THE LAURISTON GARDEN MYSTERY

I CONFESS that I was considerably startled by this fresh proof of the
practical nature of my companion’s theories. My respect for his powers
of analysis increased wondrously. There still remained some lurking
suspicion in my mind, however, that the whole thing was a pre-arranged
episode, intended to dazzle me, though what earthly object he could have
in taking me in was past my comprehension. When I looked at him he
had finished reading the note, and his eyes had assumed the vacant,
lack-lustre expression which showed mental abstraction.

“How in the world did you deduce that?” I asked.

“Deduce what?” said he, petulantly.

“Why, that he was a retired sergeant of Marines.”

“I have no time for trifles,” he answered, brusquely; then with a smile,
“Excuse my rudeness. You broke the thread of my thoughts; but perhaps
it is as well. So you actually were not able to see that that man was a
sergeant of Marines?”

“No, indeed.”

“It was easier to know it than to explain why I knew it. If you
were asked to prove that two and two made four, you might find some
difficulty, and yet you are quite sure of the fact. Even across the
street I could see a great blue anchor tattooed on the back of the
fellow’s hand. That smacked of the sea. He had a military carriage,
however, and regulation side whiskers. There we have the marine. He was
a man with some amount of self-importance and a certain air of command.
You must have observed the way in which he held his head and swung
his cane. A steady, respectable, middle-aged man, too, on the face of
him–all facts which led me to believe that he had been a sergeant.”

“Wonderful!” I ejaculated.

“Commonplace,” said Holmes, though I thought from his expression that he
was pleased at my evident surprise and admiration. “I said just now that
there were no criminals. It appears that I am wrong–look at this!” He
threw me over the note which the commissionaire had brought. [7]

“Why,” I cried, as I cast my eye over it, “this is terrible!”

“It does seem to be a little out of the common,” he remarked, calmly.
“Would you mind reading it to me aloud?”

This is the letter which I read to him—-

“MY DEAR MR. SHERLOCK HOLMES,–

“There has been a bad business during the night at 3, Lauriston Gardens,
off the Brixton Road. Our man on the beat saw a light there about two in
the morning, and as the house was an empty one, suspected that something
was amiss. He found the door open, and in the front room, which is bare
of furniture, discovered the body of a gentleman, well dressed, and
having cards in his pocket bearing the name of ‘Enoch J. Drebber,
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A.’ There had been no robbery, nor is there any
evidence as to how the man met his death. There are marks of blood in
the room, but there is no wound upon his person. We are at a loss as to
how he came into the empty house; indeed, the whole affair is a puzzler.
If you can come round to the house any time before twelve, you will find
me there. I have left everything _in statu quo_ until I hear from you.
If you are unable to come I shall give you fuller details, and would
esteem it a great kindness if you would favour me with your opinion.
Yours faithfully,

“TOBIAS GREGSON.”

“Gregson is the smartest of the Scotland Yarders,” my friend remarked;
“he and Lestrade are the pick of a bad lot. They are both quick and
energetic, but conventional–shockingly so. They have their knives
into one another, too. They are as jealous as a pair of professional
beauties. There will be some fun over this case if they are both put
upon the scent.”

I was amazed at the calm way in which he rippled on. “Surely there is
not a moment to be lost,” I cried, “shall I go and order you a cab?”

“I’m not sure about whether I shall go. I am the most incurably lazy
devil that ever stood in shoe leather–that is, when the fit is on me,
for I can be spry enough at times.”

“Why, it is just such a chance as you have been longing for.”

“My dear fellow, what does it matter to me. Supposing I unravel the
whole matter, you may be sure that Gregson, Lestrade, and Co. will
pocket all the credit. That comes of being an unofficial personage.”

“But he begs you to help him.”

“Yes. He knows that I am his superior, and acknowledges it to me; but
he would cut his tongue out before he would own it to any third person.
However, we may as well go and have a look. I shall work it out on my
own hook. I may have a laugh at them if I have nothing else. Come on!”

He hustled on his overcoat, and bustled about in a way that showed that
an energetic fit had superseded the apathetic one.

“Get your hat,” he said.

“You wish me to come?”

“Yes, if you have nothing better to do.” A minute later we were both in
a hansom, driving furiously for the Brixton Road.

It was a foggy, cloudy morning, and a dun-coloured veil hung over the
house-tops, looking like the reflection of the mud-coloured streets
beneath. My companion was in the best of spirits, and prattled away
about Cremona fiddles, and the difference between a Stradivarius and
an Amati. As for myself, I was silent, for the dull weather and the
melancholy business upon which we were engaged, depressed my spirits.

“You don’t seem to give much thought to the matter in hand,” I said at
last, interrupting Holmes’ musical disquisition.

“No data yet,” he answered. “It is a capital mistake to theorize before
you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment.”

“You will have your data soon,” I remarked, pointing with my finger;
“this is the Brixton Road, and that is the house, if I am not very much
mistaken.”

“So it is. Stop, driver, stop!” We were still a hundred yards or so from
it, but he insisted upon our alighting, and we finished our journey upon
foot.

Number 3, Lauriston Gardens wore an ill-omened and minatory look. It was
one of four which stood back some little way from the street, two being
occupied and two empty. The latter looked out with three tiers of vacant
melancholy windows, which were blank and dreary, save that here and
there a “To Let” card had developed like a cataract upon the bleared
panes. A small garden sprinkled over with a scattered eruption of sickly
plants separated each of these houses from the street, and was traversed
by a narrow pathway, yellowish in colour, and consisting apparently of a
mixture of clay and of gravel. The whole place was very sloppy from the
rain which had fallen through the night. The garden was bounded by a
three-foot brick wall with a fringe of wood rails upon the top, and
against this wall was leaning a stalwart police constable, surrounded by
a small knot of loafers, who craned their necks and strained their eyes
in the vain hope of catching some glimpse of the proceedings within.

I had imagined that Sherlock Holmes would at once have hurried into the
house and plunged into a study of the mystery. Nothing appeared to be
further from his intention. With an air of nonchalance which, under the
circumstances, seemed to me to border upon affectation, he lounged up
and down the pavement, and gazed vacantly at the ground, the sky, the
opposite houses and the line of railings. Having finished his scrutiny,
he proceeded slowly down the path, or rather down the fringe of grass
which flanked the path, keeping his eyes riveted upon the ground. Twice
he stopped, and once I saw him smile, and heard him utter an exclamation
of satisfaction. There were many marks of footsteps upon the wet clayey
soil, but since the police had been coming and going over it, I was
unable to see how my companion could hope to learn anything from it.
Still I had had such extraordinary evidence of the quickness of his
perceptive faculties, that I had no doubt that he could see a great deal
which was hidden from me.

At the door of the house we were met by a tall, white-faced,
flaxen-haired man, with a notebook in his hand, who rushed forward and
wrung my companion’s hand with effusion. “It is indeed kind of you to
come,” he said, “I have had everything left untouched.”

“Except that!” my friend answered, pointing at the pathway. “If a herd
of buffaloes had passed along there could not be a greater mess. No
doubt, however, you had drawn your own conclusions, Gregson, before you
permitted this.”

“I have had so much to do inside the house,” the detective said
evasively. “My colleague, Mr. Lestrade, is here. I had relied upon him
to look after this.”

Holmes glanced at me and raised his eyebrows sardonically. “With two
such men as yourself and Lestrade upon the ground, there will not be
much for a third party to find out,” he said.

Gregson rubbed his hands in a self-satisfied way. “I think we have done
all that can be done,” he answered; “it’s a queer case though, and I
knew your taste for such things.”

“You did not come here in a cab?” asked Sherlock Holmes.

“No, sir.”

“Nor Lestrade?”

“No, sir.”

“Then let us go and look at the room.” With which inconsequent remark he
strode on into the house, followed by Gregson, whose features expressed
his astonishment.

A short passage, bare planked and dusty, led to the kitchen and offices.
Two doors opened out of it to the left and to the right. One of these
had obviously been closed for many weeks. The other belonged to the
dining-room, which was the apartment in which the mysterious affair had
occurred. Holmes walked in, and I followed him with that subdued feeling
at my heart which the presence of death inspires.

It was a large square room, looking all the larger from the absence
of all furniture. A vulgar flaring paper adorned the walls, but it was
blotched in places with mildew, and here and there great strips had
become detached and hung down, exposing the yellow plaster beneath.
Opposite the door was a showy fireplace, surmounted by a mantelpiece of
imitation white marble. On one corner of this was stuck the stump of a
red wax candle. The solitary window was so dirty that the light was
hazy and uncertain, giving a dull grey tinge to everything, which was
intensified by the thick layer of dust which coated the whole apartment.

All these details I observed afterwards. At present my attention was
centred upon the single grim motionless figure which lay stretched upon
the boards, with vacant sightless eyes staring up at the discoloured
ceiling. It was that of a man about forty-three or forty-four years of
age, middle-sized, broad shouldered, with crisp curling black hair, and
a short stubbly beard. He was dressed in a heavy broadcloth frock coat
and waistcoat, with light-coloured trousers, and immaculate collar
and cuffs. A top hat, well brushed and trim, was placed upon the floor
beside him. His hands were clenched and his arms thrown abroad, while
his lower limbs were interlocked as though his death struggle had been a
grievous one. On his rigid face there stood an expression of horror,
and as it seemed to me, of hatred, such as I have never seen upon human
features. This malignant and terrible contortion, combined with the low
forehead, blunt nose, and prognathous jaw gave the dead man a singularly
simious and ape-like appearance, which was increased by his writhing,
unnatural posture. I have seen death in many forms, but never has
it appeared to me in a more fearsome aspect than in that dark grimy
apartment, which looked out upon one of the main arteries of suburban
London.

Lestrade, lean and ferret-like as ever, was standing by the doorway, and
greeted my companion and myself.

“This case will make a stir, sir,” he remarked. “It beats anything I
have seen, and I am no chicken.”

“There is no clue?” said Gregson.

“None at all,” chimed in Lestrade.

Sherlock Holmes approached the body, and, kneeling down, examined it
intently. “You are sure that there is no wound?” he asked, pointing to
numerous gouts and splashes of blood which lay all round.

“Positive!” cried both detectives.

“Then, of course, this blood belongs to a second individual–[8]
presumably the murderer, if murder has been committed. It reminds me of
the circumstances attendant on the death of Van Jansen, in Utrecht, in
the year ‘34. Do you remember the case, Gregson?”

“No, sir.”

“Read it up–you really should. There is nothing new under the sun. It
has all been done before.”

As he spoke, his nimble fingers were flying here, there, and everywhere,
feeling, pressing, unbuttoning, examining, while his eyes wore the same
far-away expression which I have already remarked upon. So swiftly was
the examination made, that one would hardly have guessed the minuteness
with which it was conducted. Finally, he sniffed the dead man’s lips,
and then glanced at the soles of his patent leather boots.

“He has not been moved at all?” he asked.

“No more than was necessary for the purposes of our examination.”

“You can take him to the mortuary now,” he said. “There is nothing more
to be learned.”

Gregson had a stretcher and four men at hand. At his call they entered
the room, and the stranger was lifted and carried out. As they raised
him, a ring tinkled down and rolled across the floor. Lestrade grabbed
it up and stared at it with mystified eyes.




“There’s been a woman here,” he cried. “It’s a woman’s wedding-ring.”

He held it out, as he spoke, upon the palm of his hand. We all gathered
round him and gazed at it. There could be no doubt that that circlet of
plain gold had once adorned the finger of a bride.

“This complicates matters,” said Gregson. “Heaven knows, they were
complicated enough before.”

“You’re sure it doesn’t simplify them?” observed Holmes. “There’s
nothing to be learned by staring at it. What did you find in his
pockets?”

“We have it all here,” said Gregson, pointing to a litter of objects
upon one of the bottom steps of the stairs. “A gold watch, No. 97163, by
Barraud, of London. Gold Albert chain, very heavy and solid. Gold ring,
with masonic device. Gold pin–bull-dog’s head, with rubies as eyes.
Russian leather card-case, with cards of Enoch J. Drebber of Cleveland,
corresponding with the E. J. D. upon the linen. No purse, but loose
money to the extent of seven pounds thirteen. Pocket edition of
Boccaccio’s ‘Decameron,’ with name of Joseph Stangerson upon the
fly-leaf. Two letters–one addressed to E. J. Drebber and one to Joseph
Stangerson.”

“At what address?”

“American Exchange, Strand–to be left till called for. They are both
from the Guion Steamship Company, and refer to the sailing of their
boats from Liverpool. It is clear that this unfortunate man was about to
return to New York.”

“Have you made any inquiries as to this man, Stangerson?”

“I did it at once, sir,” said Gregson. “I have had advertisements
sent to all the newspapers, and one of my men has gone to the American
Exchange, but he has not returned yet.”

“Have you sent to Cleveland?”

“We telegraphed this morning.”

“How did you word your inquiries?”

“We simply detailed the circumstances, and said that we should be glad
of any information which could help us.”

“You did not ask for particulars on any point which appeared to you to
be crucial?”

“I asked about Stangerson.”

“Nothing else? Is there no circumstance on which this whole case appears
to hinge? Will you not telegraph again?”

“I have said all I have to say,” said Gregson, in an offended voice.

Sherlock Holmes chuckled to himself, and appeared to be about to make
some remark, when Lestrade, who had been in the front room while we
were holding this conversation in the hall, reappeared upon the scene,
rubbing his hands in a pompous and self-satisfied manner.

“Mr. Gregson,” he said, “I have just made a discovery of the highest
importance, and one which would have been overlooked had I not made a
careful examination of the walls.”

The little man’s eyes sparkled as he spoke, and he was evidently in
a state of suppressed exultation at having scored a point against his
colleague.

“Come here,” he said, bustling back into the room, the atmosphere of
which felt clearer since the removal of its ghastly inmate. “Now, stand
there!”

He struck a match on his boot and held it up against the wall.

“Look at that!” he said, triumphantly.

I have remarked that the paper had fallen away in parts. In this
particular corner of the room a large piece had peeled off, leaving a
yellow square of coarse plastering. Across this bare space there was
scrawled in blood-red letters a single word–

RACHE.

“What do you think of that?” cried the detective, with the air of a
showman exhibiting his show. “This was overlooked because it was in the
darkest corner of the room, and no one thought of looking there. The
murderer has written it with his or her own blood. See this smear where
it has trickled down the wall! That disposes of the idea of suicide
anyhow. Why was that corner chosen to write it on? I will tell you. See
that candle on the mantelpiece. It was lit at the time, and if it was
lit this corner would be the brightest instead of the darkest portion of
the wall.”

“And what does it mean now that you _have_ found it?” asked Gregson in a
depreciatory voice.

“Mean? Why, it means that the writer was going to put the female name
Rachel, but was disturbed before he or she had time to finish. You mark
my words, when this case comes to be cleared up you will find that a
woman named Rachel has something to do with it. It’s all very well for
you to laugh, Mr. Sherlock Holmes. You may be very smart and clever, but
the old hound is the best, when all is said and done.”

“I really beg your pardon!” said my companion, who had ruffled the
little man’s temper by bursting into an explosion of laughter. “You
certainly have the credit of being the first of us to find this out,
and, as you say, it bears every mark of having been written by the other
participant in last night’s mystery. I have not had time to examine this
room yet, but with your permission I shall do so now.”

As he spoke, he whipped a tape measure and a large round magnifying
glass from his pocket. With these two implements he trotted noiselessly
about the room, sometimes stopping, occasionally kneeling, and once
lying flat upon his face. So engrossed was he with his occupation that
he appeared to have forgotten our presence, for he chattered away to
himself under his breath the whole time, keeping up a running fire
of exclamations, groans, whistles, and little cries suggestive of
encouragement and of hope. As I watched him I was irresistibly reminded
of a pure-blooded well-trained foxhound as it dashes backwards and
forwards through the covert, whining in its eagerness, until it comes
across the lost scent. For twenty minutes or more he continued his
researches, measuring with the most exact care the distance between
marks which were entirely invisible to me, and occasionally applying his
tape to the walls in an equally incomprehensible manner. In one place
he gathered up very carefully a little pile of grey dust from the floor,
and packed it away in an envelope. Finally, he examined with his glass
the word upon the wall, going over every letter of it with the most
minute exactness. This done, he appeared to be satisfied, for he
replaced his tape and his glass in his pocket.

“They say that genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains,” he
remarked with a smile. “It’s a very bad definition, but it does apply to
detective work.”

Gregson and Lestrade had watched the manoeuvres [9] of their amateur
companion with considerable curiosity and some contempt. They evidently
failed to appreciate the fact, which I had begun to realize, that
Sherlock Holmes’ smallest actions were all directed towards some
definite and practical end.

“What do you think of it, sir?” they both asked.

“It would be robbing you of the credit of the case if I was to presume
to help you,” remarked my friend. “You are doing so well now that it
would be a pity for anyone to interfere.” There was a world of
sarcasm in his voice as he spoke. “If you will let me know how your
investigations go,” he continued, “I shall be happy to give you any help
I can. In the meantime I should like to speak to the constable who found
the body. Can you give me his name and address?”

Lestrade glanced at his note-book. “John Rance,” he said. “He is off
duty now. You will find him at 46, Audley Court, Kennington Park Gate.”

Holmes took a note of the address.

“Come along, Doctor,” he said; “we shall go and look him up. I’ll tell
you one thing which may help you in the case,” he continued, turning to
the two detectives. “There has been murder done, and the murderer was a
man. He was more than six feet high, was in the prime of life, had
small feet for his height, wore coarse, square-toed boots and smoked a
Trichinopoly cigar. He came here with his victim in a four-wheeled cab,
which was drawn by a horse with three old shoes and one new one on his
off fore leg. In all probability the murderer had a florid face, and the
finger-nails of his right hand were remarkably long. These are only a
few indications, but they may assist you.”

Lestrade and Gregson glanced at each other with an incredulous smile.

“If this man was murdered, how was it done?” asked the former.

“Poison,” said Sherlock Holmes curtly, and strode off. “One other thing,
Lestrade,” he added, turning round at the door: “‘Rache,’ is the German
for ‘revenge;’ so don’t lose your time looking for Miss Rachel.”

With which Parthian shot he walked away, leaving the two rivals
open-mouthed behind him.