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The Return of Sherlock Holmes - The Adventure of the Second Stain

1. The Adventure of the Empty House

2. The Adventure of the Norwood Builder

3. The Adventure of the Dancing Men

4. The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist

5. The Adventure of the Priory School

6. The Adventure of Black Peter

7. The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton

8. The Adventure of the Six Napoleons

9. The Adventure of the Three Students

10. The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez

11. The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter

12. The Adventure of the Abbey Grange

13. The Adventure of the Second Stain

I had intended "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange" to be the
last of those exploits of my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, which
I should ever communicate to the public. This resolution of mine
was not due to any lack of material, since I have notes of many
hundreds of cases to which I have never alluded, nor was it
caused by any waning interest on the part of my readers in the
singular personality and unique methods of this remarkable man.
The real reason lay in the reluctance which Mr. Holmes has shown
to the continued publication of his experiences. So long as he
was in actual professional practice the records of his successes
were of some practical value to him, but since he has definitely
retired from London and betaken himself to study and bee-farming
on the Sussex Downs, notoriety has become hateful to him, and he
has peremptorily requested that his wishes in this matter should
be strictly observed. It was only upon my representing to him
that I had given a promise that "The Adventure of the Second
Stain" should be published when the times were ripe, and
pointing out to him that it is only appropriate that this long
series of episodes should culminate in the most important
international case which he has ever been called upon to handle,
that I at last succeeded in obtaining his consent that a
carefully guarded account of the incident should at last be laid
before the public. If in telling the story I seem to be somewhat
vague in certain details, the public will readily understand
that there is an excellent reason for my reticence.

It was, then, in a year, and even in a decade, that shall be
nameless, that upon one Tuesday morning in autumn we found two
visitors of European fame within the walls of our humble room in
Baker Street. The one, austere, high-nosed, eagle-eyed, and
dominant, was none other than the illustrious Lord Bellinger,
twice Premier of Britain. The other, dark, clear-cut, and
elegant, hardly yet of middle age, and endowed with every beauty
of body and of mind, was the Right Honourable Trelawney Hope,
Secretary for European Affairs, and the most rising statesman in
the country. They sat side by side upon our paper-littered
settee, and it was easy to see from their worn and anxious faces
that it was business of the most pressing importance which had
brought them. The Premier's thin, blue-veined hands were clasped
tightly over the ivory head of his umbrella, and his gaunt,
ascetic face looked gloomily from Holmes to me. The European
Secretary pulled nervously at his moustache and fidgeted with
the seals of his watch-chain.

"When I discovered my loss, Mr. Holmes, which was at eight
o'clock this morning, I at once informed the Prime Minister.
It was at his suggestion that we have both come to you."

"Have you informed the police?"

"No, sir," said the Prime Minister, with the quick, decisive
manner for which he was famous. "We have not done so, nor is it
possible that we should do so. To inform the police must, in the
long run, mean to inform the public. This is what we
particularly desire to avoid."

"And why, sir?"

"Because the document in question is of such immense importance
that its publication might very easily--I might almost say
probably--lead to European complications of the utmost moment.
It is not too much to say that peace or war may hang upon the
issue. Unless its recovery can be attended with the utmost
secrecy, then it may as well not be recovered at all, for all
that is aimed at by those who have taken it is that its contents
should be generally known."

"I understand. Now, Mr. Trelawney Hope, I should be much obliged
if you would tell me exactly the circumstances under which this
document disappeared."

"That can be done in a very few words, Mr. Holmes. The letter--for
it was a letter from a foreign potentate--was received six days
ago. It was of such importance that I have never left it in my
safe, but have taken it across each evening to my house in Whitehall
Terrace, and kept it in my bedroom in a locked despatch-box. It was
there last night. Of that I am certain. I actually opened the box
while I was dressing for dinner and saw the document inside. This
morning it was gone. The despatch-box had stood beside the glass
upon my dressing-table all night. I am a light sleeper, and so is
my wife. We are both prepared to swear that no one could have
entered the room during the night. And yet I repeat that the
paper is gone."

"What time did you dine?"

"Half-past seven."

"How long was it before you went to bed?"

"My wife had gone to the theatre. I waited up for her. It was
half-past eleven before we went to our room."

"Then for four hours the despatch-box had lain unguarded?"

"No one is ever permitted to enter that room save the house-maid
in the morning, and my valet, or my wife's maid, during the rest
of the day. They are both trusty servants who have been with us
for some time. Besides, neither of them could possibly have
known that there was anything more valuable than the ordinary
departmental papers in my despatch-box."

"Who did know of the existence of that letter?"

"No one in the house."

"Surely your wife knew?"

"No, sir. I had said nothing to my wife until I missed the paper
this morning."

The Premier nodded approvingly.

"I have long known, sir, how high is your sense of public duty,"
said he. "I am convinced that in the case of a secret of this
importance it would rise superior to the most intimate domestic ties.

The European Secretary bowed.

"You do me no more than justice, sir. Until this morning I have
never breathed one word to my wife upon this matter."

"Could she have guessed?"

"No, Mr. Holmes, she could not have guessed--nor could anyone
have guessed."

"Have you lost any documents before?"

"No, sir."

"Who is there in England who did know of the existence of
this letter?"

"Each member of the Cabinet was informed of it yesterday, but
the pledge of secrecy which attends every Cabinet meeting was
increased by the solemn warning which was given by the Prime
Minister. Good heavens, to think that within a few hours I
should myself have lost it!" His handsome face was distorted
with a spasm of despair, and his hands tore at his hair. For a
moment we caught a glimpse of the natural man, impulsive,
ardent, keenly sensitive. The next the aristocratic mask was
replaced, and the gentle voice had returned. "Besides the
members of the Cabinet there are two, or possibly three,
departmental officials who know of the letter. No one else in
England, Mr. Holmes, I assure you."

"But abroad?"

"I believe that no one abroad has seen it save the man who wrote
it. I am well convinced that his Ministers--that the usual
official channels have not been employed."

Holmes considered for some little time.

"Now, sir, I must ask you more particularly what this document
is, and why its disappearance should have such momentous

The two statesmen exchanged a quick glance and the Premier's
shaggy eyebrows gathered in a frown.

"Mr. Holmes, the envelope is a long, thin one of pale blue
colour. There is a seal of red wax stamped with a crouching
lion. It is addressed in large, bold handwriting to----"

"I fear, sir," said Holmes, "that, interesting and indeed
essential as these details are, my inquiries must go more to the
root of things. What WAS the letter?"

"That is a State secret of the utmost importance, and I fear
that I cannot tell you, nor do I see that it is necessary. If by
the aid of the powers which you are said to possess you can find
such an envelope as I describe with its enclosure, you will have
deserved well of your country, and earned any reward which it
lies in our power to bestow."

Sherlock Holmes rose with a smile.

"You are two of the most busy men in the country," said he, "and
in my own small way I have also a good many calls upon me. I
regret exceedingly that I cannot help you in this matter, and
any continuation of this interview would be a waste of time."

The Premier sprang to his feet with that quick, fierce gleam of
his deep-set eyes before which a Cabinet has cowered. "I am not
accustomed, sir," he began, but mastered his anger and resumed
his seat. For a minute or more we all sat in silence. Then the
old statesman shrugged his shoulders.

"We must accept your terms, Mr. Holmes. No doubt you are right,
and it is unreasonable for us to expect you to act unless we
give you our entire confidence."

"I agree with you," said the younger statesman.

"Then I will tell you, relying entirely upon your honour and
that of your colleague, Dr. Watson. I may appeal to your
patriotism also, for I could not imagine a greater misfortune
for the country than that this affair should come out."

"You may safely trust us."

"The letter, then, is from a certain foreign potentate who has
been ruffled by some recent Colonial developments of this
country. It has been written hurriedly and upon his own
responsibility entirely. Inquiries have shown that his Ministers
know nothing of the matter. At the same time it is couched in so
unfortunate a manner, and certain phrases in it are of so
provocative a character, that its publication would undoubtedly
lead to a most dangerous state of feeling in this country. There
would be such a ferment, sir, that I do not hesitate to say that
within a week of the publication of that letter this country
would be involved in a great war."

Holmes wrote a name upon a slip of paper and handed it to the Premier.

"Exactly. It was he. And it is this letter--this letter which
may well mean the expenditure of a thousand millions and the
lives of a hundred thousand men--which has become lost in this
unaccountable fashion."

"Have you informed the sender?"

"Yes, sir, a cipher telegram has been despatched."

"Perhaps he desires the publication of the letter."

"No, sir, we have strong reason to believe that he already
understands that he has acted in an indiscreet and hot-headed
manner. It would be a greater blow to him and to his country
than to us if this letter were to come out."

"If this is so, whose interest is it that, the letter should
come out? Why should anyone desire to steal it or to publish it?"

"There, Mr. Holmes, you take me into regions of high
international politics. But if you consider the European
situation you will have no difficulty in perceiving the motive.
The whole of Europe is an armed camp. There is a double league
which makes a fair balance of military power. Great Britain
holds the scales. If Britain were driven into war with one
confederacy, it would assure the supremacy of the other
confederacy, whether they joined in the war or not.
Do you follow?"

"Very clearly. It is then the interest of the enemies of this
potentate to secure and publish this letter, so as to make a
breach between his country and ours?"

"Yes, sir."

"And to whom would this document be sent if it fell into the
hands of an enemy?"

"To any of the great Chancelleries of Europe. It is probably
speeding on its way thither at the present instant as fast as
steam can take it."

Mr. Trelawney Hope dropped his head on his chest and groaned
aloud. The Premier placed his hand kindly upon his shoulder.

"It is your misfortune, my dear fellow. No one can blame you.
There is no precaution which you have neglected. Now, Mr.
Holmes, you are in full possession of the facts. What course do
you recommend?"

Holmes shook his head mournfully.

"You think, sir, that unless this document is recovered there
will be war?"

"I think it is very probable."

"Then, sir, prepare for war."

"That is a hard saying, Mr. Holmes."

"Consider the facts, sir. It is inconceivable that it was taken
after eleven-thirty at night, since I understand that Mr. Hope
and his wife were both in the room from that hour until the loss
was found out. It was taken, then, yesterday evening between
seven-thirty and eleven-thirty, probably near the earlier hour,
since whoever took it evidently knew that it was there and would
naturally secure it as early as possible. Now, sir, if a
document of this importance were taken at that hour, where can
it be now? No one has any reason to retain it. It has been
passed rapidly on to those who need it. What chance have we now
to overtake or even to trace it? It is beyond our reach."

The Prime Minister rose from the settee.

"What you say is perfectly logical, Mr. Holmes. I feel that the
matter is indeed out of our hands."

"Let us presume, for argument's sake, that the document was
taken by the maid or by the valet----"

"They are both old and tried servants."

"I understand you to say that your room is on the second floor,
that there is no entrance from without, and that from within no
one could go up unobserved. It must, then, be somebody in the
house who has taken it. To whom would the thief take it? To one
of several international spies and secret agents, whose names
are tolerably familiar to me. There are three who may be said to
be the heads of their profession. I will begin my research by
going round and finding if each of them is at his post. If one
is missing--especially if he has disappeared since last night--
we will have some indication as to where the document has gone."

"Why should he be missing?" asked the European Secretary. "He
would take the letter to an Embassy in London, as likely as not."

"I fancy not. These agents work independently, and their
relations with the Embassies are often strained."

The Prime Minister nodded his acquiescence.

"I believe you are right, Mr. Holmes. He would take so valuable
a prize to headquarters with his own hands. I think that your
course of action is an excellent one. Meanwhile, Hope, we cannot
neglect all our other duties on account of this one misfortune.
Should there be any fresh developments during the day we shall
communicate with you, and you will no doubt let us know the
results of your own inquiries."

The two statesmen bowed and walked gravely from the room.

When our illustrious visitors had departed Holmes lit his pipe
in silence and sat for some time lost in the deepest thought. I
had opened the morning paper and was immersed in a sensational
crime which had occurred in London the night before, when my
friend gave an exclamation, sprang to his feet, and laid his
pipe down upon the mantelpiece.

"Yes," said he, "there is no better way of approaching it. The
situation is desperate, but not hopeless. Even now, if we could
be sure which of them has taken it, it is just possible that it
has not yet passed out of his hands. After all, it is a question
of money with these fellows, and I have the British treasury
behind me. If it's on the market I'll buy it--if it means
another penny on the income-tax. It is conceivable that the
fellow might hold it back to see what bids come from this side
before he tries his luck on the other. There are only those
three capable of playing so bold a game--there are Oberstein, La
Rothiere, and Eduardo Lucas. I will see each of them."

I glanced at my morning paper.

"Is that Eduardo Lucas of Godolphin Street?"


"You will not see him."

"Why not?"

"He was murdered in his house last night."

My friend has so often astonished me in the course of our
adventures that it was with a sense of exultation that I
realized how completely I had astonished him. He stared in
amazement, and then snatched the paper from my hands. This was
the paragraph which I had been engaged in reading when he rose
from his chair.


A crime of mysterious character was committed last night at 16
Godolphin Street, one of the old-fashioned and secluded rows of
eighteenth century houses which lie between the river and the
Abbey, almost in the shadow of the great Tower of the Houses of
Parliament. This small but select mansion has been inhabited for
some years by Mr. Eduardo Lucas, well known in society circles
both on account of his charming personality and because he has
the well-deserved reputation of being one of the best amateur
tenors in the country. Mr. Lucas is an unmarried man,
thirty-four years of age, and his establishment consists of Mrs.
Pringle, an elderly housekeeper, and of Mitton, his valet. The
former retires early and sleeps at the top of the house. The
valet was out for the evening, visiting a friend at Hammersmith.
From ten o'clock onward Mr. Lucas had the house to himself. What
occurred during that time has not yet transpired, but at a
quarter to twelve Police-constable Barrett, passing along
Godolphin Street observed that the door of No. 16 was ajar. He
knocked, but received no answer. Perceiving a light in the front
room, he advanced into the passage and again knocked, but
without reply. He then pushed open the door and entered. The
room was in a state of wild disorder, the furniture being all
swept to one side, and one chair lying on its back in the
centre. Beside this chair, and still grasping one of its legs,
lay the unfortunate tenant of the house. He had been stabbed to
the heart and must have died instantly. The knife with which the
crime had been committed was a curved Indian dagger, plucked
down from a trophy of Oriental arms which adorned one of the
walls. Robbery does not appear to have been the motive of the
crime, for there had been no attempt to remove the valuable
contents of the room. Mr. Eduardo Lucas was so well known and
popular that his violent and mysterious fate will arouse painful
interest and intense sympathy in a widespread circle of friends.

"Well, Watson, what do you make of this?" asked Holmes, after a
long pause.

"It is an amazing coincidence."

"A coincidence! Here is one of the three men whom we had named
as possible actors in this drama, and he meets a violent death
during the very hours when we know that that drama was being
enacted. The odds are enormous against its being coincidence. No
figures could express them. No, my dear Watson, the two events
are connected--MUST be connected. It is for us to find the

"But now the official police must know all."

"Not at all. They know all they see at Godolphin Street. They
know--and shall know--nothing of Whitehall Terrace. Only WE know
of both events, and can trace the relation between them. There
is one obvious point which would, in any case, have turned my
suspicions against Lucas. Godolphin Street, Westminster, is only
a few minutes' walk from Whitehall Terrace. The other secret
agents whom I have named live in the extreme West End. It was
easier, therefore, for Lucas than for the others to establish a
connection or receive a message from the European Secretary's
household--a small thing, and yet where events are compressed
into a few hours it may prove essential. Halloa! what have we here?"

Mrs. Hudson had appeared with a lady's card upon her salver.
Holmes glanced at it, raised his eyebrows, and handed it
over to me.

"Ask Lady Hilda Trelawney Hope if she will be kind enough to
step up," said he.

A moment later our modest apartment, already so distinguished
that morning, was further honoured by the entrance of the most
lovely woman in London. I had often heard of the beauty of the
youngest daughter of the Duke of Belminster, but no description
of it, and no contemplation of colourless photographs, had
prepared me for the subtle, delicate charm and the beautiful
colouring of that exquisite head. And yet as we saw it that
autumn morning, it was not its beauty which would be the first
thing to impress the observer. The cheek was lovely but it was
paled with emotion, the eyes were bright but it was the
brightness of fever, the sensitive mouth was tight and drawn in
an effort after self-command. Terror--not beauty--was what
sprang first to the eye as our fair visitor stood framed for an
instant in the open door.

"Has my husband been here, Mr. Holmes?"

"Yes, madam, he has been here."

"Mr. Holmes. I implore you not to tell him that I came here."
Holmes bowed coldly, and motioned the lady to a chair.

"Your ladyship places me in a very delicate position. I beg that
you will sit down and tell me what you desire, but I fear that
I cannot make any unconditional promise."

She swept across the room and seated herself with her back to
the window. It was a queenly presence--tall, graceful, and
intensely womanly. "Mr. Holmes," she said--and her white-gloved
hands clasped and unclasped as she spoke--"I will speak frankly
to you in the hopes that it may induce you to speak frankly in
return. There is complete confidence between my husband and me
on all matters save one. That one is politics. On this his lips
are sealed. He tells me nothing. Now, I am aware that there was
a most deplorable occurrence in our house last night. I know
that a paper has disappeared. But because the matter is
political my husband refuses to take me into his complete
confidence. Now it is essential--essential, I say--that I should
thoroughly understand it. You are the only other person, save
only these politicians, who knows the true facts. I beg you
then, Mr. Holmes, to tell me exactly what has happened and what
it will lead to. Tell me all, Mr. Holmes. Let no regard for your
client's interests keep you silent, for I assure you that his
interests, if he would only see it, would be best served by
taking me into his complete confidence. What was this paper
which was stolen?"

"Madam, what you ask me is really impossible."

She groaned and sank her face in her hands.

"You must see that this is so, madam. If your husband thinks fit
to keep you in the dark over this matter, is it for me, who has
only learned the true facts under the pledge of professional
secrecy, to tell what he has withheld? It is not fair to ask it.
It is him whom you must ask."

"I have asked him. I come to you as a last resource. But without
your telling me anything definite, Mr. Holmes, you may do a
great service if you would enlighten me on one point."

"What is it, madam?"

"Is my husband's political career likely to suffer through this

"Well, madam, unless it is set right it may certainly have a
very unfortunate effect."

"Ah!" She drew in her breath sharply as one whose doubts are resolved.

"One more question, Mr. Holmes. From an expression which my
husband dropped in the first shock of this disaster I understood
that terrible public consequences might arise from the loss of
this document."

"If he said so, I certainly cannot deny it."

"Of what nature are they?"

"Nay, madam, there again you ask me more than I can possibly answer."

"Then I will take up no more of your time. I cannot blame you,
Mr. Holmes, for having refused to speak more freely, and you on
your side will not, I am sure, think the worse of me because I
desire, even against his will, to share my husband's anxieties.
Once more I beg that you will say nothing of my visit."

She looked back at us from the door, and I had a last impression
of that beautiful haunted face, the startled eyes, and the drawn
mouth. Then she was gone.

"Now, Watson, the fair sex is your department," said Holmes,
with a smile, when the dwindling frou-frou of skirts had ended
in the slam of the front door. "What was the fair lady's game?
What did she really want?"

"Surely her own statement is clear and her anxiety very natural."

"Hum! Think of her appearance, Watson--her manner, her
suppressed excitement, her restlessness, her tenacity in asking
questions. Remember that she comes of a caste who do not lightly
show emotion."

"She was certainly much moved."

"Remember also the curious earnestness with which she assured us
that it was best for her husband that she should know all. What
did she mean by that? And you must have observed, Watson, how
she manoeuvred to have the light at her back. She did not wish
us to read her expression."

"Yes, she chose the one chair in the room."

"And yet the motives of women are so inscrutable. You remember
the woman at Margate whom I suspected for the same reason. No
powder on her nose--that proved to be the correct solution. How
can you build on such a quicksand? Their most trivial action may
mean volumes, or their most extraordinary conduct may depend
upon a hairpin or a curling tongs. Good-morning, Watson."

"You are off?"

"Yes, I will while away the morning at Godolphin Street with our
friends of the regular establishment. With Eduardo Lucas lies
the solution of our problem, though I must admit that I have not
an inkling as to what form it may take. It is a capital mistake
to theorize in advance of the facts. Do you stay on guard, my
good Watson, and receive any fresh visitors. I'll join you at
lunch if I am able."

All that day and the next and the next Holmes was in a mood
which his friends would call taciturn, and others morose. He ran
out and ran in, smoked incessantly, played snatches on his
violin, sank into reveries, devoured sandwiches at irregular
hours, and hardly answered the casual questions which I put to
him. It was evident to me that things were not going well with
him or his quest. He would say nothing of the case, and it was
from the papers that I learned the particulars of the inquest,
and the arrest with the subsequent release of John Mitton, the
valet of the deceased. The coroner's jury brought in the obvious
Wilful Murder, but the parties remained as unknown as ever. No
motive was suggested. The room was full of articles of value,
but none had been taken. The dead man's papers had not been
tampered with. They were carefully examined, and showed that he
was a keen student of international politics, an indefatigable
gossip, a remarkable linguist, and an untiring letter writer. He
had been on intimate terms with the leading politicians of
several countries. But nothing sensational was discovered among
the documents which filled his drawers. As to his relations with
women, they appeared to have been promiscuous but superficial.
He had many acquaintances among them, but few friends, and no
one whom he loved. His habits were regular, his conduct
inoffensive. His death was an absolute mystery and likely to
remain so.

As to the arrest of John Mitton, the valet, it was a council of
despair as an alternative to absolute inaction. But no case
could be sustained against him. He had visited friends in
Hammersmith that night. The ALIBI was complete. It is true that
he started home at an hour which should have brought him to
Westminster before the time when the crime was discovered, but
his own explanation that he had walked part of the way seemed
probable enough in view of the fineness of the night. He had
actually arrived at twelve o'clock, and appeared to be
overwhelmed by the unexpected tragedy. He had always been on
good terms with his master. Several of the dead man's
possessions--notably a small case of razors--had been found in
the valet's boxes, but he explained that they had been presents
from the deceased, and the housekeeper was able to corroborate
the story. Mitton had been in Lucas's employment for three
years. It was noticeable that Lucas did not take Mitton on the
Continent with him. Sometimes he visited Paris for three months
on end, but Mitton was left in charge of the Godolphin Street
house. As to the housekeeper, she had heard nothing on the night
of the crime. If her master had a visitor he had himself
admitted him.

So for three mornings the mystery remained, so far as I could
follow it in the papers. If Holmes knew more, he kept his own
counsel, but, as he told me that Inspector Lestrade had taken
him into him into his confidence in the case, I knew that he was
in close touch with every development. Upon the fourth day there
appeared a long telegram from Paris which seemed to solve the
whole question.

A discovery has just been made by the Parisian police [said the
DAILY TELEGRAPH] which raises the veil which hung round the
tragic fate of Mr. Eduardo Lucas, who met his death by violence
last Monday night at Godolphin Street, Westminster. Our readers
will remember that the deceased gentleman was found stabbed in
his room, and that some suspicion attached to his valet, but
that the case broke down on an ALIBI. Yesterday a lady, who has
been known as Mme. Henri Fournaye, occupying a small villa in
the Rue Austerlitz, was reported to the authorities by her
servants as being insane. An examination showed she had indeed
developed mania of a dangerous and permanent form. On inquiry,
the police have discovered that Mme. Henri Fournaye only
returned from a journey to London on Tuesday last, and there is
evidence to connect her with the crime at Westminster. A
comparison of photographs has proved conclusively that M. Henri
Fournaye and Eduardo Lucas were really one and the same person,
and that the deceased had for some reason lived a double life in
London and Paris. Mme. Fournaye, who is of Creole origin, is of
an extremely excitable nature, and has suffered in the past from
attacks of jealousy which have amounted to frenzy. It is
conjectured that it was in one of these that she committed the
terrible crime which has caused such a sensation in London. Her
movements upon the Monday night have not yet been traced, but it
is undoubted that a woman answering to her description attracted
much attention at Charing Cross Station on Tuesday morning by
the wildness of her appearance and the violence of her gestures.
It is probable, therefore, that the crime was either committed
when insane, or that its immediate effect was to drive the
unhappy woman out of her mind. At present she is unable to give
any coherent account of the past, and the doctors hold out no
hopes of the reestablishment of her reason. There is evidence
that a woman, who might have been Mme. Fournaye, was seen for
some hours upon Monday night watching the house in Godolphin Street.

"What do you think of that, Holmes?" I had read the account
aloud to him, while he finished his breakfast.

"My dear Watson," said he, as he rose from the table and paced
up and down the room, "You are most long-suffering, but if I
have told you nothing in the last three days, it is because
there is nothing to tell. Even now this report from Paris does
not help us much."

"Surely it is final as regards the man's death."

"The man's death is a mere incident--a trivial episode--in
comparison with our real task, which is to trace this document
and save a European catastrophe. Only one important thing has
happened in the last three days, and that is that nothing has
happened. I get reports almost hourly from the government, and
it is certain that nowhere in Europe is there any sign of
trouble. Now, if this letter were loose--no, it CAN'T be
loose--but if it isn't loose, where can it be? Who has it? Why
is it held back? That's the question that beats in my brain like
a hammer. Was it, indeed, a coincidence that Lucas should meet
his death on the night when the letter disappeared? Did the
letter ever reach him? If so, why is it not among his papers?
Did this mad wife of his carry it off with her? If so, is it in
her house in Paris? How could I search for it without the French
police having their suspicions aroused? It is a case, my dear
Watson, where the law is as dangerous to us as the criminals
are. Every man's hand is against us, and yet the interests at
stake are colossal. Should I bring it to a successful
conclusion, it will certainly represent the crowning glory of my
career. Ah, here is my latest from the front!" He glanced
hurriedly at the note which had been handed in. "Halloa!
Lestrade seems to have observed something of interest. Put on
your hat, Watson, and we will stroll down together to Westminster."

It was my first visit to the scene of the crime--a high, dingy,
narrow-chested house, prim, formal, and solid, like the century
which gave it birth. Lestrade's bulldog features gazed out at us
from the front window, and he greeted us warmly when a big
constable had opened the door and let us in. The room into which
we were shown was that in which the crime had been committed,
but no trace of it now remained save an ugly, irregular stain
upon the carpet. This carpet was a small square drugget in the
centre of the room, surrounded by a broad expanse of beautiful,
old-fashioned wood-flooring in square blocks, highly polished.
Over the fireplace was a magnificent trophy of weapons, one of
which had been used on that tragic night. In the window was a
sumptuous writing-desk, and every detail of the apartment, the
pictures, the rugs, and the hangings, all pointed to a taste
which was luxurious to the verge of effeminacy.

"Seen the Paris news?" asked Lestrade.

Holmes nodded.

"Our French friends seem to have touched the spot this time. No
doubt it's just as they say. She knocked at the door--surprise
visit, I guess, for he kept his life in water-tight
compartments--he let her in, couldn't keep her in the street.
She told him how she had traced him, reproached him. One thing
led to another, and then with that dagger so handy the end soon
came. It wasn't all done in an instant, though, for these chairs
were all swept over yonder, and he had one in his hand as if he
had tried to hold her off with it. We've got it all clear as if
we had seen it."

Holmes raised his eyebrows.

"And yet you have sent for me?"

"Ah, yes, that's another matter--a mere trifle, but the sort of
thing you take an interest in--queer, you know, and what you
might call freakish. It has nothing to do with the main
fact--can't have, on the face of it."

"What is it, then?"

"Well, you know, after a crime of this sort we are very careful
to keep things in their position. Nothing has been moved.
Officer in charge here day and night. This morning, as the man
was buried and the investigation over--so far as this room is
concerned--we thought we could tidy up a bit. This carpet. You
see, it is not fastened down, only just laid there. We had
occasion to raise it. We found----"

"Yes? You found----"

Holmes's face grew tense with anxiety.

"Well, I'm sure you would never guess in a hundred years what we
did find. You see that stain on the carpet? Well, a great deal
must have soaked through, must it not?"

"Undoubtedly it must."

"Well, you will be surprised to hear that there is no stain on
the white woodwork to correspond."

"No stain! But there must----"

"Yes, so you would say. But the fact remains that there isn't."

He took the corner of the carpet in his hand and, turning it
over, he showed that it was indeed as he said.

"But the under side is as stained as the upper. It must have
left a mark."

Lestrade chuckled with delight at having puzzled the famous expert.

"Now, I'll show you the explanation. There IS a second stain,
but it does not correspond with the other. See for yourself." As
he spoke he turned over another portion of the carpet, and
there, sure enough, was a great crimson spill upon the square
white facing of the old-fashioned floor. "What do you make of
that, Mr. Holmes?"

"Why, it is simple enough. The two stains did correspond, but
the carpet has been turned round. As it was square and
unfastened it was easily done."

The official police don't need you, Mr. Holmes, to tell them
that the carpet must have been turned round. That's clear
enough, for the stains lie above each other--if you lay it over
this way. But what I want to know is, who shifted the carpet,
and why?"

I could see from Holmes's rigid face that he was vibrating with
inward excitement.

"Look here, Lestrade," said he, "has that constable in the
passage been in charge of the place all the time?"

"Yes, he has."

"Well, take my advice. Examine him carefully. Don't do it before
us. Well wait here. You take him into the back room. You'll be
more likely to get a confession out of him alone. Ask him how he
dared to admit people and leave them alone in this room. Don't
ask him if he has done it. Take it for granted. Tell him you
KNOW someone has been here. Press him. Tell him that a full
confession is his only chance of forgiveness. Do exactly what I
tell you!"

"By George, if he knows I'll have it out of him!" cried
Lestrade. He darted into the hall, and a few moments later his
bullying voice sounded from the back room.

"Now, Watson, now!" cried Holmes with frenzied eagerness. All
the demoniacal force of the man masked behind that listless
manner burst out in a paroxysm of energy. He tore the drugget
from the floor, and in an instant was down on his hands and
knees clawing at each of the squares of wood beneath it. One
turned sideways as he dug his nails into the edge of it. It
hinged back like the lid of a box. A small black cavity opened
beneath it. Holmes plunged his eager hand into it and drew it
out with a bitter snarl of anger and disappointment. It was empty.

"Quick, Watson, quick! Get it back again!" The wooden lid was
replaced, and the drugget had only just been drawn straight when
Lestrade's voice was heard in the passage. He found Holmes
leaning languidly against the mantelpiece, resigned and patient,
endeavouring to conceal his irrepressible yawns.

"Sorry to keep you waiting, Mr. Holmes . I can see that you are
bored to death with the whole affair. Well, he has confessed,
all right. Come in here, MacPherson. Let these gentlemen hear of
your most inexcusable conduct."

The big constable, very hot and penitent, sidled into the room.

"I meant no harm, sir, I'm sure. The young woman came to the
door last evening--mistook the house, she did. And then we got
talking. It's lonesome, when you're on duty here all day."

"Well, what happened then?"

"She wanted to see where the crime was done--had read about it
in the papers, she said. She was a very respectable, well-spoken
young woman, sir, and I saw no harm in letting her have a peep.
When she saw that mark on the carpet, down she dropped on the
floor, and lay as if she were dead. I ran to the back and got
some water, but I could not bring her to. Then I went round the
corner to the Ivy Plant for some brandy, and by the time I had
brought it back the young woman had recovered and was
off--ashamed of herself, I daresay, and dared not face me."

"How about moving that drugget?"

"Well, sir, it was a bit rumpled, certainly, when I came back.
You see, she fell on it and it lies on a polished floor with
nothing to keep it in place. I straightened it out afterwards."

"It's a lesson to you that you can't deceive me, Constable
MacPherson," said Lestrade, with dignity. "No doubt you thought
that your breach of duty could never be discovered, and yet a
mere glance at that drugget was enough to convince me that
someone had been admitted to the room. It's lucky for you, my
man, that nothing is missing, or you would find yourself in
Queer Street. I'm sorry to have called you down over such a
petty business, Mr. Holmes, but I thought the point of the
second stain not corresponding with the first would interest you."

"Certainly, it was most interesting. Has this woman only been
here once, constable?"

"Yes, sir, only once."

"Who was she?"

"Don't know the name, sir. Was answering an advertisement about
typewriting and came to the wrong number--very pleasant, genteel
young woman, sir."

"Tall? Handsome?"

"Yes, sir, she was a well-grown young woman. I suppose you might
say she was handsome. Perhaps some would say she was very
handsome. `Oh, officer, do let me have a peep!' says she. She
had pretty, coaxing ways, as you might say, and I thought there
was no harm in letting her just put her head through the door."

"How was she dressed?"

"Quiet, sir--a long mantle down to her feet."

"What time was it?"

"It was just growing dusk at the time. They were lighting the
lamps as I came back with the brandy."

"Very good," said Holmes. "Come, Watson, I think that we have
more important work elsewhere."

As we left the house Lestrade remained in the front room, while
the repentant constable opened the door to let us out. Holmes
turned on the step and held up something in his hand. The
constable stared intently.

"Good Lord, sir!" he cried, with amazement on his face. Holmes
put his finger on his lips, replaced his hand in his breast
pocket, and burst out laughing as we turned down the street.
"Excellent!" said he. "Come, friend Watson, the curtain rings up
for the last act. You will be relieved to hear that there will
be no war, that the Right Honourable Trelawney Hope will suffer
no setback in his brilliant career, that the indiscreet
Sovereign will receive no punishment for his indiscretion, that
the Prime Minister will have no Europe an complication to deal
with, and that with a little tact and management upon our part
nobody will be a penny the worse for what might have been a very
ugly incident."

My mind filled with admiration for this extraordinary man.

"You have solved it!" I cried.

"Hardly that, Watson. There are some points which are as dark as
ever. But we have so much that it will be our own fault if we
cannot get the rest. We will go straight to Whitehall Terrace
and bring the matter to a head."

When we arrived at the residence of the European Secretary it
was for Lady Hilda Trelawney Hope that Sherlock Holmes inquired.
We were shown into the morning-room.

"Mr. Holmes!" said the lady, and her face was pink with her
indignation. "This is surely most unfair and ungenerous upon
your part. I desired, as I have explained, to keep my visit to
you a secret, lest my husband should think that I was intruding
into his affairs. And yet you compromise me by coming here and
so showing that there are business relations between us."

"Unfortunately, madam, I had no possible alternative. I have
been commissioned to recover this immensely important paper. I
must therefore ask you, madam, to be kind enough to place it in
my hands."

The lady sprang to her feet, with the colour all dashed in an
instant from her beautiful face. Her eyes glazed--she
tottered--I thought that she would faint. Then with a grand
effort she rallied from the shock, and a supreme astonishment
and indignation chased every other expression from her features.

"You--you insult me, Mr. Holmes."

"Come, come, madam, it is useless. Give up the letter."

She darted to the bell.

"The butler shall show you out."

"Do not ring, Lady Hilda. If you do, then all my earnest efforts
to avoid a scandal will be frustrated. Give up the letter and
all will be set right. If you will work with me I can arrange
everything. If you work against me I must expose you."

She stood grandly defiant, a queenly figure, her eyes fixed upon
his as if she would read his very soul. Her hand was on the
bell, but she had forborne to ring it.

"You are trying to frighten me. It is not a very manly thing,
Mr. Holmes, to come here and browbeat a woman. You say that you
know something. What is it that you know?"

"Pray sit down, madam. You will hurt yourself there if you fall.
I will not speak until you sit down. Thank you."

"I give you five minutes, Mr. Holmes."

"One is enough, Lady Hilda. I know of your visit to Eduardo
Lucas, of your giving him this document, of your ingenious
return to the room last night, and of the manner in which you
took the letter from the hiding-place under the carpet."

She stared at him with an ashen face and gulped twice before she
could speak.

"You are mad, Mr. Holmes--you are mad!" she cried, at last.

He drew a small piece of cardboard from his pocket. It was the
face of a woman cut out of a portrait.

"I have carried this because I thought it might be useful," said
he. "The policeman has recognized it."

She gave a gasp, and her head dropped back in the chair.

"Come, Lady Hilda. You have the letter. The matter may still be
adjusted. I have no desire to bring trouble to you. My duty ends
when I have returned the lost letter to your husband. Take my
advice and be frank with me. It is your only chance."

Her courage was admirable. Even now she would not own defeat.

"I tell you again, Mr. Holmes, that you are under some absurd illusion."

Holmes rose from his chair.

"I am sorry for you, Lady Hilda. I have done my best for you. I
can see that it is all in vain."

He rang the bell. The butler entered.

"Is Mr. Trelawney Hope at home?"

"He will be home, sir, at a quarter to one."

Holmes glanced at his watch.

"Still a quarter of an hour," said he. "Very good, I shall wait."

The butler had hardly closed the door behind him when Lady Hilda
was down on her knees at Holmes's feet, her hands outstretched,
her beautiful face upturned and wet with her tears.

"Oh, spare me, Mr. Holmes! Spare me!" she pleaded, in a frenzy
of supplication. "For heaven's sake, don't tell him! I love him
so! I would not bring one shadow on his life, and this I know
would break his noble heart."

Holmes raised the lady. "I am thankful, madam, that you have
come to your senses even at this last moment! There is not an
instant to lose. Where is the letter?"

She darted across to a writing-desk, unlocked it, and drew out
a long blue envelope.

"Here it is, Mr. Holmes. Would to heaven I had never seen it!"

"How can we return it?" Holmes muttered. "Quick, quick, we must
think of some way! Where is the despatch-box?"

"Still in his bedroom."

"What a stroke of luck! Quick, madam, bring it here!" A moment
later she had appeared with a red flat box in her hand.

"How did you open it before? You have a duplicate key? Yes, of
course you have. Open it!"

From out of her bosom Lady Hilda had drawn a small key. The box
flew open. It was stuffed with papers. Holmes thrust the blue
envelope deep down into the heart of them, between the leaves of
some other document. The box was shut, locked, and returned to
the bedroom.

"Now we are ready for him," said Holmes. "We have still ten
minutes. I am going far to screen you, Lady Hilda. In return you
will spend the time in telling me frankly the real meaning of
this extraordinary affair."

"Mr. Holmes, I will tell you everything," cried the lady. "Oh,
Mr. Holmes, I would cut off my right hand before I gave him a
moment of sorrow! There is no woman in all London who loves her
husband as I do, and yet if he knew how I have acted--how I have
been compelled to act--he would never forgive me. For his own
honour stands so high that he could not forget or pardon a lapse
in another. Help me, Mr. Holmes! My happiness, his happiness,
our very lives are at stake!"

"Quick, madam, the time grows short!"

"It was a letter of mine, Mr. Holmes, an indiscreet letter
written before my marriage--a foolish letter, a letter of an
impulsive, loving girl. I meant no harm, and yet he would have
thought it criminal. Had he read that letter his confidence
would have been forever destroyed. It is years since I wrote it.
I had thought that the whole matter was forgotten. Then at last
I heard from this man, Lucas, that it had passed into his hands,
and that he would lay it before my husband. I implored his
mercy. He said that he would return my letter if I would bring
him a certain document which he described in my husband's
despatch-box. He had some spy in the office who had told him of
its existence. He assured me that no harm could come to my
husband. Put yourself in my position, Mr. Holmes! What was I to do?"

"Take your husband into your confidence."

"I could not, Mr. Holmes, I could not! On the one side seemed
certain ruin, on the other, terrible as it seemed to take my
husband's paper, still in a matter of politics I could not
understand the consequences, while in a matter of love and trust
they were only too clear to me. I did it, Mr. Holmes! I took an
impression of his key. This man, Lucas, furnished a duplicate.
I opened his despatch-box, took the paper, and conveyed it to
Godolphin Street."

"What happened there, madam?"

"I tapped at the door as agreed. Lucas opened it. I followed him
into his room, leaving the hall door ajar behind me, for I
feared to be alone with the man. I remember that there was a
woman outside as I entered. Our business was soon done. He had
my letter on his desk, I handed him the document. He gave me the
letter. At this instant there was a sound at the door. There
were steps in the passage. Lucas quickly turned back the
drugget, thrust the document into some hiding-place there, and
covered it over.

"What happened after that is like some fearful dream. I have a
vision of a dark, frantic face, of a woman's voice, which
screamed in French, `My waiting is not in vain. At last, at last
I have found you with her!' There was a savage struggle. I saw
him with a chair in his hand, a knife gleamed in hers. I rushed
from the horrible scene, ran from the house, and only next
morning in the paper did I learn the dreadful result. That night
I was happy, for I had my letter, and I had not seen yet what
the future would bring.

"It was the next morning that I realized that I had only
exchanged one trouble for another. My husband's anguish at the
loss of his paper went to my heart. I could hardly prevent
myself from there and then kneeling down at his feet and telling
him what I had done. But that again would mean a confession of
the past. I came to you that morning in order to understand the
full enormity of my offence. From the instant that I grasped it
my whole mind was turned to the one thought of getting back my
husband's paper. It must still be where Lucas had placed it, for
it was concealed before this dreadful woman entered the room. If
it had not been for her coming, I should not have known where
his hiding-place was. How was I to get into the room? For two
days I watched the place, but the door was never left open. Last
night I made a last attempt. What I did and how I succeeded, you
have already learned. I brought the paper back with me, and
thought of destroying it, since I could see no way of returning
it without confessing my guilt to my husband. Heavens, I hear
his step upon the stair!"

The European Secretary burst excitedly into the room. "Any
news, Mr. Holmes, any news?" he cried.

"I have some hopes."

"Ah, thank heaven!" His face became radiant. "The Prime Minister
is lunching with me. May he share your hopes? He has nerves of
steel, and yet I know that he has hardly slept since this
terrible event. Jacobs, will you ask the Prime Minister to come
up? As to you, dear, I fear that this is a matter of politics.
We will join you in a few minutes in the dining-room."

The Prime Minister's manner was subdued, but I could see by the
gleam of his eyes and the twitchings of his bony hands that he
shared the excitement of his young colleague.

"I understand that you have something to report, Mr. Holmes?"

"Purely negative as yet," my friend answered. "I have inquired
at every point where it might be, and I am sure that there is no
danger to be apprehended."

"But that is not enough, Mr. Holmes. We cannot live forever on
such a volcano. We must have something definite."

"I am in hopes of getting it. That is why I am here. The more I
think of the matter the more convinced I am that the letter has
never left this house."

"Mr. Holmes!"

"If it had it would certainly have been public by now."

"But why should anyone take it in order to keep it in his house?"

"I am not convinced that anyone did take it."

"Then how could it leave the despatch-box?"

"I am not convinced that it ever did leave the despatch-box."

"Mr. Holmes, this joking is very ill-timed. You have my
assurance that it left the box."

"Have you examined the box since Tuesday morning?"

"No. It was not necessary."

"You may conceivably have overlooked it."

"Impossible, I say."

"But I am not convinced of it. I have known such things to
happen. I presume there are other papers there. Well, it may
have got mixed with them."

"It was on the top."

"Someone may have shaken the box and displaced it."

"No, no, I had everything out."

"Surely it is easily, decided, Hope," said the Premier. "Let us
have the despatch-box brought in."

The Secretary rang the bell.

"Jacobs, bring down my despatch-box. This is a farcical waste of
time, but still, if nothing else will satisfy you, it shall be
done. Thank you, Jacobs, put it here. I have always had the key
on my watch-chain. Here are the papers, you see. Letter from
Lord Merrow, report from Sir Charles Hardy, memorandum from
Belgrade, note on the Russo-German grain taxes, letter from
Madrid, note from Lord Flowers----Good heavens! what is this?
Lord Bellinger! Lord Bellinger!"

The Premier snatched the blue envelope from his hand.

"Yes, it is it--and the letter is intact. Hope, I congratulate you."

"Thank you! Thank you! What a weight from my heart. But this is
inconceivable--impossible. Mr. Holmes, you are a wizard, a
sorcerer! How did you know it was there?"

"Because I knew it was nowhere else."

"I cannot believe my eyes!" He ran wildly to the door. "Where is
my wife? I must tell her that all is well. Hilda! Hilda!" we
heard his voice on the stairs.

The Premier looked at Holmes with twinkling eyes.

"Come, sir," said he. "There is more in this than meets the eye.
How came the letter back in the box?"

Holmes turned away smiling from the keen scrutiny of those
wonderful eyes.

"We also have our diplomatic secrets," said he and, picking up
his hat, he turned to the door.

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