The Adventure Of The Second Stain
I had intended "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange" to be the last of
those exploits of my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, which I should ever
communicate to the public. This resolution of mine was not due to any
lack of material, since I have notes of many hundreds of cases to which
I have never alluded, nor was it caused by any waning interest on the
part of my readers in the singular personality and unique methods of
this remarkable man. The real reason lay in the reluctance which Mr.
Holmes has shown to the continued publication of his experiences.
So long as he was in actual professional practice the records of
his successes were of some practical value to him, but since he
has definitely retired from London and betaken himself to study and
bee-farming on the Sussex Downs, notoriety has become hateful to him,
and he has peremptorily requested that his wishes in this matter should
be strictly observed. It was only upon my representing to him that I
had given a promise that "The Adventure of the Second Stain" should be
published when the times were ripe, and pointing out to him that it is
only appropriate that this long series of episodes should culminate in
the most important international case which he has ever been called
upon to handle, that I at last succeeded in obtaining his consent that a
carefully guarded account of the incident should at last be laid before
the public. If in telling the story I seem to be somewhat vague in
certain details, the public will readily understand that there is an
excellent reason for my reticence.
It was, then, in a year, and even in a decade, that shall be nameless,
that upon one Tuesday morning in autumn we found two visitors of
European fame within the walls of our humble room in Baker Street. The
one, austere, high-nosed, eagle-eyed, and dominant, was none other than
the illustrious Lord Bellinger, twice Premier of Britain. The other,
dark, clear-cut, and elegant, hardly yet of middle age, and endowed with
every beauty of body and of mind, was the Right Honourable Trelawney
Hope, Secretary for European Affairs, and the most rising statesman in
the country. They sat side by side upon our paper-littered settee,
and it was easy to see from their worn and anxious faces that it was
business of the most pressing importance which had brought them. The
Premier's thin, blue-veined hands were clasped tightly over the ivory
head of his umbrella, and his gaunt, ascetic face looked gloomily from
Holmes to me. The European Secretary pulled nervously at his moustache
and fidgeted with the seals of his watch-chain.
"When I discovered my loss, Mr. Holmes, which was at eight o'clock this
morning, I at once informed the Prime Minister. It was at his suggestion
that we have both come to you."
"Have you informed the police?"
"No, sir," said the Prime Minister, with the quick, decisive manner for
which he was famous. "We have not done so, nor is it possible that we
should do so. To inform the police must, in the long run, mean to inform
the public. This is what we particularly desire to avoid."
"And why, sir?"
"Because the document in question is of such immense importance that
its publication might very easily--I might almost say probably--lead to
European complications of the utmost moment. It is not too much to say
that peace or war may hang upon the issue. Unless its recovery can be
attended with the utmost secrecy, then it may as well not be recovered
at all, for all that is aimed at by those who have taken it is that its
contents should be generally known."
"I understand. Now, Mr. Trelawney Hope, I should be much obliged if
you would tell me exactly the circumstances under which this document
"That can be done in a very few words, Mr. Holmes. The letter--for it
was a letter from a foreign potentate--was received six days ago. It was
of such importance that I have never left it in my safe, but have taken
it across each evening to my house in Whitehall Terrace, and kept it in
my bedroom in a locked despatch-box. It was there last night. Of that
I am certain. I actually opened the box while I was dressing for dinner
and saw the document inside. This morning it was gone. The despatch-box
had stood beside the glass upon my dressing-table all night. I am a
light sleeper, and so is my wife. We are both prepared to swear that no
one could have entered the room during the night. And yet I repeat that
the paper is gone."
"What time did you dine?"
"How long was it before you went to bed?"
"My wife had gone to the theatre. I waited up for her. It was half-past
eleven before we went to our room."
"Then for four hours the despatch-box had lain unguarded?"
"No one is ever permitted to enter that room save the house-maid in the
morning, and my valet, or my wife's maid, during the rest of the day.
They are both trusty servants who have been with us for some time.
Besides, neither of them could possibly have known that there was
anything more valuable than the ordinary departmental papers in my
"Who did know of the existence of that letter?"
"No one in the house."
"Surely your wife knew?"
"No, sir. I had said nothing to my wife until I missed the paper this
The Premier nodded approvingly.
"I have long known, sir, how high is your sense of public duty," said
he. "I am convinced that in the case of a secret of this importance it
would rise superior to the most intimate domestic ties."
The European Secretary bowed.
"You do me no more than justice, sir. Until this morning I have never
breathed one word to my wife upon this matter."
"Could she have guessed?"
"No, Mr. Holmes, she could not have guessed--nor could anyone have
"Have you lost any documents before?"
"Who is there in England who did know of the existence of this letter?"
"Each member of the Cabinet was informed of it yesterday, but the pledge
of secrecy which attends every Cabinet meeting was increased by the
solemn warning which was given by the Prime Minister. Good heavens,
to think that within a few hours I should myself have lost it!" His
handsome face was distorted with a spasm of despair, and his hands
tore at his hair. For a moment we caught a glimpse of the natural man,
impulsive, ardent, keenly sensitive. The next the aristocratic mask was
replaced, and the gentle voice had returned. "Besides the members of
the Cabinet there are two, or possibly three, departmental officials who
know of the letter. No one else in England, Mr. Holmes, I assure you."
"I believe that no one abroad has seen it save the man who wrote it. I
am well convinced that his Ministers--that the usual official channels
have not been employed."
Holmes considered for some little time.
"Now, sir, I must ask you more particularly what this document is, and
why its disappearance should have such momentous consequences?"
The two statesmen exchanged a quick glance and the Premier's shaggy
eyebrows gathered in a frown.
"Mr. Holmes, the envelope is a long, thin one of pale blue colour. There
is a seal of red wax stamped with a crouching lion. It is addressed in
large, bold handwriting to----"
"I fear, sir," said Holmes, "that, interesting and indeed essential as
these details are, my inquiries must go more to the root of things. What
WAS the letter?"
"That is a State secret of the utmost importance, and I fear that I
cannot tell you, nor do I see that it is necessary. If by the aid of the
powers which you are said to possess you can find such an envelope as
I describe with its enclosure, you will have deserved well of your
country, and earned any reward which it lies in our power to bestow."
Sherlock Holmes rose with a smile.
"You are two of the most busy men in the country," said he, "and in
my own small way I have also a good many calls upon me. I regret
exceedingly that I cannot help you in this matter, and any continuation
of this interview would be a waste of time."
The Premier sprang to his feet with that quick, fierce gleam of his
deep-set eyes before which a Cabinet has cowered. "I am not accustomed,
sir," he began, but mastered his anger and resumed his seat. For a
minute or more we all sat in silence. Then the old statesman shrugged
"We must accept your terms, Mr. Holmes. No doubt you are right, and
it is unreasonable for us to expect you to act unless we give you our
"I agree with you," said the younger statesman.
"Then I will tell you, relying entirely upon your honour and that of
your colleague, Dr. Watson. I may appeal to your patriotism also, for
I could not imagine a greater misfortune for the country than that this
affair should come out."
"You may safely trust us."
"The letter, then, is from a certain foreign potentate who has been
ruffled by some recent Colonial developments of this country. It
has been written hurriedly and upon his own responsibility entirely.
Inquiries have shown that his Ministers know nothing of the matter.
At the same time it is couched in so unfortunate a manner, and certain
phrases in it are of so provocative a character, that its publication
would undoubtedly lead to a most dangerous state of feeling in this
country. There would be such a ferment, sir, that I do not hesitate to
say that within a week of the publication of that letter this country
would be involved in a great war."
Holmes wrote a name upon a slip of paper and handed it to the Premier.
"Exactly. It was he. And it is this letter--this letter which may well
mean the expenditure of a thousand millions and the lives of a hundred
thousand men--which has become lost in this unaccountable fashion."
"Have you informed the sender?"
"Yes, sir, a cipher telegram has been despatched."
"Perhaps he desires the publication of the letter."
"No, sir, we have strong reason to believe that he already understands
that he has acted in an indiscreet and hot-headed manner. It would be a
greater blow to him and to his country than to us if this letter were to
"If this is so, whose interest is it that, the letter should come out?
Why should anyone desire to steal it or to publish it?"
"There, Mr. Holmes, you take me into regions of high international
politics. But if you consider the European situation you will have no
difficulty in perceiving the motive. The whole of Europe is an armed
camp. There is a double league which makes a fair balance of military
power. Great Britain holds the scales. If Britain were driven into
war with one confederacy, it would assure the supremacy of the other
confederacy, whether they joined in the war or not. Do you follow?"
"Very clearly. It is then the interest of the enemies of this potentate
to secure and publish this letter, so as to make a breach between his
country and ours?"
"And to whom would this document be sent if it fell into the hands of an
"To any of the great Chancelleries of Europe. It is probably speeding on
its way thither at the present instant as fast as steam can take it."
Mr. Trelawney Hope dropped his head on his chest and groaned aloud. The
Premier placed his hand kindly upon his shoulder.
"It is your misfortune, my dear fellow. No one can blame you. There is
no precaution which you have neglected. Now, Mr. Holmes, you are in full
possession of the facts. What course do you recommend?"
Holmes shook his head mournfully.
"You think, sir, that unless this document is recovered there will be
"I think it is very probable."
"Then, sir, prepare for war."
"That is a hard saying, Mr. Holmes."
"Consider the facts, sir. It is inconceivable that it was taken after
eleven-thirty at night, since I understand that Mr. Hope and his wife
were both in the room from that hour until the loss was found out.
It was taken, then, yesterday evening between seven-thirty and
eleven-thirty, probably near the earlier hour, since whoever took it
evidently knew that it was there and would naturally secure it as early
as possible. Now, sir, if a document of this importance were taken at
that hour, where can it be now? No one has any reason to retain it. It
has been passed rapidly on to those who need it. What chance have we now
to overtake or even to trace it? It is beyond our reach."
The Prime Minister rose from the settee.
"What you say is perfectly logical, Mr. Holmes. I feel that the matter
is indeed out of our hands."
"Let us presume, for argument's sake, that the document was taken by the
maid or by the valet----"
"They are both old and tried servants."
"I understand you to say that your room is on the second floor, that
there is no entrance from without, and that from within no one could go
up unobserved. It must, then, be somebody in the house who has taken it.
To whom would the thief take it? To one of several international spies
and secret agents, whose names are tolerably familiar to me. There are
three who may be said to be the heads of their profession. I will begin
my research by going round and finding if each of them is at his post.
If one is missing--especially if he has disappeared since last night--we
will have some indication as to where the document has gone."
"Why should he be missing?" asked the European Secretary. "He would take
the letter to an Embassy in London, as likely as not."
"I fancy not. These agents work independently, and their relations with
the Embassies are often strained."
The Prime Minister nodded his acquiescence.
"I believe you are right, Mr. Holmes. He would take so valuable a prize
to headquarters with his own hands. I think that your course of action
is an excellent one. Meanwhile, Hope, we cannot neglect all our other
duties on account of this one misfortune. Should there be any fresh
developments during the day we shall communicate with you, and you will
no doubt let us know the results of your own inquiries."
The two statesmen bowed and walked gravely from the room.
When our illustrious visitors had departed Holmes lit his pipe in
silence and sat for some time lost in the deepest thought. I had opened
the morning paper and was immersed in a sensational crime which had
occurred in London the night before, when my friend gave an exclamation,
sprang to his feet, and laid his pipe down upon the mantelpiece.
"Yes," said he, "there is no better way of approaching it. The situation
is desperate, but not hopeless. Even now, if we could be sure which of
them has taken it, it is just possible that it has not yet passed out of
his hands. After all, it is a question of money with these fellows, and
I have the British treasury behind me. If it's on the market I'll buy
it--if it means another penny on the income-tax. It is conceivable
that the fellow might hold it back to see what bids come from this
side before he tries his luck on the other. There are only those three
capable of playing so bold a game--there are Oberstein, La Rothiere, and
Eduardo Lucas. I will see each of them."
I glanced at my morning paper.
"Is that Eduardo Lucas of Godolphin Street?"
"You will not see him."
"He was murdered in his house last night."
My friend has so often astonished me in the course of our adventures
that it was with a sense of exultation that I realized how completely I
had astonished him. He stared in amazement, and then snatched the
paper from my hands. This was the paragraph which I had been engaged in
reading when he rose from his chair.
MURDER IN WESTMINSTER
A crime of mysterious character was committed last night at 16 Godolphin
Street, one of the old-fashioned and secluded rows of eighteenth century
houses which lie between the river and the Abbey, almost in the shadow
of the great Tower of the Houses of Parliament. This small but select
mansion has been inhabited for some years by Mr. Eduardo Lucas, well
known in society circles both on account of his charming personality
and because he has the well-deserved reputation of being one of the
best amateur tenors in the country. Mr. Lucas is an unmarried man,
thirty-four years of age, and his establishment consists of Mrs.
Pringle, an elderly housekeeper, and of Mitton, his valet. The former
retires early and sleeps at the top of the house. The valet was out for
the evening, visiting a friend at Hammersmith. From ten o'clock onward
Mr. Lucas had the house to himself. What occurred during that time has
not yet transpired, but at a quarter to twelve Police-constable Barrett,
passing along Godolphin Street observed that the door of No. 16 was
ajar. He knocked, but received no answer. Perceiving a light in the
front room, he advanced into the passage and again knocked, but without
reply. He then pushed open the door and entered. The room was in a state
of wild disorder, the furniture being all swept to one side, and one
chair lying on its back in the centre. Beside this chair, and still
grasping one of its legs, lay the unfortunate tenant of the house. He
had been stabbed to the heart and must have died instantly. The knife
with which the crime had been committed was a curved Indian dagger,
plucked down from a trophy of Oriental arms which adorned one of the
walls. Robbery does not appear to have been the motive of the crime, for
there had been no attempt to remove the valuable contents of the room.
Mr. Eduardo Lucas was so well known and popular that his violent and
mysterious fate will arouse painful interest and intense sympathy in a
widespread circle of friends.
"Well, Watson, what do you make of this?" asked Holmes, after a long
"It is an amazing coincidence."
"A coincidence! Here is one of the three men whom we had named as
possible actors in this drama, and he meets a violent death during the
very hours when we know that that drama was being enacted. The odds are
enormous against its being coincidence. No figures could express them.
No, my dear Watson, the two events are connected--MUST be connected. It
is for us to find the connection."
"But now the official police must know all."
"Not at all. They know all they see at Godolphin Street. They know--and
shall know--nothing of Whitehall Terrace. Only WE know of both events,
and can trace the relation between them. There is one obvious point
which would, in any case, have turned my suspicions against Lucas.
Godolphin Street, Westminster, is only a few minutes' walk from
Whitehall Terrace. The other secret agents whom I have named live in
the extreme West End. It was easier, therefore, for Lucas than for the
others to establish a connection or receive a message from the
European Secretary's household--a small thing, and yet where events are
compressed into a few hours it may prove essential. Halloa! what have we
Mrs. Hudson had appeared with a lady's card upon her salver. Holmes
glanced at it, raised his eyebrows, and handed it over to me.
"Ask Lady Hilda Trelawney Hope if she will be kind enough to step up,"
A moment later our modest apartment, already so distinguished that
morning, was further honoured by the entrance of the most lovely woman
in London. I had often heard of the beauty of the youngest daughter of
the Duke of Belminster, but no description of it, and no contemplation
of colourless photographs, had prepared me for the subtle, delicate
charm and the beautiful colouring of that exquisite head. And yet as
we saw it that autumn morning, it was not its beauty which would be the
first thing to impress the observer. The cheek was lovely but it was
paled with emotion, the eyes were bright but it was the brightness
of fever, the sensitive mouth was tight and drawn in an effort after
self-command. Terror--not beauty--was what sprang first to the eye as
our fair visitor stood framed for an instant in the open door.
"Has my husband been here, Mr. Holmes?"
"Yes, madam, he has been here."
"Mr. Holmes. I implore you not to tell him that I came here." Holmes
bowed coldly, and motioned the lady to a chair.
"Your ladyship places me in a very delicate position. I beg that you
will sit down and tell me what you desire, but I fear that I cannot make
any unconditional promise."
She swept across the room and seated herself with her back to the
window. It was a queenly presence--tall, graceful, and intensely
womanly. "Mr. Holmes," she said--and her white-gloved hands clasped and
unclasped as she spoke--"I will speak frankly to you in the hopes
that it may induce you to speak frankly in return. There is complete
confidence between my husband and me on all matters save one. That one
is politics. On this his lips are sealed. He tells me nothing. Now, I
am aware that there was a most deplorable occurrence in our house last
night. I know that a paper has disappeared. But because the matter is
political my husband refuses to take me into his complete confidence.
Now it is essential--essential, I say--that I should thoroughly
understand it. You are the only other person, save only these
politicians, who knows the true facts. I beg you then, Mr. Holmes, to
tell me exactly what has happened and what it will lead to. Tell me all,
Mr. Holmes. Let no regard for your client's interests keep you silent,
for I assure you that his interests, if he would only see it, would be
best served by taking me into his complete confidence. What was this
paper which was stolen?"
"Madam, what you ask me is really impossible."
She groaned and sank her face in her hands.
"You must see that this is so, madam. If your husband thinks fit to keep
you in the dark over this matter, is it for me, who has only learned the
true facts under the pledge of professional secrecy, to tell what he has
withheld? It is not fair to ask it. It is him whom you must ask."
"I have asked him. I come to you as a last resource. But without your
telling me anything definite, Mr. Holmes, you may do a great service if
you would enlighten me on one point."
"What is it, madam?"
"Is my husband's political career likely to suffer through this
"Well, madam, unless it is set right it may certainly have a very
"Ah!" She drew in her breath sharply as one whose doubts are resolved.
"One more question, Mr. Holmes. From an expression which my husband
dropped in the first shock of this disaster I understood that terrible
public consequences might arise from the loss of this document."
"If he said so, I certainly cannot deny it."
"Of what nature are they?"
"Nay, madam, there again you ask me more than I can possibly answer."
"Then I will take up no more of your time. I cannot blame you, Mr.
Holmes, for having refused to speak more freely, and you on your side
will not, I am sure, think the worse of me because I desire, even
against his will, to share my husband's anxieties. Once more I beg that
you will say nothing of my visit."
She looked back at us from the door, and I had a last impression of that
beautiful haunted face, the startled eyes, and the drawn mouth. Then she
"Now, Watson, the fair sex is your department," said Holmes, with a
smile, when the dwindling frou-frou of skirts had ended in the slam
of the front door. "What was the fair lady's game? What did she really
"Surely her own statement is clear and her anxiety very natural."
"Hum! Think of her appearance, Watson--her manner, her suppressed
excitement, her restlessness, her tenacity in asking questions. Remember
that she comes of a caste who do not lightly show emotion."
"She was certainly much moved."
"Remember also the curious earnestness with which she assured us that it
was best for her husband that she should know all. What did she mean by
that? And you must have observed, Watson, how she manoeuvred to have the
light at her back. She did not wish us to read her expression."
"Yes, she chose the one chair in the room."
"And yet the motives of women are so inscrutable. You remember the
woman at Margate whom I suspected for the same reason. No powder on her
nose--that proved to be the correct solution. How can you build on such
a quicksand? Their most trivial action may mean volumes, or their most
extraordinary conduct may depend upon a hairpin or a curling tongs.
"You are off?"
"Yes, I will while away the morning at Godolphin Street with our friends
of the regular establishment. With Eduardo Lucas lies the solution of
our problem, though I must admit that I have not an inkling as to what
form it may take. It is a capital mistake to theorize in advance of
the facts. Do you stay on guard, my good Watson, and receive any fresh
visitors. I'll join you at lunch if I am able."
All that day and the next and the next Holmes was in a mood which his
friends would call taciturn, and others morose. He ran out and ran in,
smoked incessantly, played snatches on his violin, sank into reveries,
devoured sandwiches at irregular hours, and hardly answered the casual
questions which I put to him. It was evident to me that things were not
going well with him or his quest. He would say nothing of the case, and
it was from the papers that I learned the particulars of the inquest,
and the arrest with the subsequent release of John Mitton, the valet of
the deceased. The coroner's jury brought in the obvious Wilful Murder,
but the parties remained as unknown as ever. No motive was suggested.
The room was full of articles of value, but none had been taken. The
dead man's papers had not been tampered with. They were carefully
examined, and showed that he was a keen student of international
politics, an indefatigable gossip, a remarkable linguist, and an
untiring letter writer. He had been on intimate terms with the leading
politicians of several countries. But nothing sensational was discovered
among the documents which filled his drawers. As to his relations with
women, they appeared to have been promiscuous but superficial. He had
many acquaintances among them, but few friends, and no one whom he
loved. His habits were regular, his conduct inoffensive. His death was
an absolute mystery and likely to remain so.
As to the arrest of John Mitton, the valet, it was a council of despair
as an alternative to absolute inaction. But no case could be sustained
against him. He had visited friends in Hammersmith that night. The ALIBI
was complete. It is true that he started home at an hour which should
have brought him to Westminster before the time when the crime was
discovered, but his own explanation that he had walked part of the way
seemed probable enough in view of the fineness of the night. He had
actually arrived at twelve o'clock, and appeared to be overwhelmed
by the unexpected tragedy. He had always been on good terms with his
master. Several of the dead man's possessions--notably a small case of
razors--had been found in the valet's boxes, but he explained that they
had been presents from the deceased, and the housekeeper was able to
corroborate the story. Mitton had been in Lucas's employment for three
years. It was noticeable that Lucas did not take Mitton on the Continent
with him. Sometimes he visited Paris for three months on end, but Mitton
was left in charge of the Godolphin Street house. As to the housekeeper,
she had heard nothing on the night of the crime. If her master had a
visitor he had himself admitted him.
So for three mornings the mystery remained, so far as I could follow it
in the papers. If Holmes knew more, he kept his own counsel, but, as
he told me that Inspector Lestrade had taken him into him into his
confidence in the case, I knew that he was in close touch with every
development. Upon the fourth day there appeared a long telegram from
Paris which seemed to solve the whole question.
A discovery has just been made by the Parisian police [said the DAILY
TELEGRAPH] which raises the veil which hung round the tragic fate of
Mr. Eduardo Lucas, who met his death by violence last Monday night
at Godolphin Street, Westminster. Our readers will remember that
the deceased gentleman was found stabbed in his room, and that some
suspicion attached to his valet, but that the case broke down on an
ALIBI. Yesterday a lady, who has been known as Mme. Henri Fournaye,
occupying a small villa in the Rue Austerlitz, was reported to the
authorities by her servants as being insane. An examination showed
she had indeed developed mania of a dangerous and permanent form.
On inquiry, the police have discovered that Mme. Henri Fournaye only
returned from a journey to London on Tuesday last, and there is
evidence to connect her with the crime at Westminster. A comparison of
photographs has proved conclusively that M. Henri Fournaye and Eduardo
Lucas were really one and the same person, and that the deceased had for
some reason lived a double life in London and Paris. Mme. Fournaye,
who is of Creole origin, is of an extremely excitable nature, and has
suffered in the past from attacks of jealousy which have amounted to
frenzy. It is conjectured that it was in one of these that she committed
the terrible crime which has caused such a sensation in London. Her
movements upon the Monday night have not yet been traced, but it is
undoubted that a woman answering to her description attracted much
attention at Charing Cross Station on Tuesday morning by the wildness
of her appearance and the violence of her gestures. It is probable,
therefore, that the crime was either committed when insane, or that
its immediate effect was to drive the unhappy woman out of her mind. At
present she is unable to give any coherent account of the past, and the
doctors hold out no hopes of the reestablishment of her reason. There is
evidence that a woman, who might have been Mme. Fournaye, was seen for
some hours upon Monday night watching the house in Godolphin Street.
"What do you think of that, Holmes?" I had read the account aloud to
him, while he finished his breakfast.
"My dear Watson," said he, as he rose from the table and paced up and
down the room, "You are most long-suffering, but if I have told you
nothing in the last three days, it is because there is nothing to tell.
Even now this report from Paris does not help us much."
"Surely it is final as regards the man's death."
"The man's death is a mere incident--a trivial episode--in comparison
with our real task, which is to trace this document and save a European
catastrophe. Only one important thing has happened in the last three
days, and that is that nothing has happened. I get reports almost hourly
from the government, and it is certain that nowhere in Europe is there
any sign of trouble. Now, if this letter were loose--no, it CAN'T be
loose--but if it isn't loose, where can it be? Who has it? Why is it
held back? That's the question that beats in my brain like a hammer. Was
it, indeed, a coincidence that Lucas should meet his death on the night
when the letter disappeared? Did the letter ever reach him? If so, why
is it not among his papers? Did this mad wife of his carry it off with
her? If so, is it in her house in Paris? How could I search for it
without the French police having their suspicions aroused? It is a case,
my dear Watson, where the law is as dangerous to us as the criminals
are. Every man's hand is against us, and yet the interests at stake
are colossal. Should I bring it to a successful conclusion, it will
certainly represent the crowning glory of my career. Ah, here is my
latest from the front!" He glanced hurriedly at the note which had
been handed in. "Halloa! Lestrade seems to have observed something of
interest. Put on your hat, Watson, and we will stroll down together to
It was my first visit to the scene of the crime--a high, dingy,
narrow-chested house, prim, formal, and solid, like the century which
gave it birth. Lestrade's bulldog features gazed out at us from the
front window, and he greeted us warmly when a big constable had opened
the door and let us in. The room into which we were shown was that in
which the crime had been committed, but no trace of it now remained save
an ugly, irregular stain upon the carpet. This carpet was a small square
drugget in the centre of the room, surrounded by a broad expanse
of beautiful, old-fashioned wood-flooring in square blocks, highly
polished. Over the fireplace was a magnificent trophy of weapons, one of
which had been used on that tragic night. In the window was a sumptuous
writing-desk, and every detail of the apartment, the pictures, the rugs,
and the hangings, all pointed to a taste which was luxurious to the
verge of effeminacy.
"Seen the Paris news?" asked Lestrade.
"Our French friends seem to have touched the spot this time. No doubt
it's just as they say. She knocked at the door--surprise visit, I
guess, for he kept his life in water-tight compartments--he let her in,
couldn't keep her in the street. She told him how she had traced him,
reproached him. One thing led to another, and then with that dagger so
handy the end soon came. It wasn't all done in an instant, though, for
these chairs were all swept over yonder, and he had one in his hand as
if he had tried to hold her off with it. We've got it all clear as if we
had seen it."
Holmes raised his eyebrows.
"And yet you have sent for me?"
"Ah, yes, that's another matter--a mere trifle, but the sort of thing
you take an interest in--queer, you know, and what you might call
freakish. It has nothing to do with the main fact--can't have, on the
face of it."
"What is it, then?"
"Well, you know, after a crime of this sort we are very careful to keep
things in their position. Nothing has been moved. Officer in charge here
day and night. This morning, as the man was buried and the investigation
over--so far as this room is concerned--we thought we could tidy up
a bit. This carpet. You see, it is not fastened down, only just laid
there. We had occasion to raise it. We found----"
"Yes? You found----"
Holmes's face grew tense with anxiety.
"Well, I'm sure you would never guess in a hundred years what we did
find. You see that stain on the carpet? Well, a great deal must have
soaked through, must it not?"
"Undoubtedly it must."
"Well, you will be surprised to hear that there is no stain on the white
woodwork to correspond."
"No stain! But there must----"
"Yes, so you would say. But the fact remains that there isn't."
He took the corner of the carpet in his hand and, turning it over, he
showed that it was indeed as he said.
"But the under side is as stained as the upper. It must have left a
Lestrade chuckled with delight at having puzzled the famous expert.
"Now, I'll show you the explanation. There IS a second stain, but it
does not correspond with the other. See for yourself." As he spoke he
turned over another portion of the carpet, and there, sure enough, was
a great crimson spill upon the square white facing of the old-fashioned
floor. "What do you make of that, Mr. Holmes?"
"Why, it is simple enough. The two stains did correspond, but the carpet
has been turned round. As it was square and unfastened it was easily
"The official police don't need you, Mr. Holmes, to tell them that the
carpet must have been turned round. That's clear enough, for the stains
lie above each other--if you lay it over this way. But what I want to
know is, who shifted the carpet, and why?"
I could see from Holmes's rigid face that he was vibrating with inward
"Look here, Lestrade," said he, "has that constable in the passage been
in charge of the place all the time?"
"Yes, he has."
"Well, take my advice. Examine him carefully. Don't do it before us.
Well wait here. You take him into the back room. You'll be more likely
to get a confession out of him alone. Ask him how he dared to admit
people and leave them alone in this room. Don't ask him if he has done
it. Take it for granted. Tell him you KNOW someone has been here. Press
him. Tell him that a full confession is his only chance of forgiveness.
Do exactly what I tell you!"
"By George, if he knows I'll have it out of him!" cried Lestrade. He
darted into the hall, and a few moments later his bullying voice sounded
from the back room.
"Now, Watson, now!" cried Holmes with frenzied eagerness. All the
demoniacal force of the man masked behind that listless manner burst out
in a paroxysm of energy. He tore the drugget from the floor, and in an
instant was down on his hands and knees clawing at each of the squares
of wood beneath it. One turned sideways as he dug his nails into the
edge of it. It hinged back like the lid of a box. A small black cavity
opened beneath it. Holmes plunged his eager hand into it and drew it out
with a bitter snarl of anger and disappointment. It was empty.
"Quick, Watson, quick! Get it back again!" The wooden lid was replaced,
and the drugget had only just been drawn straight when Lestrade's voice
was heard in the passage. He found Holmes leaning languidly against
the mantelpiece, resigned and patient, endeavouring to conceal his
"Sorry to keep you waiting, Mr. Holmes, I can see that you are bored to
death with the whole affair. Well, he has confessed, all right. Come
in here, MacPherson. Let these gentlemen hear of your most inexcusable
The big constable, very hot and penitent, sidled into the room.
"I meant no harm, sir, I'm sure. The young woman came to the door last
evening--mistook the house, she did. And then we got talking. It's
lonesome, when you're on duty here all day."
"Well, what happened then?"
"She wanted to see where the crime was done--had read about it in the
papers, she said. She was a very respectable, well-spoken young woman,
sir, and I saw no harm in letting her have a peep. When she saw that
mark on the carpet, down she dropped on the floor, and lay as if she
were dead. I ran to the back and got some water, but I could not bring
her to. Then I went round the corner to the Ivy Plant for some brandy,
and by the time I had brought it back the young woman had recovered and
was off--ashamed of herself, I daresay, and dared not face me."
"How about moving that drugget?"
"Well, sir, it was a bit rumpled, certainly, when I came back. You see,
she fell on it and it lies on a polished floor with nothing to keep it
in place. I straightened it out afterwards."
"It's a lesson to you that you can't deceive me, Constable MacPherson,"
said Lestrade, with dignity. "No doubt you thought that your breach of
duty could never be discovered, and yet a mere glance at that drugget
was enough to convince me that someone had been admitted to the room.
It's lucky for you, my man, that nothing is missing, or you would find
yourself in Queer Street. I'm sorry to have called you down over such a
petty business, Mr. Holmes, but I thought the point of the second stain
not corresponding with the first would interest you."
"Certainly, it was most interesting. Has this woman only been here once,
"Yes, sir, only once."
"Who was she?"
"Don't know the name, sir. Was answering an advertisement about
typewriting and came to the wrong number--very pleasant, genteel young
"Yes, sir, she was a well-grown young woman. I suppose you might say
she was handsome. Perhaps some would say she was very handsome. 'Oh,
officer, do let me have a peep!' says she. She had pretty, coaxing ways,
as you might say, and I thought there was no harm in letting her just
put her head through the door."
"How was she dressed?"
"Quiet, sir--a long mantle down to her feet."
"What time was it?"
"It was just growing dusk at the time. They were lighting the lamps as I
came back with the brandy."
"Very good," said Holmes. "Come, Watson, I think that we have more
important work elsewhere."
As we left the house Lestrade remained in the front room, while the
repentant constable opened the door to let us out. Holmes turned on the
step and held up something in his hand. The constable stared intently.
"Good Lord, sir!" he cried, with amazement on his face. Holmes put his
finger on his lips, replaced his hand in his breast pocket, and burst
out laughing as we turned down the street. "Excellent!" said he. "Come,
friend Watson, the curtain rings up for the last act. You will be
relieved to hear that there will be no war, that the Right Honourable
Trelawney Hope will suffer no setback in his brilliant career, that the
indiscreet Sovereign will receive no punishment for his indiscretion,
that the Prime Minister will have no Europe an complication to deal
with, and that with a little tact and management upon our part
nobody will be a penny the worse for what might have been a very ugly
My mind filled with admiration for this extraordinary man.
"You have solved it!" I cried.
"Hardly that, Watson. There are some points which are as dark as ever.
But we have so much that it will be our own fault if we cannot get the
rest. We will go straight to Whitehall Terrace and bring the matter to a
When we arrived at the residence of the European Secretary it was for
Lady Hilda Trelawney Hope that Sherlock Holmes inquired. We were shown
into the morning-room.
"Mr. Holmes!" said the lady, and her face was pink with her indignation.
"This is surely most unfair and ungenerous upon your part. I desired,
as I have explained, to keep my visit to you a secret, lest my husband
should think that I was intruding into his affairs. And yet you
compromise me by coming here and so showing that there are business
relations between us."
"Unfortunately, madam, I had no possible alternative. I have been
commissioned to recover this immensely important paper. I must therefore
ask you, madam, to be kind enough to place it in my hands."
The lady sprang to her feet, with the colour all dashed in an instant
from her beautiful face. Her eyes glazed--she tottered--I thought that
she would faint. Then with a grand effort she rallied from the shock,
and a supreme astonishment and indignation chased every other expression
from her features.
"You--you insult me, Mr. Holmes."
"Come, come, madam, it is useless. Give up the letter."
She darted to the bell.
"The butler shall show you out."
"Do not ring, Lady Hilda. If you do, then all my earnest efforts to
avoid a scandal will be frustrated. Give up the letter and all will be
set right. If you will work with me I can arrange everything. If you
work against me I must expose you."
She stood grandly defiant, a queenly figure, her eyes fixed upon his as
if she would read his very soul. Her hand was on the bell, but she had
forborne to ring it.
"You are trying to frighten me. It is not a very manly thing, Mr.
Holmes, to come here and browbeat a woman. You say that you know
something. What is it that you know?"
"Pray sit down, madam. You will hurt yourself there if you fall. I will
not speak until you sit down. Thank you."
"I give you five minutes, Mr. Holmes."
"One is enough, Lady Hilda. I know of your visit to Eduardo Lucas, of
your giving him this document, of your ingenious return to the room
last night, and of the manner in which you took the letter from the
hiding-place under the carpet."
She stared at him with an ashen face and gulped twice before she could
"You are mad, Mr. Holmes--you are mad!" she cried, at last.
He drew a small piece of cardboard from his pocket. It was the face of a
woman cut out of a portrait.
"I have carried this because I thought it might be useful," said he.
"The policeman has recognized it."
She gave a gasp, and her head dropped back in the chair.
"Come, Lady Hilda. You have the letter. The matter may still be
adjusted. I have no desire to bring trouble to you. My duty ends when
I have returned the lost letter to your husband. Take my advice and be
frank with me. It is your only chance."
Her courage was admirable. Even now she would not own defeat.
"I tell you again, Mr. Holmes, that you are under some absurd illusion."
Holmes rose from his chair.
"I am sorry for you, Lady Hilda. I have done my best for you. I can see
that it is all in vain."
He rang the bell. The butler entered.
"Is Mr. Trelawney Hope at home?"
"He will be home, sir, at a quarter to one."
Holmes glanced at his watch.
"Still a quarter of an hour," said he. "Very good, I shall wait."
The butler had hardly closed the door behind him when Lady Hilda
was down on her knees at Holmes's feet, her hands outstretched, her
beautiful face upturned and wet with her tears.
"Oh, spare me, Mr. Holmes! Spare me!" she pleaded, in a frenzy of
supplication. "For heaven's sake, don't tell him! I love him so! I would
not bring one shadow on his life, and this I know would break his noble
Holmes raised the lady. "I am thankful, madam, that you have come to
your senses even at this last moment! There is not an instant to lose.
Where is the letter?"
She darted across to a writing-desk, unlocked it, and drew out a long
"Here it is, Mr. Holmes. Would to heaven I had never seen it!"
"How can we return it?" Holmes muttered. "Quick, quick, we must think of
some way! Where is the despatch-box?"
"Still in his bedroom."
"What a stroke of luck! Quick, madam, bring it here!" A moment later she
had appeared with a red flat box in her hand.
"How did you open it before? You have a duplicate key? Yes, of course
you have. Open it!"
From out of her bosom Lady Hilda had drawn a small key. The box flew
open. It was stuffed with papers. Holmes thrust the blue envelope deep
down into the heart of them, between the leaves of some other document.
The box was shut, locked, and returned to the bedroom.
"Now we are ready for him," said Holmes. "We have still ten minutes.
I am going far to screen you, Lady Hilda. In return you will spend
the time in telling me frankly the real meaning of this extraordinary
"Mr. Holmes, I will tell you everything," cried the lady. "Oh, Mr.
Holmes, I would cut off my right hand before I gave him a moment of
sorrow! There is no woman in all London who loves her husband as I
do, and yet if he knew how I have acted--how I have been compelled to
act--he would never forgive me. For his own honour stands so high that
he could not forget or pardon a lapse in another. Help me, Mr. Holmes!
My happiness, his happiness, our very lives are at stake!"
"Quick, madam, the time grows short!"
"It was a letter of mine, Mr. Holmes, an indiscreet letter written
before my marriage--a foolish letter, a letter of an impulsive, loving
girl. I meant no harm, and yet he would have thought it criminal. Had he
read that letter his confidence would have been forever destroyed. It
is years since I wrote it. I had thought that the whole matter was
forgotten. Then at last I heard from this man, Lucas, that it had passed
into his hands, and that he would lay it before my husband. I implored
his mercy. He said that he would return my letter if I would bring him a
certain document which he described in my husband's despatch-box. He had
some spy in the office who had told him of its existence. He assured me
that no harm could come to my husband. Put yourself in my position, Mr.
Holmes! What was I to do?"
"Take your husband into your confidence."
"I could not, Mr. Holmes, I could not! On the one side seemed certain
ruin, on the other, terrible as it seemed to take my husband's paper,
still in a matter of politics I could not understand the consequences,
while in a matter of love and trust they were only too clear to me. I
did it, Mr. Holmes! I took an impression of his key. This man, Lucas,
furnished a duplicate. I opened his despatch-box, took the paper, and
conveyed it to Godolphin Street."
"What happened there, madam?"
"I tapped at the door as agreed. Lucas opened it. I followed him into
his room, leaving the hall door ajar behind me, for I feared to be alone
with the man. I remember that there was a woman outside as I entered.
Our business was soon done. He had my letter on his desk, I handed him
the document. He gave me the letter. At this instant there was a sound
at the door. There were steps in the passage. Lucas quickly turned
back the drugget, thrust the document into some hiding-place there, and
covered it over.
"What happened after that is like some fearful dream. I have a vision of
a dark, frantic face, of a woman's voice, which screamed in French, 'My
waiting is not in vain. At last, at last I have found you with her!'
There was a savage struggle. I saw him with a chair in his hand, a knife
gleamed in hers. I rushed from the horrible scene, ran from the house,
and only next morning in the paper did I learn the dreadful result. That
night I was happy, for I had my letter, and I had not seen yet what the
future would bring.
"It was the next morning that I realized that I had only exchanged one
trouble for another. My husband's anguish at the loss of his paper went
to my heart. I could hardly prevent myself from there and then kneeling
down at his feet and telling him what I had done. But that again would
mean a confession of the past. I came to you that morning in order to
understand the full enormity of my offence. From the instant that I
grasped it my whole mind was turned to the one thought of getting back
my husband's paper. It must still be where Lucas had placed it, for it
was concealed before this dreadful woman entered the room. If it had not
been for her coming, I should not have known where his hiding-place was.
How was I to get into the room? For two days I watched the place, but
the door was never left open. Last night I made a last attempt. What I
did and how I succeeded, you have already learned. I brought the paper
back with me, and thought of destroying it, since I could see no way of
returning it without confessing my guilt to my husband. Heavens, I hear
his step upon the stair!"
The European Secretary burst excitedly into the room. "Any news, Mr.
Holmes, any news?" he cried.
"I have some hopes."
"Ah, thank heaven!" His face became radiant. "The Prime Minister is
lunching with me. May he share your hopes? He has nerves of steel, and
yet I know that he has hardly slept since this terrible event. Jacobs,
will you ask the Prime Minister to come up? As to you, dear, I fear that
this is a matter of politics. We will join you in a few minutes in the
The Prime Minister's manner was subdued, but I could see by the gleam
of his eyes and the twitchings of his bony hands that he shared the
excitement of his young colleague.
"I understand that you have something to report, Mr. Holmes?"
"Purely negative as yet," my friend answered. "I have inquired at every
point where it might be, and I am sure that there is no danger to be
"But that is not enough, Mr. Holmes. We cannot live forever on such a
volcano. We must have something definite."
"I am in hopes of getting it. That is why I am here. The more I think of
the matter the more convinced I am that the letter has never left this
"If it had it would certainly have been public by now."
"But why should anyone take it in order to keep it in his house?"
"I am not convinced that anyone did take it."
"Then how could it leave the despatch-box?"
"I am not convinced that it ever did leave the despatch-box."
"Mr. Holmes, this joking is very ill-timed. You have my assurance that
it left the box."
"Have you examined the box since Tuesday morning?"
"No. It was not necessary."
"You may conceivably have overlooked it."
"Impossible, I say."
"But I am not convinced of it. I have known such things to happen. I
presume there are other papers there. Well, it may have got mixed with
"It was on the top."
"Someone may have shaken the box and displaced it."
"No, no, I had everything out."
"Surely it is easily, decided, Hope," said the Premier. "Let us have the
despatch-box brought in."
The Secretary rang the bell.
"Jacobs, bring down my despatch-box. This is a farcical waste of time,
but still, if nothing else will satisfy you, it shall be done. Thank
you, Jacobs, put it here. I have always had the key on my watch-chain.
Here are the papers, you see. Letter from Lord Merrow, report from Sir
Charles Hardy, memorandum from Belgrade, note on the Russo-German grain
taxes, letter from Madrid, note from Lord Flowers----Good heavens! what
is this? Lord Bellinger! Lord Bellinger!"
The Premier snatched the blue envelope from his hand.
"Yes, it is it--and the letter is intact. Hope, I congratulate you."
"Thank you! Thank you! What a weight from my heart. But this is
inconceivable--impossible. Mr. Holmes, you are a wizard, a sorcerer! How
did you know it was there?"
"Because I knew it was nowhere else."
"I cannot believe my eyes!" He ran wildly to the door. "Where is my
wife? I must tell her that all is well. Hilda! Hilda!" we heard his
voice on the stairs.
The Premier looked at Holmes with twinkling eyes.
"Come, sir," said he. "There is more in this than meets the eye. How
came the letter back in the box?"
Holmes turned away smiling from the keen scrutiny of those wonderful
"We also have our diplomatic secrets," said he and, picking up his hat,
he turned to the door.
Next: A Scandal In Bohemia
Previous: The Adventure Of The Abbey Grange