(from The Strand Magazine, 23 January 1897)
It was on a bitterly cold night and frosty morning, towards the end of
the winter of '97, that I was awakened by a tugging at my shoulder. It
was Holmes. The candle in his hand shone upon his eager, stooping face,
and told me at a glance that something was amiss.
'Come, Watson, come!' he cried. The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your
clothes and come!'
Ten minutes later we were both in a cab, and rattling through the silent
streets on our way to Charing Cross Station. The first faint winter's
dawn was beginning to appear, and we could dimly see the occasional
figure of an early workman as he passed us, blurred and indistinct in
the opalescent London reek. Holmes nestled in silence into his heavy
coat, and I was glad to do the same, for the air was most bitter, and
neither of us had broken our fast.
It was not until we had consumed some hot tea at the station and taken
our places in the Kentish train that we were sufficiently thawed, he to
speak and I to listen. Holmes drew a note from his pocket, and read
Abbey Grange, Marsham, Kent
My Dear Mr. Holmes:
I should be very glad of your immediate assistance in what promises to
be a most remarkable case. It is something quite in your line. Except
for releasing the lady I will see that everything is kept exactly as I
have found it, but I beg you not to lose an instant, as it is difficult
to leave Sir Eustace there.
'Hopkins has called me in seven times, and on each occasion his summons
has been entirely justified,' said Holmes. 'I fancy that every one of
his cases has found its way into your collection, and I must admit,
Watson, that you have some power of selection, which atones for much
which I deplore in your narratives. Your fatal habit of looking at
everything from the point of view of a story instead of as a scientific
exercise has ruined what might have been an instructive and even
classical series of demonstrations. You slur over work of the utmost
finesse and delicacy, in order to dwell upon sensational details which
may excite, but cannot possibly instruct, the reader.'
'Why do you not write them yourself?' I said, with some bitterness.
'I will, my dear Watson, I will. At present I am, as you know, fairly
busy, but I propose to devote my declining years to the composition of
a textbook, which shall focus the whole art of detection into one volume.
Our present research appears to be a case of murder.'
'You think this Sir Eustace is dead, then?'
'I should say so. Hopkins's writing shows considerable agitation, and he
is not an emotional man. Yes, I gather there has been violence, and that
the body is left for our inspection. A mere suicide would not have
caused him to send for me. As to the release of the lady, it would
appear that she has been locked in her room during the tragedy. We are
moving in high life, Watson, crackling paper, 'E.B.' monogram,
coat-of-arms, picturesque address. I think that friend Hopkins will live
up to his reputation, and that we shall have an interesting morning. The
crime was committed before twelve last night.'
'How can you possibly tell?'
'By an inspection of the trains, and by reckoning the time. The local
police had to be called in, they had to communicate with Scotland Yard,
Hopkins had to go out, and he in turn had to send for me. All that makes
a fair night's work. Well, here we are at Chislehurst Station, and we
shall soon set our doubts at rest.'
A drive of a couple of miles through narrow country lanes brought us
to a park gate, which was opened for us by an old lodge-keeper, whose
haggard face bore the reflection of some great disaster. The avenue ran
through a noble park, between lines of ancient elms, and ended in a
low, widespread house, pillared in front after the fashion of Palladio.
The central part was evidently of a great age and shrouded in ivy, but
the large windows showed that modern changes had been carried out, and
one wing of the house appeared to be entirely new. The youthful figure
and alert, eager face of Inspector Stanley Hopkins confronted us in the
'I'm very glad you have come, Mr. Holmes. And you, too, Dr. Watson. But,
indeed, if I had my time over again, I should not have troubled you, for
since the lady has come to herself, she has given so clear an account of
the affair that there is not much left for us to do. You remember that
Lewisham gang of burglars?'
'What, the three Randalls?'
'Exactly; the father and two sons. It's their work. I have not a doubt
of it. They did a job at Sydenham a fortnight ago and were seen and
described. Rather cool to do another so soon and so near, but it is
they, beyond all doubt. It's a hanging matter this time.'
'Sir Eustace is dead, then?'
'Yes, his head was knocked in with his own poker.'
'Sir Eustace Brackenstall, the driver tells me.'
'Exactly--one of the richest men in Kent--Lady Brackenstall is in the
morning-room. Poor lady, she has had a most dreadful experience. She
seemed half dead when I saw her first. I think you had best see her and
hear her account of the facts. Then we will examine the dining-room
Lady Brackenstall was no ordinary person. Seldom have I seen so graceful
a figure, so womanly a presence, and so beautiful a face. She was a
blonde, golden-haired, blue-eyed, and would no doubt have had the
perfect complexion which goes with such colouring, had not her recent
experience left her drawn and haggard. Her sufferings were physical as
well as mental, for over one eye rose a hideous, plum-coloured swelling,
which her maid, a tall, austere woman, was bathing assiduously with
vinegar and water. The lady lay back exhausted upon a couch, but her
quick, observant gaze, as we entered the room, and the alert expression
of her beautiful features, showed that neither her wits nor her courage
had been shaken by her terrible experience. She was enveloped in a loose
dressing-gown of blue and silver, but a black sequin-covered
dinner-dress lay upon the couch beside her.
'I have told you all that happened, Mr. Hopkins,' she said, wearily.
'Could you not repeat it for me? Well, if you think it necessary, I will
tell these gentlemen what occurred. Have they been in the dining-room
'I thought they had better hear your ladyship's story first.'
'I shall be glad when you can arrange matters. It is horrible to me to
think of him still lying there.' She shuddered and buried her face in
her hands. As she did so, the loose gown fell back from her forearms.
Holmes uttered an exclamation.
'You have other injuries, madam! What is this?' Two vivid red spots
stood out on one of the white, round limbs. She hastily covered it.
'It is nothing. It has no connection with this hideous business tonight.
If you and your friend will sit down, I will tell you all I can.
'I am the wife of Sir Eustace Brackenstall. I have been married about
a year. I suppose that it is no use my attempting to conceal that our
marriage has not been a happy one. I fear that all our neighbours would
tell you that, even if I were to attempt to deny it. Perhaps the fault
may be partly mine. I was brought up in the freer, less conventional
atmosphere of South Australia, and this English life, with its
proprieties and its primness, is not congenial to me. But the main
reason lies in the one fact, which is notorious to everyone, and that is
that Sir Eustace was a confirmed drunkard. To be with such a man for an
hour is unpleasant. Can you imagine what it means for a sensitive and
high-spirited woman to be tied to him for day and night? It is a
sacrilege, a crime, a villany to hold that such a marriage is binding.
I say that these monstrous laws of yours will bring a curse upon the
land--God will not let such wickedness endure.' For an instant she sat
up, her cheeks flushed, and her eyes blazing from under the terrible
mark upon her brow. Then the strong, soothing hand of the austere maid
drew her head down on to the cushion, and the wild anger died away into
passionate sobbing. At last she continued:
'I will tell you about last night. You are aware, perhaps, that in this
house all the servants sleep in the modern wing. This central block is
made up of the dwelling-rooms, with the kitchen behind and our bedroom
above. My maid, Theresa, sleeps above my room. There is no one else,
and no sound could alarm those who are in the farther wing. This must
have been well known to the robbers, or they would not have acted as
'Sir Eustace retired about half-past ten. The servants had already gone
to their quarters. Only my maid was up, and she had remained in her room
at the top of the house until I needed her services. I sat until after
eleven in this room, absorbed in a book. Then I walked round to see that
all was right before I went upstairs. It was my custom to do this
myself, for, as I have explained, Sir Eustace was not always to be
trusted. I went into the kitchen, the butler's pantry, the gun-room, the
billiard-room, the drawing-room, and finally the dining-room. As I
approached the window, which is covered with thick curtains, I suddenly
felt the wind blow upon my face and realized that it was open. I flung
the curtain aside and found myself face to face with a broad shouldered
elderly man, who had just stepped into the room. The window is a long
French one, which really forms a door leading to the lawn. I held my
bedroom candle lit in my hand, and, by its light, behind the first man I
saw two others, who were in the act of entering. I stepped back, but the
fellow was on me in an instant. He caught me first by the wrist and then
by the throat. I opened my mouth to scream, but he struck me a savage
blow with his fist over the eye, and felled me to the ground. I must
have been unconscious for a few minutes, for when I came to myself, I
found that they had torn down the bell-rope, and had secured me tightly
to the oaken chair which stands at the head of the dining-table. I was
so firmly bound that I could not move, and a handkerchief round my mouth
prevented me from uttering a sound. It was at this instant that my
unfortunate husband entered the room. He had evidently heard some
suspicious sounds, and he came prepared for such a scene as he found. He
was dressed in nightshirt and trousers, with his favourite blackthorn
cudgel in his hand. He rushed at the burglars, but another--it was an
elderly man--stooped, picked the poker out of the grate and struck him a
horrible blow as he passed. He fell with a groan and never moved again.
I fainted once more, but again it could only have been for a very few
minutes during which I was insensible. When I opened my eyes I found
that they had collected the silver from the sideboard, and they had
drawn a bottle of wine which stood there. Each of them had a glass in
his hand. I have already told you, have I not, that one was elderly,
with a beard, and the others young, hairless lads. They might have been
a father and his two sons. They talked together in whispers. Then they
came over and made sure that I was securely bound. Finally they
withdrew, closing the window after them. It was quite a quarter of an
hour before I got my mouth free. When I did so, my screams brought the
maid to my assistance. The other servants were soon alarmed, and we sent
for the local police, who instantly communicated with London. That is
really all that I can tell you, gentlemen, and I trust that it will not
be necessary for me to go over so painful a story again.'
'Any questions, Mr. Holmes?' asked Hopkins.
'I will not impose any further tax upon Lady Brackenstall's patience and
time,' said Holmes. 'Before I go into the dining-room, I should like to
hear your experience.' He looked at the maid.
'I saw the men before ever they came into the house,' said she. 'As I
sat by my bedroom window I saw three men in the moonlight down by the
lodge gate yonder, but I thought nothing of it at the time. It was more
than an hour after that I heard my mistress scream, and down I ran, to
find her, poor lamb, just as she says, and him on the floor, with his
blood and brains over the room. It was enough to drive a woman out of
her wits, tied there, and her very dress spotted with him, but she never
wanted courage, did Miss Mary Fraser of Adelaide and Lady Brackenstall
of Abbey Grange hasn't learned new ways. You've questioned her long
enough, you gentlemen, and now she is coming to her own room, just with
her old Theresa, to get the rest that she badly needs.'
With a motherly tenderness the gaunt woman put her arm round her
mistress and led her from the room.
'She had been with her all her life,' said Hopkins. 'Nursed her as
a baby, and came with her to England when they first left Australia,
eighteen months ago. Theresa Wright is her name, and the kind of maid
you don't pick up nowadays. This way, Mr. Holmes, if you please!'
The keen interest had passed out of Holmes's expressive face, and I knew
that with the mystery all the charm of the case had departed. There
still remained an arrest to be effected, but what were these commonplace
rogues that he should soil his hands with them? An abstruse and learned
specialist who finds that he has been called in for a case of measles
would experience something of the annoyance which I read in my friend's
eyes. Yet the scene in the dining-room of the Abbey Grange was
sufficiently strange to arrest his attention and to recall his waning
It was a very large and high chamber, with carved oak ceiling, oaken
panelling, and a fine array of deer's heads and ancient weapons around
the walls. At the further end from the door was the high French window
of which we had heard. Three smaller windows on the right-hand side
filled the apartment with cold winter sunshine. On the left was a large,
deep fireplace, with a massive, overhanging oak mantelpiece. Beside the
fireplace was a heavy oaken chair with arms and crossbars at the bottom.
In and out through the open woodwork was woven a crimson cord, which was
secured at each side to the crosspiece below. In releasing the lady, the
cord had been slipped off her, but the knots with which it had been
secured still remained. These details only struck our attention
afterwards, for our thoughts were entirely absorbed by the terrible
object which lay upon the tiger-skin heathrug in front of the fire.
It was the body of a tall, well-made man, about forty years of age. He
lay upon his back, his face upturned, with his white teeth grinning
through his short, black beard. His two clenched hands were raised above
his head, and a heavy, blackthorn stick lay across them. His dark,
handsome, aquiline features were convulsed into a spasm of vindictive
hatred, which had set his dead face in a terribly fiendish expression.
He had evidently been in his bed when the alarm had broken out, for he
wore a foppish, embroidered nightshirt, and his bare feet projected from
his trousers. His head was horribly injured, and the whole room bore
witness to the savage ferocity of the blow which had struck him down.
Beside him lay the heavy poker, bent into a curve by the concussion.
Holmes examined both it and the indescribable wreck which it had
'He must be a powerful man, this elder Randall,' he remarked.
'Yes,' said Hopkins. 'I have some record of the fellow, and he is a
'You should have no difficulty in getting him.'
'Not the slightest. We have been on the look-out for him, and there was
some idea that he had got away to America. Now that we know that the
gang are here, I don't see how they can escape. We have the news at
every seaport already, and a reward will be offered before evening. What
beats me is how they could have done so mad a thing, knowing that the
lady could describe them and that we could not fail to recognize the
'Exactly. One would have expected that they would silence Lady
Brackenstall as well.'
'They may not have realized,' I suggested, 'that she had recovered from
'That is likely enough. If she seemed to be senseless, they would not
take her life. What about this poor fellow, Hopkins? I seem to have
heard some queer stories about him.'
'He was a good-hearted man when he was sober, but a perfect fiend when
he was drunk, or rather when he was half drunk, for he seldom really
went the whole way. The devil seemed to be in him at such times, and he
was capable of anything. From what I hear, in spite of all his wealth
and his title, he very nearly came our way once or twice. There was a
scandal about his drenching a dog with petroleum and setting it on
fire--her ladyship's dog, to make the matter worse--and that was only
hushed up with difficulty. Then he threw a decanter at that maid,
Theresa Wright--there was trouble about that. On the whole, and between
ourselves, it will be a brighter house without him. What are you looking
Holmes was down on his knees, examining with great attention the knots
upon the red cord with which the lady had been secured. Then he
carefully scrutinized the broken and frayed end where it had snapped
off when the burglar had dragged it down.
'When this was pulled down, the bell in the kitchen must have rung
loudly,' he remarked.
'No one could hear it. The kitchen stands right at the back of the
'How did the burglar know no one would hear it? How dared he pull at a
bell-rope in that reckless fashion?'
'Exactly, Mr. Holmes, exactly. You put the very question which I have
asked myself again and again. There can be no doubt that this fellow
must have known the house and its habits. He must have perfectly
understood that the servants would all be in bed at that comparatively
early hour, and that no one could possibly hear a bell ring in the
kitchen. Therefore, he must have been in close league with one of the
servants. Surely that is evident. But there are eight servants, and all
of good character.'
'Other things being equal,' said Holmes, 'one would suspect the one
at whose head the master threw a decanter. And yet that would involve
treachery towards the mistress to whom this woman seems devoted. Well,
well, the point is a minor one, and when you have Randall you will
probably find no difficulty in securing his accomplice. The lady's story
certainly seems to be corroborated, if it needed corroboration, by every
detail which we see before us.' He walked to the French window and threw
it open. 'There are no signs here, but the ground is iron hard, and one
would not expect them. I see that these candles in the mantelpiece have
'Yes, it was by their light, and that of the lady's bedroom candle, that
the burglars saw their way about.'
'And what did they take?'
'Well, they did not take much--only half a dozen articles of plate off
the sideboard. Lady Brackenstall thinks that they were themselves so
disturbed by the death of Sir Eustace that they did not ransack the
house, as they would otherwise have done.'
'No doubt that is true, and yet they drank some wine, I understand.'
To steady their nerves.'
'Exactly. These three glasses upon the sideboard have been untouched, I
'Yes, and the bottle stands as they left it.'
'Let us look at it. Halloa, halloa! What is this?'
The three glasses were grouped together, all of them tinged with wine,
and one of them containing some dregs of beeswing. The bottle stood near
them, two-thirds full, and beside it lay a long, deeply stained cork.
Its appearance and the dust upon the bottle showed that it was no common
vintage which the murderers had enjoyed.
A change had come over Holmes's manner. He had lost his listless
expression, and again I saw an alert light of interest in his keen,
deepset eyes. He raised the cork and examined it minutely.
'How did they draw it?' he asked.
Hopkins pointed to a half-opened drawer. In it lay some table linen and
a large corkscrew.
'Did Lady Brackenstall say that screw was used?'
'No, you remember that she was senseless at the moment when the bottle
'Quite so. As a matter of fact, that screw was _not_ used. This bottle
was opened by a pocket screw, probably contained in a knife, and not
more than an inch and a half long. If you will examine the top of the
cork, you will observe that the screw was driven in three times before
the cork was extracted. It has never been transfixed. This long screw
would have transfixed it and drawn it up with a single pull. When you
catch this fellow, you will find that he has one of these multiplex
knives in his possession.'
'Excellent!' said Hopkins.
'But these glasses do puzzle me, I confess. Lady Brackenstall actually
_saw_ the three men drinking, did she not?'
'Yes; she was clear about that.'
'Then there is an end of it. What more is to be said? And yet, you must
admit, that the three glasses are very remarkable, Hopkins. What? You
see nothing remarkable? Well, well, let it pass. Perhaps, when a man has
special knowledge and special powers like my own, it rather encourages
him to seek a complex explanation when a simpler one is at hand. Of
course, it must be a mere chance about the glasses. Well, good-morning,
Hopkins. I don't see that I can be of any use to you, and you appear to
have your case very clear. You will let me know when Randall is
arrested, and any further developments which may occur. I trust that I
shall soon have to congratulate you upon a successful conclusion. Come,
Watson, I fancy that we may employ ourselves more profitably at home.'
During our return journey, I could see by Holmes's face that he was much
puzzled by something which he had observed. Every now and then, by an
effort, he would throw off the impression, and talk as if the matter
were clear, but then his doubts would settle down upon him again, and
his knitted brows and abstracted eyes would show that his thoughts had
gone back once more to the great dining-room of the Abbey Grange, in
which this midnight tragedy had been enacted. At last, by a sudden
impulse, just as our train was crawling out of a suburban station, he
sprang on to the platform and pulled me out after him.
'Excuse me, my dear fellow,' said he, as we watched the rear carriages
of our train disappearing round a curve, 'I am sorry to make you the
victim of what may seem a mere whim, but on my life, Watson, I simply
_can't_ leave that case in this condition. Every instinct that I possess
cries out against it. It's wrong--it's all wrong--I'll swear that it's
wrong. And yet the lady's story was complete, the maid's corroboration
was sufficient, the detail was fairly exact. What have I to put up
against that? Three wineglasses, that is all. But if I had not taken
things for granted, if I had examined everything with care which I
should have shown had we approached the case _de novo_ and had no
cut-and-dried story to warp my mind, should I not then have found
something more definite to go upon? Of course I should. Sit down on this
bench, Watson, until a train for Chislehurst arrives, and allow me to
lay the evidence before you, imploring you in the first instance to
dismiss from your mind the idea that anything which the maid or her
mistress may have said must necessarily be true. The lady's charming
personality must not be permitted to warp our judgment.
'Surely there are details in her story which, if we looked at in cold
blood, would excite our suspicion. These burglars made a considerable
haul at Sydenham a fortnight ago. Some account of them and of their
appearance was in the papers, and would naturally occur to anyone who
wished to invent a story in which imaginary robbers should play a part.
As a matter of fact, burglars who have done a good stroke of business
are, as a rule, only too glad to enjoy the proceeds in peace and quiet
without embarking on another perilous undertaking. Again, it is unusual
for burglars to operate at so early an hour, it is unusual for burglars
to strike a lady to prevent her screaming, since one would imagine that
was the sure way to make her scream, it is unusual for them to commit
murder when their numbers are sufficient to overpower one man, it is
unusual for them to be content with a limited plunder when there was
much more within their reach, and finally, I should say, that it was
very unusual for such men to leave a bottle half empty. How do all these
unusuals strike you, Watson?'
'Their cumulative effect is certainly considerable, and yet each of them
is quite possible in itself. The most unusual thing of all, as it seems
to me, is that the lady should be tied to the chair.'
'Well, I am not so clear about that, Watson, for it is evident that
they must either kill her or else secure her in such a way that she
could not give immediate notice of their escape. But at any rate I have
shown, have I not, that there is a certain element of improbability
about the lady's story? And now, on the top of this, comes the incident
of the wineglasses.'
'What about the wineglasses?'
'Can you see them in your mind's eye?'
'I see them clearly.'
'We are told that three men drank from them. Does that strike you as
'Why not? There was wine in each glass.'
'Exactly, but there was beeswing only in one glass. You must have
noticed that fact. What does that suggest to your mind?'
'The last glass filled would be most likely to contain beeswing.'
'Not at all. The bottle was full of it, and it is inconceivable that the
first two glasses were clear and the third heavily charged with it.
There are two possible explanations, and only two. One is that after the
second glass was filled the bottle was violently agitated, and so the
third glass received the beeswing. That does not appear probable. No,
no, I am sure that I am right.'
'What, then, do you suppose?'
'That only two glasses were used, and that the dregs of both were poured
into a third glass, so as to give the false impression that three people
had been here. In that way all the beeswing would be in the last glass,
would it not? Yes, I am convinced that this is so. But if I have hit
upon the true explanation of this one small phenomenon, then in an
instant the case rises from the commonplace to the exceedingly
remarkable, for it can only mean that Lady Brackenstall and her maid
have deliberately lied to us, that not one word of their story is to be
believed, that they have some very strong reason for covering the real
criminal, and that we must construct our case for ourselves without any
help from them. That is the mission which now lies before us, and here,
Watson, is the Sydenham train.'
The household at the Abbey Grange were much surprised at our return, but
Sherlock Holmes, finding that Stanley Hopkins had gone off to report to
headquarters, took possession of the dining-room, locked the door upon
the inside, and devoted himself for two hours to one of those minute
and laborious investigations which form the solid basis on which his
brilliant edifices of deduction were reared. Seated in a corner like an
interested student who observes the demonstration of his professor, I
followed every step of that remarkable research. The window, the
curtains, the carpet, the chair, the rope--each in turn was minutely
examined and duly pondered. The body of the unfortunate baronet had been
removed, and all else remained as we had seen it in the morning.
Finally, to my astonishment, Holmes climbed up on to the massive
mantelpiece. Far above his head hung the few inches of red cord which
were still attached to the wire. For a long time he gazed upward at it,
and then in an attempt to get nearer to it he rested his knee upon a
wooden bracket on the wall. This brought his hand within a few inches of
the broken end of the rope, but it was not this so much as the bracket
itself which seemed to engage his attention. Finally, he sprang down
with an ejaculation of satisfaction.
'It's all right, Watson,' said he. 'We have got our case--one of the
most remarkable in our collection. But, dear me, how slow-witted I have
been, and how nearly I have committed the blunder of my lifetime! Now, I
think that, with a few missing links, my chain is almost complete.'
'You have got your men?'
'Man, Watson, man. Only one, but a very formidable person. Strong as a
lion--witness the blow that bent that poker! Six foot three in height,
active as a squirrel, dexterous with his fingers, finally, remarkably
quick-witted, for this whole ingenious story is of his concoction. Yes,
Watson, we have come upon the handiwork of a very remarkable individual.
And yet, in that bell-rope, he has given us a clue which should not have
left us a doubt.'
'Where was the clue?'
'Well, if you were to pull down a bell-rope, Watson, where would you
expect it to break? Surely at the spot where it is attached to the wire.
Why should it break three inches from the top, as this one has done?'
'Because it is frayed there?'
'Exactly. This end, which we can examine, is frayed. He was cunning
enough to do that with his knife. But the other end is not frayed. You
could not observe that from here, but if you were on the mantelpiece
you would see that it is cut clean off without any mark of fraying
whatever. You can reconstruct what occurred. The man needed the rope. He
would not tear it down for fear of giving the alarm by ringing the bell.
What did he do? He sprang up on the mantelpiece, could not quite reach
it, put his knee on the bracket--you will see the impression in the
dust--and so got his knife to bear upon the cord. I could not reach the
place by at least three inches--from which I infer that he is at least
three inches a bigger man than I. Look at that mark upon the seat of the
oaken chair! What is it?'
'Undoubtedly it is blood. This alone puts the lady's story out of court.
If she were seated on the chair when the crime was done, how comes that
mark? No, no, she was placed in the chair _after_ the death of her
husband. I'll wager that the black dress shows a corresponding mark to
this. We have not yet met our Waterloo, Watson, but this is our Marengo,
for it begins in defeat and ends in victory. I should like now to have
a few words with the nurse, Theresa. We must be wary for a while, if we
are to get the information which we want.'
She was an interesting person, this stern Australian nurse--taciturn,
suspicious, ungracious, it took some time before Holmes's pleasant
manner and frank acceptance of all that she said thawed her into a
corresponding amiability. She did not attempt to conceal her hatred for
her late employer.
'Yes, sir, it is true that he threw the decanter at me. I heard him call
my mistress a name, and I told him that he would not dare to speak so if
her brother had been there. Then it was that he threw it at me. He might
have thrown a dozen if he had but left my bonny bird alone. He was
forever ill-treating her, and she too proud to complain. She will not
even tell me all that he has done to her. She never told me of those
marks on her arm that you saw this morning, but I know very well that
they come from a stab with a hatpin. The sly devil--God forgive me that
I should speak of him so, now that he is dead! But a devil he was, if
ever one walked the earth. He was all honey when first we met him--only
eighteen months ago, and we both feel as if it were eighteen years. She
had only just arrived in London. Yes, it was her first voyage--she had
never been from home before. He won her with his title and his money
and his false London ways. If she made a mistake she has paid for it,
if ever a woman did. What month did we meet him? Well, I tell you it was
just after we arrived. We arrived in June, and it was July. They were
married in January of last year. Yes, she is down in the morning-room
again, and I have no doubt she will see you, but you must not ask too
much of her, for she has gone through all that flesh and blood will
Lady Brackenstall was reclining on the same couch, but looked brighter
than before. The maid had entered with us, and began once more to foment
the bruise upon her mistress's brow.
'I hope,' said the lady, 'that you have not come to cross-examine me
'No,' Holmes answered, in his gentlest voice. 'I will not cause you any
unnecessary trouble, Lady Brackenstall, and my whole desire is to make
things easy for you, for I am convinced that you are a much-tried woman.
If you will treat me as a friend and trust me, you may find that I will
justify your trust.'
'What do you want me to do?'
'To tell me the truth.'
'No, no, Lady Brackenstall--it is no use. You may have heard of any
little reputation which I possess. I will stake it all on the fact that
your story is an absolute fabrication.'
Mistress and maid were both staring at Holmes with pale faces and
'You are an impudent fellow!' cried Theresa. 'Do you mean to say that my
mistress has told a lie?'
Holmes rose from his chair.
'Have you nothing to tell me?'
'I have told you everything.'
'Think once more, Lady Brackenstall. Would it not be better to be
For an instant there was hesitation in her beautiful face. Then some new
strong thought caused it to set like a mask.
'I have told you all I know.'
Holmes took his hat and shrugged his shoulders. 'I am sorry,' he said,
and without another word we left the room and the house. There was a
pond in the park, and to this my friend led the way. It was frozen over,
but a single hole was left for the convenience of a solitary swan.
Holmes gazed at it, and then passed on to the lodge gate. There he
scribbled a short note for Stanley Hopkins, and left it with the
'It may be a hit, or it may be a miss, but we are bound to do something
for friend Hopkins, just to justify this second visit,' said he. 'I will
not quite take him into my confidence yet. I think our next scene of
operations must be the shipping office of the Adelaide-Southampton line,
which stands at the end of Pall Mall, if I remember right. There is a
second line of steamers which connect South Australia with England, but
we will draw the larger cover first.'
Holmes's card sent in to the manager ensured instant attention, and he
was not long in acquiring all the information he needed. In June of '95,
only one of their line had reached a home port. It was the _Rock of
Gibraltar_, their largest and best boat. A reference to the passenger
list showed that Miss Fraser, of Adelaide, with her maid had made the
voyage in her. The boat was now somewhere south of the Suez Canal on her
way to Australia. Her officers were the same as in '95, with one
exception. The first officer, Mr. Jack Crocker, had been made a captain
and was to take charge of their new ship, the _Bass Rock_, sailing in
two days' time from Southampton. He lived at Sydenham, but he was likely
to be in that morning for instructions, if we cared to wait for him.
No, Mr. Holmes had no desire to see him, but would be glad to know more
about his record and character.
His record was magnificent. There was not an officer in the fleet to
touch him. As to his character, he was reliable on duty, but a wild,
desperate fellow off the deck of his ship--hot-headed, excitable, but
loyal, honest, and kind-hearted. That was the pith of the information
with which Holmes left the office of the Adelaide-Southampton company.
Thence he drove to Scotland Yard, but, instead of entering, he sat in
his cab with his brows drawn down, lost in profound thought. Finally he
drove round to the Charing Cross telegraph office, sent off a message,
and then, at last, we made for Baker Street once more.
'No, I couldn't do it, Watson,' said he, as we re-entered our room.
'Once that warrant was made out, nothing on earth would save him. Once
or twice in my career I feel that I have done more real harm by my
discovery of the criminal than ever he had done by his crime. I have
learned caution now, and I had rather play tricks with the law of
England than with my own conscience. Let us know a little more before
Before evening, we had a visit from Inspector Stanley Hopkins. Things
were not going very well with him.
'I believe that you are a wizard, Mr. Holmes. I really do sometimes
think that you have powers that are not human. Now, how on earth could
you know that the stolen silver was at the bottom of that pond?'
'I didn't know it.'
'But you told me to examine it.'
'You got it, then?'
'Yes, I got it.'
'I am very glad if I have helped you.'
'But you haven't helped me. You have made the affair far more difficult.
What sort of burglars are they who steal silver and then throw it into
the nearest pond?'
'It was certainly rather eccentric behaviour. I was merely going on
the idea that if the silver had been taken by persons who did not want
it--who merely took it for a blind, as it were--then they would
naturally be anxious to get rid of it.'
'But why should such an idea cross your mind?'
'Well, I thought it was possible. When they came out through the French
window, there was the pond with one tempting little hole in the ice,
right in front of their noses. Could there be a better hiding-place?'
'Ah, a hiding-place--that is better!' cried Stanley Hopkins. 'Yes, yes,
I see it all now! It was early, there were folk upon the roads, they
were afraid of being seen with the silver, so they sank it in the pond,
intending to return for it when the coast was clear. Excellent, Mr.
Holmes--that is better than your idea of a blind.'
'Quite so, you have got an admirable theory. I have no doubt that my own
ideas were quite wild, but you must admit that they have ended in
discovering the silver.'
'Yes, sir--yes. It was all your doing. But I have had a bad setback.'
'Yes, Mr. Holmes. The Randall gang were arrested in New York this
'Dear me, Hopkins! That is certainly rather against your theory that
they committed a murder in Kent last night.'
'It is fatal, Mr. Holmes--absolutely fatal. Still, there are other gangs
of three besides the Randalls, or it may be some new gang of which the
police have never heard,'
'Quite so, it is perfectly possible. What, are you off?'
'Yes, Mr. Holmes, there is no rest for me until I have got to the bottom
of the business. I suppose you have no hint to give me?'
'I have given you one.'
'Well, I suggested a blind.'
'But why, Mr. Holmes, why?'
'Ah, that's the question, of course. But I commend the idea to your
mind. You might possibly find that there was something in it. You won't
stop for dinner? Well, goodbye, and let us know how you get on.'
Dinner was over, and the table cleared before Holmes alluded to the
matter again. He had lit his pipe and held his slippered feet to the
cheerful blaze of the fire. Suddenly he looked at his watch.
'I expect developments, Watson.'
'Now--within a few minutes. I dare say you thought I acted rather badly
to Stanley Hopkins just now.'
'I trust your judgment.'
'A very sensible reply, Watson. You must look at it this way: what
I know is unofficial, what he knows is official. I have the right to
private judgment, but he has none. He must disclose all, or he is a
traitor to his service. In a doubtful case I would not put him in so
painful a position, and so I reserve my information until my own mind
is clear upon the matter.'
'But when will that be?'
'The time has come. You will now be present at the last scene of a
remarkable little drama.'
There was a sound upon the stairs, and our door was opened to admit as
fine a specimen of manhood as ever passed through it. He was a very tall
young man, golden-moustached, blue-eyed, with a skin which had been
burned by tropical suns, and a springy step, which showed that the huge
frame was as active as it was strong. He closed the door behind him, and
then he stood with clenched hands and heaving breast, choking down some
'Sit down, Captain Crocker. You got my telegram?'
Our visitor sank into an armchair and looked from one to the other of us
with questioning eyes.
'I got your telegram, and I came at the hour you said. I heard that you
had been down to the office. There was no getting away from you. Let's
hear the worst. What are you going to do with me? Arrest me? Speak out,
man! You can't sit there and play with me like a cat with a mouse.'
'Give him a cigar,' said Holmes. 'Bite on that, Captain Crocker, and
don't let your nerves run away with you. I should not sit here smoking
with you if I thought that you were a common criminal, you may be sure
of that. Be frank with me and we may do some good. Play tricks with me,
and I'll crush you.'
'What do you wish me to do?'
To give me a true account of all that happened at the Abbey Grange last
night--a _true_ account, mind you, with nothing added and nothing taken
off. I know so much already that if you go one inch off the straight,
I'll blow this police whistle from my window and the affair goes out of
my hands forever.'
The sailor thought for a little. Then he struck his leg with his great
'I'll chance it,' he cried. 'I believe you are a man of your word, and a
white man, and I'll tell you the whole story. But one thing I will say
first. So far as I am concerned, I regret nothing and I fear nothing,
and I would do it all again and be proud of the job. Damn the beast, if
he had as many lives as a cat, he would owe them all to me! But it's the
lady, Mary--Mary Fraser--for never will I call her by that accursed
name. When I think of getting her into trouble, I who would give my life
just to bring one smile to her dear face, it's that that turns my soul
into water. And yet--and yet--what less could I do? I'll tell you my
story gentlemen, and then I'll ask you, as man to man, what less could
'I must go back a bit. You seem to know everything, so I expect that you
know that I met her when she was a passenger and I was first officer of
the _Rock of Gibraltar_. From the first day I met her, she was the only
woman to me. Every day of that voyage I loved her more, and many a time
since have I kneeled down in the darkness of the night watch and kissed
the deck of that ship because I knew her dear feet had trod it. She was
never engaged to me. She treated me as fairly as ever a woman treated a
man. I have no complaint to make. It was all love on my side, and all
good comradeship and friendship on hers. When we parted she was a free
woman, but I could never again be a free man.
'Next time I came back from sea, I heard of her marriage. Well, why
shouldn't she marry whom she liked? Title and money--who could carry
them better than she? She was born for all that is beautiful and dainty.
I didn't grieve over her marriage. I was not such a selfish hound as
that. I just rejoiced that good luck had come her way, and that she had
not thrown herself away on a penniless sailor. That's how I loved Mary
'Well, I never thought to see her again, but last voyage I was promoted,
and the new boat was not yet launched, so I had to wait for a couple of
months with my people at Sydenham. One day out in a country lane I met
Theresa Wright, her old maid. She told me all about her, about him,
about everything. I tell you, gentlemen, it nearly drove me mad. This
drunken hound, that he should dare to raise his hand to her, whose boots
he was not worthy to lick! I met Theresa again. Then I met Mary
herself--and met her again. Then she would meet me no more. But the
other day I had a notice that I was to start on my voyage within a week,
and I determined that I would see her once before I left. Theresa was
always my friend, for she loved Mary and hated this villain almost as
much as I did. From her I learned the ways of the house. Mary used to
sit up reading in her own little room downstairs. I crept round there
last night and scratched at the window. At first she would not open to
me, but in her heart I know that now she loves me, and she could not
leave me in the frosty night. She whispered to me to come round to the
big front window, and I found it open before me, so as to let me into
the dining-room. Again I heard from her own lips things that made my
blood boil, and again I cursed this brute who mishandled the woman I
loved. Well, gentlemen, I was standing with her just inside the window,
in all innocence, as God is my judge, when he rushed like a madman into
the room, called her the vilest name that a man could use to a woman,
and welted her across the face with the stick he had in his hand. I had
sprung for the poker, and it was a fair fight between us. See here, on
my arm, where his first blow fell. Then it was my turn, and I went
through him as if he had been a rotten pumpkin. Do you think I was
sorry? Not I! It was his life or mine, but far more than that, it was
his life or hers, for how could I leave her in the power of this madman?
That was how I killed him. Was I wrong? well, then, what would either of
you gentlemen have done, if you had been in my position?
'She had screamed when he struck her, and that brought old Theresa down
from the room above. There was a bottle of wine on the sideboard, and I
opened it and poured a little between Mary's lips, for she was half dead
with shock. Then I took a drop myself. Theresa was as cool as ice, and
it was her plot as much as mine. We must make it appear that burglars
had done the thing. Theresa kept on repeating our story to her mistress,
while I swarmed up and cut the rope of the bell. Then I lashed her in
her chair, and frayed out the end of the rope to make it look natural,
else they would wonder how in the world a burglar could have got up
there to cut it. Then I gathered up a few plates and pots of silver, to
carry out the idea of the robbery, and there I left them, with orders to
give the alarm when I had a quarter of an hour's start. I dropped the
silver into the pond, and made off for Sydenham, feeling that for once
in my life I had done a real good night's work. And that's the truth and
the whole truth, Mr. Holmes, if it costs me my neck.'
Holmes smoked for some time in silence. Then he crossed the room, and
shook our visitor by the hand.
'That's what I think,' said he. 'I know that every word is true, for you
have hardly said a word which I did not know. No one but an acrobat or a
sailor could have got up to that bell-rope from the bracket, and no one
but a sailor could have made the knots with which the cord was fastened
to the chair. Only once had this lady been brought into contact with
sailors, and that was on her voyage, and it was someone of her own class
of life, since she was trying hard to shield him, and so showing that
she loved him. You see how easy it was for me to lay my hands upon you
when once I started upon the right trail.'
'I thought the police never could have seen through our dodge.'
'And the police haven't, nor will they, to the best of my belief. Now,
look here, Captain Crocker, this is a very serious matter, though I am
willing to admit that you acted under the most extreme provocation to
which any man could be subjected. I am not sure that in defence of your
own life your action will not be pronounced legitimate. However, that is
for a British jury to decide. Meanwhile I have so much sympathy for you
that, if you choose to disappear in the next twenty-four hours, I will
promise you that no one will hinder you.'
'And then it will all come out?'
'Certainly it will come out.'
The sailor flushed with anger.
'What sort of proposal is that to make a man? I know enough of law to
understand that Mary would be held as accomplice. Do you think I would
leave her alone to face the music while I slunk away? No, sir, let them
do their worst upon me, but for heaven's sake, Mr. Holmes, find some way
of keeping my poor Mary out of the courts.'
Holmes for a second time held out his hand to the sailor.
'I was only testing you, and you ring true every time. Well, it is a
great responsibility that I take upon myself, but I have given Hopkins
an excellent hint, and if he can't avail himself of it I can do no more.
See here, Captain Crocker, we'll do this in due form of law. You are the
prisoner. Watson, you are a British jury, and I never met a man who was
more eminently fitted to represent one. I am the judge. Now, gentleman
of the jury, you have heard the evidence. Do you find the prisoner
guilty or not guilty?'
'Not guilty, my lord,' said I.
'Vox populi, vox Dei. You are acquitted, Captain Crocker. So long as
the law does not find some other victim you are safe from me. Come back
to this lady in a year, and may her future and yours justify us in the
judgment which we have pronounced this night!'