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THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

by Arthur Conan Doyle


I left him then, still puffing at his black clay pipe, with the
conviction that when I came again on the next evening I would
find that he held in his hands all the clews which would lead up
to the identity of the disappearing bridegroom of Miss Mary
Sutherland.

A professional case of great gravity was engaging my own
attention at the time, and the whole of next day I was busy at
the bedside of the sufferer. It was not until close upon six
o'clock that I found myself free and was able to spring into a
hansom and drive to Baker Street, half afraid that I might be too
late to assist at the denouement of the little mystery. I found
Sherlock Holmes alone, however, half asleep, with his long, thin
form curled up in the recesses of his armchair. A formidable
array of bottles and test-tubes, with the pungent cleanly smell
of hydrochloric acid, told me that he had spent his day in the
chemical work which was so dear to him.

"Well, have you solved it?" I asked as I entered.

"Yes. It was the bisulphate of baryta."

"No, no, the mystery!" I cried.

"Oh, that! I thought of the salt that I have been working upon.
There was never any mystery in the matter, though, as I said
yesterday, some of the details are of interest. The only drawback
is that there is no law, I fear, that can touch the scoundrel."

"Who was he, then, and what was his object in deserting Miss
Sutherland?"

The question was hardly out of my mouth, and Holmes had not yet
opened his lips to reply, when we heard a heavy footfall in the
passage and a tap at the door.

"This is the girl's stepfather, Mr. James Windibank," said
Holmes. "He has written to me to say that he would be here at
six. Come in!"

The man who entered was a sturdy, middle-sized fellow, some
thirty years of age, clean-shaven, and sallow-skinned, with a
bland, insinuating manner, and a pair of wonderfully sharp and
penetrating gray eyes. He shot a questioning glance at each of
us, placed his shiny top-hat upon the sideboard, and with a
slight bow sidled down into the nearest chair.

"Good-evening, Mr. James Windibank," said Holmes. "I think that
this typewritten letter is from you, in which you made an
appointment with me for six o'clock?"

"Yes, sir. I am afraid that I am a little late, but I am not
quite my own master, you know. I am sorry that Miss Sutherland
has troubled you about this little matter, for I think it is far
better not to wash linen of the sort in public. It was quite
against my wishes that she came, but she is a very excitable,
impulsive girl, as you may have noticed, and she is not easily
controlled when she has made up her mind on a point. Of course, I
did not mind you so much, as you are not connected with the
official police, but it is not pleasant to have a family
misfortune like this noised abroad. Besides, it is a useless
expense, for how could you possibly find this Hosmer Angel?"

"On the contrary," said Holmes quietly; "I have every reason to
believe that I will succeed in discovering Mr. Hosmer Angel."

Mr. Windibank gave a violent start and dropped his gloves. "I am
delighted to hear it," he said.

"It is a curious thing," remarked Holmes, "that a typewriter has
really quite as much individuality as a man's handwriting. Unless
they are quite new, no two of them write exactly alike. Some
letters get more worn than others, and some wear only on one
side. Now, you remark in this note of yours, Mr. Windibank, that
in every case there is some little slurring over of the 'e,' and
a slight defect in the tail of the 'r.' There are fourteen other
characteristics, but those are the more obvious."

"We do all our correspondence with this machine at the office,
and no doubt it is a little worn," our visitor answered, glancing
keenly at Holmes with his bright little eyes.

"And now I will show you what is really a very interesting study,
Mr. Windibank," Holmes continued. "I think of writing another
little monograph some of these days on the typewriter and its
relation to crime. It is a subject to which I have devoted some
little attention. I have here four letters which purport to come
from the missing man. They are all typewritten. In each case, not
only are the 'e's' slurred and the 'r's' tailless, but you will
observe, if you care to use my magnifying lens, that the fourteen
other characteristics to which I have alluded are there as well."

Mr. Windibank sprang out of his chair and picked up his hat. "I
cannot waste time over this sort of fantastic talk, Mr. Holmes,"
he said. "If you can catch the man, catch him, and let me know
when you have done it."

"Certainly," said Holmes, stepping over and turning the key in
the door. "I let you know, then, that I have caught him!"

"What! where?" shouted Mr. Windibank, turning white to his lips
and glancing about him like a rat in a trap.

"Oh, it won't do--really it won't," said Holmes suavely. "There
is no possible getting out of it, Mr. Windibank. It is quite too
transparent, and it was a very bad compliment when you said that
it was impossible for me to solve so simple a question. That's
right! Sit down and let us talk it over."

Our visitor collapsed into a chair, with a ghastly face and a
glitter of moisture on his brow. "It--it's not actionable," he
stammered.

"I am very much afraid that it is not. But between ourselves,
Windibank, it was as cruel and selfish and heartless a trick in a
petty way as ever came before me. Now, let me just run over the
course of events, and you will contradict me if I go wrong."

The man sat huddled up in his chair, with his head sunk upon his
breast, like one who is utterly crushed. Holmes stuck his feet up
on the corner of the mantelpiece and, leaning back with his hands
in his pockets, began talking, rather to himself, as it seemed,
than to us.

"The man married a woman very much older than himself for her
money," said he, "and he enjoyed the use of the money of the
daughter as long as she lived with them. It was a considerable
sum, for people in their position, and the loss of it would have
made a serious difference. It was worth an effort to preserve it.
The daughter was of a good, amiable disposition, but affectionate
and warm-hearted in her ways, so that it was evident that with
her fair personal advantages, and her little income, she would
not be allowed to remain single long. Now her marriage would
mean, of course, the loss of a hundred a year, so what does her
stepfather do to prevent it? He takes the obvious course of
keeping her at home and forbidding her to seek the company of
people of her own age. But soon he found that that would not
answer forever. She became restive, insisted upon her rights, and
finally announced her positive intention of going to a certain
ball. What does her clever stepfather do then? He conceives an
idea more creditable to his head than to his heart. With the
connivance and assistance of his wife he disguised himself,
covered those keen eyes with tinted glasses, masked the face with
a moustache and a pair of bushy whiskers, sunk that clear voice
into an insinuating whisper, and doubly secure on account of the
girl's short sight, he appears as Mr. Hosmer Angel, and keeps off
other lovers by making love himself."

"It was only a joke at first," groaned our visitor. "We never
thought that she would have been so carried away."

"Very likely not. However that may be, the young lady was very
decidedly carried away, and, having quite made up her mind that
her stepfather was in France, the suspicion of treachery never
for an instant entered her mind. She was flattered by the
gentleman's attentions, and the effect was increased by the
loudly expressed admiration of her mother. Then Mr. Angel began
to call, for it was obvious that the matter should be pushed as
far as it would go if a real effect were to be produced. There
were meetings, and an engagement, which would finally secure the
girl's affections from turning towards anyone else. But the
deception could not be kept up forever. These pretended journeys
to France were rather cumbrous. The thing to do was clearly to
bring the business to an end in such a dramatic manner that it
would leave a permanent impression upon the young lady's mind and
prevent her from looking upon any other suitor for some time to
come. Hence those vows of fidelity exacted upon a Testament, and
hence also the allusions to a possibility of something happening
on the very morning of the wedding. James Windibank wished Miss
Sutherland to be so bound to Hosmer Angel, and so uncertain as to
his fate, that for ten years to come, at any rate, she would not
listen to another man. As far as the church door he brought her,
and then, as he could go no farther, he conveniently vanished
away by the old trick of stepping in at one door of a
four-wheeler and out at the other. I think that was the chain of
events, Mr. Windibank!"

Our visitor had recovered something of his assurance while Holmes
had been talking, and he rose from his chair now with a cold
sneer upon his pale face.

"It may be so, or it may not. Mr. Holmes," said he, "but if you
are so very sharp you ought to be sharp enough to know that it is
you who are breaking the law now, and not me. I have done nothing
actionable from the first, but as long as you keep that door
locked you lay yourself open to an action for assault and illegal
constraint."

"The law cannot, as you say, touch you," said Holmes, unlocking
and throwing open the door, "yet there never was a man who
deserved punishment more. If the young lady has a brother or a
friend, he ought to lay a whip across your shoulders. By Jove!"
he continued, flushing up at the sight of the bitter sneer upon
the man's face, "it is not part of my duties to my client, but
here's a hunting crop handy, and I think I shall just treat
myself to--" He took two swift steps to the whip, but before he
could grasp it there was a wild clatter of steps upon the stairs,
the heavy hall door banged, and from the window we could see Mr.
James Windibank running at the top of his speed down the road.

"There's a cold-blooded scoundrel!" said Holmes, laughing, as he
threw himself down into his chair once more. "That fellow will
rise from crime to crime until he does something very bad, and
ends on a gallows. The case has, in some respects, been not
entirely devoid of interest."

"I cannot now entirely see all the steps of your reasoning," I
remarked.

"Well, of course it was obvious from the first that this Mr.
Hosmer Angel must have some strong object for his curious
conduct, and it was equally clear that the only man who really
profited by the incident, as far as we could see, was the
stepfather. Then the fact that the two men were never together,
but that the one always appeared when the other was away, was
suggestive. So were the tinted spectacles and the curious voice,
which both hinted at a disguise, as did the bushy whiskers. My
suspicions were all confirmed by his peculiar action in
typewriting his signature, which, of course, inferred that his
handwriting was so familiar to her that she would recognize even
the smallest sample of it. You see all these isolated facts,
together with many minor ones, all pointed in the same
direction."

"And how did you verify them?"

"Having once spotted my man, it was easy to get corroboration. I
knew the firm for which this man worked. Having taken the printed
description. I eliminated everything from it which could be the
result of a disguise--the whiskers, the glasses, the voice, and I
sent it to the firm, with a request that they would inform me
whether it answered to the description of any of their
travellers. I had already noticed the peculiarities of the
typewriter, and I wrote to the man himself at his business
address asking him if he would come here. As I expected, his
reply was typewritten and revealed the same trivial but
characteristic defects. The same post brought me a letter from
Westhouse & Marbank, of Fenchurch Street, to say that the
description tallied in every respect with that of their employee,
James Windibank. Voila tout!"

"And Miss Sutherland?"

"If I tell her she will not believe me. You may remember the old
Persian saying, 'There is danger for him who taketh the tiger
cub, and danger also for whoso snatches a delusion from a woman.'
There is as much sense in Hafiz as in Horace, and as much
knowledge of the world."

 


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