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