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Adventure III. The Stock-Broker’s Clerk

Shortly after my marriage I had bought a connection in

  the Paddington district. Old Mr. Farquhar, from whom

  I purchased it, had at one time an excellent general

  practice; but his age, and an affliction of the nature

  of St. Vitus’s dance from which he suffered, had very

  much thinned it. The public not unnaturally goes on

  the principle that he who would heal others must

  himself be whole, and looks askance at the curative

  powers of the man whose own case is beyond the reach

  of his drugs. Thus as my predecessor weakened his

  practice declined, until when I purchased it from him

  it had sunk from twelve hundred to little more than

  three hundred a year. I had confidence, however, in

  my own youth and energy, and was convinced that in a

  very few years the concern would be as flourishing as

  ever.

  For three months after taking over the practice I was

  kept very closely at work, and saw little of my friend

  Sherlock Holmes, for I was too busy to visit Baker

  Street, and he seldom went anywhere himself save upon

  professional business. I was surprised, therefore,

  when, one morning in June, as I sat reading the

  British Medical Journal after breakfast, I heard a

  ring at the bell, followed by the high, somewhat

  strident tones of my old companion’s voice.

  “Ah, my dear Watson,” said he, striding into the room,

  “I am very delighted to see you! I trust that Mrs.

  Watson has entirely recovered from all the little

  excitements connected with our adventure of the Sign

  of Four.”

  “Thank you, we are both very well,” said I, shaking

  him warmly by the hand.

  “And I hope, also,” he continued, sitting down in the

  rocking-chair, “that the cares of medical practice

  have not entirely obliterated the interest which you

  used to take in our little deductive problems.”

  “On the contrary,” I answered, “it was only last night

  that I was looking over my old notes, and classifying

  some of our past results.”

  “I trust that you don’t consider your collection

  closed.”

  “Not at all. I should wish nothing better than to

  have some more of such experiences.”

  “To-day, for example?”

  “Yes, to-day, if you like.”

  “And as far off as Birmingham?”

  “Certainly, if you wish it.”

  “And the practice?”

  “I do my neighbor’s when he goes. He is always ready

  to work off the debt.”

  “Ha! Nothing could be better,” said Holmes, leaning

  back in his chair and looking keenly at me from under

  his half closed lids. “I perceive that you have been

  unwell lately. Summer colds are always a little

  trying.”

  “I was confined to the house by a sever chill for

  three days last week. I thought, however, that I had

  cast off every trace of it.”

  “So you have. You look remarkably robust.”

  “How, then, did you know of it?”

  “My dear fellow, you know my methods.”

  “You deduced it, then?”

  “Certainly.”

  “And from what?”

  “From your slippers.”

  I glanced down at the new patent leathers which I was

  wearing. “How on earth–” I began, but Holmes

  answered my question before it was asked.

  “Your slippers are new,” he said. “You could not have

  had them more than a few weeks. The soles which you

  are at this moment presenting to me are slightly

  scorched. For a moment I thought they might have got

  wet and been burned in the drying. But near the instep

  there is a small circular wafer of paper with the

  shopman’s hieroglyphics upon it. Damp would of course

  have removed this. You had, then, been sitting with

  our feet outstretched to the fire, which a man would

  hardly do even in so wet a June as this if he were in

  his full health.”

  Like all Holmes’s reasoning the thing seemed

  simplicity itself when it was once explained. He read

  the thought upon my features, and his smile had a

  tinge of bitterness.

  “I am afraid that I rather give myself away when I

  explain,” said he. “Results without causes are much

  more impressive. You are ready to come to Birmingham,

  then?”

  “Certainly. What is the case?”

  “You shall hear it all in the train. My client is

  outside in a four-wheeler. Can you come at once?”

  “In an instant.” I scribbled a note to my neighbor,

  rushed upstairs to explain the matter to my wife, and

  joined Holmes upon the door-step.

  “Your neighbor is a doctor,” said he, nodding at the

  brass plate.

  “Yes; he bought a practice as I did.”

  “An old-established one?”

  “Just the same as mine. Both have been ever since the

  houses were built.”

  “Ah! Then you got hold of the best of the two.”

  “I think I did. But how do you know?”

  “By the steps, my boy. Yours are worn three inches

  deeper than his. But this gentleman in the cab is my

  client, Mr. Hall Pycroft. Allow me to introduce you

  to him. Whip your horse up, cabby, for we have only

  just time to catch our train.”

  The man whom I found myself facing was a well built,

  fresh- complexioned young fellow, with a frank, honest

  face and a slight, crisp, yellow mustache. He wore a

  very shiny top hat and a neat suit of sober black,

  which made him look what he was–a smart young City

  man, of the class who have been labeled cockneys, but

  who give us our crack volunteer regiments, and who

  turn out more fine athlet 

es and sportsmen than any

  body of men in these islands. His round, ruddy face

  was naturally full of cheeriness, but the corners of

  his mouth seemed to me to be pulled down in a

  half-comical distress. It was not, however, until we

  were all in a first-class carriage and well started

  upon our journey to Birmingham that I was able to

  learn what the trouble was which had driven him to

  Sherlock Holmes.

  “We have a clear run here of seventy minutes,” Holmes

  remarked. “I want you, Mr. Hall Pycroft, to tell my

  friend your very interesting experience exactly as you

  have told it to me, or with more detail if possible. 

  It will be of use to me to hear the succession of

  events again. It is a case, Watson, which may prove

  to have something in it, or may prove to have nothing,

  but which, at least, presents those unusual and outr��

  features which are as dear to you as they are to me. 

  Now, Mr. Pycroft, I shall not interrupt you again.”

  Our young companion looked at me with a twinkle in his

  eye.

  The worst of the story is, said he, that I show myself

  up as such a confounded fool. Of course it may work

  out all right, and I don’t see that I could have done

  otherwise; but if I have lost my crib and get nothing

  in exchange I shall feel what a soft Johnnie I have

  been. I’m not very good at telling a story, Dr.

  Watson, but it is like this with me”

  I used to have a billet at Coxon & Woodhouse’s, of

  Draper’s Gardens, but they were let in early in the

  spring through the Venezuelan loan, as no doubt you

  remember, and came a nasty cropper. I had been with

  them five years, and old Coxon gave me a ripping good

  testimonial when the smash came, but of course we

  clerks were all turned adrift, the twenty-seven of us. 

  I tried here and tried there, but there were lots of

  other chaps on the same lay as myself, and it was a

  perfect frost for a long time. I had been taking

  three pounds a week at Coxon’s, and I had saved about

  seventy of them, but I soon worked my way through that

  and out at the other end. I was fairly at the end of

  my tether at last, and could hardly find the stamps to

  answer the advertisements or the envelopes to stick

  them to. I had worn out my boots paddling up office

  stairs, and I seemed just as far from getting a billet

  as ever.

  At last I saw a vacancy at Mawson & Williams’s, the

  great stock-broking firm in Lombard Street. I dare

  say E. C. Is not much in your line, but I can tell you

  that this is about the richest house in London. The

  advertisement was to be answered by letter only. I

  sent in my testimonial and application, but without

  the least hope of getting it. Back came an answer by

  return, saying that if I would appear next Monday I

  might take over my new duties at once, provided that

  my appearance was satisfactory. No one knows how

  these things are worked. Some people say that the

  manager just plunges his hand into the heap and takes

  the first that comes. Anyhow it was my innings that

  time, and I don’t ever wish to feel better pleased. 

  The screw was a pound a week rise, and the duties just

  about the same as at Coxon’s.

  And now I come to the queer part of the business. I

  was in diggings out Hampstead way, 17 Potter’s

  Terrace. Well, I was sitting doing a smoke that very

  evening after I had been promised the appointment,

  when up came my landlady with a card which had “Arthur

  Pinner, Financial Agent,” printed upon it. I had

  never heard the name before and could not imagine what

  he wanted with me; but, of course, I asked her to show

  him up. In he walked, a middle-sized, dark- haired,

  dark-eyed, black-bearded man, with a touch of the

  Sheeny about his nose. He had a brisk kind of way

  with him and spoke sharply, like a man who knew the

  value of time.

  “Mr. Hall Pycroft, I believe?” said he.

  “Yes, sir,” I answered, pushing a chair towards him.

  “Lately engaged at Coxon & Woodhouse’s?”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “And now on the staff of Mawson’s.”

  “Quite so.”

  “Well,” said he, “the fact is that I have heard some

  really extraordinary stories about your financial

ability. You remember Parker, who used to be Coxon’s

  manager? He can never say enough about it.”

  Of course I was pleased to hear this. I had always

  been pretty sharp in the office, but I had never

  dreamed that I was talked about in the City in this

  fashion.

  “You have a good memory?” said he.

  “Pretty fair,” I answered, modestly.

  “Have you kept in touch with the market while you have

  been out of work?” he asked.

  “Yes. I read the stock exchange list every morning.”

  “Now that shows real application!” he cried. “That is

  the way to prosper! You won’t mind my testing you,

  will you? Let me see. How are Ayrshires?”

  “A hundred and six and a quarter to a hundred and five

  and seven-eighths.”

  “And New Zealand consolidated?”

  “A hundred and four.”

  “And British Broken Hills?”

  “Seven to seven-and-six.”

  “Wonderful!” he cried, with his hands up. “This quite

  fits in with all that I had heard. My boy, my boy,

  you are very much too good to be a clerk at Mawson’s!”

  This outburst rather astonished me, as you can think. 

  “Well,” said I, “other people don’t think quite so

  much of me as you seem to do, Mr. Pinner. I had a

  hard enough fight to get this berth, and I am very

  glad to have it.”

  “Pooh, man; you should soar above it. You are not in

  your true sphere. Now, I’ll tell you how it stands

  with me. What I have to offer is little enough when

  measured by your ability, but when compared with

  Mawson’s, it’s light to dark. Let me see. When do

  you go to Mawson’s?”

  “On Monday.”

  “Ha, ha! I think I would risk a little sporting

  flutter that you don’t go there at all.”

  “Not go to Mawson’s?”

  “No, sir. By that day you will be the business

  manager of the Franco-Midland Hardware Company,

  Limited, with a hundred and thirty-four branches in

  the towns and villages of France, not counting one in

  Brussels and one in San Remo.”

  This took my breath away. “I never heard of it,” said

  I.

  “Very likely not. It has been kept very quiet, for

  the capital was all privately subscribed, and it’s too

  good a thing to let the public into. My brother,

  Harry Pinner, is promoter, and joins the board after

  allotment as managing director. He knew I was in the

  swim down here, and asked me to pick up a good man

  cheap. A young, pushing man with plenty of snap about

  him. Parker spoke of you, and that brought me here

  tonight. We can only offer you a beggarly five

  hundred to start with.”

  “Five hundred a year!” I shouted.

  “Only that at the beginning; but you are to have an

  overriding commission of one per cent on all business

  done by your agents, and you may take my word for it

  that this will come to more than your salary.”

  “But I know nothing about hardware.”

  “Tut, my boy; you know about figures.”

  My head buzzed, and I could hardly sit still in my

  chair. But suddenly a little chill of doubt came upon

  me.

  “I must be frank with you,” said I. “Mawson only

  gives me two hundred, but Mawson is safe. Now,

  really, I know so little about your company that–“

  “Ah, smart, smart!” he cried, in a kind of ecstasy of

  delight. “You are the very man for us. You are not

  to be talked over, and quite right, too. Now, here’s

  a note for a hundred pounds, and if you think that we

  can do business you may just slip it into your pocket

  as an advance upon your salary.”

  “That is very handsome,” said I. “When should I take

  over my new duties?”

  “Be in Birmingham to-morrow at one,” said he. “I have

  a note in my pocket here which you will take to my

  brother. You will find him at 126b Corporation

  Street, where the temporary offices of the company are

  situated. Of course he must confirm your engagement,

  but between ourselves it will be all right.”

  “Really, I hardly know how to express my gratitude,

  Mr. Pinner,” said I.

  “Not at all, my boy. You have only got your desserts. 

  There are one or two small things–mere

  formalities–which I must arrange with you. You have

  a bit of paper beside you there. Kindly write upon it

  ‘I am perfectly willing to act as business manager to

  the Franco-Midland Hardware Company, Limited, at a

  minimum salary of L500.”

  I did as he asked, and he put the paper in his pocket.

  “There is one other detail,” said he. “What do you

  intend to do about Mawson’s?”

  I had forgotten all about Mawson’s in my joy. “I’ll

  write and resign,” said I.

  “Precisely what I don’t want you to do. I had a row

  over you with Mawson’s manager. I had gone up to ask

  him about you, and he was very offensive; accused me

  of coaxing you away from the service of the firm, and

  that sort of thing. At last I fairly lost my temper. 

  ‘If you want good men you should pay them a good

  price,’ said I.

  “‘He would rather have our small price than your big

  one,’ said he.

  “‘I’ll lay you a fiver,’ said I, ‘that when he has my

  offer you’ll never so much as hear from him again.’

  “‘Done!’ said he. ‘We picked him out of the gutter,

  and he won’t leave us so easily.’ Those were his very

  words.”

  “The impudent scoundrel!” I cried. “I’ve never so

  much as seen him in my life. Why should I consider

  him in any way? I shall certainly not write if you

  would rather I didn’t.”

  “Good! That’s a promise,” said he, rising from his

  chair. “Well, I’m delighted to have got so good a man

  for my brother. Here’s your advance of a hundred

  pounds, and here is the letter. Make a not of the

  address, 126b Corporation Street, and remember that

  one o’clock to-morrow is your appointment. 

  Good-night; and may you have all the fortune that you

  deserve!”

  That’s just about all that passed between us, as near

  as I can remember. You can imagine, Dr. Watson, how

  pleased I was at such an extraordinary bit of good

  fortune. I sat up half the night hugging myself over

  it, and next day I was off to Birmingham in a train

  that would take me in plenty time for my appointment. 

  I took my things to a hotel in New Street, and then I

  made my way to the address which had been given me.

  It was a quarter of an hour before my time, but I

  thought that would make no difference. 126b was a

  passage between two large shops, which led to a

  winding stone stair, from which there were many flats,

  let as offices to companies or professional men. The

  names of the occupants were painted at the bottom on

  the wall, but there was no such name as the

  Franco-Midland Hardware Company, Limited. I stood for

  a few minutes with my heart in my boots, wondering

  whether the whole thing was an e 

laborate hoax or not,

  when up came a man and addressed me. He was very like

  the chap I had seen the night before, the same figure

  and voice, but he was clean shaven and his hair was

  lighter.

  “Are you Mr. Hall Pycroft?” he asked.

  “Yes,” said I.

  “Oh! I was expecting you, but you are a trifle before

  your time. I had a note from my brother this morning

  in which he sang your praises very loudly.”

  “I was just looking for the offices when you came.”

  “We have not got our name up yet, for we only secured

  these temporary premises last week. Come up with me,

  and we will talk the matter over.”

  I followed him to the top of a very lofty stair, and

  there, right under the slates, were a couple of empty,

  dusty little rooms, uncarpeted and uncurtained, into

  which he led me. I had thought of a great office with

  shining tables and rows of clerks, such as I was used

  to, and I dare say I stared rather straight at the two

  deal chairs and one little table, which, with a ledger

  and a waste paper basket, made up the whole furniture.

  “Don’t be disheartened, Mr. Pycroft,” said my new

  acquaintance, seeing the length of my face. “Rome was

  not built in a day, and we have lots of money at our

  backs, though we don’t cut much dash yet in offices. 

  Pray sit down, and let me have your letter.”

  I gave it to him, and her read it over very carefully.

  “You seem to have made a vast impression upon my

  brother Arthur,” said he; “and I know that he is a

  pretty shrewd judge. Hew swears by London, you know;

  and I by Birmingham; but this time I shall follow his

  advice. Pray consider yourself definitely engaged.”

  “What are my duties?” I asked.

  “You will eventually manage the great depot in Paris,

  which will pour a flood of English crockery into the

  shops of a hundred and thirty-four agents in France. 

  The purchase will be completed in a week, and

  meanwhile you will remain in Birmingham and make

  yourself useful.”

  “How?”

  For answer, he took a big red book out of a drawer.

  “This is a directory of Paris,” said he, “with the

  trades after the names of the people. I want you to

  take it home with you, and to mark off al the hardware

  sellers, with their addresses. It would be of the

  greatest use to me to have them.”

  “Surely there are classified lists?” I suggested.

  “Not reliable ones. Their system is different from

  ours. Stick at it, and let me have the lists by

  Monday, at twelve. Good-day, Mr. Pycroft. If you

  continue to show zeal and intelligence you will find

  the company a good master.”

  I went back to the hotel with the big book under my

  arm, and with very conflicting feelings in my breast. 

  On the one hand, I was definitely engaged and had a

  hundred pounds in my pocket; on the other, the look of

  the offices, the absence of name on the wall, and

  other of the points which would strike a business man

  had left a bad impression as to the position of my

  employers. However, come what might, I had my money,

  so I settled down to my task. All Sunday I was kept

  hard at work, and yet by Monday I had only got as far

  as H. I went round to my employer, found him in the

  same dismantled kind of room, and was told to keep at

  it until Wednesday, and then come again. On Wednesday

  it was still unfinished, so I hammered away until

  Friday–that is, yesterday. Then I brought it round

  to Mr. Harry Pinner.

  “Thank you very much,” said he; “I fear that I

  underrated the difficulty of the task. This list will

  be of very material assistance to me.”

  “It took some time,” said I.

  “And now,” said he, “I want you to make a list of the

  furniture shops, for they all sell crockery.”

  “Very good.”

  “And you can come up to-morrow evening, at seven, and

  let me know how you are getting on. Don’t overwork

  yourself. A couple of hours at Day’s Music Hall in

  the evening would do you no harm after your labors.” 

  He laughed as he spoke, and I saw with a thrill that

  his second tooth upon the left-hand side had been very

  badly stuffed with gold.

  Sherlock Holmes rubbed his hands with delight, and I

  stared with astonishment at our client.

  “You may well look surprised, Dr. Watson; but it is

  this way,” said he: “When I was speaking to the other

  chap in London, at the time that he laughed at my not

  going to Mawson’s, I happened to notice that his tooth

  was stuffed in this very identical fashion. The glint

  of the gold in each case caught my eye, you see. When

  I put that with the voice and figure being the same,

  and only those things altered which might be changed

  by a razor or a wig, I could not doubt that it was the

  same man. Of course you expect two brothers to be

  alike, but not that they should have the same tooth

  stuffed in the same way. He bowed me out, and I found

  myself in the street, hardly knowing whether I was on

  my head or my heels. Back I went to my hotel, put my

  head in a basin of cold water, and tried to think it

  out. Why had he sent me from London to Birmingham? 

  Why had he got there before me? And why had he

  written a letter from himself to himself? It was

  altogether too much for me, and I could make no sense

  of it. And then suddenly it struck me that what was

  dark to me might be very light to Mr. Sherlock Holmes. 

  I had just time to get up to town by the night train

  to see him this morning, and to bring you both back

  with me to Birmingham.”

  There was a pause after the stock-broker’s clerk had

  concluded his surprising experience. Then Sherlock

  Holmes cocked his eye at me, leaning back on the

  cushions with a pleased and yet critical face, like a

  connoisseur who has just taken his first sip of a

  comet vintage.

  “Rather fine, Watson, is it not?” said he. “There are

  points in it which please me. I think that you will

  agree with me that an interview with Mr. Arthur Harry

  Pinner in the temporary offices of the Franco-Midland

  Hardware Company, Limited, would be a rather

  interesting experience for both of us.”

  “But how can we do it?” I asked.

  “Oh, easily enough,” said Hall Pycroft, cheerily. 

  “You are two friends of mine who are in want of a

  billet, and what could be more natural than that I

  should bring you both round to the managing director?”

  “Quite so, of course,” said Holmes. “I should like to

  have a look at the gentleman, and see if I can make

  anything of his little game. What qualities have you,

  my friend, which would make your services so valuable?

  or is it possible that–” He began biting his nails

  and staring blankly out of the window, and we hardly

  drew another word from him until we were in New

  Street.

At seven o’clock that evening we were walking, the

  three of us, down Corporation Street to the company’s

  offices.

  “It is no use our being at all before our time,” said

  our client. “He only comes there to see me,

  apparently, for the place is deserted up to the very

  hour he names.”

  “That is suggestive,” remarked Holmes.

  “By Jove, I told you so!” cried the clerk. “That’s he

  walking ahead of us there.”

  He pointed to a smallish, dark, well-dressed man who

  was bustling along the other side of the road. As we

  watched him he looked across at a boy who was bawling

  out the latest edition of the evening paper, and

  running over among the cabs and busses, he bought one

  from him. Then, clutching it in his hand, he vanished

  through a door-way.

  “There he goes!” cried Hall Pycroft. “These are the

  company’s offices into which he has gone. Come with

  me, and I’ll fix it up as easily as possible.”

  Following his lead, we ascended five stories, until we

  found ourselves outside a half-opened door, at which

  our client tapped. A voice within bade us enter, and

  we entered a bare, unfurnished room such as Hall

  Pycroft had described. At the single table sat the

  man whom we had seen in the street, with his evening

  paper spread out in front of him, and as he looked up

  at us it seemed to me that I had never looked upon a

  face which bore such marks of grief, and of something

  beyond grief–of a horror such as comes to few men in

  a lifetime. His brow glistened wit perspiration, his

  cheeks were of the dull, dead white of a fish’s belly,

  and his eyes were wild and staring. He looked at his

  clerk as though he failed to recognize him, and I

  could see by the astonishment depicted upon our

  conductor’s face that this was by no means the usual

  appearance of his employer.

  “You look ill, Mr. Pinner!” he exclaimed.

  “Yes, I am not very well,” answered the other, making

  obvious efforts to pull himself together, and licking

  his dry lips before he spoke. “Who are these

  gentlemen whom you have brought with you?”

  “One is Mr. Harris, of Bermondsey, and the other is

  Mr. Price, of this town,” said our clerk, glibly. 

  “They are friends of mine and gentlemen of experience,

  but they have been out of a place for some little

  time, and they hoped that perhaps you might find an

  opening for them in the company’s employment.”

  “Very possibly! Very possibly!” cried Mr. Pinner with

  a ghastly smile. “Yes, I have no doubt that we shall

  be able to do something for you. What is your

  particular line, Mr. Harris?”

  “I am an accountant,” said Holmes.

  “Ah yes, we shall want something of the sort. And

  you, Mr. Price?”

  “A clerk,” said I.

  “I have every hope that the company may accommodate

  you. I will let you know about it as soon as we come

  to any conclusion. And now I beg that you will go. 

  For God’s sake leave me to myself!”

  These last words were shot out of him, as though the

  constraint which he was evidently setting upon himself

  had suddenly and utterly burst asunder. Holmes and I

  glanced at each other, and Hall Pycroft took a step

  towards the table.

  “You forget, Mr. Pinner, that I am here by appointment

  to receive some directions from you,” said he.

  “Certainly, Mr. Pycroft, certainly,” the other resumed

  in a calmer tone. “You may wait here a moment; and

  there is no reason why your friends should not wait

  with you. I will be entirely at your service in three

  minutes, if I might trespass upon your patience so

  far.” He rose with a very courteous air, and, bowing

  to us, he passed out through a door at the farther end

  of the room, which he closed behind him.

  “What now?” whispered Holmes. “Is he giving us the

  slip?”

  “Impossible,” answered Pycroft.

  “Why so?”

  “That door leads into an inner room.”

  “There is no exit?”

  “None.”

  “Is it furnished?”

  “It was empty yesterday.”

  “Then what on earth can he be doing? There is

  something which I don’t understand in his manner. If

ever a man was three parts mad with terror, that man’s

  name is Pinner. What can have put the shivers on

  him?”

  “He suspects that we are detectives,” I suggested.

  “That’s it,” cried Pycroft.

  Holmes shook his head. “He did not turn pale. He was

  pale when we entered the room,” said he. “It is just

  possible that–“

  His words were interrupted by a sharp rat-tat from the

  direction of the inner door.

  “What the deuce is he knocking at his own door for?”

  cried the clerk.

  Again and much louder cam the rat-tat-tat. We all

  gazed expectantly at the closed door. Glancing at

  Holmes, I saw his face turn rigid, and he leaned

  forward in intense excitement. Then suddenly came a

  low guggling, gargling sound, and a brisk drumming

  upon woodwork. Holmes sprang frantically across the

  room and pushed at the door. It was fastened on the

  inner side. Following his example, we threw ourselves

  upon it with all our weight. One hinge snapped, then

  the other, and down came the door with a crash. 

  Rushing over it, we found ourselves in the inner room. 

  It was empty.

  But it was only for a moment that we were at fault. 

  At one corner, the corner nearest the room which we

  had left, there was a second door. Holmes sprang to

  it and pulled it open. A coat and waistcoat were

  lying on the floor, and from a hook behind the door,

  with his own braces round his neck, was hanging the

  managing director of the Franco-Midland Hardware

  Company. His knees were drawn up, his head hung at a

  dreadful angle to his body, and the clatter of his

  heels against the door made the noise which had broken

  in upon our conversation. In an instant I had caught

  him round the waist, and held him up while Holmes and

  Pycroft untied the elastic bands which had disappeared

  between the livid creases of skin. Then we carried

  him into the other room, where he lay with a

  clay-colored face, puffing his purple lips in and out

  with every breath–a dreadful wreck of all that he had

  been but five minutes before.

  “What do you think of him, Watson?” asked Holmes.

  I stooped over him and examined him. His pule was

  feeble and intermittent, but his breathing grew

  longer, and there was a little shivering of his

  eyelids, which showed a thin white slit of ball

  beneath.

  “It has been touch and go with him,” said I, “but

  he’ll live now. Just open that window, and hand me

  the water carafe.” I undid his collar, poured the

  cold water over his face, and raised and sank his arms

  until he drew a long, natural breath. “It’s only a

  question of time now,” said I, as I turned away from

  him.

  Holmes stood by the table, with his hands deep in his

  trouser’s pockets and his chin upon his breast.

  “I suppose we ought to call the police in now,” said

  he. “And yet I confess that I’d like to give them a

  complete case when they come.”

  “It’s a blessed mystery to me,” cried Pycroft,

  scratching his head. “Whatever they wanted to bring

  me all the way up here for, and then–“

  “Pooh! All that is clear enough,” said Holmes

  impatiently. “It is this last sudden move.”

  “You understand the rest, then?”

  “I think that it is fairly obvious. What do you say,

  Watson?”

  I shrugged my shoulders. “I must confess that I am

  out of my depths,” said I.

  “Oh surely if you consider the events at first they

  can only point to one conclusion.”

  “What do you make of them?”

  “Well, the whole thing hinges upon two points. The

  first is the making of Pycroft write a declaration by

  which he entered the service of this preposterous

  company. Do you not see how very suggestive that is?”

  “I am afraid I miss the point.”

  “Well, why did they want him to do it? Not as a

  business matter, for these arrangements are usually

  verbal, and there was no earthly business reason why

  this should be an exception. Don’t you see, my young

  friend, that they were very anxious to obtain a

  specimen of your handwriting, and had no other way of

  doing it?”

  “And why?”

  “Quite so. Why? When we answer that we have made

  some progress with our little problem. Why? There

  can be only one adequate reason. Some one wanted to

  learn to imitate your writing, and had to procure a

  specimen of it first. And now if we pass on to the

  second point we find that each throws light upon the

  other. That point is the request made by Pinner that

  you should not resign your place, but should leave the

  manager of this important business in the full

  expectation that a Mr. Hall Pycroft, whom he had never

  seen, was about to enter the office upon the Monday

  morning.”

  “My God!” cried our client, “what a blind beetle I

  have been!”

  “Now you see the point about the handwriting. Suppose

  that some one turned up in your place who wrote a

  completely different hand from that in which you had

  applied for the vacancy, of course the game would have

  been up. But in the interval the rogue had learned to

  imitate you, and his position was therefore secure, as

  I presume that nobody in the office had ever set eyes

  upon you.”

  “Not a soul,” groaned Hall Pycroft.

  “Very good. Of course it was of the utmost importance

  to prevent you from thinking better of it, and also to

  keep you from coming into contact with any one who

  might tell you that your double was at work in

  Mawson’s office. Therefore they gave you a handsome

  advance on your salary, and ran you off to the

  Midlands, where they gave you enough work to do to

  prevent your going to London, where you might have

  burst their little game up. That is all plain

  enough.”

  “But why should this man pretend to be his won

  brother?”

  “Well, that is pretty clear also. There are evidently

  only two of them in it. The other is personating you

  at the office. This one acted as your engager, and

  then found that he could not find you an employer

  without admitting a third person into his plot. That

  he was most unwilling to do. He changed his

  appearance as far as he could, and trusted that the

  likeness, which you could not fail to observe, would

  be put down to a family resemblance. But for the

  happy chance of the gold stuffing, your suspicions

  would probably never have been aroused.”

  Hall Pycroft shook his clinched hands in the air. 

  “Good Lord!” he cried, “while I have been fooled in

  this way, what has this other Hall Pycroft been doing

  at Mawson’s? What should we do, Mr. Holmes? Tell me

  what to do.”

  “We must wire to Mawson’s.”

  “They shut at twelve on Saturdays.”

  “Never mind. There may be some door-keeper or

  attendant–“

  “Ah yes, they keep a permanent guard there on account

  of the value of the securities that they hold. I

  remember hearing it talked of in the City.”

  “Very good; we shall wire to him, and see if all is

  well, and if a clerk of your name is working there. 

  That is clear enough; but what is not so clear is why

  at sight of us one of the rogues should instantly walk

  out of the room and hang himself.”

  “The paper!” croaked a voice behind us. The man was

  sitting up, blanched and ghastly, with returning

  reason in his eyes, and hands which rubbed nervously

  at the broad red band which still encircled his

  throat.

  “The paper! Of course!” yelled Holmes, in a paroxysm

  of excitement. “Idiot that I was! I thought so must

  of our visit that the paper never entered my head for

  an instant. To be sure, the secret must be there.” 

  He flattened it out upon the table, and a cry of

  triumph burst from his lips. “Look at this, Watson,”

  he cried. “It is a London paper, an early edition of

  the Evening Standard. Here is what we want. Look at

  the headlines: ‘Crime in the City. Murder at Mawson &

  Williams’s. Gigantic attempted Robbery. Capture of

  the Criminal.’ Here, Watson, we are all equally

  anxious to hear it, so kindly read it aloud to us.”

  It appeared from its position in the paper to have

  been the one event of importance in town, and the

  account of it ran in this way:

  “A desperate attempt at robbery, culminating in the

  death of one man and the capture of the criminal,

  occurred this afternoon in the City. For some time

  back Mawson & Williams, the famous financial house,

  have been the guardians of securities which amount in

  the aggregate to a sum of considerably over a million

  sterling. So conscious was the manager of the

  responsibility which devolved upon him in consequence

  of the great interests at stake that safes of the very

  latest construction have been employed, and an armed

  watchman has been left day and night in the building. 

  It appears that last week a new clerk named Hall

  Pycroft was engaged by the firm. This person appears

  to have been none other that Beddington, the famous

  forger and cracksman, who, with his brother, had only

  recently emerged from a five years’ spell of penal

  servitude. By some mean, which are not yet clear, he

  succeeded in wining, under a false name, this official

  position in the office, which he utilized in order to

  obtain moulding of various locks, and a thorough

  knowledge of the position of the strong room and the

  safes.

  “It is customary at Mawson’s for the clerks to leave

  at midday on Saturday. Sergeant Tuson, of the City

  Police, was somewhat surprised, therefore to see a

  gentleman with a carpet bag come down the steps at

  twenty minutes past one. His suspicions being

  aroused, the sergeant followed the man, and with the

  aid of Constable Pollack succeeded, after a most

  desperate resistance, in arresting him. It was at

  once clear that a daring and gigantic robbery had been

  committed. Nearly a hundred thousand pounds’ worth of

  American railway bonds, with a large amount of scrip

  in mines and other companies, was discovered in the

  bag. On examining the premises the body of the

  unfortunate watchman was found doubled up and thrust

  into the largest of the safes, where it would not have

  been discovered until Monday morning had it not been

  for the prompt action of Sergeant Tuson. The man’s

  skull had been shattered by a blow from a poker

  delivered from behind. There could be no doubt that

  Beddington had obtained entrance by pretending that he

  had left something behind him, and having murdered the

  watchman, rapidly rifled the large safe, and then made

  off with his booty. His brother, who usually works

  with him, has not appeared in this job as far as can

  at present be ascertained, although the police are

  making energetic inquiries as to his whereabouts.”

  “Well, we may save the police some little trouble in

  that direction,” said Holmes, glancing at the haggard

  figure huddled up by the window. “Human nature is a

  strange mixture, Watson. You see that even a villain

  and murderer can inspire such affection that his

  brother turns to suicide when he learns that his neck

  is forfeited. However, we have no choice as to our

  action. The doctor and I will remain on guard, Mr.

  Pycroft, if you will have the kindness to step out for

  the police.”

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