The Adventure Of The Six Napoleons
It was no very unusual thing for Mr. Lestrade, of Scotland Yard, to
look in upon us of an evening, and his visits were welcome to Sherlock
Holmes, for they enabled him to keep in touch with all that was going on
at the police headquarters. In return for the news which Lestrade would
bring, Holmes was always ready to listen with attention to the
details of any case upon which the detective was engaged, and was able
occasionally, without any active interference, to give some hint or
suggestion drawn from his own vast knowledge and experience.
On this particular evening, Lestrade had spoken of the weather and
the newspapers. Then he had fallen silent, puffing thoughtfully at his
cigar. Holmes looked keenly at him.
"Anything remarkable on hand?" he asked.
"Oh, no, Mr. Holmes--nothing very particular."
"Then tell me about it."
"Well, Mr. Holmes, there is no use denying that there IS something on my
mind. And yet it is such an absurd business, that I hesitated to
bother you about it. On the other hand, although it is trivial, it is
undoubtedly queer, and I know that you have a taste for all that is out
of the common. But, in my opinion, it comes more in Dr. Watson's line
"Disease?" said I.
"Madness, anyhow. And a queer madness, too. You wouldn't think there was
anyone living at this time of day who had such a hatred of Napoleon the
First that he would break any image of him that he could see."
Holmes sank back in his chair.
"That's no business of mine," said he.
"Exactly. That's what I said. But then, when the man commits burglary
in order to break images which are not his own, that brings it away from
the doctor and on to the policeman."
Holmes sat up again.
"Burglary! This is more interesting. Let me hear the details."
Lestrade took out his official notebook and refreshed his memory from
"The first case reported was four days ago," said he. "It was at the
shop of Morse Hudson, who has a place for the sale of pictures and
statues in the Kennington Road. The assistant had left the front shop
for an instant, when he heard a crash, and hurrying in he found a
plaster bust of Napoleon, which stood with several other works of art
upon the counter, lying shivered into fragments. He rushed out into the
road, but, although several passers-by declared that they had noticed a
man run out of the shop, he could neither see anyone nor could he
find any means of identifying the rascal. It seemed to be one of those
senseless acts of Hooliganism which occur from time to time, and it was
reported to the constable on the beat as such. The plaster cast was not
worth more than a few shillings, and the whole affair appeared to be too
childish for any particular investigation.
"The second case, however, was more serious, and also more singular. It
occurred only last night.
"In Kennington Road, and within a few hundred yards of Morse Hudson's
shop, there lives a well-known medical practitioner, named Dr. Barnicot,
who has one of the largest practices upon the south side of the Thames.
His residence and principal consulting-room is at Kennington Road, but
he has a branch surgery and dispensary at Lower Brixton Road, two miles
away. This Dr. Barnicot is an enthusiastic admirer of Napoleon, and his
house is full of books, pictures, and relics of the French Emperor. Some
little time ago he purchased from Morse Hudson two duplicate plaster
casts of the famous head of Napoleon by the French sculptor, Devine. One
of these he placed in his hall in the house at Kennington Road, and the
other on the mantelpiece of the surgery at Lower Brixton. Well, when Dr.
Barnicot came down this morning he was astonished to find that his house
had been burgled during the night, but that nothing had been taken save
the plaster head from the hall. It had been carried out and had been
dashed savagely against the garden wall, under which its splintered
fragments were discovered."
Holmes rubbed his hands.
"This is certainly very novel," said he.
"I thought it would please you. But I have not got to the end yet. Dr.
Barnicot was due at his surgery at twelve o'clock, and you can imagine
his amazement when, on arriving there, he found that the window had been
opened in the night and that the broken pieces of his second bust were
strewn all over the room. It had been smashed to atoms where it stood.
In neither case were there any signs which could give us a clue as to
the criminal or lunatic who had done the mischief. Now, Mr. Holmes, you
have got the facts."
"They are singular, not to say grotesque," said Holmes. "May I ask
whether the two busts smashed in Dr. Barnicot's rooms were the exact
duplicates of the one which was destroyed in Morse Hudson's shop?"
"They were taken from the same mould."
"Such a fact must tell against the theory that the man who breaks them
is influenced by any general hatred of Napoleon. Considering how many
hundreds of statues of the great Emperor must exist in London, it is
too much to suppose such a coincidence as that a promiscuous iconoclast
should chance to begin upon three specimens of the same bust."
"Well, I thought as you do," said Lestrade. "On the other hand, this
Morse Hudson is the purveyor of busts in that part of London, and these
three were the only ones which had been in his shop for years. So,
although, as you say, there are many hundreds of statues in London, it
is very probable that these three were the only ones in that district.
Therefore, a local fanatic would begin with them. What do you think, Dr.
"There are no limits to the possibilities of monomania," I answered.
"There is the condition which the modern French psychologists have
called the 'IDEE FIXE,' which may be trifling in character, and
accompanied by complete sanity in every other way. A man who had read
deeply about Napoleon, or who had possibly received some hereditary
family injury through the great war, might conceivably form such an IDEE
FIXE and under its influence be capable of any fantastic outrage."
"That won't do, my dear Watson," said Holmes, shaking his head, "for no
amount of IDEE FIXE would enable your interesting monomaniac to find out
where these busts were situated."
"Well, how do YOU explain it?"
"I don't attempt to do so. I would only observe that there is a certain
method in the gentleman's eccentric proceedings. For example, in Dr.
Barnicot's hall, where a sound might arouse the family, the bust was
taken outside before being broken, whereas in the surgery, where there
was less danger of an alarm, it was smashed where it stood. The affair
seems absurdly trifling, and yet I dare call nothing trivial when I
reflect that some of my most classic cases have had the least promising
commencement. You will remember, Watson, how the dreadful business of
the Abernetty family was first brought to my notice by the depth which
the parsley had sunk into the butter upon a hot day. I can't afford,
therefore, to smile at your three broken busts, Lestrade, and I shall
be very much obliged to you if you will let me hear of any fresh
development of so singular a chain of events."
The development for which my friend had asked came in a quicker and an
infinitely more tragic form than he could have imagined. I was still
dressing in my bedroom next morning, when there was a tap at the door
and Holmes entered, a telegram in his hand. He read it aloud:
"Come instantly, 131 Pitt Street, Kensington.
"What is it, then?" I asked.
"Don't know--may be anything. But I suspect it is the sequel of the
story of the statues. In that case our friend the image-breaker has
begun operations in another quarter of London. There's coffee on the
table, Watson, and I have a cab at the door."
In half an hour we had reached Pitt Street, a quiet little backwater
just beside one of the briskest currents of London life. No. 131 was one
of a row, all flat-chested, respectable, and most unromantic dwellings.
As we drove up, we found the railings in front of the house lined by a
curious crowd. Holmes whistled.
"By George! It's attempted murder at the least. Nothing less will hold
the London message-boy. There's a deed of violence indicated in that
fellow's round shoulders and outstretched neck. What's this, Watson? The
top steps swilled down and the other ones dry. Footsteps enough, anyhow!
Well, well, there's Lestrade at the front window, and we shall soon know
all about it."
The official received us with a very grave face and showed us into a
sitting-room, where an exceedingly unkempt and agitated elderly
man, clad in a flannel dressing-gown, was pacing up and down. He was
introduced to us as the owner of the house--Mr. Horace Harker, of the
Central Press Syndicate.
"It's the Napoleon bust business again," said Lestrade. "You seemed
interested last night, Mr. Holmes, so I thought perhaps you would be
glad to be present now that the affair has taken a very much graver
"What has it turned to, then?"
"To murder. Mr. Harker, will you tell these gentlemen exactly what has
The man in the dressing-gown turned upon us with a most melancholy face.
"It's an extraordinary thing," said he, "that all my life I have been
collecting other people's news, and now that a real piece of news has
come my own way I am so confused and bothered that I can't put two
words together. If I had come in here as a journalist, I should have
interviewed myself and had two columns in every evening paper. As it is,
I am giving away valuable copy by telling my story over and over to a
string of different people, and I can make no use of it myself. However,
I've heard your name, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and if you'll only explain
this queer business, I shall be paid for my trouble in telling you the
Holmes sat down and listened.
"It all seems to centre round that bust of Napoleon which I bought for
this very room about four months ago. I picked it up cheap from Harding
Brothers, two doors from the High Street Station. A great deal of my
journalistic work is done at night, and I often write until the early
morning. So it was to-day. I was sitting in my den, which is at the back
of the top of the house, about three o'clock, when I was convinced that
I heard some sounds downstairs. I listened, but they were not repeated,
and I concluded that they came from outside. Then suddenly, about five
minutes later, there came a most horrible yell--the most dreadful sound,
Mr. Holmes, that ever I heard. It will ring in my ears as long as I
live. I sat frozen with horror for a minute or two. Then I seized the
poker and went downstairs. When I entered this room I found the window
wide open, and I at once observed that the bust was gone from the
mantelpiece. Why any burglar should take such a thing passes my
understanding, for it was only a plaster cast and of no real value
"You can see for yourself that anyone going out through that open window
could reach the front doorstep by taking a long stride. This was clearly
what the burglar had done, so I went round and opened the door. Stepping
out into the dark, I nearly fell over a dead man, who was lying there. I
ran back for a light and there was the poor fellow, a great gash in his
throat and the whole place swimming in blood. He lay on his back, his
knees drawn up, and his mouth horribly open. I shall see him in my
dreams. I had just time to blow on my police-whistle, and then I must
have fainted, for I knew nothing more until I found the policeman
standing over me in the hall."
"Well, who was the murdered man?" asked Holmes.
"There's nothing to show who he was," said Lestrade. "You shall see the
body at the mortuary, but we have made nothing of it up to now. He is a
tall man, sunburned, very powerful, not more than thirty. He is poorly
dressed, and yet does not appear to be a labourer. A horn-handled clasp
knife was lying in a pool of blood beside him. Whether it was the weapon
which did the deed, or whether it belonged to the dead man, I do not
know. There was no name on his clothing, and nothing in his pockets save
an apple, some string, a shilling map of London, and a photograph. Here
It was evidently taken by a snapshot from a small camera. It represented
an alert, sharp-featured simian man, with thick eyebrows and a very
peculiar projection of the lower part of the face, like the muzzle of a
"And what became of the bust?" asked Holmes, after a careful study of
"We had news of it just before you came. It has been found in the front
garden of an empty house in Campden House Road. It was broken into
fragments. I am going round now to see it. Will you come?"
"Certainly. I must just take one look round." He examined the carpet and
the window. "The fellow had either very long legs or was a most active
man," said he. "With an area beneath, it was no mean feat to reach
that window ledge and open that window. Getting back was comparatively
simple. Are you coming with us to see the remains of your bust, Mr.
The disconsolate journalist had seated himself at a writing-table.
"I must try and make something of it," said he, "though I have no doubt
that the first editions of the evening papers are out already with
full details. It's like my luck! You remember when the stand fell at
Doncaster? Well, I was the only journalist in the stand, and my journal
the only one that had no account of it, for I was too shaken to write
it. And now I'll be too late with a murder done on my own doorstep."
As we left the room, we heard his pen travelling shrilly over the
The spat where the fragments of the bust had been found was only a
few hundred yards away. For the first time our eyes rested upon this
presentment of the great emperor, which seemed to raise such frantic
and destructive hatred in the mind of the unknown. It lay scattered, in
splintered shards, upon the grass. Holmes picked up several of them and
examined them carefully. I was convinced, from his intent face and his
purposeful manner, that at last he was upon a clue.
"Well?" asked Lestrade.
Holmes shrugged his shoulders.
"We have a long way to go yet," said he. "And yet--and yet--well, we
have some suggestive facts to act upon. The possession of this trifling
bust was worth more, in the eyes of this strange criminal, than a human
life. That is one point. Then there is the singular fact that he did not
break it in the house, or immediately outside the house, if to break it
was his sole object."
"He was rattled and bustled by meeting this other fellow. He hardly knew
what he was doing."
"Well, that's likely enough. But I wish to call your attention very
particularly to the position of this house, in the garden of which the
bust was destroyed."
Lestrade looked about him.
"It was an empty house, and so he knew that he would not be disturbed in
"Yes, but there is another empty house farther up the street which he
must have passed before he came to this one. Why did he not break it
there, since it is evident that every yard that he carried it increased
the risk of someone meeting him?"
"I give it up," said Lestrade.
Holmes pointed to the street lamp above our heads.
"He could see what he was doing here, and he could not there. That was
"By Jove! that's true," said the detective. "Now that I come to think of
it, Dr. Barnicot's bust was broken not far from his red lamp. Well, Mr.
Holmes, what are we to do with that fact?"
"To remember it--to docket it. We may come on something later which will
bear upon it. What steps do you propose to take now, Lestrade?"
"The most practical way of getting at it, in my opinion, is to identify
the dead man. There should be no difficulty about that. When we have
found who he is and who his associates are, we should have a good start
in learning what he was doing in Pitt Street last night, and who it was
who met him and killed him on the doorstep of Mr. Horace Harker. Don't
you think so?"
"No doubt; and yet it is not quite the way in which I should approach
"What would you do then?"
"Oh, you must not let me influence you in any way. I suggest that you
go on your line and I on mine. We can compare notes afterwards, and each
will supplement the other."
"Very good," said Lestrade.
"If you are going back to Pitt Street, you might see Mr. Horace Harker.
Tell him for me that I have quite made up my mind, and that it is
certain that a dangerous homicidal lunatic, with Napoleonic delusions,
was in his house last night. It will be useful for his article."
"You don't seriously believe that?"
"Don't I? Well, perhaps I don't. But I am sure that it will interest Mr.
Horace Harker and the subscribers of the Central Press Syndicate.
Now, Watson, I think that we shall find that we have a long and rather
complex day's work before us. I should be glad, Lestrade, if you could
make it convenient to meet us at Baker Street at six o'clock this
evening. Until then I should like to keep this photograph, found in the
dead man's pocket. It is possible that I may have to ask your company
and assistance upon a small expedition which will have be undertaken
to-night, if my chain of reasoning should prove to be correct. Until
then good-bye and good luck!"
Sherlock Holmes and I walked together to the High Street, where we
stopped at the shop of Harding Brothers, whence the bust had been
purchased. A young assistant informed us that Mr. Harding would be
absent until afternoon, and that he was himself a newcomer, who could
give us no information. Holmes's face showed his disappointment and
"Well, well, we can't expect to have it all our own way, Watson," he
said, at last. "We must come back in the afternoon, if Mr. Harding
will not be here until then. I am, as you have no doubt surmised,
endeavouring to trace these busts to their source, in order to find if
there is not something peculiar which may account for their remarkable
fate. Let us make for Mr. Morse Hudson, of the Kennington Road, and see
if he can throw any light upon the problem."
A drive of an hour brought us to the picture-dealer's establishment. He
was a small, stout man with a red face and a peppery manner.
"Yes, sir. On my very counter, sir," said he. "What we pay rates and
taxes for I don't know, when any ruffian can come in and break one's
goods. Yes, sir, it was I who sold Dr. Barnicot his two statues.
Disgraceful, sir! A Nihilist plot--that's what I make it. No one but an
anarchist would go about breaking statues. Red republicans--that's what
I call 'em. Who did I get the statues from? I don't see what that has to
do with it. Well, if you really want to know, I got them from Gelder
& Co., in Church Street, Stepney. They are a well-known house in the
trade, and have been this twenty years. How many had I? Three--two and
one are three--two of Dr. Barnicot's, and one smashed in broad daylight
on my own counter. Do I know that photograph? No, I don't. Yes, I do,
though. Why, it's Beppo. He was a kind of Italian piece-work man, who
made himself useful in the shop. He could carve a bit, and gild and
frame, and do odd jobs. The fellow left me last week, and I've heard
nothing of him since. No, I don't know where he came from nor where he
went to. I had nothing against him while he was here. He was gone two
days before the bust was smashed."
"Well, that's all we could reasonably expect from Morse Hudson," said
Holmes, as we emerged from the shop. "We have this Beppo as a common
factor, both in Kennington and in Kensington, so that is worth a
ten-mile drive. Now, Watson, let us make for Gelder & Co., of Stepney,
the source and origin of the busts. I shall be surprised if we don't get
some help down there."
In rapid succession we passed through the fringe of fashionable London,
hotel London, theatrical London, literary London, commercial London,
and, finally, maritime London, till we came to a riverside city of a
hundred thousand souls, where the tenement houses swelter and reek with
the outcasts of Europe. Here, in a broad thoroughfare, once the abode
of wealthy City merchants, we found the sculpture works for which we
searched. Outside was a considerable yard full of monumental masonry.
Inside was a large room in which fifty workers were carving or moulding.
The manager, a big blond German, received us civilly and gave a clear
answer to all Holmes's questions. A reference to his books showed that
hundreds of casts had been taken from a marble copy of Devine's head of
Napoleon, but that the three which had been sent to Morse Hudson a year
or so before had been half of a batch of six, the other three being sent
to Harding Brothers, of Kensington. There was no reason why those six
should be different from any of the other casts. He could suggest no
possible cause why anyone should wish to destroy them--in fact, he
laughed at the idea. Their wholesale price was six shillings, but the
retailer would get twelve or more. The cast was taken in two moulds from
each side of the face, and then these two profiles of plaster of Paris
were joined together to make the complete bust. The work was usually
done by Italians, in the room we were in. When finished, the busts were
put on a table in the passage to dry, and afterwards stored. That was
all he could tell us.
But the production of the photograph had a remarkable effect upon the
manager. His face flushed with anger, and his brows knotted over his
blue Teutonic eyes.
"Ah, the rascal!" he cried. "Yes, indeed, I know him very well. This has
always been a respectable establishment, and the only time that we have
ever had the police in it was over this very fellow. It was more than a
year ago now. He knifed another Italian in the street, and then he came
to the works with the police on his heels, and he was taken here. Beppo
was his name--his second name I never knew. Serve me right for engaging
a man with such a face. But he was a good workman--one of the best."
"What did he get?"
"The man lived and he got off with a year. I have no doubt he is out
now, but he has not dared to show his nose here. We have a cousin of his
here, and I daresay he could tell you where he is."
"No, no," cried Holmes, "not a word to the cousin--not a word, I beg
of you. The matter is very important, and the farther I go with it, the
more important it seems to grow. When you referred in your ledger to the
sale of those casts I observed that the date was June 3rd of last year.
Could you give me the date when Beppo was arrested?"
"I could tell you roughly by the pay-list," the manager answered. "Yes,"
he continued, after some turning over of pages, "he was paid last on May
"Thank you," said Holmes. "I don't think that I need intrude upon your
time and patience any more." With a last word of caution that he should
say nothing as to our researches, we turned our faces westward once
The afternoon was far advanced before we were able to snatch a hasty
luncheon at a restaurant. A news-bill at the entrance announced
"Kensington Outrage. Murder by a Madman," and the contents of the paper
showed that Mr. Horace Harker had got his account into print after
all. Two columns were occupied with a highly sensational and flowery
rendering of the whole incident. Holmes propped it against the
cruet-stand and read it while he ate. Once or twice he chuckled.
"This is all right, Watson," said he. "Listen to this:
"It is satisfactory to know that there can be no difference of opinion
upon this case, since Mr. Lestrade, one of the most experienced
members of the official force, and Mr. Sherlock Holmes, the well known
consulting expert, have each come to the conclusion that the grotesque
series of incidents, which have ended in so tragic a fashion, arise from
lunacy rather than from deliberate crime. No explanation save mental
aberration can cover the facts.
"The Press, Watson, is a most valuable institution, if you only know how
to use it. And now, if you have quite finished, we will hark back to
Kensington and see what the manager of Harding Brothers has to say on
The founder of that great emporium proved to be a brisk, crisp little
person, very dapper and quick, with a clear head and a ready tongue.
"Yes, sir, I have already read the account in the evening papers. Mr.
Horace Harker is a customer of ours. We supplied him with the bust some
months ago. We ordered three busts of that sort from Gelder & Co., of
Stepney. They are all sold now. To whom? Oh, I daresay by consulting our
sales book we could very easily tell you. Yes, we have the entries here.
One to Mr. Harker you see, and one to Mr. Josiah Brown, of Laburnum
Lodge, Laburnum Vale, Chiswick, and one to Mr. Sandeford, of Lower Grove
Road, Reading. No, I have never seen this face which you show me in the
photograph. You would hardly forget it, would you, sir, for I've seldom
seen an uglier. Have we any Italians on the staff? Yes, sir, we have
several among our workpeople and cleaners. I daresay they might get a
peep at that sales book if they wanted to. There is no particular reason
for keeping a watch upon that book. Well, well, it's a very strange
business, and I hope that you will let me know if anything comes of your
Holmes had taken several notes during Mr. Harding's evidence, and I
could see that he was thoroughly satisfied by the turn which affairs
were taking. He made no remark, however, save that, unless we hurried,
we should be late for our appointment with Lestrade. Sure enough, when
we reached Baker Street the detective was already there, and we found
him pacing up and down in a fever of impatience. His look of importance
showed that his day's work had not been in vain.
"Well?" he asked. "What luck, Mr. Holmes?"
"We have had a very busy day, and not entirely a wasted one," my friend
explained. "We have seen both the retailers and also the wholesale
manufacturers. I can trace each of the busts now from the beginning."
"The busts," cried Lestrade. "Well, well, you have your own methods, Mr.
Sherlock Holmes, and it is not for me to say a word against them, but
I think I have done a better day's work than you. I have identified the
"You don't say so?"
"And found a cause for the crime."
"We have an inspector who makes a specialty of Saffron Hill and the
Italian Quarter. Well, this dead man had some Catholic emblem round his
neck, and that, along with his colour, made me think he was from the
South. Inspector Hill knew him the moment he caught sight of him. His
name is Pietro Venucci, from Naples, and he is one of the greatest
cut-throats in London. He is connected with the Mafia, which, as you
know, is a secret political society, enforcing its decrees by murder.
Now, you see how the affair begins to clear up. The other fellow is
probably an Italian also, and a member of the Mafia. He has broken
the rules in some fashion. Pietro is set upon his track. Probably the
photograph we found in his pocket is the man himself, so that he may not
knife the wrong person. He dogs the fellow, he sees him enter a house,
he waits outside for him, and in the scuffle he receives his own
death-wound. How is that, Mr. Sherlock Holmes?"
Holmes clapped his hands approvingly.
"Excellent, Lestrade, excellent!" he cried. "But I didn't quite follow
your explanation of the destruction of the busts."
"The busts! You never can get those busts out of your head. After all,
that is nothing; petty larceny, six months at the most. It is the murder
that we are really investigating, and I tell you that I am gathering all
the threads into my hands."
"And the next stage?"
"Is a very simple one. I shall go down with Hill to the Italian Quarter,
find the man whose photograph we have got, and arrest him on the charge
of murder. Will you come with us?"
"I think not. I fancy we can attain our end in a simpler way. I can't
say for certain, because it all depends--well, it all depends upon
a factor which is completely outside our control. But I have great
hopes--in fact, the betting is exactly two to one--that if you will come
with us to-night I shall be able to help you to lay him by the heels."
"In the Italian Quarter?"
"No, I fancy Chiswick is an address which is more likely to find him. If
you will come with me to Chiswick to-night, Lestrade, I'll promise to go
to the Italian Quarter with you to-morrow, and no harm will be done by
the delay. And now I think that a few hours' sleep would do us all good,
for I do not propose to leave before eleven o'clock, and it is unlikely
that we shall be back before morning. You'll dine with us, Lestrade, and
then you are welcome to the sofa until it is time for us to start. In
the meantime, Watson, I should be glad if you would ring for an express
messenger, for I have a letter to send and it is important that it
should go at once."
Holmes spent the evening in rummaging among the files of the old daily
papers with which one of our lumber-rooms was packed. When at last
he descended, it was with triumph in his eyes, but he said nothing to
either of us as to the result of his researches. For my own part, I had
followed step by step the methods by which he had traced the various
windings of this complex case, and, though I could not yet perceive the
goal which we would reach, I understood clearly that Holmes expected
this grotesque criminal to make an attempt upon the two remaining busts,
one of which, I remembered, was at Chiswick. No doubt the object of our
journey was to catch him in the very act, and I could not but admire the
cunning with which my friend had inserted a wrong clue in the evening
paper, so as to give the fellow the idea that he could continue his
scheme with impunity. I was not surprised when Holmes suggested that
I should take my revolver with me. He had himself picked up the loaded
hunting-crop, which was his favourite weapon.
A four-wheeler was at the door at eleven, and in it we drove to a spot
at the other side of Hammersmith Bridge. Here the cabman was directed to
wait. A short walk brought us to a secluded road fringed with pleasant
houses, each standing in its own grounds. In the light of a street
lamp we read "Laburnum Villa" upon the gate-post of one of them. The
occupants had evidently retired to rest, for all was dark save for a
fanlight over the hall door, which shed a single blurred circle on to
the garden path. The wooden fence which separated the grounds from the
road threw a dense black shadow upon the inner side, and here it was
that we crouched.
"I fear that you'll have a long wait," Holmes whispered. "We may thank
our stars that it is not raining. I don't think we can even venture to
smoke to pass the time. However, it's a two to one chance that we get
something to pay us for our trouble."
It proved, however, that our vigil was not to be so long as Holmes had
led us to fear, and it ended in a very sudden and singular fashion. In
an instant, without the least sound to warn us of his coming, the garden
gate swung open, and a lithe, dark figure, as swift and active as an
ape, rushed up the garden path. We saw it whisk past the light thrown
from over the door and disappear against the black shadow of the house.
There was a long pause, during which we held our breath, and then a very
gentle creaking sound came to our ears. The window was being opened. The
noise ceased, and again there was a long silence. The fellow was making
his way into the house. We saw the sudden flash of a dark lantern inside
the room. What he sought was evidently not there, for again we saw the
flash through another blind, and then through another.
"Let us get to the open window. We will nab him as he climbs out,"
But before we could move, the man had emerged again. As he came out into
the glimmering patch of light, we saw that he carried something white
under his arm. He looked stealthily all round him. The silence of the
deserted street reassured him. Turning his back upon us he laid down
his burden, and the next instant there was the sound of a sharp tap,
followed by a clatter and rattle. The man was so intent upon what he was
doing that he never heard our steps as we stole across the grass plot.
With the bound of a tiger Holmes was on his back, and an instant later
Lestrade and I had him by either wrist, and the handcuffs had been
fastened. As we turned him over I saw a hideous, sallow face, with
writhing, furious features, glaring up at us, and I knew that it was
indeed the man of the photograph whom we had secured.
But it was not our prisoner to whom Holmes was giving his attention.
Squatted on the doorstep, he was engaged in most carefully examining
that which the man had brought from the house. It was a bust of
Napoleon, like the one which we had seen that morning, and it had been
broken into similar fragments. Carefully Holmes held each separate shard
to the light, but in no way did it differ from any other shattered piece
of plaster. He had just completed his examination when the hall lights
flew up, the door opened, and the owner of the house, a jovial, rotund
figure in shirt and trousers, presented himself.
"Mr. Josiah Brown, I suppose?" said Holmes.
"Yes, sir; and you, no doubt, are Mr. Sherlock Holmes? I had the note
which you sent by the express messenger, and I did exactly what you told
me. We locked every door on the inside and awaited developments. Well,
I'm very glad to see that you have got the rascal. I hope, gentlemen,
that you will come in and have some refreshment."
However, Lestrade was anxious to get his man into safe quarters, so
within a few minutes our cab had been summoned and we were all four upon
our way to London. Not a word would our captive say, but he glared at us
from the shadow of his matted hair, and once, when my hand seemed within
his reach, he snapped at it like a hungry wolf. We stayed long enough
at the police-station to learn that a search of his clothing revealed
nothing save a few shillings and a long sheath knife, the handle of
which bore copious traces of recent blood.
"That's all right," said Lestrade, as we parted. "Hill knows all these
gentry, and he will give a name to him. You'll find that my theory of
the Mafia will work out all right. But I'm sure I am exceedingly obliged
to you, Mr. Holmes, for the workmanlike way in which you laid hands upon
him. I don't quite understand it all yet."
"I fear it is rather too late an hour for explanations," said Holmes.
"Besides, there are one or two details which are not finished off, and
it is one of those cases which are worth working out to the very end.
If you will come round once more to my rooms at six o'clock to-morrow, I
think I shall be able to show you that even now you have not grasped the
entire meaning of this business, which presents some features which make
it absolutely original in the history of crime. If ever I permit you
to chronicle any more of my little problems, Watson, I foresee that you
will enliven your pages by an account of the singular adventure of the
When we met again next evening, Lestrade was furnished with much
information concerning our prisoner. His name, it appeared, was Beppo,
second name unknown. He was a well-known ne'er-do-well among the Italian
colony. He had once been a skilful sculptor and had earned an honest
living, but he had taken to evil courses and had twice already been in
jail--once for a petty theft, and once, as we had already heard, for
stabbing a fellow-countryman. He could talk English perfectly well. His
reasons for destroying the busts were still unknown, and he refused to
answer any questions upon the subject, but the police had discovered
that these same busts might very well have been made by his own hands,
since he was engaged in this class of work at the establishment of
Gelder & Co. To all this information, much of which we already knew,
Holmes listened with polite attention, but I, who knew him so well,
could clearly see that his thoughts were elsewhere, and I detected a
mixture of mingled uneasiness and expectation beneath that mask which
he was wont to assume. At last he started in his chair, and his eyes
brightened. There had been a ring at the bell. A minute later we heard
steps upon the stairs, and an elderly red-faced man with grizzled
side-whiskers was ushered in. In his right hand he carried an
old-fashioned carpet-bag, which he placed upon the table.
"Is Mr. Sherlock Holmes here?"
My friend bowed and smiled. "Mr. Sandeford, of Reading, I suppose?" said
"Yes, sir, I fear that I am a little late, but the trains were awkward.
You wrote to me about a bust that is in my possession."
"I have your letter here. You said, 'I desire to possess a copy of
Devine's Napoleon, and am prepared to pay you ten pounds for the one
which is in your possession.' Is that right?"
"I was very much surprised at your letter, for I could not imagine how
you knew that I owned such a thing."
"Of course you must have been surprised, but the explanation is very
simple. Mr. Harding, of Harding Brothers, said that they had sold you
their last copy, and he gave me your address."
"Oh, that was it, was it? Did he tell you what I paid for it?"
"No, he did not."
"Well, I am an honest man, though not a very rich one. I only gave
fifteen shillings for the bust, and I think you ought to know that
before I take ten pounds from you.
"I am sure the scruple does you honour, Mr. Sandeford. But I have named
that price, so I intend to stick to it."
"Well, it is very handsome of you, Mr. Holmes. I brought the bust up
with me, as you asked me to do. Here it is!" He opened his bag, and at
last we saw placed upon our table a complete specimen of that bust which
we had already seen more than once in fragments.
Holmes took a paper from his pocket and laid a ten-pound note upon the
"You will kindly sign that paper, Mr. Sandeford, in the presence of
these witnesses. It is simply to say that you transfer every possible
right that you ever had in the bust to me. I am a methodical man, you
see, and you never know what turn events might take afterwards. Thank
you, Mr. Sandeford; here is your money, and I wish you a very good
When our visitor had disappeared, Sherlock Holmes's movements were such
as to rivet our attention. He began by taking a clean white cloth from
a drawer and laying it over the table. Then he placed his newly acquired
bust in the centre of the cloth. Finally, he picked up his hunting-crop
and struck Napoleon a sharp blow on the top of the head. The figure
broke into fragments, and Holmes bent eagerly over the shattered
remains. Next instant, with a loud shout of triumph he held up one
splinter, in which a round, dark object was fixed like a plum in a
"Gentlemen," he cried, "let me introduce you to the famous black pearl
of the Borgias."
Lestrade and I sat silent for a moment, and then, with a spontaneous
impulse, we both broke at clapping, as at the well-wrought crisis of a
play. A flush of colour sprang to Holmes's pale cheeks, and he bowed to
us like the master dramatist who receives the homage of his audience.
It was at such moments that for an instant he ceased to be a reasoning
machine, and betrayed his human love for admiration and applause. The
same singularly proud and reserved nature which turned away with disdain
from popular notoriety was capable of being moved to its depths by
spontaneous wonder and praise from a friend.
"Yes, gentlemen," said he, "it is the most famous pearl now existing
in the world, and it has been my good fortune, by a connected chain of
inductive reasoning, to trace it from the Prince of Colonna's bedroom at
the Dacre Hotel, where it was lost, to the interior of this, the last
of the six busts of Napoleon which were manufactured by Gelder & Co.,
of Stepney. You will remember, Lestrade, the sensation caused by the
disappearance of this valuable jewel and the vain efforts of the London
police to recover it. I was myself consulted upon the case, but I was
unable to throw any light upon it. Suspicion fell upon the maid of the
Princess, who was an Italian, and it was proved that she had a brother
in London, but we failed to trace any connection between them. The
maid's name was Lucretia Venucci, and there is no doubt in my mind that
this Pietro who was murdered two nights ago was the brother. I have been
looking up the dates in the old files of the paper, and I find that the
disappearance of the pearl was exactly two days before the arrest of
Beppo, for some crime of violence--an event which took place in the
factory of Gelder & Co., at the very moment when these busts were being
made. Now you clearly see the sequence of events, though you see them,
of course, in the inverse order to the way in which they presented
themselves to me. Beppo had the pearl in his possession. He may have
stolen it from Pietro, he may have been Pietro's confederate, he
may have been the go-between of Pietro and his sister. It is of no
consequence to us which is the correct solution.
"The main fact is that he HAD the pearl, and at that moment, when it was
on his person, he was pursued by the police. He made for the factory in
which he worked, and he knew that he had only a few minutes in which to
conceal this enormously valuable prize, which would otherwise be found
on him when he was searched. Six plaster casts of Napoleon were drying
in the passage. One of them was still soft. In an instant Beppo, a
skilful workman, made a small hole in the wet plaster, dropped in the
pearl, and with a few touches covered over the aperture once more. It
was an admirable hiding-place. No one could possibly find it. But Beppo
was condemned to a year's imprisonment, and in the meanwhile his six
busts were scattered over London. He could not tell which contained his
treasure. Only by breaking them could he see. Even shaking would tell
him nothing, for as the plaster was wet it was probable that the pearl
would adhere to it--as, in fact, it has done. Beppo did not despair, and
he conducted his search with considerable ingenuity and perseverance.
Through a cousin who works with Gelder, he found out the retail firms
who had bought the busts. He managed to find employment with Morse
Hudson, and in that way tracked down three of them. The pearl was not
there. Then, with the help of some Italian employee, he succeeded in
finding out where the other three busts had gone. The first was at
Harker's. There he was dogged by his confederate, who held Beppo
responsible for the loss of the pearl, and he stabbed him in the scuffle
"If he was his confederate, why should he carry his photograph?" I
"As a means of tracing him, if he wished to inquire about him from any
third person. That was the obvious reason. Well, after the murder
I calculated that Beppo would probably hurry rather than delay his
movements. He would fear that the police would read his secret, and so
he hastened on before they should get ahead of him. Of course, I could
not say that he had not found the pearl in Harker's bust. I had not even
concluded for certain that it was the pearl, but it was evident to me
that he was looking for something, since he carried the bust past
the other houses in order to break it in the garden which had a lamp
overlooking it. Since Harker's bust was one in three, the chances were
exactly as I told you--two to one against the pearl being inside it.
There remained two busts, and it was obvious that he would go for the
London one first. I warned the inmates of the house, so as to avoid a
second tragedy, and we went down, with the happiest results. By that
time, of course, I knew for certain that it was the Borgia pearl that we
were after. The name of the murdered man linked the one event with the
other. There only remained a single bust--the Reading one--and the pearl
must be there. I bought it in your presence from the owner--and there it
We sat in silence for a moment.
"Well," said Lestrade, "I've seen you handle a good many cases, Mr.
Holmes, but I don't know that I ever knew a more workmanlike one than
that. We're not jealous of you at Scotland Yard. No, sir, we are very
proud of you, and if you come down to-morrow, there's not a man, from
the oldest inspector to the youngest constable, who wouldn't be glad to
shake you by the hand."
"Thank you!" said Holmes. "Thank you!" and as he turned away, it seemed
to me that he was more nearly moved by the softer human emotions than I
had ever seen him. A moment later he was the cold and practical thinker
once more. "Put the pearl in the safe, Watson," said he, "and get out
the papers of the Conk-Singleton forgery case. Good-bye, Lestrade. If
any little problem comes your way, I shall be happy, if I can, to give
you a hint or two as to its solution."
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