Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
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rushed upstairs to make sure that she was not in the
house. As I did so I happened to glance out of one of
the upper windows, and saw the maid with whom I had
just been speaking running across the field in the
direction of the cottage. Then of course I saw
exactly what it all meant. My wife had gone over
there, and had asked the servant to call her if I
should return. Tingling with anger, I rushed down and
hurried across, determined to end the matter once and
forever. I saw my wife and the maid hurrying back
along the lane, but I did not stop to speak with them.
In the cottage lay the secret which was casting a
shadow over my life. I vowed that, come what might,
it should be a secret no longer. I did not even knock
when I reached it, but turned the handle and rushed
into the passage.
"It was all still and quiet upon the ground floor. In
the kitchen a kettle was singing on the fire, and a
large black cat lay coiled up in the basket; but there
was no sign of the woman whom I had seen before. I
ran into the other room, but it was equally deserted.
Then I rushed up the stairs, only to find two other
rooms empty and deserted at the top. There was no one
at all in the whole house. The furniture and pictures
were of the most common and vulgar description, save
in the one chamber at the window of which I had seen
the strange face. That was comfortable and elegant,
and all my suspicions rose into a fierce bitter flame
when I saw that on the mantelpiece stood a copy of a
fell-length photograph of my wife, which had been
taken at my request only three months ago.
"I stayed long enough to make certain that the house
was absolutely empty. Then I left it, feeling a
weight at my heart such as I had never had before. My
wife came out into the hall as I entered my house; but
I was too hurt and angry to speak with her, and
pushing past her, I made my way into my study. She
followed me, however, before I could close the door.
"'I am sorry that I broke my promise, Jack,' said she;
'but if you knew all the circumstances I am sure that
you would forgive me.'
"'Tell me everything, then,' said I.
"'I cannot, Jack, I cannot,' she cried.
"'Until you tell me who it is that has been living in
that cottage, and who it is to whom you have given
that photograph, there can never be any confidence
between us,' said I, and breaking away from her, I
left the house. That was yesterday, Mr. Holmes, and I
have not seen her since, nor do I know anything more
about this strange business. It is the first shadow
that has come between us, and it has so shaken me that
I do not know what I should do for the best. Suddenly
this morning it occurred to me that you were the man
to advise me, so I have hurried to you now, and I
place myself unreservedly in your hands. If there is
any point which I have not made clear, pray question
me about it. But, above all, tell me quickly what I
am to do, for this misery is more than I can bear."
Holmes and I had listened with the utmost interest to
this extraordinary statement, which had been delivered
in the jerky, broken fashion of a man who is under the
influence of extreme emotions. My companion sat
silent for some time, with his chin upon his hand,
lost in thought.
"Tell me," said he at last, "could you swear that this
was a man's face which you saw at the window?"
"Each time that I saw it I was some distance away from
it, so that it is impossible for me to say."
"You appear, however, to have been disagreeably
impressed by it."
"It seemed to be of an unnatural color, and to have a
strange rigidity about the features. When I
approached, it vanished with a jerk."
"How long is it since your wife asked you for a
"Nearly two months."
"Have you ever seen a photograph of her first
"No; there was a great fire at Atlanta very shortly
after his death, and all her papers were destroyed."
"And yet she had a certificate of death. You say that
you saw it."
"Yes; she got a duplicate after the fire."
"Did you ever meet any one who knew her in America?"
"Did she ever talk of revisiting the place?"
"Or get letters from it?"
"Thank you. I should like to think over the matter a
little now. If the cottage is now permanently
deserted we may have some difficulty. If, on the
other hand, as I fancy is more likely, the inmates
were warned of you coming, and left before you entered
yesterday, then they may be back now, and we should
clear it all up easily. Let me advise you, then, to
return to Norbury, and to examine the windows of the
cottage again. If you have reason to believe that is
inhabited, do not force your way in, but send a wire
to my friend and me. We shall be with you within an
hour of receiving it, and we shall then very soon get
to the bottom of the business."
"And if it is still empty?"
"In that case I shall come out to-morrow and talk it
over with you. Good-by; and, above all, do not fret
until you know that you really have a cause for it."
"I am afraid that this is a bad business, Watson,"
said my companion, as he returned after accompanying
Mr. Grant Munro to the door. "What do you make of
"It had an ugly sound," I answered.
"Yes. There's blackmail in it, or I am much
"And who is the blackmailer?"
"Well, it must be the creature who lives in the only
comfortable room in the place, and has her photograph
above his fireplace. Upon my word, Watson, there is
something very attractive about that livid face at the
window, and I would not have missed the case for
"You have a theory?"
"Yes, a provisional one. But I shall be surprised if
it does not turn out to be correct. This woman's
first husband is in that cottage."
"Why do you think so?"
"How else can we explain her frenzied anxiety that her
second one should not enter it? The facts, as I read
them, are something like this: This woman was married
in America. Her husband developed some hateful
qualities; or shall we say that he contracted some
loathsome disease, and became a leper or an imbecile?
She flies from him at last, returns to England,
changes her name, and starts her life, as she thinks,
afresh. She has been married three years, and
believes that her position is quite secure, having
shown her husband the death certificate of some man
whose name she has assumed, when suddenly her
whereabouts is discovered by her first husband; or, we
may suppose, by some unscrupulous woman who has
attached herself to the invalid. They write to the
wife, and threaten to come and expose her. She asks
for a hundred pounds, and endeavors to buy them off.
They come in spite of it, and when the husband
mentions casually to the wife that there a new-comers
in the cottage, she knows in some way that they are
her pursuers. She waits until her husband is asleep,
and then she rushes down to endeavor to persuade them
to leave her in peace. Having no success, she goes
again next morning, and her husband meets her, as he
has told us, as she comes out. She promises him then
not to go there again, but two days afterwards the
hope of getting rid of those dreadful neighbors was
too strong for her, and she made another attempt,
taking down with her the photograph which had probably
been demanded from her. In the midst of this
interview the maid rushed in to say that the master
had come home, on which the wife, knowing that he
would come straight down to the cottage, hurried the
inmates out at the back door, into the grove of
fir-trees, probably, which was mentioned as standing
near. In this way he found the place deserted. I
shall be very much surprised, however, if it still so
when he reconnoitres it this evening. What do you
think of my theory?"