And now I come to the queer part of the business. I was
in diggings out Hampstead way, 17 Potters Terrace. Well, I was sitting doing a smoke
that very evening after I had been promised the appointment, when up came my landlady with
a card which had Arthur Pinner, Financial Agent, printed upon it. I had never
heard the name before and could not imagine what he wanted with me, but of course I asked
her to show him up. In he walked, a middle-sized, dark-haired, dark-eyed, black-bearded
man, with a touch of the sheeny about his nose. He had a brisk kind of way with him and
spoke sharply, like a man who knew the value of time.
Mr. Hall Pycroft, I believe? said he.
Yes, sir, I answered, pushing a chair
Lately engaged at Coxon &
And now on the staff of Mawsons.
Well, said he, the fact is that I
have heard some really extraordinary stories about your financial ability. You remember
Parker, who used to be Coxons manager. He can never say enough about it.
Of course I was pleased to hear this. I had always been
pretty sharp in the office, but I had never dreamed that I was talked about in the City in
You have a good memory? said he.
Pretty fair, I answered modestly.
Have you kept in touch with the market while you
have been out of work? he asked.
Yes. I read the stock-exchange list every
Now that shows real application! he cried.
That is the way to prosper! You wont mind my testing you, will you? Let me
see. How are Ayrshires?
A hundred and six and a quarter to a hundred and
five and seven-eighths.
And New Zealand consolidated?
A hundred and four.
And British Broken Hills?
Seven to seven-and-six.
Wonderful! he cried with his hands up.
This quite fits in with all that I had heard. My boy, my boy, you are very much too
good to be a clerk at Mawsons!
This outburst rather astonished me, as you can think.
Well, said I, other people dont think quite so much of me as you
seem to do, Mr. Pinner. I had a hard enough fight to get this berth, and I am very glad to
Pooh, man; you should soar above it. You are not
in your true sphere. Now, Ill tell you how it stands with me. What I have to offer
is little enough when measured by your ability, but when compared with Mawsons
its light to dark. Let me see. When do you go to Mawsons?
Ha, ha! I think I would risk a little sporting
flutter that you dont go there at all.
Not go to Mawsons?
No, sir. By that day you will be the business
manager of the Franco-Midland Hardware Company, Limited, with a hundred and thirty-four
branches in the  towns
and villages of France, not counting one in Brussels and one in San Remo.
This took my breath away. I never heard of
it, said I.
Very likely not. It has been kept very quiet, for
the capital was all privately subscribed, and its too good a thing to let the public
into. My brother, Harry Pinner, is promoter, and joins the board after allotment as
managing director. He knew I was in the swim down here and asked me to pick up a good man
cheap. A young, pushing man with plenty of snap about him. Parker spoke of you, and that
brought me here to-night. We can only offer you a beggarly five hundred to start
Five hundred a year! I shouted.
Only that at the beginning; but you are to have
an over-riding commission of one per cent on all business done by your agents, and you may
take my word for it that this will come to more than your salary.
But I know nothing about hardware.
Tut, my boy, you know about figures.
My head buzzed, and I could hardly sit still in my
chair. But suddenly a little chill of doubt came upon me.
I must be frank with you, said I.
Mawson only gives me two hundred, but Mawson is safe. Now, really, I know so little
about your company that
Ah, smart, smart! he cried in a kind of
ecstasy of delight. You are the very man for us. You are not to be talked over, and
quite right, too. Now, heres a note for a hundred pounds, and if you think that we
can do business you may just slip it into your pocket as an advance upon your
That is very handsome, said I. When
should I take over my new duties?
Be in Birmingham to-morrow at one, said he.
I have a note in my pocket here which you will take to my brother. You will find him
at 126B Corporation Street, where the temporary offices of the company are situated. Of
course he must confirm your engagement, but between ourselves it will be all right.
Really, I hardly know how to express my
gratitude, Mr. Pinner, said I.
Not at all, my boy. You have only got your
deserts. There are one or two small thingsmere formalitieswhich I must arrange
with you. You have a bit of paper beside you there. Kindly write upon it I am
perfectly willing to act as business manager to the Franco-Midland Hardware Company,
Limited, at a minimum salary of �500.
I did as he asked, and he put the paper in his pocket.
There is one other detail, said he.
What do you intend to do about Mawsons?
I had forgotten all about Mawsons in my joy.
Ill write and resign, said I.
Precisely what I dont want you to do. I had
a row over you with Mawsons manager. I had gone up to ask him about you, and he was
very offensive; accused me of coaxing you away from the service of the firm, and that sort
of thing. At last I fairly lost my temper. If you want good men you should pay them
a good price, said I.
He would rather have our small price than
your big one, said he.
Ill lay you a fiver, said I,
that when he has my offer youll never so much as hear from him again.
Done! said he. We picked him
out of the gutter, and he wont leave us so easily. Those were his very
The impudent scoundrel! I cried.
Ive never so much as seen him in my  life. Why should I consider him in any way? I shall
certainly not write if you would rather I didnt.
Good! Thats a promise, said he,
rising from his chair. Well, Im delighted to have got so good a man for my
brother. Heres your advance of a hundred pounds, and here is the letter. Make a note
of the address, 126B Corporation Street, and remember that one oclock
to-morrow is your appointment. Good-night, and may you have all the fortune that you
Thats just about all that passed between us, as
near as I can remember. You can imagine, Dr. Watson, how pleased I was at such an
extraordinary bit of good fortune. I sat up half the night hugging myself over it, and
next day I was off to Birmingham in a train that would take me in plenty time for my
appointment. I took my things to a hotel in New Street, and then I made my way to the
address which had been given me.
It was a quarter of an hour before my time, but I
thought that would make no difference. 126B was a passage between two large shops, which
led to a winding stone stair, from which there were many flats, let as offices to
companies or professional men. The names of the occupants were painted at the bottom on
the wall, but there was no such name as the Franco-Midland Hardware Company, Limited. I
stood for a few minutes with my heart in my boots, wondering whether the whole thing was
an elaborate hoax or not, when up came a man and addressed me. He was very like the chap I
had seen the night before, the same figure and voice, but he was clean-shaven and his hair
Are you Mr. Hall Pycroft? he asked.
Yes, said I.
Oh! I was expecting you, but you are a trifle
before your time. I had a note from my brother this morning in which he sang your praises
I was just looking for the offices when you
We have not got our name up yet, for we only
secured these temporary premises last week. Come up with me, and we will talk the matter
I followed him to the top of a very lofty stair, and
there, right under the slates, were a couple of empty, dusty little rooms, uncarpeted and
uncurtained, into which he led me. I had thought of a great office with shining tables and
rows of clerks, such as I was used to, and I daresay I stared rather straight at the two
deal chairs and one little table, which with a ledger and a waste-paper basket, made up
the whole furniture.
Dont be disheartened, Mr. Pycroft,
said my new acquaintance, seeing the length of my face. Rome was not built in a day,
and we have lots of money at our backs, though we dont cut much dash yet in offices.
Pray sit down, and let me have your letter.
I gave it to him, and he read it over very carefully.
You seem to have made a vast impression upon my
brother Arthur, said he, and I know that he is a pretty shrewd judge. He
swears by London, you know; and I by Birmingham; but this time I shall follow his advice.
Pray consider yourself definitely engaged.
What are my duties? I asked.
You will eventually manage the great depot in
Paris, which will pour a flood of English crockery into the shops of a hundred and
thirty-four agents in France. The purchase will be completed in a week, and meanwhile you
will remain in Birmingham and make yourself useful.
For answer, he took a big red book out of a drawer.
This is a directory of Paris, said he,
with the trades after the names of the people. I want you to take it home with you,
and to mark off all the hardware-sellers, with their addresses. It would be of the
greatest use to me to have them.
Surely, there are classified lists? I
Not reliable ones. Their system is different from
ours. Stick at it, and let me have the lists by Monday, at twelve. Good-day, Mr. Pycroft.
If you continue to show zeal and intelligence you will find the company a good
I went back to the hotel with the big book under my arm,
and with very conflicting feelings in my breast. On the one hand, I was definitely engaged
and had a hundred pounds in my pocket; on the other, the look of the offices, the absence
of name on the wall, and other of the points which would strike a business man had left a
bad impression as to the position of my employers. However, come what might, I had my
money, so I settled down to my task. All Sunday I was kept hard at work, and yet by Monday
I had only got as far as H. I went round to my employer, found him in the same dismantled
kind of room, and was told to keep at it until Wednesday, and then come again. On
Wednesday it was still unfinished, so I hammered away until Fridaythat is,
yesterday. Then I brought it round to Mr. Harry Pinner.
Thank you very much, said he, I fear
that I underrated the difficulty of the task. This list will be of very material
assistance to me.
It took some time, said I.
And now, said he, I want you to make
a list of the furniture shops, for they all sell crockery.
And you can come up to-morrow evening at seven
and let me know how you are getting on. Dont overwork yourself. A couple of hours at
Days Music Hall in the evening would do you no harm after your labours. He
laughed as he spoke, and I saw with a thrill that his second tooth upon the left-hand side
had been very badly stuffed with gold.
Sherlock Holmes rubbed his hands with delight, and I stared
with astonishment at our client.
You may well look surprised, Dr. Watson, but it is this
way, said he: When I was speaking to the other chap in London, at the time
that he laughed at my not going to Mawsons, I happened to notice that his tooth was
stuffed in this very identical fashion. The glint of the gold in each case caught my eye,
you see. When I put that with the voice and figure being the same, and only those things
altered which might be changed by a razor or a wig, I could not doubt that it was the same
man. Of course you expect two brothers to be alike, but not that they should have the same
tooth stuffed in the same way. He bowed me out, and I found myself in the street, hardly
knowing whether I was on my head or my heels. Back I went to my hotel, put my head in a
basin of cold water, and tried to think it out. Why had he sent me from London to
Birmingham? Why had he got there before me? And why had he written a letter from himself
to himself? It was altogether too much for me, and I could make no sense of it. And then
suddenly it struck me that what was dark to me might be very light to Mr. Sherlock Holmes.
I had just time to get up to town by the night train to see him this morning, and to bring
you both back with me to Birmingham.
was a pause after the stock-brokers clerk had concluded his surprising experience.
Then Sherlock Holmes cocked his eye at me, leaning back on the cushions with a pleased and
yet critical face, like a connoisseur who has just taken his first sip of a comet vintage.
Rather fine, Watson, is it not? said he.
There are points in it which please me. I think that you will agree with me that an
interview with Mr. Arthur Harry Pinner in the temporary offices of the Franco-Midland
Hardware Company, Limited, would be a rather interesting experience for both of us.
But how can we do it? I asked.
Oh, easily enough, said Hall Pycroft cheerily.
You are two friends of mine who are in want of a billet, and what could be more
natural than that I should bring you both round to the managing director?
Quite so, of course, said Holmes. I should
like to have a look at the gentleman and see if I can make anything of his little game.
What qualities have you, my friend, which would make your services so valuable? Or is it
possible that He began biting his nails and staring blankly out of the
window, and we hardly drew another word from him until we were in New Street.
At seven oclock that evening we were walking, the three
of us, down Corporation Street to the companys offices.
It is no use our being at all before our time,
said our client. He only comes there to see me, apparently, for the place is
deserted up to the very hour he names.
That is suggestive, remarked Holmes.
By Jove, I told you so! cried the clerk.
Thats he walking ahead of us there.
He pointed to a smallish, dark, well-dressed man who was
bustling along the other side of the road. As we watched him he looked across at a boy who
was bawling out the latest edition of the evening paper, and, running over among the cabs
and busses, he bought one from him. Then, clutching it in his hand, he vanished through a
There he goes! cried Hall Pycroft. These are
the companys offices into which he has gone. Come with me, and Ill fix it up
as easily as possible.
Following his lead, we ascended five stories, until we
found ourselves outside a half-opened door, at which our client tapped. A voice within
bade us enter, and we entered a bare, unfurnished room such as Hall Pycroft had described.
At the single table sat the man whom we had seen in the street, with his evening paper
spread out in front of him, and as he looked up at us it seemed to me that I had never
looked upon a face which bore such marks of grief, and of something beyond griefof a
horror such as comes to few men in a lifetime. His brow glistened with perspiration, his
cheeks were of the dull, dead white of a fishs belly, and his eyes were wild and
staring. He looked at his clerk as though he failed to recognize him, and I could see by
the astonishment depicted upon our conductors face that this was by no means the
usual appearance of his employer.
You look ill, Mr. Pinner! he exclaimed.
Yes, I am not very well, answered the other,
making obvious efforts to pull himself together and licking his dry lips before he spoke.
Who are these gentlemen whom you have brought with you?
One is Mr. Harris, of Bermondsey, and the other is Mr.
Price, of this town, said our clerk glibly. They are friends of mine and
gentlemen of experience, but they have been out of a place for some little time, and they
hoped that perhaps you might find an opening for them in the companys
possibly! very possibly! cried Mr. Pinner with a ghastly smile. Yes, I have no
doubt that we shall be able to do something for you. What is your particular line, Mr.
I am an accountant, said Holmes.
Ah, yes, we shall want something of the sort. And you,
A clerk, said I.
I have every hope that the company may accommodate you.
I will let you know about it as soon as we come to any conclusion. And now I beg that you
will go. For Gods sake leave me to myself!
These last words were shot out of him, as though the
constraint which he was evidently setting upon himself had suddenly and utterly burst
asunder. Holmes and I glanced at each other, and Hall Pycroft took a step towards the
You forget, Mr. Pinner, that I am here by appointment to
receive some directions from you, said he.
Certainly, Mr. Pycroft, certainly, the other
resumed in a calmer tone. You may wait here a moment and there is no reason why your
friends should not wait with you. I will be entirely at your service in three minutes, if
I might trespass upon your patience so far. He rose with a very courteous air, and,
bowing to us, he passed out through a door at the farther end of the room, which he closed
What now? whispered Holmes. Is he giving us
Impossible, answered Pycroft.
That door leads into an inner room.
There is no exit?
Is it furnished?
It was empty yesterday.
Then what on earth can he be doing? There is something
which I dont understand in this matter. If ever a man was three parts mad with
terror, that mans name is Pinner. What can have put the shivers on him?
He suspects that we are detectives, I suggested.
Thats it, cried Pycroft.
Holmes shook his head. He did not turn pale. He was pale
when we entered the room, said he. It is just possible that
His words were interrupted by a sharp rat-tat from the
direction of the inner door.
What the deuce is he knocking at his own door for?
cried the clerk.
Again and much louder came the rat-tat-tat. We all gazed
expectantly at the closed door. Glancing at Holmes, I saw his face turn rigid, and he
leaned forward in intense excitement. Then suddenly came a low guggling, gargling sound,
and a brisk drumming upon woodwork. Holmes sprang frantically across the room and pushed
at the door. It was fastened on the inner side. Following his example, we threw ourselves
upon it with all our weight. One hinge snapped, then the other, and down came the door
with a crash. Rushing over it, we found ourselves in the inner room. It was empty.
But it was only for a moment that we were at fault. At one
corner, the corner nearest the room which we had left, there was a second door. Holmes
sprang to it and pulled it open. A coat and waistcoat were lying on the floor, and from a  hook behind the door, with
his own braces round his neck, was hanging the managing director of the Franco-Midland
Hardware Company. His knees were drawn up, his head hung at a dreadful angle to his body,
and the clatter of his heels against the door made the noise which had broken in upon our
conversation. In an instant I had caught him round the waist, and held him up while Holmes
and Pycroft untied the elastic bands which had disappeared between the livid creases of
skin. Then we carried him into the other room, where he lay with a clay-coloured face,
puffing his purple lips in and out with every breatha dreadful wreck of all that he
had been but five minutes before.
What do you think of him, Watson? asked Holmes.
I stooped over him and examined him. His pulse was feeble and
intermittent, but his breathing grew longer, and there was a little shivering of his
eyelids, which showed a thin white slit of ball beneath.
It has been touch and go with him, said I,
but hell live now. Just open that window, and hand me the water carafe.
I undid his collar, poured the cold water over his face, and raised and sank his arms
until he drew a long, natural breath. Its only a question of time now,
said I as I turned away from him.
Holmes stood by the table, with his hands deep in his
trousers pockets and his chin upon his breast.
I suppose we ought to call the police in now, said
he. And yet I confess that Id like to give them a complete case when they
Its a blessed mystery to me, cried Pycroft,
scratching his head. Whatever they wanted to bring me all the way up here for, and
Pooh! All that is clear enough, said Holmes
impatiently. It is this last sudden move.
You understand the rest, then?
I think that it is fairly obvious. What do you say,
I shrugged my shoulders. I must confess that I am out of
my depths, said I.
Oh, surely if you consider the events at first they can
only point to one conclusion.
What do you make of them?
Well, the whole thing hinges upon two points. The first
is the making of Pycroft write a declaration by which he entered the service of this
preposterous company. Do you not see how very suggestive that is?
I am afraid I miss the point.
Well, why did they want him to do it? Not as a business
matter, for these arrangements are usually verbal, and there was no earthly business
reason why this should be an exception. Dont you see, my young friend, that they
were very anxious to obtain a specimen of your handwriting, and had no other way of doing
Quite so. Why? When we answer that we have made some
progress with our little problem. Why? There can be only one adequate reason. Someone
wanted to learn to imitate your writing and had to procure a specimen of it first. And now
if we pass on to the second point we find that each throws light upon the other. That
point is the request made by Pinner that you should not resign your place, but should
leave the manager of this important business in the full expectation that a Mr. Hall
Pycroft, whom he had never seen, was about to enter the office upon the Monday
God! cried our client, what a blind beetle I have been!
Now you see the point about the handwriting. Suppose
that someone turned up in your place who wrote a completely different hand from that in
which you had applied for the vacancy, of course the game would have been up. But in the
interval the rogue had learned to imitate you, and his position was therefore secure, as I
presume that nobody in the office had ever set eyes upon you.
Not a soul, groaned Hall Pycroft.
Very good. Of course it was of the utmost importance to
prevent you from thinking better of it, and also to keep you from coming into contact with
anyone who might tell you that your double was at work in Mawsons office. Therefore
they gave you a handsome advance on your salary, and ran you off to the Midlands, where
they gave you enough work to do to prevent your going to London, where you might have
burst their little game up. That is all plain enough.
But why should this man pretend to be his own
Well, that is pretty clear also. There are evidently
only two of them in it. The other is impersonating you at the office. This one acted as
your engager, and then found that he could not find you an employer without admitting a
third person into his plot. That he was most unwilling to do. He changed his appearance as
far as he could, and trusted that the likeness, which you could not fail to observe, would
be put down to a family resemblance. But for the happy chance of the gold stuffing, your
suspicions would probably never have been aroused.
Hall Pycroft shook his clenched hands in the air. Good
Lord! he cried, while I have been fooled in this way, what has this other Hall
Pycroft been doing at Mawsons? What should we do, Mr. Holmes? Tell me what to
We must wire to Mawsons.
They shut at twelve on Saturdays.
Never mind. There may be some door-keeper or
Ah, yes, they keep a permanent guard there on account of
the value of the securities that they hold. I remember hearing it talked of in the
Very good, we shall wire to him and see if all is well,
and if a clerk of your name is working there. That is clear enough, but what is not so
clear is why at sight of us one of the rogues should instantly walk out of the room and
The paper! croaked a voice behind us. The man was
sitting up, blanched and ghastly, with returning reason in his eyes, and hands which
rubbed nervously at the broad red band which still encircled his throat.
The paper! Of course! yelled Holmes in a paroxysm
of excitement. Idiot that I was! I thought so much of our visit that the paper never
entered my head for an instant. To be sure, the secret must lie there. He flattened
it out upon the table, and a cry of triumph burst from his lips. Look at this,
Watson, he cried. It is a London paper, an early edition of the Evening
Standard. Here is what we want. Look at the headlines: Crime in the City.
Murder at Mawson & Williamss. Gigantic Attempted Robbery. Capture of the
Criminal. Here, Watson, we are all equally anxious to hear it, so kindly read it
aloud to us.
It appeared from its position in the paper to have been the
one event of importance in town, and the account of it ran in this way:
- A desperate attempt at robbery, culminating in the
death of one man and the capture of the criminal, occurred this afternoon in the City. For
some  time back Mawson
& Williams, the famous financial house, have been the guardians of securities which
amount in the aggregate to a sum of considerably over a million sterling. So conscious was
the manager of the responsibility which devolved upon him in consequence of the great
interests at stake that safes of the very latest construction have been employed, and an
armed watchman has been left day and night in the building. It appears that last week a
new clerk named Hall Pycroft was engaged by the firm. This person appears to have been
none other than Beddington, the famous forger and cracksman, who, with his brother, has
only recently emerged from a five years spell of penal servitude. By some means,
which are not yet clear, he succeeded in winning, under a false name, this official
position in the office, which he utilized in order to obtain mouldings of various locks,
and a thorough knowledge of the position of the strongroom and the safes.
It is customary at Mawsons for the clerks to leave
at midday on Saturday. Sergeant Tuson, of the City police, was somewhat surprised,
therefore, to see a gentleman with a carpet-bag come down the steps at twenty minutes past
one. His suspicions being aroused, the sergeant followed the man, and with the aid of
Constable Pollock succeeded, after a most desperate resistance, in arresting him. It was
at once clear that a daring and gigantic robbery had been committed. Nearly a hundred
thousand pounds worth of American railway bonds, with a large amount of scrip in
mines and other companies, was discovered in the bag. On examining the premises the body
of the unfortunate watchman was found doubled up and thrust into the largest of the safes,
where it would not have been discovered until Monday morning had it not been for the
prompt action of Sergeant Tuson. The mans skull had been shattered by a blow from a
poker delivered from behind. There could be no doubt that Beddington had obtained entrance
by pretending that he had left something behind him, and having murdered the watchman,
rapidly rifled the large safe, and then made off with his booty. His brother, who usually
works with him, has not appeared in this job as far as can at present be ascertained,
although the police are making energetic inquiries as to his whereabouts.
Well, we may save the police some little trouble in
that direction, said Holmes, glancing at the haggard figure huddled up by the
window. Human nature is a strange mixture, Watson. You see that even a villain and
murderer can inspire such affection that his brother turns to suicide when he learns that
his neck is forfeited. However, we have no choice as to our action. The doctor and I will
remain on guard, Mr. Pycroft, if you will have the kindness to step out for the