ADVENTURE III. A CASE OF IDENTITY
"My dear fellow," said Sherlock Holmes as we sat on
of the fire in his lodgings at Baker Street, "life is infinitely
stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We
would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere
commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window
hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the
roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the
strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the
wonderful chains of events, working through generation, and
leading to the most outre results, it would make all fiction with
its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and
"And yet I am not convinced of it," I answered. "The
come to light in the papers are, as a rule, bald enough, and
vulgar enough. We have in our police reports realism pushed to
its extreme limits, and yet the result is, it must be confessed,
neither fascinating nor artistic."
"A certain selection and discretion must be used in producing
realistic effect," remarked Holmes. "This is wanting
police report, where more stress is laid, perhaps, upon the
platitudes of the magistrate than upon the details, which to an
observer contain the vital essence of the whole matter. Depend
upon it, there is nothing so unnatural as the commonplace."
I smiled and shook my head. "I can quite understand your
so." I said. "Of course, in your position of unofficial
and helper to everybody who is absolutely puzzled, throughout
three continents, you are brought in contact with all that is
strange and bizarre. But here"--I picked up the morning paper
from the ground--"let us put it to a practical test. Here
first heading upon which I come. 'A husband's cruelty to his
wife.' There is half a column of print, but I know without
reading it that it is all perfectly familiar to me. There is,
course, the other woman, the drink, the push, the blow, the
bruise, the sympathetic sister or landlady. The crudest of
writers could invent nothing more crude."
"Indeed, your example is an unfortunate one for your argument,"
said Holmes, taking the paper and glancing his eye down it. "This
is the Dundas separation case, and, as it happens, I was engaged
in clearing up some small points in connection with it. The
husband was a teetotaler, there was no other woman, and the
conduct complained of was that he had drifted into the habit of
winding up every meal by taking out his false teeth and hurling
them at his wife, which, you will allow, is not an action likely
to occur to the imagination of the average story-teller. Take
pinch of snuff, Doctor, and acknowledge that I have scored over
you in your example."
He held out his snuffbox of old gold, with a great amethyst in
the centre of the lid. Its splendour was in such contrast to his
homely ways and simple life that I could not help commenting upon
"Ah," said he, "I forgot that I had not seen you
for some weeks.
It is a little souvenir from the King of Bohemia in return for
assistance in the case of the Irene Adler papers."
"And the ring?" I asked, glancing at a remarkable brilliant
sparkled upon his finger.
"It was from the reigning family of Holland, though the
which I served them was of such delicacy that I cannot confide
even to you, who have been good enough to chronicle one or two
my little problems."
"And have you any on hand just now?" I asked with interest.
"Some ten or twelve, but none which present any feature
interest. They are important, you understand, without being
interesting. Indeed, I have found that it is usually in
unimportant matters that there is a field for the observation,
and for the quick analysis of cause and effect which gives the
charm to an investigation. The larger crimes are apt to be the
simpler, for the bigger the crime thc more obvious, as a rule,
the motive. In these cases, save for one rather intricate matter
which has been referred to me from Marseilles, there is nothing
which presents any features of interest. It is possible, however,
that I may have something better before very many minutes are
over, for this is one of my clients, or I am much mistaken."
He had risen from his chair and was standing between the parted
blinds gazing down into the dull neutral-tinted London street.
Looking over his shoulder, I saw that on the pavement opposite
there stood a large woman with a heavy fur boa round her neck,
and a large curling red feather in a broad-brimmed hat which was
tilted in a coquettish Duchess of Devonshire fashion over her
ear. From under this great panoply she peeped up in a nervous,
hesitating fashion at our windows, while her body oscillated
backward and forward, and her fingers fidgeted with her glove
buttons. Suddenly, with a plunge, as of the swimmer who leaves
the bank, she hurried across the road, and we heard the sharp
clang of the bell.
"I have seen those symptoms before," said Holmes, throwing
cigarette into the fire. "Oscillation upon the pavement always
means an affaire de coeur. She would like advice, but is not sure
that the matter is not too delicate for communication. And yet
even here we may discriminate. When a woman has been seriously
wronged by a man she no longer oscillates, and the usual symptom
is a broken bell wire. Here we may take it that there is a love
matter, but that the maiden is not so much angry as perplexed,
grieved. But here she comes in person to resolve our doubts."
As he spoke there was a tap at the door, and the boy in buttons.
entered to announce Miss Mary Sutherland, while the lady herself
loomed behind his small black figure like a full-sailed
merchant-man behind a tiny pilot boat. Sherlock Holmes welcomed
her with the easy courtesy for which he was remarkable, and,
having closed the door and bowed her into an armchair, he looked
her over in the minute and yet abstracted fashion which was
peculiar to him.
"Do you not find," he said, "that with your short
sight it is a
little trying to do so much typewriting?"
"I did at first," she answered, "but now I know
where the letters
are without looking." Then, suddenly realizing the full purport
of his words, she gave a violent start and looked up, with fear
and astonishment upon her broad, good-humoured face. "You've
heard about me, Mr. Holmes," she cried, "else how could
"Never mind," said Holmes, laughing; "it is my
business to know
things. Perhaps I have trained myself to see what others
overlook. If not, why should you come to consult me?"
"I came to you, sir, because I heard of you from Mrs. Etherege,
whose husband you found so easy when the police and everyone had
given him up for dead. Oh, Mr. Holmes, I wish you would do as
much for me. I'm not rich, but still I have a hundred a year in
my own right, besides the little that I make by the machine, and
I would give it all to know what has become of Mr. Hosmer Angel."
"Why did you come away to consult me in such a hurry?"
Sherlock Holmes, with his finger-tips together and his eyes to
Again a startled look came over the somewhat vacuous face of
Mary Sutherland. "Yes, I did bang out of the house,"
"for it made me angry to see the easy way in which Mr.
Windibank--that is, my father--took it all. He would not go to
the police, and he would not go to you, and so at last, as he
would do nothing and kept on saying that there was no harm done,
it made me mad, and I just on with my things and came right away
"Your father," said Holmes, "your stepfather,
surely, since the
name is different."
"Yes, my stepfather. I call him father, though it sounds
too, for he is only five years and two months older than myself."
"And your mother is alive?"
"Oh, yes, mother is alive and well. I wasn't best pleased,
Holmes, when she married again so soon after father's death, and
a man who was nearly fifteen years younger than herself. Father
was a plumber in the Tottenham Court Road, and he left a tidy
business behind him, which mother carried on with Mr. Hardy, the
foreman; but when Mr. Windibank came he made her sell the
business, for he was very superior, being a traveller in wines.
They got 4700 pounds for the goodwill and interest, which wasn't
near as much as father could have got if he had been alive."
I had expected to see Sherlock Holmes impatient under this
rambling and inconsequential narrative, but, on the contrary he
had listened with the greatest concentration of attention.
"Your own little income," he asked, "does it come
out of the
"Oh, no, sir. It is quite separate and was left me by my
Ned in Auckland. It is in New Zealand stock, paying 4 1/2 per
cent. Two thousand five hundred pounds was the amount, but I can
only touch the interest."
"You interest me extremely," said Holmes. "And
since you draw so
large a sum as a hundred a year, with what you earn into the
bargain, you no doubt travel a little and indulge yourself in
every way. I believe that a single lady can get on very nicely
upon an income of about 60 pounds."
"I could do with much less than that, Mr. Holmes, but you
understand that as long as I live at home I don't wish to be a
burden to them, and so they have the use of the money just while
I am staying with them. Of course, that is only just for the
time. Mr. Windibank draws my interest every quarter and pays it
over to mother, and I find that I can do pretty well with what
earn at typewriting. It brings me twopence a sheet, and I can
often do from fifteen to twenty sheets in a-day."
"You have made your position very clear to me," said
"This is my friend, Dr. Watson, before whom you can speak
freely as before myself. Kindly tell us now all about your
connection with Mr. Hosmer Angel."