The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Crooked Man
One summer night, a few months after my marriage, I
was seated by my own hearth smoking a last pipe and
nodding over a novel, for my day's work had been an
exhausting one. My wife had already gone upstairs,
and the sound of the locking of the hall door some
time before told me that the servants had also
retired. I had risen from my seat and was knocking
out the ashes of my pipe when I suddenly heard the
clang of the bell.
I looked at the clock. It was a quarter to twelve.
This could not be a visitor at so late an hour. A
patient, evidently, and possibly an all-night sitting.
With a wry face I went out into the hall and opened
the door. To my astonishment it was Sherlock Holmes
who stood upon my step.
"Ah, Watson," said he, "I hoped that I might not be
too late to catch you."
"My dear fellow, pray come in."
"You look surprised, and no wonder! Relieved, too, I
fancy! Hum! You still smoke the Arcadia mixture of
your bachelor days then! There's no mistaking that
fluffy ash upon your coat. It's easy to tell that you
have been accustomed to wear a uniform, Watson.
You'll never pass as a pure-bred civilian as long as
you keep that habit of carrying your handkerchief in
your sleeve. Could you put me up tonight?"
"You told me that you had bachelor quarters for one,
and I see that you have no gentleman visitor at
present. Your hat-stand proclaims as much."
"I shall be delighted if you will stay."
"Thank you. I'll fill the vacant peg then. Sorry to
see that you've had the British workman in the house.
He's a token of evil. Not the drains, I hope?"
"No, the gas."
"Ah! He has left two nail-marks from his boot upon
your linoleum just where the light strikes it. No,
thank you, I had some supper at Waterloo, but I'll
smoke a pipe with you with pleasure."
I handed him my pouch, and he seated himself opposite
to me and smoked for some time in silence. I was well
aware that nothing but business of importance would
have brought him to me at such an hour, so I waited
patiently until he should come round to it.
"I see that you are professionally rather busy just
now," said he, glancing very keenly across at me.
"Yes, I've had a busy day," I answered. "It may seem
very foolish in your eyes," I added, "but really I
don't know how you deduced it."
Holmes chuckled to himself.
"I have the advantage of knowing your habits, my dear
Watson," said he. "When your round is a short one you
walk, and when it is a long one you use a hansom. As
I perceive that your boots, although used, are by no
means dirty, I cannot doubt that you are at present
busy enough to justify the hansom."
"Excellent!" I cried.
"Elementary," said he. "It is one of those instances
where the reasoner can produce an effect which seems
remarkable to his neighbor, because the latter has
missed the one little point which is the basis of the
deduction. The same may be said, my dear fellow, for
the effect of some of these little sketches of yours,
which is entirely meretricious, depending as it does
upon your retaining in your own hands some factors in
the problem which are never imparted to the reader.
Now, at present I am in the position of these same
readers, for I hold in this hand several threads of
one of the strangest cases which ever perplexed a
man's brain, and yet I lack the one or two which are
needful to complete my theory. But I'll have them,
Watson, I'll have them!" His eyes kindled and a
slight flush sprang into his thin cheeks. For an
instant only. When I glanced again his face had
resumed that red-Indian composure which had made so
many regard him as a machine rather than a man.
"The problem presents features of interest," said he.
"I may even say exceptional features of interest. I
have already looked into the matter, and have come, as
I think, within sight of my solution. If you could
accompany me in that last step you might be of
considerable service to me."
"I should be delighted."
"Could you go as far as Aldershot tomorrow?"
"I have no doubt Jackson would take my practice."
"Very good. I want to start by the 11.10 from
"That would give me time."
"Then, if you are not too sleepy, I will give you a
sketch of what has happened, and of what remains to be
"I was sleepy before you came. I am quite wakeful
"I will compress the story as far as may be done
without omitting anything vital to the case. It is
conceivable that you may even have read some account
of the matter. It is the supposed murder of Colonel
Barclay, of the Royal Munsters, at Aldershot, which I
"I have heard nothing of it."
"It has not excited much attention yet, except
locally. The facts are only two days old. Briefly
they are these:
"The Royal Munsters is, as you know, one of the most
famous Irish regiments in the British army. It did
wonders both in the Crimea and the Mutiny, and has
since that time distinguished itself upon every
possible occasion. It was commanded up to Monday
night by James Barclay, a gallant veteran, who started
as a full private, was raised to commissioned rank for
his bravery at the time of the Mutiny, and so lived to
command the regiment in which he had once carried a
"Colonel Barclay had married at the time when he was a
sergeant, and his wife, whose maiden name was Miss
Nancy Devoy, was the daughter of a former
color-sergeant in the same corps. There was,
therefore, as can be imagined, some little social
friction when the young couple (for they were still
young) found themselves in their new surroundings.
They appear, however, to have quickly adapted
themselves, and Mrs. Barclay has always, I understand,
been as popular with the ladies of the regiment as her
husband was with his brother officers. I may add that
she was a woman of great beauty, and that even now,
when she has been married for upwards of thirty years,
she is still of a striking and queenly appearance.
"Colonel Barclay's family life appears to have been a
uniformly happy one. Major Murphy, to whom I owe most
of my facts, assures me that he has never heard of any
misunderstanding between the pair. On the whole, he
thinks that Barclay's devotion to his wife was greater
than his wife's to Barclay. He was acutely uneasy if
he were absent from her for a day. She, on the other
hand, though devoted and faithful, was less
obtrusively affectionate. But they were regarded in
the regiment as the very model of a middle-aged
couple. There was absolutely nothing in their mutual
relations to prepare people for the tragedy which was
"Colonel Barclay himself seems to have had some
singular traits in his character. He was a dashing,
jovial old solder in his usual mood, but there were
occasions on which he seemed to show himself capable
of considerable violence and vindictiveness. This
side of his nature, however, appears never to have
been turned towards his wife. Another fact, which had
struck Major Murphy and three out of five of the other
officers with whom I conversed, was the singular sort
of depression which came upon him at times. As the
major expressed it, the smile had often been struck
from his mouth, as if by some invisible hand, when he
has been joining the gayeties and chaff of the
mess-table. For days on end, when the mood was on
him, he has been sunk in the deepest gloom. This and
a certain tinge of superstition were the only unusual
traits in his character which his brother officers had
observed. The latter peculiarity took the form of a
dislike to being left alone, especially after dark.
This puerile feature in a nature which was
conspicuously manly had often given rise to comment
"The first battalion of the Royal Munsters (which is
the old 117th) has been stationed at Aldershot for
some years. The married officers live out of
barracks, and the Colonel has during all this time
occupied a villa called Lachine, about half a mile
from the north camp. The house stands in its own
grounds, but the west side of it is not more than
thirty yards from the high-road. A coachman and two
maids form the staff of servants. These with their
master and mistress were the sole occupants of
Lachine, for the Barclays had no children, nor was it
usual for them to have resident visitors.
"Now for the events at Lachine between nine and ten on
the evening of last Monday."
"Mrs. Barclay was, it appears, a member of the Roman
Catholic Church, and had interested herself very much
in the establishment of the Guild of St. George, which
was formed in connection with the Watt Street Chapel
for the purpose of supplying the poor with cast-off
clothing. A meeting of the Guild had been held that
evening at eight, and Mrs. Barclay had hurried over
her dinner in order to be present at it. When leaving
the house she was heard by the coachman to make some
commonplace remark to her husband, and to assure him
that she would be back before very long. She then
called for Miss Morrison, a young lady who lives in
the next villa, and the two went off together to their
meeting. It lasted forty minutes, and at a
quarter-past nine Mrs. Barclay returned home, having
left Miss Morrison at her door as she passed.
"There is a room which is used as a morning-room at
Lachine. This faces the road and opens by a large
glass folding-door on to the lawn. The lawn is thirty
yards across, and is only divided from the highway by
a low wall with an iron rail above it. It was into
this room that Mrs. Barclay went upon her return. The
blinds were not down, for the room was seldom used in
the evening, but Mrs. Barclay herself lit the lamp and
then rang the bell, asking Jane Stewart, the
house-maid, to bring her a cup of tea, which was quite
contrary to her usual habits. The Colonel had been
sitting in the dining-room, but hearing that his wife
had returned he joined her in the morning-room. The
coachman saw him cross the hall and enter it. He was
never seen again alive.
"The tea which had been ordered was brought up at the
end of ten minutes; but the maid, as she approached
the door, was surprised to hear the voices of her
master and mistress in furious altercation. She
knocked without receiving any answer, and even turned
the handle, but only to find that the door was locked
upon the inside. Naturally enough she ran down to
tell the cook, and the two women with the coachman
came up into the hall and listened to the dispute
which was still raging.
"They all agreed that only two
voices were to be heard, those of Barclay and of his
wife. Barclay's remarks were subdued and abrupt, so
that none of them were audible to the listeners. The
lady's, on the other hand, were most bitter, and when
she raised her voice could be plainly heard. 'You
coward!' she repeated over and over again. 'What can
be done now? What can be done now? Give me back my
life. I will never so much as breathe the same air
with you again! You coward! You coward!' Those were
scraps of her conversation, ending in a sudden
dreadful cry in the man's voice, with a crash, and a
piercing scream from the woman. Convinced that some
tragedy had occurred, the coachman rushed to the door
and strove to force it, while scream after scream
issued from within.
"He was unable, however, to make
his way in, and the maids were too distracted with
fear to be of any assistance to him. A sudden thought
struck him, however, and he ran through the hall door
and round to the lawn upon which the long French
windows open. One side of the window was open, which
I understand was quite usual in the summer-time, and
he passed without difficulty into the room. His
mistress had ceased to scream and was stretched
insensible upon a couch, while with his feet tilted
over the side of an arm-chair, and his head upon the
ground near the corner of the fender, was lying the
unfortunate soldier stone dead in a pool of his own
"Naturally, the coachman's first thought, on finding
that he could do nothing for his master, was to open
the door. But here an unexpected and singular
difficulty presented itself. The key was not in the
inner side of the door, nor could he find it anywhere
in the room. He went out again, therefore, through
the window, and having obtained the help of a
policeman and of a medical man, he returned. The
lady, against whom naturally the strongest suspicion
rested, was removed to her room, still in a state of
insensibility. The Colonel's body was then placed
upon the sofa, and a careful examination made of the
scene of the tragedy.
"The injury from which the unfortunate veteran was
suffering was found to be a jagged cut some two inches
long at the back part of his head, which had evidently
been caused by a violent blow from a blunt weapon.
Nor was it difficult to guess what that weapon may
have been. Upon the floor, close to the body, was
lying a singular club of hard carved wood with a bone
handle. The Colonel possessed a varied collection of
weapons brought from the different countries in which
he had fought, and it is conjectured by the police
that his club was among his trophies. The servants
deny having seen it before, but among the numerous
curiosities in the house it is possible that it may
have been overlooked. Nothing else of importance was
discovered in the room by the police, save the
inexplicable fact that neither upon Mrs. Barclay's
person nor upon that of the victim nor in any part of
the room was the missing key to be found. The door
had eventually to be opened by a locksmith from
"That was the state of things, Watson, when upon the
Tuesday morning I, at the request of Major Murphy,
went down to Aldershot to supplement the efforts of
the police. I think that you will acknowledge that
the problem was already one of interest, but my
observations soon made me realize that it was in truth
much more extraordinary than would at first sight
"Before examining the room I cross-questioned the
servants, but only succeeded in eliciting the facts
which I have already stated. One other detail of
interest was remembered by Jane Stewart, the
housemaid. You will remember that on hearing the
sound of the quarrel she descended and returned with
the other servants. On that first occasion, when she
was alone, she says that the voices of her master and
mistress were sunk so low that she could hear hardly
anything, and judged by their tones rather than their
words that they had fallen out. On my pressing her,
however, she remembered that she heard the word David
uttered twice by the lady. The point is of the utmost
importance as guiding us towards the reason of the
sudden quarrel. The Colonel's name, you remember, was
"There was one thing in the case which had made the
deepest impression both upon the servants and the
police. This was the contortion of the Colonel's
face. It had set, according to their account, into
the most dreadful expression of fear and horror which
a human countenance is capable of assuming. More than
one person fainted at the mere sight of him, so
terrible was the effect. It was quite certain that he
had foreseen his fate, and that it had caused him the
utmost horror. This, of course, fitted in well enough
with the police theory, if the Colonel could have seen
his wife making a murderous attack upon him. Nor was
the fact of the wound being on the back of his head a
fatal objection to this, as he might have turned to
avoid the blow. No information could be got from the
lady herself, who was temporarily insane from an acute
attack of brain-fever.
"From the police I learned that Miss Morrison, who you
remember went out that evening with Mrs. Barclay,
denied having any knowledge of what it was which had
caused the ill-humor in which her companion had
"Having gathered these facts, Watson, I smoked several
pipes over them, trying to separate those which were
crucial from others which were merely incidental.
There could be no question that the most distinctive
and suggestive point in the case was the singular
disappearance of the door-key. A most careful search
had failed to discover it in the room. Therefore it
must have been taken from it. But neither the Colonel
nor the Colonel's wife could have taken it. That was
perfectly clear. Therefore a third person must have
entered the room. And that third person could only
have come in through the window. It seemed to me that
a careful examination of the room and the lawn might
possibly reveal some traces of this mysterious
"You know my methods, Watson. There was
not one of them which I did not apply to the inquiry.
And it ended by my discovering traces, but very
different ones from those which I had expected. There
had been a man in the room, and he had crossed the lawn
coming from the road. I was able to obtain five very
clear impressions of his foot-marks: one in the
roadway itself, at the point where he had climbed the
low wall, two on the lawn, and two very faint ones
upon the stained boards near the window where he had
entered. He had apparently rushed across the lawn,
for his toe-marks were much deeper than his heels.
But it was not the man who surprised me. It was his
Holmes pulled a large sheet of tissue-paper out of his
pocket and carefully unfolded it upon his knee.
"What do you make of that?" he asked.
The paper was covered with he tracings of the
foot-marks of some small animal. It had five
well-marked foot-pads, an indication of long nails,
and the whole print might be nearly as large as a
"It's a dog," said I.
"Did you ever hear of a dog running up a curtain? I
found distinct traces that this creature had done so."
"A monkey, then?"
"But it is not the print of a monkey."
"What can it be, then?"
"Neither dog nor cat nor monkey nor any creature that
we are familiar with. I have tried to reconstruct it
from the measurements. Here are four prints where the
beast has been standing motionless. You see that it
is no less than fifteen inches from fore-foot to hind.
Add to that the length of neck and head, and you get a
creature not much less than two feet long — probably
more if there is any tail. But now observe this other
measurement. The animal has been moving, and we have
the length of its stride. In each case it is only
about three inches. You have an indication, you see,
of a long body with very short legs attached to it.
It has not been considerate enough to leave any of its
hair behind it. But its general shape must be what I
have indicated, and it can run up a curtain, and it is
"How do you deduce that?"
"Because it ran up the curtain. A canary's cage was
hanging in the window, and its aim seems to have been
to get at the bird."
"Then what was the beast?"
"Ah, if I could give it a name it might go a long way
towards solving the case. On the whole, it was
probably some creature of the weasel and stoat
tribe — and yet it is larger than any of these that I
"But what had it to do with the crime?"
"That, also, is still obscure. But we have learned a
good deal, you perceive. We know that a man stood in
the road looking at the quarrel between the
Barclays — the blinds were up and the room lighted. We
know, also, that he ran across the lawn, entered the
room, accompanied by a strange animal, and that he
either struck the Colonel or, as is equally possible,
that the Colonel fell down from sheer fright at the
sight of him, and cut his head on the corner of the
fender. Finally, we have the curious fact that the
intruder carried away the key with him when he left."
"Your discoveries seem to have left the business more
obscure that it was before," said I.
"Quite so. They undoubtedly showed that the affair
was much deeper than was at first conjectured. I
thought the matter over, and I came to the conclusion
that I must approach the case from another aspect.
But really, Watson, I am keeping you up, and I might
just as well tell you all this on our way to Aldershot
"Thank you, you have gone rather too far to stop."
"It is quite certain that when Mrs. Barclay left the
house at half-past seven she was on good terms with
her husband. She was never, as I think I have said,
ostentatiously affectionate, but she was heard by the
coachman chatting with the Colonel in a friendly
fashion. Now, it was equally certain that,
immediately on her return, she had gone to the room in
which she was least likely to see her husband, had
flown to tea as an agitated woman will, and finally,
on his coming in to her, had broken into violent
recriminations. Therefore something had occurred
between seven-thirty and nine o'clock which had
completely altered her feelings towards him. But Miss
Morrison had been with her during the whole of that
hour and a half. It was absolutely certain,
therefore, in spite of her denial, that she must know
something of the matter.
"My first conjecture was, that possibly there had been
some passages between this young lady and the old
soldier, which the former had now confessed to the
wife. That would account for the angry return, and
also for the girl's denial that anything had occurred.
Nor would it be entirely incompatible with most of the
words overhead. But there was the reference to David,
and there was the known affection of the Colonel for
his wife, to weigh against it, to say nothing of the
tragic intrusion of this other man, which might, of
course, be entirely disconnected with what had gone
"It was not easy to pick one's steps, but, on
the whole, I was inclined to dismiss the idea that
there had been anything between the Colonel and Miss
Morrison, but more than ever convinced that the young
lady held the clue as to what it was which had turned
Mrs. Barclay to hatred of her husband. I took the
obvious course, therefore, of calling upon Miss M., of
explaining to her that I was perfectly certain that
she held the facts in her possession, and of assuring
her that her friend, Mrs. Barclay, might find herself
in the dock upon a capital charge unless the matter
were cleared up.
"Miss Morrison is a little ethereal slip of a girl,
with timid eyes and blond hair, but I found her by no
means wanting in shrewdness and common-sense. She sat
thinking for some time after I had spoken, and then,
turning to me with a brisk air of resolution, she
broke into a remarkable statement which I will
condense for your benefit.
" 'I promised my friend that I would say nothing of the
matter, and a promise is a promise,' said she; 'but if
I can really help her when so serious a charge is laid
against her, and when her own mouth, poor darling, is
closed by illness, then I think I am absolved from my
promise. I will tell you exactly what happened upon
" 'We were returning from the Watt Street Mission about
a quarter to nine o'clock. On our way we had to pass
through Hudson Street, which is a very quiet
thoroughfare. There is only one lamp in it, upon the
left-hand side, and as we approached this lamp I saw a
man coming towards us with his back very bent, and
something like a box slung over one of his shoulders.
He appeared to be deformed, for he carried his head
low and walked with his knees bent. We were passing
him when he raised his face to look at us in the
circle of light thrown by the lamp, and as he did so
he stopped and screamed out in a dreadful voice, 'My
God, it's Nancy!' Mrs. Barclay turned as white as
death, and would have fallen down had the
dreadful-looking creature not caught hold of her. I
was going to call for the police, but she, to my
surprise, spoke quite civilly to the fellow.
" 'I thought you had been dead this thirty years,
Henry,' said she, in a shaking voice.
" 'So I have,' said he, and it was awful to hear the
tones that he said it in. He had a very dark,
fearsome face, and a gleam in his eyes that comes back
to me in my dreams. His hair and whiskers were shot
with gray, and his face was all crinkled and puckered
like a withered apple.
" 'Just walk on a little way, dear,' said Mrs.
Barclay; 'I want to have a word with this man. There
is nothing to be afraid of.' She tried to speak
boldly, but she was still deadly pale and could hardly
get her words out for the trembling of her lips.
" 'I did as she asked me, and they talked together for
a few minutes. Then she came down the street with her
eyes blazing, and I saw the crippled wretch standing
by the lamp-post and shaking his clenched fists in the
air as if he were made with rage. She never said a
word until we were at the door here, when she took me
by the hand and begged me to tell no one what had
" 'It's an old acquaintance of mine who has come down
in the world," said she. When I promised her I would
say nothing she kissed me, and I have never seen her
since. I have told you now the whole truth, and if I
withheld it from the police it is because I did not
realize then the danger in which my dear friend stood.
I know that it can only be to her advantage that
everything should be known.'
"There was her statement, Watson, and to me, as you
can imagine, it was like a light on a dark night.
Everything which had been disconnected before began at
once to assume its true place, and I had a shadowy
presentiment of the whole sequence of events. My next
step obviously was to find the man who had produced
such a remarkable impression upon Mrs. Barclay. If he
were still in Aldershot it should not be a very
difficult matter. There are not such a very great
number of civilians, and a deformed man was sure to
have attracted attention. I spent a day in the
search, and by evening — this very evening, Watson — I
had run him down.
"The man's name is Henry Wood, and
he lives in lodgings in this same street in which the
ladies met him. He has only been five days in the
place. In the character of a registration-agent I had
a most interesting gossip with his landlady. The man
is by trade a conjurer and performer, going round the
canteens after nightfall, and giving a little
entertainment at each. He carries some creature about
with him in that box; about which the landlady seemed
to be in considerable trepidation, for she had never
seen an animal like it. He uses it in some of his
tricks according to her account.
"So much the woman
was able to tell me, and also that it was a wonder the
man lived, seeing how twisted he was, and that he
spoke in a strange tongue sometimes, and that for the
last two nights she had heard him groaning and weeping
in his bedroom. He was all right, as far as money
went, but in his deposit he had given her what looked
like a bad florin. She showed it to me, Watson, and
it was an Indian rupee.
"So now, my dear fellow, you see exactly how we stand
and why it is I want you. It is perfectly plain that
after the ladies parted from this man he followed them
at a distance, that he saw the quarrel between husband
and wife through the window, that he rushed in, and
that the creature which he carried in his box got
loose. That is all very certain. But he is the only
person in this world who can tell us exactly what
happened in that room."
"And you intend to ask him?"
"Most certainly — but in the presence of a witness."
"And I am the witness?"
"If you will be so good. If he can clear the matter
up, well and good. If he refuses, we have no
alternative but to apply for a warrant."
"But how do you know he'll be there when we return?"
"You may be sure that I took some precautions. I have
one of my Baker Street boys mounting guard over him
who would stick to him like a burr, go where he might.
We shall find him in Hudson Street tomorrow, Watson,
and meanwhile I should be the criminal myself if I
kept you out of bed any longer."
It was midday when we found ourselves at the scene of
the tragedy, and, under my companion's guidance, we
made our way at once to Hudson Street. In spite of
his capacity for concealing his emotions, I could
easily see that Holmes was in a state of suppressed
excitement, while I was myself tingling with that
half-sporting, half-intellectual pleasure which I
invariably experienced when I associated myself with
him in his investigations.
"This is the street," said he, as we turned into a
short thoroughfare lined with plain two-storied brick
houses. "Ah, here is Simpson to report."
"He's in all right, Mr. Holmes," cried a small street
Arab, running up to us.
"Good, Simpson!" said Holmes, patting him on the head.
"Come along, Watson. This is the house." He sent in
his card with a message that he had come on important
business, and a moment later we were face to face with
the man whom we had come to see. In spite of the warm
weather he was crouching over a fire, and the little
room was like an oven. The man sat all twisted and
huddled in his chair in a way which gave an
indescribably impression of deformity; but the face
which he turned towards us, though worn and swarthy,
must at some time have been remarkable for its beauty.
He looked suspiciously at us now out of yellow-shot,
bilious eyes, and, without speaking or rising, he
waved towards two chairs.
"Mr. Henry Wood, late of India, I believe," said
Holmes, affably. "I've come over this little matter
of Colonel Barclay's death."
"What should I know about that?"
"That's what I want to ascertain. You know, I
suppose, that unless the matter is cleared up, Mrs.
Barclay, who is an old friend of yours, will in all
probability be tried for murder."
The man gave a violent start.
"I don't know who you are," he cried, "nor how you
come to know what you do know, but will you swear that
this is true that you tell me?"
"Why, they are only waiting for her to come to her
senses to arrest her."
"My God! Are you in the police yourself?"
"What business is it of yours, then?"
"It's every man's business to see justice done."
"You can take my word that she is innocent."
"Then you are guilty."
"No, I am not."
"Who killed Colonel James Barclay, then?"
"It was a just providence that killed him. But, mind
you this, that if I had knocked his brains out, as it
was in my heart to do, he would have had no more than
his due from my hands. If his own guilty conscience
had not struck him down it is likely enough that I
might have had his blood upon my soul. You want me to
tell the story. Well, I don't know why I shouldn't,
for there's no cause for me to be ashamed of it.
"It was in this way, sir. You see me now with my back
like a camel and by ribs all awry, but there was a
time when Corporal Henry Wood was the smartest man in
the 117th foot. We were in India then, in
cantonments, at a place we'll call Bhurtee. Barclay,
who died the other day, was sergeant in the same
company as myself, and the belle of the regiment — ay,
and the finest girl that ever had the breath of life
between her lips — was Nancy Devoy, the daughter of the
color-sergeant. There were two men that loved her,
and one that she loved, and you'll smile when you look
at this poor thing huddled before the fire, and hear
me say that it was for my good looks that she loved
"Well, though I had her heart, her father was set upon
her marrying Barclay. I was a harum-scarum, reckless
lad, and he had had an education, and was already
marked for the sword-belt. But the girl held true to
me, and it seemed that I would have had her when the
Mutiny broke out, and all hell was loose in the
"We were shut up in Bhurtee, the regiment of us with
half a battery of artillery, a company of Sikhs, and a
lot of civilians and women-folk. There were ten
thousand rebels round us, and they were as keen as a
set of terriers round a rat-cage. About the second
week of it our water gave out, and it was a question
whether we could communicate with General Neill's
column, which was moving up country. It was our only
chance, for we could not hope to fight our way out
with all the women and children, so I volunteered to
go out and to warn General Neill of our danger. My
offer was accepted, and I talked it over with Sergeant
Barclay, who was supposed to know the ground better
than any other man, and who drew up a route by which I
might get through the rebel lines. At ten o'clock the
same night I started off upon my journey. There were
a thousand lives to save, but it was of only one that
I was thinking when I dropped over the wall that
"My way ran down a dried-up watercourse, which we
hoped would screen me from the enemy's sentries; but
as I crept round the corner of it I walked right into
six of them, who were crouching down in the dark
waiting for me. In an instant I was stunned with a
blow and bound hand and foot. But the real blow was
to my heart and not to my head, for as I came to and
listened to as much as I could understand of their
talk, I heard enough to tell me that my comrade, the
very man who had arranged the way that I was to take,
had betrayed me by means of a native servant into the
hands of the enemy.
"Well, there's no need for me to dwell on that part of
it. You know now what James Barclay was capable of.
Bhurtee was relieved by Neill next day, but the rebels
took me away with them in their retreat, and it was
many a long year before ever I saw a white face again.
I was tortured and tried to get away, and was captured
and tortured again. You can see for yourselves the
state in which I was left. Some of them that fled
into Nepaul took me with them, and then afterwards I
was up past Darjeeling. The hill-folk up there
murdered the rebels who had me, and I became their
slave for a time until I escaped; but instead of going
south I had to go north, until I found myself among
"There I wandered about for many a year,
and at last came back to the Punjaub, where I lived
mostly among the natives and picked up a living by the
conjuring tricks that I had learned. What use was it
for me, a wretched cripple, to go back to England or
to make myself known to my old comrades? Even my wish
for revenge would not make me do that. I had rather
that Nancy and my old pals should think of Harry Wood
as having died with a straight back, than see him
living and crawling with a stick like a chimpanzee.
They never doubted that I was dead, and I meant that
they never should. I heard that Barclay had married
Nancy, and that he was rising rapidly in the regiment,
but even that did not make me speak.
"But when one gets old one has a longing for home.
For years I've been dreaming of the bright green
fields and the hedges of England. At last I
determined to see them before I died. I saved enough
to bring me across, and then I came here where the
soldiers are, for I know their ways and how to amuse
them and so earn enough to keep me."
"Your narrative is most interesting," said Sherlock
Holmes. "I have already heard of your meeting with
Mrs. Barclay, and your mutual recognition. You then,
as I understand, followed her home and saw through the
window an altercation between her husband and her, in
which she doubtless cast his conduct to you in his
teeth. Your own feelings overcame you, and you ran
across the lawn and broke in upon them."
"I did, sir, and at the sight of me he looked as I
have never seen a man look before, and over he went
with his head on the fender. But he was dead before
he fell. I read death on his face as plain as I can
read that text over the fire. The bare sight of me
was like a bullet through his guilty heart."
"Then Nancy fainted, and I caught up the key of the
door from her hand, intending to unlock it and get
help. But as I was doing it it seemed to me better to
leave it alone and get away, for the thing might look
black against me, and anyway my secret would be out
if I were taken. In my haste I thrust the key into my
pocket, and dropped my stick while I was chasing
Teddy, who had run up the curtain. When I got him
into his box, from which he had slipped, I was off as
fast as I could run."
"Who's Teddy?" asked Holmes.
The man leaned over and pulled up the front of a kind
of hutch in the corner. In an instant out there
slipped a beautiful reddish-brown creature, thin and
lithe, with the legs of a stoat, a long, thin nose,
and a pair of the finest red eyes that ever I saw in
an animal's head.
"It's a mongoose," I cried.
"Well, some call them that, and some call them
ichneumon," said the man. "Snake-catcher is what I
call them, and Teddy is amazing quick on cobras. I
have one here without the fangs, and Teddy catches it
every night to please the folk in the canteen.
"Any other point, sir?"
"Well, we may have to apply to you again if Mrs.
Barclay should prove to be in serious trouble."
"In that case, of course, I'd come forward."
"But if not, there is no object in raking up this
scandal against a dead man, foully as he has acted.
You have at least the satisfaction of knowing that for
thirty years of his life his conscience bitterly
reproached him for this wicked deed. Ah, there goes
Major Murphy on the other side of the street.
Good-by, Wood. I want to learn if anything has
happened since yesterday."
We were in time to overtake the major before he
reached the corner.
"Ah, Holmes," he said: "I suppose you have heard that
all this fuss has come to nothing?"
"The inquest is just over. The medical evidence
showed conclusively that death was due to apoplexy.
You see it was quite a simple case after all."
"Oh, remarkably superficial," said Holmes, smiling.
"Come, Watson, I don't think we shall be wanted in
Aldershot any more."
"There's one thing," said I, as we walked down to the
station. "If the husband's name was James, and the
other was Henry, what was this talk about David?"
"That one word, my dear Watson, should have told me
the whole story had I been the ideal reasoner which
you are so fond of depicting. It was evidently a term
"Yes; David strayed a little occasionally, you know,
and on one occasion in the same direction as Sergeant
James Barclay. You remember the small affair of Uriah
and Bathsheba? My biblical knowledge is a trifle
rusty, I fear, but you will find the story in the
first or second of Samuel."
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