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The Memoirs of
Sherlock Holmes

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VII. The Reigate Puzzle

It was some time before the health of my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes recovered from the strain caused by his immense exertions in the spring of ’87. The whole question of the Netherland-Sumatra Company and of the colossal schemes of Baron Maupertuis are too recent in the minds of the public, and are too intimately concerned with politics and finance to be fitting subjects for this series of sketches. They led, however, in an indirect fashion to a singular and complex problem which gave my friend an opportunity of demonstrating the value of a fresh weapon among the many with which he waged his lifelong battle against crime.

On referring to my notes I see that it was upon the 14th of April that I received a telegram from Lyons which informed me that Holmes was lying ill in the Hotel Dulong. Within twenty-four hours I was in his sickroom, and was relieved to find that there was nothing formidable in his symptoms. Even his iron constitution, however, had broken down under the strain of an investigation which had extended over two months, during which period he had never worked less than fifteen hours a day, and had more than once, as he assured me, kept to his task for five days at a stretch. Even the triumphant issue of his labors could not save him from reaction after so terrible an exertion, and at a time when Europe was ringing with his name and when his room was literally ankle-deep with congratulatory telegrams I found him a prey to the blackest depression. Even the knowledge that he had succeeded where the police of three countries had failed, and that he had outmanoeuvred at every point the most accomplished swindler in Europe, was insufficient to rouse him from his nervous prostration.

Three days later we were back in Baker Street together; but it was evident that my friend would be much the better for a change, and the thought of a week of spring time in the country was full of attractions to me also. My old friend, Colonel Hayter, who had come under my professional care in Afghanistan, had now taken a house near Reigate in Surrey, and had frequently asked me to come down to him upon a visit. On the last occasion he had remarked that if my friend would only come with me he would be glad to extend his hospitality to him also. A little diplomacy was needed, but when Holmes understood that the establishment was a bachelor one, and that he would be allowed the fullest freedom, he fell in with my plans and a week after our return from Lyons we were under the Colonel’s roof. Hayter was a fine old soldier who had seen much of the world, and he soon found, as I had expected, that Holmes and he had much in common.

On the evening of our arrival we were sitting in the Colonel’s gun-room after dinner, Holmes stretched upon the sofa, while Hayter and I looked over his little armory of Eastern weapons.

“By the way,” said he suddenly, “I think I’ll take one of these pistols upstairs with me in case we have an alarm.”

“An alarm!” said I.

“Yes, we’ve had a scare in this part lately. Old Acton, who is one of our county magnates, had his house broken into last Monday. No great damage done, but the fellows are still at large.”

“No clue?” asked Holmes, cocking his eye at the Colonel.

“None as yet. But the affair is a petty one, one of our little country crimes, which must seem too small for your attention, Mr. Holmes, after this great international affair.”

Holmes waved away the compliment, though his smile showed that it had pleased him.

“Was there any feature of interest?”

“I fancy not. The thieves ransacked the library and got very little for their pains. The whole place was turned upside down, drawers burst open, and presses ransacked, with the result that an odd volume of Pope’s Homer, two plated candlesticks, an ivory letter-weight, a small oak barometer, and a ball of twine are all that have vanished.”

“What an extraordinary assortment!” I exclaimed.

“Oh, the fellows evidently grabbed hold of everything they could get.”

Holmes grunted from the sofa.

“The county police ought to make something of that,” said he; “why, it is surely obvious that⁠—”

But I held up a warning finger.

“You are here for a rest, my dear fellow. For Heaven’s sake don’t get started on a new problem when your nerves are all in shreds.”

Holmes shrugged his shoulders with a glance of comic resignation towards the Colonel, and the talk drifted away into less dangerous channels.

It was destined, however, that all my professional caution should be wasted, for next morning the problem obtruded itself upon us in such a way that it was impossible to ignore it, and our country visit took a turn which neither of us could have anticipated. We were at breakfast when the Colonel’s butler rushed in with all his propriety shaken out of him.

“Have you heard the news, sir?” he gasped. “At the Cunningham’s sir!”

“Burglary!” cried the Colonel, with his coffee-cup in midair.

“Murder!”

The Colonel whistled. “By Jove!” said he. “Who’s killed, then? The J.P. or his son?”

“Neither, sir. It was William the coachman. Shot through the heart, sir, and never spoke again.”

“Who shot him, then?”

“The burglar, sir. He was off like a shot and got clean away. He’d just broke in at the pantry window when William came on him and met his end in saving his master’s property.”

“What time?”

“It was last night, sir, somewhere about twelve.”

“Ah, then, we’ll step over afterwards,” said the Colonel, coolly settling down to his breakfast again. “It’s a baddish business,” he added when the butler had gone; “he’s our leading man about here, is old Cunningham, and a very decent fellow too. He’ll be cut up over this, for the man has been in his service for years and was a good servant. It’s evidently the same villains who broke into Acton’s.”

“And stole that very singular collection,” said Holmes, thoughtfully.

“Precisely.”

“Hum! It may prove the simplest matter in the world, but all the same at first glance this is just a little curious, is it not? A gang of burglars acting in the country might be expected to vary the scene of their operations, and not to crack two cribs in the same district within a few days. When you spoke last night of taking precautions I remember that it passed through my mind that this was probably the last parish in England to which the thief or thieves would be likely to turn their attention⁠—which shows that I have still much to learn.”

“I fancy it’s some local practitioner,” said the Colonel. “In that case, of course, Acton’s and Cunningham’s are just the places he would go for, since they are far the largest about here.”

“And richest?”

“Well, they ought to be, but they’ve had a lawsuit for some years which has sucked the blood out of both of them, I fancy. Old Acton has some claim on half Cunningham’s estate, and the lawyers have been at it with both hands.”

“If it’s a local villain there should not be much difficulty in running him down,” said Holmes with a yawn. “All right, Watson, I don’t intend to meddle.”

“Inspector Forrester, sir,” said the butler, throwing open the door.

The official, a smart, keen-faced young fellow, stepped into the room. “Good morning, Colonel,” said he; “I hope I don’t intrude, but we hear that Mr. Holmes of Baker Street is here.”

The Colonel waved his hand towards my friend, and the Inspector bowed.

“We thought that perhaps you would care to step across, Mr. Holmes.”

“The fates are against you, Watson,” said he, laughing. “We were chatting about the matter when you came in, Inspector. Perhaps you can let us have a few details.” As he leaned back in his chair in the familiar attitude I knew that the case was hopeless.

“We had no clue in the Acton affair. But here we have plenty to go on, and there’s no doubt it is the same party in each case. The man was seen.”

“Ah!”

“Yes, sir. But he was off like a deer after the shot that killed poor William Kirwan was fired. Mr. Cunningham saw him from the bedroom window, and Mr. Alec Cunningham saw him from the back passage. It was quarter to twelve when the alarm broke out. Mr. Cunningham had just got into bed, and Mr. Alec was smoking a pipe in his dressing-gown. They both heard William the coachman calling for help, and Mr. Alec ran down to see what was the matter. The back door was open, and as he came to the foot of the stairs he saw two men wrestling together outside. One of them fired a shot, the other dropped, and the murderer rushed across the garden and over the hedge. Mr. Cunningham, looking out of his bedroom, saw the fellow as he gained the road, but lost sight of him at once. Mr. Alec stopped to see if he could help the dying man, and so the villain got clean away. Beyond the fact that he was a middle-sized man and dressed in some dark stuff, we have no personal clue; but we are making energetic inquiries, and if he is a stranger we shall soon find him out.”

“What was this William doing there? Did he say anything before he died?”

“Not a word. He lives at the lodge with his mother, and as he was a very faithful fellow we imagine that he walked up to the house with the intention of seeing that all was right there. Of course this Acton business has put everyone on their guard. The robber must have just burst open the door⁠—the lock has been forced⁠—when William came upon him.”

“Did William say anything to his mother before going out?”

“She is very old and deaf, and we can get no information from her. The shock has made her half-witted, but I understand that she was never very bright. There is one very important circumstance, however. Look at this!”

He took a small piece of torn paper from a notebook and spread it out upon his knee.

“This was found between the finger and thumb of the dead man. It appears to be a fragment torn from a larger sheet. You will observe that the hour mentioned upon it is the very time at which the poor fellow met his fate. You see that his murderer might have torn the rest of the sheet from him or he might have taken this fragment from the murderer. It reads almost as though it were an appointment.”

Holmes took up the scrap of paper, a facsimile of which is here reproduced.

at quarter to twelve learn what maybe

“Presuming that it is an appointment,” continued the Inspector, “it is of course a conceivable theory that this William Kirwan⁠—though he had the reputation of being an honest man, may have been in league with the thief. He may have met him there, may even have helped him to break in the door, and then they may have fallen out between themselves.”

“This writing is of extraordinary interest,” said Holmes, who had been examining it with intense concentration. “These are much deeper waters than I had thought.” He sank his head upon his hands, while the Inspector smiled at the effect which his case had had upon the famous London specialist.

“Your last remark,” said Holmes, presently, “as to the possibility of there being an understanding between the burglar and the servant, and this being a note of appointment from one to the other, is an ingenious and not entirely impossible supposition. But this writing opens up⁠—” He sank his head into his hands again and remained for some minutes in the deepest thought. When he raised his face again, I was surprised to see that his cheek was tinged with color, and his eyes as bright as before his illness. He sprang to his feet with all his old energy.

“I’ll tell you what,” said he, “I should like to have a quiet little glance into the details of this case. There is something in it which fascinates me extremely. If you will permit me, Colonel, I will leave my friend Watson and you, and I will step round with the Inspector to test the truth of one or two little fancies of mine. I will be with you again in half an hour.”

An hour and half had elapsed before the Inspector returned alone.

“Mr. Holmes is walking up and down in the field outside,” said he. “He wants us all four to go up to the house together.”

“To Mr. Cunningham’s?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What for?”

The Inspector shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t quite know, sir. Between ourselves, I think Mr. Holmes had not quite got over his illness yet. He’s been behaving very queerly, and he is very much excited.”

“I don’t think you need alarm yourself,” said I. “I have usually found that there was method in his madness.”

“Some folks might say there was madness in his method,” muttered the Inspector. “But he’s all on fire to start, Colonel, so we had best go out if you are ready.”

We found Holmes pacing up and down in the field, his chin sunk upon his breast, and his hands thrust into his trousers pockets.

“The matter grows in interest,” said he. “Watson, your country-trip has been a distinct success. I have had a charming morning.”

“You have been up to the scene of the crime, I understand,” said the Colonel.

“Yes; the Inspector and I have made quite a little reconnaissance together.”

“Any success?”

“Well, we have seen some very interesting things. I’ll tell you what we did as we walk. First of all, we saw the body of this unfortunate man. He certainly died from a revolver wound as reported.”

“Had you doubted it, then?”

“Oh, it is as well to test everything. Our inspection was not wasted. We then had an interview with Mr. Cunningham and his son, who were able to point out the exact spot where the murderer had broken through the garden-hedge in his flight. That was of great interest.”

“Naturally.”

“Then we had a look at this poor fellow’s mother. We could get no information from her, however, as she is very old and feeble.”

“And what is the result of your investigations?”

“The conviction that the crime is a very peculiar one. Perhaps our visit now may do something to make it less obscure. I think that we are both agreed, Inspector that the fragment of paper in the dead man’s hand, bearing, as it does, the very hour of his death written upon it, is of extreme importance.”

“It should give a clue, Mr. Holmes.”

“It does give a clue. Whoever wrote that note was the man who brought William Kirwan out of his bed at that hour. But where is the rest of that sheet of paper?”

“I examined the ground carefully in the hope of finding it,” said the Inspector.

“It was torn out of the dead man’s hand. Why was someone so anxious to get possession of it? Because it incriminated him. And what would he do with it? Thrust it into his pocket, most likely, never noticing that a corner of it had been left in the grip of the corpse. If we could get the rest of that sheet it is obvious that we should have gone a long way towards solving the mystery.”

“Yes, but how can we get at the criminal’s pocket before we catch the criminal?”

“Well, well, it was worth thinking over. Then there is another obvious point. The note was sent to William. The man who wrote it could not have taken it; otherwise, of course, he might have delivered his own message by word of mouth. Who brought the note, then? Or did it come through the post?”

“I have made inquiries,” said the Inspector. “William received a letter by the afternoon post yesterday. The envelope was destroyed by him.”

“Excellent!” cried Holmes, clapping the Inspector on the back. “You’ve seen the postman. It is a pleasure to work with you. Well, here is the lodge, and if you will come up, Colonel, I will show you the scene of the crime.”

We passed the pretty cottage where the murdered man had lived, and walked up an oak-lined avenue to the fine old Queen Anne house, which bears the date of Malplaquet upon the lintel of the door. Holmes and the Inspector led us round it until we came to the side gate, which is separated by a stretch of garden from the hedge which lines the road. A constable was standing at the kitchen door.

“Throw the door open, officer,” said Holmes. “Now, it was on those stairs that young Mr. Cunningham stood and saw the two men struggling just where we are. Old Mr. Cunningham was at that window⁠—the second on the left⁠—and he saw the fellow get away just to the left of that bush. Then Mr. Alec ran out and knelt beside the wounded man. The ground is very hard, you see, and there are no marks to guide us.” As he spoke two men came down the garden path, from round the angle of the house. The one was an elderly man, with a strong, deep-lined, heavy-eyed face; the other a dashing young fellow, whose bright, smiling expression and showy dress were in strange contrast with the business which had brought us there.

“Still at it, then?” said he to Holmes. “I thought you Londoners were never at fault. You don’t seem to be so very quick, after all.”

“Ah, you must give us a little time,” said Holmes good-humoredly.

“You’ll want it,” said young Alec Cunningham. “Why, I don’t see that we have any clue at all.”

“There’s only one,” answered the Inspector. “We thought that if we could only find⁠—Good heavens, Mr. Holmes! What is the matter?”

My poor friend’s face had suddenly assumed the most dreadful expression. His eyes rolled upwards, his features writhed in agony, and with a suppressed groan he dropped on his face upon the ground. Horrified at the suddenness and severity of the attack, we carried him into the kitchen, where he lay back in a large chair, and breathed heavily for some minutes. Finally, with a shamefaced apology for his weakness, he rose once more.

“Watson would tell you that I have only just recovered from a severe illness,” he explained. “I am liable to these sudden nervous attacks.”

“Shall I send you home in my trap?” asked old Cunningham.

“Well, since I am here, there is one point on which I should like to feel sure. We can very easily verify it.”

“What was it?”

“Well, it seems to me that it is just possible that the arrival of this poor fellow William was not before, but after, the entrance of the burglar into the house. You appear to take it for granted that, although the door was forced, the robber never got in.”

“I fancy that is quite obvious,” said Mr. Cunningham, gravely. “Why, my son Alec had not yet gone to bed, and he would certainly have heard anyone moving about.”

“Where was he sitting?”

“I was smoking in my dressing-room.”

“Which window is that?”

“The last on the left next my father’s.”

“Both of your lamps were lit, of course?”

“Undoubtedly.”

“There are some very singular points here,” said Holmes, smiling. “Is it not extraordinary that a burglar⁠—and a burglar who had had some previous experience⁠—should deliberately break into a house at a time when he could see from the lights that two of the family were still afoot?”

“He must have been a cool hand.”

“Well, of course, if the case were not an odd one we should not have been driven to ask you for an explanation,” said young Mr. Alec. “But as to your ideas that the man had robbed the house before William tackled him, I think it a most absurd notion. Wouldn’t we have found the place disarranged, and missed the things which he had taken?”

“It depends on what the things were,” said Holmes. “You must remember that we are dealing with a burglar who is a very peculiar fellow, and who appears to work on lines of his own. Look, for example, at the queer lot of things which he took from Acton’s⁠—what was it?⁠—a ball of string, a letter-weight, and I don’t know what other odds and ends.”

“Well, we are quite in your hands, Mr. Holmes,” said old Cunningham. “Anything which you or the Inspector may suggest will most certainly be done.”

“In the first place,” said Holmes, “I should like you to offer a reward⁠—coming from yourself, for the officials may take a little time before they would agree upon the sum, and these things cannot be done too promptly. I have jotted down the form here, if you would not mind signing it. Fifty pounds was quite enough, I thought.”

“I would willingly give five hundred,” said the J.P., taking the slip of paper and the pencil which Holmes handed to him. “This is not quite correct, however,” he added, glancing over the document.

“I wrote it rather hurriedly.”

“You see you begin, ‘Whereas, at about a quarter to one on Tuesday morning an attempt was made,’ and so on. It was at a quarter to twelve, as a matter of fact.”

I was pained at the mistake, for I knew how keenly Holmes would feel any slip of the kind. It was his specialty to be accurate as to fact, but his recent illness had shaken him, and this one little incident was enough to show me that he was still far from being himself. He was obviously embarrassed for an instant, while the Inspector raised his eyebrows, and Alec Cunningham burst into a laugh. The old gentleman corrected the mistake, however, and handed the paper back to Holmes.

“Get it printed as soon as possible,” he said; “I think your idea is an excellent one.”

Holmes put the slip of paper carefully away into his pocketbook.

“And now,” said he, “it really would be a good thing that we should all go over the house together and make certain that this rather erratic burglar did not, after all, carry anything away with him.”

Before entering, Holmes made an examination of the door which had been forced. It was evident that a chisel or strong knife had been thrust in, and the lock forced back with it. We could see the marks in the wood where it had been pushed in.

“You don’t use bars, then?” he asked.

“We have never found it necessary.”

“You don’t keep a dog?”

“Yes, but he is chained on the other side of the house.”

“When do the servants go to bed?”

“About ten.”

“I understand that William was usually in bed also at that hour.”

“Yes.”

“It is singular that on this particular night he should have been up. Now, I should be very glad if you would have the kindness to show us over the house, Mr. Cunningham.”

A stone-flagged passage, with the kitchens branching away from it, led by a wooden staircase directly to the first floor of the house. It came out upon the landing opposite to a second more ornamental stair which came up from the front hall. Out of this landing opened the drawing-room and several bedrooms, including those of Mr. Cunningham and his son. Holmes walked slowly, taking keen note of the architecture of the house. I could tell from his expression that he was on a hot scent, and yet I could not in the least imagine in what direction his inferences were leading him.

“My good sir,” said Mr. Cunningham with some impatience, “this is surely very unnecessary. That is my room at the end of the stairs, and my son’s is the one beyond it. I leave it to your judgment whether it was possible for the thief to have come up here without disturbing us.”

“You must try round and get on a fresh scent, I fancy,” said the son with a rather malicious smile.

“Still, I must ask you to humor me a little further. I should like, for example, to see how far the windows of the bedrooms command the front. This, I understand is your son’s room”⁠—he pushed open the door⁠—“and that, I presume, is the dressing-room in which he sat smoking when the alarm was given. Where does the window of that look out to?” He stepped across the bedroom, pushed open the door, and glanced round the other chamber.

“I hope that you are satisfied now?” said Mr. Cunningham, tartly.

“Thank you, I think I have seen all that I wished.”

“Then if it is really necessary we can go into my room.”

“If it is not too much trouble.”

The J.P. shrugged his shoulders, and led the way into his own chamber, which was a plainly furnished and commonplace room. As we moved across it in the direction of the window, Holmes fell back until he and I were the last of the group. Near the foot of the bed stood a dish of oranges and a carafe of water. As we passed it Holmes, to my unutterable astonishment, leaned over in front of me and deliberately knocked the whole thing over. The glass smashed into a thousand pieces and the fruit rolled about into every corner of the room.

“You’ve done it now, Watson,” said he, coolly. “A pretty mess you’ve made of the carpet.”

I stooped in some confusion and began to pick up the fruit, understanding for some reason my companion desired me to take the blame upon myself. The others did the same, and set the table on its legs again.

“Hullo!” cried the Inspector, “where’s he got to?”

Holmes had disappeared.

“Wait here an instant,” said young Alec Cunningham. “The fellow is off his head, in my opinion. Come with me, father, and see where he has got to!”

They rushed out of the room, leaving the Inspector, the Colonel, and me staring at each other.

“ ’Pon my word, I am inclined to agree with Master Alec,” said the official. “It may be the effect of this illness, but it seems to me that⁠—”

His words were cut short by a sudden scream of “Help! Help! Murder!” With a thrill I recognized the voice of that of my friend. I rushed madly from the room on to the landing. The cries, which had sunk down into a hoarse, inarticulate shouting, came from the room which we had first visited. I dashed in, and on into the dressing-room beyond. The two Cunninghams were bending over the prostrate figure of Sherlock Holmes, the younger clutching his throat with both hands, while the elder seemed to be twisting one of his wrists. In an instant the three of us had torn them away from him, and Holmes staggered to his feet, very pale and evidently greatly exhausted.

“Arrest these men, Inspector,” he gasped.

“On what charge?”

“That of murdering their coachman, William Kirwan.”

The Inspector stared about him in bewilderment. “Oh, come now, Mr. Holmes,” said he at last, “I’m sure you don’t really mean to⁠—”

“Tut, man, look at their faces!” cried Holmes, curtly.

Never certainly have I seen a plainer confession of guilt upon human countenances. The older man seemed numbed and dazed with a heavy, sullen expression upon his strongly-marked face. The son, on the other hand, had dropped all that jaunty, dashing style which had characterized him, and the ferocity of a dangerous wild beast gleamed in his dark eyes and distorted his handsome features. The Inspector said nothing, but, stepping to the door, he blew his whistle. Two of his constables came at the call.

“I have no alternative, Mr. Cunningham,” said he. “I trust that this may all prove to be an absurd mistake, but you can see that⁠—Ah, would you? Drop it!” He struck out with his hand, and a revolver which the younger man was in the act of cocking clattered down upon the floor.

“Keep that,” said Holmes, quietly putting his foot upon it; “you will find it useful at the trial. But this is what we really wanted.” He held up a little crumpled piece of paper.

“The remainder of the sheet!” cried the Inspector.

“Precisely.”

“And where was it?”

“Where I was sure it must be. I’ll make the whole matter clear to you presently. I think, Colonel, that you and Watson might return now, and I will be with you again in an hour at the furthest. The Inspector and I must have a word with the prisoners, but you will certainly see me back at luncheon time.”

Sherlock Holmes was as good as his word, for about one o’clock he rejoined us in the Colonel’s smoking-room. He was accompanied by a little elderly gentleman, who was introduced to me as the Mr. Acton whose house had been the scene of the original burglary.

“I wished Mr. Acton to be present while I demonstrated this small matter to you,” said Holmes, “for it is natural that he should take a keen interest in the details. I am afraid, my dear Colonel, that you must regret the hour that you took in such a stormy petrel as I am.”

“On the contrary,” answered the Colonel, warmly, “I consider it the greatest privilege to have been permitted to study your methods of working. I confess that they quite surpass my expectations, and that I am utterly unable to account for your result. I have not yet seen the vestige of a clue.”

“I am afraid that my explanation may disillusion you but it has always been my habit to hide none of my methods, either from my friend Watson or from anyone who might take an intelligent interest in them. But, first, as I am rather shaken by the knocking about which I had in the dressing-room, I think that I shall help myself to a dash of your brandy, Colonel. My strength had been rather tried of late.”

“I trust that you had no more of those nervous attacks.”

Sherlock Holmes laughed heartily. “We will come to that in its turn,” said he. “I will lay an account of the case before you in its due order, showing you the various points which guided me in my decision. Pray interrupt me if there is any inference which is not perfectly clear to you.

“It is of the highest importance in the art of detection to be able to recognize, out of a number of facts, which are incidental and which vital. Otherwise your energy and attention must be dissipated instead of being concentrated. Now, in this case there was not the slightest doubt in my mind from the first that the key of the whole matter must be looked for in the scrap of paper in the dead man’s hand.

“Before going into this, I would draw your attention to the fact that, if Alec Cunningham’s narrative was correct, and if the assailant, after shooting William Kirwan, had instantly fled, then it obviously could not be he who tore the paper from the dead man’s hand. But if it was not he, it must have been Alec Cunningham himself, for by the time that the old man had descended several servants were upon the scene. The point is a simple one, but the Inspector had overlooked it because he had started with the supposition that these county magnates had had nothing to do with the matter. Now, I make a point of never having any prejudices, and of following docilely wherever fact may lead me, and so, in the very first stage of the investigation, I found myself looking a little askance at the part which had been played by Mr. Alec Cunningham.

“And now I made a very careful examination of the corner of paper which the Inspector had submitted to us. It was at once clear to me that it formed part of a very remarkable document. Here it is. Do you not now observe something very suggestive about it?”

“It has a very irregular look,” said the Colonel.

“My dear sir,” cried Holmes, “there cannot be the least doubt in the world that it has been written by two persons doing alternate words. When I draw your attention to the strong t’s of ‘at’ and ‘to’, and ask you to compare them with the weak ones of ‘quarter’ and ‘twelve,’ you will instantly recognize the fact. A very brief analysis of these four words would enable you to say with the utmost confidence that the ‘learn’ and the ‘maybe’ are written in the stronger hand, and the ‘what’ in the weaker.”

“By Jove, it’s as clear as day!” cried the Colonel. “Why on earth should two men write a letter in such a fashion?”

“Obviously the business was a bad one, and one of the men who distrusted the other was determined that, whatever was done, each should have an equal hand in it. Now, of the two men, it is clear that the one who wrote the ‘at’ and ‘to’ was the ringleader.”

“How do you get at that?”

“We might deduce it from the mere character of the one hand as compared with the other. But we have more assured reasons than that for supposing it. If you examine this scrap with attention you will come to the conclusion that the man with the stronger hand wrote all his words first, leaving blanks for the other to fill up. These blanks were not always sufficient, and you can see that the second man had a squeeze to fit his ‘quarter’ in between the ‘at’ and the ‘to,’ showing that the latter were already written. The man who wrote all his words first is undoubtedly the man who planned the affair.”

“Excellent!” cried Mr. Acton.

“But very superficial,” said Holmes. “We come now, however, to a point which is of importance. You may not be aware that the deduction of a man’s age from his writing is one which has been brought to considerable accuracy by experts. In normal cases one can place a man in his true decade with tolerable confidence. I say normal cases, because ill-health and physical weakness reproduce the signs of old age, even when the invalid is a youth. In this case, looking at the bold, strong hand of the one, and the rather broken-backed appearance of the other, which still retains its legibility although the t’s have begun to lose their crossing, we can say that the one was a young man and the other was advanced in years without being positively decrepit.”

“Excellent!” cried Mr. Acton again.

“There is a further point, however, which is subtler and of greater interest. There is something in common between these hands. They belong to men who are blood-relatives. It may be most obvious to you in the Greek e’s, but to me there are many small points which indicate the same thing. I have no doubt at all that a family mannerism can be traced in these two specimens of writing. I am only, of course, giving you the leading results now of my examination of the paper. There were twenty-three other deductions which would be of more interest to experts than to you. They all tend to deepen the impression upon my mind that the Cunninghams, father and son, had written this letter.

“Having got so far, my next step was, of course, to examine into the details of the crime, and to see how far they would help us. I went up to the house with the Inspector, and saw all that was to be seen. The wound upon the dead man was, as I was able to determine with absolute confidence, fired from a revolver at the distance of something over four yards. There was no powder-blackening on the clothes. Evidently, therefore, Alec Cunningham had lied when he said that the two men were struggling when the shot was fired. Again, both father and son agreed as to the place where the man escaped into the road. At that point, however, as it happens, there is a broadish ditch, moist at the bottom. As there were no indications of bootmarks about this ditch, I was absolutely sure not only that the Cunninghams had again lied, but that there had never been any unknown man upon the scene at all.

“And now I have to consider the motive of this singular crime. To get at this, I endeavored first of all to solve the reason of the original burglary at Mr. Acton’s. I understood, from something which the Colonel told us, that a lawsuit had been going on between you, Mr. Acton, and the Cunninghams. Of course, it instantly occurred to me that they had broken into your library with the intention of getting at some document which might be of importance in the case.”

“Precisely so,” said Mr. Acton. “There can be no possible doubt as to their intentions. I have the clearest claim upon half of their present estate, and if they could have found a single paper⁠—which, fortunately, was in the strongbox of my solicitors⁠—they would undoubtedly have crippled our case.”

“There you are,” said Holmes, smiling. “It was a dangerous, reckless attempt, in which I seem to trace the influence of young Alec. Having found nothing they tried to divert suspicion by making it appear to be an ordinary burglary, to which end they carried off whatever they could lay their hands upon. That is all clear enough, but there was much that was still obscure. What I wanted above all was to get the missing part of that note. I was certain that Alec had torn it out of the dead man’s hand, and almost certain that he must have thrust it into the pocket of his dressing-gown. Where else could he have put it? The only question was whether it was still there. It was worth an effort to find out, and for that object we all went up to the house.

“The Cunninghams joined us, as you doubtless remember, outside the kitchen door. It was, of course, of the very first importance that they should not be reminded of the existence of this paper, otherwise they would naturally destroy it without delay. The Inspector was about to tell them the importance which we attached to it when, by the luckiest chance in the world, I tumbled down in a sort of fit and so changed the conversation.

“Good heavens!” cried the Colonel, laughing, “do you mean to say all our sympathy was wasted and your fit an imposture?”

“Speaking professionally, it was admirably done,” cried I, looking in amazement at this man who was forever confounding me with some new phase of his astuteness.

“It is an art which is often useful,” said he. “When I recovered I managed, by a device which had perhaps some little merit of ingenuity, to get old Cunningham to write the word ‘twelve,’ so that I might compare it with the ‘twelve’ upon the paper.”

“Oh, what an ass I have been!” I exclaimed.

“I could see that you were commiserating me over my weakness,” said Holmes, laughing. “I was sorry to cause you the sympathetic pain which I know that you felt. We then went upstairs together, and having entered the room and seen the dressing-gown hanging up behind the door, I contrived, by upsetting a table, to engage their attention for the moment, and slipped back to examine the pockets. I had hardly got the paper, however⁠—which was, as I had expected, in one of them⁠—when the two Cunninghams were on me, and would, I verily believe, have murdered me then and there but for your prompt and friendly aid. As it is, I feel that young man’s grip on my throat now, and the father has twisted my wrist round in the effort to get the paper out of my hand. They saw that I must know all about it, you see, and the sudden change from absolute security to complete despair made them perfectly desperate.

“I had a little talk with old Cunningham afterwards as to the motive of the crime. He was tractable enough, though his son was a perfect demon, ready to blow out his own or anybody else’s brains if he could have got to his revolver. When Cunningham saw that the case against him was so strong he lost all heart and made a clean breast of everything. It seems that William had secretly followed his two masters on the night when they made their raid upon Mr. Acton’s, and having thus got them into his power, proceeded, under threats of exposure, to levy blackmail upon them. Mr. Alec, however, was a dangerous man to play games of that sort with. It was a stroke of positive genius on his part to see in the burglary scare which was convulsing the country side an opportunity of plausibly getting rid of the man whom he feared. William was decoyed up and shot, and had they only got the whole of the note and paid a little more attention to detail in the accessories, it is very possible that suspicion might never have been aroused.”

“And the note?” I asked.

Sherlock Holmes placed the subjoined paper before us.

If you will only come round at quarter to twelve to the east gate you will learn what will very much surprise you and maybe [sic] be of the greatest service to you and also to Annie Morrison. But say nothing to anyone upon the matter.

“It is very much the sort of thing that I expected,” said he. “Of course, we do not yet know what the relations may have been between Alec Cunningham, William Kirwan, and Annie Morrison. The results shows that the trap was skillfully baited. I am sure that you cannot fail to be delighted with the traces of heredity shown in the p’s and in the tails of the g’s. The absence of the i-dots in the old man’s writing is also most characteristic. Watson, I think our quiet rest in the country has been a distinct success, and I shall certainly return much invigorated to Baker Street tomorrow.”



VIII. The Crooked Man

One summer night, a few months after my marriage, I was seated by my own hearth smoking a last pipe and nodding over a novel, for my day’s work had been an exhausting one. My wife had already gone upstairs, and the sound of the locking of the hall door some time before told me that the servants had also retired. I had risen from my seat and was knocking out the ashes of my pipe when I suddenly heard the clang of the bell.

I looked at the clock. It was a quarter to twelve. This could not be a visitor at so late an hour. A patient, evidently, and possibly an all-night sitting. With a wry face I went out into the hall and opened the door. To my astonishment it was Sherlock Holmes who stood upon my step.

“Ah, Watson,” said he, “I hoped that I might not be too late to catch you.”

“My dear fellow, pray come in.”

“You look surprised, and no wonder! Relieved, too, I fancy! Hum! You still smoke the Arcadia mixture of your bachelor days then! There’s no mistaking that fluffy ash upon your coat. It’s easy to tell that you have been accustomed to wear a uniform, Watson. You’ll never pass as a purebred civilian as long as you keep that habit of carrying your handkerchief in your sleeve. Could you put me up tonight?”

“With pleasure.”

“You told me that you had bachelor quarters for one, and I see that you have no gentleman visitor at present. Your hatstand proclaims as much.”

“I shall be delighted if you will stay.”

“Thank you. I’ll fill the vacant peg then. Sorry to see that you’ve had the British workman in the house. He’s a token of evil. Not the drains, I hope?”

“No, the gas.”

“Ah! He has left two nail-marks from his boot upon your linoleum just where the light strikes it. No, thank you, I had some supper at Waterloo, but I’ll smoke a pipe with you with pleasure.”

I handed him my pouch, and he seated himself opposite to me and smoked for some time in silence. I was well aware that nothing but business of importance would have brought him to me at such an hour, so I waited patiently until he should come round to it.

“I see that you are professionally rather busy just now,” said he, glancing very keenly across at me.

“Yes, I’ve had a busy day,” I answered. “It may seem very foolish in your eyes,” I added, “but really I don’t know how you deduced it.”

Holmes chuckled to himself.

“I have the advantage of knowing your habits, my dear Watson,” said he. “When your round is a short one you walk, and when it is a long one you use a hansom. As I perceive that your boots, although used, are by no means dirty, I cannot doubt that you are at present busy enough to justify the hansom.”

“Excellent!” I cried.

“Elementary,” said he. “It is one of those instances where the reasoner can produce an effect which seems remarkable to his neighbor, because the latter has missed the one little point which is the basis of the deduction. The same may be said, my dear fellow, for the effect of some of these little sketches of yours, which is entirely meretricious, depending as it does upon your retaining in your own hands some factors in the problem which are never imparted to the reader. Now, at present I am in the position of these same readers, for I hold in this hand several threads of one of the strangest cases which ever perplexed a man’s brain, and yet I lack the one or two which are needful to complete my theory. But I’ll have them, Watson, I’ll have them!” His eyes kindled and a slight flush sprang into his thin cheeks. For an instant only. When I glanced again his face had resumed that Red Indian composure which had made so many regard him as a machine rather than a man.

“The problem presents features of interest,” said he. “I may even say exceptional features of interest. I have already looked into the matter, and have come, as I think, within sight of my solution. If you could accompany me in that last step you might be of considerable service to me.”

“I should be delighted.”

“Could you go as far as Aldershot tomorrow?”

“I have no doubt Jackson would take my practice.”

“Very good. I want to start by the 11:10 from Waterloo.”

“That would give me time.”

“Then, if you are not too sleepy, I will give you a sketch of what has happened, and of what remains to be done.”

“I was sleepy before you came. I am quite wakeful now.”

“I will compress the story as far as may be done without omitting anything vital to the case. It is conceivable that you may even have read some account of the matter. It is the supposed murder of Colonel Barclay, of the Royal Munsters, at Aldershot, which I am investigating.”

“I have heard nothing of it.”

“It has not excited much attention yet, except locally. The facts are only two days old. Briefly they are these:

“The Royal Munsters is, as you know, one of the most famous Irish regiments in the British army. It did wonders both in the Crimea and the Mutiny, and has since that time distinguished itself upon every possible occasion. It was commanded up to Monday night by James Barclay, a gallant veteran, who started as a full private, was raised to commissioned rank for his bravery at the time of the Mutiny, and so lived to command the regiment in which he had once carried a musket.

“Colonel Barclay had married at the time when he was a sergeant, and his wife, whose maiden name was Miss Nancy Devoy, was the daughter of a former color-sergeant in the same corps. There was, therefore, as can be imagined, some little social friction when the young couple (for they were still young) found themselves in their new surroundings. They appear, however, to have quickly adapted themselves, and Mrs. Barclay has always, I understand, been as popular with the ladies of the regiment as her husband was with his brother officers. I may add that she was a woman of great beauty, and that even now, when she has been married for upwards of thirty years, she is still of a striking and queenly appearance.

“Colonel Barclay’s family life appears to have been a uniformly happy one. Major Murphy, to whom I owe most of my facts, assures me that he has never heard of any misunderstanding between the pair. On the whole, he thinks that Barclay’s devotion to his wife was greater than his wife’s to Barclay. He was acutely uneasy if he were absent from her for a day. She, on the other hand, though devoted and faithful, was less obtrusively affectionate. But they were regarded in the regiment as the very model of a middle-aged couple. There was absolutely nothing in their mutual relations to prepare people for the tragedy which was to follow.

“Colonel Barclay himself seems to have had some singular traits in his character. He was a dashing, jovial old soldier in his usual mood, but there were occasions on which he seemed to show himself capable of considerable violence and vindictiveness. This side of his nature, however, appears never to have been turned towards his wife. Another fact, which had struck Major Murphy and three out of five of the other officers with whom I conversed, was the singular sort of depression which came upon him at times. As the major expressed it, the smile had often been struck from his mouth, as if by some invisible hand, when he has been joining the gayeties and chaff of the mess-table. For days on end, when the mood was on him, he has been sunk in the deepest gloom. This and a certain tinge of superstition were the only unusual traits in his character which his brother officers had observed. The latter peculiarity took the form of a dislike to being left alone, especially after dark. This puerile feature in a nature which was conspicuously manly had often given rise to comment and conjecture.

“The first battalion of the Royal Munsters (which is the old 117th) has been stationed at Aldershot for some years. The married officers live out of barracks, and the Colonel has during all this time occupied a villa called Lachine, about half a mile from the north camp. The house stands in its own grounds, but the west side of it is not more than thirty yards from the highroad. A coachman and two maids form the staff of servants. These with their master and mistress were the sole occupants of Lachine, for the Barclays had no children, nor was it usual for them to have resident visitors.

“Now for the events at Lachine between nine and ten on the evening of last Monday.”

“Mrs. Barclay was, it appears, a member of the Roman Catholic Church, and had interested herself very much in the establishment of the Guild of St. George, which was formed in connection with the Watt Street Chapel for the purpose of supplying the poor with cast-off clothing. A meeting of the Guild had been held that evening at eight, and Mrs. Barclay had hurried over her dinner in order to be present at it. When leaving the house she was heard by the coachman to make some commonplace remark to her husband, and to assure him that she would be back before very long. She then called for Miss Morrison, a young lady who lives in the next villa, and the two went off together to their meeting. It lasted forty minutes, and at a quarter-past nine Mrs. Barclay returned home, having left Miss Morrison at her door as she passed.

“There is a room which is used as a morning-room at Lachine. This faces the road and opens by a large glass folding-door on to the lawn. The lawn is thirty yards across, and is only divided from the highway by a low wall with an iron rail above it. It was into this room that Mrs. Barclay went upon her return. The blinds were not down, for the room was seldom used in the evening, but Mrs. Barclay herself lit the lamp and then rang the bell, asking Jane Stewart, the housemaid, to bring her a cup of tea, which was quite contrary to her usual habits. The Colonel had been sitting in the dining-room, but hearing that his wife had returned he joined her in the morning-room. The coachman saw him cross the hall and enter it. He was never seen again alive.

“The tea which had been ordered was brought up at the end of ten minutes; but the maid, as she approached the door, was surprised to hear the voices of her master and mistress in furious altercation. She knocked without receiving any answer, and even turned the handle, but only to find that the door was locked upon the inside. Naturally enough she ran down to tell the cook, and the two women with the coachman came up into the hall and listened to the dispute which was still raging. They all agreed that only two voices were to be heard, those of Barclay and of his wife. Barclay’s remarks were subdued and abrupt, so that none of them were audible to the listeners. The lady’s, on the other hand, were most bitter, and when she raised her voice could be plainly heard. ‘You coward!’ she repeated over and over again. ‘What can be done now? What can be done now? Give me back my life. I will never so much as breathe the same air with you again! You coward! You coward!’ Those were scraps of her conversation, ending in a sudden dreadful cry in the man’s voice, with a crash, and a piercing scream from the woman. Convinced that some tragedy had occurred, the coachman rushed to the door and strove to force it, while scream after scream issued from within. He was unable, however, to make his way in, and the maids were too distracted with fear to be of any assistance to him. A sudden thought struck him, however, and he ran through the hall door and round to the lawn upon which the long French windows open. One side of the window was open, which I understand was quite usual in the summertime, and he passed without difficulty into the room. His mistress had ceased to scream and was stretched insensible upon a couch, while with his feet tilted over the side of an armchair, and his head upon the ground near the corner of the fender, was lying the unfortunate soldier stone dead in a pool of his own blood.

“Naturally, the coachman’s first thought, on finding that he could do nothing for his master, was to open the door. But here an unexpected and singular difficulty presented itself. The key was not in the inner side of the door, nor could he find it anywhere in the room. He went out again, therefore, through the window, and having obtained the help of a policeman and of a medical man, he returned. The lady, against whom naturally the strongest suspicion rested, was removed to her room, still in a state of insensibility. The Colonel’s body was then placed upon the sofa, and a careful examination made of the scene of the tragedy.

“The injury from which the unfortunate veteran was suffering was found to be a jagged cut some two inches long at the back part of his head, which had evidently been caused by a violent blow from a blunt weapon. Nor was it difficult to guess what that weapon may have been. Upon the floor, close to the body, was lying a singular club of hard carved wood with a bone handle. The Colonel possessed a varied collection of weapons brought from the different countries in which he had fought, and it is conjectured by the police that his club was among his trophies. The servants deny having seen it before, but among the numerous curiosities in the house it is possible that it may have been overlooked. Nothing else of importance was discovered in the room by the police, save the inexplicable fact that neither upon Mrs. Barclay’s person nor upon that of the victim nor in any part of the room was the missing key to be found. The door had eventually to be opened by a locksmith from Aldershot.

“That was the state of things, Watson, when upon the Tuesday morning I, at the request of Major Murphy, went down to Aldershot to supplement the efforts of the police. I think that you will acknowledge that the problem was already one of interest, but my observations soon made me realize that it was in truth much more extraordinary than would at first sight appear.

“Before examining the room I cross-questioned the servants, but only succeeded in eliciting the facts which I have already stated. One other detail of interest was remembered by Jane Stewart, the housemaid. You will remember that on hearing the sound of the quarrel she descended and returned with the other servants. On that first occasion, when she was alone, she says that the voices of her master and mistress were sunk so low that she could hear hardly anything, and judged by their tones rather than their words that they had fallen out. On my pressing her, however, she remembered that she heard the word David uttered twice by the lady. The point is of the utmost importance as guiding us towards the reason of the sudden quarrel. The Colonel’s name, you remember, was James.

“There was one thing in the case which had made the deepest impression both upon the servants and the police. This was the contortion of the Colonel’s face. It had set, according to their account, into the most dreadful expression of fear and horror which a human countenance is capable of assuming. More than one person fainted at the mere sight of him, so terrible was the effect. It was quite certain that he had foreseen his fate, and that it had caused him the utmost horror. This, of course, fitted in well enough with the police theory, if the Colonel could have seen his wife making a murderous attack upon him. Nor was the fact of the wound being on the back of his head a fatal objection to this, as he might have turned to avoid the blow. No information could be got from the lady herself, who was temporarily insane from an acute attack of brain-fever.

“From the police I learned that Miss Morrison, who you remember went out that evening with Mrs. Barclay, denied having any knowledge of what it was which had caused the ill-humor in which her companion had returned.

“Having gathered these facts, Watson, I smoked several pipes over them, trying to separate those which were crucial from others which were merely incidental. There could be no question that the most distinctive and suggestive point in the case was the singular disappearance of the door-key. A most careful search had failed to discover it in the room. Therefore it must have been taken from it. But neither the Colonel nor the Colonel’s wife could have taken it. That was perfectly clear. Therefore a third person must have entered the room. And that third person could only have come in through the window. It seemed to me that a careful examination of the room and the lawn might possibly reveal some traces of this mysterious individual. You know my methods, Watson. There was not one of them which I did not apply to the inquiry. And it ended by my discovering traces, but very different ones from those which I had expected. There had been a man in the room, and he had crossed the lawn coming from the road. I was able to obtain five very clear impressions of his footmarks: one in the roadway itself, at the point where he had climbed the low wall, two on the lawn, and two very faint ones upon the stained boards near the window where he had entered. He had apparently rushed across the lawn, for his toe-marks were much deeper than his heels. But it was not the man who surprised me. It was his companion.”

“His companion!”

Holmes pulled a large sheet of tissue-paper out of his pocket and carefully unfolded it upon his knee.

“What do you make of that?” he asked.

The paper was covered with the tracings of the footmarks of some small animal. It had five well-marked footpads, an indication of long nails, and the whole print might be nearly as large as a dessertspoon.

“It’s a dog,” said I.

“Did you ever hear of a dog running up a curtain? I found distinct traces that this creature had done so.”

“A monkey, then?”

“But it is not the print of a monkey.”

“What can it be, then?”

“Neither dog nor cat nor monkey nor any creature that we are familiar with. I have tried to reconstruct it from the measurements. Here are four prints where the beast has been standing motionless. You see that it is no less than fifteen inches from forefoot to hind. Add to that the length of neck and head, and you get a creature not much less than two feet long⁠—probably more if there is any tail. But now observe this other measurement. The animal has been moving, and we have the length of its stride. In each case it is only about three inches. You have an indication, you see, of a long body with very short legs attached to it. It has not been considerate enough to leave any of its hair behind it. But its general shape must be what I have indicated, and it can run up a curtain, and it is carnivorous.”

“How do you deduce that?”

“Because it ran up the curtain. A canary’s cage was hanging in the window, and its aim seems to have been to get at the bird.”

“Then what was the beast?”

“Ah, if I could give it a name it might go a long way towards solving the case. On the whole, it was probably some creature of the weasel and stoat tribe⁠—and yet it is larger than any of these that I have seen.”

“But what had it to do with the crime?”

“That, also, is still obscure. But we have learned a good deal, you perceive. We know that a man stood in the road looking at the quarrel between the Barclays⁠—the blinds were up and the room lighted. We know, also, that he ran across the lawn, entered the room, accompanied by a strange animal, and that he either struck the Colonel or, as is equally possible, that the Colonel fell down from sheer fright at the sight of him, and cut his head on the corner of the fender. Finally, we have the curious fact that the intruder carried away the key with him when he left.”

“Your discoveries seem to have left the business more obscure that it was before,” said I.

“Quite so. They undoubtedly showed that the affair was much deeper than was at first conjectured. I thought the matter over, and I came to the conclusion that I must approach the case from another aspect. But really, Watson, I am keeping you up, and I might just as well tell you all this on our way to Aldershot tomorrow.”

“Thank you, you have gone rather too far to stop.”

“It is quite certain that when Mrs. Barclay left the house at half-past seven she was on good terms with her husband. She was never, as I think I have said, ostentatiously affectionate, but she was heard by the coachman chatting with the Colonel in a friendly fashion. Now, it was equally certain that, immediately on her return, she had gone to the room in which she was least likely to see her husband, had flown to tea as an agitated woman will, and finally, on his coming in to her, had broken into violent recriminations. Therefore something had occurred between seven-thirty and nine o’clock which had completely altered her feelings towards him. But Miss Morrison had been with her during the whole of that hour and a half. It was absolutely certain, therefore, in spite of her denial, that she must know something of the matter.

“My first conjecture was, that possibly there had been some passages between this young lady and the old soldier, which the former had now confessed to the wife. That would account for the angry return, and also for the girl’s denial that anything had occurred. Nor would it be entirely incompatible with most of the words overheard. But there was the reference to David, and there was the known affection of the Colonel for his wife, to weigh against it, to say nothing of the tragic intrusion of this other man, which might, of course, be entirely disconnected with what had gone before. It was not easy to pick one’s steps, but, on the whole, I was inclined to dismiss the idea that there had been anything between the Colonel and Miss Morrison, but more than ever convinced that the young lady held the clue as to what it was which had turned Mrs. Barclay to hatred of her husband. I took the obvious course, therefore, of calling upon Miss M., of explaining to her that I was perfectly certain that she held the facts in her possession, and of assuring her that her friend, Mrs. Barclay, might find herself in the dock upon a capital charge unless the matter were cleared up.

“Miss Morrison is a little ethereal slip of a girl, with timid eyes and blond hair, but I found her by no means wanting in shrewdness and common sense. She sat thinking for some time after I had spoken, and then, turning to me with a brisk air of resolution, she broke into a remarkable statement which I will condense for your benefit.

“ ‘I promised my friend that I would say nothing of the matter, and a promise is a promise,’ said she; ‘but if I can really help her when so serious a charge is laid against her, and when her own mouth, poor darling, is closed by illness, then I think I am absolved from my promise. I will tell you exactly what happened upon Monday evening.

“ ‘We were returning from the Watt Street Mission about a quarter to nine o’clock. On our way we had to pass through Hudson Street, which is a very quiet thoroughfare. There is only one lamp in it, upon the left-hand side, and as we approached this lamp I saw a man coming towards us with his back very bent, and something like a box slung over one of his shoulders. He appeared to be deformed, for he carried his head low and walked with his knees bent. We were passing him when he raised his face to look at us in the circle of light thrown by the lamp, and as he did so he stopped and screamed out in a dreadful voice, “My God, it’s Nancy!” Mrs. Barclay turned as white as death, and would have fallen down had the dreadful-looking creature not caught hold of her. I was going to call for the police, but she, to my surprise, spoke quite civilly to the fellow.

“ ‘ “I thought you had been dead this thirty years, Henry,” said she, in a shaking voice.

“ ‘ “So I have,” said he, and it was awful to hear the tones that he said it in. He had a very dark, fearsome face, and a gleam in his eyes that comes back to me in my dreams. His hair and whiskers were shot with gray, and his face was all crinkled and puckered like a withered apple.

“ ‘ “Just walk on a little way, dear,” said Mrs. Barclay; “I want to have a word with this man. There is nothing to be afraid of.” She tried to speak boldly, but she was still deadly pale and could hardly get her words out for the trembling of her lips.

“ ‘I did as she asked me, and they talked together for a few minutes. Then she came down the street with her eyes blazing, and I saw the crippled wretch standing by the lamppost and shaking his clenched fists in the air as if he were mad with rage. She never said a word until we were at the door here, when she took me by the hand and begged me to tell no one what had happened.

“ ‘ “It’s an old acquaintance of mine who has come down in the world,” said she. When I promised her I would say nothing she kissed me, and I have never seen her since. I have told you now the whole truth, and if I withheld it from the police it is because I did not realize then the danger in which my dear friend stood. I know that it can only be to her advantage that everything should be known.’

“There was her statement, Watson, and to me, as you can imagine, it was like a light on a dark night. Everything which had been disconnected before began at once to assume its true place, and I had a shadowy presentiment of the whole sequence of events. My next step obviously was to find the man who had produced such a remarkable impression upon Mrs. Barclay. If he were still in Aldershot it should not be a very difficult matter. There are not such a very great number of civilians, and a deformed man was sure to have attracted attention. I spent a day in the search, and by evening⁠—this very evening, Watson⁠—I had run him down. The man’s name is Henry Wood, and he lives in lodgings in this same street in which the ladies met him. He has only been five days in the place. In the character of a registration-agent I had a most interesting gossip with his landlady. The man is by trade a conjurer and performer, going round the canteens after nightfall, and giving a little entertainment at each. He carries some creature about with him in that box; about which the landlady seemed to be in considerable trepidation, for she had never seen an animal like it. He uses it in some of his tricks according to her account. So much the woman was able to tell me, and also that it was a wonder the man lived, seeing how twisted he was, and that he spoke in a strange tongue sometimes, and that for the last two nights she had heard him groaning and weeping in his bedroom. He was all right, as far as money went, but in his deposit he had given her what looked like a bad florin. She showed it to me, Watson, and it was an Indian rupee.

“So now, my dear fellow, you see exactly how we stand and why it is I want you. It is perfectly plain that after the ladies parted from this man he followed them at a distance, that he saw the quarrel between husband and wife through the window, that he rushed in, and that the creature which he carried in his box got loose. That is all very certain. But he is the only person in this world who can tell us exactly what happened in that room.”

“And you intend to ask him?”

“Most certainly⁠—but in the presence of a witness.”

“And I am the witness?”

“If you will be so good. If he can clear the matter up, well and good. If he refuses, we have no alternative but to apply for a warrant.”

“But how do you know he’ll be there when we return?”

“You may be sure that I took some precautions. I have one of my Baker Street boys mounting guard over him who would stick to him like a burr, go where he might. We shall find him in Hudson Street tomorrow, Watson, and meanwhile I should be the criminal myself if I kept you out of bed any longer.”

It was midday when we found ourselves at the scene of the tragedy, and, under my companion’s guidance, we made our way at once to Hudson Street. In spite of his capacity for concealing his emotions, I could easily see that Holmes was in a state of suppressed excitement, while I was myself tingling with that half-sporting, half-intellectual pleasure which I invariably experienced when I associated myself with him in his investigations.

“This is the street,” said he, as we turned into a short thoroughfare lined with plain two-storied brick houses. “Ah, here is Simpson to report.”

“He’s in all right, Mr. Holmes,” cried a small street Arab, running up to us.

“Good, Simpson!” said Holmes, patting him on the head. “Come along, Watson. This is the house.” He sent in his card with a message that he had come on important business, and a moment later we were face to face with the man whom we had come to see. In spite of the warm weather he was crouching over a fire, and the little room was like an oven. The man sat all twisted and huddled in his chair in a way which gave an indescribable impression of deformity; but the face which he turned towards us, though worn and swarthy, must at some time have been remarkable for its beauty. He looked suspiciously at us now out of yellow-shot, bilious eyes, and, without speaking or rising, he waved towards two chairs.

“Mr. Henry Wood, late of India, I believe,” said Holmes, affably. “I’ve come over this little matter of Colonel Barclay’s death.”

“What should I know about that?”

“That’s what I want to ascertain. You know, I suppose, that unless the matter is cleared up, Mrs. Barclay, who is an old friend of yours, will in all probability be tried for murder.”

The man gave a violent start.

“I don’t know who you are,” he cried, “nor how you come to know what you do know, but will you swear that this is true that you tell me?”

“Why, they are only waiting for her to come to her senses to arrest her.”

“My God! Are you in the police yourself?”

“No.”

“What business is it of yours, then?”

“It’s every man’s business to see justice done.”

“You can take my word that she is innocent.”

“Then you are guilty.”

“No, I am not.”

“Who killed Colonel James Barclay, then?”

“It was a just providence that killed him. But, mind you this, that if I had knocked his brains out, as it was in my heart to do, he would have had no more than his due from my hands. If his own guilty conscience had not struck him down it is likely enough that I might have had his blood upon my soul. You want me to tell the story. Well, I don’t know why I shouldn’t, for there’s no cause for me to be ashamed of it.

“It was in this way, sir. You see me now with my back like a camel and my ribs all awry, but there was a time when Corporal Henry Wood was the smartest man in the 117th foot. We were in India then, in cantonments, at a place we’ll call Bhurtee. Barclay, who died the other day, was sergeant in the same company as myself, and the belle of the regiment, ay, and the finest girl that ever had the breath of life between her lips, was Nancy Devoy, the daughter of the color-sergeant. There were two men that loved her, and one that she loved, and you’ll smile when you look at this poor thing huddled before the fire, and hear me say that it was for my good looks that she loved me.

“Well, though I had her heart, her father was set upon her marrying Barclay. I was a harum-scarum, reckless lad, and he had had an education, and was already marked for the sword-belt. But the girl held true to me, and it seemed that I would have had her when the Mutiny broke out, and all hell was loose in the country.

“We were shut up in Bhurtee, the regiment of us with half a battery of artillery, a company of Sikhs, and a lot of civilians and women-folk. There were ten thousand rebels round us, and they were as keen as a set of terriers round a rat-cage. About the second week of it our water gave out, and it was a question whether we could communicate with General Neill’s column, which was moving up country. It was our only chance, for we could not hope to fight our way out with all the women and children, so I volunteered to go out and to warn General Neill of our danger. My offer was accepted, and I talked it over with Sergeant Barclay, who was supposed to know the ground better than any other man, and who drew up a route by which I might get through the rebel lines. At ten o’clock the same night I started off upon my journey. There were a thousand lives to save, but it was of only one that I was thinking when I dropped over the wall that night.

“My way ran down a dried-up watercourse, which we hoped would screen me from the enemy’s sentries; but as I crept round the corner of it I walked right into six of them, who were crouching down in the dark waiting for me. In an instant I was stunned with a blow and bound hand and foot. But the real blow was to my heart and not to my head, for as I came to and listened to as much as I could understand of their talk, I heard enough to tell me that my comrade, the very man who had arranged the way that I was to take, had betrayed me by means of a native servant into the hands of the enemy.

“Well, there’s no need for me to dwell on that part of it. You know now what James Barclay was capable of. Bhurtee was relieved by Neill next day, but the rebels took me away with them in their retreat, and it was many a long year before ever I saw a white face again. I was tortured and tried to get away, and was captured and tortured again. You can see for yourselves the state in which I was left. Some of them that fled into Nepaul took me with them, and then afterwards I was up past Darjeeling. The hill-folk up there murdered the rebels who had me, and I became their slave for a time until I escaped; but instead of going south I had to go north, until I found myself among the Afghans. There I wandered about for many a year, and at last came back to the Punjab, where I lived mostly among the natives and picked up a living by the conjuring tricks that I had learned. What use was it for me, a wretched cripple, to go back to England or to make myself known to my old comrades? Even my wish for revenge would not make me do that. I had rather that Nancy and my old pals should think of Harry Wood as having died with a straight back, than see him living and crawling with a stick like a chimpanzee. They never doubted that I was dead, and I meant that they never should. I heard that Barclay had married Nancy, and that he was rising rapidly in the regiment, but even that did not make me speak.

“But when one gets old one has a longing for home. For years I’ve been dreaming of the bright green fields and the hedges of England. At last I determined to see them before I died. I saved enough to bring me across, and then I came here where the soldiers are, for I know their ways and how to amuse them and so earn enough to keep me.”

“Your narrative is most interesting,” said Sherlock Holmes. “I have already heard of your meeting with Mrs. Barclay, and your mutual recognition. You then, as I understand, followed her home and saw through the window an altercation between her husband and her, in which she doubtless cast his conduct to you in his teeth. Your own feelings overcame you, and you ran across the lawn and broke in upon them.”

“I did, sir, and at the sight of me he looked as I have never seen a man look before, and over he went with his head on the fender. But he was dead before he fell. I read death on his face as plain as I can read that text over the fire. The bare sight of me was like a bullet through his guilty heart.”

“And then?”

“Then Nancy fainted, and I caught up the key of the door from her hand, intending to unlock it and get help. But as I was doing it it seemed to me better to leave it alone and get away, for the thing might look black against me, and anyway my secret would be out if I were taken. In my haste I thrust the key into my pocket, and dropped my stick while I was chasing Teddy, who had run up the curtain. When I got him into his box, from which he had slipped, I was off as fast as I could run.”

“Who’s Teddy?” asked Holmes.

The man leaned over and pulled up the front of a kind of hutch in the corner. In an instant out there slipped a beautiful reddish-brown creature, thin and lithe, with the legs of a stoat, a long, thin nose, and a pair of the finest red eyes that ever I saw in an animal’s head.

“It’s a mongoose,” I cried.

“Well, some call them that, and some call them ichneumon,” said the man. “Snake-catcher is what I call them, and Teddy is amazing quick on cobras. I have one here without the fangs, and Teddy catches it every night to please the folk in the canteen.

“Any other point, sir?”

“Well, we may have to apply to you again if Mrs. Barclay should prove to be in serious trouble.”

“In that case, of course, I’d come forward.”

“But if not, there is no object in raking up this scandal against a dead man, foully as he has acted. You have at least the satisfaction of knowing that for thirty years of his life his conscience bitterly reproached him for this wicked deed. Ah, there goes Major Murphy on the other side of the street. Goodbye, Wood. I want to learn if anything has happened since yesterday.”

We were in time to overtake the major before he reached the corner.

“Ah, Holmes,” he said: “I suppose you have heard that all this fuss has come to nothing?”

“What then?”

“The inquest is just over. The medical evidence showed conclusively that death was due to apoplexy. You see it was quite a simple case after all.”

“Oh, remarkably superficial,” said Holmes, smiling. “Come, Watson, I don’t think we shall be wanted in Aldershot any more.”

“There’s one thing,” said I, as we walked down to the station. “If the husband’s name was James, and the other was Henry, what was this talk about David?”

“That one word, my dear Watson, should have told me the whole story had I been the ideal reasoner which you are so fond of depicting. It was evidently a term of reproach.”

“Of reproach?”

“Yes; David strayed a little occasionally, you know, and on one occasion in the same direction as Sergeant James Barclay. You remember the small affair of Uriah and Bathsheba? My biblical knowledge is a trifle rusty, I fear, but you will find the story in the first or second of Samuel.”



IX. The Resident Patient

In glancing over the somewhat incoherent series of memoirs with which I have endeavoured to illustrate a few of the mental peculiarities of my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, I have been struck by the difficulty which I have experienced in picking out examples which shall in every way answer my purpose. For in those cases in which Holmes has performed some tour-de-force of analytical reasoning, and has demonstrated the value of his peculiar methods of investigation, the facts themselves have often been so slight or so commonplace that I could not feel justified in laying them before the public. On the other hand, it has frequently happened that he has been concerned in some research where the facts have been of the most remarkable and dramatic character, but where the share which he has himself taken in determining their causes has been less pronounced than I, as his biographer, could wish. The small matter which I have chronicled under the heading of “A Study in Scarlet,” and that other later one connected with the loss of the Gloria Scott, may serve as examples of this Scylla and Charybdis which are for ever threatening his historian. It may be that, in the business of which I am now about to write, the part which my friend played is not sufficiently accentuated; and yet the whole train of circumstances is so remarkable that I cannot bring myself to omit it entirely from this series.

I cannot be sure of the exact date, for some of my memoranda upon the matter have been mislaid, but it must have been towards the end of the first year during which Holmes and I shared chambers in Baker Street. It was boisterous October weather, and we had both remained indoors all day, I because I feared with my shaken health to face the keen autumn wind, while he was deep in some of those abstruse chemical investigations which absorbed him utterly as long as he was engaged upon them. Towards evening, however, the breaking of a test-tube brought his research to a premature ending, and he sprang up from his chair with an exclamation of impatience and a clouded brow.

“A day’s work ruined, Watson,” said he, striding across to the window. “Ha! The stars are out and the wind has fallen. What do you say to a ramble through London?”

I was weary of our little sitting-room and gladly acquiesced. For three hours we strolled about together, watching the ever-changing kaleidoscope of life as it ebbs and flows through Fleet Street and the Strand. His characteristic talk, with its keen observance of detail and subtle power of inference held me amused and enthralled. It was ten o’clock before we reached Baker Street again. A brougham was waiting at our door.

“Hum! A doctor’s⁠—general practitioner, I perceive,” said Holmes. “Not been long in practice, but has had a good deal to do. Come to consult us, I fancy! Lucky we came back!”

I was sufficiently conversant with Holmes’s methods to be able to follow his reasoning, and to see that the nature and state of the various medical instruments in the wicker basket which hung in the lamplight inside the brougham had given him the data for his swift deduction. The light in our window above showed that this late visit was indeed intended for us. With some curiosity as to what could have sent a brother medico to us at such an hour, I followed Holmes into our sanctum.

A pale, taper-faced man with sandy whiskers rose up from a chair by the fire as we entered. His age may not have been more than three or four and thirty, but his haggard expression and unhealthy hue told of a life which has sapped his strength and robbed him of his youth. His manner was nervous and shy, like that of a sensitive gentleman, and the thin white hand which he laid on the mantelpiece as he rose was that of an artist rather than of a surgeon. His dress was quiet and sombre⁠—a black frock-coat, dark trousers, and a touch of color about his necktie.

“Good evening, doctor,” said Holmes, cheerily. “I am glad to see that you have only been waiting a very few minutes.”

“You spoke to my coachman, then?”

“No, it was the candle on the side-table that told me. Pray resume your seat and let me know how I can serve you.”

“My name is Doctor Percy Trevelyan,” said our visitor, “and I live at 403 Brook Street.”

“Are you not the author of a monograph upon obscure nervous lesions?” I asked.

His pale cheeks flushed with pleasure at hearing that his work was known to me.

“I so seldom hear of the work that I thought it was quite dead,” said he. “My publishers gave me a most discouraging account of its sale. You are yourself, I presume, a medical man?”

“A retired army surgeon.”

“My own hobby has always been nervous disease. I should wish to make it an absolute specialty, but, of course, a man must take what he can get at first. This, however, is beside the question, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and I quite appreciate how valuable your time is. The fact is that a very singular train of events has occurred recently at my house in Brook Street, and tonight they came to such a head that I felt it was quite impossible for me to wait another hour before asking for your advice and assistance.”

Sherlock Holmes sat down and lit his pipe. “You are very welcome to both,” said he. “Pray let me have a detailed account of what the circumstances are which have disturbed you.”

“One or two of them are so trivial,” said Dr. Trevelyan, “that really I am almost ashamed to mention them. But the matter is so inexplicable, and the recent turn which it has taken is so elaborate, that I shall lay it all before you, and you shall judge what is essential and what is not.

“I am compelled, to begin with, to say something of my own college career. I am a London University man, you know, and I am sure that you will not think that I am unduly singing my own praises if I say that my student career was considered by my professors to be a very promising one. After I had graduated I continued to devote myself to research, occupying a minor position in King’s College Hospital, and I was fortunate enough to excite considerable interest by my research into the pathology of catalepsy, and finally to win the Bruce Pinkerton prize and medal by the monograph on nervous lesions to which your friend has just alluded. I should not go too far if I were to say that there was a general impression at that time that a distinguished career lay before me.

“But the one great stumbling-block lay in my want of capital. As you will readily understand, a specialist who aims high is compelled to start in one of a dozen streets in the Cavendish Square quarter, all of which entail enormous rents and furnishing expenses. Besides this preliminary outlay, he must be prepared to keep himself for some years, and to hire a presentable carriage and horse. To do this was quite beyond my power, and I could only hope that by economy I might in ten years’ time save enough to enable me to put up my plate. Suddenly, however, an unexpected incident opened up quite a new prospect to me.

“This was a visit from a gentleman of the name of Blessington, who was a complete stranger to me. He came up to my room one morning, and plunged into business in an instant.

“ ‘You are the same Percy Trevelyan who has had so distinguished a career and won a great prize lately?’ said he.

“I bowed.

“ ‘Answer me frankly,’ he continued, ‘for you will find it to your interest to do so. You have all the cleverness which makes a successful man. Have you the tact?’

“I could not help smiling at the abruptness of the question.

“ ‘I trust that I have my share,’ I said.

“ ‘Any bad habits? Not drawn towards drink, eh?’

“ ‘Really, sir!’ I cried.

“ ‘Quite right! That’s all right! But I was bound to ask. With all these qualities, why are you not in practice?’

“I shrugged my shoulders.

“ ‘Come, come!’ said he, in his bustling way. ‘It’s the old story. More in your brains than in your pocket, eh? What would you say if I were to start you in Brook Street?’

“I stared at him in astonishment.

“ ‘Oh, it’s for my sake, not for yours,’ he cried. ‘I’ll be perfectly frank with you, and if it suits you it will suit me very well. I have a few thousands to invest, d’ye see, and I think I’ll sink them in you.’

“ ‘But why?’ I gasped.

“ ‘Well, it’s just like any other speculation, and safer than most.’

“ ‘What am I to do, then?’

“ ‘I’ll tell you. I’ll take the house, furnish it, pay the maids, and run the whole place. All you have to do is just to wear out your chair in the consulting-room. I’ll let you have pocket-money and everything. Then you hand over to me three quarters of what you earn, and you keep the other quarter for yourself.’

“This was the strange proposal, Mr. Holmes, with which the man Blessington approached me. I won’t weary you with the account of how we bargained and negotiated. It ended in my moving into the house next Lady-day, and starting in practice on very much the same conditions as he had suggested. He came himself to live with me in the character of a resident patient. His heart was weak, it appears, and he needed constant medical supervision. He turned the two best rooms of the first floor into a sitting-room and bedroom for himself. He was a man of singular habits, shunning company and very seldom going out. His life was irregular, but in one respect he was regularity itself. Every evening, at the same hour, he walked into the consulting-room, examined the books, put down five and threepence for every guinea that I had earned, and carried the rest off to the strongbox in his own room.

“I may say with confidence that he never had occasion to regret his speculation. From the first it was a success. A few good cases and the reputation which I had won in the hospital brought me rapidly to the front, and during the last few years I have made him a rich man.

“So much, Mr. Holmes, for my past history and my relations with Mr. Blessington. It only remains for me now to tell you what has occurred to bring me here tonight.

“Some weeks ago Mr. Blessington came down to me in, as it seemed to me, a state of considerable agitation. He spoke of some burglary which, he said, had been committed in the West End, and he appeared, I remember, to be quite unnecessarily excited about it, declaring that a day should not pass before we should add stronger bolts to our windows and doors. For a week he continued to be in a peculiar state of restlessness, peering continually out of the windows, and ceasing to take the short walk which had usually been the prelude to his dinner. From his manner it struck me that he was in mortal dread of something or somebody, but when I questioned him upon the point he became so offensive that I was compelled to drop the subject. Gradually, as time passed, his fears appeared to die away, and he had renewed his former habits, when a fresh event reduced him to the pitiable state of prostration in which he now lies.

“What happened was this. Two days ago I received the letter which I now read to you. Neither address nor date is attached to it.

“ ‘A Russian nobleman who is now resident in England,’ it runs, ‘would be glad to avail himself of the professional assistance of Dr. Percy Trevelyan. He has been for some years a victim to cataleptic attacks, on which, as is well known, Dr. Trevelyan is an authority. He proposes to call at about quarter past six tomorrow evening, if Dr. Trevelyan will make it convenient to be at home.’

“This letter interested me deeply, because the chief difficulty in the study of catalepsy is the rareness of the disease. You may believe, then, that I was in my consulting-room when, at the appointed hour, the page showed in the patient.

“He was an elderly man, thin, demure, and commonplace⁠—by no means the conception one forms of a Russian nobleman. I was much more struck by the appearance of his companion. This was a tall young man, surprisingly handsome, with a dark, fierce face, and the limbs and chest of a Hercules. He had his hand under the other’s arm as they entered, and helped him to a chair with a tenderness which one would hardly have expected from his appearance.

“ ‘You will excuse my coming in, doctor,’ said he to me, speaking English with a slight lisp. ‘This is my father, and his health is a matter of the most overwhelming importance to me.’

“I was touched by this filial anxiety. ‘You would, perhaps, care to remain during the consultation?’ said I.

“ ‘Not for the world,’ he cried with a gesture of horror. ‘It is more painful to me than I can express. If I were to see my father in one of these dreadful seizures I am convinced that I should never survive it. My own nervous system is an exceptionally sensitive one. With your permission, I will remain in the waiting-room while you go into my father’s case.’

“To this, of course, I assented, and the young man withdrew. The patient and I then plunged into a discussion of his case, of which I took exhaustive notes. He was not remarkable for intelligence, and his answers were frequently obscure, which I attributed to his limited acquaintance with our language. Suddenly, however, as I sat writing, he ceased to give any answer at all to my inquiries, and on my turning towards him I was shocked to see that he was sitting bolt upright in his chair, staring at me with a perfectly blank and rigid face. He was again in the grip of his mysterious malady.

“My first feeling, as I have just said, was one of pity and horror. My second, I fear, was rather one of professional satisfaction. I made notes of my patient’s pulse and temperature, tested the rigidity of his muscles, and examined his reflexes. There was nothing markedly abnormal in any of these conditions, which harmonized with my former experiences. I had obtained good results in such cases by the inhalation of nitrite of amyl, and the present seemed an admirable opportunity of testing its virtues. The bottle was downstairs in my laboratory, so leaving my patient seated in his chair, I ran down to get it. There was some little delay in finding it⁠—five minutes, let us say⁠—and then I returned. Imagine my amazement to find the room empty and the patient gone.

“Of course, my first act was to run into the waiting-room. The son had gone also. The hall door had been closed, but not shut. My page who admits patients is a new boy and by no means quick. He waits downstairs, and runs up to show patients out when I ring the consulting-room bell. He had heard nothing, and the affair remained a complete mystery. Mr. Blessington came in from his walk shortly afterwards, but I did not say anything to him upon the subject, for, to tell the truth, I have got in the way of late of holding as little communication with him as possible.

“Well, I never thought that I should see anything more of the Russian and his son, so you can imagine my amazement when, at the very same hour this evening, they both came marching into my consulting-room, just as they had done before.

“ ‘I feel that I owe you a great many apologies for my abrupt departure yesterday, doctor,’ said my patient.

“ ‘I confess that I was very much surprised at it,’ said I.

“ ‘Well, the fact is,’ he remarked, ‘that when I recover from these attacks my mind is always very clouded as to all that has gone before. I woke up in a strange room, as it seemed to me, and made my way out into the street in a sort of dazed way when you were absent.’

“ ‘And I,’ said the son, ‘seeing my father pass the door of the waiting-room, naturally thought that the consultation had come to an end. It was not until we had reached home that I began to realize the true state of affairs.’

“ ‘Well,’ said I, laughing, ‘there is no harm done except that you puzzled me terribly; so if you, sir, would kindly step into the waiting-room I shall be happy to continue our consultation which was brought to so abrupt an ending.’

“ ‘For half an hour or so I discussed that old gentleman’s symptoms with him, and then, having prescribed for him, I saw him go off upon the arm of his son.

“I have told you that Mr. Blessington generally chose this hour of the day for his exercise. He came in shortly afterwards and passed upstairs. An instant later I heard him running down, and he burst into my consulting-room like a man who is mad with panic.

“ ‘Who has been in my room?’ he cried.

“ ‘No one,’ said I.

“ ‘It’s a lie! He yelled. ‘Come up and look!’

“I passed over the grossness of his language, as he seemed half out of his mind with fear. When I went upstairs with him he pointed to several footprints upon the light carpet.

“ ‘D’you mean to say those are mine?’ he cried.

“They were certainly very much larger than any which he could have made, and were evidently quite fresh. It rained hard this afternoon, as you know, and my patients were the only people who called. It must have been the case, then, that the man in the waiting-room had, for some unknown reason, while I was busy with the other, ascended to the room of my resident patient. Nothing had been touched or taken, but there were the footprints to prove that the intrusion was an undoubted fact.

“Mr. Blessington seemed more excited over the matter than I should have thought possible, though of course it was enough to disturb anybody’s peace of mind. He actually sat crying in an armchair, and I could hardly get him to speak coherently. It was his suggestion that I should come round to you, and of course I at once saw the propriety of it, for certainly the incident is a very singular one, though he appears to completely overrate its importance. If you would only come back with me in my brougham, you would at least be able to soothe him, though I can hardly hope that you will be able to explain this remarkable occurrence.”

Sherlock Holmes had listened to this long narrative with an intentness which showed me that his interest was keenly aroused. His face was as impassive as ever, but his lids had drooped more heavily over his eyes, and his smoke had curled up more thickly from his pipe to emphasize each curious episode in the doctor’s tale. As our visitor concluded, Holmes sprang up without a word, handed me my hat, picked his own from the table, and followed Dr. Trevelyan to the door. Within a quarter of an hour we had been dropped at the door of the physician’s residence in Brook Street, one of those sombre, flat-faced houses which one associates with a West-End practice. A small page admitted us, and we began at once to ascend the broad, well-carpeted stair.

But a singular interruption brought us to a standstill. The light at the top was suddenly whisked out, and from the darkness came a reedy, quivering voice.

“I have a pistol,” it cried. “I give you my word that I’ll fire if you come any nearer.”

“This really grows outrageous, Mr. Blessington,” cried Dr. Trevelyan.

“Oh, then it is you, doctor,” said the voice, with a great heave of relief. “But those other gentlemen, are they what they pretend to be?”

We were conscious of a long scrutiny out of the darkness.

“Yes, yes, it’s all right,” said the voice at last. “You can come up, and I am sorry if my precautions have annoyed you.”

He relit the stair gas as he spoke, and we saw before us a singular-looking man, whose appearance, as well as his voice, testified to his jangled nerves. He was very fat, but had apparently at some time been much fatter, so that the skin hung about his face in loose pouches, like the cheeks of a bloodhound. He was of a sickly color, and his thin, sandy hair seemed to bristle up with the intensity of his emotion. In his hand he held a pistol, but he thrust it into his pocket as we advanced.

“Good evening, Mr. Holmes,” said he. “I am sure I am very much obliged to you for coming round. No one ever needed your advice more than I do. I suppose that Dr. Trevelyan has told you of this most unwarrantable intrusion into my rooms.”

“Quite so,” said Holmes. “Who are these two men, Mr. Blessington, and why do they wish to molest you?”

“Well, well,” said the resident patient, in a nervous fashion, “of course it is hard to say that. You can hardly expect me to answer that, Mr. Holmes.”

“Do you mean that you don’t know?”

“Come in here, if you please. Just have the kindness to step in here.”

He led the way into his bedroom, which was large and comfortably furnished.

“You see that,” said he, pointing to a big black box at the end of his bed. “I have never been a very rich man, Mr. Holmes⁠—never made but one investment in my life, as Dr. Trevelyan would tell you. But I don’t believe in bankers. I would never trust a banker, Mr. Holmes. Between ourselves, what little I have is in that box, so you can understand what it means to me when unknown people force themselves into my rooms.”

Holmes looked at Blessington in his questioning way and shook his head.

“I cannot possibly advise you if you try to deceive me,” said he.

“But I have told you everything.”

Holmes turned on his heel with a gesture of disgust. “Good night, Dr. Trevelyan,” said he.

“And no advice for me?” cried Blessington, in a breaking voice.

“My advice to you, sir, is to speak the truth.”

A minute later we were in the street and walking for home. We had crossed Oxford Street and were half way down Harley Street before I could get a word from my companion.

“Sorry to bring you out on such a fool’s errand, Watson,” he said at last. “It is an interesting case, too, at the bottom of it.”

“I can make little of it,” I confessed.

“Well, it is quite evident that there are two men⁠—more, perhaps, but at least two⁠—who are determined for some reason to get at this fellow Blessington. I have no doubt in my mind that both on the first and on the second occasion that young man penetrated to Blessington’s room, while his confederate, by an ingenious device, kept the doctor from interfering.”

“And the catalepsy?”

“A fraudulent imitation, Watson, though I should hardly dare to hint as much to our specialist. It is a very easy complaint to imitate. I have done it myself.”

“And then?”

“By the purest chance Blessington was out on each occasion. Their reason for choosing so unusual an hour for a consultation was obviously to insure that there should be no other patient in the waiting-room. It just happened, however, that this hour coincided with Blessington’s constitutional, which seems to show that they were not very well acquainted with his daily routine. Of course, if they had been merely after plunder they would at least have made some attempt to search for it. Besides, I can read in a man’s eye when it is his own skin that he is frightened for. It is inconceivable that this fellow could have made two such vindictive enemies as these appear to be without knowing of it. I hold it, therefore, to be certain that he does know who these men are, and that for reasons of his own he suppresses it. It is just possible that tomorrow may find him in a more communicative mood.”

“Is there not one alternative,” I suggested, “grotesquely improbable, no doubt, but still just conceivable? Might the whole story of the cataleptic Russian and his son be a concoction of Dr. Trevelyan’s, who has, for his own purposes, been in Blessington’s rooms?”

I saw in the gaslight that Holmes wore an amused smile at this brilliant departure of mine.

“My dear fellow,” said he, “it was one of the first solutions which occurred to me, but I was soon able to corroborate the doctor’s tale. This young man has left prints upon the stair-carpet which made it quite superfluous for me to ask to see those which he had made in the room. When I tell you that his shoes were square-toed instead of being pointed like Blessington’s, and were quite an inch and a third longer than the doctor’s, you will acknowledge that there can be no doubt as to his individuality. But we may sleep on it now, for I shall be surprised if we do not hear something further from Brook Street in the morning.”

Sherlock Holmes’s prophecy was soon fulfilled, and in a dramatic fashion. At half-past seven next morning, in the first glimmer of daylight, I found him standing by my bedside in his dressing-gown.

“There’s a brougham waiting for us, Watson,” said he.

“What’s the matter, then?”

“The Brook Street business.”

“Any fresh news?”

“Tragic, but ambiguous,” said he, pulling up the blind. “Look at this⁠—a sheet from a notebook, with ‘For God’s sake come at once⁠—P. T.,’ scrawled upon it in pencil. Our friend, the doctor, was hard put to it when he wrote this. Come along, my dear fellow, for it’s an urgent call.”

In a quarter of an hour or so we were back at the physician’s house. He came running out to meet us with a face of horror.

“Oh, such a business!” he cried, with his hands to his temples.

“What then?”

“Blessington has committed suicide!”

Holmes whistled.

“Yes, he hanged himself during the night.”

We had entered, and the doctor had preceded us into what was evidently his waiting-room.

“I really hardly know what I am doing,” he cried. “The police are already upstairs. It has shaken me most dreadfully.”

“When did you find it out?”

“He has a cup of tea taken in to him early every morning. When the maid entered, about seven, there the unfortunate fellow was hanging in the middle of the room. He had tied his cord to the hook on which the heavy lamp used to hang, and he had jumped off from the top of the very box that he showed us yesterday.”

Holmes stood for a moment in deep thought.

“With your permission,” said he at last, “I should like to go upstairs and look into the matter.”

We both ascended, followed by the doctor.

It was a dreadful sight which met us as we entered the bedroom door. I have spoken of the impression of flabbiness which this man Blessington conveyed. As he dangled from the hook it was exaggerated and intensified until he was scarce human in his appearance. The neck was drawn out like a plucked chicken’s, making the rest of him seem the more obese and unnatural by the contrast. He was clad only in his long nightdress, and his swollen ankles and ungainly feet protruded starkly from beneath it. Beside him stood a smart-looking police-inspector, who was taking notes in a pocketbook.

“Ah, Mr. Holmes,” said he, heartily, as my friend entered, “I am delighted to see you.”

“Good morning, Lanner,” answered Holmes; “you won’t think me an intruder, I am sure. Have you heard of the events which led up to this affair?”

“Yes, I heard something of them.”

“Have you formed any opinion?”

“As far as I can see, the man has been driven out of his senses by fright. The bed has been well slept in, you see. There’s his impression deep enough. It’s about five in the morning, you know, that suicides are most common. That would be about his time for hanging himself. It seems to have been a very deliberate affair.”

“I should say that he has been dead about three hours, judging by the rigidity of the muscles,” said I.

“Noticed anything peculiar about the room?” asked Holmes.

“Found a screwdriver and some screws on the wash-hand stand. Seems to have smoked heavily during the night, too. Here are four cigar-ends that I picked out of the fireplace.”

“Hum!” said Holmes, “have you got his cigar-holder?”

“No, I have seen none.”

“His cigar-case, then?”

“Yes, it was in his coat-pocket.”

Holmes opened it and smelled the single cigar which it contained.

“Oh, this is an Havana, and these others are cigars of the peculiar sort which are imported by the Dutch from their East Indian colonies. They are usually wrapped in straw, you know, and are thinner for their length than any other brand.” He picked up the four ends and examined them with his pocket-lens.

“Two of these have been smoked from a holder and two without,” said he. “Two have been cut by a not very sharp knife, and two have had the ends bitten off by a set of excellent teeth. This is no suicide, Mr. Lanner. It is a very deeply planned and cold-blooded murder.”

“Impossible!” cried the inspector.

“And why?”

“Why should anyone murder a man in so clumsy a fashion as by hanging him?”

“That is what we have to find out.”

“How could they get in?”

“Through the front door.”

“It was barred in the morning.”

“Then it was barred after them.”

“How do you know?”

“I saw their traces. Excuse me a moment, and I may be able to give you some further information about it.”

He went over to the door, and turning the lock he examined it in his methodical way. Then he took out the key, which was on the inside, and inspected that also. The bed, the carpet, the chairs the mantelpiece, the dead body, and the rope were each in turn examined, until at last he professed himself satisfied, and with my aid and that of the inspector cut down the wretched object and laid it reverently under a sheet.

“How about this rope?” he asked.

“It is cut off this,” said Dr. Trevelyan, drawing a large coil from under the bed. “He was morbidly nervous of fire, and always kept this beside him, so that he might escape by the window in case the stairs were burning.”

“That must have saved them trouble,” said Holmes, thoughtfully. “Yes, the actual facts are very plain, and I shall be surprised if by the afternoon I cannot give you the reasons for them as well. I will take this photograph of Blessington, which I see upon the mantelpiece, as it may help me in my inquiries.”

“But you have told us nothing!” cried the doctor.

“Oh, there can be no doubt as to the sequence of events,” said Holmes. “There were three of them in it: the young man, the old man, and a third, to whose identity I have no clue. The first two, I need hardly remark, are the same who masqueraded as the Russian count and his son, so we can give a very full description of them. They were admitted by a confederate inside the house. If I might offer you a word of advice, Inspector, it would be to arrest the page, who, as I understand, has only recently come into your service, Doctor.”

“The young imp cannot be found,” said Dr. Trevelyan; “the maid and the cook have just been searching for him.”

Holmes shrugged his shoulders.

“He has played a not unimportant part in this drama,” said he. “The three men having ascended the stairs, which they did on tiptoe, the elder man first, the younger man second, and the unknown man in the rear⁠—”

“My dear Holmes!” I ejaculated.

“Oh, there could be no question as to the superimposing of the footmarks. I had the advantage of learning which was which last night. They ascended, then, to Mr. Blessington’s room, the door of which they found to be locked. With the help of a wire, however, they forced round the key. Even without the lens you will perceive, by the scratches on this ward, where the pressure was applied.

“On entering the room their first proceeding must have been to gag Mr. Blessington. He may have been asleep, or he may have been so paralyzed with terror as to have been unable to cry out. These walls are thick, and it is conceivable that his shriek, if he had time to utter one, was unheard.

“Having secured him, it is evident to me that a consultation of some sort was held. Probably it was something in the nature of a judicial proceeding. It must have lasted for some time, for it was then that these cigars were smoked. The older man sat in that wicker chair; it was he who used the cigar-holder. The younger man sat over yonder; he knocked his ash off against the chest of drawers. The third fellow paced up and down. Blessington, I think, sat upright in the bed, but of that I cannot be absolutely certain.

“Well, it ended by their taking Blessington and hanging him. The matter was so prearranged that it is my belief that they brought with them some sort of block or pulley which might serve as a gallows. That screwdriver and those screws were, as I conceive, for fixing it up. Seeing the hook, however they naturally saved themselves the trouble. Having finished their work they made off, and the door was barred behind them by their confederate.”

We had all listened with the deepest interest to this sketch of the night’s doings, which Holmes had deduced from signs so subtle and minute that, even when he had pointed them out to us, we could scarcely follow him in his reasoning. The inspector hurried away on the instant to make inquiries about the page, while Holmes and I returned to Baker Street for breakfast.

“I’ll be back by three,” said he, when we had finished our meal. “Both the inspector and the doctor will meet me here at that hour, and I hope by that time to have cleared up any little obscurity which the case may still present.”

Our visitors arrived at the appointed time, but it was a quarter to four before my friend put in an appearance. From his expression as he entered, however, I could see that all had gone well with him.

“Any news, Inspector?”

“We have got the boy, sir.”

“Excellent, and I have got the men.”

“You have got them!” we cried, all three.

“Well, at least I have got their identity. This so-called Blessington is, as I expected, well known at headquarters, and so are his assailants. Their names are Biddle, Hayward, and Moffat.”

“The Worthingdon bank gang,” cried the inspector.

“Precisely,” said Holmes.

“Then Blessington must have been Sutton.”

“Exactly,” said Holmes.

“Why, that makes it as clear as crystal,” said the inspector.

But Trevelyan and I looked at each other in bewilderment.

“You must surely remember the great Worthingdon bank business,” said Holmes. “Five men were in it⁠—these four and a fifth called Cartwright. Tobin, the caretaker, was murdered, and the thieves got away with seven thousand pounds. This was in 1875. They were all five arrested, but the evidence against them was by no means conclusive. This Blessington or Sutton, who was the worst of the gang, turned informer. On his evidence Cartwright was hanged and the other three got fifteen years apiece. When they got out the other day, which was some years before their full term, they set themselves, as you perceive, to hunt down the traitor and to avenge the death of their comrade upon him. Twice they tried to get at him and failed; a third time, you see, it came off. Is there anything further which I can explain, Dr. Trevelyan?”

“I think you have made it all remarkably clear,” said the doctor. “No doubt the day on which he was perturbed was the day when he had seen of their release in the newspapers.”

“Quite so. His talk about a burglary was the merest blind.”

“But why could he not tell you this?”

“Well, my dear sir, knowing the vindictive character of his old associates, he was trying to hide his own identity from everybody as long as he could. His secret was a shameful one, and he could not bring himself to divulge it. However, wretch as he was, he was still living under the shield of British law, and I have no doubt, Inspector, that you will see that, though that shield may fail to guard, the sword of justice is still there to avenge.”

Such were the singular circumstances in connection with the Resident Patient and the Brook Street Doctor. From that night nothing has been seen of the three murderers by the police, and it is surmised at Scotland Yard that they were among the passengers of the ill-fated steamer Norah Creina, which was lost some years ago with all hands upon the Portuguese coast, some leagues to the north of Oporto. The proceedings against the page broke down for want of evidence, and the Brook Street Mystery, as it was called, has never until now been fully dealt with in any public print.