English > ESL Library Index

Online ESL Literature Library
Great literature free and accessible for everyone.


THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

by Arthur Conan Doyle


A large and comfortable double-bedded room had been placed at our
disposal, and I was quickly between the sheets, for I was weary
after my night of adventure. Sherlock Holmes was a man, however,
who, when he had an unsolved problem upon his mind, would go for
days, and even for a week, without rest, turning it over,
rearranging his facts, looking at it from every point of view
until he had either fathomed it or convinced himself that his
data were insufficient. It was soon evident to me that he was now
preparing for an all-night sitting. He took off his coat and
waistcoat, put on a large blue dressing-gown, and then wandered
about the room collecting pillows from his bed and cushions from
the sofa and armchairs. With these he constructed a sort of
Eastern divan, upon which he perched himself cross-legged, with
an ounce of shag tobacco and a box of matches laid out in front
of him. In the dim light of the lamp I saw him sitting there, an
old briar pipe between his lips, his eyes fixed vacantly upon the
corner of the ceiling, the blue smoke curling up from him,
silent, motionless, with the light shining upon his strong-set
aquiline features. So he sat as I dropped off to sleep, and so he
sat when a sudden ejaculation caused me to wake up, and I found
the summer sun shining into the apartment. The pipe was still
between his lips, the smoke still curled upward, and the room was
full of a dense tobacco haze, but nothing remained of the heap of
shag which I had seen upon the previous night.

"Awake, Watson?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Game for a morning drive?"

"Certainly."

"Then dress. No one is stirring yet, but I know where the
stable-boy sleeps, and we shall soon have the trap out." He
chuckled to himself as he spoke, his eyes twinkled, and he seemed
a different man to the sombre thinker of the previous night.

As I dressed I glanced at my watch. It was no wonder that no one
was stirring. It was twenty-five minutes past four. I had hardly
finished when Holmes returned with the news that the boy was
putting in the horse.

"I want to test a little theory of mine," said he, pulling on his
boots. "I think, Watson, that you are now standing in the
presence of one of the most absolute fools in Europe. I deserve
to be kicked from here to Charing Cross. But I think I have the
key of the affair now."

"And where is it?" I asked, smiling.

"In the bathroom," he answered. "Oh, yes, I am not joking," he
continued, seeing my look of incredulity. "I have just been
there, and I have taken it out, and I have got it in this
Gladstone bag. Come on, my boy, and we shall see whether it will
not fit the lock."

We made our way downstairs as quietly as possible, and out into
the bright morning sunshine. In the road stood our horse and
trap, with the half-clad stable-boy waiting at the head. We both
sprang in, and away we dashed down the London Road. A few country
carts were stirring, bearing in vegetables to the metropolis, but
the lines of villas on either side were as silent and lifeless as
some city in a dream.

"It has been in some points a singular case," said Holmes,
flicking the horse on into a gallop. "I confess that I have been
as blind as a mole, but it is better to learn wisdom late than
never to learn it at all."

In town the earliest risers were just beginning to look sleepily
from their windows as we drove through the streets of the Surrey
side. Passing down the Waterloo Bridge Road we crossed over the
river, and dashing up Wellington Street wheeled sharply to the
right and found ourselves in Bow Street. Sherlock Holmes was well
known to the force, and the two constables at the door saluted
him. One of them held the horse's head while the other led us in.

"Who is on duty?" asked Holmes.

"Inspector Bradstreet, sir."

"Ah, Bradstreet, how are you?" A tall, stout official had come
down the stone-flagged passage, in a peaked cap and frogged
jacket. "I wish to have a quiet word with you, Bradstreet."
"Certainly, Mr. Holmes. Step into my room here." It was a small,
office-like room, with a huge ledger upon the table, and a
telephone projecting from the wall. The inspector sat down at his
desk.

"What can I do for you, Mr. Holmes?"

"I called about that beggarman, Boone--the one who was charged
with being concerned in the disappearance of Mr. Neville St.
Clair, of Lee."

"Yes. He was brought up and remanded for further inquiries."

"So I heard. You have him here?"

"In the cells."

"Is he quiet?"

"Oh, he gives no trouble. But he is a dirty scoundrel."

"Dirty?"

"Yes, it is all we can do to make him wash his hands, and his
face is as black as a tinker's. Well, when once his case has been
settled, he will have a regular prison bath; and I think, if you
saw him, you would agree with me that he needed it."

"I should like to see him very much."

"Would you? That is easily done. Come this way. You can leave
your bag."

"No, I think that I'll take it."

"Very good. Come this way, if you please." He led us down a
passage, opened a barred door, passed down a winding stair, and
brought us to a whitewashed corridor with a line of doors on each
side.

"The third on the right is his," said the inspector. "Here it
is!" He quietly shot back a panel in the upper part of the door
and glanced through.

"He is asleep," said he. "You can see him very well."

We both put our eyes to the grating. The prisoner lay with his
face towards us, in a very deep sleep, breathing slowly and
heavily. He was a middle-sized man, coarsely clad as became his
calling, with a colored shirt protruding through the rent in his
tattered coat. He was, as the inspector had said, extremely
dirty, but the grime which covered his face could not conceal its
repulsive ugliness. A broad wheal from an old scar ran right
across it from eye to chin, and by its contraction had turned up
one side of the upper lip, so that three teeth were exposed in a
perpetual snarl. A shock of very bright red hair grew low over
his eyes and forehead.

"He's a beauty, isn't he?" said the inspector.

"He certainly needs a wash," remarked Holmes. "I had an idea that
he might, and I took the liberty of bringing the tools with me."
He opened the Gladstone bag as he spoke, and took out, to my
astonishment, a very large bath-sponge.

"He! he! You are a funny one," chuckled the inspector.

"Now, if you will have the great goodness to open that door very
quietly, we will soon make him cut a much more respectable
figure."

"Well, I don't know why not," said the inspector. "He doesn't
look a credit to the Bow Street cells, does he?" He slipped his
key into the lock, and we all very quietly entered the cell. The
sleeper half turned, and then settled down once more into a deep
slumber. Holmes stooped to the waterjug, moistened his sponge,
and then rubbed it twice vigorously across and down the
prisoner's face.

"Let me introduce you," he shouted, "to Mr. Neville St. Clair, of
Lee, in the county of Kent."

Never in my life have I seen such a sight. The man's face peeled
off under the sponge like the bark from a tree. Gone was the
coarse brown tint! Gone, too, was the horrid scar which had
seamed it across, and the twisted lip which had given the
repulsive sneer to the face! A twitch brought away the tangled
red hair, and there, sitting up in his bed, was a pale,
sad-faced, refined-looking man, black-haired and smooth-skinned,
rubbing his eyes and staring about him with sleepy bewilderment.
Then suddenly realizing the exposure, he broke into a scream and
threw himself down with his face to the pillow.

"Great heavens!" cried the inspector, "it is, indeed, the missing
man. I know him from the photograph."

The prisoner turned with the reckless air of a man who abandons
himself to his destiny. "Be it so," said he. "And pray what am I
charged with?"

"With making away with Mr. Neville St.-- Oh, come, you can't be
charged with that unless they make a case of attempted suicide of
it," said the inspector with a grin. "Well, I have been
twenty-seven years in the force, but this really takes the cake."

"If I am Mr. Neville St. Clair, then it is obvious that no crime
has been committed, and that, therefore, I am illegally
detained."

"No crime, but a very great error has been committed," said
Holmes. "You would have done better to have trusted you wife."

"It was not the wife; it was the children," groaned the prisoner.
"God help me, I would not have them ashamed of their father. My
God! What an exposure! What can I do?"

Sherlock Holmes sat down beside him on the couch and patted him
kindly on the shoulder.

"If you leave it to a court of law to clear the matter up," said
he, "of course you can hardly avoid publicity. On the other hand,
if you convince the police authorities that there is no possible
case against you, I do not know that there is any reason that the
details should find their way into the papers. Inspector
Bradstreet would, I am sure, make notes upon anything which you
might tell us and submit it to the proper authorities. The case
would then never go into court at all."

"God bless you!" cried the prisoner passionately. "I would have
endured imprisonment, ay, even execution, rather than have left
my miserable secret as a family blot to my children.

"You are the first who have ever heard my story. My father was a
school-master in Chesterfield, where I received an excellent
education. I travelled in my youth, took to the stage, and
finally became a reporter on an evening paper in London. One day
my editor wished to have a series of articles upon begging in the
metropolis, and I volunteered to supply them. There was the point
from which all my adventures started. It was only by trying
begging as an amateur that I could get the facts upon which to
base my articles. When an actor I had, of course, learned all the
secrets of making up, and had been famous in the greenroom for
my skill. I took advantage now of my attainments. I painted my
face, and to make myself as pitiable as possible I made a good
scar and fixed one side of my lip in a twist by the aid of a
small slip of flesh-colored plaster. Then with a red head of
hair, and an appropriate dress, I took my station in the business
part of the city, ostensibly as a match-seller but really as a
beggar. For seven hours I plied my trade, and when I returned
home in the evening I found to my surprise that I had received no
less than 26s. 4d.

"I wrote my articles and thought little more of the matter until,
some time later, I backed a bill for a friend and had a writ
served upon me for 25 pounds. I was at my wit's end where to get
the money, but a sudden idea came to me. I begged a fortnight's
grace from the creditor, asked for a holiday from my employers,
and spent the time in begging in the City under my disguise. In
ten days I had the money and had paid the debt.

"Well, you can imagine how hard it was to settle down to arduous
work at 2 pounds a week when I knew that I could earn as much in
a day by smearing my face with a little paint, laying my cap on
the ground, and sitting still. It was a long fight between my
pride and the money, but the dollars won at last, and I threw up
reporting and sat day after day in the corner which I had first
chosen, inspiring pity by my ghastly face and filling my pockets
with coppers. Only one man knew my secret. He was the keeper of a
low den in which I used to lodge in Swandam Lane, where I could
every morning emerge as a squalid beggar and in the evenings
transform myself into a well-dressed man about town. This fellow,
a Lascar, was well paid by me for his rooms, so that I knew that
my secret was safe in his possession.

"Well, very soon I found that I was saving considerable sums of
money. I do not mean that any beggar in the streets of London
could earn 700 pounds a year--which is less than my average
takings--but I had exceptional advantages in my power of making
up, and also in a facility of repartee, which improved by
practice and made me quite a recognized character in the City.
All day a stream of pennies, varied by silver, poured in upon me,
and it was a very bad day in which I failed to take 2 pounds.

"As I grew richer I grew more ambitious, took a house in the
country, and eventually married, without anyone having a
suspicion as to my real occupation. My dear wife knew that I had
business in the City. She little knew what.

"Last Monday I had finished for the day and was dressing in my
room above the opium den when I looked out of my window and saw,
to my horror and astonishment, that my wife was standing in the
street, with her eyes fixed full upon me. I gave a cry of
surprise, threw up my arms to cover my face, and, rushing to my
confidant, the Lascar, entreated him to prevent anyone from
coming up to me. I heard her voice downstairs, but I knew that
she could not ascend. Swiftly I threw off my clothes, pulled on
those of a beggar, and put on my pigments and wig. Even a wife's
eyes could not pierce so complete a disguise. But then it
occurred to me that there might be a search in the room, and that
the clothes might betray me. I threw open the window, reopening
by my violence a small cut which I had inflicted upon myself in
the bedroom that morning. Then I seized my coat, which was
weighted by the coppers which I had just transferred to it from
the leather bag in which I carried my takings. I hurled it out of
the window, and it disappeared into the Thames. The other clothes
would have followed, but at that moment there was a rush of
constables up the stair, and a few minutes after I found, rather,
I confess, to my relief, that instead of being identified as Mr.
Neville St. Clair, I was arrested as his murderer.

"I do not know that there is anything else for me to explain. I
was determined to preserve my disguise as long as possible, and
hence my preference for a dirty face. Knowing that my wife would
be terribly anxious, I slipped off my ring and confided it to the
Lascar at a moment when no constable was watching me, together
with a hurried scrawl, telling her that she had no cause to
fear."

"That note only reached her yesterday," said Holmes.

"Good God! What a week she must have spent!"

"The police have watched this Lascar," said Inspector Bradstreet,
"and I can quite understand that he might find it difficult to
post a letter unobserved. Probably he handed it to some sailor
customer of his, who forgot all about it for some days."

"That was it," said Holmes, nodding approvingly; "I have no doubt
of it. But have you never been prosecuted for begging?"

"Many times; but what was a fine to me?"

"It must stop here, however," said Bradstreet. "If the police are
to hush this thing up, there must be no more of Hugh Boone."

"I have sworn it by the most solemn oaths which a man can take."

"In that case I think that it is probable that no further steps
may be taken. But if you are found again, then all must come out.
I am sure, Mr. Holmes, that we are very moch indebted to you for
having cleared the matter up. I wish I knew how you reach your
results."

"I reached this one," said my friend, "by sitting upon five
pillows and consuming an ounce of shag. I think, Watson, that if
we drive to Baker Street we shall just be in time for breakfast."



Many Thanks for Using the ESL Literature Library from 1-language.com.


Copyright © 2013 All rights reserved.