The Yellow Face 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.
This tale records one of Sherlock Holmes' few outright failures at solving a case. As the tale unfolds, Holmes develops a theory which fits all (well, most of) the facts he has available, but a few critical details hidden from him and from his client serve to take the dènouement in an entirely different direction than he foresaw.
The Yellow Face (not, by the way, a reference to the Asian complexion but rather a pale mask) illustrates some of the complexities of race relations in Victorian England and America. Although none of the characters act in an overt or cruelly racist manner (compared with The Sign of Four), the underlying motivation of the characters more than hints at how society as a whole would have perceived the situation.
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The Yellow Face
[In publishing these short sketches based upon the numerous cases in which my companion's singular gifts have
made us the listeners to, and eventually the actors in, some
strange drama, it is only natural that I should dwell rather
upon his successes than upon his failures. And this not so
much for the sake of his reputation — for, indeed, it was
when he was at his wit's end that his energy and his
versatility were most admirable — but because where he failed
it happened too often that no one else succeeded, and that
the tale was left forever without a conclusion. Now and
again, however, it chanced that even when he erred the
truth was still discovered. I have notes of some half-dozen
cases of the kind, the adventure of the Musgrave Ritual and
that which I am about to recount are the two which present
the strongest features of interest.]
Sherlock Holmes was a man who seldom took exercise for
exercise's sake. Few men were capable of greater muscular
effort, and he was undoubtedly one of the finest boxers of his
weight that I have ever seen; but he looked upon aimless bodily
exertion as a waste of energy, and he seldom bestirred himself
save where there was some professional object to be served.
Then he was absolutely untiring and indefatigable. That he should
have kept himself in training under such circumstances is remarkable, but his diet was usually of the sparest, and his habits
were simple to the verge of austerity. Save for the occasional use
of cocaine, he had no vices, and he only turned to the drug as a
protest against the monotony of existence when cases were scanty
and the papers uninteresting.
One day in early spring he had so far relaxed as to go for a
walk with me in the Park, where the first faint shoots of green
were breaking out upon the elms, and the sticky spear-heads of
the chestnuts were just beginning to burst into their
leaves. For two hours we rambled about together, in silence for
the most part, as befits two men who know each other intimately. It was nearly five before we were back in Baker Street
"Beg pardon, sir," said our page-boy as he opened the door.
"There's been a gentleman here asking for you, sir."
Holmes glanced reproachfully at me. "So much for afternoon
walks!" said he. "Has this gentleman gone, then?"
"Didn't you ask him in?"
"Yes, sir, he came in."
"How long did he wait?"
"Half an hour, sir. He was a very restless gentleman, sir
a-walkin' and a-stampin' all the time he was here. I was waitin'
outside the door, sir, and I could hear him. At last he outs into
the passage, and he cries, 'Is that man never goin' to come?'
Those were his very words, sir. 'You'll only need to wait a little
longer,' says I. 'Then I'll wait in the open air, for I feel half
choked,' says he. 'I'll be back before long.' And with that he ups
and he outs, and all I could say wouldn't hold him back."
"Well, well, you did your best," said Holmes as we walked
into our room. "It's very annoying, though, Watson. I was badly
in need of a case, and this looks, from the man's impatience, as
if it were of importance. Hullo! that's not your pipe on the table.
He must have left his behind him. A nice old brier with a good
long stem of what the tobacconists call amber. I wonder how
many real amber mouthpieces there are in London? Some people
think that a fly in it is a sign. Well, he must have been disturbed
in his mind to leave a pipe behind him which he evidently values
"How do you know that he values it highly?" I asked.
"Well, I should put the original cost of the pipe at seven and
sixpence. Now it has, you see, been twice mended, once in the
wooden stem and once in the amber. Each of these mends, done,
as you observe, with silver bands, must have cost more than the
pipe did originally. The man must value the pipe highly when he
prefers to patch it up rather than buy a new one with the same
"Anything else?" I asked, for Holmes was turning the pipe
about in his hand and staring at it in his peculiar pensive way.
He held it up and tapped on it with his long, thin forefinger,
as a professor might who was lecturing on a bone.
"Pipes are occasionally of extraordinary interest," said he.
"Nothing has more individuality, save perhaps watches and
bootlaces. The indications here, however, are neither very marked
nor very important. The owner is obviously a muscular man,
left-handed, with an excellent set of teeth, careless in his habits,
and with no need to practise economy."
My friend threw out the information in a very offhand way, but
I saw that he cocked his eye at me to see if I had followed his
"You think a man must be well-to-do if he smokes a
seven-shilling pipe?" said I.
"This is Grosvenor mixture at eightpence an ounce," Holmes
answered, knocking a little out on his palm. "As he might get an
excellent smoke for half the price, he has no need to practise
"And the other points?"
"He has been in the habit of lighting his pipe at lamps and
gasjets. You can see that it is quite charred all down one side.
Of course a match could not have done that. Why should a man
hold a match to the side of his pipe? But you cannot light it at a
lamp without getting the bowl charred. And it is all on the right
side of the pipe. From that I gather that he is a left-handed man.
You hold your own pipe to the lamp and see how naturally you,
being right-handed, hold the left side to the flame. You might do
it once the other way, but not as a constancy. This has always
been held so. Then he has bitten through his amber. It takes a
muscular, energetic fellow, and one with a good set of teeth, to
do that. But if I am not mistaken I hear him upon the stair, so we
shall have something more interesting than his pipe to study."
An instant later our door opened, and a tall young man
entered the room. He was well but quietly dressed in a dark gray
suit and carried a brown wideawake in his hand. I should have
put him at about thirty, though he was really some years older.
"l beg your pardon," said he with some embarrassment, "I
suppose I should have knocked. Yes, of course I should have
knocked. The fact is that I am a little upset, and you must put it
all down to that." He passed his hand over his forehead like a
man who is half dazed, and then fell rather than sat down upon a
"I can see that you have not slept for a night or two," said
Holmes in his easy, genial way. "That tries a man's nerves more
than work, and more even than pleasure. May I ask how I can
"I wanted your advice, sir. I don't know what to do, and my
whole life seems to have gone to pieces."
"You wish to employ me as a consulting detective?"
"Not that only. I want your opinion as a judicious man — as a
man of the world. I want to know what I ought to do next. I hope
to God you'll be able to tell me."
He spoke in little, sharp, jerky outbursts, and it seemed to me
that to speak at all was very painful to him, and that his will all
through was overriding his inclinations.
"It's a very delicate thing," said he. "One does not like to
speak of one's domestic affairs to strangers. It seems dreadful to
discuss the conduct of one's wife with two men whom I have
never seen before. It's horrible to have to do it. But I've got to
the end of my tether, and I must have advice."
"My dear Mr. Grant Munro —" began Holmes.
Our visitor sprang from his chair. "What!" he cried, "you
know my name?"
"If you wish to preserve your incognito," said Holmes, smiling, "I would suggest that you cease to write your name upon
the lining of your hat, or else that you turn the crown towards the
person whom you are addressing. I was about to say that my
friend and I have listened to a good many strange secrets in this
room, and that we have had the good fortune to bring peace to
many troubled souls. I trust that we may do as much for you.
Might I beg you, as time may prove to be of importance, to
furnish me with the facts of your case without further delay?"
Our visitor again passed his hand over his forehead, as if he
found it bitterly hard. From every gesture and expression I could
see that he was a reserved, self-contained man, with a dash of
pride in his nature, more likely to hide his wounds than to
expose them. Then suddenly. with a fierce gesture of his closed
hand, like one who throws reserve to the winds, he began:
"The facts are these, Mr. Holmes," said he. "I am a married
man and have been so for three years. During that time my wife
and I have loved each other as fondly and lived as happily as any
two that ever were joined. We have not had a difference, not
one, in thought or word or deed. And now, since last Monday,
there has suddenly sprung up a barrier between us. and I find
that there is something in her life and in her thoughts of which I
know as little as if she were the woman who brushes by me in
the street. We are estranged, and I want to know why.
"Now there is one thing that I want to impress upon you
before I go any further, Mr. Holmes. Effie loves me. Don't let
there be any mistake about that. She loves me with her whole
heart and soul, and never more than now. I know it. I feel it. I
don't want to argue about that. A man can tell easily enough
when a woman loves him. But there's this secret between us,
and we can never be the same until it is cleared."
"Kindly let me have the facts, Mr. Munro," said Holmes
with some impatience.
"I'll tell you what I know about Effie's history. She was a
widow when I met her first, though quite young — only twenty-
five. Her name then was Mrs. Hebron. She went out to America
when she was young and lived in the town of Atlanta, where she
married this Hebron, who was a lawyer with a good practice.
They had one child, but the yellow fever broke out badly in the
place, and both husband and child died of it. I have seen his
death certificate. This sickened her of America, and she came
back to live with a maiden aunt at Pinner, in Middlesex. I may
mention that her husband had left her comfortably off, and that
she had a capital of about four thousand five hundred pounds,
which had been so well invested by him that it returned an
average of seven per cent. She had only been six months at
Pinner when I met her; we fell in love with each other, and we
married a few weeks afterwards.
"I am a hop merchant myself, and as I have an income of
seven or eight hundred, we found ourselves comfortably off and
took a nice eighty-pound-a-year villa at Norbury. Our little place
was very countrified, considering that it is so close to town. We
had an inn and two houses a little above us, and a single cottage
at the other side of the field which faces us, and except those
there were no houses until you got halfway to the station. My
business took me into town at certain seasons, but in summer I
had less to do, and then in our country home my wife and I were
just as happy as could be wished. I tell you that there never was
a shadow between us until this accursed affair began.
"There's one thing I ought to tell you before I go further.
When we married, my wife made over all her property to
me — rather against my will, for I saw how awkward it would be
if my business affairs went wrong. However, she would have it
so, and it was done. Well, about six weeks ago she came to me.
" 'Jack,' said she, 'when you took my money you said that if
ever I wanted any I was to ask you for it.'
" 'Certainly ' said I. 'It's all your own.'
" 'Well,' said she, 'I want a hundred pounds.'
"I was a bit staggered at this, for I had imagined it was simply
a new dress or something of the kind that she was after.
" 'What on earth for?' I asked.
" 'Oh,' said she in her playful way, 'you said that you were
only my banker, and bankers never ask questions, you know.'
" 'If you really mean it, of course you shall have the money,'
" 'Oh, yes, I really mean it.'
" 'And you won't tell me what you want it for?'
" 'Some day, perhaps, but not just at present, Jack.'
"So I had to be content with that, though it was the first time
that there had ever been any secret between us. I gave her a
check, and I never thought any more of the matter. It may have
nothing to do with what came afterwards, but I thought it only
right to mention it.
"Well, I told you just now that there is a cottage not far from
our house. There is just a field between us, but to reach it you
have to go along the road and then turn down a lane. Just beyond
it is a nice little grove of Scotch firs, and I used to be very fond
of strolling down there, for trees are always a neighbourly kind
of thing. The cottage had been standing empty this eight months,
and it was a pity, for it was a pretty two-storied place, with an
old-fashioned porch and a honeysuckle about it. I have stood
many a time and thought what a neat little homestead it would
"Well, last Monday evening I was taking a stroll down that
way when I met an empty van coming up the lane and saw a pile
of carpets and things lying about on the grass-plot beside the
porch. It was clear that the cottage had at last been let. I walked
past it, and then stopping, as an idle man might, I ran my eye
over it and wondered what sort of folk they were who had come
to live so near us. And as I looked I suddenly became aware that
a face was watching me out of one of the upper windows.
"I don't know what there was about that face, Mr. Holmes,
but it seemed to send a chill right down my back. I was some
little way off, so that I could not make out the features, but there
was something unnatural and inhuman about the face. That was
the impression that I had, and I moved quickly forward to get a
nearer view of the person who was watching me. But as I did so
the face suddenly disappeared, so suddenly that it seemed to
have been plucked away into the darkness of the room. I stood
for five minutes thinking the business over and trying to analyze
my impressions. I could not tell if the face was that of a man or a
woman. It had been too far from me for that. But its colour was
what had impressed me most. It was of a livid chalky white, and
with something set and rigid about it which was shockingly
unnatural. So disturbed was I that I determined to see a little
more of the new inmates of the cottage. I approached and
knocked at the door, which was instantly opened by a tall, gaunt
woman with a harsh, forbidding face.
" 'What may you be wantin'?' she asked in a Northern accent.
"I am your neighbour over yonder,' said I, nodding towards
my house. 'I see that you have only just moved in, so I thought
that if I could be of any help to you in any —'
" 'Ay, We'll just ask ye when we want ye,' said she, and shut
the door in my face. Annoyed at the churlish rebuff, I turned my
back and walked home. All evening, though I tried to think of
other things, my mind would still turn to the apparition at the
window and the rudeness of the woman. I determined to say
nothing about the former to my wife, for she is a nervous, highly
strung woman, and I had no wish that she should share the
unpleasant impression which had been produced upon myself. I
remarked to her, however, before I fell asleep, that the cottage
was now occupied, to which she returned no reply.
"I am usually an extremely sound sleeper. It has been a
standing jest in the family that nothing could ever wake me
during the night. And yet somehow on that particular night,
whether it may have been the slight excitement produced by my
little adventure or not I know not, but I slept much more lightly
than usual. Half in my dreams I was dimly conscious that something
was going on in the room, and gradually became aware that my
wife had dressed herself and was slipping on her mantle and her
bonnet. My lips were parted to murmur out some sleepy words
of surprise or remonstrance at this untimely preparation, when
suddenly my half-opened eyes fell upon her face, illuminated by
the candle-light, and astonishment held me dumb. She wore an
expression such as I had never seen before — such as I should
have thought her incapable of assuming. She was deadly pale
and breathing fast, glancing furtively towards the bed as she
fastened her mantle to see if she had disturbed me. Then
thinking that I was still asleep, she slipped noiselessly from the
room, and an instant later I heard a sharp creaking which could
only come from the hinges of the front door. I sat up in bed and
rapped my knuckles against the rail to make certain that I was
truly awake. Then I took my watch from under the pillow. It was
three in the morning. What on this earth could my wife be doing
out on the country road at three in the morning?
"I had sat for about twenty minutes turning the thing over in
my mind and trying to find some possible explanation. The more
I thought, the more extraordinary and inexplicable did it appear.
I was still puzzling over it when I heard the door gently close
again, and her footsteps coming up the stairs.
" 'Where in the world have you been, Effie?' I asked as she
"She gave a violent start and a kind of gasping cry when I
spoke, and that cry and start troubled me more than all the rest,
for there was something indescribably guilty about them. My
wife had always been a woman of a frank, open nature, and it
gave me a chill to see her slinking into her own room and crying
out and wincing when her own husband spoke to her.
" 'You awake, Jack!' she cried with a nervous laugh. 'Why, I
thought that nothing could awake you.'
" 'Where have you been?' I asked, more sternly.
" 'I don't wonder that you are surprised,' said she, and I
could see that her fingers were trembling as she undid the
fastenings of her mantle. 'Why, I never remember having done
such a thing in my life before. The fact is that I felt as though I
were choking and had a perfect longing for a breath of fresh air.
I really think that I should have fainted if I had not gone out. I
stood at the door for a few minutes, and now I am quite myself
"All the time that she was telling me this story she never once
looked in my direction, and her voice was quite unlike her usual
tones. It was evident to me that she was saying what was false. I
said nothing in reply, but turned my face to the wall, sick at
heart, with my mind filled with a thousand venomous doubts and
suspicions. What was it that my wife was concealing from me?
Where had she been during that strange expedition? I felt that I
should have no peace until I knew, and yet I shrank from asking
her again after once she had told me what was false. All the rest
of the night I tossed and tumbled, framing theory after theory,
each more unlikely than the last.
"I should have gone to the City that day, but I was too
disturbed in my mind to be able to pay attention to business
matters. My wife seemed to be as upset as myself, and I could
see from the little questioning glances which she kept shooting at
me that she understood that I disbelieved her statement, and that
she was at her wit's end what to do. We hardly exchanged a
word during breakfast, and immediately afterwards I went out
for a walk that I might think the matter out in the fresh morning
"I went as far as the Crystal Palace, spent an hour in the
grounds, and was back in Norbury by one o'clock. It happened
that my way took me past the cottage, and I stopped for an
instant to look at the windows and to see if I could catch a
glimpse of the strange face which had looked out at me on the
day before. As I stood there, imagine my surprise, Mr. Holmes,
when the door suddenly opened and my wife walked out.
"I was struck dumb with astonishment at the sight of her, but
my emotions were nothing to those which showed themselves
upon her face when our eyes met. She seemed for an instant to
wish to shrink back inside the house again; and then, seeing how
useless all concealment must be, she came forward, with a very
white face and frightened eyes which belied the smile upon her
" 'Ah, Jack,' she said, 'I have just been in to see if I can be
of any assistance to our new neighbours. Why do you look at me
like that, Jack? You are not angry with me?'
" 'So,' said I, 'this is where you went during the night.'
" 'What do you mean?' she cried.
" 'You came here. I am sure of it. Who are these people that
you should visit them at such an hour?'
" 'I have not been here before.'
" 'How can you tell me what you know is false?' I cried.
'Your very voice changes as you speak. When have I ever had a
secret from you? I shall enter that cottage, and I shall probe the
matter to the bottom.'
" 'No, no, Jack, for God's sake!' she gasped in uncontrollable emotion. Then, as I approached the door, she seized my
sleeve and pulled me back with convulsive strength.
" 'I implore you not to do this, Jack,' she cried. 'I swear that
I will tell you everything some day, but nothing but misery can
come of it if you enter that cottage.' Then, as I tried to shake her
off, she clung to me in a frenzy of entreaty.
" 'Trust me, Jack!' she cried. 'Trust me only this once. You
will never have cause to regret it. You know that I would not
have a secret from you if it were not for your own sake. Our
whole lives are at stake in this. If you come home with me all
will be well. If you force your way into that cottage all is over
"There was such earnestness, such despair, in her manner that
her words arrested me, and I stood irresolute before the door.
" 'I will trust you on one condition, and on one condition
only,' said I at last. 'It is that this mystery comes to an end from
now. You are at liberty to preserve your secret, but you must
promise me that there shall be no more nightly visits, no more
doings which are kept from my knowledge. I am willing to
forget those which are past if you will promise that there shall be
no more in the future.'
" 'I was sure that you would trust me,' she cried with a great
sigh of relief. 'It shall be just as you wish. Come away — oh,
come away up to the house.'
"Still pulling at my sleeve, she led me away from the cottage.
As we went I glanced back, and there was that yellow livid face
watching us out of the upper window. What link could there be
between that creature and my wife? Or how could the coarse,
rough woman whom I had seen the day before be connected with
her? It was a strange puzzle, and yet I knew that my mind could
never know ease again until I had solved it.
"For two days after this I stayed at home, and my wife
appeared to abide loyally by our engagement, for, as far as I
know, she never stirred out of the house. On the third day
however, I had ample evidence that her solemn promise was not
enough to hold her back from this secret influence which drew
her away from her husband and her duty.
"I had gone into town on that day, but I returned by the 2:40
instead of the 3:36, which is my usual train. As I entered the
house the maid ran into the hall with a startled face.
" 'Where is your mistress?' I asked.
" 'I think that she has gone out for a walk,' she answered.
"My mind was instantly filled with suspicion. I rushed upstairs to make sure that she was not in the house. As I did so I
happened to glance out of one of the upper windows and saw the
maid with whom I had just been speaking running across the
field in the direction of the cottage. Then of course I saw exactly
what it all meant. My wife had gone over there and had asked
the servant to call her if I should return. Tingling with anger, I
rushed down and hurried across, determined to end the matter
once and forever. I saw my wife and the maid hurrying back
along the lane, but I did not stop to speak with them. In the
cottage lay the secret which was casting a shadow over my life. I
vowed that, come what might, it should be a secret no longer. I
did not even knock when I reached it, but turned the handle and
rushed into the passage.
"It was all still and quiet upon the ground floor. In the kitchen
a kettle was singing on the fire, and a large black cat lay coiled
up in the basket; but there was no sign of the woman whom I had
seen before. I ran into the other room, but it was equally
deserted. Then I rushed up the stairs only to find two other
rooms empty and deserted at the top. There was no one at all in
the whole house. The furniture and pictures were of the most
common and vulgar description, save in the one chamber at the
window of which I had seen the strange face. That was comfortable and elegant, and all my suspicions rose into a fierce, bitter
flame when I saw that on the mantelpiece stood a copy of a
full-length photograph of my wife, which had been taken at my
request only three months ago.
"I stayed long enough to make certain that the house was
absolutely empty. Then I left it, feeling a weight at my heart
such as I had never had before. My wife came out into the hall
as I entered my house; but I was too hurt and angry to speak with
her, and, pushing past her, I made my way into my study. She
followed me, however, before I could close the door.
" 'I am sorry that I broke my promise, Jack,' said she, 'but if
you knew all the circumstances I am sure that you would forgive
" 'Tell me everything, then,' said I.
" 'I cannot, Jack, I cannot,' she cried.
" 'Until you tell me who it is that has been living in that
cottage, and who it is to whom you have given that photograph,
there can never be any confidence between us,' said I, and
breaking away from her I left the house. That was yesterday,
Mr. Holmes, and I have not seen her since, nor do I know
anything more about this strange business. It is the first shadow
that has come between us, and it has so shaken me that I do not
know what I should do for the best. Suddenly this morning it
occurred to me that you were the man to advise me, so I have
hurried to you now, and I place myself unreservedly in your
hands. If there is any point which I have not made clear, pray
question me about it. But, above all, tell me quickly what I am
to do. for this misery is more than I can bear."
Holmes and I had listened with the utmost interest to this
extraordinary statement, which had been delivered in the jerky,
broken fashion of a man who is under the influence of extreme
emotion. My companion sat silent now for some time, with his
chin upon his hand, lost in thought.
"Tell me," said he at last, "could you swear that this was a
man's face which you saw at the window?"
"Each time that I saw it I was some distance away from it
so that it is impossible for me to say."
"You appear, however, to have been disagreeably impressed
"It seemed to be of an unusual colour and to have a strange
rigidity about the features. When I approached it vanished with a
"How long is it since your wife asked you for a hundred
"Nearly two months."
"Have you ever seen a photograph of her first husband?"
"No, there was a great fire at Atlanta very shortly after his
death, and all her papers were destroyed."
"And yet she had a certificate of death. You say that you saw
"Yes, she got a duplicate after the fire."
"Did you ever meet anyone who knew her in America?"
"Did she ever talk of revisiting the place?"
"Or get letters from it?"
"Thank you. I should like to think over the matter a little
now. If the cottage is now permanently deserted we may have
some difficulty. If, on the other hand, as I fancy is more likely
the inmates were warned of your coming and left before you
entered yesterday, then they may be back now, and we should
clear it all up easily. Let me advise you, then, to return to
Norbury and to examine the windows of the cottage again. If
you have reason to believe that it is inhabited, do not force your
way in, but send a wire to my friend and me. We shall be with
you within an hour of receiving it, and we shall then very soon
get to the bottom of the business."
"And if it is still empty?''
"In that case I shall come out to-morrow and talk it over with
you. Good-bye, and, above all, do not fret until you know that
you really have a cause for it."
"I am afraid that this is a bad business, Watson," said my
companion as he returned after accompanying Mr. Grant Munro
to the door. "What do you make of it?"
"It had an ugly sound," I answered.
"Yes. There's blackmail in it, or I am much mistaken."
"And who is the blackmailer?"
"Well, it must be the creature who lives in the only comfortable room in the place and has her photograph above his fireplace. Upon my word, Watson, there is something very attractive
about that livid face at the window, and I would not have missed
the case for worlds."
"You have a theory?"
"Yes, a provisional one. But I shall be surprised if it does not
turn out to be correct. This woman's first husband is in that
"Why do you think so?"
"How else can we explain her frenzied anxiety that her second
one should not enter it? The facts, as I read them, are something
like this: This woman was married in America. Her husband
developed some hateful qualities, or shall we say he contracted
some loathsome disease and became a leper or an imbecile? She
flies from him at last, returns to England, changes her name, and
starts her life, as she thinks, afresh. She has been married three
years and believes that her position is quite secure, having shown
her husband the death certificate of some man whose name she
has assumed, when suddenly her whereabouts is discovered by
her first husband, or, we may suppose, by some unscrupulous
woman who has attached herself to the invalid. They write to the
wife and threaten to come and expose her. She asks for a
hundred pounds and endeavours to buy them off. They come in
spite of it, and when the husband mentions casually to the wife
that there are newcomers in the cottage, she knows in some way
that they are her pursuers. She waits until her husband is asleep
and then she rushes down to endeavour to persuade them to leave
her in peace. Having no success, she goes again next morning,
and her husband meets her, as he has told us, as she comes out.
She promises him then not to go there again, but two days
afterwards the hope of getting rid of those dreadful neighbours
was too strong for her, and she made another attempt, taking
down with her the photograph which had probably been demanded from her. In the midst of this interview the maid rushed
in to say that the master had come home, on which the wife,
knowing that he would come straight down to the cottage,
hurried the inmates out at the back door, into the grove of
fir-trees, probably, which was mentioned as standing near. In
this way he found the place deserted. I shall be very much
surprised, however, if it is still so when he reconnoitres it this
evening. What do you think of my theory?"
"It is all surmise."
"But at least it covers all the facts. When new facts come to
our knowledge which cannot be covered by it, it will be time
enough to reconsider it. We can do nothing more until we have a
message from our friend at Norbury."
But we had not a very long time to wait for that. It came just
as we had finished our tea.
The cottage is still tenanted [it said]. Have seen the face
again at the window. Will meet the seven-o'clock train and
will take no steps until you arrive.
He was waiting on the platform when we stepped out, and we
could see in the light of the station lamps that he was very pale,
and quivering with agitation.
"They are still there, Mr. Holmes," said he, laying his hand
hard upon my friend's sleeve. "I saw lights in the cottage as I
came down. We shall settle it now once and for all."
"What is your plan, then?" asked Holmes as he walked down
the dark tree-lined road.
"I am going to force my way in and see for myself who is in
the house. I wish you both to be there as witnesses."
"You are quite determined to do this in spite of your wife's
warning that it is better that you should not solve the mystery?"
"Yes, I am determined."
"Well, I think that you are in the right. Any truth is better
than indefinite doubt. We had better go up at once. Of course,
legally, we are putting ourselves hopelessly in the wrong; but I
think that it is worth it."
It was a very dark night, and a thin rain began to fall as we
turned from the highroad into a narrow lane, deeply rutted, with
hedges on either side. Mr. Grant Munro pushed impatiently
forward, however, and we stumbled after him as best we could.
"There are the lights of my house," he murmured, pointing to
a glimmer among the trees. "And here is the cottage which I am
going to enter."
We turned a corner in the lane as he spoke, and there was the
building close beside us. A yellow bar falling across the black
foreground showed that the door was not quite closed, and one
window in the upper story was brightly illuminated. As we
looked, we saw a dark blur moving across the blind.
"There is that creature!" cried Grant Munro. "You can see
for yourselves that someone is there. Now follow me, and we
shall soon know all."
We approached the door, but suddenly a woman appeared out
of the shadow and stood in the golden track of the lamplight. I
could not see her face in the darkness, but her arms were thrown
out in an attitude of entreaty.
"For God's sake, don't, Jack!" she cried. "I had a presentiment that you would come this evening. Think better of it, dear!
Trust me again, and you will never have cause to regret it."
"I have trusted you too long, Effie," he cried sternly. "Leave
go of me! I must pass you. My friends and I are going to settle
this matter once and forever!" He pushed her to one side, and
we followed closely after him. As he threw the door open an old
woman ran out in front of him and tried to bar his passage, but
he thrust her back, and an instant afterwards we were all upon
the stairs. Grant Munro rushed into the lighted room at the top,
and we entered at his heels.
It was a cosy, well-furnished apartment, with two candles
burning upon the table and two upon the mantelpiece. In the
corner, stooping over a desk, there sat what appeared to be a
little girl. Her face was turned away as we entered, but we could
see that she was dressed in a red frock, and that she had long
white gloves on. As she whisked round to us, I gave a cry of
surprise and horror. The face which she turned towards us was of
the strangest livid tint, and the features were absolutely devoid of
any expression. An instant later the mystery was explained.
Holmes, with a laugh, passed his hand behind the child's ear, a
mask peeled off from her countenance, and there was a little
coal-black negress, with all her white teeth flashing in amusement at our amazed faces. I burst out laughing, out of sympathy
with her merriment; but Grant Munro stood staring, with his
hand clutching his throat.
"My God!" he cried. "What can be the meaning of this?"
"I will tell you the meaning of it," cried the lady, sweeping
into the room with a proud, set face. "You have forced me,
against my own judgment, to tell you, and now we must both
make the best of it. My husband died at Atlanta. My child
She drew a large silver locket from her bosom. "You have
never seen this open."
"I understood that it did not open."
She touched a spring, and the front hinged back. There was a
portrait within of a man strikingly handsome and intelligent-
looking, but bearing unmistakable signs upon his features of his
"That is John Hebron, of Atlanta," said the lady, "and a
nobler man never walked the earth. I cut myself off from my
race in order to wed him, but never once while he lived did I for
an instant regret it. It was our misfortune that our only child took
after his people rather than mine. It is often so in such matches,
and little Lucy is darker far than ever her father was. But dark or
fair, she is my own dear little girlie, and her mother's pet." The
little creature ran across at the words and nestled up against the
lady's dress. "When I left her in America," she continued, "it
was only because her health was weak, and the change might
have done her harm. She was given to the care of a faithful
Scotch woman who had once been our servant. Never for an
instant did I dream of disowning her as my child. But when
chance threw you in my way, Jack, and I learned to love you, I
feared to tell you about my child. God forgive me, I feared that I
should lose you, and I had not the courage to tell you. I had to
choose between you, and in my weakness I turned away from
my own little girl. For three years I have kept her existence a
secret from you, but I heard from the nurse, and I knew that all
was well with her. At last, however, there came an overwhelming desire to see the child once more. I struggled against it, but
in vain. Though I knew the danger, I determined to have the
child over, if it were but for a few weeks. I sent a hundred
pounds to the nurse, and I gave her instructions about this
cottage, so that she might come as a neighbour, without my
appearing to be in any way connected with her. I pushed my
precautions so far as to order her to keep the child in the house
during the daytime, and to cover up her little face and hands so
that even those who might see her at the window should not
gossip about there being a black child in the neighbourhood. If I
had been less cautious I might have been more wise. but I was
half crazy with fear that you should learn the truth.
It was you who told me first that the cottage was occupied. I
should have waited for the morning, but I could not sleep for
excitement, and so at last I slipped out, knowing how difficult it
is to awake you. But you saw me go, and that was the beginning
of my troubles. Next day you had my secret at your mercy, but
you nobly refrained from pursuing your advantage. Three days
later, however, the nurse and child only just escaped from the
back door as you rushed in at the front one. And now to-night
you at last know all, and I ask you what is to become of us, my
child and me?" She clasped her hands and waited for an answer.
It was a long ten minutes before Grant Munro broke the
silence, and when his answer came it was one of which I love to
think. He lifted the little child, kissed her, and then, still carrying her, he held his other hand out to his wife and turned towards
"We can talk it over more comfortably at home," said he. "I
am not a very good man, Effie, but I think that I am a better one
than you have given me credit for being."
Holmes and I followed them down the lane, and my friend
plucked at my sleeve as we came out.
"I think," said he, "that we shall be of more use in London
than in Norbury."
Not another word did he say of the case until late that night,
when he was turning away, with his lighted candle, for his
"Watson," said he, "if it should ever strike you that I am
getting a little overconfident in my powers, or giving less pains
to a case than it deserves, kindly whisper 'Norbury' in my ear,
and I shall be infinitely obliged to you."
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