By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
"Well, Mrs. Warren, I cannot see that you have any particularcause for uneasiness, nor do I understand why I, whose time is ofsome value, should interfere in the matter. I really have otherthings to engage me." So spoke Sherlock Holmes and turned backto the great scrapbook in which he was arranging and indexingsome of his recent material.
But the landlady had the pertinacity and also the cunning of hersex. She held her ground firmly.
"You arranged an affair for a lodger of mine last year," shesaid--"Mr. Fairdale Hobbs."
"Ah, yes--a simple matter."
"But he would never cease talking of it--your kindness, sir, andthe way in which you brought light into the darkness. Iremembered his words when I was in doubt and darkness myself. Iknow you could if you only would."
Holmes was accessible upon the side of flattery, and also, to dohim justice, upon the side of kindliness. The two forces madehim lay down his gum-brush with a sigh of resignation and pushback his chair.
"Well, well, Mrs. Warren, let us hear about it, then. You don'tobject to tobacco, I take it? Thank you, Watson--the matches!You are uneasy, as I understand, because your new lodger remainsin his rooms and you cannot see him. Why, bless you, Mrs.Warren, if I were your lodger you often would not see me forweeks on end."
"No doubt, sir; but this is different. It frightens me, Mr.Holmes. I can't sleep for fright. To hear his quick step movinghere and moving there from early morning to late at night, andyet never to catch so much as a glimpse of him--it's more than Ican stand. My husband is as nervous over it as I am, but he isout at his work all day, while I get no rest from it. What is hehiding for? What has he done? Except for the girl, I am allalone in the house with him, and it's more than my nerves canstand."
Holmes leaned forward and laid his long, thin fingers upon thewoman's shoulder. He had an almost hypnotic power of soothingwhen he wished. The scared look faded from her eyes, and heragitated features smoothed into their usual commonplace. She satdown in the chair which he had indicated.
"If I take it up I must understand every detail," said he. "Taketime to consider. The smallest point may be the most essential.You say that the man came ten days ago and paid you for afortnight's board and lodging?"
"He asked my terms, sir. I said fifty shillings a week. Thereis a small sitting-room and bedroom, and all complete, at the topof the house."
"He said, 'I'll pay you five pounds a week if I can have it on myown terms.' I'm a poor woman, sir, and Mr. Warren earns little,and the money meant much to me. He took out a ten-pound note,and he held it out to me then and there. 'You can have the sameevery fortnight for a long time to come if you keep the terms,'he said. 'If not, I'll have no more to do with you.'
"What were the terms?"
"Well, sir, they were that he was to have a key of the house.That was all right. Lodgers often have them. Also, that he wasto be left entirely to himself and never, upon any excuse, to bedisturbed."
"Nothing wonderful in that, surely?"
"Not in reason, sir. But this is out of all reason. He has beenthere for ten days, and neither Mr. Warren, nor I, nor the girlhas once set eyes upon him. We can hear that quick step of hispacing up and down, up and down, night, morning, and noon; butexcept on that first night he had never once gone out of thehouse."
"Oh, he went out the first night, did he?"
"Yes, sir, and returned very late--after we were all in bed. Hetold me after he had taken the rooms that he would do so andasked me not to bar the door. I heard him come up the stairafter midnight."
"But his meals?"
"It was his particular direction that we should always, when herang, leave his meal upon a chair, outside his door. Then herings again when he has finished, and we take it down from thesame chair. If he wants anything else he prints it on a slip ofpaper and leaves it."
"Yes, sir; prints it in pencil. Just the word, nothing more.Here's the one I brought to show you--soap. Here's another--match. This is one he left the first morning--daily gazette. Ileave that paper with his breakfast every morning."
"Dear me, Watson," said Homes, staring with great curiosity atthe slips of foolscap which the landlady had handed to him, "thisis certainly a little unusual. Seclusion I can understand; butwhy print? Printing is a clumsy process. Why not write? Whatwould it suggest, Watson?"
"That he desired to conceal his handwriting."
"But why? What can it matter to him that his landlady shouldhave a word of his writing? Still, it may be as you say. Then,again, why such laconic messages?"
"I cannot imagine."
"It opens a pleasing field for intelligent speculation. The wordsare written with a broad-pointed, violet-tinted pencil of a notunusual pattern. You will observe that the paper is torn away atthe side here after the printing was done, so that the 's' of'soap' is partly gone. Suggestive, Watson, is it not?"
"Exactly. There was evidently some mark, some thumbprint,something which might give a clue to the person's identity. Now.Mrs. Warren, you say that the man was of middle size, dark, andbearded. What age would he be?"
"Youngish, sir--not over thirty."
"Well, can you give me no further indications?"
"He spoke good English, sir, and yet I thought he was a foreignerby his accent."
"And he was well dressed?"
"Very smartly dressed, sir--quite the gentleman. Dark clothes--nothing you would note."
"He gave no name?"
"And has had no letters or callers?"
"But surely you or the girl enter his room of a morning?"
"No, sir; he looks after himself entirely."
"Dear me! that is certainly remarkable. What about his luggage?"
"He had one big brown bag with him--nothing else."
"Well, we don't seem to have much material to help us. Do yousay nothing has come out of that room--absolutely nothing?"
The landlady drew an envelope from her bag; from it she shook outtwo burnt matches and a cigarette-end upon the table.
"They were on his tray this morning. I brought them because Ihad heard that you can read great things out of small ones."
Holmes shrugged his shoulders.
"There is nothing here," said he. "The matches have, of course,been used to light cigarettes. That is obvious from theshortness of the burnt end. Half the match is consumed inlighting a pipe or cigar. But, dear me! this cigarette stub iscertainly remarkable. The gentleman was bearded and moustached,you say?"
"I don't understand that. I should say that only a clean-shavenman could have smoked this. Why, Watson, even your modestmoustache would have been singed."
"A holder?" I suggested.
"No, no; the end is matted. I suppose there could not be twopeople in your rooms, Mrs. Warren?"
"No, sir. He eats so little that I often wonder it can keep lifein one."
"Well, I think we must wait for a little more material. Afterall, you have nothing to complain of. You have received yourrent, and he is not a troublesome lodger, though he is certainlyan unusual one. He pays you well, and if he chooses to lieconcealed it is no direct business of yours. We have no excusefor an intrusion upon his privacy until we have some reason tothink that there is a guilty reason for it. I've taken up thematter, and I won't lose sight of it. Report to me if anythingfresh occurs, and rely upon my assistance if it should be needed.
"There are certainly some points of interest in this case,Watson," he remarked when the landlady had left us. "It may, ofcourse, be trivial--individual eccentricity; or it may be verymuch deeper than appears on the surface. The first thing thatstrike one is the obvious possibility that the person now in therooms may be entirely different from the one who engaged them."
"Why should you think so?"
"Well, apart form this cigarette-end, was it not suggestive thatthe only time the lodger went out was immediately after histaking the rooms? He came back--or someone came back--when allwitnesses were out of the way. We have no proof that the personwho came back was the person who went out. Then, again, the manwho took the rooms spoke English well. This other, however,prints 'match' when it should have been 'matches.' I can imaginethat the word was taken out of a dictionary, which would give thenoun but not the plural. The laconic style may be to conceal theabsence of knowledge of English. Yes, Watson, there are goodreasons to suspect that there has been a substitution oflodgers."
"But for what possible end?"
"Ah! there lies our problem. There is one rather obvious line ofinvestigation." He took down the great book in which, day byday, he filed the agony columns of the various London journals."Dear me!" said he, turning over the pages, "what a chorus ofgroans, cries, and bleatings! What a rag-bag of singularhappenings! But surely the most valuable hunting-ground thatever was given to a student of the unusual! This person is aloneand cannot be approached by letter without a breach of thatabsolute secrecy which is desired. How is any news or anymessage to reach him from without? Obviously by advertisementthrough a newspaper. There seems no other way, and fortunatelywe need concern ourselves with the one paper only. Here are theDaily Gazette extracts of the last fortnight. 'Lady with a blackboa at Prince's Skating Club'--that we may pass. 'Surely Jimmywill not break his mother's heart'--that appears to beirrelevant. 'If the lady who fainted on Brixton bus'--she doesnot interest me. 'Every day my heart longs--' Bleat, Watson--unmitigated bleat! Ah, this is a little more possible. Listento this: 'Be patient. Will find some sure means ofcommunications. Meanwhile, this column. G.' That is two daysafter Mrs. Warren's lodger arrived. It sounds plausible, does itnot? The mysterious one could understand English, even if hecould not print it. Let us see if we can pick up the traceagain. Yes, here we are--three days later. 'Am makingsuccessful arrangements. Patience and prudence. The clouds willpass. G.' Nothing for a week after that. Then comes somethingmuch more definite: 'The path is clearing. If I find chancesignal message remember code agreed--One A, two B, and so on.You will hear soon. G.' That was in yesterday's paper, andthere is nothing in to-day's. It's all very appropriate to Mrs.Warren's lodger. If we wait a little, Watson, I don't doubt thatthe affair will grow more intelligible."
So it proved; for in the morning I found my friend standing onthe hearthrug with his back to the fire and a smile of completesatisfaction upon his face.
"How's this, Watson?" he cried, picking up the paper from thetable. "'High red house with white stone facings. Third floor.Second window left. After dusk. G.' That is definite enough.I think after breakfast we must make a little reconnaissance ofMrs. Warren's neighbourhood. Ah, Mrs. Warren! what news do youbring us this morning?"
Our client had suddenly burst into the room with an explosiveenergy which told of some new and momentous development.
"It's a police matter, Mr. Holmes!" she cried. "I'll have nomore of it! He shall pack out of there with his baggage. Iwould have gone straight up and told him so, only I thought itwas but fair to you to take your opinion first. But I'm at theend of my patience, and when it comes to knocking my old manabout--"
"Knocking Mr. Warren about?"
"Using him roughly, anyway."
"But who used him roughly?"
"Ah! that's what we want to know! It was this morning, sir. Mr.Warren is a timekeeper at Morton and Waylight's, in TottenhamCourt Road. He has to be out of the house before seven. Well,this morning he had not gone ten paces down the road when two mencame up behind him, threw a coat over his head, and bundled himinto a cab that was beside the curb. They drove him an hour,and then opened the door and shot him out. He lay in the roadwayso shaken in his wits that he never saw what became of the cab.When he picked himself up he found he was on Hampstead Heath; sohe took a bus home, and there he lies now on his sofa, while Icame straight round to tell you what had happened."
"Most interesting," said Holmes. "Did he observe the appearanceof these men--did he hear them talk?"
"No; he is clean dazed. He just knows that he was lifted up asif by magic and dropped as if by magic. Two a least were in it,and maybe three."
"And you connect this attack with your lodger?"
"Well, we've lived there fifteen years and no such happeningsever came before. I've had enough of him. Money's noteverything. I'll have him out of my house before the day isdone."
"Wait a bit, Mrs. Warren. Do nothing rash. I begin to think thatthis affair may be very much more important than appeared atfirst sight. It is clear now that some danger is threateningyour lodger. It is equally clear that his enemies, lying in waitfor him near your door, mistook your husband for him in the foggymorning light. On discovering their mistake they released him.What they would have done had it not been a mistake, we can onlyconjecture."
"Well, what am I to do, Mr. Holmes?"
"I have a great fancy to see this lodger of yours, Mrs. Warren."
"I don't see how that is to be managed, unless you break in thedoor. I always hear him unlock it as I go down the stair after Ileave the tray."
"He has to take the tray in. Surely we could conceal ourselvesand see him do it."
The landlady thought for a moment.
"Well, sir, there's the box-room opposite. I could arrange alooking-glass, maybe, and if you were behind the door--"
"Excellent!" said Holmes. "When does he lunch?"
"About one, sir."
"Then Dr. Watson and I will come round in time. For the present,Mrs. Warren, good-bye."
At half-past twelve we found ourselves upon the steps of Mrs.Warren's house--a high, thin, yellow-brick edifice in Great OrmeStreet, a narrow thoroughfare at the northeast side of theBritish Museum. Standing as it does near the corner of thestreet, it commands a view down Howe Street, with its orepretentious houses. Holmes pointed with a chuckle to one ofthese, a row of residential flats, which projected so that theycould not fail to catch the eye.
"See, Watson!" said he. "'High red house with stone facings.'There is the signal station all right. We know the place, and weknow the code; so surely our task should be simple. There's a'to let' card in that window. It is evidently an empty flat towhich the confederate has access. Well, Mrs. Warren, what now?"
"I have it all ready for you. If you will both come up and leaveyour boots below on the landing, I'll put you there now."
It was an excellent hiding-plate which she had arranged. Themirror was so placed that, seated in the dark, we could veryplainly see the door opposite. We had hardly settled down in it,and Mrs. Warren left us, when a distant tinkle announced that ourmysterious neighbour had rung. Presently the landlady appearedwith the tray, laid it down upon a chair beside the closed door,and then, treading heavily, departed. Crouching together in theangle of the door, we kept our eyes fixed upon the mirror.Suddenly, as the landlady's footsteps died away, there was thecreak of a turning key, the handle revolved, and two thin handsdarted out and lifted the tray form the chair. An instant laterit was hurriedly replaced, and I caught a glimpse of a dark,beautiful, horrified face glaring at the narrow opening of thebox-room. Then the door crashed to, the key turned once more,and all was silence. Holmes twitched my sleeve, and together westole down the stair.
"I will call again in the evening," said he to the expectantlandlady. "I think, Watson, we can discuss this business betterin our own quarters."
"My surmise, as you saw, proved to be correct," said he, speakingfrom the depths of his easy-chair. "There has been asubstitution of lodgers. What I did not foresee is that weshould find a woman, and no ordinary woman, Watson."
"She saw us."
"Well, she saw something to alarm her. That is certain. Thegeneral sequence of events is pretty clear, is it not? A coupleseek refuge in London from a very terrible and instant danger.The measure of that danger is the rigour of their precautions.The man, who has some work which he must do, desires to leave thewoman in absolute safety while he does it. It is not an easyproblem, but he solved it in an original fashion, and soeffectively that her presence was not even known to the landladywho supplies her with food. The printed messages, as is nowevident, were to prevent her sex being discovered by her writing.The man cannot come near the woman, or he will guide theirenemies to her. Since he cannot communicate with her direct, hehas recourse to the agony column of a paper. So far all isclear."
"But what is at the root of it?"
"Ah, yes, Watson--severely practical, as usual! What is at theroot of it all? Mrs. Warren's whimsical problem enlargessomewhat and assumes a more sinister aspect as we proceed. Thismuch we can say: that it is no ordinary love escapade. You sawthe woman's face at the sign of danger. We have heard, too, ofthe attack upon the landlord, which was undoubtedly meant for thelodger. These alarms, and the desperate need for secrecy, arguethat the matter is one of life or death. The attack upon Mr.Warren further shows that the enemy, whoever they are, arethemselves not aware of the substitution of the female lodger forthe male. It is very curious and complex, Watson."
"Why should you go further in it? What have you to gain fromit?"
"What, indeed? It is art for art's sake, Watson. I suppose whenyou doctored you found yourself studying cases without thought ofa fee?"
"For my education, Holmes."
"Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons withthe greatest for the last. This is an instructive case. Thereis neither money nor credit in it, and yet one would wish to tidyit up. When dusk comes we should find ourselves one stageadvanced in our investigation."
When we returned to Mrs. Warren's rooms, the gloom of a Londonwinter evening had thickened into one gray curtain, a deadmonotone of colour, broken only by the sharp yellow squares ofthe windows and the blurred haloes of the gas-lamps. As wepeered from the darkened sitting-room of the lodging-house, onemore dim light glimmered high up through the obscurity.
"Someone is moving in that room," said Holmes in a whisper, hisgaunt and eager face thrust forward to the window-pane. "Yes, Ican see his shadow. There he is again! He has a candle in hishand. Now he is peering across. He wants to be sure that she ison the lookout. Now he begins to flash. Take the message also,Watson, that we may check each other. A single flash--that is A,surely. Now, then. How many did you make it? Twenty. Do didIn. That should mean T. AT--that's intelligible enough.Another T. Surely this is the beginning of a second word. Now,then--TENTA. Dead stop. That can't be all, Watson? ATTENTAgives no sense. Nor is it any better as three words AT, TEN, TA,unless T. A. are a person's initials. There it goes again!What's that? ATTE--why, it is the same message over again.Curious, Watson, very curious. Now he is off once more! AT--whyhe is repeating it for the third time. ATTENTA three times! Howoften will he repeat it? No, that seems to be the finish. Hehas withdrawn form the window. What do you make of it, Watson?"
"A cipher message, Holmes."
My companion gave a sudden chuckle of comprehension. "And not avery obscure cipher, Watson," said he. "Why, of course, it isItalian! The A means that it is addressed to a woman. 'Beware!Beware! Beware!' How's that, Watson?
"I believe you have hit it."
"Not a doubt of it. It is a very urgent message, thrice repeatedto make it more so. But beware of what? Wait a bit, he iscoming to the window once more."
Again we saw the dim silhouette of a crouching man and the whiskof the small flame across the window as the signals were renewed.They came mor rapidly than before--so rapid that it was hard tofollow them.
"PERICOLO--pericolo--eh, what's that, Watson? 'Danger,' isn'tit? Yes, by Jove, it's a danger signal. There he goes again!PERI. Halloa, what on earth--"
The light had suddenly gone out, the glimmering square of windowhad disappeared, and the third floor formed a dark band round thelofty building, with its tiers of shining casements. That lastwarning cry had been suddenly cut short. How, and by whom? Thesame thought occurred on the instant to us both. Holmes sprangup from where he crouched by the window.
"This is serious, Watson," he cried. "There is some devilrygoing forward! Why should such a message stop in such a way? Ishould put Scotland Yard in touch with this business--and yet, itis too pressing for us to leave."
"Shall I go for the police?"
"We must define the situation a little more clearly. It may bearsome more innocent interpretation. Come, Watson, let us goacross ourselves and see what we can make of it."
As we walked rapidly down Howe Street I glanced back at thebuilding which we had left. There, dimly outlined at the topwindow, I could see the shadow of a head, a woman's head, gazingtensely, rigidly, out into the night, waiting with breathlesssuspense for the renewal of that interrupted message. At thedoorway of the Howe Street flats a man, muffled in a cravat andgreatcoat, was leaning against the railing. He started as thehall-light fell upon our faces.
"Holmes!" he cried.
"Why, Gregson!" said my companion as he shook hands with theScotland Yard detective. "Journeys end with lovers' meetings.What brings you here?"
"The same reasons that bring you, I expect," said Gregson. "Howyou got on to it I can't imagine."
"Different threads, but leading up to the same tangle. I've beentaking the signals."
"Yes, from that window. They broke off in the middle. We cameover to see the reason. But since it is safe in your hands I seeno object in continuing this business."
"Wait a bit!" cried Gregson eagerly. "I'll do you this justice,Mr. Holmes, that I was never in a case yet that I didn't feelstronger for having you on my side. There's only the one exit tothese flats, so we have him safe."
"Who is he?"
"Well, well, we score over you for once, Mr. Holmes. You mustgive us best this time." He struck his stick sharply upon theground, on which a cabman, his whip in his hand, sauntered overfrom a four-wheeler which stood on the far side of the street."May I introduce you to Mr. Sherlock Holmes?" he said to thecabman. "This is Mr. Leverton, of Pinkerton's American Agency."
"The hero of the Long Island cave mystery?" said Holmes. "Sir, Iam pleased to meet you."
The American, a quiet, businesslike young man, with a clean-shaven, hatchet face, flushed up at the words of commendation."I am on the trail of my life now, Mr. Holmes," said he. "If Ican get Gorgiano--"
"What! Gorgiano of the Red Circle?"
"Oh, he has a European fame, has he? Well, we've learned allabout him in America. We KNOW he is at the bottom of fiftymurders, and yet we have nothing positive we can take him on. Itracked him over from New York, and I've been close to him for aweek in London, waiting some excuse to get my hand on his collar.Mr. Gregson and I ran him to ground in that big tenement house,and there's only one door, so he can't slip us. There's threefolk come out since he went in, but I'll swear he wasn't one ofthem."
"Mr. Holmes talks of signals," said Gregson. "I expect, asusual, he knows a good deal that we don't."
In a few clear words Holmes explained the situation as it hadappeared to us. The American struck his hands together withvexation.
"He's on to us!" he cried.
"Why do you think so?"
"Well, it figures out that way, does it not? Here he is, sendingout messages to an accomplice--there are several of his gang inLondon. Then suddenly, just as by your own account he wastelling them that there was danger, he broke short off. Whatcould it mean except that from the window he had suddenly eithercaught sight of us in the street, or in some way come tounderstand how close the danger was, and that he must act rightaway if he was to avoid it? What do you suggest, Mr. Holmes?"
"That we go up at once and see for ourselves."
"But we have no warrant for his arrest."
"He is in unoccupied premises under suspicious circumstances,"said Gregson. "That is good enough for the moment. When we havehim by the heels we can see if New York can't help us to keephim. I'll take the responsibility of arresting him now."
Our official detectives may blunder in the matter ofintelligence, but never in that of courage. Gregson climbed thestair to arrest this desperate murderer with the same absolutelyquiet and businesslike bearing with which he would have ascendedthe official staircase of Scotland Yard. The Pinkerton man hadtried to push past him, but Gregson had firmly elbowed him back.London dangers were the privilege of the London force.
The door of the left-hand flat upon the third landing wasstanding ajar. Gregson pushed it open. Within all was absolutesilence and darkness. I struck a match and lit the detective'slantern. As I did so, and as the flicker steadied into a flame,we all gave a gasp of surprise. On the deal boards of thecarpetless floor there was outlined a fresh track of blood. Thered steps pointed towards us and led away from an inner room, thedoor of which was closed. Gregson flung it open and held hislight full blaze in front of him, while we all peered eagerlyover his shoulders.
In the middle of the floor of the empty room was huddled thefigure of an enormous man, his clean-shaven, swarthy facegrotesquely horrible in its contortion and his head encircled bya ghastly crimson halo of blood, lying in a broad wet circle uponthe white woodwork. His knees were drawn up, his hands thrownout in agony, and from the centre of his broad, brown, upturnedthroat there projected the white haft of a knife driven blade-deep into his body. Giant as he was, the man must have gone downlike a pole-axed ox before that terrific blow. Beside his righthand a most formidable horn-handled, two-edged dagger lay uponthe floor, and near it a black kid glove.
"By George! it's Black Gorgiano himself!" cried the Americandetective. "Someone has got ahead of us this time."
"Here is the candle in the window, Mr. Holmes," said Gregson."Why, whatever are you doing?"
Holmes had stepped across, had lit the candle, and was passing itbackward and forward across the window-panes. Then he peeredinto the darkness, blew the candle out, and threw it on thefloor.
"I rather think that will be helpful," said he. He came over andstood in deep thought while the two professionals were examiningthe body. "You say that three people came out form the flat whileyou were waiting downstairs," said he at last. "Did you observethem closely?"
"Yes, I did."
"Was there a fellow about thirty, black-bearded, dark, of middlesize?"
"Yes; he was the last to pass me."
"That is your man, I fancy. I can give you his description, andwe have a very excellent outline of his footmark. That should beenough for you."
"Not much, Mr. Holmes, among the millions of London."
"Perhaps not. That is why I thought it best to summon this ladyto your aid."
We all turned round at the words. There, framed in the doorway,was a tall and beautiful woman--the mysterious lodger ofBloomsbury. Slowly she advanced, her face pale and drawn with afrightful apprehension, her eyes fixed and staring, her terrifiedgaze riveted upon the dark figure on the floor.
"You have killed him!" she muttered. "Oh, Dio mio, you havekilled him!" Then I heard a sudden sharp intake of her breath,and she sprang into the air with a cry of joy. Round and roundthe room she danced, her hands clapping, her dark eyes gleamingwith delighted wonder, and a thousand pretty Italian exclamationspouring from her lips. It was terrible and amazing to see such awoman so convulsed with joy at such a sight. Suddenly shestopped and gazed at us all with a questioning stare.
"But you! You are police, are you not? You have killed GiuseppeGorgiano. Is it not so?"
"We are police, madam."
She looked round into the shadows of the room.
"But where, then, is Gennaro?" she asked. "He is my husband,Gennaro Lucca. I am Emilia Lucca, and we are both from New York.Where is Gennaro? He called me this moment from this window, andI ran with all my speed."
"It was I who called," said Holmes.
"You! How could you call?"
"Your cipher was not difficult, madam. Your presence here wasdesirable. I knew that I had only to flash 'Vieni' and you wouldsurely come."
The beautiful Italian looked with awe at my companion.
"I do not understand how you know these things," she said."Giuseppe Gorgiano--how did he--" She paused, and then suddenlyher face lit up with pride and delight. "Now I see it! MyGennaro! My splendid, beautiful Gennaro, who has guarded me safefrom all harm, he did it, with his own strong hand he killed themonster! Oh, Gennaro, how wonderful you are! What woman couldevery be worthy of such a man?"
"Well, Mrs. Lucca," said the prosaic Gregson, laying his handupon the lady's sleeve with as little sentiment as if she were aNotting Hill hooligan, "I am not very clear yet who you are orwhat you are; but you've said enough to make it very clear thatwe shall want you at the Yard."
"One moment, Gregson," said Holmes. "I rather fancy that thislady may be as anxious to give us information as we can be to getit. You understand, madam, that your husband will be arrestedand tried for the death of the man who lies before us? What yousay may be used in evidence. But if you think that he has actedfrom motives which are not criminal, and which he would wish tohave known, then you cannot serve him better than by telling usthe whole story."
"Now that Gorgiano is dead we fear nothing," said the lady. "Hewas a devil and a monster, and there can be no judge in the worldwho would punish my husband for having killed him."
"In that case," said Holmes, "my suggestion is that we lock thisdoor, leave things as we found them, go with this lady to herroom, and form our opinion after we have heard what it is thatshe has to say to us."
Half an hour later we were seated, all four, in the smallsitting-room of Signora Lucca, listening to her remarkablenarrative of those sinister events, the ending of which we hadchanced to witness. She spoke in rapid and fluent but veryunconventional English, which, for the sake of clearness, I willmake grammatical.
"I was born in Posilippo, near Naples," said she, "and was thedaughter of Augusto Barelli, who was the chief lawyer and oncethe deputy of that part. Gennaro was in my father's employment,and I came to love him, as any woman must. He had neither moneynor position--nothing but his beauty and strength and energy--somy father forbade the match. We fled together, were married atBari, and sold my jewels to gain the money which would take us toAmerica. This was four years ago, and we have been in New Yorkever since.
"Fortune was very good to us at first. Gennaro was able to do aservice to an Italian gentleman--he saved him from some ruffiansin the place called the Bowery, and so made a powerful friend.His name was Tito Castalotte, and he was the senior partner ofthe great firm of Castalotte and Zamba, who are the chief fruitimporters of New York. Signor Zamba is an invalid, and our newfriend Castalotte has all power within the firm, which employsmore than three hundred men. He took my husband into hisemployment, made him head of a department, and showed his good-will towards him in every way. Signor Castalotte was a bachelor,and I believe that he felt as if Gennaro was his son, and both myhusband and I loved him as if he were our father. We had takenand furnished a little house in Brooklyn, and our whole futureseemed assured when that black cloud appeared which was soon tooverspread our sky.
"One night, when Gennaro returned from his work, he brought afellow-countryman back with him. His name was Gorgiano, and hehad come also from Posilippo. He was a huge man, as you cantestify, for you have looked upon his corpse. Not only was hisbody that of a giant but everything about him was grotesque,gigantic, and terrifying. His voice was like thunder in ourlittle house. There was scarce room for the whirl of his greatarms as he talked. His thoughts, his emotions, his passions, allwere exaggerated and monstrous. He talked, or rather roared,with such energy that others could but sit and listen, cowed withthe mighty stream of words. His eyes blazed at you and held youat his mercy. He was a terrible and wonderful man. I thank Godthat he is dead!
"He came again and again. Yet I was aware that Gennaro was nomore happy than I was in his presence. My poor husband would sitpale and listless, listening to the endless raving upon politicsand upon social questions which made up or visitor'sconversation. Gennaro said nothing, but I, who knew him so well,could read in his face some emotion which I had never seen therebefore. At first I thought that it was dislike. And then,gradually, I understood that it was more than dislike. It wasfear--a deep, secret, shrinking fear. That night--the night thatI read his terror--I put my arms round him and I implored him byhis love for me and by all that he held dear to hold nothing fromme, and to tell me why this huge man overshadowed him so.
"He told me, and my own heart grew cold as ice as I listened. Mypoor Gennaro, in his wild and fiery days, when all the worldseemed against him and his mind was driven half mad by theinjustices of life, had joined a Neapolitan society, the RedCircle, which was allied to the old Carbonari. The oaths andsecrets of this brotherhood were frightful, but once within itsrule no escape was possible. When we had fled to America Gennarothought that he had cast it all off forever. What was his horrorone evening to meet in the streets the very man who had initiatedhim in Naples, the giant Gorgiano, a man who had earned the nameof 'Death' in the south of Italy, for he was red to the elbow inmurder! He had come to New York to avoid the Italian police, andhe had already planted a branch of this dreadful society in hisnew home. All this Gennaro told me and showed me a summons whichhe had received that very day, a Red Circle drawn upon the headof it telling him that a lodge would be held upon a certain date,and that his presence at it was required and ordered.
"That was bad enough, but worse was to come. I had noticed forsome time that when Gorgiano came to us, as he constantly did, inthe evening, he spoke much to me; and even when his words were tomy husband those terrible, glaring, wild-beast eyes of his werealways turned upon me. One night his secret came out. I hadawakened what he called 'love' within him--the love of a brute--asavage. Gennaro had not yet returned when he came. He pushedhis way in, seized me in his mighty arms, hugged me in his bear'sembrace, covered me with kisses, and implored me to come awaywith him. I was struggling and screaming when Gennaro enteredand attacked him. He struck Gennaro senseless and fled from thehouse which he was never more to enter. It was a deadly enemythat we made that night.
"A few days later came the meeting. Gennaro returned from itwith a face which told me that something dreadful had occurred.It was worse than we could have imagined possible. The funds ofthe society were raised by blackmailing rich Italians andthreatening them with violence should they refuse the money. Itseems that Castalotte, our dear friend and benefactor, had beenapproached. He had refused to yield to threats, and he hadhanded the notices to the police. It was resolved now that suchan example should be made of them as would prevent any othervictim from rebelling. At the meeting it was arranged that he andhis house should be blown up with dynamite. There was a drawingof lots as to who should carry out the deed. Gennaro saw ourenemy's cruel face smiling at him as he dipped his hand in thebag. No doubt it had been prearranged in some fashion, for it wasthe fatal disc with the Red Circle upon it, the mandate formurder, which lay upon his palm. He was to kill his best friend,or he was to expose himself and me to the vengeance of hiscomrades. It was part of their fiendish system to punish thosewhom they feared or hated by injuring not only their own personsbut those whom they loved, and it was the knowledge of this whichhung as a terror over my poor Gennaro's head and drove him nearlycrazy with apprehension.
"All that night we sat together, our arms round each other, eachstrengthening each for the troubles that lay before us. The verynext evening had been fixed for the attempt. By midday myhusband and I were on our way to London, but not before he hadgiven our benefactor full warning of this danger, and had alsoleft such information for the police as would safeguard his lifefor the future.
"The rest, gentlemen, you know for yourselves. We were sure thatour enemies would be behind us like our own shadows. Gorgianohad his private reasons for vengeance, but in any case we knewhow ruthless, cunning, and untiring he could be. Both Italy andAmerica are full of stories of his dreadful powers. If ever theywere exerted it would be now. My darling made use of the fewclear days which our start had given us in arranging for a refugefor me in such a fashion that no possible danger could reach me.For his own part, he wished to be free that he might communicateboth with the American and with the Italian police. I do notmyself know where he lived, or how. All that I learned wasthrough the columns of a newspaper. But once as I looked throughmy window, I saw two Italians watching the house, and Iunderstood that in some way Gorgiano had found our retreat.Finally Gennaro told me, through the paper, that he would signalto me from a certain window, but when the signals came they werenothing but warnings, which were suddenly interrupted. It isvery clear to me now that he knew Gorgiano to be close upon him,and that, thank God! he was ready for him when he came. And now,gentleman, I would ask you whether we have anything to fear fromthe law, or whether any judge upon earth would condemn my Gennarofor what he has done?"
"Well, Mr. Gregson," said the American, looking across at theofficial, "I don't know what your British point of view may be,but I guess that in New York this lady's husband will receive apretty general vote of thanks."
"She will have to come with me and see the chief," Gregsonanswered. "If what she says is corroborated, I do not think sheor her husband has much to fear. But what I can't make head ortail of, Mr. Holmes, is how on earth YOU got yourself mixed up inthe matter."
"Education, Gregson, education. Still seeking knowledge at theold university. Well, Watson, you have one more specimen of thetragic and grotesque to add to your collection. By the way, itis not eight o'clock, and a Wagner night at Covent Garden! If wehurry, we might be in time for the second act."
Prepared by David Brannan of Woodbridge, Virginia. (Project Gutenberg)