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ADVENTURE VI. THE MAN WITH THE TWISTED LIP

Isa Whitney, brother of the late Elias Whitney, D.D., Principal

  of the Theological College of St. George’s, was much addicted to

  opium. The habit grew upon him, as I understand, from some

  foolish freak when he was at college; for having read De

  Quincey’s description of his dreams and sensations, he had

  drenched his tobacco with laudanum in an attempt to produce the

  same effects. He found, as so many more have done, that the

  practice is easier to attain than to get rid of, and for many

  years he continued to be a slave to the drug, an object of

  mingled horror and pity to his friends and relatives. I can see

  him now, with yellow, pasty face, drooping lids, and pin-point

  pupils, all huddled in a chair, the wreck and ruin of a noble

  man.

  One night–it was in June, ’89–there came a ring to my bell,

  about the hour when a man gives his first yawn and glances at the

  clock. I sat up in my chair, and my wife laid her needle-work

  down in her lap and made a little face of disappointment.

  “A patient!” said she. “You’ll have to go out.”

  I groaned, for I was newly come back from a weary day.

  We heard the door open, a few hurried words, and then quick steps

  upon the linoleum. Our own door flew open, and a lady, clad in

  some dark-colored stuff, with a black veil, entered the room.

  “You will excuse my calling so late,” she began, and then,

  suddenly losing her self-control, she ran forward, threw her arms

  about my wife’s neck, and sobbed upon her shoulder. “Oh, I’m in

  such trouble!” she cried; “I do so want a little help.”

  “Why,” said my wife, pulling up her veil, “it is Kate Whitney.

  How you startled me, Kate! I had not an idea who you were when

  you came in.”

  “I didn’t know what to do, so l came straight to you.” That was

  always the way. Folk who were in grief came to my wife like birds

  to a light-house.

  “It was very sweet of you to come. Now, you must have some wine

  and water, and sit here comfortably and tell us all about it. Or

  should you rather that I sent James off to bed?”

  “Oh, no, no! I want the doctor’s advice and help, too. It’s about

  Isa. He has not been home for two days. I am so frightened about

  him!”

  It was not the first time that she had spoken to us of her

  husband’s trouble, to me as a doctor, to my wife as an old friend

  and school companion. We soothed and comforted her by such words

  as we could find. Did she know where her husband was? Was it

  possible that we could bring him back to her?

  It seems that it was. She had the surest information that of late

  he had, when the fit was on him, made use of an opium den in the

  farthest east of the City. Hitherto his orgies had always been

  confined to one day, and he had come back, twitching and

  shattered, in the evening. But now the spell had been upon him

  eight-and-forty hours, and he lay there, doubtless among the

  dregs of the docks, breathing in the poison or sleeping off the

  effects. There he was to be found, she was sure of it, at the Bar

  of Gold, in Upper Swandam Lane. But what was she to do? How could

  she, a young and timid woman, make her way into such a place and

  pluck her husband out from among the ruffians who surrounded him?

  There was the case, and of course there was but one way out of

  it. Might I not escort her to this place? And then, as a second

  thought, why should she come at all? I was Isa Whitney’s medical

  adviser, and as such I had influence over him. I could manage it

  better if I were alone. I promised her on my word that I would

  send him home in a cab within two hours if he were indeed at the

  address which she had given me. And so in ten minutes I had left

  my armchair and cheery sitting-room behind me, and was speeding

  eastward in a hansom on a strange errand, as it seemed to me at

  the time, though the future only could show how strange it was to

  be.

  But there was no great difficulty in the first stage of my

  adventure. Upper Swandam Lane is a vile alley lurking behind the

  high wharves which line the north side of the river to the east

  of London Bridge. Between a slop-shop and a gin-shop, approached

  by a steep flight of steps leading down to a black gap like the

  mouth of a cave, I found the den of which I was in search.

  Ordering my cab to wait, I passed down the steps, worn hollow in

  the centre by the ceaseless tread of drunken feet; and by the

  light of a flickering oil-lamp above the door I found the latch

  and made my way into a long, low room, thick and heavy with the

  brown opium smoke, and terraced with wooden berths, like the

  forecastle of an emigrant ship.

  Through the gloom one could dimly catch a glimpse of bodies lying

  in strange fantastic poses, bowed shoulders, bent knees, heads

  thrown back, and chins pointing upward, with here and there a

  dark, lack-lustre eye turned upon the newcomer. Out of the black

  shadows there glimmered little red circles of light, now bright,

now faint, as the burning poison waxed or waned in the bowls of

  the metal pipes. The most lay silent, but some muttered to

  themselves, and others talked together in a strange, low,

  monotonous voice, their conversation coming in gushes, and then

  suddenly tailing off into silence, each mumbling out his own

  thoughts and paying little heed to the words of his neighbor. At

  the farther end was a small brazier of burning charcoal, beside

  which on a three-legged wooden stool there sat a tall, thin old

  man, with his jaw resting upon his two fists, and his elbows upon

  his knees, staring into the fire.

  As I entered, a sallow Malay attendant had hurried up with a pipe

  for me and a supply of the drug, beckoning me to an empty berth.

  “Thank you. I have not come to stay,” said I. “There is a friend

  of mine here, Mr. Isa Whitney, and I wish to speak with him.”

  There was a movement and an exclamation from my right, and

  peering through the gloom I saw Whitney, pale, haggard, and

  unkempt, staring out at me.

  “My God! It’s Watson,” said he. He was in a pitiable state of

  reaction, with every nerve in a twitter. “I say, Watson, what

  o’clock is it?”

  “Nearly eleven.”

  “Of what day?”

  “Of Friday, June 19th.”

  “Good heavens! I thought it was Wednesday. It is Wednesday. What

  d’you want to frighten the chap for?” He sank his face onto his

  arms and began to sob in a high treble key.

  “I tell you that it is Friday, man. Your wife has been waiting

  this two days for you. You should be ashamed of yourself!”

  “So I am. But you’ve got mixed, Watson, for I have only been here

  a few hours, three pipes, four pipes–I forget how many. But I’ll

  go home with you. I wouldn’t frighten Kate–poor little Kate.

  Give me your hand! Have you a cab?”

  “Yes, I have one waiting.”

  “Then I shall go in it. But I must owe something. Find what I

  owe, Watson. I am all off color. I can do nothing for myself.”

  I walked down the narrow passage between the double row of

  sleepers, holding my breath to keep out the vile, stupefying

  fumes of the drug, and looking about for the manager. As I passed

  the tall man who sat by the brazier I felt a sudden pluck at my

  skirt, and a low voice whispered, “Walk past me, and then look

  back at me.” The words fell quite distinctly upon my ear. I

  glanced down. They could only have come from the old man at my

  side, and yet he sat now as absorbed as ever, very thin, very

  wrinkled, bent with age, an opium pipe dangling down from between

  his knees, as though it had dropped in sheer lassitude from his

  fingers. I took two steps forward and looked back. It took all my

  self-control to prevent me from breaking out into a cry of

  astonishment. He had turned his back so that none could see him

  but I. His form had filled out, his wrinkles were gone, the dull

  eyes had regained their fire, and there, sitting by the fire and

  grinning at my surprise, was none other than Sherlock Holmes. He

  made a slight motion to me to approach him, and instantly, as he

  turned his face half round to the company once more, subsided

  into a doddering, loose-lipped senility.

  “Holmes!” I whispered, “what on earth are you doing in this den?”

  “As low as you can,” he answered; “I have excellent ears. If you

  would have the great kindness to get rid of that sottish friend

  of yours I should be exceedingly glad to have a little talk with

  you.”

  “I have a cab outside.”

  “Then pray send him home in it. You may safely trust him, for he

  appears to be too limp to get into any mischief. I should

  recommend you also to send a note by the cabman to your wife to

  say that you have thrown in your lot with me. If you will wait

  outside, I shall be with you in five minutes.”

  It was difficult to refuse any of Sherlock Holmes’s requests, for

  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 a

  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

  views.”

  “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.”

  “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

  nights.”

  “What! You do not mean bodies?”

  “Ay, bodies, Watson. We should be rich men if we had 1000 pounds

  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 his

  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 up through

  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 still

  more so. My room at The Cedars is a double-bedded one.”

  “The Cedars?”

  “Yes; that is Mr. St. Clair’s house. I am staying there while I

  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. Jump up

  here. All right, John; we shall not need you. Here’s half a

  crown. Look out for me to-morro 

w, 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 of

  the policeman, or the songs and shouts of some belated party of

  revellers. A dull wrack was drifting slowly across the sky, and a

  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 up

  his pipe with the air of a man who has satisfied himself that he

  is acting for the best.

  “You have a grand gift of silence, Watson,” said he. “It makes

  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 before

  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 I

  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.”

  “Proceed, then.”

  “Some years ago–to be definite, in May, 1884–there came to Lee

  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 far

  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 earlier

  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 his

  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 up

  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 me

  so far?”

  “It is very clear.”

  “If you remember, Monday was an exceedingly hot day, and Mrs. St.

  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 down the

  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 of

  whom I have spoken, who thrust her back and, aided by a Dane, who

  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 of

  constables with an inspector, all on their way to their beat. The

  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 no

  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 had

  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 an

  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 of

  the bedroom. Thrust away behind a curtain in the fro 

nt 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

  the tragedy.

  “And now as to the villains who seemed to be immedlately

  implicated in the matter. The Lascar was known to be a man of the

  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 he

  could not account in any way for the presence of the missing

  gentleman’s clothes.

  “So much for the Lascar manager. Now for the sinister cripple who

  lives upon the second floor of the opium den, and who was

  certainly the last human being whose eyes rested upon Neville St.

  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 he

  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 a

  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 he

  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 single-handed

  against a man in the prime of life?”

  “He is a cripple in the sense that he walks with a limp; but in

  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 the

  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 not

  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, and

  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 or

  dreaming. He was removed, loudly protesting, to the

  police-station, while the inspector remained upon the premises in

  the hope that the ebbing tide might afford some fresh clew.

  “And it did, though they hardly found upon the mud-bank what they

  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 with

  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 a

  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 in the

  room. Would the body be dressed in a coat alone?”

  “No, sir, but the facts might be met speciously enough. Suppose

  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 he

  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, and

  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 of a

  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 was

  doing in the opium den, what happened to him when there, where is

  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.”

  While Sherlock Holmes had been detailing this singular series of

  events, we had been whirling through the outskirts of the great

  town until the last straggling houses had been left behind, and

  we rattled along with a country hedge upon either side of us.

  Just as he finished, however, we drove through two scattered

  villages, where a few lights still glimmered in the windows.

  “We are on the outskirts of Lee,” said my companion. “We have

  touched on three English counties in our short drive, starting in

  Middlesex, passing over an angle of Surrey, and ending in Kent.

  See that light among the trees? That is The Cedars, and beside

  that lamp sits a woman whose anxious ears have already, I have

  little doubt, caught the clink of our horse’s feet.”

  “But why are you not conducting the case from Baker Street?” I

  asked.

  “Because there are many inquiries which must be made out here.

  Mrs. St. Clair has most kindly put two rooms at my disposal, and

  you may rest assured that she will have nothing but a welcome for

  my friend and colleague. I hate to meet her, Watson, when I have

  no news of her husband. Here we are. Whoa, there, whoa!”

  We had pulled up in front of a large villa which stood within its

  own grounds. A stable-boy had run out to the horse’s head, and

  springing down, I followed Holmes up the small, winding

  gravel-drive which led to the house. As we approached, the door

  flew open, and a little blonde woman stood in the opening, clad

  in some sort of light mousseline de soie, with a touch of fluffy

  pink chiffon at her neck and wrists. She stood with her figure

  outlined against the flood of light, one hand upon the door, one

  half-raised in her eagerness, her body slightly bent, her head

  and face protruded, with eager eyes and parted lips, a standing

  question.

  “Well?” she cried, “well?” And then, seeing that there were two

  of us, she gave a cry of hope which sank into a groan as she saw

  that my companion shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.

  “No good news?”

  “None.”

  “No bad?”

  “No.”

  “Thank God for that. But come in. You must be weary, for you have

  had a long day.”

  “This is my friend, Dr. Watson. He has been of most vital use to

  me in several of my cases, and a lucky chance has made it

  possible for me to bring him out and associate him with this

  investigation.”

  “I am delighted to see you,” said she, pressing my hand warmly.

  “You will, I am sure, forgive anything that may be wanting in our

  arrangements, when you consider the blow which has come so

  suddenly upon us.”

  “My dear madam,” said I, “I am an old campaigner, and if I were

  not I can very well see that no apology is needed. If I can be of

  any assistance, either to you or to my friend here, I shall be

  indeed happy.”

  “Now, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” said the lady as we entered a

  well-lit dining-room, upon the table of which a cold supper had

  been laid out, “I should very much like to ask you one or two

  plain questions, to which I beg that you will give a plain

  answer.”

  “Certainly, madam.”

  “Do not trouble about my feelings. I am not hysterical, nor given

  to fainting. I simply wish to hear your real, real opinion.”

  “Upon what point?”

  “In your heart of hearts, do you think that Neville is alive?”

  Sherlock Holmes seemed to be embarrassed by the question.

  “Frankly, now!” she repeated, standing upon the rug and looking

  keenly down at him as he leaned back in a basket-chair.


nbsp; “Frankly, then, madam, I do not.”

  “You think that he is dead?”

  “I do.”

  “Murdered?”

  “I don’t say that. Perhaps.”

  “And on what day did he meet his death?”

  “On Monday.”

  “Then perhaps, Mr. Holmes, you will be good enough to explain how

  it is that I have received a letter from him to-day.”

  Sherlock Holmes sprang out of his chair as if he had been

  galvanized.

  “What!” he roared.

  “Yes, to-day.” She stood smiling, holding up a little slip of

  paper in the air.

  “May I see it?”

  “Certainly.”

  He snatched it from her in his eagerness, and smoothing it out

  upon the table he drew over the lamp and examined it intently. I

  had left my chair and was gazing at it over his shoulder. The

  envelope was a very coarse one and was stamped with the Gravesend

  postmark and with the date of that very day, or rather of the day

  before, for it was considerably after midnight.

  “Coarse writing,” murmured Holmes. “Surely this is not your

  husband’s writing, madam.”

  “No, but the enclosure is.”

  “I perceive also that whoever addressed the envelope had to go

  and inquire as to the address.”

  “How can you tell that?”

  “The name, you see, is in perfectly black ink, which has dried

  itself. The rest is of the grayish color, which shows that

  blotting-paper has been used. If it had been written straight

  off, and then blotted, none would be of a deep black shade. This

  man has written the name, and there has then been a pause before

  he wrote the address, which can only mean that he was not

  familiar with it. It is, of course, a trifle, but there is

  nothing so important as trifles. Let us now see the letter. Ha!

  there has been an enclosure here!”

  “Yes, there was a ring. His signet-ring.”

  “And you are sure that this is your husband’s hand?”

  “One of his hands.”

  “One?”

  “His hand when he wrote hurriedly. It is very unlike his usual

  writing, and yet I know it well.”

  “‘Dearest do not be frightened. All will come well. There is a

  huge error which it may take some little time to rectify.

  Wait in patience.–NEVILLE.’ Written in pencil upon the fly-leaf

  of a book, octavo size, no water-mark. Hum! Posted to-day in

  Gravesend by a man with a dirty thumb. Ha! And the flap has been

  gummed, if I am not very much in error, by a person who had been

  chewing tobacco. And you have no doubt that it is your husband’s

  hand, madam?”

  “None. Neville wrote those words.”

  “And they were posted to-day at Gravesend. Well, Mrs. St. Clair,

  the clouds lighten, though I should not venture to say that the

  danger is over.”

  “But he must be alive, Mr. Holmes.”

  “Unless this is a clever forgery to put us on the wrong scent.

  The ring, after all, proves nothing. It may have been taken from

  him. ‘

  “No, no; it is, it is his very own writing!”

  “Very well. It may, however, have been written on Monday and only

  posted to-day.”

  “That is possible.”

  “If so, much may have happened between.”

  “Oh, you must not discourage me, Mr. Holmes. I know that all is

  well with him. There is so keen a sympathy between us that I

  should know if evil came upon him. On the very day that I saw him

  last he cut himself in the bedroom, and yet I in the dining-room

  rushed upstairs instantly with the utmost certainty that

  something had happened. Do you think that I would respond to such

  a trifle and yet be ignorant of his death?”

  “I have seen too much not to know that the impression of a woman

  may be more valuable than the conclusion of an analytical

  reasoner. And in this letter you certainly have a very strong

  piece of evidence to corroborate your view. But if your husband

  is alive and able to write letters, why should he remain away

  from you?”

  “I cannot imagine. It is unthinkable.”

  “And on Monday he made no remarks before leaving you?”

  “No.”

  “And you were surprised to see him in Swandam Lane?”

  “Very much so.”

  “Was the window open?”

  “Yes.”

  “Then he might have called to you?”

  “He might.”

  “He only, as I understand, gave an inarticulate cry?”

  “Yes.”

  “A call for help, you thought?”

  “Yes. He waved his hands.”

  “But it might have been a cry of surprise. Astonishment at the

  unexpected sight of you might cause him to throw up his hands?”

  “It is possible.”

  “And you thought he was pulled back?”

  “He disappeared so suddenly.”

  “He might have leaped back. You did not see anyone else in the

  room?”

  “No, but this horrible man confessed to having been there, and

  the Lascar was at the foot of the stairs.”

  “Quite so. Your husband, as far as you could see, had his

  ordinary clothes on?”

  “But without his collar or tie. I distinctly saw his bare

  throat.”

  “Had he ever spoken of Swandam Lane?”

  “Never.”

  “Had he ever showed any signs of having taken opium?”

  “Never.”

  “Thank you, Mrs. St. Clair. Those are the principal points about

  which I wished to be absolutely clear. We shall now have a little

  supper and then retire, for we may have a very busy day

  to-morrow.”

  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 much 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.”

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