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The Adventure of the Red Circle


By

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle



"Well, Mrs. Warren, I cannot see that you have any particular cause for
uneasiness, nor do I understand why I, whose time is of some value,
should interfere in the matter. I really have other things to engage
me." So spoke Sherlock Holmes and turned back to the great scrapbook
in which he was arranging and indexing some of his recent material.

But the landlady had the pertinacity and also the cunning of her sex.
She held her ground firmly.

"You arranged an affair for a lodger of mine last year," she said - "Mr.
Fairdale Hobbs."

"Ah, yes - a simple matter."

"But he would never cease talking of it - your kindness, sir, and the
way in which you brought light into the darkness. I remembered his
words when I was in doubt and darkness myself. I know you could if you
only would."

Holmes was accessible upon the side of flattery, and also, to do him
justice, upon the side of kindliness. The two forces made him lay down
his gum-brush with a sigh of resignation and push back his chair.

"Well, well, Mrs. Warren, let us hear about it, then. You don't object
to tobacco, I take it? Thank you, Watson - the matches! You are uneasy,
as I understand, because your new lodger remains in his rooms and you
cannot see him. Why, bless you, Mrs. Warren, if I were your lodger you
often would not see me for weeks on end."

"No doubt, sir; but this is different. It frightens me, Mr. Holmes. I
can't sleep for fright. To hear his quick step moving here and moving
there from early morning to late at night, and yet never to catch so
much as a glimpse of him - it's more than I can stand. My husband is as
nervous over it as I am, but he is out at his work all day, while I get
no rest from it. What is he hiding for? What has he done? Except for
the girl, I am all alone in the house with him, and it's more than my
nerves can stand."

Holmes leaned forward and laid his long, thin fingers upon the woman's
shoulder. He had an almost hypnotic power of soothing when he wished.
The scared look faded from her eyes, and her agitated features smoothed
into their usual commonplace. She sat down in the chair which he had
indicated.

"If I take it up I must understand every detail," said he. "Take time
to consider. The smallest point may be the most essential. You say
that the man came ten days ago and paid you for a fortnight's board and
lodging?"

"He asked my terms, sir. I said fifty shillings a week. There is a
small sitting-room and bedroom, and all complete, at the top of the
house."

"Well?"

"He said, 'I'll pay you five pounds a week if I can have it on my own
terms.' I'm a poor woman, sir, and Mr. Warren earns little, and the
money meant much to me. He took out a ten-pound note, and he held it
out to me then and there. 'You can have the same every fortnight for a
long time to come if you keep the terms,' he said. 'If not, I'll have
no more to do with you.'

"What were the terms?"

"Well, sir, they were that he was to have a key of the house. That was
all right. Lodgers often have them. Also, that he was to be left
entirely to himself and never, upon any excuse, to be disturbed."

"Nothing wonderful in that, surely?"

"Not in reason, sir. But this is out of all reason. He has been there
for ten days, and neither Mr. Warren, nor I, nor the girl has once set
eyes upon him. We can hear that quick step of his pacing up and down,
up and down, night, morning, and noon; but except on that first night
he had never once gone out of the house."

"Oh, he went out the first night, did he?"

"Yes, sir, and returned very late - after we were all in bed. He told
me after he had taken the rooms that he would do so and asked me not to
bar the door. I heard him come up the stair after midnight."

"But his meals?"

"It was his particular direction that we should always, when he rang,
leave his meal upon a chair, outside his door. Then he rings again
when he has finished, and we take it down from the same chair. If he
wants anything else he prints it on a slip of paper and leaves it."

"Prints it?"

"Yes, sir; prints it in pencil. Just the word, nothing more. Here's
the one I brought to show you - soap. Here's another - match. This is
one he left the first morning - daily gazette. I leave that paper with
his breakfast every morning."

"Dear me, Watson," said Homes, staring with great curiosity at the
slips of foolscap which the landlady had handed to him, "this is
certainly a little unusual. Seclusion I can understand; but why print?
Printing is a clumsy process. Why not write? What would it suggest,
Watson?"

"That he desired to conceal his handwriting."

"But why? What can it matter to him that his landlady should have a
word of his writing? Still, it may be as you say. Then, again, why
such laconic messages?"

"I cannot imagine."

"It opens a pleasing field for intelligent speculation. The words are
written with a broad-pointed, violet-tinted pencil of a not unusual
pattern. You will observe that the paper is torn away at the side here
after the printing was done, so that the 's' of 'soap' is partly gone.
Suggestive, Watson, is it not?"

"Of caution?"

"Exactly. There was evidently some mark, some thumbprint, something
which might give a clue to the person's identity. Now. Mrs. Warren,
you say that the man was of middle size, dark, and bearded. What age
would he be?"

"Youngish, sir - not over thirty."

"Well, can you give me no further indications?"

"He spoke good English, sir, and yet I thought he was a foreigner by
his accent."

"And he was well dressed?"

"Very smartly dressed, sir - quite the gentleman. Dark clothes - nothing
you would note."

"He gave no name?"

"No, sir."

"And has had no letters or callers?"

"None."

"But surely you or the girl enter his room of a morning?"

"No, sir; he looks after himself entirely."

"Dear me! that is certainly remarkable. What about his luggage?"

"He had one big brown bag with him - nothing else."

"Well, we don't seem to have much material to help us. Do you say
nothing has come out of that room - absolutely nothing?"

The landlady drew an envelope from her bag; from it she shook out two
burnt matches and a cigarette-end upon the table.

"They were on his tray this morning. I brought them because I had
heard that you can read great things out of small ones."

Holmes shrugged his shoulders.

"There is nothing here," said he. "The matches have, of course, been
used to light cigarettes. That is obvious from the shortness of the
burnt end. Half the match is consumed in lighting a pipe or cigar.
But, dear me! this cigarette stub is certainly remarkable. The
gentleman was bearded and moustached, you say?"

"Yes, sir."

"I don't understand that. I should say that only a clean-shaven man
could have smoked this. Why, Watson, even your modest moustache would
have been singed."

"A holder?" I suggested.

"No, no; the end is matted. I suppose there could not be two people in
your rooms, Mrs. Warren?"

"No, sir. He eats so little that I often wonder it can keep life in
one."

"Well, I think we must wait for a little more material. After all, you
have nothing to complain of. You have received your rent, and he is
not a troublesome lodger, though he is certainly an unusual one. He
pays you well, and if he chooses to lie concealed it is no direct
business of yours. We have no excuse for an intrusion upon his privacy
until we have some reason to think that there is a guilty reason for
it. I've taken up the matter, and I won't lose sight of it. Report to
me if anything fresh occurs, and rely upon my assistance if it should
be needed.

"There are certainly some points of interest in this case, Watson," he
remarked when the landlady had left us. "It may, of course, be
trivial - individual eccentricity; or it may be very much deeper than
appears on the surface. The first thing that strikes one is the obvious
possibility that the person now in the rooms may be entirely different
from the one who engaged them."

"Why should you think so?"

"Well, apart from this cigarette-end, was it not suggestive that the
only time the lodger went out was immediately after his taking the
rooms? He came back - or someone came back - when all witnesses were out
of the way. We have no proof that the person who came back was the
person who went out. Then, again, the man who took the rooms spoke
English well. This other, however, prints 'match' when it should have
been 'matches.' I can imagine that the word was taken out of a
dictionary, which would give the noun but not the plural. The laconic
style may be to conceal the absence of knowledge of English. Yes,
Watson, there are good reasons to suspect that there has been a
substitution of lodgers."

"But for what possible end?"

"Ah! there lies our problem. There is one rather obvious line of
investigation." He took down the great book in which, day by day, he
filed the agony columns of the various London journals. "Dear me!" said
he, turning over the pages, "what a chorus of groans, cries, and
bleatings! What a rag-bag of singular happenings! But surely the most
valuable hunting-ground that ever was given to a student of the
unusual! This person is alone and cannot be approached by letter
without a breach of that absolute secrecy which is desired. How is any
news or any message to reach him from without? Obviously by
advertisement through a newspaper. There seems no other way, and
fortunately we need concern ourselves with the one paper only. Here
are the Daily Gazette extracts of the last fortnight. 'Lady with a
black boa at Prince's Skating Club' - that we may pass. 'Surely Jimmy
will not break his mother's heart' - that appears to be irrelevant. 'If
the lady who fainted on Brixton bus' - she does not interest me. 'Every
day my heart longs - ' Bleat, Watson - unmitigated bleat! Ah, this is a
little more possible. Listen to this: 'Be patient. Will find some
sure means of communications. Meanwhile, this column. G.' That is
two days after Mrs. Warren's lodger arrived. It sounds plausible, does
it not? The mysterious one could understand English, even if he could
not print it. Let us see if we can pick up the trace again. Yes, here
we are - three days later. 'Am making successful arrangements.
Patience and prudence. The clouds will pass. G.' Nothing for a week
after that. Then comes something much more definite: 'The path is
clearing. If I find chance signal message remember code agreed - One A,
two B, and so on. You will hear soon. G.' That was in yesterday's
paper, and there is nothing in to-day's. It's all very appropriate to
Mrs. Warren's lodger. If we wait a little, Watson, I don't doubt that
the affair will grow more intelligible."

So it proved; for in the morning I found my friend standing on the
hearthrug with his back to the fire and a smile of complete
satisfaction upon his face.

"How's this, Watson?" he cried, picking up the paper from the table.
"'High red house with white stone facings. Third floor. Second window
left. After dusk. G.' That is definite enough. I think after
breakfast we must make a little reconnaissance of Mrs. Warren's
neighbourhood. Ah, Mrs. Warren! what news do you bring us this
morning?"

Our client had suddenly burst into the room with an explosive energy
which told of some new and momentous development.

"It's a police matter, Mr. Holmes!" she cried. "I'll have no more of
it! He shall pack out of there with his baggage. I would have gone
straight up and told him so, only I thought it was but fair to you to
take your opinion first. But I'm at the end of my patience, and when
it comes to knocking my old man about - "

"Knocking Mr. Warren about?"

"Using him roughly, anyway."

"But who used him roughly?"

"Ah! that's what we want to know! It was this morning, sir. Mr.
Warren is a timekeeper at Morton and Waylight's, in Tottenham Court
Road. He has to be out of the house before seven. Well, this morning
he had not gone ten paces down the road when two men came up behind
him, threw a coat over his head, and bundled him into a cab that was
beside the curb. They drove him an hour, and then opened the door and
shot him out. He lay in the roadway so shaken in his wits that he
never saw what became of the cab. When he picked himself up he found he
was on Hampstead Heath; so he took a bus home, and there he lies now on
his sofa, while I came straight round to tell you what had happened."

"Most interesting," said Holmes. "Did he observe the appearance of
these men - did he hear them talk?"

"No; he is clean dazed. He just knows that he was lifted up as if by
magic and dropped as if by magic. Two at least were in it, and maybe
three."

"And you connect this attack with your lodger?"

"Well, we've lived there fifteen years and no such happenings ever came
before. I've had enough of him. Money's not everything. I'll have him
out of my house before the day is done."

"Wait a bit, Mrs. Warren. Do nothing rash. I begin to think that this
affair may be very much more important than appeared at first sight.
It is clear now that some danger is threatening your lodger. It is
equally clear that his enemies, lying in wait for him near your door,
mistook your husband for him in the foggy morning light. On
discovering their mistake they released him. What they would have done
had it not been a mistake, we can only conjecture."

"Well, what am I to do, Mr. Holmes?"

"I have a great fancy to see this lodger of yours, Mrs. Warren."

"I don't see how that is to be managed, unless you break in the door.
I always hear him unlock it as I go down the stair after I leave the
tray."

"He has to take the tray in. Surely we could conceal ourselves and see
him do it."

The landlady thought for a moment.

"Well, sir, there's the box-room opposite. I could arrange a
looking-glass, maybe, and if you were behind the door - "

"Excellent!" said Holmes. "When does he lunch?"

"About one, sir."

"Then Dr. Watson and I will come round in time. For the present, Mrs.
Warren, good-bye."

At half-past twelve we found ourselves upon the steps of Mrs. Warren's
house - a high, thin, yellow-brick edifice in Great Orme Street, a
narrow thoroughfare at the northeast side of the British Museum.
Standing as it does near the corner of the street, it commands a view
down Howe Street, with its more pretentious houses. Holmes pointed with
a chuckle to one of these, a row of residential flats, which projected
so that they could not fail to catch the eye.

"See, Watson!" said he. "'High red house with stone facings.' There is
the signal station all right. We know the place, and we know the code;
so surely our task should be simple. There's a 'to let' card in that
window. It is evidently an empty flat to which the confederate has
access. Well, Mrs. Warren, what now?"

"I have it all ready for you. If you will both come up and leave your
boots below on the landing, I'll put you there now."

It was an excellent hiding-place which she had arranged. The mirror
was so placed that, seated in the dark, we could very plainly see the
door opposite. We had hardly settled down in it, and Mrs. Warren left
us, when a distant tinkle announced that our mysterious neighbour had
rung. Presently the landlady appeared with the tray, laid it down upon
a chair beside the closed door, and then, treading heavily, departed.
Crouching together in the angle of the door, we kept our eyes fixed
upon the mirror. Suddenly, as the landlady's footsteps died away, there
was the creak of a turning key, the handle revolved, and two thin hands
darted out and lifted the tray from the chair. An instant later it was
hurriedly replaced, and I caught a glimpse of a dark, beautiful,
horrified face glaring at the narrow opening of the box-room. Then the
door crashed to, the key turned once more, and all was silence. Holmes
twitched my sleeve, and together we stole down the stair.

"I will call again in the evening," said he to the expectant landlady.
"I think, Watson, we can discuss this business better in our own
quarters."

"My surmise, as you saw, proved to be correct," said he, speaking from
the depths of his easy-chair. "There has been a substitution of
lodgers. What I did not foresee is that we should find a woman, and no
ordinary woman, Watson."

"She saw us."

"Well, she saw something to alarm her. That is certain. The general
sequence of events is pretty clear, is it not? A couple seek refuge in
London from a very terrible and instant danger. The measure of that
danger is the rigour of their precautions. The man, who has some work
which he must do, desires to leave the woman in absolute safety while
he does it. It is not an easy problem, but he solved it in an original
fashion, and so effectively that her presence was not even known to the
landlady who supplies her with food. The printed messages, as is now
evident, were to prevent her sex being discovered by her writing. The
man cannot come near the woman, or he will guide their enemies to her.
Since he cannot communicate with her direct, he has recourse to the
agony column of a paper. So far all is clear."

"But what is at the root of it?"

"Ah, yes, Watson - severely practical, as usual! What is at the root of
it all? Mrs. Warren's whimsical problem enlarges somewhat and assumes
a more sinister aspect as we proceed. This much we can say: that it
is no ordinary love escapade. You saw the woman's face at the sign of
danger. We have heard, too, of the attack upon the landlord, which was
undoubtedly meant for the lodger. These alarms, and the desperate need
for secrecy, argue that the matter is one of life or death. The attack
upon Mr. Warren further shows that the enemy, whoever they are, are
themselves not aware of the substitution of the female lodger for the
male. It is very curious and complex, Watson."

"Why should you go further in it? What have you to gain from it?"

"What, indeed? It is art for art's sake, Watson. I suppose when you
doctored you found yourself studying cases without thought of a fee?"

"For my education, Holmes."

"Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons with the
greatest for the last. This is an instructive case. There is neither
money nor credit in it, and yet one would wish to tidy it up. When
dusk comes we should find ourselves one stage advanced in our
investigation."

When we returned to Mrs. Warren's rooms, the gloom of a London winter
evening had thickened into one gray curtain, a dead monotone of colour,
broken only by the sharp yellow squares of the windows and the blurred
haloes of the gas-lamps. As we peered from the darkened sitting-room
of the lodging-house, one more dim light glimmered high up through the
obscurity.

"Someone is moving in that room," said Holmes in a whisper, his gaunt
and eager face thrust forward to the window-pane. "Yes, I can see his
shadow. There he is again! He has a candle in his hand. Now he is
peering across. He wants to be sure that she is on the lookout. Now
he begins to flash. Take the message also, Watson, that we may check
each other. A single flash - that is A, surely. Now, then. How many
did you make it? Twenty. So did I. That should mean T. AT - that's
intelligible enough. Another T. Surely this is the beginning of a
second word. Now, then - TENTA. Dead stop. That can't be all, Watson?
ATTENTA gives no sense. Nor is it any better as three words AT, TEN,
TA, unless T. A. are a person's initials. There it goes again! What's
that? ATTE - why, it is the same message over again. Curious, Watson,
very curious. Now he is off once more! AT - why he is repeating it for
the third time. ATTENTA three times! How often will he repeat it?
No, that seems to be the finish. He has withdrawn from the window.
What do you make of it, Watson?"

"A cipher message, Holmes."

My companion gave a sudden chuckle of comprehension. "And not a very
obscure cipher, Watson," said he. "Why, of course, it is Italian! The
A means that it is addressed to a woman. 'Beware! Beware! Beware!'
How's that, Watson?

"I believe you have hit it."

"Not a doubt of it. It is a very urgent message, thrice repeated to
make it more so. But beware of what? Wait a bit, he is coming to the
window once more."

Again we saw the dim silhouette of a crouching man and the whisk of the
small flame across the window as the signals were renewed. They came
more rapidly than before - so rapid that it was hard to follow them.

"PERICOLO - pericolo - eh, what's that, Watson? 'Danger,' isn't it?
Yes, by Jove, it's a danger signal. There he goes again! PERI.
Halloa, what on earth - "

The light had suddenly gone out, the glimmering square of window had
disappeared, and the third floor formed a dark band round the lofty
building, with its tiers of shining casements. That last warning cry
had been suddenly cut short. How, and by whom? The same thought
occurred on the instant to us both. Holmes sprang up from where he
crouched by the window.

"This is serious, Watson," he cried. "There is some devilry going
forward! Why should such a message stop in such a way? I should put
Scotland Yard in touch with this business - and yet, it is too pressing
for us to leave."

"Shall I go for the police?"

"We must define the situation a little more clearly. It may bear some
more innocent interpretation. Come, Watson, let us go across ourselves
and see what we can make of it."




Two



As we walked rapidly down Howe Street I glanced back at the building
which we had left. There, dimly outlined at the top window, I could
see the shadow of a head, a woman's head, gazing tensely, rigidly, out
into the night, waiting with breathless suspense for the renewal of
that interrupted message. At the doorway of the Howe Street flats a
man, muffled in a cravat and greatcoat, was leaning against the
railing. He started as the hall-light fell upon our faces.

"Holmes!" he cried.

"Why, Gregson!" said my companion as he shook hands with the Scotland
Yard detective. "Journeys end with lovers' meetings. What brings you
here?"

"The same reasons that bring you, I expect," said Gregson. "How you
got on to it I can't imagine."

"Different threads, but leading up to the same tangle. I've been
taking the signals."

"Signals?"

"Yes, from that window. They broke off in the middle. We came over to
see the reason. But since it is safe in your hands I see no object in
continuing this business."

"Wait a bit!" cried Gregson eagerly. "I'll do you this justice, Mr.
Holmes, that I was never in a case yet that I didn't feel stronger for
having you on my side. There's only the one exit to these flats, so we
have him safe."

"Who is he?"

"Well, well, we score over you for once, Mr. Holmes. You must give us
best this time." He struck his stick sharply upon the ground, on which
a cabman, his whip in his hand, sauntered over from a four-wheeler
which stood on the far side of the street. "May I introduce you to Mr.
Sherlock Holmes?" he said to the cabman. "This is Mr. Leverton, of
Pinkerton's American Agency."

"The hero of the Long Island cave mystery?" said Holmes. "Sir, I am
pleased to meet you."

The American, a quiet, businesslike young man, with a clean-shaven,
hatchet face, flushed up at the words of commendation. "I am on the
trail of my life now, Mr. Holmes," said he. "If I can get Gorgiano - "

"What! Gorgiano of the Red Circle?"

"Oh, he has a European fame, has he? Well, we've learned all about him
in America. We KNOW he is at the bottom of fifty murders, and yet we
have nothing positive we can take him on. I tracked him over from New
York, and I've been close to him for a week in London, waiting some
excuse to get my hand on his collar. Mr. Gregson and I ran him to
ground in that big tenement house, and there's only one door, so he
can't slip us. There's three folk come out since he went in, but I'll
swear he wasn't one of them."

"Mr. Holmes talks of signals," said Gregson. "I expect, as usual, he
knows a good deal that we don't."

In a few clear words Holmes explained the situation as it had appeared
to us. The American struck his hands together with vexation.

"He's on to us!" he cried.

"Why do you think so?"

"Well, it figures out that way, does it not? Here he is, sending out


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Online LibraryArthur Conan DoyleThe Adventure of the Red Circle → online text (page 1 of 2)