The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
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through the hole and coming to the bed. The idea of a snake instantly occurred
to me, and when I coupled it with my knowledge that the doctor was furnished
with a supply of creatures from India, I felt that I was probably on the right
track. The idea of using a form of poison which could not possibly be discovered
by any chemical test was just such a one as would occur to a clever and ruthless
man who had had an Eastern training. The rapidity with which such a poison would
take effect would also, from his point of view, be an advantage. It would be a
sharp-eyed coroner, indeed, who could distinguish the two little dark punctures
which would show where the poison fangs had done their work. Then I thought of
the whistle. Of course he must recall the snake before the morning light
revealed it to the victim. He had trained it, probably by the use of the milk
which we saw, to return to him when summoned. He would put it through this
ventilator at the hour that he thought best, with the certainty that it would
crawl down the rope and land on the bed. It might or might not bite the
occupant, perhaps she might escape every night for a week, but sooner or later
she must fall a victim.
"I had come to these conclusions before ever I had entered his room. An
inspection of his chair showed me that he had been in the habit of standing on
it, which of course would be necessary in order that he should reach the
ventilator. The sight of the safe, the saucer of milk, and the loop of whipcord
were enough to finally dispel any doubts which may have remained. The metallic
clang heard by Miss Stoner was obviously caused by her stepfather hastily
closing the door of his safe upon its terrible occupant. Having once made up my
mind, you know the steps which I took in order to put the matter to the proof. I
heard the creature hiss as I have no doubt that you did also, and I instantly
lit the light and attacked it."
"With the result of driving it through the ventilator."
"And also with the result of causing it to turn upon its master at the
other side. Some of the blows of my cane came home and roused its snakish
temper, so that it flew upon the first person it saw. In this way I am no doubt
indirectly responsible for Dr. Grimesby Roylott's death, and I cannot say that
it is likely to weigh very heavily upon my conscience."
ADVENTURE IX. THE ADVENTURE OF THE ENGINEER'S THUMB
Of all the problems which have been submitted to my friend, Mr. Sherlock
Holmes, for solution during the years of our intimacy, there were only two which
I was the means of introducing to his notice--that of Mr. Hatherley's thumb, and
that of Colonel Warburton's madness. Of these the latter may have afforded a
finer field for an acute and original observer, but the other was so strange in
its inception and so dramatic in its details that it may be the more worthy of
being placed upon record, even if it gave my friend fewer openings for those
deductive methods of reasoning by which he achieved such remarkable results. The
story has, I believe, been told more than once in the newspapers, but, like all
such narratives, its effect is much less striking when set forth en bloc in a
single half-column of print than when the facts slowly evolve before your own
eyes, and the mystery clears gradually away as each new discovery furnishes a
step which leads on to the complete truth. At the time the circumstances made a
deep impression upon me, and the lapse of two years has hardly served to weaken
It was in the summer of '89, not long after my marriage, that the events
occurred which I am now about to summarize. I had returned to civil practice and
had finally abandoned Holmes in his Baker Street rooms, although I continually
visited him and occasionally even persuaded him to forgo his Bohemian habits so
far as to come and visit us. My practice had steadily increased, and as I
happened to live at no very great distance from Paddington Station, I got a few
patients from among the officials. One of these, whom I had cured of a painful
and lingering disease, was never weary of advertising my virtues and of
endeavoring to send me on every sufferer over whom he might have any influence.
One morning, at a little before seven o'clock, I was awakened by the maid
tapping at the door to announce that two men had come from Paddington and were
waiting in the consulting-room. I dressed hurriedly, for I knew by experience
that railway cases were seldom trivial, and hastened downstairs. As I descended,
my old ally, the guard, came out of the room and closed the door tightly behind
"I've got him here," he whispered, jerking his thumb over his shoulder;
"he's all right."
"What is it, then?" I asked, for his manner suggested that it was some
strange creature which he had caged up in my room.
"It's a new patient," he whispered. "I thought I'd bring him round myself;
then he couldn't slip away. There he is, all safe and sound. I must go now,
Doctor; I have my dooties, just the same as you." And off he went, this trusty
tout, without even giving me time to thank him.
I entered my consulting-room and found a gentleman seated by the table. He
was quietly dressed in a suit of heather tweed with a soft cloth cap which he
had laid down upon my books. Round one of his hands he had a handkerchief
wrapped, which was mottled all over with bloodstains. He was young, not more
than five-and-twenty, I should say, with a strong, masculine face; but he was
exceedingly pale and gave me the impression of a man who was suffering from some
strong agitation, which it took all his strength of mind to control.
"I am sorry to knock you up so early, Doctor," said he, "but I have had a
very serious accident during the night. I came in by train this morning, and on
inquiring at Paddington as to where I might find a doctor, a worthy fellow very
kindly escorted me here. I gave the maid a card, but I see that she has left it
upon the side-table."
I took it up and glanced at it. "Mr. Victor Hatherley, hydraulic engineer,
16A. Victoria Street (3d floor)." That was the name, style, and abode of my
morning visitor. "I regret that I have kept you waiting," said I, sitting down
in my library-chair. "You are fresh from a night journey, I understand, which is
in itself a monotonous occupation."
"Oh, my night could not be called monotonous," said he, and laughed. He
laughed very heartily, with a high, ringing note, leaning back in his chair and
shaking his sides. All my medical instincts rose up against that laugh.
"Stop it!" I cried; "pull yourself together!" and I poured out some water
from a caraffe.
It was useless, however. He was off in one of those hysterical outbursts
which come upon a strong nature when some great crisis is over and gone.
Presently he came to himself once more, very weary and pale-looking.
"I have been making a fool of myself," he gasped.
"Not at all. Drink this." I dashed some brandy into the water, and the
color began to come back to his bloodless cheeks.
"That's better!" said he. "And now, Doctor, perhaps you would kindly attend
to my thumb, or rather to the place where my thumb used to be."
He unwound the handkerchief and held out his hand. It gave even my hardened
nerves a shudder to look at it. There were four protruding fingers and a horrid
red, spongy surface where the thumb should have been. It had been hacked or torn
right out from the roots.
"Good heavens!" I cried, "this is a terrible injury. It must have bled
"Yes, it did. I fainted when it was done, and I think that I must have been
senseless for a long time. When I came to I found that it was still bleeding, so
I tied one end of my handkerchief very tightly round the wrist and braced it up
with a twig."
"Excellent! You should have been a surgeon."
"It is a question of hydraulics, you see, and came within my own province."
"This has been done," said I, examining the wound, "by a very heavy and
"A thing like a cleaver," said he.
"An accident, I presume?"
"By no means."
"What! a murderous attack?"
"Very murderous indeed."
"You horrify me."
I sponged the wound, cleaned it, dressed it, and finally covered it over
with cotton wadding and carbolized bandages. He lay back without wincing, though
he bit his lip from time to time.
"How is that?" I asked when I had finished.
"Capital! Between your brandy and your bandage, I feel a new man. I was
very weak, but I have had a good deal to go through."
"Perhaps you had better not speak of the matter. It is evidently trying to
"Oh, no, not now. I shall have to tell my tale to the police; but, between
ourselves, if it were not for the convincing evidence of this wound of mine, I
should be surprised if they believed my statement, for it is a very
extraordinary one, and I have not much in the way of proof with which to back it
up; and, even if they believe me, the clews which I can give them are so vague
that it is a question whether justice will be done."
"Ha!" cried I, "if it is anything in the nature of a problem which you
desire to see solved, I should strongly recommend you to come to my friend, Mr.
Sherlock Holmes, before you go to the official police."
"Oh, I have heard of that fellow," answered my visitor, "and I should be
very glad if he would take the matter up, though of course I must use the
official police as well. Would you give me an introduction to him?"
"I'll do better. I'll take you round to him myself."
"I should be immensely obliged to you."
"We'll call a cab and go together. We shall just be in time to have a
little breakfast with him. Do you feel equal to it?"
"Yes; I shall not feel easy until I have told my story."
"Then my servant will call a cab, and I shall be with you in an instant." I
rushed upstairs, explained the matter shortly to my wife, and in five minutes
was inside a hansom, driving with my new acquaintance to Baker Street.
Sherlock Holmes was, as I expected, lounging about his sittingroom in his
dressing-gown, reading the agony column of The Times and smoking his
before-breakfast pipe, which was composed of all the plugs and dottles left from
his smokes of the day before, all carefully dried and collected on the corner of
the mantelpiece. He received us in his quietly genial fashion, ordered fresh
rashers and eggs, and joined us in a hearty meal. When it was concluded he
settled our new acquaintance upon the sofa, placed a pillow beneath his head,
and laid a glass of brandy and water within his reach.
"It is easy to see that your experience has been no common one, Mr.
Hatherley," said he. "Pray, lie down there and make yourself absolutely at home.
Tell us what you can, but stop when you are tired and keep up your strength with
a little stimulant."
"Thank you," said my patient. "but I have felt another man since the doctor
bandaged me, and I think that your breakfast has completed the cure. I shall
take up as little of your valuable time as possible, so I shall start at once
upon my peculiar experiences."
Holmes sat in his big armchair with the weary, heavy-lidded expression
which veiled his keen and eager nature, while I sat opposite to him, and we
listened in silence to the strange story which our visitor detailed to us.
"You must know," said he, "that I am an orphan and a bachelor, residing
alone in lodgings in London. By profession I am a hydraulic engineer, and I have
had considerable experience of my work during the seven years that I was
apprenticed to Venner & Matheson, the well-known firm, of Greenwich. Two years
ago, having served my time, and having also come into a fair sum of money
through my poor father's death, I determined to start in business for myself and
took professional chambers in Victoria Street.
"I suppose that everyone finds his first independent start in business a
dreary experience. To me it has been exceptionally so. During two years I have
had three consultations and one small job, and that is absolutely all that my
profession has brought me. My gross takings amount to 27 pounds 10s. Every day,
from nine in the morning until four in the afternoon, I waited in my little den,
until at last my heart began to sink, and I came to believe that I should never
have any practice at all.
"Yesterday, however, just as I was thinking of leaving the office, my clerk
entered to say there was a gentleman waiting who wished to see me upon business.
He brought up a card, too, with the name of 'Colonel Lysander Stark' engraved
upon it. Close at his heels came the colonel himself, a man rather over the
middle size, but of an exceeding thinness. I do not think that I have ever seen
so thin a man. His whole face sharpened away into nose and chin, and the skin of
his cheeks was drawn quite tense over his outstanding bones. Yet this emaciation
seemed to be his natural habit, and due to no disease, for his eye was bright,
his step brisk, and his bearing assured. He was plainly but neatly dressed, and
his age, I should judge, would be nearer forty than thirty.
"'Mr. Hatherley?' said he, with something of a German accent. 'You have
been recommended to me, Mr. Hatherley, as being a man who is not only proficient
in his profession but is also discreet and capable of preserving a secret.'
"I bowed, feeling as flattered as any young man would at such an address.
'May I ask who it was who gave me so good a character?'
"'Well, perhaps it is better that I should not tell you that just at this
moment. I have it from the same source that you are both an orphan and a