When one considers that Mr. Sherlock Holmes was in active practice
for twenty-three years, and that during seventeen of these I was allowed
to cooperate with him and to keep notes of his doings, it will be clear
that I have a mass of material at my command. The problem has always been
not to find but to choose. There is the long row of year-books which fill
a shelf and there are the dispatch-cases filled with documents, a perfect
quarry for the student not only of crime but of the social and official
scandals of the late Victorian era. Concerning these latter, I may say
that the writers of agonized letters, who beg that the honour of their
families or the reputation of famous forebears may not be touched, have
nothing to fear. The discretion and high sense of professional honour
which have always distinguished my friend are still at work in the choice
of these memoirs, and no confidence will be abused. I deprecate, however,
in the strongest way the attempts which have been made lately to get at
and to destroy these papers. The source of these outrages is known, and if
they are repeated I have Mr. Holmes's authority for saying that the whole
story concerning the politician, the lighthouse, and the trained cormorant
will be given to the public. There is at least one reader who will
It is not reasonable to suppose that every one of these cases gave
Holmes the opportunity of showing those curious gifts of instinct and
observation which I have endeavoured to set forth in these memoirs.
Sometimes he had with much effort to pick the fruit, sometimes it fell
easily into his lap. But the most terrible human tragedies were often
involved in those cases which brought him the fewest personal
opportunities, and it is one of these which I now desire to record. In
telling it, I have made a slight change of name and place, but otherwise
the facts are as stated.
One forenoon it was late in 1896 I received a hurried note from
Holmes asking for my attendance. When I arrived I found him seated in a
smoke-laden atmosphere, with an elderly, motherly woman of the buxom
landlady type in the corresponding chair in front of him.
"This is Mrs. Merrilow, of South Brixton," said my friend with a wave
of the hand. "Mrs. Merrilow does not object to tobacco, Watson, if you
wish to indulge your filthy habits. Mrs. Merrilow has an interesting story
to tell which may well lead to further developments in which your presence
may be useful."
"Anything I can do -"
"You will understand, Mrs. Merrilow, that if I come to Mrs. Ronder I
should prefer to have a witness. You will make her understand that before
"Lord bless you, Mr. Holmes," said our visitor, "she is that anxious
to see you that you might bring the whole parish at your heels!"
"Then we shall come early in the afternoon. Let us see that we have
our facts correct before we start. If we go over them it will help Dr.
Watson to understand the situation. You say that Mrs. Ronder has been your
lodger for seven years and that you have only once seen her face."
"And I wish to God I had not!" said Mrs. Merrilow.
"It was, I understand, terribly mutilated."
"Well, Mr. Holmes, you would hardly say it was a face at all. That's
how it looked. Our milkman got a glimpse of her once peeping out of the
upper window, and he dropped his tin and the milk all over the front
garden. That is the kind of face it is. When I saw her I happened on
her unawares she covered up quick, and then she said, 'Now, Mrs.
Merrilow, you know at last why it is that I never raise my veil.' "
"Do you know anything about her history?"
"Nothing at all."
"Did she give references when she came?"
"No, sir, but she gave hard cash, and plenty of it. A quarter's rent
right down on the table in advance and no arguing about terms. In these
times a poor woman like me can't afford to turn down a chance like that."
"Did she give any reason for choosing your house?"
"Mine stands well back from the road and is more private than most.
Then, again, I only take the one, and I have no family of my own. I reckon
she had tried others and found that mine suited her best. It's privacy she
is after, and she is ready to pay for it."
"You say that she never showed her face from first to last save on
the one accidental occasion. Well, it is a very remarkable story, most
remarkable, and I don't wonder that you want it examined."
"I don't, Mr. Holmes. I am quite satisfied so long as I get my rent.
You could not have a quieter lodger, or one who gives less trouble."
"Then what has brought matters to a head?"
"Her health, Mr. Holmes. She seems to be wasting away. And there's
something terrible on her mind. 'Murder!' she cries. 'Murder!' And once I
heard her: 'You cruel beast! You monster!' she cried. It was in the night,
and it fair rang through the house and sent the shivers through me. So I
went to her in the morning. 'Mrs. Ronder,' I says, 'if you have anything
that is troubling your soul, there's the clergy,' I says, 'and there's the
police. Between them you should get some help.' 'For God's sake, not the
police!' says she, 'and the clergy can't change what is past. And yet,'
she says, 'it would ease my mind if someone knew the truth before I died.'
'Well,' says I, 'if you won't have the regulars, there is this detective
man what we read about' beggin' your pardon, Mr. Holmes. And she, she
fair jumped at it. 'That's the man,' says she. 'I wonder I never thought
of it before. Bring him here, Mrs. Merrilow, and if he won't come, tell
him I am the wife of Ronder's wild beast show. Say that, and give him the
name Abbas Parva. Here it is as she wrote it, Abbas Parva. 'That will
bring him if he's the man I think he is.' "
"And it will, too," remarked Holmes. "Very good, Mrs. Merrilow. I
should like to have a little chat with Dr. Watson. That will carry us till
lunch-time. About three o'clock you may expect to see us at your house in
Our visitor had no sooner waddled out of the room no other verb
can describe Mrs. Merrilow's method of progression than Sherlock Holmes
threw himself with fierce energy upon the pile of commonplace books in the
corner. For a few minutes there was a constant swish of the leaves, and
then with a grunt of satisfaction he came upon what he sought. So excited
was he that he did not rise, but sat upon the floor like some strange
Buddha, with crossed legs, the huge books all round him, and one open upon
"The case worried me at the time, Watson. Here are my marginal notes
to prove it. I confess that I could make nothing of it. And yet I was
convinced that the coroner was wrong. Have you no recollection of the
Abbas Parva tragedy?"
"And yet you were with me then. But certainly my own impression was
very superficial. For there was nothing to go by, and none of the parties
had engaged my services. Perhaps you would care to read the papers?"
"Could you not give me the points?"
"That is very easily done. It will probably come back to your memory
as I talk. Ronder, of course, was a household word. He was the rival of
Wombwell, and of Sanger, one of the greatest showmen of his day. There is
evidence, however, that he took to drink, and that both he and his show
were on the down grade at the time of the great tragedy. The caravan had
halted for the night at Abbas Parva, which is a small village in
Berkshire, when this horror occurred. They were on their way to Wimble-
don, travelling by road, and they were simply camping and not exhibiting,
as the place is so small a one that it would not have paid them to open.
"They had among their exhibits a very fine North African lion. Sahara
King was its name, and it was the habit, both of Ronder and his wife, to
give exhibitions inside its cage. Here, you see, is a photograph of the
performance by which you will perceive that Ronder was a huge porcine
person and that his wife was a very magnificent woman. It was deposed at
the inquest that there had been some signs that the lion was dangerous,
but, as usual, familiarity begat contempt, and no notice was taken of the
"It was usual for either Ronder or his wife to feed the lion at
night. Sometimes one went, sometimes both, but they never allowed anyone
else to do it, for they believed that so long as they were the
food-carriers he would regard them as benefactors and would never molest
them. On this particular night, seven years ago, they both went, and a
very terrible happening followed, the details of which have never been
"It seems that the whole camp was roused near midnight by the roars
of the animal and the screams of the woman. The different grooms and
employees rushed from their tents, carrying lanterns, and by their light
an awful sight was revealed. Ronder lay, with the back of his head crushed
in and deep claw-marks across his scalp, some ten yards from the cage,
which was open. Close to the door of the cage lay Mrs. Ronder upon her
back, with the creature squatting and snarling above her. It had torn her
face in such a fashion that it was never thought that she could live.
Several of the circus men, headed by Leonardo, the strong man, and Griggs,
the clown, drove the creature off with poles, upon which it sprang back
into the cage and was at once locked in. How it had got loose was a
mystery. It was conjectured that the pair intended to enter the cage, but
that when the door was loosed the creature bounded out upon them. There
was no other point of interest in the evidence save that the woman in a
delirium of agony kept screaming, 'Coward! Coward!' as she was carried
back to the van in which they lived. It was six months before she was fit
to give evidence, but the inquest was duly held, with the obvious verdict
of death from misadventure."
"What alternative could be conceived?" said I.
"You may well say so. And yet there were one or two points which
worried young Edmunds, of the Berkshire Constabulary. A smart lad that! He
was sent later to Allahabad. That was how I came into the matter, for he
dropped in and smoked a pipe or two over it."
"A thin, yellow-haired man?"
"Exactly. I was sure you would pick up the trail presently."
"But what worried him?"
"Well, we were both worried. It was so deucedly difficult to
reconstruct the affair. Look at it from the lion's point of view. He is
liberated. What does he do? He takes half a dozen bounds forward, which
brings him to Ronder. Ronder turns to fly the claw-marks were on the
back of his head but the lion strikes him down. Then, instead of
bounding on and escaping, he returns to the woman, who was close to the
cage, and he knocks her over and chews her face up. Then, again, those
cries of hers would seem to imply that her husband had in some way failed
her. What could the poor devil have done to help her? You see the
"And then there was another thing. It comes back to me now as I think
it over. There was some evidence that just at the time the lion roared and
the woman screamed, a man began shouting in terror."
"This man Ronder, no doubt."
"Well, if his skull was smashed in you would hardly expect to hear
from him again. There were at least two witnesses who spoke of the cries
of a man being mingled with those of a woman."
"I should think the whole camp was crying out by then. As to the
other points, I think I could suggest a solution."
"I should be glad to consider it."
"The two were together, ten yards from the cage, when the lion got
loose. The man turned and was struck down. The woman conceived the idea of
getting into the cage and shutting the door. It was her only refuge. She
made for it, and just as she reached it the beast bounded after her and
knocked her over. She was angry with her husband for having encouraged the
beast's rage by turning. If they had faced it they might have cowed it.
Hence her cries of 'Coward!' "
"Brilliant, Watson! Only one flaw in your diamond."
"What is the flaw, Holmes?"
"If they were both ten paces from the cage, how came the beast to get
"Is it possible that they had some enemy who loosed it?"
"And why should it attack them savagely when it was in the habit of
playing with them, and doing tricks with them inside the cage?"
"Possibly the same enemy had done something to enrage it."
Holmes looked thoughtful and remained in silence for some moments.
"Well, Watson, there is this to be said for your theory. Ronder was a
man of many enemies. Edmunds told me that in his cups he was horrible. A
huge bully of a man, he cursed and slashed at everyone who came in his
way. I expect those cries about a monster, of which our visitor has
spoken, were nocturnal reminiscences of the dear departed. However, our
speculations are futile until we have all the facts. There is a cold
partridge on the sideboard, Watson, and a bottle of Montrachet. Let us
renew our energies before we make a fresh call upon them."
When our hansom deposited us at the house of Mrs. Merrilow, we found
that plump lady blocking up the open door of her humble but retired abode.
It was very clear that her chief preoccupation was lest she should lose a
valuable lodger, and she implored us, before showing us up, to say and do
nothing which could lead to so undesirable an end. Then, having reassured
her, we followed her up the straight, badly carpeted staircase and were
shown into the room of the mysterious lodger.
It was a close, musty, ill-ventilated place, as might be expected,
since its inmate seldom left it. From keeping beasts in a cage, the woman
seemed, by some retribution of fate, to have become herself a beast in a
cage. She sat now in a broken arm-chair in the shadowy corner of the room.
Long years of inaction had coarsened the lines of her figure, but at some
period it must have been beautiful, and was still full and voluptuous. A
thick dark veil covered her face, but it was cut off close at her upper
lip and disclosed a perfectly shaped mouth and a delicately rounded chin.
I could well conceive that she had indeed been a very remarkable woman.
Her voice, too, was well modulated and pleasing.
"My name is not unfamiliar to you, Mr. Holmes," said she. "I thought
that it would bring you."
"That is so, madam, though I do not know how you are aware that I was
interested in your case."
"l learned it when I had recovered my health and was examined by Mr.
Edmunds, the county detective. I fear I lied to him. Perhaps it would have
been wiser had I told the truth."
"It is usually wiser to tell the truth. But why did you lie to him?"
"Because the fate of someone else depended upon it. I know that he
was a very worthless being, and yet I would not have his destruction upon
my conscience. We had been so close so close!"
"But has this impediment been removed?"
"Yes, sir. The person that I allude to is dead."
"Then why should you not now tell the police anything you know?"
"Because there is another person to be considered. That other person
is myself. I could not stand the scandal and publicity which would come
from a police examination. I have not long to live, but I wish to die
undisturbed. And yet I wanted to find one man of judgment to whom I could
tell my terrible story, so that when I am gone all might be understood."
"You compliment me, madam. At the same time, I am a responsible
person. I do not promise you that when you have spoken I may not myself
think it my duty to refer the case to the police."
"I think not, Mr. Holmes. I know your character and methods too well,
for I have followed your work for some years. Reading is the only pleasure
which fate has left me, and I miss little which passes in the world. But
in any case, I will take my chance of the use which you may make of my
tragedy. It will ease my mind to tell it."
"My friend and I would be glad to hear it."
The woman rose and took from a drawer the photograph of a man. He was
clearly a professional acrobat, a man of magnificent physique, taken with
his huge arms folded across his swollen chest and a smile breaking from
under his heavy moustache the self-satisfied smile of the man of many
"That is Leonardo," she said.
"Leonardo, the strong man, who gave evidence?"
"The same. And this this is my husband."
It was a dreadful face a human pig, or rather a human wild boar,
for it was formidable in its bestiality. One could imagine that vile mouth
champing and foaming in its rage, and one could conceive those small,
vicious eyes darting pure malignancy as they looked forth upon the world.
Ruffian, bully, beast it was all written on that heavy-jowled face.
"Those two pictures will help you, gentlemen, to understand the
story. I was a poor circus girl brought up on the sawdust, and doing
springs through the hoop before I was ten. When I became a woman this man
loved me, if such lust as his can be called love, and in an evil moment I
became his wife. From that day I was in hell, and he the devil who
tormented me. There was no one in the show who did not know of his
treatment. He deserted me for others. He tied me down and lashed me with
his ridingwhip when I complained. They all pitied me and they all loathed
him, but what could they do? They feared him, one and all. For he was
terrible at all times, and murderous when he was drunk. Again and again he
was had up for assault, and for cruelty to the beasts, but he had plenty
of money and the fines were nothing to him. The best men all left us, and
the show began to go downhill. It was only Leonardo and I who kept it up
- with little Jimmy Griggs, the clown. Poor devil, he had not much to be
funny about, but he did what he could to hold things together.
"Then Leonardo came more and more into my life. You see what he was
like. I know now the poor spirit that was hidden in that splendid body,
but compared to my husband he seemed like the angel Gabriel. He pitied me
and helped me, till at last our intimacy turned to love deep, deep,
passionate love, such love as I had dreamed of but never hoped to feel. My
husband suspected it, but I think that he was a coward as well as a bully,
and that Leonardo was the one man that he was afraid of. He took revenge
in his own way by torturing me more than ever. One night my cries brought
Leonardo to the door of our van. We were near tragedy that night, and soon
my lover and I understood that it could not be avoided. My husband was not
fit to live. We planned that he should die.
"Leonardo had a clever, scheming brain. It was he who planned it. I
do not say that to blame him, for I was ready to go with him every inch of
the way. But I should never have had the wit to think of such a plan. We
made a club Leonardo made it and in the leaden head he fastened five
long steel nails, the points outward, with just such a spread as the
lion's paw. This was to give my husband his death-blow, and yet to leave
the evidence that it was the lion which we would loose who had done the
"It was a pitch-dark night when my husband and I went down, as was
our custom, to feed the beast. We carried with us the raw meat in a zinc
pail. Leonardo was waiting at the corner of the big van which we should
have to pass before we reached the cage. He was too slow, and we walked
past him before he could strike, but he followed us on tiptoe and I heard
the crash as the club smashed my husband's skull. My heart leaped with joy
at the sound. I sprang forward, and I undid the catch which held the door
of the great lion's cage.
"And then the terrible thing happened. You may have heard how quick
these creatures are to scent human blood, and how it excites them. Some
strange instinct had told the creature in one instant that a human being
had been slain. As I slipped the bars it bounded out and was on me in an
instant. Leonardo could have saved me. If he had rushed forward and struck
the beast with his club he might have cowed it. But the man lost his
nerve. I heard him shout in his terror, and then I saw him turn and fly.
At the same instant the teeth of the lion met in my face. Its hot, filthy
breath had already poisoned me and I was hardly conscious of pain. With
the palms of my hands I tried to push the great steaming, blood-stained
jaws away from me, and I screamed for help. I was conscious that the camp
was stirring, and then dimly I remembered a group of men. Leonardo,
Griggs, and others, dragging me from under the creature's paws. That was
my last memory, Mr. Holmes, for many a weary month. When I came to myself
and saw myself in the mirror, I cursed that lion oh, how I cursed him!
- not because he had torn away my beauty but because he had not torn away
my life. I had but one desire, Mr. Holmes, and I had enough money to
gratify it. It was that I should cover myself so that my poor face should
be seen by none, and that I should dwell where none whom I had ever known
should find me. That was all that was left to me to do and that is what
I have done. A poor wounded beast that has crawled into its hole to die -
that is the end of Eugenia Ronder."
We sat in silence for some time after the unhappy woman had told her
story. Then Holmes stretched out his long arm and patted her hand with
such a show of sympathy as I had seldom known him to exhibit.
"Poor girl!" he said. "Poor girl! The ways of fate are indeed hard to
understand. If there is not some compensation hereafter, then the world is
a cruel jest. But what of this man Leonardo?"
"I never saw him or heard from him again. Perhaps I have been wrong
to feel so bitterly against him. He might as soon have loved one of the
freaks whom we carried round the country as the thing which the lion had
left. But a woman's love is not so easily set aside. He had left me under
the beast's claws, he had deserted me in my need, and yet I could not
bring myself to give him to the gallows. For myself, I cared nothing what
became of me. What could be more dreadful than my actual life? But I stood
between Leonardo and his fate."
"And he is dead?"
"He was drowned last month when bathing near Margate. I saw his death
in the paper."
"And what did he do with this five-clawed club, which is the most
singular and ingenious part of all your story?"
"I cannot tell, Mr. Holmes. There is a chalk-pit by the camp, with a
deep green pool at the base of it. Perhaps in the depths of that pool -"
"Well, well, it is of little consequence now. The case is closed."
"Yes," said the woman, "the case is closed."
We had risen to go, but there was something in the woman's voice
which arrested Holmes's attention. He turned swiftly upon her.
"Your life is not your own," he said. "Keep your hands off it."
"What use is it to anyone?"
"How can you tell? The example of patient suffering is in itself the
most precious of all lessons to an impatient world."
The woman's answer was a terrible one. She raised her veil and
stepped forward into the light.
"I wonder if you would bear it," she said.
It was horrible. No words can describe the framework of a face when
the face itself is gone. Two living and beautiful brown eyes looking sadly
out from that grisly ruin did but make the view more awful. Holmes held up
his hand in a gesture of pity and protest, and together we left the room.
Two days later, when I called upon my friend, he pointed with some
pride to a small blue bottle upon his mantelpiece. I picked it up. There
was a red poison label. A pleasant almondy odour rose when I opened it.
"Prussic acid?" said I.
"Exactly. It came by post. 'I send you my temptation. I will follow
your advice.' That was the message. I think, Watson, we can guess the name
of the brave woman who sent it."