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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 Return of Sherlock Holmes
Charles Augustus Milverton

 

1 It is years since the incidents of which I speak took place, and yet it is with diffidence that I allude to them. 2 For a long time, even with the utmost discretion and reticence, it would have been impossible to make the facts public; but now the principal person concerned is beyond the reach of human law, and with due suppression the story may be told in such fashion as to injure no one. 3 It records an absolutely unique experience in the career both of Mr Sherlock Holmes and of myself. 4 The reader will excuse me if I conceal the date or any other fact by which he might trace the actual occurrence.
5 We had been out for one of our evening rambles, Holmes and I, and had returned about six o'clock on a cold, frosty winter's evening. 6 As Holmes turned up the lamp the light fell upon a card on the table. 7 He glanced at it, and then, with an ejaculation of disgust, threw it on the floor. 8 I picked it up and read:

9 CHARLES AUGUSTUS MILVERTON,
10 APPLEDORE TOWERS,
11 HAMPSTEAD.
12 Agent

13 'Who is he?' I asked.
14 'The worst man in London,' Holmes answered, as he sat down and stretched his legs before the fire. 15 'Is anything on the back of the card?'
16 I turned it over.
17 'Will call at 6.30. - CAM,' I read.
18 'Hum! 19 He's about due. 20 Do you feel a creeping, shrinking sensation, Watson, when you stand before the serpents in the Zoo and see the slithery, gliding, venomous creatures, with their deadly eyes and wicked, flattened faces? 21 Well, that's how Milverton impresses me. 22 I've had to do with fifty murderers in my career, but the worst of them never gave me the repulsion which I have for this fellow. 23 And yet I can't get out of doing business with him - indeed, he is here at my invitation.'
24 'But who is he?'
25 'I'll tell you, Watson. 26 He is the king of all the blackmailers. 27 God help the man, and still more the woman, whose secret and reputation come into the power of Milverton. 28 With a smiling face and a heart of marble he will squeeze and squeeze until he has drained them dry. 29 The fellow is a genius in his way, and would have made his mark in some more savoury trade. 30 His method is as follows: he allows it to be known that he is prepared to pay very high sums for letters which compromise people of wealth or position. 31 He receives these wares not only from treacherous valets or maids, but frequently from genteel ruffians who have gained the confidence and affection of trusting women. 32 He deals with no niggard hand. 33 I happen to know that he paid seven hundred pounds to a footman for a note two lines in length, and that the ruin of a noble family was the result. 34 Everything which is in the market goes to Milverton, and there are hundreds in this great city who turn white at his name. 35 No one knows where his grip may fall, for he is far too rich and far too cunning to work from hand to mouth. 36 He will hold a card back for years in order to play it at the moment when the stake is best worth winning. 37 I have said that he is the worst man in London, and I would ask you how could one compare the ruffian who in hot blood bludgeons his mate with this man, who methodically and at his leisure tortures the soul and wrings the nerves in order to add to his already swollen money-bags?'
38 I had seldom heard my friend speak with such intensity of feeling.
39 'But surely,' said I, 'the fellow must be within the grasp of the law?'
40 'Technically, no doubt, but practically not. 41 What would it profit a woman, for example, to get him a few months' imprisonment if her own ruin must immediately follow? 42 His victims dare not hit back. 43 If ever he blackmailed an innocent person, then, indeed, we should have him; but he is as cunning as the Devil. 44 No, no; we must find other ways to fight him.'
45 'And why is he here?'
46 'Because an illustrious client has placed her piteous case in my hands. 47 It is the Lady Eva Brackwell, the most beautiful debutante of last season. 48 She is to be married in a fortnight to the Earl of Dovercourt. 49 This fiend has several imprudent letters - imprudent, Watson, nothing worse - which were written to an impecunious young squire in the country. 50 They would suffice to break off the match. 51 Milverton will send the letters to the Earl unless a large sum of money is paid him. 52 I have been commissioned to meet him, and - to make the best terms I can.'
53 At that instant there was a clatter and a rattle in the street below. 54 Looking down I saw a stately carriage and pair, the brilliant lamps gleaming on the glossy haunches of the noble chestnuts. 55 A footman opened the door, and a small, stout man in a shaggy astrakhan overcoat descended. 56 A minute later he was in the room.
57 Charles Augustus Milverton was a man of fifty, with a large, intellectual head, a round, plump, hairless face, a perpetual frozen smile, and two keen grey eyes, which gleamed brightly from behind broad, golden-rimmed glasses. 58 There was something of Mr Pickwick's benevolence in his appearance, marred only by the insincerity of the fixed smile and by the hard glitter of those restless and penetrating eyes. 59 His voice was as smooth and suave as his countenance, as he advanced with a plump little hand extended, murmuring his regret for having missed us at his first visit.
60 Holmes disregarded the outstretched hand and looked at him with a face of granite. 61 Milverton's smile broadened; he shrugged his shoulders, removed his overcoat, folded it with great deliberation over the back of a chair, and then took a seat.
62 'This gentleman,' said he, with a wave in my direction. 63 'Is it discreet? 64 Is it right?'
65 'Dr Watson is my friend and partner.'
66 'Very good, Mr Holmes. 67 It is only in your client's interests that I protested. 68 The matter is so very delicate-'
69 'Dr Watson has already heard of it.'
70 'Then we can proceed to business. 71 You say that you are acting for Lady Eva. 72 Has she empowered you to accept my terms?'
73 'What are your terms?'
74 'Seven thousand pounds.'
75 'And the alternative?'
76 'My dear sir, it is painful to me to discuss it; but if the money is not paid on the 14th there certainly will be no marriage on the 18th.' 77 His insufferable smile was more complacent than ever. 78 Holmes thought for a little.
79 'You appear to me', he said at last, 'to be taking matters too much for granted. 80 I am, of course, familiar with the contents of these letters. 81 My client will certainly do what I may advise. 82 I shall counsel her to tell her future husband the whole story and to trust to his generosity.'
83 Milverton chuckled.
84 'You evidently do not know the Earl,' said he.
85 From the baffled look upon Holmes's face I could clearly see that he did.
86 'What harm is there in the letters?' he asked.
87 'They are sprightly - very sprightly,' Milverton answered. 88 'The lady was a charming correspondent. 89 But I can assure you that the Earl of Dovercourt would fail to appreciate them. 90 However, since you think otherwise, we will let it rest at that. 91 It is purely a matter of business. 92 If you think that it is in the best interests of your client that these letters should be placed in the hands of the Earl, then you would indeed be foolish to pay so large a sum of money to regain them.' 93 He rose and seized his astrakhan coat.
94 Holmes was grey with anger and mortification.
95 'Wait a little,' he said. 96 'You go too fast. 97 We would certainly make every effort to avoid scandal in so delicate a matter.' 98 Milverton relapsed into his chair.
99 'I was sure that you would see it in that light,' he purred.
100 'At the same time,' Holmes continued, 'Lady Eva is not a wealthy woman. 101 I assure you that two thousand pounds would be a drain upon her resources, and that the sum you name is utterly beyond her power. 102 I beg, therefore, that you will moderate your demands, and that you will return the letters at the price I indicate, which is, I assure you, the highest that you can get.'
103 Milverton's smile broadened and his eyes twinkled humorously.
104 'I am aware that what you say is true about the lady's resources,' said he. 105 'At the same time, you must admit that the occasion of a lady's marriage is a very suitable time for her friends and relatives to make some little effort upon her behalf. 106 They may hesitate as to an acceptable wedding present. 107 Let me assure them that this little bundle of letters would give more joy than all the candelabra and butter- dishes in London.'
108 'It is impossible,' said Holmes.
109 'Dear me, dear me, how unfortunate!' cried Milverton, taking out a bulky pocket-book. 110 'I cannot help thinking that ladies are ill-advised in not making an effort. 111 Look at this!' 112 He held up a little note with a coat-of-arms upon the envelope. 113 'That belongs to - well, perhaps it is hardly fair to tell the name until to-morrow morning. 114 But at that time it will be in the hands of the lady's husband. 115 And all because she will not find a beggarly sum which she could get in an hour by turning her diamonds into paste. 116 It is such a pity. 117 Now, you remember the sudden end of the engagement between the Honourable Miss Miles and Colonel Dorking? 118 Only two days before the wedding there was a paragraph in the Morning Post to say that it was all off. 119 And why? 120 It is almost incredible, but the absurd sum of twelve hundred pounds would have settled the whole question. 121 Is it not pitiful? 122 And there I find you, a man of sense, boggling about terms when your client's future and honour are at stake. 123 You surprise me, Mr Holmes.'
124 'What I say is true,' Holmes answered. 125 'The money cannot be found. 126 Surely it is better for you to take the substantial sum which I offer than to ruin this woman's career, which can profit you in no way?'
127 'There you make a mistake, Mr Holmes. 128 An exposure would profit me indirectly to a considerable extent. 129 I have eight or ten similar cases maturing. 130 If it was circulated among them that I had made a severe example of the Lady Eva I should find all of them much more open to reason. 131 You see my point?'
132 Holmes sprang from his chair.
133 'Get behind him, Watson. 134 Don't let him out! 135 Now, sir, let us see the contents of that note-book.'
136 Milverton had glided as quick as a rat to the side of the room, and stood with his back against the wall.
137 'Mr Holmes, Mr Holmes!' he said, turning the front of his coat and exhibiting the butt of a large revolver, which projected from the inside pocket. 138 'I have been expecting you to do something original. 139 This has been done so often, and what good has ever come from it? 140 I assure you that I am armed to the teeth, and I am perfectly prepared to use my weapon, knowing that the law will support me. 141 Besides, your supposition that I would bring the letters here in a notebook is entirely mistaken. 142 I would do nothing so foolish. 143 And now, gentlemen, I have one or two little interviews this evening, and it is a long drive to Hampstead.' 144 He stepped forward, took up his coat, laid his hand on his revolver, and turned to the door. 145 I picked up a chair, but Holmes shook his head, and I laid it down again. 146 With a bow, a smile, and a twinkle Milverton was out of the room, and a few moments after we heard the slam of the carriage door and the rattle of the wheels as he drove away.
147 Holmes sat motionless by the fire, his hands buried deep in his trouser pockets, his chin sunk upon his breast, his eyes fixed upon the glowing embers. 148 For half an hour he was silent and still. 149 Then, with the gesture of a man who has taken his decision, he sprang to his feet and passed into his bedroom. 150 A little later a rakish young workman with a goatee beard and a swagger lit his clay pipe at the lamp before descending into the street. 151 'I'll be back some time, Watson,' said he, and vanished into the night. 152 I understood that he had opened his campaign against Charles Augustus Milverton; but I little dreamed the strange shape which that campaign was destined to take.
153 For some days Holmes came and went at all hours in this attire, but beyond a remark that his time was spent at Hampstead, and that it was not wasted, I knew nothing of what he was doing. 154 At last, however, on a wild, tempestuous evening, when the wind screamed and rattled against the windows, he returned from his last expedition, and, having removed his disguise, he sat before the fire and laughed heartily in his silent, inward fashion.
155 'You would not call me a marrying man, Watson?'
156 'No, indeed!'
157 'You will be interested to hear that I am engaged.'
158 'My dear fellow! I congrat-'
159 'To Milverton's housemaid.'
160 'Good heavens, Holmes!'
161 'I wanted information, Watson.'
162 'Surely you have gone too far?'
163 'It was a most necessary step. 164 I am a plumber with a rising business, Escott by name. 165 I have walked out with her each evening, and I have talked with her. 166 Good heavens, those talks! 167 However, I have got all I wanted. 168 I know Milverton's house as I know the palm of my hand.'
169 'But the girl, Holmes?'
170 He shrugged his shoulders.
171 'You can't help it, my dear Watson. 172 You must play your cards as best you can when such a stake is on the table. 173 However, I rejoice to say that I have a hated rival who will certainly cut me out the instant that my back is turned. 174 What a splendid night it is!'
175 'You like this weather?'
176 'It suits my purpose. 177 Watson, I mean to burgle Milverton's house to-night.'
178 I had a catching of the breath, and my skin went cold at the words, which were slowly uttered in a tone of concentrated resolution. 179 As a flash of lightning in the night shows up in an instant every detail of a wide landscape, so at one glance I seemed to see every possible result of such an action - the detection, the capture, the honoured career ending in irreparable failure and disgrace, my friend himself lying at the mercy of the odious Milverton.
180 'For God's sake, Holmes, think what you are doing!' I cried.
181 'My dear fellow, I have given it every consideration. 182 I am never precipitate in my actions, nor would I adopt so energetic and indeed so dangerous a course if any other were possible. 183 Let us look at the matter clearly and fairly. 184 I suppose that you will admit that the action is morally justifiable, though technically criminal. 185 To burgle his house is no more than to forcibly take his pocket-book - an action in which you were prepared to aid me.'
186 I turned it over in my mind.
187 'Yes,' I said; 'it is morally justifiable so long as our object is to take no articles save those which are used for an illegal purpose.'
188 'Exactly. 189 Since it is morally justifiable, I have only to consider the question of personal risk. 190 Surely a gentleman should not lay much stress upon this when a lady is in most desperate need of his help?'
191 'You will be in such a false position.'
192 'Well, that is part of the risk. 193 There is no other possible way of regaining these letters. 194 The unfortunate lady has not the money, and there are none of her people in whom she could confide. 195 To-morrow is the last day of grace, and unless we can get the letters to-night this villain will be as good as his word, and will bring about her ruin. 196 I must, therefore, abandon my client to her fate, or I must play this last card. 197 Between ourselves, Watson, it's a sporting duel between this fellow Milverton and me. 198 He had, as you saw, the best of the first exchanges; but my self-respect and my reputation are concerned to fight it to a finish.'
199 'Well, I don't like it; but I suppose it must be,' said I. 200 'When do we start?'
201 'You are not coming?
202 'Then you are not going,' said I. 203 'I give you my word of honour - and I never broke it in my life - that I will take a cab straight to the police-station and give you away unless you let me share this adventure with you.'
204 'You can't help me.'
205 'How do you know that? 206 You can't tell what may happen. 207 Anyway, my resolution is taken. 208 Other people besides you have self-respect and even reputations.'
209 Holmes had looked annoyed, but his brow cleared, and he clapped me on the shoulder.
210 'Well, well, my dear fellow, be it so. 211 We have shared the same room for some years, and it would be amusing if we ended by sharing the same cell. 212 You know, Watson, I don't mind confessing to you that I have always had an idea that I would have made a highly efficient criminal. 213 This is the chance of my lifetime in that direction. 214 See here!' 215 He took a neat little leather case out of a drawer, and opening it he exhibited a number of shining instruments. 216 This is a first-class, up-to-date burgling kit, with nickel-plated jemmy, diamond-tipped glass-cutter, adaptable keys, and every modern improvement which the march of civilization demands. 217 Here, too, is my dark lantern. 218 Everything is in order. 219 Have you a pair of silent shoes?'
220 'I have rubber-soled tennis shoes.'
221 'Excellent. 222 And a mask?'
223 'I can make a couple out of black silk.'
224 'I can see that you have a strong natural turn for this sort of thing. 225 Very good; do you make the masks. 226 We shall have some cold supper before we start. 227 It is now nine-thirty. 228 At eleven we shall drive as far as Church Row. 229 It is a quarter of an hour's walk from there to Appledore Towers. 230 We shall be at work before midnight. 231 Milverton is a heavy sleeper, and retires punctually at ten-thirty. 232 With any luck we should be back here by two, with the Lady Eva's letters in my pocket.'
233 Holmes and I put on our dress-clothes, so that we might appear to be two theatre-goers homeward bound. 234 In Oxford Street we picked up a hansom and drove to an address in Hampstead. 235 Here we paid off our cab, and with our great-coats buttoned up - for it was bitterly cold, and the wind seemed to blow through us - we walked along the edge of the Heath.
236 'It's a business that needs delicate treatment,' said Holmes. 237 'These documents are contained in a safe in the fellow's study, and the study is the ante-room of his bedchamber. 238 On the other hand, like all these stout, little men who do themselves well, he is a plethoric sleeper. 239 Agatha - that's my fiancée - says it is a joke in the servants' hall that it's impossible to wake the master. 240 He has a secretary who is devoted to his interests and never budges from the study all day. 241 That's why we are going at night. 242 Then he has a beast of a dog which roams the garden. 243 I met Agatha late the last two evenings, and she locks the brute up so as to give me a clear run. 244 This is the house, this big one in its own grounds. 245 Through the gate - now to the right among the laurels. 246 We might put on our masks here, I think. 247 You see, there is not a glimmer of light in any of the windows, and everything is working splendidly.'
248 With our black silk face-coverings, which turned us into two of the most truculent figures in London, we stole up to the silent, gloomy house. 249 A sort of tiled veranda extended along one side of it, lined by several windows and two doors.
250 'That's his bedroom,' Holmes whispered. 251 'This door opens straight into the study. 252 It would suit us best, but it is bolted as well as locked, and we should make too much noise getting in. 253 Come round here. 254 There's a greenhouse which opens into the drawing-room.'
255 The place was locked, but Holmes removed a circle of glass and turned the key from the inside. 256 An instant afterwards he had closed the door behind us, and we had become felons in the eyes of the law. 257 The thick, warm air of the conservatory and the rich, choking fragrance of exotic plants took us by the throat. 258 He seized my hand in the darkness and led me swiftly past banks of shrubs which brushed against our faces. 259 Holmes had remarkable powers, carefully cultivated, of seeing in the dark. 260 Still holding my hand in one of his, he opened a door, and I was vaguely conscious that we had entered a large room in which a cigar had been smoked not long before. 261 He felt his way among the furniture, opened another door, and closed it behind us. 262 Putting out my hand I felt several coats hanging from the wall, and I understood that I was in a passage. 263 We passed along it, and Holmes very gently opened a door upon the right-hand side. 264 Something rushed out at us, and my heart sprang into my mouth, but I could have laughed when I realized that it was the cat. 265 A fire was burning in this new room, and again the air was heavy with tobacco smoke. 266 Holmes entered on tiptoe, waited for me to follow, and then very gently closed the door. 267 We were in Milverton's study, and a portiere at the farther side showed the entrance to his bedroom.
268 It was a good fire, and the room was illuminated by it. 269 Near the door I saw the gleam of an electric switch, but it was unnecessary, even if it had been safe, to turn it on. 270 At one side of the fireplace was a heavy curtain, which covered the bay window we had seen from outside. 271 On the other side was the door which communicated with the veranda. 272 A desk stood in the centre, with a turning chair of shining red leather. 273 Opposite was a large bookcase, with a marble burst of Athene on the top. 274 In the corner between the bookcase and the wall there stood a tall green safe, the firelight flashing back from the polished brass knobs upon its face. 275 Holmes stole across and looked at it. 276 Then he crept to the door of the bedroom, and stood with slanting head listening intently. 277 No sound came from within. 278 Meanwhile it had struck me that it would be wise to secure our retreat through the outer door, so I examined it. 279 To my amazement it was neither locked nor bolted! 280 I touched Holmes on the arm, and he turned his masked face in that direction. 281 I saw him start, and he was evidently as surprised as I.
282 'I don't like it,' he whispered, putting his lips to my very ear. 283 'I can't quite make it out. 284 Anyhow, we have no time to lose.'
285 'Can I do anything?'
286 'Yes; stand by the door. 287 If you hear anyone come, bolt it on the inside, and we can get away as we came. 288 If they come the other way, we can get through the door if our job is done, or hide behind these window curtains if it is not. 289 Do you understand?'
290 I nodded and stood by the door. 291 My first feeling of fear had passed away, and I thrilled now with a keener zest than I had ever enjoyed when we were the defenders of the law instead of its defiers. 292 The high object of our mission, the consciousness that it was unselfish and chivalrous, the villainous character of our opponent, all added to the sporting interest of the adventure. 293 Far from feeling guilty, I rejoiced and exulted in our dangers. 294 With a glow of admiration I watched Holmes unrolling his case of instruments and choosing his tool with the calm, scientific accuracy of a surgeon who performs a delicate operation. 295 I knew that the opening of safes was a particular hobby with him, and I understood the joy which it gave him to be confronted with this green and gold monster, the dragon which held in its maw the reputations of many fair ladies. 296 Turning up the cuffs of his dress-coat - he had placed his overcoat on a chair - Holmes laid out two drills, a jemmy, and several skeleton keys. 297 I stood at the centre door with my eyes glancing at each of the others, ready for any emergency; though, indeed, my plans were somewhat vague as to what I should do if we were interrupted. 298 For half an hour Holmes worked with concentrated energy, laying down one tool, picking up another, handling each with the strength and delicacy of the trained mechanic. 299 Finally I heard a click, the broad green door swung open, and inside I had a glimpse of a number of paper packets, each tied, sealed, and inscribed. 300 Holmes picked one out, but it was hard to read by the flickering fire, and he drew out his little dark lantern, for it was too dangerous, with Milverton in the next room, to switch on the electric light. 301 Suddenly I saw him halt, listen intently, and then in an instant he had swung the door of the safe to, picked up his coat, stuffed his tools into the pockets, and darted behind the window curtain, motioning me to do the same.
302 It was only when I had joined him there that I heard what had alarmed his quicker senses. 303 There was a noise somewhere within the house. 304 A door slammed in the distance. 305 Then a confused, dull murmur broke itself into the measured thud of heavy footsteps rapidly approaching. 306 They were in the passage outside the room. 307 They paused at the door. 308 The door opened. 309 There was a sharp snick as the electric light was turned on. 310 The door closed once more, and the pungent reek of a strong cigar was borne to our nostrils. 311 Then the footsteps continued backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, within a few yards of us. 312 Finally, there was a creak from a chair, and the footsteps ceased. 313 Then a key clicked in a lock, and I heard the rustle of papers.
314 So far I had not dared to look out, but now I gently parted the division of the curtains in front of me and peeped through. 315 From the pressure of Holmes's shoulder against mine I knew that he was sharing my observations. 316 Right in front of us, and almost within our reach, was the broad, rounded back of Milverton. 317 It was evident that we had entirely miscalculated his movements, that he had never been to his bedroom, but that he had been sitting up in some smoking- or billiard room in the farther wing of the house, the windows of which we had not seen. 318 His broad, grizzled head, with its shining patch of baldness, was in the immediate foreground of our vision. 319 He was leaning far back in the red leather chair, his legs outstretched, a long black cigar projecting at an angle from his mouth. 320 He wore a semi-military smoking-jacket, claret-coloured, with a black velvet collar. 321 In his hand he held a long legal document, which he was reading in an indolent fashion, blowing rings of tobacco smoke from his lips as he did so. 322 There was no promise of a speedy departure in his composed bearing and his comfortable attitude.
323 I felt Holmes's hand steal into mine and give me a reassuring shake, as if to say that the situation was within his powers, and that he was easy in his mind. 324 I was not sure whether he had seen what was only too obvious from my position - that the door of the safe was imperfectly closed, and that Milverton might at any moment observe it. 325 In my own mind I had determined that if I were sure, from the rigidity of his gaze, that it had caught his eye, I would at once spring out, throw my great-coat over his head, pinion him, and leave the rest to Holmes. 326 But Milverton never looked up. 327 He was languidly interested by the papers in his hand, and page after page was turned as he followed the argument of the lawyer. 328 At least, I thought, when he has finished the document and the cigar he will go to his room; but before he had reached the end of either there came a remarkable development which turned our thoughts into quite another channel.
329 Several times I had observed that Milverton looked at his watch, and once he had risen and sat down again, with a gesture of impatience. 330 The idea, however, that he might have an appointment at so strange an hour never occurred to me until a faint sound reached my ears from the veranda outside. 331 Milverton dropped his papers and sat rigid in his chair. 332 The sound was repeated, and then there came a gentle tap at the door. 333 Milverton rose and opened it.
334 'Well,' said he curtly, 'you are nearly half an hour late.'
335 So this was the explanation of the unlocked door and of the nocturnal vigil of Milverton. 336 There was the gentle rustle of a woman's dress. 337 I had closed the slit between the curtains as Milverton's face turned in our direction, but now I ventured very carefully to open it once more. 338 He had resumed his seat, the cigar still projecting at an insolent angle from the corner of his mouth. 339 In front of him, in the full glare of the electric light, there stood a tall, slim, dark woman, a veil over her face, a mantle drawn round her chin. 340 Her breath came quick and fast and every inch of the lithe figure was quivering with strong emotion.
341 'Well,' said Milverton, 'you've made me lose a good night's rest, my dear. 342 I hope you'll prove worth it. 343 You couldn't come any other time - eh?'
344 The woman shook her head.
345 'Well, if you couldn't you couldn't. 346 If the Countess is a hard mistress you have your chance to get level with her now. 347 Bless the girl, what are you shivering about? 348 That's right! 349 Pull yourself together! 350 Now, let us get down to business.' 351 He took a note from the drawer of his desk. 352 'You say that you have five letters which compromise the Countess d'Albert. 353 You want to sell them. 354 I want to buy them. 355 So far so good. 356 It only remains to fix a price. 357 I should want to inspect the letters, of course. 358 If they are really good specimens - Good God, is it you?'
359 The woman without a word had raised her veil and dropped the mantle from her chin. 360 It was a dark, handsome, clear-cut face which confronted Milverton, a face with a curved nose, strong, dark eyebrows, shading hard, glittering eyes, and a straight, thin-lipped mouth set in a dangerous smile.
361 'It is I,' she said - 'the woman whose life you have ruined.'
362 Milverton laughed, but fear vibrated in his voice. 363 'You were so very obstinate,' said he. 364 'Why did you drive me to such extremities? 365 I assure you I wouldn't hurt a fly of my own accord, but every man has his business, and what was I to do? 366 I put the price well within your means. 367 You would not pay.'
368 'So you sent the letters to my husband, and he - the noblest gentleman that ever lived, a man whose boots I was never worthy to lace - he broke his gallant heart and died. 369 You remember that last night when I came through that door I begged and prayed you for mercy, and you laughed in my face as you are trying to laugh now, only your coward heart cannot keep your lips from twitching? 370 Yes; you never thought to see me here again, but it was that night which taught me how I could meet you face to face, and alone. 371 Well, Charles Milverton, what have you to say?'
372 'Don't imagine that you can bully me,' said he, rising to his feet. 373 'I have only to raise my voice, and I could call my servants and have you arrested. 374 But I will make allowance for your natural anger. 375 Leave the room at once as you came, and I will say no more.'
376 The woman stood with her hand buried in her bosom, and the same deadly smile on her thin lips.
377 'You will ruin no more lives as you ruined mine. 378 You will wring no more hearts as you wrung mine. 379 I will free the world of a poisonous thing. 380 Take that, you hound, and that! - and that! - and that! - and that!'
381 She had drawn a little gleaming revolver, and emptied barrel after barrel into Milverton's body, the muzzle within two feet of his shirt front. 382 He shrank away, and then fell forward upon the table, coughing furiously and clawing among the papers. 383 Then he staggered to his feet, received another shot, and rolled upon the floor. 384 'You've done me,' he cried, and lay still. 385 The woman looked at him intently and ground her heel into his upturned face. 386 She looked again, but there was no sound or movement. 387 I heard a sharp rustle, the night air blew into the heated room, and the avenger was gone.
388 No interference upon our part could have saved the man from his fate; but as the woman poured bullet after bullet into Milverton's shrinking body, I was about to spring out, when I felt Holmes's cold, strong grasp upon my wrist. 389 I understood the whole argument of that firm, restraining grip - that it was no affair of ours; that justice had overtaken a villain; that we had our own duties and our own objects which were not to be lost sight of. 390 But hardly had the woman rushed from the room when Holmes, with swift, silent steps, was over at the other door. 391 He turned the key in the lock. 392 At the same instant we heard voices in the house and the sound of hurrying feet. 393 The revolver shots had roused the household. 394 With perfect coolness Holmes slipped across to the safe, filled his two arms with bundles of letters, and poured them all into the fire. 395 Again and again he did it, until the safe was empty. 396 Someone turned the handle and beat upon the outside of the door. 397 Holmes looked swiftly round. 398 The letter which had been the messenger of death for Milverton lay, all mottled with his blood, upon the table. 399 Holmes tossed it in among the blazing papers. 400 Then he drew the key from the outer door, passed through after me, and locked it on the outside. 401 'This way, Watson,' said he; 'we can scale the garden wall in this direction.'
402 I could not have believed that an alarm could have spread so swiftly. 403 Looking back, the huge house was one blaze of light. 404 The front door was open, and figures were rushing down the drive. 405 The whole garden was alive with people, and one fellow raised a view-halloo as we emerged from the veranda and followed hard at our heels. 406 Holmes seemed to know the ground perfectly, and he threaded his way swiftly among a plantation of small trees, I close at his heels, and our foremost pursuer panting behind us. 407 It was a six-foot wall which barred our path, but he sprang to the top and over. 408 As I did the same I felt the hand of the man behind me grab my ankle; but I kicked myself free, and scrambled over a glass-strewn coping. 409 I fell upon my face among some bushes; but Holmes had me on my feet in an instant, and together we dashed away across the huge expanse of Hampstead Heath. 410 We had run two miles, I suppose, before Holmes at last halted and listened intently. 411 All was absolutely silence behind us. 412 We had shaken off our pursuers, and were safe.

413 We had breakfasted and were smoking our morning pipe, on the day after the remarkable experience which I have recorded, when Mr Lestrade, of Scotland Yard, very solemn and impressive, was ushered into our modest sitting-room.
414 'Good morning, Mr Holmes,' said he - 'good morning. 415 May I ask if you are very busy just now?'
416 'Not too busy to listen to you.'
417 'I thought that, perhaps, if you had nothing particular on hand, you might care to assist us in a most remarkable case which occurred only last night at Hampstead.'
418 'Dear me!' said Holmes. 419 'What was that?'
420 'A murder - a most dramatic and remarkable murder. 421 I know how keen you are upon these things, and I would take it as a great favour if you would step down to Appledore Towers and give us the benefit of your advice. 422 It is no ordinary crime. 423 We have had our eyes upon this Mr Milverton for some time, and, between ourselves, he was a bit of a villain. 424 He is known to have held papers which he used for blackmailing purposes. 425 These papers have all been burned by the murderers. 426 No article of value was taken, as it is probable that the criminals were men of good position, whose sole object was to prevent social exposure.'
427 'Criminals!' exclaimed Holmes. 428 'Plural!'
429 'Yes, there were two of them. 430 They were, as nearly as possible, captured red-handed. 431 We have their footmarks, we have their description; it's ten to one that we trace them. 432 The first fellow was a bit too active, but the second was caught by the under-gardener, and only got away after a struggle. 433 He was a middle-sized, strongly built man - square jaw, thick neck, moustache, a mask over his eyes.'
434
'That's rather vague,' said Sherlock Holmes. 435 'Why, it might be a description of Watson!'
436 'It's true,' said the inspector, with much amusement. 437 'It might be a description of Watson.'
438 'Well, I am afraid I can't help you, Lestrade,' said Holmes. 439 'The fact is that I knew this fellow Milverton, that I considered him one of the most dangerous men in London, and that I think there are certain crimes which the law cannot touch, and which therefore, to some extent, justify private revenge. 440 No, it's no use arguing. 441 I have made up my mind. 442 My sympathies are with the criminals rather than with the victim, and I will not handle this case.'

443 Holmes had not said one word to me about the tragedy which we had witnessed, but I observed all the morning that he was in the most thoughtful mood, and he gave me the impression, from his vacant eyes and his abstracted manner, of a man who is striving to recall something to his memory. 444 We were in the middle of our lunch, when he suddenly sprang to his feet. 445 'By Jove, Watson! 446 I've got it!' he cried. 447 'Take your hat! 448 Come with me!' 449 He hurried at his top speed down Baker Street and along Oxford Street, until we had almost reached Regent Circus. 450 Here on the left hand there stands a shop window filled with photographs of the celebrities and beauties of the day. 451 Holmes's eyes fixed themselves upon one of them, and following his gaze I saw the picture of a regal and stately lady in Court dress, with a high diamond tiara upon her noble head. 452 I looked at that delicately curved nose, at the marked eyebrows, at the straight mouth, and the strong little chin beneath it. 453 Then I caught my breath as I read the time-honoured title of the great nobleman and statesman whose wife she had been. 454 My eyes met those of Holmes, and he put his finger to his lips as we turned away from the window.


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