From the years 1894 to 1901 inclusive, Mr. Sherlock Holmes was a very
busy man. It is safe to say that there was no public case of any
difficulty in which he was not consulted during those eight years, and
there were hundreds of private cases, some of them of the most intricate
and extraordinary character. in which he played a prominent part. Many
startling successes and a few unavoidable failures were the outcome of
this long period of continuous work. As I have preserved very full notes
of all these cases, and was myself personally engaged in many of them it
may be imagined that it is no easy task to know which I should select to
lay before the public. I shall, however. preserve my former rule, and give
the preference to those cases which derive their interest not so much from
the brutality of the crime as from the ingenuity and dramatic quality of
the solution. For this reason I will now lay before the reader the facts
connected with Miss Violet Smith. the solitary cyclist of Charlington, and
the curious sequel of our investigation. which culminated in unexpected
tragedy. It is true that the circumstance did not admit of any striking
illustration of those powers for which my friend was famous, but there
were some points about the case which made it stand out in those long
records of crime from which I gather the material for these little
On refering to my notebook for the year 1895, I find that it was upon
Saturday, the 23d of April, that we first heard of Miss Violet Smilh. Her
visit was, I remember, extremely unwelcome to Holmes, for he was immersed
at the moment in a very abstruse and complicated problem concerning the
peculiar persecution to which John Vincent Harden, the well known tobacco
millionaire, had been subjected. My friend, who loved above all things
precision and concentration of thought, resented anything which distracted
his attention from the matter in hand. And yet without a harshness which
was foreign to his nature, it was impossible to refuse to listen to the
story of the young and beautiful woman, tall, graceful, and queenly, who
presented herself at Baker Street late in the evening, and implored his
assistance and advice. It was vain to urge that his time was already fully
occupied, for the young lady had come with the determination to tell her
story, and it was evident that nothing short of force could get her out of
the room until she had done so. With a resigned air and a somewhat weary
smile, Holmes begged the beautiful intruder to take a seat. and to inform
us what it was that was troubling her.
"At least it cannot be your health," said he, as his keen eyes darted
ovel her: "so ardent a bicyclist must be full of energy."
She glanlced down in surprise at her own feet, and I observed the
slight roughening of the side of the sole caused by the friction of the
edge of the pedal.
"Yes, I bicycle a good deal, Mr. Holmes. and that has something to do
with my visit to you to-day."
My friend took the lady's ungloved hand, and examined it with as
close an attention and as little sentiment as a scientist would show to a
"You willl cxcuse me. I am sure. It is my business," said he, as he
dropped it. "I nearly fell into the error of supposing that you were
typewriting. Of course, it is obvious that it is music. You observe the
spatulate finger-ends, Watson, which is common to both professions? There
is a spirituality about the face, however" she gently turned it towards
the light "which the typewriter does not generate. This lady is a
"Yes, Mr. Holmes, I teach music."
"In the country, I presume, from your complexion."
"Yes, sir, near Farnham, on the borders of Surrey."
"A beautiful neighbourhood, and full of the most interesting
association. You remember, Watson, that it was near there that we took
Archie Stamford, the forger. Now, Miss Violet, what has happened to you,
near Farnham, on the borders of Surrey?"
The young lady, with great clearness and composure, made the
following curious statement:
"My father is dead, Mr. Holmes. He was James Smith, who conducted the
orchestra at the old Imperial Theatre. My mother and I were left without a
relation in the world except one uncle Ralph Smith, who went to Africa
twenty-five years ago, and we have never had a word from him since. When
father died, we were left very poor, but one day we were told that there
was an advertisement in the Times, inquiring for our whereabouts. You can
imagine how excited we were, for we thought that someone had left us a
fortune. We went at once to the lawyer whose name was given in the paper.
There we met two gentlemen, Mr. Carruthers and Mr. Woodley, who were home
on a visit from South Africa. They said that my uncle was a friend of
theirs that he had died some months before in great poverty in Johan-
nesburg, and that he had asked them with his last breath to hunt up his
relations, and see that they were in no want. It seemed strange to us that
Uncle Ralph, who took no notice of us when he was alive should be so
careful to look after us when he was dead, but Mr. Carruthers explained
that the reason was that my uncle had just heard of the death of his
brother, and so felt responsible for our fate."
"Excuse me." said Holmes. "When was this interview?"
"Last December four months ago."
"Mr. Woodley seemed to me to be a most odious person. He was for ever
making eyes at me a coarse, puffy-faced, red-moustached young man, with
his hair plastered down on each side of his forehead. I thought that he
was perfectly hateful and I was sure that Cyril would not wish me to
know such a person."
"Oh, Cyril is his name!" said Holmes, smiling.
The young lady blushed and laughed.
"Yes, Mr. Holmes, Cyril Morton, an electrical engineer, and we hope
to be married at the end of the summer. Dear me, how did I get talking
about him? What I wished to say was that Mr. Woodley was perfectly odious,
but that Mr. Carruthers, who was a much older man, was more agreeable. He
was a dark, sallow, clean-shaven, silent person, but he had polite manners
and a pleasant smile. He inquired how we were left, and on finding that we
were very poor, he suggested that I should come and teach music to his
only daughter, aged ten. I said that I did not like to leave my mother, on
which he suggested that I should go home to her every week-end, and he
offered me a hundred a year, which was certainly splendid pay. So it ended
by my accepting, and I went down to Chiltern Grange, about six miles from
Farnham. Mr. Carruthers was a widower, but he had engaged a lady
housekeeper, a very respectable, elderly person, called Mrs. Dixon, to
look after his establishment. The child was a dear, and everything
promised weli. Mr. Carruthers was very kind and very musical, and we had
most pleasant evenings together. Every week-end I went home to my mother
"The first flaw in my happiness was the arrival of the red-
moustached Mr. Woodley. He came for a visit of a week, and oh! it seemed
three months to me. He was a dreadful person a bully to everyone else,
but to me something infinitely worse. He made odious love to me, boasted
of his wealth, said that if I married him I could have the finest diamonds
in London, and finally, when I would have nothing to do with him, he
seized me in his arms one day after dinner he was hideously strong
and swore that he would not let me go until I had kissed him. Mr.
Carruthers came in and tore him from me, on which he turned upon his own
host, knocking him down and cutting his face open. That was the end of his
visit, as you can imagine. Mr. Carruthers apologized to me next day, and
assured me that I should never be exposed to such an insult again. I have
not seen Mr. Woodley since.
"And now, Mr. Holmes, I come at last to the special thing which has
caused me to ask your advlce to-day. You must know that every Saturday
forenoon I ride on my bicycle to Farnham Station, in order to get the
12:22 to town. The road from Chiltern Grange is a lonely one, and at one
spot it is particularly so, for it lies for over a mile between
Charlington Heath upon one side and the woods which lie round Charlington
Hall upon the other. You could not find a more lonely tract of road
anywhere, and it is quite rare to meet so much as a cart, or a peasant,
until you reach the high road near Crooksbury Hill. Two weeks ago I was
passing this place, when I chanced to look back over my shoulder, and
about two hundred yards behind me I saw a man, also on a bicycle. He
seemed to be a middle-aged man, with a short, dark beard. I looked back
before I reached Farnham, but the man was gone, so I thought no more about
it. But you can imagine how surprised I was, Mr. Holmes, when, on my
return on the Monday, I saw the same man on the same stretch of road. My
astonishment was increased when the incident occurred again, exactly as
before, on the following Saturday and Monday. He always kept his distance
and did not molest me in any way, but still it certainly was very odd. I
mentioned it to Mr. Carruthers, who seemed interested in what I said, and
told me that he had ordered a horse and trap, so that in future I should
not pass over these lonely roads without some companion.
"The horse and trap were to have come this week, but for some reason
they were not delivered, and again I had to cycle to the station. That was
this morning. You can think that I looked out when I came to Charlington
Heath, and there, sure enough, was the man, exactly as he had been the two
weeks before. He always kept so far from me that I could not clearly see
his face, but it was certainly someone whom I did not know. He was dressed
in a dark suit with a cloth cap. The only thing about his face that I
could clearly see was his dark beard. To-day I was not alarmed, but I was
filled with curiosity, and I determined to find out who he was and what he
wanted. I slowed down my machine, but he slowed down his. Then I stopped
altogether, but he stopped also. Then I laid a trap for him. There is a
sharp turning of the road, and I pedalled very quickly round this, and
then I stopped and waited. I expected him to shoot round and pass me
before he could stop. But he never appeared. Then I went back and looked
round the corner. I could see a mile of road, but he was not on it. To
make it the more extraordinary, there was no side road at this point down
which he could have gone."
Holmes chuckled and rubbed his hands. "This case certainly presents
some features of its own," said he. "How much time elapsed between your
turning the corner and your discovery that the road was clear?"
"Two or three minutes."
"Then he could not have retreated down the road, and you say that
there are no side roads?"
"Then he certainly took a footpath on one side or the other."
"It could not have been on the side of the heath, or I should have
"So, by the process of exclusion, we arrive at the fact that he made
his way toward Charlington Hall, which, as I understand is situated in its
own grounds on one side of the road. Anything else?"
"Nothing, Mr. Holmes, save that I was so perplexed that I felt I
should not be happy until I had seen you and had your advice."
Holmes sat in silence for some little time.
"Where is the gentleman to whom you are engaged?" he asked at last.
"He is in the Midland Electrical Company, at Coventry."
"He would not pay you a surprise visit?" - "Oh, Mr. Holmes! As if I
should not know him!"
"Have you had any other admirers?"
"Several before I knew Cyril."
"There was this dreadful man, Woodley, if you can call him an
"No one else?"
Our fair client seemed a little confused.
"Who was he?" asked Holmes.
"Oh, it may be a mere fancy of mine; but it had seemed to me
sometimes that my employer, Mr. Carruthers, takes a great deal of interest
in me. We are thrown rather together. I play his accompaniments in the
evening. He has never said anything. He is a perfect gentleman. But a girl
"Ha!" Holmes looked grave. "What does he do for a living?"
"He is a rich man."
"No carriages or horses?"
"Well, at least he is fairly well-to-do. But he goes into the city
two or three times a week. He is deeply interested in South African gold
"You will let me know any fresh development, Miss Smith. I am very
busy just now, but I will find time to make some inquiries into your case.
In the meantime, take no step without letting me know. Good-bye, and I
trust that we shall have nothing but good news from you."
"It is part of the settled order of Nature that such a girl should
have followers," said Holmes, as he pulled at his meditative pipe. "but
for choice not on bicycles in lonely country roads. Some secretive lover,
beyond all doubt. But there are curious and suggestive details about the
"That he should appear only at that point?"
"Exactly. Our first effort must be to find who are the tenants of
Charlington Hall. Then, again, how about the connection between Carruthers
and Woodley, since they appear to be men of such a different type? How
came they both to be so keen upon looking up Ralph Smith's relations? One
more point. What sort of a menage is it which pays double the market price
for a governess but does not keep a horse, although six miles from the
station? Odd, Watson very odd!"
"You will go down?"
"No, my dear fellow, you will go down. This may be some trifling
intrigue, and I cannot break my other important research for the sake of
it. On Monday you will arrive early at Farnham; you will conceal yourself
near Charlington Heath; you will observe these facts for yourself, and act
as your own judgment advises. Then, having inquired as to the occupants of
the Hall, you will come back to me and report. And now, Watson, not
another word of the matter until we have a few solid stepping- stones on
which we may hope to get across to our solution."
We had ascertained from the lady that she went down upon the Monday
by the train which leaves Waterloo at 9:50, so I started early and caught
the 9:13. At Farnham Station I had no difficulty in being directed to
Charlington Heath. It was impossible to mistake the scene of the young
lady's adventure, for the road runs between the open heath on one side and
an old yew hedge upon the other, surrounding a park which is studded with
magnificent trees. There was a main gateway of lichen-studded stone, each
side pillar surmounted by mouldering heraldic emblems, but besides this
central carriage drive I observed several points where there were gaps in
the hedge and paths leading through them. The house was invisible from the
road, but the surroundings all spoke of gloom and decay.
The heath was covered with golden patches of flowering gorse,
gleaming magnificently in the light of the bright spring sunshine. Behind
one of these clumps I took up my position, so as to command both the
gateway of the Hall and a long stretch of the road upon either side. It
had been deserted when I leift it, but now I saw a cyclist riding down it
from the opposite direction to that in which I had come. He was clad in a
dark suit, and I saw that he had a black beard. On reaching the end of the
Chdrlington grounds, he sprang from his machine and led it through a gap
in the hedge, disappearing from my view.
A quarter of an hour passed, and then a second cyclist appeared. This
time it was the young lady coming from the station. I saw her look about
her as she came to the Charlington hedge. An instant later the man emerged
from his hiding-place, sprang upon his cycle, and followed her. In all the
broad landscape those were the only moving figures, the graceful girl
sitting very straight upon her machine, and the man behind her bending low
over his handle-bar with a curiously furtive suggestion in every movement.
She locked back at him and slowed her pace. He slowed also. She stopped.
He at once stopped, too, keeping two hundred yards behind her. Her next
movement was as unex-pected as it was spirited. She suddenly whisked her
wheels round and dashed straight at him. He was as quick as she, however,
and darted off in desperate flight. Presently she came back up the road
again, her head haughtily in the air, not deigning to take any further
notice of her silent attendant. He had turned also, and still kept his
distance until the curve of the road hid them from my sight.
I remained in my hiding-place, and it was well that I did so, for
presently the man reappeared, cycling slowly back. He turned in at the
Hall gates, and dismounted from his machine. For some minutes I could see
him standing among the trees. His hands were raised, and he seemed to be
settling his necktie. Then he mounted his cycle and rode away from me down
the drive towards the Hall. I ran across the heath and peered through the
trees. Far away I could catch glimpses of the old gray building with its
bristling Tudor chimneys, but the drive ran through a dense shrubbery, and
I saw no more of my man.
However, it seemed to me that I had done a fairly good morning's
work, and I walked back in high spirits to Farnham. The local house agent
could tell me nothing about Charlington Hall, and referred me to a well
known firm in Pall Mall. There I halted on my way home, and met with
courtesy from the repre-sentative. No, I could not have Charlington Hall
for the summer. I was just too late. It had been let about a month ago.
Mr. Williamson was the name of the tenant. He was a respectable, elderly
gentleman. The polite agent was afraid he could say no more, as the
affairs of his clients were not matters which he could discuss.
Mr. Sherlock Holmes listened with attention to the long report which
I was able to present to him that evening, but it did not elicit that word
of curt praise which I had hoped for and should have valued. On the
contrary. his austere face was even more severe than usual as he commented
upon the things that I had done and the things that I had not.
"Your hiding-place, my dear Watson, was very faulty. You should have
been behind the hedge, then you would have had a close view of this
interesting person. As it is, you were some hundreds of yards away and can
tell me even less than Miss Smith. She thinks she does not know the man; I
am convinced she does. Why, otherwise, should he be so desperately anxious
that she should not get so near him as to see his features? You describe
him as bending over the handle-bar. Concealment again, you see. You really
have done remarkably badly. He returns to the house, and you want to find
out who he is. You come to a London house agent!"
"What should I have done?" I cried, with some heat.
"Gone to the nearest public-house. That is the centre of country
gossip. They would have told you every name, from the master to the
scullery-maid. Williamson? It conveys nothing to my mind. If he is an
elderly man he is not this active cyclist who sprints away from that young
lady's athletic pursuit. What have we gained by your expedition? The
knowledge that the girl's story is true. I never doubted it. That there is
a connection between the cyclist and the Hall. I never doubted that
either. That the Hall is tenanted by Williamson. Who's the better for
that? Well, well, my dear sir, don't look so depressed. We can do little
more until next Saturday, and in the meantime I may make one or two
Next morning, we had a note from Miss Smith, recounting shortly and
accurately the very incidents which I had seen, but the pith of the letter
lay in the postscript:
I am sure that you will respect my confidence, Mr. Holmes,
when I tell you that my place here has become difficult,
owing to the fact that my employer has proposed marriage to
me. I am convinced that his feelings are most deep and most
honourable. At the same time, my promise is of course given.
He took my refusal very seriously, but also very gently. You
can understand, however, that the situation is a little strained.
"Our young friend seems to be getting into deep waters," said Holmes,
thoughtfully, as he finished the letter. "The case certainly presents more
features of interest and more possibility of development than I had
originally thought. I should be none the worse for a quiet, peaceful day
in the country, and I am inclined to run down this afternoon and test one
or two theories which I have formed."
Holmes's quiet day in the country had a singular termination, for he
arrived at Baker Street late in the evening, with a cut lip and a
discoloured lump upon his forehead, besides a general air of dissipation
which would have made his own person the fitting object of a Scotland Yard
investigation. He was immensely tickled by his own adventures and laughed
heartily as he recounted them.
"I get so little active exercise that it is always a treat," said he.
"You are aware that I have some proficiency in the good old British sport
of boxing. Occasionally, it is of service; today, for example, I should
have come to very ignominious grief without it."
I begged him to tell me what had occurred.
"I found that country pub which I had already recommended to your
notice, and there I made my discreet inquiries. I was in the bar, and a
garrulous landlord was giving me all that I wanted. Williamson is a
white-bearded man, and he lives alone with a small staff of servants at
the Hall. There is some rumor that he is or has been a clergyman, but one
or two incidents of his short residence at the Hall struck me as
peculiarly unecclesiastical. I have already made some inquiries at a
clerical agency, and they tell me that there was a man of that name in
orders, whose career has been a singularly dark one. The land-lord further
informed me that there are usually weekend visitors 'a warm lot, sir'
at the Hall, and especially one gentleman with a red moustache, Mr.
Woodley by name, who was always there. We had got as far as this, when who
should walk in but the gentleman himself, who had been drinking his beer
in the tap-room and had heard the whole conversation. Who was l? What did
I want? What did I mean by asking questions? He had a fine flow of
language, and his adjectives were very vigorous. He ended a string of
abuse by a vicious backhander, which I failed to entirely avoid. The next
few minutes were delicious. It was a straight left against a slogging
ruffian. I emerged as you see me. Mr. Woodley went home in a cart. So
ended my country trip, and it must be confessed that, however enjoyable,
my day on the Surrey border has not been much more profitable than your
The Thursday brought us another letter from our client.
You will not be surprised, Mr. Holmes
[said she] to hear
that I am leaving Mr. Carruthers's employment. Even the
high pay cannot reconcile me to the discomforts of my
situation. On Saturday I come up to town, and I do not
intend to return. Mr. Carruthers has got a trap, and so the
dangers of the lonely road, if there ever were any dangers,
are now over.
As to the special cause of my leaving, it is not merely the
strained situation with Mr. Carruthers, but it is the
reappearance of that odious man, Mr. Woodley. He was always
hideous, but he looks more awful than ever now, for he
appears to have had an accident, and he is much disfigured.
I saw him out of the window, but I am glad to say I did not
meet him. He had a long talk with Mr. Carruthers, who
seemed much excited afterwards. Woodley must be staying
in the neighbourhood, for he did not sleep here, and yet I
caught a glimpse of him again this morning, slinking about
in the shrubbery. I would sooner have a savage wild animal
loose about the place. I loathe and fear him more than I can
say. How can Mr. Carruthers endure such a creature for a
moment? However, all my troubles will be over on Saturday.
"So I trust, Watson, so I trust," said Holmes, gravely. "There is
some deep intrigue going on round that little woman, and it is our duty to
see that no one molests her upon that last journey. I think, Watson, that
we must spare time to run down together on Saturday morning and make sure
that this curious and inclusive investigation has no untoward ending."
I confess that I had not up to now taken a very serious view of the
case, which had seemed to me rather grotesque and bizarre than dangerous.
That a man should lie in wait for and follow a very handsome woman is no
unheard-of thing, and if he has so little audacity that he not only dared
not address her, but even fled from her approach. he was not a very
formidable assailant. The ruffian Woodley was a very different person,
but, except on one occasion, he had not molested our client, and now he
visited the house of Carruthers without intruding upon her presence. The
man on the bicycle was doubtless a member of those week-end parties at the
Hall of which the publican had spoken, but who he was, or what he wanted,
was as obscure as ever. It was the severity of Holmes's manner and the
fact that he slipped a revolver into his pocket before leaving our rooms
which impressed me with the feeling that tragedy might prove to lurk
behind this curious train of events.
A rainy night had been followed by a glorious morning, and the
heath-covered countryside. with the glowing clumps of flowering gorse,
seemed all the more beautiful to eyes which were weary of the duns and
drabs and slate grays of London. Holmes and I walked along the broad,
sandy road inhaling the fresh morning air and rejoicing in the music of
the birds and the fresh breath of the spring. From a rise of the road on
the shoulder of Crooksbury Hill, we could see the grim Hall bristling out
from amidst the ancient oaks, which, old as they were, were still younger
than the building which they surrounded. Holmes pointed down the long
tract of road which wound, a reddish yellow band, between the brown of the
heath and the budding green of the woods. Far away, a black dot, we could
see a vehicle moving in our direction. Holmes gave an exclamation of
"I have given a margin of half an hour," said he. "If that is her
trap, she must be making for the earlier train. I fear, Watson, that she
will be past Charlington before we can possibly meet her."
From the instant that we passed the rise, we could no longer see the
vehicle, but we hastened onward at such a pace that my sedentary life
began to tell upon me, and I was compelled to fall behind. Holmes,
however, was always in training, for he had inexhaustible stores of
nervous energy upon which to draw. His springy step never slowed until
suddenly, when he was a hundred yards in front of me, he halted, and I saw
him throw up his hand with a gesture of grief and despair. At the same
instant an empty dog-cart, the horse cantering, the reins trailing,
appeared round the curve of the road and rattled swiftly towards us.
"Too late, Watson, too late!" cried Holmes, as I ran panting to his
side. "Fool that I was not to allow for that earlier train! It's
abduction, Watson abduction! Murder! Heaven knows whatl Block the road!
Stop the horse! That's right. Now, jump in, and let us see if I can repair
the consequences of my own blunder."
We had sprung into the dog-cart, and Holmes, after turning the horse,
gave it a sharp cut with the whip, and we flew back along the road. As we
turned the curve, the whole stretch of road between the Hall and the heath
was opened up. I grasped Holmes's arm.
"That's the man!" I gasped.
A solitary cyclist was coming towards us. His head was down and his
shoulders rounded, as he put every ounce of energy that he possessed on to
the pedals. He was flying like a racer. Suddenly he raised his bearded
face, saw us close to him, and pulled up, springing from his machine. That
coal-black beard was in singular contrast to the pallor of his face, and
his eyes were as bright as if he had a fever. He stared at us and at the
dog-cart. Then a look oF amazement came over his face.
"Halloa! Stop there!" he shouted, holding his bicycle to block our
road. "Where did you get that dog-cart? Pull up, man!" he yelled, drawing
a pistoll from his side pocket. "Pull up, I say or, by George, I'll put al
bullet into your horse."
Holmes threw the reins into my lap and sprang down from the cart.
"You're the man we want to see. Where is Miss Violet Smith?" he said,
in his quick, clear way.
"That's what I'm asking you. You're in her dog-cart. You ought to
know where she is."
"We met the dog-cart on the road. There was no one in it. We drove
back to help the young lady."
"Good Lord! Good Lord! What shall I do?" cried the stranger in an
ecstasy of despair. "They've got her, that hell-hound Woodley and the
blackguard parson. Come, man, come, if you really are her friend. Stand by
me and we'll save her, if I have to leave my carcass in Charllington
He ran distractedly, his pistol in his hand, towards a gap in the
hedge. Holmes followed him, and I, leaving the horse grazing beside the
road, followed Holmes.
"This is where they came through," said he, pointing to the marks of
several feet upon the muddy path. "Halloa! Stop a minute! Who's this in
It was a young fellow about seventeen, dressed like an ostler with
leather cords and gaiters. He lay upon his back, his knees drawn up, a
terrible cut upon his head. He was insensible, but alive. A glance at his
wound told me that it had not penetrated the bone.
"That's Peter, the groom," cried the stranger. "He drove her. The
beasts have pulled him off and clubbed him. Let him lie: we can't do him
any good, but' we may save her from the worst fate that can befall a
We ran frantically down the path, which wound among the trees. We had
reached the shrubbery which surrounded the house when Holmes pulled up.
"They didn't go to the house. Here are their marks on the left
here, beside the laurel bushes. Ah! I said so."
As he spoke, a woman's shrill scream a scream which vibrated with
a frenzy of horror burst from the thick, green clump of bushes in front
of us. It ended suddenly on its highest note with a choke and a gurgle.
"This way! This way! They are in the bowling-alley," cried the
stranger, darting through the bushes. "Ah, the cowardly dogs! Follow me,
gentlemen! Too late! too late! by the living Jingo!"
We had broken suddenly into a lovely glade of greensward surrounded
by ancient trees. On the farther side of it, under the shadow of a mighty
oak, there stood a singular group of three people. One was a woman, our
client, drooping and faint, a handkerchief round her mouth. Opposite her
stood a brutal, heavy-faced, red-moustached young man, his gaitered legs
parted wide, one arm akimbo, the other waving a riding crop, his whole
attitude suggesive of triumphant bravado. Between them an elderly,
gray-bearded man, wearing a short surplice over a light tweed suit, had
evidently just completed the wedding service, for he pocketed his
prayer-book as we appeared, and slapped the sinister bridegroom upon the
back in jovial congratulation.
"They're married?" I gasped.
"Come on!" cried our guide; "come on!" He rushed across the glade,
Holmes and I at his heels. As we approached, the lady staggered against
the trunk of the tree for support. Williamson, the ex-clergyman, bowed to
us with mock politeness, and the bully, Woodley, advanced with a shout of
brutal and exultant laughter.
"You can take your beard off, Bob," said he. "I know you, right
enough. Well, you and your pals have just come in time for me to be able
to introduce you to Mrs. Woodley."
Our guide's answer was a singular one. He snatched off the dark beard
which had disguised him and threw it on the ground, disclosing a long,
sallow, clean-shaven face below it. Then he raised his revolver and
covered the young ruffian, who was advancing upon him with his dangerous
riding crop swinging in his hand.
"Yes," said our ally, "I am Bob Carruthers. and I'll see this woman
righted, if I have to swing for it. I told you what I'd do if you molested
her, and, by the Lord! I'll be as good as my word."
"You're too late. She's my wife."
"No, she's your widow."
His revolver cracked, and I saw the blood spurt from the front of
Woodley's waistcoat. He spun round with a scream and fell upon his back,
his hideous red face turning suddenly to a dread-ful mottled pallor. The
old man, still clad in his surplice, burst into such a string of foul
oaths as I have never heard, and pulled out a revolver of his own, but,
before he could raise it, he was looking down the barrel of Holmes's
"Enough of this," said my friend, coldly. "Drop that pistol! Watson,
pick it up! Hold it to his head! Thank you. You Carruthers, give me that
revolver. We'll have no more violence Come, hand it over!"
"Who are you, then?"
"My name is Sherlock Holmes."
"You have heard of me, I see. I will represent the official police
until their arrival. Here, you!" he shouted to a frightened groom, who had
appeared at the edge of the glade. "Come here. Take this note as hard as
you can ride to Farnham." He scrib-bled a few words upon a leaf from his
notebook. "Give it to the superintendent at the police-station. Until he
comes, I must detain you all under my personal custody."
The strong, masterful personality of Holmes dominated the tragic
scene, and all were equally puppets in his hands. Williamson and
Carruthers found themselves carrying the wounded Woodley into the house,
and I gave my arm to the frightened girl. The injured man was laid on his
bed, and at Holmes's request I examined him. I carried my report to where
he sat in the old tapestry-hung dining-room with his two prisoners before
"He will live," said I.
"What!" cried Carruthers, springing out of his chair. "I'll go
upstairs and finish him first. Do you tell me that that girl, that angel,
is to be tied to Roaring Jack Woodley for life?"
"You need not concern yourself about that," said Holmes. "There are
two very good reasons why she should, under no circumstances, be his wife.
In the first place, we are very safe in questioning Mr. Williamson's right
to solemnize a marriage."
"I have been ordained," cried the old rascal.
"And also unfrocked."
"Once a clergyman, always a clergyman."
"I think not. How about the licence?"
"We had a licence for the marriage. I have it here in my pocket."
"Then you got it by a trick. But, in any case, a forced marriage is
no marriage, but it is a very serious felony, as you will discover before
you have finished. You'll have time to think the point out during the next
ten years or so, unless I am mistaken. As to you, Carruthers, you would
have done better to keep your pistol in your pocket."
"I begin to think so, Mr. Holmes, but when I thought of all the
precaution I had taken to shield this girl for I loved her, Mr. Holmes,
and it is the only time that ever I knew what love was it fairly drove
me mad to think that she was in the power of the greatest brute and bully
in South Africa a man whose name is a holy terror from Kimberley to
Johannesburg. Why, Mr. Holmes, you'll hardly believe it, but ever since
that girl has been in my employment I never once let her go past this
house where I knew the rascals were lurking, without following her on my
bicycle, just to see that she came to no harm. I kept my distance from
her, and I wore a beard, so that she should not recognize me, for she is a
good and high-spirited girl, and she wouldn't have stayed in my employment
long if she had thought that I was following her about the country roads."
"Why didn't you tell her of her danger?"
"Because then, again, she would have left me, and I couldn't bear to
face that. Even if she couldn't love me, it was a great deal to me just to
see her dainty form about the house, and to hear the sound of her voice."
"Well," said I, "you call that love, Mr. Carruthers, but I should
call it selfishness."
"Maybe the two things go together. Anyhow, I couldn't let her go.
Besides, with this crowd about, it was well that she should have someone
near to look after her. Then, when the cable came, I knew they were bound
to make a move."
Carruthers took a telegram from his pocket.
"That's it," said he.
It was short and concise:
THE OLD MAN IS DEAD.
"Hum!" said Holmes. "I think I see how things worked, and I can
understand how this message would, as you say, bring them to a head. But
while you wait, you might tell me what you can."
The old reprobate with the surplice burst into a volley of bad
"By heaven!" said he, "if you squeal on us, Bob Carruthers I'll serve
you as you served Jack Woodley. You can bleat about the girl to your
heart's content, for that's your own affair, but if you round on your pals
to this plain-clothes copper, it will be the worst day's work that ever
"Your reverence need not be excited," said Holmes, lighting a
cigarette. "The case is clear enough against you, and all I ask is a few
details for my private curiosity. However, if there's any difficulty in
your telling me, I'll do the talking, and then you will see how far you
have a chance of holding back your secrets. In the first place, three of
you came from South Africa on this game you Williamson, you Carruthers,
"Lie number one," said the old man; "I never saw either of them until
two months ago, and I have never been in Africa in my life, so you can put
that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr. Busybody Holmes!"
"What he says is true," said Carruthers
"Well, well, two of you came over. His reverence is our own homemade
article. You had known Ralph Smith in South Africa. You had reason to
believe he would not live long. You found out that his niece would inherit
his fortune. How's that eh?"
Carruthers nodded and Williamson swore.
"She was next of kin, no doubt, and you were aware that the old
fellow would make no will."
"Couldn't read or write, " said Carruthers.
"So you came over, the two of you, and hunted up the girl The idea
was that one of you was to marry her, and the other have a share of the
plunder. For some reason, Woodley was chosen as the husband. Why was
"We played cards for her on the voyage. He won."
"I see. You got the young lady into your service, and there Woodley
was to do the courting. She recognized the drunken brute that he was, and
would have nothing to do with him. Meanwhile, your arrangement was rather
upset by the fact that you had yourself fallen in love with the lady. You
could no longer bear the idea of this ruffian owning her?"
"No, by George. I couldn't!"
"There was a quarrel between you. He left you in a rage, and began to
make his own plans independently of you."
"It strikes me, Williamson, there isn't very much that we can tell
this gentleman," cried Carruthers, with a bitter laugh. "Yes, we
quarreled, and he knocked me down. I am level with him on that, anyhow.
Then I lost sight of him. That was when he picked up with this outcast
padre here. I found that they had set up housekeeping together at this
place on the line that she had to pass for the station. I kept my eye on
her after that, for I knew there was some devilry in the wind. I saw them
from time to time, for I was anxious to know what they were after. Two
days ago Woodley came up to my house with this cable, which showed that
Ralph Smith was dead. He asked me if I would stand by the bargain. I said
I would not. He asked me if I would marry the girl myself and give him a
share. I said I would willingly do so, but that she would not have me. He
said, 'Let us get her married first, and after a week or two she may see
things a bit different.' I said I would have nothing to do with violence.
So he went off cursing, like the foul-mouthed blackguard that he was, and
swearing that he would have her yet. She was leaving me this week-end, and
I had got a trap to take her to the station, but I was so uneasy in my
mind that I followed her on my bicycle. She had got a statt, however, and
before I could catch her, the mischief was done. The first thing I knew
about it was when I saw you two gentlemen driving back in her dog-cart."
Holmes rose and tossed the end of his cigarette into the grate. "I
have been very obtuse, Watson," said he. "When in your report you said
that you had seen the cyclist as you thought arrange his necktie in the
shrubbery, that alone should have told me all. However, we may
congratulate ourselves upon a curious and, in some respects, a unique
case. I perceive three of the county constabulary in the drive, and I am
glad to see that the little ostler is able to keep pace with them, so it
is likely that neither he nor the interesting bridegroom will be
permanently damaged by their morning's adventures. I think, Watson, that
in your medical capacity, you might wait upon Miss Smith and tell her that
if she is sufficiently recovered, we shall be happy to escort her to her
mother's home. If she is not quite convalescent, you will find that a hint
that we were about to telegraph to a young electrician in the Midlands
would probably complete the cure. As to you, Mr. Carruthers, I think that
you have done what you could to make amends for your share in an evil
plot. There is my card, sir, and if my evidence can be of help in your
trial, it shall be at your disposal."
In the whirl of our incessant activity, it has often been difficult
for me, as the reader has probably observed, to round off my narratives,
and to give those final details which the curious might expect. Each case
has been the prelude to another, and the crisis once over, the actors have
passed for ever out of our busy lives. I find, however, a short note at
the end of my manuscript dealing with this case, in which I have put it
upon record that Miss Violet Smith did indeed inherit a large fortune, and
that she is now the wife of Cyril Morton, the senior partner of Morton &
Kennedy, the famous Westminster electricians. Williamson and Woodley were
both tried for abduction and assault, the former getting seven years and
the latter ten. Of the fate of Carruthers, I have no record, but I am sure
that his assault was not viewed very gravely by the court, since Woodley
had the reputation of being a most dangerous ruffian, and I think that a
few months were sufficient to satisfy the demands of justice.