The Adventure of the Six Napoleons 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 Six Napoleons is the story of six inexpensive plaster casts of a bust of Napoleon Bonaparte, and the man who is methodically tracking them down to destroy them. It should be obvious to any modern reader far sooner than it is to the characters that there is something hidden in one of the busts, but fortunately the story goes beyond that simple mystery with a sudden murder and identities that must be discovered. In the end, we find that not only did Holmes discover the reason for the vandalism, but also the identity of the vandal, his motive, the other people involved, and the mysterious, valuable contents of the bust.
After a sabbatical from Doyle's stories, Inspector Lestrade made a cameo in the previous story and now returns as a major character in this one. As usual, our intrepid Scotland Yard detective is certainly a hard-working, competent man of the law, but despite his best efforts he is utterly outclassed by the genius of Holmes. He bears no ill will against the amateur detective however, and the end of the story sees him extend his gratitude for all the help he's given Scotland Yard over the past few years.
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The Adventure of the Six Napoleons
It was no very unusual thing for Mr. Lestrade, of Scotland
Yard, to look in upon us of an evening, and his visits were welcome to Sherlock Holmes, for they enabled him to keep in touch
with all that was going on at the police headquarters. In return
for the news which Lestrde would bring, Holmes was always
ready to listen with attention to the details of any case upon
which the detective was engaged, and was able occasionally
without any active interference, to give some hint or suggestion
drawn from his own vast knowledge and experience.
On this particular evening, Lestrade had spoken of the weather
and the newspapers. Then he had fallen silent, puffing thoughtfully
at his cigar. Holmes looked keenly at him.
"Anything remarkable on hand?" he asked.
"Oh, no, Mr. Holmes — nothing very particular."
"Then tell me about it."
"Well, Mr. Holmes, there is no use denying that there is
something on my mind. And yet it is such an absurd business,
that I hesitated to bother you about it. On the other hand,
although it is trivial, it is undoubtedly queer, and I know that
you have a taste for all that is out of the common. But, in my
opinion, it comes more in Dr. Watson's line than ours."
"Disease?" said I.
"Madness, anyhow. And a queer madness, too. You wouldn't
think there was anyone living at this time of day who had such a
hatred of Napoleon the First that he would break any image of
him that he could see."
Holmes sank back in his chair.
"That's no business of mine," said he.
"Exactly. That's what I said. But then, when the man commits burglary in order to break images which are not his own,
that brings it away from the doctor and on to the policeman."
Holmes sat up again.
"Burglary! This is more interesting. Let me hear the details."
Lestrade took out his official notebook and refreshed his memory from its pages.
"The first case reported was four days ago," said he. "It was
at the shop of Morse Hudson, who has a place for the sale of
pictures and statues in the Kennington Road. The assistant had
left the front shop for an instant, when he heard a crash, and
hurrying in he found a plaster bust of Napoleon, which stood
with several other works of art upon the counter, lying shivered
into fragments. He rushed out into the road, but, although several passers-by declared that they had noticed a man run out of
the shop, he could neither see anyone nor could he find any
means of identifying the rascal. It seemed to be one of those
senseless acts of Hooliganism which occur from time to time,
and it was reported to the constable on the beat as such. The
plaster cast was not worth more than a few shillings, and the
whole affair appeared to be too childish for any particular
"The second case, however, was more serious, and also more
singular. It occurred only last night.
"In Kennington Road, and within a few hundred yards of
Morse Hudson's shop, there lives a well-known medical practitioner, named Dr. Barnicot, who has one of the largest practices
upon the south side of the Thames. His residence and principal
consulting-room is at Kennington Road, but he has a branch
surgery and dispensary at Lower Brixton Road, two miles away.
This Dr. Barnicot is an enthusiastic admirer of Napoleon, and his
house is full of books, pictures, and relics of the French Emperor. Some little time ago he purchased from Morse Hudson
two duplicate plaster casts of the famous head of Napoleon by
the French sculptor, Devine. One of these he placed in his hall in
the house at Kennington Road, and the other on the mantelpiece
of the surgery at Lower Brixton. Well, when Dr. Barnicot came
down this morning he was astonished to find that his house had
been burgled during the night, but that nothing had been taken
save the plaster head from the hall. It had been carried out and
had been dashed savagely against the garden wall, under which
its splintered fragments were discovered."
Holmes rubbed his hands.
"This is certainly very novel," said he.
"I thought it would please you. But I have not got to the end
yet. Dr. Barnicot was due at his surgery at twelve o'clock, and
you can imagine his amazement when, on arriving there, he
found that the window had been opened in the night, and that the
broken pieces of his second bust were strewn all over the room.
It had been smashed to atoms where it stood. In neither case
were there any signs which could give us a clue as to the
criminal or lunatic who had done the mischief. Now, Mr. Holmes,
you have got the facts."
"They are singular, not to say grotesque," said Holmes.
"May I ask whether the two busts smashed in Dr. Barnicot's
rooms were the exact duplicates of the one which was destroyed
in Morse Hudson's shop?"
"They were taken from the same mould."
"Such a fact must tell against the theory that the man who
breaks them is influenced by any general hatred of Napoleon.
Considering how many hundreds of statues of the great Emperor
must exist in London, it is too much to suppose such a coincidence as that a promiscuous iconoclast should chance to begin
upon three specimens of the same bust."
"Well, I thought as you do," said Lestrade. "On the other
hand, this Morse Hudson is the purveyor of busts in that part of
London, and these three were the only ones which had been in
his shop for years. So, although, as you say, there are many
hundreds of statues in London, it is very probable that these
three were the only ones in that district. Therefore, a local
fanatic would begin with them. What do you think, Dr. Watson?"
"There are no limits to the possibilities of monomania," I
answered. "There is the condition which the modern French
psychologists have called the 'idee fixe,' which may be trifling in
character, and accompanied by complete sanity in every other
way. A man who had read deeply about Napoleon, or who had
possibly received some hereditary family injury through the great
war, might conceivably form such an idee fixe and under its
influence be capable of any fantastic outrage."
"That won't do, my dear Watson," said Holmes, shaking his
head, "for no amount of idee fixe would enable your interesting
monomaniac to find out where these busts were situated."
"Well, how do you explain it?"
"I don't attempt to do so. I would only observe that there is a
certain method in the gentleman's eccentric proceedings. For
example, in Dr. Barnicot's hall, where a sound might arouse the
family, the bust was taken outside before being broken, whereas
in the surgery, where there was less danger of an alarm, it was
smashed where it stood. The affair seems absurdly trifling, and
yet I dare call nothing trivial when I reflect that some of my most
classic cases have had the least promising commencement. You
will remember, Watson, how the dreadful business of the Abernetty
family was first brought to my notice by the depth which the
parsley had sunk into the butter upon a hot day. I can't afford,
therefore, to smile at your three broken busts, Lestrade, and I
shall be very much obliged to you if you will let me hear of any
fresh development of so singular a chain of events."
The development for which my friend had asked came in a
quicker and an infinitely more tragic form than he could have
imagined. I was still dressing in my bedroom next morning,
when there was a tap at the door and Holmes entered, a
telegram in his hand. He read it aloud:
Come instantly, 131 Pitt Street, Kensington.
"What is it, then?" I asked.
"Don't know — may be anything. But I suspect it is the sequel
of the story of the statues. In that case our friend the image-breaker has begun operations in another quarter of London.
There's coffee on the table, Watson, and I have a cab at the
In half an hour we had reached Pitt Street, a quiet little
backwater just beside one of the briskest currents of London life.
No. 131 was one of a row, all flat-chested, respectable, and
most unromantic dwellings. As we drove up, we found the railings in front of the house lined by a curious crowd. Holmes
"By George! it's attempted murder at the least. Nothing less
will hold the London message-boy. There's a deed of violence
indicated in that fellow's round shoulders and outstretched
neck. What's this, Watson? The top steps swilled down and
the other ones dry. Footsteps enough, anyhow! Well, well,
there's Lestrade at the front window, and we shall soon know
all about it."
The official received us with a very grave face and showed us
into a sitting-room, where an exceedingly unkempt and agitated elderly man, clad in a flannel dressing-gown, was pacing up and
down. He was introduced to us as the owner of the house — Mr.
Horace Harker, of the Central Press Syndicate.
"It's the Napoleon bust business again," said Lestrade. "You
seemed interested last night, Mr. Holmes, so I thought perhaps
you would be glad to be present now that the affair has taken a
very much graver turn."
"What has it turned to, then?"
"To murder. Mr. Harker, will you tell these gentlemen exactly what has occurred?"
The man in the dressing-gown turned upon us with a most melancholy face.
"It's an extraordinary thing," said he, "that all my life I have
been collecting other people's news, and now that a real piece of
news has come my own way I am so confused and bothered that
I can't put two words together. If I had come in here as a
journalist, I should have interviewed myself and had two columns in every evening paper. As it is, I am giving away valuable copy by telling my story over and over to a string of
different people, and I can make no use of it myself. However,
I've heard your name, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and if you'll only
explain this queer business, I shall be paid for my trouble in
telling you the story."
Holmes sat down and listened.
"It all seems to centre round that bust of Napoleon which I
bought for this very room about four months ago. I picked it up
cheap from Harding Brothers, two doors from the High Street
Station. A great deal of my journalistic work is done at night,
and I often write until the early morning. So it was to-day. I was
sitting in my den, which is at the back of the top of the house,
about three o'clock, when I was convinced that I heard some
sounds downstairs. I listened, but they were not repeated, and I
concluded that they came from outside. Then suddenly, about
five minutes later, there came a most horrible yell — the most
dreadful sound, Mr. Holmes, that ever I heard. It will ring in my
ears as long as I live. I sat frozen with horror for a minute or
two. Then I seized the poker and went downstairs. When I
entered this room I found the window wide open, and I at once
observed that the bust was gone from the mantelpiece. Why any
burglar should take such a thing passes my understanding, for it
was only a plaster cast and of no real value whatever.
"You can see for yourself that anyone going out through that
open window could reach the front doorstep by taking a long
stride. This was clearly what the burglar had done, so I went
round and opened the door. Stepping out into the dark, I nearly
fell over a dead man, who was lying there. I ran back for a light,
and there was the poor fellow, a great gash in his throat and the
whole place swimming in blood. He lay on his back, his knees
drawn up, and his mouth horribly open. I shall see him in my
dreams. I had just time to blow on my police-whistle, and then I
must have fainted, for I knew nothing more until I found the
policeman standing over me in the hall."
"Well, who was the murdered man?" asked Holmes.
"There's nothing to show who he was," said Lestrade. "You
shall see the body at the mortuary, but we have made nothing of
it up to now. He is a tall man, sunburned, very powerful, not
more than thirty. He is poorly dressed, and yet does not appear
to be a labourer. A horn-handled clasp knife was lying in a pool
of blood beside him. Whether it was the weapon which did the
deed, or whether it belonged to the dead man, I do not know.
There was no name on his clothing, and nothing in his pockets
save an apple, some string, a shilling map of London, and a
photograph. Here it is."
It was evidently taken by a snapshot from a small camera. It
represented an alert, sharp-featured simian man. with thick eyebrows and a very peculiar projection of the lower part of the
face, like the muzzle of a baboon.
"And what became of the bust?" asked Holmes, after a
careful study of this picture.
"We had news of it just before you came. It has been found in
the front garden of an empty house in Campden House Road. It
was broken into fragments. I am going round now to see it. Will
"Certainly. I must just take one look round." He examined
the carpet and the window. "The fellow had either very long
legs or was a most active man," said he. "With an area beneath,
it was no mean feat to reach that window-ledge and open that
window. Getting back was comparatively simple. Are you coming with us to see the remains of your bust, Mr. Harker?"
The disconsolate journalist had seated himself at a writing-table.
"I must try and make something of it," said he, "though I
have no doubt that the first editions of the evening papers are out
already with full details. It's like my luck! You remember when
the stand fell at Doncaster? Well, I was the only journalist in the
stand, and my journal the only one that had no account of it, for
I was too shaken to write it. And now I'll be too late with a
murder done on my own doorstep."
As we left the room, we heard his pen travelling shrilly over
The spot where the fragments of the bust had been found was
only a few hundred yards away. For the first time our eyes rested
upon this presentment of the great emperor, which seemed to
raise such frantic and destructive hatred in the mind of the
unknown. It lay scattered, in splintered shards, upon the grass.
Holmes picked up several of them and examined them carefully.
I was convinced, from his intent face and his purposeful manner,
that at last he was upon a clue.
"Well?" asked Lestrade.
Holmes shrugged his shoulders.
"We have a long way to go yet," said he. "And yet — and
yet — well, we have some suggestive facts to act upon. The
possession of this trifling bust was worth more, in the eyes of
this strange criminal, than a human life. That is one point. Then
there is the singular fact that he did not break it in the house, or
immediately outside the house, if to break it was his sole object."
"He was rattled and bustled by meeting this other fellow. He
hardly knew what he was doing."
"Well, that's likely enough. But I wish to call your attention
very particularly to the position of this house, in the garden of
which the bust was destroyed."
Lestrade looked about him.
"It was an empty house, and so he knew that he would not be
disturbed in the garden."
"Yes, but there is another empty house farther up the street
which he must have passed before he came to this one. Why did
he not break it there, since it is evident that every yard that he
carried it increased the risk of someone meeting him?"
"I give it up," said Lestrade.
Holmes pointed to the street lamp above our heads.
"He could see what he was doing here, and he could not
there. That was his reason."
"By Jove! that's true," said the detective. "Now that I come
to think of it, Dr. Barnicot's bust was broken not far from his red
lamp. Well, Mr. Holmes, what are we to do with that fact?"
"To remember it — to docket it. We may come on something
later which will bear upon it. What steps do you propose to take
"The most practical way of getting at it, in my opinion, is to
identify the dead man. There should be no difficulty about that.
When we have found who he is and who his associates are, we
should have a good start in learning what he was doing in Pitt
Street last night, and who it was who met him and killed him on
the doorstep of Mr. Horace Harker. Don't you think so?"
"No doubt; and yet it is not quite the way in which I should
approach the case."
"What would you do then?"
"Oh, you must not let me influence you in any way. I suggest
that you go on your line and I on mine. We can compare notes
afterwards, and each will supplement the other."
"Very good," said Lestrade.
"If you are going back to Pitt Street, you might see Mr.
Horace Harker. Tell him for me that I have quite made up my
mind, and that it is certain that a dangerous homicidal lunatic,
with Napoleonic delusions, was in his house last night. It will be
useful for his article."
"You don't seriously believe that?"
"Don't I? Well, perhaps I don't. But I am sure that it will
interest Mr. Horace Harker and the subscribers of the Central
Press Syndicate. Now, Watson, I think that we shall find that we
have a long and rather complex day's work before us. I should
be glad, Lestrade, if you could make it convenient to meet us at
Baker Street at six o'clock this evening. Until then I should like
to keep this photograph, found in the dead man's pocket. It is
possible that I may have to ask your company and assistance
upon a small expedition which will have to be undertaken tonight, if my chain of reasoning should prove to be correct. Until
then good-bye and good luck!"
Sherlock Holmes and I walked together to the High Street,
where we stopped at the shop of Harding Brothers, whence the
bust had been purchased. A young assistant informed us that Mr.
Harding would be absent until afternoon, and that he was himself
a newcomer, who could give us no information. Holmes's face
showed his disappointment and annoyance.
"Well, well, we can't expect to have it all our own way,
Watson," he said, at last. "We must come back in the afternoon, if Mr. Harding will not be here until then. I am, as you
have no doubt surmised, endeavouring to trace these busts to
their source, in order to find if there is not something peculiar
which may account for their remarkable fate. Let us make for
Mr. Morse Hudson, of the Kennington Road, and see if he can
throw any light upon the problem."
A drive of an hour brought us to the picture-dealer's establishment. He was a small, stout man with a red face and a peppery
"Yes, sir. On my very counter, sir," said he. "What we pay
rates and taxes for I don't know, when any ruffian can come in
and break one's goods. Yes, sir, it was I who sold Dr. Barnicot
his two statues. Disgraceful, sir! A Nihilist plot — that's what I
make it. No one but an anarchist would go about breaking
statues. Red republicans — that's what I call 'em. Who did I get
the statues from? I don't see what that has to do with it. Well, if
you really want to know, I got them from Gelder & Co., in
Church Street, Stepney. They are a well-known house in the
trade, and have been this twenty years. How many had I?
Three — two and one are three — two of Dr. Barnicot's, and one
smashed in broad daylight on my own counter. Do I know that
photograph? No, I don't. Yes, I do, though. Why, it's Beppo.
He was a kind of Italian piece-work man, who made himself
useful in the shop. He could carve a bit, and gild and frame, and
do odd jobs. The fellow left me last week, and I've heard
nothing of him since. No, I don't know where he came from nor
where he went to. I had nothing against him while he was here.
He was gone two days before the bust was smashed."
"Well, that's all we could reasonably expect from Morse
Hudson," said Holmes, as we emerged from the shop. "We
have this Beppo as a common factor, both in Kennington and in
Kensington, so that is worth a ten-mile drive. Now, Watson, let
us make for Gelder & Co., of Stepney, the source and origin of
the busts. I shall be surprised if we don't get some help down
In rapid succession we passed through the fringe of fashionable London, hotel London, theatrical London, literary London,
commercial London, and, finally, maritime London, till we came
to a riverside city of a hundred thousand souls, where the
tenement houses swelter and reek with the outcasts of Europe.
Here, in a broad thoroughfare, once the abode of wealthy City
merchants, we found the sculpture works for which we searched.
Outside was a considerable yard full of monumental masonry.
Inside was a large room in which fifty workers were carving or
moulding. The manager, a big blond German, received us civilly
and gave a clear answer to all Holmes's questions. A reference
to his books showed that hundreds of casts had been taken from
a marble copy of Devine's head of Napoleon, but that the three
which had been sent to Morse Hudson a year or so before had
been half of a batch of six, the other three being sent to Harding
Brothers, of Kensington. There was no reason why those six
should be different from any of the other casts. He could suggest
no possible cause why anyone should wish to destroy them — in
fact, he laughed at the idea. Their wholesale price was six
shillings, but the retailer would get twelve or more. The cast
was taken in two moulds from each side of the face, and then
these two profiles of plaster of Paris were joined together to
make the complete bust. The work was usually done by Italians,
in the room we were in. When finished, the busts were put on a
table in the passage to dry, and afterwards stored. That was all
he could tell us.
But the production of the photograph had a remarkable effect
upon the manager. His face flushed with anger, and his brows
knotted over his blue Teutonic eyes.
"Ah, the rascal!" he cried. "Yes, indeed, I know him very
well. This has always been a respectable establishment, and the
only time that we have ever had the police in it was over this
very fellow. It was more than a year ago now. He knifed another
Italian in the street, and then he came to the works with the
police on his heels, and he was taken here. Beppo was his
name — his second name I never knew. Serve me right for engaging a man with such a face. But he was a good workman — one
of the best."
"What did he get?"
"The man lived and he got off with a year. I have no doubt he
is out now, but he has not dared to show his nose here. We have
a cousin of his here, and I daresay he could tell you where he
"No, no," cried Holmes, "not a word to the cousin — not a
word, I beg of you. The matter is very important, and the farther
I go with it, the more important it seems to grow. When you
referred in your ledger to the sale of those casts I observed that
the date was June 3rd of last year. Could you give me the date
when Beppo was arrested?"
"I could tell you roughly by the pay-list," the manager answered. "Yes," he continued, after some turning over of pages,
"he was paid last on May 20th."
"Thank you," said Holmes. "I don't think that I need intrude
upon your time and patience any more." With a last word of
caution that he should say nothing as to our researches, we
turned our faces westward once more.
The afternoon was far advanced before we were able to snatch
a hasty luncheon at a restaurant. A news-bill at the entrance
announced "Kensington Outrage. Murder by a Madman," and
the contents of the paper showed that Mr. Horace Harker had got
his account into print after all. Two columns were occupied with
a highly sensational and flowery rendering of the whole incident.
Holmes propped it against the cruet-stand and read it while he
ate. Once or twice he chuckled.
"This is all right, Watson," said he. "Listen to this:
It is satisfactory to know that there can be no difference
of opinion upon this case, since Mr. Lestrade, one of the
most experienced members of the official force, and Mr.
Sherlock Holmes, the well-known consulting expert, have
each come to the conclusion that the grotesque series of
incidents, which have ended in so tragic a fashion, arise
from lunacy rather than from deliberate crime. No explanation save mental aberration can cover the facts.
"The Press, Watson, is a most valuable institution, if you only
know how to use it. And now, if you have quite finished, we
will hark back to Kensington and see what the manager of
Harding Brothers has to say on the matter."
The founder of that great emporium proved to be a brisk, crisp
little person, very dapper and quick, with a clear head and a
"Yes, sir, I have already read the account in the evening
papers. Mr. Horace Harker is a customer of ours. We supplied
him with the bust some months ago. We ordered three busts of
that sort from Gelder & Co., of Stepney. They are all sold now.
To whom? Oh, I daresay by consulting our sales book we could
very easily tell you. Yes, we have the entries here. One to Mr.
Harker you see, and one to Mr. Josiah Brown, of Laburnum
Lodge, Laburnum Vale, Chiswick, and one to Mr. Sandeford, of
Lower Grove Road, Reading. No, I have never seen this face
which you show me in the photograph. You would hardly forget
it, would you, sir, for I've seldom seen an uglier. Have we any
Italians on the staff? Yes, sir, we have several among our
workpeople and cleaners. I daresay they might get a peep at that
sales book if they wanted to. There is no particular reason for
keeping a watch upon that book. Well, well, it's a very strange
business, and I hope that you will let me know if anything comes
of your inquiries."
Holmes had taken several notes during Mr. Harding's evidence, and I could see that he was thoroughly satisfied by the
turn which affairs were taking. He made no remark, however
save that, unless we hurried, we should be late for our appointment with Lestrade. Sure enough, when we reached Baker Street
the detective was already there, and we found him pacing up and
down in a fever of impatience. His look of importance showed
that his day's work had not been in vain.
"Well?" he asked. "What luck, Mr. Holmes?"
"We have had a very busy day, and not entirely a wasted
one," my friend explained. "We have seen both the retailers and
also the wholesale manufacturers. I can trace each of the busts
now from the beginning."
"The busts!" cried Lestrade. "Well, well, you have your own
methods, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and it is not for me to say a
word against them, but I think I have done a better day's work
than you. I have identified the dead man."
"You don't say so?"
"And found a cause for the crime."
"We have an inspector who makes a specialty of Saffron Hill
and the Italian quarter. Well, this dead man had some Catholic
emblem round his neck. and that, along with his colour, made
me think he was from the South. Inspector Hill knew him the
moment he caught sight of him. His name is Pietro Venucci,
from Naples, and he is one of the greatest cut-throats in London. He is connected with the Mafia, which, as you know, is a
secret political society, enforcing its decrees by murder. Now,
you see how the affair begins to clear up. The other fellow is
probably an Italian also, and a member of the Mafia. He has
broken the rules in some fashion. Pietro is set upon his track.
Probably the photograph we found in his pocket is the man himself, so that he may not knife the wrong person. He dogs the
fellow, he sees him enter a house, he waits outside for him, and
in the scuffle he receives his own death-wound. How is that, Mr.
Holmes clapped his hands approvingly.
"Excellent, Lestrade, excellent!" he cried. "But I didn't quite
follow your explanation of the destruction of the busts."
"The busts! You never can get those busts out of your head.
After all, that is nothing; petty larceny, six months at the most. It
is the murder that we are really investigating, and I tell you that I
am gathering all the threads into my hands."
"And the next stage?"
"Is a very simple one. I shall go down with Hill to the Italian
Quarter, find the man whose photograph we have got, and arrest
him on the charge of murder. Will you come with us?"
"I think not. I fancy we can attain our end in a simpler way. I
can't say for certain, because it all depends — well, it all depends
upon a factor which is completely outside our control. But I have
great hopes — in fact, the betting is exactly two to one — that if
you will come with us to-night I shall be able to help you to lay
him by the heels."
"In the Italian Quarter?"
"No, I fancy Chiswick is an address which is more likely to
find him. If you will come with me to Chiswick to-night,
Lestrade, I'll promise to go to the Italian Quarter with you
to-morrow, and no harm will be done by the delay. And now I
think that a few hours' sleep would do us all good, for I do not
propose to leave before eleven o'clock, and it is unlikely that we
shall be back before morning. You'll dine with us, Lestrade, and
then you are welcome to the sofa until it is time for us to start. In
the meantime, Watson, I should be glad if you would ring for an
express messenger, for I have a letter to send and it is important
that it should go at once."
Holmes spent the evening in rummaging among the files of the
old daily papers with which one of our lumber-rooms was packed.
When at last he descended, it was with triumph in his eyes, but
he said nothing to either of us as to the result of his researches.
For my own part, I had followed step by step the methods by
which he had traced the various windings of this complex case,
and, though I could not yet perceive the goal which we would
reach, I understood clearly that Holmes expected this grotesque
criminal to make an attempt upon the two remaining busts, one
of which, I remembered, was at Chiswick. No doubt the object
of our journey was to catch him in the very act, and I could not
but admire the cunning with which my friend had inserted a
wrong clue in the evening paper, so as to give the fellow the idea
that he could continue his scheme with impunity. I was not
surprised when Holmes suggested that I should take my revolver
with me. He had himself picked up the loaded hunting-crop,
which was his favourite weapon.
A four-wheeler was at the door at eleven, and in it we drove
to a spot at the other side of Hammersmith Bridge. Here the
cabman was directed to wait. A short walk brought us to a
secluded road fringed with pleasant houses, each standing in its
own grounds. In the light of a street lamp we read "Laburnum
Villa" upon the gate-post of one of them. The occupants had
evidently retired to rest, for all was dark save for a fanlight over
the hall door, which shed a single blurred circle on to the garden
path. The wooden fence which separated the grounds from the
road threw a dense black shadow upon the inner side, and here it
was that we crouched.
"I fear that you'll have a long wait," Holmes whispered.
"We may thank our stars that it is not raining. I don't think we
can even venture to smoke to pass the time. However, it's a two
to one chance that we get something to pay us for our trouble."
It proved, however, that our vigil was not to be so long as
Holmes had led us to fear, and it ended in a very sudden and
singular fashion. In an instant, without the least sound to warn us
of his coming, the garden gate swung open, and a lithe, dark
figure, as swift and active as an ape, rushed up the garden path.
We saw it whisk past the light thrown from over the door and
disappear against the black shadow of the house. There was a
long pause, during which we held our breath, and then a very
gentle creaking sound came to our ears. The window was being
opened. The noise ceased, and again there was a long silence.
The fellow was making his way into the house. We saw the
sudden flash of a dark lantern inside the room. What he sought
was evidently not there, for again we saw the flash through
another blind. and then through another.
"Let us get to the open window. We will nab him as he
climbs out." Lestrade whispered.
But before we could move, the man had emerged again. As he
came out into the glimmering patch of light, we saw that he
carried something white under his arm. He looked stealthily all
round him. The silence of the deserted street reassured him.
Turning his back upon us he laid down his burden, and the next
instant there was the sound of a sharp tap, followed by a clatter
and rattle. The man was so intent upon what he was doing that
he never heard our steps as we stole across the grass plot. With
the bound of a tiger Holmes was on his back, and an instant later
Lestrade and I had him by either wrist, and the handcuffs had
been fastened. As we turned him over I saw a hideous, sallow
face, with writhing, furious features, glaring up at us, and I
knew that it was indeed the man of the photograph whom we had
But it was not our prisoner to whom Holmes was giving his
attention. Squatted on the doorstep, he was engaged in most
carefully examining that which the man had brought from the
house. It was a bust of Napoleon, like the one which we had
seen that morning, and it had been broken into similar fragments. Carefully Holmes held each separate shard to the light,
but in no way did it differ from any other shattered piece of
plaster. He had just completed his examination when the hall
lights flew up, the door opened, and the owner of the house, a
jovial, rotund figure in shirt and trousers, presented himself.
"Mr. Josiah Brown, I suppose?" said Holmes.
"Yes, sir and you, no doubt, are Mr. Sherlock Holmes? I had
the note which you sent by the express messenger, and I did
exactly what you told me. We locked every door on the inside
and awaited developments. Well, I'm very glad to see that you
have got the rascal. I hope, gentlemen, that you will come in and
have some refreshment."
However, Lestrade was anxious to get his man into safe
quarters, so within a few minutes our cab had been summoned
and we were all tour upon our way to London. Not a word
would our captive say, but he glared at us from the shadow of
his matted hair, and once, when my hand seemed within his
reach, he snapped at it like a hungry wolf. We stayed long
enough at the police-station to learn that a search of his clothing
revealed nothing save a few shillings and a long sheath knife, the
handle of which bore copious traces of recent blood.
"That's all right," said Lestrade, as we parted. "Hill knows
all these gentry, and he will give a name to him. You'll find that
my theory of the Mafia will work out all right. But I'm sure I am
exceedingly obliged to you, Mr. Holmes, for the workmanlike
way in which you laid hands upon him. I don't quite understand
it all yet."
"I fear it is rather too late an hour for explanations," said
Holmes. "Besides, there are one or two details which are not
finished off, and it is one of those cases which are worth
working out to the very end. If you will come round once more
to my rooms at six o'clock to-morrow, I think I shall be able to
show you that even now you have not grasped the entire meaning
of this business, which presents some features which make it
absolutely original in the history of crime. If ever I permit you to
chronicle any more of my little problems, Watson, I foresee that
you will enliven your pages by an account of the singular
adventure of the Napoleonic busts."
When we met again next evening, Lestrade was furnished with
much information concerning our prisoner. His name, it appeared, was Beppo, second name unknown. He was a well-known ne'er-do-well among the Italian colony. He had once
been a skilful sculptor and had earned an honest living, but he
had taken to evil courses and had twice already been in jail —
once for a petty theft, and once, as we had already heard, for
stabbing a fellow-countryman. He could talk English perfectly
well. His reasons for destroying the busts were still unknown,
and he refused to answer any questions upon the subject, but the
police had discovered that these same busts might very well have
been made by his own hands, since he was engaged in this class
of work at the establishment of Gelder & Co. To all this information, much of which we already knew, Holmes listened with
polite attention, but I, who knew him so well, could clearly see
that his thoughts were elsewhere, and I detected a mixture of
mingled uneasiness and expectation beneath that mask which he
was wont to assume. At last he started in his chair, and his eyes
brightened. There had been a ring at the bell. A minute later we
heard steps upon the stairs, and an elderly red-faced man with
grizzled side-whiskers was ushered in. In his right hand he
carried an old-fashioned carpet-bag, which he placed upon the
"Is Mr. Sherlock Holmes here?"
My friend bowed and smiled. "Mr. Sandeford, of Reading, I
suppose?" said he.
"Yes, sir, I fear that I am a little late, but the trains
were awkward. You wrote to me about a bust that is in my
"I have your letter here. You said, 'I desire to possess a copy
of Devine's Napoleon, and am prepared to pay you ten pounds
for the one which is in your possession.' Is that right?"
"I was very much surprised at your letter, for I could not
imagine how you knew that I owned such a thing."
"Of course you must have been surprised, but the explanation
is very simple. Mr. Harding, of Harding Brothers, said that they
had sold you their last copy, and he gave me your address."
"Oh, that was it, was it? Did he tell you what I paid for it?"
"No, he did not."
"Well, I am an honest man, though not a very rich one. I only
gave fifteen shillings for the bust, and I think you ought to know
that before I take ten pounds from you."
"I am sure the scruple does you honour, Mr. Sandeford. But I
have named that price, so I intend to stick to it."
"Well, it is very handsome of you, Mr. Holmes. I brought
the bust up with me, as you asked me to do. Here it is!" He
opened his bag, and at last we saw placed upon our table a
complete specimen of that bust which we had already seen more
than once in fragments.
Holmes took a paper from his pocket and laid a ten-pound
note upon the table.
"You will kindly sign that paper, Mr. Sandeford, in the
presence of these witnesses. It is simply to say that you transfer
every possible right that you ever had in the bust to me. I am a
methodical man, you see, and you never know what turn events
might take afterwards. Thank you, Mr. Sandeford; here is your
money, and I wish you a very good evening."
When our visitor had disappeared, Sherlock Holmes's movements were such as to rivet our attention. He began by taking a
clean white cloth from a drawer and laying it over the table.
Then he placed his newly acquired bust in the centre of the cloth.
Finally, he picked up his hunting-crop and struck Napoleon a
sharp blow on the top of the head. The figure broke into fragments, and Holmes bent eagerly over the shattered remains. Next
instant, with a loud shout of triumph he held up one splinter, in
which a round, dark object was fixed like a plum in a pudding.
"Gentlemen," he cried, "let me introduce you to the famous
black pearl of the Borgias."
Lestrade and I sat silent for a moment, and then, with a
spontaneous impulse, we both broke out clapping, as at the
well-wrought crisis of a play. A flush of colour sprang to Holmes's
pale cheeks, and he bowed to us like the master dramatist who
receives the homage of his audience. It was at such moments that
for an instant he ceased to be a reasoning machine, and betrayed
his human love for admiration and applause. The same singularly
proud and reserved nature which turned away with disdain from
popular notoriety was capable of being moved to its depths by
spontaneous wonder and praise from a friend.
"Yes, gentlemen," said he, "it is the most famous pearl now
existing in the world, and it has been my good fortune, by a
connected chain of inductive reasoning, to trace it from the
Prince of Colonna's bedroom at the Dacre Hotel, where it was
lost, to the interior of this, the last of the six busts of Napoleon
which were manufactured by Gelder & Co., of Stepney. You
will remember, Lestrade, the sensation caused by the disappearance of this valuable jewel, and the vain efforts of the London
police to recover it. I was myself consulted upon the case, but I
was unable to throw any light upon it. Suspicion fell upon the
maid of the Princess, who was an Italian, and it was proved that
she had a brother in London, but we failed to trace any connection between them. The maid's name was Lucretia Venucci, and
there is no doubt in my mind that this Pietro who was murdered
two nights ago was the brother. I have been looking up the dates
in the old files of the paper, and I find that the disappearance of
the pearl was exactly two days before the arrest of Beppo, for
some crime of violence — an event which took place in the
factory of Gelder & Co., at the very moment when these busts
were being made. Now you clearly see the sequence of events,
though you see them, of course, in the inverse order to the way
in which they presented themselves to me. Beppo had the pearl
in his possession. He may have stolen it from Pietro, he may
have been Pietro's confederate, he may have been the go-between
of Pietro and his sister. It is of no consequence to us which is the
"The main fact is that he had the pearl, and at that moment,
when it was on his person, he was pursued by the police. He
made for the factory in which he worked, and he knew that he
had only a few minutes in which to conceal this enormously
valuable prize, which would otherwise be found on him when he
was searched. Six plaster casts of Napoleon were drying in the
passage. One of them was still soft. In an instant Beppo, a
skilful workman, made a small hole in the wet plaster, dropped
in the pearl, and with a few touches covered over the aperture
once more. It was an admirable hiding-place. No one could
possibly find it. But Beppo was condemned to a year's imprisonment, and in the meanwhile his six busts were scattered over
London. He could not tell which contained his treasure. Only by
breaking them could he see. Even shaking would tell him nothing, for as the plaster was wet it was probable that the pearl
would adhere to it — as, in fact, it has done. Beppo did not
despair, and he conducted his search with considerable ingenuity
and perseverance. Through a cousin who works with Gelder, he
found out the retail firms who had bought the busts. He managed
to find employment with Morse Hudson, and in that way tracked
down three of them. The pearl was not there. Then, with the
help of some Italian employe, he succeeded in finding out where
the other three busts had gone. The first was at Harker's. There
he was dogged by his confederate, who held Beppo responsible
for the loss of the pearl, and he stabbed him in the scuffle which
"If he was his confederate, why should he carry his photograph?" I asked.
"As a means of tracing him, if he wished to inquire about him
from any third person. That was the obvious reason. Well, after
the murder I calculated that Beppo would probably hurry rather
than delay his movements. He would fear that the police would
read his secret, and so he hastened on before they should get
ahead of him. Of course, I could not say that he had not found
the pearl in Harker's bust. I had not even concluded for certain
that it was the pearl, but it was evident to me that he was looking
for something, since he carried the bust past the other houses in
order to break it in the garden which had a lamp overlooking it.
Since Harker's bust was one in three, the chances were exactly
as I told you — two to one against the pearl being inside it. There
remained two busts, and it was obvious that he would go for the
London one first. I warned the inmates of the house, so as to
avoid a second tragedy, and we went down, with the happiest
results. By that time, of course, I knew for certain that it was the
Borgia pearl that we were after. The name of the murdered man
linked the one event with the other. There only remained a single
bust — the Reading one — and the pearl must be there. I bought it
in your presence from the owner — and there it lies."
We sat in silence for a moment.
"Well," said Lestrade, "I've seen you handle a good many
cases, Mr. Holmes, but I don't know that I ever knew a more
workmanlike one than that. We're not jealous of you at Scotland
Yard. No, sir, we are very proud of you, and if you come down
to-morrow, there's not a man, from the oldest inspector to the
youngest constable, who wouldn't be glad to shake you by the
"Thank you!" said Holmes. "Thank you!" and as he turned
away, it seemed to me that he was more nearly moved by the
softer human emotions than I had ever seen him. A moment later
he was the cold and practical thinker once more. "Put the pearl
in the safe, Watson," said he, "and get out the papers of the
Conk-Singleton forgery case. Good-bye, Lestrade. If any little
problem comes your way, I shall be happy, if I can, to give you
a hint or two as to its solution."
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