As I entered, a sallow Malay attendant had hurried up with a
pipe for me and a supply of the drug, beckoning me to an empty berth.
Thank you. I have not come to stay, said I.
There is a friend of mine here, Mr. Isa Whitney, and I wish to speak with him.
There was a movement and an exclamation from my right, and
peering through the gloom I saw Whitney, pale, haggard, and unkempt, staring out at me.
My God! Its Watson, said he. He was in a
pitiable state of reaction, with every nerve in a twitter. I say, Watson, what
oclock is it?
Of what day?
Of Friday, June 19th.
Good heavens! I thought it was Wednesday. It is
Wednesday. What dyou want to frighten the chap for? He sank his face onto his
arms and began to sob in a high treble key.
I tell you that it is Friday, man. Your wife has been
waiting this two days for you. You should be ashamed of yourself!
So I am. But youve got mixed, Watson, for I have
only been here a few hours, three pipes, four pipesI forget how many. But Ill
go home with you. I wouldnt frighten Katepoor little Kate. Give me your hand!
Have you a cab?
Yes, I have one waiting.
Then I shall go in it. But I must owe something. Find
what I owe, Watson. I am all off colour. I can do nothing for myself.
I walked down the narrow passage between the double row of
sleepers, holding my breath to keep out the vile, stupefying fumes of the drug, and
looking about for the manager. As I passed the tall man who sat by the brazier I felt a
sudden pluck at my skirt, and a low voice whispered, Walk past me, and then look
back at me. The words fell quite distinctly upon my ear. I glanced down. They could
only have come from the old man at my side, and yet he sat now as absorbed as ever, very
thin, very wrinkled, bent with age, an opium pipe dangling down from between his knees, as
though it had dropped in sheer lassitude from his fingers. I took two steps forward and
looked back. It took all my self-control to prevent me from breaking out into a cry of
astonishment. He had turned his back so that none could see him but I. His form had filled
out, his wrinkles were gone, the  dull
eyes had regained their fire, and there, sitting by the fire and grinning at my surprise,
was none other than Sherlock Holmes. He made a slight motion to me to approach him, and
instantly, as he turned his face half round to the company once more, subsided into a
doddering, loose-lipped senility.
Holmes! I whispered, what on earth are
you doing in this den?
As low as you can, he answered; I have
excellent ears. If you would have the great kindness to get rid of that sottish friend of
yours I should be exceedingly glad to have a little talk with you.
I have a cab outside.
Then pray send him home in it. You may safely trust him,
for he appears to be too limp to get into any mischief. I should recommend you also to
send a note by the cabman to your wife to say that you have thrown in your lot with me. If
you will wait outside, I shall be with you in five minutes.
It was difficult to refuse any of Sherlock Holmess
requests, for they were always so exceedingly definite, and put forward with such a quiet
air of mastery. I felt, however, that when Whitney was once confined in the cab my mission
was practically accomplished; and for the rest, I could not wish anything better than to
be associated with my friend in one of those singular adventures which were the normal
condition of his existence. In a few minutes I had written my note, paid Whitneys
bill, led him out to the cab, and seen him driven through the darkness. In a very short
time a decrepit figure had emerged from the opium den, and I was walking down the street
with Sherlock Holmes. For two streets he shuffled along with a bent back and an uncertain
foot. Then, glancing quickly round, he straightened himself out and burst into a hearty
fit of laughter.
I suppose, Watson, said he, that you imagine
that I have added opium-smoking to cocaine injections, and all the other little weaknesses
on which you have favoured me with your medical views.
I was certainly surprised to find you there.
But not more so than I to find you.
I came to find a friend.
And I to find an enemy.
Yes; one of my natural enemies, or, shall I say, my
natural prey. Briefly, Watson, I am in the midst of a very remarkable inquiry, and I have
hoped to find a clue in the incoherent ramblings of these sots, as I have done before now.
Had I been recognized in that den my life would not have been worth an hours
purchase; for I have used it before now for my own purposes, and the rascally lascar who
runs it has sworn to have vengeance upon me. There is a trap-door at the back of that
building, near the corner of Pauls Wharf, which could tell some strange tales of
what has passed through it upon the moonless nights.
What! You do not mean bodies?
Ay, bodies, Watson. We should be rich men if we had
£1000 for every poor devil who has been done to death in that den. It is the vilest
murder-trap on the whole riverside, and I fear that Neville St. Clair has entered it never
to leave it more. But our trap should be here. He put his two forefingers between
his teeth and whistled shrillya signal which was answered by a similar whistle from
the distance, followed shortly by the rattle of wheels and the clink of horses
Now, Watson, said Holmes, as a tall dog-cart
dashed up through the gloom,  throwing
out two golden tunnels of yellow light from its side lanterns. Youll come with
me, wont you?
If I can be of use.
Oh, a trusty comrade is always of use; and a chronicler
still more so. My room at The Cedars is a double-bedded one.
Yes; that is Mr. St. Clairs house. I am staying
there while I conduct the inquiry.
Where is it, then?
Near Lee, in Kent. We have a seven-mile drive before
But I am all in the dark.
Of course you are. Youll know all about it
presently. Jump up here. All right, John; we shall not need you. Heres half a crown.
Look out for me to-morrow, about eleven. Give her her head. So long, then!
He flicked the horse with his whip, and we dashed away
through the endless succession of sombre and deserted streets, which widened gradually,
until we were flying across a broad balustraded bridge, with the murky river flowing
sluggishly beneath us. Beyond lay another dull wilderness of bricks and mortar, its
silence broken only by the heavy, regular footfall of the policeman, or the songs and
shouts of some belated party of revellers. A dull wrack was drifting slowly across the
sky, and a star or two twinkled dimly here and there through the rifts of the clouds.
Holmes drove in silence, with his head sunk upon his breast, and the air of a man who is
lost in thought, while I sat beside him, curious to learn what this new quest might be
which seemed to tax his powers so sorely, and yet afraid to break in upon the current of
his thoughts. We had driven several miles, and were beginning to get to the fringe of the
belt of suburban villas, when he shook himself, shrugged his shoulders, and lit up his
pipe with the air of a man who has satisfied himself that he is acting for the best.
You have a grand gift of silence, Watson, said he.
It makes you quite invaluable as a companion. Pon my word, it is a great thing
for me to have someone to talk to, for my own thoughts are not over-pleasant. I was
wondering what I should say to this dear little woman to-night when she meets me at the
You forget that I know nothing about it.
I shall just have time to tell you the facts of the case
before we get to Lee. It seems absurdly simple, and yet, somehow, I can get nothing to go
upon. Theres plenty of thread, no doubt, but I cant get the end of it into my
hand. Now, Ill state the case clearly and concisely to you, Watson, and maybe you
can see a spark where all is dark to me.
Some years agoto be definite, in May,
1884there came to Lee a gentleman, Neville St. Clair by name, who appeared to have
plenty of money. He took a large villa, laid out the grounds very nicely, and lived
generally in good style. By degrees he made friends in the neighbourhood, and in 1887 he
married the daughter of a local brewer, by whom he now has two children. He had no
occupation, but was interested in several companies and went into town as a rule in the
morning, returning by the 5:14 from Cannon Street every night. Mr. St. Clair is now
thirty-seven years of age, is a man of temperate habits, a good husband, a very
affectionate father, and a man who is popular with all who know him. I may add that his
whole debts at the present moment, as far as we have been able to ascertain, amount to  £88 10s., while he
has £220 standing to his credit in the Capital and Counties Bank. There is no reason,
therefore, to think that money troubles have been weighing upon his mind.
Last Monday Mr. Neville St. Clair went into town rather
earlier than usual, remarking before he started that he had two important commissions to
perform, and that he would bring his little boy home a box of bricks. Now, by the merest
chance, his wife received a telegram upon this same Monday, very shortly after his
departure, to the effect that a small parcel of considerable value which she had been
expecting was waiting for her at the offices of the Aberdeen Shipping Company. Now, if you
are well up in your London, you will know that the office of the company is in Fresno
Street, which branches out of Upper Swandam Lane, where you found me to-night. Mrs. St.
Clair had her lunch, started for the City, did some shopping, proceeded to the
companys office, got her packet, and found herself at exactly 4:35 walking through
Swandam Lane on her way back to the station. Have you followed me so far?
It is very clear.
If you remember, Monday was an exceedingly hot day, and
Mrs. St. Clair walked slowly, glancing about in the hope of seeing a cab, as she did not
like the neighbourhood in which she found herself. While she was walking in this way down
Swandam Lane, she suddenly heard an ejaculation or cry, and was struck cold to see her
husband looking down at her and, as it seemed to her, beckoning to her from a second-floor
window. The window was open, and she distinctly saw his face, which she describes as being
terribly agitated. He waved his hands frantically to her, and then vanished from the
window so suddenly that it seemed to her that he had been plucked back by some
irresistible force from behind. One singular point which struck her quick feminine eye was
that although he wore some dark coat, such as he had started to town in, he had on neither
collar nor necktie.
Convinced that something was amiss with him, she
rushed down the steps for the house was none other than the opium den in which you
found me to-night and running through the front room she attempted to ascend the
stairs which led to the first floor. At the foot of the stairs, however, she met this
lascar scoundrel of whom I have spoken, who thrust her back and, aided by a Dane, who acts
as assistant there, pushed her out into the street. Filled with the most maddening doubts
and fears, she rushed down the lane and, by rare good-fortune, met in Fresno Street a
number of constables with an inspector, all on their way to their beat. The inspector and
two men accompanied her back, and in spite of the continued resistance of the proprietor,
they made their way to the room in which Mr. St. Clair had last been seen. There was no
sign of him there. In fact, in the whole of that floor there was no one to be found save a
crippled wretch of hideous aspect, who, it seems, made his home there. Both he and the
lascar stoutly swore that no one else had been in the front room during the afternoon. So
determined was their denial that the inspector was staggered, and had almost come to
believe that Mrs. St. Clair had been deluded when, with a cry, she sprang at a small deal
box which lay upon the table and tore the lid from it. Out there fell a cascade of
childrens bricks. It was the toy which he had promised to bring home.
This discovery, and the evident confusion which the
cripple showed, made the inspector realize that the matter was serious. The rooms were
carefully examined, and results all pointed to an abominable crime. The front room was
plainly furnished as a sitting-room and led into a small bedroom, which looked out upon  the back of one of the wharves.
Between the wharf and the bedroom window is a narrow strip, which is dry at low tide but
is covered at high tide with at least four and a half feet of water. The bedroom window
was a broad one and opened from below. On examination traces of blood were to be seen upon
the window-sill, and several scattered drops were visible upon the wooden floor of the
bedroom. Thrust away behind a curtain in the front room were all the clothes of Mr.
Neville St. Clair, with the exception of his coat. His boots, his socks, his hat, and his
watchall were there. There were no signs of violence upon any of these garments, and
there were no other traces of Mr. Neville St. Clair. Out of the window he must apparently
have gone, for no other exit could be discovered, and the ominous bloodstains upon the
sill gave little promise that he could save himself by swimming, for the tide was at its
very highest at the moment of the tragedy.
And now as to the villains who seemed to be immediately
implicated in the matter. The lascar was known to be a man of the vilest antecedents, but
as, by Mrs. St. Clairs story, he was known to have been at the foot of the stair
within a very few seconds of her husbands appearance at the window, he could hardly
have been more than an accessory to the crime. His defense was one of absolute ignorance,
and he protested that he had no knowledge as to the doings of Hugh Boone, his lodger, and
that he could not account in any way for the presence of the missing gentlemans
So much for the lascar manager. Now for the sinister
cripple who lives upon the second floor of the opium den, and who was certainly the last
human being whose eyes rested upon Neville St. Clair. His name is Hugh Boone, and his
hideous face is one which is familiar to every man who goes much to the City. He is a
professional beggar, though in order to avoid the police regulations he pretends to a
small trade in wax vestas. Some little distance down Threadneedle Street, upon the
left-hand side, there is, as you may have remarked, a small angle in the wall. Here it is
that this creature takes his daily seat, cross-legged, with his tiny stock of matches on
his lap, and as he is a piteous spectacle a small rain of charity descends into the greasy
leather cap which lies upon the pavement beside him. I have watched the fellow more than
once before ever I thought of making his professional acquaintance, and I have been
surprised at the harvest which he has reaped in a short time. His appearance, you see, is
so remarkable that no one can pass him without observing him. A shock of orange hair, a
pale face disfigured by a horrible scar, which, by its contraction, has turned up the
outer edge of his upper lip, a bulldog chin, and a pair of very penetrating dark eyes,
which present a singular contrast to the colour of his hair, all mark him out from amid
the common crowd of mendicants, and so, too, does his wit, for he is ever ready with a
reply to any piece of chaff which may be thrown at him by the passers-by. This is the man
whom we now learn to have been the lodger at the opium den, and to have been the last man
to see the gentleman of whom we are in quest.
But a cripple! said I. What could he have
done single-handed against a man in the prime of life?
He is a cripple in the sense that he walks with a limp;
but in other respects he appears to be a powerful and well-nurtured man. Surely your
medical experience would tell you, Watson, that weakness in one limb is often compensated
for by exceptional strength in the others.
Pray continue your narrative.
Mrs. St. Clair had fainted at the sight of the blood
upon the window, and  she
was escorted home in a cab by the police, as her presence could be of no help to them in
their investigations. Inspector Barton, who had charge of the case, made a very careful
examination of the premises, but without finding anything which threw any light upon the
matter. One mistake had been made in not arresting Boone instantly, as he was allowed some
few minutes during which he might have communicated with his friend the lascar, but this
fault was soon remedied, and he was seized and searched, without anything being found
which could incriminate him. There were, it is true, some blood-stains upon his right
shirt-sleeve, but he pointed to his ring-finger, which had been cut near the nail, and
explained that the bleeding came from there, adding that he had been to the window not
long before, and that the stains which had been observed there came doubtless from the
same source. He denied strenuously having ever seen Mr. Neville St. Clair and swore that
the presence of the clothes in his room was as much a mystery to him as to the police. As
to Mrs. St. Clairs assertion that she had actually seen her husband at the window,
he declared that she must have been either mad or dreaming. He was removed, loudly
protesting, to the police-station, while the inspector remained upon the premises in the
hope that the ebbing tide might afford some fresh clue.
And it did, though they hardly found upon the mud-bank
what they had feared to find. It was Neville St. Clairs coat, and not Neville St.
Clair, which lay uncovered as the tide receded. And what do you think they found in the
I cannot imagine.
No, I dont think you would guess. Every pocket
stuffed with pennies and half-pennies421 pennies and 270 half-pennies. It was no
wonder that it had not been swept away by the tide. But a human body is a different
matter. There is a fierce eddy between the wharf and the house. It seemed likely enough
that the weighted coat had remained when the stripped body had been sucked away into the
But I understand that all the other clothes were found
in the room. Would the body be dressed in a coat alone?
No, sir, but the facts might be met speciously enough.
Suppose that this man Boone had thrust Neville St. Clair through the window, there is no
human eye which could have seen the deed. What would he do then? It would of course
instantly strike him that he must get rid of the tell-tale garments. He would seize the
coat, then, and be in the act of throwing it out, when it would occur to him that it would
swim and not sink. He has little time, for he has heard the scuffle downstairs when the
wife tried to force her way up, and perhaps he has already heard from his lascar
confederate that the police are hurrying up the street. There is not an instant to be
lost. He rushes to some secret hoard, where he has accumulated the fruits of his beggary,
and he stuffs all the coins upon which he can lay his hands into the pockets to make sure
of the coats sinking. He throws it out, and would have done the same with the other
garments had not he heard the rush of steps below, and only just had time to close the
window when the police appeared.
It certainly sounds feasible.
Well, we will take it as a working hypothesis for want
of a better. Boone, as I have told you, was arrested and taken to the station, but it
could not be shown that there had ever before been anything against him. He had for years
been known as a professional beggar, but his life appeared to have been a very quiet and
innocent one. There the matter stands at present, and the questions which have to be
solvedwhat Neville St. Clair was doing in the opium den, what happened to him when
there, where is he now, and what Hugh Boone had to do with his disappearance are all as far from a solution as
ever. I confess that I cannot recall any case within my experience which looked at the
first glance so simple and yet which presented such difficulties.
While Sherlock Holmes had been detailing this singular series
of events, we had been whirling through the outskirts of the great town until the last
straggling houses had been left behind, and we rattled along with a country hedge upon
either side of us. Just as he finished, however, we drove through two scattered villages,
where a few lights still glimmered in the windows.
We are on the outskirts of Lee, said my companion.
We have touched on three English counties in our short drive, starting in Middlesex,
passing over an angle of Surrey, and ending in Kent. See that light among the trees? That
is The Cedars, and beside that lamp sits a woman whose anxious ears have already, I have
little doubt, caught the clink of our horses feet.
But why are you not conducting the case from Baker
Street? I asked.
Because there are many inquiries which must be made out
here. Mrs. St. Clair has most kindly put two rooms at my disposal, and you may rest
assured that she will have nothing but a welcome for my friend and colleague. I hate to
meet her, Watson, when I have no news of her husband. Here we are. Whoa, there,
We had pulled up in front of a large villa which stood within
its own grounds. A stable-boy had run out to the horses head, and springing down I
followed Holmes up the small, winding gravel-drive which led to the house. As we
approached, the door flew open, and a little blonde woman stood in the opening, clad in
some sort of light mousseline de soie, with a touch of fluffy pink chiffon at her neck and
wrists. She stood with her figure outlined against the flood of light, one hand upon the
door, one half-raised in her eagerness, her body slightly bent, her head and face
protruded, with eager eyes and parted lips, a standing question.
Well? she cried, well? And then,
seeing that there were two of us, she gave a cry of hope which sank into a groan as she
saw that my companion shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.
No good news?
Thank God for that. But come in. You must be weary, for
you have had a long day.
This is my friend, Dr. Watson. He has been of most vital
use to me in several of my cases, and a lucky chance has made it possible for me to bring
him out and associate him with this investigation.
I am delighted to see you, said she, pressing my
hand warmly. You will, I am sure, forgive anything that may be wanting in our
arrangements, when you consider the blow which has come so suddenly upon us.
My dear madam, said I, I am an old
campaigner, and if I were not I can very well see that no apology is needed. If I can be
of any assistance, either to you or to my friend here, I shall be indeed happy.
Now, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, said the lady as we
entered a well-lit dining-room, upon the table of which a cold supper had been laid out,
I should very much like to ask you one or two plain questions, to which I beg that
you will give a plain answer.
not trouble about my feelings. I am not hysterical, nor given to fainting. I simply wish
to hear your real, real opinion.
Upon what point?
In your heart of hearts, do you think that Neville is
Sherlock Holmes seemed to be embarrassed by the question.
Frankly, now! she repeated, standing upon the rug and looking keenly down at
him as he leaned back in a basket-chair.
Frankly, then, madam, I do not.
You think that he is dead?
I dont say that. Perhaps.
And on what day did he meet his death?
Then perhaps, Mr. Holmes, you will be good enough to
explain how it is that I have received a letter from him to-day.
Sherlock Holmes sprang out of his chair as if he had been
What! he roared.
Yes, to-day. She stood smiling, holding up a
little slip of paper in the air.
May I see it?
He snatched it from her in his eagerness, and smoothing it out
upon the table he drew over the lamp and examined it intently. I had left my chair and was
gazing at it over his shoulder. The envelope was a very coarse one and was stamped with
the Gravesend postmark and with the date of that very day, or rather of the day before,
for it was considerably after midnight.
Coarse writing, murmured Holmes. Surely this
is not your husbands writing, madam.
No, but the enclosure is.
I perceive also that whoever addressed the envelope had
to go and inquire as to the address.
How can you tell that?
The name, you see, is in perfectly black ink, which has
dried itself. The rest is of the grayish colour, which shows that blotting-paper has been
used. If it had been written straight off, and then blotted, none would be of a deep black
shade. This man has written the name, and there has then been a pause before he wrote the
address, which can only mean that he was not familiar with it. It is, of course, a trifle,
but there is nothing so important as trifles. Let us now see the letter. Ha! there has
been an enclosure here!
Yes, there was a ring. His signet-ring.
And you are sure that this is your husbands
One of his hands.
His hand when he wrote hurriedly. It is very unlike his
usual writing, and yet I know it well.
- Dearest do not be frightened. All will come well.
There is a huge error which it may take some little time to rectify. Wait in patience.
 Written in pencil
upon the fly-leaf of a book, octavo size, no water-mark. Hum! Posted to-day in Gravesend
by a man with a dirty thumb. Ha! And the flap has been gummed, if I am not very much in
error, by a person who had been chewing tobacco. And you have no doubt that it is your
husbands hand, madam?
None. Neville wrote those words.
And they were posted to-day at Gravesend. Well, Mrs. St.
Clair, the clouds lighten, though I should not venture to say that the danger is
But he must be alive, Mr. Holmes.
Unless this is a clever forgery to put us on the wrong
scent. The ring, after all, proves nothing. It may have been taken from him.
No, no; it is, it is his very own writing!
Very well. It may, however, have been written on Monday
and only posted to-day.
That is possible.
If so, much may have happened between.
Oh, you must not discourage me, Mr. Holmes. I know that
all is well with him. There is so keen a sympathy between us that I should know if evil
came upon him. On the very day that I saw him last he cut himself in the bedroom, and yet
I in the dining-room rushed upstairs instantly with the utmost certainty that something
had happened. Do you think that I would respond to such a trifle and yet be ignorant of
I have seen too much not to know that the impression of
a woman may be more valuable than the conclusion of an analytical reasoner. And in this
letter you certainly have a very strong piece of evidence to corroborate your view. But if
your husband is alive and able to write letters, why should he remain away from you?
I cannot imagine. It is unthinkable.
And on Monday he made no remarks before leaving
And you were surprised to see him in Swandam Lane?
Very much so.
Was the window open?
Then he might have called to you?
He only, as I understand, gave an inarticulate
A call for help, you thought?
Yes. He waved his hands.
But it might have been a cry of surprise. Astonishment
at the unexpected sight of you might cause him to throw up his hands?
It is possible.
And you thought he was pulled back?
He disappeared so suddenly.
He might have leaped back. You did not see anyone else
in the room?
No, but this horrible man confessed to having been
there, and the lascar was at the foot of the stairs.
Quite so. Your husband, as far as you could see, had his
ordinary clothes on?
But without his collar or tie. I distinctly saw his bare
Had he ever spoken of Swandam Lane?
Had he ever showed any signs of having taken
Thank you, Mrs. St. Clair. Those are the principal
points about which I wished to be absolutely clear. We shall now have a little supper and
then retire, for we may have a very busy day to-morrow.
A large and comfortable double-bedded room had been placed at
our disposal, and I was quickly between the sheets, for I was weary after my night of
adventure. Sherlock Holmes was a man, however, who, when he had an unsolved problem upon
his mind, would go for days, and even for a week, without rest, turning it over,
rearranging his facts, looking at it from every point of view until he had either fathomed
it or convinced himself that his data were insufficient. It was soon evident to me that he
was now preparing for an all-night sitting. He took off his coat and waistcoat, put on a
large blue dressing-gown, and then wandered about the room collecting pillows from his bed
and cushions from the sofa and armchairs. With these he constructed a sort of Eastern
divan, upon which he perched himself cross-legged, with an ounce of shag tobacco and a box
of matches laid out in front of him. In the dim light of the lamp I saw him sitting there,
an old briar pipe between his lips, his eyes fixed vacantly upon the corner of the
ceiling, the blue smoke curling up from him, silent, motionless, with the light shining
upon his strong-set aquiline features. So he sat as I dropped off to sleep, and so he sat
when a sudden ejaculation caused me to wake up, and I found the summer sun shining into
the apartment. The pipe was still between his lips, the smoke still curled upward, and the
room was full of a dense tobacco haze, but nothing remained of the heap of shag which I
had seen upon the previous night.
Awake, Watson? he asked.
Game for a morning drive?
Then dress. No one is stirring yet, but I know where the
stable-boy sleeps, and we shall soon have the trap out. He chuckled to himself as he
spoke, his eyes twinkled, and he seemed a different man to the sombre thinker of the
As I dressed I glanced at my watch. It was no wonder that no
one was stirring. It was twenty-five minutes past four. I had hardly finished when Holmes
returned with the news that the boy was putting in the horse.
I want to test a little theory of mine, said he,
pulling on his boots. I think, Watson, that you are now standing in the presence of
one of the most absolute fools in Europe. I deserve to be kicked from here to Charing
Cross. But I think I have the key of the affair now.
And where is it? I asked, smiling.
In the bathroom, he answered. Oh, yes, I am
not joking, he continued, seeing my look of incredulity. I have just been
there, and I have taken it out, and I have got it in this Gladstone bag. Come on, my boy,
and we shall see whether it will not fit the lock.
We made our way downstairs as quietly as possible, and out
into the bright morning sunshine. In the road stood our horse and trap, with the half-clad
stable-boy waiting at the head. We both sprang in, and away we dashed down the London
Road. A few country carts were stirring, bearing in vegetables to the metropolis,  but the lines of villas on either
side were as silent and lifeless as some city in a dream.
It has been in some points a singular case, said
Holmes, flicking the horse on into a gallop. I confess that I have been as blind as
a mole, but it is better to learn wisdom late than never to learn it at all.
In town the earliest risers were just beginning to look
sleepily from their windows as we drove through the streets of the Surrey side. Passing
down the Waterloo Bridge Road we crossed over the river, and dashing up Wellington Street
wheeled sharply to the right and found ourselves in Bow Street. Sherlock Holmes was well
known to the force, and the two constables at the door saluted him. One of them held the
horses head while the other led us in.
Who is on duty? asked Holmes.
Inspector Bradstreet, sir.
Ah, Bradstreet, how are you? A tall, stout
official had come down the stone-flagged passage, in a peaked cap and frogged jacket.
I wish to have a quiet word with you, Bradstreet.
Certainly, Mr. Holmes. Step into my room here.
It was a small, office-like room, with a huge ledger upon the
table, and a telephone projecting from the wall. The inspector sat down at his desk.
What can I do for you, Mr. Holmes?
I called about that beggarman, Boonethe one who
was charged with being concerned in the disappearance of Mr. Neville St. Clair, of
Yes. He was brought up and remanded for further
So I heard. You have him here?
In the cells.
Is he quiet?
Oh, he gives no trouble. But he is a dirty
Yes, it is all we can do to make him wash his hands, and
his face is as black as a tinkers. Well, when once his case has been settled, he
will have a regular prison bath; and I think, if you saw him, you would agree with me that
he needed it.
I should like to see him very much.
Would you? That is easily done. Come this way. You can
leave your bag.
No, I think that Ill take it.
Very good. Come this way, if you please. He led us
down a passage, opened a barred door, passed down a winding stair, and brought us to a
whitewashed corridor with a line of doors on each side.
The third on the right is his, said the inspector.
Here it is! He quietly shot back a panel in the upper part of the door and
He is asleep, said he. You can see him very
We both put our eyes to the grating. The prisoner lay with his
face towards us, in a very deep sleep, breathing slowly and heavily. He was a middle-sized
man, coarsely clad as became his calling, with a coloured shirt protruding through the
rent in his tattered coat. He was, as the inspector had said, extremely dirty, but the
grime which covered his face could not conceal its repulsive ugliness. A broad wheal from
an old scar ran right across it from eye to chin, and by its contraction had turned up one
side of the upper lip, so that three teeth were exposed in a perpetual snarl. A shock of
very bright red hair grew low over his eyes and forehead.
Hes a beauty, isnt he? said the
certainly needs a wash, remarked Holmes. I had an idea that he might, and I
took the liberty of bringing the tools with me. He opened the Gladstone bag as he
spoke, and took out, to my astonishment, a very large bath-sponge.
He! he! You are a funny one, chuckled the
Now, if you will have the great goodness to open that
door very quietly, we will soon make him cut a much more respectable figure.
Well, I dont know why not, said the
inspector. He doesnt look a credit to the Bow Street cells, does he? He
slipped his key into the lock, and we all very quietly entered the cell. The sleeper half
turned, and then settled down once more into a deep slumber. Holmes stooped to the
water-jug, moistened his sponge, and then rubbed it twice vigorously across and down the
Let me introduce you, he shouted, to Mr.
Neville St. Clair, of Lee, in the county of Kent.
Never in my life have I seen such a sight. The mans face
peeled off under the sponge like the bark from a tree. Gone was the coarse brown tint!
Gone, too, was the horrid scar which had seamed it across, and the twisted lip which had
given the repulsive sneer to the face! A twitch brought away the tangled red hair, and
there, sitting up in his bed, was a pale, sad-faced, refined-looking man, black-haired and
smooth-skinned, rubbing his eyes and staring about him with sleepy bewilderment. Then
suddenly realizing the exposure, he broke into a scream and threw himself down with his
face to the pillow.
Great heavens! cried the inspector, it
is, indeed, the missing man. I know him from the photograph.
The prisoner turned with the reckless air of a man who
abandons himself to his destiny. Be it so, said he. And pray, what am I
With making away with Mr. Neville St. Oh,
come, you cant be charged with that unless they make a case of attempted suicide of
it, said the inspector with a grin. Well, I have been twenty-seven years in
the force, but this really takes the cake.
If I am Mr. Neville St. Clair, then it is obvious that
no crime has been committed, and that, therefore, I am illegally detained.
No crime, but a very great error has been
committed, said Holmes. You would have done better to have trusted your
It was not the wife; it was the children, groaned
the prisoner. God help me, I would not have them ashamed of their father. My God!
What an exposure! What can I do?
Sherlock Holmes sat down beside him on the couch and patted
him kindly on the shoulder.
If you leave it to a court of law to clear the matter
up, said he, of course you can hardly avoid publicity. On the other hand, if
you convince the police authorities that there is no possible case against you, I do not
know that there is any reason that the details should find their way into the papers.
Inspector Bradstreet would, I am sure, make notes upon anything which you might tell us
and submit it to the proper authorities. The case would then never go into court at
God bless you! cried the prisoner passionately.
I would have endured imprisonment, ay, even execution, rather than have left my
miserable secret as a family blot to my children.
You are the first who have ever heard my story. My
father was a school-master in Chesterfield, where I received an excellent education. I
travelled in my youth, took  to
the stage, and finally became a reporter on an evening paper in London. One day my editor
wished to have a series of articles upon begging in the metropolis, and I volunteered to
supply them. There was the point from which all my adventures started. It was only by
trying begging as an amateur that I could get the facts upon which to base my articles.
When an actor I had, of course, learned all the secrets of making up, and had been famous
in the green-room for my skill. I took advantage now of my attainments. I painted my face,
and to make myself as pitiable as possible I made a good scar and fixed one side of my lip
in a twist by the aid of a small slip of flesh-coloured plaster. Then with a red head of
hair, and an appropriate dress, I took my station in the business part of the city,
ostensibly as a match-seller but really as a beggar. For seven hours I plied my trade, and
when I returned home in the evening I found to my surprise that I had received no less
than 26s. 4d.
I wrote my articles and thought little more of the
matter until, some time later, I backed a bill for a friend and had a writ served upon me
for £25. I was at my wits end where to get the money, but a sudden idea came to me.
I begged a fortnights grace from the creditor, asked for a holiday from my
employers, and spent the time in begging in the City under my disguise. In ten days I had
the money and had paid the debt.
Well, you can imagine how hard it was to settle down to
arduous work at £2 a week when I knew that I could earn as much in a day by smearing my
face with a little paint, laying my cap on the ground, and sitting still. It was a long
fight between my pride and the money, but the dollars won at last, and I threw up
reporting and sat day after day in the corner which I had first chosen, inspiring pity by
my ghastly face and filling my pockets with coppers. Only one man knew my secret. He was
the keeper of a low den in which I used to lodge in Swandam Lane, where I could every
morning emerge as a squalid beggar and in the evenings transform myself into a
well-dressed man about town. This fellow, a lascar, was well paid by me for his rooms, so
that I knew that my secret was safe in his possession.
Well, very soon I found that I was saving considerable
sums of money. I do not mean that any beggar in the streets of London could earn £700 a
year which is less than my average takingsbut I had exceptional advantages in
my power of making up, and also in a facility of repartee, which improved by practice and
made me quite a recognized character in the City. All day a stream of pennies, varied by
silver, poured in upon me, and it was a very bad day in which I failed to take £2.
As I grew richer I grew more ambitious, took a house in
the country, and eventually married, without anyone having a suspicion as to my real
occupation. My dear wife knew that I had business in the City. She little knew what.
Last Monday I had finished for the day and was dressing
in my room above the opium den when I looked out of my window and saw, to my horror and
astonishment, that my wife was standing in the street, with her eyes fixed full upon me. I
gave a cry of surprise, threw up my arms to cover my face, and, rushing to my confidant,
the lascar, entreated him to prevent anyone from coming up to me. I heard her voice
downstairs, but I knew that she could not ascend. Swiftly I threw off my clothes, pulled
on those of a beggar, and put on my pigments and wig. Even a wifes eyes could not
pierce so complete a disguise. But then it occurred to me that there might be a search in
the room, and that the clothes might betray me. I threw open the window, reopening by my
violence a small cut which I had  inflicted
upon myself in the bedroom that morning. Then I seized my coat, which was weighted by the
coppers which I had just transferred to it from the leather bag in which I carried my
takings. I hurled it out of the window, and it disappeared into the Thames. The other
clothes would have followed, but at that moment there was a rush of constables up the
stair, and a few minutes after I found, rather, I confess, to my relief, that instead of
being identified as Mr. Neville St. Clair, I was arrested as his murderer.
I do not know that there is anything else for me to
explain. I was determined to preserve my disguise as long as possible, and hence my
preference for a dirty face. Knowing that my wife would be terribly anxious, I slipped off
my ring and confided it to the lascar at a moment when no constable was watching me,
together with a hurried scrawl, telling her that she had no cause to fear.
That note only reached her yesterday, said Holmes.
Good God! What a week she must have spent!
The police have watched this lascar, said
Inspector Bradstreet, and I can quite understand that he might find it difficult to
post a letter unobserved. Probably he handed it to some sailor customer of his, who forgot
all about it for some days.
That was it, said Holmes, nodding approvingly;
I have no doubt of it. But have you never been prosecuted for begging?
Many times; but what was a fine to me?
It must stop here, however, said Bradstreet.
If the police are to hush this thing up, there must be no more of Hugh Boone.
I have sworn it by the most solemn oaths which a man can
In that case I think that it is probable that no further
steps may be taken. But if you are found again, then all must come out. I am sure, Mr.
Holmes, that we are very much indebted to you for having cleared the matter up. I wish I
knew how you reach your results.
I reached this one, said my friend, by
sitting upon five pillows and consuming an ounce of shag. I think, Watson, that if we
drive to Baker Street we shall just be in time for breakfast.