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Adventure II. The Yellow Face

In publishing these short sketches based upon the

  numerous cases in which my companion’s singular gifts

  have made us the listeners to, and eventually the

  actors in, some strange drama, it is only natural that

  I should dwell rather upon his successes than upon his

  failures. And this not so much for the sake of his

  reputations–for, indeed, it was when he was at his

  wits’ end that his energy and his versatility were

  most admirable–but because where he failed it

  happened too often that no one else succeeded, and

  that the tale was left forever without a conclusion. 

  Now and again, however, it chanced that even when he

  erred, the truth was still discovered. I have noted

  of some half-dozen cases of the kind the Adventure of

  the Musgrave Ritual and that which I am about to

  recount are the two which present the strongest

  features of interest.]

  Sherlock Holmes was a man who seldom took exercise for

  exercise’s sake. Few men were capable of greater

  muscular effort, and he was undoubtedly one of the

  finest boxers of his weight that I have ever seen; but

  he looked upon aimless bodily exertion as a waste of

  energy, and he seldom bestirred himself save when

  there was some professional object to be served. Then

  he was absolutely untiring and indefatigable. That he

  should have kept himself in training under such

  circumstances is remarkable, but his diet was usually

  of the sparest, and his habits were simple to the

  verge of austerity. Save for the occasional use of

  cocaine, he had no vices, and he only turned to the

  drug as a protest against the monotony of existence

  when cases were scanty and the papers uninteresting.

  One day in early spring he had so fare relaxed as to

  go for a walk with me in the Park, where the first

  faint shoots of green were breaking out upon the elms,

  and the sticky spear-heads of the chestnuts were just

  beginning to burst into their five-fold leaves. For

  two hours we rambled about together, in silence for

  the most part, as befits two men who know each other

  intimately. It was nearly five before we were back in

  Baker Street once more.

  “Beg pardon, sir,” said our page-boy, as he opened the

  door. “There’s been a gentleman here asking for you,

  sir.”

  Holmes glanced reproachfully at me. “So much for

  afternoon walks!” said he. “Has this gentleman gone,

  then?”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Didn’t you ask him in?”

  “Yes, sir; he came in.”

  “How long did he wait?”

  “Half an hour, sir. He was a very restless gentleman,

  sir, a-walkin’ and a-stampin’ all the time he was

  here. I was waitin’ outside the door, sir, and I

  could hear him. At last he out into the passage, and

  he cries, ‘Is that man never goin’ to come?’ Those

  were his very words, sir. ‘You’ll only need to wait a

  little longer,’ says I. ‘Then I’ll wait in the open

  air, for I feel half choked,’ says he. ‘I’ll be back

  before long.’ And with that he ups and he outs, and

  all I could say wouldn’t hold him back.”

  “Well, well, you did you best,” said Holmes, as we

  walked into our room. “It’s very annoying, though,

  Watson. I was badly in need of a case, and this

  looks, from the man’s impatience, as if it were of

  importance. Hullo! That’s not your pipe on the table. 

  He must have left his behind him. A nice old brier

  with a good long stem of what the tobacconists call

  amber. I wonder how many real amber mouthpieces there

  are in London? Some people think that a fly in it is

  a sign. Well, he must have been disturbed in his mind

  to leave a pipe behind him which he evidently values

  highly.”

  “How do you know that he values it highly?” I asked.

  “Well, I should put the original cost of the pipe at

  seven and sixpence. Now it has, you see, been twice

  mended, once in the wooden stem and once in the

  amber. Each of these mends, done, as you observe,

  with silver bands, must have cost more than the pipe

  did originally. The man must value the pipe highly

  when he prefers to patch it up rather than buy a new

  one with the same money.”

  “Anything else?” I asked, for Holmes was turning the

  pipe about in his hand, and staring at it in his

  peculiar pensive way.

  He held it up and tapped on it with his long, thin

  fore-finger, as a professor might who was lecturing on

  a bone.

  “Pipes are occasionally of extraordinary interest,”

  said he. “Nothing has more individuality, save

  perhaps watches and bootlaces. The indications here,

  however, are neither very marked nor very important. 

  The owner is obviously a muscular man, left-handed,

  with an excellent set of teeth, careless in his

  habits, and with no need to practise economy.”

  My friend threw out the information in a very offhand

  way, but I saw that he cocked his eye at me to see if

  I had followed his reasoning.

  “You think a man must be well-to-do if he smokes a

  seven-shilling pipe,” said I.

  “This is Grosvenor mixture at eightpence an ounce,”

  Holmes answered, knocking a little out on his palm. 

  “As he might get an excellent smoke for half the

  price, he has no need to practise economy.”

  “And the other points?”

  “He has been in the habit of lighting his pipe at

  lamps and gas-jets. You can see that it is quite

  charred all down one side. Of course a match could

  not have done that. Why should a man hold a match to

  the side of his pipe? But you cannot light it at a

  lamp without getting the bowl charred. And it is all

  on the right side of the pipe. From that I gather

  that he is a left-handed man. You hold your own pipe

  to the lamp, and see how naturally you, being

  right-handed, hold the left side to the flame. You

  might do it once the other way, but not as a

  constancy. This has always been held so. Then he has

  bitten through his amber. It takes a muscular,

  energetic fellow, and one with a good set of teeth, to

  do that. But if I am not mistaken I hear him upon the

  stair, so we shall have something more interesting

  than his pipe to study.”

  An instant later our door opened, and a tall young man

  entered the room. He was well but quietly dressed in

  a dark-gray suit, and carried a brown wide-awake in

  his hand. I should have put him at about thirty,

  though he was really some years older.

  “I beg your pardon,” said he, with some embarrassment;

  “I suppose I should have knocked. Yes, of course I

  should have knocked. The fact is that I am a little

  upset, and you must put it all down to that.” He

  passed his hand over his forehead like a man who is

  half dazed, and then fell rather than sat down upon a

  chair.

  “I can see that you have not slept for a night or

  two,” said Holmes, in his easy, genial way. “That

  tries a man’s nerves more than work, and more even

  than pleasure. May I ask how I can help you?”

  “I wanted your advice, sir. I don’t know what to do

  and my whole life seems to have gone to pieces.”

  “You wish to employ me as a consulting detective?”

  “Not that only. I want your opinion as a judicious

  man–as a man of the world. I want to know what I

  ought to do next. I hope to God you’ll be able to

  tell me.”

  He spoke in little, sharp, jerky outbursts, and it

  seemed to me that to speak at all was very painful to

  him, and that his will all through was overriding his

  inclinations.

  “It’s a very delicate thing,” said he. “One does not

  like to speak of one’s domestic affairs to strangers. 

  It seems dreadful to discuss the conduct of one’s wife

  with two men whom I have never seen before. It’s

  horrible to have to do it. But I’ve got to the end of

  my tether, and I must have advice.”

  “My dear Mr. Grant Munro–” began Holmes.

  Our visitor sprang from his char. “What!” he cried,

  “you know my mane?”

  “If you wish to preserve your incognito,’ said Holmes,

  smiling, “I would suggest that you cease to write your

  name upon the lining of your hat, or else that you

  turn the crown towards the person whom you are

  addressing. I was about to say that my friend and I

  have listened to a good many strange secrets in this

  room, and that we have had the good fortune to bring

  peace to many troubled souls. I trust that we may do

  as much for you. Might I beg you, as time may prove

  to be of importance, to furnish me with the facts of

  your case without further delay?”

  Our visitor again passed his hand over his forehead,

  as if he found it bitterly hard. From every gesture

  and expression I could see that he was a reserved,

  self-contained man, with a dash of pride in his

  nature, more likely to hide his wounds than to expose

  them. Then suddenly, with a fierce gesture of his

  closed hand, like one who throws reserve to the winds,

  he began.

  “The facts are these, Mr. Holmes,” said he. “I am a

  married man, and have been so for three years. During

  that time my wife and I have loved each other as

  fondly and lived as happily as any two that ever were

  joined. We have not had a difference, not one, in

  thought or word or deed. And now, since last Monday,

  there has suddenly sprung up a barrier between us, and

  I find that there is something in her life and in her

  thought of which I know as little as if she were the

  woman who brushes by me in the street. We are

  estranged, and I want to know why.

  “Now there is one thing that I want to impress upon

  you before I go any further, Mr. Holmes. Effie loves

  me. Don’t let there be any mistake about that. She

  loves me with her whole heart and soul, and never more

  than now. I know it. I feel it. I don’t want to

  argue about that. A man can tell easily enough when a

  woman loves him. But there’s this secret between us,

  and we can never be the same until it is cleared.”

  “Kindly let me have the facts, Mr. Munro,” said

  Holmes, with some impatience.

  “I’ll tell you what I know about Effie’s history. She

  was a widow when I met her first, though quite

  young–only twenty-five. Her name then was Mrs.

  Hebron. She went out to America when she was young,

  and lived in the town of Atlanta, where she married

  this Hebron, who was a lawyer with a good practice. 

  They had one child, but the yellow fever broke out

  badly in the place, and both husband and child died of

  it. I have seen his death certificate. This sickened

  her of America, and she came back to live with a

  maiden aunt at Pinner, in Middlesex. I may mention

  that her husband had left her comfortably off, and

  that she had a capital of about four thousand five

  hundred pounds, which had been so well invested by him

  that it returned an average of seven per cent. She

  had only been six months at Pinner when I met her; we

  fell in love with each other, and we married a few

  weeks afterwards.

  “I am a hop merchant myself, and as I have an income

  of seven or eight hundred, we found ourselves

  comfortably off, and took a nice eighty-pound-a-year

  villa at Norbury. Our little place was very

  countrified, considering that it is so close to town. 

  We had an inn and two houses a little above us, and a

  single cottage at the other side of the field which

  faces us, and except those there were no houses until

  you got half way to the station. My business took me

  into town at certain seasons, but in summer I had less

  to do, and then in our country home my wife and I were

  just as happy as could be wished. I tell you that

  there never was a shadow between us until this

  accursed affair began.

  “There’s one thing I ought to tell you before I go

  further. When we married, my wife made over all her

  property to me–rather against my will, for I saw how

  awkward it would be if my business affairs went wrong. 

  However, she would have it so, and it was done. Well,

  about six weeks ago she came to me.

  “‘Jack,’ said she, ‘when you took my money you said

  that if ever I wanted any I was to ask you for it.’

  “‘Certainly,’ said I. ‘It’s all your own.’

  “‘Well,’ said she, ‘I want a hundred pounds.’

  “I was a bit staggered at this, for I had imagined it

  was simply a new dress or something of the kind that

  she was after.

  “‘What on earth for?’ I asked.

  “‘Oh,’ said she, in her playful way, ‘you said that

  you were only my banker, and bankers never ask

  questions, you know.’

  “‘If you really mean it, of course you shall have the

  money,’ said I.

  “‘Oh, yes, I really mean it.’

  “‘And you won’t tell me what you want it for?’

  “‘Some day, perhaps, but not just at present, Jack.’

  “So I had to be content with that, thought it was the

  first time that there had ever been any secret between

  us. I gave her a check, and I never thought any more

  of the matter. It may have nothing to do with what

  came afterwards, but I thought it only right to

  mention it.

  “Well, I told you just now that there is a cottage not

  far from our house. There is just a field between us,

  but to reach it you have to go along the road and then

  turn down a lane. Just beyond it is a nice little

  grove of Scotch firs, and I used to be very fond of

  strolling down there, for trees are always a

  neighborly kind of things. The cottage had been

  standing empty this eight months, and it was a pity,

  for it was a pretty two storied place, with an

  old-fashioned porch and honeysuckle about it. I have

  stood many a time and thought what a neat little

  homestead it would make.

  “Well, last Monday evening I was taking a stroll down

  that way, when I met an empty van coming up the lane,

  and saw a pile of carpets and things lying about on

  the grass-plot beside the porch. It was clear that

  the cottage had at last been let. I walked past it,

  and wondered what sort of folk they were who had come

  to live so near us. And as I looked I suddenly became

  aware that a face was watching me out of one of the

  upper windows.

  “I don’t know what there was about that face, Mr.

  Holmes, but it seemed to send a chill right down my

  back. I was some little way off, so that I could not

  make out the features, but there was something

  unnatural and inhuman about the face. That was the

  impression that I had, and I moved quickly forwards to

  get a nearer view of the person who was watching me. 

  But as I did so the face suddenly disappeared, so

  suddenly that it seemed to have been plucked away into

  the darkness of the room. I stood for five minutes

  thinking the business over, and trying to analyze my

  impressions. I could not tell if the face were that

  of a man or a woman. It had been too far from me for

  that. But its color was what had impressed me most. 

  It was of a livid chalky white, and with something set

  and rigid about it which was shockingly unnatural. So

  disturbed was I that I determined to see a little more

  of the new inmates of the cottage. I approached and

  knocked at the door, which was instantly opened by a

  tall, gaunt woman with a harsh, forbidding face.

  “‘What may you be wantin’?’ she asked, in a Northern

  accent.

  “‘I am your neighbor over yonder,’ said I, nodding

towards my house. ‘I see that you have only just

  moved in, so I thought that if I could be of any help

  to you in any–‘

  “‘Ay, we’ll just ask ye when we want ye,’ said she,

  and shut the door in my face. Annoyed at the churlish

  rebuff, I turned my back and walked home. All

  evening, though I tried to think of other things, my

  mind would still turn to the apparition at the window

  and the rudeness of the woman. I determined to say

  nothing about the former to my wife, for she is a

  nervous, highly strung woman, and I had no wish that

  she would share the unpleasant impression which had

  been produced upon myself. I remarked to her,

  however, before I fell asleep, that the cottage was

  now occupied, to which she returned no reply.

  “I am usually an extremely sound sleeper. It has been

  a standing jest in the family that nothing could ever

  wake me during the night. And yet somehow on that

  particular night, whether it may have been the slight

  excitement produced by my little adventure or not I

  know not, but I slept much more lightly than usual. 

  Half in my dreams I was dimly conscious that something

  was going on in the room, and gradually became aware

  that my wife had dressed herself and was slipping on

  her mantle and her bonnet. My lips were parted to

  murmur out some sleepy words of surprise or

  remonstrance at this untimely preparation, when

  suddenly my half-opened eyes fell upon her face,

  illuminated by the candle-light, and astonishment held

  me dumb. She wore an expression such as I had never

  seen before–such as I should have thought her

  incapable of assuming. She was deadly pale and

  breathing fast, glancing furtively towards the bed as

  she fastened her mantle, to see if she had disturbed

  me. Then, thinking that I was still asleep, she

  slipped noiselessly from the room, and an instant

  later I heard a sharp creaking which could only come

  from the hinges of the front door. I sat up in bed

  and rapped my knuckles against the rail to make

  certain that I was truly awake. Then I took my watch

  from under the pillow. It was three in the morning. 

  What on this earth could my wife be doing out on the

  country road at three in the morning?

  “I had sat for about twenty minutes turning the thing

  over in my mind and trying to find some possible

  explanation. The more I thought, the ore

  extraordinary and inexplicable did it appear. I was

  still puzzling over it when I heard the door gently

  close again, and her footsteps coming up the stairs.

  “‘Where in the world have you been, Effie?’ I asked as

  she entered.

  “She gave a violent start and a kind of gasping cry

  when I spoke, and that cry and start troubled me more

  than all the rest, for there was something

  indescribably guilty about them. My wife had always

  been a woman of a frank, open nature, and it gave me a

  chill to see her slinking into her own room, and

  crying out and wincing when her own husband spoke to

  her.

  “‘You awake, Jack!’ she cried, with a nervous laugh. 

  ‘Why, I thought that nothing could awake you.’

  “‘Where have you been?’ I asked, more sternly.

  “‘I don’t wonder that you are surprised,’ said she,

  and I could see that her fingers were trembling as she

  undid the fastenings of her mantle. ‘Why, I never

  remember having done such a thing in my life before. 

  The fact is that I felt as though I were choking, and

  had a perfect longing for a breath of fresh air. I

  really think that I should have fainted if I had not

  gone out. I stood at the door for a few minutes, and

  now I am quite myself again.’

  “All the time that she was telling me this story she

  never once looked in my direction, and her voice was

  quite unlike her usual tones. It was evident to me

  that she was saying what was false. I said nothing in

  reply, but turned my face to the wall, sick at heart,

  with my mind filled with a thousand venomous doubts

  and suspicions. What was it that my wife was

  concealing from me? Where had she been during that

  strange expedition? I felt that I should have no

  peace until I knew, and yet I shrank from asking her

  again after once she had told me what was false. All

  the rest of the night I tossed and tumbled, framing

  theory after theory, each more unlikely than the last.

  “I should have gone to the City that day, but I was

  too disturbed in my mind to be able to pay attention

  to business matters. My wife seemed to be as upset as

  myself, and I could see from the little questioning

  glances which she kept shooting at me that she

  understood that I disbelieved her statement, and that

  she was at her wits’ end what to do. We hardly

  exchanged a word during breakfast, and immediately

  afterwards I went out for a walk, that I might think

  the matter out in the fresh morning air.

  “I went as far as the Crystal Palace, spent an hour in

  the grounds, and was back in Norbury by one o’clock. 

  It happened that my way took me past the cottage, and

  I stopped for an instant to look at the windows, and

  to see if I could catch a glimpse of the strange face

  which had looked out at me on the day before. As I

  stood there, imagine my surprise, Mr. Holmes, when the

  door suddenly opened and my wife walked out.

  “I was struck dumb with astonishment at the sight of

  her; but my emotions were nothing to those which

  showed themselves upon her face when our eyes met. 

  She seemed for an instant to wish to shrink back

  inside the house again; and then, seeing how useless

  all concealment must be, she came forward, with a very

  white face and frightened eyes which belied the smile

  upon her lips.

  “‘Ah, Jack,’ she said, ‘I have just been in to see if

  I can be of any assistance to our new neighbors. Why

  do you look at me like that, Jack? You are not angry

  with me?’

  “‘So,’ said I, ‘this is where you went during the

  night.’

  “‘What do you mean?” she cried.

  “‘You came here. I am sure of it. Who are these

  people, that you should visit them at such an hour?’

  “‘I have not been here before.’

  “‘How can you tell me what you know is false?’ I

  cried. ‘Your very voice changes as you speak. When

  have I ever had a secret from you? I shall enter that

  cottage, and I shall probe the matter to the bottom.’

  “‘No, no, Jack, for God’s sake!’ she gasped, in

  uncontrollable emotion. Then, as I approached the

  door, she seized my sleeve and pulled me back with

  convulsive strength.

  “‘I implore you not to do this, Jack,’ she cried. ‘I

  swear that I will tell you everything some day, but

  nothing but misery can come of it if you enter that

  cottage.’ Then, as I tried to shake her off, she

  clung to me 

in a frenzy of entreaty.

  “‘Trust me, Jack!’ she cried. ‘Trust me only this

  once. You will never have cause to regret it. You

  know that I would not have a secret from you if it

  were not for your own sake. Our whole lives are at

  stake in this. If you come home with me, all will be

  well. If you force your way into that cottage, all is

  over between us.’

  “There was such earnestness, such despair, in her

  manner that her words arrested me, and I stood

  irresolute before the door.

  “‘I will trust you on one condition, and on one

  condition only,’ said I at last. ‘It is that this

  mystery comes to an end from now. You are at liberty

  to preserve your secret, but you must promise me that

  there shall be no more nightly visits, no more doings

  which are kept from my knowledge. I am willing to

  forget those which are passed if you will promise that

  there shall be no more in the future.’

  “‘I was sure that you would trust me,’ she cried, with

  a great sigh of relief. ‘It shall be just as you

  wish. Come away–oh, come away up to the house.’

  “Still pulling at my sleeve, she led me away from the

  cottage. As we went I glanced back, and there was

  that yellow livid face watching us out of the upper

  window. What link could there be between that

  creature and my wife? Or how could the coarse, rough

  woman whom I had seen the day before be connected with

  her? It was a strange puzzle, and yet I knew that my

  mind could never know ease again until I had solved

  it.

  “For two days after this I stayed at home, and my wife

  appeared to abide loyally by our engagement, for, as

  far as I know, she never stirred out of the house. On

  the third day, however, I had ample evidence that her

  solemn promise was not enough to hold her back from

  this secret influence which drew her away from her

  husband and her duty.

  “I had gone into town on that day, but I returned by

  the 2.40 instead of the 3.36, which is my usual train. 

  As I entered the house the maid ran into the hall with

  a startled face.

  “‘Where is your mistress?’ I asked.

  “‘I think that she has gone out for a walk,’ she

  answered.

  “My mind was instantly filled with suspicion. I

  rushed upstairs to make sure that she was not in the

  house. As I did so I happened to glance out of one of

  the upper windows, and saw the maid with whom I had

  just been speaking running across the field in the

  direction of the cottage. Then of course I saw

  exactly what it all meant. My wife had gone over

  there, and had asked the servant to call her if I

  should return. Tingling with anger, I rushed down and

  hurried across, determined to end the matter once and

  forever. I saw my wife and the maid hurrying back

  along the lane, but I did not stop to speak with them. 

  In the cottage lay the secret which was casting a

  shadow over my life. I vowed that, come what might,

  it should be a secret no longer. I did not even knock

  when I reached it, but turned the handle and rushed

  into the passage.

  “It was all still and quiet upon the ground floor. In

  the kitchen a kettle was singing on the fire, and a

  large black cat lay coiled up in the basket; but there

  was no sign of the woman whom I had seen before. I

  ran into the other room, but it was equally deserted. 

  Then I rushed up the stairs, only to find two other

  rooms empty and deserted at the top. There was no one

  at all in the whole house. The furniture and pictures

  were of the most common and vulgar description, save

  in the one chamber at the window of which I had seen

  the strange face. That was comfortable and elegant,

  and all my suspicions rose into a fierce bitter flame

  when I saw that on the mantelpiece stood a copy of a

  fell-length photograph of my wife, which had been

  taken at my request only three months ago.

  “I stayed long enough to make certain that the house

  was absolutely empty. Then I left it, feeling a

  weight at my heart such as I had never had before. My

  wife came out into the hall as I entered my house; but

  I was too hurt and angry to speak with her, and

  pushing past her, I made my way into my study. She

  followed me, however, before I could close the door.

  “‘I am sorry that I broke my promise, Jack,’ said she;

  ‘but if you knew all the circumstances I am sure that

  you would forgive me.’

  “‘Tell me everything, then,’ said I.

  “‘I cannot, Jack, I cannot,’ she cried.

  “‘Until you tell me who it is that has been living in

  that cottage, and who it is to whom you have given

  that photograph, there can never be any confidence

  between us,’ said I, and breaking away from her, I

  left the house. That was yesterday, Mr. Holmes, and I

  have not seen her since, nor do I know anything more

  about this strange business. It is the first shadow

  that has come between us, and it has so shaken me that

  I do not know what I should do for the best. Suddenly

  this morning it occurred to me that you were the man

  to advise me, so I have hurried to you now, and I

  place myself unreservedly in your hands. If there is

  any point which I have not made clear, pray question

  me about it. But, above all, tell me quickly what I

  am to do, for this misery is more than I can bear.”

  Holmes and I had listened with the utmost interest to

  this extraordinary statement, which had been delivered

  in the jerky, broken fashion of a man who is under the

  influence of extreme emotions. My companion sat

  silent for some time, with his chin upon his hand,

  lost in thought.

  “Tell me,” said he at last, “could you swear that this

  was a man’s face which you saw at the window?”

  “Each time that I saw it I was some distance away from

  it, so that it is impossible for me to say.”

  “You appear, however, to have been disagreeably

  impressed by it.”

  “It seemed to be of an unnatural color, and to have a

  strange rigidity about the features. When I

  approached, it vanished with a jerk.”

  “How long is it since your wife asked you for a

  hundred pounds?”

  “Nearly two months.”

  “Have you ever seen a photograph of her first

  husband?”

  “No; there was a great fire at Atlanta very shortly

  after his death, and all her papers were destroyed.”

  “And yet she had a certificate of death. You say that

  you saw it.”

  “Yes; she got a duplicate after the fire.”

  “Did you ever meet any one who knew her in America?”

  “No.”

  “Did she ever talk of revisiting the place?”

  “No.”

  “Or get letters from it?”

  “No.”

  “Thank you. I should like to think over the matter a

  little now. If the cottage is now permanently

  deserted we may 

have some difficulty. If, on the

  other hand, as I fancy is more likely, the inmates

  were warned of you coming, and left before you entered

  yesterday, then they may be back now, and we should

  clear it all up easily. Let me advise you, then, to

  return to Norbury, and to examine the windows of the

  cottage again. If you have reason to believe that is

  inhabited, do not force your way in, but send a wire

  to my friend and me. We shall be with you within an

  hour of receiving it, and we shall then very soon get

  to the bottom of the business.”

  “And if it is still empty?”

  “In that case I shall come out to-morrow and talk it

  over with you. Good-by; and, above all, do not fret

  until you know that you really have a cause for it.”

  “I am afraid that this is a bad business, Watson,”

  said my companion, as he returned after accompanying

  Mr. Grant Munro to the door. “What do you make of

  it?”

  “It had an ugly sound,” I answered.

  “Yes. There’s blackmail in it, or I am much

  mistaken.”

  “And who is the blackmailer?”

  “Well, it must be the creature who lives in the only

  comfortable room in the place, and has her photograph

  above his fireplace. Upon my word, Watson, there is

  something very attractive about that livid face at the

  window, and I would not have missed the case for

  worlds.”

  “You have a theory?”

  “Yes, a provisional one. But I shall be surprised if

  it does not turn out to be correct. This woman’s

  first husband is in that cottage.”

  “Why do you think so?”

  “How else can we explain her frenzied anxiety that her

  second one should not enter it? The facts, as I read

  them, are something like this: This woman was married

  in America. Her husband developed some hateful

  qualities; or shall we say that he contracted some

  loathsome disease, and became a leper or an imbecile? 

  She flies from him at last, returns to England,

  changes her name, and starts her life, as she thinks,

  afresh. She has been married three years, and

  believes that her position is quite secure, having

  shown her husband the death certificate of some man

  whose name she has assumed, when suddenly her

  whereabouts is discovered by her first husband; or, we

  may suppose, by some unscrupulous woman who has

  attached herself to the invalid. They write to the

  wife, and threaten to come and expose her. She asks

  for a hundred pounds, and endeavors to buy them off. 

  They come in spite of it, and when the husband

  mentions casually to the wife that there a new-comers

  in the cottage, she knows in some way that they are

  her pursuers. She waits until her husband is asleep,

  and then she rushes down to endeavor to persuade them

  to leave her in peace. Having no success, she goes

  again next morning, and her husband meets her, as he

  has told us, as she comes out. She promises him then

  not to go there again, but two days afterwards the

  hope of getting rid of those dreadful neighbors was

  too strong for her, and she made another attempt,

  taking down with her the photograph which had probably

  been demanded from her. In the midst of this

  interview the maid rushed in to say that the master

  had come home, on which the wife, knowing that he

  would come straight down to the cottage, hurried the

  inmates out at the back door, into the grove of

  fir-trees, probably, which was mentioned as standing

  near. In this way he found the place deserted. I

  shall be very much surprised, however, if it still so

  when he reconnoitres it this evening. What do you

  think of my theory?”

  “It is all surmise.”

  “But at least it covers all the facts. When new facts

  come to our knowledge which cannot be covered by it,

  it will be time enough to reconsider it. We can do

  nothing more until we have a message from our friend

  at Norbury.”

  But we had not a very long time to wait for that. It

  came just as we had finished our tea. “The cottage is

  still tenanted,” it said. “Have seen the face again

  at the window. Will meet the seven o’clock train, and

  will take no steps until you arrive.”

  He was waiting on the platform when we stepped out,

  and we could see in the light of the station lamps

that he was very pale, and quivering with agitation.

  “They are still there, Mr. Holmes,” said he, laying

  his hand hard upon my friend’s sleeve. “I saw lights

  in the cottage as I came down. We shall settle it now

  once and for all.”

  “What is your plan, then?” asked Holmes, as he walked

  down the dark tree-lined road.

  “I am going to force my way in and see for myself who

  is in the house. I wish you both to be there as

  witnesses.”

  “You are quite determined to do this, in spite of your

  wife’s warning that it is better that you should not

  solve the mystery?”

  “Yes, I am determined.”

  “Well, I think that you are in the right. Any truth

  is better than indefinite doubt. We had better go up

  at once. Of course, legally, we are putting ourselves

  hopelessly in the wrong; but I think that it is worth

  it.”

  It was a very dark night, and a thin rain began to

  fall as we turned from the high road into a narrow

  lane, deeply rutted, with hedges on either side. Mr.

  Grant Munro pushed impatiently forward, however, and

  we stumbled after him as best we could.

  “There are the lights of my house,” he murmured,

  pointing to a glimmer among the trees. “And here is

  the cottage which I am going to enter.”

  We turned a corner in the lane as he spoke, and there

  was the building close beside us. A yellow bar

  falling across the black foreground showed that the

  door was not quite closed, and one window in the upper

  story was brightly illuminated. As we looked, we saw

  a dark blur moving across the blind.

  “There is that creature!” cried Grant Munro. “You can

  see for yourselves that some one is there. Now follow

  me, and we shall soon know all.”

  We approached the door; but suddenly a woman appeared

  out of the shadow and stood in the golden track of the

  lamp-light. I could not see her face in the he

  darkness, but her arms were thrown out in an attitude

  of entreaty.

  “For God’s sake, don’t Jack!” she cried. “I had a

  presentiment that you would come this evening. Think

  better of it, dear! Trust me again, and you will

  never have cause to regret it.”

  “I have trusted you tool long, Effie,” he cried,

  sternly. “Leave go of me! I must pass you. My

  friends and I are going to settle this matter once and

  forever!” He pushed her to one side, and we followed

  closely after him. As he threw the door open an old

  woman ran out in front of him and tried to bar his

  passage, but he thrust her back, and an instant

  afterwards we were all upon the stairs. Grant Munro

  rushed into the lighted room at the top, and we

  entered at his heels.

  It was a cosey, well-furnished apartment, with two

  candles burning upon the table and two upon the

  mantelpiece. In the corner, stooping over a desk,

  there sat what appeared to be a little girl. Her face

  was turned away as we entered, but we could see that

  she was dressed in a red frock, and that she had long

  white gloves on. As she whisked round to us, I gave a

  cry of surprise and horror. The face which she turned

  towards us was of the strangest livid tint, and the

  features were absolutely devoid of any expression. An

  instant later the mystery was explained. Holmes, with

  a laugh, passed his hand behind the child’s ear, a

  mask peeled off from her countenance, an there was a

  little coal black negress, with all her white teeth

  flashing in amusement at our amazed faces. I burst

  out laughing, out of sympathy with her merriment; but

  Grant Munro stood staring, with his hand clutching his

  throat.

  “My God!” he cried. “What can be the meaning of

  this?”

  “I will tell you the meaning of it,” cried the lady,

  sweeping into the room with a proud, set face. “You

  have forced me, against my own judgment, to tell you,

  and now we must both make the best of it. My husband

  died at Atlanta. My child survived.”

  “Your child?”

  She drew a large silver locket from her bosom. “You

  have never seen this open.”

  “I understood that it did not open.”

  She touched a spring, and the front hinged back. 

  There was a portrait within of a man strikingly

  handsome and intelligent-looking, but bearing

  unmistakable signs upon his features of his African

  descent.

  “That is John Hebron, of Atlanta,” said the lady, “and

  a nobler man never walked the earth. I cut myself off

  from my race in order to wed him, but never once while

  he lived did I for an instant regret it. It was our

  misfortune that our only child took after his people

  rather than mine. It is often so in such matches, and

  little Lucy is darker far than ever her father was. 

  But dark or fair, she is my own dear little girlie,

  and her mother’s pet.” The little creature ran across

  at the words and nestled up against the lady’s dress. 

  “When I left her in America,” she continued, “it was

  only because her health was weak, and the change might

  have done her harm. She was given to the care of a

  faithful Scotch woman who had once been our servant. 

  Never for an instant did I dream of disowning her as

  my child. But when chance threw you in my way, Jack,

  and I learned to love you, I feared to tell you about

  my child. God forgive me, I feared that I should lose

  you, and I had not the courage to tell you. I had to

  choose between you, and in my weakness I turned away

  from my own little girl. For three years I have kept

  her existence a secret from you, but I heard from the

  nurse, and I knew that all was well with her. At

  last, however, there came an overwhelming desire to

  see the child once more. I struggled against it, but

  in vain. Though I knew the danger, I determined to

  have the child over, if it were but for a few weeks. 

  I sent a hundred pounds to the nurse, and I gave her

  instructions about this cottage, so that she might

  come as a neighbor, without my appearing to be in any

  way connected with her. I pushed my precautions so

  far as to order her to keep the child in the house

  during the daytime, and to cover up her little face

  and hands so that even those who might see her at the

  window should not gossip about there being a black

  child in the neighborhood. If I had been less

  cautious I might have been more wise, but I was half

  crazy with fear that you should learn the truth.

  “It was you who told me first that the cottage was

  occupied. I should have waited for the morning, but I

  could not sleep for excitement, and so at last I

  slipped out, knowing how difficult it is to awake you. 

  But you saw me go, and that was the beginning of my

  troubles. Next day you had my secret at your mercy,

  but you nobly refrained from pursuing your advantage.

Three days later, however, the nurse and child only

  just escaped from the back door as you rushed in at

  the front one. And now to-night you at last know all,

  and I ask you what is to become of us, my child and

  me?” She clasped her hands and waited for an answer.

  It was a long ten minutes before Grant Munro broke the

  silence, and when his answer came it was one of which

  I love to think. He lifted the little child, kissed

  her, and then, still carrying her, he held his other

  hand out to his wife and turned towards the door.

  “We can talk it over more comfortably at home,” said

  he. “I am not a very good man, Effie, but I think

  that I am a better one than you have given me credit

  for being.”

  Holmes and I followed them down the lane, and my

  friend plucked at my sleeve as we came out.

  “I think,” said he, “that we shall be of more use in

  London than in Norbury.”

  Not another word did he say of the case until late

  that night, when he was turning away, with his lighted

  candle, for his bedroom.

  “Watson,” said he, “if it should ever strike you that

  I am getting a little over-confident in my powers, or

  giving less pains to a case than it deserves, kindly

  whisper ‘Norbury’ in my ear, and I shall be infinitely

  obliged to you.” 

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