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THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

by 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 clew 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," l 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 clew 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 discolored. 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
discolored 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 endeavored 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
limecream, 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, gray
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.



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