Sign of the Four
Arthur Conan Doyle
Part 1 out of 3
The Sign of the Four
By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Science of Deduction
Sherlock Holmes took his bottle from the corner of the mantel-
piece and his hypodermic syringe from its neat morocco case.
With his long, white, nervous fingers he adjusted the delicate
needle, and rolled back his left shirt-cuff. For some little
time his eyes rested thoughtfully upon the sinewy forearm and
wrist all dotted and scarred with innumerable puncture-marks.
Finally he thrust the sharp point home, pressed down the tiny
piston, and sank back into the velvet-lined arm-chair with a long
sigh of satisfaction.
Three times a day for many months I had witnessed this
performance, but custom had not reconciled my mind to it. On the
contrary, from day to day I had become more irritable at the
sight, and my conscience swelled nightly within me at the thought
that I had lacked the courage to protest. Again and again I had
registered a vow that I should deliver my soul upon the subject,
but there was that in the cool, nonchalant air of my companion
which made him the last man with whom one would care to take
anything approaching to a liberty. His great powers, his
masterly manner, and the experience which I had had of his many
extraordinary qualities, all made me diffident and backward in
Yet upon that afternoon, whether it was the Beaune which I had
taken with my lunch, or the additional exasperation produced by
the extreme deliberation of his manner, I suddenly felt that I
could hold out no longer.
"Which is it to-day?" I asked,--"morphine or cocaine?"
He raised his eyes languidly from the old black-letter volume
which he had opened. "It is cocaine," he said,--"a seven-per-
cent. solution. Would you care to try it?"
"No, indeed," I answered, brusquely. "My constitution has not
got over the Afghan campaign yet. I cannot afford to throw any
extra strain upon it."
He smiled at my vehemence. "Perhaps you are right, Watson," he
said. "I suppose that its influence is physically a bad one. I
find it, however, so transcendently stimulating and clarifying to
the mind that its secondary action is a matter of small moment."
"But consider!" I said, earnestly. "Count the cost! Your brain
may, as you say, be roused and excited, but it is a pathological
and morbid process, which involves increased tissue-change and
may at last leave a permanent weakness. You know, too, what a
black reaction comes upon you. Surely the game is hardly worth
the candle. Why should you, for a mere passing pleasure, risk
the loss of those great powers with which you have been endowed?
Remember that I speak not only as one comrade to another, but as
a medical man to one for whose constitution he is to some extent
He did not seem offended. On the contrary, he put his finger-
tips together and leaned his elbows on the arms of his chair,
like one who has a relish for conversation.
"My mind," he said, "rebels at stagnation. Give me problems,
give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most
intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can
dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull
routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is
why I have chosen my own particular profession,--or rather
created it, for I am the only one in the world."
"The only unofficial detective?" I said, raising my eyebrows.
"The only unofficial consulting detective," he answered. "I am
the last and highest court of appeal in detection. When Gregson
or Lestrade or Athelney Jones are out of their depths--which, by
the way, is their normal state--the matter is laid before me. I
examine the data, as an expert, and pronounce a specialist's
opinion. I claim no credit in such cases. My name figures in no
newspaper. The work itself, the pleasure of finding a field for
my peculiar powers, is my highest reward. But you have yourself
had some experience of my methods of work in the Jefferson Hope
"Yes, indeed," said I, cordially. "I was never so struck by
anything in my life. I even embodied it in a small brochure with
the somewhat fantastic title of 'A Study in Scarlet.'"
He shook his head sadly. "I glanced over it," said he.
"Honestly, I cannot congratulate you upon it. Detection is, or
ought to be, an exact science, and should be treated in the same
cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it with
romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked
a love-story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of
"But the romance was there," I remonstrated. "I could not tamper
with the facts."
"Some facts should be suppressed, or at least a just sense of
proportion should be observed in treating them. The only point
in the case which deserved mention was the curious analytical
reasoning from effects to causes by which I succeeded in
I was annoyed at this criticism of a work which had been
specially designed to please him. I confess, too, that I was
irritated by the egotism which seemed to demand that every line
of my pamphlet should be devoted to his own special doings. More
than once during the years that I had lived with him in Baker
Street I had observed that a small vanity underlay my companion's
quiet and didactic manner. I made no remark, however, but sat
nursing my wounded leg. I had a Jezail bullet through it some
time before, and, though it did not prevent me from walking, it
ached wearily at every change of the weather.
"My practice has extended recently to the Continent," said
Holmes, after a while, filling up his old brier-root pipe. "I
was consulted last week by Francois Le Villard, who, as you
probably know, has come rather to the front lately in the French
detective service. He has all the Celtic power of quick
intuition, but he is deficient in the wide range of exact
knowledge which is essential to the higher developments of his
art. The case was concerned with a will, and possessed some
features of interest. I was able to refer him to two parallel
cases, the one at Riga in 1857, and the other at St. Louis in
1871, which have suggested to him the true solution. Here is the
letter which I had this morning acknowledging my assistance." He
tossed over, as he spoke, a crumpled sheet of foreign notepaper.
I glanced my eyes down it, catching a profusion of notes of
admiration, with stray "magnifiques," "coup-de-maitres," and
"tours-de-force," all testifying to the ardent admiration of the
"He speaks as a pupil to his master," said I.
"Oh, he rates my assistance too highly," said Sherlock Holmes,
lightly. "He has considerable gifts himself. He possesses two
out of the three qualities necessary for the ideal detective. He
has the power of observation and that of deduction. He is only
wanting in knowledge; and that may come in time. He is now
translating my small works into French."
"Oh, didn't you know?" he cried, laughing. "Yes, I have been
guilty of several monographs. They are all upon technical
subjects. Here, for example, is one 'Upon the Distinction
between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccoes.' In it I enumerate a
hundred and forty forms of cigar-, cigarette-, and pipe-tobacco,
with colored plates illustrating the difference in the ash. It
is a point which is continually turning up in criminal trials,
and which is sometimes of supreme importance as a clue. If you
can say definitely, for example, that some murder has been done
by a man who was smoking an Indian lunkah, it obviously narrows
your field of search. To the trained eye there is as much
difference between the black ash of a Trichinopoly and the white
fluff of bird's-eye as there is between a cabbage and a potato."
"You have an extraordinary genius for minutiae," I remarked.
"I appreciate their importance. Here is my monograph upon the
tracing of footsteps, with some remarks upon the uses of plaster
of Paris as a preserver of impresses. Here, too, is a curious
little work upon the influence of a trade upon the form of the
hand, with lithotypes of the hands of slaters, sailors,
corkcutters, compositors, weavers, and diamond-polishers. That
is a matter of great practical interest to the scientific
detective,--especially in cases of unclaimed bodies, or in
discovering the antecedents of criminals. But I weary you with
"Not at all," I answered, earnestly. "It is of the greatest
interest to me, especially since I have had the opportunity of
observing your practical application of it. But you spoke just
now of observation and deduction. Surely the one to some extent
implies the other."
"Why, hardly," he answered, leaning back luxuriously in his arm-
chair, and sending up thick blue wreaths from his pipe. "For
example, observation shows me that you have been to the Wigmore
Street Post-Office this morning, but deduction lets me know that
when there you dispatched a telegram."
"Right!" said I. "Right on both points! But I confess that I
don't see how you arrived at it. It was a sudden impulse upon my
part, and I have mentioned it to no one."
"It is simplicity itself," he remarked, chuckling at my
surprise,--"so absurdly simple that an explanation is
superfluous; and yet it may serve to define the limits of
observation and of deduction. Observation tells me that you have
a little reddish mould adhering to your instep. Just opposite
the Seymour Street Office they have taken up the pavement and
thrown up some earth which lies in such a way that it is
difficult to avoid treading in it in entering. The earth is of
this peculiar reddish tint which is found, as far as I know,
nowhere else in the neighborhood. So much is observation. The
rest is deduction."
"How, then, did you deduce the telegram?"
"Why, of course I knew that you had not written a letter, since I
sat opposite to you all morning. I see also in your open desk
there that you have a sheet of stamps and a thick bundle of post-
cards. What could you go into the post-office for, then, but to
send a wire? Eliminate all other factors, and the one which
remains must be the truth."
"In this case it certainly is so," I replied, after a little
thought. "The thing, however, is, as you say, of the simplest.
Would you think me impertinent if I were to put your theories to a
more severe test?"
"On the contrary," he answered, "it would prevent me from taking
a second dose of cocaine. I should be delighted to look into any
problem which you might submit to me."
"I have heard you say that it is difficult for a man to have any
object in daily use without leaving the impress of his
individuality upon it in such a way that a trained observer might
read it. Now, I have here a watch which has recently come into
my possession. Would you have the kindness to let me have an
opinion upon the character or habits of the late owner?"
I handed him over the watch with some slight feeling of amusement
in my heart, for the test was, as I thought, an impossible one,
and I intended it as a lesson against the somewhat dogmatic tone
which he occasionally assumed. He balanced the watch in his
hand, gazed hard at the dial, opened the back, and examined the
works, first with his naked eyes and then with a powerful convex
lens. I could hardly keep from smiling at his crestfallen face
when he finally snapped the case to and handed it back.
"There are hardly any data," he remarked. "The watch has been
recently cleaned, which robs me of my most suggestive facts."
"You are right," I answered. "It was cleaned before being sent
to me." In my heart I accused my companion of putting forward a
most lame and impotent excuse to cover his failure. What data
could he expect from an uncleaned watch?
"Though unsatisfactory, my research has not been entirely
barren," he observed, staring up at the ceiling with dreamy,
lack-lustre eyes. "Subject to your correction, I should judge
that the watch belonged to your elder brother, who inherited it
from your father."
"That you gather, no doubt, from the H. W. upon the back?"
"Quite so. The W. suggests your own name. The date of the watch
is nearly fifty years back, and the initials are as old as the
watch: so it was made for the last generation. Jewelry usually
descends to the eldest son, and he is most likely to have the
same name as the father. Your father has, if I remember right,
been dead many years. It has, therefore, been in the hands of
your eldest brother."
"Right, so far," said I. "Anything else?"
"He was a man of untidy habits,--very untidy and careless. He
was left with good prospects, but he threw away his chances,
lived for some time in poverty with occasional short intervals of
prosperity, and finally, taking to drink, he died. That is all I
I sprang from my chair and limped impatiently about the room with
considerable bitterness in my heart.
"This is unworthy of you, Holmes," I said. "I could not have
believed that you would have descended to this. You have made
inquires into the history of my unhappy brother, and you now
pretend to deduce this knowledge in some fanciful way. You
cannot expect me to believe that you have read all this from his
old watch! It is unkind, and, to speak plainly, has a touch of
charlatanism in it."
"My dear doctor," said he, kindly, "pray accept my apologies.
Viewing the matter as an abstract problem, I had forgotten how
personal and painful a thing it might be to you. I assure you,
however, that I never even knew that you had a brother until you
handed me the watch."
"Then how in the name of all that is wonderful did you get these
facts? They are absolutely correct in every particular."
"Ah, that is good luck. I could only say what was the balance of
probability. I did not at all expect to be so accurate."
"But it was not mere guess-work?"
"No, no: I never guess. It is a shocking habit,--destructive to
the logical faculty. What seems strange to you is only so
because you do not follow my train of thought or observe the
small facts upon which large inferences may depend. For example,
I began by stating that your brother was careless. When you
observe the lower part of that watch-case you notice that it is
not only dinted in two places, but it is cut and marked all over
from the habit of keeping other hard objects, such as coins or
keys, in the same pocket. Surely it is no great feat to assume
that a man who treats a fifty-guinea watch so cavalierly must be
a careless man. Neither is it a very far-fetched inference that
a man who inherits one article of such value is pretty well
provided for in other respects."
I nodded, to show that I followed his reasoning.
"It is very customary for pawnbrokers in England, when they take
a watch, to scratch the number of the ticket with a pin-point
upon the inside of the case. It is more handy than a label, as
there is no risk of the number being lost or transposed. There
are no less than four such numbers visible to my lens on the
inside of this case. Inference,--that your brother was often at
low water. Secondary inference,--that he had occasional bursts
of prosperity, or he could not have redeemed the pledge.
Finally, I ask you to look at the inner plate, which contains the
key-hole. Look at the thousands of scratches all round the
hole,--marks where the key has slipped. What sober man's key
could have scored those grooves? But you will never see a
drunkard's watch without them. He winds it at night, and he
leaves these traces of his unsteady hand. Where is the mystery
in all this?"
"It is as clear as daylight," I answered. "I regret the
injustice which I did you. I should have had more faith in your
marvellous faculty. May I ask whether you have any professional
inquiry on foot at present?"
"None. Hence the cocaine. I cannot live without brain-work.
What else is there to live for? Stand at the window here. Was
ever such a dreary, dismal, unprofitable world? See how the
yellow fog swirls down the street and drifts across the dun-
colored houses. What could be more hopelessly prosaic and
material? What is the use of having powers, doctor, when one has
no field upon which to exert them? Crime is commonplace,
existence is commonplace, and no qualities save those which are
commonplace have any function upon earth."
I had opened my mouth to reply to this tirade, when with a crisp
knock our landlady entered, bearing a card upon the brass salver.
"A young lady for you, sir," she said, addressing my companion.
"Miss Mary Morstan," he read. "Hum! I have no recollection of
the name. Ask the young lady to step up, Mrs. Hudson. Don't go,
doctor. I should prefer that you remain."
The Statement of the Case
Miss Morstan entered the room with a firm step and an outward
composure of manner. She was a blonde young lady, small, dainty,
well gloved, and dressed in the most perfect taste. There was,
however, a plainness and simplicity about her costume which bore
with it a suggestion of limited means. The dress was a sombre
grayish beige, untrimmed and unbraided, and she wore a small
turban of the same dull hue, relieved only by a suspicion of
white feather in the side. Her face had neither regularity of
feature nor beauty of complexion, but her expression was sweet
and amiable, and her large blue eyes were singularly spiritual
and sympathetic. In an experience of women which extends over
many nations and three separate continents, I have never looked
upon a face which gave a clearer promise of a refined and
sensitive nature. I could not but observe that as she took the
seat which Sherlock Holmes placed for her, her lip trembled, her
hand quivered, and she showed every sign of intense inward
"I have come to you, Mr. Holmes," she said, "because you once
enabled my employer, Mrs. Cecil Forrester, to unravel a little
domestic complication. She was much impressed by your kindness
"Mrs. Cecil Forrester," he repeated thoughtfully. "I believe
that I was of some slight service to her. The case, however, as
I remember it, was a very simple one."
"She did not think so. But at least you cannot say the same of
mine. I can hardly imagine anything more strange, more utterly
inexplicable, than the situation in which I find myself."
Holmes rubbed his hands, and his eyes glistened. He leaned
forward in his chair with an expression of extraordinary
concentration upon his clear-cut, hawklike features. "State your
case," said he, in brisk, business tones.
I felt that my position was an embarrassing one. "You will, I am
sure, excuse me," I said, rising from my chair.
To my surprise, the young lady held up her gloved hand to detain
me. "If your friend," she said, "would be good enough to stop,
he might be of inestimable service to me."
I relapsed into my chair.
"Briefly," she continued, "the facts are these. My father was an
officer in an Indian regiment who sent me home when I was quite a
child. My mother was dead, and I had no relative in England. I
was placed, however, in a comfortable boarding establishment at
Edinburgh, and there I remained until I was seventeen years of
age. In the year 1878 my father, who was senior captain of his
regiment, obtained twelve months' leave and came home. He
telegraphed to me from London that he had arrived all safe, and
directed me to come down at once, giving the Langham Hotel as his
address. His message, as I remember, was full of kindness and
love. On reaching London I drove to the Langham, and was
informed that Captain Morstan was staying there, but that he had
gone out the night before and had not yet returned. I waited all
day without news of him. That night, on the advice of the
manager of the hotel, I communicated with the police, and next
morning we advertised in all the papers. Our inquiries led to no
result; and from that day to this no word has ever been heard of
my unfortunate father. He came home with his heart full of hope,
to find some peace, some comfort, and instead--" She put her
hand to her throat, and a choking sob cut short the sentence.
"The date?" asked Holmes, opening his note-book.
"He disappeared upon the 3d of December, 1878,--nearly ten years
"Remained at the hotel. There was nothing in it to suggest a
clue,--some clothes, some books, and a considerable number of
curiosities from the Andaman Islands. He had been one of the
officers in charge of the convict-guard there."
"Had he any friends in town?"
"Only one that we know of,--Major Sholto, of his own regiment,
the 34th Bombay Infantry. The major had retired some little time
before, and lived at Upper Norwood. We communicated with him,
of course, but he did not even know that his brother officer was
"A singular case," remarked Holmes.
"I have not yet described to you the most singular part. About
six years ago--to be exact, upon the 4th of May, 1882--an
advertisement appeared in the Times asking for the address of
Miss Mary Morstan and stating that it would be to her advantage
to come forward. There was no name or address appended. I had
at that time just entered the family of Mrs. Cecil Forrester in
the capacity of governess. By her advice I published my address
in the advertisement column. The same day there arrived through
the post a small card-board box addressed to me, which I found to
contain a very large and lustrous pearl. No word of writing was
enclosed. Since then every year upon the same date there has
always appeared a similar box, containing a similar pearl,
without any clue as to the sender. They have been pronounced by
an expert to be of a rare variety and of considerable value. You
can see for yourselves that they are very handsome." She opened
a flat box as she spoke, and showed me six of the finest pearls
that I had ever seen.
"Your statement is most interesting," said Sherlock Holmes. "Has
anything else occurred to you?"
"Yes, and no later than to-day. That is why I have come to you.
This morning I received this letter, which you will perhaps read
"Thank you," said Holmes. "The envelope too, please. Postmark,
London, S.W. Date, July 7. Hum! Man's thumb-mark on corner,--
probably postman. Best quality paper. Envelopes at sixpence a
packet. Particular man in his stationery. No address. 'Be at
the third pillar from the left outside the Lyceum Theatre to-
night at seven o'clock. If you are distrustful, bring two
friends. You are a wronged woman, and shall have justice. Do
not bring police. If you do, all will be in vain. Your unknown
friend.' Well, really, this is a very pretty little mystery.
What do you intend to do, Miss Morstan?"
"That is exactly what I want to ask you."
"Then we shall most certainly go. You and I and--yes, why, Dr.
Watson is the very man. Your correspondent says two friends. He
and I have worked together before."
"But would he come?" she asked, with something appealing in her
voice and expression.
"I should be proud and happy," said I, fervently, "if I can be of
"You are both very kind," she answered. "I have led a retired
life, and have no friends whom I could appeal to. If I am here
at six it will do, I suppose?"
"You must not be later," said Holmes. "There is one other point,
however. Is this handwriting the same as that upon the pearl-box
"I have them here," she answered, producing half a dozen pieces
"You are certainly a model client. You have the correct
intuition. Let us see, now." He spread out the papers upon the
table, and gave little darting glances from one to the other.
"They are disguised hands, except the letter," he said,
presently, "but there can be no question as to the authorship.
See how the irrepressible Greek e will break out, and see the
twirl of the final s. They are undoubtedly by the same person.
I should not like to suggest false hopes, Miss Morstan, but is
there any resemblance between this hand and that of your father?"
"Nothing could be more unlike."
"I expected to hear you say so. We shall look out for you, then,
at six. Pray allow me to keep the papers. I may look into the
matter before then. It is only half-past three. Au revoir,
"Au revoir," said our visitor, and, with a bright, kindly glance
from one to the other of us, she replaced her pearl-box in her
bosom and hurried away. Standing at the window, I watched her
walking briskly down the street, until the gray turban and white
feather were but a speck in the sombre crowd.
"What a very attractive woman!" I exclaimed, turning to my
He had lit his pipe again, and was leaning back with drooping
eyelids. "Is she?" he said, languidly. "I did not observe."
"You really are an automaton,--a calculating-machine!" I cried.
"There is something positively inhuman in you at times."
He smiled gently. "It is of the first importance," he said, "not
to allow your judgment to be biased by personal qualities. A
client is to me a mere unit,--a factor in a problem. The
emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning. I
assure you that the most winning woman I ever knew was hanged for
poisoning three little children for their insurance-money, and
the most repellant man of my acquaintance is a philanthropist who
has spent nearly a quarter of a million upon the London poor."
"In this case, however--"
"I never make exceptions. An exception disproves the rule. Have
you ever had occasion to study character in handwriting? What do
you make of this fellow's scribble?"
"It is legible and regular," I answered. "A man of business
habits and some force of character."
Holmes shook his head. "Look at his long letters," he said.
"They hardly rise above the common herd. That d might be an a,
and that l an e. Men of character always differentiate their
long letters, however illegibly they may write. There is
vacillation in his k's and self-esteem in his capitals. I am
going out now. I have some few references to make. Let me
recommend this book,--one of the most remarkable ever penned. It
is Winwood Reade's 'Martyrdom of Man.' I shall be back in an
I sat in the window with the volume in my hand, but my thoughts
were far from the daring speculations of the writer. My mind ran
upon our late visitor,--her smiles, the deep rich tones of her
voice, the strange mystery which overhung her life. If she were
seventeen at the time of her father's disappearance she must be
seven-and-twenty now,--a sweet age, when youth has lost its self-
consciousness and become a little sobered by experience. So I
sat and mused, until such dangerous thoughts came into my head
that I hurried away to my desk and plunged furiously into the
latest treatise upon pathology. What was I, an army surgeon with
a weak leg and a weaker banking-account, that I should dare to
think of such things? She was a unit, a factor,--nothing more.
If my future were black, it was better surely to face it like a
man than to attempt to brighten it by mere will-o'-the-wisps of
In Quest of a Solution
It was half-past five before Holmes returned. He was bright,
eager, and in excellent spirits,--a mood which in his case
alternated with fits of the blackest depression.
"There is no great mystery in this matter," he said, taking the
cup of tea which I had poured out for him. "The facts appear to
admit of only one explanation."
"What! you have solved it already?"
"Well, that would be too much to say. I have discovered a
suggestive fact, that is all. It is, however, VERY suggestive.
The details are still to be added. I have just found, on
consulting the back files of the Times, that Major Sholto, of
Upper Norword, late of the 34th Bombay Infantry, died upon the
28th of April, 1882."
"I may be very obtuse, Holmes, but I fail to see what this
"No? You surprise me. Look at it in this way, then. Captain
Morstan disappears. The only person in London whom he could have
visited is Major Sholto. Major Sholto denies having heard that
he was in London. Four years later Sholto dies. WITHIN A WEEK
OF HIS DEATH Captain Morstan's daughter receives a valuable
present, which is repeated from year to year, and now culminates
in a letter which describes her as a wronged woman. What wrong
can it refer to except this deprivation of her father? And why
should the presents begin immediately after Sholto's death,
unless it is that Sholto's heir knows something of the mystery
and desires to make compensation? Have you any alternative
theory which will meet the facts?"
"But what a strange compensation! And how strangely made! Why,
too, should he write a letter now, rather than six years ago?
Again, the letter speaks of giving her justice. What justice can
she have? It is too much to suppose that her father is still
alive. There is no other injustice in her case that you know
"There are difficulties; there are certainly difficulties," said
Sherlock Holmes, pensively. "But our expedition of to-night will
solve them all. Ah, here is a four-wheeler, and Miss Morstan is
inside. Are you all ready? Then we had better go down, for it
is a little past the hour."
I picked up my hat and my heaviest stick, but I observed that
Holmes took his revolver from his drawer and slipped it into his
pocket. It was clear that he thought that our night's work might
be a serious one.
Miss Morstan was muffled in a dark cloak, and her sensitive face
was composed, but pale. She must have been more than woman if
she did not feel some uneasiness at the strange enterprise upon
which we were embarking, yet her self-control was perfect, and
she readily answered the few additional questions which Sherlock
Holmes put to her.
"Major Sholto was a very particular friend of papa's," she said.
"His letters were full of allusions to the major. He and papa
were in command of the troops at the Andaman Islands, so they
were thrown a great deal together. By the way, a curious paper
was found in papa's desk which no one could understand. I don't
suppose that it is of the slightest importance, but I thought you
might care to see it, so I brought it with me. It is here."
Holmes unfolded the paper carefully and smoothed it out upon his
knee. He then very methodically examined it all over with his
"It is paper of native Indian manufacture," he remarked. "It has
at some time been pinned to a board. The diagram upon it appears
to be a plan of part of a large building with numerous halls,
corridors, and passages. At one point is a small cross done in
red ink, and above it is '3.37 from left,' in faded pencil-
writing. In the left-hand corner is a curious hieroglyphic like
four crosses in a line with their arms touching. Beside it is
written, in very rough and coarse characters, 'The sign of the
four,--Jonathan Small, Mahomet Singh, Abdullah Khan, Dost Akbar.'
No, I confess that I do not see how this bears upon the matter.
Yet it is evidently a document of importance. It has been kept
carefully in a pocket-book; for the one side is as clean as the
"It was in his pocket-book that we found it."
"Preserve it carefully, then, Miss Morstan, for it may prove to
be of use to us. I begin to suspect that this matter may turn
out to be much deeper and more subtle than I at first supposed.
I must reconsider my ideas." He leaned back in the cab, and I
could see by his drawn brow and his vacant eye that he was
thinking intently. Miss Morstan and I chatted in an undertone
about our present expedition and its possible outcome, but our
companion maintained his impenetrable reserve until the end of
It was a September evening, and not yet seven o'clock, but the
day had been a dreary one, and a dense drizzly fog lay low upon
the great city. Mud-colored clouds drooped sadly over the muddy
streets. Down the Strand the lamps were but misty splotches of
diffused light which threw a feeble circular glimmer upon the
slimy pavement. The yellow glare from the shop-windows streamed
out into the steamy, vaporous air, and threw a murky, shifting
radiance across the crowded thoroughfare. There was, to my mind,
something eerie and ghost-like in the endless procession of faces
which flitted across these narrow bars of light,--sad faces and
glad, haggard and merry. Like all human kind, they flitted from
the gloom into the light, and so back into the gloom once more.
I am not subject to impressions, but the dull, heavy evening,
with the strange business upon which we were engaged, combined to
make me nervous and depressed. I could see from Miss Morstan's
manner that she was suffering from the same feeling. Holmes
alone could rise superior to petty influences. He held his open
note-book upon his knee, and from time to time he jotted down
figures and memoranda in the light of his pocket-lantern.
At the Lyceum Theatre the crowds were already thick at the side-
entrances. In front a continuous stream of hansoms and four-
wheelers were rattling up, discharging their cargoes of shirt-
fronted men and beshawled, bediamonded women. We had hardly
reached the third pillar, which was our rendezvous, before a
small, dark, brisk man in the dress of a coachman accosted us.
"Are you the parties who come with Miss Morstan?" he asked.
"I am Miss Morstan, and these two gentlemen are my friends," said
He bent a pair of wonderfully penetrating and questioning eyes
upon us. "You will excuse me, miss," he said with a certain
dogged manner, "but I was to ask you to give me your word that
neither of your companions is a police-officer."
"I give you my word on that," she answered.
He gave a shrill whistle, on which a street Arab led across a
four-wheeler and opened the door. The man who had addressed us
mounted to the box, while we took our places inside. We had
hardly done so before the driver whipped up his horse, and we
plunged away at a furious pace through the foggy streets.
The situation was a curious one. We were driving to an unknown
place, on an unknown errand. Yet our invitation was either a
complete hoax,--which was an inconceivable hypothesis,--or else
we had good reason to think that important issues might hang upon
our journey. Miss Morstan's demeanor was as resolute and
collected as ever. I endeavored to cheer and amuse her by
reminiscences of my adventures in Afghanistan; but, to tell the
truth, I was myself so excited at our situation and so curious as
to our destination that my stories were slightly involved. To
this day she declares that I told her one moving anecdote as to
how a musket looked into my tent at the dead of night, and how I
fired a double-barrelled tiger cub at it. At first I had some
idea as to the direction in which we were driving; but soon, what
with our pace, the fog, and my own limited knowledge of London, I
lost my bearings, and knew nothing, save that we seemed to be
going a very long way. Sherlock Holmes was never at fault,
however, and he muttered the names as the cab rattled through
squares and in and out by tortuous by-streets.
"Rochester Row," said he. "Now Vincent Square. Now we come out
on the Vauxhall Bridge Road. We are making for the Surrey side,
apparently. Yes, I thought so. Now we are on the bridge. You
can catch glimpses of the river."
We did indeed get a fleeting view of a stretch of the Thames with
the lamps shining upon the broad, silent water; but our cab
dashed on, and was soon involved in a labyrinth of streets upon
the other side.
"Wordsworth Road," said my companion. "Priory Road. Lark Hall
Lane. Stockwell Place. Robert Street. Cold Harbor Lane. Our
quest does not appear to take us to very fashionable regions."
We had, indeed, reached a questionable and forbidding
neighborhood. Long lines of dull brick houses were only relieved
by the coarse glare and tawdry brilliancy of public houses at the
corner. Then came rows of two-storied villas each with a
fronting of miniature garden, and then again interminable lines
of new staring brick buildings,--the monster tentacles which the
giant city was throwing out into the country. At last the cab
drew up at the third house in a new terrace. None of the other
houses were inhabited, and that at which we stopped was as dark
as its neighbors, save for a single glimmer in the kitchen
window. On our knocking, however, the door was instantly thrown
open by a Hindoo servant clad in a yellow turban, white loose-
fitting clothes, and a yellow sash. There was something
strangely incongruous in this Oriental figure framed in the
commonplace door-way of a third-rate suburban dwelling-house.
"The Sahib awaits you," said he, and even as he spoke there came
a high piping voice from some inner room. "Show them in to me,
khitmutgar," it cried. "Show them straight in to me."
The Story of the Bald-Headed Man
We followed the Indian down a sordid and common passage, ill lit
and worse furnished, until he came to a door upon the right,
which he threw open. A blaze of yellow light streamed out upon
us, and in the centre of the glare there stood a small man with a
very high head, a bristle of red hair all round the fringe of it,
and a bald, shining scalp which shot out from among it like a
mountain-peak from fir-trees. He writhed his hands together as
he stood, and his features were in a perpetual jerk, now smiling,
now scowling, but never for an instant in repose. Nature had
given him a pendulous lip, and a too visible line of yellow and
irregular teeth, which he strove feebly to conceal by constantly
passing his hand over the lower part of his face. In spite of
his obtrusive baldness, he gave the impression of youth. In
point of fact he had just turned his thirtieth year.
"Your servant, Miss Morstan," he kept repeating, in a thin, high
voice. "Your servant, gentlemen. Pray step into my little
sanctum. A small place, miss, but furnished to my own liking.
An oasis of art in the howling desert of South London."
We were all astonished by the appearance of the apartment into
which he invited us. In that sorry house it looked as out of
place as a diamond of the first water in a setting of brass. The
richest and glossiest of curtains and tapestries draped the
walls, looped back here and there to expose some richly-mounted
painting or Oriental vase. The carpet was of amber-and-black, so
soft and so thick that the foot sank pleasantly into it, as into
a bed of moss. Two great tiger-skins thrown athwart it increased
the suggestion of Eastern luxury, as did a huge hookah which
stood upon a mat in the corner. A lamp in the fashion of a
silver dove was hung from an almost invisible golden wire in the
centre of the room. As it burned it filled the air with a subtle
and aromatic odor.
"Mr. Thaddeus Sholto," said the little man, still jerking and
smiling. "That is my name. You are Miss Morstan, of course.
And these gentlemen--"
"This is Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and this is Dr. Watson."
"A doctor, eh?" cried he, much excited. "Have you your
stethoscope? Might I ask you--would you have the kindness? I
have grave doubts as to my mitral valve, if you would be so very
good. The aortic I may rely upon, but I should value your
opinion upon the mitral."
I listened to his heart, as requested, but was unable to find
anything amiss, save indeed that he was in an ecstasy of fear,
for he shivered from head to foot. "It appears to be normal," I
said. "You have no cause for uneasiness."
"You will excuse my anxiety, Miss Morstan," he remarked, airily.
"I am a great sufferer, and I have long had suspicions as to that
valve. I am delighted to hear that they are unwarranted. Had
your father, Miss Morstan, refrained from throwing a strain upon
his heart, he might have been alive now."
I could have struck the man across the face, so hot was I at this
callous and off-hand reference to so delicate a matter. Miss
Morstan sat down, and her face grew white to the lips. "I knew
in my heart that he was dead," said she.
"I can give you every information," said he, "and, what is more,
I can do you justice; and I will, too, whatever Brother
Bartholomew may say. I am so glad to have your friends here, not
only as an escort to you, but also as witnesses to what I am
about to do and say. The three of us can show a bold front to
Brother Bartholomew. But let us have no outsiders,--no police or
officials. We can settle everything satisfactorily among
ourselves, without any interference. Nothing would annoy Brother
Bartholomew more than any publicity." He sat down upon a low
settee and blinked at us inquiringly with his weak, watery blue
"For my part," said Holmes, "whatever you may choose to say will
go no further."
I nodded to show my agreement.
"That is well! That is well!" said he. "May I offer you a glass
of Chianti, Miss Morstan? Or of Tokay? I keep no other wines.
Shall I open a flask? No? Well, then, I trust that you have no
objection to tobacco-smoke, to the mild balsamic odor of the
Eastern tobacco. I am a little nervous, and I find my hookah an
invaluable sedative." He applied a taper to the great bowl, and
the smoke bubbled merrily through the rose-water. We sat all
three in a semicircle, with our heads advanced, and our chins
upon our hands, while the strange, jerky little fellow, with his
high, shining head, puffed uneasily in the centre.
"When I first determined to make this communication to you," said
he, "I might have given you my address, but I feared that you
might disregard my request and bring unpleasant people with you.
I took the liberty, therefore, of making an appointment in such a
way that my man Williams might be able to see you first. I have
complete confidence in his discretion, and he had orders, if he
were dissatisfied, to proceed no further in the matter. You will
excuse these precautions, but I am a man of somewhat retiring,
and I might even say refined, tastes, and there is nothing more
unaesthetic than a policeman. I have a natural shrinking from
all forms of rough materialism. I seldom come in contact with the
rough crowd. I live, as you see, with some little atmosphere of
elegance around me. I may call myself a patron of the arts. It
is my weakness. The landscape is a genuine Corot, and, though a
connoisseur might perhaps throw a doubt upon that Salvator Rosa,
there cannot be the least question about the Bouguereau. I am
partial to the modern French school."
"You will excuse me, Mr. Sholto," said Miss Morstan, "but I am
here at your request to learn something which you desire to tell
me. It is very late, and I should desire the interview to be as
short as possible."
"At the best it must take some time," he answered; "for we shall
certainly have to go to Norwood and see Brother Bartholomew. We
shall all go and try if we can get the better of Brother
Bartholomew. He is very angry with me for taking the course
which has seemed right to me. I had quite high words with him
last night. You cannot imagine what a terrible fellow he is when
he is angry."
"If we are to go to Norwood it would perhaps be as well to start
at once," I ventured to remark.
He laughed until his ears were quite red. "That would hardly
do," he cried. "I don't know what he would say if I brought you
in that sudden way. No, I must prepare you by showing you how we
all stand to each other. In the first place, I must tell you that
there are several points in the story of which I am myself
ignorant. I can only lay the facts before you as far as I know
"My father was, as you may have guessed, Major John Sholto, once
of the Indian army. He retired some eleven years ago, and came
to live at Pondicherry Lodge in Upper Norwood. He had prospered
in India, and brought back with him a considerable sum of money,
a large collection of valuable curiosities, and a staff of native
servants. With these advantages he bought himself a house, and
lived in great luxury. My twin-brother Bartholomew and I were
the only children.
"I very well remember the sensation which was caused by the
disappearance of Captain Morstan. We read the details in the
papers, and, knowing that he had been a friend of our father's,
we discussed the case freely in his presence. He used to join in
our speculations as to what could have happened. Never for an
instant did we suspect that he had the whole secret hidden in his
own breast,--that of all men he alone knew the fate of Arthur
"We did know, however, that some mystery--some positive danger--
overhung our father. He was very fearful of going out alone, and
he always employed two prize-fighters to act as porters at
Pondicherry Lodge. Williams, who drove you to-night, was one of
them. He was once light-weight champion of England. Our father
would never tell us what it was he feared, but he had a most
marked aversion to men with wooden legs. On one occasion he
actually fired his revolver at a wooden-legged man, who proved to
be a harmless tradesman canvassing for orders. We had to pay a
large sum to hush the matter up. My brother and I used to think
this a mere whim of my father's, but events have since led us to
change our opinion.
"Early in 1882 my father received a letter from India which was a
great shock to him. He nearly fainted at the breakfast-table
when he opened it, and from that day he sickened to his death.
What was in the letter we could never discover, but I could see
as he held it that it was short and written in a scrawling hand.
He had suffered for years from an enlarged spleen, but he now
became rapidly worse, and towards the end of April we were
informed that he was beyond all hope, and that he wished to make
a last communication to us.
"When we entered his room he was propped up with pillows and
breathing heavily. He besought us to lock the door and to come
upon either side of the bed. Then, grasping our hands, he made a
remarkable statement to us, in a voice which was broken as much
by emotion as by pain. I shall try and give it to you in his own
"'I have only one thing,' he said, 'which weighs upon my mind at
this supreme moment. It is my treatment of poor Morstan's
orphan. The cursed greed which has been my besetting sin through
life has withheld from her the treasure, half at least of which
should have been hers. And yet I have made no use of it myself,--
so blind and foolish a thing is avarice. The mere feeling of
possession has been so dear to me that I could not bear to share
it with another. See that chaplet dipped with pearls beside the
quinine-bottle. Even that I could not bear to part with,
although I had got it out with the design of sending it to her.
You, my sons, will give her a fair share of the Agra treasure.
But send her nothing--not even the chaplet--until I am gone.
After all, men have been as bad as this and have recovered.
"'I will tell you how Morstan died,' he continued. 'He had
suffered for years from a weak heart, but he concealed it from
every one. I alone knew it. When in India, he and I, through a
remarkable chain of circumstances, came into possession of a
considerable treasure. I brought it over to England, and on the
night of Morstan's arrival he came straight over here to claim
his share. He walked over from the station, and was admitted by
my faithful Lal Chowdar, who is now dead. Morstan and I had a
difference of opinion as to the division of the treasure, and we
came to heated words. Morstan had sprung out of his chair in a
paroxysm of anger, when he suddenly pressed his hand to his side,
his face turned a dusky hue, and he fell backwards, cutting his
head against the corner of the treasure-chest. When I stooped
over him I found, to my horror, that he was dead.
"'For a long time I sat half distracted, wondering what I should
do. My first impulse was, of course, to call for assistance; but
I could not but recognize that there was every chance that I
would be accused of his murder. His death at the moment of a
quarrel, and the gash in his head, would be black against me.
Again, an official inquiry could not be made without bringing out
some facts about the treasure, which I was particularly anxious
to keep secret. He had told me that no soul upon earth knew where
he had gone. There seemed to be no necessity why any soul ever
"'I was still pondering over the matter, when, looking up, I saw
my servant, Lal Chowdar, in the doorway. He stole in and bolted
the door behind him. "Do not fear, Sahib," he said. "No one
need know that you have killed him. Let us hide him away, and
who is the wiser?" "I did not kill him," said I. Lal Chowdar
shook his head and smiled. "I heard it all, Sahib," said he. "I
heard you quarrel, and I heard the blow. But my lips are sealed.
All are asleep in the house. Let us put him away together."
That was enough to decide me. If my own servant could not
believe my innocence, how could I hope to make it good before
twelve foolish tradesmen in a jury-box? Lal Chowdar and I
disposed of the body that night, and within a few days the London
papers were full of the mysterious disappearance of Captain
Morstan. You will see from what I say that I can hardly be
blamed in the matter. My fault lies in the fact that we
concealed not only the body, but also the treasure, and that I
have clung to Morstan's share as well as to my own. I wish you,
therefore, to make restitution. Put your ears down to my mouth.
The treasure is hidden in--' At this instant a horrible change
came over his expression; his eyes stared wildly, his jaw
dropped, and he yelled, in a voice which I can never forget,
'Keep him out! For Christ's sake keep him out!' We both stared
round at the window behind us upon which his gaze was fixed. A
face was looking in at us out of the darkness. We could see the
whitening of the nose where it was pressed against the glass. It
was a bearded, hairy face, with wild cruel eyes and an expression
of concentrated malevolence. My brother and I rushed towards the
window, but the man was gone. When we returned to my father his
head had dropped and his pulse had ceased to beat.
"We searched the garden that night, but found no sign of the
intruder, save that just under the window a single footmark was
visible in the flower-bed. But for that one trace, we might have
thought that our imaginations had conjured up that wild, fierce
face. We soon, however, had another and a more striking proof
that there were secret agencies at work all round us. The window
of my father's room was found open in the morning, his cupboards
and boxes had been rifled, and upon his chest was fixed a torn
piece of paper, with the words 'The sign of the four' scrawled
across it. What the phrase meant, or who our secret visitor may
have been, we never knew. As far as we can judge, none of my
father's property had been actually stolen, though everything had
been turned out. My brother and I naturally associated this
peculiar incident with the fear which haunted my father during
his life; but it is still a complete mystery to us."
The little man stopped to relight his hookah and puffed
thoughtfully for a few moments. We had all sat absorbed,
listening to his extraordinary narrative. At the short account
of her father's death Miss Morstan had turned deadly white, and
for a moment I feared that she was about to faint. She rallied
however, on drinking a glass of water which I quietly poured out
for her from a Venetian carafe upon the side-table. Sherlock
Holmes leaned back in his chair with an abstracted expression and
the lids drawn low over his glittering eyes. As I glanced at him
I could not but think how on that very day he had complained
bitterly of the commonplaceness of life. Here at least was a
problem which would tax his sagacity to the utmost. Mr. Thaddeus
Sholto looked from one to the other of us with an obvious pride
at the effect which his story had produced, and then continued
between the puffs of his overgrown pipe.
"My brother and I," said he, "were, as you may imagine, much
excited as to the treasure which my father had spoken of. For
weeks and for months we dug and delved in every part of the
garden, without discovering its whereabouts. It was maddening to
think that the hiding-place was on his very lips at the moment
that he died. We could judge the splendor of the missing riches
by the chaplet which he had taken out. Over this chaplet my
brother Bartholomew and I had some little discussion. The pearls
were evidently of great value, and he was averse to part with
them, for, between friends, my brother was himself a little
inclined to my father's fault. He thought, too, that if we
parted with the chaplet it might give rise to gossip and finally
bring us into trouble. It was all that I could do to persuade
him to let me find out Miss Morstan's address and send her a
detached pearl at fixed intervals, so that at least she might
never feel destitute."
"It was a kindly thought," said our companion, earnestly. "It
was extremely good of you."
The little man waved his hand deprecatingly. "We were your
trustees," he said. "That was the view which I took of it,
though Brother Bartholomew could not altogether see it in that
light. We had plenty of money ourselves. I desired no more.
Besides, it would have been such bad taste to have treated a
young lady in so scurvy a fashion. 'Le mauvais gout mene au
crime.' The French have a very neat way of putting these things.
Our difference of opinion on this subject went so far that I
thought it best to set up rooms for myself: so I left
Pondicherry Lodge, taking the old khitmutgar and Williams with
me. Yesterday, however, I learn that an event of extreme
importance has occurred. The treasure has been discovered. I
instantly communicated with Miss Morstan, and it only remains for
us to drive out to Norwood and demand our share. I explained my
views last night to Brother Bartholomew: so we shall be
expected, if not welcome, visitors."
Mr. Thaddeus Sholto ceased, and sat twitching on his luxurious
settee. We all remained silent, with our thoughts upon the new
development which the mysterious business had taken. Holmes was
the first to spring to his feet.
"You have done well, sir, from first to last," said he. "It is
possible that we may be able to make you some small return by
throwing some light upon that which is still dark to you. But,
as Miss Morstan remarked just now, it is late, and we had best
put the matter through without delay."
Our new acquaintance very deliberately coiled up the tube of his
hookah, and produced from behind a curtain a very long befrogged
topcoat with Astrakhan collar and cuffs. This he buttoned
tightly up, in spite of the extreme closeness of the night, and
finished his attire by putting on a rabbit-skin cap with hanging
lappets which covered the ears, so that no part of him was
visible save his mobile and peaky face. "My health is somewhat
fragile," he remarked, as he led the way down the passage. "I am
compelled to be a valetudinarian."
Our cab was awaiting us outside, and our programme was evidently
prearranged, for the driver started off at once at a rapid pace.
Thaddeus Sholto talked incessantly, in a voice which rose high
above the rattle of the wheels.
"Bartholomew is a clever fellow," said he. "How do you think he
found out where the treasure was? He had come to the conclusion
that it was somewhere indoors: so he worked out all the cubic
space of the house, and made measurements everywhere, so that not
one inch should be unaccounted for. Among other things, he found
that the height of the building was seventy-four feet, but on
adding together the heights of all the separate rooms, and making
every allowance for the space between, which he ascertained by
borings, he could not bring the total to more than seventy feet.
There were four feet unaccounted for. These could only be at the
top of the building. He knocked a hole, therefore, in the lath-
and-plaster ceiling of the highest room, and there, sure enough,
he came upon another little garret above it, which had been
sealed up and was known to no one. In the centre stood the
treasure-chest, resting upon two rafters. He lowered it through
the hole, and there it lies. He computes the value of the jewels
at not less than half a million sterling."
At the mention of this gigantic sum we all stared at one another
open-eyed. Miss Morstan, could we secure her rights, would
change from a needy governess to the richest heiress in England.
Surely it was the place of a loyal friend to rejoice at such
news; yet I am ashamed to say that selfishness took me by the
soul, and that my heart turned as heavy as lead within me. I
stammered out some few halting words of congratulation, and then
sat downcast, with my head drooped, deaf to the babble of our new
acquaintance. He was clearly a confirmed hypochondriac, and I
was dreamily conscious that he was pouring forth interminable
trains of symptoms, and imploring information as to the
composition and action of innumerable quack nostrums, some of
which he bore about in a leather case in his pocket. I trust
that he may not remember any of the answers which I gave him that
night. Holmes declares that he overheard me caution him against
the great danger of taking more than two drops of castor oil,
while I recommended strychnine in large doses as a sedative.
However that may be, I was certainly relieved when our cab pulled
up with a jerk and the coachman sprang down to open the door.
"This, Miss Morstan, is Pondicherry Lodge," said Mr. Thaddeus
Sholto, as he handed her out.
The Tragedy of Pondicherry Lodge
It was nearly eleven o'clock when we reached this final stage of
our night's adventures. We had left the damp fog of the great
city behind us, and the night was fairly fine. A warm wind blew
from the westward, and heavy clouds moved slowly across the sky,
with half a moon peeping occasionally through the rifts. It was
clear enough to see for some distance, but Thaddeus Sholto took
down one of the side-lamps from the carriage to give us a better
light upon our way.
Pondicherry Lodge stood in its own grounds, and was girt round
with a very high stone wall topped with broken glass. A single
narrow iron-clamped door formed the only means of entrance. On
this our guide knocked with a peculiar postman-like rat-tat.
"Who is there?" cried a gruff voice from within.
"It is I, McMurdo. You surely know my knock by this time."
There was a grumbling sound and a clanking and jarring of keys.
The door swung heavily back, and a short, deep-chested man stood
in the opening, with the yellow light of the lantern shining upon
his protruded face and twinkling distrustful eyes.
"That you, Mr. Thaddeus? But who are the others? I had no
orders about them from the master."
"No, McMurdo? You surprise me! I told my brother last night
that I should bring some friends."
"He ain't been out o' his room to-day, Mr. Thaddeus, and I have
no orders. You know very well that I must stick to regulations.
I can let you in, but your friends must just stop where they
This was an unexpected obstacle. Thaddeus Sholto looked about
him in a perplexed and helpless manner. "This is too bad of you,
McMurdo!" he said. "If I guarantee them, that is enough for you.
There is the young lady, too. She cannot wait on the public road
at this hour."
"Very sorry, Mr. Thaddeus," said the porter, inexorably. "Folk
may be friends o' yours, and yet no friends o' the master's. He
pays me well to do my duty, and my duty I'll do. I don't know
none o' your friends."
"Oh, yes you do, McMurdo," cried Sherlock Holmes, genially. "I
don't think you can have forgotten me. Don't you remember the
amateur who fought three rounds with you at Alison's rooms on the
night of your benefit four years back?"
"Not Mr. Sherlock Holmes!" roared the prize-fighter. "God's
truth! how could I have mistook you? If instead o' standin'
there so quiet you had just stepped up and given me that cross-
hit of yours under the jaw, I'd ha' known you without a question.
Ah, you're one that has wasted your gifts, you have! You might
have aimed high, if you had joined the fancy."
"You see, Watson, if all else fails me I have still one of the
scientific professions open to me," said Holmes, laughing. "Our
friend won't keep us out in the cold now, I am sure."
"In you come, sir, in you come,--you and your friends," he
answered. "Very sorry, Mr. Thaddeus, but orders are very strict.
Had to be certain of your friends before I let them in."
Inside, a gravel path wound through desolate grounds to a huge
clump of a house, square and prosaic, all plunged in shadow save
where a moonbeam struck one corner and glimmered in a garret
window. The vast size of the building, with its gloom and its
deathly silence, struck a chill to the heart. Even Thaddeus
Sholto seemed ill at ease, and the lantern quivered and rattled
in his hand.
"I cannot understand it," he said. "There must be some mistake.
I distinctly told Bartholomew that we should be here, and yet
there is no light in his window. I do not know what to make of
"Does he always guard the premises in this way?" asked Holmes.
"Yes; he has followed my father's custom. He was the favorite
son, you know, and I sometimes think that my father may have told
him more than he ever told me. That is Bartholomew's window up
there where the moonshine strikes. It is quite bright, but there
is no light from within, I think."
"None," said Holmes. "But I see the glint of a light in that
little window beside the door."
"Ah, that is the housekeeper's room. That is where old Mrs.
Bernstone sits. She can tell us all about it. But perhaps you
would not mind waiting here for a minute or two, for if we all go
in together and she has no word of our coming she may be alarmed.
But hush! what is that?"
He held up the lantern, and his hand shook until the circles of
light flickered and wavered all round us. Miss Morstan seized my
wrist, and we all stood with thumping hearts, straining our ears.
From the great black house there sounded through the silent night
the saddest and most pitiful of sounds,--the shrill, broken
whimpering of a frightened woman.
"It is Mrs. Bernstone," said Sholto. "She is the only woman in
the house. Wait here. I shall be back in a moment." He hurried
for the door, and knocked in his peculiar way. We could see a
tall old woman admit him, and sway with pleasure at the very
sight of him.
"Oh, Mr. Thaddeus, sir, I am so glad you have come! I am so glad
you have come, Mr. Thaddeus, sir!" We heard her reiterated
rejoicings until the door was closed and her voice died away into
a muffled monotone.
Our guide had left us the lantern. Holmes swung it slowly round,
and peered keenly at the house, and at the great rubbish-heaps
which cumbered the grounds. Miss Morstan and I stood together,
and her hand was in mine. A wondrous subtle thing is love, for
here were we two who had never seen each other before that day,
between whom no word or even look of affection had ever passed,
and yet now in an hour of trouble our hands instinctively sought
for each other. I have marvelled at it since, but at the time it
seemed the most natural thing that I should go out to her so,
and, as she has often told me, there was in her also the instinct
to turn to me for comfort and protection. So we stood hand in
hand, like two children, and there was peace in our hearts for
all the dark things that surrounded us.
"What a strange place!" she said, looking round.
"It looks as though all the moles in England had been let loose
in it. I have seen something of the sort on the side of a hill
near Ballarat, where the prospectors had been at work."
"And from the same cause," said Holmes. "These are the traces of
the treasure-seekers. You must remember that they were six years
looking for it. No wonder that the grounds look like a gravel-
At that moment the door of the house burst open, and Thaddeus
Sholto came running out, with his hands thrown forward and terror
in his eyes.
"There is something amiss with Bartholomew!" he cried. "I am
frightened! My nerves cannot stand it." He was, indeed, half
blubbering with fear, and his twitching feeble face peeping out
from the great Astrakhan collar had the helpless appealing
expression of a terrified child.
"Come into the house," said Holmes, in his crisp, firm way.
"Yes, do!" pleaded Thaddeus Sholto. "I really do not feel equal
to giving directions."
We all followed him into the housekeeper's room, which stood upon
the left-hand side of the passage. The old woman was pacing up
and down with a scared look and restless picking fingers, but the
sight of Miss Morstan appeared to have a soothing effect upon
"God bless your sweet calm face!" she cried, with an hysterical
sob. "It does me good to see you. Oh, but I have been sorely
tried this day!"
Our companion patted her thin, work-worn hand, and murmured some
few words of kindly womanly comfort which brought the color back
into the others bloodless cheeks.
"Master has locked himself in and will not answer me," she
explained. "All day I have waited to hear from him, for he often
likes to be alone; but an hour ago I feared that something was
amiss, so I went up and peeped through the key-hole. You must go
up, Mr. Thaddeus,--you must go up and look for yourself. I have
seen Mr. Bartholomew Sholto in joy and in sorrow for ten long
years, but I never saw him with such a face on him as that."
Sherlock Holmes took the lamp and led the way, for Thaddeus
Sholto's teeth were chattering in his head. So shaken was he
that I had to pass my hand under his arm as we went up the
stairs, for his knees were trembling under him. Twice as we
ascended Holmes whipped his lens out of his pocket and carefully
examined marks which appeared to me to be mere shapeless smudges
of dust upon the cocoa-nut matting which served as a stair-
carpet. He walked slowly from step to step, holding the lamp,
and shooting keen glances to right and left. Miss Morstan had
remained behind with the frightened housekeeper.
The third flight of stairs ended in a straight passage of some
length, with a great picture in Indian tapestry upon the right of
it and three doors upon the left. Holmes advanced along it in
the same slow and methodical way, while we kept close at his
heels, with our long black shadows streaming backwards down the
corridor. The third door was that which we were seeking. Holmes
knocked without receiving any answer, and then tried to turn the
handle and force it open. It was locked on the inside, however,
and by a broad and powerful bolt, as we could see when we set our
lamp up against it. The key being turned, however, the hole was
not entirely closed. Sherlock Holmes bent down to it, and
instantly rose again with a sharp intaking of the breath.
"There is something devilish in this, Watson," said he, more
moved than I had ever before seen him. "What do you make of it?"
I stooped to the hole, and recoiled in horror. Moonlight was
streaming into the room, and it was bright with a vague and
shifty radiance. Looking straight at me, and suspended, as it
were, in the air, for all beneath was in shadow, there hung a
face,--the very face of our companion Thaddeus. There was the
same high, shining head, the same circular bristle of red hair,
the same bloodless countenance. The features were set, however,
in a horrible smile, a fixed and unnatural grin, which in that
still and moonlit room was more jarring to the nerves than any
scowl or contortion. So like was the face to that of our little
friend that I looked round at him to make sure that he was indeed
with us. Then I recalled to mind that he had mentioned to us
that his brother and he were twins.
"This is terrible!" I said to Holmes. "What is to be done?"
"The door must come down," he answered, and, springing against
it, he put all his weight upon the lock. It creaked and groaned,
but did not yield. Together we flung ourselves upon it once
more, and this time it gave way with a sudden snap, and we found
ourselves within Bartholomew Sholto's chamber.
It appeared to have been fitted up as a chemical laboratory. A
double line of glass-stoppered bottles was drawn up upon the wall
opposite the door, and the table was littered over with Bunsen
burners, test-tubes, and retorts. In the corners stood carboys
of acid in wicker baskets. One of these appeared to leak or to
have been broken, for a stream of dark-colored liquid had
trickled out from it, and the air was heavy with a peculiarly
pungent, tar-like odor. A set of steps stood at one side of the
room, in the midst of a litter of lath and plaster, and above
them there was an opening in the ceiling large enough for a man
to pass through. At the foot of the steps a long coil of rope
was thrown carelessly together.
By the table, in a wooden arm-chair, the master of the house was
seated all in a heap, with his head sunk upon his left shoulder,
and that ghastly, inscrutable smile upon his face. He was stiff
and cold, and had clearly been dead many hours. It seemed to me
that not only his features but all his limbs were twisted and
turned in the most fantastic fashion. By his hand upon the table
there lay a peculiar instrument,--a brown, close-grained stick,
with a stone head like a hammer, rudely lashed on with coarse
twine. Beside it was a torn sheet of note-paper with some words
scrawled upon it. Holmes glanced at it, and then handed it to
"You see," he said, with a significant raising of the eyebrows.
In the light of the lantern I read, with a thrill of horror, "The
sign of the four."
"In God's name, what does it all mean?" I asked.
"It means murder," said he, stooping over the dead man. "Ah, I
expected it. Look here!" He pointed to what looked like a long,
dark thorn stuck in the skin just above the ear.
"It looks like a thorn," said I.
"It is a thorn. You may pick it out. But be careful, for it is
I took it up between my finger and thumb. It came away from the
skin so readily that hardly any mark was left behind. One tiny
speck of blood showed where the puncture had been.
"This is all an insoluble mystery to me," said I. "It grows
darker instead of clearer."
"On the contrary," he answered, "it clears every instant. I only
require a few missing links to have an entirely connected case."
We had almost forgotten our companion's presence since we entered
the chamber. He was still standing in the door-way, the very
picture of terror, wringing his hands and moaning to himself.
Suddenly, however, he broke out into a sharp, querulous cry.
"The treasure is gone!" he said. "They have robbed him of the
treasure! There is the hole through which we lowered it. I
helped him to do it! I was the last person who saw him! I left
him here last night, and I heard him lock the door as I came
"What time was that?"
"It was ten o'clock. And now he is dead, and the police will be
called in, and I shall be suspected of having had a hand in it.
Oh, yes, I am sure I shall. But you don't think so, gentlemen?
Surely you don't think that it was I? Is it likely that I would
have brought you here if it were I? Oh, dear! oh, dear! I know
that I shall go mad!" He jerked his arms and stamped his feet in
a kind of convulsive frenzy.
"You have no reason for fear, Mr. Sholto," said Holmes, kindly,
putting his hand upon his shoulder. "Take my advice, and drive
down to the station to report this matter to the police. Offer
to assist them in every way. We shall wait here until your
The little man obeyed in a half-stupefied fashion, and we heard
him stumbling down the stairs in the dark.
Sherlock Holmes Gives a Demonstration
"Now, Watson," said Holmes, rubbing his hands, "we have half an
hour to ourselves. Let us make good use of it. My case is, as I
have told you, almost complete; but we must not err on the side
of over-confidence. Simple as the case seems now, there may be
something deeper underlying it."
"Simple!" I ejaculated.
"Surely," said he, with something of the air of a clinical
professor expounding to his class. "Just sit in the corner
there, that your footprints may not complicate matters. Now to
work! In the first place, how did these folk come, and how did
they go? The door has not been opened since last night. How of
the window?" He carried the lamp across to it, muttering his
observations aloud the while, but addressing them to himself
rather than to me. "Window is snibbed on the inner side.
Framework is solid. No hinges at the side. Let us open it. No
water-pipe near. Roof quite out of reach. Yet a man has mounted
by the window. It rained a little last night. Here is the print
of a foot in mould upon the sill. And here is a circular muddy
mark, and here again upon the floor, and here again by the table.
See here, Watson! This is really a very pretty demonstration."
I looked at the round, well-defined muddy discs. "This is not a
footmark," said I.
"It is something much more valuable to us. It is the impression
of a wooden stump. You see here on the sill is the boot-mark, a
heavy boot with the broad metal heel, and beside it is the mark
of the timber-toe."
"It is the wooden-legged man."
"Quite so. But there has been some one else,--a very able and
efficient ally. Could you scale that wall, doctor?"
I looked out of the open window. The moon still shone brightly
on that angle of the house. We were a good sixty feet from the
round, and, look where I would, I could see no foothold, nor as
much as a crevice in the brick-work.
"It is absolutely impossible," I answered.
"Without aid it is so. But suppose you had a friend up here who
lowered you this good stout rope which I see in the corner,
securing one end of it to this great hook in the wall. Then, I
think, if you were an active man, You might swarm up, wooden leg
and all. You would depart, of course, in the same fashion, and
your ally would draw up the rope, untie it from the hook, shut
the window, snib it on the inside, and get away in the way that
he originally came. As a minor point it may be noted," he
continued, fingering the rope, "that our wooden-legged friend,
though a fair climber, was not a professional sailor. His hands
were far from horny. My lens discloses more than one blood-mark,
especially towards the end of the rope, from which I gather that
he slipped down with such velocity that he took the skin off his
"This is all very well," said I, "but the thing becomes more
unintelligible than ever. How about this mysterious ally? How
came he into the room?"
"Yes, the ally!" repeated Holmes, pensively. "There are features
of interest about this ally. He lifts the case from the regions
of the commonplace. I fancy that this ally breaks fresh ground
in the annals of crime in this country,--though parallel cases
suggest themselves from India, and, if my memory serves me, from
"How came he, then?" I reiterated. "The door is locked, the
window is inaccessible. Was it through the chimney?"
"The grate is much too small," he answered. "I had already
considered that possibility."
"How then?" I persisted.
"You will not apply my precept," he said, shaking his head. "How
often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the
impossible whatever remains, HOWEVER IMPROBABLE, must be the
truth? We know that he did not come through the door, the
window, or the chimney. We also know that he could not have been
concealed in the room, as there is no concealment possible.
Whence, then, did he come?"
"He came through the hole in the roof," I cried.
"Of course he did. He must have done so. If you will have the
kindness to hold the lamp for me, we shall now extend our
researches to the room above,--the secret room in which the
treasure was found."
He mounted the steps, and, seizing a rafter with either hand, he
swung himself up into the garret. Then, lying on his face, he
reached down for the lamp and held it while I followed him.
The chamber in which we found ourselves was about ten feet one
way and six the other. The floor was formed by the rafters, with
thin lath-and-plaster between, so that in walking one had to step
from beam to beam. The roof ran up to an apex, and was evidently
the inner shell of the true roof of the house. There was no
furniture of any sort, and the accumulated dust of years lay
thick upon the floor.
"Here you are, you see," said Sherlock Holmes, putting his hand
against the sloping wall. "This is a trap-door which leads out
on to the roof. I can press it back, and here is the roof
itself, sloping at a gentle angle. This, then, is the way by
which Number One entered. Let us see if we can find any other
traces of his individuality."
He held down the lamp to the floor, and as he did so I saw for
the second time that night a startled, surprised look come over
his face. For myself, as I followed his gaze my skin was cold
under my clothes. The floor was covered thickly with the prints
of a naked foot,--clear, well defined, perfectly formed, but
scarce half the size of those of an ordinary man.
"Holmes," I said, in a whisper, "a child has done the horrid
He had recovered his self-possession in an instant. "I was
staggered for the moment," he said, "but the thing is quite
natural. My memory failed me, or I should have been able to
foretell it. There is nothing more to be learned here. Let us
"What is your theory, then, as to those footmarks?" I asked,
eagerly, when we had regained the lower room once more.
"My dear Watson, try a little analysis yourself," said he, with a
touch of impatience. "You know my methods. Apply them, and it
will be instructive to compare results."
"I cannot conceive anything which will cover the facts," I
"It will be clear enough to you soon," he said, in an off-hand
way. "I think that there is nothing else of importance here, but
I will look." He whipped out his lens and a tape measure, and
hurried about the room on his knees, measuring, comparing,
examining, with his long thin nose only a few inches from the
planks, and his beady eyes gleaming and deep-set like those of a
bird. So swift, silent, and furtive were his movements, like
those of a trained blood-hound picking out a scent, that I could
not but think what a terrible criminal he would have made had he
turned his energy and sagacity against the law, instead of
exerting them in its defense. As he hunted about, he kept
muttering to himself, and finally he broke out into a loud crow
"We are certainly in luck," said he. "We ought to have very
little trouble now. Number One has had the misfortune to tread
in the creosote. You can see the outline of the edge of his
small foot here at the side of this evil-smelling mess. The
carboy has been cracked, You see, and the stuff has leaked out."
"What then?" I asked.
"Why, we have got him, that's all," said he. "I know a dog that
would follow that scent to the world's end. If a pack can track
a trailed herring across a shire, how far can a specially-trained
hound follow so pungent a smell as this? It sounds like a sum in
the rule of three. The answer should give us the--But halloo!
here are the accredited representatives of the law."
Heavy steps and the clamor of loud voices were audible from
below, and the hall door shut with a loud crash.
"Before they come," said Holmes, "just put your hand here on this
poor fellow's arm, and here on his leg. What do you feel?"
"The muscles are as hard as a board," I answered.
"Quite so. They are in a state of extreme contraction, far
exceeding the usual rigor mortis. Coupled with this distortion
of the face, this Hippocratic smile, or 'risus sardonicus,' as
the old writers called it, what conclusion would it suggest to
"Death from some powerful vegetable alkaloid," I answered,--"some
strychnine-like substance which would produce tetanus."
"That was the idea which occurred to me the instant I saw the
drawn muscles of the face. On getting into the room I at once
looked for the means by which the poison had entered the system.
As you saw, I discovered a thorn which had been driven or shot
with no great force into the scalp. You observe that the part
struck was that which would be turned towards the hole in the
ceiling if the man were erect in his chair. Now examine the
I took it up gingerly and held it in the light of the lantern.
It was long, sharp, and black, with a glazed look near the point
as though some gummy substance had dried upon it. The blunt end
had been trimmed and rounded off with a knife.
"Is that an English thorn?" he asked.
"No, it certainly is not."
"With all these data you should be able to draw some just
inference. But here are the regulars: so the auxiliary forces
may beat a retreat."
As he spoke, the steps which had been coming nearer sounded
loudly on the passage, and a very stout, portly man in a gray
suit strode heavily into the room. He was red-faced, burly and
plethoric, with a pair of very small twinkling eyes which looked
keenly out from between swollen and puffy pouches. He was closely
followed by an inspector in uniform, and by the still palpitating
"Here's a business!" he cried, in a muffled, husky voice.
"Here's a pretty business! But who are all these? Why, the
house seems to be as full as a rabbit-warren!"
"I think you must recollect me, Mr. Athelney Jones," said Holmes,
"Why, of course I do!" he wheezed. "It's Mr. Sherlock Holmes,
the theorist. Remember you! I'll never forget how you lectured
us all on causes and inferences and effects in the Bishopgate
jewel case. It's true you set us on the right track; but you'll
own now that it was more by good luck than good guidance."
"It was a piece of very simple reasoning."
"Oh, come, now, come! Never be ashamed to own up. But what is
all this? Bad business! Bad business! Stern facts here,--no
room for theories. How lucky that I happened to be out at
Norwood over another case! I was at the station when the message
arrived. What d'you think the man died of?"
"Oh, this is hardly a case for me to theorize over," said Holmes,
"No, no. Still, we can't deny that you hit the nail on the head
sometimes. Dear me! Door locked, I understand. Jewels worth
half a million missing. How was the window?"
"Fastened; but there are steps on the sill."
"Well, well, if it was fastened the steps could have nothing to
do with the matter. That's common sense. Man might have died in
a fit; but then the jewels are missing. Ha! I have a theory.
These flashes come upon me at times.--Just step outside,
sergeant, and you, Mr. Sholto. Your friend can remain.--What do
you think of this, Holmes? Sholto was, on his own confession,
with his brother last night. The brother died in a fit, on which
Sholto walked off with the treasure. How's that?"
"On which the dead man very considerately got up and locked the
door on the inside."
"Hum! There's a flaw there. Let us apply common sense to the
matter. This Thaddeus Sholto WAS with his brother; there WAS a
quarrel; so much we know. The brother is dead and the jewels are
gone. So much also we know. No one saw the brother from the
time Thaddeus left him. His bed had not been slept in. Thaddeus
is evidently in a most disturbed state of mind. His appearance
is--well, not attractive. You see that I am weaving my web round
Thaddeus. The net begins to close upon him."
"You are not quite in possession of the facts yet," said Holmes.
"This splinter of wood, which I have every reason to believe to
be poisoned, was in the man's scalp where you still see the mark;
this card, inscribed as you see it, was on the table; and beside
it lay this rather curious stone-headed instrument. How does all
that fit into your theory?"
"Confirms it in every respect," said the fat detective,
pompously. "House is full of Indian curiosities. Thaddeus
brought this up, and if this splinter be poisonous Thaddeus may
as well have made murderous use of it as any other man. The card
is some hocus-pocus,--a blind, as like as not. The only question
is, how did he depart? Ah, of course, here is a hole in the
roof." With great activity, considering his bulk, he sprang up
the steps and squeezed through into the garret, and immediately
afterwards we heard his exulting voice proclaiming that he had
found the trap-door.
"He can find something," remarked Holmes, shrugging his
shoulders. "He has occasional glimmerings of reason. Il n'y a
pas des sots si incommodes que ceux qui ont de l'esprit!"
"You see!" said Athelney Jones, reappearing down the steps again.
"Facts are better than mere theories, after all. My view of the
case is confirmed. There is a trap-door communicating with the
roof, and it is partly open."
"It was I who opened it."
"Oh, indeed! You did notice it, then?" He seemed a little
crestfallen at the discovery. "Well, whoever noticed it, it
shows how our gentleman got away. Inspector!"
"Yes, sir," from the passage.
"Ask Mr. Sholto to step this way.--Mr. Sholto, it is my duty to
inform you that anything which you may say will be used against
you. I arrest you in the queen's name as being concerned in the
death of your brother."
"There, now! Didn't I tell you!" cried the poor little man,
throwing out his hands, and looking from one to the other of us.
"Don't trouble yourself about it, Mr. Sholto," said Holmes. "I
think that I can engage to clear you of the charge."
"Don't promise too much, Mr. Theorist,--don't promise too much!"
snapped the detective. "You may find it a harder matter than you
"Not only will I clear him, Mr. Jones, but I will make you a free
present of the name and description of one of the two people who
were in this room last night. His name, I have every reason to
believe, is Jonathan Small. He is a poorly-educated man, small,
active, with his right leg off, and wearing a wooden stump which
is worn away upon the inner side. His left boot has a coarse,
square-toed sole, with an iron band round the heel. He is a
middle-aged man, much sunburned, and has been a convict. These
few indications may be of some assistance to you, coupled with
the fact that there is a good deal of skin missing from the palm
of his hand. The other man--"
"Ah! the other man--?" asked Athelney Jones, in a sneering voice,
but impressed none the less, as I could easily see, by the
precision of the other's manner.
"Is a rather curious person," said Sherlock Holmes, turning upon
his heel. "I hope before very long to be able to introduce you
to the pair of them.--A word with you, Watson."
He led me out to the head of the stair. "This unexpected
occurrence," he said, "has caused us rather to lose sight of the
original purpose of our journey."
"I have just been thinking so," I answered. "It is not right
that Miss Morstan should remain in this stricken house."
"No. You must escort her home. She lives with Mrs. Cecil
Forrester, in Lower Camberwell: so it is not very far. I will
wait for you here if you will drive out again. Or perhaps you
are too tired?"
"By no means. I don't think I could rest until I know more of
this fantastic business. I have seen something of the rough side
of life, but I give you my word that this quick succession of
strange surprises to-night has shaken my nerve completely. I
should like, however, to see the matter through with you, now
that I have got so far."
"Your presence will be of great service to me," he answered. "We
shall work the case out independently, and leave this fellow
Jones to exult over any mare's-nest which he may choose to
construct. When you have dropped Miss Morstan I wish you to go
on to No. 3 Pinchin Lane, down near the water's edge at Lambeth.
The third house on the right-hand side is a bird-stuffer's:
Sherman is the name. You will see a weasel holding a young
rabbit in the window. Knock old Sherman up, and tell him, with
my compliments, that I want Toby at once. You will bring Toby
back in the cab with you."
"A dog, I suppose."
"Yes,--a queer mongrel, with a most amazing power of scent. I
would rather have Toby's help than that of the whole detective
force of London."
"I shall bring him, then," said I. "It is one now. I ought to
be back before three, if I can get a fresh horse."
"And I," said Holmes, "shall see what I can learn from Mrs.
Bernstone, and from the Indian servant, who, Mr. Thaddeus tell
me, sleeps in the next garret. Then I shall study the great
Jones's methods and listen to his not too delicate sarcasms.
'Wir sind gewohnt das die Menschen verhoehnen was sie nicht
verstehen.' Goethe is always pithy."
The Episode of the Barrel
The police had brought a cab with them, and in this I escorted
Miss Morstan back to her home. After the angelic fashion of
women, she had borne trouble with a calm face as long as there
was some one weaker than herself to support, and I had found her
bright and placid by the side of the frightened housekeeper. In
the cab, however, she first turned faint, and then burst into a
passion of weeping,--so sorely had she been tried by the
adventures of the night. She has told me since that she thought
me cold and distant upon that journey. She little guessed the
struggle within my breast, or the effort of self-restraint which
held me back. My sympathies and my love went out to her, even as
my hand had in the garden. I felt that years of the
conventionalities of life could not teach me to know her sweet,
brave nature as had this one day of strange experiences. Yet
there were two thoughts which sealed the words of affection upon
my lips. She was weak and helpless, shaken in mind and nerve.
It was to take her at a disadvantage to obtrude love upon her at
such a time. Worse still, she was rich. If Holmes's researches
were successful, she would be an heiress. Was it fair, was it
honorable, that a half-pay surgeon should take such advantage of
an intimacy which chance had brought about? Might she not look
upon me as a mere vulgar fortune-seeker? I could not bear to
risk that such a thought should cross her mind. This Agra
treasure intervened like an impassable barrier between us.
It was nearly two o'clock when we reached Mrs. Cecil Forrester's.
The servants had retired hours ago, but Mrs. Forrester had been
so interested by the strange message which Miss Morstan had
received that she had sat up in the hope of her return. She
opened the door herself, a middle-aged, graceful woman, and it
gave me joy to see how tenderly her arm stole round the other's
waist and how motherly was the voice in which she greeted her.
She was clearly no mere paid dependant, but an honored friend. I
was introduced, and Mrs. Forrester earnestly begged me to step in
and tell her our adventures. I explained, however, the
importance of my errand, and promised faithfully to call and
report any progress which we might make with the case. As we
drove away I stole a glance back, and I still seem to see that
little group on the step, the two graceful, clinging figures, the
half-opened door, the hall light shining through stained glass,
the barometer, and the bright stair-rods. It was soothing to
catch even that passing glimpse of a tranquil English home in the
midst of the wild, dark business which had absorbed us.
And the more I thought of what had happened, the wilder and
darker it grew. I reviewed the whole extraordinary sequence of
events as I rattled on through the silent gas-lit streets. There
was the original problem: that at least was pretty clear now.
The death of Captain Morstan, the sending of the pearls, the
advertisement, the letter,--we had had light upon all those
events. They had only led us, however, to a deeper and far more
tragic mystery. The Indian treasure, the curious plan found
among Morstan's baggage, the strange scene at Major Sholto's
death, the rediscovery of the treasure immediately followed by
the murder of the discoverer, the very singular accompaniments to
the crime, the footsteps, the remarkable weapons, the words upon
the card, corresponding with those upon Captain Morstan's
chart,--here was indeed a labyrinth in which a man less
singularly endowed than my fellow-lodger might well despair of
ever finding the clue.
Pinchin Lane was a row of shabby two-storied brick houses in the
lower quarter of Lambeth. I had to knock for some time at No. 3
before I could make my impression. At last, however, there was
the glint of a candle behind the blind, and a face looked out at
the upper window.
"Go on, you drunken vagabone," said the face. "If you kick up
any more row I'll open the kennels and let out forty-three dogs
"If you'll let one out it's just what I have come for," said I.
"Go on!" yelled the voice. "So help me gracious, I have a wiper
in the bag, an' I'll drop it on your 'ead if you don't hook it."
"But I want a dog," I cried.
"I won't be argued with!" shouted Mr. Sherman. "Now stand clear,
for when I say 'three,' down goes the wiper."
"Mr. Sherlock Holmes--" I began, but the words had a most magical
effect, for the window instantly slammed down, and within a
minute the door was unbarred and open. Mr. Sherman was a lanky,
lean old man, with stooping shoulders, a stringy neck, and blue-
"A friend of Mr. Sherlock is always welcome," said he. "Step in,
sir. Keep clear of the badger; for he bites. Ah, naughty,
naughty, would you take a nip at the gentleman?" This to a stoat
which thrust its wicked head and red eyes between the bars of its
cage. "Don't mind that, sir: it's only a slow-worm. It hain't
got no fangs, so I gives it the run o' the room, for it keeps the
bettles down. You must not mind my bein' just a little short wi'
you at first, for I'm guyed at by the children, and there's many
a one just comes down this lane to knock me up. What was it that
Mr. Sherlock Holmes wanted, sir?"
"He wanted a dog of yours."
"Ah! that would be Toby."
"Yes, Toby was the name."
"Toby lives at No. 7 on the left here." He moved slowly forward
with his candle among the queer animal family which he had
gathered round him. In the uncertain, shadowy light I could see
dimly that there were glancing, glimmering eyes peeping down at
us from every cranny and corner. Even the rafters above our
heads were lined by solemn fowls, who lazily shifted their weight
from one leg to the other as our voices disturbed their slumbers.
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