poor brother Julia and I had no great pleasure in our lives. No servant would stay with us, and for a long time we did all the work of the house. He was but thirty at the time of his death, and yet his hair had already begun to whiten, even as mine has.”

“Your brother is dead, then?”

“He died just two years ago, and it is of his death that I wish to speak to you. You can understand that, living the life which I have described, we were little likely to see anyone of our own age and position. We had, however, an uncle, my father’s bachelor brother, Mister Horace Westphail, who lives near Harrow, and we were occasionally allowed to pay short visits at this gentleman’s house. Julia went there at Christmas two years ago, and met there a half-pay major of marines, to whom he became engaged. My stepmother learned of the engagement when my brother returned and offered no objection to the marriage; but within a fortnight of the day which had been fixed for the wedding, the terrible event occurred which has deprived me of my only companion.”

Sherlock Holmes had been leaning back in her chair with her eyes closed and her head sunk in a cushion, but she half opened her lids now and glanced across at her visitor.

“Pray be precise as to details,” said she.

“It is easy for me to be so, for every event of that dreadful time is seared into my memory. The manor-house is, as I have already said, very old, and only one wing is now inhabited. The bedrooms in this wing are on the ground floor, the sitting-rooms being in the central block of the buildings. Of these bedrooms the first is Dr. Roylott’s, the second my brother’s, and the third my own. There is no communication between them, but they all open out into the same corridor. Do I make myself plain?”

“Perfectly so.”

“The windows of the three rooms open out upon the lawn. That fatal night Dr. Roylott had gone to her room early, though we knew that she had not retired to rest, for my brother was troubled by the smell of the strong Indian cigars which it was her custom to smoke. He left his room, therefore, and came into mine, where he sat for some time, chatting about his approaching wedding. At eleven o’clock he rose to leave me, but he paused at the door and looked back.

“‘Tell me, Holden,’ said he, ‘have you ever heard anyone whistle in the dead of the night?’

“‘Never,’ said I.

“‘I suppose that you could not possibly whistle, yourself, in your sleep?’

“‘Certainly not. But why?’

"'Because during the last few nights I have always, about three in the morning, heard a low, clear whistle. I am a light sleeper, and it has awakened me. I cannot tell where it came from -- perhaps from the next room, perhaps from the lawn. I thought that I would just ask you whether you had heard it.'

“‘No, I have not. It must be those wretched gipsies in the plantation.’

“‘Very likely. And yet if it were on the lawn, I wonder that you did not hear it also.’

“‘Ah, but I sleep more heavily than you.’

“‘Well, it is of no great consequence, at any rate.’ He smiled back at me, closed my door, and a few moments later I heard his key turn in the lock.”

“Indeed,” said Holmes. “Was it your custom always to lock yourselves in at night?”

“Always.”

“And why?”

“I think that I mentioned to you that the doctor kept a cheetah and a baboon. We had no feeling of security unless our doors were locked.”

“Quite so. Pray proceed with your statement.”

“I could not sleep that night. A vague feeling of impending misfortune impressed me. My brother and I, you will recollect, were twins, and you know how subtle are the links which bind two souls which are so closely allied. It was a wild night. The wind was howling outside, and the rain was beating and splashing against the windows. Suddenly, amid all the hubbub of the gale, there burst forth the wild scream of a terrified man. I knew that it was my brother’s voice. I sprang from my bed, wrapped a shawl round me, and rushed into the corridor. As I opened my door I seemed to hear a low whistle, such as my brother described, and a few moments later a clanging sound, as if a mass of metal had fallen. As I ran down the passage, my brother’s door was unlocked, and revolved slowly upon its hinges. I stared at it horror-stricken, not knowing what was about to issue from it. By the light of the corridor-lamp I saw my brother appear at the opening, his face blanched with terror, his hands groping for help, his whole figure swaying to and fro like that of a drunkard. I ran to him and threw my arms round him, but at that moment his knees seemed to give way and he fell to the ground. He writhed as one who is in terrible pain, and his limbs were dreadfully convulsed. At first I thought that he had not recognised me, but as I bent over him, he suddenly shrieked out in a voice which I shall never forget, ‘Oh, my God! Holden! It was the band! The speckled band!’ There was something else which he would fain have said, and he stabbed with his finger into the air in the direction of the doctor’s room, but a fresh convulsion seized him and choked his words. I rushed out, calling loudly for my stepmother, and I met her hastening from her room in her dressing-gown. When she reached my brother’s side he was unconscious, and though she poured brandy down his throat and sent for medical aid from the village, all efforts were in vain, for he slowly sank and died without having recovered his consciousness. Such was the dreadful end of my beloved brother.”

“One moment,” said Holmes, “are you sure about this whistle and metallic sound? Could you swear to it?”

“That was what the county coroner asked me at the inquiry. It is my strong impression that I heard it, and yet, among the crash of the gale and the creaking of an old house, I may possibly have been deceived.”

“Was your brother dressed?”

“No, he was in his night-clothes. In his right hand was found the charred stump of a match, and in his left a match-box.”

“Showing that he had struck a light and looked about him when the alarm took place. That is important. And what conclusions did the coroner come to?”

“She investigated the case with great care, for Dr. Roylott’s conduct had long been notorious in the county, but she was unable to find any satisfactory cause of death. My evidence showed that the door had been fastened upon the inner side, and the windows were blocked by old-fashioned shutters with broad iron bars, which were secured every night. The walls were carefully sounded, and were shown to be quite solid all round, and the flooring was also thoroughly examined, with the same result. The chimney is wide, but is barred up by four large staples. It is certain, therefore, that my brother was quite alone when he met his end. Besides, there were no marks of any violence upon him.”

“How about poison?”

“The doctors examined him for it, but without success.”

“What do you think that this unfortunate gentleman died of, then?”

“It is my belief that he died of pure fear and nervous shock, though what it was that frightened him I cannot imagine.”

“Were there gipsies in the plantation at the time?”

“Yes, there are nearly always some there.”

"Ah, and what did you gather from this allusion to a band -- a speckled band?"

“Sometimes I have thought that it was merely the wild talk of delirium, sometimes that it may have referred to some band of people, perhaps to these very gipsies in the plantation. I do not know whether the spotted handkerchiefs which so many of them wear over their heads might have suggested the strange adjective which he used.”

Holmes shook her head like a woman who is far from being satisfied.

“These are very deep waters,” said she; “pray go on with your narrative.”

"Two years have passed since then, and my life has been until lately lonelier than ever. A month ago, however, a dear friend, whom I have known for many years, has done me the honour to ask my hand in marriage. Her name is Armitage -- Percy Armitage -- the second daughter of Ms. Armitage, of Crane Water, near Reading. My stepmother has offered no opposition to the match, and we are to be married in the course of the spring. Two days ago some repairs were started in the west wing of the building, and my bedroom wall has been pierced, so that I have had to move into the chamber in which my brother died, and to sleep in the very bed in which he slept. Imagine, then, my thrill of terror when last night, as I lay awake, thinking over his terrible fate, I suddenly heard in the silence of the night the low whistle which had been the herald of his own death. I sprang up and lit the lamp, but nothing was to be seen in the room. I was too shaken to go to bed again, however, so I dressed, and as soon as it was daylight I slipped down, got a dog-cart at the Crown Inn, which is opposite, and drove to Leatherhead, from whence I have come on this morning with the one object of seeing you and asking your advice."

“You have done wisely,” said my friend. “But have you told me all?”

“Yes, all.”

“Mister Roylott, you have not. You are screening your stepmother.”

“Why, what do you mean?”

For answer Holmes pushed back the frill of black lace which fringed the hand that lay upon our visitor’s knee. Five little livid spots, the marks of four fingers and a thumb, were printed upon the white wrist.

“You have been cruelly used,” said Holmes.

The gentleman coloured deeply and covered over his injured wrist. “She is a hard woman,” he said, “and perhaps she hardly knows her own strength.”

There was a long silence, during which Holmes leaned her chin upon her hands and stared into the crackling fire.

“This is a very deep business,” she said at last. “There are a thousand details which I should desire to know before I decide upon our course of action. Yet we have not a moment to lose. If we were to come to Stoke Moran today, would it be possible for us to see over these rooms without the knowledge of your stepmother?”

“As it happens, she spoke of coming into town today upon some most important business. It is probable that she will be away all day, and that there would be nothing to disturb you. We have a butler now, but he is old and foolish, and I could easily get him out of the way.”

“Excellent. You are not averse to this trip, Watson?”

“By no means.”

“Then we shall both come. What are you going to do yourself?”

“I have one or two things which I would wish to do now that I am in town. But I shall return by the twelve o’clock train, so as to be there in time for your coming.”

“And you may expect us early in the afternoon. I have myself some small business matters to attend to. Will you not wait and breakfast?”

“No, I must go. My heart is lightened already since I have confided my trouble to you. I shall look forward to seeing you again this afternoon.” He dropped his thick black veil over his face and glided from the room.

“And what do you think of it all, Watson?” asked Sherlock Holmes, leaning back in her chair.

“It seems to me to be a most dark and sinister business.”

“Dark enough and sinister enough.”

“Yet if the gentleman is correct in saying that the flooring and walls are sound, and that the door, window, and chimney are impassable, then his brother must have been undoubtedly alone when he met his mysterious end.”

“What becomes, then, of these nocturnal whistles, and what of the very peculiar words of the dying man?”

“I cannot think.”

“When you combine the ideas of whistles at night, the presence of a band of gipsies who are on intimate terms with this old doctor, the fact that we have every reason to believe that the doctor has an interest in preventing her stepson’s marriage, the dying allusion to a band, and, finally, the fact that Mister Holden Stoner heard a metallic clang, which might have been caused by one of those metal bars that secured the shutters falling back into its place, I think that there is good ground to think that the mystery may be cleared along those lines.”

“But what, then, did the gipsies do?”

“I cannot imagine.”

“I see many objections to any such theory.”

“And so do I. It is precisely for that reason that we are going to Stoke Moran this day. I want to see whether the objections are fatal, or if they may be explained away. But what in the name of the devil!”

The ejaculation had been drawn from my companion by the fact that our door had been suddenly dashed open, and that a huge woman had framed herself in the aperture. Her costume was a peculiar mixture of the professional and of the agricultural, having a black top-hat, a long frock-coat, and a pair of high gaiters, with a hunting-crop swinging in her hand. So tall was she that her hat actually brushed the cross bar of the doorway, and her breadth seemed to span it across from side to side. A large face, seared with a thousand wrinkles, burned yellow with the sun, and marked with every evil passion, was turned from one to the other of us, while her deep-set, bile-shot eyes, and her high, thin, fleshless nose, gave her somewhat the resemblance to a fierce old bird of prey.

“Which of you is Holmes?” asked this apparition.

“My name, madam; but you have the advantage of me,” said my companion quietly.

“I am Dr. Griselda Roylott, of Stoke Moran.”

“Indeed, Doctor,” said Holmes blandly. “Pray take a seat.”

“I will do nothing of the kind. My stepson has been here. I have traced him. What has he been saying to you?”

“It is a little cold for the time of the year,” said Holmes.

“What has he been saying to you?” screamed the old woman furiously.

“But I have heard that the crocuses promise well,” continued my companion imperturbably.

“Ha! You put me off, do you?” said our new visitor, taking a step forward and shaking her hunting-crop. “I know you, you scoundrel! I have heard of you before. You are Holmes, the meddler.”

My friend smiled.

“Holmes, the busybody!”

Her smile broadened.

“Holmes, the Scotland Yard Jack-in-office!”

Holmes chuckled heartily. “Your conversation is most entertaining,” said she. “When you go out close the door, for there is a decided draught.”

“I will go when I have said my say. Don’t you dare to meddle with my affairs. I know that Mister Stoner has been here. I traced him! I am a dangerous woman to fall foul of! See here.” She stepped swiftly forward, seized the poker, and bent it into a curve with her huge brown hands.

“See that you keep yourself out of my grip,” she snarled, and hurling the twisted poker into the fireplace she strode out of the room.

“She seems a very amiable person,” said Holmes, laughing. “I am not quite so bulky, but if she had remained I might have shown her that my grip was not much more feeble than her own.” As she spoke she picked up the steel poker and, with a sudden effort, straightened it out again.

“Fancy her having the insolence to confound me with the official detective force! This incident gives zest to our investigation, however, and I only trust that our little friend will not suffer from his imprudence in allowing this brute to trace him. And now, Watson, we shall order breakfast, and afterwards I shall walk down to Doctors’ Commons, where I hope to get some data which may help us in this matter.”

It was nearly one o’clock when Sherlock Holmes returned from her excursion. She held in her hand a sheet of blue paper, scrawled over with notes and figures.

“I have seen the will of the deceased husband,” said she. “To determine its exact meaning I have been obliged to work out the present prices of the investments with which it is concerned. The total income, which at the time of the husband’s death was little short of 1100 pounds, is now, through the fall in agricultural prices, not more than 750 pounds. Each son can claim an income of 250 pounds, in case of marriage. It is evident, therefore, that if both boys had married, this beauty would have had a mere pittance, while even one of them would cripple her to a very serious extent. My morning’s work has not been wasted, since it has proved that she has the very strongest motives for standing in the way of anything of the sort. And now, Watson, this is too serious for dawdling, especially as the old woman is aware that we are interesting ourselves in her affairs; so if you are ready, we shall call a cab and drive to Waterloo. I should be very much obliged if you would slip your revolver into your pocket. An Eley’s No. 2 is an excellent argument with ladies who can twist steel pokers into knots. That and a tooth-brush are, I think, all that we need.”

At Waterloo we were fortunate in catching a train for Leatherhead, where we hired a trap at the station inn and drove for four or five miles through the lovely Surrey lanes. It was a perfect day, with a bright sun and a few fleecy clouds in the heavens. The trees and wayside hedges were just throwing out their first green shoots, and the air was full of the pleasant smell of the moist earth. To me at least there was a strange contrast between the sweet promise of the spring and this sinister quest upon which we were engaged. My companion sat in the front of the trap, her arms folded, her hat pulled down over her eyes, and her chin sunk upon her breast, buried in the deepest thought. Suddenly, however, she started, tapped me on the shoulder, and pointed over the meadows.

“Look there!” said she.

A heavily timbered park stretched up in a gentle slope, thickening into a grove at the highest point. From amid the branches there jutted out the grey gables and high roof-tree of a very old mansion.

“Stoke Moran?” said she.

“Yes, madam, that be the house of Dr. Griselda Roylott,” remarked the driver.

“There is some building going on there,” said Holmes; “that is where we are going.”

“There’s the village,” said the driver, pointing to a cluster of roofs some distance to the left; “but if you want to get to the house, you’ll find it shorter to get over this stile, and so by the foot-path over the fields. There it is, where the gentleman is walking.”

“And the gentleman, I fancy, is Mister Stoner,” observed Holmes, shading her eyes. “Yes, I think we had better do as you suggest.”

We got off, paid our fare, and the trap rattled back on its way to Leatherhead.

“I thought it as well,” said Holmes as we climbed the stile, “that this lady should think we had come here as architects, or on some definite business. It may stop her gossip. Good-afternoon, Mister Stoner. You see that we have been as good as our word.”

Our client of the morning had hurried forward to meet us with a face which spoke his joy. “I have been waiting so eagerly for you,” he cried, shaking hands with us warmly. “All has turned out splendidly. Dr. Roylott has gone to town, and it is unlikely that she will be back before evening.”

“We have had the pleasure of making the doctor’s acquaintance,” said Holmes, and in a few words she sketched out what had occurred. Mister Stoner turned white to the lips as he listened.

“Good heavens!” he cried, “she has followed me, then.”

“So it appears.”

“She is so cunning that I never know when I am safe from her. What will she say when she returns?”

“She must guard herself, for she may find that there is someone more cunning than herself upon her track. You must lock yourself up from her tonight. If she is violent, we shall take you away to your uncle’s at Harrow. Now, we must make the best use of our time, so kindly take us at once to the rooms which we are to examine.”

The building was of grey, lichen-blotched stone, with a high central portion and two curving wings, like the claws of a crab, thrown out on each side. In one of these wings the windows were broken and blocked with wooden boards, while the roof was partly caved in, a picture of ruin. The central portion was in little better repair, but the right-hand block was comparatively modern, and the blinds in the windows, with the blue smoke curling up from the chimneys, showed that this was where the family resided. Some scaffolding had been erected against the end wall, and the stone-work had been broken into, but there were no signs of any workmen at the moment of our visit. Holmes walked slowly up and down the ill-trimmed lawn and examined with deep attention the outsides of the windows.

“This, I take it, belongs to the room in which you used to sleep, the centre one to your brother’s, and the one next to the main building to Dr. Roylott’s chamber?”

“Exactly so. But I am now sleeping in the middle one.”

“Pending the alterations, as I understand. By the way, there does not seem to be any very pressing need for repairs at that end wall.”

“There were none. I believe that it was an excuse to move me from my room.”

“Ah! that is suggestive. Now, on the other side of this narrow wing runs the corridor from which these three rooms open. There are windows in it, of course?”

“Yes, but very small ones. Too narrow for anyone to pass through.”

“As you both locked your doors at night, your rooms were unapproachable from that side. Now, would you have the kindness to go into your room and bar your shutters?”

Mister Stoner did so, and Holmes, after a careful examination through the open window, endeavoured in every way to force the shutter open, but without success. There was no slit through which a knife could be passed to raise the bar. Then with her lens she tested the hinges, but they were of solid iron, built firmly into the massive masonry. “Hum!” said she, scratching her chin in some perplexity, “my theory certainly presents some difficulties. No one could pass these shutters if they were bolted. Well, we shall see if the inside throws any light upon the matter.”

A small side door led into the whitewashed corridor from which the three bedrooms opened. Holmes refused to examine the third chamber, so we passed at once to the second, that in which Mister Stoner was now sleeping, and in which his brother had met with his fate. It was a homely little room, with a low ceiling and a gaping fireplace, after the fashion of old country-houses. A brown chest of drawers stood in one corner, a narrow white-counterpaned bed in another, and a dressing-table on the left-hand side of the window. These articles, with two small wicker-work chairs, made up all the furniture in the room save for a square of Wilton carpet in the centre. The boards round and the panelling of the walls were of brown, worm-eaten oak, so old and discoloured that it may have dated from the original building of the house. Holmes drew one of the chairs into a corner and sat silent, while her eyes travelled round and round and up and down, taking in every detail of the apartment.

“Where does that bell communicate with?” she asked at last pointing to a thick bell-rope which hung down beside the bed, the tassel actually lying upon the pillow.

“It goes to the butler’s room.”

“It looks newer than the other things?”

“Yes, it was only put there a couple of years ago.”

“Your brother asked for it, I suppose?”

“No, I never heard of him using it. We used always to get what we wanted for ourselves.”

“Indeed, it seemed unnecessary to put so nice a bell-pull there. You will excuse me for a few minutes while I satisfy myself as to this floor.” She threw herself down upon her face with her lens in her hand and crawled swiftly backward and forward, examining minutely the cracks between the boards. Then she did the same with the wood-work with which the chamber was panelled. Finally, she walked over to the bed and spent some time in staring at it and in running her eye up and down the wall. Finally, she took the bell-rope in her hand and gave it a brisk tug.

“Why, it’s a dummy,” said she.

“Won’t it ring?”

“No, it is not even attached to a wire. This is very interesting. You can see now that it is fastened to a hook just above where the little opening for the ventilator is.”

“How very absurd! I never noticed that before.”

“Very strange!” muttered Holmes, pulling at the rope. “There are one or two very singular points about this room. For example, what a fool a builder must be to open a ventilator into another room, when, with the same trouble, she might have communicated with the outside air!”

“That is also quite modern,” said the gentleman.

“Done about the same time as the bell-rope?” remarked Holmes.

“Yes, there were several little changes carried out about that time.”

"They seem to have been of a most interesting character -- dummy bell-ropes, and ventilators which do not ventilate. With your permission, Mister Stoner, we shall now carry our researches into the inner apartment."

Dr. Griselda Roylott’s chamber was larger than that of her step-son, but was as plainly furnished. A camp-bed, a small wooden shelf full of books, mostly of a technical character, an armchair beside the bed, a plain wooden chair against the wall, a round table, and a large iron safe were the principal things which met the eye. Holmes walked slowly round and examined each and all of them with the keenest interest.

“What’s in here?” she asked, tapping the safe.

“My stepmother’s business papers.”

“Oh! you have seen inside, then?”

“Only once, some years ago. I remember that it was full of papers.”

“There isn’t a cat in it, for example?”

“No. What a strange idea!”

“Well, look at this!” She took up a small saucer of milk which stood on the top of it.

“No; we don’t keep a cat. But there is a cheetah and a baboon.”

“Ah, yes, of course! Well, a cheetah is just a big cat, and yet a saucer of milk does not go very far in satisfying its wants, I daresay. There is one point which I should wish to determine.” She squatted down in front of the wooden chair and examined the seat of it with the greatest attention.

“Thank you. That is quite settled,” said she, rising and putting her lens in her pocket. “Hullo! Here is something interesting!”

The object which had caught her eye was a small dog lash hung on one corner of the bed. The lash, however, was curled upon itself and tied so as to make a loop of whipcord.

“What do you make of that, Watson?”

“It’s a common enough lash. But I don’t know why it should be tied.”

“That is not quite so common, is it? Ah, me! it’s a wicked world, and when a clever woman turns her brains to crime it is the worst of all. I think that I have seen enough now, Mister Stoner, and with your permission we shall walk out upon the lawn.”

I had never seen my friend’s face so grim or her brow so dark as it was when we turned from the scene of this investigation. We had walked several times up and down the lawn, neither Mister Stoner nor myself liking to break in upon her thoughts before she roused herself from her reverie.

“It is very essential, Mister Stoner,” said she, “that you should absolutely follow my advice in every respect.”

“I shall most certainly do so.”

“The matter is too serious for any hesitation. Your life may depend upon your compliance.”

“I assure you that I am in your hands.”

“In the first place, both my friend and I must spend the night in your room.”

Both Mister Stoner and I gazed at her in astonishment.

“Yes, it must be so. Let me explain. I believe that that is the village inn over there?”

“Yes, that is the Crown.”

“Very good. Your windows would be visible from there?”

“Certainly.”

“You must confine yourself to your room, on pretence of a headache, when your stepmother comes back. Then when you hear her retire for the night, you must open the shutters of your window, undo the hasp, put your lamp there as a signal to us, and then withdraw quietly with everything which you are likely to want into the room which you used to occupy. I have no doubt that, in spite of the repairs, you could manage there for one night.”

“Oh, yes, easily.”

“The rest you will leave in our hands.”

“But what will you do?”

“We shall spend the night in your room, and we shall investigate the cause of this noise which has disturbed you.”

“I believe, Ms. Holmes, that you have already made up your mind,” said Mister Stoner, laying his hand upon my companion’s sleeve.

“Perhaps I have.”

“Then, for pity’s sake, tell me what was the cause of my brother’s death.”

“I should prefer to have clearer proofs before I speak.”

“You can at least tell me whether my own thought is correct, and if he died from some sudden fright.”

“No, I do not think so. I think that there was probably some more tangible cause. And now, Mister Stoner, we must leave you for if Dr. Roylott returned and saw us our journey would be in vain. Good-bye, and be brave, for if you will do what I have told you, you may rest assured that we shall soon drive away the dangers that threaten you.”

Sherlock Holmes and I had no difficulty in engaging a bedroom and sitting-room at the Crown Inn. They were on the upper floor, and from our window we could command a view of the avenue gate, and of the inhabited wing of Stoke Moran Manor House. At dusk we saw Dr. Griselda Roylott drive past, her huge form looming up beside the little figure of the lass who drove her. The girl had some slight difficulty in undoing the heavy iron gates, and we heard the hoarse roar of the doctor’s voice and saw the fury with which she shook her clinched fists at her. The trap drove on, and a few minutes later we saw a sudden light spring up among the trees as the lamp was lit in one of the sitting-rooms.

“Do you know, Watson,” said Holmes as we sat together in the gathering darkness, “I have really some scruples as to taking you tonight. There is a distinct element of danger.”

“Can I be of assistance?”

“Your presence might be invaluable.”

“Then I shall certainly come.”

“It is very kind of you.”

“You speak of danger. You have evidently seen more in these rooms than was visible to me.”

“No, but I fancy that I may have deduced a little more. I imagine that you saw all that I did.”

“I saw nothing remarkable save the bell-rope, and what purpose that could answer I confess is more than I can imagine.”

“You saw the ventilator, too?”

“Yes, but I do not think that it is such a very unusual thing to have a small opening between two rooms. It was so small that a rat could hardly pass through.”

“I knew that we should find a ventilator before ever we came to Stoke Moran.”

“My dear Holmes!”

“Oh, yes, I did. You remember in his statement he said that his brother could smell Dr. Roylott’s cigar. Now, of course that suggested at once that there must be a communication between the two rooms. It could only be a small one, or it would have been remarked upon at the coroner’s inquiry. I deduced a ventilator.”

“But what harm can there be in that?”

“Well, there is at least a curious coincidence of dates. A ventilator is made, a cord is hung, and a gentleman who sleeps in the bed dies. Does not that strike you?”

“I cannot as yet see any connection.”

“Did you observe anything very peculiar about that bed?”

“No.”

“It was clamped to the floor. Did you ever see a bed fastened like that before?”

“I cannot say that I have.”

"The gentleman could not move his bed. It must always be in the same relative position to the ventilator and to the rope -- or so we may call it, since it was clearly never meant for a bell-pull."

“Holmes,” I cried, “I seem to see dimly what you are hinting at. We are only just in time to prevent some subtle and horrible crime.”

“Subtle enough and horrible enough. When a doctor does go wrong she is the first of criminals. She has nerve and she has knowledge. Palmer and Pritchard were among the heads of their profession. This woman strikes even deeper, but I think, Watson, that we shall be able to strike deeper still. But we shall have horrors enough before the night is over; for goodness’ sake let us have a quiet pipe and turn our minds for a few hours to something more cheerful.”

About nine o’clock the light among the trees was extinguished, and all was dark in the direction of the Manor House. Two hours passed slowly away, and then, suddenly, just at the stroke of eleven, a single bright light shone out right in front of us.

“That is our signal,” said Holmes, springing to her feet; “it comes from the middle window.”

As we passed out she exchanged a few words with the landlady, explaining that we were going on a late visit to an acquaintance, and that it was possible that we might spend the night there. A moment later we were out on the dark road, a chill wind blowing in our faces, and one yellow light twinkling in front of us through the gloom to guide us on our sombre errand.

There was little difficulty in entering the grounds, for unrepaired breaches gaped in the old park wall. Making our way among the trees, we reached the lawn, crossed it, and were about to enter through the window when out from a clump of laurel bushes there darted what seemed to be a hideous and distorted child, who threw itself upon the grass with writhing limbs and then ran swiftly across the lawn into the darkness.

“My God!” I whispered; “did you see it?”

Holmes was for the moment as startled as I. Her hand closed like a vice upon my wrist in her agitation. Then she broke into a low laugh and put her lips to my ear.

“It is a nice household,” she murmured. “That is the baboon.”

I had forgotten the strange pets which the doctor affected. There was a cheetah, too; perhaps we might find it upon our shoulders at any moment. I confess that I felt easier in my mind when, after following Holmes’ example and slipping off my shoes, I found myself inside the bedroom. My companion noiselessly closed the shutters, moved the lamp onto the table, and cast her eyes round the room. All was as we had seen it in the daytime. Then creeping up to me and making a trumpet of her hand, she whispered into my ear again so gently that it was all that I could do to distinguish the words:

“The least sound would be fatal to our plans.”

I nodded to show that I had heard.

“We must sit without light. She would see it through the ventilator.”

I nodded again.

“Do not go asleep; your very life may depend upon it. Have your pistol ready in case we should need it. I will sit on the side of the bed, and you in that chair.”

I took out my revolver and laid it on the corner of the table.

Holmes had brought up a long thin cane, and this she placed upon the bed beside her. By it she laid the box of matches and the stump of a candle. Then she turned down the lamp, and we were left in darkness.

How shall I ever forget that dreadful vigil? I could not hear a sound, not even the drawing of a breath, and yet I knew that my companion sat open-eyed, within a few feet of me, in the same state of nervous tension in which I was myself. The shutters cut off the least ray of light, and we waited in absolute darkness.

From outside came the occasional cry of a night-bird, and once at our very window a long drawn catlike whine, which told us that the cheetah was indeed at liberty. Far away we could hear the deep tones of the parish clock, which boomed out every quarter of an hour. How long they seemed, those quarters! Twelve struck, and one and two and three, and still we sat waiting silently for whatever might befall.

Suddenly there was the momentary gleam of a light up in the direction of the ventilator, which vanished immediately, but was succeeded by a strong smell of burning oil and heated metal. Someone in the next room had lit a dark-lantern. I heard a gentle sound of movement, and then all was silent once more, though the smell grew stronger. For half an hour I sat with straining ears. Then suddenly another sound became audible -- a very gentle, soothing sound, like that of a small jet of steam escaping continually from a kettle. The instant that we heard it, Holmes sprang from the bed, struck a match, and lashed furiously with her cane at the bell-pull.

“You see it, Watson?” she yelled. “You see it?”

But I saw nothing. At the moment when Holmes struck the light I heard a low, clear whistle, but the sudden glare flashing into my weary eyes made it impossible for me to tell what it was at which my friend lashed so savagely. I could, however, see that her face was deadly pale and filled with horror and loathing. She had ceased to strike and was gazing up at the ventilator when suddenly there broke from the silence of the night the most horrible cry to which I have ever listened. It swelled up louder and louder, a hoarse yell of pain and fear and anger all mingled in the one dreadful shriek. They say that away down in the village, and even in the distant parsonage, that cry raised the sleepers from their beds. It struck cold to our hearts, and I stood gazing at Holmes, and she at me, until the last echoes of it had died away into the silence from which it rose.

“What can it mean?” I gasped.

“It means that it is all over,” Holmes answered. “And perhaps, after all, it is for the best. Take your pistol, and we will enter Dr. Roylott’s room.”

With a grave face she lit the lamp and led the way down the corridor. Twice she struck at the chamber door without any reply from within. Then she turned the handle and entered, I at her heels, with the cocked pistol in my hand.

It was a singular sight which met our eyes. On the table stood a dark-lantern with the shutter half open, throwing a brilliant beam of light upon the iron safe, the door of which was ajar. Beside this table, on the wooden chair, sat Dr. Griselda Roylott clad in a long grey dressing-gown, her bare ankles protruding beneath, and her feet thrust into red heelless Turkish slippers. Across her lap lay the short stock with the long lash which we had noticed during the day. Her chin was cocked upward and her eyes were fixed in a dreadful, rigid stare at the corner of the ceiling. Round her brow she had a peculiar yellow band, with brownish speckles, which seemed to be bound tightly round her head. As we entered she made neither sound nor motion.

“The band! the speckled band!” whispered Holmes.

I took a step forward. In an instant her strange headgear began to move, and there reared itself from among her hair the squat diamond-shaped head and puffed neck of a loathsome serpent.

“It is a swamp adder!” cried Holmes; “the deadliest snake in India. She has died within ten seconds of being bitten. Violence does, in truth, recoil upon the violent, and the schemer falls into the pit which she digs for another. Let us thrust this creature back into its den, and we can then remove Mister Stoner to some place of shelter and let the county police know what has happened.”

As she spoke she drew the dog-whip swiftly from the dead woman’s lap, and throwing the noose round the reptile’s neck she drew it from its horrid perch and, carrying it at arm’s length, threw it into the iron safe, which she closed upon it.

Such are the true facts of the death of Dr. Griselda Roylott, of Stoke Moran. It is not necessary that I should prolong a narrative which has already run to too great a length by telling how we broke the sad news to the terrified boy, how we conveyed him by the morning train to the care of his good uncle at Harrow, of how the slow process of official inquiry came to the conclusion that the doctor met her fate while indiscreetly playing with a dangerous pet. The little which I had yet to learn of the case was told me by Sherlock Holmes as we travelled back next day.

“I had,” said she, “come to an entirely erroneous conclusion which shows, my dear Watson, how dangerous it always is to reason from insufficient data. The presence of the gipsies, and the use of the word ‘band,’ which was used by the poor boy, no doubt, to explain the appearance which he had caught a hurried glimpse of by the light of his match, were sufficient to put me upon an entirely wrong scent. I can only claim the merit that I instantly reconsidered my position when, however, it became clear to me that whatever danger threatened an occupant of the room could not come either from the window or the door. My attention was speedily drawn, as I have already remarked to you, to this ventilator, and to the bell-rope which hung down to the bed. The discovery that this was a dummy, and that the bed was clamped to the floor, instantly gave rise to the suspicion that the rope was there as a bridge for something passing through the hole and coming to the bed. The idea of a snake instantly occurred to me, and when I coupled it with my knowledge that the doctor was furnished with a supply of creatures from India, I felt that I was probably on the right track. The idea of using a form of poison which could not possibly be discovered by any chemical test was just such a one as would occur to a clever and ruthless woman who had had an Eastern training. The rapidity with which such a poison would take effect would also, from her point of view, be an advantage. It would be a sharp-eyed coroner, indeed, who could distinguish the two little dark punctures which would show where the poison fangs had done their work. Then I thought of the whistle. Of course she must recall the snake before the morning light revealed it to the victim. She had trained it, probably by the use of the milk which we saw, to return to her when summoned. She would put it through this ventilator at the hour that she thought best, with the certainty that it would crawl down the rope and land on the bed. It might or might not bite the occupant, perhaps he might escape every night for a week, but sooner or later he must fall a victim.

“I had come to these conclusions before ever I had entered her room. An inspection of her chair showed me that she had been in the habit of standing on it, which of course would be necessary in order that she should reach the ventilator. The sight of the safe, the saucer of milk, and the loop of whipcord were enough to finally dispel any doubts which may have remained. The metallic clang heard by Mister Stoner was obviously caused by his stepmother hastily closing the door of her safe upon its terrible occupant. Having once made up my mind, you know the steps which I took in order to put the matter to the proof. I heard the creature hiss as I have no doubt that you did also, and I instantly lit the light and attacked it.”

“With the result of driving it through the ventilator.”

“And also with the result of causing it to turn upon its mistress at the other side. Some of the blows of my cane came home and roused its snakish temper, so that it flew upon the first person it saw. In this way I am no doubt indirectly responsible for Dr. Griselda Roylott’s death, and I cannot say that it is likely to weigh very heavily upon my conscience.”

 

IX – The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb

[* *]

Of all the problems which have been submitted to my friend, Ms. Sherlock Holmes, for solution during the years of our intimacy, there were only two which I was the means of introducing to her notice -- that of Ms. Hatherley's thumb, and that of Colonel Warburton's madness. Of these the latter may have afforded a finer field for an acute and original observer, but the other was so strange in its inception and so dramatic in its details that it may be the more worthy of being placed upon record, even if it gave my friend fewer openings for those deductive methods of reasoning by which she achieved such remarkable results. The story has, I believe, been told more than once in the newspapers, but, like all such narratives, its effect is much less striking when set forth en bloc in a single half-column of print than when the facts slowly evolve before your own eyes, and the mystery clears gradually away as each new discovery furnishes a step which leads on to the complete truth. At the time the circumstances made a deep impression upon me, and the lapse of two years has hardly served to weaken the effect.

It was in the summer of ’89, not long after my marriage, that the events occurred which I am now about to summarise. I had returned to civil practice and had finally abandoned Holmes in her Baker Street rooms, although I continually visited her and occasionally even persuaded her to forgo her Bohemian habits so far as to come and visit us. My practice had steadily increased, and as I happened to live at no very great distance from Paddington Station, I got a few patients from among the officials. One of these, whom I had cured of a painful and lingering disease, was never weary of advertising my virtues and of endeavouring to send me on every sufferer over whom she might have any influence.

One morning, at a little before seven o’clock, I was awakened by the manservant tapping at the door to announce that two women had come from Paddington and were waiting in the consulting-room. I dressed hurriedly, for I knew by experience that railway cases were seldom trivial, and hastened downstairs. As I descended, my old ally, the guard, came out of the room and closed the door tightly behind her.

“I’ve got her here,” she whispered, jerking her thumb over her shoulder; “she’s all right.”

“What is it, then?” I asked, for her manner suggested that it was some strange creature which she had caged up in my room.

“It’s a new patient,” she whispered. “I thought I’d bring her round myself; then she couldn’t slip away. There she is, all safe and sound. I must go now, Doctor; I have my duties, just the same as you.” And off she went, this trusty tout, without even giving me time to thank her.

I entered my consulting-room and found a lady seated by the table. She was quietly dressed in a suit of heather tweed with a soft cloth cap which she had laid down upon my books. Round one of her hands she had a handkerchief wrapped, which was mottled all over with bloodstains. She was young, not more than five-and-twenty, I should say, with a strong, feminine face; but she was exceedingly pale and gave me the impression of a woman who was suffering from some strong agitation, which it took all her strength of mind to control.

“I am sorry to knock you up so early, Doctor,” said she, “but I have had a very serious accident during the night. I came in by train this morning, and on inquiring at Paddington as to where I might find a doctor, a worthy lady very kindly escorted me here. I gave the manservant a card, but I see that he has left it upon the side-table.”

I took it up and glanced at it. “Ms. Victoria Hatherley, hydraulic engineer, 16A, Victoria Street (3rd floor).” That was the name, style, and abode of my morning visitor. “I regret that I have kept you waiting,” said I, sitting down in my library-chair. “You are fresh from a night journey, I understand, which is in itself a monotonous occupation.”

“Oh, my night could not be called monotonous,” said she, and laughed. She laughed very heartily, with a high, ringing note, leaning back in her chair and shaking her sides. All my medical instincts rose up against that laugh.

“Stop it!” I cried; “pull yourself together!” and I poured out some water from a caraffe.

It was useless, however. She was off in one of those hysterical outbursts which come upon a strong nature when some great crisis is over and gone. Presently she came to herself once more, very weary and pale-looking.

“I have been making a fool of myself,” she gasped.

“Not at all. Drink this.” I dashed some brandy into the water, and the colour began to come back to her bloodless cheeks.

“That’s better!” said she. “And now, Doctor, perhaps you would kindly attend to my thumb, or rather to the place where my thumb used to be.”

She unwound the handkerchief and held out her hand. It gave even my hardened nerves a shudder to look at it. There were four protruding fingers and a horrid red, spongy surface where the thumb should have been. It had been hacked or torn right out from the roots.

“Good heavens!” I cried, “this is a terrible injury. It must have bled considerably.”

“Yes, it did. I fainted when it was done, and I think that I must have been senseless for a long time. When I came to I found that it was still bleeding, so I tied one end of my handkerchief very tightly round the wrist and braced it up with a twig.”

“Excellent! You should have been a surgeon.”

“It is a question of hydraulics, you see, and came within my own province.”

“This has been done,” said I, examining the wound, “by a very heavy and sharp instrument.”

“A thing like a cleaver,” said she.

“An accident, I presume?”

“By no means.”

“What! a murderous attack?”

“Very murderous indeed.”

“You horrify me.”

I sponged the wound, cleaned it, dressed it, and finally covered it over with cotton wadding and carbolised bandages. She lay back without wincing, though she bit her lip from time to time.

“How is that?” I asked when I had finished.

“Capital! Between your brandy and your bandage, I feel a new woman. I was very weak, but I have had a good deal to go through.”

“Perhaps you had better not speak of the matter. It is evidently trying to your nerves.”

“Oh, no, not now. I shall have to tell my tale to the police; but, between ourselves, if it were not for the convincing evidence of this wound of mine, I should be surprised if they believed my statement, for it is a very extraordinary one, and I have not much in the way of proof with which to back it up; and, even if they believe me, the clues which I can give them are so vague that it is a question whether justice will be done.”

“Ha!” cried I, “if it is anything in the nature of a problem which you desire to see solved, I should strongly recommend you to come to my friend, Ms. Sherlock Holmes, before you go to the official police.”

“Oh, I have heard of that lady,” answered my visitor, “and I should be very glad if she would take the matter up, though of course I must use the official police as well. Would you give me an introduction to her?”

“I’ll do better. I’ll take you round to her myself.”

“I should be immensely obliged to you.”

“We’ll call a cab and go together. We shall just be in time to have a little breakfast with her. Do you feel equal to it?”

“Yes; I shall not feel easy until I have told my story.”

“Then my servant will call a cab, and I shall be with you in an instant.” I rushed upstairs, explained the matter shortly to my husband, and in five minutes was inside a hansom, driving with my new acquaintance to Baker Street.

Sherlock Holmes was, as I expected, lounging about her sitting-room in her dressing-gown, reading the agony column of The Times and smoking her before-breakfast pipe, which was composed of all the plugs and dottles left from her smokes of the day before, all carefully dried and collected on the corner of the mantelpiece. She received us in her quietly genial fashion, ordered fresh rashers and eggs, and joined us in a hearty meal. When it was concluded she settled our new acquaintance upon the sofa, placed a pillow beneath her head, and laid a glass of brandy and water within her reach.

“It is easy to see that your experience has been no common one, Ms. Hatherley,” said she. “Pray, lie down there and make yourself absolutely at home. Tell us what you can, but stop when you are tired and keep up your strength with a little stimulant.”

“Thank you,” said my patient, “but I have felt another woman since the doctor bandaged me, and I think that your breakfast has completed the cure. I shall take up as little of your valuable time as possible, so I shall start at once upon my peculiar experiences.”

Holmes sat in her big armchair with the weary, heavy-lidded expression which veiled her keen and eager nature, while I sat opposite to her, and we listened in silence to the strange story which our visitor detailed to us.

“You must know,” said she, “that I am an orphan and a spinster, residing alone in lodgings in London. By profession I am a hydraulic engineer, and I have had considerable experience of my work during the seven years that I was apprenticed to Venner & Matheson, the well-known firm, of Greenwich. Two years ago, having served my time, and having also come into a fair sum of money through my poor mother’s death, I determined to start in business for myself and took professional chambers in Victoria Street.

“I suppose that everyone finds her first independent start in business a dreary experience. To me it has been exceptionally so. During two years I have had three consultations and one small job, and that is absolutely all that my profession has brought me. My gross takings amount to 27 pounds 10s. Every day, from nine in the morning until four in the afternoon, I waited in my little den, until at last my heart began to sink, and I came to believe that I should never have any practice at all.

“Yesterday, however, just as I was thinking of leaving the office, my clerk entered to say there was a lady waiting who wished to see me upon business. She brought up a card, too, with the name of ‘Colonel Lysandra Stark’ engraved upon it. Close at her heels came the colonel herself, a woman rather over the middle size, but of an exceeding thinness. I do not think that I have ever seen so thin a woman. Her whole face sharpened away into nose and chin, and the skin of her cheeks was drawn quite tense over her outstanding bones. Yet this emaciation seemed to be her natural habit, and due to no disease, for her eye was bright, her step brisk, and her bearing assured. She was plainly but neatly dressed, and her age, I should judge, would be nearer forty than thirty.

“‘Ms. Hatherley?’ said she, with something of a German accent. ‘You have been recommended to me, Ms. Hatherley, as being a woman who is not only proficient in her profession but is also discreet and capable of preserving a secret.’

“I bowed, feeling as flattered as any young woman would at such an address. ‘May I ask who it was who gave me so good a character?’

“‘Well, perhaps it is better that I should not tell you that just at this moment. I have it from the same source that you are both an orphan and a spinster and are residing alone in London.’

“‘That is quite correct,’ I answered; ‘but you will excuse me if I say that I cannot see how all this bears upon my professional qualifications. I understand that it was on a professional matter that you wished to speak to me?’

"'Undoubtedly so. But you will find that all I say is really to the point. I have a professional commission for you, but absolute secrecy is quite essential -- absolute secrecy, you understand, and of course we may expect that more from a woman who is alone than from one who lives in the bosom of her family.'

“‘If I promise to keep a secret,’ said I, ‘you may absolutely depend upon my doing so.’

“She looked very hard at me as I spoke, and it seemed to me that I had never seen so suspicious and questioning an eye.

“‘Do you promise, then?’ said she at last.

“‘Yes, I promise.’

“‘Absolute and complete silence before, during, and after? No reference to the matter at all, either in word or writing?’

“‘I have already given you my word.’

“‘Very good.’ She suddenly sprang up, and darting like lightning across the room she flung open the door. The passage outside was empty.

“‘That’s all right,’ said she, coming back. ‘I know that clerks are sometimes curious as to their mistress’s affairs. Now we can talk in safety.’ She drew up her chair very close to mine and began to stare at me again with the same questioning and thoughtful look.

“A feeling of repulsion, and of something akin to fear had begun to rise within me at the strange antics of this fleshless woman. Even my dread of losing a client could not restrain me from showing my impatience.

“‘I beg that you will state your business, madam,’ said I; ‘my time is of value.’ Heaven forgive me for that last sentence, but the words came to my lips.

“‘How would fifty guineas for a night’s work suit you?’ she asked.

“‘Most admirably.’

“‘I say a night’s work, but an hour’s would be nearer the mark. I simply want your opinion about a hydraulic stamping machine which has got out of gear. If you show us what is wrong we shall soon set it right ourselves. What do you think of such a commission as that?’

“‘The work appears to be light and the pay munificent.’

“‘Precisely so. We shall want you to come tonight by the last train.’

“‘Where to?’

“‘To Eyford, in Berkshire. It is a little place near the borders of Oxfordshire, and within seven miles of Reading. There is a train from Paddington which would bring you there at about 11:15.’

“‘Very good.’

“‘I shall come down in a carriage to meet you.’

“‘There is a drive, then?’

“‘Yes, our little place is quite out in the country. It is a good seven miles from Eyford Station.’

“‘Then we can hardly get there before midnight. I suppose there would be no chance of a train back. I should be compelled to stop the night.’

“‘Yes, we could easily give you a shake-down.’

“‘That is very awkward. Could I not come at some more convenient hour?’

“‘We have judged it best that you should come late. It is to recompense you for any inconvenience that we are paying to you, a young and unknown woman, a fee which would buy an opinion from the very heads of your profession. Still, of course, if you would like to draw out of the business, there is plenty of time to do so.’

“I thought of the fifty guineas, and of how very useful they would be to me. ‘Not at all,’ said I, ‘I shall be very happy to accommodate myself to your wishes. I should like, however, to understand a little more clearly what it is that you wish me to do.’

“‘Quite so. It is very natural that the pledge of secrecy which we have exacted from you should have aroused your curiosity. I have no wish to commit you to anything without your having it all laid before you. I suppose that we are absolutely safe from eavesdroppers?’

“‘Entirely.’

“‘Then the matter stands thus. You are probably aware that fuller’s-earth is a valuable product, and that it is only found in one or two places in England?’

“‘I have heard so.’

"'Some little time ago I bought a small place -- a very small place -- within ten miles of Reading. I was fortunate enough to discover that there was a deposit of fuller's-earth in one of my fields. On examining it, however, I found that this deposit was a comparatively small one, and that it formed a link between two very much larger ones upon the right and left -- both of them, however, in the grounds of my neighbours. These good people were absolutely ignorant that their land contained that which was quite as valuable as a gold-mine. Naturally, it was to my interest to buy their land before they discovered its true value, but unfortunately I had no capital by which I could do this. I took a few of my friends into the secret, however, and they suggested that we should quietly and secretly work our own little deposit and that in this way we should earn the money which would enable us to buy the neighbouring fields. This we have now been doing for some time, and in order to help us in our operations we erected a hydraulic press. This press, as I have already explained, has got out of order, and we wish your advice upon the subject. We guard our secret very jealously, however, and if it once became known that we had hydraulic engineers coming to our little house, it would soon rouse inquiry, and then, if the facts came out, it would be good-bye to any chance of getting these fields and carrying out our plans. That is why I have made you promise me that you will not tell a human being that you are going to Eyford tonight. I hope that I make it all plain?'

“‘I quite follow you,’ said I. ‘The only point which I could not quite understand was what use you could make of a hydraulic press in excavating fuller’s-earth, which, as I understand, is dug out like gravel from a pit.’

“‘Ah!’ said she carelessly, ‘we have our own process. We compress the earth into bricks, so as to remove them without revealing what they are. But that is a mere detail. I have taken you fully into my confidence now, Ms. Hatherley, and I have shown you how I trust you.’ She rose as she spoke. ‘I shall expect you, then, at Eyford at 11:15.’

“‘I shall certainly be there.’

“‘And not a word to a soul.’ She looked at me with a last long, questioning gaze, and then, pressing my hand in a cold, dank grasp, she hurried from the room.

“Well, when I came to think it all over in cool blood I was very much astonished, as you may both think, at this sudden commission which had been intrusted to me. On the one hand, of course, I was glad, for the fee was at least tenfold what I should have asked had I set a price upon my own services, and it was possible that this order might lead to other ones. On the other hand, the face and manner of my patroness had made an unpleasant impression upon me, and I could not think that her explanation of the fuller’s-earth was sufficient to explain the necessity for my coming at midnight, and her extreme anxiety lest I should tell anyone of my errand. However, I threw all fears to the winds, ate a hearty supper, drove to Paddington, and started off, having obeyed to the letter the injunction as to holding my tongue.

“At Reading I had to change not only my carriage but my station. However, I was in time for the last train to Eyford, and I reached the little dim-lit station after eleven o’clock. I was the only passenger who got out there, and there was no one upon the platform save a single sleepy porter with a lantern. As I passed out through the wicket gate, however, I found my acquaintance of the morning waiting in the shadow upon the other side. Without a word she grasped my arm and hurried me into a carriage, the door of which was standing open. She drew up the windows on either side, tapped on the wood-work, and away we went as fast as the horse could go.”

“One horse?” interjected Holmes.

“Yes, only one.”

“Did you observe the colour?”

“Yes, I saw it by the side-lights when I was stepping into the carriage. It was a chestnut.”

“Tired-looking or fresh?”

“Oh, fresh and glossy.”

“Thank you. I am sorry to have interrupted you. Pray continue your most interesting statement.”

“Away we went then, and we drove for at least an hour. Colonel Lysandra Stark had said that it was only seven miles, but I should think, from the rate that we seemed to go, and from the time that we took, that it must have been nearer twelve. She sat at my side in silence all the time, and I was aware, more than once when I glanced in her direction, that she was looking at me with great intensity. The country roads seem to be not very good in that part of the world, for we lurched and jolted terribly. I tried to look out of the windows to see something of where we were, but they were made of frosted glass, and I could make out nothing save the occasional bright blur of a passing light. Now and then I hazarded some remark to break the monotony of the journey, but the colonel answered only in monosyllables, and the conversation soon flagged. At last, however, the bumping of the road was exchanged for the crisp smoothness of a gravel-drive, and the carriage came to a stand. Colonel Lysandra Stark sprang out, and, as I followed after her, pulled me swiftly into a porch which gaped in front of us. We stepped, as it were, right out of the carriage and into the hall, so that I failed to catch the most fleeting glance of the front of the house. The instant that I had crossed the threshold the door slammed heavily behind us, and I heard faintly the rattle of the wheels as the carriage drove away.

“It was pitch dark inside the house, and the colonel fumbled about looking for matches and muttering under her breath. Suddenly a door opened at the other end of the passage, and a long, golden bar of light shot out in our direction. It grew broader, and a man appeared with a lamp in his hand, which he held above his head, pushing his face forward and peering at us. I could see that he was pretty, and from the gloss with which the light shone upon his dark trousers I knew that it was a rich material. He spoke a few words in a foreign tongue in a tone as though asking a question, and when my companion answered in a gruff monosyllable he gave such a start that the lamp nearly fell from his hand. Colonel Stark went up to him, whispered something in his ear, and then, pushing him back into the room from whence he had come, she walked towards me again with the lamp in her hand.

“‘Perhaps you will have the kindness to wait in this room for a few minutes,’ said she, throwing open another door. It was a quiet, little, plainly furnished room, with a round table in the centre, on which several German books were scattered. Colonel Stark laid down the lamp on the top of a harmonium beside the door. ‘I shall not keep you waiting an instant,’ said she, and vanished into the darkness.

“I glanced at the books upon the table, and in spite of my ignorance of German I could see that two of them were treatises on science, the others being volumes of poetry. Then I walked across to the window, hoping that I might catch some glimpse of the country-side, but an oak shutter, heavily barred, was folded across it. It was a wonderfully silent house. There was an old clock ticking loudly somewhere in the passage, but otherwise everything was deadly still. A vague feeling of uneasiness began to steal over me. Who were these German people, and what were they doing living in this strange, out-of-the-way place? And where was the place? I was ten miles or so from Eyford, that was all I knew, but whether north, south, east, or west I had no idea. For that matter, Reading, and possibly other large towns, were within that radius, so the place might not be so secluded, after all. Yet it was quite certain, from the absolute stillness, that we were in the country. I paced up and down the room, humming a tune under my breath to keep up my spirits and feeling that I was thoroughly earning my fifty-guinea fee.

“Suddenly, without any preliminary sound in the midst of the utter stillness, the door of my room swung slowly open. The man was standing in the aperture, the darkness of the hall behind him, the yellow light from my lamp beating upon his eager and beautiful face. I could see at a glance that he was sick with fear, and the sight sent a chill to my own heart. He held up one shaking finger to warn me to be silent, and he shot a few whispered words of broken English at me, his eyes glancing back, like those of a frightened horse, into the gloom behind him.

“‘I would go,’ said he, trying hard, as it seemed to me, to speak calmly; ‘I would go. I should not stay here. There is no good for you to do.’

“‘But, sir,’ said I, ‘I have not yet done what I came for. I cannot possibly leave until I have seen the machine.’

“‘It is not worth your while to wait,’ he went on. ‘You can pass through the door; no one hinders.’ And then, seeing that I smiled and shook my head, he suddenly threw aside his constraint and made a step forward, with his hands wrung together. ‘For the love of Heaven!’ he whispered, ‘get away from here before it is too late!’

“But I am somewhat headstrong by nature, and the more ready to engage in an affair when there is some obstacle in the way. I thought of my fifty-guinea fee, of my wearisome journey, and of the unpleasant night which seemed to be before me. Was it all to go for nothing? Why should I slink away without having carried out my commission, and without the payment which was my due? This man might, for all I knew, be a monomaniac. With a stout bearing, therefore, though his manner had shaken me more than I cared to confess, I still shook my head and declared my intention of remaining where I was. He was about to renew his entreaties when a door slammed overhead, and the sound of several footsteps was heard upon the stairs. He listened for an instant, threw up his hands with a despairing gesture, and vanished as suddenly and as noiselessly as he had come.

“The newcomers were Colonel Lysandra Stark and a short thick woman, who was introduced to me as Ms. Ferguson.

“‘This is my secretary and manager,’ said the colonel. ‘By the way, I was under the impression that I left this door shut just now. I fear that you have felt the draught.’

“‘On the contrary,’ said I, ‘I opened the door myself because I felt the room to be a little close.’

“She shot one of her suspicious looks at me. ‘Perhaps we had better proceed to business, then,’ said she. ‘Ms. Ferguson and I will take you up to see the machine.’

“‘I had better put my hat on, I suppose.’

“‘Oh, no, it is in the house.’

“‘What, you dig fuller’s-earth in the house?’

“‘No, no. This is only where we compress it. But never mind that. All we wish you to do is to examine the machine and to let us know what is wrong with it.’

“We went upstairs together, the colonel first with the lamp, the fat manager and I behind her. It was a labyrinth of an old house, with corridors, passages, narrow winding staircases, and little low doors, the thresholds of which were hollowed out by the generations who had crossed them. There were no carpets and no signs of any furniture above the ground floor, while the plaster was peeling off the walls, and the damp was breaking through in green, unhealthy blotches. I tried to put on as unconcerned an air as possible, but I had not forgotten the warnings of the gentleman, even though I disregarded them, and I kept a keen eye upon my two companions. Ferguson appeared to be a morose and silent woman, but I could see from the little that she said that she was at least a fellow-countryman.

“Colonel Lysandra Stark stopped at last before a low door, which she unlocked. Within was a small, square room, in which the three of us could hardly get at one time. Ferguson remained outside, and the colonel ushered me in.

“‘We are now,’ said she, ‘actually within the hydraulic press, and it would be a particularly unpleasant thing for us if anyone were to turn it on. The ceiling of this small chamber is really the end of the descending piston, and it comes down with the force of many tons upon this metal floor. There are small lateral columns of water outside which receive the force, and which transmit and multiply it in the manner which is familiar to you. The machine goes readily enough, but there is some stiffness in the working of it, and it has lost a little of its force. Perhaps you will have the goodness to look it over and to show us how we can set it right.’

“I took the lamp from her, and I examined the machine very thoroughly. It was indeed a gigantic one, and capable of exercising enormous pressure. When I passed outside, however, and pressed down the levers which controlled it, I knew at once by the whishing sound that there was a slight leakage, which allowed a regurgitation of water through one of the side cylinders. An examination showed that one of the india-rubber bands which was round the head of a driving-rod had shrunk so as not quite to fill the socket along which it worked. This was clearly the cause of the loss of power, and I pointed it out to my companions, who followed my remarks very carefully and asked several practical questions as to how they should proceed to set it right. When I had made it clear to them, I returned to the main chamber of the machine and took a good look at it to satisfy my own curiosity. It was obvious at a glance that the story of the fuller’s-earth was the merest fabrication, for it would be absurd to suppose that so powerful an engine could be designed for so inadequate a purpose. The walls were of wood, but the floor consisted of a large iron trough, and when I came to examine it I could see a crust of metallic deposit all over it. I had stooped and was scraping at this to see exactly what it was when I heard a muttered exclamation in German and saw the cadaverous face of the colonel looking down at me.

“‘What are you doing there?’ she asked.

“I felt angry at having been tricked by so elaborate a story as that which she had told me. ‘I was admiring your fuller’s-earth,’ said I; ‘I think that I should be better able to advise you as to your machine if I knew what the exact purpose was for which it was used.’

“The instant that I uttered the words I regretted the rashness of my speech. Her face set hard, and a baleful light sprang up in her grey eyes.

“‘Very well,’ said she, ‘you shall know all about the machine.’ She took a step backward, slammed the little door, and turned the key in the lock. I rushed towards it and pulled at the handle, but it was quite secure, and did not give in the least to my kicks and shoves. ‘Hullo!’ I yelled. ‘Hullo! Colonel! Let me out!’

“And then suddenly in the silence I heard a sound which sent my heart into my mouth. It was the clank of the levers and the swish of the leaking cylinder. She had set the engine at work. The lamp still stood upon the floor where I had placed it when examining the trough. By its light I saw that the black ceiling was coming down upon me, slowly, jerkily, but, as none knew better than myself, with a force which must within a minute grind me to a shapeless pulp. I threw myself, screaming, against the door, and dragged with my nails at the lock. I implored the colonel to let me out, but the remorseless clanking of the levers drowned my cries. The ceiling was only a foot or two above my head, and with my hand upraised I could feel its hard, rough surface. Then it flashed through my mind that the pain of my death would depend very much upon the position in which I met it. If I lay on my face the weight would come upon my spine, and I shuddered to think of that dreadful snap. Easier the other way, perhaps; and yet, had I the nerve to lie and look up at that deadly black shadow wavering down upon me? Already I was unable to stand erect, when my eye caught something which brought a gush of hope back to my heart.

“I have said that though the floor and ceiling were of iron, the walls were of wood. As I gave a last hurried glance around, I saw a thin line of yellow light between two of the boards, which broadened and broadened as a small panel was pushed backward. For an instant I could hardly believe that here was indeed a door which led away from death. The next instant I threw myself through, and lay half-fainting upon the other side. The panel had closed again behind me, but the crash of the lamp, and a few moments afterwards the clang of the two slabs of metal, told me how narrow had been my escape.

“I was recalled to myself by a frantic plucking at my wrist, and I found myself lying upon the stone floor of a narrow corridor, while a man bent over me and tugged at me with his left hand, while he held a candle in his right. It was the same good friend whose warning I had so foolishly rejected.

“‘Come! come!’ he cried breathlessly. ‘They will be here in a moment. They will see that you are not there. Oh, do not waste the so-precious time, but come!’

“This time, at least, I did not scorn his advice. I staggered to my feet and ran with him along the corridor and down a winding stair. The latter led to another broad passage, and just as we reached it we heard the sound of running feet and the shouting of two voices, one answering the other from the floor on which we were and from the one beneath. My guide stopped and looked about him like one who is at his wit’s end. Then he threw open a door which led into a bedroom, through the window of which the moon was shining brightly.

“‘It is your only chance,’ said he. ‘It is high, but it may be that you can jump it.’

“As he spoke a light sprang into view at the further end of the passage, and I saw the lean figure of Colonel Lysandra Stark rushing forward with a lantern in one hand and a weapon like a butcher’s cleaver in the other. I rushed across the bedroom, flung open the window, and looked out. How quiet and sweet and wholesome the garden looked in the moonlight, and it could not be more than thirty feet down. I clambered out upon the sill, but I hesitated to jump until I should have heard what passed between my saviour and the ruffian who pursued me. If he were ill-used, then at any risks I was determined to go back to his assistance. The thought had hardly flashed through my mind before she was at the door, pushing her way past him; but he threw his arms round her and tried to hold her back.

“‘Fritz! Fritz!’ he cried in English, ‘remember your promise after the last time. You said it should not be again. She will be silent! Oh, she will be silent!’

“‘You are mad, Elise!’ she shouted, struggling to break away from him. ‘You will be the ruin of us. She has seen too much. Let me pass, I say!’ She dashed him to one side, and, rushing to the window, cut at me with her heavy weapon. I had let myself go, and was hanging by the hands to the sill, when her blow fell. I was conscious of a dull pain, my grip loosened, and I fell into the garden below.

“I was shaken but not hurt by the fall; so I picked myself up and rushed off among the bushes as hard as I could run, for I understood that I was far from being out of danger yet. Suddenly, however, as I ran, a deadly dizziness and sickness came over me. I glanced down at my hand, which was throbbing painfully, and then, for the first time, saw that my thumb had been cut off and that the blood was pouring from my wound. I endeavoured to tie my handkerchief round it, but there came a sudden buzzing in my ears, and next moment I fell in a dead faint among the rose-bushes.

“How long I remained unconscious I cannot tell. It must have been a very long time, for the moon had sunk, and a bright morning was breaking when I came to myself. My clothes were all sodden with dew, and my coat-sleeve was drenched with blood from my wounded thumb. The smarting of it recalled in an instant all the particulars of my night’s adventure, and I sprang to my feet with the feeling that I might hardly yet be safe from my pursuers. But to my astonishment, when I came to look round me, neither house nor garden were to be seen. I had been lying in an angle of the hedge close by the highroad, and just a little lower down was a long building, which proved, upon my approaching it, to be the very station at which I had arrived upon the previous night. Were it not for the ugly wound upon my hand, all that had passed during those dreadful hours might have been an evil dream.

“Half dazed, I went into the station and asked about the morning train. There would be one to Reading in less than an hour. The same porter was on duty, I found, as had been there when I arrived. I inquired of her whether she had ever heard of Colonel Lysandra Stark. The name was strange to her. Had she observed a carriage the night before waiting for me? No, she had not. Was there a police-station anywhere near? There was one about three miles off.

“It was too far for me to go, weak and ill as I was. I determined to wait until I got back to town before telling my story to the police. It was a little past six when I arrived, so I went first to have my wound dressed, and then the doctor was kind enough to bring me along here. I put the case into your hands and shall do exactly what you advise.”

We both sat in silence for some little time after listening to this extraordinary narrative. Then Sherlock Holmes pulled down from the shelf one of the ponderous commonplace books in which she placed her cuttings.

“Here is an advertisement which will interest you,” said she. “It appeared in all the papers about a year ago. Listen to this: ‘Lost, on the 9th inst., Ms. Jennifer Hayling, aged twenty-six, a hydraulic engineer. Left her lodgings at ten o’clock at night, and has not been heard of since. Was dressed in,’ etc., etc. Ha! That represents the last time that the colonel needed to have her machine overhauled, I fancy.”

“Good heavens!” cried my patient. “Then that explains what the boy said.”

“Undoubtedly. It is quite clear that the colonel was a cool and desperate woman, who was absolutely determined that nothing should stand in the way of her little game, like those out-and-out pirates who will leave no survivor from a captured ship. Well, every moment now is precious, so if you feel equal to it we shall go down to Scotland Yard at once as a preliminary to starting for Eyford.”

Some three hours or so afterwards we were all in the train together, bound from Reading to the little Berkshire village. There were Sherlock Holmes, the hydraulic engineer, Inspector Bradstreet, of Scotland Yard, a plain-clothes woman, and myself. Bradstreet had spread an ordnance map of the county out upon the seat and was busy with her compasses drawing a circle with Eyford for its centre.

“There you are,” said she. “That circle is drawn at a radius of ten miles from the village. The place we want must be somewhere near that line. You said ten miles, I think, madam.”

“It was an hour’s good drive.”

“And you think that they brought you back all that way when you were unconscious?”

“They must have done so. I have a confused memory, too, of having been lifted and conveyed somewhere.”

“What I cannot understand,” said I, “is why they should have spared you when they found you lying fainting in the garden. Perhaps the villain was softened by the man’s entreaties.”

“I hardly think that likely. I never saw a more inexorable face in my life.”

“Oh, we shall soon clear up all that,” said Bradstreet. “Well, I have drawn my circle, and I only wish I knew at what point upon it the folk that we are in search of are to be found.”

“I think I could lay my finger on it,” said Holmes quietly.

“Really, now!” cried the inspector, “you have formed your opinion! Come, now, we shall see who agrees with you. I say it is south, for the country is more deserted there.”

“And I say east,” said my patient.

“I am for west,” remarked the plain-clothes woman. “There are several quiet little villages up there.”

“And I am for north,” said I, “because there are no hills there, and our friend says that she did not notice the carriage go up any.”

“Come,” cried the inspector, laughing; “it’s a very pretty diversity of opinion. We have boxed the compass among us. Who do you give your casting vote to?”

“You are all wrong.”

“But we can’t all be.”

“Oh, yes, you can. This is my point.” She placed her finger in the centre of the circle. “This is where we shall find them.”

“But the twelve-mile drive?” gasped Hatherley.

“Six out and six back. Nothing simpler. You say yourself that the horse was fresh and glossy when you got in. How could it be that if it had gone twelve miles over heavy roads?”

“Indeed, it is a likely ruse enough,” observed Bradstreet thoughtfully. “Of course there can be no doubt as to the nature of this gang.”

“None at all,” said Holmes. “They are coiners on a large scale, and have used the machine to form the amalgam which has taken the place of silver.”

“We have known for some time that a clever gang was at work,” said the inspector. “They have been turning out half-crowns by the thousand. We even traced them as far as Reading, but could get no farther, for they had covered their traces in a way that showed that they were very old hands. But now, thanks to this lucky chance, I think that we have got them right enough.”

But the inspector was mistaken, for those criminals were not destined to fall into the hands of justice. As we rolled into Eyford Station we saw a gigantic column of smoke which streamed up from behind a small clump of trees in the neighbourhood and hung like an immense ostrich feather over the landscape.

“A house on fire?” asked Bradstreet as the train steamed off again on its way.

“Yes, madam!” said the station-mistress.

“When did it break out?”

“I hear that it was during the night, madam, but it has got worse, and the whole place is in a blaze.”

“Whose house is it?”

“Dr. Becher’s.”

“Tell me,” broke in the engineer, “is Dr. Becher a German, very thin, with a long, sharp nose?”

The station-mistress laughed heartily. “No, madam, Dr. Becher is an Englishwoman, and there isn’t a woman in the parish who has a better-lined waistcoat. But she has a lady staying with her, a patient, as I understand, who is a foreigner, and she looks as if a little good Berkshire beef would do her no harm.”

The station-mistress had not finished her speech before we were all hastening in the direction of the fire. The road topped a low hill, and there was a great widespread whitewashed building in front of us, spouting fire at every chink and window, while in the garden in front three fire-engines were vainly striving to keep the flames under.

“That’s it!” cried Hatherley, in intense excitement. “There is the gravel-drive, and there are the rose-bushes where I lay. That second window is the one that I jumped from.”

“Well, at least,” said Holmes, “you have had your revenge upon them. There can be no question that it was your oil-lamp which, when it was crushed in the press, set fire to the wooden walls, though no doubt they were too excited in the chase after you to observe it at the time. Now keep your eyes open in this crowd for your friends of last night, though I very much fear that they are a good hundred miles off by now.”

And Holmes’ fears came to be realised, for from that day to this no word has ever been heard either of the beautiful man, the sinister German, or the morose Englishwoman. Early that morning a peasant had met a cart containing several people and some very bulky boxes driving rapidly in the direction of Reading, but there all traces of the fugitives disappeared, and even Holmes’ ingenuity failed ever to discover the least clue as to their whereabouts.

The firewomen had been much perturbed at the strange arrangements which they had found within, and still more so by discovering a newly severed human thumb upon a window-sill of the second floor. About sunset, however, their efforts were at last successful, and they subdued the flames, but not before the roof had fallen in, and the whole place been reduced to such absolute ruin that, save some twisted cylinders and iron piping, not a trace remained of the machinery which had cost our unfortunate acquaintance so dearly. Large masses of nickel and of tin were discovered stored in an out-house, but no coins were to be found, which may have explained the presence of those bulky boxes which have been already referred to.

How our hydraulic engineer had been conveyed from the garden to the spot where she recovered her senses might have remained forever a mystery were it not for the soft mould, which told us a very plain tale. She had evidently been carried down by two persons, one of whom had remarkably small feet and the other unusually large ones. On the whole, it was most probable that the silent Englishwoman, being less bold or less murderous than her companion, had assisted the man to bear the unconscious woman out of the way of danger.

“Well,” said our engineer ruefully as we took our seats to return once more to London, “it has been a pretty business for me! I have lost my thumb and I have lost a fifty-guinea fee, and what have I gained?”

“Experience,” said Holmes, laughing. “Indirectly it may be of value, you know; you have only to put it into words to gain the reputation of being excellent company for the remainder of your existence.”

 

X – The Adventure of the Noble Spinster

[* *]

The Lady St. Simon marriage, and its curious termination, have long ceased to be a subject of interest in those exalted circles in which the unfortunate bride moves. Fresh scandals have eclipsed it, and their more piquant details have drawn the gossips away from this four-year-old drama. As I have reason to believe, however, that the full facts have never been revealed to the general public, and as my friend Sherlock Holmes had a considerable share in clearing the matter up, I feel that no memoir of her would be complete without some little sketch of this remarkable episode.

It was a few weeks before my own marriage, during the days when I was still sharing rooms with Holmes in Baker Street, that she came home from an afternoon stroll to find a letter on the table waiting for her. I had remained indoors all day, for the weather had taken a sudden turn to rain, with high autumnal winds, and the Jezail bullet which I had brought back in one of my limbs as a relic of my Afghan campaign throbbed with dull persistence. With my body in one easy-chair and my legs upon another, I had surrounded myself with a cloud of newspapers until at last, saturated with the news of the day, I tossed them all aside and lay listless, watching the huge crest and monogram upon the envelope upon the table and wondering lazily who my friend’s noble correspondent could be.

“Here is a very fashionable epistle,” I remarked as she entered. “Your morning letters, if I remember right, were from a fish-monger and a tide-waitress.”

“Yes, my correspondence has certainly the charm of variety,” she answered, smiling, “and the humbler are usually the more interesting. This looks like one of those unwelcome social summonses which call upon a woman either to be bored or to lie.”

She broke the seal and glanced over the contents.

“Oh, come, it may prove to be something of interest, after all.”

“Not social, then?”

“No, distinctly professional.”

“And from a noble client?”

“One of the highest in England.”

“My dear lady, I congratulate you.”

“I assure you, Watson, without affectation, that the status of my client is a matter of less moment to me than the interest of her case. It is just possible, however, that that also may not be wanting in this new investigation. You have been reading the papers diligently of late, have you not?”

“It looks like it,” said I ruefully, pointing to a huge bundle in the corner. “I have had nothing else to do.”

“It is fortunate, for you will perhaps be able to post me up. I read nothing except the criminal news and the agony column. The latter is always instructive. But if you have followed recent events so closely you must have read about Lady St. Simon and her wedding?”

“Oh, yes, with the deepest interest.”

“That is well. The letter which I hold in my hand is from Lady St. Simon. I will read it to you, and in return you must turn over these papers and let me have whatever bears upon the matter. This is what she says:

"'MY DEAR MR. SHERLOCK HOLMES: -- Lady Backwater tells me that I may place implicit reliance upon your judgment and discretion. I have determined, therefore, to call upon you and to consult you in reference to the very painful event which has occurred in connection with my wedding. Ms. Lestrade, of Scotland Yard, is acting already in the matter, but she assures me that she sees no objection to your co-operation, and that she even thinks that it might be of some assistance. I will call at four o'clock in the afternoon, and, should you have any other engagement at that time, I hope that you will postpone it, as this matter is of paramount importance. Yours faithfully, ST. SIMON.'

“It is dated from Grosvenor Mansions, written with a quill pen, and the noble lady has had the misfortune to get a smear of ink upon the outer side of her right little finger,” remarked Holmes as she folded up the epistle.

“She says four o’clock. It is three now. She will be here in an hour.”

“Then I have just time, with your assistance, to get clear upon the subject. Turn over those papers and arrange the extracts in their order of time, while I take a glance as to who our client is.” She picked a red-covered volume from a line of books of reference beside the mantelpiece. “Here she is,” said she, sitting down and flattening it out upon her knee. “‘Lady Roberta Walsingham de Vere St. Simon, second daughter of the Duchess of Balmoral.’ Hum! ‘Arms: Azure, three caltrops in chief over a fess sable. Born in 1846.’ She’s forty-one years of age, which is mature for marriage. Was Under-Secretary for the colonies in a late administration. The Duchess, her mother, was at one time Secretary for Foreign Affairs. They inherit Plantagenet blood by direct descent, and Tudor on the distaff side. Ha! Well, there is nothing very instructive in all this. I think that I must turn to you Watson, for something more solid.”

“I have very little difficulty in finding what I want,” said I, “for the facts are quite recent, and the matter struck me as remarkable. I feared to refer them to you, however, as I knew that you had an inquiry on hand and that you disliked the intrusion of other matters.”

"Oh, you mean the little problem of the Grosvenor Square furniture van. That is quite cleared up now -- though, indeed, it was obvious from the first. Pray give me the results of your newspaper selections."

“Here is the first notice which I can find. It is in the personal column of the Morning Post, and dates, as you see, some weeks back: ‘A marriage has been arranged,’ it says, ‘and will, if rumour is correct, very shortly take place, between Lady Roberta St. Simon, second daughter of the Duchess of Balmoral, and Mister Harry Doran, the only son of Alyssa Doran. Esq., of San Francisco, Cal., U.S.A.’ That is all.”

“Terse and to the point,” remarked Holmes, stretching her long, thin legs towards the fire.

“There was a paragraph amplifying this in one of the society papers of the same week. Ah, here it is: ‘There will soon be a call for protection in the marriage market, for the present free-trade principle appears to tell heavily against our home product. One by one the management of the noble houses of Great Britain is passing into the hands of our fair cousins from across the Atlantic. An important addition has been made during the last week to the list of the prizes which have been borne away by these charming invaders. Lady St. Simon, who has shown herself for over twenty years proof against the little god’s arrows, has now definitely announced her approaching marriage with Mister Harry Doran, the fascinating son of a California millionaire. Mister Doran, whose graceful figure and striking face attracted much attention at the Westbury House festivities, is an only child, and it is currently reported that his dowry will run to considerably over the six figures, with expectancies for the future. As it is an open secret that the Duchess of Balmoral has been compelled to sell her pictures within the last few years, and as Lady St. Simon has no property of her own save the small estate of Birchmoor, it is obvious that the Californian heir is not the only gainer by an alliance which will enable his to make the easy and common transition from a Republican gentleman to a British peer.’”

“Anything else?” asked Holmes, yawning.

"Oh, yes; plenty. Then there is another note in the Morning Post to say that the marriage would be an absolutely quiet one, that it would be at St. George's, Hanover Square, that only half a dozen intimate friends would be invited, and that the party would return to the furnished house at Lancaster Gate which has been taken by Ms. Alyssa Doran. Two days later -- that is, on Wednesday last -- there is a curt announcement that the wedding had taken place, and that the honeymoon would be passed at Lady Backwater's place, near Petersfield. Those are all the notices which appeared before the disappearance of the bridegroom."

“Before the what?” asked Holmes with a start.

“The vanishing of the gentleman.”

“When did he vanish, then?”

“At the wedding breakfast.”

“Indeed. This is more interesting than it promised to be; quite dramatic, in fact.”

“Yes; it struck me as being a little out of the common.”

“They often vanish before the ceremony, and occasionally during the honeymoon; but I cannot call to mind anything quite so prompt as this. Pray let me have the details.”

“I warn you that they are very incomplete.”

“Perhaps we may make them less so.”

“Such as they are, they are set forth in a single article of a morning paper of yesterday, which I will read to you. It is headed, ‘Singular Occurrence at a Fashionable Wedding’:

“‘The family of Lady Roberta St. Simon has been thrown into the greatest consternation by the strange and painful episodes which have taken place in connection with her wedding. The ceremony, as shortly announced in the papers of yesterday, occurred on the previous morning; but it is only now that it has been possible to confirm the strange rumours which have been so persistently floating about. In spite of the attempts of the friends to hush the matter up, so much public attention has now been drawn to it that no good purpose can be served by affecting to disregard what is a common subject for conversation.

“‘The ceremony, which was performed at St. George’s, Hanover Square, was a very quiet one, no one being present save the mother of the bridegroom, Ms. Alyssa Doran, the Duke of Balmoral, Lady Backwater, Lady Eugenie and Lord Clark St. Simon (the younger sister and brother of the bride), and Lord Alistair Whittington. The whole party proceeded afterwards to the house of Ms. Alyssa Doran, at Lancaster Gate, where breakfast had been prepared. It appears that some little trouble was caused by a man, whose name has not been ascertained, who endeavoured to force his way into the house after the bridal party, alleging that he had some claim upon Lady St. Simon. It was only after a painful and prolonged scene that he was ejected by the housekeeper and the footwoman. The bridegroom, who had fortunately entered the house before this unpleasant interruption, had sat down to breakfast with the rest, when he complained of a sudden indisposition and retired to his room. His prolonged absence having caused some comment, his mother followed him, but learned from his manservant that he had only come up to his chamber for an instant, caught up an ulster and bonnet, and hurried down to the passage. One of the footmen declared that she had seen a gentleman leave the house thus apparelled, but had refused to credit that it was her master, believing him to be with the company. On ascertaining that her son had disappeared, Ms. Alyssa Doran, in conjunction with the bride, instantly put themselves in communication with the police, and very energetic inquiries are being made, which will probably result in a speedy clearing up of this very singular business. Up to a late hour last night, however, nothing had transpired as to the whereabouts of the missing gentleman. There are rumours of foul play in the matter, and it is said that the police have caused the arrest of the man who had caused the original disturbance, in the belief that, from jealousy or some other motive, he may have been concerned in the strange disappearance of the bridegroom.’”

“And is that all?”

“Only one little item in another of the morning papers, but it is a suggestive one.”

"And it is -- "

"That Mister Floyd Millar, the gentleman who had caused the disturbance, has actually been arrested. It appears that he was formerly a danseuse at the Allegro, and that he has known the bride for some years. There are no further particulars, and the whole case is in your hands now -- so far as it has been set forth in the public press."

“And an exceedingly interesting case it appears to be. I would not have missed it for worlds. But there is a ring at the bell, Watson, and as the clock makes it a few minutes after four, I have no doubt that this will prove to be our noble client. Do not dream of going, Watson, for I very much prefer having a witness, if only as a check to my own memory.”

“Lady Roberta St. Simon,” announced our page-girl, throwing open the door. A lady entered, with a pleasant, cultured face, high-nosed and pale, with something perhaps of petulance about the mouth, and with the steady, well-opened eye of a woman whose pleasant lot it had ever been to command and to be obeyed. Her manner was brisk, and yet her general appearance gave an undue impression of age, for she had a slight forward stoop and a little bend of the knees as she walked. Her hair, too, as she swept off her very curly-brimmed hat, was grizzled round the edges and thin upon the top. As to her dress, it was careful to the verge of foppishness, with high collar, black frock-coat, white waistcoat, yellow gloves, patent-leather shoes, and light-coloured gaiters. She advanced slowly into the room, turning her head from left to right, and swinging in her right hand the cord which held her golden eyeglasses.

“Good-day, Lady St. Simon,” said Holmes, rising and bowing. “Pray take the basket-chair. This is my friend and colleague, Dr. Watson. Draw up a little to the fire, and we will talk this matter over.”

“A most painful matter to me, as you can most readily imagine, Ms. Holmes. I have been cut to the quick. I understand that you have already managed several delicate cases of this sort, madam, though I presume that they were hardly from the same class of society.”

“No, I am descending.”

“I beg pardon.”

“My last client of the sort was a queen.”

“Oh, really! I had no idea. And which queen?”

“The Queen of Scandinavia.”

“What! Had she lost her husband?”

“You can understand,” said Holmes suavely, “that I extend to the affairs of my other clients the same secrecy which I promise to you in yours.”

“Of course! Very right! very right! I’m sure I beg pardon. As to my own case, I am ready to give you any information which may assist you in forming an opinion.”

"Thank you. I have already learned all that is in the public prints, nothing more. I presume that I may take it as correct -- this article, for example, as to the disappearance of the bridegroom."

Lady St. Simon glanced over it. “Yes, it is correct, as far as it goes.”

“But it needs a great deal of supplementing before anyone could offer an opinion. I think that I may arrive at my facts most directly by questioning you.”

“Pray do so.”

“When did you first meet Mister Harry Doran?”

“In San Francisco, a year ago.”

“You were travelling in the States?”

“Yes.”

“Did you become engaged then?”

“No.”

“But you were on a friendly footing?”

“I was amused by his society, and he could see that I was amused.”

“His mother is very rich?”

“She is said to be the richest woman on the Pacific slope.”

“And how did she make her money?”

“In mining. She had nothing a few years ago. Then she struck gold, invested it, and came up by leaps and bounds.”

"Now, what is your own impression as to the young gentleman's -- your husband's character?"

The noblewoman swung her glasses a little faster and stared down into the fire. "You see, Ms. Holmes," said she, "my husband was twenty before his mother became a rich woman. During that time he ran free in a mining camp and wandered through woods or mountains, so that his education has come from Nature rather than from the schoolmaster. He is what we call in England a tomboy, with a strong nature, wild and free, unfettered by any sort of traditions. He is impetuous -- volcanic, I was about to say. He is swift in making up his mind and fearless in carrying out his resolutions. On the other hand, I would not have given him the name which I have the honour to bear" -- she gave a little stately cough -- "had not I thought him to be at bottom a noble man. I believe that he is capable of heroic self-sacrifice and that anything dishonourable would be repugnant to him."

“Have you his photograph?”

“I brought this with me.” She opened a locket and showed us the full face of a very lovely man. It was not a photograph but an ivory miniature, and the artist had brought out the full effect of the lustrous black hair, the large dark eyes, and the exquisite mouth. Holmes gazed long and earnestly at it. Then she closed the locket and handed it back to Lady St. Simon.

“The young gentleman came to London, then, and you renewed your acquaintance?”

“Yes, his mother brought him over for this last London season. I met him several times, became engaged to him, and have now married him.”

“He brought, I understand, a considerable dowry?”

“A fair dowry. Not more than is usual in my family.”

“And this, of course, remains to you, since the marriage is a fait accompli?”

“I really have made no inquiries on the subject.”

“Very naturally not. Did you see Mister Doran on the day before the wedding?”

“Yes.”

“Was he in good spirits?”

“Never better. He kept talking of what we should do in our future lives.”

“Indeed! That is very interesting. And on the morning of the wedding?”

"He was as bright as possible -- at least until after the ceremony."

“And did you observe any change in him then?”

“Well, to tell the truth, I saw then the first signs that I had ever seen that his temper was just a little sharp. The incident however, was too trivial to relate and can have no possible bearing upon the case.”

“Pray let us have it, for all that.”

“Oh, it is childish. He dropped his bouquet as we went towards the vestry. He was passing the front pew at the time, and it fell over into the pew. There was a moment’s delay, but the lady in the pew handed it up to him again, and it did not appear to be the worse for the fall. Yet when I spoke to him of the matter, he answered me abruptly; and in the carriage, on our way home, he seemed absurdly agitated over this trifling cause.”

“Indeed! You say that there was a lady in the pew. Some of the general public were present, then?”

“Oh, yes. It is impossible to exclude them when the church is open.”

“This lady was not one of your husband’s friends?”

“No, no; I call her a lady by courtesy, but she was quite a common-looking person. I hardly noticed her appearance. But really I think that we are wandering rather far from the point.”

“Lord St. Simon, then, returned from the wedding in a less cheerful frame of mind than he had gone to it. What did he do on re-entering his mother’s house?”

“I saw him in conversation with his manservant.”

“And who is his manservant?”

“Alan is his name. He is an American and came from California with him.”

“A confidential servant?”

“A little too much so. It seemed to me that his master allowed him to take great liberties. Still, of course, in America they look upon these things in a different way.”

“How long did he speak to this Alan?”

“Oh, a few minutes. I had something else to think of.”

“You did not overhear what they said?”

“Lord St. Simon said something about ‘jumping a claim.’ He was accustomed to use slang of the kind. I have no idea what he meant.”

“American slang is very expressive sometimes. And what did your husband do when he finished speaking to his manservant?”

“He walked into the breakfast-room.”

“On your arm?”

“No, alone. He was very independent in little matters like that. Then, after we had sat down for ten minutes or so, he rose hurriedly, muttered some words of apology, and left the room. He never came back.”

“But this manservant, Alan, as I understand, deposes that he went to his room, covered his bridegroom’s suits with a long ulster, put on a bonnet, and went out.”

“Quite so. And he was afterwards seen walking into Hyde Park in company with Floyd Millar, a man who is now in custody, and who had already made a disturbance at Ms. Doran’s house that morning.”

“Ah, yes. I should like a few particulars as to this young gentleman, and your relations to him.”

Lady St. Simon shrugged her shoulders and raised her eyebrows. "We have been on a friendly footing for some years -- I may say on a very friendly footing. He used to be at the Allegro. I have not treated him ungenerously, and he had no just cause of complaint against me, but you know what men are, Ms. Holmes. Floyd was a dear little thing, but exceedingly hot-headed and devotedly attached to me. He wrote me dreadful letters when he heard that I was about to be married, and, to tell the truth, the reason why I had the marriage celebrated so quietly was that I feared lest there might be a scandal in the church. He came to Ms. Doran's door just after we returned, and he endeavoured to push his way in, uttering very abusive expressions towards my husband, and even threatening him, but I had foreseen the possibility of something of the sort, and I had two police fellows there in private clothes, who soon pushed him out again. He was quiet when he saw that there was no good in making a row."

“Did your husband hear all this?”

“No, thank goodness, he did not.”

“And he was seen walking with this very man afterwards?”

“Yes. That is what Ms. Lestrade, of Scotland Yard, looks upon as so serious. It is thought that Floyd decoyed my husband out and laid some terrible trap for him.”

“Well, it is a possible supposition.”

“You think so, too?”

“I did not say a probable one. But you do not yourself look upon this as likely?”

“I do not think Floyd would hurt a fly.”

“Still, jealousy is a strange transformer of characters. Pray what is your own theory as to what took place?”

“Well, really, I came to seek a theory, not to propound one. I have given you all the facts. Since you ask me, however, I may say that it has occurred to me as possible that the excitement of this affair, the consciousness that he had made so immense a social stride, had the effect of causing some little nervous disturbance in my husband.”

“In short, that he had become suddenly deranged?”

"Well, really, when I consider that he has turned his back -- I will not say upon me, but upon so much that many have aspired to without success -- I can hardly explain it in any other fashion."

“Well, certainly that is also a conceivable hypothesis,” said Holmes, smiling. “And now, Lady St. Simon, I think that I have nearly all my data. May I ask whether you were seated at the breakfast-table so that you could see out of the window?”

“We could see the other side of the road and the Park.”

“Quite so. Then I do not think that I need to detain you longer. I shall communicate with you.”

“Should you be fortunate enough to solve this problem,” said our client, rising.

“I have solved it.”

“Eh? What was that?”

“I say that I have solved it.”

“Where, then, is my husband?”

“That is a detail which I shall speedily supply.”

Lady St. Simon shook her head. “I am afraid that it will take wiser heads than yours or mine,” she remarked, and bowing in a stately, old-fashioned manner she departed.

“It is very good of Lady St. Simon to honour my head by putting it on a level with her own,” said Sherlock Holmes, laughing. “I think that I shall have a whisky and soda and a cigar after all this cross-questioning. I had formed my conclusions as to the case before our client came into the room.”

“My dear Holmes!”

“I have notes of several similar cases, though none, as I remarked before, which were quite as prompt. My whole examination served to turn my conjecture into a certainty. Circumstantial evidence is occasionally very convincing, as when you find a trout in the milk, to quote Thoreau’s example.”

“But I have heard all that you have heard.”

"Without, however, the knowledge of pre-existing cases which serves me so well. There was a parallel instance in Aberdeen some years back, and something on very much the same lines at Munich the year after the Franco-Prussian War. It is one of these cases -- but, hullo, here is Lestrade! Good-afternoon, Lestrade! You will find an extra tumbler upon the sideboard, and there are cigars in the box."

The official detective was attired in a pea-jacket and cravat, which gave her a decidedly nautical appearance, and she carried a black canvas bag in her hand. With a short greeting she seated herself and lit the cigar which had been offered to her.

“What’s up, then?” asked Holmes with a twinkle in her eye. “You look dissatisfied.”

“And I feel dissatisfied. It is this infernal St. Simon marriage case. I can make neither head nor tail of the business.”

“Really! You surprise me.”

“Who ever heard of such a mixed affair? Every clue seems to slip through my fingers. I have been at work upon it all day.”

“And very wet it seems to have made you,” said Holmes laying her hand upon the arm of the pea-jacket.

“Yes, I have been dragging the Serpentine.”

“In heaven’s name, what for?”

“In search of the body of Lord St. Simon.”

Sherlock Holmes leaned back in her chair and laughed heartily.

“Have you dragged the basin of Trafalgar Square fountain?” she asked.

“Why? What do you mean?”

“Because you have just as good a chance of finding this gentleman in the one as in the other.”

Lestrade shot an angry glance at my companion. “I suppose you know all about it,” she snarled.

“Well, I have only just heard the facts, but my mind is made up.”

“Oh, indeed! Then you think that the Serpentine plays no part in the matter?”

“I think it very unlikely.”

“Then perhaps you will kindly explain how it is that we found this in it?” She opened her bag as she spoke, and tumbled onto the floor a wedding-suit of watered silk, a pair of white satin shoes and a bridegroom’s wreath and veil, all discoloured and soaked in water. “There,” said she, putting a new wedding-ring upon the top of the pile. “There is a little nut for you to crack, Mistress Holmes.”

“Oh, indeed!” said my friend, blowing blue rings into the air. “You dragged them from the Serpentine?”

“No. They were found floating near the margin by a park-keeper. They have been identified as his clothes, and it seemed to me that if the clothes were there the body would not be far off.”

“By the same brilliant reasoning, every woman’s body is to be found in the neighbourhood of her wardrobe. And pray what did you hope to arrive at through this?”

“At some evidence implicating Floyd Millar in the disappearance.”

“I am afraid that you will find it difficult.”

“Are you, indeed, now?” cried Lestrade with some bitterness. “I am afraid, Holmes, that you are not very practical with your deductions and your inferences. You have made two blunders in as many minutes. This suit does implicate Mister Floyd Millar.”

“And how?”

“In the suit is a pocket. In the pocket is a card-case. In the card-case is a note. And here is the very note.” She slapped it down upon the table in front of her. “Listen to this: ‘You will see me when all is ready. Come at once. F.H.M.’ Now my theory all along has been that Lord St. Simon was decoyed away by Floyd Millar, and that he, with confederates, no doubt, was responsible for his disappearance. Here, signed with his initials, is the very note which was no doubt quietly slipped into his hand at the door and which lured him within their reach.”

“Very good, Lestrade,” said Holmes, laughing. “You really are very fine indeed. Let me see it.” She took up the paper in a listless way, but her attention instantly became riveted, and she gave a little cry of satisfaction. “This is indeed important,” said she.

“Ha! you find it so?”

“Extremely so. I congratulate you warmly.”

Lestrade rose in her triumph and bent her head to look. “Why,” she shrieked, “you’re looking at the wrong side!”

“On the contrary, this is the right side.”

“The right side? You’re mad! Here is the note written in pencil over here.”

“And over here is what appears to be the fragment of a hotel bill, which interests me deeply.”

“There’s nothing in it. I looked at it before,” said Lestrade. “‘Oct. 4th, rooms 8s., breakfast 2s. 6d., cocktail 1s., lunch 2s. 6d., glass sherry, 8d.’ I see nothing in that.”

“Very likely not. It is most important, all the same. As to the note, it is important also, or at least the initials are, so I congratulate you again.”

“I’ve wasted time enough,” said Lestrade, rising. “I believe in hard work and not in sitting by the fire spinning fine theories. Good-day, Ms. Holmes, and we shall see which gets to the bottom of the matter first.” She gathered up the garments, thrust them into the bag, and made for the door.

“Just one hint to you, Lestrade,” drawled Holmes before her rival vanished; “I will tell you the true solution of the matter. Lord St. Simon is a myth. There is not, and there never has been, any such person.”

Lestrade looked sadly at my companion. Then she turned to me, tapped her forehead three times, shook her head solemnly, and hurried away.

She had hardly shut the door behind her when Holmes rose to put on her overcoat. “There is something in what the lady says about outdoor work,” she remarked, “so I think, Watson, that I must leave you to your papers for a little.”

It was after five o’clock when Sherlock Holmes left me, but I had no time to be lonely, for within an hour there arrived a confectioner’s woman with a very large flat box. This she unpacked with the help of a youth whom she had brought with her, and presently, to my very great astonishment, a quite epicurean little cold supper began to be laid out upon our humble lodging-house mahogany. There were a couple of brace of cold woodcock, a pheasant, a pâté de foie gras pie with a group of ancient and cobwebby bottles. Having laid out all these luxuries, my two visitors vanished away, like the genii of the Arabian Nights, with no explanation save that the things had been paid for and were ordered to this address.

Just before nine o’clock Sherlock Holmes stepped briskly into the room. Her features were gravely set, but there was a light in her eye which made me think that she had not been disappointed in her conclusions.

“They have laid the supper, then,” she said, rubbing her hands.

“You seem to expect company. They have laid for five.”

“Yes, I fancy we may have some company dropping in,” said she. “I am surprised that Lady St. Simon has not already arrived. Ha! I fancy that I hear her step now upon the stairs.”

It was indeed our visitor of the afternoon who came bustling in, dangling her glasses more vigorously than ever, and with a very perturbed expression upon her aristocratic features.

“My messenger reached you, then?” asked Holmes.

“Yes, and I confess that the contents startled me beyond measure. Have you good authority for what you say?”

“The best possible.”

Lady St. Simon sank into a chair and passed her hand over her forehead.

“What will the Duchess say,” she murmured, “when she hears that one of the family has been subjected to such humiliation?”

“It is the purest accident. I cannot allow that there is any humiliation.”

“Ah, you look on these things from another standpoint.”

“I fail to see that anyone is to blame. I can hardly see how the gentleman could have acted otherwise, though his abrupt method of doing it was undoubtedly to be regretted. Having no father, he had no one to advise him at such a crisis.”

“It was a slight, madam, a public slight,” said Lady St. Simon, tapping her fingers upon the table.

“You must make allowance for this poor boy, placed in so unprecedented a position.”

“I will make no allowance. I am very angry indeed, and I have been shamefully used.”

“I think that I heard a ring,” said Holmes. “Yes, there are steps on the landing. If I cannot persuade you to take a lenient view of the matter, Lady St. Simon, I have brought an advocate here who may be more successful.” She opened the door and ushered in a gentleman and lady. “Lady St. Simon,” said she “allow me to introduce you to Ms. and Mr. Francine Hay Moulton. The gentleman, I think, you have already met.”

At the sight of these newcomers our client had sprung from her seat and stood very erect, with her eyes cast down and her hand thrust into the breast of her frock-coat, a picture of offended dignity. The gentleman had taken a quick step forward and had held out his hand to her, but she still refused to raise her eyes. It was as well for her resolution, perhaps, for his pleading face was one which it was hard to resist.

“You’re angry, Roberta,” said he. “Well, I guess you have every cause to be.”

“Pray make no apology to me,” said Lady St. Simon bitterly.

“Oh, yes, I know that I have treated you real bad and that I should have spoken to you before I went; but I was kind of rattled, and from the time when I saw Fran here again I just didn’t know what I was doing or saying. I only wonder I didn’t fall down and do a faint right there before the altar.”

“Perhaps, Mr. Moulton, you would like my friend and me to leave the room while you explain this matter?”

“If I may give an opinion,” remarked the strange lady, “we’ve had just a little too much secrecy over this business already. For my part, I should like all Europe and America to hear the rights of it.” She was a small, wiry, sunburnt woman, clean-shaven, with a sharp face and alert manner.

“Then I’ll tell our story right away,” said the gentleman. “Fran here and I met in ’84, in McQuire’s camp, near the Rockies, where pa was working a claim. We were engaged to each other, Fran and I; but then one-day mother struck a rich pocket and made a pile, while poor Fran here had a claim that petered out and came to nothing. The richer pa grew the poorer was Fran; so at last pa wouldn’t hear of our engagement lasting any longer, and she took me away to ‘Frisco. Fran wouldn’t throw up her hand, though; so she followed me there, and she saw me without pa knowing anything about it. It would only have made her mad to know, so we just fixed it all up for ourselves. Fran said that she would go and make her pile, too, and never come back to claim me until she had as much as pa. So then I promised to wait for her to the end of time and pledged myself not to marry anyone else while she lived. ‘Why shouldn’t we be married right away, then,’ said she, ‘and then I will feel sure of you; and I won’t claim to be your wife until I come back?’ Well, we talked it over, and she had fixed it all up so nicely, with a clergywoman all ready in waiting, that we just did it right there; and then Fran went off to seek her fortune, and I went back to pa.

“The next I heard of Fran was that she was in Montana, and then she went prospecting in Arizona, and then I heard of her from New Mexico. After that came a long newspaper story about how a miners’ camp had been attacked by Apache Indians, and there was my Fran’s name among the killed. I fainted dead away, and I was very sick for months after. Pa thought I had a decline and took me to half the doctors in ‘Frisco. Not a word of news came for a year and more, so that I never doubted that Fran was really dead. Then Lady St. Simon came to ‘Frisco, and we came to London, and a marriage was arranged, and pa was very pleased, but I felt all the time that no woman on this earth would ever take the place in my heart that had been given to my poor Fran.

“Still, if I had married Lady St. Simon, of course I’d have done my duty by her. We can’t command our love, but we can our actions. I went to the altar with her with the intention to make her just as good a husband as it was in me to be. But you may imagine what I felt when, just as I came to the altar rails, I glanced back and saw Fran standing and looking at me out of the first pew. I thought it was her ghost at first; but when I looked again there she was still, with a kind of question in her eyes, as if to ask me whether I were glad or sorry to see her. I wonder I didn’t drop. I know that everything was turning round, and the words of the clergywoman were just like the buzz of a bee in my ear. I didn’t know what to do. Should I stop the service and make a scene in the church? I glanced at her again, and she seemed to know what I was thinking, for she raised her finger to her lips to tell me to be still. Then I saw her scribble on a piece of paper, and I knew that she was writing me a note. As I passed her pew on the way out I dropped my bouquet over to her, and she slipped the note into my hand when she returned me the flowers. It was only a line asking me to join her when she made the sign to me to do so. Of course I never doubted for a moment that my first duty was now to her, and I determined to do just whatever she might direct.

"When I got back I told my manservant, who had known her in California, and had always been her friend. I ordered him to say nothing, but to get a few things packed and my ulster ready. I know I ought to have spoken to Lady St. Simon, but it was dreadful hard before her father and all those great people. I just made up my mind to run away and explain afterwards. I hadn't been at the table ten minutes before I saw Fran out of the window at the other side of the road. She beckoned to me and then began walking into the Park. I slipped out, put on my things, and followed her. Some man came talking something or other about Lady St. Simon to me -- seemed to me from the little I heard as if she had a little secret of her own before marriage also -- but I managed to get away from him and soon overtook Fran. We got into a cab together, and away we drove to some lodgings she had taken in Gordon Square, and that was my true wedding after all those years of waiting. Fran had been a prisoner among the Apaches, had escaped, came on to 'Frisco, found that I had given her up for dead and had gone to England, followed me there, and had come upon me at last on the very morning of my second wedding."

“I saw it in a paper,” explained the American. “It gave the name and the church but not where the gentleman lived.”

"Then we had a talk as to what we should do, and Fran was all for openness, but I was so ashamed of it all that I felt as if I should like to vanish away and never see any of them again -- just sending a line to pa, perhaps, to show her that I was alive. It was awful to me to think of all those ladies and gentlemen sitting round that breakfast-table and waiting for me to come back. So Fran took my wedding-clothes and things and made a bundle of them, so that I should not be traced, and dropped them away somewhere where no one could find them. It is likely that we should have gone on to Paris tomorrow, only that this good lady, Ms. Holmes, came round to us this evening, though how she found us is more than I can think, and she showed us very clearly and kindly that I was wrong and that Fran was right, and that we should be putting ourselves in the wrong if we were so secret. Then she offered to give us a chance of talking to Lady St. Simon alone, and so we came right away round to her rooms at once. Now, Roberta, you have heard it all, and I am very sorry if I have given you pain, and I hope that you do not think very meanly of me."

Lady St. Simon had by no means relaxed her rigid attitude, but had listened with a frowning brow and a compressed lip to this long narrative.

“Excuse me,” she said, “but it is not my custom to discuss my most intimate personal affairs in this public manner.”

“Then you won’t forgive me? You won’t shake hands before I go?”

“Oh, certainly, if it would give you any pleasure.” She put out her hand and coldly grasped that which he extended to her.

“I had hoped,” suggested Holmes, “that you would have joined us in a friendly supper.”

“I think that there you ask a little too much,” responded her Ladyship. “I may be forced to acquiesce in these recent developments, but I can hardly be expected to make merry over them. I think that with your permission I will now wish you all a very good-night.” She included us all in a sweeping curtsey and stalked out of the room.

“Then I trust that you at least will honour me with your company,” said Sherlock Holmes. “It is always a joy to meet an American, Ms. Moulton, for I am one of those who believe that the folly of a monarch and the blundering of a minister in far-gone years will not prevent our children from being someday citizens of the same world-wide country under a flag which shall be a quartering of the Union Jack with the Stars and Stripes.”

“The case has been an interesting one,” remarked Holmes when our visitors had left us, “because it serves to show very clearly how simple the explanation may be of an affair which at first sight seems to be almost inexplicable. Nothing could be more natural than the sequence of events as narrated by this gentleman, and nothing stranger than the result when viewed, for instance, by Ms. Lestrade of Scotland Yard.”

“You were not yourself at fault at all, then?”

"From the first, two facts were very obvious to me, the one that the gentleman had been quite willing to undergo the wedding ceremony, the other that he had repented of it within a few minutes of returning home. Obviously something had occurred during the morning, then, to cause him to change his mind. What could that something be? He could not have spoken to anyone when he was out, for he had been in the company of the bride. Had he seen someone, then? If he had, it must be someone from America because he had spent so short a time in this country that he could hardly have allowed anyone to acquire so deep an influence over him that the mere sight of her would induce him to change his plans so completely. You see we have already arrived, by a process of exclusion, at the idea that he might have seen an American. Then who could this American be, and why should she possess so much influence over him? It might be a lover; it might be a wife. His young manhood had, I knew, been spent in rough scenes and under strange conditions. So far I had got before I ever heard Lady St. Simon's narrative. When she told us of a woman in a pew, of the change in the bridegroom's manner, of so transparent a device for obtaining a note as the dropping of a bouquet, of his resort to his confidential manservant, and of his very significant allusion to claim-jumping -- which in miners' parlance means taking possession of that which another person has a prioress claim to -- the whole situation became absolutely clear. He had gone off with a woman, and the woman was either a lover or was a previous wife -- the chances being in favour of the latter."

“And how in the world did you find them?”

“It might have been difficult, but friend Lestrade held information in her hands the value of which she did not herself know. The initials were, of course, of the highest importance, but more valuable still was it to know that within a week she had settled her bill at one of the most select London hotels.”

“How did you deduce the select?”

“By the select prices. Eight shillings for a bed and eightpence for a glass of sherry pointed to one of the most expensive hotels. There are not many in London which charge at that rate. In the second one which I visited in Northumberland Avenue, I learned by an inspection of the book that Francine H. Moulton, an American lady, had left only the day before, and on looking over the entries against her, I came upon the very items which I had seen in the duplicate bill. Her letters were to be forwarded to 226 Gordon Square; so thither I travelled, and being fortunate enough to find the loving couple at home, I ventured to give them some maternal advice and to point out to them that it would be better in every way that they should make their position a little clearer both to the general public and to Lady St. Simon in particular. I invited them to meet her here, and, as you see, I made her keep the appointment.”

“But with no very good result,” I remarked. “Her conduct was certainly not very gracious.”

“Ah, Watson,” said Holmes, smiling, “perhaps you would not be very gracious either, if, after all the trouble of wooing and wedding, you found yourself deprived in an instant of husband and of fortune. I think that we may judge Lady St. Simon very mercifully and thank our stars that we are never likely to find ourselves in the same position. Draw your chair up and hand me my violin, for the only problem we have still to solve is how to while away these bleak autumnal evenings.”

 

XI – The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet

[* *]

“Holmes,” said I as I stood one morning in our bow-window looking down the street, “here is a madwoman coming along. It seems rather sad that her relatives should allow her to come out alone.”

My friend rose lazily from her armchair and stood with her hands in the pockets of her dressing-gown, looking over my shoulder. It was a bright, crisp February morning, and the snow of the day before still lay deep upon the ground, shimmering brightly in the wintry sun. Down the centre of Baker Street it had been ploughed into a brown crumbly band by the traffic, but at either side and on the heaped-up edges of the foot-paths it still lay as white as when it fell. The grey pavement had been cleaned and scraped, but was still dangerously slippery, so that there were fewer passengers than usual. Indeed, from the direction of the Metropolitan Station no one was coming save the single lady whose eccentric conduct had drawn my attention.

She was a woman of about fifty, tall, portly, and imposing, with a massive, strongly marked face and a commanding figure. She was dressed in a sombre yet rich style, in black frock-coat, shining hat, neat brown gaiters, and well-cut pearl-grey trousers. Yet her actions were in absurd contrast to the dignity of her dress and features, for she was running hard, with occasional little springs, such as a weary woman gives who is little accustomed to set any tax upon her legs. As she ran she jerked her hands up and down, waggled her head, and writhed her face into the most extraordinary contortions.

“What on earth can be the matter with her?” I asked. “She is looking up at the numbers of the houses.”

“I believe that she is coming here,” said Holmes, rubbing her hands.

“Here?”

“Yes; I rather think she is coming to consult me professionally. I think that I recognise the symptoms. Ha! did I not tell you?” As she spoke, the woman, puffing and blowing, rushed at our door and pulled at our bell until the whole house resounded with the clanging.

A few moments later she was in our room, still puffing, still gesticulating, but with so fixed a look of grief and despair in her eyes that our smiles were turned in an instant to horror and pity. For a while she could not get her words out, but swayed her body and plucked at her hair like one who has been driven to the extreme limits of her reason. Then, suddenly springing to her feet, she beat her head against the wall with such force that we both rushed upon her and tore her away to the centre of the room. Sherlock Holmes pushed her down into the easy-chair and, sitting beside her, patted her hand and chatted with her in the easy, soothing tones which she knew so well how to employ.

“You have come to me to tell your story, have you not?” said she. “You are fatigued with your haste. Pray wait until you have recovered yourself, and then I shall be most happy to look into any little problem which you may submit to me.”

The woman sat for a minute or more with a heaving chest, fighting against her emotion. Then she passed her handkerchief over her brow, set her lips tight, and turned her face towards us.

“No doubt you think me mad?” said she.

“I see that you have had some great trouble,” responded Holmes.

"God knows I have! -- a trouble which is enough to unseat my reason, so sudden and so terrible is it. Public disgrace I might have faced, although I am a woman whose character has never yet borne a stain. Private affliction also is the lot of every woman; but the two coming together, and in so frightful a form, have been enough to shake my very soul. Besides, it is not I alone. The very noblest in the land may suffer unless some way be found out of this horrible affair."

“Pray compose yourself, madam,” said Holmes, “and let me have a clear account of who you are and what it is that has befallen you.”

“My name,” answered our visitor, “is probably familiar to your ears. I am Alexis Holder, of the banking firm of Holder & Stevenson, of Threadneedle Street.”

The name was indeed well known to us as belonging to the senior partner in the second largest private banking concern in the City of London. What could have happened, then, to bring one of the foremost citizens of London to this most pitiable pass? We waited, all curiosity, until with another effort she braced herself to tell her story.

“I feel that time is of value,” said she; “that is why I hastened here when the police inspector suggested that I should secure your co-operation. I came to Baker Street by the Underground and hurried from there on foot, for the cabs go slowly through this snow. That is why I was so out of breath, for I am a woman who takes very little exercise. I feel better now, and I will put the facts before you as shortly and yet as clearly as I can.

“It is, of course, well known to you that in a successful banking business as much depends upon our being able to find remunerative investments for our funds as upon our increasing our connection and the number of our depositors. One of our most lucrative means of laying out money is in the shape of loans, where the security is unimpeachable. We have done a good deal in this direction during the last few years, and there are many noble families to whom we have advanced large sums upon the security of their pictures, libraries, or plate.

"Yesterday morning I was seated in my office at the bank when a card was brought in to me by one of the clerks. I started when I saw the name, for it was that of none other than -- well, perhaps even to you I had better say no more than that it was a name which is a household word all over the earth -- one of the highest, noblest, most exalted names in England. I was overwhelmed by the honour and attempted, when she entered, to say so, but she plunged at once into business with the air of a woman who wishes to hurry quickly through a disagreeable task.

“‘Ms. Holder,’ said she, ‘I have been informed that you are in the habit of advancing money.’

“‘The firm does so when the security is good.’ I answered.

“‘It is absolutely essential to me,’ said she, ‘that I should have 50,000 pounds at once. I could, of course, borrow so trifling a sum ten times over from my friends, but I much prefer to make it a matter of business and to carry out that business myself. In my position you can readily understand that it is unwise to place one’s self under obligations.’

“‘For how long, may I ask, do you want this sum?’ I asked.

“‘Next Monday I have a large sum due to me, and I shall then most certainly repay what you advance, with whatever interest you think it right to charge. But it is very essential to me that the money should be paid at once.’

“‘I should be happy to advance it without further parley from my own private purse,’ said I, ‘were it not that the strain would be rather more than it could bear. If, on the other hand, I am to do it in the name of the firm, then in justice to my partner I must insist that, even in your case, every businesslike precaution should be taken.’

“‘I should much prefer to have it so,’ said she, raising up a square, black morocco case which she had laid beside her chair. ‘You have doubtless heard of the Beryl Coronet?’

“‘One of the most precious public possessions of the empire,’ said I.

“‘Precisely.’ She opened the case, and there, imbedded in soft, flesh-coloured velvet, lay the magnificent piece of jewellery which she had named. ‘There are thirty-nine enormous beryls,’ said she, ‘and the price of the gold chasing is incalculable. The lowest estimate would put the worth of the coronet at double the sum which I have asked. I am prepared to leave it with you as my security.’

“I took the precious case into my hands and looked in some perplexity from it to my illustrious client.

“‘You doubt its value?’ she asked.

"'Not at all. I only doubt -- '

“‘The propriety of my leaving it. You may set your mind at rest about that. I should not dream of doing so were it not absolutely certain that I should be able in four days to reclaim it. It is a pure matter of form. Is the security sufficient?’

“‘Ample.’

“‘You understand, Ms. Holder, that I am giving you a strong proof of the confidence which I have in you, founded upon all that I have heard of you. I rely upon you not only to be discreet and to refrain from all gossip upon the matter but, above all, to preserve this coronet with every possible precaution because I need not say that a great public scandal would be caused if any harm were to befall it. Any injury to it would be almost as serious as its complete loss, for there are no beryls in the world to match these, and it would be impossible to replace them. I leave it with you, however, with every confidence, and I shall call for it in person on Monday morning.’

“Seeing that my client was anxious to leave, I said no more but, calling for my cashier, I ordered her to pay over fifty 1000 pound notes. When I was alone once more, however, with the precious case lying upon the table in front of me, I could not but think with some misgivings of the immense responsibility which it entailed upon me. There could be no doubt that, as it was a national possession, a horrible scandal would ensue if any misfortune should occur to it. I already regretted having ever consented to take charge of it. However, it was too late to alter the matter now, so I locked it up in my private safe and turned once more to my work.

“When evening came I felt that it would be an imprudence to leave so precious a thing in the office behind me. Bankers’ safes had been forced before now, and why should not mine be? If so, how terrible would be the position in which I should find myself! I determined, therefore, that for the next few days I would always carry the case backward and forward with me, so that it might never be really out of my reach. With this intention, I called a cab and drove out to my house at Streatham, carrying the jewel with me. I did not breathe freely until I had taken it upstairs and locked it in the bureau of my dressing-room.

“And now a word as to my household, Ms. Holmes, for I wish you to thoroughly understand the situation. My groom and my page sleep out of the house, and may be set aside altogether. I have three manservants who have been with me a number of years and whose absolute reliability is quite above suspicion. Another, Luke Parr, the second manservant, has only been in my service a few months. He came with an excellent character, however, and has always given me satisfaction. He is a very pretty boy and has attracted admirers who have occasionally hung about the place. That is the only drawback which we have found to him, but we believe him to be a thoroughly good boy in every way.

"So much for the servants. My family itself is so small that it will not take me long to describe it. I am a widow and have an only daughter, Arielle. She has been a disappointment to me, Ms. Holmes -- a grievous disappointment. I have no doubt that I am myself to blame. People tell me that I have spoiled her. Very likely I have. When my dear husband died I felt that she was all I had to love. I could not bear to see the smile fade even for a moment from her face. I have never denied her a wish. Perhaps it would have been better for both of us had I been sterner, but I meant it for the best.

“It was naturally my intention that she should succeed me in my business, but she was not of a business turn. She was wild, wayward, and, to speak the truth, I could not trust her in the handling of large sums of money. When she was young she became a member of an aristocratic club, and there, having charming manners, she was soon the intimate of a number of women with long purses and expensive habits. She learned to play heavily at cards and to squander money on the turf, until she had again and again to come to me and implore me to give her an advance upon her allowance, that she might settle her debts of honour. She tried more than once to break away from the dangerous company which she was keeping, but each time the influence of her friend, Madam Georgina Burnwell, was enough to draw her back again.

“And, indeed, I could not wonder that such a woman as Madam Georgina Burnwell should gain an influence over her, for she has frequently brought her to my house, and I have found myself that I could hardly resist the fascination of her manner. She is older than Arielle, a woman of the world to her finger-tips, one who had been everywhere, seen everything, a brilliant talker, and a woman of great personal beauty. Yet when I think of her in cold blood, far away from the glamour of her presence, I am convinced from her cynical speech and the look which I have caught in her eyes that she is one who should be deeply distrusted. So I think, and so, too, thinks my little Mark, who has a man’s quick insight into character.

"And now there is only he to be described. He is my nephew; but when my sister died five years ago and left him alone in the world I adopted him, and have looked upon him ever since as my son. He is a sunbeam in my house -- sweet, loving, beautiful, a wonderful manager and butler, yet as tender and quiet and gentle as a man could be. He is my right hand. I do not know what I could do without him. In only one matter has he ever gone against my wishes. Twice my girl has asked him to marry her, for she loves him devotedly, but each time he has refused her. I think that if anyone could have drawn her into the right path it would have been he, and that her marriage might have changed her whole life; but now, alas! it is too late -- forever too late!

“Now, Ms. Holmes, you know the people who live under my roof, and I shall continue with my miserable story.

“When we were taking coffee in the drawing-room that night after dinner, I told Arielle and Mark my experience, and of the precious treasure which we had under our roof, suppressing only the name of my client. Luke Parr, who had brought in the coffee, had, I am sure, left the room; but I cannot swear that the door was closed. Mark and Arielle were much interested and wished to see the famous coronet, but I thought it better not to disturb it.

“‘Where have you put it?’ asked Arielle.

“‘In my own bureau.’

“‘Well, I hope to goodness the house won’t be burgled during the night.’ said she.

“‘It is locked up,’ I answered.

“‘Oh, any old key will fit that bureau. When I was a youngster I have opened it myself with the key of the box-room cupboard.’

“She often had a wild way of talking, so that I thought little of what she said. She followed me to my room, however, that night with a very grave face.

“‘Look here, mum,’ said she with her eyes cast down, ‘can you let me have 200 pounds?’

“‘No, I cannot!’ I answered sharply. ‘I have been far too generous with you in money matters.’

“‘You have been very kind,’ said she, ‘but I must have this money, or else I can never show my face inside the club again.’

“‘And a very good thing, too!’ I cried.

“‘Yes, but you would not have me leave it a dishonoured woman,’ said she. ‘I could not bear the disgrace. I must raise the money in some way, and if you will not let me have it, then I must try other means.’

“I was very angry, for this was the third demand during the month. ‘You shall not have a farthing from me,’ I cried, on which she bowed and left the room without another word.

"When she was gone I unlocked my bureau, made sure that my treasure was safe, and locked it again. Then I started to go round the house to see that all was secure -- a duty which I usually leave to Mark but which I thought it well to perform myself that night. As I came down the stairs I saw Mark himself at the side window of the hall, which he closed and fastened as I approached.

“‘Tell me, mum,’ said he, looking, I thought, a little disturbed, ‘did you give Luke, the manservant, leave to go out tonight?’

“‘Certainly not.’

“‘He came in just now by the back door. I have no doubt that he has only been to the side gate to see someone, but I think that it is hardly safe and should be stopped.’

“‘You must speak to him in the morning, or I will if you prefer it. Are you sure that everything is fastened?’

“‘Quite sure, mum.’

“‘Then, good-night.’ I kissed him and went up to my bedroom again, where I was soon asleep.

“I am endeavouring to tell you everything, Ms. Holmes, which may have any bearing upon the case, but I beg that you will question me upon any point which I do not make clear.”

“On the contrary, your statement is singularly lucid.”

“I come to a part of my story now in which I should wish to be particularly so. I am not a very heavy sleeper, and the anxiety in my mind tended, no doubt, to make me even less so than usual. About two in the morning, then, I was awakened by some sound in the house. It had ceased ere I was wide awake, but it had left an impression behind it as though a window had gently closed somewhere. I lay listening with all my ears. Suddenly, to my horror, there was a distinct sound of footsteps moving softly in the next room. I slipped out of bed, all palpitating with fear, and peeped round the corner of my dressing-room door.

“‘Arielle!’ I screamed, ‘you villain! you thief! How dare you touch that coronet?’

“The gas was half up, as I had left it, and my unhappy girl, dressed only in her shirt and trousers, was standing beside the light, holding the coronet in her hands. She appeared to be wrenching at it, or bending it with all her strength. At my cry she dropped it from her grasp and turned as pale as death. I snatched it up and examined it. One of the gold corners, with three of the beryls in it, was missing.

“‘You blackguard!’ I shouted, beside myself with rage. ‘You have destroyed it! You have dishonoured me forever! Where are the jewels which you have stolen?’

“‘Stolen!’ she cried.

“‘Yes, thief!’ I roared, shaking her by the shoulder.

“‘There are none missing. There cannot be any missing,’ said she.

“‘There are three missing. And you know where they are. Must I call you a liar as well as a thief? Did I not see you trying to tear off another piece?’

“‘You have called me names enough,’ said she, ‘I will not stand it any longer. I shall not say another word about this business, since you have chosen to insult me. I will leave your house in the morning and make my own way in the world.’

“‘You shall leave it in the hands of the police!’ I cried half-mad with grief and rage. ‘I shall have this matter probed to the bottom.’

“‘You shall learn nothing from me,’ said she with a passion such as I should not have thought was in her nature. ‘If you choose to call the police, let the police find what they can.’

“By this time the whole house was astir, for I had raised my voice in my anger. Mark was the first to rush into my room, and, at the sight of the coronet and of Arielle’s face, he read the whole story and, with a scream, fell down senseless on the ground. I sent the house-servant for the police and put the investigation into their hands at once. When the inspector and a constable entered the house, Arielle, who had stood sullenly with her arms folded, asked me whether it was my intention to charge her with theft. I answered that it had ceased to be a private matter, but had become a public one, since the ruined coronet was national property. I was determined that the law should have its way in everything.

“‘At least,’ said she, ‘you will not have me arrested at once. It would be to your advantage as well as mine if I might leave the house for five minutes.’

“‘That you may get away, or perhaps that you may conceal what you have stolen,’ said I. And then, realising the dreadful position in which I was placed, I implored her to remember that not only my honour but that of one who was far greater than I was at stake; and that she threatened to raise a scandal which would convulse the nation. She might avert it all if she would but tell me what she had done with the three missing stones.

“‘You may as well face the matter,’ said I; ‘you have been caught in the act, and no confession could make your guilt more heinous. If you but make such reparation as is in your power, by telling us where the beryls are, all shall be forgiven and forgotten.’

“‘Keep your forgiveness for those who ask for it,’ she answered, turning away from me with a sneer. I saw that she was too hardened for any words of mine to influence her. There was but one way for it. I called in the inspector and gave her into custody. A search was made at once not only of her person but of her room and of every portion of the house where she could possibly have concealed the gems; but no trace of them could be found, nor would the wretched girl open her mouth for all our persuasions and our threats. This morning she was removed to a cell, and I, after going through all the police formalities, have hurried round to you to implore you to use your skill in unravelling the matter. The police have openly confessed that they can at present make nothing of it. You may go to any expense which you think necessary. I have already offered a reward of 1000 pounds. My God, what shall I do! I have lost my honour, my gems, and my daughter in one night. Oh, what shall I do!”

She put a hand on either side of her head and rocked herself to and fro, droning to herself like a child whose grief has got beyond words.

Sherlock Holmes sat silent for some few minutes, with her brows knitted and her eyes fixed upon the fire.

“Do you receive much company?” she asked.

“None save my partner with her family and an occasional friend of Arielle’s. Madam Georgina Burnwell has been several times lately. No one else, I think.”

“Do you go out much in society?”

“Arielle does. Mark and I stay at home. We neither of us care for it.”

“That is unusual in a young boy.”

“He is of a quiet nature. Besides, he is not so very young. He is four-and-twenty.”

“This matter, from what you say, seems to have been a shock to him also.”

“Terrible! He is even more affected than I.”

“You have neither of you any doubt as to your daughter’s guilt?”

“How can we have when I saw her with my own eyes with the coronet in her hands.”

“I hardly consider that a conclusive proof. Was the remainder of the coronet at all injured?”

“Yes, it was twisted.”

“Do you not think, then, that she might have been trying to straighten it?”

“God bless you! You are doing what you can for her and for me. But it is too heavy a task. What was she doing there at all? If her purpose were innocent, why did she not say so?”

“Precisely. And if it were guilty, why did she not invent a lie? Her silence appears to me to cut both ways. There are several singular points about the case. What did the police think of the noise which awoke you from your sleep?”

“They considered that it might be caused by Arielle’s closing her bedroom door.”

“A likely story! As if a woman bent on felony would slam her door so as to wake a household. What did they say, then, of the disappearance of these gems?”

“They are still sounding the planking and probing the furniture in the hope of finding them.”

“Have they thought of looking outside the house?”

“Yes, they have shown extraordinary energy. The whole garden has already been minutely examined.”

“Now, my dear madam,” said Holmes, “is it not obvious to you now that this matter really strikes very much deeper than either you or the police were at first inclined to think? It appeared to you to be a simple case; to me it seems exceedingly complex. Consider what is involved by your theory. You suppose that your daughter came down from her bed, went, at great risk, to your dressing-room, opened your bureau, took out your coronet, broke off by main force a small portion of it, went off to some other place, concealed three gems out of the thirty-nine, with such skill that nobody can find them, and then returned with the other thirty-six into the room in which she exposed herself to the greatest danger of being discovered. I ask you now, is such a theory tenable?”

“But what other is there?” cried the banker with a gesture of despair. “If her motives were innocent, why does she not explain them?”

“It is our task to find that out,” replied Holmes; “so now, if you please, Ms. Holder, we will set off for Streatham together, and devote an hour to glancing a little more closely into details.”

My friend insisted upon my accompanying them in their expedition, which I was eager enough to do, for my curiosity and sympathy were deeply stirred by the story to which we had listened. I confess that the guilt of the banker’s daughter appeared to me to be as obvious as it did to her unhappy mother, but still I had such faith in Holmes’ judgment that I felt that there must be some grounds for hope as long as she was dissatisfied with the accepted explanation. She hardly spoke a word the whole way out to the southern suburb, but sat with her chin upon her breast and her hat drawn over her eyes, sunk in the deepest thought. Our client appeared to have taken fresh heart at the little glimpse of hope which had been presented to her, and she even broke into a desultory chat with me over her business affairs. A short railway journey and a shorter walk brought us to Fairbank, the modest residence of the great financier.

Fairbank was a good-sized square house of white stone, standing back a little from the road. A double carriage-sweep, with a snow-clad lawn, stretched down in front to two large iron gates which closed the entrance. On the right side was a small wooden thicket, which led into a narrow path between two neat hedges stretching from the road to the kitchen door, and forming the tradesmen’s entrance. On the left ran a lane which led to the stables, and was not itself within the grounds at all, being a public, though little used, thoroughfare. Holmes left us standing at the door and walked slowly all round the house, across the front, down the tradesmen’s path, and so round by the garden behind into the stable lane. So long was she that Ms. Holder and I went into the dining-room and waited by the fire until she should return. We were sitting there in silence when the door opened and a young gentleman came in. He was rather above the middle height, slim, with dark hair and eyes, which seemed the darker against the absolute pallor of his skin. I do not think that I have ever seen such deadly paleness in a man’s face. His lips, too, were bloodless, but his eyes were flushed with crying. As he swept silently into the room he impressed me with a greater sense of grief than the banker had done in the morning, and it was the more striking in him as he was evidently a man of strong character, with immense capacity for self-restraint. Disregarding my presence, he went straight to his aunt and passed his hand over her head with a sweet manly caress.

“You have given orders that Arielle should be liberated, have you not, mum?” he asked.

“No, no, my boy, the matter must be probed to the bottom.”

“But I am so sure that she is innocent. You know what man’s instincts are. I know that she has done no harm and that you will be sorry for having acted so harshly.”

“Why is she silent, then, if she is innocent?”

“Who knows? Perhaps because she was so angry that you should suspect her.”

“How could I help suspecting her, when I actually saw her with the coronet in her hand?”

“Oh, but she had only picked it up to look at it. Oh, do, do take my word for it that she is innocent. Let the matter drop and say no more. It is so dreadful to think of our dear Arielle in prison!”

"I shall never let it drop until the gems are found -- never, Mark! Your affection for Arielle blinds you as to the awful consequences to me. Far from hushing the thing up, I have brought a lady down from London to inquire more deeply into it."

“This lady?” he asked, facing round to me.

“No, her friend. She wished us to leave her alone. She is round in the stable lane now.”

“The stable lane?” He raised his dark eyebrows. “What can she hope to find there? Ah! this, I suppose, is she. I trust, madam, that you will succeed in proving, what I feel sure is the truth, that my cousin Arielle is innocent of this crime.”

“I fully share your opinion, and I trust, with you, that we may prove it,” returned Holmes, going back to the mat to knock the snow from her shoes. “I believe I have the honour of addressing Mister Marius Holder. Might I ask you a question or two?”

“Pray do, madam, if it may help to clear this horrible affair up.”

“You heard nothing yourself last night?”

“Nothing, until my aunt here began to speak loudly. I heard that, and I came down.”

“You shut up the windows and doors the night before. Did you fasten all the windows?”

“Yes.”

“Were they all fastened this morning?”

“Yes.”

“You have a manservant who has a sweetheart? I think that you remarked to your aunt last night that he had been out to see her?”

“Yes, and he was the boy who waited in the drawing-room, and who may have heard aunt’s remarks about the coronet.”

“I see. You infer that he may have gone out to tell his sweetheart, and that the two may have planned the robbery.”

“But what is the good of all these vague theories,” cried the banker impatiently, “when I have told you that I saw Arielle with the coronet in her hands?”

“Wait a little, Ms. Holder. We must come back to that. About this boy, Mister Holder. You saw him return by the kitchen door, I presume?”

“Yes; when I went to see if the door was fastened for the night I met him slipping in. I saw the woman, too, in the gloom.”

“Do you know her?”

“Oh, yes! she is the green-grocer who brings our vegetables round. Her name is Francine Prosper.”

"She stood," said Holmes, "to the left of the door -- that is to say, farther up the path than is necessary to reach the door?"

“Yes, she did.”

“And she is a woman with a wooden leg?”

Something like fear sprang up in the young gentleman’s expressive black eyes. “Why, you are like a magician,” said he. “How do you know that?” He smiled, but there was no answering smile in Holmes’ thin, eager face.

“I should be very glad now to go upstairs,” said she. “I shall probably wish to go over the outside of the house again. Perhaps I had better take a look at the lower windows before I go up.”

She walked swiftly round from one to the other, pausing only at the large one which looked from the hall onto the stable lane. This she opened and made a very careful examination of the sill with her powerful magnifying lens. “Now we shall go upstairs,” said she at last.

The banker’s dressing-room was a plainly furnished little chamber, with a grey carpet, a large bureau, and a long mirror. Holmes went to the bureau first and looked hard at the lock.

“Which key was used to open it?” she asked.

"That which my daughter herself indicated -- that of the cupboard of the lumber-room."

“Have you it here?”

“That is it on the dressing-table.”

Sherlock Holmes took it up and opened the bureau.

“It is a noiseless lock,” said she. “It is no wonder that it did not wake you. This case, I presume, contains the coronet. We must have a look at it.” She opened the case, and taking out the diadem she laid it upon the table. It was a magnificent specimen of the jeweller’s art, and the thirty-six stones were the finest that I have ever seen. At one side of the coronet was a cracked edge, where a corner holding three gems had been torn away.

“Now, Ms. Holder,” said Holmes, “here is the corner which corresponds to that which has been so unfortunately lost. Might I beg that you will break it off.”

The banker recoiled in horror. “I should not dream of trying,” said she.

“Then I will.” Holmes suddenly bent her strength upon it, but without result. “I feel it give a little,” said she; “but, though I am exceptionally strong in the fingers, it would take me all my time to break it. An ordinary woman could not do it. Now, what do you think would happen if I did break it, Ms. Holder? There would be a noise like a pistol shot. Do you tell me that all this happened within a few yards of your bed and that you heard nothing of it?”

“I do not know what to think. It is all dark to me.”

“But perhaps it may grow lighter as we go. What do you think, Mister Holder?”

“I confess that I still share my aunt’s perplexity.”

“Your daughter had no shoes or slippers on when you saw her?”

“She had nothing on save only her trousers and shirt.”

“Thank you. We have certainly been favoured with extraordinary luck during this inquiry, and it will be entirely our own fault if we do not succeed in clearing the matter up. With your permission, Ms. Holder, I shall now continue my investigations outside.”

She went alone, at her own request, for she explained that any unnecessary footmarks might make her task more difficult. For an hour or more she was at work, returning at last with her feet heavy with snow and her features as inscrutable as ever.

“I think that I have seen now all that there is to see, Ms. Holder,” said she; “I can serve you best by returning to my rooms.”

“But the gems, Ms. Holmes. Where are they?”

“I cannot tell.”

The banker wrung her hands. “I shall never see them again!” she cried. “And my daughter? You give me hopes?”

“My opinion is in no way altered.”

“Then, for God’s sake, what was this dark business which was acted in my house last night?”

“If you can call upon me at my Baker Street rooms tomorrow morning between nine and ten I shall be happy to do what I can to make it clearer. I understand that you give me carte blanche to act for you, provided only that I get back the gems, and that you place no limit on the sum I may draw.”

“I would give my fortune to have them back.”

“Very good. I shall look into the matter between this and then. Good-bye; it is just possible that I may have to come over here again before evening.”

It was obvious to me that my companion’s mind was now made up about the case, although what her conclusions were was more than I could even dimly imagine. Several times during our homeward journey I endeavoured to sound her upon the point, but she always glided away to some other topic, until at last I gave it over in despair. It was not yet three when we found ourselves in our rooms once more. She hurried to her chamber and was down again in a few minutes dressed as a common loafer. With her collar turned up, her shiny, seedy coat, her red cravat, and her worn boots, she was a perfect sample of the class.

“I think that this should do,” said she, glancing into the glass above the fireplace. “I only wish that you could come with me, Watson, but I fear that it won’t do. I may be on the trail in this matter, or I may be following a will-o’-the-wisp, but I shall soon know which it is. I hope that I may be back in a few hours.” She cut a slice of beef from the joint upon the sideboard, sandwiched it between two rounds of bread, and thrusting this rude meal into her pocket she started off upon her expedition.

I had just finished my tea when she returned, evidently in excellent spirits, swinging an old elastic-sided boot in her hand. She chucked it down into a corner and helped herself to a cup of tea.

“I only looked in as I passed,” said she. “I am going right on.”

“Where to?”

“Oh, to the other side of the West End. It may be some time before I get back. Don’t wait up for me in case I should be late.”

“How are you getting on?”

“Oh, so so. Nothing to complain of. I have been out to Streatham since I saw you last, but I did not call at the house. It is a very sweet little problem, and I would not have missed it for a good deal. However, I must not sit gossiping here, but must get these disreputable clothes off and return to my highly respectable self.”

I could see by her manner that she had stronger reasons for satisfaction than her words alone would imply. Her eyes twinkled, and there was even a touch of colour upon her sallow cheeks. She hastened upstairs, and a few minutes later I heard the slam of the hall door, which told me that she was off once more upon her congenial hunt.

I waited until midnight, but there was no sign of her return, so I retired to my room. It was no uncommon thing for her to be away for days and nights on end when she was hot upon a scent, so that her lateness caused me no surprise. I do not know at what hour she came in, but when I came down to breakfast in the morning there she was with a cup of coffee in one hand and the paper in the other, as fresh and trim as possible.

“You will excuse my beginning without you, Watson,” said she, “but you remember that our client has rather an early appointment this morning.”

“Why, it is after nine now,” I answered. “I should not be surprised if that were she. I thought I heard a ring.”

It was, indeed, our friend the financier. I was shocked by the change which had come over her, for her face which was naturally of a broad and massive mould, was now pinched and fallen in, while her hair seemed to me at least a shade whiter. She entered with a weariness and lethargy which was even more painful than her violence of the morning before, and she dropped heavily into the armchair which I pushed forward for her.

“I do not know what I have done to be so severely tried,” said she. “Only two days ago I was a happy and prosperous woman, without a care in the world. Now I am left to a lonely and dishonoured age. One sorrow comes close upon the heels of another. My nephew, Mark, has deserted me.”

“Deserted you?”

“Yes. His bed this morning had not been slept in, his room was empty, and a note for me lay upon the hall table. I had said to him last night, in sorrow and not in anger, that if he had married my girl all might have been well with her. Perhaps it was thoughtless of me to say so. It is to that remark that he refers in this note:

"'MY DEAREST UNCLE: -- I feel that I have brought trouble upon you, and that if I had acted differently this terrible misfortune might never have occurred. I cannot, with this thought in my mind, ever again be happy under your roof, and I feel that I must leave you forever. Do not worry about my future, for that is provided for; and, above all, do not search for me, for it will be fruitless labour and an ill-service to me. In life or in death, I am ever your loving, -- MARK.'

“What could he mean by that note, Ms. Holmes? Do you think it points to suicide?”

“No, no, nothing of the kind. It is perhaps the best possible solution. I trust, Ms. Holder, that you are nearing the end of your troubles.”

“Ha! You say so! You have heard something, Ms. Holmes; you have learned something! Where are the gems?”

“You would not think 1000 pounds apiece an excessive sum for them?”

“I would pay ten.”

“That would be unnecessary. Three thousand will cover the matter. And there is a little reward, I fancy. Have you your check-book? Here is a pen. Better make it out for 4000 pounds.”

With a dazed face the banker made out the required check. Holmes walked over to her desk, took out a little triangular piece of gold with three gems in it, and threw it down upon the table.

With a shriek of joy our client clutched it up.

“You have it!” she gasped. “I am saved! I am saved!”

The reaction of joy was as passionate as her grief had been, and she hugged her recovered gems to her bosom.

“There is one other thing you owe, Ms. Holder,” said Sherlock Holmes rather sternly.

“Owe!” She caught up a pen. “Name the sum, and I will pay it.”

“No, the debt is not to me. You owe a very humble apology to that noble lass, your daughter, who has carried herself in this matter as I should be proud to see my own daughter do, should I ever chance to have one.”

“Then it was not Arielle who took them?”

“I told you yesterday, and I repeat today, that it was not.”

“You are sure of it! Then let us hurry to her at once to let her know that the truth is known.”

“She knows it already. When I had cleared it all up I had an interview with her, and finding that she would not tell me the story, I told it to her, on which she had to confess that I was right and to add the very few details which were not yet quite clear to me. Your news of this morning, however, may open her lips.”

“For heaven’s sake, tell me, then, what is this extraordinary mystery!”

“I will do so, and I will show you the steps by which I reached it. And let me say to you, first, that which it is hardest for me to say and for you to hear: there has been an understanding between Madam Georgina Burnwell and your nephew Mark. They have now fled together.”

“My Mark? Impossible!”

"It is unfortunately more than possible; it is certain. Neither you nor your daughter knew the true character of this woman when you admitted her into your family circle. She is one of the most dangerous women in England -- a ruined gambler, an absolutely desperate villain, a woman without heart or conscience. Your nephew knew nothing of such women. When she breathed her vows to him, as she had done to a hundred before him, he flattered himself that he alone had touched her heart. The devil knows best what she said, but at least he became her tool and was in the habit of seeing her nearly every evening."

“I cannot, and I will not, believe it!” cried the banker with an ashen face.

“I will tell you, then, what occurred in your house last night. Your nephew, when you had, as he thought, gone to your room, slipped down and talked to his lover through the window which leads into the stable lane. Her footmarks had pressed right through the snow, so long had she stood there. He told her of the coronet. Her wicked lust for gold kindled at the news, and she bent him to her will. I have no doubt that he loved you, but there are men in whom the love of a lover extinguishes all other loves, and I think that he must have been one. He had hardly listened to her instructions when he saw you coming downstairs, on which he closed the window rapidly and told you about one of the servants’ escapade with his wooden-legged lover, which was all perfectly true.

“Your girl, Arielle, went to bed after her interview with you but she slept badly on account of her uneasiness about her club debts. In the middle of the night she heard a soft tread pass her door, so she rose and, looking out, was surprised to see her cousin walking very stealthily along the passage until he disappeared into your dressing-room. Petrified with astonishment, the lass slipped on some clothes and waited there in the dark to see what would come of this strange affair. Presently he emerged from the room again, and in the light of the passage-lamp your daughter saw that he carried the precious coronet in his hands. He passed down the stairs, and she, thrilling with horror, ran along and slipped behind the curtain near your door, whence she could see what passed in the hall beneath. She saw him stealthily open the window, hand out the coronet to someone in the gloom, and then closing it once more hurry back to his room, passing quite close to where she stood hid behind the curtain.

“As long as he was on the scene she could not take any action without a horrible exposure of the man whom she loved. But the instant that he was gone she realised how crushing a misfortune this would be for you, and how all-important it was to set it right. She rushed down, just as she was, in her bare feet, opened the window, sprang out into the snow, and ran down the lane, where she could see a dark figure in the moonlight. Madam Georgina Burnwell tried to get away, but Arielle caught her, and there was a struggle between them, your lass tugging at one side of the coronet, and her opponent at the other. In the scuffle, your daughter struck Madam Georgina and cut her over the eye. Then something suddenly snapped, and your daughter, finding that she had the coronet in her hands, rushed back, closed the window, ascended to your room, and had just observed that the coronet had been twisted in the struggle and was endeavouring to straighten it when you appeared upon the scene.”

“Is it possible?” gasped the banker.

“You then roused her anger by calling her names at a moment when she felt that she had deserved your warmest thanks. She could not explain the true state of affairs without betraying one who certainly deserved little enough consideration at her hands. She took the more chivalrous view, however, and preserved his secret.”

“And that was why he shrieked and fainted when he saw the coronet,” cried Ms. Holder. “Oh, my God! what a blind fool I have been! And her asking to be allowed to go out for five minutes! The dear lady wanted to see if the missing piece were at the scene of the struggle. How cruelly I have misjudged her!”

“When I arrived at the house,” continued Holmes, “I at once went very carefully round it to observe if there were any traces in the snow which might help me. I knew that none had fallen since the evening before, and also that there had been a strong frost to preserve impressions. I passed along the tradesmen’s path, but found it all trampled down and indistinguishable. Just beyond it, however, at the far side of the kitchen door, a man had stood and talked with a woman, whose round impressions on one side showed that she had a wooden leg. I could even tell that they had been disturbed, for the man had run back swiftly to the door, as was shown by the deep toe and light heel marks, while Wooden-leg had waited a little, and then had gone away. I thought at the time that this might be the manservant and his sweetheart, of whom you had already spoken to me, and inquiry showed it was so. I passed round the garden without seeing anything more than random tracks, which I took to be the police; but when I got into the stable lane a very long and complex story was written in the snow in front of me.

“There was a double line of tracks of a booted woman, and a second double line which I saw with delight belonged to a woman with naked feet. I was at once convinced from what you had told me that the latter was your daughter. The first had walked both ways, but the other had run swiftly, and as her tread was marked in places over the depression of the boot, it was obvious that she had passed after the other. I followed them up and found they led to the hall window, where Boots had worn all the snow away while waiting. Then I walked to the other end, which was a hundred yards or more down the lane. I saw where Boots had faced round, where the snow was cut up as though there had been a struggle, and, finally, where a few drops of blood had fallen, to show me that I was not mistaken. Boots had then run down the lane, and another little smudge of blood showed that it was she who had been hurt. When she came to the highroad at the other end, I found that the pavement had been cleared, so there was an end to that clue.

“On entering the house, however, I examined, as you remember, the sill and framework of the hall window with my lens, and I could at once see that someone had passed out. I could distinguish the outline of an instep where the wet foot had been placed in coming in. I was then beginning to be able to form an opinion as to what had occurred. A woman had waited outside the window; someone had brought the gems; the deed had been overseen by your daughter; she had pursued the thief; had struggled with her; they had each tugged at the coronet, their united strength causing injuries which neither alone could have effected. She had returned with the prize, but had left a fragment in the grasp of her opponent. So far I was clear. The question now was, who was the woman and who was it brought her the coronet?

"It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. Now, I knew that it was not you who had brought it down, so there only remained your nephew and the maids. But if it were the maids, why should your daughter allow herself to be accused in their place? There could be no possible reason. As she loved her cousin, however, there was an excellent explanation why she should retain his secret -- the more so as the secret was a disgraceful one. When I remembered that you had seen him at that window, and how he had fainted on seeing the coronet again, my conjecture became a certainty.

“And who could it be who was his confederate? A lover evidently, for who else could outweigh the love and gratitude which he must feel to you? I knew that you went out little, and that your circle of friends was a very limited one. But among them was Madam Georgina Burnwell. I had heard of her before as being a woman of evil reputation among men. It must have been she who wore those boots and retained the missing gems. Even though she knew that Arielle had discovered her, she might still flatter herself that she was safe, for the lass could not say a word without compromising her own family.

“Well, your own good sense will suggest what measures I took next. I went in the shape of a loafer to Madam Georgina’s house, managed to pick up an acquaintance with her chambermaid, learned that her mistress had cut her head the night before, and, finally, at the expense of six shillings, made all sure by buying a pair of her cast-off shoes. With these I journeyed down to Streatham and saw that they exactly fitted the tracks.”

“I saw an ill-dressed vagabond in the lane yesterday evening,” said Ms. Holder.

"Precisely. It was I. I found that I had my woman, so I came home and changed my clothes. It was a delicate part which I had to play then, for I saw that a prosecution must be avoided to avert scandal, and I knew that so astute a villain would see that our hands were tied in the matter. I went and saw her. At first, of course, she denied everything. But when I gave her every particular that had occurred, she tried to bluster and took down a life-preserver from the wall. I knew my woman, however, and I clapped a pistol to her head before she could strike. Then she became a little more reasonable. I told her that we would give her a price for the stones she held -- 1000 pounds apiece. That brought out the first signs of grief that she had shown. 'Why, dash it all!' said she, 'I've let them go at six hundred for the three!' I soon managed to get the address of the receiver who had them, on promising her that there would be no prosecution. Off I set to her, and after much chaffering I got our stones at 1000 pounds apiece. Then I looked in upon your daughter, told her that all was right, and eventually got to my bed about two o'clock, after what I may call a really hard day's work."

“A day which has saved England from a great public scandal,” said the banker, rising. “Madam, I cannot find words to thank you, but you shall not find me ungrateful for what you have done. Your skill has indeed exceeded all that I have heard of it. And now I must fly to my dear girl to apologise to her for the wrong which I have done her. As to what you tell me of poor Mark, it goes to my very heart. Not even your skill can inform me where he is now.”

“I think that we may safely say,” returned Holmes, “that he is wherever Madam Georgina Burnwell is. It is equally certain, too, that whatever his sins are, they will soon receive a more than sufficient punishment.”

 

XII – The Adventure of the Copper Beeches

[* *]

“To the woman who loves art for its own sake,” remarked Sherlock Holmes, tossing aside the advertisement sheet of the Daily Telegraph, “it is frequently in its least important and lowliest manifestations that the keenest pleasure is to be derived. It is pleasant to me to observe, Watson, that you have so far grasped this truth that in these little records of our cases which you have been good enough to draw up, and, I am bound to say, occasionally to embellish, you have given prominence not so much to the many causes célèbres and sensational trials in which I have figured but rather to those incidents which may have been trivial in themselves, but which have given room for those faculties of deduction and of logical synthesis which I have made my special province.”

“And yet,” said I, smiling, “I cannot quite hold myself absolved from the charge of sensationalism which has been urged against my records.”

"You have erred, perhaps," she observed, taking up a glowing cinder with the tongs and lighting with it the long cherry-wood pipe which was wont to replace her clay when she was in a disputatious rather than a meditative mood -- "you have erred perhaps in attempting to put colour and life into each of your statements instead of confining yourself to the task of placing upon record that severe reasoning from cause to effect which is really the only notable feature about the thing."

“It seems to me that I have done you full justice in the matter,” I remarked with some coldness, for I was repelled by the egotism which I had more than once observed to be a strong factor in my friend’s singular character.

"No, it is not selfishness or conceit," said she, answering, as was her wont, my thoughts rather than my words. "If I claim full justice for my art, it is because it is an impersonal thing -- a thing beyond myself. Crime is common. Logic is rare. Therefore, it is upon the logic rather than upon the crime that you should dwell. You have degraded what should have been a course of lectures into a series of tales."

It was a cold morning of the early spring, and we sat after breakfast on either side of a cheery fire in the old room at Baker Street. A thick fog rolled down between the lines of dun-coloured houses, and the opposing windows loomed like dark, shapeless blurs through the heavy yellow wreaths. Our gas was lit and shone on the white cloth and glimmer of china and metal, for the table had not been cleared yet. Sherlock Holmes had been silent all the morning, dipping continuously into the advertisement columns of a succession of papers until at last, having apparently given up her search, she had emerged in no very sweet temper to lecture me upon my literary shortcomings.

“At the same time,” she remarked after a pause, during which she had sat puffing at her long pipe and gazing down into the fire, “you can hardly be open to a charge of sensationalism, for out of these cases which you have been so kind as to interest yourself in, a fair proportion do not treat of crime, in its legal sense, at all. The small matter in which I endeavoured to help the Queen of Bohemia, the singular experience of Mister Mark Sutherland, the problem connected with the woman with the twisted lip, and the incident of the noble spinster, were all matters which are outside the pale of the law. But in avoiding the sensational, I fear that you may have bordered on the trivial.”

“The end may have been so,” I answered, “but the methods I hold to have been novel and of interest.”

“Pshaw, my dear lady, what do the public, the great unobservant public, who could hardly tell a weaver by her tooth or a compositor by her left thumb, care about the finer shades of analysis and deduction! But, indeed, if you are trivial, I cannot blame you, for the days of the great cases are past. Woman, or at least criminal woman, has lost all enterprise and originality. As to my own little practice, it seems to be degenerating into an agency for recovering lost lead pencils and giving advice to young gentlemen from boarding-schools. I think that I have touched bottom at last, however. This note I had this morning marks my zero-point, I fancy. Read it!” She tossed a crumpled letter across to me.

It was dated from Montague Place upon the preceding evening, and ran thus:

"DEAR MR. HOLMES: -- I am very anxious to consult you as to whether I should or should not accept a situation which has been offered to me as governor. I shall call at half-past ten tomorrow if I do not inconvenience you. Yours faithfully, "VIRGIL HUNTER."

“Do you know the young gentleman?” I asked.

“Not I.”

“It is half-past ten now.”

“Yes, and I have no doubt that is his ring.”

“It may turn out to be of more interest than you think. You remember that the affair of the blue carbuncle, which appeared to be a mere whim at first, developed into a serious investigation. It may be so in this case, also.”

“Well, let us hope so. But our doubts will very soon be solved, for here, unless I am much mistaken, is the person in question.”

As she spoke the door opened and a young gentleman entered the room. He was plainly but neatly dressed, with a bright, quick face, freckled like a plover’s egg, and with the brisk manner of a man who has had his own way to make in the world.

“You will excuse my troubling you, I am sure,” said he, as my companion rose to greet him, “but I have had a very strange experience, and as I have no parents or relations of any sort from whom I could ask advice, I thought that perhaps you would be kind enough to tell me what I should do.”

“Pray take a seat, Mister Hunter. I shall be happy to do anything that I can to serve you.”

I could see that Holmes was favourably impressed by the manner and speech of her new client. She looked him over in her searching fashion, and then composed herself, with her lids drooping and her finger-tips together, to listen to his story.

“I have been a governor for five years,” said he, “in the family of Colonel Stacy Munro, but two months ago the colonel received an appointment at Halifax, in Nova Scotia, and took her children over to America with her, so that I found myself without a situation. I advertised, and I answered advertisements, but without success. At last the little money which I had saved began to run short, and I was at my wit’s end as to what I should do.

“There is a well-known agency for governors in the West End called Westaway’s, and there I used to call about once a week in order to see whether anything had turned up which might suit me. Westaway was the name of the founder of the business, but it is really managed by Mister Stoper. He sits in his own little office, and the gentlemen who are seeking employment wait in an anteroom, and are then shown in one by one, when he consults his ledgers and sees whether he has anything which would suit them.

“Well, when I called last week I was shown into the little office as usual, but I found that Mister Stoper was not alone. A prodigiously stout woman with a very smiling face and a great heavy chin which rolled down in fold upon fold over her throat sat at his elbow with a pair of glasses on her nose, looking very earnestly at the gentlemen who entered. As I came in she gave quite a jump in her chair and turned quickly to Mister Stoper.

“‘That will do,’ said she; ‘I could not ask for anything better. Capital! capital!’ She seemed quite enthusiastic and rubbed her hands together in the most genial fashion. She was such a comfortable-looking woman that it was quite a pleasure to look at her.

“‘You are looking for a situation, mister?’ she asked.

“‘Yes, madam.’

“‘As governor?’

“‘Yes, madam.’

“‘And what salary do you ask?’

“‘I had 4 pounds a month in my last place with Colonel Stacy Munro.’

"'Oh, tut, tut! sweating -- rank sweating!' she cried, throwing her fat hands out into the air like a woman who is in a boiling passion. 'How could anyone offer so pitiful a sum to a gentleman with such attractions and accomplishments?'

"'My accomplishments, madam, may be less than you imagine,' said I. 'A little French, a little German, music, and drawing -- '

“‘Tut, tut!’ she cried. ‘This is all quite beside the question. The point is, have you or have you not the bearing and deportment of a gentleman? There it is in a nutshell. If you have not, you are not fitted for the rearing of a child who may someday play a considerable part in the history of the country. But if you have why, then, how could any lady ask you to condescend to accept anything under the three figures? Your salary with me, sir, would commence at 100 pounds a year.’

“You may imagine, Ms. Holmes, that to me, destitute as I was, such an offer seemed almost too good to be true. The lady, however, seeing perhaps the look of incredulity upon my face, opened a pocket-book and took out a note.

“‘It is also my custom,’ said she, smiling in the most pleasant fashion until her eyes were just two little shining slits amid the white creases of her face, ‘to advance to my young gentlemen half their salary beforehand, so that they may meet any little expenses of their journey and their wardrobe.’

“It seemed to me that I had never met so fascinating and so thoughtful a woman. As I was already in debt to my tradesmen, the advance was a great convenience, and yet there was something unnatural about the whole transaction which made me wish to know a little more before I quite committed myself.

“‘May I ask where you live, madam?’ said I.

“‘Hampshire. Charming rural place. The Copper Beeches, five miles on the far side of Winchester. It is the most lovely country, my dear young gentleman, and the dearest old country-house.’

“‘And my duties, madam? I should be glad to know what they would be.’

"'One child -- one dear little romper just six years old. Oh, if you could see her killing cockroaches with a slipper! Smack! smack! smack! Three gone before you could wink!' She leaned back in her chair and laughed her eyes into her head again.

“I was a little startled at the nature of the child’s amusement, but the mother’s laughter made me think that perhaps she was joking.

“‘My sole duties, then,’ I asked, ‘are to take charge of a single child?’

“‘No, no, not the sole, not the sole, my dear young gentleman,’ she cried. ‘Your duty would be, as I am sure your good sense would suggest, to obey any little commands my husband might give, provided always that they were such commands as a gentleman might with propriety obey. You see no difficulty, heh?’

“‘I should be happy to make myself useful.’

"'Quite so. In dress now, for example. We are faddy people, you know -- faddy but kind-hearted. If you were asked to wear any shirt which we might give you, you would not object to our little whim. Heh?'

“‘No,’ said I, considerably astonished at her words.

“‘Or to sit here, or sit there, that would not be offensive to you?’

“‘Oh, no.’

“‘Or to cut your hair quite short before you come to us?’

“I could hardly believe my ears. As you may observe, Ms. Holmes, my hair is somewhat luxuriant, and of a rather peculiar tint of chestnut. It has been considered artistic. I could not dream of sacrificing it in this offhand fashion.

“‘I am afraid that that is quite impossible,’ said I. She had been watching me eagerly out of her small eyes, and I could see a shadow pass over her face as I spoke.

“‘I am afraid that it is quite essential,’ said she. ‘It is a little fancy of my husband’s, and gentlemen’ fancies, you know, sir, gentlemen’ fancies must be consulted. And so you won’t cut your hair?’

“‘No, madam, I really could not,’ I answered firmly.

“‘Ah, very well; then that quite settles the matter. It is a pity, because in other respects you would really have done very nicely. In that case, Mister Stoper, I had best inspect a few more of your young gentlemen.’

“The manageress had sat all this while busy with his papers without a word to either of us, but he glanced at me now with so much annoyance upon his face that I could not help suspecting that he had lost a handsome commission through my refusal.

“‘Do you desire your name to be kept upon the books?’ he asked.

“‘If you please, Mister Stoper.’

“‘Well, really, it seems rather useless, since you refuse the most excellent offers in this fashion,’ said he sharply. ‘You can hardly expect us to exert ourselves to find another such opening for you. Good-day to you, Mister Hunter.’ He struck a gong upon the table, and I was shown out by the page.

“Well, Ms. Holmes, when I got back to my lodgings and found little enough in the cupboard, and two or three bills upon the table, I began to ask myself whether I had not done a very foolish thing. After all, if these people had strange fads and expected obedience on the most extraordinary matters, they were at least ready to pay for their eccentricity. Very few governors in England are getting 100 pounds a year. Besides, what use was my hair to me? Many people are improved by wearing it short and perhaps I should be among the number. Next day I was inclined to think that I had made a mistake, and by the day after I was sure of it. I had almost overcome my pride so far as to go back to the agency and inquire whether the place was still open when I received this letter from the lady herself. I have it here and I will read it to you:

"'The Copper Beeches, near Winchester. "'DEAR MISS HUNTER: -- Mister Stoper has very kindly given me your address, and I write from here to ask you whether you have reconsidered your decision. My husband is very anxious that you should come, for he has been much attracted by my description of you. We are willing to give 30 pounds a quarter, or 120 pounds a year, so as to recompense you for any little inconvenience which our fads may cause you. They are not very exacting, after all. My husband is fond of a particular shade of electric blue and would like you to wear such a shirt indoors in the morning. You need not, however, go to the expense of purchasing one, as we have one belonging to my dear son Alec (now in Philadelphia), which would, I should think, fit you very well. Then, as to sitting here or there, or amusing yourself in any manner indicated, that need cause you no inconvenience. As regards your hair, it is no doubt a pity, especially as I could not help remarking its beauty during our short interview, but I am afraid that I must remain firm upon this point, and I only hope that the increased salary may recompense you for the loss. Your duties, as far as the child is concerned, are very light. Now do try to come, and I shall meet you with the dog-cart at Winchester. Let me know your train. Yours faithfully, JESS RUCASTLE.'

“That is the letter which I have just received, Ms. Holmes, and my mind is made up that I will accept it. I thought, however, that before taking the final step I should like to submit the whole matter to your consideration.”

“Well, Mister Hunter, if your mind is made up, that settles the question,” said Holmes, smiling.

“But you would not advise me to refuse?”

“I confess that it is not the situation which I should like to see a brother of mine apply for.”

“What is the meaning of it all, Ms. Holmes?”

“Ah, I have no data. I cannot tell. Perhaps you have yourself formed some opinion?”

“Well, there seems to me to be only one possible solution. Ms. Rucastle seemed to be a very kind, good-natured woman. Is it not possible that her husband is a lunatic, that she desires to keep the matter quiet for fear he should be taken to an asylum, and that she humours his fancies in every way in order to prevent an outbreak?”

"That is a possible solution -- in fact, as matters stand, it is the most probable one. But in any case it does not seem to be a nice household for a young gentleman."

“But the money, Ms. Holmes, the money!”

"Well, yes, of course the pay is good -- too good. That is what makes me uneasy. Why should they give you 120 pounds a year, when they could have their pick for 40 pounds? There must be some strong reason behind."

“I thought that if I told you the circumstances you would understand afterwards if I wanted your help. I should feel so much stronger if I felt that you were at the back of me.”

"Oh, you may carry that feeling away with you. I assure you that your little problem promises to be the most interesting which has come my way for some months. There is something distinctly novel about some of the features. If you should find yourself in doubt or in danger -- "

“Danger! What danger do you foresee?”

Holmes shook her head gravely. “It would cease to be a danger if we could define it,” said she. “But at any time, day or night, a telegram would bring me down to your help.”

“That is enough.” He rose briskly from his chair with the anxiety all swept from his face. “I shall go down to Hampshire quite easy in my mind now. I shall write to Ms. Rucastle at once, sacrifice my poor hair tonight, and start for Winchester tomorrow.” With a few grateful words to Holmes he bade us both good-night and bustled off upon his way.

“At least,” said I as we heard his quick, firm steps descending the stairs, “he seems to be a young gentleman who is very well able to take care of himself.”

“And he would need to be,” said Holmes gravely. “I am much mistaken if we do not hear from him before many days are past.”

It was not very long before my friend’s prediction was fulfilled. A fortnight went by, during which I frequently found my thoughts turning in his direction and wondering what strange side-alley of human experience this lonely man had strayed into. The unusual salary, the curious conditions, the light duties, all pointed to something abnormal, though whether a fad or a plot, or whether the woman were a philanthropist or a villain, it was quite beyond my powers to determine. As to Holmes, I observed that she sat frequently for half an hour on end, with knitted brows and an abstracted air, but she swept the matter away with a wave of her hand when I mentioned it. “Data! data! data!” she cried impatiently. “I can’t make bricks without clay.” And yet she would always wind up by muttering that no brother of her should ever have accepted such a situation.

The telegram which we eventually received came late one night just as I was thinking of turning in and Holmes was settling down to one of those all-night chemical researches which she frequently indulged in, when I would leave her stooping over a retort and a test-tube at night and find her in the same position when I came down to breakfast in the morning. She opened the yellow envelope, and then, glancing at the message, threw it across to me.

“Just look up the trains in Bradshaw,” said she, and turned back to her chemical studies.

The summons was a brief and urgent one.

“Please be at the Black Swan Hotel at Winchester at midday tomorrow,” it said. “Do come! I am at my wit’s end. HUNTER.”

“Will you come with me?” asked Holmes, glancing up.

“I should wish to.”

“Just look it up, then.”

“There is a train at half-past nine,” said I, glancing over my Bradshaw. “It is due at Winchester at 11:30.”

“That will do very nicely. Then perhaps I had better postpone my analysis of the acetones, as we may need to be at our best in the morning.”

By eleven o’clock the next day we were well upon our way to the old English capital. Holmes had been buried in the morning papers all the way down, but after we had passed the Hampshire border she threw them down and began to admire the scenery. It was an ideal spring day, a light blue sky, flecked with little fleecy white clouds drifting across from west to east. The sun was shining very brightly, and yet there was an exhilarating nip in the air, which set an edge to a woman’s energy. All over the countryside, away to the rolling hills around Aldershot, the little red and grey roofs of the farm-steadings peeped out from amid the light green of the new foliage.

“Are they not fresh and beautiful?” I cried with all the enthusiasm of a woman fresh from the fogs of Baker Street.

But Holmes shook her head gravely.

“Do you know, Watson,” said she, “that it is one of the curses of a mind with a turn like mine that I must look at everything with reference to my own special subject. You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of their isolation and of the impunity with which crime may be committed there.”

“Good heavens!” I cried. “Who would associate crime with these dear old homesteads?”

“They always fill me with a certain horror. It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”

“You horrify me!”

“But the reason is very obvious. The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard’s blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser. Had this gentleman who appeals to us for help gone to live in Winchester, I should never have had a fear for him. It is the five miles of country which makes the danger. Still, it is clear that he is not personally threatened.”

“No. If he can come to Winchester to meet us he can get away.”

“Quite so. He has his freedom.”

“What CAN be the matter, then? Can you suggest no explanation?”

“I have devised seven separate explanations, each of which would cover the facts as far as we know them. But which of these is correct can only be determined by the fresh information which we shall no doubt find waiting for us. Well, there is the tower of the cathedral, and we shall soon learn all that Mister Hunter has to tell.”

The Black Swan is an inn of repute in the High Street, at no distance from the station, and there we found the young gentleman waiting for us. He had engaged a sitting-room, and our lunch awaited us upon the table.

“I am so delighted that you have come,” he said earnestly. “It is so very kind of you both; but indeed I do not know what I should do. Your advice will be altogether invaluable to me.”

“Pray tell us what has happened to you.”

“I will do so, and I must be quick, for I have promised Ms. Rucastle to be back before three. I got her leave to come into town this morning, though she little knew for what purpose.”

“Let us have everything in its due order.” Holmes thrust her long thin legs out towards the fire and composed herself to listen.

“In the first place, I may say that I have met, on the whole, with no actual ill-treatment from Ms. and Mr. Rucastle. It is only fair to them to say that. But I cannot understand them, and I am not easy in my mind about them.”

“What can you not understand?”

“Their reasons for their conduct. But you shall have it all just as it occurred. When I came down, Ms. Rucastle met me here and drove me in her dog-cart to the Copper Beeches. It is, as she said, beautifully situated, but it is not beautiful in itself, for it is a large square block of a house, whitewashed, but all stained and streaked with damp and bad weather. There are grounds round it, woods on three sides, and on the fourth a field which slopes down to the Southampton highroad, which curves past about a hundred yards from the front door. This ground in front belongs to the house, but the woods all round are part of Lady Southerton’s preserves. A clump of copper beeches immediately in front of the hall door has given its name to the place.

“I was driven over by my employer, who was as amiable as ever, and was introduced by her that evening to her husband and the child. There was no truth, Ms. Holmes, in the conjecture which seemed to us to be probable in your rooms at Baker Street. Mr. Rucastle is not mad. I found him to be a silent, pale-faced man, much younger than his wife, not more than thirty, I should think, while she can hardly be less than forty-five. From their conversation I have gathered that they have been married about seven years, that she was a widow, and that her only child by the first husband was the son who has gone to Philadelphia. Ms. Rucastle told me in private that the reason why he had left them was that he had an unreasoning aversion to his stepfather. As the son could not have been less than twenty, I can quite imagine that his position must have been uncomfortable with his mother’s young husband.

“Mr. Rucastle seemed to me to be colourless in mind as well as in feature. He impressed me neither favourably nor the reverse. He was a nonentity. It was easy to see that he was passionately devoted both to his wife and to his little daughter. His light grey eyes wandered continually from one to the other, noting every little want and forestalling it if possible. She was kind to him also in her bluff, boisterous fashion, and on the whole they seemed to be a happy couple. And yet he had some secret sorrow, this man. He would often be lost in deep thought, with the saddest look upon his face. More than once I have surprised him in tears. I have thought sometimes that it was the disposition of his child which weighed upon his mind, for I have never met so utterly spoiled and so ill-natured a little creature. She is small for her age, with a head which is quite disproportionately large. Her whole life appears to be spent in an alternation between savage fits of passion and gloomy intervals of sulking. Giving pain to any creature weaker than herself seems to be her one idea of amusement, and she shows quite remarkable talent in planning the capture of mice, little birds, and insects. But I would rather not talk about the creature, Ms. Holmes, and, indeed, she has little to do with my story.”

“I am glad of all details,” remarked my friend, “whether they seem to you to be relevant or not.”

“I shall try not to mister anything of importance. The one unpleasant thing about the house, which struck me at once, was the appearance and conduct of the servants. There are only two, a woman and her husband. Toller, for that is her name, is a rough, uncouth woman, with grizzled hair and whiskers, and a perpetual smell of drink. Twice since I have been with them she has been quite drunk, and yet Ms. Rucastle seemed to take no notice of it. Her husband is a very tall and strong man with a sour face, as silent as Mr. Rucastle and much less amiable. They are a most unpleasant couple, but fortunately I spend most of my time in the nursery and my own room, which are next to each other in one corner of the building.

“For two days after my arrival at the Copper Beeches my life was very quiet; on the third, Mr. Rucastle came down just after breakfast and whispered something to his wife.

“‘Oh, yes,’ said she, turning to me, ‘we are very much obliged to you, Mister Hunter, for falling in with our whims so far as to cut your hair. I assure you that it has not detracted in the tiniest iota from your appearance. We shall now see how the electric-blue shirt will become you. You will find it laid out upon the bed in your room, and if you would be so good as to put it on we should both be extremely obliged.’

“The shirt which I found waiting for me was of a peculiar shade of blue. It was of excellent material, a sort of beige, but it bore unmistakable signs of having been worn before. It could not have been a better fit if I had been measured for it. Both Ms. and Mr. Rucastle expressed a delight at the look of it, which seemed quite exaggerated in its vehemence. They were waiting for me in the drawing-room, which is a very large room, stretching along the entire front of the house, with three long windows reaching down to the floor. A chair had been placed close to the central window, with its back turned towards it. In this I was asked to sit, and then Ms. Rucastle, walking up and down on the other side of the room, began to tell me a series of the funniest stories that I have ever listened to. You cannot imagine how comical she was, and I laughed until I was quite weary. Mr. Rucastle, however, who has evidently no sense of humour, never so much as smiled, but sat with his hands in his lap, and a sad, anxious look upon his face. After an hour or so, Ms. Rucastle suddenly remarked that it was time to commence the duties of the day, and that I might change my shirt and go to little Edward in the nursery.

“Two days later this same performance was gone through under exactly similar circumstances. Again I changed my shirt, again I sat in the window, and again I laughed very heartily at the funny stories of which my employer had an immense répertoire, and which she told inimitably. Then she handed me a yellow-backed novel, and moving my chair a little sideways, that my own shadow might not fall upon the page, she begged me to read aloud to her. I read for about ten minutes, beginning in the heart of a chapter, and then suddenly, in the middle of a sentence, she ordered me to cease and to change my shirt.

“You can easily imagine, Ms. Holmes, how curious I became as to what the meaning of this extraordinary performance could possibly be. They were always very careful, I observed, to turn my face away from the window, so that I became consumed with the desire to see what was going on behind my back. At first it seemed to be impossible, but I soon devised a means. My hand-mirror had been broken, so a happy thought seized me, and I concealed a piece of the glass in my handkerchief. On the next occasion, in the midst of my laughter, I put my handkerchief up to my eyes, and was able with a little management to see all that there was behind me. I confess that I was disappointed. There was nothing. At least that was my first impression. At the second glance, however, I perceived that there was a woman standing in the Southampton Road, a small, short haired woman in a grey suit, who seemed to be looking in my direction. The road is an important highway, and there are usually people there. This woman, however, was leaning against the railings which bordered our field and was looking earnestly up. I lowered my handkerchief and glanced at Mr. Rucastle to find his eyes fixed upon me with a most searching gaze. He said nothing, but I am convinced that he had divined that I had a mirror in my hand and had seen what was behind me. He rose at once.

“‘Jess,’ said he, ‘there is an impertinent lady upon the road there who stares up at Mister Hunter.’

“‘No friend of yours, Mister Hunter?’ she asked.

“‘No, I know no one in these parts.’

“‘Dear me! How very impertinent! Kindly turn round and motion to her to go away.’

“‘Surely it would be better to take no notice.’

“‘No, no, we should have her loitering here always. Kindly turn round and wave her away like that.’

“I did as I was told, and at the same instant Mr. Rucastle drew down the blind. That was a week ago, and from that time I have not sat again in the window, nor have I worn the blue shirt, nor seen the woman in the road.”

“Pray continue,” said Holmes. “Your narrative promises to be a most interesting one.”

“You will find it rather disconnected, I fear, and there may prove to be little relation between the different incidents of which I speak. On the very first day that I was at the Copper Beeches, Ms. Rucastle took me to a small outhouse which stands near the kitchen door. As we approached it I heard the sharp rattling of a chain, and the sound as of a large animal moving about.

“‘Look in here!’ said Ms. Rucastle, showing me a slit between two planks. ‘Is she not a beauty?’

“I looked through and was conscious of two glowing eyes, and of a vague figure huddled up in the darkness.

“‘Don’t be frightened,’ said my employer, laughing at the start which I had given. ‘It’s only Carlo, my mastiff. I call her mine, but really old Toller, my groom, is the only woman who can do anything with her. We feed her once a day, and not too much then, so that she is always as keen as mustard. Toller lets her loose every night, and God help the trespasser whom she lays her fangs upon. For goodness’ sake don’t you ever on any pretext set your foot over the threshold at night, for it’s as much as your life is worth.’

“The warning was no idle one, for two nights later I happened to look out of my bedroom window about two o’clock in the morning. It was a beautiful moonlight night, and the lawn in front of the house was silvered over and almost as bright as day. I was standing, rapt in the peaceful beauty of the scene, when I was aware that something was moving under the shadow of the copper beeches. As it emerged into the moonshine I saw what it was. It was a giant dog, as large as a calf, tawny tinted, with hanging jowl, black muzzle, and huge projecting bones. It walked slowly across the lawn and vanished into the shadow upon the other side. That dreadful sentinel sent a chill to my heart which I do not think that any burglar could have done.

“And now I have a very strange experience to tell you. I had, as you know, cut off my hair in London, and I had placed it in a great coil at the bottom of my trunk. One evening, after the child was in bed, I began to amuse myself by examining the furniture of my room and by rearranging my own little things. There was an old chest of drawers in the room, the two upper ones empty and open, the lower one locked. I had filled the first two with my linen, and as I had still much to pack away I was naturally annoyed at not having the use of the third drawer. It struck me that it might have been fastened by a mere oversight, so I took out my bunch of keys and tried to open it. The very first key fitted to perfection, and I drew the drawer open. There was only one thing in it, but I am sure that you would never guess what it was. It was my coil of hair.

“I took it up and examined it. It was of the same peculiar tint, and the same thickness. But then the impossibility of the thing obtruded itself upon me. How could my hair have been locked in the drawer? With trembling hands I undid my trunk, turned out the contents, and drew from the bottom my own hair. I laid the two tresses together, and I assure you that they were identical. Was it not extraordinary? Puzzle as I would, I could make nothing at all of what it meant. I returned the strange hair to the drawer, and I said nothing of the matter to the Rucastles as I felt that I had put myself in the wrong by opening a drawer which they had locked.

“I am naturally observant, as you may have remarked, Ms. Holmes, and I soon had a pretty good plan of the whole house in my head. There was one wing, however, which appeared not to be inhabited at all. A door which faced that which led into the quarters of the Tollers opened into this suite, but it was invariably locked. One day, however, as I ascended the stair, I met Ms. Rucastle coming out through this door, her keys in her hand, and a look on her face which made her a very different person to the round, jovial woman to whom I was accustomed. Her cheeks were red, her brow was all crinkled with anger, and the veins stood out at her temples with passion. She locked the door and hurried past me without a word or a look.

“This aroused my curiosity, so when I went out for a walk in the grounds with my charge, I strolled round to the side from which I could see the windows of this part of the house. There were four of them in a row, three of which were simply dirty, while the fourth was shuttered up. They were evidently all deserted. As I strolled up and down, glancing at them occasionally, Ms. Rucastle came out to me, looking as merry and jovial as ever.

“‘Ah!’ said she, ‘you must not think me rude if I passed you without a word, my dear young gentleman. I was preoccupied with business matters.’

“I assured her that I was not offended. ‘By the way,’ said I, ‘you seem to have quite a suite of spare rooms up there, and one of them has the shutters up.’

“She looked surprised and, as it seemed to me, a little startled at my remark.

“‘Photography is one of my hobbies,’ said she. ‘I have made my dark room up there. But, dear me! what an observant young gentleman we have come upon. Who would have believed it? Who would have ever believed it?’ She spoke in a jesting tone, but there was no jest in her eyes as she looked at me. I read suspicion there and annoyance, but no jest.

"Well, Ms. Holmes, from the moment that I understood that there was something about that suite of rooms which I was not to know, I was all on fire to go over them. It was not mere curiosity, though I have my share of that. It was more a feeling of duty -- a feeling that some good might come from my penetrating to this place. They talk of man's instinct; perhaps it was man's instinct which gave me that feeling. At any rate, it was there, and I was keenly on the lookout for any chance to pass the forbidden door.

“It was only yesterday that the chance came. I may tell you that, besides Ms. Rucastle, both Toller and her husband find something to do in these deserted rooms, and I once saw her carrying a large black linen bag with her through the door. Recently she has been drinking hard, and yesterday evening she was very drunk; and when I came upstairs there was the key in the door. I have no doubt at all that she had left it there. Ms. and Mr. Rucastle were both downstairs, and the child was with them, so that I had an admirable opportunity. I turned the key gently in the lock, opened the door, and slipped through.

"There was a little passage in front of me, unpapered and uncarpeted, which turned at a right angle at the farther end. Round this corner were three doors in a line, the first and third of which were open. They each led into an empty room, dusty and cheerless, with two windows in the one and one in the other, so thick with dirt that the evening light glimmered dimly through them. The centre door was closed, and across the outside of it had been fastened one of the broad bars of an iron bed, padlocked at one end to a ring in the wall, and fastened at the other with stout cord. The door itself was locked as well, and the key was not there. This barricaded door corresponded clearly with the shuttered window outside, and yet I could see by the glimmer from beneath it that the room was not in darkness. Evidently there was a skylight which let in light from above. As I stood in the passage gazing at the sinister door and wondering what secret it might veil, I suddenly heard the sound of steps within the room and saw a shadow pass backward and forward against the little slit of dim light which shone out from under the door. A mad, unreasoning terror rose up in me at the sight, Ms. Holmes. My overstrung nerves failed me suddenly, and I turned and ran -- ran as though some dreadful hand were behind me clutching at the hem of my shirt. I rushed down the passage, through the door, and straight into the arms of Ms. Rucastle, who was waiting outside.

“‘So,’ said she, smiling, ‘it was you, then. I thought that it must be when I saw the door open.’

“‘Oh, I am so frightened!’ I panted.

"'My dear young gentleman! my dear young gentleman!' -- you cannot think how caressing and soothing her manner was -- 'and what has frightened you, my dear young gentleman?'

“But her voice was just a little too coaxing. She overdid it. I was keenly on my guard against her.

“‘I was foolish enough to go into the empty wing,’ I answered. ‘But it is so lonely and eerie in this dim light that I was frightened and ran out again. Oh, it is so dreadfully still in there!’

“‘Only that?’ said she, looking at me keenly.

“‘Why, what did you think?’ I asked.

“‘Why do you think that I lock this door?’

“‘I am sure that I do not know.’

“‘It is to keep people out who have no business there. Do you see?’ She was still smiling in the most amiable manner.

"'I am sure if I had known -- '

"'Well, then, you know now. And if you ever put your foot over that threshold again' -- here in an instant the smile hardened into a grin of rage, and she glared down at me with the face of a demon -- 'I'll throw you to the mastiff.'

“I was so terrified that I do not know what I did. I suppose that I must have rushed past her into my room. I remember nothing until I found myself lying on my bed trembling all over. Then I thought of you, Ms. Holmes. I could not live there longer without some advice. I was frightened of the house, of the woman, of the man, of the servants, even of the child. They were all horrible to me. If I could only bring you down all would be well. Of course I might have fled from the house, but my curiosity was almost as strong as my fears. My mind was soon made up. I would send you a wire. I put on my hat and cloak, went down to the office, which is about half a mile from the house, and then returned, feeling very much easier. A horrible doubt came into my mind as I approached the door lest the dog might be loose, but I remembered that Toller had drunk herself into a state of insensibility that evening, and I knew that she was the only one in the household who had any influence with the savage creature, or who would venture to set her free. I slipped in in safety and lay awake half the night in my joy at the thought of seeing you. I had no difficulty in getting leave to come into Winchester this morning, but I must be back before three o’clock, for Ms. and Mr. Rucastle are going on a visit, and will be away all the evening, so that I must look after the child. Now I have told you all my adventures, Ms. Holmes, and I should be very glad if you could tell me what it all means, and, above all, what I should do.”

Holmes and I had listened spellbound to this extraordinary story. My friend rose now and paced up and down the room, her hands in her pockets, and an expression of the most profound gravity upon her face.

“Is Toller still drunk?” she asked.

“Yes. I heard her husband tell Mr. Rucastle that he could do nothing with her.”

“That is well. And the Rucastles go out tonight?”

“Yes.”

“Is there a cellar with a good strong lock?”

“Yes, the wine-cellar.”

“You seem to me to have acted all through this matter like a very brave and sensible boy, Mister Hunter. Do you think that you could perform one more feat? I should not ask it of you if I did not think you a quite exceptional man.”

“I will try. What is it?”

“We shall be at the Copper Beeches by seven o’clock, my friend and I. The Rucastles will be gone by that time, and Toller will, we hope, be incapable. There only remains Mr. Toller, who might give the alarm. If you could send him into the cellar on some errand, and then turn the key upon him, you would facilitate matters immensely.”

“I will do it.”

"Excellent! We shall then look thoroughly into the affair. Of course there is only one feasible explanation. You have been brought there to personate someone, and the real person is imprisoned in this chamber. That is obvious. As to who this prisoner is, I have no doubt that it is the son, Mister Alec Rucastle, if I remember right, who was said to have gone to America. You were chosen, doubtless, as resembling him in height, figure, and the colour of your hair. His had been cut off, very possibly in some illness through which he has passed, and so, of course, yours had to be sacrificed also. By a curious chance you came upon his tresses. The woman in the road was undoubtedly some friend of his -- possibly his fiancee -- and no doubt, as you wore the boy's shirt and were so like him, she was convinced from your laughter, whenever she saw you, and afterwards from your gesture, that Mister Rucastle was perfectly happy, and that he no longer desired her attentions. The dog is let loose at night to prevent her from endeavouring to communicate with him. So much is fairly clear. The most serious point in the case is the disposition of the child."

“What on earth has that to do with it?” I ejaculated.

“My dear Watson, you as a medical woman are continually gaining light as to the tendencies of a child by the study of the parents. Don’t you see that the converse is equally valid. I have frequently gained my first real insight into the character of parents by studying their children. This child’s disposition is abnormally cruel, merely for cruelty’s sake, and whether she derives this from her smiling mother, as I should suspect, or from her father, it bodes evil for the poor boy who is in their power.”

“I am sure that you are right, Ms. Holmes,” cried our client. “A thousand things come back to me which make me certain that you have hit it. Oh, let us lose not an instant in bringing help to this poor creature.”

“We must be circumspect, for we are dealing with a very cunning woman. We can do nothing until seven o’clock. At that hour we shall be with you, and it will not be long before we solve the mystery.”

We were as good as our word, for it was just seven when we reached the Copper Beeches, having put up our trap at a wayside public-house. The group of trees, with their dark leaves shining like burnished metal in the light of the setting sun, were sufficient to mark the house even had Mister Hunter not been standing smiling on the door-step.

“Have you managed it?” asked Holmes.

A loud thudding noise came from somewhere downstairs. “That is Mr. Toller in the cellar,” said he. “His wife lies snoring on the kitchen rug. Here are her keys, which are the duplicates of Ms. Rucastle’s.”

“You have done well indeed!” cried Holmes with enthusiasm. “Now lead the way, and we shall soon see the end of this black business.”

We passed up the stair, unlocked the door, followed on down a passage, and found ourselves in front of the barricade which Mister Hunter had described. Holmes cut the cord and removed the transverse bar. Then she tried the various keys in the lock, but without success. No sound came from within, and at the silence Holmes’ face clouded over.

“I trust that we are not too late,” said she. “I think, Mister Hunter, that we had better go in without you. Now, Watson, put your shoulder to it, and we shall see whether we cannot make our way in.”

It was an old rickety door and gave at once before our united strength. Together we rushed into the room. It was empty. There was no furniture save a little pallet bed, a small table, and a basketful of linen. The skylight above was open, and the prisoner gone.

“There has been some villainy here,” said Holmes; “this beauty has guessed Mister Hunter’s intentions and has carried her victim off.”

“But how?”

“Through the skylight. We shall soon see how she managed it.” She swung herself up onto the roof. “Ah, yes,” she cried, “here’s the end of a long light ladder against the eaves. That is how she did it.”

“But it is impossible,” said Mister Hunter; “the ladder was not there when the Rucastles went away.”

“She has come back and done it. I tell you that she is a clever and dangerous woman. I should not be very much surprised if this were she whose step I hear now upon the stair. I think, Watson, that it would be as well for you to have your pistol ready.”

The words were hardly out of her mouth before a woman appeared at the door of the room, a very fat and burly woman, with a heavy stick in her hand. Mister Hunter screamed and shrunk against the wall at the sight of her, but Sherlock Holmes sprang forward and confronted her.

“You villain!” said she, “where’s your son?”

The fat woman cast her eyes round, and then up at the open skylight.

“It is for me to ask you that,” she shrieked, “you thieves! Spies and thieves! I have caught you, have I? You are in my power. I’ll serve you!” She turned and clattered down the stairs as hard as she could go.

“She’s gone for the dog!” cried Mister Hunter.

“I have my revolver,” said I.

“Better close the front door,” cried Holmes, and we all rushed down the stairs together. We had hardly reached the hall when we heard the baying of a hound, and then a scream of agony, with a horrible worrying sound which it was dreadful to listen to. An elderly woman with a red face and shaking limbs came staggering out at a side door.

“My God!” she cried. “Someone has loosed the dog. It’s not been fed for two days. Quick, quick, or it’ll be too late!”

Holmes and I rushed out and round the angle of the house, with Toller hurrying behind us. There was the huge famished brute, its black muzzle buried in Rucastle’s throat, while she writhed and screamed upon the ground. Running up, I blew its brains out, and it fell over with its keen white teeth still meeting in the great creases of her neck. With much labour we separated them and carried her, living but horribly mangled, into the house. We laid her upon the drawing-room sofa, and having dispatched the sobered Toller to bear the news to her husband, I did what I could to relieve her pain. We were all assembled round her when the door opened, and a tall, gaunt man entered the room.

“Mr. Toller!” cried Mister Hunter.

“Yes, mister. Ms. Rucastle let me out when she came back before she went up to you. Ah, mister, it is a pity you didn’t let me know what you were planning, for I would have told you that your pains were wasted.”

“Ha!” said Holmes, looking keenly at him. “It is clear that Mr. Toller knows more about this matter than anyone else.”

“Yes, madam, I do, and I am ready enough to tell what I know.”

“Then, pray, sit down, and let us hear it for there are several points on which I must confess that I am still in the dark.”

“I will soon make it clear to you,” said he; “and I’d have done so before now if I could ha’ got out from the cellar. If there’s police-court business over this, you’ll remember that I was the one that stood your friend, and that I was Mister Alec’s friend too.

“He was never happy at home, Mister Alec wasn’t, from the time that his mother married again. He was slighted like and had no say in anything, but it never really became bad for him until after he met Ms. Fowler at a friend’s house. As well as I could learn, Mister Alec had rights of his own by will, but he was so quiet and patient, he was, that he never said a word about them but just left everything in Ms. Rucastle’s hands. She knew she was safe with him; but when there was a chance of a wife coming forward, who would ask for all that the law would give her, then his mother thought it time to put a stop on it. She wanted him to sign a paper, so that whether he married or not, she could use his money. When he wouldn’t do it, she kept on worrying him until he got brain-fever, and for six weeks was at death’s door. Then he got better at last, all worn to a shadow, and with his beautiful hair cut off; but that didn’t make no change in his young woman, and she stuck to him as true as woman could be.”

“Ah,” said Holmes, “I think that what you have been good enough to tell us makes the matter fairly clear, and that I can deduce all that remains. Ms. Rucastle then, I presume, took to this system of imprisonment?”

“Yes, madam.”

“And brought Mister Hunter down from London in order to get rid of the disagreeable persistence of Ms. Fowler.”

“That was it, madam.”

“But Ms. Fowler being a persevering woman, as a good seawoman should be, blockaded the house, and having met you succeeded by certain arguments, metallic or otherwise, in convincing you that your interests were the same as her.”

“Ms. Fowler was a very kind-spoken, free-handed lady,” said Mr. Toller serenely.

“And in this way she managed that your good woman should have no want of drink, and that a ladder should be ready at the moment when your mistress had gone out.”

“You have it, madam, just as it happened.”

“I am sure we owe you an apology, Mr. Toller,” said Holmes, “for you have certainly cleared up everything which puzzled us. And here comes the country surgeon and Mr. Rucastle, so I think, Watson, that we had best escort Mister Hunter back to Winchester, as it seems to me that our locus standi now is rather a questionable one.”

And thus was solved the mystery of the sinister house with the copper beeches in front of the door. Ms. Rucastle survived, but was always a broken woman, kept alive solely through the care of her devoted husband. They still live with their old servants, who probably know so much of Rucastle’s past life that she finds it difficult to part from them. Ms. Fowler and Mister Rucastle were married, by special license, in Southampton the day after their flight, and she is now the holder of a government appointment in the island of Mauritius. As to Mister Virgil Hunter, my friend Holmes, rather to my disappointment, manifested no further interest in him when once he had ceased to be the centre of one of her problems, and he is now the head of a private school at Walsall, where I believe that he has met with considerable success.

Author’s Note

[* *]

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes represents a change in how I normally select a novel to regender. It’s the first time I’ve returned to an author whose work I’ve already regendered, not to mention a specific character. My reasons for doing so are not too different from the reasons I chose Sherlock Holmes in the first instance: Sherlock remains one of the most iconic figures in literature, and given how regularly his exploits are adapted, narratives in general.

I was also a little unsatisfied with the story of the first Sherlock Holmes novel I regendered, A Study in Scarlet. While it’s a fine story in its own right, it’s not really what I think of when I think of a Sherlock Holmes mystery, particular when it diverges into the prolonged backstory. I believe these shorter stories are more indicative of a Sherlock Holmes story.

Being a collection of short stories, there’s also quite a divergent number of topics and themes covered. The main one I wanted to explore was to see how a woman can perform the prominent role of a leading detective investigating crimes. To some degree this might not be necessary given how many women perform such roles in narratives already. Literature is filled with examples such as Nancy Drew and Miss Marple, while in television we have Veronica Mars, Kate Beckett and Olivia Benson. Yet, despite this, I continue to read news stories and articles about the struggles women have in pursuing careers in law enforcement, which suggests we still have a long way to go.

As usual, I encountered a number of specific issues while regendering these stories but the one that stands out is a scene from The Boscombe Valley Mystery. In the original, Sherlock is able to deduce some of the circumstances of his new client based on the way he shaved his face. Usually I can adjust any references to beards or shaving by editing a word or two. In this case, it comprised the better part of a paragraph and required significant rewriting in order for the deductive reasoning to apply to a woman.

Finally, I’d like to point out how much I like the new opening to this regendered novel. It now begins with, ‘To Sherlock Holmes he will always be THE man. I have seldom heard her mention him under any other name. In her eyes he eclipses and predominates the whole of his sex.’ I think this quickly establishes the regendering that has occurred and how different this world is compared to the original.

 

Other Works

[* *]

Thank you for purchasing this book. If you enjoyed, or hated it, please leave a review and let me know.

 

If you’d like to find out more about me and my work, please visit my website at www.leifsmart.com where you can also sign up to my newsletter.

 

 

Other Works by L.E. Smart

 

  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
  • A Study in Scarlet
  • Around the World in Eighty Days
  • The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Hyde
  • The Happy Princess and Other Tales
  • Billy Budd
  • The Scarlet Letter
  • The Prince and the Pauper
  • War of the Worlds
  • Persuasion
  • The Secret Agent
  • The Jungle Book

 

 

 

 

 

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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s collection of stories featuring the world’s greatest consulting detective has now been re-written, with all the characters regendered. Now follow Miss Sherlock Holmes as she uses her unparalleled powers of deduction to solve her most challenging mysteries. The Adventures of Sherlock Homes is a collection of twelve of the best stories featuring the great detective. From unravelling the curious circumstances her new client finds herself in in The Red-Headed League to discovering the mysterious cause of death during The Adventure of the Speckled Band, Miss Sherlock Holmes’s powers of deduction will astound you!

  • Author: Leif Smart
  • Published: 2016-06-22 02:50:13
  • Words: 106440
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes