The Adventure Of The Solitary Cyclist
From the years 1894 to 1901 inclusive, Mr. Sherlock Holmes was a
very busy man. It is safe to say that there was no public case of any
difficulty in which he was not consulted during those eight years, and
there were hundreds of private cases, some of them of the most intricate
and extraordinary character, in which he played a prominent part. Many
startling successes and a few unavoidable failures were the outcome of
is long period of continuous work. As I have preserved very full notes
of all these cases, and was myself personally engaged in many of them,
it may be imagined that it is no easy task to know which I should select
to lay before the public. I shall, however, preserve my former rule, and
give the preference to those cases which derive their interest not so
much from the brutality of the crime as from the ingenuity and dramatic
quality of the solution. For this reason I will now lay before the
reader the facts connected with Miss Violet Smith, the solitary cyclist
of Charlington, and the curious sequel of our investigation, which
culminated in unexpected tragedy. It is true that the circumstance did
not admit of any striking illustration of those powers for which my
friend was famous, but there were some points about the case which made
it stand out in those long records of crime from which I gather the
material for these little narratives.
On referring to my notebook for the year 1895, I find that it was upon
Saturday, the 23rd of April, that we first heard of Miss Violet Smith.
Her visit was, I remember, extremely unwelcome to Holmes, for he was
immersed at the moment in a very abstruse and complicated problem
concerning the peculiar persecution to which John Vincent Harden, the
well known tobacco millionaire, had been subjected. My friend, who
loved above all things precision and concentration of thought, resented
anything which distracted his attention from the matter in hand.
And yet, without a harshness which was foreign to his nature, it was
impossible to refuse to listen to the story of the young and beautiful
woman, tall, graceful, and queenly, who presented herself at Baker
Street late in the evening, and implored his assistance and advice. It
was vain to urge that his time was already fully occupied, for the
young lady had come with the determination to tell her story, and it was
evident that nothing short of force could get her out of the room until
she had done so. With a resigned air and a somewhat weary smile, Holmes
begged the beautiful intruder to take a seat, and to inform us what it
was that was troubling her.
"At least it cannot be your health," said he, as his keen eyes darted
over her, "so ardent a bicyclist must be full of energy."
She glanced down in surprise at her own feet, and I observed the slight
roughening of the side of the sole caused by the friction of the edge of
"Yes, I bicycle a good deal, Mr. Holmes, and that has something to do
with my visit to you to-day."
My friend took the lady's ungloved hand, and examined it with as close
an attention and as little sentiment as a scientist would show to a
"You will excuse me, I am sure. It is my business," said he, as he
dropped it. "I nearly fell into the error of supposing that you were
typewriting. Of course, it is obvious that it is music. You observe
the spatulate finger-ends, Watson, which is common to both professions?
There is a spirituality about the face, however"--she gently turned it
towards the light--"which the typewriter does not generate. This lady is
"Yes, Mr. Holmes, I teach music."
"In the country, I presume, from your complexion."
"Yes, sir, near Farnham, on the borders of Surrey."
"A beautiful neighbourhood, and full of the most interesting
associations. You remember, Watson, that it was near there that we took
Archie Stamford, the forger. Now, Miss Violet, what has happened to you,
near Farnham, on the borders of Surrey?"
The young lady, with great clearness and composure, made the following
"My father is dead, Mr. Holmes. He was James Smith, who conducted the
orchestra at the old Imperial Theatre. My mother and I were left without
a relation in the world except one uncle, Ralph Smith, who went to
Africa twenty-five years ago, and we have never had a word from him
since. When father died, we were left very poor, but one day we were
told that there was an advertisement in the TIMES, inquiring for our
whereabouts. You can imagine how excited we were, for we thought that
someone had left us a fortune. We went at once to the lawyer whose name
was given in the paper. There we, met two gentlemen, Mr. Carruthers and
Mr. Woodley, who were home on a visit from South Africa. They said that
my uncle was a friend of theirs, that he had died some months before in
great poverty in Johannesburg, and that he had asked them with his last
breath to hunt up his relations, and see that they were in no want. It
seemed strange to us that Uncle Ralph, who took no notice of us when he
was alive, should be so careful to look after us when he was dead, but
Mr. Carruthers explained that the reason was that my uncle had just
heard of the death of his brother, and so felt responsible for our
"Excuse me," said Holmes. "When was this interview?"
"Last December--four months ago."
"Mr. Woodley seemed to me to be a most odious person. He was for ever
making eyes at me--a coarse, puffy-faced, red-moustached young man, with
his hair plastered down on each side of his forehead. I thought that he
was perfectly hateful--and I was sure that Cyril would not wish me to
know such a person."
"Oh, Cyril is his name!" said Holmes, smiling.
The young lady blushed and laughed.
"Yes, Mr. Holmes, Cyril Morton, an electrical engineer, and we hope
to be married at the end of the summer. Dear me, how DID I get talking
about him? What I wished to say was that Mr. Woodley was perfectly
odious, but that Mr. Carruthers, who was a much older man, was more
agreeable. He was a dark, sallow, clean-shaven, silent person, but he
had polite manners and a pleasant smile. He inquired how we were left,
and on finding that we were very poor, he suggested that I should come
and teach music to his only daughter, aged ten. I said that I did not
like to leave my mother, on which he suggested that I should go home
to her every week-end, and he offered me a hundred a year, which was
certainly splendid pay. So it ended by my accepting, and I went down
to Chiltern Grange, about six miles from Farnham. Mr. Carruthers was
a widower, but he had engaged a lady housekeeper, a very respectable,
elderly person, called Mrs. Dixon, to look after his establishment. The
child was a dear, and everything promised well. Mr. Carruthers was very
kind and very musical, and we had most pleasant evenings together. Every
week-end I went home to my mother in town.
"The first flaw in my happiness was the arrival of the red-moustached
Mr. Woodley. He came for a visit of a week, and oh! it seemed three
months to me. He was a dreadful person--a bully to everyone else, but to
me something infinitely worse. He made odious love to me, boasted of his
wealth, said that if I married him I could have the finest diamonds in
London, and finally, when I would have nothing to do with him, he seized
me in his arms one day after dinner--he was hideously strong--and swore
that he would not let me go until I had kissed him. Mr. Carruthers came
in and tore him from me, on which he turned upon his own host, knocking
him down and cutting his face open. That was the end of his visit, as
you can imagine. Mr. Carruthers apologized to me next day, and assured
me that I should never be exposed to such an insult again. I have not
seen Mr. Woodley since.
"And now, Mr. Holmes, I come at last to the special thing which has
caused me to ask your advice to-day. You must know that every Saturday
forenoon I ride on my bicycle to Farnham Station, in order to get the
12:22 to town. The road from Chiltern Grange is a lonely one, and at
one spot it is particularly so, for it lies for over a mile between
Charlington Heath upon one side and the woods which lie round
Charlington Hall upon the other. You could not find a more lonely tract
of road anywhere, and it is quite rare to meet so much as a cart, or a
peasant, until you reach the high road near Crooksbury Hill. Two weeks
ago I was passing this place, when I chanced to look back over my
shoulder, and about two hundred yards behind me I saw a man, also on a
bicycle. He seemed to be a middle-aged man, with a short, dark beard. I
looked back before I reached Farnham, but the man was gone, so I thought
no more about it. But you can imagine how surprised I was, Mr. Holmes,
when, on my return on the Monday, I saw the same man on the same stretch
of road. My astonishment was increased when the incident occurred again,
exactly as before, on the following Saturday and Monday. He always kept
his distance and did not molest me in any way, but still it certainly
was very odd. I mentioned it to Mr. Carruthers, who seemed interested in
what I said, and told me that he had ordered a horse and trap, so
that in future I should not pass over these lonely roads without some
"The horse and trap were to have come this week, but for some reason
they were not delivered, and again I had to cycle to the station.
That was this morning. You can think that I looked out when I came to
Charlington Heath, and there, sure enough, was the man, exactly as he
had been the two weeks before. He always kept so far from me that I
could not clearly see his face, but it was certainly someone whom I did
not know. He was dressed in a dark suit with a cloth cap. The only thing
about his face that I could clearly see was his dark beard. To-day I was
not alarmed, but I was filled with curiosity, and I determined to find
out who he was and what he wanted. I slowed down my machine, but he
slowed down his. Then I stopped altogether, but he stopped also. Then
I laid a trap for him. There is a sharp turning of the road, and I
pedalled very quickly round this, and then I stopped and waited. I
expected him to shoot round and pass me before he could stop. But he
never appeared. Then I went back and looked round the corner. I
could see a mile of road, but he was not on it. To make it the more
extraordinary, there was no side road at this point down which he could
Holmes chuckled and rubbed his hands. "This case certainly presents
some features of its own," said he. "How much time elapsed between your
turning the corner and your discovery that the road was clear?"
"Two or three minutes."
"Then he could not have retreated down the road, and you say that there
are no side roads?"
"Then he certainly took a footpath on one side or the other."
"It could not have been on the side of the heath, or I should have seen
"So, by the process of exclusion, we arrive at the fact that he made his
way toward Charlington Hall, which, as I understand, is situated in its
own grounds on one side of the road. Anything else?"
"Nothing, Mr. Holmes, save that I was so perplexed that I felt I should
not be happy until I had seen you and had your advice."
Holmes sat in silence for some little time.
"Where is the gentleman to whom you are engaged?" he asked at last.
"He is in the Midland Electrical Company, at Coventry."
"He would not pay you a surprise visit?"
"Oh, Mr. Holmes! As if I should not know him!"
"Have you had any other admirers?"
"Several before I knew Cyril."
"There was this dreadful man, Woodley, if you can call him an admirer."
"No one else?"
Our fair client seemed a little confused.
"Who was he?" asked Holmes.
"Oh, it may be a mere fancy of mine; but it had seemed to me sometimes
that my employer, Mr. Carruthers, takes a great deal of interest in me.
We are thrown rather together. I play his accompaniments in the evening.
He has never said anything. He is a perfect gentleman. But a girl always
"Ha!" Holmes looked grave. "What does he do for a living?"
"He is a rich man."
"No carriages or horses?"
"Well, at least he is fairly well-to-do. But he goes into the city two
or three times a week. He is deeply interested in South African gold
"You will let me know any fresh development, Miss Smith. I am very busy
just now, but I will find time to make some inquiries into your case.
In the meantime, take no step without letting me know. Good-bye, and I
trust that we shall have nothing but good news from you."
"It is part of the settled order of Nature that such a girl should have
followers," said Holmes, he pulled at his meditative pipe, "but for
choice not on bicycles in lonely country roads. Some secretive lover,
beyond all doubt. But there are curious and suggestive details about the
"That he should appear only at that point?"
"Exactly. Our first effort must be to find who are the tenants of
Charlington Hall. Then, again, how about the connection between
Carruthers and Woodley, since they appear to be men of such a different
type? How came they BOTH to be so keen upon looking up Ralph Smith's
relations? One more point. What sort of a menage is it which pays double
the market price for a governess but does not keep a horse, although six
miles from the station? Odd, Watson--very odd!"
"You will go down?"
"No, my dear fellow, YOU will go down. This may be some trifling
intrigue, and I cannot break my other important research for the sake
of it. On Monday you will arrive early at Farnham; you will conceal
yourself near Charlington Heath; you will observe these facts for
yourself, and act as your own judgment advises. Then, having inquired as
to the occupants of the Hall, you will come back to me and report. And
now, Watson, not another word of the matter until we have a few solid
stepping-stones on which we may hope to get across to our solution."
We had ascertained from the lady that she went down upon the Monday by
the train which leaves Waterloo at 9:50, so I started early and caught
the 9:13. At Farnham Station I had no difficulty in being directed to
Charlington Heath. It was impossible to mistake the scene of the young
lady's adventure, for the road runs between the open heath on one side
and an old yew hedge upon the other, surrounding a park which is studded
with magnificent trees. There was a main gateway of lichen-studded
stone, each side pillar surmounted by mouldering heraldic emblems, but
besides this central carriage drive I observed several points where
there were gaps in the hedge and paths leading through them. The house
was invisible from the road, but the surroundings all spoke of gloom and
The heath was covered with golden patches of flowering gorse, gleaming
magnificently in the light of the bright spring sunshine. Behind one of
these clumps I took up my position, so as to command both the gateway
of the Hall and a long stretch of the road upon either side. It had been
deserted when I left it, but now I saw a cyclist riding down it from the
opposite direction to that in which I had come. He was clad in a dark
suit, and I saw that he had a black beard. On reaching the end of the
Charlington grounds, he sprang from his machine and led it through a gap
in the hedge, disappearing from my view.
A quarter of an hour passed, and then a second cyclist appeared. This
time it was the young lady coming from the station. I saw her look
about her as she came to the Charlington hedge. An instant later the man
emerged from his hiding-place, sprang upon his cycle, and followed
her. In all the broad landscape those were the only moving figures, the
graceful girl sitting very straight upon her machine, and the man behind
her bending low over his handle-bar with a curiously furtive suggestion
in every movement. She looked back at him and slowed her pace. He slowed
also. She stopped. He at once stopped, too, keeping two hundred yards
behind her. Her next movement was as unexpected as it was spirited. She
suddenly whisked her wheels round and dashed straight at him. He was as
quick as she, however, and darted off in desperate flight. Presently she
came back up the road again, her head haughtily in the air, not deigning
to take any further notice of her silent attendant. He had turned also,
and still kept his distance until the curve of the road hid them from my
I remained in my hiding-place, and it was well that I did so, for
presently the man reappeared, cycling slowly back. He turned in at the
Hall gates, and dismounted from his machine. For some minutes I could
see him standing among the trees. His hands were raised, and he seemed
to be settling his necktie. Then he mounted his cycle, and rode away
from me down the drive towards the Hall. I ran across the heath and
peered through the trees. Far away I could catch glimpses of the old
gray building with its bristling Tudor chimneys, but the drive ran
through a dense shrubbery, and I saw no more of my man.
However, it seemed to me that I had done a fairly good morning's work,
and I walked back in high spirits to Farnham. The local house agent
could tell me nothing about Charlington Hall, and referred me to a well
known firm in Pall Mall. There I halted on my way home, and met with
courtesy from the representative. No, I could not have Charlington Hall
for the summer. I was just too late. It had been let about a month ago.
Mr. Williamson was the name of the tenant. He was a respectable, elderly
gentleman. The polite agent was afraid he could say no more, as the
affairs of his clients were not matters which he could discuss.
Mr. Sherlock Holmes listened with attention to the long report which I
was able to present to him that evening, but it did not elicit that
word of curt praise which I had hoped for and should have valued. On
the contrary, his austere face was even more severe than usual as he
commented upon the things that I had done and the things that I had not.
"Your hiding-place, my dear Watson, was very faulty. You should have
been behind the hedge, then you would have had a close view of this
interesting person. As it is, you were some hundreds of yards away and
can tell me even less than Miss Smith. She thinks she does not know
the man; I am convinced she does. Why, otherwise, should he be so
desperately anxious that she should not get so near him as to see his
features? You describe him as bending over the handle-bar. Concealment
again, you see. You really have done remarkably badly. He returns to the
house, and you want to find out who he is. You come to a London house
"What should I have done?" I cried, with some heat.
"Gone to the nearest public-house. That is the centre of country
gossip. They would have told you every name, from the master to the
scullery-maid. Williamson? It conveys nothing to my mind. If he is an
elderly man he is not this active cyclist who sprints away from that
young lady's athletic pursuit. What have we gained by your expedition?
The knowledge that the girl's story is true. I never doubted it. That
there is a connection between the cyclist and the Hall. I never doubted
that either. That the Hall is tenanted by Williamson. Who's the better
for that? Well, well, my dear sir, don't look so depressed. We can do
little more until next Saturday, and in the meantime I may make one or
two inquiries myself."
Next morning, we had a note from Miss Smith, recounting shortly and
accurately the very incidents which I had seen, but the pith of the
letter lay in the postscript:
I am sure that you will respect my confidence, Mr. Holmes, when I tell
you that my place here has become difficult, owing to the fact that my
employer has proposed marriage to me. I am convinced that his feelings
are most deep and most honourable. At the same time, my promise is of
course given. He took my refusal very seriously, but also very gently.
You can understand, however, that the situation is a little strained.
"Our young friend seems to be getting into deep waters," said Holmes,
thoughtfully, as he finished the letter. "The case certainly presents
more features of interest and more possibility of development than I had
originally thought. I should be none the worse for a quiet, peaceful day
in the country, and I am inclined to run down this afternoon and test
one or two theories which I have formed."
Holmes's quiet day in the country had a singular termination, for
he arrived at Baker Street late in the evening, with a cut lip and a
discoloured lump upon his forehead, besides a general air of dissipation
which would have made his own person the fitting object of a Scotland
Yard investigation. He was immensely tickled by his own adventures and
laughed heartily as he recounted them.
"I get so little active exercise that it is always a treat," said he.
"You are aware that I have some proficiency in the good old British
sport of boxing. Occasionally, it is of service, to-day, for example, I
should have come to very ignominious grief without it."
I begged him to tell me what had occurred.
"I found that country pub which I had already recommended to your
notice, and there I made my discreet inquiries. I was in the bar, and
a garrulous landlord was giving me all that I wanted. Williamson is a
white-bearded man, and he lives alone with a small staff of servants at
the Hall. There is some rumor that he is or has been a clergyman, but
one or two incidents of his short residence at the Hall struck me as
peculiarly unecclesiastical. I have already made some inquiries at a
clerical agency, and they tell me that there WAS a man of that name
in orders, whose career has been a singularly dark one. The landlord
further informed me that there are usually week-end visitors--'a
warm lot, sir'--at the Hall, and especially one gentleman with a red
moustache, Mr. Woodley by name, who was always there. We had got as far
as this, when who should walk in but the gentleman himself, who had been
drinking his beer in the tap-room and had heard the whole conversation.
Who was I? What did I want? What did I mean by asking questions? He had
a fine flow of language, and his adjectives were very vigorous. He ended
a string of abuse by a vicious backhander, which I failed to entirely
avoid. The next few minutes were delicious. It was a straight left
against a slogging ruffian. I emerged as you see me. Mr. Woodley went
home in a cart. So ended my country trip, and it must be confessed that,
however enjoyable, my day on the Surrey border has not been much more
profitable than your own."
The Thursday brought us another letter from our client.
You will not be surprised, Mr. Holmes [said she] to hear that I am
leaving Mr. Carruthers's employment. Even the high pay cannot reconcile
me to the discomforts of my situation. On Saturday I come up to town,
and I do not intend to return. Mr. Carruthers has got a trap, and so
the dangers of the lonely road, if there ever were any dangers, are now
As to the special cause of my leaving, it is not merely the strained
situation with Mr. Carruthers, but it is the reappearance of that odious
man, Mr. Woodley. He was always hideous, but he looks more awful
than ever now, for he appears to have had an accident and he is much
disfigured. I saw him out of the window, but I am glad to say I did
not meet him. He had a long talk with Mr. Carruthers, who seemed much
excited afterwards. Woodley must be staying in the neighbourhood, for
he did not sleep here, and yet I caught a glimpse of him again this
morning, slinking about in the shrubbery. I would sooner have a savage
wild animal loose about the place. I loathe and fear him more than I
can say. How CAN Mr. Carruthers endure such a creature for a moment?
However, all my troubles will be over on Saturday.
"So I trust, Watson, so I trust," said Holmes, gravely. "There is some
deep intrigue going on round that little woman, and it is our duty to
see that no one molests her upon that last journey. I think, Watson,
that we must spare time to run down together on Saturday morning and
make sure that this curious and inclusive investigation has no untoward
I confess that I had not up to now taken a very serious view of
the case, which had seemed to me rather grotesque and bizarre than
dangerous. That a man should lie in wait for and follow a very handsome
woman is no unheard-of thing, and if he has so little audacity that he
not only dared not address her, but even fled from her approach, he
was not a very formidable assailant. The ruffian Woodley was a very
different person, but, except on one occasion, he had not molested our
client, and now he visited the house of Carruthers without intruding
upon her presence. The man on the bicycle was doubtless a member of
those week-end parties at the Hall of which the publican had spoken,
but who he was, or what he wanted, was as obscure as ever. It was the
severity of Holmes's manner and the fact that he slipped a revolver into
his pocket before leaving our rooms which impressed me with the feeling
that tragedy might prove to lurk behind this curious train of events.
A rainy night had been followed by a glorious morning, and the
heath-covered countryside, with the glowing clumps of flowering gorse,
seemed all the more beautiful to eyes which were weary of the duns and
drabs and slate grays of London. Holmes and I walked along the broad,
sandy road inhaling the fresh morning air and rejoicing in the music of
the birds and the fresh breath of the spring. From a rise of the road
on the shoulder of Crooksbury Hill, we could see the grim Hall bristling
out from amidst the ancient oaks, which, old as they were, were still
younger than the building which they surrounded. Holmes pointed down the
long tract of road which wound, a reddish yellow band, between the brown
of the heath and the budding green of the woods. Far away, a black
dot, we could see a vehicle moving in our direction. Holmes gave an
exclamation of impatience.
"I have given a margin of half an hour," said he. "If that is her trap,
she must be making for the earlier train. I fear, Watson, that she will
be past Charlington before we can possibly meet her."
From the instant that we passed the rise, we could no longer see the
vehicle, but we hastened onward at such a pace that my sedentary life
began to tell upon me, and I was compelled to fall behind. Holmes,
however, was always in training, for he had inexhaustible stores of
nervous energy upon which to draw. His springy step never slowed until
suddenly, when he was a hundred yards in front of me, he halted, and I
saw him throw up his hand with a gesture of grief and despair. At the
same instant an empty dog-cart, the horse cantering, the reins trailing,
appeared round the curve of the road and rattled swiftly towards us.
"Too late, Watson, too late!" cried Holmes, as I ran panting to his
side. "Fool that I was not to allow for that earlier train! It's
abduction, Watson--abduction! Murder! Heaven knows what! Block the road!
Stop the horse! That's right. Now, jump in, and let us see if I can
repair the consequences of my own blunder."
We had sprung into the dog-cart, and Holmes, after turning the horse,
gave it a sharp cut with the whip, and we flew back along the road. As
we turned the curve, the whole stretch of road between the Hall and the
heath was opened up. I grasped Holmes's arm.
"That's the man!" I gasped. A solitary cyclist was coming towards us.
His head was down and his shoulders rounded, as he put every ounce of
energy that he possessed on to the pedals. He was flying like a racer.
Suddenly he raised his bearded face, saw us close to him, and pulled
up, springing from his machine. That coal-black beard was in singular
contrast to eyes were as bright as if he had a fever. He stared at us
and at the dog-cart. Then a look of amazement came over his face.
"Halloa! Stop there!" he shouted, holding his bicycle to block our road.
"Where did you get that dog-cart? Pull up, man!" he yelled, drawing a
pistol from his side "Pull up, I say, or, by George, I'll put a bullet
into your horse."
Holmes threw the reins into my lap and sprang down from the cart.
"You're the man we want to see. Where is Miss Violet Smith?" he said, in
his quick, clear way.
"That's what I'm asking you. You're in her dog-cart. You ought to know
where she is."
"We met the dog-cart on the road. There was no one in it. We drove back
to help the young lady."
"Good Lord! Good Lord! What shall I do?" cried the stranger, in an
ecstasy of despair. "They've got her, that hell-hound Woodley and the
blackguard parson. Come, man, come, if you really are her friend. Stand
by me and we'll save her, if I have to leave my carcass in Charlington
He ran distractedly, his pistol in his hand, towards a gap in the hedge.
Holmes followed him, and I, leaving the horse grazing beside the road,
"This is where they came through," said he, pointing to the marks of
several feet upon the muddy path. "Halloa! Stop a minute! Who's this in
It was a young fellow about seventeen, dressed like an ostler, with
leather cords and gaiters. He lay upon his back, his knees drawn up, a
terrible cut upon his head. He was insensible, but alive. A glance at
his wound told me that it had not penetrated the bone.
"That's Peter, the groom," cried the stranger. "He drove her. The beasts
have pulled him off and clubbed him. Let him lie; we can't do him any
good, but we may save her from the worst fate that can befall a woman."
We ran frantically down the path, which wound among the trees. We had
reached the shrubbery which surrounded the house when Holmes pulled up.
"They didn't go to the house. Here are their marks on the left--here,
beside the laurel bushes. Ah! I said so."
As he spoke, a woman's shrill scream--a scream which vibrated with a
frenzy of horror--burst from the thick, green clump of bushes in front
of us. It ended suddenly on its highest note with a choke and a gurgle.
"This way! This way! They are in the bowling-alley," cried the
stranger, darting through the bushes. "Ah, the cowardly dogs! Follow me,
gentlemen! Too late! too late! by the living Jingo!"
We had broken suddenly into a lovely glade of greensward surrounded by
ancient trees. On the farther side of it, under the shadow of a mighty
oak, there stood a singular group of three people. One was a woman, our
client, drooping and faint, a handkerchief round her mouth. Opposite her
stood a brutal, heavy-faced, red-moustached young man, his gaitered legs
parted wide, one arm akimbo, the other waving a riding crop, his whole
attitude suggestive of triumphant bravado. Between them an elderly,
gray-bearded man, wearing a short surplice over a light tweed suit,
had evidently just completed the wedding service, for he pocketed his
prayer-book as we appeared, and slapped the sinister bridegroom upon the
back in jovial congratulation.
"They're married!" I gasped.
"Come on!" cried our guide, "come on!" He rushed across the glade,
Holmes and I at his heels. As we approached, the lady staggered against
the trunk of the tree for support. Williamson, the ex-clergyman, bowed
to us with mock politeness, and the bully, Woodley, advanced with a
shout of brutal and exultant laughter.
"You can take your beard off, Bob," said he. "I know you, right enough.
Well, you and your pals have just come in time for me to be able to
introduce you to Mrs. Woodley."
Our guide's answer was a singular one. He snatched off the dark beard
which had disguised him and threw it on the ground, disclosing a long,
sallow, clean-shaven face below it. Then he raised his revolver and
covered the young ruffian, who was advancing upon him with his dangerous
riding-crop swinging in his hand.
"Yes," said our ally, "I am Bob Carruthers, and I'll see this woman
righted, if I have to swing for it. I told you what I'd do if you
molested her, and, by the Lord! I'll be as good as my word."
"You're too late. She's my wife."
"No, she's your widow."
His revolver cracked, and I saw the blood spurt from the front of
Woodley's waistcoat. He spun round with a scream and fell upon his back,
his hideous red face turning suddenly to a dreadful mottled pallor. The
old man, still clad in his surplice, burst into such a string of foul
oaths as I have never heard, and pulled out a revolver of his own, but,
before he could raise it, he was looking down the barrel of Holmes's
"Enough of this," said my friend, coldly. "Drop that pistol! Watson,
pick it up! Hold it to his head. Thank you. You, Carruthers, give me
that revolver. We'll have no more violence. Come, hand it over!"
"Who are you, then?"
"My name is Sherlock Holmes."
"You have heard of me, I see. I will represent the official police until
their arrival. Here, you!" he shouted to a frightened groom, who had
appeared at the edge of the glade. "Come here. Take this note as hard as
you can ride to Farnham." He scribbled a few words upon a leaf from his
notebook. "Give it to the superintendent at the police-station. Until he
comes, I must detain you all under my personal custody."
The strong, masterful personality of Holmes dominated the tragic scene,
and all were equally puppets in his hands. Williamson and Carruthers
found themselves carrying the wounded Woodley into the house, and I gave
my arm to the frightened girl. The injured man was laid on his bed, and
at Holmes's request I examined him. I carried my report to where he sat
in the old tapestry-hung dining-room with his two prisoners before him.
"He will live," said I.
"What!" cried Carruthers, springing out of his chair. "I'll go upstairs
and finish him first. Do you tell me that that angel, is to be tied to
Roaring Jack Woodley for life?"
"You need not concern yourself about that," said Holmes. "There are two
very good reasons why she should, under no circumstances, be his wife.
In the first place, we are very safe in questioning Mr. Williamson's
right to solemnize a marriage."
"I have been ordained," cried the old rascal.
"And also unfrocked."
"Once a clergyman, always a clergyman."
"I think not. How about the license?"
"We had a license for the marriage. I have it here in my pocket."
"Then you got it by trick. But, in any case a forced marriage is no
marriage, but it is a very serious felony, as you will discover before
you have finished. You'll have time to think the point out during the
next ten years or so, unless I am mistaken. As to you, Carruthers, you
would have done better to keep your pistol in your pocket."
"I begin to think so, Mr. Holmes, but when I thought of all the
precaution I had taken to shield this girl--for I loved her, Mr. Holmes,
and it is the only time that ever I knew what love was--it fairly drove
me mad to think that she was in the power of the greatest brute and
bully in South Africa--a man whose name is a holy terror from Kimberley
to Johannesburg. Why, Mr. Holmes, you'll hardly believe it, but ever
since that girl has been in my employment I never once let her go past
this house, where I knew the rascals were lurking, without following her
on my bicycle, just to see that she came to no harm. I kept my distance
from her, and I wore a beard, so that she should not recognize me, for
she is a good and high-spirited girl, and she wouldn't have stayed in
my employment long if she had thought that I was following her about the
"Why didn't you tell her of her danger?"
"Because then, again, she would have left me, and I couldn't bear to
face that. Even if she couldn't love me, it was a great deal to me just
to see her dainty form about the house, and to hear the sound of her
"Well," said I, "you call that love, Mr. Carruthers, but I should call
"Maybe the two things go together. Anyhow, I couldn't let her go.
Besides, with this crowd about, it was well that she should have someone
near to look after her. Then, when the cable came, I knew they were
bound to make a move."
Carruthers took a telegram from his pocket "That's it," said he.
It was short and concise:
The old man is dead.
"Hum!" said Holmes. "I think I see how things worked, and I can
understand how this message would, as you say, bring them to a head. But
while you wait, you might tell me what you can."
The old reprobate with the surplice burst into a volley of bad language.
"By heaven!" said he, "if you squeal on us, Bob Carruthers, I'll serve
you as you served Jack Woodley. You can bleat about the girl to your
heart's content, for that's your own affair, but if you round on your
pals to this plain-clothes copper, it will be the worst day's work that
ever you did."
"Your reverence need not be excited," said Holmes, lighting a cigarette.
"The case is clear enough against you, and all I ask is a few details
for my private curiosity. However, if there's any difficulty in your
telling me, I'll do the talking, and then you will see how far you have
a chance of holding back your secrets. In the first place, three of you
came from South Africa on this game--you Williamson, you Carruthers, and
"Lie number one," said the old man; "I never saw either of them until
two months ago, and I have never been in Africa in my life, so you can
put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr. Busybody Holmes!"
"What he says is true," said Carruthers.
"Well, well, two of you came over. His reverence is our own homemade
article. You had known Ralph Smith in South Africa. You had reason
to believe he would not live long. You found out that his niece would
inherit his fortune. How's that--eh?"
Carruthers nodded and Williamson swore.
"She was next of kin, no doubt, and you were aware that the old fellow
would make no will."
"Couldn't read or write," said Carruthers.
"So you came over, the two of you, and hunted up the girl. The idea
was that one of you was to marry her, and the other have a share of the
plunder. For some reason, Woodley was chosen as the husband. Why was
"We played cards for her on the voyage. He won."
"I see. You got the young lady into your service, and there Woodley was
to do the courting. She recognized the drunken brute that he was, and
would have nothing to do with him. Meanwhile, your arrangement was
rather upset by the fact that you had yourself fallen in love with the
lady. You could no longer bear the idea of this ruffian owning her?"
"No, by George, I couldn't!"
"There was a quarrel between you. He left you in a rage, and began to
make his own plans independently of you."
"It strikes me, Williamson, there isn't very much that we can tell this
gentleman," cried Carruthers, with a bitter laugh. "Yes, we quarreled,
and he knocked me down. I am level with him on that, anyhow. Then I lost
sight of him. That was when he picked up with this outcast padre here.
I found that they had set up housekeeping together at this place on the
line that she had to pass for the station. I kept my eye on her after
that, for I knew there was some devilry in the wind. I saw them from
time to time, for I was anxious to know what they were after. Two days
ago Woodley came up to my house with this cable, which showed that Ralph
Smith was dead. He asked me if I would stand by the bargain. I said I
would not. He asked me if I would marry the girl myself and give him a
share. I said I would willingly do so, but that she would not have me.
He said, 'Let us get her married first and after a week or two she may
see things a bit different.' I said I would have nothing to do with
violence. So he went off cursing, like the foul-mouthed blackguard that
he was, and swearing that he would have her yet. She was leaving me this
week-end, and I had got a trap to take her to the station, but I was
so uneasy in my mind that I followed her on my bicycle. She had got a
start, however, and before I could catch her, the mischief was done.
The first thing I knew about it was when I saw you two gentlemen driving
back in her dog-cart."
Holmes rose and tossed the end of his cigarette into the grate. "I have
been very obtuse, Watson," said he. "When in your report you said that
you had seen the cyclist as you thought arrange his necktie in
the shrubbery, that alone should have told me all. However, we may
congratulate ourselves upon a curious and, in some respects, a unique
case. I perceive three of the county constabulary in the drive, and I am
glad to see that the little ostler is able to keep pace with them, so
it is likely that neither he nor the interesting bridegroom will be
permanently damaged by their morning's adventures. I think, Watson, that
in your medical capacity, you might wait upon Miss Smith and tell her
that if she is sufficiently recovered, we shall be happy to escort her
to her mother's home. If she is not quite convalescent you will find
that a hint that we were about to telegraph to a young electrician
in the Midlands would probably complete the cure. As to you, Mr.
Carruthers, I think that you have done what you could to make amends for
your share in an evil plot. There is my card, sir, and if my evidence
can be of help in your trial, it shall be at your disposal."
In the whirl of our incessant activity, it has often been difficult for
me, as the reader has probably observed, to round off my narratives, and
to give those final details which the curious might expect. Each case
has been the prelude to another, and the crisis once over, the actors
have passed for ever out of our busy lives. I find, however, a short
note at the end of my manuscript dealing with this case, in which I have
put it upon record that Miss Violet Smith did indeed inherit a large
fortune, and that she is now the wife of Cyril Morton, the senior
partner of Morton & Kennedy, the famous Westminster electricians.
Williamson and Woodley were both tried for abduction and assault, the
former getting seven years the latter ten. Of the fate of Carruthers,
I have no record, but I am sure that his assault was not viewed very
gravely by the court, since Woodley had the reputation of being a most
dangerous ruffian, and I think that a few, months were sufficient to
satisfy the demands of justice.