Part 4 - The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Audiobook by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Adventures 07-08)


Uploaded by CCProse on 25.09.2011

Transcript:
THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES by SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE
Adventure VII. THE ADVENTURE OF THE BLUE CARBUNCLE
I had called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes upon the second morning after Christmas,
with the intention of wishing him the compliments of the season.
He was lounging upon the sofa in a purple dressing-gown, a pipe-rack within his reach
upon the right, and a pile of crumpled morning papers, evidently newly studied,
near at hand.
Beside the couch was a wooden chair, and on the angle of the back hung a very seedy and
disreputable hard-felt hat, much the worse for wear, and cracked in several places.
A lens and a forceps lying upon the seat of the chair suggested that the hat had been
suspended in this manner for the purpose of examination.
"You are engaged," said I; "perhaps I interrupt you."
"Not at all. I am glad to have a friend with whom I can
discuss my results.
The matter is a perfectly trivial one"--he jerked his thumb in the direction of the
old hat--"but there are points in connection with it which are not entirely
devoid of interest and even of instruction."
I seated myself in his armchair and warmed my hands before his crackling fire, for a
sharp frost had set in, and the windows were thick with the ice crystals.
"I suppose," I remarked, "that, homely as it looks, this thing has some deadly story
linked on to it--that it is the clue which will guide you in the solution of some
mystery and the punishment of some crime."
"No, no. No crime," said Sherlock Holmes, laughing.
"Only one of those whimsical little incidents which will happen when you have
four million human beings all jostling each other within the space of a few square
miles.
Amid the action and reaction of so dense a swarm of humanity, every possible
combination of events may be expected to take place, and many a little problem will
be presented which may be striking and bizarre without being criminal.
We have already had experience of such."
"So much so," I remarked, "that of the last six cases which I have added to my notes,
three have been entirely free of any legal crime."
"Precisely.
You allude to my attempt to recover the Irene Adler papers, to the singular case of
Miss Mary Sutherland, and to the adventure of the man with the twisted lip.
Well, I have no doubt that this small matter will fall into the same innocent
category. You know Peterson, the commissionaire?"
"Yes."
"It is to him that this trophy belongs." "It is his hat."
"No, no, he found it. Its owner is unknown.
I beg that you will look upon it not as a battered billycock but as an intellectual
problem. And, first, as to how it came here.
It arrived upon Christmas morning, in company with a good fat goose, which is, I
have no doubt, roasting at this moment in front of Peterson's fire.
The facts are these: about four o'clock on Christmas morning, Peterson, who, as you
know, is a very honest fellow, was returning from some small jollification and
was making his way homeward down Tottenham Court Road.
In front of him he saw, in the gaslight, a tallish man, walking with a slight stagger,
and carrying a white goose slung over his shoulder.
As he reached the corner of Goodge Street, a row broke out between this stranger and a
little knot of roughs.
One of the latter knocked off the man's hat, on which he raised his stick to defend
himself and, swinging it over his head, smashed the shop window behind him.
Peterson had rushed forward to protect the stranger from his assailants; but the man,
shocked at having broken the window, and seeing an official-looking person in
uniform rushing towards him, dropped his
goose, took to his heels, and vanished amid the labyrinth of small streets which lie at
the back of Tottenham Court Road.
The roughs had also fled at the appearance of Peterson, so that he was left in
possession of the field of battle, and also of the spoils of victory in the shape of
this battered hat and a most unimpeachable Christmas goose."
"Which surely he restored to their owner?" "My dear fellow, there lies the problem.
It is true that 'For Mrs. Henry Baker' was printed upon a small card which was tied to
the bird's left leg, and it is also true that the initials 'H. B.' are legible upon
the lining of this hat, but as there are
some thousands of Bakers, and some hundreds of Henry Bakers in this city of ours, it is
not easy to restore lost property to any one of them."
"What, then, did Peterson do?"
"He brought round both hat and goose to me on Christmas morning, knowing that even the
smallest problems are of interest to me.
The goose we retained until this morning, when there were signs that, in spite of the
slight frost, it would be well that it should be eaten without unnecessary delay.
Its finder has carried it off, therefore, to fulfil the ultimate destiny of a goose,
while I continue to retain the hat of the unknown gentleman who lost his Christmas
dinner."
"Did he not advertise?" "No."
"Then, what clue could you have as to his identity?"
"Only as much as we can deduce."
"From his hat?" "Precisely."
"But you are joking. What can you gather from this old battered
felt?"
"Here is my lens. You know my methods.
What can you gather yourself as to the individuality of the man who has worn this
article?"
I took the tattered object in my hands and turned it over rather ruefully.
It was a very ordinary black hat of the usual round shape, hard and much the worse
for wear.
The lining had been of red silk, but was a good deal discoloured.
There was no maker's name; but, as Holmes had remarked, the initials "H. B." were
scrawled upon one side.
It was pierced in the brim for a hat- securer, but the elastic was missing.
For the rest, it was cracked, exceedingly dusty, and spotted in several places,
although there seemed to have been some attempt to hide the discoloured patches by
smearing them with ink.
"I can see nothing," said I, handing it back to my friend.
"On the contrary, Watson, you can see everything.
You fail, however, to reason from what you see.
You are too timid in drawing your inferences."
"Then, pray tell me what it is that you can infer from this hat?"
He picked it up and gazed at it in the peculiar introspective fashion which was
characteristic of him.
"It is perhaps less suggestive than it might have been," he remarked, "and yet
there are a few inferences which are very distinct, and a few others which represent
at least a strong balance of probability.
That the man was highly intellectual is of course obvious upon the face of it, and
also that he was fairly well-to-do within the last three years, although he has now
fallen upon evil days.
He had foresight, but has less now than formerly, pointing to a moral
retrogression, which, when taken with the decline of his fortunes, seems to indicate
some evil influence, probably drink, at work upon him.
This may account also for the obvious fact that his wife has ceased to love him."
"My dear Holmes!"
"He has, however, retained some degree of self-respect," he continued, disregarding
my remonstrance.
"He is a man who leads a sedentary life, goes out little, is out of training
entirely, is middle-aged, has grizzled hair which he has had cut within the last few
days, and which he anoints with lime-cream.
These are the more patent facts which are to be deduced from his hat.
Also, by the way, that it is extremely improbable that he has gas laid on in his
house."
"You are certainly joking, Holmes." "Not in the least.
Is it possible that even now, when I give you these results, you are unable to see
how they are attained?"
"I have no doubt that I am very stupid, but I must confess that I am unable to follow
you. For example, how did you deduce that this
man was intellectual?"
For answer Holmes clapped the hat upon his head.
It came right over the forehead and settled upon the bridge of his nose.
"It is a question of cubic capacity," said he; "a man with so large a brain must have
something in it." "The decline of his fortunes, then?"
"This hat is three years old.
These flat brims curled at the edge came in then.
It is a hat of the very best quality. Look at the band of ribbed silk and the
excellent lining.
If this man could afford to buy so expensive a hat three years ago, and has
had no hat since, then he has assuredly gone down in the world."
"Well, that is clear enough, certainly.
But how about the foresight and the moral retrogression?"
Sherlock Holmes laughed.
"Here is the foresight," said he putting his finger upon the little disc and loop of
the hat-securer. "They are never sold upon hats.
If this man ordered one, it is a sign of a certain amount of foresight, since he went
out of his way to take this precaution against the wind.
But since we see that he has broken the elastic and has not troubled to replace it,
it is obvious that he has less foresight now than formerly, which is a distinct
proof of a weakening nature.
On the other hand, he has endeavoured to conceal some of these stains upon the felt
by daubing them with ink, which is a sign that he has not entirely lost his self-
respect."
"Your reasoning is certainly plausible."
"The further points, that he is middle- aged, that his hair is grizzled, that it
has been recently cut, and that he uses lime-cream, are all to be gathered from a
close examination of the lower part of the lining.
The lens discloses a large number of hair- ends, clean cut by the scissors of the
barber.
They all appear to be adhesive, and there is a distinct odour of lime-cream.
This dust, you will observe, is not the gritty, grey dust of the street but the
fluffy brown dust of the house, showing that it has been hung up indoors most of
the time, while the marks of moisture upon
the inside are proof positive that the wearer perspired very freely, and could
therefore, hardly be in the best of training."
"But his wife--you said that she had ceased to love him."
"This hat has not been brushed for weeks.
When I see you, my dear Watson, with a week's accumulation of dust upon your hat,
and when your wife allows you to go out in such a state, I shall fear that you also
have been unfortunate enough to lose your wife's affection."
"But he might be a bachelor." "Nay, he was bringing home the goose as a
peace-offering to his wife.
Remember the card upon the bird's leg." "You have an answer to everything.
But how on earth do you deduce that the gas is not laid on in his house?"
"One tallow stain, or even two, might come by chance; but when I see no less than
five, I think that there can be little doubt that the individual must be brought
into frequent contact with burning tallow--
walks upstairs at night probably with his hat in one hand and a guttering candle in
the other. Anyhow, he never got tallow-stains from a
gas-jet.
Are you satisfied?"
"Well, it is very ingenious," said I, laughing; "but since, as you said just now,
there has been no crime committed, and no harm done save the loss of a goose, all
this seems to be rather a waste of energy."
Sherlock Holmes had opened his mouth to reply, when the door flew open, and
Peterson, the commissionaire, rushed into the apartment with flushed cheeks and the
face of a man who is dazed with astonishment.
"The goose, Mr. Holmes! The goose, sir!" he gasped.
"Eh?
What of it, then? Has it returned to life and flapped off
through the kitchen window?"
Holmes twisted himself round upon the sofa to get a fairer view of the man's excited
face. "See here, sir!
See what my wife found in its crop!"
He held out his hand and displayed upon the centre of the palm a brilliantly
scintillating blue stone, rather smaller than a bean in size, but of such purity and
radiance that it twinkled like an electric point in the dark hollow of his hand.
Sherlock Holmes sat up with a whistle. "By Jove, Peterson!" said he, "this is
treasure trove indeed.
I suppose you know what you have got?" "A diamond, sir?
A precious stone. It cuts into glass as though it were
putty."
"It's more than a precious stone. It is the precious stone."
"Not the Countess of Morcar's blue carbuncle!"
I ejaculated.
"Precisely so. I ought to know its size and shape, seeing
that I have read the advertisement about it in The Times every day lately.
It is absolutely unique, and its value can only be conjectured, but the reward offered
of 1000 pounds is certainly not within a twentieth part of the market price."
"A thousand pounds!
Great Lord of mercy!" The commissionaire plumped down into a
chair and stared from one to the other of us.
"That is the reward, and I have reason to know that there are sentimental
considerations in the background which would induce the Countess to part with half
her fortune if she could but recover the gem."
"It was lost, if I remember aright, at the Hotel Cosmopolitan," I remarked.
"Precisely so, on December 22nd, just five days ago.
John Horner, a plumber, was accused of having abstracted it from the lady's jewel-
case.
The evidence against him was so strong that the case has been referred to the Assizes.
I have some account of the matter here, I believe."
He rummaged amid his newspapers, glancing over the dates, until at last he smoothed
one out, doubled it over, and read the following paragraph:
"Hotel Cosmopolitan Jewel Robbery.
John Horner, 26, plumber, was brought up upon the charge of having upon the 22nd
inst., abstracted from the jewel-case of the Countess of Morcar the valuable gem
known as the blue carbuncle.
James Ryder, upper-attendant at the hotel, gave his evidence to the effect that he had
shown Horner up to the dressing-room of the Countess of Morcar upon the day of the
robbery in order that he might solder the second bar of the grate, which was loose.
He had remained with Horner some little time, but had finally been called away.
On returning, he found that Horner had disappeared, that the bureau had been
forced open, and that the small morocco casket in which, as it afterwards
transpired, the Countess was accustomed to
keep her jewel, was lying empty upon the dressing-table.
Ryder instantly gave the alarm, and Horner was arrested the same evening; but the
stone could not be found either upon his person or in his rooms.
Catherine Cusack, maid to the Countess, deposed to having heard Ryder's cry of
dismay on discovering the robbery, and to having rushed into the room, where she
found matters as described by the last witness.
Inspector Bradstreet, B division, gave evidence as to the arrest of Horner, who
struggled frantically, and protested his innocence in the strongest terms.
Evidence of a previous conviction for robbery having been given against the
prisoner, the magistrate refused to deal summarily with the offence, but referred it
to the Assizes.
Horner, who had shown signs of intense emotion during the proceedings, fainted
away at the conclusion and was carried out of court."
"Hum!
So much for the police-court," said Holmes thoughtfully, tossing aside the paper.
"The question for us now to solve is the sequence of events leading from a rifled
jewel-case at one end to the crop of a goose in Tottenham Court Road at the other.
You see, Watson, our little deductions have suddenly assumed a much more important and
less innocent aspect.
Here is the stone; the stone came from the goose, and the goose came from Mr. Henry
Baker, the gentleman with the bad hat and all the other characteristics with which I
have bored you.
So now we must set ourselves very seriously to finding this gentleman and ascertaining
what part he has played in this little mystery.
To do this, we must try the simplest means first, and these lie undoubtedly in an
advertisement in all the evening papers. If this fail, I shall have recourse to
other methods."
"What will you say?" "Give me a pencil and that slip of paper.
Now, then: 'Found at the corner of Goodge Street, a goose and a black felt hat.
Mr. Henry Baker can have the same by applying at 6:30 this evening at 221B,
Baker Street.' That is clear and concise."
"Very.
But will he see it?" "Well, he is sure to keep an eye on the
papers, since, to a poor man, the loss was a heavy one.
He was clearly so scared by his mischance in breaking the window and by the approach
of Peterson that he thought of nothing but flight, but since then he must have
bitterly regretted the impulse which caused him to drop his bird.
Then, again, the introduction of his name will cause him to see it, for everyone who
knows him will direct his attention to it.
Here you are, Peterson, run down to the advertising agency and have this put in the
evening papers." "In which, sir?"
"Oh, in the Globe, Star, Pall Mall, St. James's, Evening News, Standard, Echo, and
any others that occur to you." "Very well, sir.
And this stone?"
"Ah, yes, I shall keep the stone. Thank you.
And, I say, Peterson, just buy a goose on your way back and leave it here with me,
for we must have one to give to this gentleman in place of the one which your
family is now devouring."
When the commissionaire had gone, Holmes took up the stone and held it against the
light. "It's a bonny thing," said he.
"Just see how it glints and sparkles.
Of course it is a nucleus and focus of crime.
Every good stone is. They are the devil's pet baits.
In the larger and older jewels every facet may stand for a bloody deed.
This stone is not yet twenty years old.
It was found in the banks of the Amoy River in southern China and is remarkable in
having every characteristic of the carbuncle, save that it is blue in shade
instead of ruby red.
In spite of its youth, it has already a sinister history.
There have been two murders, a vitriol- throwing, a suicide, and several robberies
brought about for the sake of this forty- grain weight of crystallised charcoal.
Who would think that so pretty a toy would be a purveyor to the gallows and the
prison?
I'll lock it up in my strong box now and drop a line to the Countess to say that we
have it." "Do you think that this man Horner is
innocent?"
"I cannot tell." "Well, then, do you imagine that this other
one, Henry Baker, had anything to do with the matter?"
"It is, I think, much more likely that Henry Baker is an absolutely innocent man,
who had no idea that the bird which he was carrying was of considerably more value
than if it were made of solid gold.
That, however, I shall determine by a very simple test if we have an answer to our
advertisement." "And you can do nothing until then?"
"Nothing."
"In that case I shall continue my professional round.
But I shall come back in the evening at the hour you have mentioned, for I should like
to see the solution of so tangled a business."
"Very glad to see you.
I dine at seven. There is a woodcock, I believe.
By the way, in view of recent occurrences, perhaps I ought to ask Mrs. Hudson to
examine its crop."
I had been delayed at a case, and it was a little after half-past six when I found
myself in Baker Street once more.
As I approached the house I saw a tall man in a Scotch bonnet with a coat which was
buttoned up to his chin waiting outside in the bright semicircle which was thrown from
the fanlight.
Just as I arrived the door was opened, and we were shown up together to Holmes' room.
"Mr. Henry Baker, I believe," said he, rising from his armchair and greeting his
visitor with the easy air of geniality which he could so readily assume.
"Pray take this chair by the fire, Mr. Baker.
It is a cold night, and I observe that your circulation is more adapted for summer than
for winter.
Ah, Watson, you have just come at the right time.
Is that your hat, Mr. Baker?" "Yes, sir, that is undoubtedly my hat."
He was a large man with rounded shoulders, a massive head, and a broad, intelligent
face, sloping down to a pointed beard of grizzled brown.
A touch of red in nose and cheeks, with a slight tremor of his extended hand,
recalled Holmes' surmise as to his habits.
His rusty black frock-coat was buttoned right up in front, with the collar turned
up, and his lank wrists protruded from his sleeves without a sign of cuff or shirt.
He spoke in a slow staccato fashion, choosing his words with care, and gave the
impression generally of a man of learning and letters who had had ill-usage at the
hands of fortune.
"We have retained these things for some days," said Holmes, "because we expected to
see an advertisement from you giving your address.
I am at a loss to know now why you did not advertise."
Our visitor gave a rather shamefaced laugh. "Shillings have not been so plentiful with
me as they once were," he remarked.
"I had no doubt that the gang of roughs who assaulted me had carried off both my hat
and the bird. I did not care to spend more money in a
hopeless attempt at recovering them."
"Very naturally. By the way, about the bird, we were
compelled to eat it." "To eat it!"
Our visitor half rose from his chair in his excitement.
"Yes, it would have been of no use to anyone had we not done so.
But I presume that this other goose upon the sideboard, which is about the same
weight and perfectly fresh, will answer your purpose equally well?"
"Oh, certainly, certainly," answered Mr. Baker with a sigh of relief.
"Of course, we still have the feathers, legs, crop, and so on of your own bird, so
if you wish--"
The man burst into a hearty laugh. "They might be useful to me as relics of my
adventure," said he, "but beyond that I can hardly see what use the disjecta membra of
my late acquaintance are going to be to me.
No, sir, I think that, with your permission, I will confine my attentions to
the excellent bird which I perceive upon the sideboard."
Sherlock Holmes glanced sharply across at me with a slight shrug of his shoulders.
"There is your hat, then, and there your bird," said he.
"By the way, would it bore you to tell me where you got the other one from?
I am somewhat of a fowl fancier, and I have seldom seen a better grown goose."
"Certainly, sir," said Baker, who had risen and tucked his newly gained property under
his arm.
"There are a few of us who frequent the Alpha Inn, near the Museum--we are to be
found in the Museum itself during the day, you understand.
This year our good host, Windigate by name, instituted a goose club, by which, on
consideration of some few pence every week, we were each to receive a bird at
Christmas.
My pence were duly paid, and the rest is familiar to you.
I am much indebted to you, sir, for a Scotch bonnet is fitted neither to my years
nor my gravity."
With a comical pomposity of manner he bowed solemnly to both of us and strode off upon
his way. "So much for Mr. Henry Baker," said Holmes
when he had closed the door behind him.
"It is quite certain that he knows nothing whatever about the matter.
Are you hungry, Watson?" "Not particularly."
"Then I suggest that we turn our dinner into a supper and follow up this clue while
it is still hot." "By all means."
It was a bitter night, so we drew on our ulsters and wrapped cravats about our
throats.
Outside, the stars were shining coldly in a cloudless sky, and the breath of the
passers-by blew out into smoke like so many pistol shots.
Our footfalls rang out crisply and loudly as we swung through the doctors' quarter,
Wimpole Street, Harley Street, and so through Wigmore Street into Oxford Street.
In a quarter of an hour we were in Bloomsbury at the Alpha Inn, which is a
small public-house at the corner of one of the streets which runs down into Holborn.
Holmes pushed open the door of the private bar and ordered two glasses of beer from
the ruddy-faced, white-aproned landlord. "Your beer should be excellent if it is as
good as your geese," said he.
"My geese!" The man seemed surprised.
"Yes. I was speaking only half an hour ago to Mr. Henry Baker, who was a member of
your goose club."
"Ah! yes, I see. But you see, sir, them's not our geese."
"Indeed! Whose, then?"
"Well, I got the two dozen from a salesman in Covent Garden."
"Indeed? I know some of them.
Which was it?"
"Breckinridge is his name." "Ah!
I don't know him. Well, here's your good health landlord, and
prosperity to your house.
Good-night." "Now for Mr. Breckinridge," he continued,
buttoning up his coat as we came out into the frosty air.
"Remember, Watson that though we have so homely a thing as a goose at one end of
this chain, we have at the other a man who will certainly get seven years' penal
servitude unless we can establish his innocence.
It is possible that our inquiry may but confirm his guilt; but, in any case, we
have a line of investigation which has been missed by the police, and which a singular
chance has placed in our hands.
Let us follow it out to the bitter end. Faces to the south, then, and quick march!"
We passed across Holborn, down Endell Street, and so through a zigzag of slums to
Covent Garden Market.
One of the largest stalls bore the name of Breckinridge upon it, and the proprietor a
horsey-looking man, with a sharp face and trim side-whiskers was helping a boy to put
up the shutters.
"Good-evening. It's a cold night," said Holmes.
The salesman nodded and shot a questioning glance at my companion.
"Sold out of geese, I see," continued Holmes, pointing at the bare slabs of
marble. "Let you have five hundred to-morrow
morning."
"That's no good." "Well, there are some on the stall with the
gas-flare." "Ah, but I was recommended to you."
"Who by?"
"The landlord of the Alpha." "Oh, yes; I sent him a couple of dozen."
"Fine birds they were, too. Now where did you get them from?"
To my surprise the question provoked a burst of anger from the salesman.
"Now, then, mister," said he, with his head cocked and his arms akimbo, "what are you
driving at?
Let's have it straight, now." "It is straight enough.
I should like to know who sold you the geese which you supplied to the Alpha."
"Well then, I shan't tell you.
So now!" "Oh, it is a matter of no importance; but I
don't know why you should be so warm over such a trifle."
"Warm!
You'd be as warm, maybe, if you were as pestered as I am.
When I pay good money for a good article there should be an end of the business; but
it's 'Where are the geese?' and 'Who did you sell the geese to?' and 'What will you
take for the geese?'
One would think they were the only geese in the world, to hear the fuss that is made
over them."
"Well, I have no connection with any other people who have been making inquiries,"
said Holmes carelessly. "If you won't tell us the bet is off, that
is all.
But I'm always ready to back my opinion on a matter of fowls, and I have a fiver on it
that the bird I ate is country bred." "Well, then, you've lost your fiver, for
it's town bred," snapped the salesman.
"It's nothing of the kind." "I say it is."
"I don't believe it."
"D'you think you know more about fowls than I, who have handled them ever since I was a
nipper? I tell you, all those birds that went to
the Alpha were town bred."
"You'll never persuade me to believe that." "Will you bet, then?"
"It's merely taking your money, for I know that I am right.
But I'll have a sovereign on with you, just to teach you not to be obstinate."
The salesman chuckled grimly. "Bring me the books, Bill," said he.
The small boy brought round a small thin volume and a great greasy-backed one,
laying them out together beneath the hanging lamp.
"Now then, Mr. Cocksure," said the salesman, "I thought that I was out of
geese, but before I finish you'll find that there is still one left in my shop.
You see this little book?"
"Well?" "That's the list of the folk from whom I
buy. D'you see?
Well, then, here on this page are the country folk, and the numbers after their
names are where their accounts are in the big ledger.
Now, then!
You see this other page in red ink? Well, that is a list of my town suppliers.
Now, look at that third name. Just read it out to me."
"Mrs. Oakshott, 117, Brixton Road--249," read Holmes.
"Quite so. Now turn that up in the ledger."
Holmes turned to the page indicated.
"Here you are, 'Mrs. Oakshott, 117, Brixton Road, egg and poultry supplier.'"
"Now, then, what's the last entry?" "'December 22nd.
Twenty-four geese at 7s.
6d.'" "Quite so.
There you are. And underneath?"
"'Sold to Mr. Windigate of the Alpha, at 12s.'"
"What have you to say now?" Sherlock Holmes looked deeply chagrined.
He drew a sovereign from his pocket and threw it down upon the slab, turning away
with the air of a man whose disgust is too deep for words.
A few yards off he stopped under a lamp- post and laughed in the hearty, noiseless
fashion which was peculiar to him.
"When you see a man with whiskers of that cut and the 'Pink 'un' protruding out of
his pocket, you can always draw him by a bet," said he.
"I daresay that if I had put 100 pounds down in front of him, that man would not
have given me such complete information as was drawn from him by the idea that he was
doing me on a wager.
Well, Watson, we are, I fancy, nearing the end of our quest, and the only point which
remains to be determined is whether we should go on to this Mrs. Oakshott to-
night, or whether we should reserve it for to-morrow.
It is clear from what that surly fellow said that there are others besides
ourselves who are anxious about the matter, and I should--"
His remarks were suddenly cut short by a loud hubbub which broke out from the stall
which we had just left.
Turning round we saw a little rat-faced fellow standing in the centre of the circle
of yellow light which was thrown by the swinging lamp, while Breckinridge, the
salesman, framed in the door of his stall,
was shaking his fists fiercely at the cringing figure.
"I've had enough of you and your geese," he shouted.
"I wish you were all at the devil together.
If you come pestering me any more with your silly talk I'll set the dog at you.
You bring Mrs. Oakshott here and I'll answer her, but what have you to do with
it?
Did I buy the geese off you?" "No; but one of them was mine all the
same," whined the little man. "Well, then, ask Mrs. Oakshott for it."
"She told me to ask you."
"Well, you can ask the King of Proosia, for all I care.
I've had enough of it. Get out of this!"
He rushed fiercely forward, and the inquirer flitted away into the darkness.
"Ha! this may save us a visit to Brixton Road," whispered Holmes.
"Come with me, and we will see what is to be made of this fellow."
Striding through the scattered knots of people who lounged round the flaring
stalls, my companion speedily overtook the little man and touched him upon the
shoulder.
He sprang round, and I could see in the gas-light that every vestige of colour had
been driven from his face. "Who are you, then?
What do you want?" he asked in a quavering voice.
"You will excuse me," said Holmes blandly, "but I could not help overhearing the
questions which you put to the salesman just now.
I think that I could be of assistance to you."
"You? Who are you?
How could you know anything of the matter?"
"My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people
don't know." "But you can know nothing of this?"
"Excuse me, I know everything of it.
You are endeavouring to trace some geese which were sold by Mrs. Oakshott, of
Brixton Road, to a salesman named Breckinridge, by him in turn to Mr.
Windigate, of the Alpha, and by him to his
club, of which Mr. Henry Baker is a member."
"Oh, sir, you are the very man whom I have longed to meet," cried the little fellow
with outstretched hands and quivering fingers.
"I can hardly explain to you how interested I am in this matter."
Sherlock Holmes hailed a four-wheeler which was passing.
"In that case we had better discuss it in a cosy room rather than in this wind-swept
market-place," said he.
"But pray tell me, before we go farther, who it is that I have the pleasure of
assisting." The man hesitated for an instant.
"My name is John Robinson," he answered with a sidelong glance.
"No, no; the real name," said Holmes sweetly.
"It is always awkward doing business with an alias."
A flush sprang to the white cheeks of the stranger.
"Well then," said he, "my real name is James Ryder."
"Precisely so. Head attendant at the Hotel Cosmopolitan.
Pray step into the cab, and I shall soon be able to tell you everything which you would
wish to know."
The little man stood glancing from one to the other of us with half-frightened, half-
hopeful eyes, as one who is not sure whether he is on the verge of a windfall or
of a catastrophe.
Then he stepped into the cab, and in half an hour we were back in the sitting-room at
Baker Street.
Nothing had been said during our drive, but the high, thin breathing of our new
companion, and the claspings and unclaspings of his hands, spoke of the
nervous tension within him.
"Here we are!" said Holmes cheerily as we filed into the room.
"The fire looks very seasonable in this weather.
You look cold, Mr. Ryder.
Pray take the basket-chair. I will just put on my slippers before we
settle this little matter of yours. Now, then!
You want to know what became of those geese?"
"Yes, sir." "Or rather, I fancy, of that goose.
It was one bird, I imagine in which you were interested--white, with a black bar
across the tail." Ryder quivered with emotion.
"Oh, sir," he cried, "can you tell me where it went to?"
"It came here." "Here?"
"Yes, and a most remarkable bird it proved.
I don't wonder that you should take an interest in it.
It laid an egg after it was dead--the bonniest, brightest little blue egg that
ever was seen.
I have it here in my museum." Our visitor staggered to his feet and
clutched the mantelpiece with his right hand.
Holmes unlocked his strong-box and held up the blue carbuncle, which shone out like a
star, with a cold, brilliant, many-pointed radiance.
Ryder stood glaring with a drawn face, uncertain whether to claim or to disown it.
"The game's up, Ryder," said Holmes quietly.
"Hold up, man, or you'll be into the fire!
Give him an arm back into his chair, Watson.
He's not got blood enough to go in for felony with impunity.
Give him a dash of brandy.
So! Now he looks a little more human.
What a shrimp it is, to be sure!"
For a moment he had staggered and nearly fallen, but the brandy brought a tinge of
colour into his cheeks, and he sat staring with frightened eyes at his accuser.
"I have almost every link in my hands, and all the proofs which I could possibly need,
so there is little which you need tell me. Still, that little may as well be cleared
up to make the case complete.
You had heard, Ryder, of this blue stone of the Countess of Morcar's?"
"It was Catherine Cusack who told me of it," said he in a crackling voice.
"I see--her ladyship's waiting-maid.
Well, the temptation of sudden wealth so easily acquired was too much for you, as it
has been for better men before you; but you were not very scrupulous in the means you
used.
It seems to me, Ryder, that there is the making of a very pretty villain in you.
You knew that this man Horner, the plumber, had been concerned in some such matter
before, and that suspicion would rest the more readily upon him.
What did you do, then?
You made some small job in my lady's room-- you and your confederate Cusack--and you
managed that he should be the man sent for.
Then, when he had left, you rifled the jewel-case, raised the alarm, and had this
unfortunate man arrested. You then--"
Ryder threw himself down suddenly upon the rug and clutched at my companion's knees.
"For God's sake, have mercy!" he shrieked. "Think of my father!
Of my mother!
It would break their hearts. I never went wrong before!
I never will again. I swear it.
I'll swear it on a Bible.
Oh, don't bring it into court! For Christ's sake, don't!"
"Get back into your chair!" said Holmes sternly.
"It is very well to cringe and crawl now, but you thought little enough of this poor
Horner in the dock for a crime of which he knew nothing."
"I will fly, Mr. Holmes.
I will leave the country, sir. Then the charge against him will break
down." "Hum!
We will talk about that.
And now let us hear a true account of the next act.
How came the stone into the goose, and how came the goose into the open market?
Tell us the truth, for there lies your only hope of safety."
Ryder passed his tongue over his parched lips.
"I will tell you it just as it happened, sir," said he.
"When Horner had been arrested, it seemed to me that it would be best for me to get
away with the stone at once, for I did not know at what moment the police might not
take it into their heads to search me and my room.
There was no place about the hotel where it would be safe.
I went out, as if on some commission, and I made for my sister's house.
She had married a man named Oakshott, and lived in Brixton Road, where she fattened
fowls for the market.
All the way there every man I met seemed to me to be a policeman or a detective; and,
for all that it was a cold night, the sweat was pouring down my face before I came to
the Brixton Road.
My sister asked me what was the matter, and why I was so pale; but I told her that I
had been upset by the jewel robbery at the hotel.
Then I went into the back yard and smoked a pipe and wondered what it would be best to
do.
"I had a friend once called Maudsley, who went to the bad, and has just been serving
his time in Pentonville.
One day he had met me, and fell into talk about the ways of thieves, and how they
could get rid of what they stole.
I knew that he would be true to me, for I knew one or two things about him; so I made
up my mind to go right on to Kilburn, where he lived, and take him into my confidence.
He would show me how to turn the stone into money.
But how to get to him in safety? I thought of the agonies I had gone through
in coming from the hotel.
I might at any moment be seized and searched, and there would be the stone in
my waistcoat pocket.
I was leaning against the wall at the time and looking at the geese which were
waddling about round my feet, and suddenly an idea came into my head which showed me
how I could beat the best detective that ever lived.
"My sister had told me some weeks before that I might have the pick of her geese for
a Christmas present, and I knew that she was always as good as her word.
I would take my goose now, and in it I would carry my stone to Kilburn.
There was a little shed in the yard, and behind this I drove one of the birds--a
fine big one, white, with a barred tail.
I caught it, and prying its bill open, I thrust the stone down its throat as far as
my finger could reach.
The bird gave a gulp, and I felt the stone pass along its gullet and down into its
crop.
But the creature flapped and struggled, and out came my sister to know what was the
matter. As I turned to speak to her the brute broke
loose and fluttered off among the others.
"'Whatever were you doing with that bird, Jem?' says she.
"'Well,' said I, 'you said you'd give me one for Christmas, and I was feeling which
was the fattest.'
"'Oh,' says she, 'we've set yours aside for you--Jem's bird, we call it.
It's the big white one over yonder.
There's twenty-six of them, which makes one for you, and one for us, and two dozen for
the market.'
"'Thank you, Maggie,' says I; 'but if it is all the same to you, I'd rather have that
one I was handling just now.'
"'The other is a good three pound heavier,' said she, 'and we fattened it expressly for
you.' "'Never mind.
I'll have the other, and I'll take it now,' said I.
"'Oh, just as you like,' said she, a little huffed.
'Which is it you want, then?'
"'That white one with the barred tail, right in the middle of the flock.'
"'Oh, very well. Kill it and take it with you.'
"Well, I did what she said, Mr. Holmes, and I carried the bird all the way to Kilburn.
I told my pal what I had done, for he was a man that it was easy to tell a thing like
that to.
He laughed until he choked, and we got a knife and opened the goose.
My heart turned to water, for there was no sign of the stone, and I knew that some
terrible mistake had occurred.
I left the bird, rushed back to my sister's, and hurried into the back yard.
There was not a bird to be seen there. "'Where are they all, Maggie?'
I cried.
"'Gone to the dealer's, Jem.' "'Which dealer's?'
"'Breckinridge, of Covent Garden.' "'But was there another with a barred
tail?'
I asked, 'the same as the one I chose?' "'Yes, Jem; there were two barred-tailed
ones, and I could never tell them apart.'
"Well, then, of course I saw it all, and I ran off as hard as my feet would carry me
to this man Breckinridge; but he had sold the lot at once, and not one word would he
tell me as to where they had gone.
You heard him yourselves to-night. Well, he has always answered me like that.
My sister thinks that I am going mad. Sometimes I think that I am myself.
And now--and now I am myself a branded thief, without ever having touched the
wealth for which I sold my character. God help me!
God help me!"
He burst into convulsive sobbing, with his face buried in his hands.
There was a long silence, broken only by his heavy breathing and by the measured
tapping of Sherlock Holmes' finger-tips upon the edge of the table.
Then my friend rose and threw open the door.
"Get out!" said he. "What, sir!
Oh, Heaven bless you!"
"No more words. Get out!"
And no more words were needed.
There was a rush, a clatter upon the stairs, the bang of a door, and the crisp
rattle of running footfalls from the street.
"After all, Watson," said Holmes, reaching up his hand for his clay pipe, "I am not
retained by the police to supply their deficiencies.
If Horner were in danger it would be another thing; but this fellow will not
appear against him, and the case must collapse.
I suppose that I am commuting a felony, but it is just possible that I am saving a
soul. This fellow will not go wrong again; he is
too terribly frightened.
Send him to gaol now, and you make him a gaol-bird for life.
Besides, it is the season of forgiveness.
Chance has put in our way a most singular and whimsical problem, and its solution is
its own reward.
If you will have the goodness to touch the bell, Doctor, we will begin another
investigation, in which, also a bird will be the chief feature."
>
THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES by SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE
Adventure VIII. THE ADVENTURE OF THE SPECKLED BAND
On glancing over my notes of the seventy odd cases in which I have during the last
eight years studied the methods of my friend Sherlock Holmes, I find many tragic,
some comic, a large number merely strange,
but none commonplace; for, working as he did rather for the love of his art than for
the acquirement of wealth, he refused to associate himself with any investigation
which did not tend towards the unusual, and even the fantastic.
Of all these varied cases, however, I cannot recall any which presented more
singular features than that which was associated with the well-known Surrey
family of the Roylotts of Stoke Moran.
The events in question occurred in the early days of my association with Holmes,
when we were sharing rooms as bachelors in Baker Street.
It is possible that I might have placed them upon record before, but a promise of
secrecy was made at the time, from which I have only been freed during the last month
by the untimely death of the lady to whom the pledge was given.
It is perhaps as well that the facts should now come to light, for I have reasons to
know that there are widespread rumours as to the death of Dr. Grimesby Roylott which
tend to make the matter even more terrible than the truth.
It was early in April in the year '83 that I woke one morning to find Sherlock Holmes
standing, fully dressed, by the side of my bed.
He was a late riser, as a rule, and as the clock on the mantelpiece showed me that it
was only a quarter-past seven, I blinked up at him in some surprise, and perhaps just a
little resentment, for I was myself regular in my habits.
"Very sorry to knock you up, Watson," said he, "but it's the common lot this morning.
Mrs. Hudson has been knocked up, she retorted upon me, and I on you."
"What is it, then--a fire?" "No; a client.
It seems that a young lady has arrived in a considerable state of excitement, who
insists upon seeing me. She is waiting now in the sitting-room.
Now, when young ladies wander about the metropolis at this hour of the morning, and
knock sleepy people up out of their beds, I presume that it is something very pressing
which they have to communicate.
Should it prove to be an interesting case, you would, I am sure, wish to follow it
from the outset. I thought, at any rate, that I should call
you and give you the chance."
"My dear fellow, I would not miss it for anything."
I had no keener pleasure than in following Holmes in his professional investigations,
and in admiring the rapid deductions, as swift as intuitions, and yet always founded
on a logical basis with which he unravelled the problems which were submitted to him.
I rapidly threw on my clothes and was ready in a few minutes to accompany my friend
down to the sitting-room.
A lady dressed in black and heavily veiled, who had been sitting in the window, rose as
we entered. "Good-morning, madam," said Holmes
cheerily.
"My name is Sherlock Holmes. This is my intimate friend and associate,
Dr. Watson, before whom you can speak as freely as before myself.
Ha!
I am glad to see that Mrs. Hudson has had the good sense to light the fire.
Pray draw up to it, and I shall order you a cup of hot coffee, for I observe that you
are shivering."
"It is not cold which makes me shiver," said the woman in a low voice, changing her
seat as requested. "What, then?"
"It is fear, Mr. Holmes.
It is terror."
She raised her veil as she spoke, and we could see that she was indeed in a pitiable
state of agitation, her face all drawn and grey, with restless frightened eyes, like
those of some hunted animal.
Her features and figure were those of a woman of thirty, but her hair was shot with
premature grey, and her expression was weary and haggard.
Sherlock Holmes ran her over with one of his quick, all-comprehensive glances.
"You must not fear," said he soothingly, bending forward and patting her forearm.
"We shall soon set matters right, I have no doubt.
You have come in by train this morning, I see."
"You know me, then?"
"No, but I observe the second half of a return ticket in the palm of your left
glove.
You must have started early, and yet you had a good drive in a dog-cart, along heavy
roads, before you reached the station." The lady gave a violent start and stared in
bewilderment at my companion.
"There is no mystery, my dear madam," said he, smiling.
"The left arm of your jacket is spattered with mud in no less than seven places.
The marks are perfectly fresh.
There is no vehicle save a dog-cart which throws up mud in that way, and then only
when you sit on the left-hand side of the driver."
"Whatever your reasons may be, you are perfectly correct," said she.
"I started from home before six, reached Leatherhead at twenty past, and came in by
the first train to Waterloo.
Sir, I can stand this strain no longer; I shall go mad if it continues.
I have no one to turn to--none, save only one, who cares for me, and he, poor fellow,
can be of little aid.
I have heard of you, Mr. Holmes; I have heard of you from Mrs. Farintosh, whom you
helped in the hour of her sore need. It was from her that I had your address.
Oh, sir, do you not think that you could help me, too, and at least throw a little
light through the dense darkness which surrounds me?
At present it is out of my power to reward you for your services, but in a month or
six weeks I shall be married, with the control of my own income, and then at least
you shall not find me ungrateful."
Holmes turned to his desk and, unlocking it, drew out a small case-book, which he
consulted. "Farintosh," said he.
"Ah yes, I recall the case; it was concerned with an opal tiara.
I think it was before your time, Watson.
I can only say, madam, that I shall be happy to devote the same care to your case
as I did to that of your friend.
As to reward, my profession is its own reward; but you are at liberty to defray
whatever expenses I may be put to, at the time which suits you best.
And now I beg that you will lay before us everything that may help us in forming an
opinion upon the matter."
"Alas!" replied our visitor, "the very horror of my situation lies in the fact
that my fears are so vague, and my suspicions depend so entirely upon small
points, which might seem trivial to
another, that even he to whom of all others I have a right to look for help and advice
looks upon all that I tell him about it as the fancies of a nervous woman.
He does not say so, but I can read it from his soothing answers and averted eyes.
But I have heard, Mr. Holmes, that you can see deeply into the manifold wickedness of
the human heart.
You may advise me how to walk amid the dangers which encompass me."
"I am all attention, madam."
"My name is Helen Stoner, and I am living with my stepfather, who is the last
survivor of one of the oldest Saxon families in England, the Roylotts of Stoke
Moran, on the western border of Surrey."
Holmes nodded his head. "The name is familiar to me," said he.
"The family was at one time among the richest in England, and the estates
extended over the borders into Berkshire in the north, and Hampshire in the west.
In the last century, however, four successive heirs were of a dissolute and
wasteful disposition, and the family ruin was eventually completed by a gambler in
the days of the Regency.
Nothing was left save a few acres of ground, and the two-hundred-year-old house,
which is itself crushed under a heavy mortgage.
The last squire dragged out his existence there, living the horrible life of an
aristocratic pauper; but his only son, my stepfather, seeing that he must adapt
himself to the new conditions, obtained an
advance from a relative, which enabled him to take a medical degree and went out to
Calcutta, where, by his professional skill and his force of character, he established
a large practice.
In a fit of anger, however, caused by some robberies which had been perpetrated in the
house, he beat his native butler to death and narrowly escaped a capital sentence.
As it was, he suffered a long term of imprisonment and afterwards returned to
England a morose and disappointed man.
"When Dr. Roylott was in India he married my mother, Mrs. Stoner, the young widow of
Major-General Stoner, of the Bengal Artillery.
My sister Julia and I were twins, and we were only two years old at the time of my
mother's re-marriage.
She had a considerable sum of money--not less than 1000 pounds a year--and this she
bequeathed to Dr. Roylott entirely while we resided with him, with a provision that a
certain annual sum should be allowed to each of us in the event of our marriage.
Shortly after our return to England my mother died--she was killed eight years ago
in a railway accident near Crewe.
Dr. Roylott then abandoned his attempts to establish himself in practice in London and
took us to live with him in the old ancestral house at Stoke Moran.
The money which my mother had left was enough for all our wants, and there seemed
to be no obstacle to our happiness. "But a terrible change came over our
stepfather about this time.
Instead of making friends and exchanging visits with our neighbours, who had at
first been overjoyed to see a Roylott of Stoke Moran back in the old family seat, he
shut himself up in his house and seldom
came out save to indulge in ferocious quarrels with whoever might cross his path.
Violence of temper approaching to mania has been hereditary in the men of the family,
and in my stepfather's case it had, I believe, been intensified by his long
residence in the tropics.
A series of disgraceful brawls took place, two of which ended in the police-court,
until at last he became the terror of the village, and the folks would fly at his
approach, for he is a man of immense
strength, and absolutely uncontrollable in his anger.
"Last week he hurled the local blacksmith over a parapet into a stream, and it was
only by paying over all the money which I could gather together that I was able to
avert another public exposure.
He had no friends at all save the wandering gipsies, and he would give these vagabonds
leave to encamp upon the few acres of bramble-covered land which represent the
family estate, and would accept in return
the hospitality of their tents, wandering away with them sometimes for weeks on end.
He has a passion also for Indian animals, which are sent over to him by a
correspondent, and he has at this moment a cheetah and a baboon, which wander freely
over his grounds and are feared by the villagers almost as much as their master.
"You can imagine from what I say that my poor sister Julia and I had no great
pleasure in our lives.
No servant would stay with us, and for a long time we did all the work of the house.
She was but thirty at the time of her death, and yet her hair had already begun
to whiten, even as mine has."
"Your sister is dead, then?" "She died just two years ago, and it is of
her death that I wish to speak to you.
You can understand that, living the life which I have described, we were little
likely to see anyone of our own age and position.
We had, however, an aunt, my mother's maiden sister, Miss Honoria Westphail, who
lives near Harrow, and we were occasionally allowed to pay short visits at this lady's
house.
Julia went there at Christmas two years ago, and met there a half-pay major of
marines, to whom she became engaged.
My stepfather learned of the engagement when my sister returned and offered no
objection to the marriage; but within a fortnight of the day which had been fixed
for the wedding, the terrible event
occurred which has deprived me of my only companion."
Sherlock Holmes had been leaning back in his chair with his eyes closed and his head
sunk in a cushion, but he half opened his lids now and glanced across at his visitor.
"Pray be precise as to details," said he.
"It is easy for me to be so, for every event of that dreadful time is seared into
my memory.
The manor-house is, as I have already said, very old, and only one wing is now
inhabited.
The bedrooms in this wing are on the ground floor, the sitting-rooms being in the
central block of the buildings.
Of these bedrooms the first is Dr. Roylott's, the second my sister's, and the
third my own. There is no communication between them, but
they all open out into the same corridor.
Do I make myself plain?" "Perfectly so."
"The windows of the three rooms open out upon the lawn.
That fatal night Dr. Roylott had gone to his room early, though we knew that he had
not retired to rest, for my sister was troubled by the smell of the strong Indian
cigars which it was his custom to smoke.
She left her room, therefore, and came into mine, where she sat for some time, chatting
about her approaching wedding. At eleven o'clock she rose to leave me, but
she paused at the door and looked back.
"'Tell me, Helen,' said she, 'have you ever heard anyone whistle in the dead of the
night?' "'Never,' said I.
"'I suppose that you could not possibly whistle, yourself, in your sleep?'
"'Certainly not. But why?'
"'Because during the last few nights I have always, about three in the morning, heard a
low, clear whistle. I am a light sleeper, and it has awakened
me.
I cannot tell where it came from--perhaps from the next room, perhaps from the lawn.
I thought that I would just ask you whether you had heard it.'
"'No, I have not.
It must be those wretched gipsies in the plantation.'
"'Very likely. And yet if it were on the lawn, I wonder
that you did not hear it also.'
"'Ah, but I sleep more heavily than you.' "'Well, it is of no great consequence, at
any rate.'
She smiled back at me, closed my door, and a few moments later I heard her key turn in
the lock." "Indeed," said Holmes.
"Was it your custom always to lock yourselves in at night?"
"Always." "And why?"
"I think that I mentioned to you that the doctor kept a cheetah and a baboon.
We had no feeling of security unless our doors were locked."
"Quite so.
Pray proceed with your statement." "I could not sleep that night.
A vague feeling of impending misfortune impressed me.
My sister and I, you will recollect, were twins, and you know how subtle are the
links which bind two souls which are so closely allied.
It was a wild night.
The wind was howling outside, and the rain was beating and splashing against the
windows.
Suddenly, amid all the hubbub of the gale, there burst forth the wild scream of a
terrified woman. I knew that it was my sister's voice.
I sprang from my bed, wrapped a shawl round me, and rushed into the corridor.
As I opened my door I seemed to hear a low whistle, such as my sister described, and a
few moments later a clanging sound, as if a mass of metal had fallen.
As I ran down the passage, my sister's door was unlocked, and revolved slowly upon its
hinges. I stared at it horror-stricken, not knowing
what was about to issue from it.
By the light of the corridor-lamp I saw my sister appear at the opening, her face
blanched with terror, her hands groping for help, her whole figure swaying to and fro
like that of a drunkard.
I ran to her and threw my arms round her, but at that moment her knees seemed to give
way and she fell to the ground. She writhed as one who is in terrible pain,
and her limbs were dreadfully convulsed.
At first I thought that she had not recognised me, but as I bent over her she
suddenly shrieked out in a voice which I shall never forget, 'Oh, my God!
Helen!
It was the band! The speckled band!'
There was something else which she would fain have said, and she stabbed with her
finger into the air in the direction of the doctor's room, but a fresh convulsion
seized her and choked her words.
I rushed out, calling loudly for my stepfather, and I met him hastening from
his room in his dressing-gown.
When he reached my sister's side she was unconscious, and though he poured brandy
down her throat and sent for medical aid from the village, all efforts were in vain,
for she slowly sank and died without having recovered her consciousness.
Such was the dreadful end of my beloved sister."
"One moment," said Holmes, "are you sure about this whistle and metallic sound?
Could you swear to it?" "That was what the county coroner asked me
at the inquiry.
It is my strong impression that I heard it, and yet, among the crash of the gale and
the creaking of an old house, I may possibly have been deceived."
"Was your sister dressed?"
"No, she was in her night-dress. In her right hand was found the charred
stump of a match, and in her left a match- box."
"Showing that she had struck a light and looked about her when the alarm took place.
That is important. And what conclusions did the coroner come
to?"
"He investigated the case with great care, for Dr. Roylott's conduct had long been
notorious in the county, but he was unable to find any satisfactory cause of death.
My evidence showed that the door had been fastened upon the inner side, and the
windows were blocked by old-fashioned shutters with broad iron bars, which were
secured every night.
The walls were carefully sounded, and were shown to be quite solid all round, and the
flooring was also thoroughly examined, with the same result.
The chimney is wide, but is barred up by four large staples.
It is certain, therefore, that my sister was quite alone when she met her end.
Besides, there were no marks of any violence upon her."
"How about poison?" "The doctors examined her for it, but
without success."
"What do you think that this unfortunate lady died of, then?"
"It is my belief that she died of pure fear and nervous shock, though what it was that
frightened her I cannot imagine."
"Were there gipsies in the plantation at the time?"
"Yes, there are nearly always some there." "Ah, and what did you gather from this
allusion to a band--a speckled band?"
"Sometimes I have thought that it was merely the wild talk of delirium, sometimes
that it may have referred to some band of people, perhaps to these very gipsies in
the plantation.
I do not know whether the spotted handkerchiefs which so many of them wear
over their heads might have suggested the strange adjective which she used."
Holmes shook his head like a man who is far from being satisfied.
"These are very deep waters," said he; "pray go on with your narrative."
"Two years have passed since then, and my life has been until lately lonelier than
ever.
A month ago, however, a dear friend, whom I have known for many years, has done me the
honour to ask my hand in marriage.
His name is Armitage--Percy Armitage--the second son of Mr. Armitage, of Crane Water,
near Reading.
My stepfather has offered no opposition to the match, and we are to be married in the
course of the spring.
Two days ago some repairs were started in the west wing of the building, and my
bedroom wall has been pierced, so that I have had to move into the chamber in which
my sister died, and to sleep in the very bed in which she slept.
Imagine, then, my thrill of terror when last night, as I lay awake, thinking over
her terrible fate, I suddenly heard in the silence of the night the low whistle which
had been the herald of her own death.
I sprang up and lit the lamp, but nothing was to be seen in the room.
I was too shaken to go to bed again, however, so I dressed, and as soon as it
was daylight I slipped down, got a dog-cart at the Crown Inn, which is opposite, and
drove to Leatherhead, from whence I have
come on this morning with the one object of seeing you and asking your advice."
"You have done wisely," said my friend. "But have you told me all?"
"Yes, all."
"Miss Roylott, you have not. You are screening your stepfather."
"Why, what do you mean?"
For answer Holmes pushed back the frill of black lace which fringed the hand that lay
upon our visitor's knee.
Five little livid spots, the marks of four fingers and a thumb, were printed upon the
white wrist. "You have been cruelly used," said Holmes.
The lady coloured deeply and covered over her injured wrist.
"He is a hard man," she said, "and perhaps he hardly knows his own strength."
There was a long silence, during which Holmes leaned his chin upon his hands and
stared into the crackling fire. "This is a very deep business," he said at
last.
"There are a thousand details which I should desire to know before I decide upon
our course of action. Yet we have not a moment to lose.
If we were to come to Stoke Moran to-day, would it be possible for us to see over
these rooms without the knowledge of your stepfather?"
"As it happens, he spoke of coming into town to-day upon some most important
business.
It is probable that he will be away all day, and that there would be nothing to
disturb you.
We have a housekeeper now, but she is old and foolish, and I could easily get her out
of the way." "Excellent.
You are not averse to this trip, Watson?"
"By no means." "Then we shall both come.
What are you going to do yourself?" "I have one or two things which I would
wish to do now that I am in town.
But I shall return by the twelve o'clock train, so as to be there in time for your
coming." "And you may expect us early in the
afternoon.
I have myself some small business matters to attend to.
Will you not wait and breakfast?" "No, I must go.
My heart is lightened already since I have confided my trouble to you.
I shall look forward to seeing you again this afternoon."
She dropped her thick black veil over her face and glided from the room.
"And what do you think of it all, Watson?" asked Sherlock Holmes, leaning back in his
chair.
"It seems to me to be a most dark and sinister business."
"Dark enough and sinister enough."
"Yet if the lady is correct in saying that the flooring and walls are sound, and that
the door, window, and chimney are impassable, then her sister must have been
undoubtedly alone when she met her mysterious end."
"What becomes, then, of these nocturnal whistles, and what of the very peculiar
words of the dying woman?"
"I cannot think."
"When you combine the ideas of whistles at night, the presence of a band of gipsies
who are on intimate terms with this old doctor, the fact that we have every reason
to believe that the doctor has an interest
in preventing his stepdaughter's marriage, the dying allusion to a band, and, finally,
the fact that Miss Helen Stoner heard a metallic clang, which might have been
caused by one of those metal bars that
secured the shutters falling back into its place, I think that there is good ground to
think that the mystery may be cleared along those lines."
"But what, then, did the gipsies do?"
"I cannot imagine." "I see many objections to any such theory."
"And so do I. It is precisely for that reason that we are
going to Stoke Moran this day.
I want to see whether the objections are fatal, or if they may be explained away.
But what in the name of the devil!"
The ejaculation had been drawn from my companion by the fact that our door had
been suddenly dashed open, and that a huge man had framed himself in the aperture.
His costume was a peculiar mixture of the professional and of the agricultural,
having a black top-hat, a long frock-coat, and a pair of high gaiters, with a hunting-
crop swinging in his hand.
So tall was he that his hat actually brushed the cross bar of the doorway, and
his breadth seemed to span it across from side to side.
A large face, seared with a thousand wrinkles, burned yellow with the sun, and
marked with every evil passion, was turned from one to the other of us, while his
deep-set, bile-shot eyes, and his high,
thin, fleshless nose, gave him somewhat the resemblance to a fierce old bird of prey.
"Which of you is Holmes?" asked this apparition.
"My name, sir; but you have the advantage of me," said my companion quietly.
"I am Dr. Grimesby Roylott, of Stoke Moran."
"Indeed, Doctor," said Holmes blandly.
"Pray take a seat." "I will do nothing of the kind.
My stepdaughter has been here. I have traced her.
What has she been saying to you?"
"It is a little cold for the time of the year," said Holmes.
"What has she been saying to you?" screamed the old man furiously.
"But I have heard that the crocuses promise well," continued my companion
imperturbably. "Ha!
You put me off, do you?" said our new visitor, taking a step forward and shaking
his hunting-crop. "I know you, you scoundrel!
I have heard of you before.
You are Holmes, the meddler." My friend smiled.
"Holmes, the busybody!" His smile broadened.
"Holmes, the Scotland Yard Jack-in-office!"
Holmes chuckled heartily. "Your conversation is most entertaining,"
said he. "When you go out close the door, for there
is a decided draught."
"I will go when I have said my say. Don't you dare to meddle with my affairs.
I know that Miss Stoner has been here. I traced her!
I am a dangerous man to fall foul of!
See here." He stepped swiftly forward, seized the
poker, and bent it into a curve with his huge brown hands.
"See that you keep yourself out of my grip," he snarled, and hurling the twisted
poker into the fireplace he strode out of the room.
"He seems a very amiable person," said Holmes, laughing.
"I am not quite so bulky, but if he had remained I might have shown him that my
grip was not much more feeble than his own."
As he spoke he picked up the steel poker and, with a sudden effort, straightened it
out again. "Fancy his having the insolence to confound
me with the official detective force!
This incident gives zest to our investigation, however, and I only trust
that our little friend will not suffer from her imprudence in allowing this brute to
trace her.
And now, Watson, we shall order breakfast, and afterwards I shall walk down to
Doctors' Commons, where I hope to get some data which may help us in this matter."
It was nearly one o'clock when Sherlock Holmes returned from his excursion.
He held in his hand a sheet of blue paper, scrawled over with notes and figures.
"I have seen the will of the deceased wife," said he.
"To determine its exact meaning I have been obliged to work out the present prices of
the investments with which it is concerned.
The total income, which at the time of the wife's death was little short of 1100
pounds, is now, through the fall in agricultural prices, not more than 750
pounds.
Each daughter can claim an income of 250 pounds, in case of marriage.
It is evident, therefore, that if both girls had married, this beauty would have
had a mere pittance, while even one of them would cripple him to a very serious extent.
My morning's work has not been wasted, since it has proved that he has the very
strongest motives for standing in the way of anything of the sort.
And now, Watson, this is too serious for dawdling, especially as the old man is
aware that we are interesting ourselves in his affairs; so if you are ready, we shall
call a cab and drive to Waterloo.
I should be very much obliged if you would slip your revolver into your pocket.
An Eley's No. 2 is an excellent argument with gentlemen who can twist steel pokers
into knots.
That and a tooth-brush are, I think, all that we need."
At Waterloo we were fortunate in catching a train for Leatherhead, where we hired a
trap at the station inn and drove for four or five miles through the lovely Surrey
lanes.
It was a perfect day, with a bright sun and a few fleecy clouds in the heavens.
The trees and wayside hedges were just throwing out their first green shoots, and
the air was full of the pleasant smell of the moist earth.
To me at least there was a strange contrast between the sweet promise of the spring and
this sinister quest upon which we were engaged.
My companion sat in the front of the trap, his arms folded, his hat pulled down over
his eyes, and his chin sunk upon his breast, buried in the deepest thought.
Suddenly, however, he started, tapped me on the shoulder, and pointed over the meadows.
"Look there!" said he.
A heavily timbered park stretched up in a gentle slope, thickening into a grove at
the highest point.
From amid the branches there jutted out the grey gables and high roof-tree of a very
old mansion. "Stoke Moran?" said he.
"Yes, sir, that be the house of Dr. Grimesby Roylott," remarked the driver.
"There is some building going on there," said Holmes; "that is where we are going."
"There's the village," said the driver, pointing to a cluster of roofs some
distance to the left; "but if you want to get to the house, you'll find it shorter to
get over this stile, and so by the foot- path over the fields.
There it is, where the lady is walking." "And the lady, I fancy, is Miss Stoner,"
observed Holmes, shading his eyes.
"Yes, I think we had better do as you suggest."
We got off, paid our fare, and the trap rattled back on its way to Leatherhead.
"I thought it as well," said Holmes as we climbed the stile, "that this fellow should
think we had come here as architects, or on some definite business.
It may stop his gossip.
Good-afternoon, Miss Stoner. You see that we have been as good as our
word."
Our client of the morning had hurried forward to meet us with a face which spoke
her joy. "I have been waiting so eagerly for you,"
she cried, shaking hands with us warmly.
"All has turned out splendidly. Dr. Roylott has gone to town, and it is
unlikely that he will be back before evening."
"We have had the pleasure of making the doctor's acquaintance," said Holmes, and in
a few words he sketched out what had occurred.
Miss Stoner turned white to the lips as she listened.
"Good heavens!" she cried, "he has followed me, then."
"So it appears."
"He is so cunning that I never know when I am safe from him.
What will he say when he returns?"
"He must guard himself, for he may find that there is someone more cunning than
himself upon his track. You must lock yourself up from him to-
night.
If he is violent, we shall take you away to your aunt's at Harrow.
Now, we must make the best use of our time, so kindly take us at once to the rooms
which we are to examine."
The building was of grey, lichen-blotched stone, with a high central portion and two
curving wings, like the claws of a crab, thrown out on each side.
In one of these wings the windows were broken and blocked with wooden boards,
while the roof was partly caved in, a picture of ruin.
The central portion was in little better repair, but the right-hand block was
comparatively modern, and the blinds in the windows, with the blue smoke curling up
from the chimneys, showed that this was where the family resided.
Some scaffolding had been erected against the end wall, and the stone-work had been
broken into, but there were no signs of any workmen at the moment of our visit.
Holmes walked slowly up and down the ill- trimmed lawn and examined with deep
attention the outsides of the windows.
"This, I take it, belongs to the room in which you used to sleep, the centre one to
your sister's, and the one next to the main building to Dr. Roylott's chamber?"
"Exactly so.
But I am now sleeping in the middle one." "Pending the alterations, as I understand.
By the way, there does not seem to be any very pressing need for repairs at that end
wall."
"There were none. I believe that it was an excuse to move me
from my room." "Ah! that is suggestive.
Now, on the other side of this narrow wing runs the corridor from which these three
rooms open. There are windows in it, of course?"
"Yes, but very small ones.
Too narrow for anyone to pass through." "As you both locked your doors at night,
your rooms were unapproachable from that side.
Now, would you have the kindness to go into your room and bar your shutters?"
Miss Stoner did so, and Holmes, after a careful examination through the open
window, endeavoured in every way to force the shutter open, but without success.
There was no slit through which a knife could be passed to raise the bar.
Then with his lens he tested the hinges, but they were of solid iron, built firmly
into the massive masonry.
"Hum!" said he, scratching his chin in some perplexity, "my theory certainly presents
some difficulties. No one could pass these shutters if they
were bolted.
Well, we shall see if the inside throws any light upon the matter."
A small side door led into the whitewashed corridor from which the three bedrooms
opened.
Holmes refused to examine the third chamber, so we passed at once to the
second, that in which Miss Stoner was now sleeping, and in which her sister had met
with her fate.
It was a homely little room, with a low ceiling and a gaping fireplace, after the
fashion of old country-houses.
A brown chest of drawers stood in one corner, a narrow white-counterpaned bed in
another, and a dressing-table on the left- hand side of the window.
These articles, with two small wicker-work chairs, made up all the furniture in the
room save for a square of Wilton carpet in the centre.
The boards round and the panelling of the walls were of brown, worm-eaten oak, so old
and discoloured that it may have dated from the original building of the house.
Holmes drew one of the chairs into a corner and sat silent, while his eyes travelled
round and round and up and down, taking in every detail of the apartment.
"Where does that bell communicate with?" he asked at last pointing to a thick bell-rope
which hung down beside the bed, the tassel actually lying upon the pillow.
"It goes to the housekeeper's room."
"It looks newer than the other things?" "Yes, it was only put there a couple of
years ago." "Your sister asked for it, I suppose?"
"No, I never heard of her using it.
We used always to get what we wanted for ourselves."
"Indeed, it seemed unnecessary to put so nice a bell-pull there.
You will excuse me for a few minutes while I satisfy myself as to this floor."
He threw himself down upon his face with his lens in his hand and crawled swiftly
backward and forward, examining minutely the cracks between the boards.
Then he did the same with the wood-work with which the chamber was panelled.
Finally he walked over to the bed and spent some time in staring at it and in running
his eye up and down the wall.
Finally he took the bell-rope in his hand and gave it a brisk tug.
"Why, it's a dummy," said he. "Won't it ring?"
"No, it is not even attached to a wire.
This is very interesting. You can see now that it is fastened to a
hook just above where the little opening for the ventilator is."
"How very absurd!
I never noticed that before." "Very strange!" muttered Holmes, pulling at
the rope. "There are one or two very singular points
about this room.
For example, what a fool a builder must be to open a ventilator into another room,
when, with the same trouble, he might have communicated with the outside air!"
"That is also quite modern," said the lady.
"Done about the same time as the bell- rope?" remarked Holmes.
"Yes, there were several little changes carried out about that time."
"They seem to have been of a most interesting character--dummy bell-ropes,
and ventilators which do not ventilate.
With your permission, Miss Stoner, we shall now carry our researches into the inner
apartment."
Dr. Grimesby Roylott's chamber was larger than that of his step-daughter, but was as
plainly furnished.
A camp-bed, a small wooden shelf full of books, mostly of a technical character, an
armchair beside the bed, a plain wooden chair against the wall, a round table, and
a large iron safe were the principal things which met the eye.
Holmes walked slowly round and examined each and all of them with the keenest
interest.
"What's in here?" he asked, tapping the safe.
"My stepfather's business papers." "Oh! you have seen inside, then?"
"Only once, some years ago.
I remember that it was full of papers." "There isn't a cat in it, for example?"
"No. What a strange idea!" "Well, look at this!"
He took up a small saucer of milk which stood on the top of it.
"No; we don't keep a cat. But there is a cheetah and a baboon."
"Ah, yes, of course!
Well, a cheetah is just a big cat, and yet a saucer of milk does not go very far in
satisfying its wants, I daresay. There is one point which I should wish to
determine."
He squatted down in front of the wooden chair and examined the seat of it with the
greatest attention. "Thank you.
That is quite settled," said he, rising and putting his lens in his pocket.
"Hullo! Here is something interesting!"
The object which had caught his eye was a small dog lash hung on one corner of the
bed. The lash, however, was curled upon itself
and tied so as to make a loop of whipcord.
"What do you make of that, Watson?" "It's a common enough lash.
But I don't know why it should be tied." "That is not quite so common, is it?
Ah, me! it's a wicked world, and when a clever man turns his brains to crime it is
the worst of all.
I think that I have seen enough now, Miss Stoner, and with your permission we shall
walk out upon the lawn."
I had never seen my friend's face so grim or his brow so dark as it was when we
turned from the scene of this investigation.
We had walked several times up and down the lawn, neither Miss Stoner nor myself liking
to break in upon his thoughts before he roused himself from his reverie.
"It is very essential, Miss Stoner," said he, "that you should absolutely follow my
advice in every respect." "I shall most certainly do so."
"The matter is too serious for any hesitation.
Your life may depend upon your compliance." "I assure you that I am in your hands."
"In the first place, both my friend and I must spend the night in your room."
Both Miss Stoner and I gazed at him in astonishment.
"Yes, it must be so.
Let me explain. I believe that that is the village inn over
there?" "Yes, that is the Crown."
"Very good.
Your windows would be visible from there?" "Certainly."
"You must confine yourself to your room, on pretence of a headache, when your
stepfather comes back.
Then when you hear him retire for the night, you must open the shutters of your
window, undo the hasp, put your lamp there as a signal to us, and then withdraw
quietly with everything which you are
likely to want into the room which you used to occupy.
I have no doubt that, in spite of the repairs, you could manage there for one
night."
"Oh, yes, easily." "The rest you will leave in our hands."
"But what will you do?"
"We shall spend the night in your room, and we shall investigate the cause of this
noise which has disturbed you."
"I believe, Mr. Holmes, that you have already made up your mind," said Miss
Stoner, laying her hand upon my companion's sleeve.
"Perhaps I have."
"Then, for pity's sake, tell me what was the cause of my sister's death."
"I should prefer to have clearer proofs before I speak."
"You can at least tell me whether my own thought is correct, and if she died from
some sudden fright." "No, I do not think so.
I think that there was probably some more tangible cause.
And now, Miss Stoner, we must leave you for if Dr. Roylott returned and saw us our
journey would be in vain.
Good-bye, and be brave, for if you will do what I have told you, you may rest assured
that we shall soon drive away the dangers that threaten you."
Sherlock Holmes and I had no difficulty in engaging a bedroom and sitting-room at the
Crown Inn.
They were on the upper floor, and from our window we could command a view of the
avenue gate, and of the inhabited wing of Stoke Moran Manor House.
At dusk we saw Dr. Grimesby Roylott drive past, his huge form looming up beside the
little figure of the lad who drove him.
The boy had some slight difficulty in undoing the heavy iron gates, and we heard
the hoarse roar of the doctor's voice and saw the fury with which he shook his
clinched fists at him.
The trap drove on, and a few minutes later we saw a sudden light spring up among the
trees as the lamp was lit in one of the sitting-rooms.
"Do you know, Watson," said Holmes as we sat together in the gathering darkness, "I
have really some scruples as to taking you to-night.
There is a distinct element of danger."
"Can I be of assistance?" "Your presence might be invaluable."
"Then I shall certainly come." "It is very kind of you."
"You speak of danger.
You have evidently seen more in these rooms than was visible to me."
"No, but I fancy that I may have deduced a little more.
I imagine that you saw all that I did."
"I saw nothing remarkable save the bell- rope, and what purpose that could answer I
confess is more than I can imagine." "You saw the ventilator, too?"
"Yes, but I do not think that it is such a very unusual thing to have a small opening
between two rooms. It was so small that a rat could hardly
pass through."
"I knew that we should find a ventilator before ever we came to Stoke Moran."
"My dear Holmes!" "Oh, yes, I did.
You remember in her statement she said that her sister could smell Dr. Roylott's cigar.
Now, of course that suggested at once that there must be a communication between the
two rooms.
It could only be a small one, or it would have been remarked upon at the coroner's
inquiry. I deduced a ventilator."
"But what harm can there be in that?"
"Well, there is at least a curious coincidence of dates.
A ventilator is made, a cord is hung, and a lady who sleeps in the bed dies.
Does not that strike you?"
"I cannot as yet see any connection." "Did you observe anything very peculiar
about that bed?" "No."
"It was clamped to the floor.
Did you ever see a bed fastened like that before?"
"I cannot say that I have." "The lady could not move her bed.
It must always be in the same relative position to the ventilator and to the rope-
-or so we may call it, since it was clearly never meant for a bell-pull."
"Holmes," I cried, "I seem to see dimly what you are hinting at.
We are only just in time to prevent some subtle and horrible crime."
"Subtle enough and horrible enough.
When a doctor does go wrong he is the first of criminals.
He has nerve and he has knowledge. Palmer and Pritchard were among the heads
of their profession.
This man strikes even deeper, but I think, Watson, that we shall be able to strike
deeper still.
But we shall have horrors enough before the night is over; for goodness' sake let us
have a quiet pipe and turn our minds for a few hours to something more cheerful."
About nine o'clock the light among the trees was extinguished, and all was dark in
the direction of the Manor House.
Two hours passed slowly away, and then, suddenly, just at the stroke of eleven, a
single bright light shone out right in front of us.
"That is our signal," said Holmes, springing to his feet; "it comes from the
middle window."
As we passed out he exchanged a few words with the landlord, explaining that we were
going on a late visit to an acquaintance, and that it was possible that we might
spend the night there.
A moment later we were out on the dark road, a chill wind blowing in our faces,
and one yellow light twinkling in front of us through the gloom to guide us on our
sombre errand.
There was little difficulty in entering the grounds, for unrepaired breaches gaped in
the old park wall.
Making our way among the trees, we reached the lawn, crossed it, and were about to
enter through the window when out from a clump of laurel bushes there darted what
seemed to be a hideous and distorted child,
who threw itself upon the grass with writhing limbs and then ran swiftly across
the lawn into the darkness. "My God!"
I whispered; "did you see it?"
Holmes was for the moment as startled as I. His hand closed like a vice upon my wrist
in his agitation. Then he broke into a low laugh and put his
lips to my ear.
"It is a nice household," he murmured. "That is the baboon."
I had forgotten the strange pets which the doctor affected.
There was a cheetah, too; perhaps we might find it upon our shoulders at any moment.
I confess that I felt easier in my mind when, after following Holmes' example and
slipping off my shoes, I found myself inside the bedroom.
My companion noiselessly closed the shutters, moved the lamp onto the table,
and cast his eyes round the room. All was as we had seen it in the daytime.
Then creeping up to me and making a trumpet of his hand, he whispered into my ear again
so gently that it was all that I could do to distinguish the words:
"The least sound would be fatal to our plans."
I nodded to show that I had heard. "We must sit without light.
He would see it through the ventilator."
I nodded again. "Do not go asleep; your very life may
depend upon it. Have your pistol ready in case we should
need it.
I will sit on the side of the bed, and you in that chair."
I took out my revolver and laid it on the corner of the table.
Holmes had brought up a long thin cane, and this he placed upon the bed beside him.
By it he laid the box of matches and the stump of a candle.
Then he turned down the lamp, and we were left in darkness.
How shall I ever forget that dreadful vigil?
I could not hear a sound, not even the drawing of a breath, and yet I knew that my
companion sat open-eyed, within a few feet of me, in the same state of nervous tension
in which I was myself.
The shutters cut off the least ray of light, and we waited in absolute darkness.
From outside came the occasional cry of a night-bird, and once at our very window a
long drawn catlike whine, which told us that the cheetah was indeed at liberty.
Far away we could hear the deep tones of the parish clock, which boomed out every
quarter of an hour. How long they seemed, those quarters!
Twelve struck, and one and two and three, and still we sat waiting silently for
whatever might befall.
Suddenly there was the momentary gleam of a light up in the direction of the
ventilator, which vanished immediately, but was succeeded by a strong smell of burning
oil and heated metal.
Someone in the next room had lit a dark- lantern.
I heard a gentle sound of movement, and then all was silent once more, though the
smell grew stronger.
For half an hour I sat with straining ears. Then suddenly another sound became audible-
-a very gentle, soothing sound, like that of a small jet of steam escaping
continually from a kettle.
The instant that we heard it, Holmes sprang from the bed, struck a match, and lashed
furiously with his cane at the bell-pull. "You see it, Watson?" he yelled.
"You see it?"
But I saw nothing.
At the moment when Holmes struck the light I heard a low, clear whistle, but the
sudden glare flashing into my weary eyes made it impossible for me to tell what it
was at which my friend lashed so savagely.
I could, however, see that his face was deadly pale and filled with horror and
loathing.
He had ceased to strike and was gazing up at the ventilator when suddenly there broke
from the silence of the night the most horrible cry to which I have ever listened.
It swelled up louder and louder, a hoarse yell of pain and fear and anger all mingled
in the one dreadful shriek.
They say that away down in the village, and even in the distant parsonage, that cry
raised the sleepers from their beds.
It struck cold to our hearts, and I stood gazing at Holmes, and he at me, until the
last echoes of it had died away into the silence from which it rose.
"What can it mean?"
I gasped. "It means that it is all over," Holmes
answered. "And perhaps, after all, it is for the
best.
Take your pistol, and we will enter Dr. Roylott's room."
With a grave face he lit the lamp and led the way down the corridor.
Twice he struck at the chamber door without any reply from within.
Then he turned the handle and entered, I at his heels, with the cocked pistol in my
hand.
It was a singular sight which met our eyes. On the table stood a dark-lantern with the
shutter half open, throwing a brilliant beam of light upon the iron safe, the door
of which was ajar.
Beside this table, on the wooden chair, sat Dr. Grimesby Roylott clad in a long grey
dressing-gown, his bare ankles protruding beneath, and his feet thrust into red
heelless Turkish slippers.
Across his lap lay the short stock with the long lash which we had noticed during the
day.
His chin was cocked upward and his eyes were fixed in a dreadful, rigid stare at
the corner of the ceiling.
Round his brow he had a peculiar yellow band, with brownish speckles, which seemed
to be bound tightly round his head. As we entered he made neither sound nor
motion.
"The band! the speckled band!" whispered Holmes.
I took a step forward.
In an instant his strange headgear began to move, and there reared itself from among
his hair the squat diamond-shaped head and puffed neck of a loathsome serpent.
"It is a swamp adder!" cried Holmes; "the deadliest snake in India.
He has died within ten seconds of being bitten.
Violence does, in truth, recoil upon the violent, and the schemer falls into the pit
which he digs for another.
Let us thrust this creature back into its den, and we can then remove Miss Stoner to
some place of shelter and let the county police know what has happened."
As he spoke he drew the dog-whip swiftly from the dead man's lap, and throwing the
noose round the reptile's neck he drew it from its horrid perch and, carrying it at
arm's length, threw it into the iron safe, which he closed upon it.
Such are the true facts of the death of Dr. Grimesby Roylott, of Stoke Moran.
It is not necessary that I should prolong a narrative which has already run to too
great a length by telling how we broke the sad news to the terrified girl, how we
conveyed her by the morning train to the
care of her good aunt at Harrow, of how the slow process of official inquiry came to
the conclusion that the doctor met his fate while indiscreetly playing with a dangerous
pet.
The little which I had yet to learn of the case was told me by Sherlock Holmes as we
travelled back next day.
"I had," said he, "come to an entirely erroneous conclusion which shows, my dear
Watson, how dangerous it always is to reason from insufficient data.
The presence of the gipsies, and the use of the word 'band,' which was used by the poor
girl, no doubt, to explain the appearance which she had caught a hurried glimpse of
by the light of her match, were sufficient to put me upon an entirely wrong scent.
I can only claim the merit that I instantly reconsidered my position when, however, it
became clear to me that whatever danger threatened an occupant of the room could
not come either from the window or the door.
My attention was speedily drawn, as I have already remarked to you, to this
ventilator, and to the bell-rope which hung down to the bed.
The discovery that this was a dummy, and that the bed was clamped to the floor,
instantly gave rise to the suspicion that the rope was there as a bridge for
something passing through the hole and coming to the bed.
The idea of a snake instantly occurred to me, and when I coupled it with my knowledge
that the doctor was furnished with a supply of creatures from India, I felt that I was
probably on the right track.
The idea of using a form of poison which could not possibly be discovered by any
chemical test was just such a one as would occur to a clever and ruthless man who had
had an Eastern training.
The rapidity with which such a poison would take effect would also, from his point of
view, be an advantage.
It would be a sharp-eyed coroner, indeed, who could distinguish the two little dark
punctures which would show where the poison fangs had done their work.
Then I thought of the whistle.
Of course he must recall the snake before the morning light revealed it to the
victim.
He had trained it, probably by the use of the milk which we saw, to return to him
when summoned.
He would put it through this ventilator at the hour that he thought best, with the
certainty that it would crawl down the rope and land on the bed.
It might or might not bite the occupant, perhaps she might escape every night for a
week, but sooner or later she must fall a victim.
"I had come to these conclusions before ever I had entered his room.
An inspection of his chair showed me that he had been in the habit of standing on it,
which of course would be necessary in order that he should reach the ventilator.
The sight of the safe, the saucer of milk, and the loop of whipcord were enough to
finally dispel any doubts which may have remained.
The metallic clang heard by Miss Stoner was obviously caused by her stepfather hastily
closing the door of his safe upon its terrible occupant.
Having once made up my mind, you know the steps which I took in order to put the
matter to the proof.
I heard the creature hiss as I have no doubt that you did also, and I instantly
lit the light and attacked it." "With the result of driving it through the
ventilator."
"And also with the result of causing it to turn upon its master at the other side.
Some of the blows of my cane came home and roused its snakish temper, so that it flew
upon the first person it saw.
In this way I am no doubt indirectly responsible for Dr. Grimesby Roylott's
death, and I cannot say that it is likely to weigh very heavily upon my conscience."
>