He unwound the handkerchief and held out his hand. It gave
even my hardened nerves a shudder to look at it. There were four protruding fingers and a
horrid red, spongy surface where the thumb should have been. It had been hacked or torn
right out from the roots.
Good heavens! I cried, this is a terrible
injury. It must have bled considerably.
Yes, it did. I fainted when it was done, and I think
that I must have been senseless for a long time. When I came to I found that it was still
bleeding, so I tied one end of my handkerchief very tightly round the wrist and braced it
up with a twig.
Excellent! You should have been a surgeon.
It is a question of hydraulics, you see, and came within
my own province.
This has been done, said I, examining the wound,
by a very heavy and sharp instrument.
A thing like a cleaver, said he.
An accident, I presume?
By no means.
What! a murderous attack?
Very murderous indeed.
You horrify me.
I sponged the wound, cleaned it, dressed it, and finally
covered it over with cotton wadding and carbolized bandages. He lay back without wincing,
though he bit his lip from time to time.
How is that? I asked when I had finished.
Capital! Between your brandy and your bandage, I feel a
new man. I was very weak, but I have had a good deal to go through.
Perhaps you had better not speak of the matter. It is
evidently trying to your nerves.
Oh, no, not now. I shall have to tell my tale to the
police; but, between ourselves, if it were not for the convincing evidence of this wound
of mine, I should be surprised if they believed my statement; for it is a very
extraordinary one, and I have not much in the way of proof with which to back it up; and,
even if they  believe
me, the clues which I can give them are so vague that it is a question whether justice
will be done.
Ha! cried I, if it is anything in the nature
of a problem which you desire to see solved, I should strongly recommend you to come to my
friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, before you go to the official police.
Oh, I have heard of that fellow, answered my
visitor, and I should be very glad if he would take the matter up, though of course
I must use the official police as well. Would you give me an introduction to him?
Ill do better. Ill take you round to him
I should be immensely obliged to you.
Well call a cab and go together. We shall just be
in time to have a little breakfast with him. Do you feel equal to it?
Yes; I shall not feel easy until I have told my
Then my servant will call a cab, and I shall be with you
in an instant. I rushed upstairs, explained the matter shortly to my wife, and in
five minutes was inside a hansom, driving with my new acquaintance to Baker Street.
Sherlock Holmes was, as I expected, lounging about his
sitting-room in his dressing-gown, reading the agony column of The Times and
smoking his before-breakfast pipe, which was composed of all the plugs and dottles left
from his smokes of the day before, all carefully dried and collected on the corner of the
mantelpiece. He received us in his quietly genial fashion, ordered fresh rashers and eggs,
and joined us in a hearty meal. When it was concluded he settled our new acquaintance upon
the sofa, placed a pillow beneath his head, and laid a glass of brandy and water within
It is easy to see that your experience has been no
common one, Mr. Hatherley, said he. Pray, lie down there and make yourself
absolutely at home. Tell us what you can, but stop when you are tired and keep up your
strength with a little stimulant.
Thank you, said my patient, but I have felt
another man since the doctor bandaged me, and I think that your breakfast has completed
the cure. I shall take up as little of your valuable time as possible, so I shall start at
once upon my peculiar experiences.
Holmes sat in his big armchair with the weary, heavy-lidded
expression which veiled his keen and eager nature, while I sat opposite to him, and we
listened in silence to the strange story which our visitor detailed to us.
You must know, said he, that I am an orphan
and a bachelor, residing alone in lodgings in London. By profession I am a hydraulic
engineer, and I have had considerable experience of my work during the seven years that I
was apprenticed to Venner & Matheson, the well-known firm, of Greenwich. Two years
ago, having served my time, and having also come into a fair sum of money through my poor
fathers death, I determined to start in business for myself and took professional
chambers in Victoria Street.
I suppose that everyone finds his first independent
start in business a dreary experience. To me it has been exceptionally so. During two
years I have had three consultations and one small job, and that is absolutely all that my
profession has brought me. My gross takings amount to Ģ27 10s. Every day, from
nine in the morning until four in the afternoon, I waited in my little den, until at last
my heart began to sink, and I came to believe that I should never have any practice at
however, just as I was thinking of leaving the office, my clerk entered to say there was a
gentleman waiting who wished to see me upon business. He brought up a card, too, with the
name of Colonel Lysander Stark engraved upon it. Close at his heels came the
colonel himself, a man rather over the middle size, but of an exceeding thinness. I do not
think that I have ever seen so thin a man. His whole face sharpened away into nose and
chin, and the skin of his cheeks was drawn quite tense over his outstanding bones. Yet
this emaciation seemed to be his natural habit, and due to no disease, for his eye was
bright, his step brisk, and his bearing assured. He was plainly but neatly dressed, and
his age, I should judge, would be nearer forty than thirty.
Mr. Hatherley? said he, with something
of a German accent. You have been recommended to me, Mr. Hatherley, as being a man
who is not only proficient in his profession but is also discreet and capable of
preserving a secret.
I bowed, feeling as flattered as any young man would at
such an address. May I ask who it was who gave me so good a character?
Well, perhaps it is better that I should not tell
you that just at this moment. I have it from the same source that you are both an orphan
and a 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 essentialabsolute 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 family.
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
Thats all right, said he, coming
back. I know the clerks are sometimes curious as to their masters 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 nights work
suit you? he asked.
I say a nights work, but an hours
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
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
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
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 fullers-earth is a valuable product, and that it is only found in one or
two places in England?
I have heard so.
Some little time ago I bought a small
placea very small place within ten miles of Reading. I was fortunate enough to
discover that there was a deposit of fullers-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 leftboth of them, however,
in the grounds of my neighbours. 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 neighbouring
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 fullers-earth, which, as I understand, is dug out like gravel from a
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 room.
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 fullers-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 oclock. 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 colour?
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 interesting statement.
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 away.
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
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
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 affair when there is some obstacle in the way. I thought of my
fifty-guinea fee, of my wearisome journey, and of the unpleasant night which seemed to be
before me. Was it all to go for nothing? Why should I slink away without having carried
out my commission, and without the payment which was my due? This woman might, for all I
knew, be a monomaniac. With a stout bearing, therefore, though her manner had shaken me
more than I cared to confess, I still shook my head and declared my intention of remaining
where I was. She was about to renew her entreaties when a door slammed overhead, and the
sound of several footsteps was heard upon the stairs. She listened for an instant, threw
up her hands with a despairing gesture, and vanished as suddenly and as noiselessly as she
The newcomers were Colonel Lysander Stark and a short
thick man with a chinchilla beard growing out of the creases of his double chin, who was
introduced to me as Mr. Ferguson.
This is my secretary and manager, said the
colonel. By the way, I was under the impression that I left this door shut just now.
I fear that you have felt the draught.
On the contrary, said I, I opened the
door myself because I felt the room to be a little close.
He shot one of his suspicious looks at me. Perhaps
we had better proceed to business, then, said he. Mr. Ferguson and I will take
you up to see the machine.
I had better put my hat on, I suppose.
Oh, no, it is in the house.
What, you dig fullers-earth in the
No, no. This is only where we compress it. But
never mind that. All we wish you to do is to examine the machine and to let us know what
is wrong with it.
We went upstairs together, the colonel first with the
lamp, the fat manager and I behind him. It was a labyrinth of an old house, with
corridors, passages, narrow winding staircases, and little low doors, the thresholds of
which were hollowed out by the generations who had crossed them. There were no carpets and
no signs of any furniture above the ground floor, while the plaster was peeling off the
walls, and the damp was breaking through in green, unhealthy blotches. I tried to put on
as unconcerned an air as possible, but I had not forgotten the warnings of the lady, even
though I disregarded them, and I kept a keen eye upon my two companions. Ferguson appeared
to be a morose and silent man, but I could see from the little that he said that he was at
least a fellow-countryman.
Colonel Lysander Stark stopped at last before a low
door, which he unlocked.  Within
was a small, square room, in which the three of us could hardly get at one time. Ferguson
remained outside, and the colonel ushered me in.
We are now, said he, actually within
the hydraulic press, and it would be a particularly unpleasant thing for us if anyone were
to turn it on. The ceiling of this small chamber is really the end of the descending
piston, and it comes down with the force of many tons upon this metal floor. There are
small lateral columns of water outside which receive the force, and which transmit and
multiply it in the manner which is familiar to you. The machine goes readily enough, but
there is some stiffness in the working of it, and it has lost a little of its force.
Perhaps you will have the goodness to look it over and to show us how we can set it
I took the lamp from him, and I examined the machine
very thoroughly. It was indeed a gigantic one, and capable of exercising enormous
pressure. When I passed outside, however, and pressed down the levers which controlled it,
I knew at once by the whishing sound that there was a slight leakage, which allowed a
regurgitation of water through one of the side cylinders. An examination showed that one
of the india-rubber bands which was round the head of a driving-rod had shrunk so as not
quite to fill the socket along which it worked. This was clearly the cause of the loss of
power, and I pointed it out to my companions, who followed my remarks very carefully and
asked several practical questions as to how they should proceed to set it right. When I
had made it clear to them, I returned to the main chamber of the machine and took a good
look at it to satisfy my own curiosity. It was obvious at a glance that the story of the
fullers-earth was the merest fabrication, for it would be absurd to suppose that so
powerful an engine could be designed for so inadequate a purpose. The walls were of wood,
but the floor consisted of a large iron trough, and when I came to examine it I could see
a crust of metallic deposit all over it. I had stooped and was scraping at this to see
exactly what it was when I heard a muttered exclamation in German and saw the cadaverous
face of the colonel looking down at me.
What are you doing there? he asked.
I felt angry at having been tricked by so elaborate a
story as that which he had told me. I was admiring your fullers-earth,
said I; I think that I should be better able to advise you as to your machine if I
knew what the exact purpose was for which it was used.
The instant that I uttered the words I regretted the
rashness of my speech. His face set hard, and a baleful light sprang up in his gray eyes.
Very well, said he, you shall know
all about the machine. He took a step backward, slammed the little door, and turned
the key in the lock. I rushed towards it and pulled at the handle, but it was quite
secure, and did not give in the least to my kicks and shoves. Hello! I yelled.
Hello! Colonel! Let me out!
And then suddenly in the silence I heard a sound
which sent my heart into my mouth. It was the clank of the levers and the swish of the
leaking cylinder. He had set the engine at work. The lamp still stood upon the floor where
I had placed it when examining the trough. By its light I saw that the black ceiling was
coming down upon me, slowly, jerkily, but, as none knew better than myself, with a force
which must within a minute grind me to a shapeless pulp. I threw myself, screaming,
against the door, and dragged with my nails at the lock. I implored the colonel to let me
out, but the remorseless clanking of the levers drowned my cries. The ceiling was only a
foot or two above my head, and with my hand upraised I could feel its hard, rough surface.
Then it flashed through my mind that  the
pain of my death would depend very much upon the position in which I met it. If I lay on
my face the weight would come upon my spine, and I shuddered to think of that dreadful
snap. Easier the other way, perhaps; and yet, had I the nerve to lie and look up at that
deadly black shadow wavering down upon me? Already I was unable to stand erect, when my
eye caught something which brought a gush of hope back to my heart.
I have said that though the floor and ceiling were of
iron, the walls were of wood. As I gave a last hurried glance around, I saw a thin line of
yellow light between two of the boards, which broadened and broadened as a small panel was
pushed backward. For an instant I could hardly believe that here was indeed a door which
led away from death. The next instant I threw myself through, and lay half-fainting upon
the other side. The panel had closed again behind me, but the crash of the lamp, and a few
moments afterwards the clang of the two slabs of metal, told me how narrow had been my
I was recalled to myself by a frantic plucking at my
wrist, and I found myself lying upon the stone floor of a narrow corridor, while a woman
bent over me and tugged at me with her left hand, while she held a candle in her right. It
was the same good friend whose warning I had so foolishly rejected.
Come! come! she cried breathlessly.
They will be here in a moment. They will see that you are not there. Oh, do not
waste the so-precious time, but come!
This time, at least, I did not scorn her advice. I
staggered to my feet and ran with her along the corridor and down a winding stair. The
latter led to another broad passage, and just as we reached it we heard the sound of
running feet and the shouting of two voices, one answering the other from the floor on
which we were and from the one beneath. My guide stopped and looked about her like one who
is at her wits end. Then she threw open a door which led into a bedroom, through the
window of which the moon was shining brightly.
It is your only chance, said she. It
is high, but it may be that you can jump it.
As she spoke a light sprang into view at the further end
of the passage, and I saw the lean figure of Colonel Lysander Stark rushing forward with a
lantern in one hand and a weapon like a butchers cleaver in the other. I rushed
across the bedroom, flung open the window, and looked out. How quiet and sweet and
wholesome the garden looked in the moonlight, and it could not be more than thirty feet
down. I clambered out upon the sill, but I hesitated to jump until I should have heard
what passed between my saviour and the ruffian who pursued me. If she were ill-used, then
at any risks I was determined to go back to her assistance. The thought had hardly flashed
through my mind before he was at the door, pushing his way past her; but she threw her
arms round him and tried to hold him back.
Fritz! Fritz! she cried in English,
remember your promise after the last time. You said it should not be again. He will
be silent! Oh, he will be silent!
You are mad, Elise! he shouted, struggling
to break away from her. You will be the ruin of us. He has seen too much. Let me
pass, I say! He dashed her to one side, and, rushing to the window, cut at me with
his heavy weapon. I had let myself go, and was hanging by the hands to the sill, when his
blow fell. I was conscious of a dull pain, my grip loosened, and I fell into the garden
I was shaken but not hurt by the fall; so I picked
myself up and rushed off among the bushes as hard as I could run, for I understood that I
was far from being out of danger yet. Suddenly, however, as I ran, a deadly dizziness and
sickness came  over me.
I glanced down at my hand, which was throbbing painfully, and then, for the first time,
saw that my thumb had been cut off and that the blood was pouring from my wound. I
endeavoured to tie my handkerchief round it, but there came a sudden buzzing in my ears,
and next moment I fell in a dead faint among the rose-bushes.
How long I remained unconscious I cannot tell. It must
have been a very long time, for the moon had sunk, and a bright morning was breaking when
I came to myself. My clothes were all sodden with dew, and my coat-sleeve was drenched
with blood from my wounded thumb. The smarting of it recalled in an instant all the
particulars of my nights adventure, and I sprang to my feet with the feeling that I
might hardly yet be safe from my pursuers. But to my astonishment, when I came to look
round me, neither house nor garden were to be seen. I had been lying in an angle of the
hedge close by the highroad, and just a little lower down was a long building, which
proved, upon my approaching it, to be the very station at which I had arrived upon the
previous night. Were it not for the ugly wound upon my hand, all that had passed during
those dreadful hours might have been an evil dream.
Half dazed, I went into the station and asked about the
morning train. There would be one to Reading in less than an hour. The same porter was on
duty, I found, as had been there when I arrived. I inquired of him whether he had ever
heard of Colonel Lysander Stark. The name was strange to him. Had he observed a carriage
the night before waiting for me? No, he had not. Was there a police-station anywhere near?
There was one about three miles off.
It was too far for me to go, weak and ill as I was. I
determined to wait until I got back to town before telling my story to the police. It was
a little past six when I arrived, so I went first to have my wound dressed, and then the
doctor was kind enough to bring me along here. I put the case into your hands and shall do
exactly what you advise.
We both sat in silence for some little time after listening to
this extraordinary narrative. Then Sherlock Holmes pulled down from the shelf one of the
ponderous commonplace books in which he placed his cuttings.
Here is an advertisement which will interest you,
said he. It appeared in all the papers about a year ago. Listen to this:
- Lost, on the 9th inst., Mr. Jeremiah Hayling, aged
twenty-six, a hydraulic engineer. Left his lodgings at ten oclock at night, and has
not been heard of since. Was dressed in
etc., etc. Ha! That represents the last time that the colonel needed to have his
machine overhauled, I fancy.
Good heavens! cried my patient. Then that
explains what the girl said.
Undoubtedly. It is quite clear that the colonel was a
cool and desperate man, who was absolutely determined that nothing should stand in the way
of his little game, like those out-and-out pirates who will leave no survivor from a
captured ship. Well, every moment now is precious, so if you feel equal to it we shall go
down to Scotland Yard at once as a preliminary to starting for Eyford.
Some three hours or so afterwards we were all in the train
together, bound from Reading to the little Berkshire village. There were Sherlock Holmes,
the hydraulic engineer, Inspector Bradstreet, of Scotland Yard, a plain-clothes man, and
myself.  Bradstreet had
spread an ordnance map of the county out upon the seat and was busy with his compasses
drawing a circle with Eyford for its centre.
There you are, said he. That circle is drawn
at a radius of ten miles from the village. The place we want must be somewhere near that
line. You said ten miles, I think, sir.
It was an hours good drive.
And you think that they brought you back all that way
when you were unconscious?
They must have done so. I have a confused memory, too,
of having been lifted and conveyed somewhere.
What I cannot understand, said I, is why
they should have spared you when they found you lying fainting in the garden. Perhaps the
villain was softened by the womans entreaties.
I hardly think that likely. I never saw a more
inexorable face in my life.
Oh, we shall soon clear up all that, said
Bradstreet. Well, I have drawn my circle, and I only wish I knew at what point upon
it the folk that we are in search of are to be found.
I think I could lay my finger on it, said Holmes
Really, now! cried the inspector, you have
formed your opinion! Come, now, we shall see who agrees with you. I say it is south, for
the country is more deserted there.
And I say east, said my patient.
I am for west, remarked the plain-clothes man.
There are several quiet little villages up there.
And I am for north, said I, because there
are no hills there, and our friend says that he did not notice the carriage go up
Come, cried the inspector, laughing;
its a very pretty diversity of opinion. We have boxed the compass among us.
Who do you give your casting vote to?
You are all wrong.
But we cant all be.
Oh, yes, you can. This is my point. He placed his
finger in the centre of the circle. This is where we shall find them.
But the twelve-mile drive? gasped Hatherley.
Six out and six back. Nothing simpler. You say yourself
that the horse was fresh and glossy when you got in. How could it be that if it had gone
twelve miles over heavy roads?
Indeed, it is a likely ruse enough, observed
Bradstreet thoughtfully. Of course there can be no doubt as to the nature of this
None at all, said Holmes. They are coiners
on a large scale, and have used the machine to form the amalgam which has taken the place
We have known for some time that a clever gang was at
work, said the inspector. They have been turning out half-crowns by the
thousand. We even traced them as far as Reading, but could get no farther, for they had
covered their traces in a way that showed that they were very old hands. But now, thanks
to this lucky chance, I think that we have got them right enough.
But the inspector was mistaken, for those criminals were not
destined to fall into the hands of justice. As we rolled into Eyford Station we saw a
gigantic column of smoke which streamed up from behind a small clump of trees in the
neighbourhood and hung like an immense ostrich feather over the landscape.
house on fire? asked Bradstreet as the train steamed off again on its way.
Yes, sir! said the station-master.
When did it break out?
I hear that it was during the night, sir, but it has got
worse, and the whole place is in a blaze.
Whose house is it?
Tell me, broke in the engineer, is Dr.
Becher a German, very thin, with a long, sharp nose?
The station-master laughed heartily. No, sir, Dr. Becher
is an Englishman, and there isnt a man in the parish who has a better-lined
waistcoat. But he has a gentleman staying with him, a patient, as I understand, who is a
foreigner, and he looks as if a little good Berkshire beef would do him no harm.
The station-master had not finished his speech before we were
all hastening in the direction of the fire. The road topped a low hill, and there was a
great widespread whitewashed building in front of us, spouting fire at every chink and
window, while in the garden in front three fire-engines were vainly striving to keep the
Thats it! cried Hatherley, in intense
excitement. There is the gravel-drive, and there are the rose-bushes where I lay.
That second window is the one that I jumped from.
Well, at least, said Holmes, you have had
your revenge upon them. There can be no question that it was your oil-lamp which, when it
was crushed in the press, set fire to the wooden walls, though no doubt they were too
excited in the chase after you to observe it at the time. Now keep your eyes open in this
crowd for your friends of last night, though I very much fear that they are a good hundred
miles off by now.
And Holmess fears came to be realized, for from that day
to this no word has ever been heard either of the beautiful woman, the sinister German, or
the morose Englishman. Early that morning a peasant had met a cart containing several
people and some very bulky boxes driving rapidly in the direction of Reading, but there
all traces of the fugitives disappeared, and even Holmess ingenuity failed ever to
discover the least clue as to their whereabouts.
The firemen had been much perturbed at the strange
arrangements which they had found within, and still more so by discovering a newly severed
human thumb upon a window-sill of the second floor. About sunset, however, their efforts
were at last successful, and they subdued the flames, but not before the roof had fallen
in, and the whole place been reduced to such absolute ruin that, save some twisted
cylinders and iron piping, not a trace remained of the machinery which had cost our
unfortunate acquaintance so dearly. Large masses of nickel and of tin were discovered
stored in an out-house, but no coins were to be found, which may have explained the
presence of those bulky boxes which have been already referred to.
How our hydraulic engineer had been conveyed from the garden
to the spot where he recovered his senses might have remained forever a mystery were it
not for the soft mould, which told us a very plain tale. He had evidently been carried
down by two persons, one of whom had remarkably small feet and the other unusually large
ones. On the whole, it was most probable that the silent Englishman, being less bold or
less murderous than his companion, had assisted the woman to bear the unconscious man out
of the way of danger.
said our engineer ruefully as we took our seats to return once more to London, it
has been a pretty business for me! I have lost my thumb and I have lost a fifty-guinea
fee, and what have I gained?
Experience, said Holmes, laughing.
Indirectly it may be of value, you know; you have only to put it into words to gain
the reputation of being excellent company for the remainder of your existence.