The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton 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 Charles Augustus Milverton is the story of an individual considered by Holmes to be "the worst man in London" — strong words for a detective who has seen as much as he has. Milverton is a notorious blackmailer, a calculating and patient person who knows when to hide his cards and the best time to play them. Holmes speaks of him with a contempt not seen in any of his other stories.
Seeing that Milverton may just be beyond the reach of the law — a blackmailed person can't easily go public with his complaint — Holmes resolves to play Robin Hood and break the law to work for justice. Watson, seeing an opportunity for adventure, refuses to be left behind, and the pair head out to break into Milverton's home. In the end, justice is done, but not according to plan.
Our old friend Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard makes a cameo appearance near the end. We haven't seen him since The Adventure of the Norwood Builder.
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The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton
It is years since the incidents of which I speak took place, and
yet it is with diffidence that I allude to them. For a long time,
even with the utmost discretion and reticence, it would have
been impossible to make the facts public, but now the principal
person concerned is beyond the reach of human law, and with
due suppression the story may be told in such fashion as to injure
no one. It records an absolutely unique experience in the career
both of Mr. Sherlock Holmes and of myself. The reader will
excuse me if I conceal the date or any other fact by which he
might trace the actual occurrence.
We had been out for one of our evening rambles, Holmes and
I, and had returned about six o'clock on a cold, frosty winter's
evening. As Holmes turned up the lamp the light fell upon a card
on the table. He glanced at it, and then, with an ejaculation of
disgust, threw it on the floor. I picked it up and read:
CHARLES AUGUSTUS MILVERTON,
"Who is he?" I asked.
"The worst man in London," Holmes answered, as he sat
down and stretched his legs before the fire. "Is anything on the
back of the card?"
I turned it over.
"Will call at 6:30 — C. A. M.," I read.
"Hum! He's about due. Do you feel a creeping, shrinking
sensation, Watson, when you stand before the serpents in the
zoo, and see the slithery, gliding, venomous creatures, with
their deadly eyes and wicked, flattened faces? Well, that's how
Milverton impresses me. I've had to do with fifty murderers in
my career, but the worst of them never gave me the repulsion
which I have for this fellow. And yet I can't get out of doing
business with him — indeed, he is here at my invitation."
"But who is he?"
"I'll tell you, Watson. He is the king of all the blackmailers.
Heaven help the man, and still more the woman, whose secret
and reputation come into the power of Milverton! With a smiling
face and a heart of marble, he will squeeze and squeeze until he
has drained them dry. The fellow is a genius in his way, and
would have made his mark in some more savoury trade. His
method is as follows: He allows it to be known that he is
prepared to pay very high sums for letters which compromise
people of wealth and position. He receives these wares not only
from treacherous valets or maids, but frequently from genteel
ruffians, who have gained the confidence and affection of trusting women. He deals with no niggard hand. I happen to know
that he paid seven hundred pounds to a footman for a note two
lines in length, and that the ruin of a noble family was the result.
Everything which is in the market goes to Milverton, and there
are hundreds in this great city who turn white at his name. No
one knows where his grip may fall, for he is far too rich and far
too cunning to work from hand to mouth. He will hold a card
back for years in order to play it at the moment when the stake is
best worth winning. I have said that he is the worst man in
London, and I would ask you how could one compare the
ruffian, who in hot blood bludgeons his mate, with this man,
who methodically and at his leisure tortures the soul and wrings
the nerves in order to add to his already swollen money-bags?"
I had seldom heard my friend speak with such intensity of
"But surely," said I, "the fellow must be within the grasp of
"Technically, no doubt, but practically not. What would it
profit a woman, for example, to get him a few months' imprisonment if her own ruin must immediately follow? His victims
dare not hit back. If ever he blackmailed an innocent person,
then indeed we should have him, but he is as cunning as the Evil
One. No, no, we must find other ways to fight him."
"And why is he here?"
"Because an illustrious client has placed her piteous case in
my hands. It is the Lady Eva Blackwell, the most beautiful
debutante of last season. She is to be married in a fortnight to the
Earl of Dovercourt. This fiend has several imprudent letters —
imprudent, Watson, nothing worse — which were written to an
impecunious young squire in the country. They would suffice to
break off the match. Milverton will send the letters to the Earl
unless a large sum of money is paid him. I have been commissioned to meet him, and — to make the best terms I can."
At that instant there was a clatter and a rattle in the street
below. Looking down I saw a stately carriage and pair, the
brilliant lamps gleaming on the glossy haunches of the noble
chestnuts. A footman opened the door, and a small, stout man in
a shaggy astrakhan overcoat descended. A minute later he was in
Charles Augustus Milverton was a man of fifty, with a large,
intellectual head, a round, plump, hairless face, a perpetual
frozen smile, and two keen gray eyes, which gleamed brightly
from behind broad, gold-rimmed glasses. There was something
of Mr. Pickwick's benevolence in his appearance, marred only
by the insincerity of the fixed smile and by the hard glitter of
those restless and penetrating eyes. His voice was as smooth and
suave as his countenance, as he advanced with a plump little
hand extended, murmuring his regret for having missed us at his
first visit. Holmes disregarded the outstretched hand and looked
at him with a face of granite. Milverton's smile broadened, he
shrugged his shoulders, removed his overcoat, folded it with
great deliberation over the back of a chair, and then took a seat.
"This gentleman?" said he, with a wave in my direction. "Is
it discreet? Is it right?"
"Dr. Watson is my friend and partner."
"Very good, Mr. Holmes. It is only in your client's interests
that I protested. The matter is so very delicate —"
"Dr. Watson has already heard of it."
"Then we can proceed to business. You say that you are
acting for Lady Eva. Has she empowered you to accept my
"What are your terms?"
"Seven thousand pounds."
"And the alternative?"
"My dear sir, it is painful for me to discuss it, but if the
money is not paid on the 14th, there certainly will be no marriage on the 18th." His insufferable smile was more complacent
Holmes thought for a little.
"You appear to me," he said, at last, "to be taking matters
too much for granted. I am, of course, familiar with the contents
of these letters. My client will certainly do what I may advise. I
shall counsel her to tell her future husband the whole story and to
trust to his generosity."
"You evidently do not know the Earl," said he.
From the baffled look upon Holmes's face, I could see clearly
that he did.
"What harm is there in the letters?" he asked.
"They are sprightly — very sprightly," Milverton answered.
"The lady was a charming correspondent. But I can assure you
that the Earl of Dovercourt would fail to appreciate them. However, since you think otherwise, we will let it rest at that. It is
purely a matter of business. If you think that it is in the best
interests of your client that these letters should be placed in the
hands of the Earl, then you would indeed be foolish to pay so
large a sum of money to regain them." He rose and seized his
Holmes was gray with anger and mortification.
"Wait a little," he said. "You go too fast. We should certainly make every effort to avoid scandal in so delicate a matter."
Milverton relapsed into his chair.
"I was sure that you would see it in that light," he purred.
"At the same time," Holmes continued, "Lady Eva is not a
wealthy woman. I assure you that two thousand pounds would be
a drain upon her resources, and that the sum you name is utterly
beyond her power. I beg, therefore, that you will moderate your
demands, and that you will return the letters at the price I
indicate, which is, I assure you, the highest that you can get."
Milverton's smile broadened and his eyes twinkled humorously.
"I am aware that what you say is true about the lady's
resources," said he. "At the same time you must admit that the
occasion of a lady's marriage is a very suitable time for her
friends and relatives to make some little effort upon her behalf.
They may hesitate as to an acceptable wedding present. Let me
assure them that this little bundle of letters would give more joy
than all the candelabra and butter-dishes in London."
"It is impossible," said Holmes.
"Dear me, dear me, how unfortunate!" cried Milverton, taking out a bulky pocketbook. "I cannot help thinking that ladies
are ill-advised in not making an effort. Look at this!" He held up
a little note with a coat-of-arms upon the envelope. "That belongs to well, perhaps it is hardly fair to tell the name until
to-morrow morning. But at that time it will be in the hands of the
lady's husband. And all because she will not find a beggarly sum
which she could get by turning her diamonds into paste. It is
such a pity! Now, you remember the sudden end of the engagement between the Honourable Miss Miles and Colonel Dorking?
Only two days before the wedding, there was a paragraph in the
Morning Post to say that it was all off. And why? It is almost
incredible, but the absurd sum of twelve hundred pounds would
have settled the whole question. Is it not pitiful? And here I find
you, a man of sense, boggling about terms, when your client's
future and honour are at stake. You surprise me, Mr. Holmes."
"What I say is true," Holmes answered. "The money cannot
be found. Surely it is better for you to take the substantial sum
which I offer than to ruin this woman's career, which can profit
you in no way?"
"There you make a mistake, Mr. Holmes. An exposure would
profit me indirectly to a considerable extent. I have eight or ten
similar cases maturing. If it was circulated among them that I
had made a severe example of the Lady Eva, I should find all of
them much more open to reason. You see my point?"
Holmes sprang from his chair.
"Get behind him, Watson! Don't let him out! Now, sir, let us
see the contents of that notebook."
Milverton had glided as quick as a rat to the side of the room
and stood with his back against the wall.
"Mr. Holmes, Mr. Holmes," he said, turning the front of his
coat and exhibiting the butt of a large revolver, which projected
from the inside pocket. "I have been expecting you to do
something original. This has been done so often, and what good
has ever come from it? I assure you that I am armed to the teeth,
and I am perfectly prepared to use my weapons, knowing that
the law will support me. Besides, your supposition that I would
bring the letters here in a notebook is entirely mistaken. I would
do nothing so foolish. And now, gentlemen, I have one or two
little interviews this evening, and it is a long drive to Hampstead." He stepped forward, took up his coat, laid his hand on
his revolver, and turned to the door. I picked up a chair, but
Holmes shook his head, and I laid it down again. With a bow, a
smile, and a twinkle, Milverton was out of the room, and a few
moments after we heard the slam of the carriage door and the
rattle of the wheels as he drove away.
Holmes sat motionless by the fire, his hands buried deep in his
trouser pockets, his chin sunk upon his breast, his eyes fixed
upon the glowing embers. For half an hour he was silent and
still. Then, with the gesture of a man who has taken his decision,
he sprang to his feet and passed into his bedroom. A little later a
rakish young workman, with a goatee beard and a swagger, lit
his clay pipe at the lamp before descending into the street. "I'll
be back some time, Watson," said he, and vanished into the
night. I understood that he had opened his campaign against
Charles Augustus Milverton, but I little dreamed the strange
shape which that campaign was destined to take.
For some days Holmes came and went at all hours in this
attire, but beyond a remark that his time was spent at Hampstead, and that it was not wasted, I knew nothing of what he was
doing. At last, however, on a wild, tempestuous evening, when
the wind screamed and rattled against the windows, he returned
from his last expedition, and having removed his disguise he
sat before the fire and laughed heartily in his silent inward
"You would not call me a marrying man, Watson?"
"You'll be interested to hear that I'm engaged."
"My dear fellow! I congrat —"
"To Milverton's housemaid."
"Good heavens, Holmes!"
"I wanted information, Watson."
"Surely you have gone too far?"
"It was a most necessary step. I am a plumber with a rising
business, Escott, by name. I have walked out with her each
evening, and I have talked with her. Good heavens, those talks!
However, I have got all I wanted. I know Milverton's house as I
know the palm of my hand."
"But the girl, Holmes?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"You can't help it, my dear Watson. You must play your
cards as best you can when such a stake is on the table. However. I rejoice to say that I have a hated rival, who will certainly
cut me out the instant that my back is turned. What a splendid
night it is!"
"You like this weather?"
"It suits my purpose. Watson, I mean to burgle Milverton's
I had a catching of the breath, and my skin went cold at the
words, which were slowly uttered in a tone of concentrated
resolution. As a flash of lightning in the night shows up in an
instant every detail of a wild landscape, so at one glance I
seemed to see every possible result of such an action — the
detection, the capture, the honoured career ending in irreparable
failure and disgrace, my friend himself lying at the mercy of the
"For heaven's sake, Holmes, think what you are doing," I
"My dear fellow, I have given it every consideration. I am
never precipitate in my actions, nor would I adopt so energetic
and, indeed, so dangerous a course, if any other were possible.
Let us look at the matter clearly and fairly. I suppose that you
will admit that the action is morally justifiable, though technically criminal. To burgle his house is no more than to forcibly
take his pocketbook — an action in which you were prepared to
I turned it over in my mind.
"Yes," I said, "it is morally justifiable so long as our object
is to take no articles save those which are used for an illegal
"Exactly. Since it is morally justifiable, I have only to consider the question of personal risk. Surely a gentleman should
not lay much stress upon this, when a lady is in most desperate
need of his help?"
"You will be in such a false position."
"Well, that is part of the risk. There is no other possible way
of regaining these letters. The unfortunate lady has not the
money, and there are none of her people in whom she could
confide. To-morrow is the last day of grace, and unless we can
get the letters to-night, this villain will be as good as his word
and will bring about her ruin. I must, therefore, abandon my
client to her fate or I must play this last card. Between ourselves,
Watson, it's a sporting duel between this fellow Milverton and
me. He had, as you saw, the best of the first exchanges, but my
self-respect and my reputation are concerned to fight it to a
"Well, I don't like it, but I suppose it must be," said I.
"When do we start?"
"You are not coming."
"Then you are not going," said I. "I give you my word of
honour — and I never broke it in my life — that I will take a cab
straight to the police-station and give you away, unless you let
me share this adventure with you."
"You can't help me."
"How do you know that? You can't tell what may happen.
Anyway, my resolution is taken. Other people besides you have
self-respect, and even reputations."
Holmes had looked annoyed, but his brow cleared, and he
clapped me on the shoulder.
"Well, well, my dear fellow, be it so. We have shared this
same room for some years, and it would be amusing if we ended
by sharing the same cell. You know, Watson, I don't mind
confessing to you that I have always had an idea that I would
have made a highly efficient criminal. This is the chance of my
lifetime in that direction. See here!" He took a neat little leather
case out of a drawer, and opening it he exhibited a number of
shining instruments. "This is a first-class, up-to-date burgling
kit, with nickel-plated jemmy, diamond-tipped glass-cutter, adaptable keys, and every modern improvement which the march of
civilization demands. Here, too, is my dark lantern. Everything
is in order. Have you a pair of silent shoes?"
"I have rubber-soled tennis shoes."
"Excellent! And a mask?"
"I can make a couple out of black silk."
"I can see that you have a strong, natural turn for this sort of
thing. Very good, do you make the masks. We shall have some
cold supper before we start. It is now nine-thirty. At eleven we
shall drive as far as Church Row. It is a quarter of an hour's
walk from there to Appledore Towers. We shall be at work
before midnight. Milverton is a heavy sleeper, and retires punctually at ten-thirty. With any luck we should be back here by
two, with the Lady Eva's letters in my pocket."
Holmes and I put on our dress-clothes, so that we might
appear to be two theatre-goers homeward bound. In Oxford
Street we picked up a hansom and drove to an address in
Hampstead. Here we paid off our cab, and with our great coats
buttoned up, for it was bitterly cold, and the wind seemed to
blow through us, we walked along the edge of the heath.
"It's a business that needs delicate treatment," said Holmes.
"These documents are contained in a safe in the fellow's study,
and the study is the ante-room of his bed-chamber. On the other
hand, like all these stout, little men who do themselves well, he
is a plethoric sleeper. Agatha — that's my fiancee — says it is a
joke in the servants' hall that it's impossible to wake the master.
He has a secretary who is devoted to his interests, and never
budges from the study all day. That's why we are going at night.
Then he has a beast of a dog which roams the garden. I met
Agatha late the last two evenings, and she locks the brute up so
as to give me a clear run. This is the house, this big one in its
own grounds. Through the gate — now to the right among the
laurels. We might put on our masks here, I think. You see, there
is not a glimmer of light in any of the windows, and everything
is working splendldly."
With our black silk face-coverings, which turned us into two
of the most truculent figures in London, we stole up to the silent,
gloomy house. A sort of tiled veranda extended along one side
of it, lined by several windows and two doors.
"That's his bedroom," Holmes whispered. "This door opens
straight into the study. It would suit us best, but it is bolted as
well as locked, and we should make too much noise getting in.
Come round here. There's a greenhouse which opens into the
The place was locked, but Holmes removed a circle of glass
and turned the key from the inside. An instant afterwards he had
closed the door behind us, and we had become felons in the eyes
of the law. The thick, warm air of the conservatory and the rich,
choking fragrance of exotic plants took us by the throat. He
seized my hand in the darkness and led me swiftly past banks of
shrubs which brushed against our faces. Holmes had remarkable
powers, carefully cultivated, of seeing in the dark. Still holding
my hand in one of his, he opened a door, and I was vaguely
conscious that we had entered a large room in which a cigar had
been smoked not long before. He felt his way among the furniture, opened another door, and closed it behind us. Putting out
my hand I felt several coats hanging from the wall, and I
understood that I was in a passage. We passed along it, and
Holmes very gently opened a door upon the right-hand side.
Something rushed out at us and my heart sprang into my mouth,
but I could have laughed when I realized that it was the cat. A
fire was burning in this new room, and again the air was heavy
with tobacco smoke. Holmes entered on tiptoe, waited for me to
follow, and then very gently closed the door. We were in
Milverton's study, and a portiere at the farther side showed the
entrance to his bedroom.
It was a good fire, and the room was illuminated by it. Near
the door I saw the gleam of an electric switch, but it was
unnecessary, even if it had been safe, to turn it on. At one side
of the fireplace was a heavy curtain which covered the bay
window we had seen from outside. On the other side was the
door which communicated with the veranda. A desk stood in the
centre, with a turning-chair of shining red leather. Opposite was
a large bookcase, with a marble bust of Athene on the top. In the
corner, between the bookcase and the wall, there stood a tall,
green safe, the firelight flashing back from the polished brass
knobs upon its face. Holmes stole across and looked at it. Then
he crept to the door of the bedroom, and stood with slanting head
listening intently. No sound came from within. Meanwhile it had
struck me that it would be wise to secure our retreat through the
outer door, so I examined it. To my amazement, it was neither
locked nor bolted. I touched Holmes on the arm, and he turned
his masked face in that direction. I saw him start, and he was
evidently as surprised as I.
"I don't like it," he whispered, putting his lips to my very
ear. "I can't quite make it out. Anyhow, we have no time to
"Can I do anything?"
"Yes, stand by the door. If you hear anyone come, bolt it on
the inside, and we can get away as we came. If they come the
other way, we can get through the door if our job is done,
or hide behind these window curtains if it is not. Do you
I nodded, and stood by the door. My first feeling of fear had
passed away, and I thrilled now with a keener zest than I had
ever enjoyed when we were the defenders of the law instead of
its defiers. The high object of our mission, the consciousness
that it was unselfish and chivalrous, the villainous character of
our opponent, all added to the sporting interest of the adventure.
Far from feeling guilty, I rejoiced and exulted in our dangers.
With a glow of admiration I watched Holmes unrolling his case
of instruments and choosing his tool with the calm, scientific
accuracy of a surgeon who performs a delicate operation. I knew
that the opening of safes was a particular hobby with him, and I
understood the joy which it gave him to be confronted with this
green and gold monster, the dragon which held in its maw the
reputations of many fair ladies. Turning up the cuffs of his
dress-coat — he had placed his overcoat on a chair — Holmes laid
out two drills, a jemmy, and several skeleton keys. I stood at the
centre door with my eyes glancing at each of the others, ready
for any emergency, though, indeed, my plans were somewhat
vague as to what I should do if we were interrupted. For half an
hour, Holmes worked with concentrated energy, laying down
one tool, picking up another, handling each with the strength and
delicacy of the trained mechanic. Finally I heard a click, the
broad green door swung open, and inside I had a glimpse of a
number of paper packets, each tied, sealed, and inscribed. Holmes
picked one out, but it was hard to read by the flickering fire, and
he drew out his little dark lantern, for it was too dangerous, with
Milverton in the next room, to switch on the electric light.
Suddenly I saw him halt, listen intently, and then in an instant he
had swung the door of the safe to, picked up his coat, stuffed his
tools into the pockets, and darted behind the window curtain,
motioning me to do the same.
It was only when I had joined him there that I heard what had
alarmed his quicker senses. There was a noise somewhere within
the house. A door slammed in the distance. Then a confused,
dull murmur broke itself into the measured thud of heavy
footsteps rapidly approaching. They were in the passage outside
the room. They paused at the door. The door opened. There was
a sharp snick as the electric light was turned on. The door closed
once more, and the pungent reek of a strong cigar was borne to
our nostrils. Then the footsteps continued backward and forward,
backward and forward, within a few yards of us. Finally there
was a creak from a chair, and the footsteps ceased. Then a key
clicked in a lock, and I heard the rustle of papers.
So far I had not dared to look out, but now I gently parted the
division of the curtains in front of me and peeped through. From
the pressure of Holmes's shoulder against mine, I knew that he
was sharing my observations. Right in front of us, and almost
within our reach, was the broad, rounded back of Milverton. It
was evident that we had entirely miscalculated his movements,
that he had never been to his bedroom, but that he had been
sitting up in some smoking or billiard room in the farther wing of
the house, the windows of which we had not seen. His broad,
grizzled head, with its shining patch of baldness, was in the
immediate foreground of our vision. He was leaning far back in
the red leather chair. his legs outstretched, a long, black cigar
projecting at an angle from his mouth. He wore a semi-military
smoking jacket, claret-coloured. with a black velvet collar. In his
hand he held a long, legal document which he was reading in an
indolent fashion, blowing rings of tobacco smoke from his lips
as he did so. There was no promise of a speedy departure in his
composed bearing and his comfortable attitude.
I felt Holmes's hand steal into mine and give me a reassuring
shake, as if to say that the situation was within his powers, and
that he was easy in his mind. I was not sure whether he had seen
what was only too obvious from my position, that the door of the
safe was imperfectly closed, and that Milverton might at any
moment observe it. In my own mind I had determined that if I
were sure, from the rigidity of his gaze, that it had caught his
eye, I would at once spring out, throw my great coat over his
head, pinion him, and leave the rest to Holmes. But Milverton
never looked up. He was languidly interested by the papers in his
hand, and page after page was turned as he followed the argument of the lawyer. At least, I thought, when he has finished the
document and the cigar he will go to his room, but before he had
reached the end of either, there came a remarkable development
which turned our thoughts into quite another channel.
Several times I had observed that Milverton looked at his
watch, and once he had risen and sat down again, with a gesture
of impatience. The idea, however, that he might have an appointment at so strange an hour never occurred to me until a faint
sound reached my ears from the veranda outside. Milverton
dropped his papers and sat rigid in his chair. The sound was
repeated, and then there came a gentle tap at the door. Milverton
rose and opened it.
"Well," said he, curtly, "you are nearly half an hour late."
So this was the explanation of the unlocked door and of the
nocturnal vigil of Milverton. There was the gentle rustle of a
woman's dress. I had closed the slit between the curtains as
Milverton's face had turned in our direction, but now I ventured
very carefully to open it once more. He had resumed his seat,
the cigar still projecting at an insolent angle from the corner of
his mouth. In front of him, in the full glare of the electric light,
there stood a tall, slim, dark woman, a veil over her face, a
mantle drawn round her chin. Her breath came quick and fast,
and every inch of the lithe figure was quivering with strong
"Well," said Milverton, "you made me lose a good night's
rest, my dear. I hope you'll prove worth it. You couldn't come
any other time — eh?"
The woman shook her head.
"Well, if you couldn't you couldn't. If the Countess is a hard
mistress, you have your chance to get level with her now. Bless
the girl, what are you shivering about? That's right. Pull yourself
together. Now, let us get down to business." He took a notebook from the drawer of his desk. "You say that you have five
letters which compromise the Countess d'Albert. You want to
sell them. I want to buy them. So far so good. It only remains to
fix a price. I should want to inspect the letters, of course. If they
are really good specimens — Great heavens, is it you?"
The woman, without a word, had raised her veil and dropped
the mantle from her chin. It was a dark, handsome, clear-cut
face which confronted Milverton — a face with a curved nose,
strong, dark eyebrows shading hard, glittering eyes, and a straight,
thin-lipped mouth set in a dangerous smile.
"It is I," she said, "the woman whose life you have ruined."
Milverton laughed, but fear vibrated in his voice. "You were
so very obstinate," said he. "Why did you drive me to such
extremities? I assure you I wouldn't hurt a fly of my own accord,
but every man has his business, and what was I to do? I put the
price well within your means. You would not pay."
"So you sent the letters to my husband, and he — the noblest
gentleman that ever lived, a man whose boots I was never
worthy to lace — he broke his gallant heart and died. You remember that last night, when I came through that door, I begged and
prayed you for mercy, and you laughed in my face as you are
trying to laugh now, only your coward heart cannot keep your
lips from twitching. Yes, you never thought to see me here
again, but it was that night which taught me how I could meet
you face to face, and alone. Well, Charles Milverton, what have
you to say?"
"Don't imagine that you can bully me," said he, rising to his
feet. "I have only to raise my voice, and I could call my
servants and have you arrested. But I will make allowance for
your natural anger. Leave the room at once as you came, and I
will say no more."
The woman stood with her hand buried in her bosom, and the
same deadly smile on her thin lips.
"You will ruin no more lives as you have ruined mine. You
will wring no more hearts as you wrung mine. I will free the
world of a poisonous thing. Take that, you hound — and that!
— and that! — and that! — and that!"
She had drawn a little gleaming revolver, and emptied barrel
after barrel into Milverton's body, the muzzle within two feet of
his shirt front. He shrank away and then fell forward upon the
table, coughing furiously and clawing among the papers. Then
he staggered to his feet, received another shot, and rolled upon
the floor. "You've done me," he cried, and lay still. The
woman looked at him intently, and ground her heel into his
upturned face. She looked again, but there was no sound or
movement. I heard a sharp rustle, the night air blew into the
heated room, and the avenger was gone.
No interference upon our part could have saved the man from
his fate, but, as the woman poured bullet after bullet into
Milverton's shrinking body I was about to spring out, when I felt
Holmes's cold, strong grasp upon my wrist. I understood the
whole argument of that firm, restraining grip — that it was no
affair of ours, that justice had overtaken a villain, that we had
our own duties and our own objects, which were not to be lost
sight of. But hardly had the woman rushed from the room when
Holmes, with swift, silent steps, was over at the other door. He
turned the key in the lock. At the same instant we heard voices
in the house and the sound of hurrying feet. The revolver shots
had roused the household. With perfect coolness Holmes slipped
across to the safe, filled his two arms with bundles of letters, and
poured them all into the fire. Again and again he did it, until the
safe was empty. Someone turned the handle and beat upon the
outside of the door. Holmes looked swiftly round. The letter
which had been the messenger of death for Milverton lay, all
mottled with his blood, upon the table. Holmes tossed it in
among the blazing papers. Then he drew the key from the outer
door, passed through after me, and locked it on the outside.
"This way, Watson," said he, "we can scale the garden wall in
I could not have believed that an alarm could have spread so
swiftly. Looking back, the huge house was one blaze of light.
The front door was open, and figures were rushing down the
drive. The whole garden was alive with people, and one fellow
raised a view-halloa as we emerged from the veranda and followed hard at our heels. Holmes seemed to know the grounds
perfectly, and he threaded his way swiftly among a plantation of
small trees, I close at his heels, and our foremost pursuer panting
behind us. It was a six-foot wall which barred our path, but he
sprang to the top and over. As I did the same I felt the hand of
the man behind me grab at my ankle, but I kicked myself free
and scrambled over a grass-strewn coping. I fell upon my face
among some bushes, but Holmes had me on my feet in an
instant, and together we dashed away across the huge expanse of
Hampstead Heath. We had run two miles, I suppose, before
Holmes at last halted and listened intently. All was absolute
silence behind us. We had shaken off our pursuers and were
We had breakfasted and were smoking our morning pipe on
the day after the remarkable experience which I have recorded,
when Mr. Lestrade, of Scotland Yard, very solemn and impressive, was ushered into our modest sitting-room.
"Good-morning, Mr. Holmes," said he; "good-morning. May
I ask if you are very busy just now?"
"Not too busy to listen to you."
"I thought that, perhaps, if you had nothing particular on
hand, you might care to assist us in a most remarkable case,
which occurred only last night at Hampstead."
"Dear me!" said Holmes. "What was that?"
"A murder — a most dramatic and remarkable murder. I know
how keen you are upon these things, and I would take it as a
great favour if you would step down to Appledore Towers, and
give us the benefit of your advice. It is no ordinary crime. We
have had our eyes upon this Mr. Milverton for some time, and,
between ourselves, he was a bit of a villain. He is known to have
held papers which he used for blackmailing purposes. These
papers have all been burned by the murderers. No article of
value was taken, as it is probable that the criminals were men of
good position, whose sole object was to prevent social exposure."
"Criminals?" said Holmes. "Plural?"
"Yes, there were two of them. They were as nearly as possible captured red-handed. We have their footmarks, we have their
description, it's ten to one that we trace them. The first fellow
was a bit too active, but the second was caught by the undergardener, and only got away after a struggle. He was a middle-sized, strongly built man — square jaw, thick neck, moustache, a
mask over his eyes."
"That's rather vague," said Sherlock Holmes. "Why, it might
be a description of Watson!"
"It's true," said the inspector, with amusement. "It might be
a description of Watson."
"Well, I'm afraid I can't help you, Lestrade," said Holmes.
"The fact is that I knew this fellow Milverton, that I considered
him one of the most dangerous men in London, and that I think
there are certain crimes which the law cannot touch, and which
therefore, to some extent, justify private revenge. No, it's no use
arguing. I have made up my mind. My sympathies are with the
criminals rather than with the victim, and I will not handle this
Holmes had not said one word to me about the tragedy which
we had witnessed, but I observed all the morning that he was in
his most thoughtful mood, and he gave me the impression, from
his vacant eyes and his abstracted manner, of a man who is
striving to recall something to his memory. We were in the
middle of our lunch, when he suddenly sprang to his feet. "By
Jove, Watson, I've got it!" he cried. "Take your hat! Come
with me!" He hurried at his top speed down Baker Street and
along Oxford Street, until we had almost reached Regent Circus.
Here, on the left hand, there stands a shop window filled with
photographs of the celebrities and beauties of the day. Holmes's
eyes fixed themselves upon one of them, and following his gaze
I saw the picture of a regal and stately lady in Court dress, with a
high diamond tiara upon her noble head. I looked at that delicately curved nose, at the marked eyebrows, at the straight
mouth, and the strong little chin beneath it. Then I caught my
breath as I read the time-honoured title of the great nobleman
and statesman whose wife she had been. My eyes met those of
Holmes, and he put his finger to his lips as we turned away from
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