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Adventure VII. 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?”

  “With pleasure.”

  “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 your,

  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 to-morrow?”

  “I have no doubt Jackson would take my practice.”

  “Very good. I want to start by the 11.10 from

  Waterloo.”

  “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

  done.”

  “I was sleepy before you came. I am quite wakeful

  now.”

  “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

  am investigating.”

  “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

  musket.

  “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

  to follow.

  “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

  and conjecture.

  “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 wa 

s 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

  blood.

  “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

  Aldershot.

  “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

  appear.

  “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 tan 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

  James.

  “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

  returned.

  “Having gathered these facts, Watson, I smoke 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

  individual. You know my methods, Watson. There was

  not one of them which I did not apply to the inquiry. 

  And 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

  companion.”

  “His companion!”

  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

  dessert-spoon.

  “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

  carnivorous.”

  “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

  have seen.”

  “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.”

  “You 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

  to-morrow.”

  “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

  before. 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

  Monday evening.

  “‘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 is 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

  happened.

  “‘”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 to-morrow, 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 tow-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?”

  “No.”

  “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

  me.

  “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

  country.

  “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

  night.

  “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

  the Afghans. There I wandered about for many ayear,

  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.”

  “And then?”

  “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 any way 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?”

  “What then?”

  “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

  of reproach.”

  “Of reproach?”

  “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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