The Adventure Of The Abbey Grange





It was on a bitterly cold and frosty morning, towards the end of the

winter of '97, that I was awakened by a tugging at my shoulder. It was

Holmes. The candle in his hand shone upon his eager, stooping face, and

told me at a glance that something was amiss.



"Come, Watson, come!" he cried. "The game is afoot. Not a word! Into

your clothes and come!"



Ten minutes later we were both in a cab, and rattling through the silent

streets on our way to Charing Cross Station. The first faint winter's

dawn was beginning to appear, and we could dimly see the occasional

figure of an early workman as he passed us, blurred and indistinct in

the opalescent London reek. Holmes nestled in silence into his heavy

coat, and I was glad to do the same, for the air was most bitter, and

neither of us had broken our fast.



It was not until we had consumed some hot tea at the station and taken

our places in the Kentish train that we were sufficiently thawed, he

to speak and I to listen. Holmes drew a note from his pocket, and read

aloud:



Abbey Grange, Marsham, Kent, 3:30 A.M. MY DEAR MR. HOLMES:



I should be very glad of your immediate assistance in what promises to

be a most remarkable case. It is something quite in your line. Except

for releasing the lady I will see that everything is kept exactly as I

have found it, but I beg you not to lose an instant, as it is difficult

to leave Sir Eustace there. Yours faithfully, STANLEY HOPKINS.





"Hopkins has called me in seven times, and on each occasion his summons

has been entirely justified," said Holmes. "I fancy that every one of

his cases has found its way into your collection, and I must admit,

Watson, that you have some power of selection, which atones for much

which I deplore in your narratives. Your fatal habit of looking at

everything from the point of view of a story instead of as a scientific

exercise has ruined what might have been an instructive and even

classical series of demonstrations. You slur over work of the utmost

finesse and delicacy, in order to dwell upon sensational details which

may excite, but cannot possibly instruct, the reader."



"Why do you not write them yourself?" I said, with some bitterness.



"I will, my dear Watson, I will. At present I am, as you know, fairly

busy, but I propose to devote my declining years to the composition of a

textbook, which shall focus the whole art of detection into one volume.

Our present research appears to be a case of murder."



"You think this Sir Eustace is dead, then?"



"I should say so. Hopkins's writing shows considerable agitation, and he

is not an emotional man. Yes, I gather there has been violence, and

that the body is left for our inspection. A mere suicide would not

have caused him to send for me. As to the release of the lady, it would

appear that she has been locked in her room during the tragedy. We

are moving in high life, Watson, crackling paper, 'E.B.' monogram,

coat-of-arms, picturesque address. I think that friend Hopkins will live

up to his reputation, and that we shall have an interesting morning. The

crime was committed before twelve last night."



"How can you possibly tell?"



"By an inspection of the trains, and by reckoning the time. The local

police had to be called in, they had to communicate with Scotland Yard,

Hopkins had to go out, and he in turn had to send for me. All that makes

a fair night's work. Well, here we are at Chiselhurst Station, and we

shall soon set our doubts at rest."



A drive of a couple of miles through narrow country lanes brought us

to a park gate, which was opened for us by an old lodge-keeper, whose

haggard face bore the reflection of some great disaster. The avenue ran

through a noble park, between lines of ancient elms, and ended in a low,

widespread house, pillared in front after the fashion of Palladio. The

central part was evidently of a great age and shrouded in ivy, but the

large windows showed that modern changes had been carried out, and one

wing of the house appeared to be entirely new. The youthful figure and

alert, eager face of Inspector Stanley Hopkins confronted us in the open

doorway.



"I'm very glad you have come, Mr. Holmes. And you, too, Dr. Watson. But,

indeed, if I had my time over again, I should not have troubled you, for

since the lady has come to herself, she has given so clear an account of

the affair that there is not much left for us to do. You remember that

Lewisham gang of burglars?"



"What, the three Randalls?"



"Exactly; the father and two sons. It's their work. I have not a doubt

of it. They did a job at Sydenham a fortnight ago and were seen and

described. Rather cool to do another so soon and so near, but it is

they, beyond all doubt. It's a hanging matter this time."



"Sir Eustace is dead, then?"



"Yes, his head was knocked in with his own poker."



"Sir Eustace Brackenstall, the driver tells me."



"Exactly--one of the richest men in Kent--Lady Brackenstall is in the

morning-room. Poor lady, she has had a most dreadful experience. She

seemed half dead when I saw her first. I think you had best see her

and hear her account of the facts. Then we will examine the dining-room

together."



Lady Brackenstall was no ordinary person. Seldom have I seen so graceful

a figure, so womanly a presence, and so beautiful a face. She was

a blonde, golden-haired, blue-eyed, and would no doubt have had the

perfect complexion which goes with such colouring, had not her recent

experience left her drawn and haggard. Her sufferings were physical as

well as mental, for over one eye rose a hideous, plum-coloured swelling,

which her maid, a tall, austere woman, was bathing assiduously with

vinegar and water. The lady lay back exhausted upon a couch, but her

quick, observant gaze, as we entered the room, and the alert expression

of her beautiful features, showed that neither her wits nor her courage

had been shaken by her terrible experience. She was enveloped in a

loose dressing-gown of blue and silver, but a black sequin-covered

dinner-dress lay upon the couch beside her.



"I have told you all that happened, Mr. Hopkins," she said, wearily.

"Could you not repeat it for me? Well, if you think it necessary, I will

tell these gentlemen what occurred. Have they been in the dining-room

yet?"



"I thought they had better hear your ladyship's story first."



"I shall be glad when you can arrange matters. It is horrible to me to

think of him still lying there." She shuddered and buried her face in

her hands. As she did so, the loose gown fell back from her forearms.

Holmes uttered an exclamation.



"You have other injuries, madam! What is this?" Two vivid red spots

stood out on one of the white, round limbs. She hastily covered it.



"It is nothing. It has no connection with this hideous business

to-night. If you and your friend will sit down, I will tell you all I

can.



"I am the wife of Sir Eustace Brackenstall. I have been married about

a year. I suppose that it is no use my attempting to conceal that our

marriage has not been a happy one. I fear that all our neighbours would

tell you that, even if I were to attempt to deny it. Perhaps the fault

may be partly mine. I was brought up in the freer, less conventional

atmosphere of South Australia, and this English life, with its

proprieties and its primness, is not congenial to me. But the main

reason lies in the one fact, which is notorious to everyone, and that is

that Sir Eustace was a confirmed drunkard. To be with such a man for an

hour is unpleasant. Can you imagine what it means for a sensitive

and high-spirited woman to be tied to him for day and night? It is a

sacrilege, a crime, a villainy to hold that such a marriage is binding.

I say that these monstrous laws of yours will bring a curse upon the

land--God will not let such wickedness endure." For an instant she sat

up, her cheeks flushed, and her eyes blazing from under the terrible

mark upon her brow. Then the strong, soothing hand of the austere maid

drew her head down on to the cushion, and the wild anger died away into

passionate sobbing. At last she continued:



"I will tell you about last night. You are aware, perhaps, that in this

house all the servants sleep in the modern wing. This central block is

made up of the dwelling-rooms, with the kitchen behind and our bedroom

above. My maid, Theresa, sleeps above my room. There is no one else, and

no sound could alarm those who are in the farther wing. This must have

been well known to the robbers, or they would not have acted as they

did.



"Sir Eustace retired about half-past ten. The servants had already gone

to their quarters. Only my maid was up, and she had remained in her room

at the top of the house until I needed her services. I sat until after

eleven in this room, absorbed in a book. Then I walked round to see

that all was right before I went upstairs. It was my custom to do this

myself, for, as I have explained, Sir Eustace was not always to be

trusted. I went into the kitchen, the butler's pantry, the gun-room,

the billiard-room, the drawing-room, and finally the dining-room. As I

approached the window, which is covered with thick curtains, I suddenly

felt the wind blow upon my face and realized that it was open. I flung

the curtain aside and found myself face to face with a broad-shouldered

elderly man, who had just stepped into the room. The window is a long

French one, which really forms a door leading to the lawn. I held my

bedroom candle lit in my hand, and, by its light, behind the first man I

saw two others, who were in the act of entering. I stepped back, but the

fellow was on me in an instant. He caught me first by the wrist and then

by the throat. I opened my mouth to scream, but he struck me a savage

blow with his fist over the eye, and felled me to the ground. I must

have been unconscious for a few minutes, for when I came to myself, I

found that they had torn down the bell-rope, and had secured me tightly

to the oaken chair which stands at the head of the dining-table. I was

so firmly bound that I could not move, and a handkerchief round my

mouth prevented me from uttering a sound. It was at this instant that

my unfortunate husband entered the room. He had evidently heard some

suspicious sounds, and he came prepared for such a scene as he found.

He was dressed in nightshirt and trousers, with his favourite blackthorn

cudgel in his hand. He rushed at the burglars, but another--it was an

elderly man--stooped, picked the poker out of the grate and struck him a

horrible blow as he passed. He fell with a groan and never moved again.

I fainted once more, but again it could only have been for a very few

minutes during which I was insensible. When I opened my eyes I found

that they had collected the silver from the sideboard, and they had

drawn a bottle of wine which stood there. Each of them had a glass in

his hand. I have already told you, have I not, that one was elderly,

with a beard, and the others young, hairless lads. They might have been

a father with his two sons. They talked together in whispers. Then

they came over and made sure that I was securely bound. Finally they

withdrew, closing the window after them. It was quite a quarter of an

hour before I got my mouth free. When I did so, my screams brought the

maid to my assistance. The other servants were soon alarmed, and we sent

for the local police, who instantly communicated with London. That is

really all that I can tell you, gentlemen, and I trust that it will not

be necessary for me to go over so painful a story again."



"Any questions, Mr. Holmes?" asked Hopkins.



"I will not impose any further tax upon Lady Brackenstall's patience and

time," said Holmes. "Before I go into the dining-room, I should like to

hear your experience." He looked at the maid.



"I saw the men before ever they came into the house," said she. "As I

sat by my bedroom window I saw three men in the moonlight down by the

lodge gate yonder, but I thought nothing of it at the time. It was more

than an hour after that I heard my mistress scream, and down I ran, to

find her, poor lamb, just as she says, and him on the floor, with his

blood and brains over the room. It was enough to drive a woman out of

her wits, tied there, and her very dress spotted with him, but she never

wanted courage, did Miss Mary Fraser of Adelaide and Lady Brackenstall

of Abbey Grange hasn't learned new ways. You've questioned her long

enough, you gentlemen, and now she is coming to her own room, just with

her old Theresa, to get the rest that she badly needs."



With a motherly tenderness the gaunt woman put her arm round her

mistress and led her from the room.



"She has been with her all her life," said Hopkins. "Nursed her as

a baby, and came with her to England when they first left Australia,

eighteen months ago. Theresa Wright is her name, and the kind of maid

you don't pick up nowadays. This way, Mr. Holmes, if you please!"



The keen interest had passed out of Holmes's expressive face, and I

knew that with the mystery all the charm of the case had departed. There

still remained an arrest to be effected, but what were these commonplace

rogues that he should soil his hands with them? An abstruse and learned

specialist who finds that he has been called in for a case of measles

would experience something of the annoyance which I read in my

friend's eyes. Yet the scene in the dining-room of the Abbey Grange was

sufficiently strange to arrest his attention and to recall his waning

interest.



It was a very large and high chamber, with carved oak ceiling, oaken

panelling, and a fine array of deer's heads and ancient weapons around

the walls. At the further end from the door was the high French window

of which we had heard. Three smaller windows on the right-hand side

filled the apartment with cold winter sunshine. On the left was a large,

deep fireplace, with a massive, overhanging oak mantelpiece. Beside

the fireplace was a heavy oaken chair with arms and cross-bars at the

bottom. In and out through the open woodwork was woven a crimson cord,

which was secured at each side to the crosspiece below. In releasing the

lady, the cord had been slipped off her, but the knots with which it

had been secured still remained. These details only struck our attention

afterwards, for our thoughts were entirely absorbed by the terrible

object which lay upon the tigerskin hearthrug in front of the fire.



It was the body of a tall, well-made man, about forty years of age.

He lay upon his back, his face upturned, with his white teeth grinning

through his short, black beard. His two clenched hands were raised

above his head, and a heavy, blackthorn stick lay across them. His dark,

handsome, aquiline features were convulsed into a spasm of vindictive

hatred, which had set his dead face in a terribly fiendish expression.

He had evidently been in his bed when the alarm had broken out, for he

wore a foppish, embroidered nightshirt, and his bare feet projected from

his trousers. His head was horribly injured, and the whole room bore

witness to the savage ferocity of the blow which had struck him down.

Beside him lay the heavy poker, bent into a curve by the concussion.

Holmes examined both it and the indescribable wreck which it had

wrought.



"He must be a powerful man, this elder Randall," he remarked.



"Yes," said Hopkins. "I have some record of the fellow, and he is a

rough customer."



"You should have no difficulty in getting him."



"Not the slightest. We have been on the look-out for him, and there was

some idea that he had got away to America. Now that we know that the

gang are here, I don't see how they can escape. We have the news at

every seaport already, and a reward will be offered before evening. What

beats me is how they could have done so mad a thing, knowing that the

lady could describe them and that we could not fail to recognize the

description."



"Exactly. One would have expected that they would silence Lady

Brackenstall as well."



"They may not have realized," I suggested, "that she had recovered from

her faint."



"That is likely enough. If she seemed to be senseless, they would not

take her life. What about this poor fellow, Hopkins? I seem to have

heard some queer stories about him."



"He was a good-hearted man when he was sober, but a perfect fiend when

he was drunk, or rather when he was half drunk, for he seldom really

went the whole way. The devil seemed to be in him at such times, and he

was capable of anything. From what I hear, in spite of all his wealth

and his title, he very nearly came our way once or twice. There was

a scandal about his drenching a dog with petroleum and setting it on

fire--her ladyship's dog, to make the matter worse--and that was only

hushed up with difficulty. Then he threw a decanter at that maid,

Theresa Wright--there was trouble about that. On the whole, and between

ourselves, it will be a brighter house without him. What are you looking

at now?"



Holmes was down on his knees, examining with great attention the

knots upon the red cord with which the lady had been secured. Then he

carefully scrutinized the broken and frayed end where it had snapped off

when the burglar had dragged it down.



"When this was pulled down, the bell in the kitchen must have rung

loudly," he remarked.



"No one could hear it. The kitchen stands right at the back of the

house."



"How did the burglar know no one would hear it? How dared he pull at a

bell-rope in that reckless fashion?"



"Exactly, Mr. Holmes, exactly. You put the very question which I have

asked myself again and again. There can be no doubt that this fellow

must have known the house and its habits. He must have perfectly

understood that the servants would all be in bed at that comparatively

early hour, and that no one could possibly hear a bell ring in the

kitchen. Therefore, he must have been in close league with one of the

servants. Surely that is evident. But there are eight servants, and all

of good character."



"Other things being equal," said Holmes, "one would suspect the one

at whose head the master threw a decanter. And yet that would involve

treachery towards the mistress to whom this woman seems devoted. Well,

well, the point is a minor one, and when you have Randall you will

probably find no difficulty in securing his accomplice. The lady's story

certainly seems to be corroborated, if it needed corroboration, by every

detail which we see before us." He walked to the French window and threw

it open. "There are no signs here, but the ground is iron hard, and one

would not expect them. I see that these candles in the mantelpiece have

been lighted."



"Yes, it was by their light and that of the lady's bedroom candle, that

the burglars saw their way about."



"And what did they take?"



"Well, they did not take much--only half a dozen articles of plate off

the sideboard. Lady Brackenstall thinks that they were themselves so

disturbed by the death of Sir Eustace that they did not ransack the

house, as they would otherwise have done."



"No doubt that is true, and yet they drank some wine, I understand."



"To steady their nerves."



"Exactly. These three glasses upon the sideboard have been untouched, I

suppose?"



"Yes, and the bottle stands as they left it."



"Let us look at it. Halloa, halloa! What is this?"



The three glasses were grouped together, all of them tinged with wine,

and one of them containing some dregs of beeswing. The bottle stood near

them, two-thirds full, and beside it lay a long, deeply stained cork.

Its appearance and the dust upon the bottle showed that it was no common

vintage which the murderers had enjoyed.



A change had come over Holmes's manner. He had lost his listless

expression, and again I saw an alert light of interest in his keen,

deep-set eyes. He raised the cork and examined it minutely.



"How did they draw it?" he asked.



Hopkins pointed to a half-opened drawer. In it lay some table linen and

a large corkscrew.



"Did Lady Brackenstall say that screw was used?"



"No, you remember that she was senseless at the moment when the bottle

was opened."



"Quite so. As a matter of fact, that screw was not used. This bottle was

opened by a pocket screw, probably contained in a knife, and not more

than an inch and a half long. If you will examine the top of the cork,

you will observe that the screw was driven in three times before the

cork was extracted. It has never been transfixed. This long screw would

have transfixed it and drawn it up with a single pull. When you catch

this fellow, you will find that he has one of these multiplex knives in

his possession."



"Excellent!" said Hopkins.



"But these glasses do puzzle me, I confess. Lady Brackenstall actually

SAW the three men drinking, did she not?"



"Yes; she was clear about that."



"Then there is an end of it. What more is to be said? And yet, you must

admit, that the three glasses are very remarkable, Hopkins. What? You

see nothing remarkable? Well, well, let it pass. Perhaps, when a man has

special knowledge and special powers like my own, it rather encourages

him to seek a complex explanation when a simpler one is at hand. Of

course, it must be a mere chance about the glasses. Well, good-morning,

Hopkins. I don't see that I can be of any use to you, and you appear

to have your case very clear. You will let me know when Randall is

arrested, and any further developments which may occur. I trust that I

shall soon have to congratulate you upon a successful conclusion. Come,

Watson, I fancy that we may employ ourselves more profitably at home."



During our return journey, I could see by Holmes's face that he was much

puzzled by something which he had observed. Every now and then, by an

effort, he would throw off the impression, and talk as if the matter

were clear, but then his doubts would settle down upon him again, and

his knitted brows and abstracted eyes would show that his thoughts had

gone back once more to the great dining-room of the Abbey Grange, in

which this midnight tragedy had been enacted. At last, by a sudden

impulse, just as our train was crawling out of a suburban station, he

sprang on to the platform and pulled me out after him.



"Excuse me, my dear fellow," said he, as we watched the rear carriages

of our train disappearing round a curve, "I am sorry to make you the

victim of what may seem a mere whim, but on my life, Watson, I simply

CAN'T leave that case in this condition. Every instinct that I possess

cries out against it. It's wrong--it's all wrong--I'll swear that it's

wrong. And yet the lady's story was complete, the maid's corroboration

was sufficient, the detail was fairly exact. What have I to put up

against that? Three wine-glasses, that is all. But if I had not taken

things for granted, if I had examined everything with the care which

I should have shown had we approached the case DE NOVO and had no

cut-and-dried story to warp my mind, should I not then have found

something more definite to go upon? Of course I should. Sit down on this

bench, Watson, until a train for Chiselhurst arrives, and allow me to

lay the evidence before you, imploring you in the first instance to

dismiss from your mind the idea that anything which the maid or her

mistress may have said must necessarily be true. The lady's charming

personality must not be permitted to warp our judgment.



"Surely there are details in her story which, if we looked at in cold

blood, would excite our suspicion. These burglars made a considerable

haul at Sydenham a fortnight ago. Some account of them and of their

appearance was in the papers, and would naturally occur to anyone who

wished to invent a story in which imaginary robbers should play a part.

As a matter of fact, burglars who have done a good stroke of business

are, as a rule, only too glad to enjoy the proceeds in peace and quiet

without embarking on another perilous undertaking. Again, it is unusual

for burglars to operate at so early an hour, it is unusual for burglars

to strike a lady to prevent her screaming, since one would imagine that

was the sure way to make her scream, it is unusual for them to commit

murder when their numbers are sufficient to overpower one man, it is

unusual for them to be content with a limited plunder when there was

much more within their reach, and finally, I should say, that it was

very unusual for such men to leave a bottle half empty. How do all these

unusuals strike you, Watson?"



"Their cumulative effect is certainly considerable, and yet each of them

is quite possible in itself. The most unusual thing of all, as it seems

to me, is that the lady should be tied to the chair."



"Well, I am not so clear about that, Watson, for it is evident that they

must either kill her or else secure her in such a way that she could

not give immediate notice of their escape. But at any rate I have shown,

have I not, that there is a certain element of improbability about the

lady's story? And now, on the top of this, comes the incident of the

wineglasses."



"What about the wineglasses?"



"Can you see them in your mind's eye?"



"I see them clearly."



"We are told that three men drank from them. Does that strike you as

likely?"



"Why not? There was wine in each glass."



"Exactly, but there was beeswing only in one glass. You must have

noticed that fact. What does that suggest to your mind?"



"The last glass filled would be most likely to contain beeswing."



"Not at all. The bottle was full of it, and it is inconceivable that

the first two glasses were clear and the third heavily charged with it.

There are two possible explanations, and only two. One is that after the

second glass was filled the bottle was violently agitated, and so the

third glass received the beeswing. That does not appear probable. No,

no, I am sure that I am right."



"What, then, do you suppose?"



"That only two glasses were used, and that the dregs of both were poured

into a third glass, so as to give the false impression that three people

had been here. In that way all the beeswing would be in the last glass,

would it not? Yes, I am convinced that this is so. But if I have hit

upon the true explanation of this one small phenomenon, then in

an instant the case rises from the commonplace to the exceedingly

remarkable, for it can only mean that Lady Brackenstall and her maid

have deliberately lied to us, that not one word of their story is to be

believed, that they have some very strong reason for covering the real

criminal, and that we must construct our case for ourselves without any

help from them. That is the mission which now lies before us, and here,

Watson, is the Sydenham train."



The household at the Abbey Grange were much surprised at our return, but

Sherlock Holmes, finding that Stanley Hopkins had gone off to report to

headquarters, took possession of the dining-room, locked the door upon

the inside, and devoted himself for two hours to one of those minute

and laborious investigations which form the solid basis on which his

brilliant edifices of deduction were reared. Seated in a corner like an

interested student who observes the demonstration of his professor,

I followed every step of that remarkable research. The window, the

curtains, the carpet, the chair, the rope--each in turn was minutely

examined and duly pondered. The body of the unfortunate baronet had

been removed, and all else remained as we had seen it in the morning.

Finally, to my astonishment, Holmes climbed up on to the massive

mantelpiece. Far above his head hung the few inches of red cord which

were still attached to the wire. For a long time he gazed upward at it,

and then in an attempt to get nearer to it he rested his knee upon a

wooden bracket on the wall. This brought his hand within a few inches of

the broken end of the rope, but it was not this so much as the bracket

itself which seemed to engage his attention. Finally, he sprang down

with an ejaculation of satisfaction.



"It's all right, Watson," said he. "We have got our case--one of the

most remarkable in our collection. But, dear me, how slow-witted I have

been, and how nearly I have committed the blunder of my lifetime! Now, I

think that, with a few missing links, my chain is almost complete."



"You have got your men?"



"Man, Watson, man. Only one, but a very formidable person. Strong as a

lion--witness the blow that bent that poker! Six foot three in height,

active as a squirrel, dexterous with his fingers, finally, remarkably

quick-witted, for this whole ingenious story is of his concoction. Yes,

Watson, we have come upon the handiwork of a very remarkable individual.

And yet, in that bell-rope, he has given us a clue which should not have

left us a doubt."



"Where was the clue?"



"Well, if you were to pull down a bell-rope, Watson, where would you

expect it to break? Surely at the spot where it is attached to the wire.

Why should it break three inches from the top, as this one has done?"



"Because it is frayed there?"



"Exactly. This end, which we can examine, is frayed. He was cunning

enough to do that with his knife. But the other end is not frayed. You

could not observe that from here, but if you were on the mantelpiece you

would see that it is cut clean off without any mark of fraying whatever.

You can reconstruct what occurred. The man needed the rope. He would not

tear it down for fear of giving the alarm by ringing the bell. What did

he do? He sprang up on the mantelpiece, could not quite reach it, put

his knee on the bracket--you will see the impression in the dust--and so

got his knife to bear upon the cord. I could not reach the place by at

least three inches--from which I infer that he is at least three inches

a bigger man than I. Look at that mark upon the seat of the oaken chair!

What is it?"



"Blood."



"Undoubtedly it is blood. This alone puts the lady's story out of court.

If she were seated on the chair when the crime was done, how comes

that mark? No, no, she was placed in the chair AFTER the death of her

husband. I'll wager that the black dress shows a corresponding mark to

this. We have not yet met our Waterloo, Watson, but this is our Marengo,

for it begins in defeat and ends in victory. I should like now to have

a few words with the nurse, Theresa. We must be wary for a while, if we

are to get the information which we want."



She was an interesting person, this stern Australian nurse--taciturn,

suspicious, ungracious, it took some time before Holmes's pleasant

manner and frank acceptance of all that she said thawed her into a

corresponding amiability. She did not attempt to conceal her hatred for

her late employer.



"Yes, sir, it is true that he threw the decanter at me. I heard him call

my mistress a name, and I told him that he would not dare to speak so if

her brother had been there. Then it was that he threw it at me. He

might have thrown a dozen if he had but left my bonny bird alone. He was

forever ill-treating her, and she too proud to complain. She will not

even tell me all that he has done to her. She never told me of those

marks on her arm that you saw this morning, but I know very well that

they come from a stab with a hatpin. The sly devil--God forgive me that

I should speak of him so, now that he is dead! But a devil he was, if

ever one walked the earth. He was all honey when first we met him--only

eighteen months ago, and we both feel as if it were eighteen years. She

had only just arrived in London. Yes, it was her first voyage--she had

never been from home before. He won her with his title and his money

and his false London ways. If she made a mistake she has paid for it,

if ever a woman did. What month did we meet him? Well, I tell you it was

just after we arrived. We arrived in June, and it was July. They were

married in January of last year. Yes, she is down in the morning-room

again, and I have no doubt she will see you, but you must not ask too

much of her, for she has gone through all that flesh and blood will

stand."



Lady Brackenstall was reclining on the same couch, but looked brighter

than before. The maid had entered with us, and began once more to foment

the bruise upon her mistress's brow.



"I hope," said the lady, "that you have not come to cross-examine me

again?"



"No," Holmes answered, in his gentlest voice, "I will not cause you any

unnecessary trouble, Lady Brackenstall, and my whole desire is to make

things easy for you, for I am convinced that you are a much-tried woman.

If you will treat me as a friend and trust me, you may find that I will

justify your trust."



"What do you want me to do?"



"To tell me the truth."



"Mr. Holmes!"



"No, no, Lady Brackenstall--it is no use. You may have heard of any

little reputation which I possess. I will stake it all on the fact that

your story is an absolute fabrication."



Mistress and maid were both staring at Holmes with pale faces and

frightened eyes.



"You are an impudent fellow!" cried Theresa. "Do you mean to say that my

mistress has told a lie?"



Holmes rose from his chair.



"Have you nothing to tell me?"



"I have told you everything."



"Think once more, Lady Brackenstall. Would it not be better to be

frank?"



For an instant there was hesitation in her beautiful face. Then some new

strong thought caused it to set like a mask.



"I have told you all I know."



Holmes took his hat and shrugged his shoulders. "I am sorry," he said,

and without another word we left the room and the house. There was a

pond in the park, and to this my friend led the way. It was frozen

over, but a single hole was left for the convenience of a solitary

swan. Holmes gazed at it, and then passed on to the lodge gate. There

he scribbled a short note for Stanley Hopkins, and left it with the

lodge-keeper.



"It may be a hit, or it may be a miss, but we are bound to do something

for friend Hopkins, just to justify this second visit," said he. "I will

not quite take him into my confidence yet. I think our next scene of



operations must be the shipping office of the Adelaide-Southampton line,

which stands at the end of Pall Mall, if I remember right. There is a

second line of steamers which connect South Australia with England, but

we will draw the larger cover first."



Holmes's card sent in to the manager ensured instant attention, and he

was not long in acquiring all the information he needed. In June of

'95, only one of their line had reached a home port. It was the ROCK

OF GIBRALTAR, their largest and best boat. A reference to the passenger

list showed that Miss Fraser, of Adelaide, with her maid had made the

voyage in her. The boat was now somewhere south of the Suez Canal on

her way to Australia. Her officers were the same as in '95, with one

exception. The first officer, Mr. Jack Crocker, had been made a captain

and was to take charge of their new ship, the BASS ROCK, sailing in two

days' time from Southampton. He lived at Sydenham, but he was likely to

be in that morning for instructions, if we cared to wait for him.



No, Mr. Holmes had no desire to see him, but would be glad to know more

about his record and character.



His record was magnificent. There was not an officer in the fleet to

touch him. As to his character, he was reliable on duty, but a wild,

desperate fellow off the deck of his ship--hot-headed, excitable, but

loyal, honest, and kind-hearted. That was the pith of the information

with which Holmes left the office of the Adelaide-Southampton company.

Thence he drove to Scotland Yard, but, instead of entering, he sat in

his cab with his brows drawn down, lost in profound thought. Finally he

drove round to the Charing Cross telegraph office, sent off a message,

and then, at last, we made for Baker Street once more.



"No, I couldn't do it, Watson," said he, as we reentered our room. "Once

that warrant was made out, nothing on earth would save him. Once

or twice in my career I feel that I have done more real harm by my

discovery of the criminal than ever he had done by his crime. I have

learned caution now, and I had rather play tricks with the law of

England than with my own conscience. Let us know a little more before we

act."



Before evening, we had a visit from Inspector Stanley Hopkins. Things

were not going very well with him.



"I believe that you are a wizard, Mr. Holmes. I really do sometimes

think that you have powers that are not human. Now, how on earth could

you know that the stolen silver was at the bottom of that pond?"



"I didn't know it."



"But you told me to examine it."



"You got it, then?"



"Yes, I got it."



"I am very glad if I have helped you."



"But you haven't helped me. You have made the affair far more difficult.

What sort of burglars are they who steal silver and then throw it into

the nearest pond?"



"It was certainly rather eccentric behaviour. I was merely going on

the idea that if the silver had been taken by persons who did not

want it--who merely took it for a blind, as it were--then they would

naturally be anxious to get rid of it."



"But why should such an idea cross your mind?"



"Well, I thought it was possible. When they came out through the French

window, there was the pond with one tempting little hole in the ice,

right in front of their noses. Could there be a better hiding-place?"



"Ah, a hiding-place--that is better!" cried Stanley Hopkins. "Yes, yes,

I see it all now! It was early, there were folk upon the roads, they

were afraid of being seen with the silver, so they sank it in the pond,

intending to return for it when the coast was clear. Excellent, Mr.

Holmes--that is better than your idea of a blind."



"Quite so, you have got an admirable theory. I have no doubt that my

own ideas were quite wild, but you must admit that they have ended in

discovering the silver."



"Yes, sir--yes. It was all your doing. But I have had a bad setback."



"A setback?"



"Yes, Mr. Holmes. The Randall gang were arrested in New York this

morning."



"Dear me, Hopkins! That is certainly rather against your theory that

they committed a murder in Kent last night."



"It is fatal, Mr. Holmes--absolutely fatal. Still, there are other gangs

of three besides the Randalls, or it may be some new gang of which the

police have never heard."



"Quite so, it is perfectly possible. What, are you off?"



"Yes, Mr. Holmes, there is no rest for me until I have got to the bottom

of the business. I suppose you have no hint to give me?"



"I have given you one."



"Which?"



"Well, I suggested a blind."



"But why, Mr. Holmes, why?"



"Ah, that's the question, of course. But I commend the idea to your

mind. You might possibly find that there was something in it. You won't

stop for dinner? Well, good-bye, and let us know how you get on."



Dinner was over, and the table cleared before Holmes alluded to the

matter again. He had lit his pipe and held his slippered feet to the

cheerful blaze of the fire. Suddenly he looked at his watch.



"I expect developments, Watson."



"When?"



"Now--within a few minutes. I dare say you thought I acted rather badly

to Stanley Hopkins just now?"



"I trust your judgment."



"A very sensible reply, Watson. You must look at it this way: what

I know is unofficial, what he knows is official. I have the right to

private judgment, but he has none. He must disclose all, or he is a

traitor to his service. In a doubtful case I would not put him in so

painful a position, and so I reserve my information until my own mind is

clear upon the matter."



"But when will that be?"



"The time has come. You will now be present at the last scene of a

remarkable little drama."



There was a sound upon the stairs, and our door was opened to admit as

fine a specimen of manhood as ever passed through it. He was a very

tall young man, golden-moustached, blue-eyed, with a skin which had been

burned by tropical suns, and a springy step, which showed that the huge

frame was as active as it was strong. He closed the door behind him, and

then he stood with clenched hands and heaving breast, choking down some

overmastering emotion.



"Sit down, Captain Crocker. You got my telegram?"



Our visitor sank into an armchair and looked from one to the other of us

with questioning eyes.



"I got your telegram, and I came at the hour you said. I heard that you

had been down to the office. There was no getting away from you. Let's

hear the worst. What are you going to do with me? Arrest me? Speak out,

man! You can't sit there and play with me like a cat with a mouse."



"Give him a cigar," said Holmes. "Bite on that, Captain Crocker, and

don't let your nerves run away with you. I should not sit here smoking

with you if I thought that you were a common criminal, you may be sure

of that. Be frank with me and we may do some good. Play tricks with me,

and I'll crush you."



"What do you wish me to do?"



"To give me a true account of all that happened at the Abbey Grange last

night--a TRUE account, mind you, with nothing added and nothing taken

off. I know so much already that if you go one inch off the straight,

I'll blow this police whistle from my window and the affair goes out of

my hands forever."



The sailor thought for a little. Then he struck his leg with his great

sunburned hand.



"I'll chance it," he cried. "I believe you are a man of your word, and

a white man, and I'll tell you the whole story. But one thing I will say

first. So far as I am concerned, I regret nothing and I fear nothing,

and I would do it all again and be proud of the job. Damn the beast, if

he had as many lives as a cat, he would owe them all to me! But it's

the lady, Mary--Mary Fraser--for never will I call her by that accursed

name. When I think of getting her into trouble, I who would give my life

just to bring one smile to her dear face, it's that that turns my soul

into water. And yet--and yet--what less could I do? I'll tell you my

story, gentlemen, and then I'll ask you, as man to man, what less could

I do?



"I must go back a bit. You seem to know everything, so I expect that you

know that I met her when she was a passenger and I was first officer of

the ROCK OF GIBRALTAR. From the first day I met her, she was the only

woman to me. Every day of that voyage I loved her more, and many a time

since have I kneeled down in the darkness of the night watch and kissed

the deck of that ship because I knew her dear feet had trod it. She was

never engaged to me. She treated me as fairly as ever a woman treated

a man. I have no complaint to make. It was all love on my side, and all

good comradeship and friendship on hers. When we parted she was a free

woman, but I could never again be a free man.



"Next time I came back from sea, I heard of her marriage. Well, why

shouldn't she marry whom she liked? Title and money--who could carry

them better than she? She was born for all that is beautiful and dainty.

I didn't grieve over her marriage. I was not such a selfish hound as

that. I just rejoiced that good luck had come her way, and that she had

not thrown herself away on a penniless sailor. That's how I loved Mary

Fraser.



"Well, I never thought to see her again, but last voyage I was promoted,

and the new boat was not yet launched, so I had to wait for a couple of

months with my people at Sydenham. One day out in a country lane I met

Theresa Wright, her old maid. She told me all about her, about him,

about everything. I tell you, gentlemen, it nearly drove me mad. This

drunken hound, that he should dare to raise his hand to her, whose

boots he was not worthy to lick! I met Theresa again. Then I met Mary

herself--and met her again. Then she would meet me no more. But the

other day I had a notice that I was to start on my voyage within a week,

and I determined that I would see her once before I left. Theresa was

always my friend, for she loved Mary and hated this villain almost as

much as I did. From her I learned the ways of the house. Mary used to

sit up reading in her own little room downstairs. I crept round there

last night and scratched at the window. At first she would not open to

me, but in her heart I know that now she loves me, and she could not

leave me in the frosty night. She whispered to me to come round to the

big front window, and I found it open before me, so as to let me into

the dining-room. Again I heard from her own lips things that made my

blood boil, and again I cursed this brute who mishandled the woman I

loved. Well, gentlemen, I was standing with her just inside the window,

in all innocence, as God is my judge, when he rushed like a madman into

the room, called her the vilest name that a man could use to a woman,

and welted her across the face with the stick he had in his hand. I had

sprung for the poker, and it was a fair fight between us. See here,

on my arm, where his first blow fell. Then it was my turn, and I went

through him as if he had been a rotten pumpkin. Do you think I was

sorry? Not I! It was his life or mine, but far more than that, it was

his life or hers, for how could I leave her in the power of this madman?

That was how I killed him. Was I wrong? Well, then, what would either of

you gentlemen have done, if you had been in my position?"



"She had screamed when he struck her, and that brought old Theresa down

from the room above. There was a bottle of wine on the sideboard, and I

opened it and poured a little between Mary's lips, for she was half dead

with shock. Then I took a drop myself. Theresa was as cool as ice, and

it was her plot as much as mine. We must make it appear that burglars

had done the thing. Theresa kept on repeating our story to her mistress,

while I swarmed up and cut the rope of the bell. Then I lashed her in

her chair, and frayed out the end of the rope to make it look natural,

else they would wonder how in the world a burglar could have got up

there to cut it. Then I gathered up a few plates and pots of silver, to

carry out the idea of the robbery, and there I left them, with orders

to give the alarm when I had a quarter of an hour's start. I dropped the

silver into the pond, and made off for Sydenham, feeling that for once

in my life I had done a real good night's work. And that's the truth and

the whole truth, Mr. Holmes, if it costs me my neck."



Holmes smoked for some time in silence. Then he crossed the room, and

shook our visitor by the hand.



"That's what I think," said he. "I know that every word is true, for you

have hardly said a word which I did not know. No one but an acrobat or a

sailor could have got up to that bell-rope from the bracket, and no one

but a sailor could have made the knots with which the cord was fastened

to the chair. Only once had this lady been brought into contact with

sailors, and that was on her voyage, and it was someone of her own class

of life, since she was trying hard to shield him, and so showing that

she loved him. You see how easy it was for me to lay my hands upon you

when once I had started upon the right trail."



"I thought the police never could have seen through our dodge."



"And the police haven't, nor will they, to the best of my belief. Now,

look here, Captain Crocker, this is a very serious matter, though I am

willing to admit that you acted under the most extreme provocation to

which any man could be subjected. I am not sure that in defence of your

own life your action will not be pronounced legitimate. However, that is

for a British jury to decide. Meanwhile I have so much sympathy for you

that, if you choose to disappear in the next twenty-four hours, I will

promise you that no one will hinder you."



"And then it will all come out?"



"Certainly it will come out."



The sailor flushed with anger.



"What sort of proposal is that to make a man? I know enough of law to

understand that Mary would be held as accomplice. Do you think I would

leave her alone to face the music while I slunk away? No, sir, let them

do their worst upon me, but for heaven's sake, Mr. Holmes, find some way

of keeping my poor Mary out of the courts."



Holmes for a second time held out his hand to the sailor.



"I was only testing you, and you ring true every time. Well, it is a

great responsibility that I take upon myself, but I have given Hopkins

an excellent hint and if he can't avail himself of it I can do no more.

See here, Captain Crocker, we'll do this in due form of law. You are the

prisoner. Watson, you are a British jury, and I never met a man who was

more eminently fitted to represent one. I am the judge. Now, gentleman

of the jury, you have heard the evidence. Do you find the prisoner

guilty or not guilty?"



"Not guilty, my lord," said I.



"VOX POPULI, VOX DEI. You are acquitted, Captain Crocker. So long as the

law does not find some other victim you are safe from me. Come back

to this lady in a year, and may her future and yours justify us in the

judgment which we have pronounced this night!"





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