The Crooked Man is one of the short stories about Sherlock Holmes written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, first published in The Strand Magazine in 1894. 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 Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.
Once more, Holmes pays a visit to Watson at his new home, from where he runs his medical practice, to ask his assistance in a mystery he's working on. Watson has been of great help many times before, and this time he simply needs a reliable witness for an interview. For his part, Watson is glad to be of any service to his friend, both so he can watch him in action and so he can chronicle the adventure for us.
The story starts, as have a few others, in the middle. Holmes has already done much of the investigating and relates the story to Watson the night before he intends to head out to finish it. An army colonel was found dead after an argument with his wife, apparently struck by a stick found nearby, and Holmes found two sets of footprints at the site. One belonged to a man, and the other to a small, unfamiliar animal. Tracking down the culprit in this case turned out to be a simple case of good, old-fashioned police work though as Holmes interviews everyone connected with the case, working backwards from the night of the mysterious death to find the crooked man.
Amusingly, early in the story Holmes berates Watson for hiding certain key facts from his reader until the final page of the mystery. Of course, what Watson is doing is telling the story from his point of view, and his technique only shows that he is as much in the dark about the more subtle and obscure facts as we are.
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The Crooked Man
One summer night, a few months after my marriage, I was
seated by my own hearth smoking a last pipe and nodding over a
novel, for my day's work had been an exhausting one. My wife
had already gone upstairs, and the sound of the locking of the
hall door some time before told me that the servants had also
retired. I had risen from my seat and was knocking out the ashes
of my pipe when I suddenly heard the clang of the bell.
I looked at the clock. It was a quarter to twelve. This could
not be a visitor at so late an hour. A patient evidently, and
possibly an all-night sitting. With a wry face I went out into the
hall and opened the door. To my astonishment it was Sherlock
Holmes who stood upon my step.
"Ah, Watson," said he, "I hoped that I might not be too late
to catch you."
"My dear fellow, pray come in."
"You look surprised, and no wonder! Relieved, too, I fancy!
Hum! You still smoke the Arcadia mixture of your bachelor
days, then! There's no mistaking that fluffy ash upon your coat.
It's easy to tell that you have been accustomed to wear a
uniform, Watson. You'll never pass as a pure-bred civilian as
long as you keep that habit of carrying your handkerchief in your
sleeve. Could you put me up to-night?"
"You told me that you had bachelor quarters for one, and I
see that you have no gentleman visitor at present. Your hat-stand
proclaims as much."
"I shall be delighted if you will stay."
"Thank you. I'll fill the vacant peg then. Sorry to see that
you've had the British workman in the house. He's a token of
evil. Not the drains, I hope?"
"No, the gas."
"Ah! He has left two nail-marks from his boot upon your
linoleum just where the light strikes it. No, thank you, I had
some supper at Waterloo, but I'll smoke a pipe with you with
I handed him my pouch, and he seated himself opposite to me
and smoked for some time in silence. I was well aware that
nothing but business of importance would have brought him to
me at such an hour, so I waited patiently until he should come
round to it.
"I see that you are professionally rather busy just now," said
he, glancing very keenly across at me.
"Yes, I've had a busy day," I answered. "It may seem very
foolish in your eyes," I added, "but really I don't know how
you deduced it."
Holmes chuckled to himself.
"I have the advantage of knowing your habits, my dear Watson," said he. "When your round is a short one you walk, and
when it is a long one you use a hansom. As I perceive that your
boots, although used, are by no means dirty, I cannot doubt that
you are at present busy enough to justify the hansom."
"Excellent!" I cried.
"Elementary," said he. "It is one of those instances where
the reasoner can produce an effect which seems remarkable to
his neighbour, because the latter has missed the one little point
which is the basis of the deduction. The same may be said, my
dear fellow, for the effect of some of these little sketches of
yours, which is entirely meretricious, depending as it does upon
your retaining in your own hands some factors in the problem
which are never imparted to the reader. Now, at present I am in
the position of these same readers, for I hold in this hand several
threads of one of the strangest cases which ever perplexed a
man's brain, and yet I lack the one or two which are needful to
complete my theory. But I'll have them, Watson, I'll have
them!" His eyes kindled and a slight flush sprang into his thin
cheeks. For an instant the veil had lifted upon his keen, intense
nature, but for an instant only. When I glanced again his face
had resumed that red-Indian composure which had made so
many regard him as a machine rather than a man.
"The problem presents features of interest," said he. "I may
even say exceptional features of interest. I have already looked
into the matter, and have come, as I think, within sight of my
solution. If you could accompany me in that last step you might
be of considerable service to me."
"I should be delighted."
"Could you go as far as Aldershot to-morrow?"
"I have no doubt Jackson would take my practice."
"Very good. I want to start by the 11:10 from Waterloo."
"That would give me time."
"Then, if you are not too sleepy, I will give you a sketch of
what has happened, and of what remains to be done."
"I was sleepy before you came. I am quite wakeful now."
"I will compress the story as far as may be done without
omitting anything vital to the case. It is conceivable that you
may even have read some account of the matter. It is the
supposed murder of Colonel Barclay, of the Royal Munsters, at
Aldershot, which I am investigating."
"I have heard nothing of it."
"It has not excited much attention yet, except locally. The
facts are only two days old. Briefly they are these:
"The Royal Munsters is, as you know, one of the most
famous Irish regiments in the British Army. It did wonders both
in the Crimea and the Mutiny, and has since that time distinguished itself upon every possible occasion. It was commanded
up to Monday night by James Barclay, a gallant veteran, who
started as a full private, was raised to commissioned rank for his
bravery at the time of the Mutiny, and so lived to command the
regiment in which he had once carried a musket.
"Colonel Barclay had married at the time when he was a
sergeant, and his wife, whose maiden name was Miss Nancy
Devoy, was the daughter of a former colour-sergeant in the same
corps. There was, therefore, as can be imagined, some little
social friction when the young couple (for they were still young)
found themselves in their new surroundings. They appear, however, to have quickly adapted themselves, and Mrs. Barclay has
always, I understand, been as popular with the ladies of the
regiment as her husband was with his brother officers. I may add
that she was a woman of great beauty, and that even now, when
she has been married for upward of thirty years, she is still of a
striking and queenly appearance.
"Colonel Barclay's family life appears to have been a uniformly happy one. Major Murphy, to whom I owe most of my
facts, assures me that he has never heard of any misunderstanding between the pair. On the whole, he thinks that Barclay's
devotion to his wife was greater than his wife's to Barclay. He
was acutely uneasy if he were absent from her for a day. She, on
the other hand, though devoted and faithful, was less obtrusively
affectionate. But they were regarded in the regiment as the very
model of a middle-aged couple. There was absolutely nothing in
their mutual relations to prepare people for the tragedy which
was to follow.
"Colonel Barclay himself seems to have had some singular
traits in his character. He was a dashing, jovial old soldier in his
usual mood, but there were occasions on which he seemed to
show himself capable of considerable violence and vindictiveness.
This side of his nature, however, appears never to have been
turned towards his wife. Another fact which had struck Major
Murphy and three out of five of the other officers with whom I
conversed was the singular sort of depression which came upon
him at times. As the major expressed it, the smile has often been
struck from his mouth, as if by some invisible hand, when he has
been joining in the gaieties and chaff of the mess-table. For days
on end, when the mood was on him, he has been sunk in the
deepest gloom. This and a certain tinge of superstition were the
only unusual traits in his character which his brother officers had
observed. The latter peculiarity took the form of a dislike to
being left alone, especially after dark. This puerile feature in a
nature which was conspicuously manly had often given rise to
comment and conjecture.
"The first battalion of the Royal Munsters (which is the old
One Hundred and Seventeenth) has been stationed at Aldershot
for some years. The married officers live out of barracks, and the
colonel has during all this time occupied a villa called 'Lachine,'
about half a mile from the north camp. The house stands in its
own grounds, but the west side of it is not more than thirty yards
from the highroad. A coachman and two maids form the staff of
servants. These with their master and mistress were the sole
occupants of Lachine, for the Barclays had no children, nor was
it usual for them to have resident visitors.
"Now for the events at Lachine between nine and ten on the
evening of last Monday.
"Mrs. Barclay was, it appears, a member of the Roman
Catholic Church and had interested herself very much in the
establishment of the Guild of St. George, which was formed in
connection with the Watt Street Chapel for the purpose of supplying the poor with cast-off clothing. A meeting of the Guild
had been held that evening at eight, and Mrs. Barclay had
hurried over her dinner in order to be present at it. When leaving
the house she was heard by the coachman to make some commonplace remark to her husband, and to assure him that she
would be back before very long. She then called for Miss
Morrison, a young lady who lives in the next villa and the two
went off together to their meeting. It lasted forty minutes, and at
a quarter-past nine Mrs. Barclay returned home, having left Miss
Morrison at her door as she passed.
"There is a room which is used as a morning-room at Lachine.
This faces the road and opens by a large glass folding-door on to
the lawn. The lawn is thirty yards across and is only divided
from the highway by a low wall with an iron rail above it. It was
into this room that Mrs. Barclay went upon her return. The
blinds were not down, for the room was seldom used in the
evening, but Mrs. Barclay herself lit the lamp and then rang the
bell, asking Jane Stewart, the housemaid, to bring her a cup of
tea, which was quite contrary to her usual habits. The colonel
had been sitting in the dining-room, but, hearing that his wife
had returned, he joined her in the morning-room. The coachman
saw him cross the hall and enter it. He was never seen again
"The tea which had been ordered was brought up at the end
of ten minutes; but the maid, as she approached the door, was
surprised to hear the voices of her master and mistress in furious
altercation. She knocked without receiving any answer, and even
turned the handle, but only to find that the door was locked upon
the inside. Naturally enough she ran down to tell the cook, and
the two women with the coachman came up into the hall and
listened to the dispute which was still raging. They all agreed
that only two voices were to be heard, those of Barclay and of
his wife. Barclay's remarks were subdued and abrupt so that
none of them were audible to the listeners. The lady's, on the
other hand, were most bitter, and when she raised her voice
could be plainly heard. 'You coward!' she repeated over and
over again. 'What can be done now? What can be done now?
Give me back my life. I will never so much as breathe the same
air with you again! You coward! You coward!' Those were
scraps of her conversation, ending in a sudden dreadful cry in the
man's voice, with a crash, and a piercing scream from the
woman. Convinced that some tragedy had occurred, the coachman rushed to the door and strove to force it, while scream after
scream issued from within. He was unable, however, to make
his way in, and the maids were too distracted with fear to be of
any assistance to him. A sudden thought struck him, however,
and he ran through the hall door and round to the lawn upon
which the long French windows open. One side of the window
was open, which I understand was quite usual in the summertime, and he passed without difficulty into the room. His mistress had ceased to scream and was stretched insensible upon a
couch, while with his feet tilted over the side of an armchair, and
his head upon the ground near the corner of the fender, was lying
the unfortunate soldier stone dead in a pool of his own blood.
"Naturally, the coachman's first thought, on finding that he
could do nothing for his master, was to open the door. But here
an unexpected and singular difficulty presented itself. The key
was not in the inner side of the door, nor could he find it
anywhere in the room. He went out again, therefore, through the
window, and, having obtained the help of a policeman and of a
medical man, he returned. The lady, against whom naturally the
strongest suspicion rested, was removed to her room, still in a
state of insensibility. The colonel's body was then placed upon
the sofa and a careful examination made of the scene of the
"The injury from which the unfortunate veteran was suffering
was found to be a jagged cut some two inches long at the back
part of his head, which had evidently been caused by a violent
blow from a blunt weapon. Nor was it difficult to guess what
that weapon may have been. Upon the floor, close to the body,
was lying a singular club of hard carved wood with a bone
handle. The colonel possessed a varied collection of weapons
brought from the different countries in which he had fought, and
it is conjectured by the police that this club was among his
trophies. The servants deny having seen it before, but among the
numerous curiosities in the house it is possible that it may have
been overlooked. Nothing else of importance was discovered in
the room by the police, save the inexplicable fact that neither
upon Mrs. Barclay's person nor upon that of the victim nor in
any part of the room was the missing key to be found. The door
had eventually to be opened by a locksmith from Aldershot.
"That was the state of things, Watson, when upon the Tuesday morning I, at the request of Major Murphy, went down to
Aldershot to supplement the efforts of the police. I think that you
will acknowledge that the problem was already one of interest,
but my observations soon made me realize that it was in truth
much more extraordinary than would at first sight appear.
"Before examining the room I cross-questioned the servants,
but only succeeded in eliciting the facts which I have already
stated. One other detail of interest was remembered by Jane
Stewart, the housemaid. You will remember that on hearing the
sound of the quarrel she descended and returned with the other
servants. On that first occasion, when she was alone, she says
that the voices of her master and mistress were sunk so low that
she could hardly hear anything, and judged by their tones rather
than their words that they had fallen out. On my pressing her,
however, she remembered that she heard the word David uttered
twice by the lady. The point is of the utmost importance as
guiding us towards the reason of the sudden quarrel. The colonel's name, you remember, was James.
"There was one thing in the case which had made the deepest
impression both upon the servants and the police. This was the
contortion of the colonel's face. It had set, according to their
account, into the most dreadful expression of fear and horror
which a human countenance is capable of assuming. More than
one person fainted at the mere sight of him, so terrible was the
effect. It was quite certain that he had foreseen his fate, and that
it had caused him the utmost horror. This, of course, fitted in
well enough with the police theory, if the colonel could have
seen his wife making a murderous attack upon him. Nor was the
fact of the wound being on the back of his head a fatal objection
to this, as he might have turned to avoid the blow. No information could be got from the lady herself, who was temporarily
insane from an acute attack of brain-fever.
"From the police I learned that Miss Morrison, who you
remember went out that evening with Mrs. Barclay, denied
having any knowledge of what it was which had caused the
ill-humour in which her companion had returned.
"Having gathered these facts, Watson, I smoked several pipes
over them, trying to separate those which were crucial from
others which were merely incidental. There could be no question
that the most distinctive and suggestive point in the case was the
singular disappearance of the door-key. A most careful search
had failed to discover it in the room. Therefore it must have been
taken from it. But neither the colonel nor the colonel's wife
could have taken it. That was perfectly clear. Therefore a third
person must have entered the room. And that third person could
only have come in through the window. It seemed to me that a
careful examination of the room and the lawn might possibly
reveal some traces of this mysterious individual. You know my
methods, Watson. There was not one of them which I did not
apply to the inquiry. And it ended by my discovering traces, but
very different ones from those which I had expected. There had
been a man in the room, and he had crossed the lawn coming
from the road. I was able to obtain five very clear impressions of
his footmarks: one in the roadway itself, at the point where he
had climbed the low wall, two on the lawn, and two very faint
ones upon the stained boards near the window where he had
entered. He had apparently rushed across the lawn, for his
toe-marks were much deeper than his heels. But it was not the
man who surprised me. It was his companion."
Holmes pulled a large sheet of tissue-paper out of his pocket
and carefully unfolded it upon his knee.
"What do you make of that?" he asked.
The paper was covered with the tracings of the footmarks of
some small animal. It had five well-marked footpads, an indication of long nails, and the whole print might be nearly as large as
"It's a dog," said I.
"Did you ever hear of a dog running up a curtain? I found
distinct traces that this creature had done so."
"A monkey, then?"
"But it is not the print of a monkey."
"What can it be, then?"
"Neither dog nor cat nor monkey nor any creature that we are
familiar with. I have tried to reconstruct it from the measurements. Here are four prints where the beast has been standing
motionless. You see that it is no less than fifteen inches from
fore-foot to hind. Add to that the length of neck and head, and
you get a creature not much less than two feet long — probably
more if there is any tail. But now observe this other measurement. The animal has been moving, and we have the length of
its stride. In each case it is only about three inches. You have an
indication, you see, of a long body with very short legs attached
to it. It has not been considerate enough to leave any of its hair
behind it. But its general shape must be what I have indicated,
and it can run up a curtain. and it is carnivorous."
"How do you deduce that?"
"Because it ran up the curtain. A canary's cage was hanging
in the window, and its aim seems to have been to get at the
"Then what was the beast?"
"Ah, if I could give it a name it might go a long way towards
solving the case. On the whole, it was probably some creature of
the weasel and stoat tribe — and yet it is larger than any of these
that I have seen."
"But what had it to do with the crime?"
"That, also, is still obscure. But we have learned a good deal,
you perceive. We know that a man stood in the road looking at
the quarrel between the Barclays — the blinds were up and the
room lighted. We know, also, that he ran across the lawn,
entered the room, accompanied by a strange animal, and that he
either struck the colonel or, as is equally possible, that the
colonel fell down from sheer fright at the sight of him, and cut
his head on the corner of the fender. Finally we have the curious
fact that the intruder carried away the key with him when he
"Your discoveries seem to have left the business more obscure than it was before," said I.
"Quite so. They undoubtedly showed that the affair was much
deeper than was at first conjectured. I thought the matter over,
and I came to the conclusion that I must approach the case from
another aspect. But really, Watson, I am keeping you up, and I
might just as well tell you all this on our way to Aldershot
"Thank you, you have gone rather too far to stop."
"It is quite certain that when Mrs. Barclay left the house at
half-past seven she was on good terms with her husband. She
was never, as I think I have said, ostentatiously affectionate, but
she was heard by the coachman chatting with the colonel in a
friendly fashion. Now, it was equally certain that, immediately
on her return, she had gone to the room in which she was least
likely to see her husband, had flown to tea as an agitated woman
will, and finally, on his coming in to her, had broken into
violent recriminations. Therefore something had occurred between seven-thirty and nine o'clock which had completely altered her feelings towards him. But Miss Morrison had been with
her during the whole of that hour and a half. It was absolutely
certain, therefore, in spite of her denial, that she must know
something of the matter.
"My first conjecture was that possibly there had been some
passages between this young lady and the old soldier, which the
former had now confessed to the wife. That would account for
the angry return, and also for the girl's denial that anything had
occurred. Nor would it be entirely incompatible with most of the
words overheard. But there was the reference to David, and there
was the known affection of the colonel for his wife to weigh
against it, to say nothing of the tragic intrusion of this other man,
which might, of course, be entirely disconnected with what had
gone before. It was not easy to pick one's steps, but, on the
whole, I was inclined to dismiss the idea that there had been
anything between the colonel and Miss Morrison, but more than
ever convinced that the young lady held the clue as to what it
was which had turned Mrs. Barclay to hatred of her husband. I
took the obvious course, therefore, of calling upon Miss M., of
explaining to her that I was perfectly certain that she held the
facts in her possession, and of assuring her that her friend, Mrs.
Barclay, might find herself in the dock upon a capital charge
unless the matter were cleared up.
"Miss Morrison is a little ethereal slip of a girl, with timid
eyes and blond hair, but I found her by no means wanting in
shrewdness and common sense. She sat thinking for some time
after I had spoken, and then, turning to me with a brisk air of
resolution, she broke into a remarkable statement which I will
condense for your benefit.
" 'I promised my friend that I would say nothing of the
matter, and a promise is a promise,' said she; 'but if I can really
help her when so serious a charge is laid against her, and when
her own mouth, poor darling, is closed by illness, then I think I
am absolved from my promise. I will tell you exactly what
happened upon Monday evening.
" 'We were returning from the Watt Street Mission about a
quarter to nine o'clock. On our way we had to pass through
Hudson Street, which is a very quiet thoroughfare. There is only
one lamp in it, upon the left-hand side, and as we approached
this lamp I saw a man coming towards us with his back very
bent, and something like a box slung over one of his shoulders.
He appeared to be deformed, for he carried his head low and
walked with his knees bent. We were passing him when he
raised his face to look at us in the circle of light thrown by the
lamp, and as he did so he stopped and screamed out in a dreadful
voice, "My God, it's Nancy!" Mrs. Barclay turned as white as
death and would have fallen down had the dreadful-looking
creature not caught hold of her. I was going to call for the
police, but she, to my surprise, spoke quite civilly to the fellow.
" ' "I thought you had been dead this thirty years, Henry,"
said she in a shaking voice.
" ' "So I have," said he, and it was awful to hear the tones
that he said it in. He had a very dark, fearsome face, and a
gleam in his eyes that comes back to me in my dreams. His hair
and whiskers were shot with gray, and his face was all crinkled
and puckered like a withered apple.
" ' "Just walk on a little way, dear," said Mrs. Barclay; "I
want to have a word with this man. There is nothing to be afraid
of." She tried to speak boldly, but she was still deadly pale and
could hardly get her words out for the trembling of her lips.
" 'I did as she asked me, and they talked together for a few
minutes. Then she came down the street with her eyes blazing,
and I saw the crippled wretch standing by the lamp-post and
shaking his clenched fists in the air as if he were mad with rage.
She never said a word until we were at the door here, when she
took me by the hand and begged me to tell no one what had
" ' "It's an old acquaintance of mine who has come down in
the world," said she. When I promised her I would say nothing
she kissed me, and I have never seen her since. I have told you
now the whole truth, and if I withheld it from the police it is
because I did not realize then the danger in which my dear friend
stood. I know that it can only be to her advantage that everything
should be known.'
"There was her statement, Watson, and to me, as you can
imagine, it was like a light on a dark night. Everything which
had been disconnected before began at once to assume its true
place, and I had a shadowy presentiment of the whole sequence
of events. My next step obviously was to find the man who had
produced such a remarkable impression upon Mrs. Barclay. If he
were still in Aldershot it should not be a very difficult matter.
There are not such a very great number of civilians, and a
deformed man was sure to have attracted attention. I spent a day
in the search, and by evening — this very evening, Watson — I
had run him down. The man's name is Henry Wood, and he
lives in lodgings in this same street in which the ladies met him.
He has only been five days in the place. In the character of a
registration-agent I had a most interesting gossip with his landlady. The man is by trade a conjurer and performer, going round
the canteens after nightfall, and giving a little entertainment at
each. He carries some creature about with him in that box, about
which the landlady seemed to be in considerable trepidation, for
she had never seen an animal like it. He uses it in some of his
tricks according to her account. So much the woman was able to
tell me, and also that it was a wonder the man lived, seeing how
twisted he was, and that he spoke in a strange tongue sometimes,
and that for the last two nights she had heard him groaning and
weeping in his bedroom. He was all right, as far as money went,
but in his deposit he had given her what looked like a bad florin.
She showed it to me, Watson, and it was an Indian rupee.
"So now, my dear fellow, you see exactly how we stand and
why it is I want you. It is perfectly plain that after the ladies
parted from this man he followed them at a distance, that he saw
the quarrel between husband and wife through the window, that
he rushed in, and that the creature which he carried in his box
got loose. That is all very certain. But he is the only person in
this world who can tell us exactly what happened in that room."
"And you intend to ask him?"
"Most certainly — but in the presence of a witness."
"And I am the witness?"
"If you will be so good. If he can clear the matter up, well
and good. If he refuses, we have no alternative but to apply for a
"But how do you know he'll be there when we return?"
"You may be sure that I took some precautions. I have one of
my Baker Street boys mounting guard over him who would stick
to him like a burr, go where he might. We shall find him in
Hudson Street to-morrow, Watson, and meanwhile I should be
the criminal myself if I kept you out of bed any longer."
It was midday when we found ourselves at the scene of the
tragedy, and, under my companion's guidance, we made our
way at once to Hudson Street. In spite of his capacity for
concealing his emotions, I could easily see that Holmes was in a
state of suppressed excitement, while I was myself tingling with
that half-sporting, half-intellectual pleasure which I invariably
experienced when I associated myself with him in his investigations.
"This is the street," said he as we turned into a short thoroughfare lined with plain two-storied brick houses. "Ah, here is
Simpson to report."
"He's in all right, Mr. Holmes," cried a small street Arab,
running up to us.
"Good, Simpson!" said Holmes, patting him on the head.
"Come along, Watson. This is the house." He sent in his card
with a message that he had come on important business, and a
moment later we were face to face with the man whom we had
come to see. In spite of the warm weather he was crouching over
a fire, and the little room was like an oven. The man sat all
twisted and huddled in his chair in a way which gave an indescribable impression of deformity; but the face which he turned
towards us, though worn and swarthy, must at some time have
been remarkable for its beauty. He looked suspiciously at us now
out of yellow-shot, bilious eyes, and, without speaking or rising,
he waved towards two chairs.
"Mr. Henry Wood, late of India, I believe," said Holmes
affably. "I've come over this little matter of Colonel Barclay's
"What should I know about that?"
"That's what I want to ascertain. You know, I suppose, that
unless the matter is cleared up, Mrs. Barclay, who is an old
friend of yours, will in all probability be tried for murder."
The man gave a violent start.
"I don't know who you are," he cried, "nor how you come
to know what you do know, but will you swear that this is true
that you tell me?"
"Why, they are only waiting for her to come to her senses to
"My God! Are you in the police yourself?"
"What business is it of yours, then?"
"It's every man's business to see justice done."
"You can take my word that she is innocent."
"Then you are guilty."
"No, I am not."
"Who killed Colonel James Barclay, then?"
"It was a just Providence that killed him. But, mind you this,
that if I had knocked his brains out, as it was in my heart to do,
he would have had no more than his due from my hands. If his
own guilty conscience had not struck him down it is likely
enough that I might have had his blood upon my soul. You want
me to tell the story. Well, I don't know why I shouldn't, for
there's no cause for me to be ashamed of it.
"It was in this way, sir. You see me now with my back like a
camel and my ribs all awry, but there was a time when Corporal
Henry Wood was the smartest man in the One Hundred and
Seventeenth foot. We were in India, then, in cantonments, at a
place we'll call Bhurtee. Barclay, who died the other day, was
sergeant in the same company as myself, and the belle of the
regiment, ay, and the finest girl that ever had the breath of life
between her lips, was Nancy Devoy, the daughter of the colour-sergeant. There were two men that loved her, and one that she
loved, and you'll smile when you look at this poor thing huddled
before the fire and hear me say that it was for my good looks that
she loved me.
"Well, though I had her heart, her father was set upon her
marrying Barclay. I was a harum-scarum, reckless lad, and he
had had an education and was already marked for the sword-belt.
But the girl held true to me, and it seemed that I would have had
her when the Mutiny broke out, and all hell was loose in the
"We were shut up in Bhurtee, the regiment of us with half a
battery of artillery, a company of Sikhs, and a lot of civilians
and women-folk. There were ten thousand rebels round us, and
they were as keen as a set of terriers round a rat-cage. About the
second week of it our water gave out, and it was a question
whether we could communicate with General Neill's column,
which was moving up-country. It was our only chance, for we
could not hope to fight our way out with all the women and
children, so I volunteered to go out and to warn General Neill of
our danger. My offer was accepted, and I talked it over with
Sergeant Barclay, who was supposed to know the ground better
than any other man, and who drew up a route by which I might
get through the rebel lines. At ten o'clock the same night I
started off upon my journey. There were a thousand lives to
save, but it was of only one that I was thinking when I dropped
over the wall that night.
"My way ran down a dried-up watercourse, which we hoped
would screen me from the enemy's sentries; but as I crept round
the corner of it I walked right into six of them, who were
crouching down in the dark waiting for me. In an instant I was
stunned with a blow and bound hand and foot. But the real blow
was to my heart and not to my head, for as I came to and
listened to as much as I could understand of their talk, I heard
enough to tell me that my comrade, the very man who had
arranged the way I was to take, had betrayed me by means of a
native servant into the hands of the enemy.
"Well, there's no need for me to dwell on that part of it. You
know now what James Barclay was capable of. Bhurtee was
relieved by Neill next day, but the rebels took me away with
them in their retreat, and it was many a long year before ever I
saw a white face again. I was tortured and tried to get away, and
was captured and tortured again. You can see for yourselves the
state in which I was left. Some of them that fled into Nepal took
me with them, and then afterwards I was up past Darjeeling. The
hill-folk up there murdered the rebels who had me, and I became
their slave for a time until I escaped; but instead of going south I
had to go north, until I found myself among the Afghans. There
I wandered about for many a year, and at last came back to the
Punjab, where I lived mostly among the natives and picked up a
living by the conjuring tricks that I had learned. What use was it
for me, a wretched cripple, to go back to England or to make
myself known to my old comrades? Even my wish for revenge
would not make me do that. I had rather that Nancy and my old
pals should think of Harry Wood as having died with a straight
back, than see him living and crawling with a stick like a
chimpanzee. They never doubted that I was dead, and I meant
that they never should. I heard that Barclay had married Nancy,
and that he was rising rapidly in the regiment, but even that did
not make me speak.
"But when one gets old one has a longing for home. For years
I've been dreaming of the bright green fields and the hedges of
England. At last I determined to see them before I died. I saved
enough to bring me across, and then I came here where the
soldiers are, for I know their ways and how to amuse them and
so earn enough to keep me."
"Your narrative is most interesting," said Sherlock Holmes.
"I have already heard of your meeting with Mrs. Barclay, and
your mutual recognition. You then, as I understand, followed her
home and saw through the window an altercation between her
husband and her, in which she doubtless cast his conduct to you
in his teeth. Your own feelings overcame you, and you ran
across the lawn and broke in upon them."
"I did, sir, and at the sight of me he looked as I have never
seen a man look before, and over he went with his head on the
fender. But he was dead before he fell. I read death on his face
as plain as I can read that text over the fire. The bare sight of me
was like a bullet through his guilty heart."
"Then Nancy fainted, and I caught up the key of the door
from her hand, intending to unlock it and get help. But as I was
doing it it seemed to me better to leave it alone and get away, for
the thing might look black against me, and anyway my secret
would be out if I were taken. In my haste I thrust the key into
my pocket, and dropped my stick while I was chasing Teddy,
who had run up the curtain. When I got him into his box, from
which he had slipped, I was off as fast as I could run."
"Who's Teddy?" asked Holmes.
The man leaned over and pulled up the front of a kind of hutch
in the corner. In an instant out there slipped a beautiful reddish-brown creature, thin and lithe, with the legs of a stoat, a long,
thin nose, and a pair of the finest red eyes that ever I saw in an
"It's a mongoose," I cried.
"Well, some call them that, and some call them ichneumon,"
said the man. "Snake-catcher is what I call them, and Teddy is
amazing quick on cobras. I have one here without the fangs, and
Teddy catches it every night to please the folk in the canteen.
"Any other point, sir?"
"Well, we may have to apply to you again if Mrs. Barclay
should prove to be in serious trouble."
"In that case, of course, I'd come forward."
"But if not, there is no object in raking up this scandal against
a dead man, foully as he has acted. You have at least the
satisfaction of knowing that for thirty years of his life his conscience bitterly reproached him for his wicked deed. Ah, there
goes Major Murphy on the other side of the street. Good-bye,
Wood. I want to learn if anything has happened since yesterday."
We were in time to overtake the major before he reached the
"Ah, Holmes," he said, "I suppose you have heard that all
this fuss has come to nothing?"
"The inquest is just over. The medical evidence showed
conclusively that death was due to apoplexy. You see it was
quite a simple case, after all."
"Oh, remarkably superficial," said Holmes, smiling. "Come,
Watson, I don't think we shall be wanted in Aldershot any
"There's one thing," said I as we walked down to the station.
"If the husband's name was James, and the other was Henry,
what was this talk about David?"
"That one word, my dear Watson, should have told me the
whole story had I been the ideal reasoner which you are so fond
of depicting. It was evidently a term of reproach."
"Yes; David strayed a little occasionally, you know, and on
one occasion in the same direction as Sergeant James Barclay.
You remember the small affair of Uriah and Bathsheba? My
Biblical knowledge is a trifle rusty, I fear, but you will find the
story in the first or second of Samuel."
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