Exactly, Mr. Holmes. You amaze me. How could you
possibly know that?
Pray continue your very interesting statement.
For an instant I imagined that Bannister had taken the
unpardonable liberty of examining my papers. He denied it, however, with the utmost
earnestness, and I am convinced that he was speaking the truth. The alternative was that
someone passing had observed the key in the door, had known that I was out, and had
entered to look at the papers. A large sum of money is at stake, for the scholarship is a
very valuable one, and an unscrupulous man might very well run a risk in order to gain an
advantage over his fellows.
Bannister was very much upset by the incident. He had
nearly fainted when we found that the papers had undoubtedly been tampered with. I gave
him a little brandy and left him collapsed in a chair, while I made a most careful
examination of the room. I soon saw that the intruder had left other traces of his
presence besides the rumpled papers. On the table in the window were several shreds from a
pencil which had been sharpened. A broken tip of lead was lying there also. Evidently the
rascal had copied the paper in a great hurry, had broken his pencil, and had been
compelled to put a fresh point to it.
Excellent! said Holmes, who was recovering his
good-humour as his attention became more engrossed by the case. Fortune has been
This was not all. I have a new writing-table with a fine
surface of red leather. I am prepared to swear, and so is Bannister, that it was smooth
and unstained. Now I found a clean cut in it about three inches longnot a mere
scratch, but a positive cut. Not only this, but on the table I found a small ball of black
dough or clay, with specks of something which looks like sawdust in it. I am convinced
that these marks were left by the man who rifled the papers. There were no  footmarks and no other
evidence as to his identity. I was at my wits end, when suddenly the happy thought
occurred to me that you were in the town, and I came straight round to put the matter into
your hands. Do help me, Mr. Holmes. You see my dilemma. Either I must find the man or else
the examination must be postponed until fresh papers are prepared, and since this cannot
be done without explanation, there will ensue a hideous scandal, which will throw a cloud
not only on the college, but on the university. Above all things, I desire to settle the
matter quietly and discreetly.
I shall be happy to look into it and to give you such
advice as I can, said Holmes, rising and putting on his overcoat. The case is
not entirely devoid of interest. Had anyone visited you in your room after the papers came
Yes, young Daulat Ras, an Indian student, who lives on
the same stair, came in to ask me some particulars about the examination.
For which he was entered?
And the papers were on your table?
To the best of my belief, they were rolled up.
But might be recognized as proofs?
No one else in your room?
Did anyone know that these proofs would be there?
No one save the printer.
Did this man Bannister know?
No, certainly not. No one knew.
Where is Bannister now?
He was very ill, poor fellow. I left him collapsed in
the chair. I was in such a hurry to come to you.
You left your door open?
I locked up the papers first.
Then it amounts to this, Mr. Soames: that, unless the
Indian student recognized the roll as being proofs, the man who tampered with them came
upon them accidentally without knowing that they were there.
So it seems to me.
Holmes gave an enigmatic smile.
Well, said he, let us go round. Not one of
your cases, Watsonmental, not physical. All right; come if you want to. Now, Mr.
Soamesat your disposal!
The sitting-room of our client opened by a long, low, latticed
window on to the ancient lichen-tinted court of the old college. A Gothic arched door led
to a worn stone staircase. On the ground floor was the tutors room. Above were three
students, one on each story. It was already twilight when we reached the scene of our
problem. Holmes halted and looked earnestly at the window. Then he approached it, and,
standing on tiptoe with his neck craned, he looked into the room.
He must have entered through the door. There is no
opening except the one pane, said our learned guide.
Dear me! said Holmes, and he smiled in a singular
way as he glanced at our companion. Well, if there is nothing to be learned here, we
had best go inside.
lecturer unlocked the outer door and ushered us into his room. We stood at the entrance
while Holmes made an examination of the carpet.
I am afraid there are no signs here, said he.
One could hardly hope for any upon so dry a day. Your servant seems to have quite
recovered. You left him in a chair, you say. Which chair?
By the window there.
I see. Near this little table. You can come in now. I
have finished with the carpet. Let us take the little table first. Of course, what has
happened is very clear. The man entered and took the papers, sheet by sheet, from the
central table. He carried them over to the window table, because from there he could see
if you came across the courtyard, and so could effect an escape.
As a matter of fact, he could not, said Soames,
for I entered by the side door.
Ah, thats good! Well, anyhow, that was in his
mind. Let me see the three strips. No finger impressionsno! Well, he carried over
this one first, and he copied it. How long would it take him to do that, using every
possible contraction? A quarter of an hour, not less. Then he tossed it down and seized
the next. He was in the midst of that when your return caused him to make a very hurried
retreatvery hurried, since he had not time to replace the papers which would tell
you that he had been there. You were not aware of any hurrying feet on the stair as you
entered the outer door?
No, I cant say I was.
Well, he wrote so furiously that he broke his pencil,
and had, as you observe, to sharpen it again. This is of interest, Watson. The pencil was
not an ordinary one. It was above the usual size, with a soft lead, the outer colour was
dark blue, the makers name was printed in silver lettering, and the piece remaining
is only about an inch and a half long. Look for such a pencil, Mr. Soames, and you have
got your man. When I add that he possesses a large and very blunt knife, you have an
Mr. Soames was somewhat overwhelmed by this flood of
information. I can follow the other points, said he, but really, in this
matter of the length
Holmes held out a small chip with the letters NN and a space
of clear wood after them.
No, I fear that even now
Watson, I have always done you an injustice. There are
others. What could this NN be? It is at the end of a word. You are aware that Johann Faber
is the most common makers name. Is it not clear that there is just as much of the
pencil left as usually follows the Johann? He held the small table sideways to the
electric light. I was hoping that if the paper on which he wrote was thin, some
trace of it might come through upon this polished surface. No, I see nothing. I dont
think there is anything more to be learned here. Now for the central table. This small
pellet is, I presume, the black, doughy mass you spoke of. Roughly pyramidal in shape and
hollowed out, I perceive. As you say, there appear to be grains of sawdust in it. Dear me,
this is very interesting. And the cuta positive tear, I see. It began with a thin
scratch and ended in a jagged hole. I am much indebted to you for directing my attention
to this case, Mr. Soames. Where does that door lead to?
To my bedroom.
you been in it since your adventure?
No, I came straight away for you.
I should like to have a glance round. What a charming,
old-fashioned room! Perhaps you will kindly wait a minute, until I have examined the
floor. No, I see nothing. What about this curtain? You hang your clothes behind it. If
anyone were forced to conceal himself in this room he must do it there, since the bed is
too low and the wardrobe too shallow. No one there, I suppose?
As Holmes drew the curtain I was aware, from some little
rigidity and alertness of his attitude, that he was prepared for an emergency. As a matter
of fact, the drawn curtain disclosed nothing but three or four suits of clothes hanging
from a line of pegs. Holmes turned away, and stooped suddenly to the floor.
Halloa! Whats this? said he.
It was a small pyramid of black, putty-like stuff, exactly
like the one upon the table of the study. Holmes held it out on his open palm in the glare
of the electric light.
Your visitor seems to have left traces in your bedroom
as well as in your sitting-room, Mr. Soames.
What could he have wanted there?
I think it is clear enough. You came back by an
unexpected way, and so he had no warning until you were at the very door. What could he
do? He caught up everything which would betray him, and he rushed into your bedroom to
Good gracious, Mr. Holmes, do you mean to tell me that,
all the time I was talking to Bannister in this room, we had the man prisoner if we had
only known it?
So I read it.
Surely there is another alternative, Mr. Holmes. I
dont know whether you observed my bedroom window?
Lattice-paned, lead framework, three separate windows,
one swinging on hinge, and large enough to admit a man.
Exactly. And it looks out on an angle of the courtyard
so as to be partly invisible. The man might have effected his entrance there, left traces
as he passed through the bedroom, and finally, finding the door open, have escaped that
Holmes shook his head impatiently.
Let us be practical, said he. I understand
you to say that there are three students who use this stair, and are in the habit of
passing your door?
Yes, there are.
And they are all in for this examination?
Have you any reason to suspect any one of them more than
It is a very delicate question, said he. One
hardly likes to throw suspicion where there are no proofs.
Let us hear the suspicions. I will look after the
I will tell you, then, in a few words the character of
the three men who inhabit these rooms. The lower of the three is Gilchrist, a fine scholar
and athlete, plays in the Rugby team and the cricket team for the college, and got his
Blue for the hurdles and the long jump. He is a fine, manly fellow. His father was the
notorious Sir Jabez Gilchrist, who ruined himself on the turf. My scholar has been left
very poor, but he is hard-working and industrious. He will do well.
second floor is inhabited by Daulat Ras, the Indian. He is a quiet, inscrutable fellow; as
most of those Indians are. He is well up in his work, though his Greek is his weak
subject. He is steady and methodical.
The top floor belongs to Miles McLaren. He is a
brilliant fellow when he chooses to workone of the brightest intellects of the
university; but he is wayward, dissipated, and unprincipled. He was nearly expelled over a
card scandal in his first year. He has been idling all this term, and he must look forward
with dread to the examination.
Then it is he whom you suspect?
I dare not go so far as that. But, of the three, he is
perhaps the least unlikely.
Exactly. Now, Mr. Soames, let us have a look at your
He was a little, white-faced, clean-shaven, grizzly-haired
fellow of fifty. He was still suffering from this sudden disturbance of the quiet routine
of his life. His plump face was twitching with his nervousness, and his fingers could not
We are investigating this unhappy business,
Bannister, said his master.
I understand, said Holmes, that you left
your key in the door?
Was it not very extraordinary that you should do this on
the very day when there were these papers inside?
It was most unfortunate, sir. But I have occasionally
done the same thing at other times.
When did you enter the room?
It was about half-past four. That is Mr. Soames
How long did you stay?
When I saw that he was absent, I withdrew at once.
Did you look at these papers on the table?
No, sircertainly not.
How came you to leave the key in the door?
I had the tea-tray in my hand. I thought I would come
back for the key. Then I forgot.
Has the outer door a spring lock?
Then it was open all the time?
Anyone in the room could get out?
When Mr. Soames returned and called for you, you were
very much disturbed?
Yes, sir. Such a thing has never happened during the
many years that I have been here. I nearly fainted, sir.
So I understand. Where were you when you began to feel
Where was I, sir? Why, here, near the door.
That is singular, because you sat down in that chair
over yonder near the corner. Why did you pass these other chairs?
I dont know, sir, it didnt matter to me
where I sat.
I really dont think he knew much about it, Mr.
Holmes. He was looking very badquite ghastly.
You stayed here when your master left?
Only for a minute or so. Then I locked the door and went
to my room.
do you suspect?
Oh, I would not venture to say, sir. I dont
believe there is any gentleman in this university who is capable of profiting by such an
action. No, sir, Ill not believe it.
Thank you, that will do, said Holmes. Oh,
one more word. You have not mentioned to any of the three gentlemen whom you attend that
anything is amiss?
No, sirnot a word.
You havent seen any of them?
Very good. Now, Mr. Soames, we will take a walk in the
quadrangle, if you please.
Three yellow squares of light shone above us in the gathering
Your three birds are all in their nests, said
Holmes, looking up. Halloa! Whats that? One of them seems restless
It was the Indian, whose dark silhouette appeared suddenly
upon his blind. He was pacing swiftly up and down his room.
I should like to have a peep at each of them, said
Holmes. Is it possible?
No difficulty in the world, Soames answered.
This set of rooms is quite the oldest in the college, and it is not unusual for
visitors to go over them. Come along, and I will personally conduct you.
No names, please! said Holmes, as we knocked at
Gilchrists door. A tall, flaxen-haired, slim young fellow opened it, and made us
welcome when he understood our errand. There were some really curious pieces of mediaeval
domestic architecture within. Holmes was so charmed with one of them that he insisted on
drawing it in his notebook, broke his pencil, had to borrow one from our host, and finally
borrowed a knife to sharpen his own. The same curious accident happened to him in the
rooms of the Indiana silent, little, hook-nosed fellow, who eyed us askance, and was
obviously glad when Holmess architectural studies had come to an end. I could not
see that in either case Holmes had come upon the clue for which he was searching. Only at
the third did our visit prove abortive. The outer door would not open to our knock, and
nothing more substantial than a torrent of bad language came from behind it. I
dont care who you are. You can go to blazes! roared the angry voice.
To-morrows the exam, and I wont be drawn by anyone.
A rude fellow, said our guide, flushing with anger
as we withdrew down the stair. Of course, he did not realize that it was I who was
knocking, but none the less his conduct was very uncourteous, and, indeed, under the
circumstances rather suspicious.
Holmess response was a curious one.
Can you tell me his exact height? he asked.
Really, Mr. Holmes, I cannot undertake to say. He is
taller than the Indian, not so tall as Gilchrist. I suppose five foot six would be about
That is very important, said Holmes. And
now, Mr. Soames, I wish you good-night.
Our guide cried aloud in his astonishment and dismay.
Good gracious, Mr. Holmes, you are surely not going to leave me in this abrupt
fashion! You dont seem to realize the position. To-morrow is the examination. I must
take some definite action to-night. I cannot allow the examination to be held if one of
the papers has been tampered with. The situation must be faced.
must leave it as it is. I shall drop round early to-morrow morning and chat the matter
over. It is possible that I may be in a position then to indicate some course of action.
Meanwhile, you change nothingnothing at all.
Very good, Mr. Holmes.
You can be perfectly easy in your mind. We shall
certainly find some way out of your difficulties. I will take the black clay with me, also
the pencil cuttings. Good-bye.
When we were out in the darkness of the quadrangle, we again
looked up at the windows. The Indian still paced his room. The others were invisible.
Well, Watson, what do you think of it? Holmes
asked, as we came out into the main street. Quite a little parlour gamesort of
three-card trick, is it not? There are your three men. It must be one of them. You take
your choice. Which is yours?
The foul-mouthed fellow at the top. He is the one with
the worst record. And yet that Indian was a sly fellow also. Why should he be pacing his
room all the time?
There is nothing in that. Many men do it when they are
trying to learn anything by heart.
He looked at us in a queer way.
So would you, if a flock of strangers came in on you
when you were preparing for an examination next day, and every moment was of value. No, I
see nothing in that. Pencils, too, and knivesall was satisfactory. But that fellow
does puzzle me.
Why, Bannister, the servant. Whats his game in the
He impressed me as being a perfectly honest man.
So he did me. Thats the puzzling part. Why should
a perfectly honest man Well, well, heres a large stationers. We
shall begin our researches here.
There were only four stationers of any consequences in the
town, and at each Holmes produced his pencil chips, and bid high for a duplicate. All were
agreed that one could be ordered, but that it was not a usual size of pencil, and that it
was seldom kept in stock. My friend did not appear to be depressed by his failure, but
shrugged his shoulders in half-humorous resignation.
No good, my dear Watson. This, the best and only final
clue, has run to nothing. But, indeed, I have little doubt that we can build up a
sufficient case without it. By Jove! my dear fellow, it is nearly nine, and the landlady
babbled of green peas at seven-thirty. What with your eternal tobacco, Watson, and your
irregularity at meals, I expect that you will get notice to quit, and that I shall share
your downfallnot, however, before we have solved the problem of the nervous tutor,
the careless servant, and the three enterprising students.
Holmes made no further allusion to the matter that day, though
he sat lost in thought for a long time after our belated dinner. At eight in the morning,
he came into my room just as I finished my toilet.
Well, Watson, said he, it is time we went
down to St. Lukes. Can you do without breakfast?
Soames will be in a dreadful fidget until we are able to
tell him something positive.
Have you anything positive to tell him?
I think so.
have formed a conclusion?
Yes, my dear Watson, I have solved the mystery.
But what fresh evidence could you have got?
Aha! It is not for nothing that I have turned myself out
of bed at the untimely hour of six. I have put in two hours hard work and covered at
least five miles, with something to show for it. Look at that!
He held out his hand. On the palm were three little pyramids
of black, doughy clay.
Why, Holmes, you had only two yesterday.
And one more this morning. It is a fair argument that
wherever No. 3 came from is also the source of Nos. 1 and 2. Eh, Watson? Well, come along
and put friend Soames out of his pain.
The unfortunate tutor was certainly in a state of pitiable
agitation when we found him in his chambers. In a few hours the examination would
commence, and he was still in the dilemma between making the facts public and allowing the
culprit to compete for the valuable scholarship. He could hardly stand still, so great was
his mental agitation, and he ran towards Holmes with two eager hands outstretched.
Thank heaven that you have come! I feared that you had
given it up in despair. What am I to do? Shall the examination proceed?
Yes, let it proceed, by all means.
But this rascal?
He shall not compete.
You know him?
I think so. If this matter is not to become public, we
must give ourselves certain powers and resolve ourselves into a small private
court-martial. You there, if you please, Soames! Watson, you here! Ill take the
armchair in the middle. I think that we are now sufficiently imposing to strike terror
into a guilty breast. Kindly ring the bell!
Bannister entered, and shrank back in evident surprise and
fear at our judicial appearance.
You will kindly close the door, said Holmes.
Now, Bannister, will you please tell us the truth about yesterdays
The man turned white to the roots of his hair.
I have told you everything, sir.
Nothing to add?
Nothing at all, sir.
Well, then, I must make some suggestions to you. When
you sat down on that chair yesterday, did you do so in order to conceal some object which
would have shown who had been in the room?
Bannisters face was ghastly.
No, sir, certainly not.
It is only a suggestion, said Holmes, suavely.
I frankly admit that I am unable to prove it. But it seems probable enough, since
the moment that Mr. Soamess back was turned, you released the man who was hiding in
Bannister licked his dry lips.
There was no man, sir.
Ah, thats a pity, Bannister. Up to now you may
have spoken the truth, but now I know that you have lied.
mans face set in sullen defiance.
There was no man, sir.
Come, come, Bannister!
No, sir, there was no one.
In that case, you can give us no further information.
Would you please remain in the room? Stand over there near the bedroom door. Now, Soames,
I am going to ask you to have the great kindness to go up to the room of young Gilchrist,
and to ask him to step down into yours.
An instant later the tutor returned, bringing with him the
student. He was a fine figure of a man, tall, lithe, and agile, with a springy step and a
pleasant, open face. His troubled blue eyes glanced at each of us, and finally rested with
an expression of blank dismay upon Bannister in the farther corner.
Just close the door, said Holmes. Now,
Mr. Gilchrist, we are all quite alone here, and no one need ever know one word of what
passes between us. We can be perfectly frank with each other. We want to know, Mr.
Gilchrist, how you, an honourable man, ever came to commit such an action as that of
The unfortunate young man staggered back, and cast a look full
of horror and reproach at Bannister.
No, no, Mr. Gilchrist, sir, I never said a
wordnever one word! cried the servant.
No, but you have now, said Holmes. Now, sir,
you must see that after Bannisters words your position is hopeless, and that your
only chance lies in a frank confession.
For a moment Gilchrist, with upraised hand, tried to
control his writhing features. The next he had thrown himself on his knees beside the
table, and burying his face in his hands, he had burst into a storm of passionate sobbing.
Come, come, said Holmes, kindly, it is human
to err, and at least no one can accuse you of being a callous criminal. Perhaps it would
be easier for you if I were to tell Mr. Soames what occurred, and you can check me where I
am wrong. Shall I do so? Well, well, dont trouble to answer. Listen, and see that I
do you no injustice.
From the moment, Mr. Soames, that you said to me that
no one, not even Bannister, could have told that the papers were in your room, the case
began to take a definite shape in my mind. The printer one could, of course, dismiss. He
could examine the papers in his own office. The Indian I also thought nothing of. If the
proofs were in a roll, he could not possibly know what they were. On the other hand, it
seemed an unthinkable coincidence that a man should dare to enter the room, and that by
chance on that very day the papers were on the table. I dismissed that. The man who
entered knew that the papers were there. How did he know?
When I approached your room, I examined the window. You
amused me by supposing that I was contemplating the possibility of someone having in broad
daylight, under the eyes of all these opposite rooms, forced himself through it. Such an
idea was absurd. I was measuring how tall a man would need to be in order to see, as he
passed, what papers were on the central table. I am six feet high, and I could do it with
an effort. No one less than that would have a chance. Already you see I had reason to
think that, if one of your three students was a man of unusual height, he was the most
worth watching of the three.
I entered, and I took you into my confidence as to the
suggestions of the side table. Of the centre table I could make nothing, until in your
description of  Gilchrist
you mentioned that he was a long-distance jumper. Then the whole thing came to me in an
instant, and I only needed certain corroborative proofs, which I speedily obtained.
What happened was this: This young fellow had employed
his afternoon at the athletic grounds, where he had been practising the jump. He returned
carrying his jumping-shoes, which are provided, as you are aware, with several sharp
spikes. As he passed your window he saw, by means of his great height, these proofs upon
your table, and conjectured what they were. No harm would have been done had it not been
that, as he passed your door, he perceived the key which had been left by the carelessness
of your servant. A sudden impulse came over him to enter, and see if they were indeed the
proofs. It was not a dangerous exploit, for he could always pretend that he had simply
looked in to ask a question.
Well, when he saw that they were indeed the proofs, it
was then that he yielded to temptation. He put his shoes on the table. What was it you put
on that chair near the window?
Gloves, said the young man.
Holmes looked triumphantly at Bannister. He put his
gloves on the chair, and he took the proofs, sheet by sheet, to copy them. He thought the
tutor must return by the main gate, and that he would see him. As we know, he came back by
the side gate. Suddenly he heard him at the very door. There was no possible escape. He
forgot his gloves, but he caught up his shoes and darted into the bedroom. You observe
that the scratch on that table is slight at one side, but deepens in the direction of the
bedroom door. That in itself is enough to show us that the shoe had been drawn in that
direction, and that the culprit had taken refuge there. The earth round the spike had been
left on the table, and a second sample was loosened and fell in the bedroom. I may add
that I walked out to the athletic grounds this morning, saw that tenacious black clay is
used in the jumping-pit, and carried away a specimen of it, together with some of the fine
tan or sawdust which is strewn over it to prevent the athlete from slipping. Have I told
the truth, Mr. Gilchrist?
The student had drawn himself erect.
Yes, sir, it is true, said he.
Good heavens! have you nothing to add? cried
Yes, sir, I have, but the shock of this disgraceful
exposure has bewildered me. I have a letter here, Mr. Soames, which I wrote to you early
this morning in the middle of a restless night. It was before I knew that my sin had found
me out. Here it is, sir. You will see that I have said, I have determined not to go
in for the examination. I have been offered a commission in the Rhodesian Police, and I am
going out to South Africa at once.
I am indeed pleased to hear that you did not intend
to profit by your unfair advantage, said Soames. But why did you change your
Gilchrist pointed to Bannister.
There is the man who set me in the right path,
Come now, Bannister, said Holmes. It will be
clear to you, from what I have said, that only you could have let this young man out,
since you were left in the room, and must have locked the door when you went out. As to
his escaping by that window, it was incredible. Can you not clear up the last point in
this mystery, and tell us the reasons for your action?
It was simple enough, sir, if you only had known, but,
with all your cleverness,  it
was impossible that you could know. Time was, sir, when I was butler to old Sir Jabez
Gilchrist, this young gentlemans father. When he was ruined I came to the college as
servant, but I never forgot my old employer because he was down in the world. I watched
his son all I could for the sake of the old days. Well, sir, when I came into this room
yesterday, when the alarm was given, the very first thing I saw was Mr. Gilchrists
tan gloves a-lying in that chair. I knew those gloves well, and I understood their
message. If Mr. Soames saw them, the game was up. I flopped down into that chair, and
nothing would budge me until Mr. Soames went for you. Then out came my poor young master,
whom I had dandled on my knee, and confessed it all to me. Wasnt it natural, sir,
that I should save him, and wasnt it natural also that I should try to speak to him
as his dead father would have done, and make him understand that he could not profit by
such a deed? Could you blame me, sir?
No, indeed, said Holmes, heartily, springing to
his feet. Well, Soames, I think we have cleared your little problem up, and our
breakfasts awaits us at home. Come, Watson! As to you, sir, I trust that a bright future
awaits you in Rhodesia. For once you have fallen low. Let us see, in the future, how high
you can rise.