The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
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bachelor and are residing alone in London.'
"'That is quite correct,' I answered; 'but you will excuse me if I say that
I cannot see how all this bears upon my professional qualifications. I
understand that it was on a professional matter that you wished to speak to me?'
"'Undoubtedly so. But you will find that all I say is really to the point.
I have a professional commission for you, but absolute secrecy is quite
essential--absolute secrecy, you understand, and of course we may expect that
more from a man who is alone than from one who lives in the bosom of his
"'If I promise to keep a secret,' said I, 'you may absolutely depend upon
my doing so.'
"He looked very hard at me as I spoke, and it seemed to me that I had never
seen so suspicious and questioning an eye.
"'Do you promise, then?' said he at last.
"'Yes, I promise.'
"'Absolute and complete silence before, during, and after? No reference to
the matter at all, either in word or writing?'
"'I have already given you my word.'
"'Very good.' He suddenly sprang up, and darting like lightning across the
room he flung open the door. The passage outside was empty.
"'That's all right,' said he, coming back. 'I know the clerks are sometimes
curious as to their master's affairs. Now we can talk in safety.' He drew up his
chair very close to mine and began to stare at me again with the same
questioning and thoughtful look.
"A feeling of repulsion, and of something akin to fear had begun to rise
within me at the strange antics of this fleshless man. Even my dread of losing a
client could not restrain me from showing my impatience.
"'I beg that you will state your business, sir,' said I; 'my time is of
value.' Heaven forgive me for that last sentence, but the words came to my lips.
"'How would fifty guineas for a night's work suit you?' he asked.
"'I say a night's work, but an hour's would be nearer the mark. I simply
want your opinion about a hydraulic stamping machine which has got out of gear.
If you show us what is wrong we shall soon set it right ourselves. What do you
think of such a commission as that?'
"'The work appears to be light and the pay munificent.'
"'Precisely so. We shall want you to come to-night by the last train.'
"'To Eyford, in Berkshire. It is a little place near the borders of
Oxfordshire, and within seven miles of Reading. There is a train from Paddington
which would bring you there at about 11:15.'
"'I shall come down in a carriage to meet you.'
"'There is a drive, then?'
"'Yes, our little place is quite out in the country. It is a good seven
miles from Eyford Station.'
"'Then we can hardly get there before midnight. I suppose there would be no
chance of a train back. I should be compelled to stop the night.'
"'Yes, we could easily give you a shake-down.'
"'That is very awkward. Could I not come at some more convenient hour?'
"'We have judged it best that you should come late. It is to recompense you
for any inconvenience that we are paying to you, a young and unknown man, a fee
which would buy an opinion from the very heads of your profession. Still, of
course, if you would like to draw out of the business, there is plenty of time
to do so.'
"I thought of the fifty guineas, and of how very useful they would be to
me. 'Not at all,' said I, 'I shall be very happy to accommodate myself to your
wishes. I should like, however, to understand a little more clearly what it is
that you wish me to do.'
"'Quite so. It is very natural that the pledge of secrecy which we have
exacted from you should have aroused your curiosity. I have no wish to commit
you to anything without your having it all laid before you. I suppose that we
are absolutely safe from eavesdroppers?'
"'Then the matter stands thus. You are probably aware that fuller's-earth
is a valuable product, and that it is only found in one or two places in
"'I have heard so.'
"'Some little time ago I bought a small place--a very small place--within
ten miles of Reading. I was fortunate enough to discover that there was a
deposit of fuller's-earth in one of my fields. On examining it, however, I found
that this deposit was a comparatively small one, and that it formed a link
between two very much larger ones upon the right and left--both of them,
however, in the grounds of my neighbors. These good people were absolutely
ignorant that their land contained that which was quite as valuable as a
gold-mine. Naturally, it was to my interest to buy their land before they
discovered its true value, but unfortunately I had no capital by which I could
do this. I took a few of my friends into the secret, however, and they suggested
that we should quietly and secretly work our own little deposit and that in this
way we should earn the money which would enable us to buy the neighboring
fields. This we have now been doing for some time, and in order to help us in
our operations we erected a hydraulic press. This press, as I have already
explained, has got out of order, and we wish your advice upon the subject. We
guard our secret very jealously, however, and if it once became known that we
had hydraulic engineers coming to our little house, it would soon rouse inquiry,
and then, if the facts came out, it would be good-bye to any chance of getting
these fields and carrying out our plans. That is why I have made you promise me
that you will not tell a human being that you are going to Eyford to-night. I
hope that I make it all plain?'
"'I quite follow you,' said I. 'The only point which I could not quite
understand was what use you could make of a hydraulic press in excavating
fuller's-earth, which, as I understand, is dug out like gravel from a pit.'
"'Ah!' said he carelessly, 'we have our own process. We compress the earth
into bricks, so as to remove them without revealing what they are. But that is a
mere detail. I have taken you fully into my confidence now, Mr. Hatherley, and I
have shown you how I trust you.' He rose as he spoke. 'I shall expect you, then,
at Eyford at 11:15.'
"'I shall certainly be there.'
"'And not a word to a soul.' He looked at me with a last long, questioning
gaze, and then, pressing my hand in a cold, dank grasp, he hurried from the
"Well, when I came to think it all over in cool blood I was very much
astonished, as you may both think, at this sudden commission which had been
intrusted to me. On the one hand, of course, I was glad, for the fee was at
least tenfold what I should have asked had I set a price upon my own services,
and it was possible that this order might lead to other ones. On the other hand,
the face and manner of my patron had made an unpleasant impression upon me, and
I could not think that his explanation of the fuller's-earth was sufficient to
explain the necessity for my coming at midnight, and his extreme anxiety lest I
should tell anyone of my errand. However, I threw all fears to the winds, ate a
hearty supper, drove to Paddington, and started off, having obeyed to the letter
the injunction as to holding my tongue.
"At Reading I had to change not only my carriage but my station. However, I
was in time for the last train to Eyford, and I reached the little dim-lit
station after eleven o'clock. I was the only passenger who got out there, and
there was no one upon the platform save a single sleepy porter with a lantern.
As I passed out through the wicket gate, however, I found my acquaintance of the
morning waiting in the shadow upon the other side. Without a word he grasped my
arm and hurried me into a carriage, the door of which was standing open. He drew
up the windows on either side, tapped on the wood-work, and away we went as fast
as the horse could go."
"One horse?" interjected Holmes.
"Yes, only one."
"Did you observe the color?"
"Yes, I saw it by the side-lights when I was stepping into the carriage. It
was a chestnut."
"Tired-looking or fresh?"
"Oh, fresh and glossy."
"Thank you. I am sorry to have interrupted you. Pray continue your most
"Away we went then, and we drove for at least an hour. Colonel Lysander
Stark had said that it was only seven miles, but I should think, from the rate
that we seemed to go, and from the time that we took, that it must have been
nearer twelve. He sat at my side in silence all the time, and I was aware, more
than once when I glanced in his direction, that he was looking at me with great
intensity. The country roads seem to be not very good in that part of the world,
for we lurched and jolted terribly. I tried to look out of the windows to see
something of where we were, but they were made of frosted glass, and I could
make out nothing save the occasional bright blur of a passing light. Now and
then I hazarded some remark to break the monotony of the journey, but the
colonel answered only in monosyllables, and the conversation soon flagged. At
last, however, the bumping of the road was exchanged for the crisp smoothness of
a gravel-drive, and the carriage came to a stand. Colonel Lysander Stark sprang
out, and, as I followed after him, pulled me swiftly into a porch which gaped in
front of us. We stepped, as it were, right out of the carriage and into the
hall, so that I failed to catch the most fleeting glance of the front of the
house. The instant that I had crossed the threshold the door slammed heavily
behind us, and I heard faintly the rattle of the wheels as the carriage drove
"It was pitch dark inside the house, and the colonel fumbled about looking
for matches and muttering under his breath. Suddenly a door opened at the other
end of the passage, and a long, golden bar of light shot out in our direction.
It grew broader, and a woman appeared with a lamp in her hand, which she held
above her head, pushing her face forward and peering at us. I could see that she
was pretty, and from the gloss with which the light shone upon her dark dress I
knew that it was a rich material. She spoke a few words in a foreign tongue in a
tone as though asking a question, and when my companion answered in a gruff
monosyllable she gave such a start that the lamp nearly fell from her hand.
Colonel Stark went up to her, whispered something in her ear, and then, pushing
her back into the room from whence she had come, he walked towards me again with
the lamp in his hand.
"'Perhaps you will have the kindness to wait in this room for a few
minutes,' said he, throwing open another door. It was a quiet, little, plainly
furnished room, with a round table in the centre, on which several German books
were scattered. Colonel Stark laid down the lamp on the top of a harmonium
beside the door. 'I shall not keep you waiting an instant,' said he, and
vanished into the darkness.
"I glanced at the books upon the table, and in spite of my ignorance of
German I could see that two of them were treatises on science, the others being
volumes of poetry. Then I walked across to the window, hoping that I might catch
some glimpse of the country-side, but an oak shutter, heavily barred, was folded
across it. It was a wonderfully silent house. There was an old clock ticking
loudly somewhere in the passage, but otherwise everything was deadly still. A
vague feeling of uneasiness began to steal over me. Who were these German
people, and what were they doing living in this strange, out-of-the-way place?
And where was the place? I was ten miles or so from Eyford, that was all I knew,
but whether north, south, east, or west I had no idea. For that matter, Reading,
and possibly other large towns, were within that radius, so the place might not
be so secluded, after all. Yet it was quite certain, from the absolute
stillness, that we were in the country. I paced up and down the room, humming a
tune under my breath to keep up my spirits and feeling that I was thoroughly
earning my fifty-guinea fee.
"Suddenly, without any preliminary sound in the midst of the utter
stillness, the door of my room swung slowly open. The woman was standing in the
aperture, the darkness of the hall behind her, the yellow light from my lamp
beating upon her eager and beautiful face. I could see at a glance that she was
sick with fear, and the sight sent a chill to my own heart. She held up one
shaking finger to warn me to be silent, and she shot a few whispered words of
broken English at me, her eyes glancing back, like those of a frightened horse,
into the gloom behind her.
"'I would go,' said she, trying hard, as it seemed to me, to speak calmly;
'I would go. I should not stay here. There is no good for you to do.'
"'But, madam,' said I, 'I have not yet done what I came for. I cannot
possibly leave until I have seen the machine.'
"'It is not worth your while to wait,' she went on. 'You can pass through
the door; no one hinders.' And then, seeing that I smiled and shook my head, she
suddenly threw aside her constraint and made a step forward, with her hands
wrung together. 'For the love of Heaven!' she whispered, 'get away from here
before it is too late!'
"But I am somewhat headstrong by nature, and the more ready to engage in an