THE STORY OF THE BALD-HEADED
WE FOLLOWED the Indian down a sordid and common passage, ill-lit and
worse furnished, until he came to a door upon the right, which he threw open. A blaze of
yellow light streamed out upon us, and in the centre of the glare there stood a small man
with a very high head, a bristle of red hair all round the fringe of it, and a bald,
shining scalp which shot out from among it like a mountain-peak from fir-trees. He writhed
his hands together as he stood, and his features were in a perpetual jerknow
smiling, now scowling, but never for an instant in repose. Nature had given him a
pendulous lip, and a too visible line of yellow and irregular teeth, which he strove
feebly to conceal by constantly passing his hand over the lower part of his face. In spite
of his obtrusive baldness he gave the impression of youth. In point of fact, he had just
turned his thirtieth year.
Your servant, Miss Morstan, he kept repeating in a
thin, high voice. Your servant, gentlemen. Pray step into my little sanctum. A small
place, miss, but furnished to my own liking. An oasis of art in the howling desert of
We were all astonished by the appearance of the apartment into
which he invited us. In that sorry house it looked as out of place as a diamond of the
first water in a setting of brass. The richest and glossiest of curtains and tapestries
draped the walls, looped back here and there to expose some richly mounted painting or
Oriental vase. The carpet was of amber and black, so soft and so thick that the foot sank
pleasantly into it, as into a bed of moss. Two great tiger-skins thrown athwart it
increased the suggestion of Eastern luxury, as did a huge hookah which stood upon a mat in
the corner. A lamp in the fashion of a silver dove was hung from an almost invisible
golden wire in the centre of the room. As it burned it filled the air with a subtle and
Mr. Thaddeus Sholto, said the little man, still
jerking and smiling. That is my name. You are Miss Morstan, of course. And these
This is Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and this Dr. Watson.
A doctor, eh? cried he, much excited. Have
you your stethoscope? Might I ask youwould you have the kindness? I have grave
doubts as to my mitral valve, if you would be so very good. The aortic I may rely upon,
but I should value your opinion upon the mitral.
I listened to his heart, as requested, but was unable to find
anything amiss, save, indeed, that he was in an ecstasy of fear, for he shivered from head
It appears to be normal, I said. You have no
cause for uneasiness.
You will excuse my anxiety, Miss Morstan, he
remarked airily. I am a great 
sufferer, and I have long had suspicions as to that valve. I am delighted to hear that
they are unwarranted. Had your father, Miss Morstan, refrained from throwing a strain upon
his heart, he might have been alive now.
I could have struck the man across the face, so hot was I at
this callous and offhand reference to so delicate a matter. Miss Morstan sat down, and her
face grew white to the lips.
I knew in my heart that he was dead, said she.
I can give you every information, said he;
and, what is more, I can do you justice; and I will, too, whatever Brother
Bartholomew may say. I am so glad to have your friends here not only as an escort to you
but also as witnesses to what I am about to do and say. The three of us can show a bold
front to Brother Bartholomew. But let us have no outsidersno police or officials. We
can settle everything satisfactorily among ourselves without any interference. Nothing
would annoy Brother Bartholomew more than any publicity.
He sat down upon a low settee and blinked at us inquiringly
with his weak, watery blue eyes.
For my part, said Holmes, whatever you may
choose to say will go no further.
I nodded to show my agreement.
That is well! That is well! said he. May I
offer you a glass of Chianti, Miss Morstan? Or of Tokay? I keep no other wines. Shall I
open a flask? No? Well, then, I trust that you have no objection to tobacco-smoke, to the
balsamic odour of the Eastern tobacco. I am a little nervous, and I find my hookah an
He applied a taper to the great bowl, and the smoke bubbled
merrily through the rose-water. We sat all three in a semicircle, with our heads advanced
and our chins upon our hands, while the strange, jerky little fellow, with his high,
shining head, puffed uneasily in the centre.
When I first determined to make this communication to
you, said he, I might have given you my address; but I feared that you might
disregard my request and bring unpleasant people with you. I took the liberty, therefore,
of making an appointment in such a way that my man Williams might be able to see you
first. I have complete confidence in his discretion, and he had orders, if he were
dissatisfied, to proceed no further in the matter. You will excuse these precautions, but
I am a man of somewhat retiring, and I might even say refined, tastes, and there is
nothing more unaesthetic than a policeman. I have a natural shrinking from all forms of
rough materialism. I seldom come in contact with the rough crowd. I live, as you see, with
some little atmosphere of elegance around me. I may call myself a patron of the arts. It
is my weakness. The landscape is a genuine Corot, and though a connoisseur might perhaps
throw a doubt upon that Salvator Rosa, there cannot be the least question about the
Bouguereau. I am partial to the modern French school.
You will excuse me, Mr. Sholto, said Miss Morstan,
but I am here at your request to learn something which you desire to tell me. It is
very late, and I should desire the interview to be as short as possible.
At the best it must take some time, he answered;
for we shall certainly have to go to Norwood and see Brother Bartholomew. We shall
all go and try if we can get the better of Brother Bartholomew. He is very angry with me
for taking the course which has seemed right to me. I had quite high words with him last
night. You cannot imagine what a terrible fellow he is when he is angry.
we are to go to Norwood, it would perhaps be as well to start at once, I ventured to
He laughed until his ears were quite red.
That would hardly do, he cried. I dont
know what he would say if I brought you in that sudden way. No, I must prepare you by
showing you how we all stand to each other. In the first place, I must tell you that there
are several points in the story of which I am myself ignorant. I can only lay the facts
before you as far as I know them myself.
My father was, as you may have guessed, Major John
Sholto, once of the Indian Army. He retired some eleven years ago and came to live at
Pondicherry Lodge in Upper Norwood. He had prospered in India and brought back with him a
considerable sum of money, a large collection of valuable curiosities, and a staff of
native servants. With these advantages he bought himself a house, and lived in great
luxury. My twin-brother Bartholomew and I were the only children.
I very well remember the sensation which was caused by
the disappearance of Captain Morstan. We read the details in the papers, and knowing that
he had been a friend of our fathers we discussed the case freely in his presence. He
used to join in our speculations as to what could have happened. Never for an instant did
we suspect that he had the whole secret hidden in his own breast, that of all men he alone
knew the fate of Arthur Morstan.
We did know, however, that some mystery, some positive
danger, overhung our father. He was very fearful of going out alone, and he always
employed two prize-fighters to act as porters at Pondicherry Lodge. Williams, who drove
you to-night, was one of them. He was once lightweight champion of England. Our father
would never tell us what it was he feared, but he had a most marked aversion to men with
wooden legs. On one occasion he actually fired his revolver at a wooden-legged man, who
proved to be a harmless tradesman canvassing for orders. We had to pay a large sum to hush
the matter up. My brother and I used to think this a mere whim of my fathers, but
events have since led us to change our opinion.
Early in 1882 my father received a letter from India
which was a great shock to him. He nearly fainted at the breakfast-table when he opened
it, and from that day he sickened to his death. What was in the letter we could never
discover, but I could see as he held it that it was short and written in a scrawling hand.
He had suffered for years from an enlarged spleen, but he now became rapidly worse, and
towards the end of April we were informed that he was beyond all hope, and that he wished
to make a last communication to us.
When we entered his room he was propped up with pillows
and breathing heavily. He besought us to lock the door and to come upon either side of the
bed. Then grasping our hands he made a remarkable statement to us in a voice which was
broken as much by emotion as by pain. I shall try and give it to you in his own very
I have only one thing, he said, which
weighs upon my mind at this supreme moment. It is my treatment of poor Morstans
orphan. The cursed greed which has been my besetting sin through life has withheld from
her the treasure, half at least of which should have been hers. And yet I have made no use
of it myself, so blind and foolish a thing is avarice. The mere feeling of possession has
been so dear to me that I could not bear to share it with another. See that chaplet tipped
with pearls beside the quinine-bottle. Even that I could not bear to part with,  although I had got it out
with the design of sending it to her. You, my sons, will give her a fair share of the Agra
treasure. But send her nothingnot even the chapletuntil I am gone. After all,
men have been as bad as this and have recovered.