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THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

by Arthur Conan Doyle


Some three hours or so afterwards we were all in the train
together, bound from Reading to the little Berkshire village.
There were Sherlock Holmes, the hydraulic engineer, Inspector
Bradstreet, of Scotland Yard, a plain-clothes man, and myself.
Bradstreet had spread an ordnance map of the county out upon the
seat and was busy with his compasses drawing a circle with Eyford
for its centre.

"There you are," said he. "That circle is drawn at a radius of
ten miles from the village. The place we want must be somewhere
near that line. You said ten miles, I think, sir."

"It was an hour's good drive."

"And you think that they brought you back all that way when you
were unconscious?"

"They must have done so. I have a confused memory, too, of having
been lifted and conveyed somewhere."

"What I cannot understand," said I, "is why they should have
spared you when they found you lying fainting in the garden.
Perhaps the villain was softened by the woman's entreaties."

"I hardly think that likely. I never saw a more inexorable face
in my life."

"Oh, we shall soon clear up all that," said Bradstreet. "Well, I
have drawn my circle, and I only wish I knew at what point upon
it the folk that we are in search of are to be found."

"I think I could lay my finger on it," said Holmes quietly.

"Really, now!" cried the inspector, "you have formed your
opinion! Come, now, we shall see who agrees with you. I say it is
south, for the country is more deserted there."

"And I say east," said my patient.

"I am for west," remarked the plain-clothes man. "There are
several quiet little villages up there."

"And I am for north," said I, "because there are no hills there,
and our friend says that he did not notice the carriage go up
any."

"Come," cried the inspector, laughing; "it's a very pretty
diversity of opinion. We have boxed the compass among us. Who do
you give your casting vote to?"

"You are all wrong."

"But we can't all be."

"Oh, yes, you can. This is my point." He placed his finger in the
centre of the circle. "This is where we shall find them."

"But the twelve-mile drive?" gasped Hatherley.

"Six out and six back. Nothing simpler. You say yourself that the
horse was fresh and glossy when you got in. How could it be that
if it had gone twelve miles over heavy roads?"

"Indeed, it is a likely ruse enough," observed Bradstreet
thoughtfully. "Of course there can be no doubt as to the nature
of this gang."

"None at all," said Holmes. "They are coiners on a large scale,
and have used the machine to form the amalgam which has taken the
place of silver."

"We have known for some time that a clever gang was at work,"
said the inspector. "They have been turning out half-crowns by
the thousand. We even traced them as far as Reading, but could
get no farther, for they had covered their traces in a way that
showed that they were very old hands. But now, thanks to this
lucky chance, I think that we have got them right enough."

But the inspector was mistaken, for those criminals were not
destined to fall into the hands of justice. As we rolled into
Eyford Station we saw a gigantic column of smoke which streamed
up from behind a small clump of trees in the neighborhood and
hung like an immense ostrich feather over the landscape.

"A house on fire?" asked Bradstreet as the train steamed off
again on its way.

"Yes, sir!" said the station-master.

"When did it break out?"

"I hear that it was during the night, sir, but it has got worse,
and the whole place is in a blaze."

"Whose house is it?"

"Dr. Becher's."

"Tell me," broke in the engineer, "is Dr. Becher a German, very
thin, with a long, sharp nose?"

The station-master laughed heartily. "No, sir, Dr. Becher is an
Englishman, and there isn't a man in the parish who has a
better-lined waistcoat. But he has a gentleman staying with him,
a patient, as I understand, who is a foreigner, and he looks as
if a little good Berkshire beef would do him no harm."

The station-master had not finished his speech before we were all
hastening in the direction of the fire. The road topped a low
hill, and there was a great widespread whitewashed building in
front of us, spouting fire at every chink and window, while in
the garden in front three fire-engines were vainly striving to
keep the flames under.

"That's it!" cried Hatherley, in intense excitement. "There is
the gravel-drive, and there are the rose-bushes where I lay. That
second window is the one that I jumped from."

"Well, at least," said Holmes, "you have had your revenge upon
them. There can be no question that it was your oil-lamp which,
when it was crushed in the press, set fire to the wooden walls,
though no doubt they were too excited in the chase after you to
observe it at the time. Now keep your eyes open in this crowd for
your friends of last night, though I very much fear that they are
a good hundred miles off by now."

And Holmes's fears came to be realized, for from that day to this
no word has ever been heard either of the beautiful woman, the
sinister German, or the morose Englishman. Early that morning a
peasant had met a cart containing several people and some very
bulky boxes driving rapidly in the direction of Reading, but
there all traces of the fugitives disappeared, and even Holmes's
ingenuity failed ever to discover the least clew as to their
whereabouts.

The firemen had been much perturbed at the strange arrangements
which they had found within, and still more so by discovering a
newly severed human thumb upon a window-sill of the second floor.
About sunset, however, their efforts were at last successful, and
they subdued the flames, but not before the roof had fallen in,
and the whole place been reduced to such absolute ruin that, save
some twisted cylinders and iron piping, not a trace remained of
the machinery which had cost our unfortunate acquaintance so
dearly. Large masses of nickel and of tin were discovered stored
in an out-house, but no coins were to be found, which may have
explained the presence of those bulky boxes which have been
already referred to.

How our hydraulic engineer had been conveyed from the garden to
the spot where he recovered his senses might have remained
forever a mystery were it not for the soft mould, which told us a
very plain tale. He had evidently been carried down by two
persons, one of whom had remarkably small feet and the other
unusually large ones. On the whole, it was most probable that the
silent Englishman, being less bold or less murderous than his
companion, had assisted the woman to bear the unconscious man out
of the way of danger.

"Well," said our engineer ruefully as we took our seats to return
once more to London, "it has been a pretty business for me! I
have lost my thumb and I have lost a fifty-guinea fee, and what
have I gained?"

"Experience," said Holmes, laughing. "Indirectly it may be of
value, you know; you have only to put it into words to gain the
reputation of being excellent company for the remainder of your
existence."



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