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THE CROOKED MAN - Arthur Connan Doyle

                                                                            
                                      1893                                  
                                                                            
                                SHERLOCK HOLMES                             
                                                                            
                                THE CROOKED MAN                             
                                                                            
                           by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle                        
                                                                            
                                                                            
                    The Crooked Man.                                        
-                                                                           
  One summer night a few months after my marriage, I was seated by          
my own hearth smoking a last pipe and nodding over a novel, for my          
day's work had been an exhausting one. My wife had already gone             
upstairs, and the sound of the locking of the hall door some time           
before told me that the servants had also retired. I had risen from my      
seat and was knocking out the ashes of my pipe when I suddenly heard        
the clang of the bell.                                                      
  I looked at the clock. It was a quarter to twelve. This could not be      
a visitor at so late an hour. A patient evidently, and possibly an          
all-night sitting. With a wry face I went out into the hall and opened      
the door. To my astonishment it was Sherlock Holmes who stood upon          
my step.                                                                    
  "Ah, Watson," said he, "I hoped that I might not be too late to           
catch you."                                                                 
  "My dear fellow, pray come in."                                           
  "You look surprised, and no wonder! Relieved, too, I fancy! Hum! You      
still smoke the Arcadia mixture of your bachelor days, then! There's        
no mistaking that fluffy ash upon your coat. It's easy to tell that         
you have been accustomed to wear a uniform, Watson. You'll never            
pass as a pure-bred civilian as long as you keep that habit of              
carrying your handkerchief in your sleeve. Could you put me up              
to-night?"                                                                  
  "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                
neighbour, because the latter has missed the one little point which is      
the basis of the deduction. The same may be said, my dear fellow,           
for the effect of some of these little sketches of yours, which is          
entirely meretricious, depending as it does upon your retaining in          
your own hands some factors in the problem which are never imparted to      
the reader. Now, at present I am in the position of these same              
readers, for I hold in this hand several threads of one of the              
strangest cases which ever perplexed a man's brain, and yet I lack the      
one or two which are needful to complete my theory. But I'll have           
them, Watson, I'll have them!" His eyes kindled and a slight flush          
sprang into his thin cheeks. For an instant the veil had lifted upon        
his keen, intense nature, but 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 colour 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 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 soldier 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 has often been struck from his mouth, as if by some               
invisible hand, when he has been joining in the gaieties 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 One          
Hundred and Seventeenth) 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 highroad. A      
coachman and two maids form the staff of servants. These with their         
master and mistress were the sole occupants of Lachine, for the             
Barclays had no children, nor was it usual for them to have resident        
visitors.                                                                   
  "Now for the events at Lachine between nine and ten on the evening        
of last Monday.                                                             
  "Mrs. Barclay was, it appears, a member of the Roman Catholic Church      
and had interested herself very much in the establishment of the Guild      
of St. George, which was formed in connection with the Watt Street          
Chapel for the purpose of supplying the poor with cast-off clothing. A      
meeting of the Guild had been held that evening at eight, and Mrs.          
Barclay had hurried over her dinner in order to be present at it. When      
leaving the house she was heard by the coachman to make some                
commonplace remark to her husband, and to assure him that she would be      
back before very long. She then called for Miss Morrison, a young lady      
who lives in the next villa and the two went off together to their          
meeting. It lasted forty minutes, and at a quarter-past nine Mrs.           
Barclay returned home, having left Miss Morrison at her door as she         
passed.                                                                     
  "There is a room which is used as a morning-room at Lachine. This         
faces the road and opens by a large glass folding-door on to the lawn.      
The lawn is thirty yards across and is only divided from the highway        
by a low wall with an iron rail above it. It was into this room that        
Mrs. Barclay went upon her return. The blinds were not down, for the        
room was seldom used in the evening, but Mrs. Barclay herself lit           
the lamp and then rang the bell, asking Jane Stewart, the housemaid,        
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 summertime, 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 armchair, 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 this          
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 hardly hear             
anything, and judged by their tones rather than their words that            
they had fallen out. On my pressing her, however, she remembered            
that she heard the word David uttered twice by the lady. The point          
is of the utmost importance as guiding us towards the reason of the         
sudden quarrel. The colonel's name, you remember, was 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-humour in which her companion had      
returned.                                                                   
  "Having gathered these facts, Watson, I smoked several pipes over         
them, trying to separate those which were crucial from others which         
were merely incidental. There could be no question that the most            
distinctive and suggestive point in the case was the singular               
disappearance of the door-key. A most careful search had failed to          
discover it in the room. Therefore it must have been taken from it.         
But neither the colonel nor the colonel's wife could have taken it.         
That was perfectly clear. Therefore a third person must have entered        
the room. And that third person could only have come in through the         
window. It seemed to me that a careful examination of the room and the      
lawn might possibly reveal some traces of this mysterious                   
individual. You know my methods, Watson. There was not one of them          
which I did not apply to the inquiry. And it ended by my discovering        
traces, but very different ones from those which I had expected. There      
had been a man in the room, and he had crossed the lawn coming from         
the road. I was able to obtain five very clear impressions of his           
footmarks: 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 the tracings of the footmarks of some          
small animal. It had five well-marked footpads, 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."                                        
  "Your discoveries seem to have left the business more obscure than        
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 overheard.         
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 his back very bent, and something like a box         
slung over one of his shoulders. He appeared to be deformed, for he         
carried his head low and walked with his knees bent. We were passing        
him when he raised his face to look at us in the circle of light            
thrown by the lamp, and as he did so he stopped and screamed out in         
a dreadful voice, "My God, it's Nancy!" Mrs. Barclay turned as white        
as death and would have fallen down had the dreadful-looking                
creature not caught hold of her. I was going to call for the police,        
but she, to my surprise, spoke quite civilly to the fellow.                 
  "'"I thought you had been dead this thirty years, Henry," said she        
in a shaking voice.                                                         
  "'"So I have," said he, and it was awful to hear the tones that he        
said it in. He had a very dark, fearsome face, and a gleam in his eyes      
that comes back to me in my dreams. His hair and whiskers were shot         
with gray, and his face was all crinkled and Puckered like a                
withered apple.                                                             
  "'"Just walk on a little way, dear," said Mrs. Barclay, "I want to        
have a word with this man. There is nothing to be afraid of." She           
tried to speak boldly, but she was still deadly pale and could              
hardly get her words out for the trembling of her lips.                     
  "'I did as she asked me, and they talked together for a few minutes.      
Then she came down the street with her eyes blazing, and I saw the          
crippled wretch standing by the lamp-post and shaking his clenched          
fists in the air as if he were mad 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 two-storied brick houses. "Ah, here is Simpson to          
report."                                                                    
  "He's in all right, Mr. Holmes," cried a small street Arab,               
running up to us.                                                           
  "Good, Simpson!" said Holmes, patting him on the head. "Come              
along, Watson. This is the house." He sent in his card with a               
message that he had come on important business, and a moment later          
we were face to face with the man whom we had come to see. In spite of      
the warm weather he was crouching over a fire, and the little room was      
like an oven. The man sat all twisted and huddled in his chair in a         
way which gave an indescribable 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 my ribs all awry, but there was a time when Corporal Henry Wood         
was the smartest man in the One Hundred and Seventeenth 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 colour-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 water course, 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 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 Nepal 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 a year,           
and at last came back to the Punjab, 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 to me      
better to leave it alone and get away, for the thing might look             
black against me, and anyway my secret would be out if I were taken.        
In my haste I thrust the key into my pocket, and dropped my stick           
while I was chasing Teddy, who had run up the curtain. When I got           
him into his box, from which he had slipped, I was off as fast as I         
could run."                                                                 
  "Who's Teddy?" asked Holmes.                                              
  The man leaned over and pulled up the front of a kind of hutch in         
the corner. In an instant out there slipped a beautiful                     
reddish-brown creature, thin and lithe, with the legs of a stoat, a         
long, thin nose, and a pair of the finest red eyes that ever I saw          
in an animal's head.                                                        
  "It's a mongoose," I cried.                                               
  "Well, some call them that and some call them ichneumon," said the        
man. "Snake-catcher is what I call them, and Teddy is amazing quick on      
cobras. I have one here without the fangs, and Teddy catches it             
every night to please the folk in the canteen."                             
  "Any other point, sir?"                                                   
  "Well, we may have to apply to you again if Mrs. Barclay should           
prove to be in serious trouble."                                            
  "In that case, of course, I'd come forward."                              
  "But if not, there is no object in raking up this scandal against         
a dead man, foully as he has acted. You have at least the satisfaction      
of knowing that for thirty years of his life his conscience bitterly        
reproached him for his wicked deed. Ah, there goes Major Murphy on the      
other side of the street. Good-bye, 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."                                                          
                                                                            
                                    THE END   
    

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