Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
I had called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes upon the
second morning after Christmas, with the intention of wishing
him the compliments of the season. He was lounging upon the
sofa in a purple dressing-gown, a pipe-rack within his reach
upon the right, and a pile of crumpled morning papers, evidently
newly studied, near at hand. Beside the couch was a wooden
chair, and on the angle of the back hung a very seedy and
disreputable hard-felt hat, much the worse for wear, and cracked
in several places. A lens and a forceps lying upon the seat of the
chair suggested that the hat had been suspended in this manner
for the purpose of examination.
"You are engaged," said l; "perhaps I interrupt you."
"Not at all. I am glad to have a friend with whom I can
discuss my results. The matter is a perfectly trivial one" -- he
jerked his thumb in the direction of the old hat -- "but there are
points in connection with it which are not entirely devoid of
interest and even of instruction."
I seated myself in his armchair and warmed my hands before
his crackling fire, for a sharp frost had set in, and the windows
were thick with the ice crystals. "I suppose," I remarked, "that,
homely as it looks, this thing has some deadly story linked on to
it -- that it is the clue which will guide you in the solution of
some mystery and the punishment of some crime."
"No, no. No crime," said Sherlock Holmes, laughing. "Only
one of those whimsical little incidents which will happen when
you have four million human beings all jostling each other within
the space of a few square miles. Amid the action and reaction of
so dense a swarm of humanity, every possible combination of
events may be expected to take place, and many a little problem
will be presented which may be striking and bizarre without
being criminal. We have already had experience of such."
"So much so," l remarked, "that of the last six cases which I
have added to my notes, three have been entirely free of any
"Precisely. You allude to my attempt to recover the Irene
Adler papers, to the singular case of Miss Mary Sutherland, and
to the adventure of the man with the twisted lip. Well, I have no
doubt that this small matter will fall into the same innocent
category. You know Peterson, the commissionaire?"
"It is to him that this trophy belongs."
"It is his hat."
"No, no, he found it. Its owner is unknown. I beg that you
will look upon it not as a battered billycock but as an intellectual
problem. And, first, as to how it came here. It arrived upon
Christmas morning, in company with a good fat goose, which is,
I have no doubt, roasting at this moment in front of Peterson's
fire. The facts are these: about four o'clock on Christmas
morning, Peterson, who, as you know, is a very honest fellow, was
returning from some small jollification and was making his way
homeward down Tottenham Court Road. In front of him he saw,
in the gaslight, a tallish man, walking with a slight stagger, and
carrying a white goose slung over his shoulder. As he reached
the corner of Goodge Street, a row broke out between this
stranger and a little knot of roughs. One of the latter knocked off
the man's hat, on which he raised his stick to defend himself
and, swinging it over his head, smashed the shop window behind
him. Peterson had rushed forward to protect the stranger from his
assailants; but the man, shocked at having broken the window,
and seeing an official-looking person in uniform rushing towards
him, dropped his goose, took to his heels, and vanished amid the
labyrinth of small streets which lie at the back of Tottenham
Court Road. The roughs had also fled at the appearance of
Peterson, so that he was left in possession of the field of battle,
and also of the spoils of victory in the shape of this battered hat
and a most unimpeachable Christmas goose."
"Which surely he restored to their owner?"
"My dear fellow, there lies the problem. It is true that 'For
Mrs. Henry Baker' was printed upon a small card which was tied
to the bird's left leg, and it is also true that the initials 'H. B.'
are legible upon the lining of this hat, but as there are some
thousands of Bakers, and some hundreds of Henry Bakers in this
city of ours, it is not easy to restore lost property to any one of
"What, then, did Peterson do?"
"He brought round both hat and goose to me on Christmas
morning, knowing that even the smallest problems are of interest
to me. The goose we retained until this morning, when there
were signs that, in spite of the slight frost, it would be well that
it should be eaten without unnecessary delay. Its finder has
carried it off, therefore, to fulfil the ultimate destiny of a goose,
while I continue to retain the hat of the unknown gentleman who
lost his Christmas dinner."
"Did he not advertise?"
"Then, what clue could you have as to his identity?"
"Only as much as we can deduce."
"From his hat?"
"But you are joking. What can you gather from this old
"Here is my lens. You know my methods. What can you
gather yourself as to the individuality of the man who has worn
I took the tattered object in my hands and turned it over rather
ruefully. It was a very ordinary black hat of the usual round
shape, hard and much the worse for wear. The lining had been of
red silk, but was a good deal discoloured. There was no maker's
name; but, as Holmes had remarked, the initials "H. B." were
scrawled upon one side. It was pierced in the brim for a
hatsecurer, but the elastic was missing. For the rest, it was cracked,
exceedingly dusty, and spotted in several places, although there
seemed to have been some attempt to hide the discoloured
patches by smearing them with ink.
"I can see nothing," said I, handing it back to my friend.
"On the contrary, Watson, you can see everything. You fail,
however, to reason from what you see. You are too timid in
drawing your inferences."
"Then, pray tell me what it is that you can infer from this
He picked it up and gazed at it in the peculiar introspective
fashion which was characteristic of him. "It is perhaps less
suggestive than it might have been," he remarked, "and yet
there are a few inferences which are very distinct, and a few
others which represent at least a strong balance of probability.
That the man was highly intellectual is of course obvious upon
the face of it, and also that he was fairly well-to-do within the
last three years, although he has now fallen upon evil days. He
had foresight, but has less now than formerly, pointing to a
moral retrogression, which, when taken with the decline of his
fortunes, seems to indicate some evil influence, probably drink,
at work upon him. This may account also for the obvious fact
that his wife has ceased to love him."
"My dear Holmes!"
"He has, however, retained some degree of self-respect," he
continued, disregarding my remonstrance. "He is a man who
leads a sedentary life, goes out little, is out of training entirely,
is middle-aged, has grizzled hair which he has had cut within the
last few days, and which he anoints with lime-cream. These are
the more patent facts which are to be deduced from his hat.
Also, by the way, that it is extremely improbable that he has gas
laid on in his house."
"You are certainly joking, Holmes."
"Not in the least. Is it possible that even now, when I give
you these results, you are unable to see how they are attained?"
"I have no doubt that I am very stupid, but I must confess that
I am unable to follow you. For example, how did you deduce
that this man was intellectual?"
For answer Holmes clapped the hat upon his head. It came
right over the forehead and settled upon the bridge of his nose.
"It is a question of cubic capacity," said he; "a man with so
large a brain must have something in it."
"The decline of his fortunes, then?"
"This hat is three years old. These flat brims curled at the
edge came in then. It is a hat of the very best quality. Look at
the band of ribbed silk and the excellent lining. If this man could
afford to buy so expensive a hat three years ago, and has had no
hat since, then he has assuredly gone down in the world."
"Well, that is clear enough, certainly. But how about the
foresight and the moral retrogression?"
Sherlock Holmes laughed. "Here is the foresight," said he
putting his finger upon the little disc and loop of the hat-securer.
"They are never sold upon hats. If this man ordered one, it is a
sign of a certain amount of foresight, since he went out of his
way to take this precaution against the wind. But since we see
that he has broken the elastic and has not troubled to replace it, it
is obvious that he has less foresight now than formerly, which is
a distinct proof of a weakening nature. On the other hand, he has
endeavoured to conceal some of these stains upon the felt by
daubing them with ink, which is a sign that he has not entirely
lost his self-respect."
"Your reasoning is certainly plausible."
"The further points, that he is middle-aged, that his hair is
grizzled, that it has been recently cut, and that he uses
limecream, are all to be gathered from a close examination of the
lower part of the lining. The lens discloses a large number of
hair-ends, clean cut by the scissors of the barber. They all appear
to be adhesive, and there is a distinct odour of lime-cream. This
dust, you will observe, is not the gritty, gray dust of the street
but the fluffy brown dust of the house, showing that it has been
hung up indoors most of the time, while the marks of moisture
upon the inside are proof positive that the wearer perspired very
freely, and could therefore, hardly be in the best of training."
"But his wife -- you said that she had ceased to love him."
"This hat has not been brushed for weeks. When I see you,
my dear Watson, with a week's accumulation of dust upon your
hat, and when your wife allows you to go out in such a state, I
shall fear that you also have been unfortunate enough to lose
your wife's affection."
"But he might be a bachelor."
"Nay, he was bringing home the goose as a peace-offering to
his wife. Remember the card upon the bird's leg."
"You have an answer to everything. But how on earth do you
deduce that the gas is not laid on in his house?"
"One tallow stain, or even two, might come by chance; but
when I see no less than five, I think that there can be little doubt
that the individual must be brought into frequent contact with
burning tallow -- walks upstairs at night probably with his hat in
one hand and a guttering candle in the other. Anyhow, he never
got tallow-stains from a gasjet. Are you satisfied?"
"Well, it is very ingenious," said I, laughing; "but since, as
you said just now, there has been no crime committed, and no
harm done save the loss of a goose, all this seems to be rather a
waste of energy."
Sherlock Holmes had opened his mouth to reply, when the
door flew open, and Peterson, the commissionaire, rushed into
the apartment with flushed cheeks and the face of a man who is
dazed with astonishment.
"The goose, Mr. Holmes! The goose, sir!" he gasped.
"Eh? What of it, then? Has it returned to life and flapped off
through the kitchen window?" Holmes twisted himself round
upon the sofa to get a fairer view of the man's excited face.
"See here, sir! See what my wife found in its crop!" He held
out his hand and displayed upon the centre of the palm a
brilliantly scintillating blue stone, rather smaller than a bean in
size, but of such purity and radiance that it twinkled like an
electric point in the dark hollow of his hand.
Sherlock Holmes sat up with a whistle. "By Jove, Peterson!"
said he, "this is treasure trove indeed. I suppose you know what
you have got?"
"A diamond, sir? A precious stone. It cuts into glass as
though it were putty."
"It's. more than a precious stone. It is the precious stone."
"Not the Countess of Morcar's blue carbuncle!" I ejaculated.
"Precisely so. l ought to know its size and shape, seeing that I
have read the advertisement about it in The Times every day
lately. It is absolutely unique, and its value can only be
conjectured, but the reward offered of 1000 pounds is certainly not within a
twentieth part of the market price."
"A thousand pounds! Great Lord of mercy!" The
commissionaire plumped down into a chair and stared from one to the
other of us.
"That is the reward, and I have reason to know that there are
sentimental considerations in the background which would
induce the Countess to part with half her fortune if she could but
recover the gem."
"It was lost, if I remember aright, at the Hotel
Cosmopolitan," I remarked.
"Precisely so, on December 22d, just five days ago. John
Horner, a plumber, was accused of having abstracted it from the
lady's jewel-case. The evidence against him was so strong that
the case has been referred to the Assizes. I have some account of
the matter here, I believe." He rummaged amid his newspapers,
glancing over the dates, until at last he smoothed one out,
doubled it over, and read the following paragraph:
"Hotel Cosmopolitan Jewel Robbery. John Horner, 26,
plumber, was brought up upon the charge of having upon
the 22d inst., abstracted from the jewel-case of the Countess
of Morcar the valuable gem known as the blue carbuncle.
James Ryder, upper-attendant at the hotel, gave his
evidence to the effect that he had shown Horner up to the
dressing-room of the Countess of Morcar upon the day of
the robbery in order that he might solder the second bar of
the grate, which was loose. He had remained with Horner
some little time, but had finally been called away. On
returning, he found that Horner had disappeared, that the
bureau had been forced open, and that the small morocco
casket in which, as it afterwards transpired, the Countess
was accustomed to keep her jewel, was lying empty upon
the dressing-table. Ryder instantly gave the alarm, and Horner
was arrested the same evening; but the stone could not be
found either upon his person or in his rooms. Catherine
Cusack, maid to the Countess, deposed to having heard
Ryder's cry of dismay on discovering the robbery, and to
having rushed into the room, where she found matters as
described by the last witness. Inspector Bradstreet, B
division, gave evidence as to the arrest of Horner, who
struggled frantically, and protested his innocence in the strongest
terms. Evidence of a previous conviction for robbery having
been given against the prisoner, the magistrate refused to
deal summarily with the offence, but referred it to the
Assizes. Horner, who had shown signs of intense emotion
during the proceedings, fainted away at the conclusion and
was carried out of court.
"Hum! So much for the police-court," said Holmes
thoughtfully, tossing aside the paper. "The question for us now to solve
is the sequence of events leading from a rifled jewel-case at one
end to the crop of a goose in Tottenham Court Road at the other.
You see, Watson, our little deductions have suddenly assumed a
much more important and less innocent aspect. Here is the stone;
the stone came from the goose, and the goose came from Mr.
Henry Baker, the gentleman with the bad hat and all the other
characteristics with which I have bored you. So now we must set
ourselves very seriously to finding this gentleman and
ascertaining what part he has played in this little mystery. To do this, we
must try the simplest means first, and these lie undoubtedly in an
advertisement in all the evening papers. If this fail, I shall have
recourse to other methods."
"What will you say?"
"Give me a pencil and that slip of paper. Now, then:
"Found at the corner of Goodge Street, a goose and a
black felt hat. Mr. Henry Baker can have the same by
applying at 6:30 this evening at 221B, Baker Street.
That is clear and concise."
"Very. But will he see it?"
"Well, he is sure to keep an eye on the papers, since, to a
poor man, the loss was a heavy one. He was clearly so scared by
his mischance in breaking the window and by the approach of
Peterson that he thought of nothing but flight, but since then he
must have bitterly regretted the impulse which caused him to
drop his bird. Then, again, the introduction of his name will
cause him to see it, for everyone who knows him will direct his
attention to it. Here you are, Peterson, run down to the
advertising agency and have this put in the evening papers."
"In which, sir?"
"Oh, in the Clobe, Star, Pall Mall, St. James's, Evening
News Standard, Echo, and any others that occur to you."
"Very well, sir. And this stone?"
"Ah, yes, I shall keep the stone. Thank you. And, I say,
Peterson, just buy a goose on your way back and leave it here
with me, for we must have one to give to this gentleman in place
of the one which your family is now devouring."
When the commissionaire had gone, Holmes took up the stone
and held it against the light. "It's a bonny thing," said he. "Just
see how it glints and sparkles. Of course it is a nucleus and focus
of crime. Every good stone is. They are the devil's pet baits. In
the larger and older jewels every facet may stand for a bloody
deed. This stone is not yet twenty years old. It was found in the
banks of the Amoy River in southem China and is remarkable in
having every characteristic of the carbuncle, save that it is blue
in shade instead of ruby red. In spite of its youth, it has already a
sinister history. There have been two murders, a vitriol-throwing,
a suicide, and several robberies brought about for the sake of this
forty-grain weight of crystallized charcoal. Who would think that
so pretty a toy would be a purveyor to the gallows and the
prison? I'll lock it up in my strong box now and drop a line to
the Countess to say that we have it."
"Do you think that this man Horner is innocent?"
"I cannot tell."
"Well, then, do you imagine that this other one, Henry Baker,
had anything to do with the matter?"
"It is, I think, much more likely that Henry Baker is an
absolutely innocent man, who had no idea that the bird which he
was carrying was of considerably more value than if it were
made of solid gold. That, however, I shall determine by a very
simple test if we have an answer to our advertisement."
"And you can do nothing until then?"
"In that case I shall continue my professional round. But I
shall come back in the evening at the hour you have mentioned,
for I should like to see the solution of so tangled a business."
"Very glad to see you. I dine at seven. There is a woodcock, I
believe. By the way, in view of recent occurrences, perhaps I
ought to ask Mrs. Hudson to examine its crop."
I had been delayed at a case, and it was a little after half-past
six when I found myself in Baker Street once more. As I
approached the house I saw a tall man in a Scotch bonnet with a
coat which was buttoned up to his chin waiting outside in the
bright semicircle which was thrown from the fanlight. Just as l
arrived the door was opened, and we were shown up together to
"Mr. Henry Baker, I believe," said he, rising from his armchair
and greeting his visitor with the easy air of geniality which he
could so readily assume. "Pray take this chair by the fire, Mr.
Baker. It is a cold night, and I observe that your circulation is
more adapted for summer than for winter. Ah, Watson, you have
just come at the right time. Is that your hat, Mr. Baker?"
"Yes, sir, that is undoubtedly my hat."
He was a large man with rounded shoulders, a massive head,
and a broad, intelligent face, sloping down to a pointed beard of
grizzled brown. A touch of red in nose and cheeks, with a slight
tremor of his extended hand, recalled Holmes's surmise as to his
habits. His rusty black frock-coat was buttoned right up in front,
with the collar turned up, and his lank wrists protruded from his
sleeves without a sign of cuff or shirt. He spoke in a slow
staccato fashion, choosing his words with care, and gave the
impression generally of a man of learning and letters who had
had ill-usage at the hands of fortune.
"We have retained these things for some days," said Holmes,
"because we expected to see an advertisement from you giving
your address. I am at a loss to know now why you did not
Our visitor gave a rather shamefaced laugh. "Shillings have
not been so plentiful with me as they once were," he remarked.
"I had no doubt that the gang of roughs who assaulted me had
carried off both my hat and the bird. I did not care to spend more
money in a hopeless attempt at recovering them."
"Very naturally. By the way, about the bird, we were
compelled to eat it."
"To eat it!" Our visitor half rose from his chair in his
"Yes, it would have been of no use to anyone had we not
done so. But I presume that this other goose upon the sideboard,
which is about the same weight and perfectly fresh, will answer
your purpose equally well?"
"Oh, certainly, certainly," answered Mr. Baker with a sigh of
"Of course, we still have the feathers, legs, crop, and so on of
your own bird, so if you wish --"
The man burst into a hearty laugh. "They might be useful to
me as relics of my adventure," said he, "but beyond that I can
hardly see what use the disjecta membra of my late acquaintance
are going to be to me. No, sir, I think that, with your
permission, I will confine my attentions to the excellent bird which I
perceive upon the sideboard."
Sherlock Holmes glanced sharply across at me with a slight
shrug of his shoulders.
"There is your hat, then, and there your bird," said he. "By
the way, would it bore you to tell me where you got the other
one from? I am somewhat of a fowl fancier, and I have seldom
seen a better grown goose."
"Certainly, sir," said Baker, who had risen and tucked his
newly gained property under his arm. "There are a few of us
who frequent the Alpha Inn, near the Museum -- we are to be
found in the Museum itself during the day, you understand. This
year our good host, Windigate by name, instituted a goose club,
by which, on consideration of some few pence every week, we
were each to receive a bird at Christmas. My pence were duly
paid, and the rest is familiar to you. I am much indebted to you,
sir, for a Scotch bonnet is fitted neither to my years nor my
gravity." With a comical pomposity of manner he bowed
solemnly to both of us and strode off upon his way.
"So much for Mr. Henry Baker," said Holmes when he had
closed the door behind him. "It is quite certain that he knows
nothing whatever about the matter. Are you hungry, Watson?"
"Then I suggest that we turn our dinner into a supper and
follow up this clue while it is still hot."
"By all means."
It was a bitter night, so we drew on our ulsters and wrapped
cravats about our throats. Outside, the stars were shining coldly
in a cloudless sky, and the breath of the passers-by blew out into
smoke like so many pistol shots. Our footfalls rang out crisply
and loudly as we swung through the doctors' quarter, Wimpole
Street, Harley Street, and so through Wigmore Street into
Oxford Street. In a quarter of an hour we were in Bloomsbury at the
Alpha Inn, which is a small public-house at the corner of one of
the streets which runs down into Holborn. Holmes pushed open
the door of the private bar and ordered two glasses of beer from
the ruddy-faced, white-aproned landlord.
"Your beer should be excellent if it is as good as your
geese," said he.
"My geese!" The man seemed surprised.
"Yes. I was speaking only half an hour ago to Mr. Henry
Baker, who was a member of your goose club."
"Ah! yes, I see. But you see, sir, them's not our geese."
"Indeed! Whose, then?"
"Well, I got the two dozen from a salesman in Covent Garden."
"Indeed? I know some of them. Which was it?"
"Breckinridge is his name."
"Ah! I don't know him. Well, here's your good health
landlord, and prosperity to your house. Good-night.
"Now for Mr. Breckinridge," he continued, buttoning up his
coat as we came out into the frosty air. "Remember, Watson
that though we have so homely a thing as a goose at one end of
this chain, we have at the other a man who will certainly get
seven years' penal servitude unless we can establish his
innocence. It is possible that our inquiry may but confirm his guilt
but, in any case, we have a line of investigation which has been
missed by the police, and which a singular chance has placed in
our hands. Let us follow it out to the bitter end. Faces to the
south, then, and quick march!"
We passed across Holborn, down Endell Street, and so through
a zigzag of slums to Covent Garden Market. One of the largest
stalls bore the name of Breckinridge upon it, and the proprietor
a horsy-looking man, with a sharp face and trim side-whiskers
was helping a boy to put up the shutters.
"Good-evening. It's a cold night," said Holmes.
The salesman nodded and shot a questioning glance at my
"Sold out of geese, I see," continued Holmes, pointing at the
bare slabs of marble.
"Let you have five hundred to-morrow morning."
"That's no good."
"Well, there are some on the stall with the gas-flare."
"Ah, but I was recommended to you."
"The landlord of the Alpha."
"Oh, yes; I sent him a couple of dozen."
"Fine birds they were, too. Now where did you get them
To my surprise the question provoked a burst of anger from
"Now, then, mister," said he, with his head cocked and his
arms akimbo, "what are you driving at? Let's have it straight,
"It is straight enough. I should like to know who sold you the
geese which you supplied to the Alpha."
"Well then, I shan't tell you. So now!"
"Oh, it is a matter of no importance; but I don't know why
you should be so warm over such a trifle."
"Warm! You'd be as warm, maybe, if you were as pestered
as I am. When I pay good money for a good article there should
be an end of the business; but it's 'Where are the geese?' and
'Who did you sell the geese to?' and 'What will you take for the
geese?' One would think they were the only geese in the world,
to hear the fuss that is made over them."
"Well, I have no connection with any other people who have
been making inquiries," said Holmes carelessly. "If you won't
tell us the bet is off, that is all. But I'm always ready to back my
opinion on a matter of fowls, and I have a fiver on it that the bird
I ate is country bred."
"Well, then, you've lost your fiver, for it's town bred,"
snapped the salesman.
"It's nothing of the kind."
"I say it is."
"I don't believe it."
"D'you think you know more about fowls than I, who have
handled them ever since I was a nipper? I tell you, all those birds
that went to the Alpha were town bred."
"You'll never persuade me to believe that."
"Will you bet, then?"
"It's merely taking your money, for I know that I am right.
But I'll have a sovereign on with you, just to teach you not to be
The salesman chuckled grimly. "Bring me the books, Bill,"
The small boy brought round a small thin volume and a great
greasy-backed one, laying them out together beneath the hanging
"Now then, Mr. Cocksure," said the salesman, "I thought
that I was out of geese, but before I finish you'll find that there
is still one left in my shop. You see this little book?"
"That's the list of the folk from whom I buy. D'you see?
Well, then, here on this page are the country folk, and the
numbers after their names are where their accounts are in the big
ledger. Now, then! You see this other page in red ink? Well, that
is a list of my town suppliers. Now, look at that third name. Just
read it out to me."
"Mrs. Oakshott, 117, Brixton Road -- 249," read Holmes.
"Quite so. Now turn that up in the ledger."
Holmes turned to the page indicated. "Here you are, 'Mrs.
Oakshott, 117, Brixton Road, egg and poultry supplier."
"Now, then, what's the last entry?"
" 'December 22d. Twenty-four geese at 7s. 6d.' "
"Quite so. There you are. And underneath?"
" 'Sold to Mr. Windigate of the Alpha, at 12s.' "
"What have you to say now?"
Sherlock Holmes looked deeply chagrined. He drew a
sovereign from his pocket and threw it down upon the slab, turning
away with the air of a man whose disgust is too deep for words.
A few yards off he stopped under a lamp-post and laughed in the
hearty, noiseless fashion which was peculiar to him.
"When you see a man with whiskers of that cut and the
'Pink 'un' protruding out of his pocket, you can always draw him
by a bet," said he. "I daresay that if I had put lOO pounds down in
front of him, that man would not have given me such complete
information as was drawn from him by the idea that he was
doing me on a wager. Well, Watson, we are, I fancy, nearing
the end of our quest, and the only point which remains to be
determined is whether we should go on to this Mrs. Oakshott
to-night, or whether we should reserve it for to-morrow. It is
clear from what that surly fellow said that there are others
besides ourselves who are anxious about the matter, and I
His remarks were suddenly cut short by a loud hubbub which
broke out from the stall which we had just left. Turning round
we saw a little rat-faced fellow standing in the centre of the
circle of yellow light which was thrown by the swinging lamp,
while Breckinridge, the salesman, framed in the door of his stall,
was shaking his fists fiercely at the cringing figure.
"I've had enough of you and your geese," he shouted. "I
wish you were all at the devil together. If you come pestering me
any more with your silly talk I'll set the dog at you. You bring
Mrs. Oakshott here and I'll answer her, but what have you to do
with it? Did I buy the geese off you?"
"No; but one of them was mine all the same," whined the
"Well, then, ask Mrs. Oakshott for it."
"She told me to ask you."
"Well, you can ask the King of Proosia, for all I care. I've
had enough of it. Get out of this!" He rushed fiercely forward,
and the inquirer flitted away into the darkness.
"Ha! this may save us a visit to Brixton Road," whispered
Holmes. "Come with me, and we will see what is to be made of
this fellow." Striding through the scattered knots of people who
lounged round the flaring stalls, my companion speedily
overtook the little man and touched him upon the shoulder. He
sprang round, and I could see in the gas-light that every vestige
of colour had been driven from his face.
"Who are you, then? What do you want?" he asked in a
"You will excuse me," said Holmes blandly, "but I could not
help overhearing the questions which you put to the salesman
just now. I think that I could be of assistance to you."
"You? Who are you? How could you know anything of the
"My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know
what other people don't know."
"But you can know nothing of this?"
"Excuse me, I know everything of it. You are endeavouring
to trace some geese which were sold by Mrs. Oakshott, of
Brixton Road, to a salesman named Breckinridge, by him in turn
to Mr. Windigate, of the Alpha, and by him to his club, of
which Mr. Henry Baker is a member."
"Oh, sir, you are the very man whom I have longed to meet,"
cried the little fellow with outstretched hands and quivering
fingers. "I can hardly explain to you how interested I am in this
Sherlock Holmes hailed a four-wheeler which was passing.
"In that case we had better discuss it in a cosy room rather than
in this wind-swept market-place," said he. "But pray tell me,
before we go farther, who it is that I have the pleasure of
The man hesitated for an instant. "My name is John
Robinson," he answered with a sidelong glance.
"No, no; the real name," said Holmes sweetly. "It is always
awkward doing business with an alias."
A flush sprang to the white cheeks of the stranger. "Well
then," said he, "my real name is James Ryder."
"Precisely so. Head attendant at the Hotel Cosmopolitan. Pray
step into the cab, and I shall soon be able to tell you everything
which you would wish to know."
The little man stood glancing from one to the other of us with
half-frightened, half-hopeful eyes, as one who is not sure whether
he is on the verge of a windfall or of a catastrophe. Then he
stepped into the cab, and in half an hour we were back in the
sitting-room at Baker Street. Nothing had been said during our
drive, but the high, thin breathing of our new companion, and
the claspings and unclaspings of his hands, spoke of the nervous
tension within him.
"Here we are!" said Holmes cheerily as we filed into the
room. "The fire looks very seasonabe in this weather. You look
cold, Mr. Ryder. Pray take the basket-chair. I will just put on my
slippers before we settle this little matter of yours. Now, then!
You want to know what became of those geese?"
"Or rather, I fancy, of that goose. It was one bird, I imagine
in which you were interested -- white, with a black bar across the
Ryder quivered with emotion. "Oh, sir," he cried, "can you
tell me where it went to?"
"It came here."
"Yes, and a most remarkable bird it proved. I don't wonder
that you should take an interest in it. It laid an egg after it was
dead -- the bonniest, brightest little blue egg that ever was seen. I
have it here in my museum."
Our visitor staggered to his feet and clutched the mantelpiece
with his right hand. Holmes unlocked his strong-box and held up
the blue carbuncle, which shone out like a star, with a cold
brilliant, many-pointed radiance. Ryder stood glaring with a
drawn face, uncertain whether to claim or to disown it.
"The game's up, Ryder," said Holmes quietly. "Hold up,
man, or you'll be into the fire! Give him an arm back into his
chair, Watson. He's not got blood enough to go in for felony
with impunity. Give him a dash of brandy. So! Now he looks a
little more human. What a shrimp it is, to be sure!"
For a moment he had staggered and nearly fallen, but the
brandy brought a tinge of colour into his cheeks, and he sat
staring with frightened eyes at his accuser.
"I have almost every link in my hands, and all the proofs
which I could possibly need, so there is little which you need tell
me. Still, that little may as well be cleared up to make the case
complete. You had heard, Ryder, of this blue stone of the
Countess of Morcar's?"
"It was Catherine Cusack who told me of it," said he in a
"I see -- her ladyship's waiting-maid. Well, the temptation of
sudden wealth so easily acquired was too much for you, as it has
been for better men before you; but you were not very
scrupulous in the means you used. It seems to me, Ryder, that there is
the making of a very pretty villain in you. You knew that this
man Horner, the plumber, had been concerned in some such
matter before, and that suspicion would rest the more readily
upon him. What did you do, then? You made some small job in
my lady's room -- you and your confederate Cusack -- and you
managed that he should be the man sent for. Then, when he had
left, you rifled the jewel-case, raised the alarm, and had this
unfortunate man arrested. You then --"
Ryder threw himself down suddenly upon the rug and clutched
at my companion's knees. "For God's sake, have mercy!" he
shrieked. "Think of my father! of my mother! It would break
their hearts. I never went wrong before! I never will again. I
swear it. I'll swear it on a Bible. Oh, don't bring it into court!
For Christ's sake, don't!"
"Get back into your chair!" said Holmes sternly. "It is very
well to cringe and crawl now, but you thought little enough of
this poor Horner in the dock for a crime of which he knew
"I will fly, Mr. Holmes. I will leave the country, sir. Then
the charge against him will break down."
"Hum! We will talk about that. And now let us hear a true
account of the next act. How came the stone into the goose, and
how came the goose into the open market? Tell us the truth, for
there lies your only hope of safety."
Ryder passed his tongue over his parched lips. "I will tell you
it just as it happened, sir," said he. "When Horner had been
arrested, it seemed to me that it would be best for me to get
away with the stone at once, for I did not know at what moment
the police might not take it into their heads to search me and my
room. There was no place about the hotel where it would be
safe. I went out, as if on some commission, and I made for my
sister's house. She had married a man named Oakshott, and
lived in Brixton Road, where she fattened fowls for the market.
All the way there every man I met seemed to me to be a
policeman or a detective; and, for all that it was a cold night, the
sweat was pouring down my face before I came to the Brixton
Road. My sister asked me what was the matter, and why I was
so pale; but I told her that I had been upset by the jewel robbery
at the hotel. Then I went into the back yard and smoked a pipe
and wondered what it would be best to do.
"I had a friend once called Maudsley, who went to the bad,
and has just been serving his time in Pentonville. One day he had
met me, and fell into talk about the ways of thieves, and how
they could get rid of what they stole. I knew that he would be
true to me, for I knew one or two things about him; so I made up
my mind to go right on to Kilburn, where he lived, and take him
into my confidence. He would show me how to turn the stone
into money. But how to get to him in safety? I thought of the
agonies I had gone through in coming from the hotel. I might at
any moment be seized and searched, and there would be the
stone in my waistcoat pocket. I was leaning against the wall at
the time and looking at the geese which were waddling about
round my feet, and suddenly an idea came into my head which
showed me how I could beat the best detective that ever lived.
"My sister had told me some weeks before that I might have
the pick of her geese for a Christmas present, and I knew that
she was always as good as her word. I would take my goose
now, and in it I would carry my stone to Kilburn. There was a
little shed in the yard, and behind this I drove one of the
birds -- a fine big one, white, with a barred tail. I caught it, and
prying its bill open, I thrust the stone down its throat as far as
my finger could reach. The bird gave a gulp, and I felt the stone
pass along its gullet and down into its crop. But the creature
flapped and struggled, and out came my sister to know what was
the matter. As I turned to speak to her the brute broke loose and
fluttered off among the others.
" 'Whatever were you doing with that bird, Jem?' says she.
" 'Well,' said I, 'you said you'd give me one for Christmas,
and I was feeling which was the fattest.'
" 'Oh,' says she, 'we've set yours aside for you -- Jem's bird,
we call it. It's the big white one over yonder. There's twenty-six
of them, which makes one for you, and one for us, and two
dozen for the market.'
" 'Thank you, Maggie,' says l; 'but if it is all the same to
you, I'd rather have that one I was handling just now.'
" 'The other is a good three pound heavier,' said she, 'and we
fattened it expressly for you.'
" 'Never mind. I'll have the other, and I'll take it now,' said I.
" 'Oh, just as you like,' said she, a little huffed. 'Which is it
you want, then?'
" 'That white one with the barred tail, right in the middle of
" 'Oh, very well. Kill it and take it with you.'
"Well, I did what she said, Mr. Holmes, and I carried the bird
all the way to Kilburn. I told my pal what I had done, for he was
a man that it was easy to tell a thing like that to. He laughed
until he choked, and we got a knife and opened the goose. My
heart turned to water, for there was no sign of the stone, and I
knew that some terrible mistake had occurred. I left the bird
rushed back to my sister's, and hurried into the back yard. There
was not a bird to be seen there.
" 'Where are they all, Maggie?' I cried.
" 'Gone to the dealer's, Jem.'
" 'Which dealer's?'
" 'Breckinridge, of Covent Garden.'
" 'But was there another with a barred tail?' I asked, 'the
same as the one I chose?'
" 'Yes, Jem; there were two barred-tailed ones, and I could
never tell them apart.'
"Well, then, of course I saw it all, and I ran off as hard as my
feet would carry me to this man Breckinridge; but he had sold
the lot at once, and not one word would he tell me as to where
they had gone. You heard him yourselves to-night. Well, he has
always answered me like that. My sister thinks that I am going
mad. Sometimes I think that I am myself. And now -- and now I
am myself a branded thief, without ever having touched the
wealth for which I sold my character. God help me! God help
me!" He burst into convulsive sobbing, with his face buried in
There was a long silence, broken only by his heavy breathing
and by the measured tapping of Sherlock Holmes's finger-tips
upon the edge of the table. Then my friend rose and threw open
"Get out!" said he.
"What, sir! Oh, Heaven bless you!"
"No more words. Get out!"
And no more words were needed. There was a rush, a clatter
upon the stairs, the bang of a door, and the crisp rattle of running
footfalls from the street.
"After all, Watson," said Holmes, reaching up his hand for
his clay pipe, "I am not retained by the police to supply their
deficiencies. If Horner were in danger it would be another thing;
but this fellow will not appear against him, and the case must
collapse. I suppose that I am commuting a felony. but it is just
possible that I am saving a soul. This fellow will not go wrong
again; he is too terribly frightened. Send him to jail now, and
you make him a jail-bird for life. Besides, it is the season of
forgiveness. Chance has put in our way a most singular and
whimsical problem, and its solution is its own reward. If you
will have the goodness to touch the bell, Doctor, we will begin
another investigation, in which, also a bird will be the chief