The Return of Sherlock Holmes
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The two statesmen exchanged a quick glance and the Pre-
mier's shaggy eyebrows gathered in a frown.
"Mr. Holmes, the envelope is a long, thin one of pale blue
colour. There is a seal of red wax stamped with a crouching lion.
It is addressed in large, bold handwriting to --"
"I fear, sir," said Holmes, "that, interesting and indeed
essential as these details are, my inquiries must go more to the
root of things. What was the letter?"
"That is a State secret of the utmost importance, and I fear
that I cannot tell you, nor do I see that it is necessary. If by the
aid of the powers which you are said to possess you can find
such an envelope as I describe with its enclosure, you will have
deserved well of your country, and earned any reward which it
lies in our power to bestow."
Sherlock Holmes rose with a smile.
"You are two of the most busy men in the country," said he,
"and in my own small way I have also a good many calls upon
me. I regret exceedingly that I cannot help you in this matter,
and any continuation of this interview would be a waste of
The Premier sprang to his feet with that quick, fierce gleam of
his deep-set eyes before which a Cabinet has cowered. "I am not
accustomed, sir," he began, but mastered his anger and resumed
his seat. For a minute or more we all sat in silence. Then the old
statesman shrugged his shoulders.
"We must accept your terms, Mr. Holmes. No doubt you are
right, and it is unreasonable for us to expect you to act unless we
give you our entire confidence."
"I agree with you," said the younger statesman.
"Then I will tell you, relying entirely upon your honour and
that of your colleague, Dr. Watson. I may appeal to your patrio-
tism also, for I could not imagine a greater misfortune for the
country than that this affair should come out."
"You may safely trust us."
"The letter, then, is from a certain foreign potentate who has
been ruffled by some recent Colonial developments of this coun-
try. It has been written hurriedly and upon his own responsibility
entirely. Inquiries have shown that his Ministers know nothing of
the matter. At the same time it is couched in so unfortunate a
manner, and certain phrases in it are of so provocative a charac-
ter, that its publication would undoubtedly lead to a most danger-
ous state of feeling in this country. There would be such a
ferment, sir, that I do not hesitate to say that within a week of
the publication of that letter this country would be involved in a
Holmes wrote a name upon a slip of paper and handed it to the
"Exactly. It was he. And it is this letter -- this letter which
may well mean the expenditure of a thousand millions and the
lives of a hundred thousand men -- which has become lost in this
"Have you informed the sender?"
"Yes, sir, a cipher telegram has been despatched."
"Perhaps he desires the publication of the letter."
"No, sir, we have strong reason to believe that he already
understands that he has acted in an indiscreet and hot-headed
manner. It would be a greater blow to him and to his country
than to us if this letter were to come out."
"If this is so, whose interest is it that the letter should come
out? Why should anyone desire to steal it or to publish it?"
"There, Mr. Holmes, you take me into regions of high
international politics. But if you consider the European situation
you will have no difficulty in perceiving the motive. The whole
of Europe is an armed camp. There is a double league which
makes a fair balance of military power. Great Britain holds the
scales. If Britain were driven into war with one confederacy, it
would assure the supremacy of the other confederacy, whether
they joined in the war or not. Do you follow?"
"Very clearly. It is then the interest of the enemies of this
potentate to secure and publish this letter, so as to make a breach
between his country and ours?"
"And to whom would this document be sent if it fell into the
hands of an enemy?"
"To any of the great Chancelleries of Europe. It is probably
speeding on its way thither at the present instant as fast as steam
can take it."
Mr. Trelawney Hope dropped his head on his chest and groaned
aloud. The Premier placed his hand kindly upon his shoulder.
"It is your misfortune, my dear fellow. No one can blame
you. There is no precaution which you have neglected. Now,
Mr. Holmes, you are in full possession of the facts. What course
do you recommend?"
Holmes shook his head mournfully.
"You think, sir, that unless this document is recovered there
will be war?"
"I think it is very probable."
"Then, sir, prepare for war."
"That is a hard saying, Mr. Holmes."
"Consider the facts, sir. It is inconceivable that it was taken
after eleven-thirty at night, since I understand that Mr. Hope and
his wife were both in the room from that hour until the loss was
found out. It was taken, then, yesterday evening between seven-
thirty and eleven-thirty, probably near the earlier hour, since
whoever took it evidently knew that it was there and would
naturally secure it as early as possible. Now, sir, if a document
of this importance were taken at that hour, where can it be now?
No one has any reason to retain it. It has been passed rapidly on
to those who need it. What chance have we now to overtake or
even to trace it? It is beyond our reach."
The Prime Minister rose from the settee.
"What you say is perfectly logical, Mr. Holmes. I feel that
the matter is indeed out of our hands."
"Let us presume, for argument's sake, that the document was
taken by the maid or by the valet --"
"They are both old and tried servants."
"I understand you to say that your room is on the second
floor, that there is no entrance from without, and that from
within no one could go up unobserved. It must, then, be some-
body in the house who has taken it. To whom would the thief
take it? To one of several international spies and secret agents
whose names are tolerably familiar to me. There are three who
may be said to be the heads of their profession. I will begin my
research by going round and finding if each of them is at his
post. If one is missing -- especially if he has disappeared since
last night -- we will have some indication as to where the docu-
ment has gone."
"Why should he be missing?" asked the European Secretary.
"He would take the letter to an Embassy in London, as likely as
"I fancy not. These agents work independently, and their
relations with the Embassies are often strained."
The Prime Minister nodded his acquiescence.
"I believe you are right, Mr. Holmes. He would take so
valuable a prize to headquarters with his own hands. I think that
your course of action is an excellent one. Meanwhile, Hope, we
cannot neglect all our other duties on account of this one misfor-
tune. Should there be any fresh developments during the day we
shall communicate with you, and you will no doubt let us know
the results of your own inquiries."
The two statesmen bowed and walked gravely from the room.
When our illustrious visitors had departed Holmes lit his pipe
in silence and sat for some time lost in the deepest thought. I had
opened the morning paper and was immersed in a sensational
crime which had occurred in London the night before, when my
friend gave an exclamation, sprang to his feet, and laid his pipe
down upon the mantelpiece.
"Yes," said he, "there is no better way of approaching it.
The situation is desperate, but not hopeless. Even now, if we
could be sure which of them has taken it, it is just possible that it
has not yet passed out of his hands. After all, it is a question of
money with these fellows, and I have the British treasury behind
me. If it's on the market I'll buy it -- if it means another penny
on the income-tax. It is conceivable that the fellow might hold it
back to see what bids come from this side before he tries his luck
on the other. There are only those three capable of playing so
bold a game -- there are Oberstein, La Rothiere, and Eduardo
Lucas. I will see each of them."
I glanced at my morning paper.
"Is that Eduardo Lucas of Godolphin Street?"
"You will not see him."