OUR ADVERTISEMENT BRINGS A VISITOR

OUR morning’s exertions had been too much for my weak health, and I was
tired out in the afternoon. After Holmes’ departure for the concert, I
lay down upon the sofa and endeavoured to get a couple of hours’ sleep.
It was a useless attempt. My mind had been too much excited by all that
had occurred, and the strangest fancies and surmises crowded into
it. Every time that I closed my eyes I saw before me the distorted
baboon-like countenance of the murdered man. So sinister was the
impression which that face had produced upon me that I found it
difficult to feel anything but gratitude for him who had removed its
owner from the world. If ever human features bespoke vice of the most
malignant type, they were certainly those of Enoch J. Drebber, of
Cleveland. Still I recognized that justice must be done, and that the
depravity of the victim was no condonment [11] in the eyes of the law.

The more I thought of it the more extraordinary did my companion’s
hypothesis, that the man had been poisoned, appear. I remembered how he
had sniffed his lips, and had no doubt that he had detected something
which had given rise to the idea. Then, again, if not poison, what
had caused the man’s death, since there was neither wound nor marks of
strangulation? But, on the other hand, whose blood was that which lay so
thickly upon the floor? There were no signs of a struggle, nor had the
victim any weapon with which he might have wounded an antagonist. As
long as all these questions were unsolved, I felt that sleep would be
no easy matter, either for Holmes or myself. His quiet self-confident
manner convinced me that he had already formed a theory which explained
all the facts, though what it was I could not for an instant conjecture.

He was very late in returning–so late, that I knew that the concert
could not have detained him all the time. Dinner was on the table before
he appeared.

“It was magnificent,” he said, as he took his seat. “Do you remember
what Darwin says about music? He claims that the power of producing and
appreciating it existed among the human race long before the power of
speech was arrived at. Perhaps that is why we are so subtly influenced
by it. There are vague memories in our souls of those misty centuries
when the world was in its childhood.”

“That’s rather a broad idea,” I remarked.

“One’s ideas must be as broad as Nature if they are to interpret
Nature,” he answered. “What’s the matter? You’re not looking quite
yourself. This Brixton Road affair has upset you.”

“To tell the truth, it has,” I said. “I ought to be more case-hardened
after my Afghan experiences. I saw my own comrades hacked to pieces at
Maiwand without losing my nerve.”

“I can understand. There is a mystery about this which stimulates the
imagination; where there is no imagination there is no horror. Have you
seen the evening paper?”

“No.”

“It gives a fairly good account of the affair. It does not mention the
fact that when the man was raised up, a woman’s wedding ring fell upon
the floor. It is just as well it does not.”

“Why?”

“Look at this advertisement,” he answered. “I had one sent to every
paper this morning immediately after the affair.”

He threw the paper across to me and I glanced at the place indicated. It
was the first announcement in the “Found” column. “In Brixton Road,
this morning,” it ran, “a plain gold wedding ring, found in the roadway
between the ‘White Hart’ Tavern and Holland Grove. Apply Dr. Watson,
221B, Baker Street, between eight and nine this evening.”

“Excuse my using your name,” he said. “If I used my own some of these
dunderheads would recognize it, and want to meddle in the affair.”

“That is all right,” I answered. “But supposing anyone applies, I have
no ring.”

“Oh yes, you have,” said he, handing me one. “This will do very well. It
is almost a facsimile.”

“And who do you expect will answer this advertisement.”

“Why, the man in the brown coat–our florid friend with the square toes.
If he does not come himself he will send an accomplice.”

“Would he not consider it as too dangerous?”

“Not at all. If my view of the case is correct, and I have every reason
to believe that it is, this man would rather risk anything than lose the
ring. According to my notion he dropped it while stooping over Drebber’s
body, and did not miss it at the time. After leaving the house he
discovered his loss and hurried back, but found the police already in
possession, owing to his own folly in leaving the candle burning. He had
to pretend to be drunk in order to allay the suspicions which might have
been aroused by his appearance at the gate. Now put yourself in that
man’s place. On thinking the matter over, it must have occurred to him
that it was possible that he had lost the ring in the road after leaving
the house. What would he do, then? He would eagerly look out for the
evening papers in the hope of seeing it among the articles found. His
eye, of course, would light upon this. He would be overjoyed. Why should
he fear a trap? There would be no reason in his eyes why the finding
of the ring should be connected with the murder. He would come. He will
come. You shall see him within an hour?”

“And then?” I asked.

“Oh, you can leave me to deal with him then. Have you any arms?”

“I have my old service revolver and a few cartridges.”

“You had better clean it and load it. He will be a desperate man,
and though I shall take him unawares, it is as well to be ready for
anything.”

I went to my bedroom and followed his advice. When I returned with
the pistol the table had been cleared, and Holmes was engaged in his
favourite occupation of scraping upon his violin.

“The plot thickens,” he said, as I entered; “I have just had an answer
to my American telegram. My view of the case is the correct one.”

“And that is?” I asked eagerly.

“My fiddle would be the better for new strings,” he remarked. “Put your
pistol in your pocket. When the fellow comes speak to him in an ordinary
way. Leave the rest to me. Don’t frighten him by looking at him too
hard.”

“It is eight o’clock now,” I said, glancing at my watch.

“Yes. He will probably be here in a few minutes. Open the door slightly.
That will do. Now put the key on the inside. Thank you! This is a
queer old book I picked up at a stall yesterday–‘De Jure inter
Gentes’–published in Latin at Liege in the Lowlands, in 1642. Charles’
head was still firm on his shoulders when this little brown-backed
volume was struck off.”

“Who is the printer?”

“Philippe de Croy, whoever he may have been. On the fly-leaf, in very
faded ink, is written ‘Ex libris Guliolmi Whyte.’ I wonder who William
Whyte was. Some pragmatical seventeenth century lawyer, I suppose. His
writing has a legal twist about it. Here comes our man, I think.”

As he spoke there was a sharp ring at the bell. Sherlock Holmes rose
softly and moved his chair in the direction of the door. We heard the
servant pass along the hall, and the sharp click of the latch as she
opened it.

“Does Dr. Watson live here?” asked a clear but rather harsh voice. We
could not hear the servant’s reply, but the door closed, and some one
began to ascend the stairs. The footfall was an uncertain and shuffling
one. A look of surprise passed over the face of my companion as he
listened to it. It came slowly along the passage, and there was a feeble
tap at the door.

“Come in,” I cried.




At my summons, instead of the man of violence whom we expected, a very
old and wrinkled woman hobbled into the apartment. She appeared to be
dazzled by the sudden blaze of light, and after dropping a curtsey, she
stood blinking at us with her bleared eyes and fumbling in her pocket
with nervous, shaky fingers. I glanced at my companion, and his face
had assumed such a disconsolate expression that it was all I could do to
keep my countenance.

The old crone drew out an evening paper, and pointed at our
advertisement. “It’s this as has brought me, good gentlemen,” she said,
dropping another curtsey; “a gold wedding ring in the Brixton Road. It
belongs to my girl Sally, as was married only this time twelvemonth,
which her husband is steward aboard a Union boat, and what he’d say if
he come ‘ome and found her without her ring is more than I can think, he
being short enough at the best o’ times, but more especially when he
has the drink. If it please you, she went to the circus last night along
with—-”

“Is that her ring?” I asked.

“The Lord be thanked!” cried the old woman; “Sally will be a glad woman
this night. That’s the ring.”

“And what may your address be?” I inquired, taking up a pencil.

“13, Duncan Street, Houndsditch. A weary way from here.”

“The Brixton Road does not lie between any circus and Houndsditch,” said
Sherlock Holmes sharply.

The old woman faced round and looked keenly at him from her little
red-rimmed eyes. “The gentleman asked me for _my_ address,” she said.
“Sally lives in lodgings at 3, Mayfield Place, Peckham.”

“And your name is—-?”

“My name is Sawyer–her’s is Dennis, which Tom Dennis married her–and
a smart, clean lad, too, as long as he’s at sea, and no steward in the
company more thought of; but when on shore, what with the women and what
with liquor shops—-”

“Here is your ring, Mrs. Sawyer,” I interrupted, in obedience to a sign
from my companion; “it clearly belongs to your daughter, and I am glad
to be able to restore it to the rightful owner.”

With many mumbled blessings and protestations of gratitude the old crone
packed it away in her pocket, and shuffled off down the stairs. Sherlock
Holmes sprang to his feet the moment that she was gone and rushed into
his room. He returned in a few seconds enveloped in an ulster and
a cravat. “I’ll follow her,” he said, hurriedly; “she must be an
accomplice, and will lead me to him. Wait up for me.” The hall door had
hardly slammed behind our visitor before Holmes had descended the stair.
Looking through the window I could see her walking feebly along the
other side, while her pursuer dogged her some little distance behind.
“Either his whole theory is incorrect,” I thought to myself, “or else he
will be led now to the heart of the mystery.” There was no need for him
to ask me to wait up for him, for I felt that sleep was impossible until
I heard the result of his adventure.

It was close upon nine when he set out. I had no idea how long he might
be, but I sat stolidly puffing at my pipe and skipping over the pages
of Henri Murger’s “Vie de Bohème.” Ten o’clock passed, and I heard the
footsteps of the maid as they pattered off to bed. Eleven, and the
more stately tread of the landlady passed my door, bound for the same
destination. It was close upon twelve before I heard the sharp sound of
his latch-key. The instant he entered I saw by his face that he had not
been successful. Amusement and chagrin seemed to be struggling for the
mastery, until the former suddenly carried the day, and he burst into a
hearty laugh.

“I wouldn’t have the Scotland Yarders know it for the world,” he cried,
dropping into his chair; “I have chaffed them so much that they would
never have let me hear the end of it. I can afford to laugh, because I
know that I will be even with them in the long run.”

“What is it then?” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t mind telling a story against myself. That creature had
gone a little way when she began to limp and show every sign of being
foot-sore. Presently she came to a halt, and hailed a four-wheeler which
was passing. I managed to be close to her so as to hear the address, but
I need not have been so anxious, for she sang it out loud enough to
be heard at the other side of the street, ‘Drive to 13, Duncan Street,
Houndsditch,’ she cried. This begins to look genuine, I thought, and
having seen her safely inside, I perched myself behind. That’s an art
which every detective should be an expert at. Well, away we rattled, and
never drew rein until we reached the street in question. I hopped off
before we came to the door, and strolled down the street in an easy,
lounging way. I saw the cab pull up. The driver jumped down, and I saw
him open the door and stand expectantly. Nothing came out though. When
I reached him he was groping about frantically in the empty cab, and
giving vent to the finest assorted collection of oaths that ever I
listened to. There was no sign or trace of his passenger, and I fear it
will be some time before he gets his fare. On inquiring at Number 13
we found that the house belonged to a respectable paperhanger, named
Keswick, and that no one of the name either of Sawyer or Dennis had ever
been heard of there.”

“You don’t mean to say,” I cried, in amazement, “that that tottering,
feeble old woman was able to get out of the cab while it was in motion,
without either you or the driver seeing her?”

“Old woman be damned!” said Sherlock Holmes, sharply. “We were the old
women to be so taken in. It must have been a young man, and an
active one, too, besides being an incomparable actor. The get-up was
inimitable. He saw that he was followed, no doubt, and used this means
of giving me the slip. It shows that the man we are after is not as
lonely as I imagined he was, but has friends who are ready to risk
something for him. Now, Doctor, you are looking done-up. Take my advice
and turn in.”

I was certainly feeling very weary, so I obeyed his injunction. I
left Holmes seated in front of the smouldering fire, and long into the
watches of the night I heard the low, melancholy wailings of his violin,
and knew that he was still pondering over the strange problem which he
had set himself to unravel.