The Adventure Of The Engineer's Thumb
Of all the problems which have been submitted to my friend, Mr.
Sherlock Holmes, for solution during the years of our intimacy,
there were only two which I was the means of introducing to his
notice--that of Mr. Hatherley's thumb, and that of Colonel
Warburton's madness. Of these the latter may have afforded a
finer field for an acute and original observer, but the other was
so strange in its inception and so dramatic in its details that
it may be the more worthy of being placed upon record, even if it
gave my friend fewer openings for those deductive methods of
reasoning by which he achieved such remarkable results. The story
has, I believe, been told more than once in the newspapers, but,
like all such narratives, its effect is much less striking when
set forth en bloc in a single half-column of print than when the
facts slowly evolve before your own eyes, and the mystery clears
gradually away as each new discovery furnishes a step which leads
on to the complete truth. At the time the circumstances made a
deep impression upon me, and the lapse of two years has hardly
served to weaken the effect.
It was in the summer of '89, not long after my marriage, that the
events occurred which I am now about to summarise. I had returned
to civil practice and had finally abandoned Holmes in his Baker
Street rooms, although I continually visited him and occasionally
even persuaded him to forgo his Bohemian habits so far as to come
and visit us. My practice had steadily increased, and as I
happened to live at no very great distance from Paddington
Station, I got a few patients from among the officials. One of
these, whom I had cured of a painful and lingering disease, was
never weary of advertising my virtues and of endeavouring to send
me on every sufferer over whom he might have any influence.
One morning, at a little before seven o'clock, I was awakened by
the maid tapping at the door to announce that two men had come
from Paddington and were waiting in the consulting-room. I
dressed hurriedly, for I knew by experience that railway cases
were seldom trivial, and hastened downstairs. As I descended, my
old ally, the guard, came out of the room and closed the door
tightly behind him.
"I've got him here," he whispered, jerking his thumb over his
shoulder; "he's all right."
"What is it, then?" I asked, for his manner suggested that it was
some strange creature which he had caged up in my room.
"It's a new patient," he whispered. "I thought I'd bring him
round myself; then he couldn't slip away. There he is, all safe
and sound. I must go now, Doctor; I have my dooties, just the
same as you." And off he went, this trusty tout, without even
giving me time to thank him.
I entered my consulting-room and found a gentleman seated by the
table. He was quietly dressed in a suit of heather tweed with a
soft cloth cap which he had laid down upon my books. Round one of
his hands he had a handkerchief wrapped, which was mottled all
over with bloodstains. He was young, not more than
five-and-twenty, I should say, with a strong, masculine face; but
he was exceedingly pale and gave me the impression of a man who
was suffering from some strong agitation, which it took all his
strength of mind to control.
"I am sorry to knock you up so early, Doctor," said he, "but I
have had a very serious accident during the night. I came in by
train this morning, and on inquiring at Paddington as to where I
might find a doctor, a worthy fellow very kindly escorted me
here. I gave the maid a card, but I see that she has left it upon
I took it up and glanced at it. "Mr. Victor Hatherley, hydraulic
engineer, 16A, Victoria Street (3rd floor)." That was the name,
style, and abode of my morning visitor. "I regret that I have
kept you waiting," said I, sitting down in my library-chair. "You
are fresh from a night journey, I understand, which is in itself
a monotonous occupation."
"Oh, my night could not be called monotonous," said he, and
laughed. He laughed very heartily, with a high, ringing note,
leaning back in his chair and shaking his sides. All my medical
instincts rose up against that laugh.
"Stop it!" I cried; "pull yourself together!" and I poured out
some water from a caraffe.
It was useless, however. He was off in one of those hysterical
outbursts which come upon a strong nature when some great crisis
is over and gone. Presently he came to himself once more, very
weary and pale-looking.
"I have been making a fool of myself," he gasped.
"Not at all. Drink this." I dashed some brandy into the water,
and the colour began to come back to his bloodless cheeks.
"That's better!" said he. "And now, Doctor, perhaps you would
kindly attend to my thumb, or rather to the place where my thumb
used to be."
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
"Good heavens!" I cried, "this is a terrible injury. It must have
"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
"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 carbolised 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
"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?"
"I'll do better. I'll take you round to him myself."
"I should be immensely obliged to you."
"We'll 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 story."
"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 his reach.
"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
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 father's death, I determined to start in
business for myself and took professional chambers in Victoria
"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 27 pounds 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 all.
"Yesterday, 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
"'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 essential--absolute 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
"'That's all right,' said he, coming back. 'I know that clerks are
sometimes curious as to their master's 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 night's work suit you?' he asked.
"'I say a night's work, but an hour's 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
"'The work appears to be light and the pay munificent.'
"'Precisely so. We shall want you to come to-night by the last
"'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
"'I shall come down in a carriage to meet you.'
"'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
"'Yes, we could easily give you a shake-down.'
"'That is very awkward. Could I not come at some more convenient
"'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
"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
"'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
"'Then the matter stands thus. You are probably aware that
fuller's-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 place--a very small
place--within ten miles of Reading. I was fortunate enough to
discover that there was a deposit of fuller's-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 left--both 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 fuller's-earth, which, as I understand, is dug out
like gravel from a pit.'
"'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
fuller's-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 o'clock. 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
"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 the darkness.
"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 fee.
"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
"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 had come.
"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 fuller's-earth in the house?'
"'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
"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 fuller's-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 fuller's-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
"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 grey 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. 'Hullo!' I yelled. 'Hullo! 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 escape.
"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 wit's 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
butcher's 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
"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
"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 night's 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
"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
o'clock 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
"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
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 hour's good drive."
"And you think that they brought you back all that way when you
"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 woman's 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 quietly.
"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; "it's 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 can't 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 gang."
"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 of silver."
"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.
"A 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 isn't 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 flames under.
"That's 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 Holmes' fears came to be realised, 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 Holmes'
ingenuity failed ever to discover the least clue as to their
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.
"Well," 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
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