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Vol. xxvii. JANUARY, 1904. No. 157.



Copyright, 1904, by A. Conan Doyle in the United States of America.

_IV. - The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist._

From the years 1894 to 1901 inclusive Mr. Sherlock Holmes was a very
busy man. It is safe to say that there was no public case of any
difficulty in which he was not consulted during those eight years, and
there were hundreds of private cases, some of them of the most
intricate, and extraordinary character, in which he played a prominent
part. Many startling successes and a few unavoidable failures were the
outcome of this long period of continuous work. As I have preserved very
full notes of all these cases, and was myself personally engaged in many
of them, it may be imagined that it is no easy task to know which I
should select to lay before the public. I shall, however, preserve my
former rule, and give the preference to those cases which derive their
interest not so much from the brutality of the crime as from the
ingenuity and dramatic quality of the solution. For this reason I will
now lay before the reader the facts connected with Miss Violet Smith,
the solitary cyclist of Charlington, and the curious sequel of our
investigation, which culminated in unexpected tragedy. It is true that
the circumstances did not admit of any striking illustration of those
powers for which my friend was famous, but there were some points about
the case which made it stand out in those long records of crime from
which I gather the material for these little narratives.

On referring to my note-book for the year 1895 I find that it was upon
Saturday, the 23rd of April, that we first heard of Miss Violet Smith.
Her visit was, I remember, extremely unwelcome to Holmes, for he was
immersed at the moment in a very abstruse and complicated problem
concerning the peculiar persecution to which John Vincent Harden, the
well-known tobacco millionaire, had been subjected. My friend, who loved
above all things precision and concentration of thought, resented
anything which distracted his attention from the matter in hand. And yet
without a harshness which was foreign to his nature it was impossible to
refuse to listen to the story of the young and beautiful woman, tall,
graceful, and queenly, who presented herself at Baker Street late in the
evening and implored his assistance and advice. It was vain to urge that
his time was already fully occupied, for the young lady had come with
the determination to tell her story, and it was evident that nothing
short of force could get her out of the room until she had done so. With
a resigned air and a somewhat weary smile, Holmes begged the beautiful
intruder to take a seat and to inform us what it was that was troubling

"At least it cannot be your health," said he, as his keen eyes darted
over her; "so ardent a bicyclist must be full of energy."

She glanced down in surprise at her own feet, and I observed the slight
roughening of the side of the sole caused by the friction of the edge of
the pedal.

"Yes, I bicycle a good deal, Mr. Holmes, and that has something to do
with my visit to you to-day."

My friend took the lady's ungloved hand and examined it with as close an
attention and as little sentiment as a scientist would show to a

"You will excuse me, I am sure. It is my business," said he, as he
dropped it. "I nearly fell into the error of supposing that you were
typewriting. Of course, it is obvious that it is music. You observe the
spatulate finger-end, Watson, which is common to both professions? There
is a spirituality about the face, however" - he gently turned it towards
the light - "which the typewriter does not generate. This lady is a


"Yes, Mr. Holmes, I teach music."

"In the country, I presume, from your complexion."

"Yes, sir; near Farnham, on the borders of Surrey."

"A beautiful neighbourhood and full of the most interesting
associations. You remember, Watson, that it was near there that we took
Archie Stamford, the forger. Now, Miss Violet, what has happened to you
near Farnham, on the borders of Surrey?"

The young lady, with great clearness and composure, made the following
curious statement: -

"My father is dead, Mr. Holmes. He was James Smith, who conducted the
orchestra at the old Imperial Theatre. My mother and I were left without
a relation in the world except one uncle, Ralph Smith, who went to
Africa twenty-five years ago, and we have never had a word from him
since. When father died we were left very poor, but one day we were told
that there was an advertisement in the _Times_ inquiring for our
whereabouts. You can imagine how excited we were, for we thought that
someone had left us a fortune. We went at once to the lawyer whose name
was given in the paper. There we met two gentlemen, Mr. Carruthers and
Mr. Woodley, who were home on a visit from South Africa. They said that
my uncle was a friend of theirs, that he died some months before in
great poverty in Johannesburg, and that he had asked them with his last
breath to hunt up his relations and see that they were in no want. It
seemed strange to us that Uncle Ralph, who took no notice of us when he
was alive, should be so careful to look after us when he was dead; but
Mr. Carruthers explained that the reason was that my uncle had just
heard of the death of his brother, and so felt responsible for our

"Excuse me," said Holmes; "when was this interview?"

"Last December, four months ago."

"Pray proceed."

"Mr. Woodley seemed to me to be a most odious person. He was for ever
making eyes at me - a coarse, puffy-faced, red-moustached young man, with
his hair plastered down on each side of his forehead. I thought that he
was perfectly hateful - and I was sure that Cyril would not wish me to
know such a person."

"Oh, Cyril is his name!" said Holmes, smiling.

The young lady blushed and laughed.

"Yes, Mr. Holmes; Cyril Morton, an electrical engineer, and we hope to
be married at the end of the summer. Dear me, how _did_ I get talking
about him? What I wished to say was that Mr. Woodley was perfectly
odious, but that Mr. Carruthers, who was a much older man, was more
agreeable. He was a dark, sallow, clean-shaven, silent person; but he
had polite manners and a pleasant smile. He inquired how we were left,
and on finding that we were very poor he suggested that I should come
and teach music to his only daughter, aged ten. I said that I did not
like to leave my mother, on which he suggested that I should go home to
her every week-end, and he offered me a hundred a year, which was
certainly splendid pay. So it ended by my accepting, and I went down to
Chiltern Grange, about six miles from Farnham. Mr. Carruthers was a
widower, but he had engaged a lady-housekeeper, a very respectable,
elderly person, called Mrs. Dixon, to look after his establishment. The
child was a dear, and everything promised well. Mr. Carruthers was very
kind and very musical, and we had most pleasant evenings together. Every
week-end I went home to my mother in town.

"The first flaw in my happiness was the arrival of the red-moustached
Mr. Woodley. He came for a visit of a week, and oh, it seemed three
months to me! He was a dreadful person, a bully to everyone else, but to
me something infinitely worse. He made odious love to me, boasted of his
wealth, said that if I married him I would have the finest diamonds in
London, and finally, when I would have nothing to do with him, he seized
me in his arms one day after dinner - he was hideously strong - and he
swore that he would not let me go until I had kissed him. Mr. Carruthers
came in and tore him off from me, on which he turned upon his own host,
knocking him down and cutting his face open. That was the end of his
visit, as you can imagine. Mr. Carruthers apologized to me next day, and
assured me that I should never be exposed to such an insult again. I
have not seen Mr. Woodley since.

"And now, Mr. Holmes, I come at last to the special thing which has
caused me to ask your advice to-day. You must know that every Saturday
forenoon I ride on my bicycle to Farnham Station in order to get the
12.22 to town. The road from Chiltern Grange is a lonely one, and at one
spot it is particularly so, for it lies for over a mile between
Charlington Heath upon one side and the woods which lie round
Charlington Hall upon the other. You could not find a more lonely tract
of road anywhere, and it is quite rare to meet so much as a cart, or a
peasant, until you reach the high road near Crooksbury Hill. Two weeks
ago I was passing this place when I chanced to look back over my
shoulder, and about two hundred yards behind me I saw a man, also on a
bicycle. He seemed to be a middle-aged man, with a short, dark beard. I
looked back before I reached Farnham, but the man was gone, so I thought
no more about it. But you can imagine how surprised I was, Mr. Holmes,
when on my return on the Monday I saw the same man on the same stretch
of road. My astonishment was increased when the incident occurred again,
exactly as before, on the following Saturday and Monday. He always kept
his distance and did not molest me in any way, but still it certainly
was very odd. I mentioned it to Mr. Carruthers, who seemed interested in
what I said, and told me that he had ordered a horse and trap, so that
in future I should not pass over these lonely roads without some

"The horse and trap were to have come this week, but for some reason
they were not delivered and again I had to cycle to the station. That
was this morning. You can think that I looked out when I came to
Charlington Heath, and there, sure enough, was the man, exactly as he
had been the two weeks before. He always kept so far from me that I
could not clearly see his face, but it was certainly someone whom I did
not know. He was dressed in a dark suit with a cloth cap. The only thing
about his face that I could clearly see was his dark beard. To-day I was
not alarmed, but I was filled with curiosity, and I determined to find
out who he was and what he wanted. I slowed down my machine, but he
slowed down his. Then I stopped altogether, but he stopped also. Then I
laid a trap for him. There is a sharp turning of the road, and I
pedalled very quickly round this, and then I stopped and waited. I
expected him to shoot round and pass me before he could stop. But he
never appeared. Then I went back and looked round the corner. I could
see a mile of road, but he was not on it. To make it the more
extraordinary, there was no side road at this point down which he could
have gone."

Holmes chuckled and rubbed his hands. "This case certainly presents some
features of its own," said he. "How much time elapsed between your
turning the corner and your discovery that the road was clear?"

"Two or three minutes."

"Then he could not have retreated down the road, and you say that there
are no side roads?"

[Illustration: "I SLOWED DOWN MY MACHINE."]


"Then he certainly took a footpath on one side or the other."

"It could not have been on the side of the heath or I should have seen

"So by the process of exclusion we arrive at the fact that he made his
way towards Charlington Hall, which, as I understand, is situated in its
own grounds on one side of the road. Anything else?"

"Nothing, Mr. Holmes, save that I was so perplexed that I felt I should
not be happy until I had seen you and had your advice."

Holmes sat in silence for some little time.

"Where is the gentleman to whom you are engaged?" he asked, at last.

"He is in the Midland Electrical Company, at Coventry."

"He would not pay you a surprise visit?"

"Oh, Mr. Holmes! As if I should not know him!"

"Have you had any other admirers?"

"Several before I knew Cyril."

"And since?"

"There was this dreadful man, Woodley, if you can call him an admirer."

"No one else?"

Our fair client seemed a little confused.

"Who was he?" asked Holmes.

"Oh, it may be a mere fancy of mine; but it has seemed to me sometimes
that my employer, Mr. Carruthers, takes a great deal of interest in me.
We are thrown rather together. I play his accompaniments in the evening.
He has never said anything. He is a perfect gentleman. But a girl always

"Ha!" Holmes looked grave. "What does he do for a living?"

"He is a rich man."

"No carriages or horses?"

"Well, at least he is fairly well-to-do. But he goes into the City two
or three times a week. He is deeply interested in South African gold

"You will let me know any fresh development, Miss Smith. I am very busy
just now, but I will find time to make some inquiries into your case. In
the meantime take no step without letting me know. Good-bye, and I trust
that we shall have nothing but good news from you."

"It is part of the settled order of Nature that such a girl should have
followers," said Holmes, as he pulled at his meditative pipe, "but for
choice not on bicycles in lonely country roads. Some secretive lover,
beyond all doubt. But there are curious and suggestive details about the
case, Watson."

"That he should appear only at that point?"

"Exactly. Our first effort must be to find who are the tenants of
Charlington Hall. Then, again, how about the connection between
Carruthers and Woodley, since they appear to be men of such a different
type? How came they _both_ to be so keen upon looking up Ralph Smith's
relations? One more point. What sort of a _ménage_ is it which pays
double the market price for a governess, but does not keep a horse
although six miles from the station? Odd, Watson - very odd!"

"You will go down?"

"No, my dear fellow, _you_ will go down. This may be some trifling
intrigue, and I cannot break my other important research for the sake of
it. On Monday you will arrive early at Farnham; you will conceal
yourself near Charlington Heath; you will observe these facts for
yourself, and act as your own judgment advises. Then, having inquired as
to the occupants of the Hall, you will come back to me and report. And
now, Watson, not another word of the matter until we have a few solid
stepping-stones on which we may hope to get across to our solution."

We had ascertained from the lady that she went down upon the Monday by
the train which leaves Waterloo at 9.50, so I started early and caught
the 9.13. At Farnham Station I had no difficulty in being directed to
Charlington Heath. It was impossible to mistake the scene of the young
lady's adventure, for the road runs between the open heath on one side
and an old yew hedge upon the other, surrounding a park which is studded
with magnificent trees. There was a main gateway of lichen-studded
stone, each side pillar surmounted by mouldering heraldic emblems; but
besides this central carriage drive I observed several points where
there were gaps in the hedge and paths leading through them. The house
was invisible from the road, but the surroundings all spoke of gloom and

The heath was covered with golden patches of flowering gorse, gleaming
magnificently in the light of the bright spring sunshine. Behind one of
these clumps I took up my position, so as to command both the gateway of
the Hall and a long stretch of the road upon either side. It had been
deserted when I left it, but now I saw a cyclist riding down it from the
opposite direction to that in which I had come. He was clad in a dark
suit, and I saw that he had a black beard. On reaching the end of the
Charlington grounds he sprang from his machine and led it through a gap
in the hedge, disappearing from my view.

A quarter of an hour passed and then a second cyclist appeared. This
time it was the young lady coming from the station. I saw her look about
her as she came to the Charlington hedge. An instant later the man
emerged from his hiding-place, sprang upon his cycle, and followed her.
In all the broad landscape those were the only moving figures, the
graceful girl sitting very straight upon her machine, and the man behind
her bending low over his handle-bar, with a curiously furtive suggestion
in every movement. She looked back at him and slowed her pace. He slowed
also. She stopped. He at once stopped too, keeping two hundred yards
behind her. Her next movement was as unexpected as it was spirited. She
suddenly whisked her wheels round and dashed straight at him! He was as
quick as she, however, and darted off in desperate flight. Presently she
came back up the road again, her head haughtily in the air, not deigning
to take any further notice of her silent attendant. He had turned also,
and still kept his distance until the curve of the road hid them from my

I remained in my hiding-place, and it was well that I did so, for
presently the man reappeared cycling slowly back. He turned in at the
Hall gates and dismounted from his machine. For some few minutes I could
see him standing among the trees. His hands were raised and he seemed to
be settling his necktie. Then he mounted his cycle and rode away from me
down the drive towards the Hall. I ran across the heath and peered
through the trees. Far away I could catch glimpses of the old grey
building with its bristling Tudor chimneys, but the drive ran through a
dense shrubbery, and I saw no more of my man.

However, it seemed to me that I had done a fairly good morning's work,
and I walked back in high spirits to Farnham. The local house agent
could tell me nothing about Charlington Hall, and referred me to a
well-known firm in Pall Mall. There I halted on my way home, and met
with courtesy from the representative. No, I could not have Charlington
Hall for the summer. I was just too late. It had been let about a month
ago. Mr. Williamson was the name of the tenant. He was a respectable
elderly gentleman. The polite agent was afraid he could say no more, as
the affairs of his clients were not matters which he could discuss.

Mr. Sherlock Holmes listened with attention to the long report which I
was able to present to him that evening, but it did not elicit that word
of curt praise which I had hoped for and should have valued. On the
contrary, his austere face was even more severe than usual as he
commented upon the things that I had done and the things that I had not.

"Your hiding-place, my dear Watson, was very faulty. You should have
been behind the hedge; then you would have had a close view of this
interesting person. As it is you were some hundreds of yards away, and
can tell me even less than Miss Smith. She thinks she does not know the
man; I am convinced she does. Why, otherwise, should he be so
desperately anxious that she should not get so near him as to see his
features? You describe him as bending over the handle-bar. Concealment
again, you see. You really have done remarkably badly. He returns to the
house and you want to find out who he is. You come to a London

"What should I have done?" I cried, with some heat.

"Gone to the nearest public-house. That is the centre of country gossip.
They would have told you every name, from the master to the
scullery-maid. Williamson! It conveys nothing to my mind. If he is an
elderly man he is not this active cyclist who sprints away from that
athletic young lady's pursuit. What have we gained by your expedition?
The knowledge that the girl's story is true. I never doubted it. That
there is a connection between the cyclist and the Hall. I never doubted
that either. That the Hall is tenanted by Williamson. Who's the better
for that? Well, well, my dear sir, don't look so depressed. We can do
little more until next Saturday, and in the meantime I may make one or
two inquiries myself."

Next morning we had a note from Miss Smith, recounting shortly and
accurately the very incidents which I had seen, but the pith of the
letter lay in the postscript: -

"I am sure that you will respect my confidence, Mr. Holmes, when I tell
you that my place here has become difficult owing to the fact that my
employer has proposed marriage to me. I am convinced that his feelings
are most deep and most honourable. At the same time my promise is, of
course, given. He took my refusal very seriously, but also very gently.
You can understand, however, that the situation is a little strained."

"Our young friend seems to be getting into deep waters," said Holmes,
thoughtfully, as he finished the letter. "The case certainly presents
more features of interest and more possibility of development than I had
originally thought. I should be none the worse for a quiet, peaceful day
in the country, and I am inclined to run down this afternoon and test
one or two theories which I have formed."

Holmes's quiet day in the country had a singular termination, for he
arrived at Baker Street late in the evening with a cut lip and a
discoloured lump upon his forehead, besides a general air of dissipation
which would have made his own person the fitting object of a Scotland
Yard investigation. He was immensely tickled by his own adventures, and
laughed heartily as he recounted them.

"I get so little active exercise that it is always a treat," said he.
"You are aware that I have some proficiency in the good old British
sport of boxing. Occasionally it is of service. To-day, for example, I
should have come to very ignominious grief without it."

I begged him to tell me what had occurred.

"I found that country pub which I had already recommended to your
notice, and there I made my discreet inquiries. I was in the bar, and a
garrulous landlord was giving me all that I wanted. Williamson is a
white-bearded man, and he lives alone with a small staff of servants at
the Hall. There is some rumour that he is or has been a clergyman; but
one or two incidents of his short residence at the Hall struck me as
peculiarly unecclesiastical. I have already made some inquiries at a
clerical agency, and they tell me that there _was_ a man of that name in
orders whose career has been a singularly dark one. The landlord further
informed me that there are usually week-end visitors - 'a warm lot,
sir' - at the Hall, and especially one gentleman with a red moustache,
Mr. Woodley by name, who was always there. We had got as far as this
when who should walk in but the gentleman himself, who had been drinking
his beer in the tap-room and had heard the whole conversation. Who was
I? What did I want? What did I mean by asking questions? He had a fine
flow of language, and his adjectives were very vigorous. He ended a
string of abuse by a vicious back-hander which I failed to entirely
avoid. The next few minutes were delicious. It was a straight left
against a slogging ruffian. I emerged as you see me. Mr. Woodley went
home in a cart. So ended my country trip, and it must be confessed that,
however enjoyable, my day on the Surrey border has not been much more
profitable than your own."

The Thursday brought us another letter from our client.

"You will not be surprised, Mr. Holmes," said she, "to hear that I am
leaving Mr. Carruthers's employment. Even the high pay cannot reconcile
me to the discomforts of my situation. On Saturday I come up to town and
I do not intend to return. Mr. Carruthers has got a trap, and so the
dangers of the lonely road, if there ever were any dangers, are now


"As to the special cause of my leaving, it is not merely the strained
situation with Mr. Carruthers, but it is the reappearance of that odious
man, Mr. Woodley. He was always hideous, but he looks more awful than
ever now, for he appears to have had an accident and he is much
disfigured. I saw him out of the window, but I am glad to say I did not
meet him. He had a long talk with Mr. Carruthers, who seemed much
excited afterwards. Woodley must be staying in the neighbourhood, for he
did not sleep here, and yet I caught a glimpse of him again this morning
slinking about in the shrubbery. I would sooner have a savage wild
animal loose about the place. I loathe and fear him more than I can say.
How _can_ Mr. Carruthers endure such a creature for a moment? However,

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Online LibraryVariousThe Strand Magazine, Vol. 27, January 1904, No. 157 → online text (page 1 of 15)