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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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His Last Bow
The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax

 

1 'But why Turkish?' asked Mr Sherlock Holmes, gazing fixedly at my boots. 2 I was reclining in a cane-backed chair at the moment, and my protruded feet had attracted his ever-active attention.
3 'English,' I answered, in some surprise. 4 'I got them at Latimer's, in Oxford Street.'
5 Holmes smiled with an expression of weary patience.
6 'The bath!' he said, 'the bath! 7 Why the relaxing and expensive Turkish rather than the invigorating home-made article?'
8 'Because for the last few days I have been feeling rheumatic and old. 9 A Turkish bath is what we call an alterative in medicine - a fresh starting-point, a cleanser of the system.
10 'By the way, Holmes,' I added, 'I have no doubt the connection between my boots and a Turkish bath is a perfectly self-evident one to a logical mind, and yet I should be obliged to you if you would indicate it.'
11 'The train of reasoning is not very obscure, Watson,' said Holmes, with a mischievous twinkle. 12 'It belongs to the same elementary class of deduction which I should illustrate if I were to ask you who shared your cab in your drive this morning.'
13 'I don't admit that a fresh illustration is an explanation,' said I, with some asperity.
14 'Bravo, Watson! 15 A very dignified and logical remonstrance. 16 Let me see, what were the points? 17 Take the last one first - the cab. 18 You observe that you have some splashes on the left sleeve and shoulder of your coat. 19 Had you sat in the centre of a hansom you would probably have had no splashes, and if you had they would certainly have been symmetrical. 20 Therefore it is clear that you sat at the side. 21 Therefore it is equally clear that you had a companion.'
22 'Absurdly commonplace, is it not?'
23 'But the boots and the bath?'
24 'Equally childish. 25 You are in the habit of doing up your boots in a certain way. 26 I see them on this occasion fastened with an elaborate double bow, which is not your usual method of tying them. 27 You have, therefore, had them off. 28 Who has tied them? 29 A bootmaker - or the boy at the bath. 30 It is unlikely that it is the bootmaker, since your boots are nearly new. 31 Well, what remains? 32 The bath. 33 Absurd, is it not? 34 But, for all that, the Turkish bath has served a purpose.'
35 'What is that?'
36 'You say that you have had it because you need a change. 37 Let me suggest that you take one. 38 How would Lausanne do, my dear Watson - first-class tickets and all expenses paid on a princely scale?'
39 'Splendid! 40 But why?'
41 Holmes leaned back in his armchair and took his notebook from his pocket.
42 'One of the most dangerous classes in the world,' said he, 'is the drifting and friendless woman. 43 She is the most harmless, and often the most useful of mortals, but she is the inevitable inciter of crime in others. 44 She is helpless. 45 She is migratory. 46 She has sufficient means to take her from country to country and from hotel to hotel. 47 She is lost, as often as not, in a maze of obscure pensions and boarding-houses. 48 She is a stray chicken in a world of foxes. 49 When she is gobbled up she is hardly missed. 50 I much fear that some evil has come to the Lady Frances Carfax.'
51 I was relieved at this sudden descent from the general to the particular. 52 Holmes consulted his notes.
53 'Lady Frances,' he continued, 'is the sole survivor of the direct family of the late Earl of Rufton. 54 The estates went, as you may remember, in the male line. 55 She was left with limited means, but with some very remarkable old Spanish jewellery of silver and curiously-cut diamonds to which she was fondly attached - too attached, for she refused to leave them with her banker and always carried them about with her. 56 A rather pathetic figure, the Lady Frances, a beautiful woman, still in fresh middle age, and yet, by a strange chance, the last derelict of what only twenty years ago was a goodly fleet.'
57 'What has happened to her, then?'
58 'Ah, what has happened to the Lady Frances? 59 Is she alive or dead? 60 There is our problem. 61 She is a lady of precise habits, and for four years it has been her invariable custom to write every second week to Miss Dobney, her old governess, who has long retired, and lives in Camberwell. 62 It is this Miss Dobney who consulted me. 63 Nearly five weeks have passed without a word. 64 The last letter was from the Hôtel National at Lausanne. 65 Lady Frances seems to have left there and given no address. 66 The family are anxious, and, as they are exceedingly wealthy, no sum will be spared if we can clear the matter up.'
67 'Is Miss Dobney the only source of information? 68 Surely she had other correspondents?'
69 'There is one correspondent who is a sure draw, Watson. 70 That is the bank. 71 Single ladies must live, and their passbooks are compressed diaries. 72 She banks at Silvester's. 73 I have glanced over her account. 74 The last cheque but one paid her bill at Lausanne, but it was a large one and probably left her with cash in hand. 75 Only one cheque has been drawn since.'
76 'To whom, and where?'
77 'To Miss Marie Devine. 78 There is nothing to show where the cheque was drawn. 79 It was cashed at the Crédit Lyonnais at Montpellier less than three weeks ago. 80 The sum was fifty pounds.'
81 'And who is Miss Marie Devine?'
82 'That also I have been able to discover. 83 Miss Marie Devine was the maid of lady Frances Carfax. 84 Why she should have paid her this cheque we have not yet determined. 85 I have no doubt, however, that your researches win soon clear the matter up."
86 'My researches!'
87 'Hence the health-giving expedition to Lausanne. 88 You know that I cannot possibly leave London while old Abrahams is in such mortal terror of his life. 89 Besides, on general principles it is best that I should not leave the country. 90 Scotland Yard feels lonely without me, and it causes an unhealthy excitement among the criminal classes. 91 Go, then, my dear Watson, and if my humble counsel can ever be valued at so extravagant a rate as twopence a word, it waits your disposal night and day at the end of the Continental wire.'
92 Two days later found me at the National Hotel at Lausanne, where I received every courtesy at the hands of M. 93 Moser, the well-known manager. 94 Lady Frances, as he informed me, had stayed there for several weeks. 95 She had been much liked by all who met her. 96 Her age was not more than forty. 97 She was still handsome, and bore every sign of having in her youth been a very lovely woman. 98 M. Moser knew nothing of any valuable jewellery, but it had been remarked by the servants that the heavy trunk in the lady's bedroom was always scrupulously locked. 99 Marie Devine, the maid, was as popular as her mistress. 100 She was actually engaged to one of the head waiters in the hotel, and there was no difficulty in getting her address. 101 It was 11, Rue de Trajan, Montpellier. 102 All this I jotted down, and felt that Holmes himself could not have been more adroit in collecting his facts.
103 Only one corner still remained in the shadow. 104 No light which I possessed could clear up the cause for the lady's sudden departure. 105 She was very happy at Lausanne. 106 There was every reason to believe that she intended to remain for the season in her luxurious rooms overlooking the lake. 107 And yet she had left at a single day's notice, which involved her in the useless payment of a week's rent. 108 Only Jules Vibart, the lover of the maid, had any suggestion to offer. 109 He connected the sudden departure with the visit to the hotel a day or two before of a tall, dark, bearded man. 110 'Un sauvage - un véritable sauvage! cried Jules Vibart. 111 The man had rooms somewhere in the town. 112 He had been seen talking earnestly to madame on the promenade by the lake. 113 Then he had called. 114 She had refused to see him. 115 He was English, but of his name there was no record. 116 Madame had left the place immediately afterwards. 117 Jules Vibart, and, what was of more importance, Jules Vibart's sweetheart, thought that this call and this departure were cause and effect. 118 Only one thing Jules could not discuss. 119 That was the reason why Marie had left her mistress. 120 Of that he could or would say nothing. 121 If I wished to know, I must go to Montpellier and ask her.
122 So ended the first chapter of my inquiry. 123 The second was devoted to the place which Lady Frances Carfax had sought when she left Lausanne. 124 Concerning this there had been some secrecy, which confirmed the idea that she had gone with the intention of throwing someone off her track. 125 Otherwise why should not her luggage have been openly labelled for Baden? 126 Both she and it reached the Rhenish spa by some circuitous route. 127 Thus much I gathered from the manager of Cook's local office. 128 So to Baden I went, after dispatching to Holmes an account of all my proceedings, and receiving in reply a telegram of half-humorous commendation.
129 At Baden the track was not difficult to follow. 130 Lady Frances had stayed at the Englischer Hof for a fortnight. 131 Whilst there she had made the acquaintance of a Dr Shlessinger and his wife, a missionary from South America. 132 Like most lonely ladies, lady Frances found her comfort and occupation in religion. 133 Dr Shlessinger's remarkable personality, his whole-hearted devotion, and the fact that he was recovering from a disease contracted in the exercise of his apostolic duties, affected her deeply. 134 She had helped Mrs Shlessinger in the nursing of the convalescent saint. 135 He spent his day, as the manager described it to me, upon a lounge-chair on the veranda, with an attendant lady upon either side of him. 136 He was preparing a map of the Holy land, with special reference to the kingdom of the Midianites, upon which he was writing a monograph. 137 Finally, having improved much in health, he and his wife had returned to London, and Lady Frances had started thither in their company. 138 This was just three weeks before, and the manager had heard nothing since. 139 As to the maid, Marie, she had gone off some days beforehand in floods of tears, after informing the other maids that she was leaving service for ever. 140 Dr Shlessinger had paid the bill of the whole party before his departure.
141 'By the way,' said the landlord, in conclusion, 'you are not the only friend of Lady Frances Carfax who is inquiring after her just now. 142 Only a week or so ago we had a man here upon the same errand.'
143 'Did he give a name?' I asked.
144 'None, but he was an Englishman, though of an unusual type.
145 'A savage?' said I, linking my facts after the fashion of my illustrious friend.
146 'Exactly. 147 That describes him very well. 148 He is a bulky, bearded, sunburned fellow, who looks as if he would be more at home in a farmers' inn than in a fashionable hotel. 149 A hard, fierce man, I should think, and one whom I should be sorry to offend.'
150 Already the mystery began to define itself, as figures grow clearer with the lifting of a fog. 151 Here was this good and pious lady pursued from place to place by a sinister and unrelenting figure. 152 She feared him, or she would not have fled from Lausanne. 153 He had still followed. 154 Sooner or later he would overtake her. 155 Had he already overtaken her? 156 Was that the secret of her continued silence? 157 Could the good people who were her companions not screen her from his violence or his blackmail? 158 What horrible purpose, what deep design, lay behind this long pursuit? 159 There was the problem which I had to solve.
160 To Holmes I wrote showing how rapidly and surely I had got down to the roots of the matter. 161 In reply I had a telegram asking for a description of Dr Shlessinger's left ear. 162 Holmes's ideas of humour are strange and occasionally offensive, so I took no notice of his ill-timed jest - indeed, I had already reached Montpellier in my pursuit of the maid, Marie, before his message came.
163 I had no difficulty in finding the ex-servant and in learning all that she could tell me. 164 She was a devoted creature, who had only left her mistress because she was sure that she was in good hands, and because her own approaching marriage made a separation inevitable in any case. 165 Her mistress had, as she confessed with distress, shown some irritability of temper towards her during their stay in Baden, and had even questioned her once as if she had suspicions of her honesty, and this had made the parting easier than it would otherwise have been. 166 Lady Frances had given her fifty pounds as a wedding-present. 167 Like me, Marie viewed with deep distrust the stranger who had driven her mistress from Lausanne. 168 With her own eyes she had seen him seize the lady's wrist with great violence on the public promenade by the lake. 169 He was a fierce and terrible man. 170 She believed that it was out of dread of him that Lady Frances had accepted the escort of the Shlessingers to London. 171 She had never spoken to Marie about it, but many little signs had convinced the maid that her mistress lived in a state of continual nervous apprehension. 172 So far she had got in her narrative, when suddenly she sprang from her chair and her face was convulsed with surprise and fear. 173 'See!' she cried. 174 'The miscreant follows still! 175 There is the very man of whom I speak.'
176 Through the open sitting-room window I saw a huge, swarthy man with a bristling black beard walking slowly down the centre of the street and staring eagerly at the numbers of the houses. 177 It was clear that, like myself, he was on the track of the maid. 178 Acting upon the impulse of the moment, I rushed out and accosted him.
179 'You are an Englishman,' I said.
180 'What if I am?' he asked, with a most villainous scowl.
181 'May I ask what your name is?'
182 'No, you may not,' said he, with decision.
183 The situation was awkward, but the most direct way is often the best.
184 'Where is the lady Frances Carfax?' I asked.
185 He stared at me in amazement.
186 'What have you done with her? 187 Why have you pursued her? 188 I insist upon an answer!' said I.
189 The fellow gave a bellow of anger and sprang upon me like a tiger. 190 I have held my own in many a struggle, but the man had a grip of iron and the fury of a fiend. 191 His hand was on my throat and my senses were nearly gone before an unshaven French ouvrier, in a blue blouse, darted out from a cabaret opposite, with a cudgel in his hand, and struck my assailant a sharp crack over the forearm, which made him leave go his hold. 192 He stood for an instant fuming with rage and uncertain whether he should not renew his attack. 193 Then, with a snarl of anger, he left me and entered the cottage from which I had just come. 194 I turned to thank my preserver, who stood beside me in the roadway.
195 'Well, Watson,' said he, 'a very pretty hash you have made of it! 196 I rather think you had better come back with me to London by the night express.'
197 An hour afterwards Sherlock Holmes, in his usual garb and style, was seated in my private room at the hotel. 198 His explanation of his sudden and opportune appearance was simplicity itself, for, finding that he could get away from London, he determined to head me off at the next obvious point of my travels. 199 In the disguise of a working-man he had sat in the cabaret waiting for my appearance.
200 'And a singularly consistent investigation you have made, my dear Watson,' said he. 201 'I cannot at the moment recall any possible blunder which you have omitted. 202 The total effect of your proceedings has been to give the alarm everywhere and yet to discover nothing.'
203 'Perhaps you would have done no better,' I answered, bitterly.
204 'There is no "perhaps" about it. 205 I have done better. 206 Here is the Hon. 207 Philip Green, who is a fellow-lodger with you in this hotel, and we may find in him the starting-point for a more successful investigation.'
208 A card had come up on a salver, and it was followed by the same bearded ruffian who had attacked me in the street. 209 He started when he saw me.
210 'What is this, Mr Holmes?' he asked. 211 'I had your note and I have come. 212 But what has this man to do with the matter?'
213 'This is my old friend and associate, Dr Watson, who is helping us in this affair.'
214 The stranger held out a huge, sunburned hand, with a few words of apology.
215 'I hope I didn't harm you. 216 When you accused me of hurting her I lost my grip of myself. 217 Indeed, I'm not responsible in these days. 218 My nerves are like live wires. 219 But this situation is beyond me. 220 What I want to know, in the first place, Mr Holmes, is, how in the world you came to hear of my existence at all.'
221 'I am in touch with Miss Dobney, Lady Frances's governess.'
222 'Old Susan Dobney with the mob cap! 223 I remember her well.'
224 'And she remembers you. 225 It was in the days before-before you found it better to go to South Africa.'
226 'Ah, I see you know my whole story. 227 I need hide nothing from you. 228 I swear to you, Mr Holmes, that there never was in this world a man who loved a woman with a more whole-hearted love than I had for Frances. 229 I was a wild youngster, I know - not worse than others of my class. 230 But her mind was pure as snow. 231 She could not bear a shadow of coarseness. 232 So, when she came to hear of things that I had done, she would have no more to say to me. 233 And yet she loved me - that is the wonder of it! - loved me well enough to remain single all her sainted days just for my sake alone. 234 When the years had passed and I had made my money at Barberton I thought perhaps I could seek her out and soften her. 235 I had heard that she was still unmarried. 236 I found her at Lausanne, and tried all I knew. 237 She weakened, I think, but her will was strong, and when next I called she had left the town. 238 I traced her to Baden, and then after a time heard that her maid was here. 239 I'm a rough fellow, fresh from a rough life, and when Dr Watson spoke to me as he did I lost hold of myself for a moment. 240 But for God's sake tell me what has become of the Lady Frances.'
241 'That is for us to find out,' said Sherlock Holmes, with peculiar gravity. 242 'What is your London address, Mr Green?'
243 'The Langham Hotel will find me.'
244 'Then may I recommend that you return there and be on hand in case I should want you? 245 I have no desire to encourage false hopes, but you may rest assured that all that can be done will be done for the safety of lady Frances. 246 I can say no more for the instant. 247 I will leave you this card so that you may be able to keep in touch with us. 248 Now, Watson, if you will pack your bag I will cable to Mrs Hudson to make one of her best efforts for two hungry travellers at seven-thirty tomorrow.'
249 A telegram was awaiting us when we reached our Baker Street rooms, which Holmes read with an exclamation of interest and threw across to me. 250 'Jagged or torn,' was the message, and the place of origin Baden.
251 'What is this?' I asked.
252 'It is everything,' Holmes answered. 253 'You may remember my seemingly irrelevant question as to this clerical gentleman's left ear. 254 You did not answer it.'
255 'I had left Baden, and could not inquire.'
256 'Exactly. 257 For this reason I sent a duplicate to the manager of the Englischer Hof, whose answer lies here.'
258 'What does it show?'
259 'It shows, my dear Watson, that we are dealing with an exceptionally astute and dangerous man. 260 The Rev. Dr Shlessinger, missionary from South America, is none other than Holy Peters, one of the most unscrupulous rascals that Australia has ever evolved - and for a young country it has turned out some very finished types. 261 His particular speciality is the beguiling of lonely ladies by playing upon their religious feelings, and his so-called wife, an Englishwoman named Fraser, is a worthy helpmate. 262 The nature of his tactics suggested his identity to me, and this physical peculiarity - he was badly bitten in a saloon-fight at Adelaide in '89 - confirmed my suspicion. 263 This poor lady is in the hands of a most infernal couple, who will stick at nothing, Watson. 264 That she is already dead is a very likely supposition. 265 If not, she is undoubtedly in some sort of confinement, and unable to write to Miss Dobney or her other friends. 266 It is always possible that she never reached London, or that she has passed through it, but the former is improbable, as, with their system of registration, it is not easy for foreigners to play tricks with the Continental police, and the latter is also unlikely, as these rogues could not hope to find any other place where it would be as easy to keep a person under restraint. 267 All my instincts tell me that she is in London, but, as we have at present no possible means of telling where, we can only take the obvious steps, eat our dinner, and possess our souls in patience. 268 Later in the evening I will stroll down and have a word with friend Lestrade at Scotland Yard.'
269 But neither the official police nor Holmes's own small, but very efficient, organization sufficed to clear away the mystery. 270 Amid the crowded millions of London the three persons we sought were as completely obliterated as if they had never lived. 271 Advertisements were tried, and failed. 272 Clues were followed, and led to nothing. 273 Every criminal resort which Shlessinger might frequent was drawn in vain. 274 His old associates were watched, but they kept clear of him. 275 And then suddenly, after a week of helpless suspense, there came a flash of light. 276 A silver-and-brilliant pendant of old Spanish design had been pawned at Bevington's, in Westminster Road. 277 The pawner was a large, clean-shaven man of clerical appearance. 278 His name and address were demonstrably false. 279 The ear had escaped notice, but the description was surely that of Shlessinger.
280 Three times had our bearded friend from the Langham called for news-the third time within an hour of this fresh development. 281 His clothes were getting looser on his great body. 282 He seemed to be wilting away in his anxiety. 283 'If you will only give me something to do!' was his constant wail. 284 At last Holmes could oblige him.
285 'He has begun to pawn the jewels. 286 We should get him now.'
287 'But does this mean that any harm has befallen the Lady Frances?'
288 Holmes shook his head very gravely.
289 'Supposing that they have held her prisoner up to now, it is clear that they cannot let her loose without their own destruction. 290 We must prepare for the worst.'
291 'What can I do?'
292 'These people do not know you by sight?'
293 'No.'
294 'It is possible that he will go to some other pawnbroker in the future. 295 In that case, we must begin again. 296 On the other hand, he has had a fair price and no questions asked, so if he is in need of ready money he will probably come back to Bevington's. 297 I will give you a note to them, and they will let you wait in the shop. 298 If the fellow comes you will follow him home. 299 But no indiscretion, and, above all, no violence. 300 I put you on your honour that you will take no step without my knowledge and consent.'
301 For two days the Hon. Philip Green (he was, I may mention, the son of the famous admiral of that name who commanded the Sea of Azof fleet in the Crimean War) brought us no news. 302 On the evening of the third he rushed into our sitting-room, pale, trembling, with every muscle of his powerful frame quivering with excitement.
303 'We have him! 304 We have him!' he cried.
305 He was incoherent in his agitation. 306 Holmes soothed him with a few words, and thrust him into an arm-chair.
307 'Come, now, give us the order of events,' said he.
308 'She came only an hour ago. 309 It was the wife, this time, but the pendant she brought was the fellow of the other. 310 She is a tall, pale woman, with ferret eyes.'
311 'That is the lady,' said Holmes.
312 'She left the office and I followed her. 313 She walked up the Kennington Road, and I kept behind her. 314 Presently she went into a shop. 315 Mr Holmes, it was an undertaker's.'
316 My companion started. 317 'Well?' he asked, in that vibrant voice which told of the fiery soul behind the cold, grey face.
318 'She was talking to the woman behind the counter. 319 I entered as well. 320 "It is late," I heard her say, or words to that effect. 321 The woman was excusing herself. 322 "It should be there before now," she answered. 323 "It took longer, being out of the ordinary." 324 They both stopped and looked at me, so I asked some question and then left the shop.'
325 'You did excellently well. 326 What happened next?'
327 'The woman came out, but I had hid myself in a doorway. 328 Her suspicions had been aroused, I think, for she looked round her. 329 Then she called a cab and got in. 330 I was lucky enough to get another and so to follow her. 331 She got down at last at No. 36, Poultney Square, Brixton. 332 I drove past, left my cab at the corner of the square, and watched the house.'
333 'Did you see anyone?'
334 'The windows were all in darkness save one on the lower floor. 335 The blind was down, and I could not see in. 336 I was standing there, wondering what I should do next, when a covered van drove up with two men in it. 337 They descended, took something out of the van, and carried it up the steps to the hall door. 338 Mr Holmes, it was a coffin.'
339 'Ah!'
340 'For an instant I was on the point of rushing in. 341 The door had been opened to admit the men and their burden. 342 It was the woman who had opened it. 343 But as I stood there she caught a glimpse of me, and I think that she recognized me. 344 I saw her start, and she hastily closed the door. 345 I remembered my promise to you, and here I am.'
346 'You have done excellent work,' said Holmes scribbling a few words upon a half-sheet of paper. 347 'We can do nothing legal without a warrant, and you can serve the cause best by taking this note down to the authorities and getting one. 348 There may be some difficulty, but I should think that the sale of the jewellery should be sufficient. 349 Lestrade will see to all details.'
350 'But they may murder her in the meanwhile. 351 What could the coffin mean, and for whom could it be but for her?'
352 'We will do all that can be done, Mr Green. 353 Not a moment will be lost. 354 Leave it in our hands. 355 Now, Watson,' he added, as our client hurried away, 'he will set the regular forces on the move. 356 We are, as usual, the irregulars, and we must take our own line of action. 357 The situation strikes me as so desperate that the most extreme measures are justified. 358 Not a moment is to be lost in getting to Poultney Square.
359 'Let us try to reconstruct the situation,' said he, as we drove swiftly past the Houses of Parliament and over Westminster Bridge. 360 'These villains have coaxed this unhappy lady to London, after first alienating her from her faithful maid. 361 If she has written any letters they have been intercepted. 362 Through some confederate they have engaged a furnished house. 363 Once inside it, they have made her a prisoner, and they have become possessed of the valuable jewellery which has been their object from the first. 364 Already they have begun to sell part of it, which seems safe enough to them, since they have no reason to think that anyone is interested in the lady's fate. 365 When she is released she will, of course, denounce them. 366 Therefore, she must not be released. 367 But they cannot keep her under lock and key for ever. 368 So murder is their only solution.'
369 'That seems very clear.'
370 'Now we will take another fine of reasoning. 371 When you follow two separate chains of thought, Watson, you will find some point of intersection which should approximate to the truth. 372 We will start now, not from the lady, but from the coffin, and argue backwards. 373 That incident proves, I fear, beyond all doubt that the lady is dead. 374 It points also to an orthodox burial with proper accompaniment of medical certificate and official sanction. 375 Had the lady been obviously murdered, they would have buried her in a hole in the back garden. 376 But here all is open and regular. 377 What does that mean? 378 Surely that they have done her to death in some way which has deceived the doctor, and simulated a natural end - poisoning, perhaps. 379 And yet how strange that they should ever let a doctor approach her unless he were a confederate, which is hardly a credible proposition.'
380 'Could they have forged a medical certificate?'
381 'Dangerous, Watson, very dangerous. 382 No, I hardly see them doing that. 383 Pull up, cabby! 384 This is evidently the undertaker's, for we have just passed the pawnbroker's. 385 Would you go in, Watson? 386 Your appearance inspires confidence. 387 Ask what hour the Poultney Square funeral takes place tomorrow.'
388 The woman in the shop answered me without hesitation that it was to be at eight o'clock in the morning.
389 'You see, Watson, no mystery, everything above-board! 390 In some way the legal forms have undoubtedly been complied with, and they think that they have little to fear. 391 Well, there's nothing for it now but a direct frontal attack. 392 'Are you armed?'
393 'My stick.!'
394 'Well, well, we shall be strong enough. 395 "Thrice is he armed who hath his quarrel just." 396 We simply can't afford to wait for the police, or to keep within the four corners of the law. 397 You can drive off, cabby. 398 Now, Watson, we'll just take our luck together, as we have occasionally done in the past.'
399 He had rung loudly at the door of a great dark house in the centre of Poultney Square. 400 It was opened immediately, and the figure of a tall woman was outlined against the dimlit hall.
401 'Well, what do you want?' she asked, sharply, peering at us through the darkness.
402 'I want to speak to Dr Shlessinger,' said Holmes.
403 'There is no such person here,' she answered, and tried to close the door, but Holmes had jammed it with his foot.
404 'Well, I want to see the man who lives here, whatever he may call himself,' said Holmes firmly.
405 She hesitated. 406 Then she threw open the door. 407 'Well, come in!' said she. 408 'My husband is not afraid to face any man in the world.' 409 She closed the door behind us, and showed us into a sitting-room on the right side of the hall, turning up the gas as she left us. 410 'Mr Peters will be with you in an instant,' she said.
411 Her words were literally true, for we had hardly time to look round the dusty and moth-eaten apartment in which we found ourselves before the door opened and a big, cleanshaven, bald-headed man stepped lightly into the room. 412 He had a large red face, with pendulous cheeks, and a general air of superficial benevolence which was marred by a cruel, vicious mouth.
413 'There is surely some mistake here, gentlemen,' he said, in an unctuous, make-everything-easy voice. 414 'I fancy that you have been misdirected. 415 Possibly if you tried farther down the street-'
416 'That will do, we have no time to waste,' said my companion, firmly. 417 'You are Henry Peters, of Adelaide, late the Rev. 418 Dr Shlessinger, of Baden and South America. 419 I am as sure of that as that my own name is Sherlock Holmes.'
420 Peters, as I will now call him, started and stared hard at his formidable pursuer. 421 'I guess your name does not frighten me, Mr Holmes,' said he, coolly. 422 'When a man's conscience is easy, you can't rattle him. 423 What is your business in my house?'
424 'I want to know what you have done with the Lady Frances Carfax, whom you brought away with you from Baden.'
425 'I'd be very glad if you could tell me where that lady may be,' Peters answered, coolly. 426 'I've a bill against her for nearly a hundred pounds, and nothing to show for it but a couple of trumpery pendants that the dealer would hardly look at. 427 She attached herself to Mrs Peters and me at Baden (it is a fact that I was using another name at the time), and she stuck on to us until we came to London. 428 I paid her bill and her ticket. 429 Once in London, she gave us the slip, and, as I say, left these out-of-date jewels to pay her bills. 430 You find her, Mr Holmes, and I'm your debtor.'
431 'I mean to find her,' said Sherlock Holmes. 432 'I'm going through this house till I do find her.'
433 'Where is your warrant?'
434 Holmes half drew a revolver from his pocket. 435 'This will have to serve till a better one comes.'
436 'Why, you are a common burglar.'
437 'So you might describe me,' said Holmes, cheerfully. 438 'My companion is also a dangerous ruffian. 439 And together we are going through your house.'
440 Our opponent opened the door.
441 'Fetch a policeman, Annie!' said he. 442 There was a whisk of feminine skirts down the passage, and the hall door was opened and shut.
443 'Our time is limited, Watson,' said Holmes. 444 'If you try to stop us, Peters, you will most certainly get hurt. 445 Where is that coffin which was brought into your house?'
446 'What do you want with the coffin? 447 It is in use. 448 There is a body in it.'
449 'I must see that body.'
450 'Never with my consent.'
451 'Then without it.' 452 With a quick movement Holmes pushed the fellow to one side and passed into the hall. 453 A door half open stood immediately before us. 454 We entered. 455 It was the dining-room. 456 On the table, under a half-lit chandelier, the coffin was lying. 457 Holmes turned up the gas and raised the lid. 458 Deep down in the recesses of the coffin lay an emaciated figure. 459 The glare from the lights above beat down upon an aged and withered face. 460 By no possible process of cruelty, starvation, or disease could this worn-out wreck be the still beautiful Lady Frances. 461 Holmes's face showed his amazement, and also his relief.
462 'Thank God!' he muttered. 463 'It's someone else.'
464 'Ah, you've blundered badly for once, Mr Sherlock Holmes,' said Peters, who had followed us into the room.
465 'Who is this dead woman?'
466 'Well, if you really must know, she is an old nurse of my wife's, Rose Spender her name, whom we found in the Brixton Workhouse Infirmary. 467 We brought her round here, called in Dr Horsom, of 13, Firbank Villas - mind you take the address, Mr Holmes - and had her carefully tended, as Christian folk should. 468 On the third day she died - certificate says senile decay - but that's only the doctor's opinion, and, of course, you know better. 469 We ordered her funeral to be carried out by Stirmon and Co., of the Kennington Road, who will bury her at eight o'clock tomorrow morning. 470 Can you pick any hole in that, Mr Holmes? 471 You've made a silly blunder, and you may as well own up to it. 472 I'd give something for a photograph of your gaping, staring face when you pulled aside that lid expecting to see the Lady Frances Carfax, and only found a poor old woman of ninety.'
473 Holmes's expression was as impassive as ever under the jeers of his antagonist, but his clenched hands betrayed his acute annoyance.
474 'I am going through your house,' said he.
475 'Are you, though!' cried Peters, as a woman's voice and heavy steps sounded in the passage. 476 'We'll soon see about that. 477 This way, officers, if you please. 478 These men have forced their way into my house, and I cannot get rid of them. 479 Help me to put them out.'
480 A sergeant and a constable stood in the doorway. 481 Holmes drew his card from his case.
482 'This is my name and address. 483 This is my friend, Dr Watson.'
484 'Bless you, sir, we know you very well,' said the sergeant, 'but you can't stay here without a warrant.'
485 'Of course not. 486 I quite understand that.'
487 'Arrest him!' cried Peters.
488 'We know where to lay our hands on this gentleman if he is wanted,' said the sergeant, majestically, 'but you'll have to go, Mr Holmes.'
489 'Yes, Watson, we shall have to go.'
490 A minute later we were in the street once more. 491 Holmes was as cool as ever, but I was hot with anger and humiliation. 492 The sergeant had followed us.
493 'Sorry, Mr Holmes, but that's the law.'
494 'Exactly, sergeant, you could not do otherwise.'
495 'I expect there was good reason for your presence there. 496 If there is anything I can do-'
497 'It's a missing lady, sergeant, and we think she is in that house. 498 I expect a warrant presently.'
499 'Then I'll keep my eye on the parties, Mr Holmes. 500 If anything comes along, I will surely let you know.'
501 It was only nine o'clock, and we were off full cry upon the trail at once. 502 First we drove to Brixton Workhouse Infirmary, where we found that it was indeed the truth that a charitable couple had called some days before, that they had claimed an imbecile old woman as a former servant, and that they had obtained permission to take her away with them. 503 No surprise was expressed at the news that she had since died.
504 The doctor was our next goal. 505 He had been called in, had found the woman dying of pure senility, had actually seen her pass away, and had signed the certificate in due form. 506 'I assure you that everything was perfectly normal and there was no room for foul play in the matter,' said he. 507 Nothing in the house had struck him as suspicious, save that for people of their class it was remarkable that they should have no servant. 508 So far and no farther went the doctor.
509 Finally, we found our way to Scotland Yard. 510 There had been difficulties of procedure in regard to the warrant. 511 Some delay was inevitable. 512 The magistrate's signature might not be obtained until next morning. 513 If Holmes would call about nine he could go down with Lestrade and see it acted upon. 514 So ended the day, save that near midnight our friend, the sergeant, called to say that he had seen flickering lights here and there in the windows of the great dark house, but that no one had left it and none had entered. 515 We could but pray for patience, and wait for the morrow.
516 Sherlock Holmes was too irritable for conversation and too restless for sleep. 517 I left him smoking hard, with his heavy, dark brows knotted together, and his long, nervous fingers tapping upon the arms of his chair, as he turned over in his mind every possible solution of the mystery. 518 Several times in the course of the night I heard him prowling about the house. 519 Finally, just after I had been called in the morning, he rushed into my room. 520 He was in his dressing-gown, but his pale, hollow-eyed face told me that his night had been a sleepless one.
521 'What time was the funeral? 522 Eight, was it not?' he asked, eagerly. 523 'Well, it is seven-twenty now. 524 Good heavens, Watson, what has become of any brains that God has given me? 525 Quick, man, quick.' 526 It's fife or death - a hundred chances on death to one on life. 527 I'll never forgive myself, never, if we are too late!'
528 Five minutes had not passed before we were flying in a hansom down Baker Street. 529 But even so it was twenty-five to eight as we passed Big Ben, and eight struck as we tore down the Brixton Road. 530 But others were late as well as we. 531 Ten minutes after the hour the hearse was stiff standing at the door of the house, and even as our foaming horse came to a halt the coffin, supported by three men, appeared on the threshold. 532 Holmes darted forward and barred their way.
533 'Take it back!' he cried, laying his hand on the breast of the foremost. 534 'Take it back this instant!'
535 'What the devil do you mean? 536 Once again I ask you, where is your warrant?' shouted the furious Peters, his big red face glaring over the farther end of the coffin.
537 'The warrant is on its way. 538 This coffin shall remain in the house until it comes.'
539 The authority in Holmes's voice had its effect upon the bearers. 540 Peters had suddenly vanished into the house, and they obeyed these new orders. 541 'Quick, Watson, quick! 542 Here is a screw-driver!' he shouted as the coffin was replaced upon the table. 543 'Here's one for you, my man! 544 A sovereign if the lid comes off in a minute! 545 Ask no questions - work away! 546 That's good! 547 Another! 548 And another! 549 Now pull all together! 550 It's giving! 551 It's giving! 552 Ah, that does it at last!'
553 With a united effort we tore off the coffin-lid. 554 As we did so there came from the inside a stupefying and overpowering smell of chloroform. 555 A body lay within, its head all wreathed in cotton-wool, which had been soaked in the narcotic. 556 Holmes plucked it off and disclosed the statuesque face of a handsome and spiritual woman of middle age. 557 In an instant he had passed his arm round the figure and raised her to a sitting position.
558 'Is she gone, Watson? 559 Is there a spark left? 560 Surely we are not too late!'
561 For half an hour it seemed that we were. 562 What with actual suffocation, and what with the poisonous fumes of the chloroform, the Lady Frances seemed to have passed the last point of recall. 563 And then, at last, with artificial respiration, with injected ether, with every device that science could suggest, some flutter of life, some quiver of the eyelids, some dimming of a mirror, spoke of the slowly returning life. 564 A cab had driven up, and Holmes, parting the blind, looked out at it. 565 'Here is Lestrade with his warrant,' said he. 566 'He will find that his birds have flown. 567 And here,' he added, as a heavy step hurried along the passage, 'is someone who has a better right to nurse this lady than we have. 568 Good morning, Mr Green, I think that the sooner we can move the lady Frances the better. 569 Meanwhile, the funeral may proceed, and the poor old woman who still lies in that coffin may go to her last resting-place alone.'
570 'Should you care to add the case to your annals, my dear Watson,' said Holmes that evening, 'it can only be as an example of that temporary eclipse to which even the best-balanced mind may be exposed. 571 Such slips are common to all mortals, and the greatest is he who can recognize and repair them. 572 To this modified credit I may, perhaps, make some claim. 573 My night was haunted by the thought that somewhere a clue, a strange sentence, a curious observation, had come under my notice and had been too easily dismissed. 574 Then, suddenly, in the grey of the morning, the words came back to me. 575 It was the remark of the undertaker's wife, as reported by Philip Green. 576 She had said, "It should be there before now. 577 It took longer, being out of the ordinary." 578 It was the coffin of which she spoke. 579 It had been out of the ordinary. 580 That could only mean that it had been made to some special measurement. 581 But why? 582 Why? 583 Then in an instant I remembered the deep sides, and the little wasted figure at the bottom. 584 Why so large a coffin for so small a body? 585 To leave room for another body. 586 Both would be buried under the one certificate. 587 It had all been so clear, if only my own sight had not been dimmed. 588 At eight the lady Frances would be buried. 589 Our one chance was to stop the coffin before it left the house.
590 'It was a desperate chance that we might find her alive, but it was a chance, as the result showed. 591 These people had never, to my knowledge, done a murder. 592 They might shrink from actual violence at the last. 593 They could bury her with no sign of how she met her end, and even if she were exhumed there was a chance for them. 594 I hoped that such considerations might prevail with them. 595 You can reconstruct the scene well enough. 596 You saw the horrible den upstairs, where the poor lady had been kept so long. 597 They rushed in and overpowered her with their chloroform, carried her down, poured more into the coffin to insure against her waking, and then screwed down the lid. 598 A clever device, Watson. 599 It is new to me in the annals of crime. 600 If our ex-missionary friends escape the clutches of Lestrade, I shall expect to hear of some brilliant incidents in their future career.'


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