It was difficult to refuse any of Sherlock Holmes's requests,
they were always so exceedingly definite, and put forward with
such a quiet air of mastery. I felt, however, that when Whitney
was once confined in the cab my mission was practically
accomplished; and for the rest, I could not wish anything better
than to be associated with my friend in one of those singular
adventures which were the normal condition of his existence. In
few minutes I had written my note, paid Whitney's bill, led him
out to the cab, and seen him driven through the darkness. In a
very short time a decrepit figure had emerged from the opium den,
and I was walking down the street with Sherlock Holmes. For two
streets he shuffled along with a bent back and an uncertain foot.
Then, glancing quickly round, he straightened himself out and
burst into a hearty fit of laughter.
"I suppose, Watson," said he, "that you imagine
that I have added
opium-smoking to cocaine injections, and all the other little
weaknesses on which you have favored me with your medical
"I was certainly surprised to find you there."
"But not more so than I to find you."
"I came to find a friend."
"And I to find an enemy."
"Yes; one of my natural enemies, or, shall I say, my natural
prey. Briefly, Watson, I am in the midst of a very remarkable
inquiry, and I have hoped to find a clew in the incoherent
ramblings of these sots, as I have done before now. Had I been
recognized in that den my life would not have been worth an
hour's purchase; for I have used it before now for my own
purposes, and the rascally Lascar who runs it has sworn to have
vengeance upon me. There is a trap-door at the back of that
building, near the corner of Paul's Wharf, which could tell some
strange tales of what has passed through it upon the moonless
"What! You do not mean bodies?"
"Ay, bodies, Watson. We should be rich men if we had 1000
for every poor devil who has been done to death in that den. It
is the vilest murder-trap on the whole riverside, and I fear that
Neville St. Clair has entered it never to leave it more. But our
trap should be here." He put his two forefingers between
teeth and whistled shrilly--a signal which was answered by a
similar whistle from the distance, followed shortly by the rattle
of wheels and the clink of horses' hoofs.
"Now, Watson," said Holmes, as a tall dog-cart dashed
the gloom, throwing out two golden tunnels of yellow light from
its side lanterns. "You'll come with me, won't you?
"If I can be of use."
"Oh, a trusty comrade is always of use; and a chronicler
more so. My room at The Cedars is a double-bedded one."
"Yes; that is Mr. St. Clair's house. I am staying there
conduct the inquiry."
"Where is it, then?"
"Near Lee, in Kent. We have a seven-mile drive before us."
"But I am all in the dark."
"Of course you are. You'll know all about it presently.
here. All right, John; we shall not need you. Here's half a
crown. Look out for me to-morrow, about eleven. Give her her
head. So long, then!"
He flicked the horse with his whip, and we dashed away through
the endless succession of sombre and deserted streets, which
widened gradually, until we were flying across a broad
balustraded bridge, with the murky river flowing sluggishly
beneath us. Beyond lay another dull wilderness of bricks and
mortar, its silence broken only by the heavy, regular footfall
the policeman, or the songs and shouts of some belated party of
revellers. A dull wrack was drifting slowly across the sky, and
star or two twinkled dimly here and there through the rifts of
the clouds. Holmes drove in silence, with his head sunk upon his
breast, and the air of a man who is lost in thought, while I sat
beside him, curious to learn what this new quest might be which
seemed to tax his powers so sorely, and yet afraid to break in
upon the current of his thoughts. We had driven several miles,
and were beginning to get to the fringe of the belt of suburban
villas, when he shook himself, shrugged his shoulders, and lit
his pipe with the air of a man who has satisfied himself that
is acting for the best.
"You have a grand gift of silence, Watson," said he.
you quite invaluable as a companion. 'Pon my word, it is a great
thing for me to have someone to talk to, for my own thoughts are
not over-pleasant. I was wondering what I should say to this dear
little woman to-night when she meets me at the door."
"You forget that I know nothing about it."
"I shall just have time to tell you the facts of the case
we get to Lee. It seems absurdly simple, and yet, somehow I can
get nothing to go upon. There's plenty of thread, no doubt, but
can't get the end of it into my hand. Now, I'll state the case
clearly and concisely to you, Watson, and maybe you can see a
spark where all is dark to me."
"Some years ago--to be definite, in May, 1884--there came
a gentleman, Neville St. Clair by name, who appeared to have
plenty of money. He took a large villa, laid out the grounds very
nicely, and lived generally in good style. By degrees he made
friends in the neighborhood, and in 1887 he married the daughter
of a local brewer, by whom he now has two children. He had no
occupation, but was interested in several companies and went into
town as a rule in the morning, returning by the 5:14 from Cannon
Street every night. Mr. St. Clair is now thirty-seven years of
age, is a man of temperate habits, a good husband, a very
affectionate father, and a man who is popular with all who know
him. I may add that his whole debts at the present moment, as
as we have been able to ascertain amount to 88 pounds l0s., while
he has 220 pounds standing to his credit in the Capital and
Counties Bank. There is no reason, therefore, to think that money
troubles have been weighing upon his mind.
"Last Monday Mr. Neville St. Clair went into town rather
than usual, remarking before he started that he had two important
commissions to perform, and that he would bring his little boy
home a box of bricks. Now, by the merest chance, his wife
received a telegram upon this same Monday, very shortly after
departure, to the effect that a small parcel of considerable
value which she had been expecting was waiting for her at the
offices of the Aberdeen Shipping Company. Now, if you are well
in your London, you will know that the office of the company is
in Fresno Street, which branches out of Upper Swandam Lane, where
you found me to-night. Mrs. St. Clair had her lunch, started for
the City, did some shopping, proceeded to the company's office,
got her packet, and found herself at exactly 4:35 walking through
Swandam Lane on her way back to the station. Have you followed
"It is very clear."
"If you remember, Monday was an exceedingly hot day, and
Clair walked slowly, glancing about in the hope of seeing a cab,
as she did not like the neighborhood in which she found herself.
While she was walking in this way down Swandam Lane, she suddenly
heard an ejaculation or cry, and was struck cold to see her
husband looking down at her and, as it seemed to her, beckoning
to her from a second-floor window. The window was open, and she
distinctly saw his face, which she describes as being terribly
agitated. He waved his hands frantically to her, and then
vanished from the window so suddenly that it seemed to her that
he had been plucked back by some irresistible force from behind.
One singular point which struck her quick feminine eye was that
although he wore some dark coat, such as he had started to town
in, he had on neither collar nor necktie.
"Convinced that something was amiss with him, she rushed
steps--for the house was none other than the opium den in which
you found me to-night--and running through the front room she
attempted to ascend the stairs which led to the first floor. At
the foot of the stairs, however, she met this Lascar scoundrel
whom I have spoken, who thrust her back and, aided by a Dane,
acts as assistant there, pushed her out into the street. Filled
with the most maddening doubts and fears, she rushed down the
lane and, by rare good-fortune, met in Fresno Street a number
constables with an inspector, all on their way to their beat.
inspector and two men accompanied her back, and in spite of the
continued resistance of the proprietor, they made their way to
the room in which Mr. St. Clair had last been seen. There was
sign of him there. In fact, in the whole of that floor there was
no one to be found save a crippled wretch of hideous aspect, who,
it seems, made his home there. Both he and the Lascar stoutly
swore that no one else had been in the front room during the
afternoon. So determined was their denial that the inspector was
staggered, and had almost come to believe that Mrs. St. Clair
been deluded when, with a cry, she sprang at a small deal box
which lay upon the table and tore the lid from it. Out there fell
a cascade of children's bricks. It was the toy which he had
promised to bring home.
"This discovery, and the evident confusion which the cripple
showed, made the inspector realize that the matter was serious.
The rooms were carefully examined, and results all pointed to
abominable crime. The front room was plainly furnished as a
sitting-room and led into a small bedroom, which looked out upon
the back of one of the wharves. Between the wharf and the bedroom
window is a narrow strip, which is dry at low tide but is covered
at high tide with at least four and a half feet of water. The
bedroom window was a broad one and opened from below. On
examination traces of blood were to be seen upon the windowsill,
and several scattered drops were visible upon the wooden floor
the bedroom. Thrust away behind a curtain in the front room were
all the clothes of Mr. Neville St. Clair, with the exception of
his coat. His boots, his socks, his hat, and his watch--all were
there. There were no signs of violence upon any of these
garments, and there were no other traces of Mr. Neville St.
Clair. Out of the window he must apparently have gone for no
other exit could be discovered, and the ominous bloodstains upon
the sill gave little promise that he could save himself by
swimming, for the tide was at its very highest at the moment of
"And now as to the villains who seemed to be immedlately
implicated in the matter. The Lascar was known to be a man of
vilest antecedents, but as, by Mrs. St. Clair's story, he was
known to have been at the foot of the stair within a very few
seconds of her husband's appearance at the window, he could
hardly have been more than an accessory to the crime. His defense
was one of absolute ignorance, and he protested that he had no
knowledge as to the doings of Hugh Boone, his lodger, and that
could not account in any way for the presence of the missing
"So much for the Lascar manager. Now for the sinister cripple
lives upon the second floor of the opium den, and who was
certainly the last human being whose eyes rested upon Neville
Clair. His name is Hugh Boone, and his hideous face is one which
is familiar to every man who goes much to the City. He is a
professional beggar, though in order to avoid the police
regulations he pretends to a small trade in wax vestas. Some
little distance down Threadneedle Street, upon the left-hand
side, there is, as you may have remarked, a small angle in the
wall. Here it is that this creature takes his daily seat,
cross-legged with his tiny stock of matches on his lap, and as
is a piteous spectacle a small rain of charity descends into the
greasy leather cap which lies upon the pavement beside him. I
have watched the fellow more than once before ever I thought of
making his professional acquaintance, and I have been surprised
at the harvest which he has reaped in a short time. His
appearance, you see, is so remarkable that no one can pass him
without observing him. A shock of orange hair, a pale face
disfigured by a horrible scar, which, by its contraction, has
turned up the outer edge of his upper lip, a bulldog chin, and
pair of very penetrating dark eyes, which present a singular
contrast to the color of his hair, all mark him out from amid
the common crowd of mendicants and so, too, does his wit, for
is ever ready with a reply to any piece of chaff which may be
thrown at him by the passers-by. This is the man whom we now
learn to have been the lodger at the opium den, and to have been
the last man to see the gentleman of whom we are in quest."
"But a cripple!" said I. "What could he have done
against a man in the prime of life?"
"He is a cripple in the sense that he walks with a limp;
other respects he appears to be a powerful and well-nurtured man.
Surely your medical experience would tell you, Watson, that
weakness in one limb is often compensated for by exceptional
strength in the others."
"Pray continue your narrative."
"Mrs. St. Clair had fainted at the sight of the blood upon
window, and she was escorted home in a cab by the police, as her
presence could be of no help to them in their investigations.
Inspector Barton, who had charge of the case, made a very careful
examination of the premises, but without finding anything which
threw any light upon the matter. One mistake had been made in
arresting Boone instantly, as he was allowed some few minutes
during which he might have communicated with his friend the
Lascar, but this fault was soon remedied, and he was seized and
searched, without anything being found which could incriminate
him. There were, it is true, some blood-stains upon his right
shirt-sleeve, but he pointed to his ring-finger, which had been
cut near the nail, and explained that the bleeding came from
there, adding that he had been to the window not long before,
that the stains which had been observed there came doubtless from
the same source. He denied strenuously having ever seen Mr.
Neville St. Clair and swore that the presence of the clothes in
his room was as much a mystery to him as to the police. As to
Mrs. St. Clair's assertion that she had actually seen her husband
at the window, he declared that she must have been either mad
dreaming. He was removed, loudly protesting, to the
police-station, while the inspector remained upon the premises
the hope that the ebbing tide might afford some fresh clew.
"And it did, though they hardly found upon the mud-bank
had feared to find. It was Neville St. Clair's coat, and not
Neville St. Clair, which lay uncovered as the tide receded. And
what do you think they found in the pockets?"
"I cannot imagine."
"No, I don't think you would guess. Every pocket stuffed
pennies and half-pennies--421 pennies and 270 half-pennies. It
was no wonder that it had not been swept away by the tide. But
human body is a different matter. There is a fierce eddy between
the wharf and the house. It seemed likely enough that the
weighted coat had remained when the stripped body had been sucked
away into the river."
"But I understand that all the other clothes were found
room. Would the body be dressed in a coat alone?"
"No, sir, but the facts might be met speciously enough.
that this man Boone had thrust Neville St. Clair through the
window, there is no human eye which could have seen the deed.
What would he do then? It would of course instantly strike him
that he must get rid of the tell-tale garments. He would seize
the coat, then, and be in the act of throwing it out, when it
would occur to him that it would swim and not sink. He has little
time, for he has heard the scuffle downstairs when the wife tried
to force her way up, and perhaps he has already heard from his
Lascar confederate that the police are hurrying up the street.
There is not an instant to be lost. He rushes to some secret
hoard, where he has accumulated the fruits of his beggary, and
stuffs all the coins upon which he can lay his hands into the
pockets to make sure of the coat's sinking. He throws it out,
would have done the same with the other garments had not he heard
the rush of steps below, and only just had time to close the
window when the police appeared."
"It certainly sounds feasible."
"Well, we will take it as a working hypothesis for want
better. Boone, as I have told you, was arrested and taken to the
station, but it could not be shown that there had ever before
been anything against him. He had for years been known as a
professional beggar, but his life appeared to have been a very
quiet and innocent one. There the matter stands at present, and
the questions which have to be solved--what Neville St. Clair
doing in the opium den, what happened to him when there, where
he now, and what Hugh Boone had to do with his disappearance--are
all as far from a solution as ever. I confess that I cannot
recall any case within my experience which looked at the first
glance so simple and yet which presented such difficulties."