The Return of Sherlock HolmesArthur Conan Doyle / Mystery & Detective
Produced by Charles Keller, Joanne Brown, Frank Sadowski,and Roger Squires
THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES.
By Arthur Conan Doyle.
The Adventure of the Empty House. The Adventure of the Norwood Builder. The Adventure of the Dancing Men. The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist. The Adventure of the Priory School. The Adventure of Black Peter. The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton. The Adventure of the Six Napoleons. The Adventure of the Three Students. The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez. The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter. The Adventure of the Abbey Grange. The Adventure of the Second Stain.]
THE STRAND MAGAZINE Vol. 26 OCTOBER, 1903 THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. By ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE.
I.--The Adventure of the Empty House.
IT was in the spring of the year 1894 that all London was interested,and the fashionable world dismayed, by the murder of the HonourableRonald Adair under most unusual and inexplicable circumstances. Thepublic has already learned those particulars of the crime which came outin the police investigation; but a good deal was suppressed upon thatoccasion, since the case for the prosecution was so overwhelminglystrong that it was not necessary to bring forward all the facts. Onlynow, at the end of nearly ten years, am I allowed to supply thosemissing links which make up the whole of that remarkable chain. Thecrime was of interest in itself, but that interest was as nothing tome compared to the inconceivable sequel, which afforded me the greatestshock and surprise of any event in my adventurous life. Even now,after this long interval, I find myself thrilling as I think of it, andfeeling once more that sudden flood of joy, amazement, and incredulitywhich utterly submerged my mind. Let me say to that public which hasshown some interest in those glimpses which I have occasionally giventhem of the thoughts and actions of a very remarkable man that theyare not to blame me if I have not shared my knowledge with them, for Ishould have considered it my first duty to have done so had I not beenbarred by a positive prohibition from his own lips, which was onlywithdrawn upon the third of last month.
It can be imagined that my close intimacy with Sherlock Holmes hadinterested me deeply in crime, and that after his disappearance I neverfailed to read with care the various problems which came beforethe public, and I even attempted more than once for my own privatesatisfaction to employ his methods in their solution, though withindifferent success. There was none, however, which appealed to me likethis tragedy of Ronald Adair. As I read the evidence at the inquest,which led up to a verdict of wilful murder against some person orpersons unknown, I realized more clearly than I had ever done the losswhich the community had sustained by the death of Sherlock Holmes. Therewere points about this strange business which would, I was sure, havespecially appealed to him, and the efforts of the police would have beensupplemented, or more probably anticipated, by the trained observationand the alert mind of the first criminal agent in Europe. All day asI drove upon my round I turned over the case in my mind, and found noexplanation which appeared to me to be adequate. At the risk of tellinga twice-told tale I will recapitulate the facts as they were known tothe public at the conclusion of the inquest.
The Honourable Ronald Adair was the second son of the Earl of Maynooth,at that time Governor of one of the Australian Colonies. Adair's motherhad returned from Australia to undergo the operation for cataract, andshe, her son Ronald, and her daughter Hilda were living together at427, Park Lane. The youth moved in the best society, had, so far as wasknown, no enemies, and no particular vices. He had been engaged to MissEdith Woodley, of Carstairs, but the engagement had been broken off bymutual consent some months before, and there was no sign that it hadleft any very profound feeling behind it. For the rest the man's lifemoved in a narrow and conventional circle, for his habits were quiet andhis nature unemotional. Yet it was upon this easy-going young aristocratthat death came in most strange and unexpected form between the hours often and eleven-twenty on the night of March 30, 1894.
Ronald Adair was fond of cards, playing continually, but never for suchstakes as would hurt him. He was a member of the Baldwin, the Cavendish,and the Bagatelle card clubs. It was shown that after dinner on the dayof his death he had played a rubber of whist at the latter club. He hadalso played there in the afternoon. The evidence of those who had playedwith him--Mr. Murray, Sir John Hardy, and Colonel Moran--showed thatthe game was whist, and that there was a fairly equal fall of the cards.Adair might have lost five pounds, but not more. His fortune was aconsiderable one, and such a loss could not in any way affect him. Hehad played nearly every day at one club or other, but he was a cautiousplayer, and usually rose a winner. It came out in evidence that inpartnership with Colonel Moran he had actually won as much as fourhundred and twenty pounds in a sitting some weeks before from GodfreyMilner and Lord Balmoral. So much for his recent history, as it came outat the inquest.
On the evening of the crime he returned from the club exactly at ten.His mother and sister were out spending the evening with a relation. Theservant deposed that she heard him enter the front room on the secondfloor, generally used as his sitting-room. She had lit a fire there, andas it smoked she had opened the window. No sound was heard from the roomuntil eleven-twenty, the hour of the return of Lady Maynooth and herdaughter. Desiring to say good-night, she had attempted to enter herson's room. The door was locked on the inside, and no answer could begot to their cries and knocking. Help was obtained and the door forced.The unfortunate young man was found lying near the table. His head hadbeen horribly mutilated by an expanding revolver bullet, but no weaponof any sort was to be found in the room. On the table lay two bank-notesfor ten pounds each and seventeen pounds ten in silver and gold, themoney arranged in little piles of varying amount. There were somefigures also upon a sheet of paper with the names of some club friendsopposite to them, from which it was conjectured that before his death hewas endeavouring to make out his losses or winnings at cards.
A minute examination of the circumstances served only to make the casemore complex. In the first place, no reason could be given why theyoung man should have fastened the door upon the inside. There was thepossibility that the murderer had done this and had afterwards escapedby the window. The drop was at least twenty feet, however, and a bed ofcrocuses in full bloom lay beneath. Neither the flowers nor the earthshowed any sign of having been disturbed, nor were there any marksupon the narrow strip of grass which separated the house from the road.Apparently, therefore, it was the young man himself who had fastened thedoor. But how did he come by his death? No one could have climbed up tothe window without leaving traces. Suppose a man had fired through thewindow, it would indeed be a remarkable shot who could with arevolver inflict so deadly a wound. Again, Park Lane is a frequentedthoroughfare, and there is a cab-stand within a hundred yards of thehouse. No one had heard a shot. And yet there was the dead man, andthere the revolver bullet, which had mushroomed out, as soft-nosedbullets will, and so inflicted a wound which must have causedinstantaneous death. Such were the circumstances of the Park LaneMystery, which were further complicated by entire absence of motive,since, as I have said, young Adair was not known to have any enemy, andno attempt had been made to remove the money or valuables in the room.
All day I turned these facts over in my mind, endeavouring to hit uponsome theory which could reconcile them all, and to find that lineof least resistance which my poor friend had declared to be thestarting-point of every investigation. I confess that I made littleprogress. In the evening I strolled across the Park, and found myselfabout six o'clock at the Oxford Street end of Park Lane. A group ofloafers upon the pavements, all staring up at a particular window,directed me to the house which I had come to see. A tall, thin man withcoloured glasses, whom I strongly suspected of being a plain-clothesdetective, was pointing out some theory of his own, while the otherscrowded round to listen to what he said. I got as near him as I could,but his observations seemed to me to be absurd, so I withdrew again insome disgust. As I did so I struck against an elderly deformed man,who had been behind me, and I knocked down several books which he wascarrying. I remember that as I picked them up I observed the title ofone of them, The Origin of Tree Worship, and it struck me that thefellow must be some poor bibliophile who, either as a trade or as ahobby, was a collector of obscure volumes. I endeavoured to apologizefor the accident, but it was evident that these books which I had sounfortunately maltreated were very precious objects in the eyes of theirowner. With a snarl of contempt he turned upon his heel, and I saw hiscurved back and white side-whiskers disappear among the throng.
My observations of No. 427, Park Lane did little to clear up the problemin which I was interested. The house was separated from the street bya low wall and railing, the whole not more than five feet high. It wasperfectly easy, therefore, for anyone to get into the garden, but thewindow was entirely inaccessible, since there was no water-pipe oranything which could help the most active man to climb it. More puzzledthan ever I retraced my steps to Kensington. I had not been in my studyfive minutes when the maid entered to say that a person desired tosee me. To my astonishment it was none other than my strange oldbook-collector, his sharp, wizened face peering out from a frame ofwhite hair, and his precious volumes, a dozen of them at least, wedgedunder his right arm.
You're surprised to see me, sir, said he, in a strange, croakingvoice.
I acknowledged that I was.
Well, I've a conscience, sir, and when I chanced to see you go intothis house, as I came hobbling after you, I thought to myself, I'll juststep in and see that kind gentleman, and tell him that if I was a bitgruff in my manner there was not any harm meant, and that I am muchobliged to him for picking up my books.
You make too much of a trifle, said I. May I ask how you knew who Iwas?
Well, sir, if it isn't too great a liberty, I am a neighbour of yours,for you'll find my little bookshop at the corner of Church Street,and very happy to see you, I am sure. Maybe you collect yourself, sir;here's 'British Birds,' and 'Catullus,' and 'The Holy War'--a bargainevery one of them. With five volumes you could just fill that gap onthat second shelf. It looks untidy, does it not, sir?
I moved my head to look at the cabinet behind me. When I turned againSherlock Holmes was standing smiling at me across my study table. I roseto my feet, stared at him for some seconds in utter amazement, and thenit appears that I must have fainted for the first and the last timein my life. Certainly a grey mist swirled before my eyes, and when itcleared I found my collar-ends undone and the tingling after-taste ofbrandy upon my lips. Holmes was bending over my chair, his flask in hishand.
My dear Watson, said the well-remembered voice, I owe you a thousandapologies. I had no idea that you would be so affected.
I gripped him by the arm.
Holmes! I cried. Is it really you? Can it indeed be that you arealive? Is it possible that you succeeded in climbing out of that awfulabyss?
Wait a moment, said he. Are you sure that you are really fit todiscuss things? I have given you a serious shock by my unnecessarilydramatic reappearance.
I am all right, but indeed, Holmes, I can hardly believe my eyes. Goodheavens, to think that you--you of all men--should be standing in mystudy! Again I gripped him by the sleeve and felt the thin, sinewy armbeneath it. Well, you're not a spirit, anyhow, said I. My dear chap,I am overjoyed to see you. Sit down and tell me how you came alive outof that dreadful chasm.
He sat opposite to me and lit a cigarette in his old nonchalant manner.He was dressed in the seedy frock-coat of the book merchant, but therest of that individual lay in a pile of white hair and old books uponthe table. Holmes looked even thinner and keener than of old, but therewas a dead-white tinge in his aquiline face which told me that his liferecently had not been a healthy one.
I am glad to stretch myself, Watson, said he. It is no joke when atall man has to take a foot off his stature for several hours on end.Now, my dear fellow, in the matter of these explanations we have, ifI may ask for your co-operation, a hard and dangerous night's work infront of us. Perhaps it would be better if I gave you an account of thewhole situation when that work is finished.
I am full of curiosity. I should much prefer to hear now.
You'll come with me to-night?
When you like and where you like.
This is indeed like the old days. We shall have time for a mouthful ofdinner before we need go. Well, then, about that chasm. I had no seriousdifficulty in getting out of it, for the very simple reason that I neverwas in it.
You never were in it?
No, Watson, I never was in it. My note to you was absolutely genuine.I had little doubt that I had come to the end of my career when Iperceived the somewhat sinister figure of the late Professor Moriartystanding upon the narrow pathway which led to safety. I read aninexorable purpose in his grey eyes. I exchanged some remarks with him,therefore, and obtained his courteous permission to write the short notewhich you afterwards received. I left it with my cigarette-box and mystick and I walked along the pathway, Moriarty still at my heels. WhenI reached the end I stood at bay. He drew no weapon, but he rushed at meand threw his long arms around me. He knew that his own game was up, andwas only anxious to revenge himself upon me. We tottered together uponthe brink of the fall. I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, orthe Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been veryuseful to me. I slipped through his grip, and he with a horrible screamkicked madly for a few seconds and clawed the air with both his hands.But for all his efforts he could not get his balance, and over he went.With my face over the brink I saw him fall for a long way. Then hestruck a rock, bounded off, and splashed into the water.
I listened with amazement to this explanation, which Holmes deliveredbetween the puffs of his cigarette.
But the tracks! I cried. I saw with my own eyes that two went downthe path and none returned.
It came about in this way. The instant that the Professor haddisappeared it struck me what a really extraordinarily lucky chance Fatehad placed in my way. I knew that Moriarty was not the only man whohad sworn my death. There were at least three others whose desire forvengeance upon me would only be increased by the death of their leader.They were all most dangerous men. One or other would certainly get me.On the other hand, if all the world was convinced that I was dead theywould take liberties, these men, they would lay themselves open, andsooner or later I could destroy them. Then it would be time for me toannounce that I was still in the land of the living. So rapidly doesthe brain act that I believe I had thought this all out before ProfessorMoriarty had reached the bottom of the Reichenbach Fall.
I stood up and examined the rocky wall behind me. In your picturesqueaccount of the matter, which I read with great interest some monthslater, you assert that the wall was sheer. This was not literallytrue. A few small footholds presented themselves, and there was someindication of a ledge. The cliff is so high that to climb it all wasan obvious impossibility, and it was equally impossible to make my wayalong the wet path without leaving some tracks. I might, it is true,have reversed my boots, as I have done on similar occasions, but thesight of three sets of tracks in one direction would certainly havesuggested a deception. On the whole, then, it was best that I shouldrisk the climb. It was not a pleasant business, Watson. The fall roaredbeneath me. I am not a fanciful person, but I give you my word thatI seemed to hear Moriarty's voice screaming at me out of the abyss. Amistake would have been fatal. More than once, as tufts of grass cameout in my hand or my foot slipped in the wet notches of the rock, Ithought that I was gone. But I struggled upwards, and at last I reacheda ledge several feet deep and covered with soft green moss, where Icould lie unseen in the most perfect comfort. There I was stretched whenyou, my dear Watson, and all your following were investigating in themost sympathetic and inefficient manner the circumstances of my death.
At last, when you had all formed your inevitable and totally erroneousconclusions, you departed for the hotel and I was left alone. I hadimagined that I had reached the end of my adventures, but a veryunexpected occurrence showed me that there were surprises still in storefor me. A huge rock, falling from above, boomed past me, struck thepath, and bounded over into the chasm. For an instant I thought thatit was an accident; but a moment later, looking up, I saw a man's headagainst the darkening sky, and another stone struck the very ledge uponwhich I was stretched, within a foot of my head. Of course, the meaningof this was obvious. Moriarty had not been alone. A confederate--andeven that one glance had told me how dangerous a man that confederatewas--had kept guard while the Professor had attacked me. From adistance, unseen by me, he had been a witness of his friend's death andof my escape. He had waited, and then, making his way round to thetop of the cliff, he had endeavoured to succeed where his comrade hadfailed.
I did not take long to think about it, Watson. Again I saw that grimface look over the cliff, and I knew that it was the precursor ofanother stone. I scrambled down on to the path. I don't think I couldhave done it in cold blood. It was a hundred times more difficult thangetting up. But I had no time to think of the danger, for another stonesang past me as I hung by my hands from the edge of the ledge. Halfwaydown I slipped, but by the blessing of God I landed, torn and bleeding,upon the path. I took to my heels, did ten miles over the mountainsin the darkness, and a week later I found myself in Florence with thecertainty that no one in the world knew what had become of me.
I had only one confidant--my brother Mycroft. I owe you many apologies,my dear Watson, but it was all-important that it should be thought Iwas dead, and it is quite certain that you would not have written soconvincing an account of my unhappy end had you not yourself thoughtthat it was true. Several times during the last three years I have takenup my pen to write to you, but always I feared lest your affectionateregard for me should tempt you to some indiscretion which would betraymy secret. For that reason I turned away from you this evening whenyou upset my books, for I was in danger at the time, and any show ofsurprise and emotion upon your part might have drawn attention to myidentity and led to the most deplorable and irreparable results. As toMycroft, I had to confide in him in order to obtain the money whichI needed. The course of events in London did not run so well as I hadhoped, for the trial of the Moriarty gang left two of its most dangerousmembers, my own most vindictive enemies, at liberty. I travelled fortwo years in Tibet, therefore, and amused myself by visiting Lhassaand spending some days with the head Llama. You may have read of theremarkable explorations of a Norwegian named Sigerson, but I am surethat it never occurred to you that you were receiving news of yourfriend. I then passed through Persia, looked in at Mecca, and paid ashort but interesting visit to the Khalifa at Khartoum, the results ofwhich I have communicated to the Foreign Office. Returning to France Ispent some months in a research into the coal-tar derivatives, which Iconducted in a laboratory at Montpelier, in the South of France. Havingconcluded this to my satisfaction, and learning that only one of myenemies was now left in London, I was about to return when my movementswere hastened by the news of this very remarkable Park Lane Mystery,which not only appealed to me by its own merits, but which seemed tooffer some most peculiar personal opportunities. I came over at once toLondon, called in my own person at Baker Street, threw Mrs. Hudson intoviolent hysterics, and found that Mycroft had preserved my rooms and mypapers exactly as they had always been. So it was, my dear Watson, thatat two o'clock to-day I found myself in my old arm-chair in my own oldroom, and only wishing that I could have seen my old friend Watson inthe other chair which he has so often adorned.
Such was the remarkable narrative to which I listened on that Aprilevening--a narrative which would have been utterly incredible to me hadit not been confirmed by the actual sight of the tall, spare figure andthe keen, eager face, which I had never thought to see again. In somemanner he had learned of my own sad bereavement, and his sympathy wasshown in his manner rather than in his words. Work is the best antidoteto sorrow, my dear Watson, said he, and I have a piece of work for usboth to-night which, if we can bring it to a successful conclusion, willin itself justify a man's life on this planet. In vain I begged himto tell me more. You will hear and see enough before morning, heanswered. We have three years of the past to discuss. Let that sufficeuntil half-past nine, when we start upon the notable adventure of theempty house.
It was indeed like old times when, at that hour, I found myself seatedbeside him in a hansom, my revolver in my pocket and the thrill ofadventure in my heart. Holmes was cold and stern and silent. As thegleam of the street-lamps flashed upon his austere features I saw thathis brows were drawn down in thought and his thin lips compressed. Iknew not what wild beast we were about to hunt down in the dark jungleof criminal London, but I was well assured from the bearing of thismaster huntsman that the adventure was a most grave one, while thesardonic smile which occasionally broke through his ascetic gloom bodedlittle good for the object of our quest.
I had imagined that we were bound for Baker Street, but Holmes stoppedthe cab at the corner of Cavendish Square. I observed that as he steppedout he gave a most searching glance to right and left, and at everysubsequent street corner he took the utmost pains to assure that he wasnot followed. Our route was certainly a singular one. Holmes's knowledgeof the byways of London was extraordinary, and on this occasion hepassed rapidly, and with an assured step, through a network of mews andstables the very existence of which I had never known. We emerged atlast into a small road, lined with old, gloomy houses, which led us intoManchester Street, and so to Blandford Street. Here he turned swiftlydown a narrow passage, passed through a wooden gate into a desertedyard, and then opened with a key the back door of a house. We enteredtogether and he closed it behind us.
The place was pitch-dark, but it was evident to me that it was an emptyhouse. Our feet creaked and crackled over the bare planking, and myoutstretched hand touched a wall from which the paper was hanging inribbons. Holmes's cold, thin fingers closed round my wrist and led meforwards down a long hall, until I dimly saw the murky fanlight over thedoor. Here Holmes turned suddenly to the right, and we found ourselvesin a large, square, empty room, heavily shadowed in the corners, butfaintly lit in the centre from the lights of the street beyond. Therewas no lamp near and the window was thick with dust, so that we couldonly just discern each other's figures within. My companion put his handupon my shoulder and his lips close to my ear.
Do you know where we are? he whispered.
Surely that is Baker Street, I answered, staring through the dimwindow.
Exactly. We are in Camden House, which stands opposite to our own oldquarters.
But why are we here?
Because it commands so excellent a view of that picturesque pile. MightI trouble you, my dear Watson, to draw a little nearer to the window,taking every precaution not to show yourself, and then to look up at ourold rooms--the starting-point of so many of our little adventures? Wewill see if my three years of absence have entirely taken away my powerto surprise you.
I crept forward and looked across at the familiar window. As my eyesfell upon it I gave a gasp and a cry of amazement. The blind was downand a strong light was burning in the room. The shadow of a man whowas seated in a chair within was thrown in hard, black outline upon theluminous screen of the window. There was no mistaking the poise of thehead, the squareness of the shoulders, the sharpness of the features.The face was turned half-round, and the effect was that of one ofthose black silhouettes which our grandparents loved to frame. It was aperfect reproduction of Holmes. So amazed was I that I threw out myhand to make sure that the man himself was standing beside me. He wasquivering with silent laughter.
Well? said he.
Good heavens! I cried. It is marvellous.
I trust that age doth not wither nor custom stale my infinitevariety,' said he, and I recognised in his voice the joy and pridewhich the artist takes in his own creation. It really is rather likeme, is it not?
I should be prepared to swear that it was you.
The credit of the execution is due to Monsieur Oscar Meunier, ofGrenoble, who spent some days in doing the moulding. It is a bust inwax. The rest I arranged myself during my visit to Baker Street thisafternoon.
Because, my dear Watson, I had the strongest possible reason forwishing certain people to think that I was there when I was reallyelsewhere.
And you thought the rooms were watched?
I KNEW that they were watched.
By my old enemies, Watson. By the charming society whose leader liesin the Reichenbach Fall. You must remember that they knew, and onlythey knew, that I was still alive. Sooner or later they believed that Ishould come back to my rooms. They watched them continuously, and thismorning they saw me arrive.
How do you know?
Because I recognised their sentinel when I glanced out of my window. Heis a harmless enough fellow, Parker by name, a garroter by trade, and aremarkable performer upon the Jew's harp. I cared nothing for him. ButI cared a great deal for the much more formidable person who was behindhim, the bosom friend of Moriarty, the man who dropped the rocks overthe cliff, the most cunning and dangerous criminal in London. That isthe man who is after me to-night, Watson, and that is the man who isquite unaware that we are after HIM.
My friend's plans were gradually revealing themselves. From thisconvenient retreat the watchers were being watched and the trackerstracked. That angular shadow up yonder was the bait and we were thehunters. In silence we stood together in the darkness and watched thehurrying figures who passed and repassed in front of us. Holmes wassilent and motionless; but I could tell that he was keenly alert, andthat his eyes were fixed intently upon the stream of passers-by. It wasa bleak and boisterous night, and the wind whistled shrilly down thelong street. Many people were moving to and fro, most of them muffled intheir coats and cravats. Once or twice it seemed to me that I had seenthe same figure before, and I especially noticed two men who appearedto be sheltering themselves from the wind in the doorway of a housesome distance up the street. I tried to draw my companion's attentionto them, but he gave a little ejaculation of impatience and continuedto stare into the street. More than once he fidgeted with his feet andtapped rapidly with his fingers upon the wall. It was evident to methat he was becoming uneasy and that his plans were not working outaltogether as he had hoped. At last, as midnight approached andthe street gradually cleared, he paced up and down the room inuncontrollable agitation. I was about to make some remark to him whenI raised my eyes to the lighted window and again experienced almost asgreat a surprise as before. I clutched Holmes's arm and pointed upwards.
The shadow has moved! I cried.
It was, indeed, no longer the profile, but the back, which was turnedtowards us.
Three years had certainly not smoothed the asperities of his temper orhis impatience with a less active intelligence than his own.
Of course it has moved, said he. Am I such a farcical bungler,Watson, that I should erect an obvious dummy and expect that some ofthe sharpest men in Europe would be deceived by it? We have been inthis room two hours, and Mrs. Hudson has made some change in that figureeight times, or once in every quarter of an hour. She works it from thefront so that her shadow may never be seen. Ah! He drew in his breathwith a shrill, excited intake. In the dim light I saw his head thrownforward, his whole attitude rigid with attention. Outside, the streetwas absolutely deserted. Those two men might still be crouching in thedoorway, but I could no longer see them. All was still and dark, saveonly that brilliant yellow screen in front of us with the black figureoutlined upon its centre. Again in the utter silence I heard that thin,sibilant note which spoke of intense suppressed excitement. An instantlater he pulled me back into the blackest corner of the room, and Ifelt his warning hand upon my lips. The fingers which clutched me werequivering. Never had I known my friend more moved, and yet the darkstreet still stretched lonely and motionless before us.
But suddenly I was aware of that which his keener senses had alreadydistinguished. A low, stealthy sound came to my ears, not from thedirection of Baker Street, but from the back of the very house in whichwe lay concealed. A door opened and shut. An instant later stepscrept down the passage--steps which were meant to be silent, but whichreverberated harshly through the empty house. Holmes crouched backagainst the wall and I did the same, my hand closing upon the handleof my revolver. Peering through the gloom, I saw the vague outline of aman, a shade blacker than the blackness of the open door. He stood foran instant, and then he crept forward, crouching, menacing, into theroom. He was within three yards of us, this sinister figure, and I hadbraced myself to meet his spring, before I realized that he had no ideaof our presence. He passed close beside us, stole over to the window,and very softly and noiselessly raised it for half a foot. As he sank tothe level of this opening the light of the street, no longer dimmed bythe dusty glass, fell full upon his face. The man seemed to be besidehimself with excitement. His two eyes shone like stars and hisfeatures were working convulsively. He was an elderly man, with a thin,projecting nose, a high, bald forehead, and a huge grizzled moustache.An opera-hat was pushed to the back of his head, and an evening dressshirt-front gleamed out through his open overcoat. His face was gauntand swarthy, scored with deep, savage lines. In his hand he carried whatappeared to be a stick, but as he laid it down upon the floor it gavea metallic clang. Then from the pocket of his overcoat he drew a bulkyobject, and he busied himself in some task which ended with a loud,sharp click, as if a spring or bolt had fallen into its place. Stillkneeling upon the floor he bent forward and threw all his weight andstrength upon some lever, with the result that there came a long,whirling, grinding noise, ending once more in a powerful click. Hestraightened himself then, and I saw that what he held in his hand wasa sort of gun, with a curiously misshapen butt. He opened it at thebreech, put something in, and snapped the breech-block. Then, crouchingdown, he rested the end of the barrel upon the ledge of the open window,and I saw his long moustache droop over the stock and his eye gleam asit peered along the sights. I heard a little sigh of satisfaction ashe cuddled the butt into his shoulder, and saw that amazing target, theblack man on the yellow ground, standing clear at the end of his foresight. For an instant he was rigid and motionless. Then his fingertightened on the trigger. There was a strange, loud whiz and a long,silvery tinkle of broken glass. At that instant Holmes sprang like atiger on to the marksman's back and hurled him flat upon his face. Hewas up again in a moment, and with convulsive strength he seized Holmesby the throat; but I struck him on the head with the butt of my revolverand he dropped again upon the floor. I fell upon him, and as I held himmy comrade blew a shrill call upon a whistle. There was the clatter ofrunning feet upon the pavement, and two policemen in uniform, with oneplain-clothes detective, rushed through the front entrance and into theroom.
That you, Lestrade? said Holmes.
Yes, Mr. Holmes. I took the job myself. It's good to see you back inLondon, sir.
I think you want a little unofficial help. Three undetected murders inone year won't do, Lestrade. But you handled the Molesey Mystery withless than your usual--that's to say, you handled it fairly well.
We had all risen to our feet, our prisoner breathing hard, with astalwart constable on each side of him. Already a few loiterers hadbegun to collect in the street. Holmes stepped up to the window, closedit, and dropped the blinds. Lestrade had produced two candles and thepolicemen had uncovered their lanterns. I was able at last to have agood look at our prisoner.
It was a tremendously virile and yet sinister face which was turnedtowards us. With the brow of a philosopher above and the jaw of asensualist below, the man must have started with great capacities forgood or for evil. But one could not look upon his cruel blue eyes, withtheir drooping, cynical lids, or upon the fierce, aggressive nose andthe threatening, deep-lined brow, without reading Nature's plainestdanger-signals. He took no heed of any of us, but his eyes were fixedupon Holmes's face with an expression in which hatred and amazement wereequally blended. You fiend! he kept on muttering. You clever, cleverfiend!
Ah, Colonel! said Holmes, arranging his rumpled collar; 'journeys endin lovers' meetings,' as the old play says. I don't think I have had thepleasure of seeing you since you favoured me with those attentions as Ilay on the ledge above the Reichenbach Fall.
The Colonel still stared at my friend like a man in a trance. Youcunning, cunning fiend! was all that he could say.
I have not introduced you yet, said Holmes. This, gentlemen, isColonel Sebastian Moran, once of Her Majesty's Indian Army, and the bestheavy game shot that our Eastern Empire has ever produced. I believeI am correct, Colonel, in saying that your bag of tigers still remainsunrivalled?
The fierce old man said nothing, but still glared at my companion; withhis savage eyes and bristling moustache he was wonderfully like a tigerhimself.
I wonder that my very simple stratagem could deceive so old a shikari,said Holmes. It must be very familiar to you. Have you not tethered ayoung kid under a tree, lain above it with your rifle, and waited forthe bait to bring up your tiger? This empty house is my tree and youare my tiger. You have possibly had other guns in reserve in case thereshould be several tigers, or in the unlikely supposition of your own aimfailing you. These, he pointed around, are my other guns. The parallelis exact.
Colonel Moran sprang forward, with a snarl of rage, but the constablesdragged him back. The fury upon his face was terrible to look at.
I confess that you had one small surprise for me, said Holmes. I didnot anticipate that you would yourself make use of this empty house andthis convenient front window. I had imagined you as operating from thestreet, where my friend Lestrade and his merry men were awaiting you.With that exception all has gone as I expected.
Colonel Moran turned to the official detective.
You may or may not have just cause for arresting me, said he, but atleast there can be no reason why I should submit to the gibes of thisperson. If I am in the hands of the law let things be done in a legalway.
Well, that's reasonable enough, said Lestrade. Nothing further youhave to say, Mr. Holmes, before we go?
Holmes had picked up the powerful air-gun from the floor and wasexamining its mechanism.
An admirable and unique weapon, said he, noiseless and of tremendouspower. I knew Von Herder, the blind German mechanic, who constructed itto the order of the late Professor Moriarty. For years I have been awareof its existence, though I have never before had the opportunity ofhandling it. I commend it very specially to your attention, Lestrade,and also the bullets which fit it.
You can trust us to look after that, Mr. Holmes, said Lestrade, as thewhole party moved towards the door. Anything further to say?
Only to ask what charge you intend to prefer?
What charge, sir? Why, of course, the attempted murder of Mr. SherlockHolmes.
Not so, Lestrade. I do not propose to appear in the matter at all. Toyou, and to you only, belongs the credit of the remarkable arrest whichyou have effected. Yes, Lestrade, I congratulate you! With your usualhappy mixture of cunning and audacity you have got him.
Got him! Got whom, Mr. Holmes?
The man that the whole force has been seeking in vain--ColonelSebastian Moran, who shot the Honourable Ronald Adair with an expandingbullet from an air-gun through the open window of the second-floor frontof No. 427, Park Lane, upon the 30th of last month. That's the charge,Lestrade. And now, Watson, if you can endure the draught from a brokenwindow, I think that half an hour in my study over a cigar may affordyou some profitable amusement.
Our old chambers had been left unchanged through the supervision ofMycroft Holmes and the immediate care of Mrs. Hudson. As I entered Isaw, it is true, an unwonted tidiness, but the old landmarks were allin their place. There were the chemical corner and the acid-stained,deal-topped table. There upon a shelf was the row of formidablescrap-books and books of reference which many of our fellow-citizenswould have been so glad to burn. The diagrams, the violin-case, and thepipe-rack--even the Persian slipper which contained the tobacco--all metmy eyes as I glanced round me. There were two occupants of the room--oneMrs. Hudson, who beamed upon us both as we entered; the other thestrange dummy which had played so important a part in the evening'sadventures. It was a wax-coloured model of my friend, so admirably donethat it was a perfect facsimile. It stood on a small pedestal table withan old dressing-gown of Holmes's so draped round it that the illusionfrom the street was absolutely perfect.
I hope you preserved all precautions, Mrs. Hudson? said Holmes.
I went to it on my knees, sir, just as you told me.
Excellent. You carried the thing out very well. Did you observe wherethe bullet went?
Yes, sir. I'm afraid it has spoilt your beautiful bust, for it passedright through the head and flattened itself on the wall. I picked it upfrom the carpet. Here it is!
Holmes held it out to me. A soft revolver bullet, as you perceive,Watson. There's genius in that, for who would expect to find such athing fired from an air-gun. All right, Mrs. Hudson, I am much obligedfor your assistance. And now, Watson, let me see you in your old seatonce more, for there are several points which I should like to discusswith you.
He had thrown off the seedy frock-coat, and now he was the Holmes of oldin the mouse-coloured dressing-gown which he took from his effigy.
The old shikari's nerves have not lost their steadiness nor his eyestheir keenness, said he, with a laugh, as he inspected the shatteredforehead of his bust.
Plumb in the middle of the back of the head and smack through thebrain. He was the best shot in India, and I expect that there are fewbetter in London. Have you heard the name?
No, I have not.
Well, well, such is fame! But, then, if I remember aright, you had notheard the name of Professor James Moriarty, who had one of the greatbrains of the century. Just give me down my index of biographies fromthe shelf.
He turned over the pages lazily, leaning back in his chair and blowinggreat clouds from his cigar.
My collection of M's is a fine one, said he. Moriarty himself isenough to make any letter illustrious, and here is Morgan the poisoner,and Merridew of abominable memory, and Mathews, who knocked out my leftcanine in the waiting-room at Charing Cross, and, finally, here is ourfriend of to-night.
He handed over the book, and I read: MORAN, SEBASTIAN, COLONEL.Unemployed. Formerly 1st Bengalore Pioneers. Born London, 1840. Son ofSir Augustus Moran, C.B., once British Minister to Persia. EducatedEton and Oxford. Served in Jowaki Campaign, Afghan Campaign, Charasiab(despatches), Sherpur, and Cabul. Author of 'Heavy Game of the WesternHimalayas,' 1881; 'Three Months in the Jungle,' 1884. Address: ConduitStreet. Clubs: The Anglo-Indian, the Tankerville, the Bagatelle CardClub.
On the margin was written, in Holmes's precise hand: The second mostdangerous man in London.
This is astonishing, said I, as I handed back the volume. The man'scareer is that of an honourable soldier.
It is true, Holmes answered. Up to a certain point he did well. Hewas always a man of iron nerve, and the story is still told in India howhe crawled down a drain after a wounded man-eating tiger. There are sometrees, Watson, which grow to a certain height and then suddenly developsome unsightly eccentricity. You will see it often in humans. I havea theory that the individual represents in his development the wholeprocession of his ancestors, and that such a sudden turn to good orevil stands for some strong influence which came into the line of hispedigree. The person becomes, as it were, the epitome of the history ofhis own family.
It is surely rather fanciful.
Well, I don't insist upon it. Whatever the cause, Colonel Moran beganto go wrong. Without any open scandal, he still made India too hot tohold him. He retired, came to London, and again acquired an evil name.It was at this time that he was sought out by Professor Moriarty,to whom for a time he was chief of the staff. Moriarty supplied himliberally with money and used him only in one or two very high-classjobs which no ordinary criminal could have undertaken. You may havesome recollection of the death of Mrs. Stewart, of Lauder, in 1887.Not? Well, I am sure Moran was at the bottom of it; but nothing couldbe proved. So cleverly was the Colonel concealed that even when theMoriarty gang was broken up we could not incriminate him. You rememberat that date, when I called upon you in your rooms, how I put up theshutters for fear of air-guns? No doubt you thought me fanciful. I knewexactly what I was doing, for I knew of the existence of this remarkablegun, and I knew also that one of the best shots in the world would bebehind it. When we were in Switzerland he followed us with Moriarty,and it was undoubtedly he who gave me that evil five minutes on theReichenbach ledge.
You may think that I read the papers with some attention during mysojourn in France, on the look-out for any chance of laying him by theheels. So long as he was free in London my life would really not havebeen worth living. Night and day the shadow would have been over me, andsooner or later his chance must have come. What could I do? I could notshoot him at sight, or I should myself be in the dock. There was no useappealing to a magistrate. They cannot interfere on the strength of whatwould appear to them to be a wild suspicion. So I could do nothing. ButI watched the criminal news, knowing that sooner or later I should gethim. Then came the death of this Ronald Adair. My chance had come atlast! Knowing what I did, was it not certain that Colonel Moran had doneit? He had played cards with the lad; he had followed him home from theclub; he had shot him through the open window. There was not a doubt ofit. The bullets alone are enough to put his head in a noose. I cameover at once. I was seen by the sentinel, who would, I knew, directthe Colonel's attention to my presence. He could not fail to connect mysudden return with his crime and to be terribly alarmed. I was sure thathe would make an attempt to get me out of the way AT ONCE, and wouldbring round his murderous weapon for that purpose. I left him anexcellent mark in the window, and, having warned the police that theymight be needed--by the way, Watson, you spotted their presence in thatdoorway with unerring accuracy--I took up what seemed to me to be ajudicious post for observation, never dreaming that he would choose thesame spot for his attack. Now, my dear Watson, does anything remain forme to explain?
Yes, said I. You have not made it clear what was Colonel Moran'smotive in murdering the Honourable Ronald Adair.
Ah! my dear Watson, there we come into those realms of conjecture wherethe most logical mind may be at fault. Each may form his own hypothesisupon the present evidence, and yours is as likely to be correct asmine.
You have formed one, then?
I think that it is not difficult to explain the facts. It came outin evidence that Colonel Moran and young Adair had between them won aconsiderable amount of money. Now, Moran undoubtedly played foul--ofthat I have long been aware. I believe that on the day of the murderAdair had discovered that Moran was cheating. Very likely he had spokento him privately, and had threatened to expose him unless he voluntarilyresigned his membership of the club and promised not to play cardsagain. It is unlikely that a youngster like Adair would at once make ahideous scandal by exposing a well-known man so much older than himself.Probably he acted as I suggest. The exclusion from his clubs would meanruin to Moran, who lived by his ill-gotten card gains. He thereforemurdered Adair, who at the time was endeavouring to work out howmuch money he should himself return, since he could not profit by hispartner's foul play. He locked the door lest the ladies should surprisehim and insist upon knowing what he was doing with these names andcoins. Will it pass?
I have no doubt that you have hit upon the truth.
It will be verified or disproved at the trial. Meanwhile, come whatmay, Colonel Moran will trouble us no more, the famous air-gun of VonHerder will embellish the Scotland Yard Museum, and once againMr. Sherlock Holmes is free to devote his life to examining thoseinteresting little problems which the complex life of London soplentifully presents.
THE STRAND MAGAZINE Vol. 26 NOVEMBER, 1903 THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. By ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE.