Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (1925)
The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place
Sherlock Holmes had been bending for a long time over a
low-power microscope. Now he straightened himself up and
looked round at me in triumph.
"It is glue, Watson," said he. "Unquestionably it is glue.
Have a look at these scattered objects in the field!"
I stooped to the eyepiece and focussed for my vision.
"Those hairs are threads from a tweed coat. The irregular gray
masses are dust. There are epithelial scales on the left. Those
brown blobs in the centre are undoubtedly glue."
"Well," I said, laughing, "I am prepared to take your word
for it. Does anything depend upon it?"
"It is a very fine demonstration," he answered. "In the St.
Pancras case you may remember that a cap was found beside the
dead policeman. The accused man denies that it is his. But he is
a picture-frame maker who habitually handles glue."
"Is it one of your cases?"
"No; my friend, Merivale, of the Yard, asked me to look into
the case. Since I ran down that coiner by the zinc and copper
filings in the seam of his cuff they have begun to realize the
importance of the microscope." He looked impatiently at his
watch. "I had a new client calling, but he is overdue. By the
way, Watson, you know something of racing?"
"I ought to. I pay for it with about half my wound pension."
"Then I'll make you my 'Handy Guide to the Turf.' What
about Sir Robert Norberton? Does the name recall anything?"
"Well, I should say so. He lives at Shoscombe Old Place,
and I know it well, for my summer quarters were down there
once. Norberton nearly came within your province once."
"How was that?"
"It was when he horsewhipped Sam Brewer, the well-known
Curzon Street money-lender, on Newmarket Heath. He nearly
killed the man."
"Ah, he sounds interesting! Does he often indulge in that
"Well, he has the name of being a dangerous man. He is
about the most daredevil rider in England -- second in the Grand
National a few years back. He is one of those men who have
overshot their true generation. He should have been a buck in the
days of the Regency -- a boxer, an athlete, a plunger. on the turf,
a lover of fair ladies, and, by all account, so far down Queer
Street that he may never find his way back again."
"Capital, Watson! A thumb-nail sketch. I seem to know the
man. Now, can you give me some idea of Shoscombe Old
"Only that it is in the centre of Shoscombe Park, and that the
famous Shoscombe stud and training quarters are to be found
"And the head trainer," said Holmes, "is John Mason. You
need not look surprised at my knowledge, Watson, for this is a
letter from him which I am unfolding. But let us have some more
about Shoscombe. I seem to have struck a rich vein."
"There are the Shoscombe spaniels," said I. "You hear of
them at every dog show. The most exclusive breed in England.
They are the special pride of the lady of Shoscombe Old Place."
"Sir Robert Norberton's wife, I presume!"
"Sir Robert has never married. Just as well, I think,
considering his prospects. He lives with his widowed sister, Lady
"You mean that she lives with him?"
"No, no. The place belonged to her late husband, Sir James.
Norberton has no claim on it at all. It is only a life interest and
reverts to her husband's brother. Meantime, she draws the rents
"And brother Robert, I suppose, spends the said rents?"
"That is about the size of it. He is a devil of a fellow and
must lead her a most uneasy life. Yet I have heard that she is
devoted to him. But what is amiss at Shoscombe?"
"Ah, that is just what I want to know. And here, I expect, is
the man who can tell us."
The door had opened and the page had shown in a tall,
clean-shaven man with the firm, austere expression which is only
seen upon those who have to control horses or boys. Mr. John
Mason had many of both under his sway, and he looked equal to
the task. He bowed with cold self-possession and seated himself
upon the chair to which Holmes had waved him.
"You had my note, Mr. Holmes?"
"Yes, but it explained nothing."
"It was too delicate a thing for me to put the details on paper.
And too complicated. It was only face to face I could do it."
"Well, we are at your disposal."
"First of all, Mr. Holmes, I think that my employer, Sir
Robert, has gone mad."
Holmes raised his eyebrows. "This is Baker Street, not Harley
Street," said he. "But why do you say so?"
"Well, sir, when a man does one queer thing, or two queer
things, there may be a meaning to it, but when everything he
does is queer, then you begin to wonder. I believe Shoscombe
Prince and the Derby have turned his brain."
"That is a colt you are running?"
"The best in England, Mr. Holmes. I should know, if anyone
does. Now, I'll be plain with you, for I know you are gentlemen
of honour and that it won't go beyond the room. Sir Robert has
got to win this Derby. He's up to the neck, and it's his last
chance. Everything he could raise or borrow is on the horse --
and at fine odds, too! You can get forties now, but it was nearer
the hundred when he began to back him."
"But how is that if the horse is so good?"
"The public don't know how good he is. Sir Robert has been
too clever for the touts. He has the Prince's half-brother out for
spins. You can't tell 'em apart. But there are two lengths in a
furlong between them when it comes to a gallop. He thinks of
nothing but the horse and the race. His whole life is on it. He's
holding off the Jews till then. If the Prince fails him he is done. "
"It seems a rather desperate gamble, but where does the
madness come in?"
"Well, first of all, you have only to look at him. I don't
believe he sleeps at night. He is down at the stables at all hours.
His eyes are wild. It has all been too much for his nerves. Then
there is his conduct to Lady Beatrice!"
"Ah! What is that?"
"They have always been the best of friends. They had the
same tastes, the two of them, and she loved the horses as much
as he did. Every day at the same hour she would drive down to
see them -- and, above all, she loved the Prince. He would prick
up his ears when he heard the wheels on the gravel, and he
would trot out each morning to the carriage to get his lump of
sugar. But that's all over now."
"Well, she seems to have lost all interest in the horses. For a
week now she has driven past the stables with never so much as
"You think there has been a quarrel?"
"And a bitter, savage, spitelful quarrel at that. Why else would
he give away her pet spaniel that she loved as if he were her
child? He gave it a few days ago to old Barnes, what keeps the
Green Dragon, three miles off, at Crendall."
"That certainly did seem strange."
"Of course, with her weak heart and dropsy one couldn't
expect that she could get about with him, but he spent two hours
every evening in her room. He might well do what he could, for
she has been a rare good friend to him. But that's all over, too.
He never goes near her. And she takes it to heart. She is
brooding and sulky and drinking, Mr. Holmes -- drinking like a
"Did she drink before this estrangement?"
"Well, she took her glass, but now it is often a whole bottle
of an evening. So Stephens, the butler, told me. It's all changed,
Mr. Holmes, and there is something damned rotten about it. But
then, again, what is master doing down at the old church crypt at
night? And who is the man that meets him there?"
Holmes rubbed his hands.
"Go on, Mr. Mason. You get more and more interesting."
"It was the butler who saw him go. Twelve o'clock at night
and raining hard. So next night I was up at the house and, sure
enough, master was off again. Stephens and I went after him,
but it was jumpy work, for it would have been a bad job if he
had seen us. He's a terrible man with his fists if he gets started,
and no respecter of persons. So we were shy of getting too near,
but we marked him down all light. It was the haunted crypt that
he was making for, and there was a man waiting for him there."
"What is this haunted cryp?"
"Well, sir, there is an old ruined chapel in the park. It is so
old that nobody could fix its date. And under it there's a crypt
which has a bad name among us. It's a dark, damp, lonely place
by day, but there are few in that county that would have the
nerve to go near it at night. But master's not afraid. He never
feared anything in his life. But what is he doing there in the
"Wait a bit!" said Holmes. "You say there is another man
there. It must be one of your own stablemen, or someone from
the house! Surely you have only to spot who it is and question
"It's no one I know."
"How can you say that?"
"Because I have seen him, Mr. Holmes. It was on that second
night. Sir Robert turned and passed us -- me and Stephens,
quaking in the bushes like two bunny-rabbits, for there was a bit of
moon that night. But we could hear the other moving about
behind. We were not afraid of him. So we up when Sir Robert
was gone and pretended we were just having a walk like in the
moonlight, and so we came right on him as casual and innocent
as you please. 'Hullo, mate! who may you be?' says I. I guess
he had not heard us coming, so he looked over his shoulder with
a face as if he had seen the devil coming out of hell. He let out a
yell, and away he went as hard as he could lick it in the
darkness. He could run! -- I'll give him that. In a minute he was
out of sight and hearing, and who he was, or what he was, we
"But you saw him clearly in the moonlight?"
"Yes, I would swear to his yellow face -- a mean dog, I
should say. What could he have in common with Sir Robert?"
Holmes sat for some time lost in thought.
"Who keeps Lady Beatrice Falder company?" he asked at
"There is her maid, Carrie Evans. She has been with her this
"And is, no doubt, devoted?"
Mr. Mason shuffled uncomfortably.
"She's devoted enough," he answered at last. "But I won't
say to whom."
"Ah!" said Holmes.
"I can't tell tales out of school."
"I quite understand, Mr. Mason. Of course, the situation is
clear enough. From Dr. Watson's description of Sir Robert I can
realize that no woman is safe from him. Don't you think the
quarrel between brother and sister may lie there?"
"Well, the scandal has been pretty clear for a long time."
"But she may not have seen it before. Let us suppose that she
has suddenly found it out. She wants to get rid of the woman.
Her brother will not permit it. The invalid, with her weak heart
and inability to get about, has no means of enforcing her will.
The hated maid is still tied to her. The lady refuses to speak,
sulks, takes to drink. Sir Robert in his anger takes her pet spaniel
away from her. Does not all this hang together?"
"Well, it might do -- so far as it goes."
"Exactly! As far as it goes. How would all that bear upon the
visits by night to the old crypt? We can't fit that into our plot."
"No, sir, and there is something more that I can't fit in. Why
should Sir Robert want to dig up a dead body?"
Holmes sat up abruptly.
"We only found it out yesterday -- after I had written to you.
Yesterday Sir Robert had gone to London, so Stephens and I
went down to the crypt. It was all in order, sir, except that in one
corner was a bit of a human body."
"You informed the police, I suppose?"
Our visitor smiled grimly.
"Well, sir, I think it would hardly interest them. It was just
the head and a few bones of a mummy. It may have been a
thousand years old. But it wasn't there before. That I'll swear,
and so will Stephens. It had been stowed away in a corner and
covered over with a board, but that corner had always been
"What did you do with it?"
"Well, we just left it there."
"That was wise. You say Sir Robert was away yesterday. Has
"We expect him back to-day."
"When did Sir Robert give away his sister's dog?"
"It was just a week ago to-day. The creature was howling
outside the old wellhouse, and Sir Robert was in one of his
tantrums that morning. He caught it up, and I thought he would
have killed it. Then he gave it to Sandy Bain, the jockey, and
told him to take the dog to old Barnes at the Green Dragon, for
he never wished to see it again."
Holmes sat for some time in silent thought. He had lit the
oldest and foulest of his pipes.
"I am not clear yet what you want me to do in this matter,
Mr. Mason," he said at last. "Can't you make it more definite?"
"Perhaps this will make it more definite, Mr. Holmes," said
He took a paper from his pocket, and, unwrapping it
carefully, he exposed a charred fragment of bone.
Holmes examined it with interest.
"Where did you get it?"
"There is a central heating furnace in the cellar under Lady
Beatrice's room. It's been off for some time, but Sir Robert
complained of cold and had it on again.
Harvey runs it -- he's one of my lads. This very morning he
came to me with this which he found raking out the cinders. He
didn't like the look of it."
"Nor do I," said Holmes. "What do you make of it, Watson?"
It was burned to a black cinder, but there could be no question
as to its anatomical significance.
"It's the upper condyle of a human femur," said I.
"Exactly!" Holmes had become very serious. "When does
this lad tend to the furnace?"
"He makes it up every evening and then leaves it."
"Then anyone could visit it during the night?"
"Can you enter it from outside?"
"There is one door from outside. There is another which leads
up by a stair to the passage in which Lady Beatrice's room is
"These are deep waters, Mr. Mason; deep and rather dirty.
You say that Sir Robert was not at home last night?"
"Then, whoever was burning bones, it was not he."
"That's true. sir."
"What is the name of that inn you spoke of?"
"The Green Dragon."
"Is there good fishing in that part of Berkshire?" The honest
trainer showed very clearly upon his face that he was convinced
that yet another lunatic had come into his harassed life.
"Well, sir, I've heard there are trout in the mill-stream and pike
in the Hall lake."
"That's good enough. Watson and I are famous fishermen --
are we not, Watson? You may address us in future at the Green
Dragon. We should reach it to-night. I need not say that we
don't want to see you, Mr. Mason, but a note will reach us, and
no doubt I could find you if I want you. When we have gone a
little farther into the matter I will let you have a considered
Thus it was that on a bright May evening Holmes and I found
ourselves alone in a first-class carriage and bound for the little
"halt-on-demand" station of Shoscombe. The rack above us was
covered with a formidable litter of rods, reels, and baskets. On
reaching our destination a short drive took us to an old-fashioned
tavern, where a sporting host, Josiah Barnes, entered eagerly
into our plans for the extirpation of the fish of the neighbourhood.
"What about the Hall lake and the chance of a pike?" said
The face of the innkeeper clouded.
"That wouldn't do, sir. You might chance to find yourself in
the lake before you were through."
"How's that, then?"
"It's Sir Robert, sir. He's terrible jealous of touts. If you two
strangers were as near his training quarters as that he'd be after
you as sure as fate. He ain't taking no chances, Sir Robert
"I've heard he has a horse entered for the Derby."
"Yes, and a good colt, too. He carries all our money for the
race, and all Sir Robert's into the bargain. By the way" -- he
looked at us with thoughtful eyes -- "I suppose you ain't on the
"No, indeed. Just two weary Londoners who badly need
some good Berkshire air."
"Well, you are in the right place for that. There is a deal of it
lying about. But mind what I have told you about Sir Robert.
He's the sort that strikes first and speaks afterwards. Keep clear
of the park."
"Surely, Mr. Barnes! We certainly shall. By the way, that was
a most beautiful spaniel that was whining in the hall."
"I should say it was. That was the real Shoscombe breed.
There ain't a better in England."
"I am a dog-fancier myself," said Holmes. "Now, if it is a
fair question, what would a prize dog like that cost?"
"More than I could pay, sir. It was Sir Robert himself who
gave me this one. That's why I have to keep it on a lead. It
would be off to the Hall in a jiffy if I gave it its head."
"We are getting some cards in our hand, Watson," said
Holmes when the landlord had left us. "It's not an easy one to
play, but we may see our way in a day or two. By the way, Sir
Robert is still in London, I hear. We might, perhaps, enter the
sacred domain to-night without fear of bodily assault. There are
one or two points on which I should like reassurance."
"Have you any theory, Holmes?"
"Only this, Watson, that something happened a week or so
ago which has cut deep into the life of the Shoscombe
household. What is that something? We can only guess at it from its
effects. They seem to be of a curiously mixed character. But that
should surely help us. It is only the colourless, uneventful case
which is hopeless.
"Let us consider our data. The brother no longer visits the
beloved invalid sister. He gives away her favourite dog. Her
dog, Watson! Does that suggest nothing to you?"
"Nothing but the brother's spite."
"Well, it might be so. Or -- well, there is an alternative. Now
to continue our review of the situation from the time that the
quarrel, if there is a quarrel, began. The lady keeps her room,
alters her habits, is not seen save when she drives out with her
maid, refuses to stop at the stables to greet her favourite horse
and apparently takes to drink. That covers the case, does it not?"
"Save for the business in the crypt."
"That is another line of thought. There are two, and I beg you
will not tangle them. Line A, which concerns Lady Beatrice, has
a vaguely sinister flavour, has it not?"
"I can make nothing of it."
"Well, now, let us take up line B, which concerns Sir Robert.
He is mad keen upon winning the Derby. He is in the hands of
the Jews, and may at any moment be sold up and his racing
stables seized by his creditors. He is a daring and desperate
man. He derives his income from his sister. His sister's maid is
his willing tool. So far we seem to be on fairly safe ground, do
"But the crypt?"
"Ah, yes, the crypt! Let us suppose, Watson -- it is merely a
scandalous supposition, a hypothesis put forward for argument's
sake -- that Sir Robert has done away with his sister."
"My dear Holmes, it is out of the question."
"Very possibly, Watson. Sir Robert is a man of an honourable
stock. But you do occasionally find a carrion crow among the
eagles. Let us for a moment argue upon this supposition. He
could not fly the country until he had realized his fortune, and
that fortune could only be realized by bringing off this coup with
Shoscombe Prince. Therefore, he has still to stand his ground.
To do this he would have to dispose of the body of his victim,
and he would also have to find a substitute who would
impersonate her. With the maid as his confidante that would not be
impossible. The woman's body might be conveyed to the crypt,
which is a place so seldom visited, and it might be secretly
destroyed at night in the furnace, leaving behind it such evidence
as we have already seen. What say you to that, Watson?"
"Wel], it is all possible if you grant the original monstrous
"I think that there is a small experiment which we may try
to-morrow, Watson, in order to throw some light on the matter.
Meanwhile, if we mean to keep up our characters, I suggest that
we have our host in for a glass of his own wine and hold some
high converse upon eels and dace, which seems to be the straight
road to his affections. We may chance to come upon some useful
local gossip in the process."
In the morning Holmes discovered that we had come without
our spoon-bait for jack, which absolved us from fishing for the
day. About eleven o'clock we started for a walk, and he obtained
leave to take the black spaniel with us.
"This is the place," said he as we came to two high park
gates with heraldic griffins towering above them. "About
midday, Mr Barnes informs me, the old lady takes a drive, and the
carriage must slow down while the gates are opened. When it
comes through, and before it gathers speed, I want you, Watson,
to stop the coachman with some question. Never mind me. I shall
stand behind this holly-bush and see what I can see."
It was not a long vigil. Within a quarter of an hour we saw the
big open yellow barouche coming down the long avenue, with
two splendid, high-stepping gray carriage horses in the shafts.
Holmes crouched behind his bush with the dog. I stood
unconcemedly swinging a cane in the roadway. A keeper ran out and
the gates swung open.
The carriage had slowed to a walk, and I was able to get a
good look at the occupants. A highly coloured young woman
with flaxen hair and impudent eyes sat on the left. At her right
was an elderly person with rounded back and a huddle of shawls
about her face and shoulders which proclaimed the invalid.
When the horses reached the highroad I held up my hand with an
authoritative gesture, and as the coachman pulled up I inquired if
Sir Robert was at Shoscombe Old Place.
At the same moment Holmes stepped out and released the
spaniel. With a joyous cry it dashed forward to the carriage and
sprang upon the step. Then in a moment its eager greeting
changed to furious rage, and it snapped at the black skirt above
"Drive on! Drive on!" shrieked a harsh voice. The coachman
lashed the horses, and we were left standing in the roadway.
"Well, Watson, that's done it," said Holmes as he fastened
the lead to the neck of the excited spaniel. "He thought it was
his mistress, and he found it was a stranger. Dogs don't make
"But it was the voice of a man!" I cried.
"Exactly! We have added one card to our hand, Watson, but
it needs careful playing, all the same."
My companion seemed to have no further plans for the day,
and we did actually use our fishing tackle in the mill-stream
with the result that we had a dish of trout for our supper. It was
only after that meal that Holmes showed signs of renewed
activity. Once more we found ourselves upon the same road as in the
morning, which led us to the park gates. A tall, dark figure was
awaiting us there, who proved to be our London acquaintance,
Mr. John Mason, the trainer.
"Good-evening, gentlemen," said he. "I got your note, Mr.
Holmes. Sir Robert has not returned yet, but I hear that he is
"How far is this crypt from the house?" asked Holmes.
"A good quarter of a mile."
"Then I think we can disregard him altogether."
"I can't afford to do that, Mr. Holmes. The moment he
arrives he will want to see me to get the last news of Shoscombe
"I see! In that case we must work without you, Mr. Mason.
You can show us the crypt and then leave us."
It was pitch-dark and without a moon, but Mason led us over
the grass-lands until a dark mass loomed up in front of us which
proved to be the ancient chapel. We entered the broken gap
which was once the porch, and our guide, stumbling among heaps
of loose masonry, picked his way to the corner of the building,
where a steep stair led down into the crypt. Striking a match, he
illuminated the melancholy place -- dismal and evil-smelling, with
ancient crumbling walls of rough-hewn stone, and piles of
coffins, some of lead and some of stone, extending upon one side
right up to the arched and groined roof which lost itself in the
shadows above our heads. Holmes had lit his lantern, which shot
a tiny tunnel of vivid yellow light upon the mournful scene. Its
rays were reflected back from the coffin-plates, many of them
adorned with the griffin and coronet of this old family which
carried its honours even to the gate of Death.
"You spoke of some bones, Mr. Mason. Could you show
them before you go?"
"They are here in this corner." The trainer strode across and
then stood in silent surprise as our light was turned upon the
place. "They are gone," said he.
"So I expected," said Holmes, chuckling. "I fancy the ashes
of them might even now be found in that oven which had already
consumed a part."
"But why in the world would anyone want to burn the bones
of a man who has been dead a thousand years?" asked John
"That is what we are here to find out," said Holmes. "It may
mean a long search, and we need not detain you. I fancy that we
shall get our solution before morning."
When John Mason had left us, Holmes set to work making a
very careful examination of the graves, ranging from a very
ancient one, which appeared to be Saxon, in the centre, through
a long line of Norman Hugos and Odos, until we reached the Sir
William and Sir Denis Falder of the eighteenth century. It was an
hour or more before Holmes came to a leaden coffin standing on
end before the entrance to the vault. I heard his little cry of
satisfaction and was aware from his hurried but purposeful
movements that he had reached a goal. With his lens he was eagerly
examining the edges of the heavy lid. Then he drew from his
pocket a short jemmy, a box-opener, which he thrust into a
chink, levering back the whole front, which seemed to be
secured by only a couple of clamps. There was a rending, tearing
sound as it gave way, but it had hardly hinged back and partly
revealed the contents before we had an unforeseen interruption.
Someone was walking in the chapel above. It was the firm,
rapid step of one who came with a definite purpose and knew
well the ground upon which he walked. A light streamed down
the stairs, and an instant later the man who bore it was framed in
the Gothic archway. He was a terrible figure, huge in stature and
fierce in manner. A large stable-lantern which he held in front of
him shone upward upon a strong, heavily moustached face and
angry eyes, which glared round him into every recess of the
vault, finally fixing themselves with a deadly stare upon my
companion and myself.
"Who the devil are you?" he thundered. "And what are you
doing upon my property?" Then, as Holmes returned no answer
he took a couple of steps forward and raised a heavy stick which
he carried. "Do you hear me?" he cried. "Who are you? What
are you doing here?" His cudgel quivered in the air.
But instead of shrinking Holmes advanced to meet him.
"I also have a question to ask you, Sir Robert," he said in his
sternest tone. "Who is this? And what is it doing here?"
He turned and tore open the coffin-lid behind him. In the glare
of the lantern I saw a body swathed in a sheet from head to foot
with dreadful, witch-like features, all nose and chin, projecting
at one end, the dim, glazed eyes staring from a discoloured and
The baronet had staggered back with a cry and supported
himself against a stone sarcophagus.
"How came you to know of this?" he cried. And then, with
some return of his truculent manner: "What business is it of
"My name is Sherlock Holmes," said my companion. "
Possibly it is familiar to you. In any case, my business is that of
every other good citizen -- to uphold the law. It seems to me that
you have much to answer for."
Sir Robert glared for a moment, but Holmes's quiet voice and
cool, assured manner had their effect.
" 'Fore God, Mr. Holmes, it's all right," said he. "
Appearances are against me, I'll admit, but I could act no otherwise."
"I should be happy to think so, but I fear your explanations
must be before the police."
Sir Robert shrugged his broad shoulders.
"Well, if it must be, it must. Come up to the house and you
can judge for yourself how the matter stands."
A quarter of an hour later we found ourselves in what I judge,
from the lines of polished barrels behind glass covers, to be the
gun-room of the old house. It was comfortably furnished, and
here Sir Robert left us for a few moments. When he returned he
had two companions with him; the one, the florid young woman
whom we had seen in the carriage; the other, a small rat-faced
man with a disagreeably furtive manner. These two wore an
appearance of utter bewilderment, which showed that the baronet
had not yet had time to explain to them the turn events had
"There," said Sir Robert with a wave of his hand, "are Mr.
and Mrs. Norlett. Mrs. Norlett, under her maiden name of
Evans, has for some years been my sister's confidential maid. I
have brought them here because I feel that my best course is to
explain the true position to you, and they are the two people
upon earth who can substantiate what I say."
"Is this necessary, Sir Robert? Have you thought what you are
doing?" cried the woman.
"As to me, I entirely disclaim all responsibility," said her
Sir Robert gave him a glance of contempt. "I will take all
responsibility," said he. "Now, Mr. Holmes, listen to a plain
statement of the facts.
"You have clearly gone pretty deeply into my affairs or I
should not have found you where I did. Therefore, you know
already, in all probability, that I am running a dark horse for the
Derby and that everything depends upon my success. If I win, all
is easy. If I lose -- well, I dare not think of that!"
"I understand the position," said Holmes.
"I am dependent upon my sister, Lady Beatrice, for
everything. But it is well known that her interest in the estate is for her
own life only. For myself, I am deeply in the hands of the Jews.
I have always known that if my sister were to die my creditors
would be on to my estate like a flock of vultures. Everything
would be seized -- my stables, my horses -- everything. Well, Mr.
Holmes, my sister did die just a week ago."
"And you told no one!"
"What could I do? Absolute ruin faced me. If I could stave
things off for three weeks all would be well. Her maid's husband --
this man here -- is an actor. It came into our heads -- it came into
my head -- that he could for that short period personate my sister.
It was but a case of appearing daily in the carriage, for no one
need enter her room save the maid. It was not difficult to
arrange. My sister died of the dropsy which had long afflicted
"That will be for a coroner to decide."
"Her doctor would certify that for months her symptoms have
threatened such an end."
"Well, what did you do?"
"The body could not remain there. On the first night Norlett
and I carried it out to the old well-house, which is now never
used. We were followed, however, by her pet spaniel, which
yapped continually at the door, so I felt some safer place was
needed. I got rid of the spaniel, and we carried the body to the
crypt of the church. There was no indignity or irreverence, Mr.
Holmes. I do not feel that I have wronged the dead."
"Your conduct seems to me inexcusable, Sir Robert."
The baronet shook his head impatiently. "It is easy to preach,"
said he. "Perhaps you would have felt differently if you had
been in my position. One cannot see all one's hopes and all
one's plans shattered at the last moment and make no effort to
save them. It seemed to me that it would be no unworthy
resting-place if we put her for the time in one of the coffins of
her husband's ancestors lying in what is still consecrated ground.
We opened such a coffin, removed the contents, and placed her
as you have seen her. As to the old relics which we took out, we
could not leave them on the floor of the crypt. Norlett and I
removed them, and he descended at night and burned them in the
central furnace. There is my story, Mr. Holmes, though how you
forced my hand so that I have to tell it is more than I can say."
Holmes sat for some time lost in thought.
"There is one flaw in your narrative, Sir Robert," he said at
last. "Your bets on the race, and therefore your hopes for the
future, would hold good even if your creditors seized your
"The horse would be part of the estate. What do they care for
my bets? As likely as not they would not run him at all. My
chief creditor is, unhappily, my most bitter enemy -- a rascally
fellow, Sam Brewer, whom I was once compelled to horsewhip
on Newmarket Heath. Do you suppose that he would try to save
"Well, Sir Robert," said Holmes, rising, "this matter must,
of course, be referred to the police. It was my duty to bring the
facts to light, and there I must leave it. As to the morality or
decency of your conduct, it is not for me to express an opinion.
It is nearly midnight, Watson, and I think we may make our way
back to our humble abode."
It is generally known now that this singular episode ended
upon a happier note than Sir Robert's actions deserved. Shoscombe
Prince did win the Derby, the sporting owner did net eighty
thousand pounds in bets, and the creditors did hold their hand
until the race was over, when they were paid in full, and enough
was left to reestablish Sir Robert in a fair position in life. Both
police and coroner took a lenient view of the transaction, and
beyond a mild censure for the delay in registering the lady's
decease, the lucky owner got away scatheless from this strange
incident in a career which has now outlived its shadows and
promises to end in an honoured old age.