The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
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he had to confess that I was right and to add the very few details which were
not yet quite clear to me. Your news of this morning, however, may open his
"For heaven's sake, tell me, then, what is this extraordinary mystery !"
"I will do so, and I will show you the steps by which I reached it. And let
me say to you, first, that which it is hardest for me to say and for you to
hear: there has been an understanding between Sir George Burnwell and your niece
Mary. They have now fled together."
"My Mary? Impossible!"
"It is unfortunately more than possible; it is certain. Neither you nor
your son knew the true character of this man when you admitted him into your
family circle. He is one of the most dangerous men in England--a ruined gambler,
an absolutely desperate villain, a man without heart or conscience. Your niece
knew nothing of such men. When he breathed his vows to her, as he had done to a
hundred before her, she flattered herself that she alone had touched his heart.
The devil knows best what he said, but at least she became his tool and was in
the habit of seeing him nearly every evening."
"I cannot, and I will not, believe it!" cried the banker with an ashen
"I will tell you, then, what occurred in your house last night. Your niece,
when you had, as she thought, gone to your room. slipped down and talked to her
lover through the window which leads into the stable lane. His footmarks had
pressed right through the snow, so long had he stood there. She told him of the
coronet. His wicked lust for gold kindled at the news, and he bent her to his
will. I have no doubt that she loved you, but there are women in whom the love
of a lover extinguishes all other loves, and I think that she must have been
one. She had hardly listened to his instructions when she saw you coming
downstairs, on which she closed the window rapidly and told you about one of the
servants' escapade with her wooden-legged lover, which was all perfectly true.
"Your boy, Arthur, went to bed after his interview with you but he slept
badly on account of his uneasiness about his club debts. In the middle of the
night he heard a soft tread pass his door, so he rose and, looking out, was
surprised to see his cousin walking very stealthily along the passage until she
disappeared into your dressing-room. Petrified with astonishment. the lad
slipped on some clothes and waited there in the dark to see what would come of
this strange affair. Presently she emerged from the room again, and in the light
of the passage-lamp your son saw that she carried the precious coronet in her
hands. She passed down the stairs, and he, thrilling with horror, ran along and
slipped behind the curtain near your door, whence he could see what passed in
the hall beneath. He saw her stealthily open the window, hand out the coronet to
someone in the gloom, and then closing it once more hurry back to her room,
passing quite close to where he stood hid behind the curtain.
"As long as she was on the scene he could not take any action without a
horrible exposure of the woman whom he loved. But the instant that she was gone
he realized how crushing a misfortune this would be for you, and how
all-important it was to set it right. He rushed down, just as he was, in his
bare feet, opened the window, sprang out into the snow, and ran down the lane,
where he could see a dark figure in the moonlight. Sir George Burnwell tried to
get away, but Arthur caught him, and there was a struggle between them, your lad
tugging at one side of the coronet, and his opponent at the other. In the
scuffle, your son struck Sir George and cut him over the eye. Then something
suddenly snapped, and your son, finding that he had the coronet in his hands,
rushed back, closed the window, ascended to your room, and had just observed
that the coronet had been twisted in the struggle and was endeavoring to
straighten it when you appeared upon the scene."
"Is it possible?" gasped the banker.
"You then roused his anger by calling him names at a moment when he felt
that he had deserved your warmest thanks. He could not explain the true state of
affairs without betraying one who certainly deserved little enough consideration
at his hands. He took the more chivalrous view, however, and preserved her
"And that was why she shrieked and fainted when she saw the coronet," cried
Mr. Holder. "Oh, my God! what a blind fool I have been! And his asking to be
allowed to go out for five minutes! The dear fellow wanted to see if the missing
piece were at the scene of the struggle. How cruelly I have misjudged him!'
"When I arrived at the house," continued Holmes, "I at once went very
carefully round it to observe if there were any traces in the snow which might
help me. I knew that none had fallen since the evening before, and also that
there had been a strong frost to preserve impressions. I passed along the
tradesmen's path, but found it all trampled down and indistinguishable. Just
beyond it, however, at the far side of the kitchen door, a woman had stood and
talked with a man, whose round impressions on one side showed that he had a
wooden leg. I could even tell that they had been disturbed, for the woman had
run back swiftly to the door, as was shown by the deep toe and light heel marks,
while Wooden-leg had waited a little, and then had gone away. I thought at the
time that this might be the maid and her sweetheart, of whom you had already
spoken to me, and inquiry showed it was so. I passed round the garden without
seeing anything more than random tracks, which I took to be the police; but when
I got into the stable lane a very long and complex story was written in the snow
in front of me.
"There was a double line of tracks of a booted man, and a second double
line which I saw with delight belonged to a man with naked feet. I was at once
convinced from what you had told me that the latter was your son. The first had
walked both ways, but the other had run swiftly, and as his tread was marked in
places over the depression of the boot, it was obvious that he had passed after
the other. I followed them up and found they led to the hall window, where Boots
had worn all the snow away while waiting. Then I walked to the other end, which
was a hundred yards or more down the lane. I saw where Boots had faced round,
where the snow was cut up as though there had been a struggle, and, finally,
where a few drops of blood had fallen, to show me that I was not mistaken. Boots
had then run down the lane, and another little smudge of blood showed that it
was he who had been hurt. When he came to the highroad at the other end, I found
that the pavement had been cleared, so there was an end to that clew.
"On entering the house, however, I examined, as you remember, the sill and
framework of the hall window with my lens, and I could at once see that someone
had passed out. I could distinguish the outline of an instep where the wet foot
had been placed in coming in. I was then beginning to be able to form an opinion
as to what had occurred. A man had waited outside the window; someone had
brought the gems; the deed had been overseen by your son; he had pursued the
thief; had struggled with him; they had each tugged at the coronet, their united
strength causing injuries which neither alone could have effected. He had
returned with the prize, but had left a fragment in the grasp of his opponent.
So far I was clear. The question now was, who was the man and who was it brought
him the coronet?
"It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible,
whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. Now, I knew that it was
not you who had brought it down, so there only remained your niece and the
maids. But if it were the maids, why should your son allow himself to be accused
in their place? There could be no possible reason. As he loved his cousin,
however, there was an excellent explanation why he should retain her secret--the
more so as the secret was a disgraceful one. When I remembered that you had seen
her at that window, and how she had fainted on seeing the coronet again, my
conjecture became a certainty.
"And who could it be who was her confederate? A lover evidently, for who
else could outweigh the love and gratitude which she must feel to you? I knew
that you went out little, and that your circle of friends was a very limited
one. But among them was Sir George Burnwell. I had heard of him before as being
a man of evil reputation among women. It must have been he who wore those boots
and retained the missing gems. Even though he knew that Arthur had discovered
him, he might still flatter himself that he was safe, for the lad could not say
a word without compromising his own family.
"Well, your own good sense will suggest what measures I took next. I went
in the shape of a loafer to Sir George's house, managed to pick up an
acquaintance with his valet, learned that his master had cut his head the night
before, and, finally, at the expense of six shillings, made all sure by buying a
pair of his cast-off shoes. With these I journeyed down to Streatham and saw
that they exactly fitted the tracks."
"I saw an ill-dressed vagabond in the lane yesterday evening," said Mr.
"Precisely. It was I. I found that I had my man, so I came home and changed
my clothes. It was a delicate part which I had to play then, for I saw that a
prosecution must be avoided to avert scandal, and I knew that so astute a
villain would see that our hands were tied in the matter. I went and saw him. At
first, of course, he denied everything. But when I gave him every particular
that had occurred, he tried to bluster and took down a life-preserver from the
wall. I knew my man, however, and I clapped a pistol to his head before he could
strike. Then he became a little more reasonable. I told him that we would give
him a price for the stones he held 1000 pounds apiece. That brought out the
first signs of grief that he had shown. 'Why, dash it all!' said he, 'I've let
them go at six hundred for the three!' I soon managed to get the address of the
receiver who had them, on promising him that there would be no prosecution. Off
I set to him, and after much chaffering I got our stones at 1000 pounds apiece.
Then I looked in upon your son, told him that all was right, and eventually got
to my bed about two o'clock, after what I may call a really hard day's work."
"A day which has saved England from a great public scandal," said the
banker, rising. "Sir, I cannot find words to thank you, but you shall not find
me ungrateful for what you have done. Your skill has indeed exceeded all that I
have heard of it. And now I must fly to my dear boy to apologize to him for the
wrong which I have done him. As to what you tell me of poor Mary, it goes to my
very heart. Not even your skill can inform me where she is now."
"I think that we may safely say," returned Holmes, "that she is wherever
Sir George Burnwell is. It is equally certain, too, that whatever her sins are,
they will soon receive a more than sufficient punishment."
ADVENTURE XII. THE ADVENTURE OF THE COPPER BEECHES
"To the man who loves art for its own sake," remarked Sherlock Holmes,
tossing aside the advertisement sheet of the Daily Telegraph, "it is frequently
in its least important and lowliest manifestations that the keenest pleasure is
to be derived. It is pleasant to me to observe, Watson, that you have so far
grasped this truth that in these little records of our cases which you have been
good enough to draw up, and, I am bound to say, occasionally to embellish, you
have given prominence not so much to the many causes celebres and sensational
trials in which I have figured but rather to those incidents which may have been
trivial in themselves, but which have given room for those faculties of
deduction and of logical synthesis which I have made my special province."
"And yet," said I, smiling, "I cannot quite hold myself absolved from the
charge of sensationalism which has been urged against my records."
"You have erred, perhaps," he observed, taking up a glowing cinder with the
tongs and lighting with it the long cherry-wood pipe which was wont to replace
his clay when he was in a disputatious rather than a meditative mood--"you have
erred perhaps in attempting to put color and life into each of your statements
instead of confining yourself to the task of placing upon record that severe
reasoning from cause to effect which is really the only notable feature about
"It seems to me that I have done you full justice in the matter," I
remarked with some coldness, for I was repelled by the egotism which I had more
than once observed to be a strong factor in my friend's singular character.
"No, it is not selfishness or conceit," said he, answering, as was his
wont, my thoughts rather than my words. "If I claim full justice for my art, it
is because it is an impersonal thing--a thing beyond myself. Crime is common.
Logic is rare. Therefore it is upon the logic rather than upon the crime that
you should dwell. You have degraded what should have been a course of lectures
into a series of tales."
It was a cold morning of the early spring, and we sat after breakfast on
either side of a cheery fire in the old room at Baker Street. A thick fog rolled
down between the lines of dun-colored houses, and the opposing windows loomed
like dark, shapeless blurs through the heavy yellow wreaths. Our gas was lit and
shone on the white cloth and glimmer of china and metal, for the table had not
been cleared yet. Sherlock Holmes had been silent all the morning, dipping
continuously into the advertisement columns of a succession of papers until at
last, having apparently given up his search, he had emerged in no very sweet
temper to lecture me upon my literary shortcomings.
"At the same time," he remarked after a pause, during which he had sat
puffing at his long pipe and gazing down into the fire, "you can hardly be open
to a charge of sensationalism, for out of these cases which you have been so
kind as to interest yourself in, a fair proportion do not treat of crime, in its
legal sense, at all. The small matter in which I endeavored to help the King of
Bohemia, the singular experience of Miss Mary Sutherland, the problem connected
with the man with the twisted lip, and the incident of the noble bachelor, were
all matters which are outside the pale of the law. But in avoiding the