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let text = `The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere in the United States and
most other parts of the world at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at If you are not located in the United States, you
will have to check the laws of the country where you are located before
using this eBook.
Title: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Author: Arthur Conan Doyle
Release Date: November 29, 2002 [eBook #1661]
[Most recently updated: May 20, 2019]
Language: English
Character set encoding: UTF-8
Produced by: an anonymous Project Gutenberg volunteer and Jose Menendez
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
by Arthur Conan Doyle
I. A Scandal in Bohemia
II. The Red-Headed League
III. A Case of Identity
IV. The Boscombe Valley Mystery
V. The Five Orange Pips
VI. The Man with the Twisted Lip
VII. The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
VIII. The Adventure of the Speckled Band
IX. The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb
X. The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor
XI. The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet
XII. The Adventure of the Copper Beeches
To Sherlock Holmes she is always _the_ woman. I have seldom heard him
mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and
predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion
akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly,
were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He
was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that
the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a
false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe
and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer—excellent for
drawing the veil from men’s motives and actions. But for the trained
reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely
adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might
throw a doubt upon all his mental results. Grit in a sensitive
instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not
be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his. And
yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene
Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.
I had seen little of Holmes lately. My marriage had drifted us away
from each other. My own complete happiness, and the home-centred
interests which rise up around the man who first finds himself master
of his own establishment, were sufficient to absorb all my attention,
while Holmes, who loathed every form of society with his whole Bohemian
soul, remained in our lodgings in Baker Street, buried among his old
books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition,
the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own keen
nature. He was still, as ever, deeply attracted by the study of crime,
and occupied his immense faculties and extraordinary powers of
observation in following out those clues, and clearing up those
mysteries which had been abandoned as hopeless by the official police.
From time to time I heard some vague account of his doings: of his
summons to Odessa in the case of the Trepoff murder, of his clearing up
of the singular tragedy of the Atkinson brothers at Trincomalee, and
finally of the mission which he had accomplished so delicately and
successfully for the reigning family of Holland. Beyond these signs of
his activity, however, which I merely shared with all the readers of
the daily press, I knew little of my former friend and companion.
One night—it was on the twentieth of March, 1888—I was returning from a
journey to a patient (for I had now returned to civil practice), when
my way led me through Baker Street. As I passed the well-remembered
door, which must always be associated in my mind with my wooing, and
with the dark incidents of the Study in Scarlet, I was seized with a
keen desire to see Holmes again, and to know how he was employing his
extraordinary powers. His rooms were brilliantly lit, and, even as I
looked up, I saw his tall, spare figure pass twice in a dark silhouette
against the blind. He was pacing the room swiftly, eagerly, with his
head sunk upon his chest and his hands clasped behind him. To me, who
knew his every mood and habit, his attitude and manner told their own
story. He was at work again. He had risen out of his drug-created
dreams and was hot upon the scent of some new problem. I rang the bell
and was shown up to the chamber which had formerly been in part my own.
His manner was not effusive. It seldom was; but he was glad, I think,
to see me. With hardly a word spoken, but with a kindly eye, he waved
me to an armchair, threw across his case of cigars, and indicated a
spirit case and a gasogene in the corner. Then he stood before the fire
and looked me over in his singular introspective fashion.
“Wedlock suits you,” he remarked. “I think, Watson, that you have put
on seven and a half pounds since I saw you.”
“Seven!” I answered.
“Indeed, I should have thought a little more. Just a trifle more, I
fancy, Watson. And in practice again, I observe. You did not tell me
that you intended to go into harness.”
“Then, how do you know?”
“I see it, I deduce it. How do I know that you have been getting
yourself very wet lately, and that you have a most clumsy and careless
servant girl?”
“My dear Holmes,” said I, “this is too much. You would certainly have
been burned, had you lived a few centuries ago. It is true that I had a
country walk on Thursday and came home in a dreadful mess, but as I
have changed my clothes I can’t imagine how you deduce it. As to Mary
Jane, she is incorrigible, and my wife has given her notice, but there,
again, I fail to see how you work it out.”
He chuckled to himself and rubbed his long, nervous hands together.
“It is simplicity itself,” said he; “my eyes tell me that on the inside
of your left shoe, just where the firelight strikes it, the leather is
scored by six almost parallel cuts. Obviously they have been caused by
someone who has very carelessly scraped round the edges of the sole in
order to remove crusted mud from it. Hence, you see, my double
deduction that you had been out in vile weather, and that you had a
particularly malignant boot-slitting specimen of the London slavey. As
to your practice, if a gentleman walks into my rooms smelling of
iodoform, with a black mark of nitrate of silver upon his right
forefinger, and a bulge on the right side of his top-hat to show where
he has secreted his stethoscope, I must be dull, indeed, if I do not
pronounce him to be an active member of the medical profession.”
I could not help laughing at the ease with which he explained his
process of deduction. “When I hear you give your reasons,” I remarked,
“the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I
could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your
reasoning I am baffled until you explain your process. And yet I
believe that my eyes are as good as yours.”
“Quite so,” he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself
down into an armchair. “You see, but you do not observe. The
distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps
which lead up from the hall to this room.”
“How often?”
“Well, some hundreds of times.”
“Then how many are there?”
“How many? I don’t know.”
“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just
my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have
both seen and observed. By the way, since you are interested in these
little problems, and since you are good enough to chronicle one or two
of my trifling experiences, you may be interested in this.” He threw
over a sheet of thick, pink-tinted notepaper which had been lying open
upon the table. “It came by the last post,” said he. “Read it aloud.”
The note was undated, and without either signature or address.
“There will call upon you to-night, at a quarter to eight o’clock,” it
said, “a gentleman who desires to consult you upon a matter of the very
deepest moment. Your recent services to one of the royal houses of
Europe have shown that you are one who may safely be trusted with
matters which are of an importance which can hardly be exaggerated.
This account of you we have from all quarters received. Be in your
chamber then at that hour, and do not take it amiss if your visitor
wear a mask.”
“This is indeed a mystery,” I remarked. “What do you imagine that it
“I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has
data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of
theories to suit facts. But the note itself. What do you deduce from
I carefully examined the writing, and the paper upon which it was
“The man who wrote it was presumably well to do,” I remarked,
endeavouring to imitate my companion’s processes. “Such paper could not
be bought under half a crown a packet. It is peculiarly strong and
“Peculiar—that is the very word,” said Holmes. “It is not an English
paper at all. Hold it up to the light.”
I did so, and saw a large “E” with a small “g,” a “P,” and a large “G”
with a small “t” woven into the texture of the paper.
“What do you make of that?” asked Holmes.
“The name of the maker, no doubt; or his monogram, rather.”
“Not at all. The ‘G’ with the small ‘t’ stands for ‘Gesellschaft,’
which is the German for ‘Company.’ It is a customary contraction like
our ‘Co.’ ‘P,’ of course, stands for ‘Papier.’ Now for the ‘Eg.’ Let us
glance at our Continental Gazetteer.” He took down a heavy brown volume
from his shelves. “Eglow, Eglonitz—here we are, Egria. It is in a
German-speaking country—in Bohemia, not far from Carlsbad. ‘Remarkable
as being the scene of the death of Wallenstein, and for its numerous
glass-factories and paper-mills.’ Ha, ha, my boy, what do you make of
that?” His eyes sparkled, and he sent up a great blue triumphant cloud
from his cigarette.
“The paper was made in Bohemia,” I said.
“Precisely. And the man who wrote the note is a German. Do you note the
peculiar construction of the sentence—‘This account of you we have from
all quarters received.’ A Frenchman or Russian could not have written
that. It is the German who is so uncourteous to his verbs. It only
remains, therefore, to discover what is wanted by this German who
writes upon Bohemian paper and prefers wearing a mask to showing his
face. And here he comes, if I am not mistaken, to resolve all our
As he spoke there was the sharp sound of horses’ hoofs and grating
wheels against the curb, followed by a sharp pull at the bell. Holmes
“A pair, by the sound,” said he. “Yes,” he continued, glancing out of
the window. “A nice little brougham and a pair of beauties. A hundred
and fifty guineas apiece. There’s money in this case, Watson, if there
is nothing else.”
“I think that I had better go, Holmes.”
“Not a bit, Doctor. Stay where you are. I am lost without my Boswell.
And this promises to be interesting. It would be a pity to miss it.”
“But your client—”
“Never mind him. I may want your help, and so may he. Here he comes.
Sit down in that armchair, Doctor, and give us your best attention.”
A slow and heavy step, which had been heard upon the stairs and in the
passage, paused immediately outside the door. Then there was a loud and
authoritative tap.
“Come in!” said Holmes.
A man entered who could hardly have been less than six feet six inches
in height, with the chest and limbs of a Hercules. His dress was rich
with a richness which would, in England, be looked upon as akin to bad
taste. Heavy bands of astrakhan were slashed across the sleeves and
fronts of his double-breasted coat, while the deep blue cloak which was
thrown over his shoulders was lined with flame-coloured silk and
secured at the neck with a brooch which consisted of a single flaming
beryl. Boots which extended halfway up his calves, and which were
trimmed at the tops with rich brown fur, completed the impression of
barbaric opulence which was suggested by his whole appearance. He
carried a broad-brimmed hat in his hand, while he wore across the upper
part of his face, extending down past the cheekbones, a black vizard
mask, which he had apparently adjusted that very moment, for his hand
was still raised to it as he entered. From the lower part of the face
he appeared to be a man of strong character, with a thick, hanging lip,
and a long, straight chin suggestive of resolution pushed to the length
of obstinacy.
“You had my note?” he asked with a deep harsh voice and a strongly
marked German accent. “I told you that I would call.” He looked from
one to the other of us, as if uncertain which to address.
“Pray take a seat,” said Holmes. “This is my friend and colleague, Dr.
Watson, who is occasionally good enough to help me in my cases. Whom
have I the honour to address?”
“You may address me as the Count Von Kramm, a Bohemian nobleman. I
understand that this gentleman, your friend, is a man of honour and
discretion, whom I may trust with a matter of the most extreme
importance. If not, I should much prefer to communicate with you
I rose to go, but Holmes caught me by the wrist and pushed me back into
my chair. “It is both, or none,” said he. “You may say before this
gentleman anything which you may say to me.”
The Count shrugged his broad shoulders. “Then I must begin,” said he,
“by binding you both to absolute secrecy for two years; at the end of
that time the matter will be of no importance. At present it is not too
much to say that it is of such weight it may have an influence upon
European history.”
“I promise,” said Holmes.
“And I.”
“You will excuse this mask,” continued our strange visitor. “The august
person who employs me wishes his agent to be unknown to you, and I may
confess at once that the title by which I have just called myself is
not exactly my own.”
“I was aware of it,” said Holmes dryly.
“The circumstances are of great delicacy, and every precaution has to
be taken to quench what might grow to be an immense scandal and
seriously compromise one of the reigning families of Europe. To speak
plainly, the matter implicates the great House of Ormstein, hereditary
kings of Bohemia.”
“I was also aware of that,” murmured Holmes, settling himself down in
his armchair and closing his eyes.
Our visitor glanced with some apparent surprise at the languid,
lounging figure of the man who had been no doubt depicted to him as the
most incisive reasoner and most energetic agent in Europe. Holmes
slowly reopened his eyes and looked impatiently at his gigantic client.
“If your Majesty would condescend to state your case,” he remarked, “I
should be better able to advise you.”
The man sprang from his chair and paced up and down the room in
uncontrollable agitation. Then, with a gesture of desperation, he tore
the mask from his face and hurled it upon the ground. “You are right,”
he cried; “I am the King. Why should I attempt to conceal it?”
“Why, indeed?” murmured Holmes. “Your Majesty had not spoken before I
was aware that I was addressing Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von
Ormstein, Grand Duke of Cassel-Felstein, and hereditary King of
“But you can understand,” said our strange visitor, sitting down once
more and passing his hand over his high white forehead, “you can
understand that I am not accustomed to doing such business in my own
person. Yet the matter was so delicate that I could not confide it to
an agent without putting myself in his power. I have come _incognito_
from Prague for the purpose of consulting you.”
“Then, pray consult,” said Holmes, shutting his eyes once more.
“The facts are briefly these: Some five years ago, during a lengthy
visit to Warsaw, I made the acquaintance of the well-known adventuress,
Irene Adler. The name is no doubt familiar to you.”
“Kindly look her up in my index, Doctor,” murmured Holmes without
opening his eyes. For many years he had adopted a system of docketing
all paragraphs concerning men and things, so that it was difficult to
name a subject or a person on which he could not at once furnish
information. In this case I found her biography sandwiched in between
that of a Hebrew rabbi and that of a staff-commander who had written a
monograph upon the deep-sea fishes.
“Let me see!” said Holmes. “Hum! Born in New Jersey in the year 1858.
Contralto—hum! La Scala, hum! Prima donna Imperial Opera of Warsaw—yes!
Retired from operatic stage—ha! Living in London—quite so! Your
Majesty, as I understand, became entangled with this young person,
wrote her some compromising letters, and is now desirous of getting
those letters back.”
“Precisely so. But how—”
“Was there a secret marriage?”
“No legal papers or certificates?”
“Then I fail to follow your Majesty. If this young person should
produce her letters for blackmailing or other purposes, how is she to
prove their authenticity?”
“There is the writing.”
“Pooh, pooh! Forgery.”
“My private note-paper.”
“My own seal.”
“My photograph.”
“We were both in the photograph.”
“Oh, dear! That is very bad! Your Majesty has indeed committed an
“I was mad—insane.”
“You have compromised yourself seriously.”
“I was only Crown Prince then. I was young. I am but thirty now.”
“It must be recovered.”
“We have tried and failed.”
“Your Majesty must pay. It must be bought.”
“She will not sell.”
“Stolen, then.”
“Five attempts have been made. Twice burglars in my pay ransacked her
house. Once we diverted her luggage when she travelled. Twice she has
been waylaid. There has been no result.”
“No sign of it?”
“Absolutely none.”
Holmes laughed. “It is quite a pretty little problem,” said he.
“But a very serious one to me,” returned the King reproachfully.
“Very, indeed. And what does she propose to do with the photograph?”
“To ruin me.”
“But how?”
“I am about to be married.”
“So I have heard.”
“To Clotilde Lothman von Saxe-Meningen, second daughter of the King of
Scandinavia. You may know the strict principles of her family. She is
herself the very soul of delicacy. A shadow of a doubt as to my conduct
would bring the matter to an end.”
“And Irene Adler?”
“Threatens to send them the photograph. And she will do it. I know that
she will do it. You do not know her, but she has a soul of steel. She
has the face of the most beautiful of women, and the mind of the most
resolute of men. Rather than I should marry another woman, there are no
lengths to which she would not go—none.”
“You are sure that she has not sent it yet?”
“I am sure.”
“And why?”
“Because she has said that she would send it on the day when the
betrothal was publicly proclaimed. That will be next Monday.”
“Oh, then we have three days yet,” said Holmes with a yawn. “That is
very fortunate, as I have one or two matters of importance to look into
just at present. Your Majesty will, of course, stay in London for the
“Certainly. You will find me at the Langham under the name of the Count
Von Kramm.”
“Then I shall drop you a line to let you know how we progress.”
“Pray do so. I shall be all anxiety.”
“Then, as to money?”
“You have _carte blanche_.”
“I tell you that I would give one of the provinces of my kingdom to
have that photograph.”
“And for present expenses?”
The King took a heavy chamois leather bag from under his cloak and laid
it on the table.
“There are three hundred pounds in gold and seven hundred in notes,” he
Holmes scribbled a receipt upon a sheet of his note-book and handed it
to him.
“And Mademoiselle’s address?” he asked.
“Is Briony Lodge, Serpentine Avenue, St. John’s Wood.”
Holmes took a note of it. “One other question,” said he. “Was the
photograph a cabinet?”
“It was.”
“Then, good-night, your Majesty, and I trust that we shall soon have
some good news for you. And good-night, Watson,” he added, as the
wheels of the royal brougham rolled down the street. “If you will be
good enough to call to-morrow afternoon at three o’clock I should like
to chat this little matter over with you.”
At three o’clock precisely I was at Baker Street, but Holmes had not
yet returned. The landlady informed me that he had left the house
shortly after eight o’clock in the morning. I sat down beside the fire,
however, with the intention of awaiting him, however long he might be.
I was already deeply interested in his inquiry, for, though it was
surrounded by none of the grim and strange features which were
associated with the two crimes which I have already recorded, still,
the nature of the case and the exalted station of his client gave it a
character of its own. Indeed, apart from the nature of the
investigation which my friend had on hand, there was something in his
masterly grasp of a situation, and his keen, incisive reasoning, which
made it a pleasure to me to study his system of work, and to follow the
quick, subtle methods by which he disentangled the most inextricable
mysteries. So accustomed was I to his invariable success that the very
possibility of his failing had ceased to enter into my head.
It was close upon four before the door opened, and a drunken-looking
groom, ill-kempt and side-whiskered, with an inflamed face and
disreputable clothes, walked into the room. Accustomed as I was to my
friend’s amazing powers in the use of disguises, I had to look three
times before I was certain that it was indeed he. With a nod he
vanished into the bedroom, whence he emerged in five minutes
tweed-suited and respectable, as of old. Putting his hands into his
pockets, he stretched out his legs in front of the fire and laughed
heartily for some minutes.
“Well, really!” he cried, and then he choked and laughed again until he
was obliged to lie back, limp and helpless, in the chair.
“What is it?”
“It’s quite too funny. I am sure you could never guess how I employed
my morning, or what I ended by doing.”
“I can’t imagine. I suppose that you have been watching the habits, and
perhaps the house, of Miss Irene Adler.”
“Quite so; but the sequel was rather unusual. I will tell you, however.
I left the house a little after eight o’clock this morning in the
character of a groom out of work. There is a wonderful sympathy and
freemasonry among horsey men. Be one of them, and you will know all
that there is to know. I soon found Briony Lodge. It is a _bijou_
villa, with a garden at the back, but built out in front right up to
the road, two stories. Chubb lock to the door. Large sitting-room on
the right side, well furnished, with long windows almost to the floor,
and those preposterous English window fasteners which a child could
open. Behind there was nothing remarkable, save that the passage window
could be reached from the top of the coach-house. I walked round it and
examined it closely from every point of view, but without noting
anything else of interest.
“I then lounged down the street and found, as I expected, that there
was a mews in a lane which runs down by one wall of the garden. I lent
the ostlers a hand in rubbing down their horses, and received in
exchange twopence, a glass of half-and-half, two fills of shag tobacco,
and as much information as I could desire about Miss Adler, to say
nothing of half a dozen other people in the neighbourhood in whom I was
not in the least interested, but whose biographies I was compelled to
listen to.”
“And what of Irene Adler?” I asked.
“Oh, she has turned all the men’s heads down in that part. She is the
daintiest thing under a bonnet on this planet. So say the
Serpentine-mews, to a man. She lives quietly, sings at concerts, drives
out at five every day, and returns at seven sharp for dinner. Seldom
goes out at other times, except when she sings. Has only one male
visitor, but a good deal of him. He is dark, handsome, and dashing,
never calls less than once a day, and often twice. He is a Mr. Godfrey
Norton, of the Inner Temple. See the advantages of a cabman as a
confidant. They had driven him home a dozen times from Serpentine-mews,
and knew all about him. When I had listened to all they had to tell, I
began to walk up and down near Briony Lodge once more, and to think
over my plan of campaign.
“This Godfrey Norton was evidently an important factor in the matter.
He was a lawyer. That sounded ominous. What was the relation between
them, and what the object of his repeated visits? Was she his client,
his friend, or his mistress? If the former, she had probably
transferred the photograph to his keeping. If the latter, it was less
likely. On the issue of this question depended whether I should
continue my work at Briony Lodge, or turn my attention to the
gentleman’s chambers in the Temple. It was a delicate point, and it
widened the field of my inquiry. I fear that I bore you with these
details, but I have to let you see my little difficulties, if you are
to understand the situation.”
“I am following you closely,” I answered.
“I was still balancing the matter in my mind when a hansom cab drove up
to Briony Lodge, and a gentleman sprang out. He was a remarkably
handsome man, dark, aquiline, and moustached—evidently the man of whom
I had heard. He appeared to be in a great hurry, shouted to the cabman
to wait, and brushed past the maid who opened the door with the air of
a man who was thoroughly at home.
“He was in the house about half an hour, and I could catch glimpses of
him in the windows of the sitting-room, pacing up and down, talking
excitedly, and waving his arms. Of her I could see nothing. Presently
he emerged, looking even more flurried than before. As he stepped up to
the cab, he pulled a gold watch from his pocket and looked at it
earnestly, ‘Drive like the devil,’ he shouted, ‘first to Gross &
Hankey’s in Regent Street, and then to the Church of St. Monica in the
Edgeware Road. Half a guinea if you do it in twenty minutes!’
“Away they went, and I was just wondering whether I should not do well
to follow them when up the lane came a neat little landau, the coachman
with his coat only half-buttoned, and his tie under his ear, while all
the tags of his harness were sticking out of the buckles. It hadn’t
pulled up before she shot out of the hall door and into it. I only
caught a glimpse of her at the moment, but she was a lovely woman, with
a face that a man might die for.
“‘The Church of St. Monica, John,’ she cried, ‘and half a sovereign if
you reach it in twenty minutes.’
“This was quite too good to lose, Watson. I was just balancing whether
I should run for it, or whether I should perch behind her landau when a
cab came through the street. The driver looked twice at such a shabby
fare, but I jumped in before he could object. ‘The Church of St.
Monica,’ said I, ‘and half a sovereign if you reach it in twenty
minutes.’ It was twenty-five minutes to twelve, and of course it was
clear enough what was in the wind.
“My cabby drove fast. I don’t think I ever drove faster, but the others
were there before us. The cab and the landau with their steaming horses
were in front of the door when I arrived. I paid the man and hurried
into the church. There was not a soul there save the two whom I had
followed and a surpliced clergyman, who seemed to be expostulating with
them. They were all three standing in a knot in front of the altar. I
lounged up the side aisle like any other idler who has dropped into a
church. Suddenly, to my surprise, the three at the altar faced round to
me, and Godfrey Norton came running as hard as he could towards me.
“‘Thank God,’ he cried. ‘You’ll do. Come! Come!’
“‘What then?’ I asked.
“‘Come, man, come, only three minutes, or it won’t be legal.’
“I was half-dragged up to the altar, and before I knew where I was I
found myself mumbling responses which were whispered in my ear, and
vouching for things of which I knew nothing, and generally assisting in
the secure tying up of Irene Adler, spinster, to Godfrey Norton,
bachelor. It was all done in an instant, and there was the gentleman
thanking me on the one side and the lady on the other, while the
clergyman beamed on me in front. It was the most preposterous position
in which I ever found myself in my life, and it was the thought of it
that started me laughing just now. It seems that there had been some
informality about their license, that the clergyman absolutely refused
to marry them without a witness of some sort, and that my lucky
appearance saved the bridegroom from having to sally out into the
streets in search of a best man. The bride gave me a sovereign, and I
mean to wear it on my watch chain in memory of the occasion.”
“This is a very unexpected turn of affairs,” said I; “and what then?”
“Well, I found my plans very seriously menaced. It looked as if the
pair might take an immediate departure, and so necessitate very prompt
and energetic measures on my part. At the church door, however, they
separated, he driving back to the Temple, and she to her own house. ‘I
shall drive out in the park at five as usual,’ she said as she left
him. I heard no more. They drove away in different directions, and I
went off to make my own arrangements.”
“Which are?”
“Some cold beef and a glass of beer,” he answered, ringing the bell. “I
have been too busy to think of food, and I am likely to be busier still
this evening. By the way, Doctor, I shall want your co-operation.”
“I shall be delighted.”
“You don’t mind breaking the law?”
“Not in the least.”
“Nor running a chance of arrest?”
“Not in a good cause.”
“Oh, the cause is excellent!”
“Then I am your man.”
“I was sure that I might rely on you.”
“But what is it you wish?”
“When Mrs. Turner has brought in the tray I will make it clear to you.
Now,” he said as he turned hungrily on the simple fare that our
landlady had provided, “I must discuss it while I eat, for I have not
much time. It is nearly five now. In two hours we must be on the scene
of action. Miss Irene, or Madame, rather, returns from her drive at
seven. We must be at Briony Lodge to meet her.”
“And what then?”
“You must leave that to me. I have already arranged what is to occur.
There is only one point on which I must insist. You must not interfere,
come what may. You understand?”
“I am to be neutral?”
“To do nothing whatever. There will probably be some small
unpleasantness. Do not join in it. It will end in my being conveyed
into the house. Four or five minutes afterwards the sitting-room window
will open. You are to station yourself close to that open window.”
“You are to watch me, for I will be visible to you.”
“And when I raise my hand—so—you will throw into the room what I give
you to throw, and will, at the same time, raise the cry of fire. You
quite follow me?”
“It is nothing very formidable,” he said, taking a long cigar-shaped
roll from his pocket. “It is an ordinary plumber’s smoke-rocket, fitted
with a cap at either end to make it self-lighting. Your task is
confined to that. When you raise your cry of fire, it will be taken up
by quite a number of people. You may then walk to the end of the
street, and I will rejoin you in ten minutes. I hope that I have made
myself clear?”
“I am to remain neutral, to get near the window, to watch you, and at
the signal to throw in this object, then to raise the cry of fire, and
to wait you at the corner of the street.”
“Then you may entirely rely on me.”
“That is excellent. I think, perhaps, it is almost time that I prepare
for the new role I have to play.”
He disappeared into his bedroom and returned in a few minutes in the
character of an amiable and simple-minded Nonconformist clergyman. His
broad black hat, his baggy trousers, his white tie, his sympathetic
smile, and general look of peering and benevolent curiosity were such
as Mr. John Hare alone could have equalled. It was not merely that
Holmes changed his costume. His expression, his manner, his very soul
seemed to vary with every fresh part that he assumed. The stage lost a
fine actor, even as science lost an acute reasoner, when he became a
specialist in crime.
It was a quarter past six when we left Baker Street, and it still
wanted ten minutes to the hour when we found ourselves in Serpentine
Avenue. It was already dusk, and the lamps were just being lighted as
we paced up and down in front of Briony Lodge, waiting for the coming
of its occupant. The house was just such as I had pictured it from
Sherlock Holmes’ succinct description, but the locality appeared to be
less private than I expected. On the contrary, for a small street in a
quiet neighbourhood, it was remarkably animated. There was a group of
shabbily dressed men smoking and laughing in a corner, a
scissors-grinder with his wheel, two guardsmen who were flirting with a
nurse-girl, and several well-dressed young men who were lounging up and
down with cigars in their mouths.
“You see,” remarked Holmes, as we paced to and fro in front of the
house, “this marriage rather simplifies matters. The photograph becomes
a double-edged weapon now. The chances are that she would be as averse
to its being seen by Mr. Godfrey Norton, as our client is to its coming
to the eyes of his princess. Now the question is, Where are we to find
the photograph?”
“Where, indeed?”
“It is most unlikely that she carries it about with her. It is cabinet
size. Too large for easy concealment about a woman’s dress. She knows
that the King is capable of having her waylaid and searched. Two
attempts of the sort have already been made. We may take it, then, that
she does not carry it about with her.”
“Where, then?”
“Her banker or her lawyer. There is that double possibility. But I am
inclined to think neither. Women are naturally secretive, and they like
to do their own secreting. Why should she hand it over to anyone else?
She could trust her own guardianship, but she could not tell what
indirect or political influence might be brought to bear upon a
business man. Besides, remember that she had resolved to use it within
a few days. It must be where she can lay her hands upon it. It must be
in her own house.”
“But it has twice been burgled.”
“Pshaw! They did not know how to look.”
“But how will you look?”
“I will not look.”
“What then?”
“I will get her to show me.”
“But she will refuse.”
“She will not be able to. But I hear the rumble of wheels. It is her
carriage. Now carry out my orders to the letter.”
As he spoke the gleam of the sidelights of a carriage came round the
curve of the avenue. It was a smart little landau which rattled up to
the door of Briony Lodge. As it pulled up, one of the loafing men at
the corner dashed forward to open the door in the hope of earning a
copper, but was elbowed away by another loafer, who had rushed up with
the same intention. A fierce quarrel broke out, which was increased by
the two guardsmen, who took sides with one of the loungers, and by the
scissors-grinder, who was equally hot upon the other side. A blow was
struck, and in an instant the lady, who had stepped from her carriage,
was the centre of a little knot of flushed and struggling men, who
struck savagely at each other with their fists and sticks. Holmes
dashed into the crowd to protect the lady; but, just as he reached her,
he gave a cry and dropped to the ground, with the blood running freely
down his face. At his fall the guardsmen took to their heels in one
direction and the loungers in the other, while a number of better
dressed people, who had watched the scuffle without taking part in it,
crowded in to help the lady and to attend to the injured man. Irene
Adler, as I will still call her, had hurried up the steps; but she
stood at the top with her superb figure outlined against the lights of
the hall, looking back into the street.
“Is the poor gentleman much hurt?” she asked.
“He is dead,” cried several voices.
“No, no, there’s life in him!” shouted another. “But he’ll be gone
before you can get him to hospital.”
“He’s a brave fellow,” said a woman. “They would have had the lady’s
purse and watch if it hadn’t been for him. They were a gang, and a
rough one, too. Ah, he’s breathing now.”
“He can’t lie in the street. May we bring him in, marm?”
“Surely. Bring him into the sitting-room. There is a comfortable sofa.
This way, please!”
Slowly and solemnly he was borne into Briony Lodge and laid out in the
principal room, while I still observed the proceedings from my post by
the window. The lamps had been lit, but the blinds had not been drawn,
so that I could see Holmes as he lay upon the couch. I do not know
whether he was seized with compunction at that moment for the part he
was playing, but I know that I never felt more heartily ashamed of
myself in my life than when I saw the beautiful creature against whom I
was conspiring, or the grace and kindliness with which she waited upon
the injured man. And yet it would be the blackest treachery to Holmes
to draw back now from the part which he had intrusted to me. I hardened
my heart, and took the smoke-rocket from under my ulster. After all, I
thought, we are not injuring her. We are but preventing her from
injuring another.
Holmes had sat up upon the couch, and I saw him motion like a man who
is in need of air. A maid rushed across and threw open the window. At
the same instant I saw him raise his hand and at the signal I tossed my
rocket into the room with a cry of “Fire!” The word was no sooner out
of my mouth than the whole crowd of spectators, well dressed and
ill—gentlemen, ostlers, and servant maids—joined in a general shriek of
“Fire!” Thick clouds of smoke curled through the room and out at the
open window. I caught a glimpse of rushing figures, and a moment later
the voice of Holmes from within assuring them that it was a false
alarm. Slipping through the shouting crowd I made my way to the corner
of the street, and in ten minutes was rejoiced to find my friend’s arm
in mine, and to get away from the scene of uproar. He walked swiftly
and in silence for some few minutes until we had turned down one of the
quiet streets which lead towards the Edgeware Road.
“You did it very nicely, Doctor,” he remarked. “Nothing could have been
better. It is all right.”
“You have the photograph?”
“I know where it is.”
“And how did you find out?”
“She showed me, as I told you she would.”
“I am still in the dark.”
“I do not wish to make a mystery,” said he, laughing. “The matter was
perfectly simple. You, of course, saw that everyone in the street was
an accomplice. They were all engaged for the evening.”
“I guessed as much.”
“Then, when the row broke out, I had a little moist red paint in the
palm of my hand. I rushed forward, fell down, clapped my hand to my
face, and became a piteous spectacle. It is an old trick.”
“That also I could fathom.”
“Then they carried me in. She was bound to have me in. What else could
she do? And into her sitting-room, which was the very room which I
suspected. It lay between that and her bedroom, and I was determined to
see which. They laid me on a couch, I motioned for air, they were
compelled to open the window, and you had your chance.”
“How did that help you?”
“It was all-important. When a woman thinks that her house is on fire,
her instinct is at once to rush to the thing which she values most. It
is a perfectly overpowering impulse, and I have more than once taken
advantage of it. In the case of the Darlington Substitution Scandal it
was of use to me, and also in the Arnsworth Castle business. A married
woman grabs at her baby; an unmarried one reaches for her jewel-box.
Now it was clear to me that our lady of to-day had nothing in the house
more precious to her than what we are in quest of. She would rush to
secure it. The alarm of fire was admirably done. The smoke and shouting
were enough to shake nerves of steel. She responded beautifully. The
photograph is in a recess behind a sliding panel just above the right
bell-pull. She was there in an instant, and I caught a glimpse of it as
she half drew it out. When I cried out that it was a false alarm, she
replaced it, glanced at the rocket, rushed from the room, and I have
not seen her since. I rose, and, making my excuses, escaped from the
house. I hesitated whether to attempt to secure the photograph at once;
but the coachman had come in, and as he was watching me narrowly, it
seemed safer to wait. A little over-precipitance may ruin all.”
“And now?” I asked.
“Our quest is practically finished. I shall call with the King
to-morrow, and with you, if you care to come with us. We will be shown
into the sitting-room to wait for the lady, but it is probable that
when she comes she may find neither us nor the photograph. It might be
a satisfaction to his Majesty to regain it with his own hands.”
“And when will you call?”
“At eight in the morning. She will not be up, so that we shall have a
clear field. Besides, we must be prompt, for this marriage may mean a
complete change in her life and habits. I must wire to the King without
We had reached Baker Street and had stopped at the door. He was
searching his pockets for the key when someone passing said:
“Good-night, Mister Sherlock Holmes.”
There were several people on the pavement at the time, but the greeting
appeared to come from a slim youth in an ulster who had hurried by.
“I’ve heard that voice before,” said Holmes, staring down the dimly lit
street. “Now, I wonder who the deuce that could have been.”
I slept at Baker Street that night, and we were engaged upon our toast
and coffee in the morning when the King of Bohemia rushed into the
“You have really got it!” he cried, grasping Sherlock Holmes by either
shoulder and looking eagerly into his face.
“Not yet.”
“But you have hopes?”
“I have hopes.”
“Then, come. I am all impatience to be gone.”
“We must have a cab.”
“No, my brougham is waiting.”
“Then that will simplify matters.” We descended and started off once
more for Briony Lodge.
“Irene Adler is married,” remarked Holmes.
“Married! When?”
“But to whom?”
“To an English lawyer named Norton.”
“But she could not love him.”
“I am in hopes that she does.”
“And why in hopes?”
“Because it would spare your Majesty all fear of future annoyance. If
the lady loves her husband, she does not love your Majesty. If she does
not love your Majesty, there is no reason why she should interfere with
your Majesty’s plan.”
“It is true. And yet—! Well! I wish she had been of my own station!
What a queen she would have made!” He relapsed into a moody silence,
which was not broken until we drew up in Serpentine Avenue.
The door of Briony Lodge was open, and an elderly woman stood upon the
steps. She watched us with a sardonic eye as we stepped from the
“Mr. Sherlock Holmes, I believe?” said she.
“I am Mr. Holmes,” answered my companion, looking at her with a
questioning and rather startled gaze.
“Indeed! My mistress told me that you were likely to call. She left
this morning with her husband by the 5:15 train from Charing Cross for
the Continent.”
“What!” Sherlock Holmes staggered back, white with chagrin and
surprise. “Do you mean that she has left England?”
“Never to return.”
“And the papers?” asked the King hoarsely. “All is lost.”
“We shall see.” He pushed past the servant and rushed into the
drawing-room, followed by the King and myself. The furniture was
scattered about in every direction, with dismantled shelves and open
drawers, as if the lady had hurriedly ransacked them before her flight.
Holmes rushed at the bell-pull, tore back a small sliding shutter, and,
plunging in his hand, pulled out a photograph and a letter. The
photograph was of Irene Adler herself in evening dress, the letter was
superscribed to “Sherlock Holmes, Esq. To be left till called for.” My
friend tore it open, and we all three read it together. It was dated at
midnight of the preceding night and ran in this way:
“MY DEAR MR. SHERLOCK HOLMES,—You really did it very well. You took
me in completely. Until after the alarm of fire, I had not a
suspicion. But then, when I found how I had betrayed myself, I
began to think. I had been warned against you months ago. I had
been told that, if the King employed an agent, it would certainly
be you. And your address had been given me. Yet, with all this, you
made me reveal what you wanted to know. Even after I became
suspicious, I found it hard to think evil of such a dear, kind old
clergyman. But, you know, I have been trained as an actress myself.
Male costume is nothing new to me. I often take advantage of the
freedom which it gives. I sent John, the coachman, to watch you,
ran upstairs, got into my walking clothes, as I call them, and came
down just as you departed.
“Well, I followed you to your door, and so made sure that I was
really an object of interest to the celebrated Mr. Sherlock Holmes.
Then I, rather imprudently, wished you good-night, and started for
the Temple to see my husband.
“We both thought the best resource was flight, when pursued by so
formidable an antagonist; so you will find the nest empty when you
call to-morrow. As to the photograph, your client may rest in
peace. I love and am loved by a better man than he. The King may do
what he will without hindrance from one whom he has cruelly
wronged. I keep it only to safeguard myself, and to preserve a
weapon which will always secure me from any steps which he might
take in the future. I leave a photograph which he might care to
possess; and I remain, dear Mr. Sherlock Holmes,
“Very truly yours,
“What a woman—oh, what a woman!” cried the King of Bohemia, when we had
all three read this epistle. “Did I not tell you how quick and resolute
she was? Would she not have made an admirable queen? Is it not a pity
that she was not on my level?”
“From what I have seen of the lady, she seems, indeed, to be on a very
different level to your Majesty,” said Holmes coldly. “I am sorry that
I have not been able to bring your Majesty’s business to a more
successful conclusion.”
“On the contrary, my dear sir,” cried the King; “nothing could be more
successful. I know that her word is inviolate. The photograph is now as
safe as if it were in the fire.”
“I am glad to hear your Majesty say so.”
“I am immensely indebted to you. Pray tell me in what way I can reward
you. This ring—” He slipped an emerald snake ring from his finger and
held it out upon the palm of his hand.
“Your Majesty has something which I should value even more highly,”
said Holmes.
“You have but to name it.”
“This photograph!”
The King stared at him in amazement.
“Irene’s photograph!” he cried. “Certainly, if you wish it.”
“I thank your Majesty. Then there is no more to be done in the matter.
I have the honour to wish you a very good morning.” He bowed, and,
turning away without observing the hand which the King had stretched
out to him, he set off in my company for his chambers.
And that was how a great scandal threatened to affect the kingdom of
Bohemia, and how the best plans of Mr. Sherlock Holmes were beaten by a
woman’s wit. He used to make merry over the cleverness of women, but I
have not heard him do it of late. And when he speaks of Irene Adler, or
when he refers to her photograph, it is always under the honourable
title of _the_ woman.
I had called upon my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, one day in the
autumn of last year and found him in deep conversation with a very
stout, florid-faced, elderly gentleman with fiery red hair. With an
apology for my intrusion, I was about to withdraw when Holmes pulled
me abruptly into the room and closed the door behind me.
“You could not possibly have come at a better time, my dear Watson,” he
said cordially.
“I was afraid that you were engaged.”
“So I am. Very much so.”
“Then I can wait in the next room.”
“Not at all. This gentleman, Mr. Wilson, has been my partner and helper
in many of my most successful cases, and I have no doubt that he will
be of the utmost use to me in yours also.”
The stout gentleman half rose from his chair and gave a bob of
greeting, with a quick little questioning glance from his small
fat-encircled eyes.
“Try the settee,” said Holmes, relapsing into his armchair and putting
his fingertips together, as was his custom when in judicial moods. “I
know, my dear Watson, that you share my love of all that is bizarre and
outside the conventions and humdrum routine of everyday life. You have
shown your relish for it by the enthusiasm which has prompted you to
chronicle, and, if you will excuse my saying so, somewhat to embellish
so many of my own little adventures.”
“Your cases have indeed been of the greatest interest to me,” I
“You will remember that I remarked the other day, just before we went
into the very simple problem presented by Miss Mary Sutherland, that
for strange effects and extraordinary combinations we must go to life
itself, which is always far more daring than any effort of the
“A proposition which I took the liberty of doubting.”
“You did, Doctor, but none the less you must come round to my view, for
otherwise I shall keep on piling fact upon fact on you until your
reason breaks down under them and acknowledges me to be right. Now, Mr.
Jabez Wilson here has been good enough to call upon me this morning,
and to begin a narrative which promises to be one of the most singular
which I have listened to for some time. You have heard me remark that
the strangest and most unique things are very often connected not with
the larger but with the smaller crimes, and occasionally, indeed, where
there is room for doubt whether any positive crime has been committed.
As far as I have heard, it is impossible for me to say whether the
present case is an instance of crime or not, but the course of events
is certainly among the most singular that I have ever listened to.
Perhaps, Mr. Wilson, you would have the great kindness to recommence
your narrative. I ask you not merely because my friend Dr. Watson has
not heard the opening part but also because the peculiar nature of the
story makes me anxious to have every possible detail from your lips. As
a rule, when I have heard some slight indication of the course of
events, I am able to guide myself by the thousands of other similar
cases which occur to my memory. In the present instance I am forced to
admit that the facts are, to the best of my belief, unique.”
The portly client puffed out his chest with an appearance of some
little pride and pulled a dirty and wrinkled newspaper from the inside
pocket of his greatcoat. As he glanced down the advertisement column,
with his head thrust forward and the paper flattened out upon his knee,
I took a good look at the man and endeavoured, after the fashion of my
companion, to read the indications which might be presented by his
dress or appearance.
I did not gain very much, however, by my inspection. Our visitor bore
every mark of being an average commonplace British tradesman, obese,
pompous, and slow. He wore rather baggy grey shepherd’s check trousers,
a not over-clean black frock-coat, unbuttoned in the front, and a drab
waistcoat with a heavy brassy Albert chain, and a square pierced bit of
metal dangling down as an ornament. A frayed top-hat and a faded brown
overcoat with a wrinkled velvet collar lay upon a chair beside him.
Altogether, look as I would, there was nothing remarkable about the man
save his blazing red head, and the expression of extreme chagrin and
discontent upon his features.
Sherlock Holmes’ quick eye took in my occupation, and he shook his head
with a smile as he noticed my questioning glances. “Beyond the obvious
facts that he has at some time done manual labour, that he takes snuff,
that he is a Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done
a considerable amount of writing lately, I can deduce nothing else.”
Mr. Jabez Wilson started up in his chair, with his forefinger upon the
paper, but his eyes upon my companion.
“How, in the name of good-fortune, did you know all that, Mr. Holmes?”
he asked. “How did you know, for example, that I did manual labour.
It’s as true as gospel, for I began as a ship’s carpenter.”
“Your hands, my dear sir. Your right hand is quite a size larger than
your left. You have worked with it, and the muscles are more
“Well, the snuff, then, and the Freemasonry?”
“I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you how I read that,
especially as, rather against the strict rules of your order, you use
an arc-and-compass breastpin.”
“Ah, of course, I forgot that. But the writing?”
“What else can be indicated by that right cuff so very shiny for five
inches, and the left one with the smooth patch near the elbow where you
rest it upon the desk?”
“Well, but China?”
“The fish that you have tattooed immediately above your right wrist
could only have been done in China. I have made a small study of tattoo
marks and have even contributed to the literature of the subject. That
trick of staining the fishes’ scales of a delicate pink is quite
peculiar to China. When, in addition, I see a Chinese coin hanging from
your watch-chain, the matter becomes even more simple.”
Mr. Jabez Wilson laughed heavily. “Well, I never!” said he. “I thought
at first that you had done something clever, but I see that there was
nothing in it after all.”
“I begin to think, Watson,” said Holmes, “that I make a mistake in
explaining. ‘_Omne ignotum pro magnifico_,’ you know, and my poor
little reputation, such as it is, will suffer shipwreck if I am so
candid. Can you not find the advertisement, Mr. Wilson?”
“Yes, I have got it now,” he answered with his thick red finger planted
halfway down the column. “Here it is. This is what began it all. You
just read it for yourself, sir.”
I took the paper from him and read as follows:
“TO THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE: On account of the bequest of the late
Ezekiah Hopkins, of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., there is now another
vacancy open which entitles a member of the League to a salary of £ 4 a
week for purely nominal services. All red-headed men who are sound in
body and mind and above the age of twenty-one years, are eligible.
Apply in person on Monday, at eleven o’clock, to Duncan Ross, at the
offices of the League, 7 Pope’s Court, Fleet Street.”
“What on earth does this mean?” I ejaculated after I had twice read
over the extraordinary announcement.
Holmes chuckled and wriggled in his chair, as was his habit when in
high spirits. “It is a little off the beaten track, isn’t it?” said he.
“And now, Mr. Wilson, off you go at scratch and tell us all about
yourself, your household, and the effect which this advertisement had
upon your fortunes. You will first make a note, Doctor, of the paper
and the date.”
“It is _The Morning Chronicle_ of April 27, 1890. Just two months ago.”
“Very good. Now, Mr. Wilson?”
“Well, it is just as I have been telling you, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,”
said Jabez Wilson, mopping his forehead; “I have a small pawnbroker’s
business at Coburg Square, near the City. It’s not a very large affair,
and of late years it has not done more than just give me a living. I
used to be able to keep two assistants, but now I only keep one; and I
would have a job to pay him but that he is willing to come for half
wages so as to learn the business.”
“What is the name of this obliging youth?” asked Sherlock Holmes.
“His name is Vincent Spaulding, and he’s not such a youth, either. It’s
hard to say his age. I should not wish a smarter assistant, Mr. Holmes;
and I know very well that he could better himself and earn twice what I
am able to give him. But, after all, if he is satisfied, why should I
put ideas in his head?”
“Why, indeed? You seem most fortunate in having an _employé_ who comes
under the full market price. It is not a common experience among
employers in this age. I don’t know that your assistant is not as
remarkable as your advertisement.”
“Oh, he has his faults, too,” said Mr. Wilson. “Never was such a fellow
for photography. Snapping away with a camera when he ought to be
improving his mind, and then diving down into the cellar like a rabbit
into its hole to develop his pictures. That is his main fault, but on
the whole he’s a good worker. There’s no vice in him.”
“He is still with you, I presume?”
“Yes, sir. He and a girl of fourteen, who does a bit of simple cooking
and keeps the place clean—that’s all I have in the house, for I am a
widower and never had any family. We live very quietly, sir, the three
of us; and we keep a roof over our heads and pay our debts, if we do
nothing more.
“The first thing that put us out was that advertisement. Spaulding, he
came down into the office just this day eight weeks, with this very
paper in his hand, and he says:
“‘I wish to the Lord, Mr. Wilson, that I was a red-headed man.’
“‘Why that?’ I asks.
“‘Why,’ says he, ‘here’s another vacancy on the League of the
Red-headed Men. It’s worth quite a little fortune to any man who gets
it, and I understand that there are more vacancies than there are men,
so that the trustees are at their wits’ end what to do with the money.
If my hair would only change colour, here’s a nice little crib all
ready for me to step into.’
“‘Why, what is it, then?’ I asked. You see, Mr. Holmes, I am a very
stay-at-home man, and as my business came to me instead of my having to
go to it, I was often weeks on end without putting my foot over the
door-mat. In that way I didn’t know much of what was going on outside,
and I was always glad of a bit of news.
“‘Have you never heard of the League of the Red-headed Men?’ he asked
with his eyes open.
“‘Why, I wonder at that, for you are eligible yourself for one of the
“‘And what are they worth?’ I asked.
“‘Oh, merely a couple of hundred a year, but the work is slight, and it
need not interfere very much with one’s other occupations.’
“Well, you can easily think that that made me prick up my ears, for the
business has not been over good for some years, and an extra couple of
hundred would have been very handy.
“‘Tell me all about it,’ said I.
“‘Well,’ said he, showing me the advertisement, ‘you can see for
yourself that the League has a vacancy, and there is the address where
you should apply for particulars. As far as I can make out, the League
was founded by an American millionaire, Ezekiah Hopkins, who was very
peculiar in his ways. He was himself red-headed, and he had a great
sympathy for all red-headed men; so, when he died, it was found that he
had left his enormous fortune in the hands of trustees, with
instructions to apply the interest to the providing of easy berths to
men whose hair is of that colour. From all I hear it is splendid pay
and very little to do.’
“‘But,’ said I, ‘there would be millions of red-headed men who would
“‘Not so many as you might think,’ he answered. ‘You see it is really
confined to Londoners, and to grown men. This American had started from
London when he was young, and he wanted to do the old town a good turn.
Then, again, I have heard it is no use your applying if your hair is
light red, or dark red, or anything but real bright, blazing, fiery
red. Now, if you cared to apply, Mr. Wilson, you would just walk in;
but perhaps it would hardly be worth your while to put yourself out of
the way for the sake of a few hundred pounds.’
“Now, it is a fact, gentlemen, as you may see for yourselves, that my
hair is of a very full and rich tint, so that it seemed to me that if
there was to be any competition in the matter I stood as good a chance
as any man that I had ever met. Vincent Spaulding seemed to know so
much about it that I thought he might prove useful, so I just ordered
him to put up the shutters for the day and to come right away with me.
He was very willing to have a holiday, so we shut the business up and
started off for the address that was given us in the advertisement.
“I never hope to see such a sight as that again, Mr. Holmes. From
north, south, east, and west every man who had a shade of red in his
hair had tramped into the city to answer the advertisement. Fleet
Street was choked with red-headed folk, and Pope’s Court looked like a
coster’s orange barrow. I should not have thought there were so many in
the whole country as were brought together by that single
advertisement. Every shade of colour they were—straw, lemon, orange,
brick, Irish-setter, liver, clay; but, as Spaulding said, there were
not many who had the real vivid flame-coloured tint. When I saw how
many were waiting, I would have given it up in despair; but Spaulding
would not hear of it. How he did it I could not imagine, but he pushed
and pulled and butted until he got me through the crowd, and right up
to the steps which led to the office. There was a double stream upon
the stair, some going up in hope, and some coming back dejected; but we
wedged in as well as we could and soon found ourselves in the office.”
“Your experience has been a most entertaining one,” remarked Holmes as
his client paused and refreshed his memory with a huge pinch of snuff.
“Pray continue your very interesting statement.”
“There was nothing in the office but a couple of wooden chairs and a
deal table, behind which sat a small man with a head that was even
redder than mine. He said a few words to each candidate as he came up,
and then he always managed to find some fault in them which would
disqualify them. Getting a vacancy did not seem to be such a very easy
matter, after all. However, when our turn came the little man was much
more favourable to me than to any of the others, and he closed the door
as we entered, so that he might have a private word with us.
“‘This is Mr. Jabez Wilson,’ said my assistant, ‘and he is willing to
fill a vacancy in the League.’
“‘And he is admirably suited for it,’ the other answered. ‘He has every
requirement. I cannot recall when I have seen anything so fine.’ He
took a step backward, cocked his head on one side, and gazed at my hair
until I felt quite bashful. Then suddenly he plunged forward, wrung my
hand, and congratulated me warmly on my success.
“‘It would be injustice to hesitate,’ said he. ‘You will, however, I am
sure, excuse me for taking an obvious precaution.’ With that he seized
my hair in both his hands, and tugged until I yelled with the pain.
‘There is water in your eyes,’ said he as he released me. ‘I perceive
that all is as it should be. But we have to be careful, for we have
twice been deceived by wigs and once by paint. I could tell you tales
of cobbler’s wax which would disgust you with human nature.’ He stepped
over to the window and shouted through it at the top of his voice that
the vacancy was filled. A groan of disappointment came up from below,
and the folk all trooped away in different directions until there was
not a red-head to be seen except my own and that of the manager.
“‘My name,’ said he, ‘is Mr. Duncan Ross, and I am myself one of the
pensioners upon the fund left by our noble benefactor. Are you a
married man, Mr. Wilson? Have you a family?’
“I answered that I had not.
“His face fell immediately.
“‘Dear me!’ he said gravely, ‘that is very serious indeed! I am sorry
to hear you say that. The fund was, of course, for the propagation and
spread of the red-heads as well as for their maintenance. It is
exceedingly unfortunate that you should be a bachelor.’
“My face lengthened at this, Mr. Holmes, for I thought that I was not
to have the vacancy after all; but after thinking it over for a few
minutes he said that it would be all right.
“‘In the case of another,’ said he, ‘the objection might be fatal, but
we must stretch a point in favour of a man with such a head of hair as
yours. When shall you be able to enter upon your new duties?’
“‘Well, it is a little awkward, for I have a business already,’ said I.
“‘Oh, never mind about that, Mr. Wilson!’ said Vincent Spaulding. ‘I
should be able to look after that for you.’
“‘What would be the hours?’ I asked.
“‘Ten to two.’
“Now a pawnbroker’s business is mostly done of an evening, Mr. Holmes,
especially Thursday and Friday evening, which is just before pay-day;
so it would suit me very well to earn a little in the mornings.
Besides, I knew that my assistant was a good man, and that he would see
to anything that turned up.
“‘That would suit me very well,’ said I. ‘And the pay?’
“‘Is £ 4 a week.’
“‘And the work?’
“‘Is purely nominal.’
“‘What do you call purely nominal?’
“‘Well, you have to be in the office, or at least in the building, the
whole time. If you leave, you forfeit your whole position forever. The
will is very clear upon that point. You don’t comply with the
conditions if you budge from the office during that time.’
“‘It’s only four hours a day, and I should not think of leaving,’ said
“‘No excuse will avail,’ said Mr. Duncan Ross; ‘neither sickness nor
business nor anything else. There you must stay, or you lose your
“‘And the work?’
“‘Is to copy out the _Encyclopædia Britannica_. There is the first
volume of it in that press. You must find your own ink, pens, and
blotting-paper, but we provide this table and chair. Will you be ready
“‘Certainly,’ I answered.
“‘Then, good-bye, Mr. Jabez Wilson, and let me congratulate you once
more on the important position which you have been fortunate enough to
gain.’ He bowed me out of the room and I went home with my assistant,
hardly knowing what to say or do, I was so pleased at my own good
“Well, I thought over the matter all day, and by evening I was in low
spirits again; for I had quite persuaded myself that the whole affair
must be some great hoax or fraud, though what its object might be I
could not imagine. It seemed altogether past belief that anyone could
make such a will, or that they would pay such a sum for doing anything
so simple as copying out the _Encyclopædia Britannica_. Vincent
Spaulding did what he could to cheer me up, but by bedtime I had
reasoned myself out of the whole thing. However, in the morning I
determined to have a look at it anyhow, so I bought a penny bottle of
ink, and with a quill-pen, and seven sheets of foolscap paper, I
started off for Pope’s Court.
“Well, to my surprise and delight, everything was as right as possible.
The table was set out ready for me, and Mr. Duncan Ross was there to
see that I got fairly to work. He started me off upon the letter A, and
then he left me; but he would drop in from time to time to see that all
was right with me. At two o’clock he bade me good-day, complimented me
upon the amount that I had written, and locked the door of the office
after me.
“This went on day after day, Mr. Holmes, and on Saturday the manager
came in and planked down four golden sovereigns for my week’s work. It
was the same next week, and the same the week after. Every morning I
was there at ten, and every afternoon I left at two. By degrees Mr.
Duncan Ross took to coming in only once of a morning, and then, after a
time, he did not come in at all. Still, of course, I never dared to
leave the room for an instant, for I was not sure when he might come,
and the billet was such a good one, and suited me so well, that I would
not risk the loss of it.
“Eight weeks passed away like this, and I had written about Abbots and
Archery and Armour and Architecture and Attica, and hoped with
diligence that I might get on to the B’s before very long. It cost me
something in foolscap, and I had pretty nearly filled a shelf with my
writings. And then suddenly the whole business came to an end.”
“To an end?”
“Yes, sir. And no later than this morning. I went to my work as usual
at ten o’clock, but the door was shut and locked, with a little square
of cardboard hammered on to the middle of the panel with a tack. Here
it is, and you can read for yourself.”
He held up a piece of white cardboard about the size of a sheet of
note-paper. It read in this fashion:
Sherlock Holmes and I surveyed this curt announcement and the rueful
face behind it, until the comical side of the affair so completely
overtopped every other consideration that we both burst out into a roar
of laughter.
“I cannot see that there is anything very funny,” cried our client,
flushing up to the roots of his flaming head. “If you can do nothing
better than laugh at me, I can go elsewhere.”
“No, no,” cried Holmes, shoving him back into the chair from which he
had half risen. “I really wouldn’t miss your case for the world. It is
most refreshingly unusual. But there is, if you will excuse my saying
so, something just a little funny about it. Pray what steps did you
take when you found the card upon the door?”
“I was staggered, sir. I did not know what to do. Then I called at the
offices round, but none of them seemed to know anything about it.
Finally, I went to the landlord, who is an accountant living on the
ground floor, and I asked him if he could tell me what had become of
the Red-headed League. He said that he had never heard of any such
body. Then I asked him who Mr. Duncan Ross was. He answered that the
name was new to him.
“‘Well,’ said I, ‘the gentleman at No. 4.’
“‘What, the red-headed man?’
“‘Oh,’ said he, ‘his name was William Morris. He was a solicitor and
was using my room as a temporary convenience until his new premises
were ready. He moved out yesterday.’
“‘Where could I find him?’
“‘Oh, at his new offices. He did tell me the address. Yes, 17 King
Edward Street, near St. Paul’s.’
“I started off, Mr. Holmes, but when I got to that address it was a
manufactory of artificial knee-caps, and no one in it had ever heard of
either Mr. William Morris or Mr. Duncan Ross.”
“And what did you do then?” asked Holmes.
“I went home to Saxe-Coburg Square, and I took the advice of my
assistant. But he could not help me in any way. He could only say that
if I waited I should hear by post. But that was not quite good enough,
Mr. Holmes. I did not wish to lose such a place without a struggle, so,
as I had heard that you were good enough to give advice to poor folk
who were in need of it, I came right away to you.”
“And you did very wisely,” said Holmes. “Your case is an exceedingly
remarkable one, and I shall be happy to look into it. From what you
have told me I think that it is possible that graver issues hang from
it than might at first sight appear.”
“Grave enough!” said Mr. Jabez Wilson. “Why, I have lost four pound a
“As far as you are personally concerned,” remarked Holmes, “I do not
see that you have any grievance against this extraordinary league. On
the contrary, you are, as I understand, richer by some £ 30, to say
nothing of the minute knowledge which you have gained on every subject
which comes under the letter A. You have lost nothing by them.”
“No, sir. But I want to find out about them, and who they are, and what
their object was in playing this prank—if it was a prank—upon me. It
was a pretty expensive joke for them, for it cost them two and thirty
“We shall endeavour to clear up these points for you. And, first, one
or two questions, Mr. Wilson. This assistant of yours who first called
your attention to the advertisement—how long had he been with you?”
“About a month then.”
“How did he come?”
“In answer to an advertisement.”
“Was he the only applicant?”
“No, I had a dozen.”
“Why did you pick him?”
“Because he was handy and would come cheap.”
“At half wages, in fact.”
“What is he like, this Vincent Spaulding?”
“Small, stout-built, very quick in his ways, no hair on his face,
though he’s not short of thirty. Has a white splash of acid upon his
Holmes sat up in his chair in considerable excitement. “I thought as
much,” said he. “Have you ever observed that his ears are pierced for
“Yes, sir. He told me that a gipsy had done it for him when he was a
“Hum!” said Holmes, sinking back in deep thought. “He is still with
“Oh, yes, sir; I have only just left him.”
“And has your business been attended to in your absence?”
“Nothing to complain of, sir. There’s never very much to do of a
“That will do, Mr. Wilson. I shall be happy to give you an opinion upon
the subject in the course of a day or two. To-day is Saturday, and I
hope that by Monday we may come to a conclusion.”
“Well, Watson,” said Holmes when our visitor had left us, “what do you
make of it all?”
“I make nothing of it,” I answered frankly. “It is a most mysterious
“As a rule,” said Holmes, “the more bizarre a thing is the less
mysterious it proves to be. It is your commonplace, featureless crimes
which are really puzzling, just as a commonplace face is the most
difficult to identify. But I must be prompt over this matter.”
“What are you going to do, then?” I asked.
“To smoke,” he answered. “It is quite a three pipe problem, and I beg
that you won’t speak to me for fifty minutes.” He curled himself up in
his chair, with his thin knees drawn up to his hawk-like nose, and
there he sat with his eyes closed and his black clay pipe thrusting out
like the bill of some strange bird. I had come to the conclusion that
he had dropped asleep, and indeed was nodding myself, when he suddenly
sprang out of his chair with the gesture of a man who has made up his
mind and put his pipe down upon the mantelpiece.
“Sarasate plays at the St. James’s Hall this afternoon,” he remarked.
“What do you think, Watson? Could your patients spare you for a few
“I have nothing to do to-day. My practice is never very absorbing.”
“Then put on your hat and come. I am going through the City first, and
we can have some lunch on the way. I observe that there is a good deal
of German music on the programme, which is rather more to my taste than
Italian or French. It is introspective, and I want to introspect. Come
We travelled by the Underground as far as Aldersgate; and a short walk
took us to Saxe-Coburg Square, the scene of the singular story which we
had listened to in the morning. It was a poky, little, shabby-genteel
place, where four lines of dingy two-storied brick houses looked out
into a small railed-in enclosure, where a lawn of weedy grass and a few
clumps of faded laurel bushes made a hard fight against a smoke-laden
and uncongenial atmosphere. Three gilt balls and a brown board with
“JABEZ WILSON” in white letters, upon a corner house, announced the
place where our red-headed client carried on his business. Sherlock
Holmes stopped in front of it with his head on one side and looked it
all over, with his eyes shining brightly between puckered lids. Then he
walked slowly up the street, and then down again to the corner, still
looking keenly at the houses. Finally he returned to the pawnbroker’s,
and, having thumped vigorously upon the pavement with his stick two or
three times, he went up to the door and knocked. It was instantly
opened by a bright-looking, clean-shaven young fellow, who asked him to
step in.
“Thank you,” said Holmes, “I only wished to ask you how you would go
from here to the Strand.”
“Third right, fourth left,” answered the assistant promptly, closing
the door.
“Smart fellow, that,” observed Holmes as we walked away. “He is, in my
judgment, the fourth smartest man in London, and for daring I am not
sure that he has not a claim to be third. I have known something of him
“Evidently,” said I, “Mr. Wilson’s assistant counts for a good deal in
this mystery of the Red-headed League. I am sure that you inquired your
way merely in order that you might see him.”
“Not him.”
“What then?”
“The knees of his trousers.”
“And what did you see?”
“What I expected to see.”
“Why did you beat the pavement?”
“My dear doctor, this is a time for observation, not for talk. We are
spies in an enemy’s country. We know something of Saxe-Coburg Square.
Let us now explore the parts which lie behind it.”
The road in which we found ourselves as we turned round the corner from
the retired Saxe-Coburg Square presented as great a contrast to it as
the front of a picture does to the back. It was one of the main
arteries which conveyed the traffic of the City to the north and west.
The roadway was blocked with the immense stream of commerce flowing in
a double tide inward and outward, while the footpaths were black with
the hurrying swarm of pedestrians. It was difficult to realise as we
looked at the line of fine shops and stately business premises that
they really abutted on the other side upon the faded and stagnant
square which we had just quitted.
“Let me see,” said Holmes, standing at the corner and glancing along
the line, “I should like just to remember the order of the houses here.
It is a hobby of mine to have an exact knowledge of London. There is
Mortimer’s, the tobacconist, the little newspaper shop, the Coburg
branch of the City and Suburban Bank, the Vegetarian Restaurant, and
McFarlane’s carriage-building depot. That carries us right on to the
other block. And now, Doctor, we’ve done our work, so it’s time we had
some play. A sandwich and a cup of coffee, and then off to violin-land,
where all is sweetness and delicacy and harmony, and there are no
red-headed clients to vex us with their conundrums.”
My friend was an enthusiastic musician, being himself not only a very
capable performer but a composer of no ordinary merit. All the
afternoon he sat in the stalls wrapped in the most perfect happiness,
gently waving his long, thin fingers in time to the music, while his
gently smiling face and his languid, dreamy eyes were as unlike those
of Holmes the sleuth-hound, Holmes the relentless, keen-witted,
ready-handed criminal agent, as it was possible to conceive. In his
singular character the dual nature alternately asserted itself, and his
extreme exactness and astuteness represented, as I have often thought,
the reaction against the poetic and contemplative mood which
occasionally predominated in him. The swing of his nature took him from
extreme languor to devouring energy; and, as I knew well, he was never
so truly formidable as when, for days on end, he had been lounging in
his armchair amid his improvisations and his black-letter editions.
Then it was that the lust of the chase would suddenly come upon him,
and that his brilliant reasoning power would rise to the level of
intuition, until those who were unacquainted with his methods would
look askance at him as on a man whose knowledge was not that of other
mortals. When I saw him that afternoon so enwrapped in the music at St.
James’s Hall I felt that an evil time might be coming upon those whom
he had set himself to hunt down.
“You want to go home, no doubt, Doctor,” he remarked as we emerged.
“Yes, it would be as well.”
“And I have some business to do which will take some hours. This
business at Coburg Square is serious.”
“Why serious?”
“A considerable crime is in contemplation. I have every reason to
believe that we shall be in time to stop it. But to-day being Saturday
rather complicates matters. I shall want your help to-night.”
“At what time?”
“Ten will be early enough.”
“I shall be at Baker Street at ten.”
“Very well. And, I say, Doctor, there may be some little danger, so
kindly put your army revolver in your pocket.” He waved his hand,
turned on his heel, and disappeared in an instant among the crowd.
I trust that I am not more dense than my neighbours, but I was always
oppressed with a sense of my own stupidity in my dealings with Sherlock
Holmes. Here I had heard what he had heard, I had seen what he had
seen, and yet from his words it was evident that he saw clearly not
only what had happened but what was about to happen, while to me the
whole business was still confused and grotesque. As I drove home to my
house in Kensington I thought over it all, from the extraordinary story
of the red-headed copier of the _Encyclopædia_ down to the visit to
Saxe-Coburg Square, and the ominous words with which he had parted from
me. What was this nocturnal expedition, and why should I go armed?
Where were we going, and what were we to do? I had the hint from Holmes
that this smooth-faced pawnbroker’s assistant was a formidable man—a
man who might play a deep game. I tried to puzzle it out, but gave it
up in despair and set the matter aside until night should bring an
It was a quarter-past nine when I started from home and made my way
across the Park, and so through Oxford Street to Baker Street. Two
hansoms were standing at the door, and as I entered the passage I heard
the sound of voices from above. On entering his room, I found Holmes in
animated conversation with two men, one of whom I recognised as Peter
Jones, the official police agent, while the other was a long, thin,
sad-faced man, with a very shiny hat and oppressively respectable
“Ha! Our party is complete,” said Holmes, buttoning up his pea-jacket
and taking his heavy hunting crop from the rack. “Watson, I think you
know Mr. Jones, of Scotland Yard? Let me introduce you to Mr.
Merryweather, who is to be our companion in to-night’s adventure.”
“We’re hunting in couples again, Doctor, you see,” said Jones in his
consequential way. “Our friend here is a wonderful man for starting a
chase. All he wants is an old dog to help him to do the running down.”
“I hope a wild goose may not prove to be the end of our chase,”
observed Mr. Merryweather gloomily.
“You may place considerable confidence in Mr. Holmes, sir,” said the
police agent loftily. “He has his own little methods, which are, if he
won’t mind my saying so, just a little too theoretical and fantastic,
but he has the makings of a detective in him. It is not too much to say
that once or twice, as in that business of the Sholto murder and the
Agra treasure, he has been more nearly correct than the official
“Oh, if you say so, Mr. Jones, it is all right,” said the stranger with
deference. “Still, I confess that I miss my rubber. It is the first
Saturday night for seven-and-twenty years that I have not had my
“I think you will find,” said Sherlock Holmes, “that you will play for
a higher stake to-night than you have ever done yet, and that the play
will be more exciting. For you, Mr. Merryweather, the stake will be
some £ 30,000; and for you, Jones, it will be the man upon whom you
wish to lay your hands.”
“John Clay, the murderer, thief, smasher, and forger. He’s a young man,
Mr. Merryweather, but he is at the head of his profession, and I would
rather have my bracelets on him than on any criminal in London. He’s a
remarkable man, is young John Clay. His grandfather was a royal duke,
and he himself has been to Eton and Oxford. His brain is as cunning as
his fingers, and though we meet signs of him at every turn, we never
know where to find the man himself. He’ll crack a crib in Scotland one
week, and be raising money to build an orphanage in Cornwall the next.
I’ve been on his track for years and have never set eyes on him yet.”
“I hope that I may have the pleasure of introducing you to-night. I’ve
had one or two little turns also with Mr. John Clay, and I agree with
you that he is at the head of his profession. It is past ten, however,
and quite time that we started. If you two will take the first hansom,
Watson and I will follow in the second.”
Sherlock Holmes was not very communicative during the long drive and
lay back in the cab humming the tunes which he had heard in the
afternoon. We rattled through an endless labyrinth of gas-lit streets
until we emerged into Farrington Street.
“We are close there now,” my friend remarked. “This fellow Merryweather
is a bank director, and personally interested in the matter. I thought
it as well to have Jones with us also. He is not a bad fellow, though
an absolute imbecile in his profession. He has one positive virtue. He
is as brave as a bulldog and as tenacious as a lobster if he gets his
claws upon anyone. Here we are, and they are waiting for us.”
We had reached the same crowded thoroughfare in which we had found
ourselves in the morning. Our cabs were dismissed, and, following the
guidance of Mr. Merryweather, we passed down a narrow passage and
through a side door, which he opened for us. Within there was a small
corridor, which ended in a very massive iron gate. This also was
opened, and led down a flight of winding stone steps, which terminated
at another formidable gate. Mr. Merryweather stopped to light a
lantern, and then conducted us down a dark, earth-smelling passage, and
so, after opening a third door, into a huge vault or cellar, which was
piled all round with crates and massive boxes.
“You are not very vulnerable from above,” Holmes remarked as he held up
the lantern and gazed about him.
“Nor from below,” said Mr. Merryweather, striking his stick upon the
flags which lined the floor. “Why, dear me, it sounds quite hollow!” he
remarked, looking up in surprise.
“I must really ask you to be a little more quiet!” said Holmes
severely. “You have already imperilled the whole success of our
expedition. Might I beg that you would have the goodness to sit down
upon one of those boxes, and not to interfere?”
The solemn Mr. Merryweather perched himself upon a crate, with a very
injured expression upon his face, while Holmes fell upon his knees upon
the floor and, with the lantern and a magnifying lens, began to examine
minutely the cracks between the stones. A few seconds sufficed to
satisfy him, for he sprang to his feet again and put his glass in his
“We have at least an hour before us,” he remarked, “for they can hardly
take any steps until the good pawnbroker is safely in bed. Then they
will not lose a minute, for the sooner they do their work the longer
time they will have for their escape. We are at present, Doctor—as no
doubt you have divined—in the cellar of the City branch of one of the
principal London banks. Mr. Merryweather is the chairman of directors,
and he will explain to you that there are reasons why the more daring
criminals of London should take a considerable interest in this cellar
at present.”
“It is our French gold,” whispered the director. “We have had several
warnings that an attempt might be made upon it.”
“Your French gold?”
“Yes. We had occasion some months ago to strengthen our resources and
borrowed for that purpose 30,000 napoleons from the Bank of France. It
has become known that we have never had occasion to unpack the money,
and that it is still lying in our cellar. The crate upon which I sit
contains 2,000 napoleons packed between layers of lead foil. Our
reserve of bullion is much larger at present than is usually kept in a
single branch office, and the directors have had misgivings upon the
“Which were very well justified,” observed Holmes. “And now it is time
that we arranged our little plans. I expect that within an hour matters
will come to a head. In the meantime Mr. Merryweather, we must put the
screen over that dark lantern.”
“And sit in the dark?”
“I am afraid so. I had brought a pack of cards in my pocket, and I
thought that, as we were a _partie carrée_, you might have your rubber
after all. But I see that the enemy’s preparations have gone so far
that we cannot risk the presence of a light. And, first of all, we must
choose our positions. These are daring men, and though we shall take
them at a disadvantage, they may do us some harm unless we are careful.
I shall stand behind this crate, and do you conceal yourselves behind
those. Then, when I flash a light upon them, close in swiftly. If they
fire, Watson, have no compunction about shooting them down.”
I placed my revolver, cocked, upon the top of the wooden case behind
which I crouched. Holmes shot the slide across the front of his lantern
and left us in pitch darkness—such an absolute darkness as I have never
before experienced. The smell of hot metal remained to assure us that
the light was still there, ready to flash out at a moment’s notice. To
me, with my nerves worked up to a pitch of expectancy, there was
something depressing and subduing in the sudden gloom, and in the cold
dank air of the vault.
“They have but one retreat,” whispered Holmes. “That is back through
the house into Saxe-Coburg Square. I hope that you have done what I
asked you, Jones?”
“I have an inspector and two officers waiting at the front door.”
“Then we have stopped all the holes. And now we must be silent and
What a time it seemed! From comparing notes afterwards it was but an
hour and a quarter, yet it appeared to me that the night must have
almost gone, and the dawn be breaking above us. My limbs were weary and
stiff, for I feared to change my position; yet my nerves were worked up
to the highest pitch of tension, and my hearing was so acute that I
could not only hear the gentle breathing of my companions, but I could
distinguish the deeper, heavier in-breath of the bulky Jones from the
thin, sighing note of the bank director. From my position I could look
over the case in the direction of the floor. Suddenly my eyes caught
the glint of a light.
At first it was but a lurid spark upon the stone pavement. Then it
lengthened out until it became a yellow line, and then, without any
warning or sound, a gash seemed to open and a hand appeared, a white,
almost womanly hand, which felt about in the centre of the little area
of light. For a minute or more the hand, with its writhing fingers,
protruded out of the floor. Then it was withdrawn as suddenly as it
appeared, and all was dark again save the single lurid spark which
marked a chink between the stones.
Its disappearance, however, was but momentary. With a rending, tearing
sound, one of the broad, white stones turned over upon its side and
left a square, gaping hole, through which streamed the light of a
lantern. Over the edge there peeped a clean-cut, boyish face, which
looked keenly about it, and then, with a hand on either side of the
aperture, drew itself shoulder-high and waist-high, until one knee
rested upon the edge. In another instant he stood at the side of the
hole and was hauling after him a companion, lithe and small like
himself, with a pale face and a shock of very red hair.
“It’s all clear,” he whispered. “Have you the chisel and the bags?
Great Scott! Jump, Archie, jump, and I’ll swing for it!”
Sherlock Holmes had sprung out and seized the intruder by the collar.
The other dived down the hole, and I heard the sound of rending cloth
as Jones clutched at his skirts. The light flashed upon the barrel of a
revolver, but Holmes’ hunting crop came down on the man’s wrist, and
the pistol clinked upon the stone floor.
“It’s no use, John Clay,” said Holmes blandly. “You have no chance at
“So I see,” the other answered with the utmost coolness. “I fancy that
my pal is all right, though I see you have got his coat-tails.”
“There are three men waiting for him at the door,” said Holmes.
“Oh, indeed! You seem to have done the thing very completely. I must
compliment you.”
“And I you,” Holmes answered. “Your red-headed idea was very new and
“You’ll see your pal again presently,” said Jones. “He’s quicker at
climbing down holes than I am. Just hold out while I fix the derbies.”
“I beg that you will not touch me with your filthy hands,” remarked our
prisoner as the handcuffs clattered upon his wrists. “You may not be
aware that I have royal blood in my veins. Have the goodness, also,
when you address me always to say ‘sir’ and ‘please.’”
“All right,” said Jones with a stare and a snigger. “Well, would you
please, sir, march upstairs, where we can get a cab to carry your
Highness to the police-station?”
“That is better,” said John Clay serenely. He made a sweeping bow to
the three of us and walked quietly off in the custody of the detective.
“Really, Mr. Holmes,” said Mr. Merryweather as we followed them from
the cellar, “I do not know how the bank can thank you or repay you.
There is no doubt that you have detected and defeated in the most
complete manner one of the most determined attempts at bank robbery
that have ever come within my experience.”
“I have had one or two little scores of my own to settle with Mr. John
Clay,” said Holmes. “I have been at some small expense over this
matter, which I shall expect the bank to refund, but beyond that I am
amply repaid by having had an experience which is in many ways unique,
and by hearing the very remarkable narrative of the Red-headed League.”
“You see, Watson,” he explained in the early hours of the morning as we
sat over a glass of whisky and soda in Baker Street, “it was perfectly
obvious from the first that the only possible object of this rather
fantastic business of the advertisement of the League, and the copying
of the _Encyclopædia_, must be to get this not over-bright pawnbroker
out of the way for a number of hours every day. It was a curious way of
managing it, but, really, it would be difficult to suggest a better.
The method was no doubt suggested to Clay’s ingenious mind by the
colour of his accomplice’s hair. The £ 4 a week was a lure which must
draw him, and what was it to them, who were playing for thousands? They
put in the advertisement, one rogue has the temporary office, the other
rogue incites the man to apply for it, and together they manage to
secure his absence every morning in the week. From the time that I
heard of the assistant having come for half wages, it was obvious to me
that he had some strong motive for securing the situation.”
“But how could you guess what the motive was?”
“Had there been women in the house, I should have suspected a mere
vulgar intrigue. That, however, was out of the question. The man’s
business was a small one, and there was nothing in his house which
could account for such elaborate preparations, and such an expenditure
as they were at. It must, then, be something out of the house. What
could it be? I thought of the assistant’s fondness for photography, and
his trick of vanishing into the cellar. The cellar! There was the end
of this tangled clue. Then I made inquiries as to this mysterious
assistant and found that I had to deal with one of the coolest and most
daring criminals in London. He was doing something in the
cellar—something which took many hours a day for months on end. What
could it be, once more? I could think of nothing save that he was
running a tunnel to some other building.
“So far I had got when we went to visit the scene of action. I
surprised you by beating upon the pavement with my stick. I was
ascertaining whether the cellar stretched out in front or behind. It
was not in front. Then I rang the bell, and, as I hoped, the assistant
answered it. We have had some skirmishes, but we had never set eyes
upon each other before. I hardly looked at his face. His knees were
what I wished to see. You must yourself have remarked how worn,
wrinkled, and stained they were. They spoke of those hours of
burrowing. The only remaining point was what they were burrowing for. I
walked round the corner, saw the City and Suburban Bank abutted on our
friend’s premises, and felt that I had solved my problem. When you
drove home after the concert I called upon Scotland Yard and upon the
chairman of the bank directors, with the result that you have seen.”
“And how could you tell that they would make their attempt to-night?” I
“Well, when they closed their League offices that was a sign that they
cared no longer about Mr. Jabez Wilson’s presence—in other words, that
they had completed their tunnel. But it was essential that they should
use it soon, as it might be discovered, or the bullion might be
removed. Saturday would suit them better than any other day, as it
would give them two days for their escape. For all these reasons I
expected them to come to-night.”
“You reasoned it out beautifully,” I exclaimed in unfeigned admiration.
“It is so long a chain, and yet every link rings true.”
“It saved me from ennui,” he answered, yawning. “Alas! I already feel
it closing in upon me. My life is spent in one long effort to escape
from the commonplaces of existence. These little problems help me to do
“And you are a benefactor of the race,” said I.
He shrugged his shoulders. “Well, perhaps, after all, it is of some
little use,” he remarked. “‘_L’homme c’est rien—l’œuvre c’est tout_,’
as Gustave Flaubert wrote to George Sand.”
“My dear fellow,” said Sherlock Holmes as we sat on either side of the
fire in his lodgings at Baker Street, “life is infinitely stranger than
anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to
conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If
we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great
city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which
are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the
cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through
generations, and leading to the most _outré_ results, it would make all
fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale
and unprofitable.”
“And yet I am not convinced of it,” I answered. “The cases which come
to light in the papers are, as a rule, bald enough, and vulgar enough.
We have in our police reports realism pushed to its extreme limits, and
yet the result is, it must be confessed, neither fascinating nor
“A certain selection and discretion must be used in producing a
realistic effect,” remarked Holmes. “This is wanting in the police
report, where more stress is laid, perhaps, upon the platitudes of the
magistrate than upon the details, which to an observer contain the
vital essence of the whole matter. Depend upon it, there is nothing so
unnatural as the commonplace.”
I smiled and shook my head. “I can quite understand your thinking so,”
I said. “Of course, in your position of unofficial adviser and helper
to everybody who is absolutely puzzled, throughout three continents,
you are brought in contact with all that is strange and bizarre. But
here”—I picked up the morning paper from the ground—“let us put it to a
practical test. Here is the first heading upon which I come. ‘A
husband’s cruelty to his wife.’ There is half a column of print, but I
know without reading it that it is all perfectly familiar to me. There
is, of course, the other woman, the drink, the push, the blow, the
bruise, the sympathetic sister or landlady. The crudest of writers
could invent nothing more crude.”
“Indeed, your example is an unfortunate one for your argument,” said
Holmes, taking the paper and glancing his eye down it. “This is the
Dundas separation case, and, as it happens, I was engaged in clearing
up some small points in connection with it. The husband was a
teetotaler, there was no other woman, and the conduct complained of was
that he had drifted into the habit of winding up every meal by taking
out his false teeth and hurling them at his wife, which, you will
allow, is not an action likely to occur to the imagination of the
average story-teller. Take a pinch of snuff, Doctor, and acknowledge
that I have scored over you in your example.”
He held out his snuffbox of old gold, with a great amethyst in the
centre of the lid. Its splendour was in such contrast to his homely
ways and simple life that I could not help commenting upon it.
“Ah,” said he, “I forgot that I had not seen you for some weeks. It is
a little souvenir from the King of Bohemia in return for my assistance
in the case of the Irene Adler papers.”
“And the ring?” I asked, glancing at a remarkable brilliant which
sparkled upon his finger.
“It was from the reigning family of Holland, though the matter in which
I served them was of such delicacy that I cannot confide it even to
you, who have been good enough to chronicle one or two of my little
“And have you any on hand just now?” I asked with interest.
“Some ten or twelve, but none which present any feature of interest.
They are important, you understand, without being interesting. Indeed,
I have found that it is usually in unimportant matters that there is a
field for the observation, and for the quick analysis of cause and
effect which gives the charm to an investigation. The larger crimes are
apt to be the simpler, for the bigger the crime the more obvious, as a
rule, is the motive. In these cases, save for one rather intricate
matter which has been referred to me from Marseilles, there is nothing
which presents any features of interest. It is possible, however, that
I may have something better before very many minutes are over, for this
is one of my clients, or I am much mistaken.”
He had risen from his chair and was standing between the parted blinds
gazing down into the dull neutral-tinted London street. Looking over
his shoulder, I saw that on the pavement opposite there stood a large
woman with a heavy fur boa round her neck, and a large curling red
feather in a broad-brimmed hat which was tilted in a coquettish Duchess
of Devonshire fashion over her ear. From under this great panoply she
peeped up in a nervous, hesitating fashion at our windows, while her
body oscillated backward and forward, and her fingers fidgeted with her
glove buttons. Suddenly, with a plunge, as of the swimmer who leaves
the bank, she hurried across the road, and we heard the sharp clang of
the bell.
“I have seen those symptoms before,” said Holmes, throwing his
cigarette into the fire. “Oscillation upon the pavement always means an
_affaire de cœur_. She would like advice, but is not sure that the
matter is not too delicate for communication. And yet even here we may
discriminate. When a woman has been seriously wronged by a man she no
longer oscillates, and the usual symptom is a broken bell wire. Here we
may take it that there is a love matter, but that the maiden is not so
much angry as perplexed, or grieved. But here she comes in person to
resolve our doubts.”
As he spoke there was a tap at the door, and the boy in buttons entered
to announce Miss Mary Sutherland, while the lady herself loomed behind
his small black figure like a full-sailed merchant-man behind a tiny
pilot boat. Sherlock Holmes welcomed her with the easy courtesy for
which he was remarkable, and, having closed the door and bowed her into
an armchair, he looked her over in the minute and yet abstracted
fashion which was peculiar to him.
“Do you not find,” he said, “that with your short sight it is a little
trying to do so much typewriting?”
“I did at first,” she answered, “but now I know where the letters are
without looking.” Then, suddenly realising the full purport of his
words, she gave a violent start and looked up, with fear and
astonishment upon her broad, good-humoured face. “You’ve heard about
me, Mr. Holmes,” she cried, “else how could you know all that?”
“Never mind,” said Holmes, laughing; “it is my business to know things.
Perhaps I have trained myself to see what others overlook. If not, why
should you come to consult me?”
“I came to you, sir, because I heard of you from Mrs. Etherege, whose
husband you found so easy when the police and everyone had given him up
for dead. Oh, Mr. Holmes, I wish you would do as much for me. I’m not
rich, but still I have a hundred a year in my own right, besides the
little that I make by the machine, and I would give it all to know what
has become of Mr. Hosmer Angel.”
“Why did you come away to consult me in such a hurry?” asked Sherlock
Holmes, with his finger-tips together and his eyes to the ceiling.
Again a startled look came over the somewhat vacuous face of Miss Mary
Sutherland. “Yes, I did bang out of the house,” she said, “for it made
me angry to see the easy way in which Mr. Windibank—that is, my
father—took it all. He would not go to the police, and he would not go
to you, and so at last, as he would do nothing and kept on saying that
there was no harm done, it made me mad, and I just on with my things
and came right away to you.”
“Your father,” said Holmes, “your stepfather, surely, since the name is
“Yes, my stepfather. I call him father, though it sounds funny, too,
for he is only five years and two months older than myself.”
“And your mother is alive?”
“Oh, yes, mother is alive and well. I wasn’t best pleased, Mr. Holmes,
when she married again so soon after father’s death, and a man who was
nearly fifteen years younger than herself. Father was a plumber in the
Tottenham Court Road, and he left a tidy business behind him, which
mother carried on with Mr. Hardy, the foreman; but when Mr. Windibank
came he made her sell the business, for he was very superior, being a
traveller in wines. They got £ 4700 for the goodwill and interest,
which wasn’t near as much as father could have got if he had been
I had expected to see Sherlock Holmes impatient under this rambling and
inconsequential narrative, but, on the contrary, he had listened with
the greatest concentration of attention.
“Your own little income,” he asked, “does it come out of the business?”
“Oh, no, sir. It is quite separate and was left me by my uncle Ned in
Auckland. It is in New Zealand stock, paying 4½ per cent. Two thousand
five hundred pounds was the amount, but I can only touch the interest.”
“You interest me extremely,” said Holmes. “And since you draw so large
a sum as a hundred a year, with what you earn into the bargain, you no
doubt travel a little and indulge yourself in every way. I believe that
a single lady can get on very nicely upon an income of about £ 60.”
“I could do with much less than that, Mr. Holmes, but you understand
that as long as I live at home I don’t wish to be a burden to them, and
so they have the use of the money just while I am staying with them. Of
course, that is only just for the time. Mr. Windibank draws my interest
every quarter and pays it over to mother, and I find that I can do
pretty well with what I earn at typewriting. It brings me twopence a
sheet, and I can often do from fifteen to twenty sheets in a day.”
“You have made your position very clear to me,” said Holmes. “This is
my friend, Dr. Watson, before whom you can speak as freely as before
myself. Kindly tell us now all about your connection with Mr. Hosmer
A flush stole over Miss Sutherland’s face, and she picked nervously at
the fringe of her jacket. “I met him first at the gasfitters’ ball,”
she said. “They used to send father tickets when he was alive, and then
afterwards they remembered us, and sent them to mother. Mr. Windibank
did not wish us to go. He never did wish us to go anywhere. He would
get quite mad if I wanted so much as to join a Sunday-school treat. But
this time I was set on going, and I would go; for what right had he to
prevent? He said the folk were not fit for us to know, when all
father’s friends were to be there. And he said that I had nothing fit
to wear, when I had my purple plush that I had never so much as taken
out of the drawer. At last, when nothing else would do, he went off to
France upon the business of the firm, but we went, mother and I, with
Mr. Hardy, who used to be our foreman, and it was there I met Mr.
Hosmer Angel.”
“I suppose,” said Holmes, “that when Mr. Windibank came back from
France he was very annoyed at your having gone to the ball.”
“Oh, well, he was very good about it. He laughed, I remember, and
shrugged his shoulders, and said there was no use denying anything to a
woman, for she would have her way.”
“I see. Then at the gasfitters’ ball you met, as I understand, a
gentleman called Mr. Hosmer Angel.”
“Yes, sir. I met him that night, and he called next day to ask if we
had got home all safe, and after that we met him—that is to say, Mr.
Holmes, I met him twice for walks, but after that father came back
again, and Mr. Hosmer Angel could not come to the house any more.”
“Well, you know father didn’t like anything of the sort. He wouldn’t
have any visitors if he could help it, and he used to say that a woman
should be happy in her own family circle. But then, as I used to say to
mother, a woman wants her own circle to begin with, and I had not got
mine yet.”
“But how about Mr. Hosmer Angel? Did he make no attempt to see you?”
“Well, father was going off to France again in a week, and Hosmer wrote
and said that it would be safer and better not to see each other until
he had gone. We could write in the meantime, and he used to write every
day. I took the letters in in the morning, so there was no need for
father to know.”
“Were you engaged to the gentleman at this time?”
“Oh, yes, Mr. Holmes. We were engaged after the first walk that we
took. Hosmer—Mr. Angel—was a cashier in an office in Leadenhall
“What office?”
“That’s the worst of it, Mr. Holmes, I don’t know.”
“Where did he live, then?”
“He slept on the premises.”
“And you don’t know his address?”
“No—except that it was Leadenhall Street.”
“Where did you address your letters, then?”
“To the Leadenhall Street Post Office, to be left till called for. He
said that if they were sent to the office he would be chaffed by all
the other clerks about having letters from a lady, so I offered to
typewrite them, like he did his, but he wouldn’t have that, for he said
that when I wrote them they seemed to come from me, but when they were
typewritten he always felt that the machine had come between us. That
will just show you how fond he was of me, Mr. Holmes, and the little
things that he would think of.”
“It was most suggestive,” said Holmes. “It has long been an axiom of
mine that the little things are infinitely the most important. Can you
remember any other little things about Mr. Hosmer Angel?”
“He was a very shy man, Mr. Holmes. He would rather walk with me in the
evening than in the daylight, for he said that he hated to be
conspicuous. Very retiring and gentlemanly he was. Even his voice was
gentle. He’d had the quinsy and swollen glands when he was young, he
told me, and it had left him with a weak throat, and a hesitating,
whispering fashion of speech. He was always well dressed, very neat and
plain, but his eyes were weak, just as mine are, and he wore tinted
glasses against the glare.”
“Well, and what happened when Mr. Windibank, your stepfather, returned
to France?”
“Mr. Hosmer Angel came to the house again and proposed that we should
marry before father came back. He was in dreadful earnest and made me
swear, with my hands on the Testament, that whatever happened I would
always be true to him. Mother said he was quite right to make me swear,
and that it was a sign of his passion. Mother was all in his favour
from the first and was even fonder of him than I was. Then, when they
talked of marrying within the week, I began to ask about father; but
they both said never to mind about father, but just to tell him
afterwards, and mother said she would make it all right with him. I
didn’t quite like that, Mr. Holmes. It seemed funny that I should ask
his leave, as he was only a few years older than me; but I didn’t want
to do anything on the sly, so I wrote to father at Bordeaux, where the
company has its French offices, but the letter came back to me on the
very morning of the wedding.”
“It missed him, then?”
“Yes, sir; for he had started to England just before it arrived.”
“Ha! that was unfortunate. Your wedding was arranged, then, for the
Friday. Was it to be in church?”
“Yes, sir, but very quietly. It was to be at St. Saviour’s, near King’s
Cross, and we were to have breakfast afterwards at the St. Pancras
Hotel. Hosmer came for us in a hansom, but as there were two of us he
put us both into it and stepped himself into a four-wheeler, which
happened to be the only other cab in the street. We got to the church
first, and when the four-wheeler drove up we waited for him to step
out, but he never did, and when the cabman got down from the box and
looked there was no one there! The cabman said that he could not
imagine what had become of him, for he had seen him get in with his own
eyes. That was last Friday, Mr. Holmes, and I have never seen or heard
anything since then to throw any light upon what became of him.”
“It seems to me that you have been very shamefully treated,” said
“Oh, no, sir! He was too good and kind to leave me so. Why, all the
morning he was saying to me that, whatever happened, I was to be true;
and that even if something quite unforeseen occurred to separate us, I
was always to remember that I was pledged to him, and that he would
claim his pledge sooner or later. It seemed strange talk for a
wedding-morning, but what has happened since gives a meaning to it.”
“Most certainly it does. Your own opinion is, then, that some
unforeseen catastrophe has occurred to him?”
“Yes, sir. I believe that he foresaw some danger, or else he would not
have talked so. And then I think that what he foresaw happened.”
“But you have no notion as to what it could have been?”
“One more question. How did your mother take the matter?”
“She was angry, and said that I was never to speak of the matter
“And your father? Did you tell him?”
“Yes; and he seemed to think, with me, that something had happened, and
that I should hear of Hosmer again. As he said, what interest could
anyone have in bringing me to the doors of the church, and then leaving
me? Now, if he had borrowed my money, or if he had married me and got
my money settled on him, there might be some reason, but Hosmer was
very independent about money and never would look at a shilling of
mine. And yet, what could have happened? And why could he not write?
Oh, it drives me half-mad to think of it, and I can’t sleep a wink at
night.” She pulled a little handkerchief out of her muff and began to
sob heavily into it.
“I shall glance into the case for you,” said Holmes, rising, “and I
have no doubt that we shall reach some definite result. Let the weight
of the matter rest upon me now, and do not let your mind dwell upon it
further. Above all, try to let Mr. Hosmer Angel vanish from your
memory, as he has done from your life.”
“Then you don’t think I’ll see him again?”
“I fear not.”
“Then what has happened to him?”
“You will leave that question in my hands. I should like an accurate
description of him and any letters of his which you can spare.”
“I advertised for him in last Saturday’s _Chronicle_,” said she. “Here
is the slip and here are four letters from him.”
“Thank you. And your address?”
“No. 31 Lyon Place, Camberwell.”
“Mr. Angel’s address you never had, I understand. Where is your
father’s place of business?”
“He travels for Westhouse & Marbank, the great claret importers of
Fenchurch Street.”
“Thank you. You have made your statement very clearly. You will leave
the papers here, and remember the advice which I have given you. Let
the whole incident be a sealed book, and do not allow it to affect your
“You are very kind, Mr. Holmes, but I cannot do that. I shall be true
to Hosmer. He shall find me ready when he comes back.”
For all the preposterous hat and the vacuous face, there was something
noble in the simple faith of our visitor which compelled our respect.
She laid her little bundle of papers upon the table and went her way,
with a promise to come again whenever she might be summoned.
Sherlock Holmes sat silent for a few minutes with his fingertips still
pressed together, his legs stretched out in front of him, and his gaze
directed upward to the ceiling. Then he took down from the rack the old
and oily clay pipe, which was to him as a counsellor, and, having lit
it, he leaned back in his chair, with the thick blue cloud-wreaths
spinning up from him, and a look of infinite languor in his face.
“Quite an interesting study, that maiden,” he observed. “I found her
more interesting than her little problem, which, by the way, is rather
a trite one. You will find parallel cases, if you consult my index, in
Andover in ’77, and there was something of the sort at The Hague last
year. Old as is the idea, however, there were one or two details which
were new to me. But the maiden herself was most instructive.”
“You appeared to read a good deal upon her which was quite invisible to
me,” I remarked.
“Not invisible but unnoticed, Watson. You did not know where to look,
and so you missed all that was important. I can never bring you to
realise the importance of sleeves, the suggestiveness of thumb-nails,
or the great issues that may hang from a boot-lace. Now, what did you
gather from that woman’s appearance? Describe it.”
“Well, she had a slate-coloured, broad-brimmed straw hat, with a
feather of a brickish red. Her jacket was black, with black beads sewn
upon it, and a fringe of little black jet ornaments. Her dress was
brown, rather darker than coffee colour, with a little purple plush at
the neck and sleeves. Her gloves were greyish and were worn through at
the right forefinger. Her boots I didn’t observe. She had small round,
hanging gold earrings, and a general air of being fairly well-to-do in
a vulgar, comfortable, easy-going way.”
Sherlock Holmes clapped his hands softly together and chuckled.
“’Pon my word, Watson, you are coming along wonderfully. You have
really done very well indeed. It is true that you have missed
everything of importance, but you have hit upon the method, and you
have a quick eye for colour. Never trust to general impressions, my
boy, but concentrate yourself upon details. My first glance is always
at a woman’s sleeve. In a man it is perhaps better first to take the
knee of the trouser. As you observe, this woman had plush upon her
sleeves, which is a most useful material for showing traces. The double
line a little above the wrist, where the typewritist presses against
the table, was beautifully defined. The sewing-machine, of the hand
type, leaves a similar mark, but only on the left arm, and on the side
of it farthest from the thumb, instead of being right across the
broadest part, as this was. I then glanced at her face, and, observing
the dint of a pince-nez at either side of her nose, I ventured a remark
upon short sight and typewriting, which seemed to surprise her.”
“It surprised me.”
“But, surely, it was obvious. I was then much surprised and interested
on glancing down to observe that, though the boots which she was
wearing were not unlike each other, they were really odd ones; the one
having a slightly decorated toe-cap, and the other a plain one. One was
buttoned only in the two lower buttons out of five, and the other at
the first, third, and fifth. Now, when you see that a young lady,
otherwise neatly dressed, has come away from home with odd boots,
half-buttoned, it is no great deduction to say that she came away in a
“And what else?” I asked, keenly interested, as I always was, by my
friend’s incisive reasoning.
“I noted, in passing, that she had written a note before leaving home
but after being fully dressed. You observed that her right glove was
torn at the forefinger, but you did not apparently see that both glove
and finger were stained with violet ink. She had written in a hurry and
dipped her pen too deep. It must have been this morning, or the mark
would not remain clear upon the finger. All this is amusing, though
rather elementary, but I must go back to business, Watson. Would you
mind reading me the advertised description of Mr. Hosmer Angel?”
I held the little printed slip to the light. “Missing,” it said, “on
the morning of the fourteenth, a gentleman named Hosmer Angel. About
five ft. seven in. in height; strongly built, sallow complexion, black
hair, a little bald in the centre, bushy, black side-whiskers and
moustache; tinted glasses, slight infirmity of speech. Was dressed,
when last seen, in black frock-coat faced with silk, black waistcoat,
gold Albert chain, and grey Harris tweed trousers, with brown gaiters
over elastic-sided boots. Known to have been employed in an office in
Leadenhall Street. Anybody bringing,” &c, &c.
“That will do,” said Holmes. “As to the letters,” he continued,
glancing over them, “they are very commonplace. Absolutely no clue in
them to Mr. Angel, save that he quotes Balzac once. There is one
remarkable point, however, which will no doubt strike you.”
“They are typewritten,” I remarked.
“Not only that, but the signature is typewritten. Look at the neat
little ‘Hosmer Angel’ at the bottom. There is a date, you see, but no
superscription except Leadenhall Street, which is rather vague. The
point about the signature is very suggestive—in fact, we may call it
“Of what?”
“My dear fellow, is it possible you do not see how strongly it bears
upon the case?”
“I cannot say that I do unless it were that he wished to be able to
deny his signature if an action for breach of promise were instituted.”
“No, that was not the point. However, I shall write two letters, which
should settle the matter. One is to a firm in the City, the other is to
the young lady’s stepfather, Mr. Windibank, asking him whether he could
meet us here at six o’clock to-morrow evening. It is just as well that
we should do business with the male relatives. And now, Doctor, we can
do nothing until the answers to those letters come, so we may put our
little problem upon the shelf for the interim.”
I had had so many reasons to believe in my friend’s subtle powers of
reasoning and extraordinary energy in action that I felt that he must
have some solid grounds for the assured and easy demeanour with which
he treated the singular mystery which he had been called upon to
fathom. Once only had I known him to fail, in the case of the King of
Bohemia and of the Irene Adler photograph; but when I looked back to
the weird business of the Sign of Four, and the extraordinary
circumstances connected with the Study in Scarlet, I felt that it would
be a strange tangle indeed which he could not unravel.
I left him then, still puffing at his black clay pipe, with the
conviction that when I came again on the next evening I would find that
he held in his hands all the clues which would lead up to the identity
of the disappearing bridegroom of Miss Mary Sutherland.
A professional case of great gravity was engaging my own attention at
the time, and the whole of next day I was busy at the bedside of the
sufferer. It was not until close upon six o’clock that I found myself
free and was able to spring into a hansom and drive to Baker Street,
half afraid that I might be too late to assist at the _dénouement_ of
the little mystery. I found Sherlock Holmes alone, however, half
asleep, with his long, thin form curled up in the recesses of his
armchair. A formidable array of bottles and test-tubes, with the
pungent cleanly smell of hydrochloric acid, told me that he had spent
his day in the chemical work which was so dear to him.
“Well, have you solved it?” I asked as I entered.
“Yes. It was the bisulphate of baryta.”
“No, no, the mystery!” I cried.
“Oh, that! I thought of the salt that I have been working upon. There
was never any mystery in the matter, though, as I said yesterday, some
of the details are of interest. The only drawback is that there is no
law, I fear, that can touch the scoundrel.”
“Who was he, then, and what was his object in deserting Miss
The question was hardly out of my mouth, and Holmes had not yet opened
his lips to reply, when we heard a heavy footfall in the passage and a
tap at the door.
“This is the girl’s stepfather, Mr. James Windibank,” said Holmes. “He
has written to me to say that he would be here at six. Come in!”
The man who entered was a sturdy, middle-sized fellow, some thirty
years of age, clean-shaven, and sallow-skinned, with a bland,
insinuating manner, and a pair of wonderfully sharp and penetrating
grey eyes. He shot a questioning glance at each of us, placed his shiny
top-hat upon the sideboard, and with a slight bow sidled down into the
nearest chair.
“Good-evening, Mr. James Windibank,” said Holmes. “I think that this
typewritten letter is from you, in which you made an appointment with
me for six o’clock?”
“Yes, sir. I am afraid that I am a little late, but I am not quite my
own master, you know. I am sorry that Miss Sutherland has troubled you
about this little matter, for I think it is far better not to wash
linen of the sort in public. It was quite against my wishes that she
came, but she is a very excitable, impulsive girl, as you may have
noticed, and she is not easily controlled when she has made up her mind
on a point. Of course, I did not mind you so much, as you are not
connected with the official police, but it is not pleasant to have a
family misfortune like this noised abroad. Besides, it is a useless
expense, for how could you possibly find this Hosmer Angel?”
“On the contrary,” said Holmes quietly; “I have every reason to believe
that I will succeed in discovering Mr. Hosmer Angel.”
Mr. Windibank gave a violent start and dropped his gloves. “I am
delighted to hear it,” he said.
“It is a curious thing,” remarked Holmes, “that a typewriter has really
quite as much individuality as a man’s handwriting. Unless they are
quite new, no two of them write exactly alike. Some letters get more
worn than others, and some wear only on one side. Now, you remark in
this note of yours, Mr. Windibank, that in every case there is some
little slurring over of the ‘e,’ and a slight defect in the tail of the
‘r.’ There are fourteen other characteristics, but those are the more
“We do all our correspondence with this machine at the office, and no
doubt it is a little worn,” our visitor answered, glancing keenly at
Holmes with his bright little eyes.
“And now I will show you what is really a very interesting study, Mr.
Windibank,” Holmes continued. “I think of writing another little
monograph some of these days on the typewriter and its relation to
crime. It is a subject to which I have devoted some little attention. I
have here four letters which purport to come from the missing man. They
are all typewritten. In each case, not only are the ‘e’s’ slurred and
the ‘r’s’ tailless, but you will observe, if you care to use my
magnifying lens, that the fourteen other characteristics to which I
have alluded are there as well.”
Mr. Windibank sprang out of his chair and picked up his hat. “I cannot
waste time over this sort of fantastic talk, Mr. Holmes,” he said. “If
you can catch the man, catch him, and let me know when you have done
“Certainly,” said Holmes, stepping over and turning the key in the
door. “I let you know, then, that I have caught him!”
“What! where?” shouted Mr. Windibank, turning white to his lips and
glancing about him like a rat in a trap.
“Oh, it won’t do—really it won’t,” said Holmes suavely. “There is no
possible getting out of it, Mr. Windibank. It is quite too transparent,
and it was a very bad compliment when you said that it was impossible
for me to solve so simple a question. That’s right! Sit down and let us
talk it over.”
Our visitor collapsed into a chair, with a ghastly face and a glitter
of moisture on his brow. “It—it’s not actionable,” he stammered.
“I am very much afraid that it is not. But between ourselves,
Windibank, it was as cruel and selfish and heartless a trick in a petty
way as ever came before me. Now, let me just run over the course of
events, and you will contradict me if I go wrong.”
The man sat huddled up in his chair, with his head sunk upon his
breast, like one who is utterly crushed. Holmes stuck his feet up on
the corner of the mantelpiece and, leaning back with his hands in his
pockets, began talking, rather to himself, as it seemed, than to us.
“The man married a woman very much older than himself for her money,”
said he, “and he enjoyed the use of the money of the daughter as long
as she lived with them. It was a considerable sum, for people in their
position, and the loss of it would have made a serious difference. It
was worth an effort to preserve it. The daughter was of a good, amiable
disposition, but affectionate and warm-hearted in her ways, so that it
was evident that with her fair personal advantages, and her little
income, she would not be allowed to remain single long. Now her
marriage would mean, of course, the loss of a hundred a year, so what
does her stepfather do to prevent it? He takes the obvious course of
keeping her at home and forbidding her to seek the company of people of
her own age. But soon he found that that would not answer forever. She
became restive, insisted upon her rights, and finally announced her
positive intention of going to a certain ball. What does her clever
stepfather do then? He conceives an idea more creditable to his head
than to his heart. With the connivance and assistance of his wife he
disguised himself, covered those keen eyes with tinted glasses, masked
the face with a moustache and a pair of bushy whiskers, sunk that clear
voice into an insinuating whisper, and doubly secure on account of the
girl’s short sight, he appears as Mr. Hosmer Angel, and keeps off other
lovers by making love himself.”
“It was only a joke at first,” groaned our visitor. “We never thought
that she would have been so carried away.”
“Very likely not. However that may be, the young lady was very
decidedly carried away, and, having quite made up her mind that her
stepfather was in France, the suspicion of treachery never for an
instant entered her mind. She was flattered by the gentleman’s
attentions, and the effect was increased by the loudly expressed
admiration of her mother. Then Mr. Angel began to call, for it was
obvious that the matter should be pushed as far as it would go if a
real effect were to be produced. There were meetings, and an
engagement, which would finally secure the girl’s affections from
turning towards anyone else. But the deception could not be kept up
forever. These pretended journeys to France were rather cumbrous. The
thing to do was clearly to bring the business to an end in such a
dramatic manner that it would leave a permanent impression upon the
young lady’s mind and prevent her from looking upon any other suitor
for some time to come. Hence those vows of fidelity exacted upon a
Testament, and hence also the allusions to a possibility of something
happening on the very morning of the wedding. James Windibank wished
Miss Sutherland to be so bound to Hosmer Angel, and so uncertain as to
his fate, that for ten years to come, at any rate, she would not listen
to another man. As far as the church door he brought her, and then, as
he could go no farther, he conveniently vanished away by the old trick
of stepping in at one door of a four-wheeler and out at the other. I
think that was the chain of events, Mr. Windibank!”
Our visitor had recovered something of his assurance while Holmes had
been talking, and he rose from his chair now with a cold sneer upon his
pale face.
“It may be so, or it may not, Mr. Holmes,” said he, “but if you are so
very sharp you ought to be sharp enough to know that it is you who are
breaking the law now, and not me. I have done nothing actionable from
the first, but as long as you keep that door locked you lay yourself
open to an action for assault and illegal constraint.”
“The law cannot, as you say, touch you,” said Holmes, unlocking and
throwing open the door, “yet there never was a man who deserved
punishment more. If the young lady has a brother or a friend, he ought
to lay a whip across your shoulders. By Jove!” he continued, flushing
up at the sight of the bitter sneer upon the man’s face, “it is not
part of my duties to my client, but here’s a hunting crop handy, and I
think I shall just treat myself to—” He took two swift steps to the
whip, but before he could grasp it there was a wild clatter of steps
upon the stairs, the heavy hall door banged, and from the window we
could see Mr. James Windibank running at the top of his speed down the
“There’s a cold-blooded scoundrel!” said Holmes, laughing, as he threw
himself down into his chair once more. “That fellow will rise from
crime to crime until he does something very bad, and ends on a gallows.
The case has, in some respects, been not entirely devoid of interest.”
“I cannot now entirely see all the steps of your reasoning,” I
“Well, of course it was obvious from the first that this Mr. Hosmer
Angel must have some strong object for his curious conduct, and it was
equally clear that the only man who really profited by the incident, as
far as we could see, was the stepfather. Then the fact that the two men
were never together, but that the one always appeared when the other
was away, was suggestive. So were the tinted spectacles and the curious
voice, which both hinted at a disguise, as did the bushy whiskers. My
suspicions were all confirmed by his peculiar action in typewriting his
signature, which, of course, inferred that his handwriting was so
familiar to her that she would recognise even the smallest sample of
it. You see all these isolated facts, together with many minor ones,
all pointed in the same direction.”
“And how did you verify them?”
“Having once spotted my man, it was easy to get corroboration. I knew
the firm for which this man worked. Having taken the printed
description. I eliminated everything from it which could be the result
of a disguise—the whiskers, the glasses, the voice, and I sent it to
the firm, with a request that they would inform me whether it answered
to the description of any of their travellers. I had already noticed
the peculiarities of the typewriter, and I wrote to the man himself at
his business address asking him if he would come here. As I expected,
his reply was typewritten and revealed the same trivial but
characteristic defects. The same post brought me a letter from
Westhouse & Marbank, of Fenchurch Street, to say that the description
tallied in every respect with that of their employé, James Windibank.
_Voilà tout_!”
“And Miss Sutherland?”
“If I tell her she will not believe me. You may remember the old
Persian saying, ‘There is danger for him who taketh the tiger cub, and
danger also for whoso snatches a delusion from a woman.’ There is as
much sense in Hafiz as in Horace, and as much knowledge of the world.”
We were seated at breakfast one morning, my wife and I, when the maid
brought in a telegram. It was from Sherlock Holmes and ran in this way:
“Have you a couple of days to spare? Have just been wired for from the
west of England in connection with Boscombe Valley tragedy. Shall be
glad if you will come with me. Air and scenery perfect. Leave
Paddington by the 11:15.”
“What do you say, dear?” said my wife, looking across at me. “Will you
“I really don’t know what to say. I have a fairly long list at
“Oh, Anstruther would do your work for you. You have been looking a
little pale lately. I think that the change would do you good, and you
are always so interested in Mr. Sherlock Holmes’ cases.”
“I should be ungrateful if I were not, seeing what I gained through one
of them,” I answered. “But if I am to go, I must pack at once, for I
have only half an hour.”
My experience of camp life in Afghanistan had at least had the effect
of making me a prompt and ready traveller. My wants were few and
simple, so that in less than the time stated I was in a cab with my
valise, rattling away to Paddington Station. Sherlock Holmes was pacing
up and down the platform, his tall, gaunt figure made even gaunter and
taller by his long grey travelling-cloak and close-fitting cloth cap.
“It is really very good of you to come, Watson,” said he. “It makes a
considerable difference to me, having someone with me on whom I can
thoroughly rely. Local aid is always either worthless or else biassed.
If you will keep the two corner seats I shall get the tickets.”
We had the carriage to ourselves save for an immense litter of papers
which Holmes had brought with him. Among these he rummaged and read,
with intervals of note-taking and of meditation, until we were past
Reading. Then he suddenly rolled them all into a gigantic ball and
tossed them up onto the rack.
“Have you heard anything of the case?” he asked.
“Not a word. I have not seen a paper for some days.”
“The London press has not had very full accounts. I have just been
looking through all the recent papers in order to master the
particulars. It seems, from what I gather, to be one of those simple
cases which are so extremely difficult.”
“That sounds a little paradoxical.”
“But it is profoundly true. Singularity is almost invariably a clue.
The more featureless and commonplace a crime is, the more difficult it
is to bring it home. In this case, however, they have established a
very serious case against the son of the murdered man.”
“It is a murder, then?”
“Well, it is conjectured to be so. I shall take nothing for granted
until I have the opportunity of looking personally into it. I will
explain the state of things to you, as far as I have been able to
understand it, in a very few words.
“Boscombe Valley is a country district not very far from Ross, in
Herefordshire. The largest landed proprietor in that part is a Mr. John
Turner, who made his money in Australia and returned some years ago to
the old country. One of the farms which he held, that of Hatherley, was
let to Mr. Charles McCarthy, who was also an ex-Australian. The men had
known each other in the colonies, so that it was not unnatural that
when they came to settle down they should do so as near each other as
possible. Turner was apparently the richer man, so McCarthy became his
tenant but still remained, it seems, upon terms of perfect equality, as
they were frequently together. McCarthy had one son, a lad of eighteen,
and Turner had an only daughter of the same age, but neither of them
had wives living. They appear to have avoided the society of the
neighbouring English families and to have led retired lives, though
both the McCarthys were fond of sport and were frequently seen at the
race-meetings of the neighbourhood. McCarthy kept two servants—a man
and a girl. Turner had a considerable household, some half-dozen at the
least. That is as much as I have been able to gather about the
families. Now for the facts.
“On June 3rd, that is, on Monday last, McCarthy left his house at
Hatherley about three in the afternoon and walked down to the Boscombe
Pool, which is a small lake formed by the spreading out of the stream
which runs down the Boscombe Valley. He had been out with his
serving-man in the morning at Ross, and he had told the man that he
must hurry, as he had an appointment of importance to keep at three.
From that appointment he never came back alive.
“From Hatherley Farmhouse to the Boscombe Pool is a quarter of a mile,
and two people saw him as he passed over this ground. One was an old
woman, whose name is not mentioned, and the other was William Crowder,
a game-keeper in the employ of Mr. Turner. Both these witnesses depose
that Mr. McCarthy was walking alone. The game-keeper adds that within a
few minutes of his seeing Mr. McCarthy pass he had seen his son, Mr.
James McCarthy, going the same way with a gun under his arm. To the
best of his belief, the father was actually in sight at the time, and
the son was following him. He thought no more of the matter until he
heard in the evening of the tragedy that had occurred.
“The two McCarthys were seen after the time when William Crowder, the
game-keeper, lost sight of them. The Boscombe Pool is thickly wooded
round, with just a fringe of grass and of reeds round the edge. A girl
of fourteen, Patience Moran, who is the daughter of the lodge-keeper of
the Boscombe Valley estate, was in one of the woods picking flowers.
She states that while she was there she saw, at the border of the wood
and close by the lake, Mr. McCarthy and his son, and that they appeared
to be having a violent quarrel. She heard Mr. McCarthy the elder using
very strong language to his son, and she saw the latter raise up his
hand as if to strike his father. She was so frightened by their
violence that she ran away and told her mother when she reached home
that she had left the two McCarthys quarrelling near Boscombe Pool, and
that she was afraid that they were going to fight. She had hardly said
the words when young Mr. McCarthy came running up to the lodge to say
that he had found his father dead in the wood, and to ask for the help
of the lodge-keeper. He was much excited, without either his gun or his
hat, and his right hand and sleeve were observed to be stained with
fresh blood. On following him they found the dead body stretched out
upon the grass beside the pool. The head had been beaten in by repeated
blows of some heavy and blunt weapon. The injuries were such as might
very well have been inflicted by the butt-end of his son’s gun, which
was found lying on the grass within a few paces of the body. Under
these circumstances the young man was instantly arrested, and a verdict
of ‘wilful murder’ having been returned at the inquest on Tuesday, he
was on Wednesday brought before the magistrates at Ross, who have
referred the case to the next Assizes. Those are the main facts of the
case as they came out before the coroner and the police-court.”
“I could hardly imagine a more damning case,” I remarked. “If ever
circumstantial evidence pointed to a criminal it does so here.”
“Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing,” answered Holmes
thoughtfully. “It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if
you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing in
an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different. It
must be confessed, however, that the case looks exceedingly grave
against the young man, and it is very possible that he is indeed the
culprit. There are several people in the neighbourhood, however, and
among them Miss Turner, the daughter of the neighbouring landowner, who
believe in his innocence, and who have retained Lestrade, whom you may
recollect in connection with the Study in Scarlet, to work out the case
in his interest. Lestrade, being rather puzzled, has referred the case
to me, and hence it is that two middle-aged gentlemen are flying
westward at fifty miles an hour instead of quietly digesting their
breakfasts at home.”
“I am afraid,” said I, “that the facts are so obvious that you will
find little credit to be gained out of this case.”
“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact,” he answered,
laughing. “Besides, we may chance to hit upon some other obvious facts
which may have been by no means obvious to Mr. Lestrade. You know me
too well to think that I am boasting when I say that I shall either
confirm or destroy his theory by means which he is quite incapable of
employing, or even of understanding. To take the first example to hand,
I very clearly perceive that in your bedroom the window is upon the
right-hand side, and yet I question whether Mr. Lestrade would have
noted even so self-evident a thing as that.”
“How on earth—”
“My dear fellow, I know you well. I know the military neatness which
characterises you. You shave every morning, and in this season you
shave by the sunlight; but since your shaving is less and less complete
as we get farther back on the left side, until it becomes positively
slovenly as we get round the angle of the jaw, it is surely very clear
that that side is less illuminated than the other. I could not imagine
a man of your habits looking at himself in an equal light and being
satisfied with such a result. I only quote this as a trivial example of
observation and inference. Therein lies my _métier_, and it is just
possible that it may be of some service in the investigation which lies
before us. There are one or two minor points which were brought out in
the inquest, and which are worth considering.”
“What are they?”
“It appears that his arrest did not take place at once, but after the
return to Hatherley Farm. On the inspector of constabulary informing
him that he was a prisoner, he remarked that he was not surprised to
hear it, and that it was no more than his deserts. This observation of
his had the natural effect of removing any traces of doubt which might
have remained in the minds of the coroner’s jury.”
“It was a confession,” I ejaculated.
“No, for it was followed by a protestation of innocence.”
“Coming on the top of such a damning series of events, it was at least
a most suspicious remark.”
“On the contrary,” said Holmes, “it is the brightest rift which I can
at present see in the clouds. However innocent he might be, he could
not be such an absolute imbecile as not to see that the circumstances
were very black against him. Had he appeared surprised at his own
arrest, or feigned indignation at it, I should have looked upon it as
highly suspicious, because such surprise or anger would not be natural
under the circumstances, and yet might appear to be the best policy to
a scheming man. His frank acceptance of the situation marks him as
either an innocent man, or else as a man of considerable self-restraint
and firmness. As to his remark about his deserts, it was also not
unnatural if you consider that he stood beside the dead body of his
father, and that there is no doubt that he had that very day so far
forgotten his filial duty as to bandy words with him, and even,
according to the little girl whose evidence is so important, to raise
his hand as if to strike him. The self-reproach and contrition which
are displayed in his remark appear to me to be the signs of a healthy
mind rather than of a guilty one.”
I shook my head. “Many men have been hanged on far slighter evidence,”
I remarked.
“So they have. And many men have been wrongfully hanged.”
“What is the young man’s own account of the matter?”
“It is, I am afraid, not very encouraging to his supporters, though
there are one or two points in it which are suggestive. You will find
it here, and may read it for yourself.”
He picked out from his bundle a copy of the local Herefordshire paper,
and having turned down the sheet he pointed out the paragraph in which
the unfortunate young man had given his own statement of what had
occurred. I settled myself down in the corner of the carriage and read
it very carefully. It ran in this way:
“Mr. James McCarthy, the only son of the deceased, was then called and
gave evidence as follows: ‘I had been away from home for three days at
Bristol, and had only just returned upon the morning of last Monday,
the 3rd. My father was absent from home at the time of my arrival, and
I was informed by the maid that he had driven over to Ross with John
Cobb, the groom. Shortly after my return I heard the wheels of his trap
in the yard, and, looking out of my window, I saw him get out and walk
rapidly out of the yard, though I was not aware in which direction he