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THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

by Arthur Conan Doyle


It was obvious to me that my companion's mind was now made up
about the case, although what his conclusions were was more than
I could even dimly imagine. Several times during our homeward
journey I endeavored to sound him upon the point, but he always
glided away to some other topic, until at last I gave it over in
despair. It was not yet three when we found ourselves in our
rooms once more. He hurried to his chamber and was down again in
a few minutes dressed as a common loafer. With his collar turned
up, his shiny, seedy coat, his red cravat, and his worn boots, he
was a perfect sample of the class.

"I think that this should do," said he, glancing into the glass
above the fireplace. "I only wish that you could come with me,
Watson, but I fear that it won't do. I may be on the trail in
this matter, or I may be following a will-o'-the-wisp, but I
shall soon know which it is. I hope that I may be back in a few
hours." He cut a slice of beef from the joint upon the sideboard,
sandwiched it between two rounds of bread, and thrusting this
rude meal into his pocket he started off upon his expedition.

I had just finished my tea when he returned, evidently in
excellent spirits, swinging an old elastic-sided boot in his
hand. He chucked it down into a corner and helped himself to a
cup of tea.

"I only looked in as I passed," said he. "I am going right on."

"Where to?"

"Oh, to the other side of the West End. It may be some time
before I get back. Don't wait up for me in case I should be
late."

"How are you getting on?"

"Oh, so so. Nothing to complain of. I have been out to Streatham
since I saw you last, but I did not call at the house. It is a
very sweet little problem, and I would not have missed it for a
good deal. However, I must not sit gossiping here, but must get
these disreputable clothes off and return to my highly
respectable self."

I could see by his manner that he had stronger reasons for
satisfaction than his words alone would imply. His eyes twinkled,
and there was even a touch of color upon his sallow cheeks. He
hastened upstairs, and a few minutes later I heard the slam of
the hall door, which told me that he was off once more upon his
congenial hunt.

I waited until midnight, but there was no sign of his return, so
I retired to my room. It was no uncommon thing for him to be away
for days and nights on end when he was hot upon a scent, so that
his lateness caused me no surprise. I do not know at what hour he
came in, but when I came down to breakfast in the morning there
he was with a cup of coffee in one hand and the paper in the
other, as fresh and trim as possible.

"You will excuse my beginning without you, Watson," said he, "but
you remember that our client has rather an early appointment this
morning."

"Why, it is after nine now," I answered. "I should not be
surprised if that were he. I thought I heard a ring."

It was, indeed, our friend the financier. I was shocked by the
change which had come over him, for his face which was naturally
of a broad and massive mould, was now pinched and fallen in,
while his hair seemed to me at least a shade whiter. He entered
with a weariness and lethargy which was even more painful than
his violence of the morning before, and he dropped heavily into
the armchair which I pushed forward for him.

"I do not know what I have done to be so severely tried," said
he. "Only two days ago I was a happy and prosperous man, without
a care in the world. Now I am left to a lonely and dishonored
age. One sorrow comes close upon the heels of another. My niece,
Mary, has deserted me."

"Deserted you?"

"Yes. Her bed this morning had not been slept in, her room was
empty, and a note for me lay upon the hall table. I had said to
her last night, in sorrow and not in anger, that if she had
married my boy all might have been well with him. Perhaps it was
thoughtless of me to say so. It is to that remark that she refers
in this note:

"'MY DEAREST UNCLE:--I feel that I have brought trouble upon you,
and that if I had acted differently this terrible misfortune
might never have occurred. I cannot, with this thought in my
mind, ever again be happy under your roof, and I feel that I must
leave you forever. Do not worry about my future, for that is
provided for; and, above all, do not search for me, for it will
be fruitless labour and an ill-service to me. In life or in
death, I am ever your loving MARY.'

"What could she mean by that note, Mr. Holmes? Do you think it
points to suicide?"

"No, no, nothing of the kind. It is perhaps the best possible
solution. I trust, Mr. Holder, that you are nearing the end of
your troubles."

"Ha! You say so! You have heard something, Mr. Holmes; you have
learned something! Where are the gems?"

"You would not think 1000 pounds apiece an excessive sum for
them?"

"I would pay ten."

"That would be unnecessary. Three thousand will cover the matter.
And there is a little reward, I fancy. Have you your check-book?
Here is a pen. Better make it out for 4000 pounds."

With a dazed face the banker made out the required check. Holmes
walked over to his desk, took out a little triangular piece of
gold with three gems in it, and threw it down upon the table.

With a shriek of joy our client clutched it up.

"You have it!" he gasped. "I am saved! I am saved!"

The reaction of joy was as passionate as his grief had been, and
he hugged his recovered gems to his bosom.

"There is one other thing you owe, Mr. Holder," said Sherlock
Holmes rather sternly.

"Owe!" He caught up a pen. "Name the sum, and I will pay it."

"No, the debt is not to me. You owe a very humble apology to that
noble lad, your son, who has carried himself in this matter as I
should be proud to see my own son do, should I ever chance to
have one."

"Then it was not Arthur who took them?"

"I told you yesterday, and I repeat to-day, that it was not."

"You are sure of it! Then let us hurry to him at once to let him
know that the truth is known."

"He knows it already. When I had cleared it all up I had an
interview with him, and finding that he would not tell me the
story, I told it to him, on which he had to confess that I was
right and to add the very few details which were not yet quite
clear to me. Your news of this morning, however, may open his
lips."

"For heaven's sake, tell me, then, what is this extraordinary
mystery !"

"I will do so, and I will show you the steps by which I reached
it. And let me say to you, first, that which it is hardest for me
to say and for you to hear: there has been an understanding
between Sir George Burnwell and your niece Mary. They have now
fled together."

"My Mary? Impossible!"

"It is unfortunately more than possible; it is certain. Neither
you nor your son knew the true character of this man when you
admitted him into your family circle. He is one of the most
dangerous men in England--a ruined gambler, an absolutely
desperate villain, a man without heart or conscience. Your niece
knew nothing of such men. When he breathed his vows to her, as he
had done to a hundred before her, she flattered herself that she
alone had touched his heart. The devil knows best what he said,
but at least she became his tool and was in the habit of seeing
him nearly every evening."

"I cannot, and I will not, believe it!" cried the banker with an
ashen face.

"I will tell you, then, what occurred in your house last night.
Your niece, when you had, as she thought, gone to your room.
slipped down and talked to her lover through the window which
leads into the stable lane. His footmarks had pressed right
through the snow, so long had he stood there. She told him of the
coronet. His wicked lust for gold kindled at the news, and he
bent her to his will. I have no doubt that she loved you, but
there are women in whom the love of a lover extinguishes all
other loves, and I think that she must have been one. She had
hardly listened to his instructions when she saw you coming
downstairs, on which she closed the window rapidly and told you
about one of the servants' escapade with her wooden-legged lover,
which was all perfectly true.

"Your boy, Arthur, went to bed after his interview with you but
he slept badly on account of his uneasiness about his club debts.
In the middle of the night he heard a soft tread pass his door,
so he rose and, looking out, was surprised to see his cousin
walking very stealthily along the passage until she disappeared
into your dressing-room. Petrified with astonishment. the lad
slipped on some clothes and waited there in the dark to see what
would come of this strange affair. Presently she emerged from the
room again, and in the light of the passage-lamp your son saw
that she carried the precious coronet in her hands. She passed
down the stairs, and he, thrilling with horror, ran along and
slipped behind the curtain near your door, whence he could see
what passed in the hall beneath. He saw her stealthily open the
window, hand out the coronet to someone in the gloom, and then
closing it once more hurry back to her room, passing quite close
to where he stood hid behind the curtain.

"As long as she was on the scene he could not take any action
without a horrible exposure of the woman whom he loved. But the
instant that she was gone he realized how crushing a misfortune
this would be for you, and how all-important it was to set it
right. He rushed down, just as he was, in his bare feet, opened
the window, sprang out into the snow, and ran down the lane,
where he could see a dark figure in the moonlight. Sir George
Burnwell tried to get away, but Arthur caught him, and there was
a struggle between them, your lad tugging at one side of the
coronet, and his opponent at the other. In the scuffle, your son
struck Sir George and cut him over the eye. Then something
suddenly snapped, and your son, finding that he had the coronet
in his hands, rushed back, closed the window, ascended to your
room, and had just observed that the coronet had been twisted in
the struggle and was endeavoring to straighten it when you
appeared upon the scene."

"Is it possible?" gasped the banker.

"You then roused his anger by calling him names at a moment when
he felt that he had deserved your warmest thanks. He could not
explain the true state of affairs without betraying one who
certainly deserved little enough consideration at his hands. He
took the more chivalrous view, however, and preserved her
secret."

"And that was why she shrieked and fainted when she saw the
coronet," cried Mr. Holder. "Oh, my God! what a blind fool I have
been! And his asking to be allowed to go out for five minutes!
The dear fellow wanted to see if the missing piece were at the
scene of the struggle. How cruelly I have misjudged him!'

"When I arrived at the house," continued Holmes, "I at once went
very carefully round it to observe if there were any traces in
the snow which might help me. I knew that none had fallen since
the evening before, and also that there had been a strong frost
to preserve impressions. I passed along the tradesmen's path, but
found it all trampled down and indistinguishable. Just beyond it,
however, at the far side of the kitchen door, a woman had stood
and talked with a man, whose round impressions on one side showed
that he had a wooden leg. I could even tell that they had been
disturbed, for the woman had run back swiftly to the door, as was
shown by the deep toe and light heel marks, while Wooden-leg had
waited a little, and then had gone away. I thought at the time
that this might be the maid and her sweetheart, of whom you had
already spoken to me, and inquiry showed it was so. I passed
round the garden without seeing anything more than random tracks,
which I took to be the police; but when I got into the stable
lane a very long and complex story was written in the snow in
front of me.


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