other side was the door which communicated with the veranda. A desk
stood in the centre, with a turning-chair of shining red leather.
Opposite was a large bookcase, with a marble bust of Athene on the top.
In the corner, between the bookcase and the wall, there stood a tall,
green safe, the firelight flashing back from the polished brass knobs
upon its face. Holmes stole across and looked at it. Then he crept
to the door of the bedroom, and stood with slanting head listening
intently. No sound came from within. Meanwhile it had struck me that
it would be wise to secure our retreat through the outer door, so
I examined it. To my amazement, it was neither locked nor bolted.
I touched Holmes on the arm, and he turned his masked face in that
direction. I saw him start, and he was evidently as surprised as I.
"I don't like it," he whispered, putting his lips to my very ear. "I
can't quite make it out. Anyhow, we have no time to lose."
"Can I do anything?"
"Yes, stand by the door. If you hear anyone come, bolt it on the inside,
and we can get away as we came. If they come the other way, we can
get through the door if our job is done, or hide behind these window
curtains if it is not. Do you understand?"
I nodded, and stood by the door. My first feeling of fear had passed
away, and I thrilled now with a keener zest than I had ever enjoyed when
we were the defenders of the law instead of its defiers. The high object
of our mission, the consciousness that it was unselfish and chivalrous,
the villainous character of our opponent, all added to the sporting
interest of the adventure. Far from feeling guilty, I rejoiced and
exulted in our dangers. With a glow of admiration I watched Holmes
unrolling his case of instruments and choosing his tool with the calm,
scientific accuracy of a surgeon who performs a delicate operation. I
knew that the opening of safes was a particular hobby with him, and I
understood the joy which it gave him to be confronted with this green
and gold monster, the dragon which held in its maw the reputations of
many fair ladies. Turning up the cuffs of his dress-coat - he had placed
his overcoat on a chair - Holmes laid out two drills, a jemmy, and
several skeleton keys. I stood at the centre door with my eyes glancing
at each of the others, ready for any emergency, though, indeed, my plans
were somewhat vague as to what I should do if we were interrupted. For
half an hour, Holmes worked with concentrated energy, laying down one
tool, picking up another, handling each with the strength and delicacy
of the trained mechanic. Finally I heard a click, the broad green door
swung open, and inside I had a glimpse of a number of paper packets,
each tied, sealed, and inscribed. Holmes picked one out, but it was as
hard to read by the flickering fire, and he drew out his little dark
lantern, for it was too dangerous, with Milverton in the next room, to
switch on the electric light. Suddenly I saw him halt, listen intently,
and then in an instant he had swung the door of the safe to, picked
up his coat, stuffed his tools into the pockets, and darted behind the
window curtain, motioning me to do the same.
It was only when I had joined him there that I heard what had alarmed
his quicker senses. There was a noise somewhere within the house. A door
slammed in the distance. Then a confused, dull murmur broke itself into
the measured thud of heavy footsteps rapidly approaching. They were in
the passage outside the room. They paused at the door. The door opened.
There was a sharp snick as the electric light was turned on. The door
closed once more, and the pungent reek of a strong cigar was borne
to our nostrils. Then the footsteps continued backward and forward,
backward and forward, within a few yards of us. Finally there was a
creak from a chair, and the footsteps ceased. Then a key clicked in a
lock, and I heard the rustle of papers.
So far I had not dared to look out, but now I gently parted the division
of the curtains in front of me and peeped through. From the pressure
of Holmes's shoulder against mine, I knew that he was sharing my
observations. Right in front of us, and almost within our reach, was the
broad, rounded back of Milverton. It was evident that we had entirely
miscalculated his movements, that he had never been to his bedroom,
but that he had been sitting up in some smoking or billiard room in the
farther wing of the house, the windows of which we had not seen. His
broad, grizzled head, with its shining patch of baldness, was in the
immediate foreground of our vision. He was leaning far back in the red
leather chair, his legs outstretched, a long, black cigar projecting
at an angle from his mouth. He wore a semi-military smoking jacket,
claret-coloured, with a black velvet collar. In his hand he held a long,
legal document which he was reading in an indolent fashion, blowing
rings of tobacco smoke from his lips as he did so. There was no promise
of a speedy departure in his composed bearing and his comfortable
I felt Holmes's hand steal into mine and give me a reassuring shake, as
if to say that the situation was within his powers, and that he was
easy in his mind. I was not sure whether he had seen what was only too
obvious from my position, that the door of the safe was imperfectly
closed, and that Milverton might at any moment observe it. In my own
mind I had determined that if I were sure, from the rigidity of his
gaze, that it had caught his eye, I would at once spring out, throw my
great coat over his head, pinion him, and leave the rest to Holmes. But
Milverton never looked up. He was languidly interested by the papers in
his hand, and page after page was turned as he followed the argument of
the lawyer. At least, I thought, when he has finished the document and
the cigar he will go to his room, but before he had reached the end of
either, there came a remarkable development, which turned our thoughts
into quite another channel.
Several times I had observed that Milverton looked at his watch, and
once he had risen and sat down again, with a gesture of impatience. The
idea, however, that he might have an appointment at so strange an
hour never occurred to me until a faint sound reached my ears from
the veranda outside. Milverton dropped his papers and sat rigid in his
chair. The sound was repeated, and then there came a gentle tap at the
door. Milverton rose and opened it.
"Well," said he, curtly, "you are nearly half an hour late."
So this was the explanation of the unlocked door and of the nocturnal
vigil of Milverton. There was the gentle rustle of a woman's dress. I
had closed the slit between the curtains as Milverton's face had turned
in our direction, but now I ventured very carefully to open it once
more. He had resumed his seat, the cigar still projecting at an insolent
angle from the corner of his mouth. In front of him, in the full glare
of the electric light, there stood a tall, slim, dark woman, a veil over
her face, a mantle drawn round her chin. Her breath came quick and fast,
and every inch of the lithe figure was quivering with strong emotion.
"Well," said Milverton, "you made me lose a good night's rest, my dear.
I hope you'll prove worth it. You couldn't come any other time - eh?"
The woman shook her head.
"Well, if you couldn't you couldn't. If the Countess is a hard mistress,
you have your chance to get level with her now. Bless the girl, what are
you shivering about? That's right. Pull yourself together. Now, let us
get down to business." He took a notebook from the drawer of his desk.
"You say that you have five letters which compromise the Countess
d'Albert. You want to sell them. I want to buy them. So far so good. It
only remains to fix a price. I should want to inspect the letters, of
course. If they are really good specimens - Great heavens, is it you?"
The woman, without a word, had raised her veil and dropped the mantle
from her chin. It was a dark, handsome, clear-cut face which confronted
Milverton - a face with a curved nose, strong, dark eyebrows shading
hard, glittering eyes, and a straight, thin-lipped mouth set in a
"It is I," she said, "the woman whose life you have ruined."
Milverton laughed, but fear vibrated in his voice. "You were so very
obstinate," said he. "Why did you drive me to such extremities? I
assure you I wouldn't hurt a fly of my own accord, but every man has his
business, and what was I to do? I put the price well within your means.
You would not pay."
"So you sent the letters to my husband, and he - the noblest gentleman
that ever lived, a man whose boots I was never worthy to lace - he broke
his gallant heart and died. You remember that last night, when I came
through that door, I begged and prayed you for mercy, and you laughed
in my face as you are trying to laugh now, only your coward heart cannot
keep your lips from twitching. Yes, you never thought to see me here
again, but it was that night which taught me how I could meet you face
to face, and alone. Well, Charles Milverton, what have you to say?"
"Don't imagine that you can bully me," said he, rising to his feet. "I
have only to raise my voice and I could call my servants and have you
arrested. But I will make allowance for your natural anger. Leave the
room at once as you came, and I will say no more."
The woman stood with her hand buried in her bosom, and the same deadly
smile on her thin lips.
"You will ruin no more lives as you have ruined mine. You will wring
no more hearts as you wrung mine. I will free the world of a poisonous
thing. Take that, you hound - and that! - and that! - and that!"
She had drawn a little gleaming revolver, and emptied barrel after
barrel into Milverton's body, the muzzle within two feet of his shirt
front. He shrank away and then fell forward upon the table, coughing
furiously and clawing among the papers. Then he staggered to his feet,
received another shot, and rolled upon the floor. "You've done me," he
cried, and lay still. The woman looked at him intently, and ground her
heel into his upturned face. She looked again, but there was no sound
or movement. I heard a sharp rustle, the night air blew into the heated
room, and the avenger was gone.
No interference upon our part could have saved the man from his fate,
but, as the woman poured bullet after bullet into Milverton's shrinking
body I was about to spring out, when I felt Holmes's cold, strong grasp
upon my wrist. I understood the whole argument of that firm, restraining
grip - that it was no affair of ours, that justice had overtaken a
villain, that we had our own duties and our own objects, which were not
to be lost sight of. But hardly had the woman rushed from the room when
Holmes, with swift, silent steps, was over at the other door. He turned
the key in the lock. At the same instant we heard voices in the house
and the sound of hurrying feet. The revolver shots had roused the
household. With perfect coolness Holmes slipped across to the safe,
filled his two arms with bundles of letters, and poured them all into
the fire. Again and again he did it, until the safe was empty. Someone
turned the handle and beat upon the outside of the door. Holmes looked
swiftly round. The letter which had been the messenger of death for
Milverton lay, all mottled with his blood, upon the table. Holmes tossed
it in among the blazing papers. Then he drew the key from the outer
door, passed through after me, and locked it on the outside. "This way,
Watson," said he, "we can scale the garden wall in this direction."
I could not have believed that an alarm could have spread so swiftly.
Looking back, the huge house was one blaze of light. The front door
was open, and figures were rushing down the drive. The whole garden was
alive with people, and one fellow raised a view-halloa as we emerged
from the veranda and followed hard at our heels. Holmes seemed to
know the grounds perfectly, and he threaded his way swiftly among
a plantation of small trees, I close at his heels, and our foremost
pursuer panting behind us. It was a six-foot wall which barred our path,
but he sprang to the top and over. As I did the same I felt the hand
of the man behind me grab at my ankle, but I kicked myself free and
scrambled over a grass-strewn coping. I fell upon my face among some
bushes, but Holmes had me on my feet in an instant, and together we
dashed away across the huge expanse of Hampstead Heath. We had run two
miles, I suppose, before Holmes at last halted and listened intently.
All was absolute silence behind us. We had shaken off our pursuers and
We had breakfasted and were smoking our morning pipe on the day after
the remarkable experience which I have recorded, when Mr. Lestrade, of
Scotland Yard, very solemn and impressive, was ushered into our modest
"Good-morning, Mr. Holmes," said he; "good-morning. May I ask if you are
very busy just now?"
"Not too busy to listen to you."
"I thought that, perhaps, if you had nothing particular on hand, you
might care to assist us in a most remarkable case, which occurred only
last night at Hampstead."
"Dear me!" said Holmes. "What was that?"
"A murder - a most dramatic and remarkable murder. I know how keen you
are upon these things, and I would take it as a great favour if you
would step down to Appledore Towers, and give us the benefit of your
advice. It is no ordinary crime. We have had our eyes upon this Mr.
Milverton for some time, and, between ourselves, he was a bit of a
villain. He is known to have held papers which he used for blackmailing
purposes. These papers have all been burned by the murderers. No article
of value was taken, as it is probable that the criminals were men of
good position, whose sole object was to prevent social exposure."
"Criminals?" said Holmes. "Plural?"
"Yes, there were two of them. They were as nearly as possible captured
red-handed. We have their footmarks, we have their description, it's ten
to one that we trace them. The first fellow was a bit too active, but
the second was caught by the under-gardener, and only got away after a
struggle. He was a middle-sized, strongly built man - square jaw, thick
neck, moustache, a mask over his eyes."
"That's rather vague," said Sherlock Holmes. "My, it might be a
description of Watson!"
"It's true," said the inspector, with amusement. "It might be a
description of Watson."
"Well, I'm afraid I can't help you, Lestrade," said Holmes. "The fact is
that I knew this fellow Milverton, that I considered him one of the most
dangerous men in London, and that I think there are certain crimes
which the law cannot touch, and which therefore, to some extent, justify
private revenge. No, it's no use arguing. I have made up my mind. My
sympathies are with the criminals rather than with the victim, and I
will not handle this case."
Holmes had not said one word to me about the tragedy which we had
witnessed, but I observed all the morning that he was in his most
thoughtful mood, and he gave me the impression, from his vacant eyes and
his abstracted manner, of a man who is striving to recall something to
his memory. We were in the middle of our lunch, when he suddenly sprang
to his feet. "By Jove, Watson, I've got it!" he cried. "Take your hat!
Come with me!" He hurried at his top speed down Baker Street and along
Oxford Street, until we had almost reached Regent Circus. Here, on the
left hand, there stands a shop window filled with photographs of the
celebrities and beauties of the day. Holmes's eyes fixed themselves upon
one of them, and following his gaze I saw the picture of a regal and
stately lady in Court dress, with a high diamond tiara upon her noble
head. I looked at that delicately curved nose, at the marked eyebrows,
at the straight mouth, and the strong little chin beneath it. Then I
caught my breath as I read the time-honoured title of the great nobleman
and statesman whose wife she had been. My eyes met those of Holmes, and
he put his finger to his lips as we turned away from the window.
THE ADVENTURE OF THE SIX NAPOLEONS
It was no very unusual thing for Mr. Lestrade, of Scotland Yard, to
look in upon us of an evening, and his visits were welcome to Sherlock
Holmes, for they enabled him to keep in touch with all that was going on
at the police headquarters. In return for the news which Lestrade would
bring, Holmes was always ready to listen with attention to the
details of any case upon which the detective was engaged, and was able
occasionally, without any active interference, to give some hint or
suggestion drawn from his own vast knowledge and experience.
On this particular evening, Lestrade had spoken of the weather and
the newspapers. Then he had fallen silent, puffing thoughtfully at his
cigar. Holmes looked keenly at him.
"Anything remarkable on hand?" he asked.
"Oh, no, Mr. Holmes - nothing very particular."
"Then tell me about it."
"Well, Mr. Holmes, there is no use denying that there IS something on my
mind. And yet it is such an absurd business, that I hesitated to
bother you about it. On the other hand, although it is trivial, it is
undoubtedly queer, and I know that you have a taste for all that is out
of the common. But, in my opinion, it comes more in Dr. Watson's line
"Disease?" said I.
"Madness, anyhow. And a queer madness, too. You wouldn't think there was
anyone living at this time of day who had such a hatred of Napoleon the
First that he would break any image of him that he could see."
Holmes sank back in his chair.
"That's no business of mine," said he.
"Exactly. That's what I said. But then, when the man commits burglary
in order to break images which are not his own, that brings it away from
the doctor and on to the policeman."
Holmes sat up again.
"Burglary! This is more interesting. Let me hear the details."
Lestrade took out his official notebook and refreshed his memory from
"The first case reported was four days ago," said he. "It was at the
shop of Morse Hudson, who has a place for the sale of pictures and
statues in the Kennington Road. The assistant had left the front shop
for an instant, when he heard a crash, and hurrying in he found a
plaster bust of Napoleon, which stood with several other works of art
upon the counter, lying shivered into fragments. He rushed out into the
road, but, although several passers-by declared that they had noticed a
man run out of the shop, he could neither see anyone nor could he
find any means of identifying the rascal. It seemed to be one of those
senseless acts of Hooliganism which occur from time to time, and it was
reported to the constable on the beat as such. The plaster cast was not
worth more than a few shillings, and the whole affair appeared to be too
childish for any particular investigation.
"The second case, however, was more serious, and also more singular. It
occurred only last night.
"In Kennington Road, and within a few hundred yards of Morse Hudson's
shop, there lives a well-known medical practitioner, named Dr. Barnicot,
who has one of the largest practices upon the south side of the Thames.
His residence and principal consulting-room is at Kennington Road, but
he has a branch surgery and dispensary at Lower Brixton Road, two miles
away. This Dr. Barnicot is an enthusiastic admirer of Napoleon, and his
house is full of books, pictures, and relics of the French Emperor. Some
little time ago he purchased from Morse Hudson two duplicate plaster
casts of the famous head of Napoleon by the French sculptor, Devine. One
of these he placed in his hall in the house at Kennington Road, and the
other on the mantelpiece of the surgery at Lower Brixton. Well, when Dr.
Barnicot came down this morning he was astonished to find that his house
had been burgled during the night, but that nothing had been taken save
the plaster head from the hall. It had been carried out and had been
dashed savagely against the garden wall, under which its splintered
fragments were discovered."
Holmes rubbed his hands.
"This is certainly very novel," said he.
"I thought it would please you. But I have not got to the end yet. Dr.
Barnicot was due at his surgery at twelve o'clock, and you can imagine
his amazement when, on arriving there, he found that the window had been
opened in the night and that the broken pieces of his second bust were
strewn all over the room. It had been smashed to atoms where it stood.
In neither case were there any signs which could give us a clue as to
the criminal or lunatic who had done the mischief. Now, Mr. Holmes, you
have got the facts."
"They are singular, not to say grotesque," said Holmes. "May I ask
whether the two busts smashed in Dr. Barnicot's rooms were the exact
duplicates of the one which was destroyed in Morse Hudson's shop?"
"They were taken from the same mould."
"Such a fact must tell against the theory that the man who breaks them
is influenced by any general hatred of Napoleon. Considering how many
hundreds of statues of the great Emperor must exist in London, it is
too much to suppose such a coincidence as that a promiscuous iconoclast
should chance to begin upon three specimens of the same bust."
"Well, I thought as you do," said Lestrade. "On the other hand, this
Morse Hudson is the purveyor of busts in that part of London, and these
three were the only ones which had been in his shop for years. So,
although, as you say, there are many hundreds of statues in London, it
is very probable that these three were the only ones in that district.
Therefore, a local fanatic would begin with them. What do you think, Dr.
"There are no limits to the possibilities of monomania," I answered.
"There is the condition which the modern French psychologists have
called the 'IDEE FIXE,' which may be trifling in character, and
accompanied by complete sanity in every other way. A man who had read
deeply about Napoleon, or who had possibly received some hereditary
family injury through the great war, might conceivably form such an IDEE
FIXE and under its influence be capable of any fantastic outrage."
"That won't do, my dear Watson," said Holmes, shaking his head, "for no
amount of IDEE FIXE would enable your interesting monomaniac to find out
where these busts were situated."
"Well, how do YOU explain it?"
"I don't attempt to do so. I would only observe that there is a certain
method in the gentleman's eccentric proceedings. For example, in Dr.
Barnicot's hall, where a sound might arouse the family, the bust was
taken outside before being broken, whereas in the surgery, where there
was less danger of an alarm, it was smashed where it stood. The affair
seems absurdly trifling, and yet I dare call nothing trivial when I
reflect that some of my most classic cases have had the least promising
commencement. You will remember, Watson, how the dreadful business of
the Abernetty family was first brought to my notice by the depth which
the parsley had sunk into the butter upon a hot day. I can't afford,
therefore, to smile at your three broken busts, Lestrade, and I shall
be very much obliged to you if you will let me hear of any fresh
development of so singular a chain of events."
The development for which my friend had asked came in a quicker and an
infinitely more tragic form than he could have imagined. I was still
dressing in my bedroom next morning, when there was a tap at the door
and Holmes entered, a telegram in his hand. He read it aloud:
"Come instantly, 131 Pitt Street, Kensington.
"What is it, then?" I asked.
"Don't know - may be anything. But I suspect it is the sequel of the
story of the statues. In that case our friend the image-breaker has
begun operations in another quarter of London. There's coffee on the
table, Watson, and I have a cab at the door."
In half an hour we had reached Pitt Street, a quiet little backwater
just beside one of the briskest currents of London life. No. 131 was one
of a row, all flat-chested, respectable, and most unromantic dwellings.
As we drove up, we found the railings in front of the house lined by a
curious crowd. Holmes whistled.
"By George! It's attempted murder at the least. Nothing less will hold
the London message-boy. There's a deed of violence indicated in that
fellow's round shoulders and outstretched neck. What's this, Watson? The
top steps swilled down and the other ones dry. Footsteps enough, anyhow!
Well, well, there's Lestrade at the front window, and we shall soon know