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22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

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The Man with the Twisted Lip


1 Isa Whitney, brother of the late Elias Whitney, D.D., Principal of the Theological College of St George's, was much addicted to opium. 2 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. 3 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. 4 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.
5 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. 6 I sat up in my chair, and my wife laid her needlework down in her lap and made a little face of disappointment.
7 'A patient!' said she. 8 'You'll have to go out.'
9 I groaned, for I was newly come back from a weary day.
10 We heard the door open, a few hurried words, and then quick steps upon the linoleum. 11 Our own door flew open, and a lady, clad in some dark-coloured stuff with a black veil, entered the room.
12 '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. 13 'Oh! 14 I'm in such trouble!' she cried; 'I do so want a little help.'
15 'Why,' said my wife, pulling up her veil, 'It is Kate Whitney. 16 How you startled me, Kate! 17 I had not an idea who you were when you came in.'
18 'I didn't know what to do, so I came straight to you.' 19 That was always the way. 20 Folk who were in grief came to my wife like birds to a lighthouse.
21 'It was very sweet of you to come. 22 Now, you must have some wine and water, and sit here comfortably and tell us all about it. 23 Or should you rather that I sent James off to bed?'
24 'Oh, no, no. 25 I want the Doctor's advice and help too. 26 It's about Isa. 27 He has not been home for two days. 28 I am so frightened about him!'
29 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. 30 We soothed and comforted her by such words as we could find. 31 Did she know where her husband was? 32 Was it possible that we could bring him back to her?
33 It seemed that it was. 34 She had the surest information that of late he had, when the fit was on him, made use of an opium den in the furthest east of the City. 35 Hitherto his orgies had always been confined to one day, and he had come back, twitching and shattered, in the evening. 36 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. 37 There he was to be found, she was sure of it, at the 'Bar of Gold', in Upper Swandam Lane. 38 But what was she to do? 39 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?
40 There was the case, and of course there was but one way out of it. 41 Might I not escort her to this place? 42 And then, as a second thought, why should she come at all? 43 I was Isa Whitney's medical adviser, and as such I had influence over him. 44 I could manage it better if I were alone. 45 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. 46 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.
47 But there was no great difficulty in the first stage of my adventure. 48 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. 49 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. 50 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.
51 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 upwards, with here and there a dark, lack-lustre eye turned upon the newcomer. 52 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. 53 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 neighbour. 54 At the further 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.
55 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.
56 'Thank you, I have not come to stay,' said I. 57 'There is a friend of mine here, Mr Isa Whitney, and I wish to speak with him.'
58 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.
59 'My God! 60 It's Watson,' said he. 61 He was in a pitiable state of reaction, with every nerve in a twitter. 62 'I say, Watson, what o'clock is it?'
63 'Nearly eleven.'
64 'Of what day?'
65 'Of Friday, June 19th.'
66 'Good heavens! 67 I thought it was Wednesday. 68 It is Wednesday. 69 What d'you want to frighten a chap for?' 70 He sank his face on to his arms, and began to sob in a high treble key.
71 'I tell you that it is Friday, man. 72 Your wife has been waiting this two days for you. 73 You should be ashamed of yourself!'
74 'So I am. 75 But you've got mixed, Watson, for I have only been here a few hours, three pipes, four pipes - I forget how many. 76 But I'll go home with you. 77 I wouldn't frighten Kate - poor little Kate. 78 Give me your hand! 79 Have you a cab?'
80 'Yes, I have one waiting.'
81 'Then I shall go in it. 82 But I must owe something. 83 Find what I owe, Watson. 84 I am all off colour. 85 I can do nothing for myself.'
86 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. 87 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.' 88 The words fell quite distinctly upon my ear. 89 I glanced down. 90 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. 91 I took two steps forward and looked back. 92 It took all my self-control to prevent me from breaking out into a cry of astonishment. 93 He had turned his back so that none could see him but I. 94 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. 95 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.
96 'Holmes!' 97 I whispered what on earth are you doing in this den?'
98 'As low as you can,' he answered, have excellent ears. 99 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.'
100 'I have a cab outside.'
101 'Then pray send him home in it. 102 You may safely trust him, for he appears to be too limp to get into any mischief. 103 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. 104 If you will wait outside, I shall be with you in five minutes.'
105 It was difficult to refuse any of Sherlock Holmes's requests, for they were always so exceedingly definite, and put forward with such an air of mastery. 106 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. 107 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. 108 In a very short time a decrepit figure had emerged from the opium den, and I was walking down the street with Sherlock Holmes. 109 For two streets he shuffled along with a bent back and an uncertain foot. 110 Then, glancing quickly round, he straightened himself out and burst into a hearty fit of laughter.
111 '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 favoured me with your medical views.'
112 'I was certainly surprised to find you there.'
113 'But not more so than I to find you.'
114 'I came to find a friend.'
115 'And I to find an enemy!'
116 'An enemy?'
117 'Yes, one of my natural enemies, or, shall I say, my natural prey. 118 Briefly, Watson, I am in the midst of a very remarkable inquiry, and I have hoped to find a clue in the incoherent ramblings of these sots, as I have done before now. 119 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 vengeance upon me. 120 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.'
121 'What! 122 You do not mean bodies?'
123 'Aye, bodies, Watson. 124 We should be rich men if we had a thousand pounds for every poor devil who has been done to death in that den. 125 It is the vilest murder-trap on the whole riverside, and I fear Neville St Clair has entered it never to leave it more. 126 But our trap should be here!' 127 He put his two fore-fingers 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 horse's hoofs.
128 '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?'
129 'If I can be of use.'
130 'Oh, a trusty comrade is always of use. 131 And a chronicler still more so. 132 My room at The Cedars is a double-bedded one.'
133 'The Cedars?'
134 'Yes; that is Mr St Clair's house. 135 I am staying there while I conduct the inquiry.'
136 'Where is it, then?'
137 'Near Lee, in Kent. 138 We have a seven-mile drive before us.'
139 'But I am all in the dark.'
140 'Of course you are. 141 You'll know all about it presently. 142 Jump up here! 143 All right, John, we shall not need you. 144 Here's half-a-crown. 145 Look out for me to-morrow about eleven. 146 Give her her head! 147 So long, then!'
148 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. 149 Beyond lay another broad 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. 150 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. 151 Holmes drove in silence, with his head sunk upon his breast, and the air of a man who is lost in thought, whilst 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. 152 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.
153 'You have a grand gift of silence, Watson,' said he. 154 'It makes you quite invaluable as a companion. 155 'Pon my word, it is a great thing for me to have someone to talk to, for my own thoughts are not over-pleasant. 156 I was wondering what I should say to this dear little woman to-night when she meets me at the door.'
157 'You forget that I know nothing about it.'
158 'I shall just have time to tell you the facts of the case before we get to Lee. 159 It seems absurdly simple, and yet, somehow, I can get nothing to go upon. 160 There's plenty of thread, no doubt, but I can't get the end of it in my hand. 161 Now, I'll state the case clearly and concisely to you, Watson, and maybe you may see a spark where all is dark to me.'
162 'Proceed, then.'
163 '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. 164 He took a large villa, laid out the grounds very nicely, and lived generally in good style. 165 By degrees he made friends in the neighbourhood, and in 1887 he married the daughter of a local brewer, by whom he has now had two children. 166 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. 167 Mr St Clair is now 37 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. 168 I may add that his whole debts at the present moment, as far as we have been able to ascertain, amount to £88 10s., while he has £220 standing to his credit in the Capital and Counties Bank. 169 There is no reason, therefore, to think that money troubles have been weighing upon his mind.
170 '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. 171 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. 172 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. 173 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 exactly at 4.35 walking through Swandam Lane on her way back to the station. 174 Have you followed me so far?'
175 'It is very clear.'
176 '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 neighbourhood in which she found herself. 177 While she walked 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. 178 The window was open, and she distinctly saw his face, which she describes as being terribly agitated. 179 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. 180 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.
181 '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. 182 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. 183 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. 184 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. 185 There was no sign of him there. 186 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. 187 Both he and the Lascar stoutly swore that no one else had been in the front room during that afternoon. 188 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. 189 Out there fell a cascade of children's bricks. 190 It was the toy which he had promised to bring home.
191 'This discovery, and the evident confusion which the cripple showed, made the inspector realize that the matter was serious. 192 The rooms were carefully examined, and results all pointed to an abominable crime. 193 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. 194 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. 195 The bedroom window was a broad one, and opened from below. 196 On examination traces of blood were - to be seen upon the window-sill, and several scattered drops were visible upon the wooden floor of the bedroom. 197 Thrust away behind a curtain in the front room were all the clothes of Mr Neville St Clair, with the exception of his coat. 198 His boots, his socks, his hat, and his watch - all were there. 199 There were no signs of violence upon any of these garments, and there were no other traces of Mr Neville St Clair. 200 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.
201 'And now as to the villains who seemed to be immediately implicated in the matter. 202 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 few seconds of her husband's appearance at the window, he could hardly have been more than an accessory to the crime. 203 His defence 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.
204 'So much for the Lascar manager. 205 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. 206 His name is Hugh Boone, and his hideous face is one which is familiar to every man who goes much to the City. 207 He is a professional beggar, though in order to avoid the police regulations he pretends to a small trade in wax vestas. 208 Some little distance down Threadneedle Street upon the left hand side there is, as you may have remarked, a small angle in the wall. 209 Here it is that the 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 before him. 210 I have watched this 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 so short a time. 211 His appearance, you see, is so remarkable that no one can pass him without observing him. 212 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 bull-dog chin, and a pair of very penetrating dark eyes, which present a singular contrast to the colour 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 passersby. 213 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.'
214 'But a cripple!' said I. 215 'What could he have done single-handed against a man in the prime of life?'
216 '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. 217 Surely your medical experience would tell you, Watson, that weakness in one limb is often compensated for by exceptional strength in the others.'
218 'Pray continue your narrative.'
219 '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. 220 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. 221 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. 222 There were, it is true, some bloodstains 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. 223 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. 224 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. 225 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 clue.
226 'And it did, though they hardly found upon the mudbank what they had feared to find. 227 It was Neville St Clair's coat, and not Neville St Clair, which lay uncovered as the tide receded. 228 And what do you think they found in the pockets?'
229 'I cannot imagine.'
230 'No, I don't think you will guess. 231 Every pocket stuffed with pennies and halfpennies - four hundred and twenty-one pennies, and two hundred and seventy halfpennies. 232 It was no wonder that it had not been swept away by the tide. 233 But a human body is a different matter. 234 There is a fierce eddy between the wharf and the house. 235 It seemed likely enough that the weighted coat had remained when the stripped body had been sucked away into the river.'
236 'But I understand that all the other clothes were found in the room. 237 Would the body be dressed in a coat alone?'
238 'No, sir, but the facts might be met speciously enough. 239 Suppose that this man Boone had thrust Neville St Clair through the window, there is no human eye which could have seen the deed. 240 What would he do then? 241 It would of course instantly strike him that he must get rid of the tell-tale garments. 242 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. 243 He has little time, for he had 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. 244 There is not an instant to be lost. 245 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. 246 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.'
247 'It certainly sounds feasible.'
248 'Well, we will take it as a working hypothesis for want of a better. 249 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. 250 He had for years been known as a professional beggar, but his life appeared to have been a very quiet and innocent one. 251 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 he is now, and what Hugh Boone had to do with his disappearance, are all as far from solution as ever. 252 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.'
253 Whilst 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. 254 Just as he finished, however, we drove through two scattered villages, where a few lights still glimmered in the windows.
255 'We are on the outskirts of Lee,' said my companion. 256 'We have touched on three English counties in our short drive, starting in Middlesex, passing over an angle of Surrey, and ending in Kent. 257 See that light among the trees? 258 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.'
259 'But why are you not conducting the case from Baker Street?' I asked.
'Because there are many inquiries which must be made out here. 261 Mrs St Clair has mostly 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. 262 I hate to meet her, Watson, when I have no news of her husband. 263 Here we are. 264 Whoa, there, whoa!'
265 We had pulled up in front of a large villa which stood within its own grounds. 266 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. 267 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. 268 She stood with her figure outlined against the flood of light, one hand upon the door, one half raised in eagerness, her body slightly bent, her head and face protruded, with eager eyes and parted lips, a standing question.
269 'Well?' she cried, 'well?' 270 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.
271 'No good news?'
272 'None.'
273 'No bad?'
274 'No.'
275 'Thank God for that. 276 But come in. 277 You must be weary, for you have had a long day.'
278 'This is my friend, Dr Watson. 279 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.'
280 'I am delighted to see you,' said she, pressing my hand warmly. 281 'You will, I am sure, forgive anything which may be wanting in our arrangements, when you consider the blow which has come so suddenly upon us.'
282 '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. 283 If I can be of any assistance, either to you or to my friend here, I shall be indeed happy.'
284 '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. 285 'I should very much like to ask you one or two plain questions, to which I beg that you will give a plain answer.'
286 'Certainly, madam.'
287 'Do not trouble about my feelings. 288 I am not hysterical, nor given to fainting. 289 I simply wish to hear your real, real opinion.'
290 'Upon what point?'
291 'In your heart of hearts, do you think that Neville is alive?'
292 Sherlock Holmes seemed to be embarrassed by the question. 293 'Frankly now!' she repeated, standing upon the rug, and looking keenly down at him, as he leaned back in a basket chair.
294 'Frankly, then, madam, I do not.'
295 'You think that he is dead?'
296 'I do.'
297 'Murdered?'
298 'I don't say that. 299 Perhaps.'
300 'And on what day did he meet his death?'
301 'On Monday.'
302 'Then perhaps, Mr Holmes, you will be good enough to explain how it is that I have received this letter from him today?'
303 Sherlock Holmes sprang out of his chair as if he had been galvanized.
304 'What!' he roared.
305 'Yes, today.' 306 She stood smiling, holding up a little slip of paper in the air.
307 'May I see it?'
308 'Certainly.'
309 He snatched it from her in his eagerness, and smoothing it out upon the table, he drew over the lamp, and examined it intently. 310 I had left my chair, and was gazing at it over his shoulder. 311 The envelope was a very coarse one, and was stamped with the Gravesend post-mark, and with the date of that very day, or rather of the day before, for it was considerably after midnight.
312 'Coarse writing!' murmured Holmes. 313 'Surely this is not your husband's writing, madam.'
314 'No, but the enclosure is.'
315 'I perceive also that whoever addressed the envelope had to go and inquire as to the address.'
316 'How can you tell that?'
317 'The name, you see, is in perfectly black ink, which has dried itself. 318 The rest is of the greyish colour which shows that blotting-paper has been used. 319 If it had been written straight off, and then blotted, none would be of a deep black shade. 320 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. 321 It is, of course, a trifle, but there is nothing so important as trifles. 322 Let us now see the letter! 323 Ha! there has been an enclosure here!'
324 'Yes, there was a ring. 325 His signet ring.'
326 'And you are sure that this is your husband's hand?'
327 'One of his hands.'
328 'One?'
329 'His hand when he wrote hurriedly. 330 It is very unlike his usual writing, and yet I know it well.'
331 ' "Dearest, do not be frightened. 332 All will come well. 333 There is a huge error which it may take some little time to rectify. 334 Wait in patience. 335 Neville." 336 Written in pencil upon a flyleaf of a book, octavo size, no watermark. 337 Hum! - 338 Posted to-day in Gravesend by a man with a dirty thumb. 339 Ha! 340 And the flap has been gummed, if I am not very much in error, by a person who has been chewing tobacco. 341 And you have no doubt that it is your husband's hand, madam?'
342 'None. 343 Neville wrote those words.'
344 'And they were posted to-day at Gravesend. 345 Well, Mrs St Clair, the clouds lighten, though I should not venture to say that the danger is over.'
346 'But he must be alive, Mr Holmes.'
347 'Unless this is a clever forgery to put us on the wrong scent. 348 The ring, after all, proves nothing. 349 It may have been taken from him.'
350 'No, no; it is, it is, it is his very own writing!'
351 'Very well. 352 It may, however, have been written on Monday, and only posted to-day.'
353 'That is possible.'
354 'If so, much may have happened between.'
355 'Oh, you must not discourage me, Mr Holmes. 356 I know that all is well with him. 357 There is so keen a sympathy between us that I should know if evil came upon him. 358 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. 359 Do you think that I would respond to such a trifle, and yet be ignorant of his death?'
360 '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. 361 And in this letter you certainly have a very strong piece of evidence to corroborate your view. 362 But if your husband is alive and able to write letters, why should he remain away from you?'
363 'I cannot imagine. 364 It is unthinkable.'
365 'And on Monday he made no remarks before leaving you?'
366 'No.'
367 'And you were surprised to see him in Swandam Lane?'
368 'Very much so.'
369 'Was the window open?'
370 'Yes.'
371 'Then he might have called to you?'
372 'He might.'
373 'He only, as I understand, gave an inarticulate cry?'
374 'Yes.'
375 'A call for help, you thought?'
376 'Yes. 377 He waved his hands.'
378 'But it might have been a cry of surprise. 379 Astonishment at the unexpected sight of you might cause him to throw up his hands.'
380 'It is possible.'
381 'And you thought he was pulled back?'
382 'He disappeared so suddenly.'
383 'He might have leaped back. 384 You did not see anyone else in the room?'
385 'No, but this horrible man confessed to having been there, and the Lascar was at the foot of the stairs.'
386 'Quite so. 387 Your husband, as far as you could see, had his ordinary clothes on?'
388 'But without his collar or tie. 389 I distinctly saw his bare throat.'
390 'Had he ever spoken of Swandam Lane?'
391 'Never.'
392 'Had he ever shown any signs of having taken opium?'
393 'Never.'
394 'Thank you, Mrs St Clair. 395 Those are the principal points about which I wished to be absolutely clear. 396 We shall now have a little supper and then retire, for we may have a very busy day to-morrow.'
397 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. 398 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. 399 It was soon evident to me that he was now preparing for an all-night sitting. 400 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 cusions from the sofa and armchairs. 401 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. 402 In the dim light of the lamp I saw him sitting there, an old brier 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. 403 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. 404 The pipe was still between his lips, the smoke still curled upwards, 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.
405 'Awake, Watson?' he asked.
406 'Yes.'
407 'Game for a morning drive?'
408 'Certainly.'
409 'Then dress. 410 No one is stirring yet, but I know where the stable-boy sleeps, and we shall soon have the trap out.' 411 He chuckled to himself as he spoke, his eyes twinkled, and he seemed a different man to the sombre thinker of the previous night.
412 As I dressed I glanced at my watch. 413 It was no wonder that no one was stirring. 414 It was twenty-five minutes past four. 415 I had hardly finished when Holmes returned with the news that the boy was putting in the horse.
416 'I want to test a little theory of mine,' said he, pulling on his boots. 417 'I think, Watson, that you are now standing in the presence of one of the most absolute fools in Europe. 418 I deserve to be kicked from here to Charing Cross. 419 But I think I have the key of the affair now.'
420 'And where is it?' I asked, smiling.
421 'In the bath-room,' he answered. 422 'Oh, yes, I am not joking,' he continued, seeing my look of incredulity. 423 'I have just been there, and I have taken it out, and I have got it in this Gladstone bag. 424 Come on, my boy, and we shall see whether it will not fit the lock.'
425 We made our way downstairs as quietly as possible; and out into the bright morning sunshine. 426 In the road stood our horse and trap, with the half-clad stable-boy waiting at the head. 427 We both sprang in, and away we dashed down the London road. 428 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.
429 'It has been in some points a singular case,' said Holmes, flicking the horse on into a gallop. 430 '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.'
431 In town, the earliest risers were just beginning to look sleepily from their windows as we drove through the streets of the Surrey side. 432 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. 433 Sherlock Holmes was well known to the Force, and the two constables at the door saluted him. 434 One of them held the horse's head while the other led us in.
435 'Who is on duty?' asked Holmes.
436 'Inspector Bradstreet, sir.'
437 'Ah, Bradstreet, how are you?' 438 A tall, stout official had come down the stone-flagged passage, in a peaked cap and frogged jacket. 439 'I wish to have a word with you, Bradstreet.'
440 'Certainly, Mr Holmes. 441 Step into my room here.'
442 It was a small office-like room, with a huge ledger upon the table, and a telephone projecting from the wall. 443 The inspector sat down at his desk.
444 'What can I do for you, Mr Holmes?'
445 'I called about that beggarman, Boone - the, one who was charged with being concerned in the disappearance of Mr Neville St Clair, of Lee.'
446 'Yes. 447 He was brought up and remanded for further inquiries.'
448 'So I heard. 449 You have him here?'
450 'In the cells.'
451 'Is he quiet?'
452 'Oh, he gives no trouble. 453 But he is a dirty scoundrel.'
454 'Dirty?'
455 'Yes, it is all we can do to make him wash his hands, and his face is as black as a tinker's. 456 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.'
457 'I should like to see him very much.'
458 'Would you? 459 That is easily done. 460 Come this way. 461 You can leave your bag.'
462 'No, I think that I'll take it.'
463 'Very good. 464 Come this way, if you please.' 465 He led us down a passage, opened a barred door, passed down a winding stair, and brought us to a white-washed corridor with a line of doors on each side.
466 'The third on the right is his,' said the inspector. 467 'Here it is!' 468 He quietly shot back a panel in the upper part of the door, and glanced through.
469 'He is asleep,' said he. 470 'You can see him very well.'
471 We both put our eyes to the grating. 472 The prisoner lay with his face towards us, in a very deep sleep, breathing slowly and heavily. 473 He was a middle-sized man, coarsely clad as became his calling, with a coloured shirt protruding through the rent in his tattered coat. 474 He was, as the inspector had said, extremely dirty, but the grime which covered his face could not conceal its repulsive ugliness. 475 A broad weal from an old scar ran 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. 476 A shock of very bright red hair grew low over his eyes and forehead.
477 'He's a beauty, isn't he?' said the inspector.
478 'He certainly needs a wash,' remarked Holmes. 479 'I had an idea that he might, and I took the liberty of bringing the tools with me.' 480 He opened his Gladstone bag as he spoke, and took out, to my astonishment, a very large bath sponge.
481 'He! he! 482 You are a funny one,' chuckled the inspector.
483 '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.'
484 'Well, I don't know why not,' said the inspector. 485 'He doesn't look a credit to the Bow Street cells, does he?' 486 He slipped his key into the lock, and we all very quietly entered the cell. 487 The sleeper half turned, and then settled down once more into a deep slumber. 488 Holmes stooped to the water jug, moistened his sponge, and then rubbed it twice vigorously across and down the prisoner's face.
489 'Let me introduce you,' he shouted, 'to Mr Neville St Clair, of Lee, in the county of Kent.'
490 Never in my life have I seen such a sight. 491 The man's face peeled off under the sponge like the bark from a tree. 492 Gone was the coarse brown tint! 493 Gone, too, the horrid scar which had seamed it across, and the twisted lip which had given the repulsive sneer to the face! 494 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. 495 Then suddenly realizing the exposure, he broke into a scream, and threw himself down with his face to the pillow.
496 'Great heaven!' cried the inspector, 'it is, indeed, the missing man. 497 I know him from the photograph.'
498 The prisoner turned with the reckless air of a man who abandons himself to his destiny. 499 'Be it so,' said he. 500 'And pray what am I charged with?'
501 '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. 502 'Well, I have been twenty-seven years in the Force, but this really takes the cake.'
503 'If I am Mr Neville St Clair, then it is obvious that no crime has been committed, and that, therefore, I am illegally detained.'
504 'No crime, but a very great error has been committed,' said Holmes. 505 'You would have done better to have trusted your wife.'
506 'It was not the wife, it was the children,' groaned the prisoner. 507 'God help me, I would not have them ashamed of their father. 508 My God! 509 What an exposure! 510 What can I do?'
511 Sherlock Holmes sat down beside him on the couch, and patted him kindly on the shoulder.
512 'If you leave it to a court of law to clear the matter up,' said he, 'of course you can hardly avoid publicity. 513 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. 514 Inspector Bradstreet would, I am sure, make notes upon anything which you might tell us, and submit it to the proper authorities. 515 The case would then never go into court at all.'
516 'God bless you!' cried the prisoner passionately. 517 'I would have endured imprisonment, aye, even execution, rather than have left my miserable secret as a family blot to my children.
518 'You are the first who have ever heard my story. 519 My father was a schoolmaster in Chesterfield, where I received an excellent education. 520 I travelled in my youth, took to the stage, and finally became a reporter on an evening paper in London. 521 One day my editor wished to have a series of articles upon begging in the metropolis, and I volunteered to supply them. 522 There was the point from which all my adventures started. 523 It was only by trying begging as an amateur that I could get the facts upon which to base my articles. 524 When an actor I had, of course, learned all the secrets of making up, and had been famous in the greenroom for my skill. 525 I took advantage now of my attainments. 526 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-coloured plaster. 527 Then with a red head of hair, and an appropriate dress, I took my station in the busiest part of the City, ostensibly as a match-seller, but really as a beggar. 528 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 twenty-six shillings and fourpence.
529 '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. 530 I was at my wits' end where to get the money, but a sudden idea came to me. 531 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. 532 In ten days I had the money, and had paid the debt.
533 'Well, you can imagine how hard it was to settle down to arduous work at two 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. 534 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. 535 Only one man knew my secret. 536 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 evening transform myself into a well-dressed man about town. 537 This fellow, a Lascar, was well paid by me for his rooms, so that I knew that my secret was safe in his possession.
538 'Well, very soon I found that I was saving considerable sums of money. 539 I do not mean that any beggar in the streets of London could earn seven hundred 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 in repartee, which improved by practice, and made me quite a recognized character in the City. 540 All day a stream of pennies, varied by silver, poured in upon me, and it was a very bad day upon which I failed to take two pounds.
541 '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. 542 My dear wife knew that I had business in the City. 543 She little knew what.
544 'Last Monday I had finished for the day, and was dressing in my room above the opium den, when I looked out of the window, and saw, to my horror and astonishment, that my wife was standing in the street, with her eyes fixed full upon me. 545 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. 546 I heard her voice downstairs, but I knew that she could not ascend. 547 Swiftly I threw off my clothes, pulled on those of a beggar, and put on my pigments and wig. 548 Even a wife's eyes could not pierce so complete a disguise. 549 But then it occurred to me that there might be a search in the room and that the clothes might betray me. 550 I threw open the window, re-opening by my violence a small cut which I had inflicted upon myself in the bedroom that morning. 551 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. 552 I hurled it out of the window, and it disappeared into the Thames. 553 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.
554 'I do not know that there is anything else for me to explain. 555 I was determined to preserve my disguise as long as possible, and hence my preference for a dirty face. 556 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.'
557 'That note only reached her yesterday,' said Holmes.
558 'Good God! 559 What a week she must have spent.'
560 '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. 561 Probably he handed it to some sailor customer of his, who forgot all about it for some days.'
562 'That was it,' said Holmes, nodding approvingly, 'I have no doubt of it. 563 But have you never been prosecuted for begging?'
564 'Many times; but what was a fine to me?'
565 'It must stop here, however,' said Bradstreet. 566 'If the police are to hush this thing up, there must be no more of Hugh Boone.'
567 'I have sworn it by the most solemn oaths which a man can take.'
568 'In that case I think that it is probable that no further steps may be taken. 569 But if you are found again, then all must come out. 570 I am sure, Mr Holmes, that we are very much indebted to you for having cleared the matter up. 571 I wish I knew how you reach your results.'
572 'I reached this one,' said my friend, 'by sitting upon five pillows and consuming an ounce of shag. 573 I think, Watson, that if we drive to Baker Street we shall just be in time for breakfast.'

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