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THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

by Arthur Conan Doyle


"I've had enough of you and your geese," he shouted. "I wish you
were all at the devil together. If you come pestering me any more
with your silly talk I'll set the dog at you. You bring Mrs.
Oakshott here and I'll answer her, but what have you to do with
it? Did I buy the geese off you?"

"No; but one of them was mine all the same," whined the little
man.

"Well, then, ask Mrs. Oakshott for it."

"She told me to ask you."

"Well, you can ask the King of Proosia, for all I care. I've had
enough of it. Get out of this!" He rushed fiercely forward, and
the inquirer flitted away into the darkness.

"Ha! this may save us a visit to Brixton Road," whispered Holmes.
"Come with me, and we will see what is to be made of this
fellow." Striding through the scattered knots of people who
lounged round the flaring stalls, my companion speedily overtook
the little man and touched him upon the shoulder. He sprang
round, and I could see in the gas-light that every vestige of
color had been driven from his face.

"Who are you, then? What do you want?" he asked in a quavering
voice.

"You will excuse me," said Holmes blandly, "but I could not help
overhearing the questions which you put to the salesman just now.
I think that I could be of assistance to you."

"You? Who are you? How could you know anything of the matter?"

"My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other
people don't know."

"But you can know nothing of this?"

"Excuse me, I know everything of it. You are endeavoring to
trace some geese which were sold by Mrs. Oakshott, of Brixton
Road, to a salesman named Breckinridge, by him in turn to Mr.
Windigate, of the Alpha, and by him to his club, of which Mr.
Henry Baker is a member."

"Oh, sir, you are the very man whom I have longed to meet," cried
the little fellow with outstretched hands and quivering fingers.
"I can hardly explain to you how interested I am in this matter."

Sherlock Holmes hailed a four-wheeler which was passing. "In that
case we had better discuss it in a cosy room rather than in this
wind-swept market-place," said he. "But pray tell me, before we
go farther, who it is that I have the pleasure of assisting."

The man hesitated for an instant. "My name is John Robinson," he
answered with a sidelong glance.

"No, no; the real name," said Holmes sweetly. "It is always
awkward doing business with an alias."

A flush sprang to the white cheeks of the stranger. "Well then,"
said he, "my real name is James Ryder."

"Precisely so. Head attendant at the Hotel Cosmopolitan. Pray
step into the cab, and I shall soon be able to tell you
everything which you would wish to know."

The little man stood glancing from one to the other of us with
half-frightened, half-hopeful eyes, as one who is not sure
whether he is on the verge of a windfall or of a catastrophe.
Then he stepped into the cab, and in half an hour we were back in
the sitting-room at Baker Street. Nothing had been said during
our drive, but the high, thin breathing of our new companion, and
the claspings and unclaspings of his hands, spoke of the nervous
tension within him.

"Here we are!" said Holmes cheerily as we filed into the room.
"The fire looks very seasonable in this weather. You look cold,
Mr. Ryder. Pray take the basket-chair. I will just put on my
slippers before we settle this little matter of yours. Now, then!
You want to know what became of those geese?"

"Yes, sir."

"Or rather, I fancy, of that goose. It was one bird, I imagine in
which you were interested--white, with a black bar across the
tail."

Ryder quivered with emotion. "Oh, sir," he cried, "can you tell
me where it went to?"

"It came here."

"Here?"

"Yes, and a most remarkable bird it proved. I don't wonder that
you should take an interest in it. It laid an egg after it was
dead--the bonniest, brightest little blue egg that ever was seen.
I have it here in my museum."

Our visitor staggered to his feet and clutched the mantelpiece
with his right hand. Holmes unlocked his strong-box and held up
the blue carbuncle, which shone out like a star, with a cold
brilliant, many-pointed radiance. Ryder stood glaring with a
drawn face, uncertain whether to claim or to disown it.

"The game's up, Ryder," said Holmes quietly. "Hold up, man, or
you'll be into the fire! Give him an arm back into his chair,
Watson. He's not got blood enough to go in for felony with
impunity. Give him a dash of brandy. So! Now he looks a little
more human. What a shrimp it is, to be sure!"

For a moment he had staggered and nearly fallen, but the brandy
brought a tinge of color into his cheeks, and he sat staring
with frightened eyes at his accuser.

"I have almost every link in my hands, and all the proofs which I
could possibly need, so there is little which you need tell me.
Still, that little may as well be cleared up to make the case
complete. You had heard, Ryder, of this blue stone of the
Countess of Morcar's?"

"It was Catherine Cusack who told me of it," said he in a
crackling voice.

"I see--her ladyship's waiting-maid. Well, the temptation of
sudden wealth so easily acquired was too much for you, as it has
been for better men before you; but you were not very scrupulous
in the means you used. It seems to me, Ryder, that there is the
making of a very pretty villain in you. You knew that this man
Horner, the plumber, had been concerned in some such matter
before, and that suspicion would rest the more readily upon him.
What did you do, then? You made some small job in my lady's
room--you and your confederate Cusack--and you managed that he
should be the man sent for. Then, when he had left, you rifled
the jewel-case, raised the alarm, and had this unfortunate man
arrested. You then--"

Ryder threw himself down suddenly upon the rug and clutched at my
companion's knees. "For God's sake, have mercy!" he shrieked.
"Think of my father! of my mother! It would break their hearts. I
never went wrong before! I never will again. I swear it. I'll
swear it on a Bible. Oh, don't bring it into court! For Christ's
sake, don't!"

"Get back into your chair!" said Holmes sternly. "It is very well
to cringe and crawl now, but you thought little enough of this
poor Horner in the dock for a crime of which he knew nothing."

"I will fly, Mr. Holmes. I will leave the country, sir. Then the
charge against him will break down."

"Hum! We will talk about that. And now let us hear a true account
of the next act. How came the stone into the goose, and how came
the goose into the open market? Tell us the truth, for there lies
your only hope of safety."

Ryder passed his tongue over his parched lips. "I will tell you
it just as it happened, sir," said he. "When Horner had been
arrested, it seemed to me that it would be best for me to get
away with the stone at once, for I did not know at what moment
the police might not take it into their heads to search me and my
room. There was no place about the hotel where it would be safe.
I went out, as if on some commission, and I made for my sister's
house. She had married a man named Oakshott, and lived in Brixton
Road, where she fattened fowls for the market. All the way there
every man I met seemed to me to be a policeman or a detective;
and, for all that it was a cold night, the sweat was pouring down
my face before I came to the Brixton Road. My sister asked me
what was the matter, and why I was so pale; but I told her that I
had been upset by the jewel robbery at the hotel. Then I went
into the back yard and smoked a pipe and wondered what it would
be best to do.

"I had a friend once called Maudsley, who went to the bad, and
has just been serving his time in Pentonville. One day he had met
me, and fell into talk about the ways of thieves, and how they
could get rid of what they stole. I knew that he would be true to
me, for I knew one or two things about him; so I made up my mind
to go right on to Kilburn, where he lived, and take him into my
confidence. He would show me how to turn the stone into money.
But how to get to him in safety? I thought of the agonies I had
gone through in coming from the hotel. I might at any moment be
seized and searched, and there would be the stone in my waistcoat
pocket. I was leaning against the wall at the time and looking at
the geese which were waddling about round my feet, and suddenly
an idea came into my head which showed me how I could beat the
best detective that ever lived.

"My sister had told me some weeks before that I might have the
pick of her geese for a Christmas present, and I knew that she
was always as good as her word. I would take my goose now, and in
it I would carry my stone to Kilburn. There was a little shed in
the yard, and behind this I drove one of the birds--a fine big
one, white, with a barred tail. I caught it, and prying its bill
open, I thrust the stone down its throat as far as my finger
could reach. The bird gave a gulp, and I felt the stone pass
along its gullet and down into its crop. But the creature flapped
and struggled, and out came my sister to know what was the
matter. As I turned to speak to her the brute broke loose and
fluttered off among the others.

"'Whatever were you doing with that bird, Jem?' says she.

"'Well,' said I, 'you said you'd give me one for Christmas, and I
was feeling which was the fattest.'

"'Oh,' says she, 'we've set yours aside for you--Jem's bird, we
call it. It's the big white one over yonder. There's twenty-six
of them, which makes one for you, and one for us, and two dozen
for the market.'

"'Thank you, Maggie,' says I; 'but if it is all the same to you,
I'd rather have that one I was handling just now.'

"'The other is a good three pound heavier,' said she, 'and we
fattened it expressly for you.'

"'Never mind. I'll have the other, and I'll take it now,' said I.

"'Oh, just as you like,' said she, a little huffed. 'Which is it
you want, then?'

"'That white one with the barred tail, right in the middle of the
flock.'

"'Oh, very well. Kill it and take it with you.'

"Well, I did what she said, Mr. Holmes, and I carried the bird
all the way to Kilburn. I told my pal what I had done, for he was
a man that it was easy to tell a thing like that to. He laughed
until he choked, and we got a knife and opened the goose. My
heart turned to water, for there was no sign of the stone, and I
knew that some terrible mistake had occurred. I left the bird
rushed back to my sister's, and hurried into the back yard. There
was not a bird to be seen there.

"'Where are they all, Maggie?' I cried.

"'Gone to the dealer's, Jem.'

"'Which dealer's?'

"'Breckinridge, of Covent Garden.'

"'But was there another with a barred tail?' I asked, 'the same
as the one I chose?'

"'Yes, Jem; there were two barred-tailed ones, and I could never
tell them apart.'

"Well, then, of course I saw it all, and I ran off as hard as my
feet would carry me to this man Breckinridge; but he had sold the
lot at once, and not one word would he tell me as to where they
had gone. You heard him yourselves to-night. Well, he has always
answered me like that. My sister thinks that I am going mad.
Sometimes I think that I am myself. And now--and now I am myself
a branded thief, without ever having touched the wealth for which
I sold my character. God help me! God help me!" He burst into
convulsive sobbing, with his face buried in his hands.

There was a long silence, broken only by his heavy breathing and
by the measured tapping of Sherlock Holmes's finger-tips upon the
edge of the table. Then my friend rose and threw open the door.

"Get out!" said he.

"What, sir! Oh, Heaven bless you!"

"No more words. Get out!"

And no more words were needed. There was a rush, a clatter upon
the stairs, the bang of a door, and the crisp rattle of running
footfalls from the street.

"After all, Watson," said Holmes, reaching up his hand for his
clay pipe, "I am not retained by the police to supply their
deficiencies. If Horner were in danger it would be another thing;
but this fellow will not appear against him, and the case must
collapse. I suppose that I am commuting a felony. but it is just
possible that I am saving a soul. This fellow will not go wrong
again; he is too terribly frightened. Send him to jail now, and
you make him a jail-bird for life. Besides, it is the season of
forgiveness. Chance has put in our way a most singular and
whimsical problem, and its solution is its own reward. If you
will have the goodness to touch the bell, Doctor, we will begin
another investigation, in which, also a bird will be the chief
feature."



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