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THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

by Arthur Conan Doyle


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 horsy-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 22d. 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.


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