Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Adventure of the Cardboard Box

By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

In choosing a few typical cases which illustrate the remarkablemental qualities of my friend, Sherlock Holmes, I haveendeavoured, as far as possible, to select those which presentedthe minimum of sensationalism, while offering a fair field forhis talents. It is, however, unfortunately impossible entirelyto separate the sensational from the criminal, and a chronicleris left in the dilemma that he must either sacrifice detailswhich are essential to his statement and so give a falseimpression of the problem, or he must use matter which chance,and not choice, has provided him with. With this short preface Ishall turn to my notes of what proved to be a strange, though apeculiarly terrible, chain of events.

It was a blazing hot day in August. Baker Street was like anoven, and the glare of the sunlight upon the yellow brickwork ofthe house across the road was painful to the eye. It was hard tobelieve that these were the same walls which loomed so gloomilythrough the fogs of winter. Our blinds were half-drawn, andHolmes lay curled upon the sofa, reading and re-reading a letterwhich he had received by the morning post. For myself, my termof service in India had trained me to stand heat better thancold, and a thermometer at ninety was no hardship. But themorning paper was uninteresting. Parliament had risen.Everybody was out of town, and I yearned for the glades of theNew Forest or the shingle of Southsea. A depleted bank accounthad caused me to postpone my holiday, and as to my companion,neither the country nor the sea presented the slightestattraction to him. He loved to lie in the very center of fivemillions of people, with his filaments stretching out and runningthrough them, responsive to every little rumour or suspicion ofunsolved crime. Appreciation of nature found no place among hismany gifts, and his only change was when he turned his mind fromthe evil-doer of the town to track down his brother of thecountry.

Finding that Holmes was too absorbed for conversation I hadtossed side the barren paper, and leaning back in my chair I fellinto a brown study. Suddenly my companion's voice broke in uponmy thoughts:

"You are right, Watson," said he. "It does seem a mostpreposterous way of settling a dispute."
"Most preposterous!" I exclaimed, and then suddenly realizing howhe had echoed the inmost thought of my soul, I sat up in my chairand stared at him in blank amazement.

"What is this, Holmes?" I cried. "This is beyond anything whichI could have imagined."

He laughed heartily at my perplexity.

"You remember," said he, "that some little time ago when I readyou the passage in one of Poe's sketches in which a closereasoner follows the unspoken thoughts of his companion, you wereinclined to treat the matter as a mere tour-de-force of theauthor. On my remarking that I was constantly in the habit ofdoing the same thing you expressed incredulity."'

"Oh, no!"
"Perhaps not with your tongue, my dear Watson, but certainly withyour eyebrows. So when I saw you throw down your paper and enterupon a train of thought, I was very happy to have the opportunityof reading it off, and eventually of breaking into it, as a proofthat I had been in rapport with you."

But I was still far from satisfied. "In the example which youread to me," said I, "the reasoner drew his conclusions from theactions of the man whom he observed. If I remember right, hestumbled over a heap of stones, looked up at the stars, and soon. But I have been seated quietly in my chair, and what cluescan I have given you?"

"You do yourself an injustice. The features are given to man asthe means by which he shall express his emotions, and yours arefaithful servants."

"Do you mean to say that you read my train of thoughts from myfeatures?"

"Your features and especially your eyes. Perhaps you cannotyourself recall how your reverie commenced?"

"No, I cannot."

"Then I will tell you. After throwing down your paper, which wasthe action which drew my attention to you, you sat for half aminute with a vacant expression. Then your eyes fixed themselvesupon your newly framed picture of General Gordon, and I saw bythe alteration in your face that a train of thought had beenstarted. But it did not lead very far. Your eyes flashed acrossto the unframed portrait of Henry Ward Beecher which stands uponthe top of your books. Then you glanced up at the wall, and ofcourse your meaning was obvious. You were thinking that if theportrait were framed it would just cover that bare space andcorrespond with Gordon's picture there."

"You have followed me wonderfully!" I exclaimed.

"So far I could hardly have gone astray. But now your thoughtswent back to Beecher, and you looked hard across as if you werestudying the character in his features. Then your eyes ceased topucker, but you continued to look across, and your face wasthoughtful. You were recalling the incidents of Beecher'scareer. I was well aware that you could not do this withoutthinking of the mission which he undertook on behalf of the Northat the time of the Civil War, for I remember your expressing yourpassionate indignation at the way in which he was received by themore turbulent of our people. You felt so strongly about it thatI knew you could not think of Beecher without thinking of thatalso. When a moment later I saw your eyes wander away from thepicture, I suspected that your mind had now turned to the CivilWar, and when I observed that your lips set, your eyes sparkled,and your hands clenched I was positive that you were indeedthinking of the gallantry which was shown by both sides in thatdesperate struggle. But then, again, your face grew sadder, youshook your head. You were dwelling upon the sadness and horrorand useless waste of life. Your hand stole towards your own oldwound and a smile quivered on your lips, which showed me that theridiculous side of this method of settling internationalquestions had forced itself upon your mind. At this point Iagreed with you that it was preposterous and was glad to findthat all my deductions had been correct."

"Absolutely!" said I. "And now that you have explained it, Iconfess that I am as amazed as before."

"It was very superficial, my dear Watson, I assure you. I shouldnot have intruded it upon your attention had you not shown someincredulity the other day. But I have in my hands here a littleproblem which may prove to be more difficult of solution than mysmall essay I thought reading. Have you observed in the paper ashort paragraph referring to the remarkable contents of a packetsent through the post to Miss Cushing, of Cross Street, Croydon?"

"No, I saw nothing."

"Ah! then you must have overlooked it. Just toss it over to me.Here it is, under the financial column. Perhaps you would begood enough to read it aloud."

I picked up the paper which he had thrown back to me and read theparagraph indicated. It was headed, "A Gruesome Packet."

"Miss Susan Cushing, living at Cross Street, Croydon, has beenmade the victim of what must be regarded as a peculiarlyrevolting practical joke unless some more sinister meaning shouldprove to be attached to the incident. At two o'clock yesterdayafternoon a small packet, wrapped in brown paper, was handed inby the postman. A cardboard box was inside, which was filledwith coarse salt. On emptying this, Miss Cushing was horrified tofind two human ears, apparently quite freshly severed. The boxhad been sent by parcel post from Belfast upon the morningbefore. There is no indication as to the sender, and the matteris the more mysterious as Miss Cushing, who is a maiden lady offifty, has led a most retired life, and has so few acquaintancesor correspondents that it is a rare event for her to receiveanything through the post. Some years ago, however, when sheresided at Penge, she let apartments in her house to three youngmedical students, whom she was obliged to get rid of on accountof their noisy and irregular habits. The police are of opinionthat this outrage may have been perpetrated upon Miss Cushing bythese youths, who owed her a grudge and who hoped to frighten herby sending her these relics of the dissecting-rooms. Someprobability is lent to the theory by the fact that one of thesestudents came from the north of Ireland, and, to the best of MissCushing's belief, from Belfast. In the meantime, the matter isbeing actively investigated, Mr. Lestrade, one of the verysmartest of our detective officers, being in charge of the case."

"So much for the Daily Chronicle," said Holmes as I finishedreading. "Now for our friend Lestrade. I had a note from himthis morning, in which he says:

"I think that this case is very much in your line. We have everyhope of clearing the matter up, but we find a little difficultyin getting anything to work upon. We have, of course, wired tothe Belfast post-office, but a large number of parcels werehanded in upon that day, and they have no means of identifyingthis particular one, or of remembering the sender. The box is ahalf-pound box of honeydew tobacco and does not help us in anyway. The medical student theory still appears to me to be themost feasible, but if you should have a few hours to spare Ishould be very happy to see you out here. I shall be either atthe house or in the police-station all day.

"What say you, Watson? Can you rise superior to the heat and rundown to Croydon with me on the off chance of a case for yourannals?"

"I was longing for something to do."

"You shall have it then. Ring for our boots and tell them toorder a cab. I'll be back in a moment when I have changed mydressing-gown and filled my cigar-case."

A shower of rain fell while we were in the train, and the heatwas far less oppressive in Croydon than in town. Holmes had senton a wire, so that Lestrade, as wiry, as dapper, and as ferret-like as ever, was waiting for us at the station. A walk of fiveminutes took us to Cross Street, where Miss Cushing resided.

It was a very long street of two-story brick houses, neat andprim, with whitened stone steps and little groups of apronedwomen gossiping at the doors. Halfway down, Lestrade stopped andtapped at a door, which was opened by a small servant girl. MissCushing was sitting in the front room, into which we wereushered. She was a placid-faced woman, with large, gentle eyes,and grizzled hair curving down over her temples on each side. Aworked antimacassar lay upon her lap and a basket of colouredsilks stood upon a stool beside her.

They are in the outhouse, those dreadful things," said she asLestrade entered. "I wish that you would take them awayaltogether."

"So I shall, Miss Cushing. I only kept them here until myfriend, Mr. Holmes, should have seen them in your presence."

"Why in my presence, sir?"

"In case he wished to ask any questions."

"What is the use of asking me questions when I tell you I knownothing whatever about it?"

"Quite so, madam," said Holmes in his soothing way. "I have nodoubt that you have been annoyed more than enough already overthis business."

"Indeed I have, sir. I am a quiet woman and live a retired life.It is something new for me to see my name in the papers and tofind the police in my house. I won't have those things I here,Mr. Lestrade. If you wish to see them you must go to theouthouse."

It was a small shed in the narrow garden which ran behind thehouse. Lestrade went in and brought out a yellow cardboard box,with a piece of brown paper and some string. There was a benchat the end of the path, and we all sat down while Homes examinedone by one, the articles which Lestrade had handed to him.

"The string is exceedingly interesting," he remarked, holding itup to the light and sniffing at it.

"What do you make of thisstring, Lestrade?"

"It has been tarred."

"Precisely. It is a piece of tarred twine. You have also, nodoubt, remarked that Miss Cushing has cut the cord with ascissors, as can be seen by the double fray on each side. Thisis of importance."

"I cannot see the importance," said Lestrade.

"The importance lies in the fact that the knot is left intact,and that this knot is of a peculiar character."

"It is very neatly tied. I had already made a note of thateffect," said Lestrade complacently.

"So much for the string, then," said Holmes, smiling, "now forthe box wrapper. Brown paper, with a distinct smell of coffee.What, did you not observe it? I think there can be no doubt ofit. Address printed in rather straggling characters: 'Miss S.Cushing, Cross Street, Croydon.' Done with a broad-pointed pen,probably a J, and with very inferior ink. The word 'Croydon' hasbeen originally spelled with an 'i', which has been changed to'y'. The parcel was directed, then, by a man--the printing isdistinctly masculine--of limited education and unacquainted withthe town of Croydon. So far, so good! The box is a yellow,half-pound honeydew box, with nothing distinctive save two thumbmarks at the left bottom corner. It is filled with rough salt ofthe quality used for preserving hides and other of the coarsercommercial purposes. And embedded in it are these very singularenclosures."

He took out the two ears as he spoke, and laying a board acrosshis knee he examined them minutely, while Lestrade and I, bendingforward on each side of him, glanced alternately at thesedreadful relics and at the thoughtful, eager face of ourcompanion. Finally he returned them to the box once more and satfor a while in deep meditation.

"You have observed, of course," said he at last, "that the earsare not a pair."

"Yes, I have noticed that. But if this were the practical jokeof some students from the dissecting-rooms, it would be as easyfor them to send two odd ears as a pair."

"Precisely. But this is not a practical joke."

"You are sure of it?"

"The presumption is strongly against it. Bodies in thedissecting-rooms are injected with preservative fluid. Theseears bear no signs of this. They are fresh, too. They have beencut off with a blunt instrument, which would hardly happen if astudent had done it. Again, carbolic or rectified spirits wouldbe the preservatives which would suggest themselves to themedical mind, certainly not rough salt. I repeat that there isno practical joke here, but that we are investigating a seriouscrime."

A vague thrill ran through me as I listened to my companion'swords and saw the stern gravity which had hardened his features.This brutal preliminary seemed to shadow forth some strange andinexplicable horror in the background. Lestrade, however, shookhis head like a man who is only half convinced.

"There are objections to the joke theory, no doubt," said he,"but there are much stronger reasons against the other. We knowthat this woman has led a most quiet and respectable life atPenge and here for the last twenty years. She has hardly beenaway from her home for a day during that time. Why on earth,then, should any criminal send her the proofs of his guilt,especially as, unless she is a most consummate actress, sheunderstands quite as little of the matter as we do?"

"That is the problem which we have to solve," Holmes answered,"and for my part I shall set about it by presuming that myreasoning is correct, and that a double murder has beencommitted. One of these ears is a woman's, small, finely formed,and pierced for an earring. The other is a man's, sun-burned,discoloured, and also pierced for an earring. These two peopleare presumably dead, or we should have heard their story beforenow. To-day is Friday. The packet was posted on Thursdaymorning. The tragedy, then, occurred on Wednesday or Tuesday, orearlier. If the two people were murdered, who but their murdererwould have sent this sign of his work to Miss Cushing? We maytake it that the sender of the packet is the man whom we want.But he must have some strong reason for sending Miss Cushing thispacket. What reason then? It must have been to tell her thatthe deed was done! or to pain her, perhaps. But in that case sheknows who it is. Does she know? I doubt it. If she knew, whyshould she call the police in? She might have buried the ears,and no one would have been the wiser. That is what she would havedone if she had wished to shield the criminal. But if she doesnot wish to shield him she would give his name. There is atangle here which needs straightening to." He had been talkingin a high, quick voice, staring blankly up over the garden fence,but now he sprang briskly to his feet and walked towards thehouse.

"I have a few questions to ask Miss Cushing," said he.

"In that case I may leave you here," said Lestrade, "for I haveanother small business on hand. I think that I have nothingfurther to learn from Miss Cushing. You will find me at thepolice-station."

"We shall look in on our way to the train," answered Holmes. Amoment later he and I were back in the front room, where theimpassive lady was still quietly working away at herantimacassar. She put it down on her lap as we entered andlooked at us with her frank, searching blue eyes.

"I am convinced, sir," she said, "that this matter is a mistake,and that the parcel was never meant for me at all. I have saidthis several times to the gentlemen from Scotland Yard, but hesimply laughs at me. I have not an enemy in the world, as far asI know, so why should anyone play me such a trick?"

"I am coming to be of the same opinion, Miss Cushing," saidHolmes, taking a seat beside her. "I think that it is more thanprobable--" He paused, and I was surprised, on glancing round tosee that he was staring with singular intentness at the lady'sprofile. Surprise and satisfaction were both for an instant tobe read upon his eager face, though when she glanced round tofind out the cause of his silence he had become as demure asever. I stared hard myself at her flat, grizzled hair, her trimcap, her little gilt earrings, her placid features; but I couldsee nothing which could account for my companion's evidentexcitement.

"There were one or two questions--"

"Oh, I am weary of questions!" cried Miss Cushing impatiently.

"You have two sisters, I believe."

"How could you know that?"

"I observed the very instant that I entered the room that youhave a portrait group of three ladies upon the mantelpiece, oneof whom is undoubtedly yourself, while the others are soexceedingly like you that there could be no doubt of therelationship."

"Yes, you are quite right. Those are my sisters, Sarah andMary."

"And here at my elbow is another portrait, taken at Liverpool, ofyour younger sister, in the company of a man who appears to be asteward by his uniform. I observe that she was unmarried at thetime."

"You are very quick at observing."

"That is my trade."

"Well, you are quite right. But she was married to Mr. Browner afew days afterwards. He was on the South American line when thatwas taken, but he was so fond of her that he couldn't abide toleave her for so long, and he got into the Liverpool and Londonboats."

"Ah, the Conqueror, perhaps?"

"No, the May Day, when last I heard. Jim came down here to seeme once. That was before he broke the pledge; but afterwards hewould always take drink when he was ashore, and a little drinkwould send him stark, staring mad. Ah! it was a bad day thatever he took a glass in his hand again. First he dropped me,then he quarrelled with Sarah, and now that Mary has stoppedwriting we don't know how things are going with them."

It was evident that Miss Cushing had come upon a subject on whichshe felt very deeply. Like most people who lead a lonely life,she was shy at first, but ended by becoming extremelycommunicative. She told us many details about her brother-in-lawthe steward, and then wandering off on the subject of her formerlodgers, the medical students, she gave us a long account oftheir delinquencies, with their names and those of theirhospitals. Holmes listened attentively to everything, throwingin a question from time to time.

"About your second sister, Sarah," said he. "I wonder, since youare both maiden ladies, that you do not keep house together."

"Ah! you don't know Sarah's temper or you would wonder no more.I tried it when I came to Croydon, and we kept on until about twomonths ago, when we had to part. I don't want to say a wordagainst my own sister, but she was always meddlesome and hard toplease, was Sarah."

"You say that she quarrelled with your Liverpool relations."

"Yes, and they were the best of friends at one time. Why, shewent up there to live in order to be near them. And now she hasno word hard enough for Jim Browner. The last six months thatshe was here she would speak of nothing but his drinking and hisways. He had caught her meddling, I suspect, and given her a bitof his mind, and that was the start of it."

"Thank you, Miss Cushing," said Holmes, rising and bowing. "Yoursister Sarah lives, I think you said, at New Street, Wallington?Good-bye, and I am very sorry that you should have been troubledover a case with which, as you say, you have nothing whatever todo."

There was a cab passing as we came out, and Holmes hailed it.

"How far to Wallington?" he asked.

"Only about a mile, sir."

"Very good. Jump in, Watson. We must strike while the iron ishot. Simple as the case is, there have been one or two veryinstructive details in connection with it. Just pull up at atelegraph office as you pass, cabby."

Holmes sent off a short wire and for the rest of the drive layback in the cab, with his hat tilted over his nose to keep thesun from his face. Our drive pulled up at a house which was notunlike the one which we had just quitted. My companion orderedhim to wait, and had his hand upon the knocker, when the dooropened and a grave young gentleman in black, with a very shinyhat, appeared on the step.

"Is Miss Cushing at home?" asked Holmes.

"Miss Sarah Cushing is extremely ill," said he. "She has beensuffering since yesterday from brain symptoms of great severity.As her medical adviser, I cannot possibly take the responsibilityof allowing anyone to see her. I should recommend you to callagain in ten days." He drew on his gloves, closed the door, andmarched off down the street.

"Well, if we can't we can't," said Holmes, cheerfully.

"Perhaps she could not or would not have told you much."

"I did not wish her to tell me anything. I only wanted to lookat her. However, I think that I have got all that I want. Driveus to some decent hotel, cabby, where we may have some lunch, andafterwards we shall drop down upon friend Lestrade at the police-station."

We had a pleasant little meal together, during which Holmes wouldtalk about nothing but violins, narrating with great exultationhow he had purchased his own Stradivarius, which was worth atleast five hundred guineas, at a Jew broker's in Tottenham CourtRoad for fifty-five shillings. This led him to Paganini, and wesat for an hour over a bottle of claret while he told me anecdoteafter anecdote of that extraordinary man. The afternoon was faradvanced and the hot glare had softened into a mellow glow beforewe found ourselves at the police-station. Lestrade was waitingfor us at the door.

"A telegram for you, Mr. Holmes," said he.

"Ha! It is the answer!" He tore it open, glanced his eyes overit, and crumpled it into his pocket.

"That's all right," saidhe.

"Have you found out anything?"

"I have found out everything!"

"What!" Lestrade stared at him in amazement. "You are joking."

"I was never more serious in my life. A shocking crime has beencommitted, and I think I have now laid bare every detail of it."

"And the criminal?"

Holmes scribbled a few words upon the back of one of his visitingcards and threw it over to Lestrade.

"That is the name," he said. "You cannot effect an arrest untilto-morrow night at the earliest. I should prefer that you do notmention my name at all in connection with the case, as I chooseto be only associated with those crimes which present somedifficulty in their solution. Come on, Watson." We strode offtogether to the station, leaving Lestrade still staring with adelighted face at the card which Holmes had thrown him.

"The case," said Sherlock Holmes as we chatted over or cigarsthat night in our rooms at Baker Street, "is one where, as in theinvestigations which you have chronicled under the names of 'AStudy in Scarlet' and of 'The Sign of Four,' we have beencompelled to reason backward from effects to causes. I havewritten to Lestrade asking him to supply us with the detailswhich are now wanting, and which he will only get after he hadsecured his man. That he may be safely trusted to do, foralthough he is absolutely devoid of reason, he is as tenacious asa bulldog when he once understands what he has to do, and indeed,it is just this tenacity which has brought him to the top atScotland Yard."

"Your case is not complete, then?" I asked.

"It is fairly complete in essentials. We know who the author ofthe revolting business is, although one of the victims stillescapes us. Of course, you have formed your own conclusions."
"I presume that this Jim Browner, the steward of a Liverpoolboat, is the man whom you suspect?"

"Oh! it is more than a suspicion."

"And yet I cannot see anything save very vague indications."

"On the contrary, to my mind nothing could be more clear. Let merun over the principal steps. We approached the case, youremember, with an absolutely blank mind, which is always anadvantage. We had formed no theories. We were simply there toobserve and to draw inferences from our observations. What didwe see first? A very placid and respectable lady, who seemedquite innocent of any secret, and a portrait which showed me thatshe had two younger sisters. It instantly flashed across my mindthat the box might have been meant for one of these. I set theidea aside as one which could be disproved or confirmed at ourleisure. Then we went to the garden, as you remember, and we sawthe very singular contents of the little yellow box.

"The string was of the quality which is used by sail-makersaboard ship, and at once a whiff of the sea was perceptible inour investigation. When I observed that the knot was one whichis popular with sailors, that the parcel had been posted at aport, and that the male ear was pierced for an earring which isso much more common among sailors than landsmen, I was quitecertain that all the actors in the tragedy were to be found amongour seafaring classes.

"When I came to examine the address of the packet I observed thatit was to Miss S. Cushing. Now, the oldest sister would, ofcourse, be Miss Cushing, and although her initial was 'S' itmight belong to one of the others as well. In that case weshould have to commence our investigation from a fresh basisaltogether. I therefore went into the house with the intentionof clearing up this point. I was about to assure Miss Cushingthat I was convinced that a mistake had been made when you mayremember that I came suddenly to a stop. The fact was that I hadjust seen something which filled me with surprise and at the sametime narrowed the field of our inquiry immensely.

"As a medical man, you are aware, Watson, that there is no partof the body which varies so much as the human ear. Each ear isas a rule quite distinctive and differs from all other ones. Inlast year's Anthropological Journal you will find two shortmonographs from my pen upon the subject. I had, therefore,examined the ears in the box with the eyes of an expert and hadcarefully noted their anatomical peculiarities. Imagine mysurprise, then, when on looking at Miss Cushing I perceived thather ear corresponded exactly with the female ear which I had justinspected. The matter was entirely beyond coincidence. Therewas the same shortening of the pinna, the same broad curve of theupper lobe, the same convolution of the inner cartilage. In allessentials it was the same ear.

"In the first place, her sister's name was Sarah, and her addresshad until recently been the same, so that it was quite obvioushow the mistake had occurred and for whom the packet was meant.Then we heard of this steward, married to the third sister, andlearned that he had at one time been so intimate with Miss Sarahthat she had actually gone up to Liverpool to be near theBrowners, but a quarrel had afterwards divided them. Thisquarrel had put a stop to all communications for some months, sothat if Browner had occasion to address a packet to Miss Sarah,he would undoubtedly have done so to her old address.

"And now the matter had begun to straighten itself outwonderfully. We had learned of the existence of this steward, animpulsive man, of strong passions--you remember that he threw upwhat must have been a very superior berth in order to be nearerto his wife--subject, too, to occasional fits of hard drinking.We had reason to believe that his wife had been murdered, andthat a man--presumably a seafaring man--had been murdered at thesame time. Jealousy, of course, at once suggests itself as themotive for the crime. And why should these proofs of the deed besent to Miss Sarah Cushing? Probably because during herresidence in Liverpool she had some hand in bringing about theevents which led to the tragedy. You will observe that this lineof boats call at Belfast, Dublin, and Waterford; so that,presuming that Browner had committed the deed and had embarked atonce upon his steamer, the May Day, Belfast would be the firstplace at which he could post his terrible packet.

"A second solution was at this stage obviously possible, andalthough I thought it exceedingly unlikely, I was determined toelucidate it before going further. An unsuccessful lover mighthave killed Mr. and Mrs. Browner, and the male ear might havebelonged to the husband. There were many grave objections tothis theory, but it was conceivable. I therefore sent off atelegram to my friend Algar, of the Liverpool force, and askedhim to find out if Mrs. Browner were at home, and if Browner haddeparted in the May Day. Then we went on to Wallington to visitMiss Sarah.

"I was curious, in the first place, to see how far the family earhad been reproduced in her. Then, of course, she might give usvery important information, but I was not sanguine that shewould. She must have heard of the business the day before, sinceall Croydon was ringing with it, and she alone could haveunderstood for whom the packet was meant. If she had beenwilling to help justice she would probably have communicated withthe police already. However, it was clearly our duty to see her,so we went. We found that the news of the arrival of the packet--for her illness dated from that time--had such an effect uponher as to bring on brain fever. It was clearer than ever thatshe understood its full significance, but equally clear that weshould have to wait some time for any assistance from her.

"However, we were really independent of her help. Our answerswere waiting for us at the police-station, where I had directedAlgar to send them. Nothing could be more conclusive. Mrs.Browner's house had been closed for more than three days, and theneighbours were of opinion that she had gone south to see herrelatives. It had been ascertained at the shipping offices thatBrowner had left aboard of the May Day, and I calculate that sheis due in the Thames tomorrow night. When he arrives he will bemet by the obtuse but resolute Lestrade, and I have no doubt thatwe shall have all our details filled in."

Sherlock Holmes was not disappointed in his expectations. Twodays later he received a bulky envelope, which contained a shortnote from the detective, and a typewritten document, whichcovered several pages of foolscap.

"Lestrade has got him all right," said Holmes, glancing up at me."Perhaps it would interest you to hear what he says.

"My dear Mr. Holmes:

In accordance with the scheme which we had formed in order totest our theories" ["the 'we' is rather fine, Watson, is itnot?"] "I went down to the Albert Dock yesterday at 6 p.m., andboarded the S.S. May Day, belonging to the Liverpool, Dublin, andLondon Steam Packet Company. On inquiry, I found that there wasa steward on board of the name of James Browner and that he hadacted during the voyage in such an extraordinary manner that thecaptain had been compelled to relieve him of his duties. Ondescending to his berth, I found him seated upon a chest with hishead sunk upon his hands, rocking himself to and fro. He is abig, powerful chap, clean-shaven, and very swarthy--somethinglike Aldrige, who helped us in the bogus laundry affair. Hejumped up when he heard my business, and I had my whistle to mylips to call a couple of river police, who were round the corner,but he seemed to have no heart in him, and he held out his handsquietly enough for the darbies. We brought him along to thecells, and his box as well, for we thought there might besomething incriminating; but, bar a big sharp knife such as mostsailors have, we got nothing for our trouble. However, we findthat we shall want no more evidence, for on being brought beforethe inspector at the station he asked leave to make a statement,which was, of course, taken down, just as he made it, by ourshorthand man. We had three copies typewritten, one of which Ienclose. The affair proves, as I always thought it would, to bean extremely simple one, but I am obliged to you for assisting mein my investigation. With kind regards,

"Yours very truly,

"G. Lestrade.

"Hum! The investigation really was a very simple one," remarkedHolmes, "but I don't think it struck him in that light when hefirst called us in. However, let us see what Jim Browner has tosay for himself. This is his statement as made before InspectorMontgomery at the Shadwell Police Station, and it has theadvantage of being verbatim."

"'Have I anything to say? Yes, I have a deal to say. I have tomake a clean breast of it all. You can hang me, or you can leaveme alone. I don't care a plug which you do. I tell you I've notshut an eye in sleep since I did it, and I don't believe I everwill again until I get past all waking. Sometimes it's his face,but most generally it's hers. I'm never without one or the otherbefore me. He looks frowning and black-like, but she has a kindo' surprise upon her face. Ay, the white lamb, she might well besurprised when she read death on a face that had seldom lookedanything but love upon her before.

"'But it was Sarah's fault, and may the curse of a broken man puta blight on her and set the blood rotting in her veins! It's notthat I want to clear myself. I know that I went back to drink,like the beast that I was. But she would have forgiven me; shewould have stuck as close to me a rope to a block if that womanhad never darkened our door. For Sarah Cushing loved me--that'sthe root of the business--she loved me until all her love turnedto poisonous hate when she knew that I thought more of my wife'sfootmark in the mud than I did of her whole body and soul.

"'There were three sisters altogether. The old one was just agood woman, the second was a devil, and the third was an angel.Sarah was thirty-three, and Mary was twenty-nine when I married.We were just as happy as the day was long when we set up housetogether, and in all Liverpool there was no better woman than myMary. And then we asked Sarah up for a week, and the week grewinto a month, and one thing led to another, until she was justone of ourselves.
"'I was blue ribbon at that time, and we were putting a littlemoney by, and all was as bright as a new dollar. My God, whoeverwould have thought that it could have come to this? Whoever wouldhave dreamed it?

"'I used to be home for the week-ends very often, and sometimesif the ship were held back for cargo I would have a whole week ata time, and in this way I saw a deal of my sister-in-law, Sarah.She was a fine tall woman, black and quick and fierce, with aproud way of carrying her head, and a glint from her eye like aspark from a flint. But when little Mary was there I had never athought of her, and that I swear as I hope for God's mercy.

"'It had seemed to me sometimes that she liked to be alone withme, or to coax me out for a walk with her, but I had neverthought anything of that. But one evening my eyes were opened.I had come up from the ship and found my wife out, but Sarah athome. "Where's Mary?" I asked. "Oh, she has gone to pay someaccounts." I was impatient and paced up and down the room."Can't you be happy for five minutes without Mary, Jim?" saysshe. "It's a bad compliment to me that you can't be contentedwith my society for so short a time." "That's all right, mylass," said I, putting out my hand towards her in a kindly way,but she had it in both hers in an instant, and they burned as ifthey were in a fever. I looked into her eyes and I read it allthere. There was no need for her to speak, nor for me either. Ifrowned and drew my hand away. Then she stood by my side insilence for a bit, and then put up her hand and patted me on theshoulder. "Steady old Jim!" said she, and with a kind o' mockinglaugh, she ran out of the room.

"'Well, from that time Sarah hated me with her whole heart andsoul, and she is a woman who can hate, too. I was a fool to lether go on biding with us--a besotted fool--but I never said aword to Mary, for I knew it would grieve her. Things went onmuch as before, but after a time I began to find that there was abit of a change in Mary herself. She had always been so trustingand so innocent, but now she became queer and suspicious, wantingto know where I had been and what I had been doing, and whom myletters were from, and what I had in my pockets, and a thousandsuch follies. Day by day she grew queerer and more irritable,and we had ceaseless rows about nothing. I was fairly puzzled byit all. Sarah avoided me now, but she and Mary were justinseparable. I can see now how she was plotting and scheming andpoisoning my wife's mind against me, but I was such a blindbeetle that I could not understand it at the time. Then I brokemy blue ribbon and began to drink again, but I think I should nothave done it if Mary had been the same as ever. She had somereason to be disgusted with me now, and the gap between us beganto be wider and wider. And then this Alec Fairbairn chipped in,and things became a thousand times blacker.

"'It was to see Sarah that he came to my house first, but soon itwas to see us, for he was a man with winning ways, and he madefriends wherever he went. He was a dashing, swaggering chap,smart and curled, who had seen half the world and could talk ofwhat he had seen. He was good company, I won't deny it, and hehad wonderful polite ways with him for a sailor man, so that Ithink there must have been a time when he knew more of the poopthan the forecastle. For a month he was in and out of my house,and never once did it cross my mind that harm might come of hissoft, tricky ways. And then at last something made me suspect,and from that day my peace was gone forever.

"'It was only a little thing, too. I had come into the parlourunexpected, and as I walked in at the door I saw a light ofwelcome on my wife's face. But as she saw who it was it fadedagain, and she turned away with a look of disappointment. Thatwas enough for me. There was no one but Alec Fairbairn whosestep she could have mistaken for mine. If I could have seen himthen I should have killed him, for I have always been like amadman when my temper gets loose. Mary saw the devil's light inmy eyes, and she ran forward with her hands on my sleeve."Don't, Jim, don't!" says she. "Where's Sarah?" I asked. "Inthe kitchen," says she. "Sarah," says I as I went in, "this manFairbairn is never to darken my door again." "Why not?" saysshe. "Because I order it." "Oh!" says she, "if my friends arenot good enough for this house, then I am not good enough for iteither." "You can do what you like," says I, "but if Fairbairnshows his face here again I'll send you one of his ears for akeepsake." She was frightened by my face, I think, for she neveranswered a word, and the same evening she left my house.

"'Well, I don't know now whether it was pure devilry on the partof this woman, or whether she thought that she could turn meagainst my wife by encouraging her to misbehave. Anyway, shetook a house just two streets off and let lodgings to sailors.Fairbairn used to stay there, and Mary would go round to have teawith her sister and him. How often she went I don't know, but Ifollowed her one day, and as I broke in at the door Fairbairn gotaway over the back garden wall, like the cowardly skunk that hewas. I swore to my wife that I would kill her if I found her inhis company again, and I led her back with me, sobbing andtrembling, and as white as a piece of paper. There was no traceof love between us any longer. I could see that she hated me andfeared me, and when the thought of it drove me to drink, then shedespised me as well.

"'Well, Sarah found that she could not make a living inLiverpool, so she went back, as I understand, to live with hersister in Croydon, and things jogged on much the same as ever athome. And then came this week and all the misery and ruin.

"'It was in this way. We had gone on the May Day for a roundvoyage of seven days, but a hogshead got loose and started one ofour plates, so that we had to put back into port for twelvehours. I left the ship and came home, thinking what a surpriseit would be for my wife, and hoping that maybe she would be gladto see me so soon. The thought was in my head as I turned intomy own street, and at that moment a cab passed me, and there shewas, sitting by the side of Fairbairn, the two chatting andlaughing, with never a thought for me as I stood watching themfrom the footpath.

"'I tell you, and I give you my word for it, that from thatmoment I was not my own master, and it is all like a dim dreamwhen I look back on it. I had been drinking hard of late, andthe two things together fairly turned my brain. There'ssomething throbbing in my head now, like a docker's hammer, butthat morning I seemed to have all Niagara whizzing and buzzing inmy ears.

"'Well, I took to my heels, and I ran after the cab. I had aheavy oak stick in my hand, and I tell you I saw red from thefirst; but as I ran I got cunning, too, and hung back a little tosee them without being seen. They pulled up soon at the railwaystation. There was a good crowd round the booking-office, so Igot quite close to them without being seen. They took ticketsfor New Brighton. So did I, but I got in three carriages behindthem. When we reached it they walked along the Parade, and I wasnever more than a hundred yards from them. At last I saw themhire a boat and start for a row, for it was a very hot day, andthey thought, no doubt, that it would be cooler on the water.

"'It was just as if they had been given into my hands. There wasa bit of a haze, and you could not see more than a few hundredyards. I hired a boat for myself, and I pulled after them. Icould see the blur of their craft, but they were going nearly asfast as I, and they must have been a long mile from the shorebefore I caught them up. The haze was like a curtain all roundus, and there were we three in the middle of it. My God, shall Iever forget their faces when they saw who was in the boat thatwas closing in upon them? She screamed out. He swore like amadman and jabbed at me with an oar, for he must have seen deathin my eyes. I got past it and got one in with my stick thatcrushed his head like an egg. I would have spared her, perhaps,for all my madness, but she threw her arms round him, crying outto him, and calling him "Alec." I struck again, and she laystretched beside him. I was like a wild beast then that hadtasted blood. If Sarah had been there, by the Lord, she shouldhave joined them. I pulled out my knife, and--well, there! I'vesaid enough. It gave me a kind of savage joy when I thought howSarah would feel when she had such signs as these of what hermeddling had brought about. Then I tied the bodies into theboat, stove a plank, and stood by until they had sunk. I knewvery well that the owner would think that they had lost theirbearings in the haze, and had drifted off out to sea. I cleanedmyself up, got back to land, and joined my ship without a soulhaving a suspicion of what had passed. That night I made up thepacket for Sarah Cushing, and next day I sent it from Belfast.

"'There you have the whole truth of it. You can hang me, or dowhat you like with me, but you cannot punish me as I have beenpunished already. I cannot shut my eyes but I see those twofaces staring at me--staring at me as they stared when my boatbroke through the haze. I killed them quick, but they arekilling me slow; and if I have another night of it I shall beeither mad or dead before morning. You won't put me alone into acell, sir? For pity's sake don't, and may you be treated in yourday of agony as you treat me now.'

"What is the meaning of it, Watson?" said Holmes solemnly as helaid down the paper. "What object is served by this circle ofmisery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or elseour universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable. But whatend? There is the great standing perennial problem to whichhuman reason is as far from an answer as ever."

Prepared by David Brannan of Woodbridge, Virginia. (Project Gutenberg)

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