The Adventure of the Three Students is one of the short stories about Sherlock Holmes written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, first published in 1905. It is now in the public domain. It has been transferred to electronic text by optical character recognition, and this copy has been reformatted for E2 and cleaned of OCR errors by rootbeer277. A paper version can be found in a collection of short stories called The Return of Sherlock Holmes.
The Adventure of the Three Students represents a return to actual detective work for our brilliant detective, as he examines a crime scene, gathers clues, interrogates suspects, and ultimately uncovers the truth. The crime, such as it is, is not so terrible in this story as in some of the others. Rather than robbery, murder, or blackmail, Holmes attempts to uncover who it was that snuck into a tutor's room in order to cheat on a test.
Of course true fans of Sherlock Holmes know that it is not the seriousness of the crime that intrigues him, but rather the novelty of the case. And as we discover at the end, some quite singular events and odd clues come together to form an interesting puzzle, which, fortunately, comes to a just conclusion when the culprit owns up to his mistake.
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The Adventure of the Three Students
It was in the year '95 that a combination of events, into which I
need not enter, caused Mr. Sherlock Holmes and myself to spend
some weeks in one of our great university towns, and it was
during this time that the small but instructive adventure which I
am about to relate befell us. It will be obvious that any details
which would help the reader exactly to identify the college or the
criminal would be injudicious and offensive. So painful a scandal may well be allowed to die out. With due discretion the
incident itself may, however, be described, since it serves to
illustrate some of those qualities for which my friend was remarkable. I will endeavour, in my statement, to avoid such terms
as would serve to limit the events to any particular place, or give
a clue as to the people concerned.
We were residing at the time in furnished lodgings close to a
library where Sherlock Holmes was pursuing some laborious
researches in early English charters — researches which led to
results so striking that they may be the subject of one of my
future narratives. Here it was that one evening we received a
visit from an acquaintance, Mr. Hilton Soames, tutor and lecturer at the College of St. Luke's. Mr. Soames was a tall, spare
man, of a nervous and excitable temperament. I had always
known him to be restless in his manner, but on this particular
occasion he was in such a state of uncontrollable agitation that it
was clear something very unusual had occurred.
"I trust, Mr. Holmes, that you can spare me a few hours of
your valuable time. We have had a very painful incident at St.
Luke's, and really, but for the happy chance of your being in
town, I should have been at a loss what to do."
"I am very busy just now, and I desire no distractions," my
friend answered. "I should much prefer that you called in the aid
of the police."
"No, no, my dear sir; such a course is utterly impossible.
When once the law is evoked it cannot be stayed again, and this
is just one of those cases where, for the credit of the college, it is
most essential to avoid scandal. Your discretion is as well known
as your powers, and you are the one man in the world who can
help me. I beg you, Mr. Holmes, to do what you can."
My friend's temper had not improved since he had been
deprived of the congenial surroundings of Baker Street. Without
his scrapbooks, his chemicals, and his homely untidiness, he was
an uncomfortable man. He shrugged his shoulders in ungracious
acquiescence, while our visitor in hurried words and with much
excitable gesticulation poured forth his story.
"I must explain to you, Mr. Holmes, that to-morrow is the
first day of the examination for the Fortescue Scholarship. I am
one of the examiners. My subject is Greek, and the first of the
papers consists of a large passage of Greek translation which the
candidate has not seen. This passage is printed on the examination paper, and it would naturally be an immense advantage if
the candidate could prepare it in advance. For this reason, great
care is taken to keep the paper secret.
"To-day, about three o'clock, the proofs of this paper arrived
from the printers. The exercise consists of half a chapter of
Thucydides. I had to read it over carefully, as the text must be
absolutely correct. At four-thirty my task was not yet completed.
I had, however, promised to take tea in a friend's rooms, so I
left the proof upon my desk. I was absent rather more than an
"You are aware, Mr. Holmes, that our college doors are
double — a green baize one within and a heavy oak one without.
As I approached my outer door, I was amazed to see a key in it.
For an instant I imagined that I had left my own there, but on
feeling in my pocket I found that it was all right. The only
duplicate which existed, so far as I knew, was that which
belonged to my servant, Bannister — a man who has looked after
my room for ten years, and whose honesty is absolutely above
suspicion. I found that the key was indeed his, that he had
entered my room to know if I wanted tea, and that he had very
carelessly left the key in the door when he came out. His visit to
my room must have been within a very few minutes of my
leaving it. His forgetfulness about the key would have mattered
little upon any other occasion, but on this one day it has produced the most deplorable consequences.
"The moment I looked at my table, I was aware that someone
had rummaged among my papers. The proof was in three long
slips. I had left them all together. Now, I found that one of them
was lying on the floor, one was on the side table near the
window, and the third was where I had left it."
Holmes stirred for the first time.
"The first page on the floor, the second in the window, the
third where you left it," said he.
"Exactly, Mr. Holmes. You amaze me. How could you possibly know that?"
"Pray continue your very interesting statement."
"For an instant I imagined that Bannister had taken the unpardonable liberty of examining my papers. He denied it, however,
with the utmost earnestness, and I am convinced that he was
speaking the truth. The alternative was that someone passing had
observed the key in the door, had known that I was out, and had
entered to look at the papers. A large sum of money is at stake,
for the scholarship is a very valuable one, and an unscrupulous
man might very well run a risk in order to gain an advantage
over his fellows.
"Bannister was very much upset by the incident. He had
nearly fainted when we found that the papers had undoubtedly
been tampered with. I gave him a little brandy and left him
collapsed in a chair, while I made a most careful examination of
the room. I soon saw that the intruder had left other traces of his
presence besides the rumpled papers. On the table in the window
were several shreds from a pencil which had been sharpened. A
broken tip of lead was lying there also. Evidently the rascal had
copied the paper in a great hurry, had broken his pencil, and had
been compelled to put a fresh point to it."
"Excellent!" said Holmes, who was recovering his good-humour as his attention became more engrossed by the case.
"Fortune has been your friend."
"This was not all. I have a new writing-table with a fine
surface of red leather. I am prepared to swear, and so is Bannister, that it was smooth and unstained. Now I found a clean cut in
it about three inches long — not a mere scratch, but a positive cut.
Not only this, but on the table I found a small ball of black
dough or clay, with specks of something which looks like sawdust in it. I am convinced that these marks were left by the man
who rifled the papers. There were no footmarks and no other
evidence as to his identity. I was at my wit's end, when suddenly
the happy thought occurred to me that you were in the town, and
I came straight round to put the matter into your hands. Do help
me, Mr. Holmes. You see my dilemma. Either I must find the
man or else the examination must be postponed until fresh papers
are prepared, and since this cannot be done without explanation,
there will ensue a hideous scandal, which will throw a cloud not
only on the college, but on the university. Above all things, I
desire to settle the matter quietly and discreetly."
"I shall be happy to look into it and to give you such advice
as I can," said Holmes, rising and putting on his overcoat.
"The case is not entirely devoid of interest. Had anyone visited
you in your room after the papers came to you?"
"Yes, young Daulat Ras, an Indian student, who lives on the
same stair, came in to ask me some particulars about the examination."
"For which he was entered?"
"And the papers were on your table?"
"To the best of my belief, they were rolled up."
"But might be recognized as proofs?"
"No one else in your room?"
"Did anyone know that these proofs would be there?"
"No one save the printer."
"Did this man Bannister know?"
"No, certainly not. No one knew."
"Where is Bannister now?"
"He was very ill, poor fellow. I left him collapsed in the
chair. I was in such a hurry to come to you."
"You left your door open?"
"I locked up the papers first."
"Then it amounts to this, Mr. Soames: that, unless the Indian
student recognized the roll as being proofs, the man who tampered with them came upon them accidentally without knowing
that they were there."
"So it seems to me."
Holmes gave an enigmatic smile.
"Well," said he. "let us go round. Not one of your cases.
Watson — mental, not physical. All right; come if you want to.
Now, Mr. Soames — at your disposal!"
The sitting-room of our client opened by a long, low, latticed
window on to the ancient lichen-tinted court of the old college.
A Gothic arched door led to a worn stone staircase. On the
ground floor was the tutor's room. Above were three students,
one on each story. It was already twilight when we reached the
scene of our problem. Holmes halted and looked earnestly at the
window. Then he approached it, and, standing on tiptoe with his
neck craned, he looked into the room.
"He must have entered through the door. There is no opening
except the one pane," said our learned guide.
"Dear me!" said Holmes, and he smiled in a singular way as
he glanced at our companion. "Well, if there is nothing to be
learned here, we had best go inside."
The lecturer unlocked the outer door and ushered us into his
room. We stood at the entrance while Holmes made an examination of the carpet.
"I am afraid there are no signs here," said he. "One could
hardly hope for any upon so dry a day. Your servant seems to
have quite recovered. You left him in a chair, you say. Which
"By the window there."
"I see. Near this little table. You can come in now. I have
finished with the carpet. Let us take the little table first. Of
course, what has happened is very clear. The man entered and
took the papers, sheet by sheet, from the central table. He
carried them over to the window table, because from there he
could see if you came across the courtyard, and so could effect
"As a matter of fact, he could not," said Soames, "for I
entered by the side door."
"Ah, that's good! Well, anyhow, that was in his mind. Let
me see the three strips. No finger impressions — no! Well he
carried over this one first, and he copied it. How long wouid it
take him to do that, using every possible contraction? A quarter
of an hour, not less. Then he tossed it down and seized the next.
He was in the midst of that when your return caused him to make
a very hurried retreat — very hurried, since he had not time to
replace the papers which would tell you that he had been there.
You were not aware of any hurrying feet on the stair as you
entered the outer door?"
"No, I can't say I was."
"Well, he wrote so furiously that he broke his pencil, and
had, as you observe, to sharpen it again. This is of interest,
Watson. The pencil was not an ordinary one. It was above the
usual size, with a soft lead, the outer colour was dark blue, the
maker's name was printed in silver lettering, and the piece
remaining is only about an inch and a half long. Look for such a
pencil, Mr. Soames, and you have got your man. When I add
that he possesses a large and very blunt knife, you have an
Mr. Soames was somewhat overwhelmed by this flood of
information. "I can follow the other points," said he, "but
really, in this matter of the length —"
Holmes held out a small chip with the letters NN and a space
of clear wood after them.
"No, I fear that even now —"
"Watson, I have always done you an injustice. There are
others. What could this NN be? It is at the end of a word. You
are aware that Johann Faber is the most common maker's name.
Is it not clear that there is just as much of the pencil left as
usually follows the Johann?" He held the small table sideways to
the electric light. "I was hoping that if the paper on which he
wrote was thin, some trace of it might come through upon this
polished surface. No, I see nothing. I don't think there is anything more to be learned here. Now for the central table. This
small pellet is, I presume, the black, doughy mass you spoke of.
Roughly pyramidal in shape and hollowed out, I perceive. As
you say, there appear to be grains of sawdust in it. Dear me, this
is very interesting. And the cut — a positive tear, I see. It began
with a thin scratch and ended in a jagged hole. I am much
indebted to you for directing my attention to this case, Mr.
Soames. Where does that door lead to?"
"To my bedroom."
"Have you been in it since your adventure?"
"No, I came straight away for you."
"I should like to have a glance round. What a charming,
old-fashioned room! Perhaps you will kindly wait a minute, until
I have examined the floor. No, I see nothing. What about this
curtain? You hang your clothes behind it. If anyone were forced
to conceal himself in this room he must do it there, since the bed
is too low and the wardrobe too shallow. No one there, I
As Holmes drew the curtain I was aware, from some little
rigidity and alertness of his attitude, that he was prepared for an
emergency. As a matter of fact, the drawn curtain disclosed
nothing but three or four suits of clothes hanging from a line of
pegs. Holmes turned away, and stooped suddenly to the floor.
"Halloa! What's this?" said he.
It was a small pyramid of black, putty-like stuff, exactly like
the one upon the table of the study. Holmes held it out on his
open palm in the glare of the electric light.
"Your visitor seems to have left traces in your bedroom as
well as in your sitting-room, Mr. Soames."
"What could he have wanted there?"
"I think it is clear enough. You came back by an unexpected
way, and so he had no warning until you were at the very door.
What could he do? He caught up everything which would betray
him, and he rushed into your bedroom to conceal himself."
"Good gracious, Mr. Holmes, do you mean to tell me that, all
the time I was talking to Bannister in this room, we had the man
prisoner if we had only known it?"
"So I read it."
"Surely there is another alternative, Mr. Holmes. I don't
know whether you observed my bedroom window?"
"Lattice-paned, lead framework, three separate windows, one
swinging on hinge, and large enough to admit a man."
"Exactly. And it looks out on an angle of the courtyard so as
to be partly invisible. The man might have effected his entrance
there, left traces as he passed through the bedroom, and finally,
finding the door open, have escaped that way."
Holmes shook his head impatiently.
"Let us be practical," said he. "I understand you to say that
there are three students who use this stair, and are in the habit of
passing your door?"
"Yes, there are."
"And they are all in for this examination?"
"Have you any reason to suspect any one of them more than
"It is a very delicate question." said he. "One hardly likes to
throw suspicion where there are no proofs."
"Let us hear the suspicions. I will look after the proofs."
"I will tell you, then, in a few words the character of the three
mcn who inhabit these rooms. The lower of the three is Gilchrist,
a fine scholar and athletc, plays in the Rugby team and the
cricket team for the college, and got his Blue for the hurdles and
the long jump. He is a fine, manly fellow. His father was the
notorious Sir Jabez Gilchrist, who ruined himself on the turf. My
scholar has been left very poor, but he is hard-working and
industrious. He will do well.
"The second floor is inhabited by Daulat Ras, the Indian. He
is a quiet, inscrutable fellow; as most of those Indians are. He is
well up in his work, though his Greek is his weak subject. He is
steady and methodical.
"The top floor belongs to Miles McLaren. He is a brilliant
fellow when he chooses to work — one of the brightest intellects
of the university; but he is wayward, dissipated, and unprincipled. He was nearly expelled over a card scandal in his first
year. He has been idling all this term, and he must look forward
with dread to the examination."
"Then it is he whom you suspect?"
"I dare not go so far as that. But, of the three, he is perhaps the
"Exactly. Now, Mr. Soames, let us have a look at your
He was a little, white-faced, clean-shaven, grizzly-haired fellow of fifty. He was still suffering from this sudden disturbance
of the quiet routine of his life. His plump face was twitching
with his nervousness, and his fingers could not keep still.
"We are investigating this unhappy business, Bannister," said
"I understand," said Holmes, "that you left your key in the
"Was it not very extraordinary that you should do this on the
very day when there were these papers inside?"
"It was most unfortunate. sir. But I have occasionally done
the same thing at other times."
"When did you enter the room?"
It was about half-past four. That is Mr. Soames's tea time."
"How long did you stay?"
"When I saw that he was absent. I withdrew at once."
"Did you look at these papers on the table?"
"No, sir certainly not."
"How came you to leave the key in the door?"
"I had the tea-tray in my hand. I thought I would come back
for the key. Then I forgot."
"Has the outer door a spring lock?"
"Then it was open all the time?"
"Anyone in the room could get out?"
"When Mr. Soames returned and called for you, you were
very much disturbed?"
"Yes, sir. Such a thing has never happened during the many
years that I have been here. I nearly fainted, sir."
"So I understand. Where were you when you began to feel
"Where was I, sir? Why, here, near the door."
"That is singular, because you sat down in that chair over
yonder near the corner. Why did you pass these other chairs?"
"I don't know, sir, it didn't matter to me where I sat."
"I really don't think he knew much about it, Mr. Holmes. He
was looking very bad — quite ghastly."
"You stayed here when your master left?"
"Only for a minute or so. Then I locked the door and went to
"Whom do you suspect?"
"Oh, I would not venture to say, sir. I don't believe there is
any gentleman in this university who is capable of profiting by
such an action. No, sir, I'll not believe it."
"Thank you, that will do," said Holmes. "Oh, one more
word. You have not mentioned to any of the three gentlemen
whom you attend that anything is amiss?"
"No, sir — not a word."
"You haven't seen any of them?"
"Very good. Now, Mr. Soames, we will take a walk in the
quadrangle, if you please."
Three yellow squares of light shone above us in the gathering
"Your three birds are all in their nests," said Holmes, looking
up. "Halloa! What's that? One of them seems restless enough."
It was the Indian, whose dark silhouette appeared suddenly
upon his blind. He was pacing swiftly up and down his room.
"I should like to have a peep at each of them," said Holmes.
"Is it possible?"
"No difficulty in the world," Soames answered. "This set of
rooms is quite the oldest in the college, and it is not unusual for
visitors to go over them. Come along, and I will personally
"No names, please!" said Holmes, as we knocked at Gilchrist's
door. A tall, flaxen-haired, slim young fellow opened it, and
made us welcome when he understood our errand. There were
some really curious pieces of mediaeval domestic architecture
within. Holmes was so charmed with one of them that he insisted
on drawing it in his notebook, broke his pencil, had to borrow
one from our host, and finally borrowed a knife to sharpen his
own. The same curious accident happened to him in the rooms of
the Indian — a silent, little, hook-nosed fellow, who eyed us
askance, and was obviously glad when Holmes's architectural
studies had come to an end. I could not see that in either case
Holmes had come upon the clue for which he was searching.
Only at the third did our visit prove abortive. The outer door
would not open to our knock, and-nothing more substantial than
a torrent of bad language came from behind it. "I don't care who
you are. You can go to blazes!" roared the angry voice. "To-morrow's the exam, and I won't be drawn by anyone."
"A rude fellow," said our guide, flushing with anger as we
withdrew down the stair. "Of course, he did not realize that it
was I who was knocking, but none the less his conduct was very
uncourteous, and, indeed, under the circumstances rather
Holmes's response was a curious one.
"Can you tell me his exact height?" he asked.
"Really, Mr. Holmes, I cannot undertake to say. He is taller
than the Indian, not so tall as Gilchrist. I suppose five foot six
would be about it."
"That is very important," said Holmes. "And now, Mr.
Soames, I wish you good-night."
Our guide cried aloud in his astonishment and dismay. "Good
gracious, Mr. Holmes, you are surely not going to leave me in
this abrupt fashion! You don't seem to realize the position.
To-morrow is the examination. I must take some definite action
to-night. I cannot allow the examination to be held if one of the
papers has been tampered with. The situation must be faced."
"You must leave it as it is. I shall drop round early to-morrow
morning and chat the matter over. It is possible that I may be in
a position then to indicate some course of action. Meanwhile,
you change nothing — nothing at all."
"Very good, Mr. Holmes."
"You can be perfectly easy in your mind. We shall certainly
find some way out of your difficulties. I will take the black clay
with me, also the pencil cuttings. Good-bye."
When we were out in the darkness of the quadrangle, we again
looked up at the windows. The Indian still paced his room. The
others were invisible.
"Well, Watson, what do you think of it?" Holmes asked, as
we came out into the main street. "Quite a little parlour game —
sort of three-card trick, is it not? There are your three men. It
must be one of them. You take your choice. Which is yours?"
"The foul-mouthed fellow at the top. He is the one with the
worst record. And yet that Indian was a sly fellow also. Why
should he be pacing his room all the time?"
"There is nothing in that. Many men do it when they are
trying to learn anything by heart."
"He looked at us in a queer way."
"So would you, if a flock of strangers came in on you when
you were preparing for an examination next day, and every
moment was of value. No, I see nothing in that. Pencils, too,
and knives — all was satisfactory. But that fellow does puzzle
"Why, Bannister, the servant. What's his game in the matter?"
"He impressed me as being a perfectly honest man."
"So he did me. That's the puzzling part. Why should a
perfectly honest man — Well, well, here's a large stationer's. We
shall begin our researches here."
There were only four stationers of any consequences in the
town, and at each Holmes produced his pencil chips, and bid
high for a duplicate. All were agreed that one could be ordered,
but that it was not a usual size of pencil, and that it was seldom
kept in stock. My friend did not appear to be depressed by his
failure, but shrugged his shoulders in half-humorous resignation.
"No good, my dear Watson. This, the best and only final
clue, has run to nothing. But, indeed, I have little doubt that we
can build up a sufficient case without it. By Jove! my dear
fellow, it is nearly nine, and the landlady babbled of green peas
at seven-thirty. What with your eternal tobacco, Watson, and
your irregularity at meals, I expect that you will get notice to
quit, and that I shall share your downfall — not, however, before
we have solved the problem of the nervous tutor, the careless
servant, and the three enterprising students."
Holmes made no further allusion to the matter that day, though
he sat lost in thought for a long time after our belated dinner. At
eight in the morning, he came into my room just as I finished my
"Well, Watson," said he, "it is time we went down to St.
Luke's. Can you do without breakfast?"
"Soames will be in a dreadful fidget until we are able to tell
him something positive."
"Have you anything positive to tell him?"
"I think so."
"You have formed a conclusion?"
"Yes, my dear Watson, I have solved the mystery."
"But what fresh evidence could you have got?"
"Aha! It is not for nothing that I have turned myself out of
bed at the untimely hour of six. I have put in two hours' hard
work and covered at least five miles, with something to show for
it. Look at that!"
He held out his hand. On the palm were three little pyramids
of black, doughy clay.
"Why, Holmes, you had only two yesterday."
"And one more this morning. It is a fair argument that
wherever No. 3 came from is also the source of Nos. 1 and 2.
Eh, Watson? Well, come along and put friend Soames out of his
The unfortunate tutor was certainly in a state of pitiable agitation when we found him in his chambers. In a few hours the
examination would commence, and he was still in the dilemma
between making the facts public and allowing the culprit to
compete for the valuable scholarship. He could hardly stand still,
so great was his mental agitation, and he ran towards Holmes
with two eager hands outstretched.
"Thank heaven that you have come! I feared that you had
given it up in despair. What am I to do? Shall the examination
"Yes, let it proceed, by all means."
"But this rascal?"
"He shall not compete."
"You know him?"
"I think so. If this matter is not to become public, we must
give ourselves certain powers and resolve ourselves into a small
private court-martial. You there, if you please, Soames! Watson
you here! I'll take the armchair in the middle. I think that we are
now sufficiently imposing to strike terror into a guilty breast.
Kindly ring the bell!"
Bannister entered, and shrank back in evident surprise and fear
at our judicial appearance.
"You will kindly close the door," said Holmes. "Now
Bannister, will you please tell us the truth about yesterday's
The man turned white to the roots of his hair.
"I have told you everything, sir."
"Nothing to add?"
"Nothing at all, sir."
"Well, then, I must make some suggestions to you. When you
sat down on that chair yesterday, did you do so in order to
conceal some object which would have shown who had been in
Bannister's face was ghastly.
"No, sir, certainly not."
"It is only a suggestion," said Holmes, suavely. "I frankly
admit that I am unable to prove it. But it seems probable enough
since the moment that Mr. Soames's back was turned, you
released the man who was hiding in that bedroom."
Bannister licked his dry lips.
"There was no man, sir."
"Ah, that's a pity, Bannister. Up to now you may have
spoken the truth, but now I know that you have lied."
The man's face set in sullen defiance.
"There was no man, sir."
"Come, come, Bannister!"
"No, sir, there was no one."
"In that case, you can give us no further information. Would
you please remain in the room? Stand over there near the bedroom door. Now, Soames, I am going to ask you to have the
great kindness to go up to the room of young Gilchrist, and to
ask him to step down into yours."
An instant later the tutor returned, bringing with him the
student. He was a fine figure of a man, tall, lithe, and agile, with
a springy step and a pleasant, open face. His troubled blue eyes
glanced at each of us, and finally rested with an expression of
blank dismay upon Bannister in the farther corner.
"Just close the door," said Holmes. "Now, Mr. Gilchrist, we
are all quite alone here, and no one need ever know one word of
what passes between us. We can be perfectly frank with each
other. We want to know, Mr. Gilchrist, how you, an honourable
man, ever came to commit such an action as that of yesterday?"
The unfortunate young man staggered back, and cast a look
full of horror and reproach at Bannister.
"No, no, Mr. Gilchrist, sir, I never said a word — never one
word!" cried the servant.
"No, but you have now," said Holmes. "Now, sir, you must
see that after Bannister's words your position is hopeless, and
that your only chance lies in a frank confession."
For a moment Gilchrist, with upraised hand, tried to control
his writhing features. The next he had thrown himself on his
knees beside the table, and burying his face in his hands, he had
burst into a storm of passionate sobbing.
"Come, come," said Holmes, kindly, "it is human to err,
and at least no one can accuse you of being a callous criminal.
Perhaps it would be easier for you if I were to tell Mr. Soames
what occurred, and you can check me where I am wrong. Shall I
do so? Well, well, don't trouble to answer. Listen, and see that I
do you no injustice.
"From the moment, Mr. Soames, that you said to me that no
one, not even Bannister, could have told that the papers were in
your room, the case began to take a definite shape in my mind.
The printer one could, of course, dismiss. He could examine the
papers in his own office. The Indian I also thought nothing of. If
the proofs were in a roll, he could not possibly know what they
were. On the other hand, it seemed an unthinkable coincidence
that a man should dare to enter the room, and that by chance on
that very day the papers were on the table. I dismissed that. The
man who entered knew that the papers were there. How did he
"When I approached your room, I examined the window. You
amused me by supposing that I was contemplating the possibility
of someone having in broad daylight, under the eyes of all these
opposite rooms, forced himself through it. Such an idea was
absurd. I was measuring how tall a man would need to be in
order to see, as he passed, what papers were on the central table.
I am six feet high, and I could do it with an effort. No one less
than that would have a chance. Already you see I had reason to
think that, if one of your three students was a man of unusual
height, he was the most worth watching of the three.
"I entered, and I took you into my confidence as to the
suggestions of the side table. Of the centre table I could make
nothing, until in your description of Gilchrist you mentioned that
he was a long-distance jumper. Then the whole thing came to me
in an instant, and I only needed certain corroborative proofs,
which I speedily obtained.
"What happened was this: This young fellow had employed
his afternoon at the athletic grounds, where he had been practising the jump. He returned carrying his jumping-shoes, which are
provided, as you are aware, with several sharp spikes. As he
passed your window he saw, by means of his great height, these
proofs upon your table, and conjectured what they were. No
harm would have been done had it not been that, as he passed
your door, he perceived the key which had been left by the
carelessness of your servant. A sudden impulse came over him to
enter, and see if they were indeed the proofs. It was not a
dangerous exploit, for he could always pretend that he had simply
looked in to ask a question.
"Well, when he saw that they were indeed the proofs, it was
then that he yielded to temptation. He put his shoes on the table.
What was it you put on that chair near the window?"
"Gloves," said the young man.
Holmes looked triumphantly at Bannister. "He put his gloves
on the chair, and he took the proofs, sheet by sheet, to copy
them. He thought the tutor must return by the main gate, and that
he would see him. As we know, he came back by the side gate.
Suddenly he heard him at the very door. There was no possible
escape. He forgot his gloves, but he caught up his shoes and
darted into the bedroom. You observe that the scratch on that
table is slight at one side, but deepens in the direction of the
bedroom door. That in itself is enough to show us that the shoe
had been drawn in that direction, and that the culprit had taken
refuge there. The earth round the spike had been left on the
table, and a second sample was loosened and fell in the bedroom. I may add that I walked out to the athletic grounds this
morning, saw that tenacious black clay is used in the jumping-pit, and carried away a specimen of it, together with some of the
fine tan or sawdust which is strewn over it to prevent the athlete
from slipping. Have I told the truth, Mr. Gilchrist?"
The student had drawn himself erect.
"Yes, sir, it is true," said he.
"Good heavens! have you nothing to add?" cried Soames.
"Yes, sir, I have, but the shock of this disgraceful exposure
has bewildered me. I have a letter here, Mr. Soames, which I
wrote to you early this morning in the middle of a restless night.
It was before I knew that my sin had found me out. Here it is,
sir. You will see that I have said, 'I have determined not to go
in for the examination. I have been offered a commission in
the Rhodesian Police, and I am going out to South Africa at
"I am indeed pleased to hear that you did not intend to profit
by your unfair advantage," said Soames. "But why did you
change your purpose?"
Gilchrist pointed to Bannister.
"There is the man who set me in the right path," said he.
"Come now, Bannister," said Holmes. "It will be clear to
you, from what I have said, that only you could have let this
young man out, since you were left in the room, and must have
locked the door when you went out. As to his escaping by that
window, it was incredible. Can you not clear up the last point in
this mystery, and tell us the reasons for your action?"
"It was simple enough, sir, if you only had known, but, with
all your cleverness, it was impossible that you could know. Time
was, sir, when I was butler to old Sir Jabez Gilchrist, this young
gentleman's father. When he was ruined I came to the college as
servant, but I never forgot my old employer because he was
down in the world. I watched his son all I could for the sake of
the old days. Well, sir, when I came into this room yesterday,
when the alarm was given, the very first thing I saw was Mr.
Gilchrist's tan gloves a-lying in that chair. I knew those gloves
well, and I understood their message. If Mr. Soames saw them,
the game was up. I flopped down into that chair, and nothing
would budge me until Mr. Soames went for you. Then out came
my poor young master, whom I had dandled on my knee, and
confessed it all to me. Wasn't it natural, sir, that I should save
him, and wasn't it natural also that I should try to speak to him
as his dead father would have done, and make him understand
that he could not profit by such a deed? Could you blame me,
"No, indeed," said Holmes, heartily, springing to his feet.
"Well, Soames, I think we have cleared your little problem up,
and our breakfast awaits us at home. Come, Watson! As to you,
sir, I trust that a bright future awaits you in Rhodesia. For once
you have fallen low. Let us see, in the future, how high you can
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