The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
Part 5 out of 7
but he said nothing to either of us as to the result of his
researches. For my own part, I had followed step by step the
methods by which he had traced the various windings of this
complex case, and, though I could not yet perceive the goal
which we would reach, I understood clearly that Holmes expected
this grotesque criminal to make an attempt upon the two
remaining busts, one of which, I remembered, was at Chiswick.
No doubt the object of our journey was to catch him in the very
act, and I could not but admire the cunning with which my friend
had inserted a wrong clue in the evening paper, so as to give
the fellow the idea that he could continue his scheme with
impunity. I was not surprised when Holmes suggested that
I should take my revolver with me. He had himself picked up
the loaded hunting-crop which was his favourite weapon.
A four-wheeler was at the door at eleven, and in it we drove to
a spot at the other side of Hammersmith Bridge. Here the cabman
was directed to wait. A short walk brought us to a secluded
road fringed with pleasant houses, each standing in its own
grounds. In the light of a street lamp we read "Laburnum Villa"
upon the gate-post of one of them. The occupants had evidently
retired to rest, for all was dark save for a fanlight over the
hall door, which shed a single blurred circle on to the garden
path. The wooden fence which separated the grounds from the
road threw a dense black shadow upon the inner side, and here
it was that we crouched.
"I fear that you'll have a long wait," Holmes whispered.
"We may thank our stars that it is not raining. I don't think we
can even venture to smoke to pass the time. However, it's a two
to one chance that we get something to pay us for our trouble."
It proved, however, that our vigil was not to be so long as
Holmes had led us to fear, and it ended in a very sudden and
singular fashion. In an instant, without the least sound to
warn us of his coming, the garden gate swung open, and a lithe,
dark figure, as swift and active as an ape, rushed up the garden
path. We saw it whisk past the light thrown from over the door
and disappear against the black shadow of the house. There was
a long pause, during which we held our breath, and then a very
gentle creaking sound came to our ears. The window was being
opened. The noise ceased, and again there was a long silence.
The fellow was making his way into the house. We saw the sudden
flash of a dark lantern inside the room. What he sought was
evidently not there, for again we saw the flash through another
blind, and then through another.
"Let us get to the open window. We will nab him as he climbs out,"
But before we could move the man had emerged again. As he came
out into the glimmering patch of light we saw that he carried
something white under his arm. He looked stealthily all round
him. The silence of the deserted street reassured him. Turning
his back upon us he laid down his burden, and the next instant
there was the sound of a sharp tap, followed by a clatter and
rattle. The man was so intent upon what he was doing that he
never heard our steps as we stole across the grass plot. With
the bound of a tiger Holmes was on his back, and an instant
later Lestrade and I had him by either wrist and the handcuffs
had been fastened. As we turned him over I saw a hideous,
sallow face, with writhing, furious features, glaring up at us,
and I knew that it was indeed the man of the photograph whom we
But it was not our prisoner to whom Holmes was giving his
attention. Squatted on the doorstep, he was engaged in most
carefully examining that which the man had brought from the
house. It was a bust of Napoleon like the one which we had
seen that morning, and it had been broken into similar
fragments. Carefully Holmes held each separate shard to the
light, but in no way did it differ from any other shattered
piece of plaster. He had just completed his examination when
the hall lights flew up, the door opened, and the owner of the
house, a jovial, rotund figure in shirt and trousers, presented
"Mr. Josiah Brown, I suppose?" said Holmes.
"Yes, sir; and you, no doubt, are Mr. Sherlock Holmes? I had
the note which you sent by the express messenger, and I did
exactly what you told me. We locked every door on the inside
and awaited developments. Well, I'm very glad to see that you
have got the rascal. I hope, gentlemen, that you will come in
and have some refreshment."
However, Lestrade was anxious to get his man into safe quarters,
so within a few minutes our cab had been summoned and we were
all four upon our way to London. Not a word would our captive
say; but he glared at us from the shadow of his matted hair, and
once, when my hand seemed within his reach, he snapped at it
like a hungry wolf. We stayed long enough at the police-station
to learn that a search of his clothing revealed nothing save a
few shillings and a long sheath knife, the handle of which bore
copious traces of recent blood.
"That's all right," said Lestrade, as we parted. "Hill knows
all these gentry, and he will give a name to him. You'll find
that my theory of the Mafia will work out all right. But I'm
sure I am exceedingly obliged to you, Mr. Holmes, for the
workmanlike way in which you laid hands upon him. I don't quite
understand it all yet."
"I fear it is rather too late an hour for explanations," said
Holmes. "Besides, there are one or two details which are not
finished off, and it is one of those cases which are worth
working out to the very end. If you will come round once more
to my rooms at six o'clock to-morrow I think I shall be able to
show you that even now you have not grasped the entire meaning
of this business, which presents some features which make it
absolutely original in the history of crime. If ever I permit
you to chronicle any more of my little problems, Watson,
I foresee that you will enliven your pages by an account of
the singular adventure of the Napoleonic busts."
When we met again next evening Lestrade was furnished with much
information concerning our prisoner. His name, it appeared, was
Beppo, second name unknown. He was a well-known ne'er-do-well
among the Italian colony. He had once been a skilful sculptor
and had earned an honest living, but he had taken to evil
courses and had twice already been in gaol -- once for a petty
theft and once, as we had already heard, for stabbing a
fellow-countryman. He could talk English perfectly well.
His reasons for destroying the busts were still unknown, and he
refused to answer any questions upon the subject; but the police
had discovered that these same busts might very well have been
made by his own hands, since he was engaged in this class of
work at the establishment of Gelder and Co. To all this
information, much of which we already knew, Holmes listened with
polite attention; but I, who knew him so well, could clearly see
that his thoughts were elsewhere, and I detected a mixture of
mingled uneasiness and expectation beneath that mask which he
was wont to assume. At last he started in his chair and his
eyes brightened. There had been a ring at the bell. A minute
later we heard steps upon the stairs, and an elderly, red-faced
man with grizzled side-whiskers was ushered in. In his right
hand he carried an old-fashioned carpet-bag, which he placed
upon the table.
"Is Mr. Sherlock Holmes here?"
My friend bowed and smiled. "Mr. Sandeford, of Reading, I suppose?"
"Yes, sir, I fear that I am a little late; but the trains were
awkward. You wrote to me about a bust that is in my possession."
"I have your letter here. You said, `I desire to possess a copy
of Devine's Napoleon, and am prepared to pay you ten pounds for
the one which is in your possession.' Is that right?"
"I was very much surprised at your letter, for I could not
imagine how you knew that I owned such a thing."
"Of course you must have been surprised, but the explanation is
very simple. Mr. Harding, of Harding Brothers, said that they
had sold you their last copy, and he gave me your address."
"Oh, that was it, was it? Did he tell you what I paid for it?"
"No, he did not."
"Well, I am an honest man, though not a very rich one.
I only gave fifteen shillings for the bust, and I think
you ought to know that before I take ten pounds from you."
"I am sure the scruple does you honour, Mr. Sandeford.
But I have named that price, so I intend to stick to it."
"Well, it is very handsome of you, Mr. Holmes. I brought the
bust up with me, as you asked me to do. Here it is!" He opened
his bag, and at last we saw placed upon our table a complete
specimen of that bust which we had already seen more than once
Holmes took a paper from his pocket and laid a ten-pound note
upon the table.
"You will kindly sign that paper, Mr. Sandeford, in the presence
of these witnesses. It is simply to say that you transfer every
possible right that you ever had in the bust to me. I am a
methodical man, you see, and you never know what turn events
might take afterwards. Thank you, Mr. Sandeford; here is your
money, and I wish you a very good evening."
When our visitor had disappeared Sherlock Holmes's movements
were such as to rivet our attention. He began by taking a clean
white cloth from a drawer and laying it over the table. Then he
placed his newly-acquired bust in the centre of the cloth.
Finally, he picked up his hunting-crop and struck Napoleon a
sharp blow on the top of the head. The figure broke into
fragments, and Holmes bent eagerly over the shattered remains.
Next instant, with a loud shout of triumph, he held up one
splinter, in which a round, dark object was fixed like a plum
in a pudding.
"Gentlemen," he cried, "let me introduce you to the famous
black pearl of the Borgias."
Lestrade and I sat silent for a moment, and then, with a
spontaneous impulse, we both broke out clapping as at the
well-wrought crisis of a play. A flush of colour sprang to
Holmes's pale cheeks, and he bowed to us like the master
dramatist who receives the homage of his audience. It was at
such moments that for an instant he ceased to be a reasoning
machine, and betrayed his human love for admiration and
applause. The same singularly proud and reserved nature which
turned away with disdain from popular notoriety was capable
of being moved to its depths by spontaneous wonder and praise
from a friend.
"Yes, gentlemen," said he, "it is the most famous pearl
now existing in the world, and it has been my good fortune,
by a connected chain of inductive reasoning, to trace it from
the Prince of Colonna's bedroom at the Dacre Hotel, where it was
lost, to the interior of this, the last of the six busts of
Napoleon which were manufactured by Gelder and Co., of Stepney.
You will remember, Lestrade, the sensation caused by the
disappearance of this valuable jewel, and the vain efforts of the
London police to recover it. I was myself consulted upon the
case; but I was unable to throw any light upon it. Suspicion
fell upon the maid of the Princess, who was an Italian, and it
was proved that she had a brother in London, but we failed to
trace any connection between them. The maid's name was Lucretia
Venucci, and there is no doubt in my mind that this Pietro who
was murdered two nights ago was the brother. I have been
looking up the dates in the old files of the paper, and I find
that the disappearance of the pearl was exactly two days before
the arrest of Beppo for some crime of violence, an event which
took place in the factory of Gelder and Co., at the very moment
when these busts were being made. Now you clearly see the
sequence of events, though you see them, of course, in the
inverse order to the way in which they presented themselves to
me. Beppo had the pearl in his possession. He may have stolen
it from Pietro, he may have been Pietro's confederate, he may
have been the go-between of Pietro and his sister. It is of no
consequence to us which is the correct solution.
"The main fact is that he HAD the pearl, and at that moment,
when it was on his person, he was pursued by the police.
He made for the factory in which he worked, and he knew that
he had only a few minutes in which to conceal this enormously
valuable prize, which would otherwise be found on him when he
was searched. Six plaster casts of Napoleon were drying in
the passage. One of them was still soft. In an instant Beppo,
a skilful workman, made a small hole in the wet plaster, dropped
in the pearl, and with a few touches covered over the aperture
once more. It was an admirable hiding-place. No one could
possibly find it. But Beppo was condemned to a year's
imprisonment, and in the meanwhile his six busts were scattered
over London. He could not tell which contained his treasure.
Only by breaking them could he see. Even shaking would tell him
nothing, for as the plaster was wet it was probable that the
pearl would adhere to it -- as, in fact, it has done. Beppo did
not despair, and he conducted his search with considerable
ingenuity and perseverance. Through a cousin who works with
Gelder he found out the retail firms who had bought the busts.
He managed to find employment with Morse Hudson, and in that
way tracked down three of them. The pearl was not there.
Then, with the help of some Italian EMPLOYE, he succeeded in
finding out where the other three busts had gone. The first was
at Harker's. There he was dogged by his confederate, who held
Beppo responsible for the loss of the pearl, and he stabbed him
in the scuffle which followed."
"If he was his confederate why should he carry his photograph?"
"As a means of tracing him if he wished to inquire about him
from any third person. That was the obvious reason. Well,
after the murder I calculated that Beppo would probably hurry
rather than delay his movements. He would fear that the police
would read his secret, and so he hastened on before they should
get ahead of him. Of course, I could not say that he had not
found the pearl in Harker's bust. I had not even concluded for
certain that it was the pearl; but it was evident to me that he
was looking for something, since he carried the bust past the
other houses in order to break it in the garden which had a lamp
overlooking it. Since Harker's bust was one in three the
chances were exactly as I told you, two to one against the pearl
being inside it. There remained two busts, and it was obvious
that he would go for the London one first. I warned the inmates
of the house, so as to avoid a second tragedy, and we went down
with the happiest results. By that time, of course, I knew
for certain that it was the Borgia pearl that we were after.
The name of the murdered man linked the one event with the other.
There only remained a single bust -- the Reading one -- and the
pearl must be there. I bought it in your presence from the
owner -- and there it lies."
We sat in silence for a moment.
"Well," said Lestrade, "I've seen you handle a good many cases,
Mr. Holmes, but I don't know that I ever knew a more workmanlike
one than that. We're not jealous of you at Scotland Yard.
No, sir, we are very proud of you, and if you come down to-morrow
there's not a man, from the oldest inspector to the youngest
constable, who wouldn't be glad to shake you by the hand."
"Thank you!" said Holmes. "Thank you!" and as he turned away
it seemed to me that he was more nearly moved by the softer
human emotions than I had ever seen him. A moment later he was
the cold and practical thinker once more. "Put the pearl in the
safe, Watson," said he, "and get out the papers of the
Conk-Singleton forgery case. Good-bye, Lestrade. If any little
problem comes your way I shall be happy, if I can, to give you
a hint or two as to its solution."
THE STRAND MAGAZINE
Vol. 27 JUNE, 1904
THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES.
By ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE.
IX. -- The Adventure of the Three Students.
IT was in the year '95 that a combination of events, into which
I need not enter, caused Mr. Sherlock Holmes and myself to spend
some weeks in one of our great University towns, and it was
during this time that the small but instructive adventure which
I am about to relate befell us. It will be obvious that any
details which would help the reader to exactly identify the
college or the criminal would be injudicious and offensive.
So painful a scandal may well be allowed to die out. With due
discretion the incident itself may, however, be described, since
it serves to illustrate some of those qualities for which my
friend was remarkable. I will endeavour in my statement to avoid
such terms as would serve to limit the events to any particular
place, or give a clue as to the people concerned.
We were residing at the time in furnished lodgings close to a
library where Sherlock Holmes was pursuing some laborious
researches in early English charters -- researches which led to
results so striking that they may be the subject of one of my
future narratives. Here it was that one evening we received a
visit from an acquaintance, Mr. Hilton Soames, tutor and lecturer
at the College of St. Luke's. Mr. Soames was a tall, spare man,
of a nervous and excitable temperament. I had always known him
to be restless in his manner, but on this particular occasion he
was in such a state of uncontrollable agitation that it was clear
something very unusual had occurred.
"I trust, Mr. Holmes, that you can spare me a few hours of your
valuable time. We have had a very painful incident at St. Luke's,
and really, but for the happy chance of your being in the town,
I should have been at a loss what to do."
"I am very busy just now, and I desire no distractions,"
my friend answered. "I should much prefer that you called
in the aid of the police."
"No, no, my dear sir; such a course is utterly impossible.
When once the law is evoked it cannot be stayed again, and this
is just one of those cases where, for the credit of the college,
it is most essential to avoid scandal. Your discretion is as
well known as your powers, and you are the one man in the world
who can help me. I beg you, Mr. Holmes, to do what you can."
My friend's temper had not improved since he had been deprived
of the congenial surroundings of Baker Street. Without his
scrap-books, his chemicals, and his homely untidiness, he was
an uncomfortable man. He shrugged his shoulders in ungracious
acquiescence, while our visitor in hurried words and with much
excitable gesticulation poured forth his story.
"I must explain to you, Mr. Holmes, that to-morrow is the first
day of the examination for the Fortescue Scholarship. I am one
of the examiners. My subject is Greek, and the first of the
papers consists of a large passage of Greek translation which
the candidate has not seen. This passage is printed on the
examination paper, and it would naturally be an immense advantage
if the candidate could prepare it in advance. For this reason
great care is taken to keep the paper secret.
"To-day about three o'clock the proofs of this paper arrived
from the printers. The exercise consists of half a chapter of
Thucydides. I had to read it over carefully, as the text must
be absolutely correct. At four-thirty my task was not yet
completed. I had, however, promised to take tea in a friend's
rooms, so I left the proof upon my desk. I was absent rather
more than an hour.
"You are aware, Mr. Holmes, that our college doors are double
-- a green baize one within and a heavy oak one without.
As I approached my outer door I was amazed to see a key in it.
For an instant I imagined that I had left my own there, but on
feeling in my pocket I found that it was all right. The only
duplicate which existed, so far as I knew, was that which belonged
to my servant, Bannister, a man who has looked after my room
for ten years, and whose honesty is absolutely above suspicion.
I found that the key was indeed his, that he had entered my room
to know if I wanted tea, and that he had very carelessly left
the key in the door when he came out. His visit to my room
must have been within a very few minutes of my leaving it.
His forgetfulness about the key would have mattered little
upon any other occasion, but on this one day it has produced
the most deplorable consequences.
"The moment I looked at my table I was aware that someone had
rummaged among my papers. The proof was in three long slips.
I had left them all together. Now, I found that one of them was
lying on the floor, one was on the side table near the window,
and the third was where I had left it."
Holmes stirred for the first time.
"The first page on the floor, the second in the window,
the third where you left it," said he.
"Exactly, Mr. Holmes. You amaze me. How could you possibly
"Pray continue your very interesting statement."
"For an instant I imagined that Bannister had taken the
unpardonable liberty of examining my papers. He denied it,
however, with the utmost earnestness, and I am convinced that
he was speaking the truth. The alternative was that someone
passing had observed the key in the door, had known that I was
out, and had entered to look at the papers. A large sum of money
is at stake, for the scholarship is a very valuable one, and an
unscrupulous man might very well run a risk in order to gain an
advantage over his fellows.
"Bannister was very much upset by the incident. He had nearly
fainted when we found that the papers had undoubtedly been
tampered with. I gave him a little brandy and left him collapsed
in a chair while I made a most careful examination of the room.
I soon saw that the intruder had left other traces of his
presence besides the rumpled papers. On the table in the window
were several shreds from a pencil which had been sharpened.
A broken tip of lead was lying there also. Evidently the rascal
had copied the paper in a great hurry, had broken his pencil,
and had been compelled to put a fresh point to it."
"Excellent!" said Holmes, who was recovering his good-humour
as his attention became more engrossed by the case.
"Fortune has been your friend."
"This was not all. I have a new writing-table with a fine
surface of red leather. I am prepared to swear, and so is
Bannister, that it was smooth and unstained. Now I found a
clean cut in it about three inches long -- not a mere scratch,
but a positive cut. Not only this, but on the table I found
a small ball of black dough, or clay, with specks of something
which looks like sawdust in it. I am convinced that these marks
were left by the man who rifled the papers. There were no footmarks
and no other evidence as to his identity. I was at my wits'
ends, when suddenly the happy thought occurred to me that you
were in the town, and I came straight round to put the matter
into your hands. Do help me, Mr. Holmes! You see my dilemma.
Either I must find the man or else the examination must be
postponed until fresh papers are prepared, and since this cannot
be done without explanation there will ensue a hideous scandal,
which will throw a cloud not only on the college, but on the
University. Above all things I desire to settle the matter
quietly and discreetly."
"I shall be happy to look into it and to give you such advice
as I can," said Holmes, rising and putting on his overcoat.
"The case is not entirely devoid of interest. Had anyone visited
you in your room after the papers came to you?"
"Yes; young Daulat Ras, an Indian student who lives on the same
stair, came in to ask me some particulars about the examination."
"For which he was entered?"
"And the papers were on your table?"
"To the best of my belief they were rolled up."
"But might be recognised as proofs?"
"No one else in your room?"
"Did anyone know that these proofs would be there?"
"No one save the printer."
"Did this man Bannister know?"
"No, certainly not. No one knew."
"Where is Bannister now?"
"He was very ill, poor fellow. I left him collapsed
in the chair. I was in such a hurry to come to you."
"You left your door open?"
"I locked up the papers first."
"Then it amounts to this, Mr. Soames, that unless the Indian
student recognised the roll as being proofs, the man who tampered
with them came upon them accidentally without knowing that they
"So it seems to me."
Holmes gave an enigmatic smile.
"Well," said he, "let us go round. Not one of your cases,
Watson -- mental, not physical. All right; come if you want to.
Now, Mr. Soames -- at your disposal!"
The sitting-room of our client opened by a long, low, latticed
window on to the ancient lichen-tinted court of the old college.
A Gothic arched door led to a worn stone staircase. On the
ground floor was the tutor's room. Above were three students,
one on each story. It was already twilight when we reached the
scene of our problem. Holmes halted and looked earnestly at the
window. Then he approached it, and, standing on tiptoe with his
neck craned, he looked into the room.
"He must have entered through the door. There is no opening
except the one pane," said our learned guide.
"Dear me!" said Holmes, and he smiled in a singular way as he
glanced at our companion. "Well, if there is nothing to be
learned here we had best go inside."
The lecturer unlocked the outer door and ushered us into his
room. We stood at the entrance while Holmes made an examination
of the carpet.
"I am afraid there are no signs here," said he. "One could
hardly hope for any upon so dry a day. Your servant seems to
have quite recovered. You left him in a chair, you say; which
"By the window there."
"I see. Near this little table. You can come in now. I have
finished with the carpet. Let us take the little table first.
Of course, what has happened is very clear. The man entered
and took the papers, sheet by sheet, from the central table.
He carried them over to the window table, because from there he
could see if you came across the courtyard, and so could effect
"As a matter of fact he could not," said Soames, "for I entered
by the side door."
"Ah, that's good! Well, anyhow, that was in his mind. Let me
see the three strips. No finger impressions -- no! Well, he
carried over this one first and he copied it. How long would it
take him to do that, using every possible contraction? A quarter
of an hour, not less. Then he tossed it down and seized the
next. He was in the midst of that when your return caused him
to make a very hurried retreat -- VERY hurried, since he had not
time to replace the papers which would tell you that he had been
there. You were not aware of any hurrying feet on the stair as
you entered the outer door?"
"No, I can't say I was."
"Well, he wrote so furiously that he broke his pencil, and had,
as you observe, to sharpen it again. This is of interest,
Watson. The pencil was not an ordinary one. It was above the
usual size, with a soft lead; the outer colour was dark blue,
the maker's name was printed in silver lettering, and the piece
remaining is only about an inch and a half long. Look for such a
pencil, Mr. Soames, and you have got your man. When I add that he
possesses a large and very blunt knife, you have an additional aid."
Mr. Soames was somewhat overwhelmed by this flood of information.
"I can follow the other points," said he, "but really, in this
matter of the length ----"
Holmes held out a small chip with the letters NN and a space of
clear wood after them.
"No, I fear that even now ----"
"Watson, I have always done you an injustice. There are others.
What could this NN be? It is at the end of a word.
You are aware that Johann Faber is the most common maker's name.
Is it not clear that there is just as much of the pencil left
as usually follows the Johann?" He held the small table sideways
to the electric light. "I was hoping that if the paper on which
he wrote was thin some trace of it might come through upon this
polished surface. No, I see nothing. I don't think there is
anything more to be learned here. Now for the central table.
This small pellet is, I presume, the black, doughy mass you spoke
of. Roughly pyramidal in shape and hollowed out, I perceive.
As you say, there appear to be grains of sawdust in it. Dear me,
this is very interesting. And the cut -- a positive tear, I see.
It began with a thin scratch and ended in a jagged hole. I am
much indebted to you for directing my attention to this case,
Mr. Soames. Where does that door lead to?"
"To my bedroom."
"Have you been in it since your adventure?"
"No; I came straight away for you."
"I should like to have a glance round. What a charming,
old-fashioned room! Perhaps you will kindly wait a minute until
I have examined the floor. No, I see nothing. What about this
curtain? You hang your clothes behind it. If anyone were forced
to conceal himself in this room he must do it there, since the
bed is too low and the wardrobe too shallow. No one there,
As Holmes drew the curtain I was aware, from some little
rigidity and alertness of his attitude, that he was prepared for
an emergency. As a matter of fact the drawn curtain disclosed
nothing but three or four suits of clothes hanging from a line
of pegs. Holmes turned away and stooped suddenly to the floor.
"Halloa! What's this?" said he.
It was a small pyramid of black, putty-like stuff, exactly like
the one upon the table of the study. Holmes held it out on his
open palm in the glare of the electric light.
"Your visitor seems to have left traces in your bedroom as well
as in your sitting-room, Mr. Soames."
"What could he have wanted there?"
"I think it is clear enough. You came back by an unexpected
way, and so he had no warning until you were at the very door.
What could he do? He caught up everything which would betray
him and he rushed into your bedroom to conceal himself."
"Good gracious, Mr. Holmes, do you mean to tell me that all the
time I was talking to Bannister in this room we had the man
prisoner if we had only known it?"
"So I read it."
"Surely there is another alternative, Mr. Holmes. I don't know
whether you observed my bedroom window?"
"Lattice-paned, lead framework, three separate windows,
one swinging on hinge and large enough to admit a man."
"Exactly. And it looks out on an angle of the courtyard
so as to be partly invisible. The man might have effected his
entrance there, left traces as he passed through the bedroom,
and, finally, finding the door open have escaped that way."
Holmes shook his head impatiently.
"Let us be practical," said he. "I understand you to say
that there are three students who use this stair and are
in the habit of passing your door?"
"Yes, there are."
"And they are all in for this examination?"
"Have you any reason to suspect any one of them more than
"It is a very delicate question," said he. "One hardly likes
to throw suspicion where there are no proofs."
"Let us hear the suspicions. I will look after the proofs."
"I will tell you, then, in a few words the character of the
three men who inhabit these rooms. The lower of the three is
Gilchrist, a fine scholar and athlete; plays in the Rugby team
and the cricket team for the college, and got his Blue for the
hurdles and the long jump. He is a fine, manly fellow. His
father was the notorious Sir Jabez Gilchrist, who ruined himself
on the turf. My scholar has been left very poor, but he is
hard-working and industrious. He will do well.
"The second floor is inhabited by Daulat Ras, the Indian.
He is a quiet, inscrutable fellow, as most of those Indians are.
He is well up in his work, though his Greek is his weak subject.
He is steady and methodical.
"The top floor belongs to Miles McLaren. He is a brilliant
fellow when he chooses to work -- one of the brightest
intellects of the University, but he is wayward, dissipated,
and unprincipled. He was nearly expelled over a card scandal
in his first year. He has been idling all this term, and he
must look forward with dread to the examination."
"Then it is he whom you suspect?"
"I dare not go so far as that. But of the three he is perhaps
the least unlikely."
"Exactly. Now, Mr. Soames, let us have a look at your servant,
He was a little, white-faced, clean-shaven, grizzly-haired
fellow of fifty. He was still suffering from this sudden
disturbance of the quiet routine of his life. His plump face
was twitching with his nervousness, and his fingers could not
"We are investigating this unhappy business, Bannister,"
said his master.
"I understand," said Holmes, "that you left your key in the door?"
"Was it not very extraordinary that you should do this on the
very day when there were these papers inside?"
"It was most unfortunate, sir. But I have occasionally done
the same thing at other times."
"When did you enter the room?"
"It was about half-past four. That is Mr. Soames's tea time."
"How long did you stay?"
"When I saw that he was absent I withdrew at once."
"Did you look at these papers on the table?"
"No, sir; certainly not."
"How came you to leave the key in the door?"
"I had the tea-tray in my hand. I thought I would come back
for the key. Then I forgot."
"Has the outer door a spring lock?"
"Then it was open all the time?"
"Anyone in the room could get out?"
"When Mr. Soames returned and called for you, you were very
"Yes, sir. Such a thing has never happened during the many
years that I have been here. I nearly fainted, sir."
"So I understand. Where were you when you began to feel bad?"
"Where was I, sir? Why, here, near the door."
"That is singular, because you sat down in that chair over
yonder near the corner. Why did you pass these other chairs?"
"I don't know, sir. It didn't matter to me where I sat."
"I really don't think he knew much about it, Mr. Holmes.
He was looking very bad -- quite ghastly."
"You stayed here when your master left?"
"Only for a minute or so. Then I locked the door and went
to my room."
"Whom do you suspect?"
"Oh, I would not venture to say, sir. I don't believe there
is any gentleman in this University who is capable of profiting
by such an action. No, sir, I'll not believe it."
"Thank you; that will do," said Holmes. "Oh, one more word.
You have not mentioned to any of the three gentlemen whom you
attend that anything is amiss?"
"No, sir; not a word."
"You haven't seen any of them?"
"Very good. Now, Mr. Soames, we will take a walk in the
quadrangle, if you please."
Three yellow squares of light shone above us in the gathering
"Your three birds are all in their nests," said Holmes, looking up.
"Halloa! What's that? One of them seems restless enough."
It was the Indian, whose dark silhouette appeared suddenly
upon his blind. He was pacing swiftly up and down his room.
"I should like to have a peep at each of them," said Holmes.
"Is it possible?"
"No difficulty in the world," Soames answered. "This set of
rooms is quite the oldest in the college, and it is not unusual
for visitors to go over them. Come along, and I will personally
"No names, please!" said Holmes, as we knocked at Gilchrist's
door. A tall, flaxen-haired, slim young fellow opened it, and
made us welcome when he understood our errand. There were some
really curious pieces of mediaeval domestic architecture within.
Holmes was so charmed with one of them that he insisted on
drawing it on his note-book, broke his pencil, had to borrow one
from our host, and finally borrowed a knife to sharpen his own.
The same curious accident happened to him in the rooms of the
Indian -- a silent, little, hook-nosed fellow, who eyed us
askance and was obviously glad when Holmes's architectural
studies had come to an end. I could not see that in either
case Holmes had come upon the clue for which he was searching.
Only at the third did our visit prove abortive. The outer door
would not open to our knock, and nothing more substantial than
a torrent of bad language came from behind it. "I don't care
who you are. You can go to blazes!" roared the angry voice.
"To-morrow's the exam, and I won't be drawn by anyone."
"A rude fellow," said our guide, flushing with anger as we
withdrew down the stair. "Of course, he did not realize that it
was I who was knocking, but none the less his conduct was very
uncourteous, and, indeed, under the circumstances rather
Holmes's response was a curious one.
"Can you tell me his exact height?" he asked.
"Really, Mr. Holmes, I cannot undertake to say. He is taller
than the Indian, not so tall as Gilchrist. I suppose five foot
six would be about it."
"That is very important," said Holmes. "And now, Mr. Soames,
I wish you good-night."
Our guide cried aloud in his astonishment and dismay. "Good
gracious, Mr. Holmes, you are surely not going to leave me in
this abrupt fashion! You don't seem to realize the position.
To-morrow is the examination. I must take some definite action
to-night. I cannot allow the examination to be held if one of
the papers has been tampered with. The situation must be faced."
"You must leave it as it is. I shall drop round early to-morrow
morning and chat the matter over. It is possible that I may
be in a position then to indicate some course of action.
Meanwhile you change nothing -- nothing at all."
"Very good, Mr. Holmes."
"You can be perfectly easy in your mind. We shall certainly
find some way out of your difficulties. I will take the black
clay with me, also the pencil cuttings. Good-bye."
When we were out in the darkness of the quadrangle we again
looked up at the windows. The Indian still paced his room.
The others were invisible.
"Well, Watson, what do you think of it?" Holmes asked, as we
came out into the main street. "Quite a little parlour game --
sort of three-card trick, is it not? There are your three men.
It must be one of them. You take your choice. Which is yours?"
"The foul-mouthed fellow at the top. He is the one with the
worst record. And yet that Indian was a sly fellow also.
Why should he be pacing his room all the time?"
"There is nothing in that. Many men do it when they are trying
to learn anything by heart."
"He looked at us in a queer way."
"So would you if a flock of strangers came in on you when you
were preparing for an examination next day, and every moment was
of value. No, I see nothing in that. Pencils, too, and knives
-- all was satisfactory. But that fellow DOES puzzle me."
"Why, Bannister, the servant. What's his game in the matter?"
"He impressed me as being a perfectly honest man."
"So he did me. That's the puzzling part. Why should a
perfectly honest man -- well, well, here's a large stationer's.
We shall begin our researches here."
There were only four stationers of any consequence in the town,
and at each Holmes produced his pencil chips and bid high for a
duplicate. All were agreed that one could be ordered, but that
it was not a usual size of pencil and that it was seldom kept in
stock. My friend did not appear to be depressed by his failure,
but shrugged his shoulders in half-humorous resignation.
"No good, my dear Watson. This, the best and only final clue,
has run to nothing. But, indeed, I have little doubt that we can
build up a sufficient case without it. By Jove! my dear fellow,
it is nearly nine, and the landlady babbled of green peas at
seven-thirty. What with your eternal tobacco, Watson, and your
irregularity at meals, I expect that you will get notice to quit
and that I shall share your downfall -- not, however, before we
have solved the problem of the nervous tutor, the careless
servant, and the three enterprising students."
Holmes made no further allusion to the matter that day, though
he sat lost in thought for a long time after our belated dinner.
At eight in the morning he came into my room just as I finished
"Well, Watson," said he, "it is time we went down to St. Luke's.
Can you do without breakfast?"
"Soames will be in a dreadful fidget until we are able to tell
him something positive."
"Have you anything positive to tell him?"
"I think so."
"You have formed a conclusion?"
"Yes, my dear Watson; I have solved the mystery."
"But what fresh evidence could you have got?"
"Aha! It is not for nothing that I have turned myself out
of bed at the untimely hour of six. I have put in two hours'
hard work and covered at least five miles, with something
to show for it. Look at that!"
He held out his hand. On the palm were three little pyramids
of black, doughy clay.
"Why, Holmes, you had only two yesterday!"
"And one more this morning. It is a fair argument that wherever
No. 3 came from is also the source of Nos. 1 and 2. Eh, Watson?
Well, come along and put friend Soames out of his pain."
The unfortunate tutor was certainly in a state of pitiable
agitation when we found him in his chambers. In a few hours the
examination would commence, and he was still in the dilemma
between making the facts public and allowing the culprit to
compete for the valuable scholarship. He could hardly stand
still, so great was his mental agitation, and he ran towards
Holmes with two eager hands outstretched.
"Thank Heaven that you have come! I feared that you had given it
up in despair. What am I to do? Shall the examination proceed?"
"Yes; let it proceed by all means."
"But this rascal ----?"
"He shall not compete."
"You know him?"
"I think so. If this matter is not to become public we must
give ourselves certain powers, and resolve ourselves into a small
private court-martial. You there, if you please, Soames! Watson,
you here! I'll take the arm-chair in the middle. I think that
we are now sufficiently imposing to strike terror into a guilty
breast. Kindly ring the bell!"
Bannister entered, and shrunk back in evident surprise and fear
at our judicial appearance.
"You will kindly close the door," said Holmes. "Now, Bannister,
will you please tell us the truth about yesterday's incident?"
The man turned white to the roots of his hair.
"I have told you everything, sir."
"Nothing to add?"
"Nothing at all, sir."
"Well, then, I must make some suggestions to you. When you sat
down on that chair yesterday, did you do so in order to conceal
some object which would have shown who had been in the room?"
Bannister's face was ghastly.
"No, sir; certainly not."
"It is only a suggestion," said Holmes, suavely. "I frankly
admit that I am unable to prove it. But it seems probable
enough, since the moment that Mr. Soames's back was turned
you released the man who was hiding in that bedroom."
Bannister licked his dry lips.
"There was no man, sir."
"Ah, that's a pity, Bannister. Up to now you may have spoken
the truth, but now I know that you have lied."
The man's face set in sullen defiance.
"There was no man, sir."
"Come, come, Bannister!"
"No, sir; there was no one."
"In that case you can give us no further information.
Would you please remain in the room? Stand over there near
the bedroom door. Now, Soames, I am going to ask you to have
the great kindness to go up to the room of young Gilchrist,
and to ask him to step down into yours."
An instant later the tutor returned, bringing with him the
student. He was a fine figure of a man, tall, lithe, and agile,
with a springy step and a pleasant, open face. His troubled blue
eyes glanced at each of us, and finally rested with an expression
of blank dismay upon Bannister in the farther corner.
"Just close the door," said Holmes. "Now, Mr. Gilchrist,
we are all quite alone here, and no one need ever know one word
of what passes between us. We can be perfectly frank with each
other. We want to know, Mr. Gilchrist, how you, an honourable
man, ever came to commit such an action as that of yesterday?"
The unfortunate young man staggered back and cast a look full
of horror and reproach at Bannister.
"No, no, Mr. Gilchrist, sir; I never said a word -- never one
word!" cried the servant.
"No, but you have now," said Holmes. "Now, sir, you must
see that after Bannister's words your position is hopeless,
and that your only chance lies in a frank confession."
For a moment Gilchrist, with upraised hand, tried to control
his writhing features. The next he had thrown himself on his
knees beside the table and, burying his face in his hands,
he had burst into a storm of passionate sobbing.
"Come, come," said Holmes, kindly; "it is human to err,
and at least no one can accuse you of being a callous criminal.
Perhaps it would be easier for you if I were to tell Mr. Soames
what occurred, and you can check me where I am wrong. Shall I
do so? Well, well, don't trouble to answer. Listen, and see
that I do you no injustice.
"From the moment, Mr. Soames, that you said to me that no one,
not even Bannister, could have told that the papers were in
your room, the case began to take a definite shape in my mind.
The printer one could, of course, dismiss. He could examine the
papers in his own office. The Indian I also thought nothing of.
If the proofs were in a roll he could not possibly know what they
were. On the other hand, it seemed an unthinkable coincidence
that a man should dare to enter the room, and that by chance on
that very day the papers were on the table. I dismissed that.
The man who entered knew that the papers were there. How did
"When I approached your room I examined the window. You amused
me by supposing that I was contemplating the possibility of
someone having in broad daylight, under the eyes of all these
opposite rooms, forced himself through it. Such an idea was
absurd. I was measuring how tall a man would need to be in order
to see as he passed what papers were on the central table. I am
six feet high, and I could do it with an effort. No one less
than that would have a chance. Already you see I had reason to
think that if one of your three students was a man of unusual
height he was the most worth watching of the three.
"I entered and I took you into my confidence as to the
suggestions of the side table. Of the centre table I could make
nothing, until in your description of Gilchrist you mentioned
that he was a long-distance jumper. Then the whole thing came to
me in an instant, and I only needed certain corroborative proofs,
which I speedily obtained.
"What happened was this. This young fellow had employed his
afternoon at the athletic grounds, where he had been practising
the jump. He returned carrying his jumping shoes, which are
provided, as you are aware, with several sharp spikes. As he
passed your window he saw, by means of his great height, these
proofs upon your table, and conjectured what they were. No harm
would have been done had it not been that as he passed your door
he perceived the key which had been left by the carelessness of
your servant. A sudden impulse came over him to enter and see
if they were indeed the proofs. It was not a dangerous exploit,
for he could always pretend that he had simply looked in to ask
"Well, when he saw that they were indeed the proofs, it was
then that he yielded to temptation. He put his shoes on the
table. What was it you put on that chair near the window?"
"Gloves," said the young man.
Holmes looked triumphantly at Bannister. "He put his gloves on
the chair, and he took the proofs, sheet by sheet, to copy them.
He thought the tutor must return by the main gate, and that he
would see him. As we know, he came back by the side gate.
Suddenly he heard him at the very door. There was no possible
escape. He forgot his gloves, but he caught up his shoes and
darted into the bedroom. You observe that the scratch on that
table is slight at one side, but deepens in the direction of the
bedroom door. That in itself is enough to show us that the shoe
had been drawn in that direction and that the culprit had taken
refuge there. The earth round the spike had been left on the
table, and a second sample was loosened and fell in the bedroom.
I may add that I walked out to the athletic grounds this morning,
saw that tenacious black clay is used in the jumping-pit, and
carried away a specimen of it, together with some of the fine tan
or sawdust which is strewn over it to prevent the athlete from
slipping. Have I told the truth, Mr. Gilchrist?"
The student had drawn himself erect.
"Yes, sir, it is true," said he.
"Good heavens, have you nothing to add?" cried Soames.
"Yes, sir, I have, but the shock of this disgraceful exposure has
bewildered me. I have a letter here, Mr. Soames, which I wrote
to you early this morning in the middle of a restless night.
It was before I knew that my sin had found me out. Here it is,
sir. You will see that I have said, `I have determined not to go
in for the examination. I have been offered a commission in the
Rhodesian Police, and I am going out to South Africa at once."'
"I am indeed pleased to hear that you did not intend to profit
by your unfair advantage," said Soames. "But why did you change
Gilchrist pointed to Bannister.
"There is the man who set me in the right path," said he.
"Come now, Bannister," said Holmes. "It will be clear to you
from what I have said that only you could have let this young
man out, since you were left in the room, and must have locked
the door when you went out. As to his escaping by that window,
it was incredible. Can you not clear up the last point in this
mystery, and tell us the reasons for your action?"
"It was simple enough, sir, if you only had known; but with all
your cleverness it was impossible that you could know. Time was,
sir, when I was butler to old Sir Jabez Gilchrist, this young
gentleman's father. When he was ruined I came to the college as
servant, but I never forgot my old employer because he was down
in the world. I watched his son all I could for the sake of the
old days. Well, sir, when I came into this room yesterday when
the alarm was given, the very first thing I saw was Mr. Gilchrist's
tan gloves a-lying in that chair. I knew those gloves well,
and I understood their message. If Mr. Soames saw them the game
was up. I flopped down into that chair, and nothing would budge
me until Mr. Soames he went for you. Then out came my poor young
master, whom I had dandled on my knee, and confessed it all to me.
Wasn't it natural, sir, that I should save him, and wasn't it
natural also that I should try to speak to him as his dead father
would have done, and make him understand that he could not profit
by such a deed? Could you blame me, sir?"
"No, indeed," said Holmes, heartily, springing to his feet.
"Well, Soames, I think we have cleared your little problem up, and
our breakfast awaits us at home. Come, Watson! As to you, sir,
I trust that a bright future awaits you in Rhodesia. For once you
have fallen low. Let us see in the future how high you can rise."
THE STRAND MAGAZINE
Vol. 28 JULY, 1904
THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
By ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE
X. --- The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez.
WHEN I look at the three massive manuscript volumes which
contain our work for the year 1894 I confess that it is very
difficult for me, out of such a wealth of material, to select
the cases which are most interesting in themselves and at the
same time most conducive to a display of those peculiar powers
for which my friend was famous. As I turn over the pages I see
my notes upon the repulsive story of the red leech and the
terrible death of Crosby the banker. Here also I find an
account of the Addleton tragedy and the singular contents
of the ancient British barrow. The famous Smith-Mortimer
succession case comes also within this period, and so does
the tracking and arrest of Huret, the Boulevard assassin --
an exploit which won for Holmes an autograph letter of thanks
from the French President and the Order of the Legion of Honour.
Each of these would furnish a narrative, but on the whole I am
of opinion that none of them unite so many singular points of
interest as the episode of Yoxley Old Place, which includes not
only the lamentable death of young Willoughby Smith, but also
those subsequent developments which threw so curious a light
upon the causes of the crime.
It was a wild, tempestuous night towards the close of November.
Holmes and I sat together in silence all the evening, he engaged
with a powerful lens deciphering the remains of the original
inscription upon a palimpsest, I deep in a recent treatise upon
surgery. Outside the wind howled down Baker Street, while the
rain beat fiercely against the windows. It was strange there
in the very depths of the town, with ten miles of man's
handiwork on every side of us, to feel the iron grip of Nature,
and to be conscious that to the huge elemental forces all London
was no more than the molehills that dot the fields.
I walked to the window and looked out on the deserted street.
The occasional lamps gleamed on the expanse of muddy road and
shining pavement. A single cab was splashing its way from the
Oxford Street end.
"Well, Watson, it's as well we have not to turn out to-night,"
said Holmes, laying aside his lens and rolling up the palimpsest.
"I've done enough for one sitting. It is trying work for the eyes.
So far as I can make out it is nothing more exciting than an Abbey's
accounts dating from the second half of the fifteenth century.
Halloa! halloa! halloa! What's this?"
Amid the droning of the wind there had come the stamping of a
horse's hoofs and the long grind of a wheel as it rasped against
the kerb. The cab which I had seen had pulled up at our door.
"What can he want?" I ejaculated, as a man stepped out of it.
"Want! He wants us. And we, my poor Watson, want overcoats and
cravats and goloshes, and every aid that man ever invented to
fight the weather. Wait a bit, though! There's the cab off again!
There's hope yet. He'd have kept it if he had wanted us to come.
Run down, my dear fellow, and open the door, for all virtuous
folk have been long in bed."
When the light of the hall lamp fell upon our midnight visitor
I had no difficulty in recognising him. It was young Stanley
Hopkins, a promising detective, in whose career Holmes had
several times shown a very practical interest.
"Is he in?" he asked, eagerly.
"Come up, my dear sir," said Holmes's voice from above.
"I hope you have no designs upon us on such a night as this."
The detective mounted the stairs, and our lamp gleamed upon his
shining waterproof. I helped him out of it while Holmes
knocked a blaze out of the logs in the grate.
"Now, my dear Hopkins, draw up and warm your toes," said he.
"Here's a cigar, and the doctor has a prescription containing hot
water and a lemon which is good medicine on a night like this.
It must be something important which has brought you out
in such a gale."
"It is indeed, Mr. Holmes. I've had a bustling afternoon,
I promise you. Did you see anything of the Yoxley case in
the latest editions?"
"I've seen nothing later than the fifteenth century to-day."
"Well, it was only a paragraph, and all wrong at that, so you
have not missed anything. I haven't let the grass grow under
my feet. It's down in Kent, seven miles from Chatham and three
from the railway line. I was wired for at three-fifteen, reached
Yoxley Old Place at five, conducted my investigation, was back
at Charing Cross by the last train, and straight to you by cab."
"Which means, I suppose, that you are not quite clear about your case?"
"It means that I can make neither head nor tail of it.
So far as I can see it is just as tangled a business as ever I
handled, and yet at first it seemed so simple that one couldn't
go wrong. There's no motive, Mr. Holmes. That's what bothers
me -- I can't put my hand on a motive. Here's a man dead --
there's no denying that -- but, so far as I can see, no reason
on earth why anyone should wish him harm."
Holmes lit his cigar and leaned back in his chair.
"Let us hear about it," said he.
"I've got my facts pretty clear," said Stanley Hopkins.
"All I want now is to know what they all mean. The story,
so far as I can make it out, is like this. Some years ago this
country house, Yoxley Old Place, was taken by an elderly man,
who gave the name of Professor Coram. He was an invalid,
keeping his bed half the time, and the other half hobbling round
the house with a stick or being pushed about the grounds by the
gardener in a bath-chair. He was well liked by the few neighbours
who called upon him, and he has the reputation down there of
being a very learned man. His household used to consist of an
elderly housekeeper, Mrs. Marker, and of a maid, Susan Tarlton.
These have both been with him since his arrival, and they seem
to be women of excellent character. The Professor is writing
a learned book, and he found it necessary about a year ago to
engage a secretary. The first two that he tried were not
successes; but the third, Mr. Willoughby Smith, a very young man
straight from the University, seems to have been just what his
employer wanted. His work consisted in writing all the morning
to the Professor's dictation, and he usually spent the evening
in hunting up references and passages which bore upon the next
day's work. This Willoughby Smith has nothing against him
either as a boy at Uppingham or as a young man at Cambridge.
I have seen his testimonials, and from the first he was a decent,
quiet, hardworking fellow, with no weak spot in him at all.
And yet this is the lad who has met his death this morning in the
Professor's study under circumstances which can point only to murder."
The wind howled and screamed at the windows. Holmes and I drew
closer to the fire while the young inspector slowly and point
by point developed his singular narrative.
"If you were to search all England," said he, "I don't suppose
you could find a household more self-contained or free from
outside influences. Whole weeks would pass and not one of them
go past the garden gate. The Professor was buried in his work
and existed for nothing else. Young Smith knew nobody in the
neighbourhood, and lived very much as his employer did. The two
women had nothing to take them from the house. Mortimer the
gardener, who wheels the bath-chair, is an Army pensioner -- an
old Crimean man of excellent character. He does not live in the
house, but in a three-roomed cottage at the other end of the
garden. Those are the only people that you would find within
the grounds of Yoxley Old Place. At the same time, the gate
of the garden is a hundred yards from the main London to Chatham
road. It opens with a latch, and there is nothing to prevent
anyone from walking in.
"Now I will give you the evidence of Susan Tarlton, who is the
only person who can say anything positive about the matter.
It was in the forenoon, between eleven and twelve.
She was engaged at the moment in hanging some curtains in
the upstairs front bedroom. Professor Coram was still in bed,
for when the weather is bad he seldom rises before midday.
The housekeeper was busied with some work in the back of the house.
Willoughby Smith had been in his bedroom, which he uses as a
sitting-room; but the maid heard him at that moment pass along
the passage and descend to the study immediately below her.
She did not see him, but she says that she could not be mistaken
in his quick, firm tread. She did not hear the study door close,
but a minute or so later there was a dreadful cry in the room below.
It was a wild, hoarse scream, so strange and unnatural that it
might have come either from a man or a woman. At the same instant
there was a heavy thud, which shook the old house, and then all
was silence. The maid stood petrified for a moment, and then,
recovering her courage, she ran downstairs. The study door was shut,
and she opened it. Inside young Mr. Willoughby Smith was stretched
upon the floor. At first she could see no injury, but as she tried
to raise him she saw that blood was pouring from the underside of
his neck. It was pierced by a very small but very deep wound,
which had divided the carotid artery. The instrument with which
the injury had been inflicted lay upon the carpet beside him.
It was one of those small sealing-wax knives to be found on
old-fashioned writing-tables, with an ivory handle and a stiff
blade. It was part of the fittings of the Professor's own desk.
"At first the maid thought that young Smith was already dead,
but on pouring some water from the carafe over his forehead he
opened his eyes for an instant. `The Professor,' he murmured --
`it was she.' The maid is prepared to swear that those were
the exact words. He tried desperately to say something else,
and he held his right hand up in the air. Then he fell back dead.
"In the meantime the housekeeper had also arrived upon the scene,
but she was just too late to catch the young man's dying words.
Leaving Susan with the body, she hurried to the Professor's room.
He was sitting up in bed horribly agitated, for he had heard
enough to convince him that something terrible had occurred.
Mrs. Marker is prepared to swear that the Professor was still
in his night-clothes, and, indeed, it was impossible for him to
dress without the help of Mortimer, whose orders were to come
at twelve o'clock. The Professor declares that he heard the
distant cry, but that he knows nothing more. He can give no
explanation of the young man's last words, `The Professor --
it was she,' but imagines that they were the outcome of delirium.
He believes that Willoughby Smith had not an enemy in the world,
and can give no reason for the crime. His first action was to
send Mortimer the gardener for the local police. A little later
the chief constable sent for me. Nothing was moved before I
got there, and strict orders were given that no one should walk
upon the paths leading to the house. It was a splendid chance
of putting your theories into practice, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.
There was really nothing wanting."
"Except Mr. Sherlock Holmes," said my companion, with a somewhat
bitter smile. "Well, let us hear about it. What sort of job
did you make of it?"
"I must ask you first, Mr. Holmes, to glance at this rough plan,
which will give you a general idea of the position of the
Professor's study and the various points of the case.
It will help you in following my investigation."
He unfolded the rough chart, which I here reproduce, and he laid
it across Holmes's knee. I rose, and, standing behind Holmes,
I studied it over his shoulder.
"It is very rough, of course, and it only deals with the points
which seem to me to be essential. All the rest you will see
later for yourself. Now, first of all, presuming that the
assassin entered the house, how did he or she come in?
Undoubtedly by the garden path and the back door, from which
there is direct access to the study. Any other way would have
been exceedingly complicated. The escape must have also been
made along that line, for of the two other exits from the room
one was blocked by Susan as she ran downstairs and the other
leads straight to the Professor's bedroom. I therefore directed
my attention at once to the garden path, which was saturated
with recent rain and would certainly show any footmarks.
"My examination showed me that I was dealing with a cautious
and expert criminal. No footmarks were to be found on the path.
There could be no question, however, that someone had passed
along the grass border which lines the path, and that he had
done so in order to avoid leaving a track. I could not find
anything in the nature of a distinct impression, but the grass
was trodden down and someone had undoubtedly passed. It could
only have been the murderer, since neither the gardener nor
anyone else had been there that morning and the rain had only
begun during the night."
"One moment," said Holmes. "Where does this path lead to?"
"To the road."
"How long is it?"
"A hundred yards or so."
"At the point where the path passes through the gate you could
surely pick up the tracks?"
"Unfortunately, the path was tiled at that point."
"Well, on the road itself?"
"No; it was all trodden into mire."
"Tut-tut! Well, then, these tracks upon the grass,
were they coming or going?"
"It was impossible to say. There was never any outline."
"A large foot or a small?"
"You could not distinguish."
Holmes gave an ejaculation of impatience.
"It has been pouring rain and blowing a hurricane ever since,"
said he. "It will be harder to read now than that palimpsest.
Well, well, it can't be helped. What did you do, Hopkins,
after you had made certain that you had made certain of nothing?"
"I think I made certain of a good deal, Mr. Holmes.
I knew that someone had entered the house cautiously from without.
I next examined the corridor. It is lined with cocoanut matting
and had taken no impression of any kind. This brought me into the
study itself. It is a scantily-furnished room. The main article
is a large writing-table with a fixed bureau. This bureau
consists of a double column of drawers with a central small
cupboard between them. The drawers were open, the cupboard locked.
The drawers, it seems, were always open, and nothing of value was
kept in them. There were some papers of importance in the cupboard,
but there were no signs that this had been tampered with, and the
Professor assures me that nothing was missing. It is certain that
no robbery has been committed.
"I come now to the body of the young man.
It was found near the bureau, and just to the left of it,
as marked upon that chart. The stab was on the right side
of the neck and from behind forwards, so that it is almost
impossible that it could have been self-inflicted."
"Unless he fell upon the knife," said Holmes.
"Exactly. The idea crossed my mind. But we found the knife some
feet away from the body, so that seems impossible. Then, of course,
there are the man's own dying words. And, finally, there was this
very important piece of evidence which was found clasped in the
dead man's right hand."
From his pocket Stanley Hopkins drew a small paper packet.
He unfolded it and disclosed a golden pince-nez, with two broken
ends of black silk cord dangling from the end of it.
"Willoughby Smith had excellent sight," he added. "There can be
no question that this was snatched from the face or the person
of the assassin."
Sherlock Holmes took the glasses into his hand and examined
them with the utmost attention and interest. He held them on
his nose, endeavoured to read through them, went to the window
and stared up the street with them, looked at them most minutely
in the full light of the lamp, and finally, with a chuckle,
seated himself at the table and wrote a few lines upon a sheet
of paper, which he tossed across to Stanley Hopkins.
"That's the best I can do for you," said he.
"It may prove to be of some use."
The astonished detective read the note aloud. It ran as follows:--
"Wanted, a woman of good address, attired like a lady.
She has a remarkably thick nose, with eyes which are set close
upon either side of it. She has a puckered forehead, a peering
expression, and probably rounded shoulders. There are
indications that she has had recourse to an optician at least
twice during the last few months. As her glasses are of
remarkable strength and as opticians are not very numerous,
there should be no difficulty in tracing her."
Holmes smiled at the astonishment of Hopkins, which must have
been reflected upon my features.
"Surely my deductions are simplicity itself," said he.
"It would be difficult to name any articles which afford a finer
field for inference than a pair of glasses, especially so
remarkable a pair as these. That they belong to a woman I
infer from their delicacy, and also, of course, from the last
words of the dying man. As to her being a person of refinement
and well dressed, they are, as you perceive, handsomely mounted
in solid gold, and it is inconceivable that anyone who wore such
glasses could be slatternly in other respects. You will find
that the clips are too wide for your nose, showing that the
lady's nose was very broad at the base. This sort of nose is
usually a short and coarse one, but there are a sufficient number
of exceptions to prevent me from being dogmatic or from insisting
upon this point in my description. My own face is a narrow one,
and yet I find that I cannot get my eyes into the centre, or
near the centre, of these glasses. Therefore the lady's eyes
are set very near to the sides of the nose. You will perceive,
Watson, that the glasses are concave and of unusual strength.
A lady whose vision has been so extremely contracted all her
life is sure to have the physical characteristics of such vision,
which are seen in the forehead, the eyelids, and the shoulders."
"Yes," I said, "I can follow each of your arguments. I confess,
however, that I am unable to understand how you arrive at the
double visit to the optician."
Holmes took the glasses in his hand.
"You will perceive," he said, "that the clips are lined with
tiny bands of cork to soften the pressure upon the nose. One of
these is discoloured and worn to some slight extent, but the
other is new. Evidently one has fallen off and been replaced.
I should judge that the older of them has not been there more
than a few months. They exactly correspond, so I gather that
the lady went back to the same establishment for the second."
"By George, it's marvellous!" cried Hopkins, in an ecstasy of
admiration. "To think that I had all that evidence in my hand
and never knew it! I had intended, however, to go the round of
the London opticians."
"Of course you would. Meanwhile, have you anything more to tell
us about the case?"
"Nothing, Mr. Holmes. I think that you know as much as I do
now -- probably more. We have had inquiries made as to any
stranger seen on the country roads or at the railway station.
We have heard of none. What beats me is the utter want of all
object in the crime. Not a ghost of a motive can anyone suggest."
"Ah! there I am not in a position to help you. But I suppose
you want us to come out to-morrow?"
"If it is not asking too much, Mr. Holmes. There's a train from
Charing Cross to Chatham at six in the morning, and we should be
at Yoxley Old Place between eight and nine."
"Then we shall take it. Your case has certainly some features
of great interest, and I shall be delighted to look into it.
Well, it's nearly one, and we had best get a few hours' sleep.
I dare say you can manage all right on the sofa in front of the
fire. I'll light my spirit-lamp and give you a cup of coffee
before we start."
The gale had blown itself out next day, but it was a bitter
morning when we started upon our journey. We saw the cold
winter sun rise over the dreary marshes of the Thames and the
long, sullen reaches of the river, which I shall ever associate
with our pursuit of the Andaman Islander in the earlier days of
our career. After a long and weary journey we alighted at a
small station some miles from Chatham. While a horse was being
put into a trap at the local inn we snatched a hurried breakfast,
and so we were all ready for business when we at last arrived
at Yoxley Old Place. A constable met us at the garden gate.
"Well, Wilson, any news?"
"No, sir, nothing."
"No reports of any stranger seen?"
"No, sir. Down at the station they are certain that no stranger
either came or went yesterday."
"Have you had inquiries made at inns and lodgings?"
"Yes, sir; there is no one that we cannot account for."
"Well, it's only a reasonable walk to Chatham. Anyone might
stay there, or take a train without being observed. This is the
garden path of which I spoke, Mr. Holmes. I'll pledge my word
there was no mark on it yesterday."
"On which side were the marks on the grass?"
"This side, sir. This narrow margin of grass between the path
and the flower-bed. I can't see the traces now, but they were
clear to me then."
"Yes, yes; someone has passed along," said Holmes, stooping over
the grass border. "Our lady must have picked her steps carefully,
must she not, since on the one side she would leave a track on
the path, and on the other an even clearer one on the soft bed?"
"Yes, sir, she must have been a cool hand."
I saw an intent look pass over Holmes's face.
"You say that she must have come back this way?"
"Yes, sir; there is no other."
"On this strip of grass?"
"Certainly, Mr. Holmes."
"Hum! It was a very remarkable performance -- very remarkable.
Well, I think we have exhausted the path. Let us go farther.
This garden door is usually kept open, I suppose? Then this
visitor had nothing to do but to walk in. The idea of murder
was not in her mind, or she would have provided herself with
some sort of weapon, instead of having to pick this knife off
the writing-table. She advanced along this corridor, leaving no
traces upon the cocoanut matting. Then she found herself in this
study. How long was she there? We have no means of judging."
"Not more than a few minutes, sir. I forgot to tell you that
Mrs. Marker, the housekeeper, had been in there tidying not very
long before -- about a quarter of an hour, she says."
"Well, that gives us a limit. Our lady enters this room and
what does she do? She goes over to the writing-table.
What for? Not for anything in the drawers. If there had been
anything worth her taking it would surely have been locked up.
No; it was for something in that wooden bureau. Halloa! what
is that scratch upon the face of it? Just hold a match, Watson.
Why did you not tell me of this, Hopkins?"
The mark which he was examining began upon the brass work on
the right-hand side of the keyhole, and extended for about four
inches, where it had scratched the varnish from the surface.
"I noticed it, Mr. Holmes. But you'll always find scratches
round a keyhole."
"This is recent, quite recent. See how the brass shines where
it is cut. An old scratch would be the same colour as the surface.
Look at it through my lens. There's the varnish, too, like earth
on each side of a furrow. Is Mrs. Marker there?"
A sad-faced, elderly woman came into the room.
"Did you dust this bureau yesterday morning?"
"Did you notice this scratch?"
"No, sir, I did not."
"I am sure you did not, for a duster would have swept away
these shreds of varnish. Who has the key of this bureau?"
"The Professor keeps it on his watch-chain."
"Is it a simple key?"
"No, sir; it is a Chubb's key."
"Very good. Mrs. Marker, you can go. Now we are making a
little progress. Our lady enters the room, advances to the
bureau, and either opens it or tries to do so. While she is
thus engaged young Willoughby Smith enters the room. In her
hurry to withdraw the key she makes this scratch upon the door.
He seizes her, and she, snatching up the nearest object, which
happens to be this knife, strikes at him in order to make him
let go his hold. The blow is a fatal one. He falls and she
escapes, either with or without the object for which she has
come. Is Susan the maid there? Could anyone have got away
through that door after the time that you heard the cry, Susan?"
"No sir; it is impossible. Before I got down the stair I'd have
seen anyone in the passage. Besides, the door never opened,
for I would have heard it."
"That settles this exit. Then no doubt the lady went out the
way she came. I understand that this other passage leads only
to the Professor's room. There is no exit that way?"
"We shall go down it and make the acquaintance of the Professor.
Halloa, Hopkins! this is very important, very important indeed.
The Professor's corridor is also lined with cocoanut matting."
"Well, sir, what of that?"
"Don't you see any bearing upon the case? Well, well, I don't
insist upon it. No doubt I am wrong. And yet it seems to me to
be suggestive. Come with me and introduce me."
We passed down the passage, which was of the same length as that
which led to the garden. At the end was a short flight of steps
ending in a door. Our guide knocked, and then ushered us into
the Professor's bedroom.
It was a very large chamber, lined with innumerable volumes,
which had overflowed from the shelves and lay in piles in the
corners, or were stacked all round at the base of the cases.
The bed was in the centre of the room, and in it, propped up
with pillows, was the owner of the house. I have seldom seen a
more remarkable-looking person. It was a gaunt, aquiline face
which was turned towards us, with piercing dark eyes, which
lurked in deep hollows under overhung and tufted brows. His
hair and beard were white, save that the latter was curiously
stained with yellow around his mouth. A cigarette glowed amid
the tangle of white hair, and the air of the room was fetid
with stale tobacco-smoke. As he held out his hand to Holmes
I perceived that it also was stained yellow with nicotine.
"A smoker, Mr. Holmes?" said he, speaking well-chosen English
with a curious little mincing accent. "Pray take a cigarette.
And you, sir? I can recommend them, for I have them
especially prepared by Ionides of Alexandria. He sends me a
thousand at a time, and I grieve to say that I have to arrange
for a fresh supply every fortnight. Bad, sir, very bad, but an
old man has few pleasures. Tobacco and my work -- that is all
that is left to me."
Holmes had lit a cigarette, and was shooting little darting
glances all over the room.
"Tobacco and my work, but now only tobacco," the old man exclaimed.
"Alas! what a fatal interruption! Who could have foreseen such a
terrible catastrophe? So estimable a young man! I assure you that
after a few months' training he was an admirable assistant.
What do you think of the matter, Mr. Holmes?"
"I have not yet made up my mind."
"I shall indeed be indebted to you if you can throw a light
where all is so dark to us. To a poor bookworm and invalid like
myself such a blow is paralyzing. I seem to have lost the
faculty of thought. But you are a man of action -- you are a
man of affairs. It is part of the everyday routine of your life.
You can preserve your balance in every emergency. We are
fortunate indeed in having you at our side."
Holmes was pacing up and down one side of the room whilst the
old Professor was talking. I observed that he was smoking with
extraordinary rapidity. It was evident that he shared our
host's liking for the fresh Alexandrian cigarettes.
"Yes, sir, it is a crushing blow," said the old man. "That is
my MAGNUM OPUS -- the pile of papers on the side table yonder.
It is my analysis of the documents found in the Coptic monasteries
of Syria and Egypt, a work which will cut deep at the very
foundations of revealed religion. With my enfeebled health
I do not know whether I shall ever be able to complete it now
that my assistant has been taken from me. Dear me, Mr. Holmes;
why, you are even a quicker smoker than I am myself."
"I am a connoisseur," said he, taking another cigarette from the
box -- his fourth -- and lighting it from the stub of that which
he had finished. "I will not trouble you with any lengthy
cross-examination, Professor Coram, since I gather that you were
in bed at the time of the crime and could know nothing about it.
I would only ask this. What do you imagine that this poor
fellow meant by his last words: `The Professor -- it was she'?"
The Professor shook his head.
"Susan is a country girl," said he, "and you know the incredible
stupidity of that class. I fancy that the poor fellow murmured
some incoherent delirious words, and that she twisted them into
this meaningless message."
"I see. You have no explanation yourself of the tragedy?"
"Possibly an accident; possibly -- I only breathe it among
ourselves -- a suicide. Young men have their hidden troubles --
some affair of the heart, perhaps, which we have never known.
It is a more probable supposition than murder."
"But the eye-glasses?"
"Ah! I am only a student -- a man of dreams. I cannot explain
the practical things of life. But still, we are aware, my friend,
that love-gages may take strange shapes. By all means take
another cigarette. It is a pleasure to see anyone appreciate
them so. A fan, a glove, glasses -- who knows what article may
be carried as a token or treasured when a man puts an end to his
life? This gentleman speaks of footsteps in the grass; but, after
all, it is easy to be mistaken on such a point. As to the knife,
it might well be thrown far from the unfortunate man as he fell.
It is possible that I speak as a child, but to me it seems that
Willoughby Smith has met his fate by his own hand."
Holmes seemed struck by the theory thus put forward, and he
continued to walk up and down for some time, lost in thought
and consuming cigarette after cigarette.
"Tell me, Professor Coram," he said, at last, "what is in that
cupboard in the bureau?"
"Nothing that would help a thief. Family papers, letters from
my poor wife, diplomas of Universities which have done me honour.
Here is the key. You can look for yourself."
Holmes picked up the key and looked at it for an instant;
then he handed it back.
"No; I hardly think that it would help me," said he. "I should
prefer to go quietly down to your garden and turn the whole
matter over in my head. There is something to be said for the
theory of suicide which you have put forward. We must apologize
for having intruded upon you, Professor Coram, and I promise
that we won't disturb you until after lunch. At two o'clock
we will come again and report to you anything which may have
happened in the interval."
Holmes was curiously distrait, and we walked up and down the
garden path for some time in silence.
"Have you a clue?" I asked, at last.
"It depends upon those cigarettes that I smoked," said he.
"It is possible that I am utterly mistaken. The cigarettes
will show me."
"My dear Holmes," I exclaimed, "how on earth ----"
"Well, well, you may see for yourself. If not, there's no harm
done. Of course, we always have the optician clue to fall back
upon, but I take a short cut when I can get it. Ah, here is the
good Mrs. Marker! Let us enjoy five minutes of instructive
conversation with her."
I may have remarked before that Holmes had, when he liked,
a peculiarly ingratiating way with women, and that he very readily
established terms of confidence with them. In half the time
which he had named he had captured the housekeeper's goodwill,
and was chatting with her as if he had known her for years.
"Yes, Mr. Holmes, it is as you say, sir. He does smoke
something terrible. All day and sometimes all night, sir.
I've seen that room of a morning -- well, sir, you'd have thought
it was a London fog. Poor young Mr. Smith, he was a smoker also,
but not as bad as the Professor. His health -- well, I don't
know that it's better nor worse for the smoking."
"Ah!" said Holmes, "but it kills the appetite."
"Well, I don't know about that, sir."
"I suppose the Professor eats hardly anything?"
"Well, he is variable. I'll say that for him."
"I'll wager he took no breakfast this morning, and won't face
his lunch after all the cigarettes I saw him consume."
"Well, you're out there, sir, as it happens, for he ate a remarkable
big breakfast this morning. I don't know when I've known him make
a better one, and he's ordered a good dish of cutlets for his lunch.
I'm surprised myself, for since I came into that room yesterday
and saw young Mr. Smith lying there on the floor I couldn't bear
to look at food. Well, it takes all sorts to make a world, and the
Professor hasn't let it take his appetite away."
We loitered the morning away in the garden. Stanley Hopkins had
gone down to the village to look into some rumours of a strange
woman who had been seen by some children on the Chatham Road the
previous morning. As to my friend, all his usual energy seemed
to have deserted him. I had never known him handle a case in
such a half-hearted fashion. Even the news brought back by
Hopkins that he had found the children and that they had
undoubtedly seen a woman exactly corresponding with Holmes's
description, and wearing either spectacles or eye-glasses, failed
to rouse any sign of keen interest. He was more attentive when
Susan, who waited upon us at lunch, volunteered the information
that she believed Mr. Smith had been out for a walk yesterday
morning, and that he had only returned half an hour before the
tragedy occurred. I could not myself see the bearing of this
incident, but I clearly perceived that Holmes was weaving it
into the general scheme which he had formed in his brain.
Suddenly he sprang from his chair and glanced at his watch.
"Two o'clock, gentlemen," said he. "We must go up and have
it out with our friend the Professor."
The old man had just finished his lunch, and certainly his empty
dish bore evidence to the good appetite with which his
housekeeper had credited him. He was, indeed, a weird figure
as he turned his white mane and his glowing eyes towards us.
The eternal cigarette smouldered in his mouth. He had been
dressed and was seated in an arm-chair by the fire.
"Well, Mr. Holmes, have you solved this mystery yet?" He shoved
the large tin of cigarettes which stood on a table beside him
towards my companion. Holmes stretched out his hand at the same
moment, and between them they tipped the box over the edge.
For a minute or two we were all on our knees retrieving stray
cigarettes from impossible places. When we rose again I observed
that Holmes's eyes were shining and his cheeks tinged with colour.
Only at a crisis have I seen those battle-signals flying.
"Yes," said he, "I have solved it."
Stanley Hopkins and I stared in amazement. Something like a
sneer quivered over the gaunt features of the old Professor.
"Indeed! In the garden?"
"You are surely joking, Mr. Sherlock Holmes. You compel me to tell
you that this is too serious a matter to be treated in such a fashion."
"I have forged and tested every link of my chain, Professor Coram,
and I am sure that it is sound. What your motives are or what
exact part you play in this strange business I am not yet able to
say. In a few minutes I shall probably hear it from your own lips.
Meanwhile I will reconstruct what is past for your benefit, so that
you may know the information which I still require.
"A lady yesterday entered your study. She came with the intention
of possessing herself of certain documents which were in your
bureau. She had a key of her own. I have had an opportunity
of examining yours, and I do not find that slight discolouration
which the scratch made upon the varnish would have produced.
You were not an accessory, therefore, and she came, so far as
I can read the evidence, without your knowledge to rob you."
The Professor blew a cloud from his lips. "This is most
interesting and instructive," said he. "Have you no more to add?
Surely, having traced this lady so far, you can also say what has
become of her."
"I will endeavour to do so. In the first place she was
seized by your secretary, and stabbed him in order to escape.
This catastrophe I am inclined to regard as an unhappy accident,
for I am convinced that the lady had no intention of inflicting
so grievous an injury. An assassin does not come unarmed.
Horrified by what she had done she rushed wildly away from the
scene of the tragedy. Unfortunately for her she had lost her
glasses in the scuffle, and as she was extremely short-sighted
she was really helpless without them. She ran down a corridor,
which she imagined to be that by which she had come -- both were
lined with cocoanut matting -- and it was only when it was too
late that she understood that she had taken the wrong passage
and that her retreat was cut off behind her. What was she to do?
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