The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Yellow Face
In publishing these short sketches based upon the
numerous cases in which my companion's singular gifts
have made us the listeners to, and eventually the
actors in, some strange drama, it is only natural that
I should dwell rather upon his successes than upon his
failures. And this not so much for the sake of his
reputation, for indeed it was when he was at his
wits' end that his energy and his versatility were
most admirable, but because where he failed it
happened too often that no one else succeeded, and
that the tale was left forever without a conclusion.
Now and again, however, it chanced that even when he
erred, the truth was still discovered. I have notes
of some half-dozen cases of the kind of which the affair
of the second stain, and that which I am about to
recount, are the two which present the strongest
features of interest.
Sherlock Holmes was a man who seldom took exercise for
exercise's sake. Few men were capable of greater
muscular effort, and he was undoubtedly one of the
finest boxers of his weight that I have ever seen; but
he looked upon aimless bodily exertion as a waste of
energy, and he seldom bestirred himself save when
there was some professional object to be served. Then
he was absolutely untiring and indefatigable. That he
should have kept himself in training under such
circumstances is remarkable, but his diet was usually
of the sparest, and his habits were simple to the
verge of austerity. Save for the occasional use of
cocaine, he had no vices, and he only turned to the
drug as a protest against the monotony of existence
when cases were scanty and the papers uninteresting.
One day in early spring he had so far relaxed as to
go for a walk with me in the Park, where the first
faint shoots of green were breaking out upon the elms,
and the sticky spear-heads of the chestnuts were just
beginning to burst into their five-fold leaves. For
two hours we rambled about together, in silence for
the most part, as befits two men who know each other
intimately. It was nearly five before we were back in
Baker Street once more.
"Beg pardon, sir," said our page-boy, as he opened the
door. "There's been a gentleman here asking for you,
Holmes glanced reproachfully at me. "So much for
afternoon walks!" said he. "Has this gentleman gone,
"Didn't you ask him in?"
"Yes, sir; he came in."
"How long did he wait?"
"Half an hour, sir. He was a very restless gentleman,
sir, a-walkin' and a-stampin' all the time he was
here. I was waitin' outside the door, sir, and I
could hear him. At last he outs into the passage, and
he cries, 'Is that man never goin' to come?' Those
were his very words, sir. 'You'll only need to wait a
little longer,' says I. 'Then I'll wait in the open
air, for I feel half choked,' says he. 'I'll be back
before long.' And with that he ups and he outs, and
all I could say wouldn't hold him back."
"Well, well, you did you best," said Holmes, as we
walked into our room. "It's very annoying, though,
Watson. I was badly in need of a case, and this
looks, from the man's impatience, as if it were of
importance. Hullo! That's not your pipe on the table.
He must have left his behind him. A nice old briar
with a good long stem of what the tobacconists call
amber. I wonder how many real amber mouthpieces there
are in London? Some people think that a fly in it is
a sign. Well, he must have been disturbed in his mind
to leave a pipe behind him which he evidently values
"How do you know that he values it highly?" I asked.
"Well, I should put the original cost of the pipe at
seven and sixpence. Now it has, you see, been twice
mended, once in the wooden stem and once in the
amber. Each of these mends, done, as you observe,
with silver bands, must have cost more than the pipe
did originally. The man must value the pipe highly
when he prefers to patch it up rather than buy a new
one with the same money."
"Anything else?" I asked, for Holmes was turning the
pipe about in his hand, and staring at it in his
peculiar pensive way.
He held it up and tapped on it with his long, thin
fore-finger, as a professor might who was lecturing on
"Pipes are occasionally of extraordinary interest,"
said he. "Nothing has more individuality, save
perhaps watches and bootlaces. The indications here,
however, are neither very marked nor very important.
The owner is obviously a muscular man, left-handed,
with an excellent set of teeth, careless in his
habits, and with no need to practise economy."
My friend threw out the information in a very offhand
way, but I saw that he cocked his eye at me to see if
I had followed his reasoning.
"You think a man must be well-to-do if he smokes a
seven-shilling pipe," said I.
"This is Grosvenor mixture at eightpence an ounce,"
Holmes answered, knocking a little out on his palm.
"As he might get an excellent smoke for half the
price, he has no need to practise economy."
"And the other points?"
"He has been in the habit of lighting his pipe at
lamps and gas-jets. You can see that it is quite
charred all down one side. Of course a match could
not have done that. Why should a man hold a match to
the side of his pipe? But you cannot light it at a
lamp without getting the bowl charred. And it is all
on the right side of the pipe. From that I gather
that he is a left-handed man. You hold your own pipe
to the lamp, and see how naturally you, being
right-handed, hold the left side to the flame. You
might do it once the other way, but not as a
constancy. This has always been held so. Then he has
bitten through his amber. It takes a muscular,
energetic fellow, and one with a good set of teeth, to
do that. But if I am not mistaken I hear him upon the
stair, so we shall have something more interesting
than his pipe to study."
An instant later our door opened, and a tall young man
entered the room. He was well but quietly dressed in
a dark-gray suit, and carried a brown wide-awake in
his hand. I should have put him at about thirty,
though he was really some years older.
"I beg your pardon," said he, with some embarrassment;
"I suppose I should have knocked. Yes, of course I
should have knocked. The fact is that I am a little
upset, and you must put it all down to that." He
passed his hand over his forehead like a man who is
half dazed, and then fell rather than sat down upon a
"I can see that you have not slept for a night or
two," said Holmes, in his easy, genial way. "That
tries a man's nerves more than work, and more even
than pleasure. May I ask how I can help you?"
"I wanted your advice, sir. I don't know what to do
and my whole life seems to have gone to pieces."
"You wish to employ me as a consulting detective?"
"Not that only. I want your opinion as a judicious
man as a man of the world. I want to know what I
ought to do next. I hope to God you'll be able to
He spoke in little, sharp, jerky outbursts, and it
seemed to me that to speak at all was very painful to
him, and that his will all through was overriding his
"It's a very delicate thing," said he. "One does not
like to speak of one's domestic affairs to strangers.
It seems dreadful to discuss the conduct of one's wife
with two men whom I have never seen before. It's
horrible to have to do it. But I've got to the end of
my tether, and I must have advice."
"My dear Mr. Grant Munro " began Holmes.
Our visitor sprang from his char. "What!" he cried,
"you know my mane?"
"If you wish to preserve your incognito,' said Holmes,
smiling, "I would suggest that you cease to write your
name upon the lining of your hat, or else that you
turn the crown towards the person whom you are
addressing. I was about to say that my friend and I
have listened to a good many strange secrets in this
room, and that we have had the good fortune to bring
peace to many troubled souls. I trust that we may do
as much for you. Might I beg you, as time may prove
to be of importance, to furnish me with the facts of
your case without further delay?"
Our visitor again passed his hand over his forehead,
as if he found it bitterly hard. From every gesture
and expression I could see that he was a reserved,
self-contained man, with a dash of pride in his
nature, more likely to hide his wounds than to expose
them. Then suddenly, with a fierce gesture of his
closed hand, like one who throws reserve to the winds,
"The facts are these, Mr. Holmes," said he. "I am a
married man, and have been so for three years. During
that time my wife and I have loved each other as
fondly and lived as happily as any two that ever were
joined. We have not had a difference, not one, in
thought or word or deed. And now, since last Monday,
there has suddenly sprung up a barrier between us, and
I find that there is something in her life and in her
thought of which I know as little as if she were the
woman who brushes by me in the street. We are
estranged, and I want to know why.
"Now there is one thing that I want to impress upon
you before I go any further, Mr. Holmes. Effie loves
me. Don't let there be any mistake about that. She
loves me with her whole heart and soul, and never more
than now. I know it. I feel it. I don't want to
argue about that. A man can tell easily enough when a
woman loves him. But there's this secret between us,
and we can never be the same until it is cleared."
"Kindly let me have the facts, Mr. Munro," said
Holmes, with some impatience.
"I'll tell you what I know about Effie's history. She
was a widow when I met her first, though quite
young only twenty-five. Her name then was Mrs.
Hebron. She went out to America when she was young,
and lived in the town of Atlanta, where she married
this Hebron, who was a lawyer with a good practice.
They had one child, but the yellow fever broke out
badly in the place, and both husband and child died of
it. I have seen his death certificate. This sickened
her of America, and she came back to live with a
maiden aunt at Pinner, in Middlesex. I may mention
that her husband had left her comfortably off, and
that she had a capital of about four thousand five
hundred pounds, which had been so well invested by him
that it returned an average of seven per cent. She
had only been six months at Pinner when I met her; we
fell in love with each other, and we married a few
"I am a hop merchant myself, and as I have an income
of seven or eight hundred, we found ourselves
comfortably off, and took a nice eighty-pound-a-year
villa at Norbury. Our little place was very
countrified, considering that it is so close to town.
We had an inn and two houses a little above us, and a
single cottage at the other side of the field which
faces us, and except those there were no houses until
you got half way to the station. My business took me
into town at certain seasons, but in summer I had less
to do, and then in our country home my wife and I were
just as happy as could be wished. I tell you that
there never was a shadow between us until this
accursed affair began.
"There's one thing I ought to tell you before I go
further. When we married, my wife made over all her
property to me rather against my will, for I saw how
awkward it would be if my business affairs went wrong.
However, she would have it so, and it was done. Well,
about six weeks ago she came to me.
" 'Jack,' said she, 'when you took my money you said
that if ever I wanted any I was to ask you for it.'
" 'Certainly,' said I. 'It's all your own.'
" 'Well,' said she, 'I want a hundred pounds.'
"I was a bit staggered at this, for I had imagined it
was simply a new dress or something of the kind that
she was after.
" 'What on earth for?' I asked.
" 'Oh,' said she, in her playful way, 'you said that
you were only my banker, and bankers never ask
questions, you know.'
" 'If you really mean it, of course you shall have the
money,' said I.
" 'Oh, yes, I really mean it.'
" 'And you won't tell me what you want it for?'
" 'Some day, perhaps, but not just at present, Jack.'
"So I had to be content with that, thought it was the
first time that there had ever been any secret between
us. I gave her a cheque, and I never thought any more
of the matter. It may have nothing to do with what
came afterwards, but I thought it only right to
"Well, I told you just now that there is a cottage not
far from our house. There is just a field between us,
but to reach it you have to go along the road and then
turn down a lane. Just beyond it is a nice little
grove of Scotch firs, and I used to be very fond of
strolling down there, for trees are always a
neighborly kind of things. The cottage had been
standing empty this eight months, and it was a pity,
for it was a pretty two storied place, with an
old-fashioned porch and honeysuckle about it. I have
stood many a time and thought what a neat little
homestead it would make.
"Well, last Monday evening I was taking a stroll down
that way, when I met an empty van coming up the lane,
and saw a pile of carpets and things lying about on
the grass-plot beside the porch. It was clear that
the cottage had at last been let. I walked past it,
and wondered what sort of folk they were who had come
to live so near us. And as I looked I suddenly became
aware that a face was watching me out of one of the
"I don't know what there was about that face, Mr.
Holmes, but it seemed to send a chill right down my
back. I was some little way off, so that I could not
make out the features, but there was something
unnatural and inhuman about the face. That was the
impression that I had, and I moved quickly forwards to
get a nearer view of the person who was watching me.
But as I did so the face suddenly disappeared, so
suddenly that it seemed to have been plucked away into
the darkness of the room.
"I stood for five minutes
thinking the business over, and trying to analyze my
impressions. I could not tell if the face were that
of a man or a woman. It had been too far from me for
that. But its color was what had impressed me most.
It was of a livid chalky white, and with something set
and rigid about it which was shockingly unnatural. So
disturbed was I that I determined to see a little more
of the new inmates of the cottage. I approached and
knocked at the door, which was instantly opened by a
tall, gaunt woman with a harsh, forbidding face.
" 'What may you be wantin'?' she asked, in a Northern
" 'I am your neighbor over yonder,' said I, nodding
towards my house. 'I see that you have only just
moved in, so I thought that if I could be of any help
to you in any'
" 'Ay, we'll just ask ye when we want ye,' said she,
and shut the door in my face. Annoyed at the churlish
rebuff, I turned my back and walked home. All
evening, though I tried to think of other things, my
mind would still turn to the apparition at the window
and the rudeness of the woman. I determined to say
nothing about the former to my wife, for she is a
nervous, highly strung woman, and I had no wish that
she would share the unpleasant impression which had
been produced upon myself. I remarked to her,
however, before I fell asleep, that the cottage was
now occupied, to which she returned no reply.
"I am usually an extremely sound sleeper. It has been
a standing jest in the family that nothing could ever
wake me during the night. And yet somehow on that
particular night, whether it may have been the slight
excitement produced by my little adventure or not I
know not, but I slept much more lightly than usual.
Half in my dreams I was dimly conscious that something
was going on in the room, and gradually became aware
that my wife had dressed herself and was slipping on
her mantle and her bonnet. My lips were parted to
murmur out some sleepy words of surprise or
remonstrance at this untimely preparation, when
suddenly my half-opened eyes fell upon her face,
illuminated by the candle-light, and astonishment held
"She wore an expression such as I had never
seen before such as I should have thought her
incapable of assuming. She was deadly pale and
breathing fast, glancing furtively towards the bed as
she fastened her mantle, to see if she had disturbed
me. Then, thinking that I was still asleep, she
slipped noiselessly from the room, and an instant
later I heard a sharp creaking which could only come
from the hinges of the front door. I sat up in bed
and rapped my knuckles against the rail to make
certain that I was truly awake. Then I took my watch
from under the pillow. It was three in the morning.
What on this earth could my wife be doing out on the
country road at three in the morning?
"I had sat for about twenty minutes turning the thing
over in my mind and trying to find some possible
explanation. The more I thought, the more
extraordinary and inexplicable did it appear. I was
still puzzling over it when I heard the door gently
close again, and her footsteps coming up the stairs.
" 'Where in the world have you been, Effie?' I asked as
"She gave a violent start and a kind of gasping cry
when I spoke, and that cry and start troubled me more
than all the rest, for there was something
indescribably guilty about them. My wife had always
been a woman of a frank, open nature, and it gave me a
chill to see her slinking into her own room, and
crying out and wincing when her own husband spoke to
" 'You awake, Jack!' she cried, with a nervous laugh.
'Why, I thought that nothing could awake you.'
" 'Where have you been?' I asked, more sternly.
" 'I don't wonder that you are surprised,' said she,
and I could see that her fingers were trembling as she
undid the fastenings of her mantle. 'Why, I never
remember having done such a thing in my life before.
The fact is that I felt as though I were choking, and
had a perfect longing for a breath of fresh air. I
really think that I should have fainted if I had not
gone out. I stood at the door for a few minutes, and
now I am quite myself again.'
"All the time that she was telling me this story she
never once looked in my direction, and her voice was
quite unlike her usual tones. It was evident to me
that she was saying what was false. I said nothing in
reply, but turned my face to the wall, sick at heart,
with my mind filled with a thousand venomous doubts
and suspicions. What was it that my wife was
concealing from me? Where had she been during that
strange expedition? I felt that I should have no
peace until I knew, and yet I shrank from asking her
again after once she had told me what was false. All
the rest of the night I tossed and tumbled, framing
theory after theory, each more unlikely than the last.
"I should have gone to the City that day, but I was
too disturbed in my mind to be able to pay attention
to business matters. My wife seemed to be as upset as
myself, and I could see from the little questioning
glances which she kept shooting at me that she
understood that I disbelieved her statement, and that
she was at her wits' end what to do. We hardly
exchanged a word during breakfast, and immediately
afterwards I went out for a walk, that I might think
the matter out in the fresh morning air.
"I went as far as the Crystal Palace, spent an hour in
the grounds, and was back in Norbury by one o'clock.
It happened that my way took me past the cottage, and
I stopped for an instant to look at the windows, and
to see if I could catch a glimpse of the strange face
which had looked out at me on the day before. As I
stood there, imagine my surprise, Mr. Holmes, when the
door suddenly opened and my wife walked out.
"I was struck dumb with astonishment at the sight of
her; but my emotions were nothing to those which
showed themselves upon her face when our eyes met.
She seemed for an instant to wish to shrink back
inside the house again; and then, seeing how useless
all concealment must be, she came forward, with a very
white face and frightened eyes which belied the smile
upon her lips.
" 'Ah, Jack,' she said, 'I have just been in to see if
I can be of any assistance to our new neighbors. Why
do you look at me like that, Jack? You are not angry
" 'So,' said I, 'this is where you went during the
" 'What do you mean?" she cried.
" 'You came here. I am sure of it. Who are these
people, that you should visit them at such an hour?'
" 'I have not been here before.'
" 'How can you tell me what you know is false?' I
cried. 'Your very voice changes as you speak. When
have I ever had a secret from you? I shall enter that
cottage, and I shall probe the matter to the bottom.'
" 'No, no, Jack, for God's sake!' she gasped, in
uncontrollable emotion. Then, as I approached the
door, she seized my sleeve and pulled me back with
" 'I implore you not to do this, Jack,' she cried. 'I
swear that I will tell you everything some day, but
nothing but misery can come of it if you enter that
cottage.' Then, as I tried to shake her off, she
clung to me in a frenzy of entreaty.
" 'Trust me, Jack!' she cried. 'Trust me only this
once. You will never have cause to regret it. You
know that I would not have a secret from you if it
were not for your own sake. Our whole lives are at
stake in this. If you come home with me, all will be
well. If you force your way into that cottage, all is
over between us.'
"There was such earnestness, such despair, in her
manner that her words arrested me, and I stood
irresolute before the door.
" 'I will trust you on one condition, and on one
condition only,' said I at last. 'It is that this
mystery comes to an end from now. You are at liberty
to preserve your secret, but you must promise me that
there shall be no more nightly visits, no more doings
which are kept from my knowledge. I am willing to
forget those which are passed if you will promise that
there shall be no more in the future.'
" 'I was sure that you would trust me,' she cried, with
a great sigh of relief. 'It shall be just as you
wish. Come away oh, come away up to the house.'
"Still pulling at my sleeve, she led me away from the
cottage. As we went I glanced back, and there was
that yellow livid face watching us out of the upper
window. What link could there be between that
creature and my wife? Or how could the coarse, rough
woman whom I had seen the day before be connected with
her? It was a strange puzzle, and yet I knew that my
mind could never know ease again until I had solved
"For two days after this I stayed at home, and my wife
appeared to abide loyally by our engagement, for, as
far as I know, she never stirred out of the house. On
the third day, however, I had ample evidence that her
solemn promise was not enough to hold her back from
this secret influence which drew her away from her
husband and her duty.
"I had gone into town on that day, but I returned by
the 2.40 instead of the 3.36, which is my usual train.
As I entered the house the maid ran into the hall with
a startled face.
" 'Where is your mistress?' I asked.
" 'I think that she has gone out for a walk,' she
"My mind was instantly filled with suspicion. I
rushed upstairs to make sure that she was not in the
house. As I did so I happened to glance out of one of
the upper windows, and saw the maid with whom I had
just been speaking running across the field in the
direction of the cottage. Then of course I saw
exactly what it all meant. My wife had gone over
there, and had asked the servant to call her if I
"Tingling with anger, I rushed down and
hurried across, determined to end the matter once and
forever. I saw my wife and the maid hurrying back
along the lane, but I did not stop to speak with them.
In the cottage lay the secret which was casting a
shadow over my life. I vowed that, come what might,
it should be a secret no longer. I did not even knock
when I reached it, but turned the handle and rushed
into the passage.
"It was all still and quiet upon the ground floor. In
the kitchen a kettle was singing on the fire, and a
large black cat lay coiled up in the basket; but there
was no sign of the woman whom I had seen before. I
ran into the other room, but it was equally deserted.
Then I rushed up the stairs, only to find two other
rooms empty and deserted at the top. There was no one
at all in the whole house. The furniture and pictures
were of the most common and vulgar description, save
in the one chamber at the window of which I had seen
the strange face. That was comfortable and elegant,
and all my suspicions rose into a fierce bitter flame
when I saw that on the mantelpiece stood a copy of a
fell-length photograph of my wife, which had been
taken at my request only three months ago.
"I stayed long enough to make certain that the house
was absolutely empty. Then I left it, feeling a
weight at my heart such as I had never had before. My
wife came out into the hall as I entered my house; but
I was too hurt and angry to speak with her, and
pushing past her, I made my way into my study. She
followed me, however, before I could close the door.
" 'I am sorry that I broke my promise, Jack,' said she;
'but if you knew all the circumstances I am sure that
you would forgive me.'
" 'Tell me everything, then,' said I.
" 'I cannot, Jack, I cannot,' she cried.
" 'Until you tell me who it is that has been living in
that cottage, and who it is to whom you have given
that photograph, there can never be any confidence
between us,' said I, and breaking away from her, I
left the house. That was yesterday, Mr. Holmes, and I
have not seen her since, nor do I know anything more
about this strange business. It is the first shadow
that has come between us, and it has so shaken me that
I do not know what I should do for the best. Suddenly
this morning it occurred to me that you were the man
to advise me, so I have hurried to you now, and I
place myself unreservedly in your hands. If there is
any point which I have not made clear, pray question
me about it. But, above all, tell me quickly what I
am to do, for this misery is more than I can bear."
Holmes and I had listened with the utmost interest to
this extraordinary statement, which had been delivered
in the jerky, broken fashion of a man who is under the
influence of extreme emotions. My companion sat
silent for some time, with his chin upon his hand,
lost in thought.
"Tell me," said he at last, "could you swear that this
was a man's face which you saw at the window?"
"Each time that I saw it I was some distance away from
it, so that it is impossible for me to say."
"You appear, however, to have been disagreeably
impressed by it."
"It seemed to be of an unnatural color, and to have a
strange rigidity about the features. When I
approached, it vanished with a jerk."
"How long is it since your wife asked you for a
"Nearly two months."
"Have you ever seen a photograph of her first
"No; there was a great fire at Atlanta very shortly
after his death, and all her papers were destroyed."
"And yet she had a certificate of death. You say that
you saw it."
"Yes; she got a duplicate after the fire."
"Did you ever meet any one who knew her in America?"
"Did she ever talk of revisiting the place?"
"Or get letters from it?"
"Thank you. I should like to think over the matter a
little now. If the cottage is now permanently
deserted we may have some difficulty. If, on the
other hand, as I fancy is more likely, the inmates
were warned of your coming, and left before you entered
yesterday, then they may be back now, and we should
clear it all up easily. Let me advise you, then, to
return to Norbury, and to examine the windows of the
cottage again. If you have reason to believe that is
inhabited, do not force your way in, but send a wire
to my friend and me. We shall be with you within an
hour of receiving it, and we shall then very soon get
to the bottom of the business."
"And if it is still empty?"
"In that case I shall come out to-morrow and talk it
over with you. Good-by; and, above all, do not fret
until you know that you really have a cause for it."
"I am afraid that this is a bad business, Watson,"
said my companion, as he returned after accompanying
Mr. Grant Munro to the door. "What do you make of
"It had an ugly sound," I answered.
"Yes. There's blackmail in it, or I am much
"And who is the blackmailer?"
"Well, it must be the creature who lives in the only
comfortable room in the place, and has her photograph
above his fireplace. Upon my word, Watson, there is
something very attractive about that livid face at the
window, and I would not have missed the case for
"You have a theory?"
"Yes, a provisional one. But I shall be surprised if
it does not turn out to be correct. This woman's
first husband is in that cottage."
"Why do you think so?"
"How else can we explain her frenzied anxiety that her
second one should not enter it? The facts, as I read
them, are something like this: This woman was married
in America. Her husband developed some hateful
qualities; or shall we say that he contracted some
loathsome disease, and became a leper or an imbecile?
She flies from him at last, returns to England,
changes her name, and starts her life, as she thinks,
"She has been married three years, and
believes that her position is quite secure, having
shown her husband the death certificate of some man
whose name she has assumed, when suddenly her
whereabouts is discovered by her first husband; or, we
may suppose, by some unscrupulous woman who has
attached herself to the invalid. They write to the
wife, and threaten to come and expose her. She asks
for a hundred pounds, and endeavors to buy them off.
They come in spite of it, and when the husband
mentions casually to the wife that there a new-comers
in the cottage, she knows in some way that they are
"She waits until her husband is asleep,
and then she rushes down to endeavor to persuade them
to leave her in peace. Having no success, she goes
again next morning, and her husband meets her, as he
has told us, as she comes out. She promises him then
not to go there again, but two days afterwards the
hope of getting rid of those dreadful neighbors was
too strong for her, and she made another attempt,
taking down with her the photograph which had probably
been demanded from her.
"In the midst of this
interview the maid rushes in to say that the master
has come home, on which the wife, knowing that he
would come straight down to the cottage, hurried the
inmates out at the back door, into the grove of
fir-trees, probably, which was mentioned as standing
near. In this way he found the place deserted. I
shall be very much surprised, however, if it still so
when he reconnoitres it this evening. What do you
think of my theory?"
"It is all surmise."
"But at least it covers all the facts. When new facts
come to our knowledge which cannot be covered by it,
it will be time enough to reconsider it. We can do
nothing more until we have a message from our friend
But we had not a very long time to wait for that. It
came just as we had finished our tea. "The cottage is
still tenanted," it said. "Have seen the face again
at the window. Will meet the seven o'clock train, and
will take no steps until you arrive."
He was waiting on the platform when we stepped out,
and we could see in the light of the station lamps
that he was very pale, and quivering with agitation.
"They are still there, Mr. Holmes," said he, laying
his hand hard upon my friend's sleeve. "I saw lights
in the cottage as I came down. We shall settle it now
once and for all."
"What is your plan, then?" asked Holmes, as he walked
down the dark tree-lined road.
"I am going to force my way in and see for myself who
is in the house. I wish you both to be there as
"You are quite determined to do this, in spite of your
wife's warning that it is better that you should not
solve the mystery?"
"Yes, I am determined."
"Well, I think that you are in the right. Any truth
is better than indefinite doubt. We had better go up
at once. Of course, legally, we are putting ourselves
hopelessly in the wrong; but I think that it is worth
It was a very dark night, and a thin rain began to
fall as we turned from the high road into a narrow
lane, deeply rutted, with hedges on either side. Mr.
Grant Munro pushed impatiently forward, however, and
we stumbled after him as best we could.
"There are the lights of my house," he murmured,
pointing to a glimmer among the trees. "And here is
the cottage which I am going to enter."
We turned a corner in the lane as he spoke, and there
was the building close beside us. A yellow bar
falling across the black foreground showed that the
door was not quite closed, and one window in the upper
story was brightly illuminated. As we looked, we saw
a dark blur moving across the blind.
"There is that creature!" cried Grant Munro. "You can
see for yourselves that some one is there. Now follow
me, and we shall soon know all."
We approached the door; but suddenly a woman appeared
out of the shadow and stood in the golden track of the
lamp-light. I could not see her face in the he
darkness, but her arms were thrown out in an attitude
"For God's sake, don't Jack!" she cried. "I had a
presentiment that you would come this evening. Think
better of it, dear! Trust me again, and you will
never have cause to regret it."
"I have trusted you too long, Effie," he cried,
sternly. "Leave go of me! I must pass you. My
friends and I are going to settle this matter once and
forever!" He pushed her to one side, and we followed
closely after him. As he threw the door open an old
woman ran out in front of him and tried to bar his
passage, but he thrust her back, and an instant
afterwards we were all upon the stairs. Grant Munro
rushed into the lighted room at the top, and we
entered at his heels.
It was a cosey, well-furnished apartment, with two
candles burning upon the table and two upon the
mantelpiece. In the corner, stooping over a desk,
there sat what appeared to be a little girl. Her face
was turned away as we entered, but we could see that
she was dressed in a red frock, and that she had long
white gloves on. As she whisked round to us, I gave a
cry of surprise and horror.
The face which she turned
towards us was of the strangest livid tint, and the
features were absolutely devoid of any expression. An
instant later the mystery was explained. Holmes, with
a laugh, passed his hand behind the child's ear, a
mask peeled off from her countenance, and there was a
little coal black negress, with all her white teeth
flashing in amusement at our amazed faces. I burst
out laughing, out of sympathy with her merriment; but
Grant Munro stood staring, with his hand clutching his
"My God!" he cried. "What can be the meaning of
"I will tell you the meaning of it," cried the lady,
sweeping into the room with a proud, set face. "You
have forced me, against my own judgment, to tell you,
and now we must both make the best of it. My husband
died at Atlanta. My child survived."
She drew a large silver locket from her bosom. "You
have never seen this open."
"I understood that it did not open."
She touched a spring, and the front hinged back.
There was a portrait within of a man strikingly
handsome and intelligent-looking, but bearing
unmistakable signs upon his features of his African
"That is John Hebron, of Atlanta," said the lady, "and
a nobler man never walked the earth. I cut myself off
from my race in order to wed him, but never once while
he lived did I for an instant regret it. It was our
misfortune that our only child took after his people
rather than mine. It is often so in such matches, and
little Lucy is darker far than ever her father was.
But dark or fair, she is my own dear little girlie,
and her mother's pet."
The little creature ran across
at the words and nestled up against the lady's dress.
"When I left her in America," she continued, "it was
only because her health was weak, and the change might
have done her harm. She was given to the care of a
faithful Scotch woman who had once been our servant.
Never for an instant did I dream of disowning her as
my child. But when chance threw you in my way, Jack,
and I learned to love you, I feared to tell you about
my child. God forgive me, I feared that I should lose
you, and I had not the courage to tell you. I had to
choose between you, and in my weakness I turned away
from my own little girl.
"For three years I have kept
her existence a secret from you, but I heard from the
nurse, and I knew that all was well with her. At
last, however, there came an overwhelming desire to
see the child once more. I struggled against it, but
in vain. Though I knew the danger, I determined to
have the child over, if it were but for a few weeks.
I sent a hundred pounds to the nurse, and I gave her
instructions about this cottage, so that she might
come as a neighbor, without my appearing to be in any
way connected with her.
"I pushed my precautions so
far as to order her to keep the child in the house
during the daytime, and to cover up her little face
and hands so that even those who might see her at the
window should not gossip about there being a black
child in the neighborhood. If I had been less
cautious I might have been more wise, but I was half
crazy with fear that you should learn the truth.
"It was you who told me first that the cottage was
occupied. I should have waited for the morning, but I
could not sleep for excitement, and so at last I
slipped out, knowing how difficult it is to awake you.
But you saw me go, and that was the beginning of my
troubles. Next day you had my secret at your mercy,
but you nobly refrained from pursuing your advantage.
Three days later, however, the nurse and child only
just escaped from the back door as you rushed in at
the front one. And now tonight you at last know all,
and I ask you what is to become of us, my child and
me?" She clasped her hands and waited for an answer.
It was a long ten minutes before Grant Munro broke the
silence, and when his answer came it was one of which
I love to think. He lifted the little child, kissed
her, and then, still carrying her, he held his other
hand out to his wife and turned towards the door.
"We can talk it over more comfortably at home," said
he. "I am not a very good man, Effie, but I think
that I am a better one than you have given me credit
Holmes and I followed them down the lane, and my
friend plucked at my sleeve as we came out.
"I think," said he, "that we shall be of more use in
London than in Norbury."
Not another word did he say of the case until late
that night, when he was turning away, with his lighted
candle, for his bedroom.
"Watson," said he, "if it should ever strike you that
I am getting a little over-confident in my powers, or
giving less pains to a case than it deserves, kindly
whisper 'Norbury' in my ear, and I shall be infinitely
obliged to you."
Previous Story Next Story
or the Index to
Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Main GRoL menu