A Case of Identity
Complete story, ready to print -- free -- by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)
"My dear fellow." said Sherlock Holmes as we sat on either
side of the fire in his lodgings at Baker Street, "life is infinitely
stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We
would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere
commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window
hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the
roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the
strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generation, and leading
to the most outre results, it would make all fiction with its
conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable."
"And yet I am not convinced of it," I answered. "The cases
which come to light in the papers are, as a rule, bald enough,
and vulgar enough. We have in our police reports realism pushed
to its extreme limits, and yet the result is, it must be confessed,
neither fascinating nor artistic."
"A certain selection and discretion must be used in producing
a realistic effect," remarked Holmes. "This is wanting in the
police report, where more stress is laid, perhaps, upon the
platitudes of the magistrate than upon the details, which to an
observer contain the vital essence of the whole matter. Depend
upon it, there is nothing so unnatural as the commonplace."
I smiled and shook my head. "I can quite understand your
thinking so." I said. "Of course, in your position of unofficial
adviser and helper to everybody who is absolutely puzzled,
throughout three continents, you are brought in contact with all
that is strange and bizarre. But here" -- I picked up the morning
paper from the ground -- "let us put it to a practical test. Here is
the first heading upon which I come. 'A husband's cruelty to his
wife.' There is half a column of print, but I know without
reading it that it is all perfectly familiar to me. There is. of
course, the other woman, the drink, the push, the blow, the
bruise, the sympathetic sister or landlady. The crudest of writers
could invent nothing more crude."
"Indeed, your example is an unfortunate one for your argument," said Holmes, taking the paper and glancing his eye down
it. "This is the Dundas separation case, and, as it happens, I was
engaged in clearing up some small points in connection with it.
The husband was a teetotaler, there was no other woman, and
the conduct complained of was that he had drifted into the habit
of winding up every meal by taking out his false teeth and
hurling them at his wife, which, you will allow, is not an action
likely to occur to the imagination of the average story-teller.
Take a pinch of snuff, Doctor, and acknowledge that I have
scored over you in your example."
He held out his snuffbox of old gold, with a great amethyst in
the centre of the lid. Its splendour was in such contrast to his
homely ways and simple life that I could not help commenting
"Ah," said he, "I forgot that I had not seen you for some
weeks. It is a little souvenir from the King of Bohemia in return
for my assistance in the case of the Irene Adler papers."
"And the ring?" I asked, glancing at a remarkable brilliant
which sparkled upon his finger.
"It was from the reigning family of Holland, though the
matter in which I served them was of such delicacy that I cannot
confide it even to you, who have been good enough to chronicle
one or two of my little problems."
"And have you any on hand just now?" I asked with interest.
"Some ten or twelve, but none which present any feature of
interest. They are important, you understand, without being
interesting. Indeed, I have found that it is usually in unimportant
matters that there is a field for the observation, and for the quick
analysis of cause and effect which gives the charm to an investigation. The larger crimes are apt to be the simpler, for the
bigger the crime thc more obvious, as a rule, is the motive. In
these cases, save for one rather intricate matter which has been
referred to me from Marseilles, there is nothing which presents
any features of interest. It is possible, however, that I may have
something better before very many minutes are over, for this is
one of my clients, or I am much mistaken."
He had risen from his chair and was standing between the
parted blinds gazing down into the dull neutral-tinted London
street. Looking over his shoulder, I saw that on the pavement
opposite there stood a large woman with a heavy fur boa round
her neck, and a large curling red feather in a broad-brimmed hat
which was tilted in a coquettish Duchess of Devonshire fashion
over her ear. From under this great panoply she peeped up in a
nervous, hesitating fashion at our windows, while her body
oscillated backward and forward, and her fingers fidgeted with
her glove buttons. Suddenly, with a plunge, as of the swimmer
who leaves the bank, she hurried across the road, and we heard
the sharp clang of the bell.
"I have seen those symptoms before," said Holmes, throwing
his cigarette into the fire. "Oscillation upon the pavement always means an affaire de coeur. She would like advice, but is
not sure that the matter is not too delicate for communication.
And yet even here we may discriminate. When a woman has
been seriously wronged by a man she no longer oscillates, and
the usual symptom is a broken bell wire. Here we may take it
that there is a love matter, but that the maiden is not so much
angry as perplexed, or grieved. But here she comes in person to
resolve our doubts."
As he spoke there was a tap at the door, and the boy in buttons.
entered to announce Miss Mary Sutherland, while the lady herself loomed behind his small black figure like a full-sailed
merchant-man behind a tiny pilot boat. Sherlock Holmes welcomed her with the easy courtesy for which he was remarkable,
and, having closed the door and bowed her into an armchair, he
looked her over in the minute and yet abstracted fashion which
was peculiar to him.
"Do you not find," he said, "that with your short sight it is a
little trying to do so much typewriting?"
"I did at first," she answered, "but now I know where the
letters are without looking." Then, suddenly realizing the full
purport of his words, she gave a violent start and looked up, with
fear and astonishment upon her broad, good-humoured face.
"You've heard about me, Mr. Holmes," she cried, "else how
could you know all that?"
"Never mind," said Holmes, laughing; "it is my business to
know things. Perhaps I have trained myself to see what others
overlook. If not, why should you come to consult me?"
"I came to you, sir, because I heard of you from Mrs.
Etherege, whose husband you found so easy when the police and
everyone had given him up for dead. Oh, Mr. Holmes, I wish
you would do as much for me. I'm not rich, but still I have a
hundred a year in my own right, besides the little that I make by
the machine, and I would give it all to know what has become of
Mr. Hosmer Angel."
"Why did you come away to consult me in such a hurry?"
asked Sherlock Holmes, with his finger-tips together and his
eyes to the ceiling.
Again a startled look came over the somewhat vacuous face of
Miss Mary Sutherland. "Yes, I did bang out of the house," she
said, "for it made me angry to see the easy way in which Mr.
Windibank -- that is, my father -- took it all. He would not go to
the police, and he would not go to you, and so at last, as he
would do nothing and kept on saying that there was no harm
done, it made me mad, and I just on with my things and came
right away to you."
"Your father," said Holmes, "your stepfather, surely, since
the name is different."
"Yes, my stepfather. I call him father, though it sounds
funny, too, for he is only five years and two months older than
"And your mother is alive?"
"Oh, yes, mother is alive and well. I wasn't best pleased, Mr.
Holmes, when she married again so soon after father's death,
and a man who was nearly fifteen years younger than herself.
Father was a plumber in the Tottenham Court Road, and he left a
tidy business behind him, which mother carried on with Mr.
Hardy, the foreman; but when Mr. Windibank came he made her
sell the business, for he was very superior, being a traveller in
wines. They got 4700 pounds for the goodwill and interest, which
wasn't near as much as father could have got if he had been
I had expected to see Sherlock Holmes impatient under this
rambling and inconsequential narrative, but, on the contrary he
had listened with the greatest concentration of attention.
"Your own little income," he asked, "does it come out of the
"Oh, no, sir. It is quite separate and was left me by my uncle
Ned in Auckland. It is in New Zealand stock, paying 4 1/2 per
cent. Two thousand five hundred pounds was the amount, but I
can only touch the interest."
"You interest me extremely," said Holmes. "And since you
draw so large a sum as a hundred a year, with what you earn into
the bargain, you no doubt travel a little and indulge yourself in
every way. I believe that a single lady can get on very nicely
upon an income of about 60 pounds."
"I could do with much less than that, Mr. Holmes, but you
understand that as long as I live at home I don't wish to be a
burden to them, and so they have the use of the money just while
I am staying with them. Of course, that is only just for the time.
Mr. Windibank draws my interest every quarter and pays it over
to mother, and I find that I can do pretty well with what I earn at
typewriting. It brings me twopence a sheet, and I can often do
from fifteen to twenty sheets in a-day."
"You have made your position very clear to me," said Holmes.
"This is my friend, Dr. Watson, before whom you can speak as
freely as before myself. Kindly tell us now all about your
connection with Mr. Hosmer Angel."
A flush stole over Miss Sutherland's face, and she picked
nervously at the fringe of her jacket. "I met him first at the
gasfitters' ball," she said. "They used to send father tickets
when he was alive, and then afterwards they remembered us, and
sent them to mother. Mr. Windibank did not wish us to go. He
never did wish us to go anywhere. He would get quite mad if I
wanted so much as to join a Sunday-school treat. But this time I
was set on going, and I would go; for what right had he to
prevent? He said the folk were not fit for us to know, when all
father's friends were to be there. And he said that I had nothing
fit to wear, when I had my purple plush that I had never so much
as taken out of the drawer. At last, when nothing else would do,
he went off to France upon the business of the firm, but we
went, mother and I, with Mr. Hardy, who used to be our
foreman, and it was there I met Mr. Hosmer Angel."
"I suppose," said Holmes, "that when Mr. Windibank came
back from France he was very annoyed at your having gone to
"Oh, well, he was very good about it. He laughed, I remember, and shrugged his shoulders, and said there was no use
denying anything to a woman, for she would have her way."
"I see. Then at the gasfitters' ball you met, as I understand, a
gentleman called Mr. Hosmer Angel."
"Yes, sir. I met him that night, and he called next day to ask
if we had got home all safe, and after that we met him -- that is to
say, Mr. Holmes, I met him twice for walks, but after that father
came back again, and Mr. Hosmer Angel could not come to the
house any more."
"Well, you know father didn't like anything of the sort. He
wouldn't have any visitors if he could help it, and he used to say
that a woman should be happy in her own family circle. But
then, as I used to say to mother, a woman wants her own circle
to begin with, and I had not got mine yet."
"But how about Mr. Hosmer Angel? Did he make no attempt
to see you?"
"Well, father was going off to France again in a week, and
Hosmer wrote and said that it would be safer and better not to
see each other until he had gone. We could write in the meantime, and he used to write every day. I took the letters in in the
morning, so there was no need for father to know."
"Were you engaged to the gentleman at this time?"
"Oh, yes, Mr. Holmes. We were engaged after the first walk
that we took. Hosmer -- Mr. Angel -- was a cashier in an office in
Leadenhall Street -- and --"
"That's the worst of it, Mr. Holmes, I don't know."
"Where did he live, then?"
"He slept on the premises."
"And you don't know his address?''
"No -- except that it was Leadenhall Street."
"Where did you address your letters, then?"
"To the Leadenhall Street Post-Office, to be left till called
for. He said that if they were sent to the office he would be
chaffed by all the other clerks about having letters from a lady,
so I offered to typewrite them, like he did his, but he wouldn't
have that, for he said that when I wrote them they seemed to
come from me, but when they were typewritten he always felt
that the machine had come between us. That will just show you
how fond he was of me, Mr. Holmes, and the little things that he
would think of."
"It was most suggestive," said Holmes. "It has long been an
axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important. Can you remember any other little things about Mr. Hosmer
"He was a very shy man, Mr. Holmes. He would rather walk
with me in the evening than in the daylight, for he said that he
hated to be conspicuous. Very retiring and gentlemanly he was.
Even his voice was gentle. He'd had the quinsy and swollen
glands when he was young, he told me, and it had left him with
a weak throat, and a hesitating, whispering fashion of speech.
He was always well dressed, very neat and plain, but his eyes
were weak, just as mine are, and he wore tinted glasses against
"Well, and what happened when Mr. Windibank, your stepfather, returned to France?"
"Mr. Hosmer Angel came to the house again and proposed
that we should marry before father came back. He was in
dreadful earnest and made me swear, with my hands on the
Testament, that whatever happened I would always be true to
him. Mother said he was quite right to make me swear, and that
it was a sign of his passion. Mother was all in his favour from
the first and was even fonder of him than I was. Then, when
they talked of marrying within the week, I began to ask about
father; but they both said never to mind about father, but just to
tell him afterwards, and mother said she would make it all right
with him. I didn't quite like that, Mr. Holmes. It seemed funny
that I should ask his leave, as he was only a few years older than
me; but I didn't want to do anything on the sly, so l wrote to
father at Bordeaux, where the company has its French offices,
but the letter came back to me on the very morning of the
"It missed him, then?"
"Yes, sir; for he had started to England just before it arrived."
"Ha! that was unfortunate. Your wedding was arranged, then,
for the Friday. Was it to be in church?"
"Yes, sir, but very quietly. It was to be at St. Saviour's, near
King's Cross, and we were to have breakfast afterwards at the
St. Pancras Hotel. Hosmer came for us in a hansom, but as there
were two of us he put us both into it and stepped himself into a
four-wheeler, which happened to be the only other cab in the
street. We got to the church first, and when the four-wheeler
drove up we waited for him to step out, but he never did, and
when the cabman got down from the box and looked there was
no one there! The cabman said that he couid not imagine what
had become of him, for he had seen him get in with his own
eyes. That was last Friday, Mr. Holmes, and I have never seen
or heard anything since then to throw any light upon what
became of him."
"It seems to me that you have been very shamefully treated,"
"Oh, no, sir! He was too good and kind to leave me so. Why,
all the morning he was saying to me that, whatever happened, I
was to be true; and that even if something quite unforeseen
occurred to separate us, I was always to remember that I was
pledged to him, and that he would claim his pledge sooner or
later. It seemed strange talk for a wedding-morning, but what
has happened since gives a meaning to it."
"Most certainly it does. Your own opinion is, then, that some
unforeseen catastrophe has occurred to him?"
"Yes, sir. I believe that he foresaw some danger, or else he
would not have talked so. And then I think that what he foresaw
"But you have no notion as to what it could have been?"
"One more question. How did your mother take the matter?"
"She was angry, and said that I was never to speak of the
"And your father? Did you tell him?"
"Yes; and he seemed to think, with me, that something had
happened, and that I should hear of Hosmer again. As he said,
what interest could anyone have in bringing me to the doors of
the church, and then leaving me? Now, if he had borrowed my
money, or if he had married me and got my money settled on
him, there might be some reason, but Hosmer was very independent about money and never would look at a shilling of mine.
And yet, what could have happened? And why could he not
write? Oh, it drives me half-mad to think of it, and I can't sleep
a wink at night." She pulled a little handkerchief out of her muff
and began to sob heavily into it.
"I shall glance into the case for you," said Holmes, rising,
"and I have no doubt that we shall reach some definite result.
Let the weight of the matter rest upon me now, and do not let
your mind dwell upon it further. Above all, try to let Mr.
Hosmer Angel vanish from your memory, as he has done from
"Then you don't think I'll see him again?"
"l fear not."
"Then what has happened to him?"
"You will leave that question in my hands. I should like an
accurate description of him and any letters of his which you can
"I advertised for him in last Saturday's Chronicle," said she.
"Here is the slip and here are four letters from him."
"Thank you. And your address?"
"No. 31 Lyon Place, Camberwell."
"Mr. Angel's address you never had, I understand. Where is
your father's place of business?"
"He travels for Westhouse & Marbank, the great claret importers of Fenchurch Street."
"Thank you. You have made your statement very clearly.
You will leave the papers here, and remember the advice which I
have given you. Let the whole incident be a sealed book, and do
not allow it to affect your life."
"You are very kind, Mr. Holmes, but I cannot do that. I shall
be true to Hosmer. He shall find me ready when he comes
For all the preposterous hat and the vacuous face, there was
something noble in the simple faith of our visitor which compelled our respect. She laid her little bundle of papers upon the
table and went her way, with a promise to come again whenever
she might be summoned.
Sherlock Holmes sat silent for a few minutes with his fingertips still pressed together, his legs stretched out in front of him,
and his gaze directed upward to the ceiling. Then he took down
from the rack the old and oily clay pipe, which was to him as a
counsellor, and, having lit it, he leaned back in his chair, with
the thick blue cloud-wreaths spinning up from him, and a look of
infinite languor in his face.
"Quite an interesting study, that maiden," he observed. "I
found her more interesting than her little problem, which, by the
way, is rather a trite one. You will find parallel cases, if you
consult my index, in Andover in '77, and there was something of
the sort at The Hague last year. Old as is the idea, however,
there were one or two details which were new to me. But the
maiden herself was most instructive."
"You appeared to read a good deal upon her which was quite
invisible to me," I remarked.
"Not invisible but unnoticed, Watson. You did not know
where to look, and so you missed all that was important. I can
never bring you to realize the importance of sleeves, the suggestiveness of thumb-nails, or the great issues that may hang from a
boot-lace. Now, what did you gather from that woman's appearance? Describe it."
"Well, she had a slate-coloured, broad-brimmed straw hat,
with a feather of a brickish red. Her jacket was black, with black
beads sewn upon it, and a fringe of little black jet ornaments.
Her dress was brown, rather darker than coffee colour, with a
little purple plush at the neck and sleeves. Her gloves were
grayish and were worn through at the right forefinger. Her boots
I didn't observe. She had small round, hanging gold earrings,
and a general air of being fairly well-to-do in a vulgar, comfortable, easy-going way."
Sherlock Holmes clapped his hands softly together and chuckled.
" 'Pon my word, Watson, you are coming along wonderfully.
You have really done very well indeed. It is true that you have
missed everything of importance, but you have hit upon the
method, and you have a quick eye for colour. Never trust to
general impressions, my boy, but concentrate yourself upon
details. My first glance is always at a woman's sleeve. In a man
it is perhaps better first to take the knee of the trouser. As you
observe, this woman had plush upon her sleeves, which is a most
useful material for showing traces. The double line a little above
the wrist, where the typewritist presses against the table, was
beautifully defined. The sewing-machine, of the hand type, leaves
a similar mark, but only on the left arm, and on the side of it
farthest from the thumb, instead of being right across the broadest part, as this was. I then glanced at her face, and, observing
the dint of a pince-nez at either side of her nose, I ventured a
remark upon short sight and typewriting, which seemed to surprise her."
"It surprised me."
"But, surely, it was obvious. I was then much surprised and
interested on glancing down to observe that, though the boots
which she was wearing were not unlike each other, they were
really odd ones; the one having a slightly decorated toe-cap, and
the other a plain one. One was buttoned only in the two lower
buttons out of five, and the other at the first, third, and fifth.
Now, when you see that a young lady, otherwise neatly dressed,
has come away from home with odd boots, half-buttoned, it is
no great deduction to say that she came away in a hurry."
"And what else?" I asked, keenly interested, as I always was,
by my friend's incisive reasoning.
"I noted, in passing, that she had written a note before leaving
home but after being fully dressed. You observed that her right
glove was torn at the forefinger, but you did not apparently see
that both glove and finger were stained with violet ink. She had
written in a hurry and dipped her pen too deep. It must have
been this morning, or the mark would not remain clear upon the
finger. All this is amusing, though rather elementary, but I must
go back to business, Watson. Would you mind reading me the
advertised description of Mr. Hosmer Angel?"
I held the little printed slip to the light.
"Missing [it said] on the morning of the fourteenth. a
gentleman named Hosmer Angel. About five feet seven
inches in height; strongly built, sallow complexion, black
hair, a little bald in the centre, bushy, black side-whiskers
and moustache; tinted glasses, slight infirmity of speech.
Was dressed, when last seen, in black frock-coat faced with
silk, black waistcoat, gold Albert chain, and gray Harris
tweed trousers, with brown gaiters over elastic-sided boots.
Known to have been employed in an office in Leadenhall
Street. Anybody bringing --"
"That will do," said Holmes. "As to the letters," he continued, glancing over them, "they are very commonplace. Absolutely no clue in them to Mr. Angel, save that he quotes Balzac
once. There is one remarkable point, however, which will no
doubt strike you."
"They are typewritten," I remarked.
"Not only that, but the signature is typewritten. Look at the
neat little 'Hosmer Angel' at the bottom. There is a date, you
see, but no superscription except Leadenhall Street, which is
rather vague. The point about the signature is very suggestive -- in
fact, we may call it conclusive."
"My dear fellow, is it possible you do not see how strongly it
bears upon the case?"
"I cannot say that I do unless it were that he wished to be able
to deny his signature if an action for breach of promise were
"No, that was not the point. However, I shall write two
letters, which should settle the matter. One is to a firm in the
City, the other is to the young lady's stepfather, Mr. Windibank,
asking him whether he could meet us here at six o'clock tomorrow evening. It is just as well that we should do business
with the male relatives. And now, Doctor, we can do nothing
until the answers to those letters come, so we may put our little
problem upon the shelf for the interim."
I had had so many reasons to believe in my friend's subtle
powers of reasoning and extraordinary energy in action that I felt
that he must have some solid grounds for the assured and easy
demeanour with which he treated the singular mystery which he
had been called upon to fathom. Once only had I known him to
fail, in the case of the King of Bohemia and of the Irene Adler
photograph; but when I looked back to the weird business of
'The Sign of Four', and the extraordinary circumstances connected with 'A Study in Scarlet', I felt that it would be a strange
tangle indeed which he could not unravel.
I left him then, still puffing at his black clay pipe, with the
conviction that when I came again on the next evening I would
find that he held in his hands all the clues which would lead up
to the identity of the disappearing bridegroom of Miss Mary
A professional case of great gravity was engaging my own
attention at the time, and the whole of next day I was busy at the
bedside of the sufferer. It was not until close upon six o'clock
that I found myself free and was able to spring into a hansom
and drive to Baker Street, half afraid that I might be too late to
assist at the denouement of the little mystery. I found Sherlock
Holmes alone, however, half asleep, with his long, thin form
curled up in the recesses of his armchair. A formidable array of
bottles and test-tubes, with the pungent cleanly smell of hydrochloric acid, told me that he had spent his day in the chemical
work which was so dear to him.
"Well, have you solved it?" I asked as I entered.
"Yes. It was the bisulphate of baryta."
"No, no, the mystery!" I cried.
"Oh, that! I thought of the salt that I have been working upon.
There was never any mystery in the matter, though, as I said
yesterday, some of the details are of interest. The only drawback
is that there is no law, I fear, that can touch the scoundrel."
"Who was he, then, and what was his object in deserting Miss
The question was hardly out of my mouth, and Holmes had
not yet opened his lips to reply, when we heard a heavy footfall
in the passage and a tap at the door.
"This is the girl's stepfather, Mr. James Windibank," said
Holmes. "He has written to me to say that he would be here at
six. Come in!"
The man who entered was a sturdy, middle-sized fellow, some
thirty years of age, clean-shaven, and sallow-skinned, with a
bland, insinuating manner, and a pair of wonderfully sharp and
penetrating gray eyes. He shot a questioning glance at each of
us, placed his shiny top-hat upon the sideboard, and with a slight
bow sidled down into the nearest chair.
"Good-evening, Mr. James Windibank," said Holmes. "I
think that this typewritten letter is from you, in which you made
an appointment with me for six o'clock?"
"Yes, sir. I am afraid that I am a little late, but I am not quite
my own master, you know. I am sorry that Miss Sutherland has
troubled you about this little matter, for I think it is far better not
to wash linen of the sort in public. It was quite against my
wishes that she came, but she is a very excitable, impulsive girl,
as you may have noticed, and she is not easily controlled when
she has made up her mind on a point. Of course, I did not mind
you so much, as you are not connected with the official police,
but it is not pleasant to have a family misfortune like this noised
abroad. Besides, it is a useless expense, for how could you
possibly find this Hosmer Angel?"
"On the contrary," said Holmes quietly; "I have every reason
to believe that I will succeed in discovering Mr. Hosmer Angel."
Mr. Windibank gave a violent start and dropped his gloves. "I
am delighted to hear it," he said.
"It is a curious thing," remarked Holmes, "that a typewriter
has really quite as much individuality as a man's handwriting.
Unless they are quite new, no two of them write exactly alike.
Some letters get more worn than others, and some wear only on
one side. Now, you remark in this note of yours, Mr. Windibank,
that in every case there is some little slurring over of the 'e,' and
a slight defect in the tail of the 'r.' There are fourteen other
characteristics, but those are the more obvious."
"We do all our correspondence with this machine at the
office, and no doubt it is a little worn," our visitor answered.
glancing keenly at Holmes with his bright little eyes.
"And now I will show you what is really a very interesting
study, Mr. Windibank," Holmes continued. "I think of writing
another little monograph some of these days on the typewriter
and its relation to crime. It is a subject to which I have devoted
some little attention. I have here four letters which purport to
come from the missing man. They are all typewritten. In each
case, not only are the 'e's' slurred and the 'r's' tailless, but you
will observe, if you care to use my magnifying lens, that the
fourteen other characteristics to which I have alluded are there as
Mr. Windibank sprang out of his chair and picked up his hat.
"I cannot waste time over this sort of fantastic talk, Mr. Holmes,"
he said. "If you can catch the man, catch him, and let me know
when you have done it."
"Certainly," said Holmes, stepping over and turning the key
in the door. "I let you know, then, that I have caught him!"
"What! where?" shouted Mr. Windibank, turning white to his
lips and glancing about him like a rat in a trap.
"Oh, it won't do -- really it won't," said Holmes suavely.
"There is no possible getting out of it, Mr. Windibank. It is
quite too transparent, and it was a very bad compliment when
you said that it was impossible for me to solve so simple a
question. That's right! Sit down and let us talk it over."
Our visitor collapsed into a chair, with a ghastly face and a
glitter of moisture on his brow. "It -- it's not actionable," he
"I am very much afraid that it is not. But between ourselves,
Windibank, it was as cruel and selfish and heartless a trick in a
petty way as ever came before me. Now, let me just run over the
course of events, and you will contradict me if I go wrong."
The man sat huddled up in his chair, with his head sunk upon
his breast, like one who is utterly crushed. Holmes stuck his feet
up on the corner of the mantelpiece and, leaning back with his
hands in his pockets, began talking, rather to himself, as it
seemed, than to us.
"The man married a woman very much older than himself for
her money," said he, "and he enjoyed the use of the money of
the daughter as long as she lived with them. It was a considerable sum, for people in their position, and the loss of it would
have made a serious difference. It was worth an effort to preserve it. The daughter was of a good, amiable disposition, but
alfectionate and warm-hearted in her ways. so that it was evident
that with her fair personal advantages, and her little income, she
would not be allowed to remain single long. Now her marriage
would mean, of course, the loss of a hundred a year, so what
does her stepfather do to prevent it? He takes the obvious course
of keeping her at home and forbidding her to seek the company
of people of her own age. But soon he found that that would not
answer forever. She became restive, insisted upon her rights, and
finally announced her positive intention of going to a certain
ball. What does her clever stepfather do then? He conceives an
idea more creditable to his head than to his heart. With the
connivance and assistance of his wife he disguised himself,
covered those keen eyes with tinted glasses, masked the face
with a moustache and a pair of bushy whiskers, sunk that clear
voice into an insinuating whisper, and doubly secure on account
of the girl's short sight, he appears as Mr. Hosmer Angel, and
keeps off other lovers by making love himself."
"It was only a joke at first," groaned our visitor. "We never
thought that she would have been so carried away."
"Very likely not. However that may be, the young lady was
very decidedly carried away, and, having quite made up her
mind that her stepfather was in France, the suspicion of treachery never for an instant entered her mind. She was flattered by
the gentleman's attentions, and the effect was increased by the
loudly expressed admiration of her mother. Then Mr. Angel
began to call, for it was obvious that the matter should be pushed
as far as it would go if a real effect were to be produced. There
were meetings, and an engagement, which would finally secure
the girl's affections from turning towards anyone else. But the
deception could not be kept up forever. These pretended journeys to France were rather cumbrous. The thing to do was
clearly to bring the business to an end in such a dramatic manner
that it would leave a permanent impression upon the young
lady's mind and prevent her from looking upon any other suitor
for some time to come. Hence those vows of fidelity exacted
upon a Testament, and hence also the allusions to a possibility of
something happening on the very morning of the wedding. James
Windibank wished Miss Sutherland to be so bound to Hosmer
Angel, and so uncertain as to his fate, that for ten years to come,
at any rate, she would not listen to another man. As far as the
church door he brought her, and then, as he could go no farther,
he conveniently vanished away by the old trick of stepping in at
one door of a four-wheeler and out at the other. I think that was
the chain of events, Mr. Windibank!"
Our visitor had recovered something of his assurance while
Holmes had been talking, and he rose from his chair now with a
cold sneer upon his pale face.
"It may be so, or it may not. Mr. Holmes," said he. "but if
you are so very sharp you ought to be sharp enough to know that
it is you who are breaking the law now, and not me. I have done
nothing actionable from the first, but as long as you keep that
door locked you lay yourself open to an action for assault and
"The law cannot, as you say, touch you," said Holmes,
unlocking and throwing open the door, "yet there never was a
man who deserved punishment more. If the young lady has a
brother or a friend, he ought to lay a whip across your shoulders.
By Jove!" he continued, flushing up at the sight of the bitter
sneer upon the man's face, "it is not part of my duties to my
client, but here's a hunting crop handy, and I think I shall just
treat myself to --" He took two swift steps to the whip, but
before he could grasp it there was a wild clatter of steps upon the
stairs, the heavy hall door banged, and from the window we
could see Mr. James Windibank running at the top of his speed
down the road.
"There's a cold-blooded scoundrel!" said Holmes, laughing,
as he threw himself down into his chair once more. "That fellow
will rise from crime to crime until he does something very bad,
and ends on a gallows. The case has, in some respects, been not
entirely devoid of interest."
"I cannot now entirely see all the steps of your reasoning," I
"Well, of course it was obvious from the first that this Mr.
Hosmer Angel must have some strong object for his curious
conduct, and it was equally clear that the only man who really
profited by the incident, as far as we could see, was the stepfather. Then the fact that the two men were never together, but
that the one always appeared when the other was away, was
suggestive. So were the tinted spectacles and the curious voice,
which both hinted at a disguise, as did the bushy whiskers. My
suspicions were all confirmed by his peculiar action in typewriting his signature, which, of course, inferred that his handwriting
was so familiar to her that she would recognize even the smallest
sample of it. You see all these isolated facts, together with many
minor ones, all pointed in the same direction."
"And how did you verify them?"
"Having once spotted my man, it was easy to get corroboration. I knew the firm for which this man worked. Having taken
the printed description. I eliminated everything from it which
could be the result of a disguise -- the whiskers, the glasses, the
voice, and I sent it to the firm, with a request that they would
inform me whether it answered to the description of any of their
travellers. I had already noticed the peculiarities of the typewriter, and I wrote to the man himself at his business address
asking him if he would come here. As I expected, his reply was
typewritten and revealed the same trivial but characteristic defects. The same post brought me a letter from Westhouse &
Marbank, of Fenchurch Street, to say that the description tallied
in every respect with that of their employee, James Windibank.
"And Miss Sutherland?"
"If I tell her she will not believe me. You may remember the
old Persian saying, 'There is danger for him who taketh the tiger
cub, and danger also for whoso snatches a delusion from a
woman.' There is as much sense in Hafiz as in Horace, and as
much knowledge of the world."