The Return of Sherlock Holmes
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chestnuts. A footman opened the door, and a small, stout man in
a shaggy astrakhan overcoat descended. A minute later he was in
Charles Augustus Milverton was a man of fifty, with a large,
intellectual head, a round, plump, hairless face, a perpetual
frozen smile, and two keen gray eyes, which gleamed brightly
from behind broad, gold-rimmed glasses. There was something
of Mr. Pickwick's benevolence in his appearance, marred only
by the insincerity of the fixed smile and by the hard glitter of
those restless and penetrating eyes. His voice was as smooth and
suave as his countenance, as he advanced with a plump little
hand extended, murmuring his regret for having missed us at his
first visit. Holmes disregarded the outstretched hand and looked
at him with a face of granite. Milverton's smile broadened, he
shrugged his shoulders, removed his overcoat, folded it with
great deliberation over the back of a chair, and then took a seat.
"This gentleman?" said he, with a wave in my direction. "Is
it discreet? Is it right?"
"Dr. Watson is my friend and partner."
"Very good, Mr. Holmes. It is only in your client's interests
that I protested. The matter is so very delicate --"
"Dr. Watson has already heard of it."
"Then we can proceed to business. You say that you are
acting for Lady Eva. Has she empowered you to accept my
"What are your terms?"
"Seven thousand pounds."
"And the alternative?"
"My dear sir, it is painful for me to discuss it, but if the
money is not paid on the 14th, there certainly will be no mar-
riage on the 18th." His insufferable smile was more complacent
Holmes thought for a little.
"You appear to me," he said, at last, "to be taking matters
too much for granted. I am, of course, familiar with the contents
of these letters. My client will certainly do what I may advise. I
shall counsel her to tell her future husband the whole story and to
trust to his generosity."
"You evidently do not know the Earl," said he.
From the baffled look upon Holmes's face, I could see clearly
that he did.
"What harm is there in the letters?" he asked.
"They are sprightly -- very sprightly," Milverton answered.
"The lady was a charming correspondent. But I can assure you
that the Earl of Dovercourt would fail to appreciate them. How-
ever, since you think otherwise, we will let it rest at that. It is
purely a matter of business. If you think that it is in the best
interests of your client that these letters should be placed in the
hands of the Earl, then you would indeed be foolish to pay so
large a sum of money to regain them." He rose and seized his
Holmes was gray with anger and mortification.
"Wait a little," he said. "You go too fast. We should cer-
tainly make every effort to avoid scandal in so delicate a matter."
Milverton relapsed into his chair.
"I was sure that you would see it in that light," he purred.
"At the same time," Holmes continued, "Lady Eva is not a
wealthy woman. I assure you that two thousand pounds would be
a drain upon her resources, and that the sum you name is utterly
beyond her power. I beg, therefore, that you will moderate your
demands, and that you will return the letters at the price I
indicate, which is, I assure you, the highest that you can get."
Milverton's smile broadened and his eyes twinkled humorously.
"I am aware that what you say is true about the lady's
resources," said he. "At the same time you must admit that the
occasion of a lady's marriage is a very suitable time for her
friends and relatives to make some little effort upon her behalf.
They may hesitate as to an acceptable wedding present. Let me
assure them that this little bundle of letters would give more joy
than all the candelabra and butter-dishes in London."
"It is impossible," said Holmes.
"Dear me, dear me, how unfortunate!" cried Milverton, tak-
ing out a bulky pocketbook. "I cannot help thinking that ladies
are ill-advised in not making an effort. Look at this!" He held up
a little note with a coat-of-arms upon the envelope. "That be-
longs to well, perhaps it is hardly fair to tell the name until
to-morrow morning. But at that time it will be in the hands of the
lady's husband. And all because she will not find a beggarly sum
which she could get by turning her diamonds into paste. It is
such a pity! Now, you remember the sudden end of the engage-
ment between the Honourable Miss Miles and Colonel Dorking?
Only two days before the wedding, there was a paragraph in the
Morning Post to say that it was all off. And why? It is almost
incredible, but the absurd sum of twelve hundred pounds would
have settled the whole question. Is it not pitiful? And here I find
you, a man of sense, boggling about terms, when your client's
future and honour are at stake. You surprise me, Mr. Holmes."
"What I say is true," Holmes answered. "The money cannot
be found. Surely it is better for you to take the substantial sum
which I offer than to ruin this woman's career, which can profit
you in no way?"
"There you make a mistake, Mr. Holmes. An exposure would
profit me indirectly to a considerable extent. I have eight or ten
similar cases maturing. If it was circulated among them that I
had made a severe example of the Lady Eva, I should find all of
them much more open to reason. You see my point?"
Holmes sprang from his chair.
"Get behind him, Watson! Don't let him out! Now, sir, let us
see the contents of that notebook."
Milverton had glided as quick as a rat to the side of the room
and stood with his back against the wall.
"Mr. Holmes, Mr. Holmes," he said, turning the front of his
coat and exhibiting the butt of a large revolver, which projected
from the inside pocket. "I have been expecting you to do
something original. This has been done so often, and what good
has ever come from it? I assure you that I am armed to the teeth,
and I am perfectly prepared to use my weapons, knowing that
the law will support me. Besides, your supposition that I would
bring the letters here in a notebook is entirely mistaken. I would
do nothing so foolish. And now, gentlemen, I have one or two
little interviews this evening, and it is a long drive to Hamp-
stead." He stepped forward, took up his coat, laid his hand on
his revolver, and turned to the door. I picked up a chair, but
Holmes shook his head, and I laid it down again. With a bow, a
smile, and a twinkle, Milverton was out of the room, and a few
moments after we heard the slam of the carriage door and the
rattle of the wheels as he drove away.
Holmes sat motionless by the fire, his hands buried deep in his
trouser pockets, his chin sunk upon his breast, his eyes fixed
upon the glowing embers. For half an hour he was silent and
still. Then, with the gesture of a man who has taken his decision,
he sprang to his feet and passed into his bedroom. A little later a
rakish young workman, with a goatee beard and a swagger, lit
his clay pipe at the lamp before descending into the street. "I'll
be back some time, Watson," said he, and vanished into the
night. I understood that he had opened his campaign against
Charles Augustus Milverton, but I little dreamed the strange
shape which that campaign was destined to take.
For some days Holmes came and went at all hours in this
attire, but beyond a remark that his time was spent at Hamp-
stead, and that it was not wasted, I knew nothing of what he was
doing. At last, however, on a wild, tempestuous evening, when
the wind screamed and rattled against the windows, he returned
from his last expedition, and having removed his disguise he
sat before the fire and laughed heartily in his silent inward
"You would not call me a marrying man, Watson?"
"You'll be interested to hear that I'm engaged."
"My dear fellow! I congrat --"
"To Milverton's housemaid."
"Good heavens, Holmes!"
"I wanted information, Watson."
"Surely you have gone too far?"
"It was a most necessary step. I am a plumber with a rising
business, Escott, by name. I have walked out with her each
evening, and I have talked with her. Good heavens, those talks!
However, I have got all I wanted. I know Milverton's house as I
know the palm of my hand."
"But the girl, Holmes?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"You can't help it, my dear Watson. You must play your
cards as best you can when such a stake is on the table. How-