The Adventure of the Second Stain
I had intended "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange" to be the
last of those exploits of my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, which
I should ever communicate to the public. This resolution of mine
was not due to any lack of material, since I have notes of many
hundreds of cases to which I have never alluded, nor was it
caused by any waning interest on the part of my readers in the
singular personality and unique methods of this remarkable man.
The real reason lay in the reluctance which Mr. Holmes has
shown to the continued publication of his experiences. So long
as he was in actual professional practice the records of his
successes were of some practical value to him, but since he has
definitely retired from London and betaken himself to study and
bee-farming on the Sussex Downs, notoriety has become hateful
to him, and he has peremptorily requested that his wishes in this
matter should be strictly observed. It was only upon my repre-
senting to him that I had given a promise that "The Adventure of
the Second Stain" should be published when the times were
ripe, and pointing out to him that it is only appropriate that this
long series of episodes should culminate in the most important
international case which he has ever been called upon to handle,
that I at last succeeded in obtaining his consent that a carefully
guarded account of the incident should at last be laid before the
public. If in telling the story I seem to be somewhat vague in
certain details, the public will readily understand that there is an
excellent reason for my reticence.
It was, then, in a year, and even in a decade, that shall be
nameless, that upon one Tuesday morning in autumn we found
two visitors of European fame within the walls of our humble
room in Baker Street. The one, austere, high-nosed, eagle-eyed,
and dominant, was none other than the illustrious Lord Bellinger,
twice Premier of Britain. The other, dark, clear-cut, and elegant,
hardly yet of middle age, and endowed with every beauty of
body and of mind, was the Right Honourable Trelawney Hope,
Secretary for European Affairs, and the most rising statesman in
the country. They sat side by side upon our paper-littered settee,
and it was easy to see from their worn and anxious faces that it
was business of the most pressing importance which had brought
them. The Premier's thin, blue-veined hands were clasped tightly
over the ivory head of his umbrella, and his gaunt, ascetic face
looked gloomily from Holmes to me. The European Secretary
pulled nervously at his moustache and fidgeted with the seals of
"When I discovered my loss, Mr. Holmes, which was at eight
o'clock this morning, I at once informed the Prime Minister. It
was at his suggestion that we have both come to you."
"Have you informed the police?"
"No, sir," said the Prime Minister, with the quick, decisive
manner for which he was famous. "We have not done so, nor is
it possible that we should do so. To inform the police must, in
the long run, mean to inform the public. This is what we
particularly desire to avoid."
"And why. sir?"
"Because the document in question is of such immense impor-
tance that its publication might very easily -- I might almost say
probably -- lead to European complications of the utmost mo-
ment. It is not too much to say that peace or war may hang upon
the issue. Unless its recovery can be attended with the utmost
secrecy, then it may as well not be recovered at all, for all that is
aimed at by those who have taken it is that its contents should be
"I understand. Now, Mr. Trelawney Hope, I should be much
obliged if you would tell me exactly the circumstances under
which this document disappeared."
"That can be done in a very few words, Mr. Holmes. The
letter -- for it was a letter from a foreign potentate -- was received
six days ago. It was of such importance that I have never left it
in my safe, but I have taken it across each evening to my house
in Whitehall Terrace, and kept it in my bedroom in a locked
despatch-box. It was there last night. Of that I am certain. I
actually opened the box while I was dressing for dinner and saw
the document inside. This morning it was gone. The despatch-
box had stood beside the glass upon my dressing-table all night.
I am a light sleeper, and so is my wife. We are both prepared to
swear that no one could have entered the room during the night.
And yet I repeat that the paper is gone."
"What time did you dine?"
"How long was it before you went to bed?"
"My wife had gone to the theatre. I waited up for her. It was
half-past eleven before we went to our room."
"Then for four hours the despatch-box had lain unguarded?"
"No one is ever permitted to enter that room save the house-
maid in the morning, and my valet, or my wife's maid, during
the rest of the day. They are both trusty servants who have been
with us for some time. Besides, neither of them could possibly
have known that there was anything more valuable than the
ordinary departmental papers in my despatch-box."
"Who did know of the existence of that letter?"
"No one in the house."
"Surely your wife knew?"
"No, sir. I had said nothing to my wife until I missed the
paper this morning."
The Premier nodded approvingly.
"I have long known, sir, how high is your sense of public
duty," said he. "I am convinced that in the case of a secret of
this importance it would rise superior to the most intimate do-
The European Secretary bowed.
"You do me no more than justice, sir. Until this morning I
have never breathed one word to my wife upon this matter."
"Could she have guessed?"
"No, Mr. Holmes, she could not have guessed -- nor could
anyone have guessed."
"Have you lost any documents before?"
"Who is there in England who did know of the existence of
"Each member of the Cabinet was informed of it yesterday,
but the pledge of secrecy which attends every Cabinet meeting
was increased by the solemn warning which was given by the
Prime Minister. Good heavens, to think that within a few hours I
should myself have lost it!" His handsome face was distorted
with a spasm of despair, and his hands tore at his hair. For a
moment we caught a glimpse of the natural man, impulsive,
ardent, keenly sensitive. The next the aristocratic mask was
replaced, and the gentle voice had returned. "Besides the mem-
bers of the Cabinet there are two, or possibly three, departmental
officials who know of the letter. No one else in England, Mr.
Holmes, I assure you."
"I believe that no one abroad has seen it save the man who
wrote it. I am well convinced that his Ministers -- that the usual
official channels have not been employed."
Holmes considered for some little time.
"Now, sir, I must ask you more particularly what this docu-
ment is, and why its disappearance should have such momentous
The two statesmen exchanged a quick glance and the Pre-
mier's shaggy eyebrows gathered in a frown.
"Mr. Holmes, the envelope is a long, thin one of pale blue
colour. There is a seal of red wax stamped with a crouching lion.
It is addressed in large, bold handwriting to --"
"I fear, sir," said Holmes, "that, interesting and indeed
essential as these details are, my inquiries must go more to the
root of things. What was the letter?"
"That is a State secret of the utmost importance, and I fear
that I cannot tell you, nor do I see that it is necessary. If by the
aid of the powers which you are said to possess you can find
such an envelope as I describe with its enclosure, you will have
deserved well of your country, and earned any reward which it
lies in our power to bestow."
Sherlock Holmes rose with a smile.
"You are two of the most busy men in the country," said he,
"and in my own small way I have also a good many calls upon
me. I regret exceedingly that I cannot help you in this matter,
and any continuation of this interview would be a waste of
The Premier sprang to his feet with that quick, fierce gleam of
his deep-set eyes before which a Cabinet has cowered. "I am not
accustomed, sir," he began, but mastered his anger and resumed
his seat. For a minute or more we all sat in silence. Then the old
statesman shrugged his shoulders.
"We must accept your terms, Mr. Holmes. No doubt you are
right, and it is unreasonable for us to expect you to act unless we
give you our entire confidence."
"I agree with you," said the younger statesman.
"Then I will tell you, relying entirely upon your honour and
that of your colleague, Dr. Watson. I may appeal to your patrio-
tism also, for I could not imagine a greater misfortune for the
country than that this affair should come out."
"You may safely trust us."
"The letter, then, is from a certain foreign potentate who has
been ruffled by some recent Colonial developments of this coun-
try. It has been written hurriedly and upon his own responsibility
entirely. Inquiries have shown that his Ministers know nothing of
the matter. At the same time it is couched in so unfortunate a
manner, and certain phrases in it are of so provocative a charac-
ter, that its publication would undoubtedly lead to a most danger-
ous state of feeling in this country. There would be such a
ferment, sir, that I do not hesitate to say that within a week of
the publication of that letter this country would be involved in a
Holmes wrote a name upon a slip of paper and handed it to the
"Exactly. It was he. And it is this letter -- this letter which
may well mean the expenditure of a thousand millions and the
lives of a hundred thousand men -- which has become lost in this
"Have you informed the sender?"
"Yes, sir, a cipher telegram has been despatched."
"Perhaps he desires the publication of the letter."
"No, sir, we have strong reason to believe that he already
understands that he has acted in an indiscreet and hot-headed
manner. It would be a greater blow to him and to his country
than to us if this letter were to come out."
"If this is so, whose interest is it that the letter should come
out? Why should anyone desire to steal it or to publish it?"
"There, Mr. Holmes, you take me into regions of high
international politics. But if you consider the European situation
you will have no difficulty in perceiving the motive. The whole
of Europe is an armed camp. There is a double league which
makes a fair balance of military power. Great Britain holds the
scales. If Britain were driven into war with one confederacy, it
would assure the supremacy of the other confederacy, whether
they joined in the war or not. Do you follow?"
"Very clearly. It is then the interest of the enemies of this
potentate to secure and publish this letter, so as to make a breach
between his country and ours?"
"And to whom would this document be sent if it fell into the
hands of an enemy?"
"To any of the great Chancelleries of Europe. It is probably
speeding on its way thither at the present instant as fast as steam
can take it."
Mr. Trelawney Hope dropped his head on his chest and groaned
aloud. The Premier placed his hand kindly upon his shoulder.
"It is your misfortune, my dear fellow. No one can blame
you. There is no precaution which you have neglected. Now,
Mr. Holmes, you are in full possession of the facts. What course
do you recommend?"
Holmes shook his head mournfully.
"You think, sir, that unless this document is recovered there
will be war?"
"I think it is very probable."
"Then, sir, prepare for war."
"That is a hard saying, Mr. Holmes."
"Consider the facts, sir. It is inconceivable that it was taken
after eleven-thirty at night, since I understand that Mr. Hope and
his wife were both in the room from that hour until the loss was
found out. It was taken, then, yesterday evening between seven-
thirty and eleven-thirty, probably near the earlier hour, since
whoever took it evidently knew that it was there and would
naturally secure it as early as possible. Now, sir, if a document
of this importance were taken at that hour, where can it be now?
No one has any reason to retain it. It has been passed rapidly on
to those who need it. What chance have we now to overtake or
even to trace it? It is beyond our reach."
The Prime Minister rose from the settee.
"What you say is perfectly logical, Mr. Holmes. I feel that
the matter is indeed out of our hands."
"Let us presume, for argument's sake, that the document was
taken by the maid or by the valet --"
"They are both old and tried servants."
"I understand you to say that your room is on the second
floor, that there is no entrance from without, and that from
within no one could go up unobserved. It must, then, be some-
body in the house who has taken it. To whom would the thief
take it? To one of several international spies and secret agents
whose names are tolerably familiar to me. There are three who
may be said to be the heads of their profession. I will begin my
research by going round and finding if each of them is at his
post. If one is missing -- especially if he has disappeared since
last night -- we will have some indication as to where the docu-
ment has gone."
"Why should he be missing?" asked the European Secretary.
"He would take the letter to an Embassy in London, as likely as
"I fancy not. These agents work independently, and their
relations with the Embassies are often strained."
The Prime Minister nodded his acquiescence.
"I believe you are right, Mr. Holmes. He would take so
valuable a prize to headquarters with his own hands. I think that
your course of action is an excellent one. Meanwhile, Hope, we
cannot neglect all our other duties on account of this one misfor-
tune. Should there be any fresh developments during the day we
shall communicate with you, and you will no doubt let us know
the results of your own inquiries."
The two statesmen bowed and walked gravely from the room.
When our illustrious visitors had departed Holmes lit his pipe
in silence and sat for some time lost in the deepest thought. I had
opened the morning paper and was immersed in a sensational
crime which had occurred in London the night before, when my
friend gave an exclamation, sprang to his feet, and laid his pipe
down upon the mantelpiece.
"Yes," said he, "there is no better way of approaching it.
The situation is desperate, but not hopeless. Even now, if we
could be sure which of them has taken it, it is just possible that it
has not yet passed out of his hands. After all, it is a question of
money with these fellows, and I have the British treasury behind
me. If it's on the market I'll buy it -- if it means another penny
on the income-tax. It is conceivable that the fellow might hold it
back to see what bids come from this side before he tries his luck
on the other. There are only those three capable of playing so
bold a game -- there are Oberstein, La Rothiere, and Eduardo
Lucas. I will see each of them."
I glanced at my morning paper.
"Is that Eduardo Lucas of Godolphin Street?"
"You will not see him."
"He was murdered in his house last night."
My friend has so often astonished me in the course of our
adventures that it was with a sense of exultation that I realized
how completely I had astonished him. He stared in amazement,
and then snatched the paper from my hands. This was the
paragraph which I had been engaged in reading when he rose
from his chair.
MURDER IN WESTMINSTER
A crime of mysterious character was committed last night
at 16 Godolphin Street, one of the old-fashioned and se-
cluded rows of eighteenth century houses which lie between
the river and the Abbey, almost in the shadow of the great
Tower of the Houses of Parliament. This small but select
mansion has been inhabited for some years by Mr. Eduardo
Lucas, well known in society circles both on account of his
charming personality and because he has the well-deserved
reputation of being one of the best amateur tenors in the
country. Mr. Lucas is an unmarried man, thirty-four years
of age, and his establishment consists of Mrs. Pringle, an
elderly housekeeper, and of Mitton, his valet. The former
retires early and sleeps at the top of the house. The valet
was out for the evening, visiting a friend at Hammersmith.
From ten o'clock onward Mr. Lucas had the house to
himself. What occured during that time has not yet tran-
spired, but at a quarter to twelve Police-constable Barrett,
passing along Godolphin Street, observed that the door of
No. 16 was ajar. He knocked, but received no answer.
Perceiving a light in the front room, he advanced into the
passage and again knocked, but without reply. He then
pushed open the door and entered. The room was in a state
of wild disorder, the furniture being all swept to one side,
and one chair lying on its back in the centre. Beside this
chair, and still grasping one of its legs, lay the unfortunate
tenant of the house. He had been stabbed to the heart and
must have died instantly. The knife with which the crime
had been committed was a curved Indian dagger, plucked
down from a trophy of Oriental arms which adorned one of
the walls. Robbery does not appear to have been the motive
of the crime, for there had been no attempt to remove the
valuable contents of the room. Mr. Eduardo Lucas was so
well known and popular that his violent and mysterious fate
will arouse painful interest and intense sympathy in a wide-
spread circle of friends.
"Well, Watson, what do you make of this?" asked Holmes,
after a long pause.
"It is an amazing coincidence."
"A coincidence! Here is one of the three men whom we had
named as possible actors in this drama, and he meets a violent
death during the very hours when we know that that drama was
being enacted. The odds are enormous against its being coinci-
dence. No figures could express them. No, my dear Watson, the
two events are connected -- must be connected. It is for us to find
"But now the official police must know all."
"Not at all. They know all they see at Godolphin Street. They
know -- and shall know -- nothing of Whitehall Terrace. Only we
know of both events, and can trace the relation between them.
There is one obvious point which would, in any case, have
turned my suspicions against Lucas. Godolphin Street, Westmin-
ster, is only a few minutes' walk from Whitehall Terrace. The
other secret agents whom I have named live in the extreme West
End. It was easier, therefore, for Lucas than for the others to
establish a connection or receive a message from the European
Secretary's household -- a small thing, and yet where events are
compressed into a few hours it may prove essential. Halloa! what
have we here?"
Mrs. Hudson had appeared with a lady's card upon her salver.
Holmes glanced at it, raised his eyebrows, and handed it over to
"Ask Lady Hilda Trelawney Hope if she will be kind enough
to step up," said he.
A moment later our modest apartment, already so distin-
guished that morning, was further honoured by the entrance of
the most lovely woman in London: I had often heard of the
beauty of the youngest daughter of the Duke of Belminster, but
no description of it, and no contemplation of colourless photo-
graphs, had prepared me for the subtle, delicate charm and the
beautiful colouring of that exquisite head. And yet as we saw it
that autumn morning, it was not its beauty which would be the
first thing to impress the observer. The cheek was lovely but it
was paled with emotion, the eyes were bright, but it was the
brightness of fever, the sensitive mouth was tight and drawn in
an effort after self-command. Terror -- not beauty -- was what
sprang first to the eye as our fair visitor stood framed for an
instant in the open door.
"Has my husband been here, Mr. Holmes?"
"Yes, madam, he has been here."
"Mr. Holmes, I implore you not to tell him that I came
here." Holmes bowed coldly, and motioned the lady to a chair.
"Your ladyship places me in a very delicate position. I beg
that you will sit down and tell me what you desire, but I fear
that I cannot make any unconditional promise."
She swept across the room and seated herself with her back to
the window. It was a queenly presence -- tall, graceful, and
"Mr. Holmes," she said -- and her white-gloved hands clasped
and unclasped as she spoke -- "I will speak frankly to you in
the hopes that it may induce you to speak frankly in return.
There is complete confidence between my husband and me on
all matters save one. That one is politics. On this his lips are
sealed. He tells me nothing. Now, I am aware that there was a
most deplorable occurrence in our house last night. I know that
a paper has disappeared. But because the matter is political my
husband refuses to take me into his complete confidence. Now it
is essential -- essential, I say -- that I should thoroughly under-
stand it. You are the only other person, save only these politi-
cians, who knows the true facts. I beg you then, Mr. Holmes, to
tell me exactly what has happened and what it will lead to. Tell
me all, Mr. Holmes. Let no regard for your client's interests
keep you silent, for I assure you that his interests, if he would
only see it, would be best served by taking me into his complete
confidence. What was this paper which was stolen?"
"Madam, what you ask me is really impossible."
She groaned and sank her face in her hands.
"You must see that this is so, madam. If your husband thinks
fit to keep you in the dark over this matter, is it for me, who has
only learned the true facts under the pledge of professional
secrecy, to tell what he has withheld? It is not fair to ask it. It is
him whom you must ask."
"I have asked him. I come to you as a last resource. But
without your telling me anything definite, Mr. Holmes, you may
do a great service if you would enlighten me on one point."
"What is it, madam?"
"Is my husband's political career likely to suffer through this
"Well, madam, unless it is set right it may certainly have a
very unfonunate effect."
"Ah!" She drew in her breath sharply as one whose doubts
"One more question, Mr. Holmes. From an expression which
my husband dropped in the first shock of this disaster I under-
stood that terrible public consequences might arise from the loss
of this document."
"If he said so, I certainly cannot deny it."
"Of what nature are they?"
"Nay, madam, there again you ask me more than I can
"Then I will take up no more of your time. I cannot blame
you, Mr. Holmes, for having refused to speak more freely, and
you on your side will not, I am sure, think the worse of me
because I desire, even against his will, to share my husband's
anxieties. Once more I beg that you will say nothing of my
She looked back at us from the door, and I had a last impres-
sion of that beautiful haunted face, the startled eyes, and the
drawn mouth. Then she was gone.
"Now, Watson, the fair sex is your department," said Holmes
with a smile, when the dwindling frou-frou of skirts had ended in
the slam of the front door. "What was the fair lady's game?
What did she really want?"
"Surely her own statement is clear and her anxiety very
"Hum! Think of her appearance, Watson -- her manner, her
suppressed excitement, her restlessness, her tenacity in asking
queshons. Remember that she comes of a caste who do not
lightly show emotion."
"She was certainly much moved."
"Remember also the curious earnestness with which she as-
sured us that it was best for her husband that she should know
all. What did she mean by that? And you must have observed,
Watson, how she manoeuvred to have the light at her back. She
did not wish us to read her expression."
"Yes, she chose the one chair in the room."
"And yet the motives of women are so inscrutable. You
remember the woman at Margate whom I suspected for the same
reason. No powder on her nose -- that proved to be the correct
solution. How can you build on such a quicksand? Their most
trivial action may mean volumes, or their most extraordinary
conduct may depend upon a hairpin or a curling tongs. Good-
"You are off?"
"Yes, I will while away the morning at Godolphin Street with
our friends of the regular establishment. With Eduardo Lucas lies
the solution of our problem, though I must admit that I have not
an inkling as to what form it may take. It is a capital mistake to
theorize in advance of the facts. Do you stay on guard, my good
Watson, and receive any fresh visitors. I'll join you at lunch if I
All that day and the next and the next Holmes was in a mood
which his friends would call taciturn, and others morose. He ran
out and ran in, smoked incessantly, played snatches on his
violin, sank into reveries, devoured sandwiches at irregular hours,
and hardly answered the casual questions which I put to him. It
was evident to me that things were not going well with him or
his quest. He would say nothing of the case, and it was from the
papers that I learned the particulars of the inquest, and the arrest
with the subsequent release of John Mitton, the valet of the
deceased. The coroner's jury brought in the obvious Wilful
Murder, but the parties remained as unknown as ever. No motive
was suggested. The room was full of articles of value, but none
had been taken. The dead man's papers had not been tampered
with. They were carefully examined, and showed that he was a
keen student of international politics, an indefatigable gossip, a
remarkable linguist, and an untiring letter writer. He had been on
intimate terms with the leading politicians of several countries.
But nothing sensational was discovered among the documents
which filled his drawers. As to his relations with women, they
appeared to have been promiscuous but superficial. He had many
acquaintances among them, but few friends, and no one whom
he loved. His habits were regular, his conduct inoffensive. His
death was an absolute mystery and likely to remain so.
As to the arrest of John Mitton, the valet, it was a council of
despair as an alternative to absolute inaction. But no case could
be sustained against him. He had visited friends in Hammersmith
that night. The alibi was complete. It is true that he started home
at an hour which should have brought him to Westminster before
the time when the crime was discovered, but his own explanation
that he had walked part of the way seemed probable enough in
view of the fineness of the night. He had actually arrived at
twelve o'clock, and appeared to be overwhelmed by the unex-
pected tragedy. He had always been on good terms with his
master. Several of the dead man's possessions -- notably a small
case of razors -- had been found in the valet's boxes, but he
explained that they had been presents from the deceased, and the
housekeeper was able to corroborate the story. Mitton had been
in Lucas's employment for three years. It was noticeable that
Lucas did not take Mitton on the Continent with him. Sometimes
he visited Paris for three months on end, but Mitton was left in
charge of the Godolphin Street house. As to the housekeeper,
she had heard nothing on the night of the crime. If her master
had a visitor he had himself admitted him.
So for three mornings the mystery remained, so far as I could
follow it in the papers. If Holmes knew more, he kept his own
counsel, but, as he told me that Inspector Lestrade had taken him
into his confidence in the case, I knew that he was in close touch
with every development. Upon the fourth day there appeared a
long telegram from Paris which seemed to solve the whole
A discovery has just been made by the Parisian police
[said the Daily Telegraph] which raises the veil which hung
round the tragic fate of Mr. Eduardo Lucas, who met his
death by violence last Monday night at Godolphin Street,
Westminster. Our readers will remember that the deceased
gentleman was found stabbed in his room, and that some
suspicion attached to his valet, but that the case broke down
on an alibi. Yesterday a lady, who has been known as
Mme. Henri Fournaye, occupying a small villa in the Rue
Austerlitz, was reported to the authorities by her servants as
being insane. An examination showed she had indeed de-
veloped mania of a dangerous and permanent form. On
inquiry, the police have discovered that Mme. Henri Fournaye
only returned from a journey to London on Tuesday last,
and there is evidence to connect her with the crime at
Westminster. A comparison of photographs has proved
conclusively that M. Henri Fournaye and Eduardo Lucas
were really one and the same person, and that the deceased
had for some reason lived a double life in London and
Paris. Mme. Fournaye, who is of Creole origin, is of an
extremely excitable nature, and has suffered in the past
from attacks of jealousy which have amounted to frenzy. It
is conjectured that it was in one of these that she committed
the terrible crime which has caused such a sensation in
London. Her movements upon the Monday night have not
yet been traced, but it is undoubted that a woman answering
to her description attracted much attention at Charing Cross
Station on Tuesday morning by the wildness of her appear-
ance and the violence or her gestures. It is probable, there-
fore, that the crime was either committed when insane, or
that its immediate effect was to drive the unhappy woman
out of her mind. At present she is unable to give any
coherent account of the past, and the doctors hold out no
hopes of the reestablishment of her reason. There is evi-
dence that a woman, who might have been Mme. Fournaye,
was seen for some hours upon Monday night watching the
house in Godolphin Street.
"What do you think of that, Holmes?" I had read the account
aloud to him, while he finished his breakfast.
"My dear Watson," said he, as he rose from the table and
paced up and down the room, "you are most long-suffering, but
if I have told you nothing in the last three days, it is because
there is nothing to tell. Even now this report from Paris does not
help us much."
"Surely it is final as regards the man's death."
"The man's death is a mere incident -- a trivial episode -- in
comparison with our real task, which is to trace this document
and save a European catastrophe. Only one important thing has
happened in the last three days, and that is that nothing has
happened. I get reports almost hourly from the government, and
it is certain that nowhere in Europe is there any sign of trouble.
Now, if this letter were loose -- no, it can't be loose -- but if it
isn't loose, where can it be? Who has it? Why is it held back?
That's the question that beats in my brain like a hammer. Was it
indeed, a coincidence that Lucas should meet his death on the
night when the letter disappeared? Did the letter ever reach him?
If so, why is it not among his papers? Did this mad wife of his
carry it off with her? If so, is it in her house in Paris? How could
I search for it without the French police having their suspicions
aroused? It is a case, my dear Watson, where the law is as
dangerous to us as the criminals are. Every man's hand is against
us, and yet the interests at stake are colossal. Should I bring it to
a successful conclusion, it will certainly represent the crowning
glory of my career. Ah, here is my latest from the front!" He
glanced hurriedly at the note which had been handed in. "Hal-
loa! Lestrade seems to have observed something of interest. Put
on your hat, Watson, and we will stroll down together to
It was my first visit to the scene of the crime -- a high, dingy,
narrow-chested house, prim, formal, and solid, like the century
which gave it birth. Lestrade's bulldog features gazed out at us
from the front window, and he greeted us warmly when a big
constable had opened the door and let us in. The room into
which we were shown was that in which the crime had been
committed, but no trace of it now remained save an ugly,
irregular stain upon the carpet. This carpet was a small square
drugget in the centre of the room, surrounded by a broad expanse
of beautiful, old-fashioned wood-flooring in square blocks, highly
polished. Over the fireplace was a magnificent trophy of weap-
ons, one of which had been used on that tragic night. In the
window was a sumptuous writing-desk, and every detail of the
apartment, the pictures, the rugs, and the hangings, all pointed to
a taste which was luxurious to the verge of effeminacy.
"Seen the Paris news?" asked Lestrade.
"Our French friends seem to have touched the spot this time.
No doubt it's just as they say. She knocked at the door -- surprise
visit, I guess, for he kept his life in water-tight compartments -- he
let her in, couldn't keep her in the street. She told him how she
had traced him, reproached him. One thing led to another, and
then with that dagger so handy the end soon came. It wasn't all
done in an instant, though, for these chairs were all swept over
yonder, and he had one in his hand as if he had tried to hold her
off with it. We've got it all clear as if we had seen it."
Holmes raised his eyebrows.
"And yet you have sent for me?"
"Ah, yes, that's another matter -- a mere trifle, but the sort of
thing you take an interest in -- queer, you know, and what you
might call freakish. It has nothing to do with the main fact --
can't have, on the face of it."
"What is it, then?"
"Well, you know, after a crime of this sort we are very
careful to keep things in their position. Nothing has been moved.
Officer in charge here day and night. This morning, as the man
was buried and the investigation over -- so far as this room is
concerned -- we thought we could tidy up a bit. This carpet. You
see, it is not fastened down, only just laid there. We had
occasion to raise it. We found --"
"Yes? You found -- "
Holmes's face grew tense with anxiety.
"Well, I'm sure you would never guess in a hundred years
what we did find. You see that stain on the carpet? Well, a great
deal must have soaked through, must it not?"
"Undoubtedly it must."
"Well, you will be surprised to hear that there is no stain on
the white woodwork to correspond."
"No stain! But there must --"
"Yes, so you would say. But the fact remains that there
He took the corner of the carpet in his hand and, turning it
over, he showed that it was indeed as he said.
"But the under side is as stained as the upper. It must have
left a mark."
Lestrade chuckled with delight at having puzzled the famous
"Now, I'll show you the explanation. There is a second stain,
but it does not correspond with the other. See for yourself." As
he spoke he turned over another portion of the carpet, and there,
sure enough, was a great crimson spill upon the square white
facing of the old-fashioned floor. "What do you make of that,
"Why, it is simple enough. The two stains did correspond,
but the carpet has been turned round. As it was square and
unfastened it was easily done."
"The official police don't need you, Mr. Holmes, to tell them
that the carpet must have been turned round. That's clear enough,
for the stains lie above each other -- if you lay it over this way.
But what I want to know is, who shifted the carpet, and why?"
I could see from Holmes's rigid face that he was vibrating
with inward excitement.
"Look here, Lestrade," said he, "has that constable in the
passage been in charge of the place all the time?"
"Yes, he has."
"Well, take my advice. Examine him carefully. Don't do it
before us. We'll wait here. You take him into the back room.
You'll be more likely to get a confession out of him alone. Ask
him how he dared to admit people and leave them alone in this
room. Don't ask him if he has done it. Take it for granted. Tell
him you know someone has been here. Press him. Tell him that a
full confession is his only chance of forgiveness. Do exactly
what I tell you!"
"By George, if he knows I'll have it out of him!" cried
Lestrade. He darted into the hall, and a few moments later his
bullying voice sounded from the back room.
"Now, Watson, now!" cried Holmes with frenzied eagerness.
All the demoniacal force of the man masked behind that listless
manner burst out in a paroxysm of energy. He tore the drugget
from the floor, and in an instant was down on his hands and
knees clawing at each of the squares of wood beneath it. One
turned sideways as he dug his nails into the edge of it. It hinged
back like the lid of a box. A small black cavity opened beneath
it. Holmes plunged his eager hand into it and drew it out with a
bitter snarl of anger and disappointment. It was empty.
"Quick, Watson, quick! Get it back again!" The wooden lid
was replaced, and the drugget had only just been drawn straight
when Lestrade's voice was heard in the passage. He found
Holmes leaning languidly against the mantelpiece, resigned and
patient, endeavouring to conceal his irrepressible yawns.
"Sorry to keep you waiting, Mr. Holmes. I can see that you
are bored to death with the whole affair. Well, he has confessed,
all right. Come in here, MacPherson. Let these gentlemen hear
of your most inexcusable conduct."
The big constable, very hot and penitent, sidled into the room.
"I meant no harm, sir, I'm sure. The young woman came to
the door last evening -- mistook the house, she did. And then we
got talking. It's lonesome, when you're on duty here all day."
"Well, what happened then?"
"She wanted to see where the crime was done -- had read
about it in the papers, she said. She was a very respectable,
well-spoken young woman, sir, and I saw no harm in letting her
have a peep. When she saw that mark on the carpet. down she
dropped on the floor, and lay as if she were dead. I ran to the
back and got some water, but I could not bring her to. Then I
went round the corner to the Ivy Plant for some brandy, and by
the time I had brought it back the young woman had recovered
and was off -- ashamed of herself, I daresay, and dared not face
"How about moving that drugget?"
"Well, sir, it was a bit rumpled, certainly, when I came back.
You see, she fell on it and it lies on a polished floor with nothing
to keep it in place. I straightened it out afterwards."
"It's a lesson to you that you can't deceive me, Constable
MacPherson," said Lestrade, with dignity. "No doubt you thought
that your breach of duty could never be discovered, and yet a
mere glance at that drugget was enough to convince me that
someone had been admitted to the room. It's lucky for you my
man, that nothing is missing, or you would find yourseif in
Queer Street. I'm sorry to have called you down over such a
petty business, Mr. Holmes, but I thought the point of the
second stain not corresponding with the first would interest
"Certainly, it was most interesting. Has this woman only been
here once, constable?"
"Yes, sir, only once."
"Who was she?"
"Don't know the name, sir. Was answering an advertisement
about typewriting and came to the wrong number -- very pleas-
ant, genteel young woman, sir."
"Yes, sir, she was a well-grown young woman. I suppose you
might say she was handsome. Perhaps some would say she was
very handsome. 'Oh, officer, do let me have a peep!' says she.
She had pretty, coaxing ways, as you might say, and I thought
there was no harm in letting her just put her head through the
"How was she dressed?"
"Quiet, sir -- a long mantle down to her feet."
"What time was it?"
"It was just growing dusk at the time. They were lighting the
lamps as I came back with the brandy."
"Very good," said Holmes. "Come, Watson, I think that we
have more important work elsewhere."
As we left the house Lestrade remained in the front room
while the repentant constable opened the door to let us out.
Holmes turned on the step and held up something in his hand.
The constable stared intently.
"Good Lord, sir!" he cried, with amazement on his face.
Holmes put his finger on his lips, replaced his hand in his breast
pocket, and burst out laughing as we turned down the street.
"Excellent!" said he. "Come, friend Watson, the curtain rings
up for the last act. You will be relieved to hear that there will be
no war, that the Right Honourable Trelawney Hope will suffer
no setback in his brilliant career, that the indiscreet Sovereign
will receive no punishment for his indiscretion, that the Prime
Minister will have no European complication to deal with, and
that with a little tact and management upon our part nobody will
be a penny the worse for what might have been a very ugly
My mind filled with admiration for this extraordinary man.
"You have solved it!" I cried.
"Hardly that, Watson. There are some points which are as
dark as ever. But we have so much that it will be our own fault if
we cannot get the rest. We wiil go straight to Whitehall Terrace
and bring the matter to a head."
When we arrived at the residence of the European Secretary it
was for Lady Hilda Trelawney Hope that Sherlock Holmes in-
quired. We were shown into the morning-room.
"Mr. Holmes!" said the lady, and her face was pink with her
indignation. "This is surely most unfair and ungenerous upon
your part. I desired, as I have explained, to keep my visit to you
a secret, lest my husband should think that I was intruding into
his affairs. And yet you compromise me by coming here and so
showing that there are business relations between us."
"Unfortunately, madam, I had no possible alternative. I have
been commissioned to recover this immensely important paper. I
must therefore ask you, madam, to be kind enough to place it in
The lady sprang to her feet, with the colour all dashed in an
instant from her beautiful face. Her eyes glazed -- she tottered -- I
thought that she would faint. Then with a grand effort she rallied
from the shock, and a supreme astonishment and indignation
chased every other expression from her features.
"You -- you insult me, Mr. Holmes."
"Come, come, madam, it is useless. Give up the letter."
She darted to the bell.
"The butler shall show you out."
"Do not ring, Lady Hilda. If you do, then all my earnest
efforts to avoid a scandal will be frustrated. Give up the letter
and all will be set right. If you will work with me I can arrange
everything. If you work against me I must expose you."
She stood grandly defiant, a queenly figure, her eyes fixed
upon his as if she would read his very soul. Her hand was on the
bell, but she had forborne to ring it.
"You are trying to frighten me. It is not a very manly thing,
Mr. Holmes, to come here and browbeat a woman. You say that
you know something. What is it that you know?"
"Pray sit down, madam. You will hurt yourself there if you
fall. I will not speak until you sit down. Thank you."
"I give you five minutes, Mr. Holmes."
"One is enough, Lady Hilda. I know of your visit to Eduardo
Lucas, of your giving him this document, of your ingenious
return to the room last night, and of the manner in which you
took the letter from the hiding-place under the carpet."
She stared at him with an ashen face and gulped twice before
she could speak.
"You are mad, Mr. Holmes -- you are mad!" she cried, at
He drew a small piece of cardboard from his pocket. It was
the face of a woman cut out of a portrait.
"I have carried this because I thought it might be useful,"
said he. "The policeman has recognized it."
She gave a gasp, and her head dropped back in the chair.
"Come, Lady Hilda. You have the letter. The matter may still
be adjusted. I have no desire to bring trouble to you. My duty
ends when I have returned the lost letter to your husband. Take
my advice and be frank with me. It is your only chance."
Her courage was admirable. Even now she would not own
"I tell you again, Mr. Holmes, that you are under some
Holmes rose from his chair.
"I am sorry for you, Lady Hilda. I have done my best for
you. I can see that it is all in vain."
He rang the bell. The butler entered.
"Is Mr. Trelawney Hope at home?"
"He will be home, sir, at a quarter to one."
Holmes glanced at his watch.
"Still a quarter of an hour," said he. "Very good, I shall
The butler had hardly closed the door behind him when Lady
Hilda was down on her knees at Holmes's feet, her hands
outstretched, her beautiful face upturned and wet with her tears.
"Oh, spare me, Mr. Holmes! Spare me!" she pleaded, in a
frenzy of supplication. "For heaven's sake, don't tell him! I love
him so! I would not bring one shadow on his life, and this I
know would break his noble heart."
Holmes raised the lady. "I am thankful, madam, that you
have come to your senses even at this last moment! There is not
an instant to lose. Where is the letter?"
She darted across to a writing-desk, unlocked it, and drew out
a long blue envelope.
"Here it is, Mr. Holmes. Would to heaven I had never seen
"How can we return it?" Holmes muttered. "Quick, quick,
we must think of some way! Where is the despatch-box?"
"Still in his bedroom."
"What a stroke of luck! Quick, madam, bring it here!"
A moment later she had appeared with a red flat box in her
"How did you open it before? You have a duplicate key? Yes,
of course you have. Open it!"
From out of her bosom Lady Hilda had drawn a small key.
The box flew open. It was stuffed with papers. Holmes thrust the
blue envelope deep down into the heart of them, between the
leaves of some other document. The box was shut, locked, and
returned to the bedroom.
"Now we are ready for him," said Holmes. "We have still
ten minutes. I am going far to screen you, Lady Hilda. In return
you will spend the time in telling me frankly the real meaning of
this extraordinary affair."
"Mr. Holmes, I will tell you everything," cried the lady. "Oh,
Mr. Holmes, I would cut off my right hand before I gave him a
moment of sorrow! There is no woman in all London who loves
her husband as I do, and yet if he knew how I have acted -- how I
have been compelled to act -- he would never forgive me. For his
own honour stands so high that he could not forget or pardon a
lapse in another. Help me, Mr. Holmes! My happiness, his
happiness, our very lives are at stake!"
"Quick, madam, the time grows short!"
"It was a letter of mine, Mr. Holmes, an indiscreet letter
written before my marriage -- a foolish letter, a letter of an
impulsive, loving girl. I meant no harm, and yet he would have
thought it criminal. Had he read that letter his confidence would
have been forever destroyed. It is years since I wrote it. I had
thought that the whole matter was forgotten. Then at last I heard
from this man, Lucas, that it had passed into his hands, and that
he would lay it before my husband. I implored his mercy. He
said that he would return my letter if I would bring him a certain
document which he described in my husband's despatch-box. He
had some spy in the office who had told him of its existence. He
assured me that no harm could come to my husband. Put your-
self in my position, Mr. Holmes! What was I to do?"
"Take your husband into your confidence."
"I could not, Mr. Holmes, I could not! On the one side
seemed certain ruin, on the other, terrible as it seemed to take
my husband's paper, still in a matter of politics I could not
understand the consequences, while in a matter of love and trust
they were only too clear to me. I did it, Mr. Holmes! I took an
impression of his key. This man, Lucas, furnished a duplicate. I
opened his despatch-box, took the paper, and conveyed it to
"What happened there, madam?"
"I tapped at the door as agreed. Lucas opened it. I followed
him into his room, leaving the hall door ajar behind me, for I
feared to be alone with the man. I remember that there was a
woman outside as I entered. Our business was soon done. He
had my letter on his desk, I handed him the document. He gave
me the letter. At this instant there was a sound at the door. There
were steps in the passage. Lucas quickly turned back the drug-
get, thrust the document into some hiding-place there, and cov-
ered it over.
"What happened after that is like some fearful dream. I have a
vision of a dark, frantic face, of a woman's voice, which screamed
in French, 'My waiting is not in vain. At last, at last I have
found you with her!' There was a savage struggle. I saw him
with a chair in his hand, a knife gleamed in hers. I rushed from
the horrible scene, ran from the house, and only next morning in
the paper did I learn the dreadful result. That night I was happy,
for I had my letter, and I had not seen yet what the future would
"It was the next morning that I realized that I had only
exchanged one trouble for another. My husband's anguish at the
loss of his paper went to my heart. I could hardly prevent myself
from there and then kneeling down at his feet and telling him
what I had done. But that again would mean a confession of the
past. I came to you that morning in order to understand the full
enormity of my offence. From the instant that I grasped it my
whole mind was turned to the one thought of getting back my
husband's paper. It must still be where Lucas had placed it, for it
was concealed before this dreadful woman entered the room. If it
had not been for her coming, I should not have known where his
hiding-place was. How was I to get into the room? For two days
I watched the place, but the door was never left open. Last night
I made a last attempt. What I did and how I succeeded, you have
already learned. I brought the paper back with me, and thought
of destroying it, since I could see no way of returning it without
confessing my guilt to my husband. Heavens, I hear his step
upon the stair!"
The European Secretary burst excitedly into the room.
"Any news, Mr. Holmes, any news?" he cried.
"I have some hopes."
"Ah, thank heaven!" His face became radiant. "The Prime
Minister is lunching with me. May he share your hopes? He has
nerves of steel, and yet I know that he has hardly slept since this
terrible event. Jacobs, will you ask the Prime Minister to come
up? As to you, dear, I fear that this is a matter of politics. We
will join you in a few minutes in the dining-room."
The Prime Minister's manner was subdued, but I could see by
the gleam of his eyes and the twitchings of his bony hands that
he shared the excitement of his young colleague.
"I understand that you have something to report, Mr. Holmes?"
"Purely negative as yet," my friend answered. "I have in-
quired at every point where it might be, and I am sure that there
is no danger to be apprehended."
"But that is not enough, Mr. Holmes. We cannot live forever
on such a volcano. We must have something definite."
"I am in hopes of getting it. That is why I am here. The more
I think of the matter the more convinced I am that the letter has
never left this house."
"If it had it would certainly have been public by now."
"But why should anyone take it in order to keep it in his
"I am not convinced that anyone did take it."
"Then how could it leave the despatch-box?"
"I am not convinced that it ever did leave the despatch-box."
"Mr. Holmes, this joking is very ill-timed. You have my
assurance that it left the box."
"Have you examined the box since Tuesday morning?"
"No. It was not necessary."
"You may conceivably have overlooked it."
"Impossible, I say."
"But I am not convinced of it. I have known such things to
happen. I presume there are other papers there. Well, it may
have got mixed with them."
"It was on the top."
"Someone may have shaken the box and displaced it."
"No, no, I had everything out."
"Surely it is easily decided, Hope," said the Premier. "Let us
have the despatch-box brought in."
The Secretary rang the bell.
"Jacobs, bring down my despatch-box. This is a farcical
waste of time, but still, if nothing else will satisfy you, it shall
be done. Thank you, Jacobs, put it here. I have always had the
key on my watch-chain. Here are the papers, you see. Letter
from Lord Merrow, report from Sir Charles Hardy, memoran-
dum from Belgrade, note on the Russo-German grain taxes,
letter from Madrid, note from Lord Flowers -- Good heavens!
what is this? Lord Bellinger! Lord Bellinger!"
The Premier snatched the blue envelope from his hand.
"Yes, it is it -- and the letter is intact. Hope, I congratulate
"Thank you! Thank you! What a weight from my heart. But
this is inconceivable -- impossible. Mr. Holmes, you are a wiz-
ard, a sorcerer! How did you know it was there?"
"Because I knew it was nowhere else."
"I cannot believe my eyes!" He ran wildly to the door.
"Where is my wife? I must tell her that all is well. Hilda!
Hilda!" we heard his voice on the stairs.
The Premier looked at Holmes with twinkling eyes.
"Come, sir," said he. "There is more in this than meets the
eye. How came the letter back in the box?"
Holmes turned away smiling from the keen scrutiny of those
"We also have our diplomatic secrets," said he and, picking
up his hat, he turned to the door.