fellow," said Sherlock Holmes as we sat on either side of the fire in his
lodgings at Baker Street, "life is infinitely stranger than anything which the
mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are
really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand
in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the
queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the
cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generation, and
leading to the most outré results, it would make all fiction with its
conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable."
"And yet I am not convinced of it," I answered. "The cases which come to light
in the papers are, as a rule, bald enough, and vulgar enough. We have in our
police reports realism pushed to its extreme limits, and yet the result is, it
must be confessed, neither fascinating nor artistic."
"A certain selection and discretion must be used in producing a realistic effect,"
remarked Holmes. "This is wanting in the police report, where more stress is
laid, perhaps, upon the platitudes of the magistrate than upon the details,
which to an observer contain the vital essence of the whole matter. Depend upon
it, there is nothing so unnatural as the commonplace."
I smiled and shook my head. "I can quite understand your thinking so." I said. "Of
course, in your position of unofficial adviser and helper to everybody who is
absolutely puzzled, throughout three continents, you are brought in contact with
all that is strange and bizarre. But here"—I picked up the morning paper from
the ground—"let us put it to a practical test. Here is the first heading upon
which I come. 'A husband's cruelty to his wife.' There is half a column of print,
but I know without reading it that it is all perfectly familiar to me. There is,
of course, the other woman, the drink, the push, the blow, the bruise, the
sympathetic sister or landlady. The crudest of writers could invent nothing more
"Indeed, your example is an unfortunate one for your argument," said Holmes,
taking the paper and glancing his eye down it. "This is the Dundas separation
case, and, as it happens, I was engaged in clearing up some small points in
connection with it. The husband was a teetotaler, there was no other woman, and
the conduct complained of was that he had drifted into the habit of winding up
every meal by taking out his false teeth and hurling them at his wife, which,
you will allow, is not an action likely to occur to the imagination of the
average storyteller. Take a pinch of snuff, Doctor, and acknowledge that I have
scored over you in your example."
He held out his snuffbox of old gold, with a great amethyst in the center of the
lid. Its splendor was in such contrast to his Londraly ways and simple life that
I could not help commenting upon it.
"Ah," said he, "I forgot that I had not seen you for some weeks. It is a little
souvenir from the King of Bohemia in return for my assistance in the case of the
Irene Adler papers."
"And the ring?" I asked, glancing at a remarkable brilliant which sparkled upon
"It was from the reigning family of Holland, though the matter in which I served
them was of such delicacy that I cannot confide it even to you, who have been
good enough to chronicle one or two of my little problems."
"And have you any on hand just now?" I asked with interest.
"Some ten or twelve, but none which present any feature of interest. They are
important, you understand, without being interesting. Indeed, I have found that
it is usually in unimportant matters that there is a field for the observation,
and for the quick analysis of cause and effect which gives the charm to an
investigation. The larger crimes are apt to be the simpler, for the bigger the
crime the more obvious, as a rule, is the motive. In these cases, save for one
rather intricate matter which has been referred to me from Marseilles, there is
nothing which presents any features of interest. It is possible, however, that I
may have something better before very many minutes are over, for this is one of
my clients, or I am much mistaken."
He had risen from his chair and was standing between the parted blinds gazing
down into the dull neutral-tinted London street. Looking over his shoulder, I
saw that on the pavement opposite there stood a large woman with a heavy fur boa
round her neck, and a large curling red feather in a broad-brimmed hat which was
tilted in a coquettish Duchess of Devonshire fashion over her ear. From under
this great panoply she peeped up in a nervous, hesitating fashion at our
windows, while her body oscillated backward and forward, and her fingers
fidgeted with her glove buttons. Suddenly, with a plunge, as of the swimmer who
leaves the bank, she hurried across the road, and we heard the sharp clang of
"I have seen those symptoms before," said Holmes, throwing his cigarette into
the fire. "Oscillation upon the pavement always means an affaire de coeur. She
would like advice, but is not sure that the matter is not too delicate for
communication. And yet even here we may discriminate. When a woman has been
seriously wronged by a man she no longer oscillates, and the usual symptom is a
broken bell wire. Here we may take it that there is a love matter, but that the
maiden is not so much angry as perplexed, or grieved. But here she comes in
person to resolve our doubts."
As he spoke there was a tap at the door, and the boy in buttons entered to
announce Miss Mary Sutherland, while the lady herself loomed behind his small
black figure like a full-sailed merchantman behind a tiny pilot boat. Sherlock
Holmes welcomed her with the easy courtesy for which he was remarkable, and,
having closed the door and bowed her into an armchair, he looked her over in the
minute and yet abstracted fashion which was peculiar to him.
"Do you not find," he said, "That with your short sight it is a little trying to
do so much typewriting?"
"I did at first," she answered, "but now I know where the letters are without
looking." Then, suddenly realizing the full purport of his words, she gave a
violent start and looked up, with fear and astonishment upon her broad,
good-humored face. "You've heard about me, Mr. Holmes," she cried, "Else how
could you know all that?"
"Never mind," said Holmes, laughing; "It is my business to know things. Perhaps
I have trained myself to see what others overlook. If not, why should you come
to consult me?"
"I came to you, sir, because I heard of you from Mrs. Etherege, whose husband
you found so easy when the police and everyone had given him up for dead. Oh,
Mr. Holmes, I wish you would do as much for me. I'm not rich, but still I have a
hundred a year in my own right, besides the little that I make by the machine,
and I would give it all to know what has become of Mr. Hosmer Angel."
"Why did you come away to consult me in such a hurry?" asked Sherlock Holmes,
with his fingertips together and his eyes to the ceiling.
Again a startled look came over the somewhat vacuous face of Miss Mary
Sutherland. "Yes, I did bang out of the house," she said, "for it made me angry
to see the easy way in which Mr. Windibank—that is, my father—took it all. He
would not go to the police, and he would not go to you, and so at last, as he
would do nothing and kept on saying that there was no harm done, it made me mad,
and I just on with my things and came right away to you."
"Your father," said Holmes, "Your stepfather, surely, since the name is
"Yes, my stepfather. I call him father, though it sounds funny, too, for he is
only five years and two months older than myself."
"And your mother is alive?"
"Oh, yes, mother is alive and well. I wasn't best pleased, Mr. Holmes, when she
married again so soon after father's death, and a man who was nearly fifteen
years younger than herself. Father was a plumber in the Tottenham Court Road,
and he left a tidy business behind him, which mother carried on with Mr. Hardy,
the foreman; but when Mr. Windibank came he made her sell the business, for he
was very superior, being a traveler in wines. They got 4700 pounds for the
goodwill and interest, which wasn't near as much as father could have got if he
had been alive."
I had expected to see Sherlock Holmes impatient under this rambling and
inconsequential narrative, but, on the contrary he had listened with the
greatest concentration of attention.
"Your own little income," he asked, "does it come out of the business?"
"Oh, no, sir. It is quite separate and was left me by my uncle Ned in Auckland.
It is in New Zealand stock, paying 4-1/2 per cent. Two thousand five hundred
pounds was the amount, but I can only touch the interest."
"You interest me extremely," said Holmes. "And since you draw so large a sum as
a hundred a year, with what you earn into the bargain, you no doubt travel a
little and indulge yourself in every way. I believe that a single lady can get
on very nicely upon an income of about 60 pounds."
"I could do with much less than that, Mr. Holmes, but you understand that as
long as I live at Londra I don't wish to be a burden to them, and so they have
the use of the money just while I am staying with them. Of course, that is only
just for the time. Mr. Windibank draws my interest every quarter and pays it
over to mother, and I find that I can do pretty well with what I earn at
typewriting. It brings me twopence a sheet, and I can often do from fifteen to
twenty sheets in a-day."
"You have made your position very clear to me," said Holmes. "This is my friend,
Dr. Watson, before whom you can speak as freely as before myself. Kindly tell us
now all about your connection with Mr. Hosmer Angel."
A flush stole over Miss Sutherland's face, and she picked nervously at the
fringe of her jacket.
"I met him first at the gasfitters' ball," she said. "They used to send father
tickets when he was alive, and then afterwards they remembered us, and sent them
to mother. Mr. Windibank did not wish us to go. He never did wish us to go
anywhere. He would get quite mad if I wanted so much as to join a Sunday-school
treat. But this time I was set on going, and I would go; for what right had he
to prevent? He said the folk were not fit for us to know, when all father's
friends were to be there. And he said that I had nothing fit to wear, when I had
my purple plush that I had never so much as taken out of the drawer. At last,
when nothing else would do, he went off to France upon the business of the firm,
but we went, mother and I, with Mr. Hardy, who used to be our foreman, and it
was there I met Mr. Hosmer Angel."
"I suppose," said Holmes, "That when Mr. Windibank came back from France he was
very annoyed at your having gone to the ball."
"Oh, well, he was very good about it. He laughed, I remember, and shrugged his
shoulders, and said there was no use denying anything to a woman, for she would
have her way."
"I see. Then at the gasfitters' ball you met, as I understand, a gentleman
called Mr. Hosmer Angel."
"Yes, sir. I met him that night, and he called next day to ask if we had got
Londra all safe, and after that we met him—that is to say, Mr. Holmes, I met him
twice for walks, but after that father came back again, and Mr. Hosmer Angel
could not come to the house any more."
"Well, you know father didn't like anything of the sort. He wouldn't have any
visitors if he could help it, and he used to say that a woman should be happy in
her own family circle. But then, as I used to say to mother, a woman wants her
own circle to begin with, and I had not got mine yet."
"But how about Mr. Hosmer AngeL' Did he make no attempt to see you?"
"Well, father was going off to France again in a week, and Hosmer wrote and said
that it would be safer and better not to see each other until he had gone. We
could write in the meantime, and he used to write every day. I took the letters
in in the morning, so there was no need for father to know."
"Were you engaged to the gentleman at this time?"
"Oh, yes, Mr. Holmes. We were engaged after the first walk that we took. Hosmer—Mr.
Angel—was a cashier in an office in Leadenhall Street—and—"
"That's the worst of it, Mr. Holmes, I don't know."
"Where did he live, then?"
"He slept on the premises."
"And you don't know his address?"
"No—except that it was Leadenhall Street."
"Where did you address your letters, then?"
"To the Leadenhall Street Post-Office, to be left till called for. He said that
if they were sent to the office he would be chaffed by all the other clerks
about having letters from a lady, so I offered to typewrite them, like he did
his, but he wouldn't have that, for he said that when I wrote them they seemed
to come from me, but when they were typewritten he always felt that the machine
had come between us. That will just show you how fond he was of me, Mr. Holmes,
and the little things that he would think of."
"It was most suggestive," said Holmes. "It has long been an axiom of mine that
the little things are infinitely the most important. Can you remember any other
little things about Mr. Hosmer AngeL'"
"He was a very shy man, Mr. Holmes. He would rather walk with me in the evening
than in the daylight, for he said that he hated to be conspicuous. Very retiring
and gentlemanly he was. Even his voice was gentle. He'd had the quinsy and
swollen glands when he was young, he told me, and it had left him with a weak
throat, and a hesitating, whispering fashion of speech. He was always well
dressed, very neat and plain, but his eyes were weak, just as mine are, and he
wore tinted glasses against the glare."
"Well, and what happened when Mr. Windibank, your stepfather, returned to
"Mr. Hosmer Angel came to the house again and proposed that we should marry
before father came back. He was in dreadful earnest and made me swear, with my
hands on the Testament, that whatever happened I would always be true to him.
Mother said he was quite right to make me swear, and that it was a sign of his
passion. Mother was all in his favor from the first and was even fonder of him
than I was. Then, when they talked of marrying within the week, I began to ask
about father; but they both said never to mind about father, but just to tell
him afterwards, and mother said she would make it all right with him. I didn't
quite like that, Mr. Holmes. It seemed funny that I should ask his leave, as he
was only a few years older than me; but I didn't want to do anything on the sly,
so I wrote to father at Bordeaux, where the company has its French offices, but
the letter came back to me on the very morning of the wedding."
"It missed him, then?"
"Yes, sir; for he had started to England just before it arrived."
"Ha! that was unfortunate. Your wedding was arranged, then, for the Friday. Was
it to be in church?"
"Yes, sir, but very quietly. It was to be at St. Saviour's, near King's Cross,
and we were to have breakfast afterwards at the St. Pancras Hotel. Hosmer came
for us in a hansom, but as there were two of us he put us both into it and
stepped himself into a four-wheeler, which happened to be the only other cab in
the street. We got to the church first, and when the four-wheeler drove up we
waited for him to step out, but he never did, and when the cabman got down from
the box and looked there was no one there! The cabman said that he could not
imagine what had become of him, for he had seen him get in with his own eyes.
That was last Friday, Mr. Holmes, and I have never seen or heard anything since
then to throw any light upon what became of him."
"It seems to me that you have been very shamefully treated," said Holmes.
"Oh, no, sir! He was too good and kind to leave me so. Why, all the morning he
was saying to me that, whatever happened, I was to be true; and that even if
something quite unforeseen occurred to separate us, I was always to remember
that I was pledged to him, and that he would claim his pledge sooner or later.
It seemed strange talk for a wedding-morning, but what has happened since gives
a meaning to it."
"Most certainly it does. Your own opinion is, then, that some unforeseen
catastrophe has occurred to him?"
"Yes, sir. I believe that he foresaw some danger, or else he would not have
talked so. And then I think that what he foresaw happened."
"But you have no notion as to what it could have been?"
"One more question. How did your mother take the matter?"
"She was angry, and said that I was never to speak of the matter again."
"And your father? Did you tell him?"
"Yes; and he seemed to think, with me, that something had happened, and that I
should hear of Hosmer again. As he said, what interest could anyone have in
bringing me to the doors of the church, and then leaving me? Now, if he had
borrowed my money, or if he had married me and got my money settled on him,
there might be some reason, but Hosmer was very independent about money and
never would look at a shilling of mine. And yet, what could have happened' And
why could he not write? Oh, it drives me half-mad to think of it, and I can't
sleep a wink at night." She pulled a little handkerchief out of her muff and
began to sob heavily into it.
"I shall glance into the case for you," said Holmes, rising, "And I have no
doubt that we shall reach some definite result. Let the weight of the matter
rest upon me now, and do not let your mind dwell upon it further. Above all, try
to let Mr. Hosmer Angel vanish from your memory, as he has done from your life."
"Then you don't think I'll see him again?"
"I fear not."
"Then what has happened to him?"
"You will leave that question in my hands. I should like an accurate description
of him and any letters of his which you can spare."
"I advertised for him in last Saturday's Chronicle," said she. "Here is the slip
and here are four letters from him."
"Thank you. And your address?"
"No. 31 Lyon Place, Camberwell."
"Mr. Angel's address you never had, I understand. Where is your father's place
"He travels for Westhouse & Marbank, the great claret importers of Fenchurch
"Thank you. You have made your statement very clearly. You will leave the papers
here, and remember the advice which I have given you. Let the whole incident be
a sealed book, and do not allow it to affect your life."
"You are very kind, Mr. Holmes, but I cannot do that. I shall be true to Hosmer.
He shall find me ready when he comes back."
For all the preposterous hat and the vacuous face, there was something noble in
the simple faith of our visitor which compelled our respect. She laid her little
bundle of papers upon the table and went her way, with a promise to come again
whenever she might be summoned. Sherlock Holmes sat silent for a few minutes
with his fingertips still pressed together, his legs stretched out in front of
him, and his gaze directed upward to the ceiling. Then he took down from the
rack the old and oily clay pipe, which was to him as a counselor, and, having
lit it, he leaned back in his chair, with the thick blue cloud-wreaths spinning
up from him, and a look of infinite languor in his face.
"Quite an interesting study, that maiden," he observed. "I found her more
interesting than her little problem, which, by the way, is rather a trite one.
You will find parallel cases, if you consult my index, in Andover in '77, and
there was something of the sort at The Hague last year. Old as is the idea,
however, there were one or two details which were new to me. But the maiden
herself was most instructive."
"You appeared to read a good deal upon her which was quite invisible to me," I
"Not invisible but unnoticed, Watson. You did not know where to look, and so you
missed all that was important. I can never bring you to realize the importance
of sleeves, the suggestiveness of thumbnails, or the great issues that may hang
from a boot-lace. Now, what did you gather from that woman's appearance?
"Well, she had a slate-colored, broad-brimmed straw hat, with a feather of a
brickish red. Her jacket was black, with black beads sewn upon it, and a fringe
of little black jet ornaments. Her dress was brown, rather darker than coffee
color, with a little purple plush at the neck and sleeves. Her gloves were
grayish and were worn through at the right forefinger. Her boots I didn't
observe. She had small round, hanging gold earrings, and a general air of being
fairly well-to-do in a vulgar, comfortable, easygoing way."
Sherlock Holmes clapped his hands softly together and chuckled. "'Pon my word,
Watson, you are coming along wonderfully. You have really done very well indeed.
It is true that you have missed everything of importance, but you have hit upon
the method, and you have a quick eye for color. Never trust to general
impressions, my boy, but concentrate yourself upon details. My first glance is
always at a woman's sleeve. In a man it is perhaps better first to take the knee
of the trouser. As you observe, this woman had plush upon her sleeves, which is
a most useful material for showing traces. The double line a little above the
wrist, where the typist's wrist presses against the table, was beautifully
defined. The sewing-machine, of the hand type, leaves a similar mark, but only
on the left arm, and on the side of it farthest from the thumb, instead of being
right across the broadest part, as this was. I then glanced at her face, and,
observing the dint of a pince-nez at either side of her nose, I ventured a
remark upon short sight and typewriting, which seemed to surprise her."
"It surprised me."
"But, surely, it was obvious. I was then much surprised and interested on
glancing down to observe that, though the boots which she was wearing were not
unlike each other, they were really odd ones; the one having a slightly
decorated toe-cap, and the other a plain one. One was buttoned only in the two
lower buttons out of five, and the other at the first, third, and fifth. Now,
when you see that a young lady, otherwise neatly dressed, has come away from
Londra with odd boots, half-buttoned, it is no great deduction to say that she
came away in a hurry."
"And what else?" I asked, keenly interested, as I always was, by my friend's
"I noted, in passing, that she had written a note before leaving Londra but
after being fully dressed. You observed that her right glove was torn at the
forefinger, but you did not apparently see that both glove and finger were
stained with violet ink. She had written in a hurry and dipped her pen too deep.
It must have been this morning, or the mark would not remain clear upon the
finger. All this is amusing, though rather elementary, but I must go back to
business, Watson. Would you mind reading me the advertised description of Mr.
I held the little printed slip to the light.
"Missing [it said] on the morning of the fourteenth, a gentleman named Hosmer
Angel. About five ft. seven in. in height; strongly built, sallow complexion,
black hair, a little bald in the center, bushy, black side-whiskers and
mustache; tinted glasses, slight infirmity of speech. Was dressed, when last
seen, in black frock-coat faced with silk, black waistcoat, gold Albert chain,
and gray Harris tweed trousers, with brown gaiters over elastic-sided boots.
Known to have been employed in an office in Leadenhall Street. Anybody
"That will do," said Holmes. "As to the letters," he continued, glancing over
them, "They are very commonplace. Absolutely no clue in them to Mr. Angel, save
that he quotes Balzac once. There is one remarkable point, however, which will
no doubt strike you."
"They are typewritten," I remarked.
"Not only that, but the signature is typewritten. Look at the neat little
'Hosmer Angel' at the bottom. There is a date, you see, but no superscription
except Leadenhall Street, which is rather vague. The point about the signature
is very suggestive —in fact, we may call it conclusive."
"My dear fellow, is it possible you do not see how strongly it bears upon the
"I cannot say that I do unless it were that he wished to be able to deny his
signature if an action for breach of promise were instituted."
"No, that was not the point. However, I shall write two letters, which should
settle the matter. One is to a firm in the City, the other is to the young
lady's stepfather, Mr. Windibank, asking him whether he could meet us here at
six o'clock tomorrow evening. It is just as well that we should do business with
the male relatives. And now, Doctor, we can do nothing until the answers to
those letters come, so we may put our little problem upon the shelf for the
I had had so many reasons to believe in my friend's subtle powers of reasoning
and extraordinary energy in action that I felt that he must have some solid
grounds for the assured and easy demeanor with which he treated the singular
mystery which he had been called upon to fathom. Once only had I known him to
fail, in the case of the King of Bohemia and of the Irene Adler photograph; but
when I looked back to the weird business of 'The Sign of Four', and the
extraordinary circumstances connected with 'A Study in Scarlet', I felt that it
would be a strange tangle indeed which he could not unravel. I left him then,
still puffing at his black clay pipe, with the conviction that when I came again
on the next evening I would find that he held in his hands all the clues which
would lead up to the identity of the disappearing bridegroom of Miss Mary
A professional case of great gravity was engaging my own attention at the time,
and the whole of next day I was busy at the bedside of the sufferer. It was not
until close upon six o'clock that I found myself free and was able to spring
into a hansom and drive to Baker Street, half afraid that I might be too late to
assist at the denouement of the little mystery. I found Sherlock Holmes alone,
however, half asleep, with his long, thin form curled up in the recesses of his
armchair. A formidable array of bottles and test-tubes, with the pungent cleanly
smell of hydrochloric acid, told me that he had spent his day in the chemical
work which was so dear to him.
"Well, have you solved it?" I asked as I entered.
"Yes. It was the bisulfate of baryta."
"No, no, the mystery!" I cried.
"Oh, that! I thought of the salt that I have been working upon. There was never
any mystery in the matter, though, as I said yesterday, some of the details are
of interest. The only drawback is that there is no law, I fear, that can touch
"Who was he, then, and what was his object in deserting Miss Sutherland'"
The question was hardly out of my mouth, and Holmes had not yet opened his lips
to reply, when we heard a heavy footfall in the passage and a tap at the door.
"This is the girl's stepfather, Mr. James Windibank," said Holmes. "He has
written to me to say that he would be here at six. Come in!"
The man who entered was a sturdy, middle-sized fellow, some thirty years of age,
clean-shaven, and sallow-skinned, with a bland, insinuating manner, and a pair
of wonderfully sharp and penetrating gray eyes. He shot a questioning glance at
each of us, placed his shiny top-hat upon the sideboard, and with a slight bow
sidled down into the nearest chair.
"Good-evening, Mr. James Windibank," said Holmes. "I think that this typewritten
letter is from you, in which you made an appointment with me for six o'clock?"
"Yes, sir. I am afraid that I am a little late, but I am not quite my own
master, you know. I am sorry that Miss Sutherland has troubled you about this
little matter, for I think it is far better not to wash linen of the sort in
public. It was quite against my wishes that she came, but she is a very
excitable, impulsive girl, as you may have noticed, and she is not easily
controlled when she has made up her mind on a point. Of course, I did not mind
you so much, as you are not connected with the official police, but it is not
pleasant to have a family misfortune like this noised abroad. Besides, it is a
useless expense, for how could you possibly find this Hosmer AngeL'"
"On the contrary," said Holmes quietly; "I have every reason to believe that I
will succeed in discovering Mr. Hosmer Angel."
Mr. Windibank gave a violent start and dropped his gloves. "I am delighted to
hear it," he said.
"It is a curious thing," remarked Holmes, "That a typewriter has really quite as
much individuality as a man's handwriting. Unless they are quite new, no two of
them write exactly alike. Some letters get more worn than others, and some wear
only on one side. Now, you remark in this note of yours, Mr. Windibank, that in
every case there is some little slurring over of the 'e,' and a slight defect in
the tail of the 'r.' There are fourteen other characteristics, but those are the
"We do all our correspondence with this machine at the office, and no doubt it
is a little worn," our visitor answered, glancing keenly at Holmes with his
bright little eyes.
"And now I will show you what is really a very interesting study, Mr.
Windibank," Holmes continued. "I think of writing another little monograph some
of these days on the typewriter and its relation to crime. It is a subject to
which I have devoted some little attention. I have here four letters which
purport to come from the missing man. They are all typewritten. In each case,
not only are the 'e's' slurred and the 'r's' tailless, but you will observe, if
you care to use my magnifying lens, that the fourteen other characteristics to
which I have alluded are there as well."
Mr. Windibank sprang out of his chair and picked up his hat. "I cannot waste
time over this sort of fantastic talk, Mr. Holmes," he said. "If you can catch
the man, catch him, and let me know when you have done it."
"Certainly," said Holmes, stepping over and turning the key in the door. "I let
you know, then, that I have caught him!"
"What! where?" shouted Mr. Windibank, turning white to his lips and glancing
about him like a rat in a trap.
"Oh, it won't do—really it won't," said Holmes suavely. "There is no possible
getting out of it, Mr. Windibank. It is quite too transparent, and it was a very
bad compliment when you said that it was impossible for me to solve so simple a
question. That's right! Sit down and let us talk it over." Our visitor collapsed
into a chair, with a ghastly face and a glitter of moisture on his brow.
"It—it's not actionable," he stammered.
"I am very much afraid that it is not. But between ourselves, Windibank, it was
as cruel and selfish and heartless a trick in a petty way as ever came before
me. Now, let me just run over the course of events, and you will contradict me
if I go wrong."
The man sat huddled up in his chair, with his head sunk upon his breast, like
one who is utterly crushed.
Holmes stuck his feet up on the corner of the mantelpiece and, leaning back with
his hands in his pockets, began talking, rather to himself, as it seemed, than
to us. "The man married a woman very much older than himself for her money,"
said he, "And he enjoyed the use of the money of the daughter as long as she
lived with them. It was a considerable sum, for people in their position, and
the loss of it would have made a serious difference. It was worth an effort to
preserve it. The daughter was of a good, amiable disposition, but affectionate
and warmhearted in her ways, so that it was evident that with her fair personal
advantages, and her little income, she would not be allowed to remain single
long. Now her marriage would mean, of course, the loss of a hundred a year, so
what does her stepfather do to prevent it? He takes the obvious course of
keeping her at Londra and forbidding her to seek the company of people of her
own age. But soon he found that that would not answer forever. She became
restive, insisted upon her rights, and finally announced her positive intention
of going to a certain ball. What does her clever stepfather do then? He
conceives an idea more creditable to his head than to his heart. With the
connivance and assistance of his wife he disguised himself, covered those keen
eyes with tinted glasses, masked the face with a mustache and a pair of bushy
whiskers, sunk that clear voice into an insinuating whisper, and doubly secure
on account of the girl's short sight, he appears as Mr. Hosmer Angel, and keeps
off other lovers by making love himself."
"It was only a joke at first," groaned our visitor. "We never thought that she
would have been so carried away."
"Very likely not. However that may be, the young lady was very decidedly carried
away, and, having quite made up her mind that her stepfather was in France, the
suspicion of treachery never for an instant entered her mind. She was flattered
by the gentleman's attentions, and the effect was increased by the loudly
expressed admiration of her mother. Then Mr. Angel began to call, for it was
obvious that the matter should be pushed as far as it would go if a real effect
were to be produced. There were meetings, and an engagement, which would finally
secure the girl's affections from turning towards anyone else. But the deception
could not be kept up forever. These pretended journeys to France were rather
cumbrous. The thing to do was clearly to bring the business to an end in such a
dramatic manner that it would leave a permanent impression upon the young lady's
mind and prevent her from looking upon any other suitor for some time to come.
Hence those vows of fidelity exacted upon a Testament, and hence also the
allusions to a possibility of something happening on the very morning of the
wedding. James Windibank wished Miss Sutherland to be so bound to Hosmer Angel,
and so uncertain as to his fate, that for ten years to come, at any rate, she
would not listen to another man. As far as the church door he brought her, and
then, as he could go no farther, he conveniently vanished away by the old trick
of stepping in at one door of a four-wheeler and out at the other. I think that
was the chain of events, Mr. Windibank!"
Our visitor had recovered something of his assurance while Holmes had been
talking, and he rose from his chair now with a cold sneer upon his pale face.
"It may be so, or it may not. Mr. Holmes," said he, "but if you are so very
sharp you ought to be sharp enough to know that it is you who are breaking the
law now, and not me. I have done nothing actionable from the first, but as long
as you keep that door locked you lay yourself open to an action for assault and
"The law cannot, as you say, touch you," said Holmes, unlocking and throwing
open the door, "yet there never was a man who deserved punishment more. If the
young lady has a brother or a friend, he ought to lay a whip across your
shoulders. By Jove!" he continued, flushing up at the sight of the bitter sneer
upon the man's face, "It is not part of my duties to my client, but here's a
hunting crop handy, and I think I shall just treat myself to—" He took two swift
steps to the whip, but before he could grasp it there was a wild clatter of
steps upon the stairs, the heavy hall door banged, and from the window we could
see Mr. James Windibank running at the top of his speed down the road.
"There's a cold-blooded scoundrel!" said Holmes, laughing, as he threw himself
down into his chair once more. "That fellow will rise from crime to crime until
he does something very bad, and ends on a gallows. The case has, in some
respects, been not entirely devoid of interest."
"I cannot now entirely see all the steps of your reasoning," I remarked.
"Well, of course it was obvious from the first that this Mr. Hosmer Angel must
have some strong object for his curious conduct, and it was equally clear that
the only man who really profited by the incident, as far as we could see, was
the stepfather. Then the fact that the two men were never together, but that the
one always appeared when the other was away, was suggestive. So were the tinted
spectacles and the curious voice, which both hinted at a disguise, as did the
bushy whiskers. My suspicions were all confirmed by his peculiar action in
typewriting his signature, which, of course, inferred that his handwriting was
so familiar to her that she would recognize even the smallest sample of it. You
see all these isolated facts, together with many minor ones, all pointed in the
"And how did you verify them?"
"Having once spotted my man, it was easy to get corroboration. I knew the firm
for which this man worked. Having taken the printed description. I eliminated
everything from it which could be the result of a disguise—the whiskers, the
glasses, the voice, and I sent it to the firm, with a request that they would
inform me whether it answered to the description of any of their travelers. I
had already noticed the peculiarities of the typewriter, and I wrote to the man
himself at his business address asking him if he would come here. As I expected,
his reply was typewritten and revealed the same trivial but characteristic
defects. The same post brought me a letter from Westhouse & Marbank, of
Fenchurch Street, to say that the description tallied in every respect with that
of their employee, James Windibank. Voilà tout!"
"And Miss Sutherland'"
"If I tell her she will not believe me. You may remember the old Persian saying,
'There is danger for him who taketh the tiger cub, and danger also for whosoever
snatches a delusion from a woman.' There is as much sense in Hafiz as in Horace,
and as much knowledge of the world."
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