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 his
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
him. 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 man'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 his 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 his 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 wife was on a visit to her mother's, and for a
few days I was a dweller once more in my old quarters at Baker
"Why," said I, glancing up at my companion, "that was surely the
bell. Who could come to-night? Some friend of yours, perhaps?"
"Except yourself I have none," he answered. "I do not encourage
"A client, then?"
"If so, it is a serious case. Nothing less would bring a man 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 landlady's."
Sherlock Holmes was wrong in his conjecture, however, for there
came a step in the passage and a tapping at the door. He
stretched out his long arm to turn the lamp away from himself and
towards the vacant chair upon which a newcomer must sit.
"Come in!" said he.
The man who entered was young, some two-and-twenty at the
outside, well-groomed and trimly clad, with something of
refinement and delicacy in his bearing. The streaming umbrella
which he held in his hand, and his long shining waterproof told
of the fierce weather through which he had come. He looked about
him anxiously in the glare of the lamp, and I could see that his
face was pale and his eyes heavy, like those of a man who is
weighed down with some great anxiety.
"I owe you an apology," he said, raising his golden pince-nez to
his eyes. "I trust that I am not intruding. I fear that I have
brought some traces of the storm and rain into your snug
"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
"I have come for advice."
"That is easily got."
"That is not always so easy."
"I have heard of you, Mr. Holmes. I heard from Major Prendergast
how you saved him in the Tankerville Club scandal."
"Ah, of course. He was wrongfully accused of cheating at cards."
"He said that you could solve anything."
"He said too much."
"That you are never beaten."
"I have been beaten four times--three times by men, and once by a
"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
"And yet I question, sir, 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
The young man pulled his chair up and pushed his wet feet out
towards the blaze.
"My name," said he, "is John 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
"You must know that my grandfather had two sons--my uncle Elias
and my father Joseph. My father had a small factory at Coventry,
which he enlarged at the time of the invention of bicycling. He
was a patentee of the Openshaw unbreakable tire, and his business
met with such success that he was able to sell it and to retire
upon a handsome competence.
"My uncle Elias emigrated to America when he was a young man and
became a planter in Florida, where he was reported to have done
very well. At the time of the war he fought in Jackson's army,
and afterwards under Hood, where he rose to be a colonel. When
Lee laid down his arms my uncle returned to his plantation, where
he remained for three or four years. About 1869 or 1870 he came
back to Europe and took a small estate in Sussex, near Horsham.
He had made a very considerable fortune in the States, and his
reason for leaving them was his aversion to the negroes, and his
dislike of the Republican policy in extending the franchise to
them. He was a singular man, fierce and quick-tempered, very
foul-mouthed when he was angry, and of a most retiring
disposition. During all the years that he lived at Horsham, I
doubt if ever he set foot in the town. He had a garden and two or
three fields round his house, and there he would take his
exercise, though very often for weeks on end he would never leave
his room. He drank a great deal of brandy and smoked very
heavily, but he would see no society and did not want any
friends, not even his own brother.
"He didn't mind me; in fact, he took a fancy to me, for at the
time when he saw me first I was a youngster of twelve or so. This
would be in the year 1878, after he had been eight or nine years
in England. He begged my father to let me live with him and he
was very kind to me in his way. When he was sober he used to be
fond of playing backgammon and draughts with me, and he would
make me his representative both with the servants and with the
tradespeople, so that by the time that I was sixteen I was quite
master 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 him in
his privacy. There was one singular exception, however, for he
had a single room, a lumber-room up among the attics, which was
invariably locked, and which he would never permit either me or
anyone else to enter. With a boy'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
"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 him to receive letters, for his bills were all
paid in ready money, and he had no friends of any sort. 'From
India!' said he as he took it up, 'Pondicherry postmark! What can
this be?' Opening it hurriedly, out there jumped five little
dried orange pips, which pattered down upon his plate. I began to
laugh at this, but the laugh was struck from my lips at the sight
of his face. His lip had fallen, his eyes were protruding, his
skin the colour of putty, and he glared at the envelope which he
still held in his trembling hand, 'K. K. K.!' he shrieked, and
then, 'My God, my God, my sins have overtaken me!'
"'What is it, uncle?' I cried.
"'Death,' said he, and rising from the table he retired to his
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 his
overpowering terror? I left the breakfast-table, and as I
ascended the stair I met him 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 he with an oath. 'Tell Mary that I shall want a fire in my
room to-day, and send down to Fordham, the Horsham lawyer.'
"I did as he ordered, and when the lawyer arrived I was asked to
step 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
"'I wish you, John,' said my uncle, 'to witness my will. I leave
my estate, with all its advantages and all its disadvantages, to
my brother, your father, whence it will, no doubt, descend to
you. If you can enjoy it in peace, well and good! If you find you
cannot, take my advice, my boy, and leave it to your deadliest
enemy. I am sorry to give you such a two-edged thing, but I can't
say what turn things are going to take. Kindly sign the paper
where Mr. Fordham shows you.'
"I signed the paper as directed, and the lawyer took it away with
him. The singular incident made, as you may think, the deepest
impression upon me, and I pondered over it and turned it every
way in my mind without being able 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 uncle, however. He drank more than ever,
and he was less inclined for any sort of society. Most of his
time he would spend in his room, with the door locked upon the
inside, but sometimes he would emerge in a sort of drunken frenzy
and would burst out of the house and tear about the garden with a
revolver in his hand, screaming out that he was afraid of no man,
and that he was not to be cooped up, like a sheep in a pen, by
man or devil. When these hot fits were over, however, he would
rush tumultuously in at the door and lock and bar it behind him,
like a man who can brazen it out no longer against the terror
which lies at the roots of his soul. At such times I have seen
his face, even on a cold day, glisten with moisture, as though it
were new raised from a basin.
"Well, to come to an end of the matter, Mr. Holmes, and not to
abuse your patience, there came a night when he made one of those
drunken sallies from which he never came back. We found him, when
we went to search for him, 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 his known eccentricity,
brought in a verdict of 'suicide.' But I, who knew how he winced
from the very thought of death, had much ado to persuade myself
that he had gone out of his way to meet it. The matter passed,
however, and my father entered into possession of the estate, and
of some 14,000 pounds, which lay to his 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 uncle of the letter, and
the date of his supposed suicide."
"The letter arrived on March 10, 1883. His death was seven weeks
later, upon the night of May 2nd."
"Thank you. Pray proceed."
"When my father took over the Horsham property, he, at my
request, made 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 uncle's life in
America. Some of them were of the war time and showed that he had
done his duty well and had borne the repute of a brave soldier.
Others were of a date during the reconstruction of the Southern
states, and were mostly concerned with politics, for he 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 father 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
father give a sharp cry of surprise as we sat together at the
breakfast-table. There he was, sitting with a newly opened
envelope in one hand and five dried orange pips in the
outstretched palm of the other one. He had always laughed at what
he called my cock-and-bull story about the colonel, but he looked
very scared and puzzled now that the same thing had come upon
"'Why, what on earth does this mean, John?' he stammered.
"My heart had turned to lead. 'It is K. K. K.,' said I.
"He looked inside the envelope. 'So it is,' he cried. 'Here are
the very letters. But what is this written above them?'
"'Put the papers on the sundial,' I read, peeping over his
"'What papers? What sundial?' he asked.
"'The sundial in the garden. There is no other,' said I; 'but the
papers must be those that are destroyed.'
"'Pooh!' said he, gripping hard at his courage. 'We are in a
civilised land here, and we can't have tomfoolery of this kind.
Where does the thing come from?'
"'From Dundee,' I answered, glancing at the postmark.
"'Some preposterous practical joke,' said he. 'What have I to do
with sundials and papers? I shall take no notice of such
"'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
"It was in vain to argue with him, for he was a very obstinate
man. I went about, however, with a heart which was full of
"On the third day after the coming of the letter my father went
from home to visit an old friend of his, Major Freebody, who is
in command of one of the forts upon Portsdown Hill. I was glad
that he should go, for it seemed to me that he was farther from
danger when he was away from home. In that, however, I was in
error. Upon the second day of his absence I received a telegram
from the major, imploring me to come at once. My father 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 him, but he passed away without having ever recovered
his consciousness. He had, as it appears, been returning from
Fareham in the twilight, and as the country was unknown to him,
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 his 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 him.
"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 uncle's life, and that the danger would be as
pressing in one house as in another.
"It was in January, '85, that my poor father met his 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 father."
The young man took from his waistcoat a crumpled envelope, and
turning to the table he shook out upon it five little dried
"This is the envelope," he continued. "The postmark is
London--eastern division. Within are the very words which were
upon my father's last message: 'K. K. K.'; and then 'Put the
papers on the sundial.'"
"What have you done?" asked Holmes.
"To tell the truth"--he sank his face into his 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, man, or you are
lost. Nothing but energy can save you. This is no time for
"I have seen the police."
"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
Holmes shook his clenched hands in the air. "Incredible
imbecility!" he cried.
"They have, however, allowed me a policeman, who may remain in
the house with me."
"Has he come with you to-night?"
"No. His orders were to stay in the house."
Again Holmes raved in the air.
"Why did you come to me," he cried, "and, above all, why did you
not come at once?"
"I did not know. It was only to-day that I spoke to Major
Prendergast about my troubles and was advised by him to come to
"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 John Openshaw. He rummaged in his coat
pocket, and, drawing out a piece of discoloured, blue-tinted
paper, he laid it out upon the table. "I have some remembrance,"
said he, "that on the day when my uncle 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 his 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 uncle'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
John Swain, of St. Augustine.
"9th. McCauley cleared.
"10th. John Swain cleared.
"12th. Visited Paramore. All well."
"Thank you!" said Holmes, folding up the paper and returning it
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 uncle, 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
"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
"I thank you," said the young man, rising and pulling on his
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
"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
"I am armed."
"That is well. To-morrow I shall set to work upon your case."
"I shall see you at Horsham, then?"
"No, your secret lies in London. It is there that I shall seek
"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." He shook hands with us and took his 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
Sherlock Holmes sat for some time in silence, with his head sunk
forward and his eyes bent upon the red glow of the fire. Then he
lit his pipe, and leaning back in his chair he watched the blue
smoke-rings as they chased each other up to the ceiling.
"I think, Watson," he 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 John Openshaw seems
to me to be walking amid even greater perils than did the
"But have you," I asked, "formed any definite conception as to
what these perils are?"
"There can be no question as to their nature," he answered.
"Then what are they? Who is this K. K. K., and why does he pursue
this unhappy family?"
Sherlock Holmes closed his eyes and placed his elbows upon the
arms of his chair, with his finger-tips together. "The ideal
reasoner," he remarked, "would, when he 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 his 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 man should possess all knowledge
which is likely to be useful to him in his 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, swordsman, 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," he said, "I say now, as
I said then, that a man should keep his little brain-attic
stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the
rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library, where he
can get it if he wants it. Now, for such a case as the one which
has been submitted to us to-night, 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. Men at his 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. His extreme love
of solitude in England suggests the idea that he 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 him from
America. As to what it was he feared, we can only deduce that by
considering the formidable letters which were received by himself
and his successors. Did you remark the postmarks of those
"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 man
or men 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
"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
"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 man 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 men 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 his voice--"have you never heard of the Ku Klux Klan?"
"I never have."
Holmes turned over the leaves of the book upon his knee. "Here it
is," said he 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 man 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 his former ways, or might
fly from the country. If he braved the matter out, death would
unfailingly come upon him, 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 man 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 he and his
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 men 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 him. There is nothing more to be said or to be done
to-night, 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-men."
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
"You will excuse me for not waiting for you," said he; "I have, I
foresee, a very busy day before me in looking into this case of
"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
maid 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 he, laying down his cup, "I feared as much. How was it
done?" He spoke calmly, but I could see that he was deeply moved.
"My eye caught the name of Openshaw, and the heading 'Tragedy
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 gentleman
whose name, as it appears from an envelope which was found in his
pocket, was John Openshaw, and whose residence is near Horsham.
It is conjectured that he may have been hurrying down to catch
the last train from Waterloo Station, and that in his haste and
the extreme darkness he missed his 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 him.
"That hurts my pride, Watson," he 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 he should come to me for help, and that
I should send him away to his death--!" He sprang from his chair
and paced about the room in uncontrollable agitation, with a
flush upon his sallow cheeks and a nervous clasping and
unclasping of his long thin hands.
"They must be cunning devils," he exclaimed at last. "How could
they have decoyed him 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 he
entered, looking pale and worn. He walked up to the sideboard,
and tearing a piece from the loaf he 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
"Not a bite. I had no time to think of it."
"And how have you succeeded?"
"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?"
He took an orange from the cupboard, and tearing it to pieces he
squeezed out the pips upon the table. Of these he took five and
thrust them into an envelope. On the inside of the flap he wrote
"S. H. for J. O." Then he sealed it and addressed it to "Captain
James Calhoun, Barque 'Lone Star,' Savannah, Georgia."
"That will await him when he enters port," said he, chuckling.
"It may give him a sleepless night. He will find it as sure a
precursor of his fate as Openshaw did before him."
"And who is this Captain Calhoun?"
"The leader of the gang. I shall have the others, but he first."
"How did you trace it, then?"
He took a large sheet of paper from his pocket, all covered with
dates and names.
"I have spent the whole day," said he, "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."
"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."
"The 'Lone Star' had arrived here last week. I went down to the
Albert Dock and found that she had been taken down the river by
the early tide this morning, homeward bound to Savannah. I wired
to Gravesend and learned that she had passed some time ago, and
as the wind is easterly I have no doubt that she is now past the
Goodwins and not very far from the Isle of Wight."
"What will you do, then?"
"Oh, I have my hand upon him. He and the two mates, are as I
learn, 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 gentlemen 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 John 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."
ADVENTURE VI. THE MAN WITH THE TWISTED LIP
Isa Whitney, brother of the late Elias Whitney, D.D., Principal
of the Theological College of St. George's, was much addicted to
opium. The habit grew upon him, as I understand, from some
foolish freak when he was at college; for having read De
Quincey's description of his dreams and sensations, he had
drenched his tobacco with laudanum in an attempt to produce the
same effects. He found, as so many more have done, that the
practice is easier to attain than to get rid of, and for many
years he continued to be a slave to the drug, an object of
mingled horror and pity to his friends and relatives. I can see
him now, with yellow, pasty face, drooping lids, and pin-point
pupils, all huddled in a chair, the wreck and ruin of a noble
One night--it was in June, '89--there came a ring to my bell,
about the hour when a man gives his first yawn and glances at the
clock. I sat up in my chair, and my wife laid her needle-work
down in her lap and made a little face of disappointment.
"A patient!" said she. "You'll have to go out."
I groaned, for I was newly come back from a weary day.
We heard the door open, a few hurried words, and then quick steps
upon the linoleum. Our own door flew open, and a lady, clad in
some dark-coloured stuff, with a black veil, entered the room.
"You will excuse my calling so late," she began, and then,
suddenly losing her self-control, she ran forward, threw her arms
about my wife's neck, and sobbed upon her shoulder. "Oh, I'm in
such trouble!" she cried; "I do so want a little help."
"Why," said my wife, pulling up her 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 wife 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 James off to bed?"
"Oh, no, no! I want the doctor's advice and help, too. It's about
Isa. He has not been home for two days. I am so frightened about
It was not the first time that she had spoken to us of her
husband's trouble, to me as a doctor, to my wife as an old friend
and school companion. We soothed and comforted her by such words
as we could find. Did she know where her husband was? Was it
possible that we could bring him back to her?
It seems that it was. She had the surest information that of late
he had, when the fit was on him, made use of an opium den in the
farthest east of the City. Hitherto his orgies had always been
confined to one day, and he had come back, twitching and
shattered, in the evening. But now the spell had been upon him
eight-and-forty hours, and he lay there, doubtless among the
dregs of the docks, breathing in the poison or sleeping off the
effects. There he was to be found, she was sure of it, at the Bar
of Gold, in Upper Swandam Lane. But what was she to do? How could
she, a young and timid woman, make her way into such a place and
pluck her husband out from among the ruffians who surrounded him?
There was the case, and of course there was but one way out of
it. Might I not escort her to this place? And then, as a second
thought, why should she come at all? I was Isa Whitney's medical
adviser, and as such I had influence over him. I could manage it
better if I were alone. I promised her on my word that I would
send him home in a cab within two hours if he were indeed at the
address which she 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
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 his own
thoughts and paying little heed to the words of his 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
man, with his jaw resting upon his two fists, and his elbows upon
his knees, staring into the fire.
As I entered, a sallow Malay attendant had hurried up with a pipe
for me and 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, Mr. Isa Whitney, and I wish to speak with him."
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 he. He was in a pitiable state of
reaction, with every nerve in a twitter. "I say, Watson, what
o'clock is it?"
"Of what day?"
"Of Friday, June 19th."
"Good heavens! I thought it was Wednesday. It is Wednesday. What
d'you want to frighten a chap for?" He sank his face onto his
arms and began to sob in a high treble key.
"I tell you that it is Friday, man. Your wife has been waiting
this 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 man 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 man at my
side, and yet he sat now as absorbed as ever, very thin, very
wrinkled, bent with age, an opium pipe dangling down from between
his knees, as though it had dropped in sheer lassitude from his
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. He had turned his back so that none could see him
but I. His form had filled out, his wrinkles were gone, the dull
eyes had regained their fire, and there, sitting by the fire and
grinning at my surprise, was none other than Sherlock Holmes. He
made a slight motion to me to approach him, and instantly, as he
turned his face half round to the company once more, subsided
into a doddering, loose-lipped senility.
"Holmes!" I whispered, "what on earth are you doing in this den?"
"As low as you can," he 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
"I have a cab outside."
"Then pray send him home in it. You may safely trust him, for he
appears to be too limp to get into any mischief. I should
recommend you also to send a note by the cabman to your wife 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 his existence. In a
few minutes I had written my note, paid Whitney's bill, led him
out to the cab, and seen him 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 he shuffled along with a bent back and an uncertain foot.
Then, glancing quickly round, he straightened himself out and
burst into a hearty fit of laughter.
"I suppose, Watson," said he, "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
"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."
"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
"What! You do not mean bodies?"
"Ay, bodies, Watson. We should be rich men 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
Neville St. Clair has entered it never to leave it more. But our
trap should be here." He put his two forefingers between his
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."
"Yes; that is Mr. 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, John; we shall not need you. Here's half a
crown. Look out for me to-morrow, about eleven. Give her her
head. So long, then!"
He flicked the horse with his whip, and we dashed away through
the 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 policeman, 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 his head sunk upon his
breast, and the air of a man who is lost in thought, while I sat
beside him, curious to learn what this new quest might be which
seemed to tax his powers so sorely, and yet afraid to break in
upon the current of his thoughts. We had driven several miles,
and were beginning to get to the fringe of the belt of suburban
villas, when he shook himself, shrugged his shoulders, and lit up
his pipe with the air of a man who has satisfied himself that he
is acting for the best.
"You have a grand gift of silence, Watson," said he. "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 woman to-night when she meets me at the door."
"You forget that I know nothing about it."
"I shall just have time to tell you the facts of the case before
we 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."
"Some years ago--to be definite, in May, 1884--there came to Lee
a gentleman, Neville St. Clair by name, who appeared to have
plenty of money. He took a large villa, laid out the grounds very
nicely, and lived generally in good style. By degrees he made
friends in the neighbourhood, and in 1887 he married the daughter
of a local brewer, by whom he now has two children. He 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. Mr. St. Clair is now thirty-seven years of
age, is a man of temperate habits, a good husband, a very
affectionate father, and a man who is popular with all who know
him. I may add that his whole debts at the present moment, as far
as we have been able to ascertain, amount to 88 pounds 10s., while
he has 220 pounds standing to his credit in the Capital and
Counties Bank. There is no reason, therefore, to think that money
troubles have been weighing upon his mind.
"Last Monday Mr. Neville St. Clair went into town rather earlier
than usual, remarking before he started that he had two important
commissions to perform, and that he would bring his little boy
home a box of bricks. Now, by the merest chance, his wife
received a telegram upon this same Monday, very shortly after his
departure, to the effect that a small parcel of considerable
value which she had been expecting was waiting for her 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 to-night. Mrs. St. Clair had her lunch, started for
the City, did some shopping, proceeded to the company's office,
got her packet, and found herself at exactly 4:35 walking through
Swandam Lane on her way back to the station. Have you followed me
"It is very clear."
"If you remember, Monday was an exceedingly hot day, and Mrs. St.
Clair walked slowly, glancing about in the hope of seeing a cab,
as she did not like the neighbourhood in which she found herself.
While she was walking in this way down Swandam Lane, she suddenly
heard an ejaculation or cry, and was struck cold to see her
husband looking down at her and, as it seemed to her, beckoning
to her from a second-floor window. The window was open, and she
distinctly saw his face, which she describes as being terribly
agitated. He waved his hands frantically to her, and then
vanished from the window so suddenly that it seemed to her that
he had been plucked back by some irresistible force from behind.
One singular point which struck her quick feminine eye was that
although he wore some dark coat, such as he had started to town
in, he had on neither collar nor necktie.
"Convinced that something was amiss with him, she rushed down the
steps--for the house was none other than the opium den in which
you found me to-night--and running through the front room she
attempted to ascend the stairs which led to the first floor. At
the foot of the stairs, however, she met this Lascar scoundrel of
whom I have spoken, who thrust her back and, aided by a Dane, who
acts as assistant there, pushed her out into the street. Filled
with the most maddening doubts and fears, she rushed down the
lane and, by rare good-fortune, met in Fresno Street a number of
constables with an inspector, all on their way to their beat. The
inspector and two men accompanied her back, and in spite of the
continued resistance of the proprietor, they made their way to
the room in which Mr. St. Clair had last been seen. There was no
sign of him 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 his home there. Both he 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 Mrs. St. Clair had
been deluded when, with a cry, she 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 he 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 Mr. Neville St. Clair, with the exception of
his coat. His boots, his socks, his hat, and his watch--all were
there. There were no signs of violence upon any of these
garments, and there were no other traces of Mr. Neville St.
Clair. Out of the window he must apparently have gone for no
other exit could be discovered, and the ominous bloodstains upon
the sill gave little promise that he could save himself by
swimming, for the tide was at its very highest at the moment of
"And now as to the villains who seemed to be immediately
implicated in the matter. The Lascar was known to be a man of the
vilest antecedents, but as, by Mrs. St. Clair's story, he was
known to have been at the foot of the stair within a very few
seconds of her husband's appearance at the window, he could
hardly have been more than an accessory to the crime. His defence
was one of absolute ignorance, and he protested that he had no
knowledge as to the doings of Hugh Boone, his lodger, and that he
could not account in any way for the presence of the missing
"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 Neville St.
Clair. His name is Hugh Boone, and his hideous face is one which
is familiar to every man who goes much to the City. He is a
professional beggar, though in order to avoid the police
regulations he 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 his daily seat,
cross-legged with his tiny stock of matches on his lap, and as he
is a piteous spectacle a small rain of charity descends into the
greasy leather cap which lies upon the pavement beside him. I
have watched the fellow more than once before ever I thought of
making his professional acquaintance, and I have been surprised
at the harvest which he has reaped in a short time. His
appearance, you see, is so remarkable that no one can pass him
without observing him. A shock of orange hair, a pale face
disfigured by a horrible scar, which, by its contraction, has
turned up the outer edge of his upper lip, a bulldog chin, and a
pair of very penetrating dark eyes, which present a singular
contrast to the colour of his hair, all mark him out from amid
the common crowd of mendicants and so, too, does his wit, for he
is ever ready with a reply to any piece of chaff which may be
thrown at him by the passers-by. This is the man whom we now
learn to have been the lodger at the opium den, and to have been
the last man to see the gentleman of whom we are in quest."
"But a cripple!" said I. "What could he have done single-handed
against a man in the prime of life?"
"He is a cripple in the sense that he walks with a limp; but in
other respects he appears to be a powerful and well-nurtured man.
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."
"Mrs. St. Clair had fainted at the sight of the blood upon the
window, and she was escorted home in a cab by the police, as her
presence could be 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 he was allowed some few minutes
during which he might have communicated with his friend the
Lascar, but this fault was soon remedied, and he was seized and
searched, without anything being found which could incriminate
him. There were, it is true, some blood-stains upon his right
shirt-sleeve, but he pointed to his ring-finger, which had been
cut near the nail, and explained that the bleeding came from
there, adding that he had been to the window not long before, and
that the stains which had been observed there came doubtless from
the same source. He denied strenuously having ever seen Mr.
Neville St. Clair and swore that the presence of the clothes in
his room was as much a mystery to him as to the police. As to
Mrs. St. Clair's assertion that she had actually seen her husband
at the window, he declared that she must have been either mad or
dreaming. He was removed, loudly protesting, to the
police-station, while the inspector remained upon 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 Neville St. Clair's coat, and not
Neville 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, sir, but the facts might be met speciously enough. Suppose
that this man Boone had thrust Neville St. Clair through the
window, there is no human eye which could have seen the deed.
What would he do then? It would of course instantly strike him
that he must get rid of the tell-tale garments. He would seize
the coat, then, and be in the act of throwing it out, when it
would occur to him that it would swim and not sink. He has little
time, for he has heard the scuffle downstairs when the wife tried
to force her way up, and perhaps he has already heard from his
Lascar confederate that the police are hurrying up the street.
There is not an instant to be lost. He rushes to some secret
hoard, where he has accumulated the fruits of his beggary, and he
stuffs all the coins upon which he can lay his hands into the
pockets to make sure of the coat's sinking. He throws it out, and
would have done the same with the other garments had not he 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 him. He had for years been known as a
professional beggar, but his 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 Neville St. Clair was
doing in the opium den, what happened to him when there, where is
he now, and what Hugh Boone had to do with his 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 he 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 woman 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
"Because there are many inquiries which must be made out here.
Mrs. St. Clair has most kindly put two rooms at my disposal, and
you may rest assured that she will have nothing but a welcome for
my friend and colleague. I hate to meet her, Watson, when I have
no news of her husband. Here we are. Whoa, there, whoa!"
We had pulled up in front of a large villa which stood within its
own grounds. A stable-boy had run out to the horse's head, and
springing down, 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 woman stood in the opening, clad
in some sort of light mousseline de soie, with a touch of fluffy
pink chiffon at her neck and wrists. She stood with her figure
outlined against the flood of light, one hand upon the door, one
half-raised in her eagerness, her body slightly bent, her head
and face protruded, with eager eyes and parted lips, a standing
"Well?" she cried, "well?" And then, seeing that there were two
of us, she gave a cry of hope which sank into a groan as she saw
that my companion shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.
"No good news?"
"Thank God for that. But come in. You must be weary, for you have
had a long day."
"This is my friend, Dr. Watson. He 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 him out and associate him with this
"I am delighted to see you," said she, 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 madam," 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
"Now, Mr. Sherlock Holmes," said the lady 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
"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 Neville is alive?"
Sherlock Holmes seemed to be embarrassed by the question.
"Frankly, now!" she repeated, standing upon the rug and looking
keenly down at him as he leaned back in a basket-chair.
"Frankly, then, madam, I do not."
"You think that he is dead?"
"I don't say that. Perhaps."
"And on what day did he meet his death?"
"Then perhaps, Mr. Holmes, you will be good enough to explain how
it is that I have received a letter from him to-day."
Sherlock Holmes sprang out of his chair as if he had been
"What!" he roared.
"Yes, to-day." She stood smiling, holding up a little slip of
paper in the air.
"May I see it?"
He snatched it from her in his eagerness, and smoothing it out
upon the table he drew over the lamp and examined it intently. I
had left my chair and was gazing at it over his 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
husband's writing, madam."
"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
man has written the name, and there has then been a pause before
he wrote the address, which can only mean that he 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. His signet-ring."
"And you are sure that this is your husband's hand?"
"One of his hands."
"His hand when he wrote hurriedly. It is very unlike his usual
writing, and yet I know it well."
"'Dearest do not be frightened. All will come well. There is a
huge error which it may take some little time to rectify.
Wait in patience.--NEVILLE.' Written in pencil upon the fly-leaf
of a book, octavo size, no water-mark. Hum! Posted to-day in
Gravesend by a man with 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 husband's
"None. Neville wrote those words."
"And they were posted to-day at Gravesend. Well, Mrs. St. Clair,
the clouds lighten, though I should not venture to say that the
danger is over."
"But he must be alive, Mr. Holmes."
"Unless this is a clever forgery to put us on the wrong scent.
The ring, after all, proves nothing. It may have been taken from
"No, no; it is, it is his very own writing!"
"Very well. It may, however, have been written on Monday and only
"That is possible."
"If so, much may have happened between."
"Oh, you must not discourage me, Mr. Holmes. I know that all is
well with him. There is so keen a sympathy between us that I
should know if evil came upon him. On the very day that I saw him
last he cut himself in the bedroom, and yet I in the dining-room
rushed upstairs instantly with the utmost certainty that
something had happened. Do you think that I would respond to such
a trifle and yet be ignorant of his death?"
"I have seen too much not to know that the impression of a woman
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 husband
is alive and able to write letters, why should he remain away
"I cannot imagine. It is unthinkable."
"And on Monday he made no remarks before leaving you?"
"And you were surprised to see him in Swandam Lane?"
"Very much so."
"Was the window open?"
"Then he might have called to you?"
"He only, as I understand, gave an inarticulate cry?"
"A call for help, you thought?"
"Yes. He waved his hands."
"But it might have been a cry of surprise. Astonishment at the
unexpected sight of you might cause him to throw up his hands?"
"It is possible."
"And you thought he was pulled back?"
"He disappeared so suddenly."
"He might have leaped back. You did not see anyone else in the
"No, but this horrible man confessed to having been there, and
the Lascar was at the foot of the stairs."
"Quite so. Your husband, as far as you could see, had his
ordinary clothes on?"
"But without his collar or tie. I distinctly saw his bare
"Had he ever spoken of Swandam Lane?"
"Had he ever showed any signs of having taken opium?"
"Thank you, Mrs. 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
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 man, however,
who, when he had an unsolved problem upon his mind, would go for
days, and even for a week, without rest, turning it over,
rearranging his facts, looking at it from every point of view
until he had either fathomed it or convinced himself that his
data were insufficient. It was soon evident to me that he was now
preparing for an all-night sitting. He took off his coat and
waistcoat, put on a large blue dressing-gown, and then wandered
about the room collecting pillows from his bed and cushions from
the sofa and armchairs. With these he constructed a sort of
Eastern divan, upon which he perched himself cross-legged, with
an ounce of shag tobacco and a box of matches laid out in front
of him. In the dim light of the lamp I saw him sitting there, an
old briar pipe between his lips, his eyes fixed vacantly upon the
corner of the ceiling, the blue smoke curling up from him,
silent, motionless, with the light shining upon his strong-set
aquiline features. So he sat as I dropped off to sleep, and so he
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 his 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?" he asked.
"Game for a morning drive?"
"Then dress. No one is stirring yet, but I know where the
stable-boy sleeps, and we shall soon have the trap out." He
chuckled to himself as he spoke, his eyes twinkled, and he seemed
a different man 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 boy was
putting in the horse.
"I want to test a little theory of mine," said he, pulling on his
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," he answered. "Oh, yes, I am not joking," he
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 boy, and we shall see whether it will
not fit the lock."
We made our way downstairs as quietly as possible, and out into
the bright morning sunshine. In the road stood our horse and
trap, with the half-clad stable-boy 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
him. One of them held the horse's head while the other led us in.
"Who is on duty?" asked Holmes.
"Inspector Bradstreet, sir."
"Ah, Bradstreet, how are you?" A tall, stout official had come
down the stone-flagged passage, in a peaked cap and frogged
jacket. "I wish to have a quiet word with you, Bradstreet."
"Certainly, Mr. Holmes. Step into my room here." It was a small,
office-like room, with a huge ledger upon the table, and a
telephone projecting from the wall. The inspector sat down at his
"What can I do for you, Mr. Holmes?"
"I called about that beggarman, Boone--the one who was charged
with being concerned in the disappearance of Mr. Neville St.
Clair, of Lee."
"Yes. He was brought up and remanded for further inquiries."
"So I heard. You have him here?"
"In the cells."
"Is he quiet?"
"Oh, he gives no trouble. But he is a dirty scoundrel."
"Yes, it is all we can do to make him wash his hands, and his
face is as black as a tinker's. Well, when once his case has been
settled, he will have a regular prison bath; and I think, if you
saw him, you would agree with me that he needed it."
"I should like to see him very much."
"Would you? That is easily done. Come this way. You can leave
"No, I think that I'll take it."
"Very good. Come this way, if you please." He 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
"The third on the right is his," said the inspector. "Here it
is!" He quietly shot back a panel in the upper part of the door
and glanced through.
"He is asleep," said he. "You can see him very well."
We both put our eyes to the grating. The prisoner lay with his
face towards us, in a very deep sleep, breathing slowly and
heavily. He was a middle-sized man, coarsely clad as became his
calling, with a coloured shirt protruding through the rent in his
tattered coat. He was, as the inspector had said, extremely
dirty, but the grime which covered his 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
his eyes and forehead.
"He's a beauty, isn't he?" said the inspector.
"He certainly needs a wash," remarked Holmes. "I had an idea that
he might, and I took the liberty of bringing the tools with me."
He opened the Gladstone bag as he spoke, and took out, to my
astonishment, a very large bath-sponge.
"He! he! You are a funny one," chuckled the inspector.
"Now, if you will have the great goodness to open that door very
quietly, we will soon make him cut a much more respectable
"Well, I don't know why not," said the inspector. "He doesn't
look a credit to the Bow Street cells, does he?" He slipped his
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 his sponge,
and then rubbed it twice vigorously across and down the
"Let me introduce you," he shouted, "to Mr. Neville St. Clair, of
Lee, in the county of Kent."
Never in my life have I seen such a sight. The man's face peeled
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 his bed, was a pale,
sad-faced, refined-looking man, black-haired and smooth-skinned,
rubbing his eyes and staring about him with sleepy bewilderment.
Then suddenly realising the exposure, he broke into a scream and
threw himself down with his face to the pillow.
"Great heavens!" cried the inspector, "it is, indeed, the missing
man. I know him from the photograph."
The prisoner turned with the reckless air of a man who abandons
himself to his destiny. "Be it so," said he. "And pray what am I
"With making away with Mr. Neville 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 Mr. Neville St. Clair, then it is obvious that no crime
has been committed, and that, therefore, I am illegally
"No crime, but a very great error has been committed," said
Holmes. "You would have done better to have trusted your wife."
"It was not the wife; it was the children," groaned the prisoner.
"God help me, I would not have them ashamed of their father. My
God! What an exposure! What can I do?"
Sherlock Holmes sat down beside him on the couch and patted him
kindly on the shoulder.
"If you leave it to a court of law to clear the matter up," said
he, "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 father 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 actor 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 an appropriate dress, 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,
some time 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 man knew my secret. He 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 man about town. This fellow,
a Lascar, was well paid by me for his rooms, so that I knew that
my secret was safe in his 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 wife knew that I had
business in the City. She little knew what.
"Last Monday I had finished for the day and was dressing in my
room above the opium den when I looked out of my window and saw,
to my horror and astonishment, that my wife was standing in the
street, with her 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 him to prevent anyone from
coming up to me. I heard her voice downstairs, but I knew that
she could not ascend. Swiftly I threw off my clothes, pulled on
those of a beggar, and put on my pigments and wig. Even a wife'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 Mr.
Neville St. Clair, I was arrested as his murderer.
"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 wife 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 her that she had no cause to
"That note only reached her yesterday," said Holmes.
"Good God! What a week she must have spent!"
"The police have watched this Lascar," said Inspector Bradstreet,
"and I can quite understand that he might find it difficult to
post a letter unobserved. Probably he handed it to some sailor
customer of his, 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 man 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, Mr. Holmes, that we are very much indebted to you for
having cleared the matter up. I wish I knew how you reach your
"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 him the
compliments of the season. He was lounging upon the sofa in a
purple dressing-gown, a pipe-rack within his 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"--he jerked his
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 his armchair and warmed my hands before his
crackling fire, for a sharp frost had set in, and the windows
were thick with the ice crystals. "I suppose," I remarked, "that,
homely as it looks, 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
"Precisely. You allude to my attempt to recover the Irene Adler
papers, to the singular case of Miss Mary Sutherland, and to the
adventure of the man 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?"
"It is to him that this trophy belongs."
"It is his hat."
"No, no, he found it. Its owner is unknown. I beg that you will
look 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 fellow, was
returning from some small jollification and was making his way
homeward down Tottenham Court Road. In front of him he saw, in
the gaslight, a tallish man, walking with a slight stagger, and
carrying a white goose slung over his shoulder. As he 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
man's hat, on which he raised his stick to defend himself and,
swinging it over his head, smashed the shop window behind him.
Peterson had rushed forward to protect the stranger from his
assailants; but the man, shocked at having broken the window, and
seeing an official-looking person in uniform rushing towards him,
dropped his goose, took to his 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 he 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 he restored to their owner?"
"My dear fellow, there lies the problem. It is true that 'For
Mrs. Henry Baker' was printed upon a small card which was tied to
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 Henry Bakers in
this city of ours, it is not easy to restore lost property to any
one of them."
"What, then, did Peterson do?"
"He brought round both hat and goose to me on Christmas morning,
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 gentleman who
lost his Christmas dinner."
"Did he not advertise?"
"Then, what clue could you have as to his identity?"
"Only as much as we can deduce."
"From his hat?"
"But you are joking. What can you gather from this old battered
"Here is my lens. You know my methods. What can you gather
yourself as to the individuality of the man who has worn this
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?"
He picked it up and gazed at it in the peculiar introspective
fashion which was characteristic of him. "It is perhaps less
suggestive than it might have been," he 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 man was highly intellectual is of course obvious upon the
face of it, and also that he was fairly well-to-do within the
last three years, although he has now fallen upon evil days. He
had foresight, but has less now than formerly, pointing to a
moral retrogression, which, when taken with the decline of his
fortunes, seems to indicate some evil influence, probably drink,
at work upon him. This may account also for the obvious fact that
his wife has ceased to love him."
"My dear Holmes!"
"He has, however, retained some degree of self-respect," he
continued, disregarding my remonstrance. "He is a man who leads a
sedentary life, goes out little, is out of training entirely, is
middle-aged, has grizzled hair which he has had cut within the
last few days, and which he anoints with lime-cream. These are
the more patent facts which are to be deduced from his hat. Also,
by the way, that it is extremely improbable that he has gas laid
on in his house."
"You are certainly joking, Holmes."
"Not in the least. Is it possible that even now, when I give you
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 man was intellectual?"
For answer Holmes clapped the hat upon his head. It came right
over the forehead and settled upon the bridge of his nose. "It is
a question of cubic capacity," said he; "a man with so large a
brain must have something in it."
"The decline of his 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 man could
afford to buy so expensive a hat three years ago, and has had no
hat since, then he 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 he putting
his finger upon the little disc and loop of the hat-securer.
"They are never sold upon hats. If this man ordered one, it is a
sign of a certain amount of foresight, since he went out of his
way to take this precaution against the wind. But since we see
that he has broken the elastic and has not troubled to replace
it, it is obvious that he has less foresight now than formerly,
which is a distinct proof of a weakening nature. On the other
hand, he has endeavoured to conceal some of these stains upon the
felt by daubing them with ink, which is a sign that he has not
entirely lost his self-respect."
"Your reasoning is certainly plausible."
"The further points, that he is middle-aged, that his hair is
grizzled, that it has been recently cut, and that he uses
lime-cream, are all to 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 his wife--you said that she had ceased to love him."
"This hat has not been brushed for weeks. When I see you, my dear
Watson, with a week's accumulation of dust upon your hat, and
when your wife allows you to go out in such a state, I shall fear
that you also have been unfortunate enough to lose your wife's
"But he might be a bachelor."
"Nay, he was bringing home the goose as a peace-offering to his
wife. Remember the card upon the bird's leg."
"You have an answer to everything. But how on earth do you deduce
that the gas is not laid on in his 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 his hat in
one hand and a guttering candle in the other. Anyhow, he never
got tallow-stains from a gas-jet. Are you satisfied?"
"Well, it is very ingenious," said I, laughing; "but since, as
you said just now, there has been no crime committed, and no harm
done save the loss of a goose, all this seems to be rather a
waste of energy."
Sherlock Holmes had opened his mouth to reply, when the door flew
open, and Peterson, the commissionaire, rushed into the apartment
with flushed cheeks and the face of a man who is dazed with
"The goose, Mr. Holmes! The goose, sir!" he gasped.
"Eh? What of it, then? Has it returned to life and flapped off
through the kitchen window?" Holmes twisted himself round upon
the sofa to get a fairer view of the man's excited face.
"See here, sir! See what my wife found in its crop!" He held out
his 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 his hand.
Sherlock Holmes sat up with a whistle. "By Jove, Peterson!" said
he, "this is treasure trove indeed. I suppose you know what you
"A diamond, sir? 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 Countess 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 Lord 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 Countess to part with half her fortune if she could but
recover the gem."
"It was lost, if I remember aright, at the Hotel Cosmopolitan," I
"Precisely so, on December 22nd, just five days ago. John Horner,
a plumber, was accused of having abstracted it from the lady's
jewel-case. The evidence against him was so strong that the case
has been referred to the Assizes. I have some account of the
matter here, I believe." He rummaged amid his newspapers,
glancing over the dates, until at last he smoothed one out,
doubled it over, and read the following paragraph:
"Hotel Cosmopolitan Jewel Robbery. John Horner, 26, plumber, was
brought up upon the charge of having upon the 22nd inst.,
abstracted from the jewel-case of the Countess of Morcar the
valuable gem known as the blue carbuncle. James Ryder,
upper-attendant at the hotel, gave his evidence to the effect
that he had shown Horner up to the dressing-room of the Countess
of Morcar upon the day of the robbery in order that he might
solder the second bar of the grate, which was loose. He had
remained with Horner some little time, but had finally been
called away. On returning, he found that Horner had disappeared,
that the bureau had been forced open, and that the small morocco
casket in which, as it afterwards transpired, the Countess was
accustomed to keep her 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 his person or in his rooms. Catherine Cusack, maid to
the Countess, deposed to having heard Ryder's cry of dismay on
discovering the robbery, and to having rushed into the room,
where she 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 his 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 Mr. Henry
Baker, the gentleman 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 gentleman and
ascertaining what part he 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. Mr.
Henry Baker can have the same by applying at 6:30 this evening at
221B, Baker Street.' That is clear and concise."
"Very. But will he see it?"
"Well, he is sure to keep an eye on the papers, since, to a poor
man, the loss was a heavy one. He was clearly so scared by his
mischance in breaking the window and by the approach of Peterson
that he thought of nothing but flight, but since then he must
have bitterly regretted the impulse which caused him to drop his
bird. Then, again, the introduction of his name will cause him to
see it, for everyone who knows him will direct his attention to
it. Here you are, Peterson, run down to the advertising agency
and have this put in the evening papers."
"In which, sir?"
"Oh, in the Globe, Star, Pall Mall, St. James's, Evening News,
Standard, Echo, and any others that occur to you."
"Very well, sir. And this stone?"
"Ah, yes, I shall keep the stone. Thank you. And, I say,
Peterson, just buy a goose on your way back and leave it here
with me, for we must have one to give to this gentleman 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 he. "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 Countess to say that we have it."
"Do you think that this man Horner is innocent?"
"I cannot tell."
"Well, then, do you imagine that this other one, Henry Baker, had
anything to do with the matter?"
"It is, I think, much more likely that Henry Baker is an
absolutely innocent man, who had no idea that the bird which he
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?"
"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 Mrs. 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 man in a Scotch bonnet with a
coat which was buttoned up to his 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
"Mr. Henry Baker, I believe," said he, rising from his armchair
and greeting his visitor with the easy air of geniality which he
could so readily assume. "Pray take this chair by the fire, Mr.
Baker. It is a cold night, and I observe that your circulation is
more adapted for summer than for winter. Ah, Watson, you have
just come at the right time. Is that your hat, Mr. Baker?"
"Yes, sir, that is undoubtedly my hat."
He was a large man with rounded shoulders, a massive head, and a
broad, intelligent face, sloping down to a pointed beard of
grizzled brown. A touch of red in nose and cheeks, with a slight
tremor of his extended hand, recalled Holmes' surmise as to his
habits. His rusty black frock-coat was buttoned right up in
front, with the collar turned up, and his lank wrists protruded
from his sleeves without a sign of cuff or shirt. He spoke in a
slow staccato fashion, choosing his words with care, and gave the
impression generally of a man 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," he 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
"To eat it!" Our visitor half rose from his chair in his
"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 Mr. Baker with a sigh of
"Of course, we still have the feathers, legs, crop, and so on of
your own bird, so if you wish--"
The man burst into a hearty laugh. "They might be useful to me as
relics of my adventure," said he, "but beyond that I can hardly
see what use the disjecta membra of my late acquaintance are
going to be to me. No, sir, I think that, with your permission, I
will confine my attentions to the excellent bird which I perceive
upon the sideboard."
Sherlock Holmes glanced sharply across at me with a slight shrug
of his shoulders.
"There is your hat, then, and there your bird," said he. "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, sir," said Baker, who had risen and tucked his newly
gained property under his 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 host, 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, sir, for a
Scotch bonnet is fitted neither to my years nor my gravity." With
a comical pomposity of manner he bowed solemnly to both of us and
strode off upon his way.
"So much for Mr. Henry Baker," said Holmes when he had closed the
door behind him. "It is quite certain that he knows nothing
whatever about the matter. Are you hungry, Watson?"
"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 landlord.
"Your beer should be excellent if it is as good as your geese,"
"My geese!" The man seemed surprised.
"Yes. I was speaking only half an hour ago to Mr. Henry Baker,
who was a member of your goose club."
"Ah! yes, I see. But you see, sir, 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 his name."
"Ah! I don't know him. Well, here's your good health landlord,
and prosperity to your house. Good-night."
"Now for Mr. Breckinridge," he continued, buttoning up his 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 man who will certainly get seven years' penal
servitude unless we can establish his innocence. It is possible
that our inquiry may but confirm his 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
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 man, with a sharp face and trim side-whiskers was
helping a boy to put up the shutters.
"Good-evening. It's a cold night," said Holmes.
The salesman nodded and shot a questioning glance at my
"Sold out of geese, I see," continued Holmes, pointing at the
bare slabs of marble.
"Let you have five hundred to-morrow morning."
"That's no good."
"Well, there are some on the stall with the gas-flare."
"Ah, but I was recommended to you."
"The landlord of the Alpha."
"Oh, yes; I sent him a couple of dozen."
"Fine birds they were, too. Now where did you get them from?"
To my surprise the question provoked a burst of anger from the
"Now, then, mister," said he, with his head cocked and his 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
"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
The salesman chuckled grimly. "Bring me the books, Bill," said
The small boy brought round a small thin volume and a great
greasy-backed one, laying them out together beneath the hanging
"Now then, Mr. 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?"
"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."
"Mrs. Oakshott, 117, Brixton Road--249," read Holmes.
"Quite so. Now turn that up in the ledger."
Holmes turned to the page indicated. "Here you are, 'Mrs.
Oakshott, 117, Brixton Road, egg and poultry supplier.'"
"Now, then, what's the last entry?"
"'December 22nd. Twenty-four geese at 7s. 6d.'"
"Quite so. There you are. And underneath?"
"'Sold to Mr. Windigate of the Alpha, at 12s.'"
"What have you to say now?"
Sherlock Holmes looked deeply chagrined. He drew a sovereign from
his pocket and threw it down upon the slab, turning away with the
air of a man whose disgust is too deep for words. A few yards off
he stopped under a lamp-post and laughed in the hearty, noiseless
fashion which was peculiar to him.
"When you see a man with whiskers of that cut and the 'Pink 'un'
protruding out of his pocket, you can always draw him by a bet,"
said he. "I daresay that if I had put 100 pounds down in front of
him, that man would not have given me such complete information
as was drawn from him by the idea that he 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 Mrs. Oakshott to-night, or
whether we should reserve it for to-morrow. It is clear from what
that surly fellow said that there are others besides ourselves
who are anxious about the matter, and I should--"
His 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 fellow 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 his stall, was
shaking his fists fiercely at the cringing figure.
"I've had enough of you and your geese," he 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 Mrs.
Oakshott here and I'll answer her, 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
"Well, then, ask Mrs. Oakshott for it."
"She told me to ask you."
"Well, you can ask the King of Proosia, for all I care. I've had
enough of it. Get out of this!" He 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
fellow." Striding through the scattered knots of people who
lounged round the flaring stalls, my companion speedily overtook
the little man and touched him upon the shoulder. He sprang
round, and I could see in the gas-light that every vestige of
colour had been driven from his face.
"Who are you, then? What do you want?" he asked in a quavering
"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 Mrs. Oakshott, of Brixton
Road, to a salesman named Breckinridge, by him in turn to Mr.
Windigate, of the Alpha, and by him to his club, of which Mr.
Henry Baker is a member."
"Oh, sir, you are the very man whom I have longed to meet," cried
the little fellow 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 he. "But pray tell me, before we
go farther, who it is that I have the pleasure of assisting."
The man hesitated for an instant. "My name is John Robinson," he
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 he, "my real name is James 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 man stood glancing from one to the other of us with
half-frightened, half-hopeful eyes, as one who is not sure
whether he is on the verge of a windfall or of a catastrophe.
Then he 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 his hands, spoke of the nervous
tension within him.
"Here we are!" said Holmes cheerily as we filed into the room.
"The fire looks very seasonable in this weather. You look cold,
Mr. Ryder. Pray take the basket-chair. I will just put on my
slippers before we settle this little matter of yours. Now, then!
You want to know what became of those geese?"
"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
Ryder quivered with emotion. "Oh, sir," he cried, "can you tell
me where it went to?"
"It came 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 his feet and clutched the mantelpiece
with his right hand. Holmes unlocked his 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, man, or
you'll be into the fire! Give him an arm back into his chair,
Watson. He's not got blood enough to go in for felony with
impunity. Give him a dash of brandy. So! Now he looks a little
more human. What a shrimp it is, to be sure!"
For a moment he had staggered and nearly fallen, but the brandy
brought a tinge of colour into his cheeks, and he sat staring
with frightened eyes at his 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
Countess of Morcar's?"
"It was Catherine Cusack who told me of it," said he in a
"I see--her ladyship's waiting-maid. Well, the temptation of
sudden wealth so easily acquired was too much for you, as it has
been for better men before you; but you were not very scrupulous
in the means you used. It seems to me, Ryder, that there is the
making of a very pretty villain in you. You knew that this man
Horner, the plumber, had been concerned in some such matter
before, and that suspicion would rest the more readily upon him.
What did you do, then? You made some small job in my lady's
room--you and your confederate Cusack--and you managed that he
should be the man sent for. Then, when he had left, you rifled
the jewel-case, raised the alarm, and had this unfortunate man
arrested. You then--"
Ryder threw himself down suddenly upon the rug and clutched at my
companion's knees. "For God's sake, have mercy!" he shrieked.
"Think of my father! Of my mother! It would break their hearts. I
never went wrong before! I never will again. I swear it. I'll
swear it on a Bible. Oh, don't bring it into court! For Christ's
"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 he knew nothing."
"I will fly, Mr. Holmes. I will leave the country, sir. Then the
charge against him 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 his tongue over his parched lips. "I will tell you
it just as it happened, sir," said he. "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 sister's
house. She had married a man named Oakshott, and lived in Brixton
Road, where she fattened fowls for the market. All the way there
every man I met seemed to me to be a policeman 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 sister asked me
what was the matter, and why I was so pale; but I told her 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 his time in Pentonville. One day he 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 he would be true to
me, for I knew one or two things about him; so I made up my mind
to go right on to Kilburn, where he lived, and take him into my
confidence. He would show me how to turn the stone into money.
But how to get to him 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 sister had told me some weeks before that I might have the
pick of her geese for a Christmas present, and I knew that she
was always as good as her 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 sister to know what was the
matter. As I turned to speak to her the brute broke loose and
fluttered off among the others.
"'Whatever were you doing with that bird, Jem?' says she.
"'Well,' said I, 'you said you'd give me one for Christmas, and I
was feeling which was the fattest.'
"'Oh,' says she, '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 she, '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 she, a little huffed. 'Which is it
you want, then?'
"'That white one with the barred tail, right in the middle of the
"'Oh, very well. Kill it and take it with you.'
"Well, I did what she said, Mr. Holmes, and I carried the bird
all the way to Kilburn. I told my pal what I had done, for he was
a man that it was easy to tell a thing like that to. He laughed
until he 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 sister'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.'
"'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 man Breckinridge; but he had sold the
lot at once, and not one word would he tell me as to where they
had gone. You heard him yourselves to-night. Well, he has always
answered me like that. My sister 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!" He burst into
convulsive sobbing, with his face buried in his hands.
There was a long silence, broken only by his 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 he.
"What, sir! Oh, Heaven bless you!"
"No more words. Get out!"
And no more words were needed. There was a rush, a clatter upon
the stairs, the bang of a door, and the crisp rattle of running
footfalls from the street.
"After all, Watson," said Holmes, reaching up his hand for his
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 fellow will not appear against him, 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 fellow will not go wrong
again; he is too terribly frightened. Send him to gaol now, and
you make him 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