蓝宝石案.  阿瑟•柯南 道尔

本书. 蓝宝石案 (Book. The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle)
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圣诞节后的第二个早晨,我怀着祝贺佳节的心情,前往探望我的朋友歇洛克•福尔摩斯。他身穿一件紫红色睡衣懒散地斜靠在一张长沙发上,右手边放着一个烟斗架,眼前还有一堆折皱了的晨报,显然是刚刚翻阅过的。沙发旁是一把木椅,椅子靠背上挂着一顶肮脏的破烂不堪的硬胎毡帽。帽子简直糟得不能再戴了,有好几处都裂了缝。椅垫上放着一个放大镜和一把镊子,这说明那顶帽子之所以用这样的方式挂着,目的是为了便于检查。

”你正忙着呢,“我说,”也许我打搅你了。“

”没有的话,我很高兴有一位朋友来和我一AE?讨论我研究所得的结果。这完全是一件毫无价值的东西。“说着,他竖AE?大拇指指了一下那顶帽子,”不过,同它有关联的几个问题却不是索然无味的,甚至还能给我们一些教益。“

*我坐在他那张扶手椅上,就着木柴劈啪作响的炉火暖暖自己的双手,因为严寒已经降临,窗户上的玻璃都结了晶莹的冰凌。”我猜想,“我说道,”尽管这顶帽子很不雅观,但它却和某桩性命攸关的事故有所牵连,就是这条线索能引导你解开某个疑团,并且指导你去惩罚某种犯罪行为。“

”不,不,并非犯罪行为,“歇洛克•福尔摩斯笑着说,”这只不过是许多离奇的小事中的一件罢了。在一块仅有几平方英里的弹丸之地,拥挤不堪地住着四百万人口,这类小事是少不了的。在如此稠密的人群尔虞我诈的争逐中,各种错综复杂的事件都是可能发生的;有些疑难问题看AE?来很惊人和稀奇古怪,但并非就是犯罪行为。我们对于诸如此类的事件是早有经验的了。“

”是的,甚至到了这样的程度,“我说,”那就是我记录上最近增添的六个案件中,倒有三个完全与法律上的犯罪行为无关。“

”确切地说,你指的是我找回艾琳•艾德勒相片的尝试,玛丽•萨瑟兰小姐奇案和歪唇男人这几个案件吧。我不怀疑这件小事也属于法律上无罪的范畴。你认识看门人彼得森吗?“

”认识。“

”这就是他的战利品。“

”这是他的帽子?“

”不,不是。是他拣来的。帽主是谁尚未知晓。但请不要因为它只不过是一顶破毡帽而等闲视之,而应当把它当作一个需要智力才能解决的疑难问题来看待。首先说说这顶帽子的来历。它是连同一只大肥鹅一AE?在圣诞节早晨送到这里来的。我相信,此鹅现时正在彼得森的炉前烧烤。事情是这样的:圣诞节破晓大约四点钟的时候,彼得森,正如你所知道的,为人淳朴诚实,在某处参加了一个小小的欢宴之后正在归家途中,他是取道托特纳姆法院路走回家去的。在煤气灯下,他看见一个身材颇高的人在他前面走着,步伐有些蹒跚,肩上背着一只白鹅。当彼得森途经古治街拐角时,这个陌生人忽然和几个流氓发生了一场争吵。一个流氓把他的帽子打落在地,为此他抡AE?棍子进行自卫,他高举棍子四处挥舞,一下子把身后商店的玻璃橱窗打得粉碎。彼得森正想挺身而出,助这个陌生人一臂之力以对付这帮无赖,但那个陌生人正因打碎玻璃而感到惊慌,同时又瞧见一个身穿制服、状如警官的人冲他而来,于是把鹅丢下,拔腿就跑,很快地消失在托特纳姆法院路后面弯弯曲曲的小巷里。那帮流氓看见彼得森正在赶来也逃之夭夭了。这样,只留下了彼得森在那里,不仅占领了战场,而且掳获了这两样战利品:一顶破旧的毡帽和一只上等的圣诞大肥鹅。“

”他无疑是想把这些东西归还原主的吧?“

”我亲爱的伙伴,难题就出在这里。的确,这只鹅的左腿上系着一张写着’献给亨利•贝克夫人‘的小卡片,而且这顶帽子的衬里也的确写着姓名缩写'H.B.’的字样,但是,在我们这个城市里,姓贝克(Baker)的人数以千计,而名叫亨利•贝克(HenryBaker)的人又何止数百,所以要在这许多人中间找到失主,把东西归还给他,决不是一件容易的事。“

”那么,后来彼得森怎么办呢?“

”因为他知道我对那些即使是最细小的问题也是很感兴趣的,所以就在圣诞节早晨带着帽子和鹅到我这里来了。这只鹅我们一直留到今天早晨。尽管天气较冷,但有些迹象表明最好还是把它吃掉,没有必要再拖延了。因此彼得森带走它,去完成一只鹅的最终命运,而我则继续保留着这位失去了圣诞节佳馔的素未谋面的先生的帽子。“

”他没有在报纸上刊登寻找失物的AE?事吗?“

”没有。“

”那么,关于这个人的身份你有什么线索吗?“

”只有尽我们所能去推测。“

”从这顶帽子上?“

”对。“

”你真是会开玩笑,从这顶又破又旧的毡帽上你能推测出什么来?“

”这是我的放大镜,你素来知道我的方法。对于戴这顶帽子的那个人的个性,你能够推测出什么来吗?“

*我把这顶破烂帽子拿在手里,无可奈何地把它翻过来看看,这是一顶极其普通的圆形黑毡帽,硬邦邦的而且破旧得不堪再戴了。原来的红色丝绸衬里已经大大褪色,上面没有制帽商的商标,但是正象福尔摩斯说过的,在帽子的一侧,却有潦草涂写的姓名缩写字母‘H.B.’。为了防止被风刮跑,帽檐曾穿有小孔,但上面的松紧带已经没有了。至于其它情况,尽管似乎是为了掩盖帽子上几块褪了色的补丁而用墨水把它们涂黑了,但还是到处开裂,布满灰尘,有好几个地方污点斑斑。

”我看不出什么来。“我一面说着,一面把帽子递还我的朋友。

”恰恰相反,华生,你什么都能看出来,可是,你没有从所看到的东西作出推论。你对作出推论太缺乏信心了。“

”那么,请你告诉我你能够从这顶帽子作出什么推论呢?“

*他拿起帽子,并用他那独特的、足以表示他的性格的思考方式凝视着它。”这顶帽子可能提供的引人联想的东西也许要少一些,“他说道,”不过,还是有几点推论是很明显的,而其它几点推论至少或然率是很大的。从帽子的外观来看,很明显这个人是个学问渊博的人,而且在过去三年里,生活相当富裕,尽管他目前已处于窘境。他过去很有远见,可是,已今非昔比,再加上家道中落,因此,精神日趋颓废,这仿佛说明了他受到某种有害的影响,也许染上了酗酒的恶习,恐怕这也是他AE?子已不再爱他这一明显事实的原因。“

”哎呀,我亲爱的福尔摩斯,好了!“

”可是不管怎么样,他还保持着一定程度的自尊,“他没有理睬我的反对而继续说下去。

”他这个人一向深居简出,根本不锻炼身体,是个中年人,头发灰白,而且是最近几天刚刚理过的,头发上涂着柠檬膏,这些就是根据这顶帽子所推断出来的比较明显的事实。还有,顺便再提一下,他家里是绝对不可能安有煤气灯的。“

”你肯定是在开玩笑,福尔摩斯。“

”一点都不是开玩笑。难道现在当我把研究结果都告诉了你,你还看不出它们是怎样得出来的吗?“

”我并不怀疑我自己是很迟钝的,但是我必须承认我不能领会你说的话。举个例子说吧,你是怎样推断出这个人是很有学问的?“

*福尔摩斯啪的一下把帽子扣在头上来作为回答。帽子正好把整个前额罩住,并且压到了鼻梁上。”这是一个容积的问题,“他说,”有这么大脑袋的人,头脑里必定有些东西吧!“

”那么他家道中落又是怎么推断出来的呢?“

”这顶帽子已买了三年,这种平沿、帽边向上卷AE?的帽子当时是很时兴的。它是一顶第一流的帽子。你瞧瞧这条罗纹丝绸箍带儿和那华贵的衬里。如果这个人三年前买得AE?这么昂贵的帽子,而从那以后从没有买别的帽子,那么毫无疑问他是在走下坡路了。“

”噢,这一点当然很清楚了,但是说这个人有‘远见’,又说他‘精神颓废’这是怎么回事呢?“

*歇洛克•福尔摩斯笑了AE?来,”这就说明有远见。“他一边说着,一边把手指放在钉松紧带用的小圆盘和搭环上。”出售的帽子从来不附带这些东西。这个人定做了这样一顶帽子,正好说明此人品有远见,因为他特意用这个方法来预防帽子被风刮跑。可是我们又看到他把松紧带弄坏了,而又不愿意费点事重新钉上一条,这清楚地说明他的远见已不如从前了,同时这也是他意志日渐消沉的一个明显证明。另一方面,他用墨水涂抹帽子上的污痕,拚命加以掩饰它的破旧,表明他还没有完全丧失他的自尊心。“

”当然你的推论似乎是言之有理的。“

”此外还有几点:他是个中年人,头发灰白,最近刚理过发,头上抹过柠檬膏。这些都是通过对帽子衬里下部的周密检查推断出来的。通过放大镜看到了许多被理发师剪刀剪过的整齐的头发楂儿。头发楂儿都是粘在一AE?的,而且有一种柠檬膏的特殊气味。而帽子上的这些尘土,你将会注意到,不是街道上夹杂砂粒的灰尘,而是房间里那种棕色的绒状尘土。这说明帽子大部分时间是挂在房间里的,而另一方面衬里的湿迹很清楚地证明戴帽子的人经常大量出汗,所以不可能是一个身体锻炼得很好的人。“

”可是他的妻子——你刚才说过她已经不再爱他了。“”这顶帽子已经有好几个星期没有掸掸刷刷了。我亲爱的华生,如果我看到你的帽子堆积了个把星期的灰尘,而且你的妻子听之任之,就让你这个样子去出访,我恐怕你也已经很不幸地失去你的妻子的爱情了。“

”可是他可能是个单身汉哪!“

”不可能,因为那天晚上他正要把那只鹅带回家去作为一件表示亲善的礼物献给他的妻子的。你可别忘了系在鹅腿上的那张卡片。“

”你对每个问题都做出了解答,可是你究竟是怎样推断出他家里没有安煤气灯的呢?“

”一滴烛油、或者甚至是两滴烛油,那可能是偶然滴上的;可是当我看到至少有五滴烛油时,我认为毫无疑问每一滴烛油都一定是由于常和点燃着的蜡烛接触而滴上的。比方说,夜里上楼时很可能是一手拿着帽子,而另一只手拿着淌着烛油的蜡烛。不管怎么说,他决不可能从煤气灯上沾上烛油。你现在相信了吧?“

”太好了,你的脑子真灵,“我笑着说,”但是既然象你刚才所说的,这中间没有犯罪行为,除了失去一只鹅以外,并未造成任何危害,所有的一切看来都是浪费精力了。“

*歇洛克•福尔摩斯刚要张开嘴回答我,只见房门猛地打开,看门人彼得森跑了进来,脸涨得通红,带着一种由于吃惊而感到茫然的神色。

”那只鹅,福尔摩斯先生!那只鹅,先生!“他喘着气说。

”噢,它怎么啦?莫非它又活了,拍打着翅膀从厨房的窗户飞了出去?“为了把这个人的激动面孔看得更清楚一些,福尔摩斯在沙发上转过身来。

”瞧,先生,你瞧我妻子从鹅的嗦囊里发现了什么!“他伸出手,在他手心上展现着一颗闪烁着夺目光辉的蓝宝石。这颗蓝宝石比黄豆稍微小一些,可是晶莹洁净、光彩闪闪,就象一道电光在他那黝黑的手心里闪烁着。

*歇洛克•福尔摩斯吹了一声口哨,坐了AE?来。”天啊,彼得森!“他说道,”这确实是一件秘藏的珍宝啊!我想你知道你得到的是什么。“

”一颗钻石,先生,是不是?一颗宝石。用它切割玻璃就象切割油泥一样。“

”这不是一颗平常的宝石,而恰恰是那颗名贵的宝石。“

”莫非是莫卡伯爵夫人的蓝宝石吗?“我喊了出来。

”一点都不错!因为我最近每天都看《泰晤士报》有关这颗宝右的奇事,我应该知道它的大小和形状的。这颗宝石绝对是独一无二的珍宝。它的价值只能约略估计。可是悬赏的报酬一千英镑肯定还不到这颗蓝宝石市价的二十分之一。“

”一千英镑!我的老天爷呀!“看门人品通一下跌坐在椅子上,瞪大眼睛轮番看着我和福尔摩斯。

”那只不过是赏格而已,而且我确实知道伯爵夫人由于暗中某些感情上的考虑,只要能够找回这颗宝石,她就是将财产分一半给人也会心甘情愿的。“

”如果我没有记错的话,这颗宝石是在‘世界旅馆’丢失的。“我说道。

”的确如此,十二月二十二日,也就是五天以前。约翰•霍纳,一个管子工,被人指控从伯爵夫人的首饰匣里窃取了这颗宝石。因为他犯罪的证据确凿,现在这一案件已提交法庭。我想这里还有些关于这事件的记载。“他在那堆报纸里翻弄着,眼睛扫视一张张报纸上的日期,最后把一张报纸摊平,叠了一折,然后念了下面的段落:”‘世界旅馆’宝石偷窃案。约翰•霍纳,二十六岁,管子工,因本月二十二日从莫卡伯爵夫人首饰匣中窃取一颗以‘蓝宝石’闻名的贵重宝石而被送交法院AE?诉。旅馆侍者领班詹姆士•赖德,对此案的证词如下:偷窃发生当天,他曾带领约翰•霍纳到楼上莫卡伯爵夫人的化妆室内焊接壁炉的第二根业已松动的炉栅。他和霍纳一AE?稍逗片刻,旋即被召走。及至重新回到该处,发现霍纳已经离去,而梳妆台则已被人撬开,有摩洛哥小首饰匣一只AE?置于梳妆台上,里面已经空空如也。嗣后人们才知伯爵夫人习惯存放宝石于此匣内。赖德迅速报案,霍纳于当晚被捕。但从霍纳身上及其家中均未搜得宝石。伯爵夫人的女仆凯瑟琳•丘萨克宣誓证明曾听到赖德发现宝石被窃时的惊呼,并且证明她跑进房间时目睹情况和上述证人所述相符。B区布雷兹特里特巡官证明霍纳被捕时曾经拚命抗拒,并且用最强烈措词申辩自己乃是清白无辜的。鉴于以前有人证明他曾犯过类似盗窃案,地方法官拒绝草率从事,并已将此案提交巡回审判庭处理。霍纳于审讯过程中表现得异常激动,在判决时竟至昏厥而被抬出法庭。

“哼!警察局和法庭所提供的情况也就这么多了,”福尔摩斯若有所思地说着,顺手把报纸扔到一边。“我们现在要解决的问题是,把从被盗的首饰匣为AE?点到托特纳姆法院路拾到的那只鹅的嗦囊为终点的一系列事件按顺序理清楚。你知道吗?我们的小小推论已经很快地表现为严重性大为增加,而无罪的可能性大为减少这方面了。这就是那颗宝石,那颗宝石来自那只鹅,那只鹅来自亨利•贝克先生。关于这位先生的破帽子以及所有其它的特征的分析我已向你提供了。因此现在我们要认真地找到这位先生,并且弄清楚他在这小小的神秘事件中扮演的是什么样的角色。要做到这一点,我们开始必须使用最简单的方法。这方法无庸置疑地是在所有晚报上刊登一则启事。如果这种方法不成功,那么我将不得不借助于其它的方法了。”

“启事说什么呢?”

“给我一枝铅笔和一张纸。好,下面就是我要说的:

*‘兹于古治街拐角拣到鹅一只和黑毡帽一顶。亨利•

*贝克先生请于晚六点半到贝克街221号乙询问,即可领

*回原物。’这样写既简单又明了。”

“对,很简单,很清楚,可是他会看到这个启事吗?”

“当然会的,他肯定会注意看报的,因为对于一个穷人来说,这损失也算是惨重的了。他显然由于打破玻璃闯了祸以及彼得森向他逼近,而惊慌失措,因此除了只顾逃跑以外,没有想到别的。可是,过后他一定是深感后悔莫及,痛惜一时的冲动而丢下了他的鹅。另外,报上刊登了他的名字一定会使他看报,因为每一个认识他的人都会提醒他去注意看报的。彼得森,这给你,赶快把它送到广告公司,并且要刊登在今天的晚报上。”

“登在哪家报纸上,先生?”

“噢,《环球报》、《星报》、《蓓尔美尔报》、《圣詹姆斯宫报》、《新闻晚报》、《回声报》和你想到的随便哪一家报纸。”

“是的,先生,那么这颗宝石怎么办呢?”

“噢,这颗宝石我先保存着,谢谢你,还有,彼得森,在你回来的路上买一只鹅送到我这里来,因为我必须给这位先生一只鹅来代替你们全家人正在吃的那只。”

*看门人走了以后,福尔摩斯拿AE?宝石对着光线仔细鉴赏,“真是一颗美奂绝伦的宝石,”他说,“请看看它是何等地光彩照耀呀!当然,它又是罪恶的渊薮。每颗珍贵的宝石无不如此。它们是魔鬼最得意的诱饵。在更大的和更古老的宝石上,每一个刻面都象征着一个血腥的罪行。这颗宝石问世以来还不到二十年,它是在华南厦门河岸上发现的。它的奇异之处在于:除了它是蔚蓝色的而不是鲜红色的这一点之外,它具有红宝石的一切特点,尽管它流传在世为时不长,可是已经有过一段不幸的历史了。由于这颗重四十谷的结晶碳的缘故,已经发①生了两AE?谋杀案,一AE?浇洒硝镪水毁人容貌案,一AE?自杀案,

*①谷是英美最小的重量单位,等于64。8毫克,原为小麦谷粒的平均重量。——编者注另外还有几AE?抢劫案。谁能想到如此美丽的小装饰品竟是向绞刑架和监狱输送罪犯的供应商呢?我要把它锁在我的保险柜里,并写一封短笺给伯爵夫人,说我们已经觅获这颗宝石。”

“你认为霍纳这个人是无罪的了?”

“我说不上来。”

“好,那么你认为另外那个人亨利•贝克和这件事有牵连了?”

“我想亨利•贝克很可能是绝对清白无辜的。他决不会想到他手里的鹅的价值比一只金子铸成的鹅的价值还要多得多。不管怎么样,如果我的启事得到答复,我就能通过一个极其简单的检验来测定这一点。”

“在此之前你无事可做了吗?”

“没有什么可做的了。”

“既然是这样,我将继续处理我的日常业务,不过我今天晚上会在你刚才说的时间回来,因为我很想看看如此复杂的事情是怎样迎刃而解的。”

“我会很高兴再见到你,我七点钟吃晚饭,我相信会吃到一只山鹬。顺便提一下,考虑到最近出现的情况,也许我应该请赫德森夫人检查一下那只山鹬的嗉囊。”

*有一个患者耽误了我一点时间,当我重新回到贝克街的时候,已经过了六点半了。我走近寓所时,看见一个身材高大的男人,身穿一件带苏格兰帽的上衣,上衣的纽扣一直扣到下巴底下。他正伫立在屋外一个从扇形窗里照射出来的半圆形的灯光下。我到达门口的时候,门正好打开,我们一AE?被领进福尔摩斯的房间。

“我相信你就是亨利•贝克先生。”他一边说着一边从扶手椅上站AE?身来,并且很快地摆出一副平易近人的和蔼神态来欢迎客人。“请坐在靠近壁炉的这把椅子上,贝克先生,今天晚上冷得很哪,我看得出你的血液循环夏天比冬天强。啊,华生,你来的正是时候。这是你的帽子吗,贝克先生?”

“是的,先生,这的确是我的帽子。”

*他身躯魁伟,膀圆腰粗,头颅很大,有一张宽阔、聪明的脸,和越往下越尖的已呈灰白色的棕色络腮胡须。鼻子和面颊略带红润之色,手伸出来时微微颤抖,这些特征使人想AE?了福尔摩斯对于他特征的臆测。他的已褪色的黑礼服大衣前面全都扣上了,领子也竖了AE?来,在大衣袖子下面露出细长的手腕,手腕上并没有袖口或衬衣的痕迹。他说话有些断断续续,措词谨慎,总的说来他给人留下了一个时运不济的文人学者的印象。

“这些东西在我们这儿保留好几天了,”福尔摩斯说,“因为我们期待着从你的寻物启事上看到你的地址。我不理解你为什么不登报呢?”

*我们的客人难为情地笑了笑,“我已经阮囊羞涩不象过去那么有钱了,”他说道。“我相信袭击我的那帮流氓早把我的帽子和鹅都抢走了。因此试图找回它们是毫无希望的,我不想为此再花钱了!”

“你说得很合乎情理,顺便提一下,至于那只鹅,我们不得已把它吃掉了。”

“吃掉了!”我们的客人激动得差一点站了AE?来。

“是的,如果我们不这么做的话,那只鹅对谁来说都将是不堪食用的了。但是,我认为餐柜上那只鹅的斤量和你的鹅不相上下,而且十分鲜嫩,这会同样使你满意的。”

“噢,那当然,那当然。”贝克先生松了一口气说。

“当然,我们还留着你自己那只鹅的羽毛、腿、嗉囊等等。所以,如果你希望……”

*这个人突然哈哈大笑AE?来。“这些东西作为我那次历险的纪念品也许有点用处,”他说,“除此以外,我简直看不出我的那只鹅的零碎遗物对我有何裨益。不,先生,如果你许可的话,我想我关心的将仅限于我所看到的餐柜上的那只绝妙的鹅。”

*歇洛克•福尔摩斯飞快地朝我看了一眼,略微耸了耸肩膀。

“那么,这是你的帽子;还有,这是你的鹅,”他说道,“顺便问一声,你能否费心告诉我们你那只鹅是从哪里买来的?我对饲养家禽颇感兴趣,比你那只长得更好的鹅,我还很少见过。”“当然可以,先生,”他站AE?身来并且把刚刚得到的财产夹在腋下说,“我们当中有些人经常出入博物馆附近的阿尔法小酒店,因为我们白天都在博物馆里。你明白吗?今年,我们的好店主,名叫温迪盖特,创办了一个鹅俱乐部,因为考虑到每星期向俱乐部交纳几个便士,所以我们每个人在圣诞节都收到了俱乐部给的一只鹅。我总是按时付钱。至于以后发生的事你已经都知道了。先生,因为戴一顶苏格兰帽既不适合我这样的年龄,也不适合我的身份,而你使我受惠非浅,我谨向你深表谢意。”他带着一种滑稽的自负神态向我们两人严肃地鞠了一躬,然后迈开大步走出房间。

“亨利•贝克先生的事情就到此结束。”福尔摩斯一边说着,一边随手关上了门。“很明显,他对此事是一无所知。你饿了吗?华生?”

“不十分饿。”

“那么我建议把我们的晚餐改为夜餐,我们应该顺藤摸瓜,要趁热打铁。”

“好的,当然可以。”

*这是一个凛冽的寒夜,所以我们都身穿长大衣,脖子围上了围巾。屋外,群星灿烂,在万里无云的黑夜里闪烁着寒光,过往行人喷出的呵气凝成冷雾,就象许多手枪在射击一样。我们的脚步发出了清脆而又响亮的声音。我们大步穿过了医师区、威姆波尔街、哈利街,然后又穿过了威格摩街到了牛津街,在一刻钟内我们到达博物馆区的阿尔法小酒店。这是一家很小的酒店,坐落在通向霍尔伯恩的一条街的拐角处。福尔摩斯推开这家私人酒店的门,从红光满面、系着白围裙的老板那里要了两杯啤酒。

“如果你的啤酒能象你的鹅一样出色,那将是最上等的啤酒了。”他说道。

“我的鹅!”这个人好象很吃惊。

“是的,仅在半小时以前我刚和你们俱乐部的会员亨利•贝克先生谈过。”

“啊,我明白了。可是你知道吗,先生,那些鹅不是我们的!”

“真的!那么,是谁的呢?”

“噢,我从考文特园一个推销员那里买了二十四只。”

“真的?我认识他们当中几个人,是哪一个呢?”

“他的名字叫布莱肯里奇。”“噢,我不认识他,好吧,老板,祝你身体健康,生意兴隆。再见。”

“现在去找布莱肯里奇,”我们离开酒店走进寒冷的空气中。他一边扣着外衣,一边继续往下说,“记住,华生,虽然在这条锁链的一端,我们现在只找到象鹅这样家常的东西,但在另一端,我们却会找到一个肯定将被判处七年徒刑的人,除非我们能够证明他是无罪的;可是,很可能我们的调查也许只能证明他有罪。无论如何,有一条被警察忽略了的调查线索由于一种特别机缘落入我们的手中。让我们顺着这条线索追查下去,直到水落石出为止。现在朝南快步前进!”

*我们穿过霍尔伯恩街,折入恩德尔街,接着又走过道路曲折的平民区来到了考文特园市场。在一些大货摊中有一个货摊的招牌上写着布莱肯里奇的名字。店主是个长脸的人,脸部瘦削,留着整齐的络腮胡子,这时候,他正在帮着一个小伙计收摊。

“晚安,多么冷的夜晚哪!”福尔摩斯说。

*店主人点了点头,用怀疑的眼光打量了一下我的同伴。

“看光景鹅都卖完了。”福尔摩斯手指着空荡荡的大理石柜台接着说。

“明天早晨,我可以卖给你五百只鹅。”

“那没有用。”

“好吧,煤气灯亮着的那个货摊上还有几只。”

“噢,可是我是人家介绍到你这儿来的。”

“谁介绍的?”

“阿尔法酒店的老板。”

“噢,是的;我给他送去了二十四只。”

“那些鹅可真是不错啊。那么,你是从哪儿弄来的呢?”

*使我感到吃惊的是这个问题竟然惹得店主勃然大怒。

“那么,好吧,先生,”他扬着头,手叉着腰说,“你这是什么意思?有什么话咱们就直截了当地说个明白。”

“我已经够直截了当的了,我很想知道你供应阿尔法酒店的那些鹅是谁卖给你的?”

“噢,是这么一回事,我不想告诉你,就是这个样!”

“噢,这是一件无关紧要的事,但是我不明白你为什么会为这件小事而大动肝火?”

“大动肝火!如果你也象我那样被人纠缠的话,也许你也会大动肝火的。我花大价钱买好货,这不就完事了吗。但是你却要问:‘鹅在哪儿?'’你们的鹅卖给谁了?‘和’你们这些鹅要换些什么东西啊?‘人们在听到对他们提出这些唠唠叨叨的问题时,也许会认为这些鹅在世界上是独一无二的了。”

“噢,可是我和别的提这些问题的人毫无联系,”福尔摩斯漫不经心地说,“如果你不愿意告诉我们,这个打赌就算吹了。我要说的就是这个话。但是我会永远坚持我在家禽问题上的看法。我在这个问题上下了五英镑的赌注,我敢断定我吃的那只鹅是在农村喂大的。”

“嘿,你那五英镑算是输掉了,因为它是在城里喂大的。”这位老板说。

“不是这样。”

“我说是这样。”

“我不信。”

“你以为你对于家禽的了解比我这个从当小伙计开始就同它们打交道的人还要内行吗?我告诉你,那些送到阿尔法酒店的鹅全是在城里喂大的。”

“你决不可能使我相信你的话。”

“那么你愿意打赌吗?”

“这不过是要让你输钱罢了,因为我知道我是正确的。但是我还是愿意拿出一个金镑的硬币和你打赌,仅仅是为了教训你不要固执己见。”

*店主狞笑AE?来。“把帐簿给我拿来,比尔,”他说道。

*那个小男孩取来一个薄薄的小帐本和一个封面沾满油腻的大帐本。把它们一AE?摊在吊灯下。

“喂,过于自信的先生,”店主人说道,“刚才我以为我把鹅都卖光了,可是在我结束营业之前,你会发现我们店里还剩下一只鹅,你看见这个小帐本了吗?”

“怎么回事?”

“那就是卖鹅给我的人的名单,你明白了吗?好!这一页上的名字是乡下人的,在他们名字后面的数目字是总帐的页码,他们的帐户就记载在那一页上。喂!你看见用红墨水写的另外一页了吗?这是一张卖鹅给我的城里人的名单。好!看一下那第三个人的名字。把它念给我听。”

“奥克肖特太太,布里克斯顿路117号——249页,”福尔摩斯念道。

“正是如此。现在再查看一下总帐吧!”

*福尔摩斯翻到了他所指的那一页。“正是这里,奥克肖特太太,布里克斯顿路117号,鸡蛋和家禽供应商。”

“那么最后记的一笔帐是什么?”

“’十二月二十二日,二十四只鹅,收价七先令六便士。‘”

“对,是这样,你看,那么在这行下面呢?”

“’卖给阿尔法酒店温迪盖特,售价十二先令。‘”

“你现在还有什么可说的呢?”

*歇洛克•福尔摩斯现出仿佛十分懊恼的样子。他从口袋里掏出一个金镑的硬币扔在大理石柜台上,带着一种难以用语言形容、叫人莫测高深的厌恶神态走开了。走出几步以后,他在一个路灯杆子下站住,以他特有的姿势会心而默默地笑了AE?来。

“当你遇到留着那种络腮胡子的人,而他又不愿泄露机密时,你总是可以用打赌的方式使他吐露真情,”他说,“我敢说,如果我刚才在那个人面前放上一百镑,那他就决不会象通过打赌的方式那样向我提供那么全面的情况。噢,华生,我真想不到我们已经接近了调查的尾声。现在剩下唯一需要决定的是我们今天晚上就应该到这位奥克肖特太太那里去,还是应该等到明天再去。从那个粗鲁家伙的谈吐中,可以清楚地知道,除了我们之外,还有其它人也急于知道此事,因此,我应该……”

*他的话忽然被一片喧噪的吵闹声打断了,声音是从我们刚刚离开的那个货摊那里爆发出来的。我们回头一看,只见一个獐头鼠目、身材矮小的人正站在门口吊灯的黄色光晕下。那个店主人布莱肯里奇堵在他那货摊的门口,向这个畏畏缩缩的人恶狠狠地挥舞着拳头。

“你和你的鹅真叫我烦透了!”他喊着,“我希望你们都一AE?见鬼去吧!如果你再跑来用那些蠢话纠缠我,我就放狗咬你。你把奥克肖特太太带来,我会答复她的,但是这和你有什么相干?我的鹅是从你那里买来的吗?”

“不是,不过话虽如此,那里面有一只鹅是我的呀!”那个矮个子唉声叹气地说。

“好吧,那你就去找奥克肖特太太要去吧。”

“她让我来问你要。”

“噢,那你可以去向普鲁士国王要吧,这我管不着。我已经听够了,你给我滚开吧!”他恶狠狠地冲上前去,那个问话的人很快地就在黑暗里消失了。

“哈哈,这就省得我们到布里克斯顿路去了。”福尔摩斯低声对我说,“跟我来,我们要看看从这个家伙身上能查出些什么来,”我们穿过三五成群在灯火辉煌的店铺四周闲逛的人丛,我的同伴抢前几步赶上那个矮个子,拍了一下他的肩膀。那个人猛然转过身来,我在气灯下可以看见这个人面色泛白,毫无血气。

“你是谁?你想干什么?”他颤声问道。

“对不AE?,”福尔摩斯温和地说,“我刚才无意中听见了你对那个商贩提出的问题,我想我也许能够帮你一点忙。”

“你?你是谁?你怎么会知道这件事的。”

“我的名字是歇洛克•福尔摩斯。知道别人不知道的事是我份内的事。”

“但是你对这件事能知道些什么?”

“对不AE?,这件事我全知道了。你拚命想寻找那几只鹅。那几只鹅是布里克斯顿路的奥克肖特太太卖给名叫布莱肯里奇的那个商贩的。通过他的手又转到阿尔法酒店温迪盖特先生那里。由他又转到他的俱乐部,而亨利•贝克先生是俱乐部的会员。”

“哎呀!先生,你正是我渴望要见的人,”这个身材矮小的人哆里哆嗦地伸出双手喊着,“我难以向你解释我对这件事是何等地感兴趣。”

*歇洛克•福尔摩斯喊住一辆路过的四轮马车。“既然是那样,我们与其在这个刮着寒风的闹市谈话,还不如到一个舒舒服服的房间里细细讨论这个问题,”他说,“但是,在我们还没出发之前,请把我有幸为之效劳的人的尊姓大名告诉我。”

*这个人犹豫了一会儿,眼睛向旁斜视了一下,回答说:“我的名字是约翰•鲁宾逊。”

“不,不,我是问你的真名实姓,”福尔摩斯和蔼地说道,“办事情用化名总是很不方便的。”

*这位陌生人的苍白的脸顿时涨得通红。“好吧,那么,”他说,“我的真名实姓是詹姆斯•赖德。”

“一点儿也不错,’世界旅馆‘的领班。请上马车吧!我一会儿就能把你想要知道的一切告诉你。”这个小个子站在那里,来回打量着我们,眼神半是耽心,半是希望。这正是一个处于吉凶未卜的境地,对自己的前途毫无把握的人的表情。随后他上了马车,在车上我们都缄默无语,一言不发,可是我们的新伙伴呼吸急促、微弱,两手时而紧握,时而放松,透露了他内心的极度紧张。半小时以后,我们回到了贝克街的AE?居室。

“我们到家了!”我们鱼贯走进屋子时,福尔摩斯愉快地说道。“在这种天气里这熊熊炉火是很令人惬意的。你似乎很冷,赖德先生。请你坐在这把藤椅上吧。在解决你这件小事之前,让我先换上拖鞋。噢,现在好了,你是想知道那些鹅的情况吧?”

“是的,先生。”

“我想,或者更确切地说,你想知道的是那只鹅的情况吧。我设想你最感兴趣的是一只白色的、尾巴上有一道黑的鹅。”赖德激动得颤抖了一下。“啊,先生!”他喊道,“您能告诉我这只鹅的下落吗?”

“它到我这里来过了。”

“这里?”

“是的,它确实是一只最奇异不过的鹅。我并不奇怪你为什么对这只鹅那么感兴趣。这只鹅死后下了一个蛋——世界上罕见的、最美丽、最明亮的蓝色小蛋。我已经把它珍藏在我这儿的博物馆里了。”

*我们的客人摇摇晃晃地站了AE?来,右手抓住了壁炉架。福尔摩斯打开他的保险箱,高举那颗蓝宝石,那宝石光芒四射,象一颗灿烂的寒星。赖德拉长了脸,直瞪瞪地注视着宝石,不知道是认领好还是否认好。

“这出戏算演完了,赖德,”福尔摩斯平静地说,“站稳些,赖德,不然你就跌到壁炉里去了。扶他坐到他的椅子上去,华生。他还没有足够的胆量泰然自若地去干罪恶的勾当。给他喝点白兰地。好了,现在他看AE?来有点人样了。真的,他是一个多么瘦小的人哪!”

*俄而,他蹒跚地站AE?身来,但因站立不稳几乎倒下,可是白兰地给他两颊带来了一些血色,他又坐了下来,带着恐惧的眼光盯着谴责他的人。

“我几乎已经完全掌握这个案子的每一个环节和我可能需要的一切证据。所以没有多少事情需要你告诉我的了。但是,为了圆满地结束这件案子,我们也把那件小事弄清楚吧。赖德,你曾经听说过莫卡伯爵夫人的蓝宝石吗?”

“是凯瑟琳•丘萨克告诉我的。”他断断续续地说。

“哦,是伯爵夫人的侍女。唔,如此垂手可得的大笔横财对你来说具有巨大的诱惑力,就如同它以前曾引诱过比你本领更大的人一样;但是,你施展的伎俩却不够周密啊。在我看来,赖德,你这个人生性就是一个十分狡猾的恶棍。你知道管子工霍纳这个人以前曾有过类似的盗窃行为,所以嫌疑会很容易地落在他身上。那么你干了些什么呢?你们——你和你的同谋丘萨克在伯爵夫人的房间里搞了些小小的AE?局。你们设法把他叫进房间里来,而在他走后,你撬开了首饰匣,紧接着又大叫发现了房间被盗,使这个不幸的人遭受逮捕。然后你……”

*赖德普通一下跪在地毯上,抓住我朋友的两膝哀求说:“看在上帝的面上,可怜可怜我吧,想想我的父亲!想想我的母亲!那会使他们心碎的。我从前从来没干过坏事!以后我再也不敢了,我可以AE?誓。我可以手按圣经AE?誓。噢,千万别把这件事交到法庭!看在基督的份上,千万别这样做!”

“坐到你的椅子上去!”福尔摩斯厉声说,“现在你倒知道磕头求饶了,可是你没有想想可怜的霍纳却因为他并不知情的罪名而被置于被告席上。”

“我逃走,福尔摩斯先生。我要离开这个国家,先生。那么,对他的控告也就会撤销了。”

“哼!我们要谈这个问题的。不过现在先让我们听听这出戏第二幕的真实情况吧。你老实说,这颗宝石是怎样到了鹅的肚子里,而那只鹅又是怎样到市场上去的呢?把事实真相告诉我们,这是你能平安无事的唯一希望。”

*赖德用舌头舔了舔他那干裂的嘴唇。“我一定将实际情况告诉你,先生,”他说,“霍纳被捕以后,对我来说似乎最好是携带宝石立即逃走,因为我不知道什么时候警察也许就会想起搜查我和我的房间。可是旅馆里没有一个安全的地方。我假装受人差遣走出旅馆,乘机到我姐姐家跑了一趟。她和一个名叫奥克肖特的人结了婚,住在布里克斯顿路。她在那里以把鹅喂肥供应市场为职业。对我来说一路上碰到的每一个人都好象是警察或侦探。因此,尽管那天晚上十分寒冷,但在我到达布里克斯顿路之前,已经是汗流满面了。我姐姐问我出了什么事,又问我为什么脸色这么苍白;但是我告诉她说我是被旅馆发生的那一桩珍宝盗窃案弄得心烦意乱。紧接着我走进后院,抽着烟斗,盘算着怎样做才是万全之计。

”我从前有过一个叫莫兹利的朋友,他曾经干过坏事,刚在培恩顿威尔服刑期满。有一天他碰到我并和我谈AE?盗窃的门径以及如何把赃物出手的方法。我相信他不致出卖我,因为我知道一两件有关他的事,于是我打定主意去基尔伯恩他的住处找他,并向他吐露我的秘密。他一定会教我怎样把宝石变换成钱。但是怎样才能安全到达他那里呢?我想AE?了我从旅馆来的路上惶恐不安的心情。我也许随时都会遭到逮捕和搜查,而宝石就在我背心的口袋里。当时我正倚着墙看着一群鹅在我身边摇摇摆摆地走来走去,我突然心生一计,我想此计一定能瞒过举世无双的侦探。

“几个星期以前,我姐姐曾经告诉过我,我可以从她的鹅中挑选一只,作为她送给我的圣诞节礼物。我素知姐姐说话是算数的。那么,我不如现在就把鹅拿走,这样我可以把宝石藏在鹅的肚子里,带到基尔伯恩去。我姐姐院子里有一个小棚子,于是我从棚子后面赶出来一只鹅——一只大白鹅,尾巴上有一道黑边。我抓住了它,撬开它的嘴,把宝石塞到它的喉咙里,一直塞到我的手指能够达到的地方。鹅一口就把宝石吞咽下去,我摸到宝石已经顺着它的食道到了它的嗉囊里。那只鹅拍打着翅膀极力挣扎着,这时候我姐姐闻声走出屋来,问我发生了什么事情。正当我转身和她讲话的刹那,那只鹅却从我的手里猛地挣脱出来、拍打着翅膀窜回到鹅群里去了。

”’杰姆,你抓那只鹅干什么来着?‘她问。

“’噢,‘我说,’你不是说过要给我一只鹅作为圣诞节的礼物吗?我在试摸哪一只鹅最肥!

”‘噢,’她说,‘我们早已把准备送给你的鹅留在一边了’我们给它AE?名叫做杰姆的鹅。就是在那头的那一只大白鹅。我一共养了二十六只鹅,一只是给你的,一只留给我们自己吃,还有二十四只是要卖到市场上去的。

“‘谢谢你,麦琪,’我说,‘但是如果对你来说都一样的话,我还是愿意要我刚才抓到的那一只。

”’我们给你留的那一只要比你刚才抓的那只整整重三磅。‘她说:’那是我们特意为你喂肥的。

“‘没关系,我要我抓的那只,我打算现在就把它带走。’我说。

”‘唉!那就随你的便吧。’她有点生气地说,‘那么,你要的是哪一只呢?

“’那只尾巴上有一道黑的白鹅,就在那群鹅里面。

”‘噢,好吧,把它宰了,你就带走吧。

“就这样,我照我姐姐说的做了,福尔摩斯先生。于是我带着这只鹅一路跑到基尔伯恩。我把我所做的一切都告诉了我的伙伴,因为他是一个可以将此类事情推心置腹地相告的人。他乐得喘不上气来。我们持刀将鹅开了膛。我的心一下子凉了半截,因为嗉囊里根本没有蓝宝石的踪影,我知道一定发生了什么很糟糕的差错。我置鹅于不顾,急步奔向我姐姐家里,匆匆走进了后院,但是那里已经一只鹅也不见了。

”我喊道:’麦琪,那些鹅都到哪里去了?

“‘已经送到经销店去了,杰姆。

”’哪家经销店?

“‘考文特园的布莱肯里奇。

”’其中是否有一只尾巴带有黑道的鹅?和我挑选的那只一样的?‘我问道。

“’有的,杰姆,一共有两只尾巴带黑道的鹅,连我都分不清它们。

”是啊,我当然明白是怎么回事了。我竭尽全力飞快地跑到布莱肯里奇店主那里,可是他早就把所有的鹅都卖掉了,而且他一句话也不肯告诉我,鹅究竟卖到哪里去了。他今天夜里说的话你已经亲自听到了。他总是那样回答我。我姐姐以为我要发疯了,有时候我自己也觉得我是要发疯了。而现在,我已经是一个打上了窃贼的烙印的人了,尽管我并没有得到我为此出卖人格的财宝。愿上帝宽恕我吧!愿上帝宽恕我吧!“只见他用双手捂着脸抽搐着哭了AE?来。很长一段时间,房里一片寂静,只能听到他沉重的呼吸声和歇洛克•福尔摩斯用指尖有节奏地叩打桌沿的声音。突然,我的朋友站了AE?来,猛地把门打开。

”滚出去!“他说。

”什么,先生?!噢,愿上帝保佑你!“

”别废话了,滚吧!“

*也不需要多说什么了。只听见楼梯上一阵”噔噔“的脚步声,”嘭“的一声关门声,接着是从街上传来的一阵清脆的跑步声。

”毕竟,华生,“福尔摩斯一边说着,一边伸出手去拿那只陶土制的烟斗,”我现在还没有被警察局请去向他们提供他们所不知道的案情,如果霍纳现在处于危险境地,那就是另外一回事了;但是这个家伙是不可能再出头露面控告他了,这个案件也就会不了了之。我想我在使一个重罪得以减轻,但也可能我是挽救了一个人。这个人将不会再做坏事了,他已经吓得丧魂落魄了。要是把他送进监狱的话,你就会使他变成一个终身的罪犯。再说,现在正是大赦时节,我们何乐而不为呢。偶然的机会使我们碰上这个十分奇特的古怪问题。而这个问题的解决也就算是对它的报酬了。如果你愿意按一按铃,医生,我们还可以开始另一案件的调查,其中主要的特点仍然是一只家禽。“

I had called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes upon the second morning after Christmas, with the intention of wishing him the compliments of the season. He was lounging upon the sofa in a purple dressing-gown, a pipe-rack within his reach upon the right, and a pile of crumpled morning papers, evidently newly studied, near at hand. Beside the couch was a wooden chair, and on the angle of the back hung a very seedy and disreputable hard-felt hat, much the worse for wear, and cracked in several places. A lens and a forceps lying upon the seat of the chair suggested that the hat had been suspended in this manner for the purpose of examination.

“You are engaged,” said I; “perhaps I interrupt you.”

“Not at all. I am glad to have a friend with whom I can discuss my results. The matter is a perfectly trivial one”—he jerked his thumb in the direction of the old hat—“but there are points in connection with it which are not entirely devoid of interest and even of instruction.”

I seated myself in his armchair and warmed my hands before his crackling fire, for a sharp frost had set in, and the windows were thick with the ice crystals. “I suppose,” I remarked, “that, homely as it looks, this thing has some deadly story linked on to it—that it is the clue which will guide you in the solution of some mystery and the punishment of some crime.”

“No, no. No crime,” said Sherlock Holmes, laughing. “Only one of those whimsical little incidents which will happen when you have four million human beings all jostling each other within the space of a few square miles. Amid the action and reaction of so dense a swarm of humanity, every possible combination of events may be expected to take place, and many a little problem will be presented which may be striking and bizarre without being criminal. We have already had experience of such.”

“So much so,” I remarked, “that of the last six cases which I have added to my notes, three have been entirely free of any legal crime.”

“Precisely. You allude to my attempt to recover the Irene Adler papers, to the singular case of Miss Mary Sutherland, and to the adventure of the man with the twisted lip. Well, I have no doubt that this small matter will fall into the same innocent category. You know Peterson, the commissionaire?”

“Yes.”

“It is to him that this trophy belongs.”

“It is his hat.”

“No, no, he found it. Its owner is unknown. I beg that you will look upon it not as a battered billycock but as an intellectual problem. And, first, as to how it came here. It arrived upon Christmas morning, in company with a good fat goose, which is, I have no doubt, roasting at this moment in front of Peterson’s fire. The facts are these: about four o’clock on Christmas morning, Peterson, who, as you know, is a very honest fellow, was returning from some small jollification and was making his way homeward down Tottenham Court Road. In front of him he saw, in the gaslight, a tallish man, walking with a slight stagger, and carrying a white goose slung over his shoulder. As he reached the corner of Goodge Street, a row broke out between this stranger and a little knot of roughs. One of the latter knocked off the man’s hat, on which he raised his stick to defend himself and, swinging it over his head, smashed the shop window behind him. Peterson had rushed forward to protect the stranger from his assailants; but the man, shocked at having broken the window, and seeing an official-looking person in uniform rushing towards him, dropped his goose, took to his heels, and vanished amid the labyrinth of small streets which lie at the back of Tottenham Court Road. The roughs had also fled at the appearance of Peterson, so that he was left in possession of the field of battle, and also of the spoils of victory in the shape of this battered hat and a most unimpeachable Christmas goose.”

“Which surely he restored to their owner?”

“My dear fellow, there lies the problem. It is true that ‘For Mrs. Henry Baker’ was printed upon a small card which was tied to the bird’s left leg, and it is also true that the initials ‘H. B.’ are legible upon the lining of this hat, but as there are some thousands of Bakers, and some hundreds of Henry Bakers in this city of ours, it is not easy to restore lost property to any one of them.”

“What, then, did Peterson do?”

“He brought round both hat and goose to me on Christmas morning, knowing that even the smallest problems are of interest to me. The goose we retained until this morning, when there were signs that, in spite of the slight frost, it would be well that it should be eaten without unnecessary delay. Its finder has carried it off, therefore, to fulfil the ultimate destiny of a goose, while I continue to retain the hat of the unknown gentleman who lost his Christmas dinner.”

“Did he not advertise?”

“No.”

“Then, what clue could you have as to his identity?”

“Only as much as we can deduce.”

“From his hat?”

“Precisely.”

“But you are joking. What can you gather from this old battered felt?”

“Here is my lens. You know my methods. What can you gather yourself as to the individuality of the man who has worn this article?”

I took the tattered object in my hands and turned it over rather ruefully. It was a very ordinary black hat of the usual round shape, hard and much the worse for wear. The lining had been of red silk, but was a good deal discoloured. There was no maker’s name; but, as Holmes had remarked, the initials “H. B.” were scrawled upon one side. It was pierced in the brim for a hat-securer, but the elastic was missing. For the rest, it was cracked, exceedingly dusty, and spotted in several places, although there seemed to have been some attempt to hide the discoloured patches by smearing them with ink.

“I can see nothing,” said I, handing it back to my friend.

“On the contrary, Watson, you can see everything. You fail, however, to reason from what you see. You are too timid in drawing your inferences.”

“Then, pray tell me what it is that you can infer from this hat?”

He picked it up and gazed at it in the peculiar introspective fashion which was characteristic of him. “It is perhaps less suggestive than it might have been,” he remarked, “and yet there are a few inferences which are very distinct, and a few others which represent at least a strong balance of probability. That the man was highly intellectual is of course obvious upon the face of it, and also that he was fairly well-to-do within the last three years, although he has now fallen upon evil days. He had foresight, but has less now than formerly, pointing to a moral retrogression, which, when taken with the decline of his fortunes, seems to indicate some evil influence, probably drink, at work upon him. This may account also for the obvious fact that his wife has ceased to love him.”

“My dear Holmes!”

“He has, however, retained some degree of self-respect,” he continued, disregarding my remonstrance. “He is a man who leads a sedentary life, goes out little, is out of training entirely, is middle-aged, has grizzled hair which he has had cut within the last few days, and which he anoints with lime-cream. These are the more patent facts which are to be deduced from his hat. Also, by the way, that it is extremely improbable that he has gas laid on in his house.”

“You are certainly joking, Holmes.”

“Not in the least. Is it possible that even now, when I give you these results, you are unable to see how they are attained?”

“I have no doubt that I am very stupid, but I must confess that I am unable to follow you. For example, how did you deduce that this man was intellectual?”

For answer Holmes clapped the hat upon his head. It came right over the forehead and settled upon the bridge of his nose. “It is a question of cubic capacity,” said he; “a man with so large a brain must have something in it.”

“The decline of his fortunes, then?”

“This hat is three years old. These flat brims curled at the edge came in then. It is a hat of the very best quality. Look at the band of ribbed silk and the excellent lining. If this man could afford to buy so expensive a hat three years ago, and has had no hat since, then he has assuredly gone down in the world.”

“Well, that is clear enough, certainly. But how about the foresight and the moral retrogression?”

Sherlock Holmes laughed. “Here is the foresight,” said he putting his finger upon the little disc and loop of the hat-securer. “They are never sold upon hats. If this man ordered one, it is a sign of a certain amount of foresight, since he went out of his way to take this precaution against the wind. But since we see that he has broken the elastic and has not troubled to replace it, it is obvious that he has less foresight now than formerly, which is a distinct proof of a weakening nature. On the other hand, he has endeavoured to conceal some of these stains upon the felt by daubing them with ink, which is a sign that he has not entirely lost his self-respect.”

“Your reasoning is certainly plausible.”

“The further points, that he is middle-aged, that his hair is grizzled, that it has been recently cut, and that he uses lime-cream, are all to be gathered from a close examination of the lower part of the lining. The lens discloses a large number of hair-ends, clean cut by the scissors of the barber. They all appear to be adhesive, and there is a distinct odour of lime-cream. This dust, you will observe, is not the gritty, grey dust of the street but the fluffy brown dust of the house, showing that it has been hung up indoors most of the time, while the marks of moisture upon the inside are proof positive that the wearer perspired very freely, and could therefore, hardly be in the best of training.”

“But his wife—you said that she had ceased to love him.”

“This hat has not been brushed for weeks. When I see you, my dear Watson, with a week’s accumulation of dust upon your hat, and when your wife allows you to go out in such a state, I shall fear that you also have been unfortunate enough to lose your wife’s affection.”

“But he might be a bachelor.”

“Nay, he was bringing home the goose as a peace-offering to his wife. Remember the card upon the bird’s leg.”

“You have an answer to everything. But how on earth do you deduce that the gas is not laid on in his house?”

“One tallow stain, or even two, might come by chance; but when I see no less than five, I think that there can be little doubt that the individual must be brought into frequent contact with burning tallow—walks upstairs at night probably with his hat in one hand and a guttering candle in the other. Anyhow, he never got tallow-stains from a gas-jet. Are you satisfied?”

“Well, it is very ingenious,” said I, laughing; “but since, as you said just now, there has been no crime committed, and no harm done save the loss of a goose, all this seems to be rather a waste of energy.”

Sherlock Holmes had opened his mouth to reply, when the door flew open, and Peterson, the commissionaire, rushed into the apartment with flushed cheeks and the face of a man who is dazed with astonishment.

“The goose, Mr. Holmes! The goose, sir!” he gasped.

“Eh? What of it, then? Has it returned to life and flapped off through the kitchen window?” Holmes twisted himself round upon the sofa to get a fairer view of the man’s excited face.

“See here, sir! See what my wife found in its crop!” He held out his hand and displayed upon the centre of the palm a brilliantly scintillating blue stone, rather smaller than a bean in size, but of such purity and radiance that it twinkled like an electric point in the dark hollow of his hand.

Sherlock Holmes sat up with a whistle. “By Jove, Peterson!” said he, “this is treasure trove indeed. I suppose you know what you have got?”

“A diamond, sir? A precious stone. It cuts into glass as though it were putty.”

“It’s more than a precious stone. It is the precious stone.”

“Not the Countess of Morcar’s blue carbuncle!” I ejaculated.

“Precisely so. I ought to know its size and shape, seeing that I have read the advertisement about it in The Times every day lately. It is absolutely unique, and its value can only be conjectured, but the reward offered of £1000 is certainly not within a twentieth part of the market price.”

“A thousand pounds! Great Lord of mercy!” The commissionaire plumped down into a chair and stared from one to the other of us.

“That is the reward, and I have reason to know that there are sentimental considerations in the background which would induce the Countess to part with half her fortune if she could but recover the gem.”

“It was lost, if I remember aright, at the Hotel Cosmopolitan,” I remarked.

“Precisely so, on December 22nd, just five days ago. John Horner, a plumber, was accused of having abstracted it from the lady’s jewel-case. The evidence against him was so strong that the case has been referred to the Assizes. I have some account of the matter here, I believe.” He rummaged amid his newspapers, glancing over the dates, until at last he smoothed one out, doubled it over, and read the following paragraph:

“Hotel Cosmopolitan Jewel Robbery. John Horner, 26, plumber, was brought up upon the charge of having upon the 22nd inst., abstracted from the jewel-case of the Countess of Morcar the valuable gem known as the blue carbuncle. James Ryder, upper-attendant at the hotel, gave his evidence to the effect that he had shown Horner up to the dressing-room of the Countess of Morcar upon the day of the robbery in order that he might solder the second bar of the grate, which was loose. He had remained with Horner some little time, but had finally been called away. On returning, he found that Horner had disappeared, that the bureau had been forced open, and that the small morocco casket in which, as it afterwards transpired, the Countess was accustomed to keep her jewel, was lying empty upon the dressing-table. Ryder instantly gave the alarm, and Horner was arrested the same evening; but the stone could not be found either upon his person or in his rooms. Catherine Cusack, maid to the Countess, deposed to having heard Ryder’s cry of dismay on discovering the robbery, and to having rushed into the room, where she found matters as described by the last witness. Inspector Bradstreet, B division, gave evidence as to the arrest of Horner, who struggled frantically, and protested his innocence in the strongest terms. Evidence of a previous conviction for robbery having been given against the prisoner, the magistrate refused to deal summarily with the offence, but referred it to the Assizes. Horner, who had shown signs of intense emotion during the proceedings, fainted away at the conclusion and was carried out of court.”

“Hum! So much for the police-court,” said Holmes thoughtfully, tossing aside the paper. “The question for us now to solve is the sequence of events leading from a rifled jewel-case at one end to the crop of a goose in Tottenham Court Road at the other. You see, Watson, our little deductions have suddenly assumed a much more important and less innocent aspect. Here is the stone; the stone came from the goose, and the goose came from Mr. Henry Baker, the gentleman with the bad hat and all the other characteristics with which I have bored you. So now we must set ourselves very seriously to finding this gentleman and ascertaining what part he has played in this little mystery. To do this, we must try the simplest means first, and these lie undoubtedly in an advertisement in all the evening papers. If this fail, I shall have recourse to other methods.”

“What will you say?”

“Give me a pencil and that slip of paper. Now, then: ‘Found at the corner of Goodge Street, a goose and a black felt hat. Mr. Henry Baker can have the same by applying at 6:30 this evening at 221B, Baker Street.’ That is clear and concise.”

“Very. But will he see it?”

“Well, he is sure to keep an eye on the papers, since, to a poor man, the loss was a heavy one. He was clearly so scared by his mischance in breaking the window and by the approach of Peterson that he thought of nothing but flight, but since then he must have bitterly regretted the impulse which caused him to drop his bird. Then, again, the introduction of his name will cause him to see it, for everyone who knows him will direct his attention to it. Here you are, Peterson, run down to the advertising agency and have this put in the evening papers.”

“In which, sir?”

“Oh, in the Globe, Star, Pall Mall, St. James’s, Evening News, Standard, Echo, and any others that occur to you.”

“Very well, sir. And this stone?”

“Ah, yes, I shall keep the stone. Thank you. And, I say, Peterson, just buy a goose on your way back and leave it here with me, for we must have one to give to this gentleman in place of the one which your family is now devouring.”

When the commissionaire had gone, Holmes took up the stone and held it against the light. “It’s a bonny thing,” said he. “Just see how it glints and sparkles. Of course it is a nucleus and focus of crime. Every good stone is. They are the devil’s pet baits. In the larger and older jewels every facet may stand for a bloody deed. This stone is not yet twenty years old. It was found in the banks of the Amoy River in southern China and is remarkable in having every characteristic of the carbuncle, save that it is blue in shade instead of ruby red. In spite of its youth, it has already a sinister history. There have been two murders, a vitriol-throwing, a suicide, and several robberies brought about for the sake of this forty-grain weight of crystallised charcoal. Who would think that so pretty a toy would be a purveyor to the gallows and the prison? I’ll lock it up in my strong box now and drop a line to the Countess to say that we have it.”

“Do you think that this man Horner is innocent?”

“I cannot tell.”

“Well, then, do you imagine that this other one, Henry Baker, had anything to do with the matter?”

“It is, I think, much more likely that Henry Baker is an absolutely innocent man, who had no idea that the bird which he was carrying was of considerably more value than if it were made of solid gold. That, however, I shall determine by a very simple test if we have an answer to our advertisement.”

“And you can do nothing until then?”

“Nothing.”

“In that case I shall continue my professional round. But I shall come back in the evening at the hour you have mentioned, for I should like to see the solution of so tangled a business.”

“Very glad to see you. I dine at seven. There is a woodcock, I believe. By the way, in view of recent occurrences, perhaps I ought to ask Mrs. Hudson to examine its crop.”

I had been delayed at a case, and it was a little after half-past six when I found myself in Baker Street once more. As I approached the house I saw a tall man in a Scotch bonnet with a coat which was buttoned up to his chin waiting outside in the bright semicircle which was thrown from the fanlight. Just as I arrived the door was opened, and we were shown up together to Holmes’ room.

“Mr. Henry Baker, I believe,” said he, rising from his armchair and greeting his visitor with the easy air of geniality which he could so readily assume. “Pray take this chair by the fire, Mr. Baker. It is a cold night, and I observe that your circulation is more adapted for summer than for winter. Ah, Watson, you have just come at the right time. Is that your hat, Mr. Baker?”

“Yes, sir, that is undoubtedly my hat.”

He was a large man with rounded shoulders, a massive head, and a broad, intelligent face, sloping down to a pointed beard of grizzled brown. A touch of red in nose and cheeks, with a slight tremor of his extended hand, recalled Holmes’ surmise as to his habits. His rusty black frock-coat was buttoned right up in front, with the collar turned up, and his lank wrists protruded from his sleeves without a sign of cuff or shirt. He spoke in a slow staccato fashion, choosing his words with care, and gave the impression generally of a man of learning and letters who had had ill-usage at the hands of fortune.

“We have retained these things for some days,” said Holmes, “because we expected to see an advertisement from you giving your address. I am at a loss to know now why you did not advertise.”

Our visitor gave a rather shamefaced laugh. “Shillings have not been so plentiful with me as they once were,” he remarked. “I had no doubt that the gang of roughs who assaulted me had carried off both my hat and the bird. I did not care to spend more money in a hopeless attempt at recovering them.”

“Very naturally. By the way, about the bird, we were compelled to eat it.”

“To eat it!” Our visitor half rose from his chair in his excitement.

“Yes, it would have been of no use to anyone had we not done so. But I presume that this other goose upon the sideboard, which is about the same weight and perfectly fresh, will answer your purpose equally well?”

“Oh, certainly, certainly,” answered Mr. Baker with a sigh of relief.

“Of course, we still have the feathers, legs, crop, and so on of your own bird, so if you wish—”

The man burst into a hearty laugh. “They might be useful to me as relics of my adventure,” said he, “but beyond that I can hardly see what use the disjecta membra of my late acquaintance are going to be to me. No, sir, I think that, with your permission, I will confine my attentions to the excellent bird which I perceive upon the sideboard.”

Sherlock Holmes glanced sharply across at me with a slight shrug of his shoulders.

“There is your hat, then, and there your bird,” said he. “By the way, would it bore you to tell me where you got the other one from? I am somewhat of a fowl fancier, and I have seldom seen a better grown goose.”

“Certainly, sir,” said Baker, who had risen and tucked his newly gained property under his arm. “There are a few of us who frequent the Alpha Inn, near the Museum—we are to be found in the Museum itself during the day, you understand. This year our good host, Windigate by name, instituted a goose club, by which, on consideration of some few pence every week, we were each to receive a bird at Christmas. My pence were duly paid, and the rest is familiar to you. I am much indebted to you, sir, for a Scotch bonnet is fitted neither to my years nor my gravity.” With a comical pomposity of manner he bowed solemnly to both of us and strode off upon his way.

“So much for Mr. Henry Baker,” said Holmes when he had closed the door behind him. “It is quite certain that he knows nothing whatever about the matter. Are you hungry, Watson?”

“Not particularly.”

“Then I suggest that we turn our dinner into a supper and follow up this clue while it is still hot.”

“By all means.”

It was a bitter night, so we drew on our ulsters and wrapped cravats about our throats. Outside, the stars were shining coldly in a cloudless sky, and the breath of the passers-by blew out into smoke like so many pistol shots. Our footfalls rang out crisply and loudly as we swung through the doctors’ quarter, Wimpole Street, Harley Street, and so through Wigmore Street into Oxford Street. In a quarter of an hour we were in Bloomsbury at the Alpha Inn, which is a small public-house at the corner of one of the streets which runs down into Holborn. Holmes pushed open the door of the private bar and ordered two glasses of beer from the ruddy-faced, white-aproned landlord.

“Your beer should be excellent if it is as good as your geese,” said he.

“My geese!” The man seemed surprised.

“Yes. I was speaking only half an hour ago to Mr. Henry Baker, who was a member of your goose club.”

“Ah! yes, I see. But you see, sir, them’s not our geese.”

“Indeed! Whose, then?”

“Well, I got the two dozen from a salesman in Covent Garden.”

“Indeed? I know some of them. Which was it?”

“Breckinridge is his name.”

“Ah! I don’t know him. Well, here’s your good health landlord, and prosperity to your house. Good-night.”

“Now for Mr. Breckinridge,” he continued, buttoning up his coat as we came out into the frosty air. “Remember, Watson that though we have so homely a thing as a goose at one end of this chain, we have at the other a man who will certainly get seven years’ penal servitude unless we can establish his innocence. It is possible that our inquiry may but confirm his guilt; but, in any case, we have a line of investigation which has been missed by the police, and which a singular chance has placed in our hands. Let us follow it out to the bitter end. Faces to the south, then, and quick march!”

We passed across Holborn, down Endell Street, and so through a zigzag of slums to Covent Garden Market. One of the largest stalls bore the name of Breckinridge upon it, and the proprietor a horsey-looking man, with a sharp face and trim side-whiskers was helping a boy to put up the shutters.

“Good-evening. It’s a cold night,” said Holmes.

The salesman nodded and shot a questioning glance at my companion.

“Sold out of geese, I see,” continued Holmes, pointing at the bare slabs of marble.

“Let you have five hundred to-morrow morning.”

“That’s no good.”

“Well, there are some on the stall with the gas-flare.”

“Ah, but I was recommended to you.”

“Who by?”

“The landlord of the Alpha.”

“Oh, yes; I sent him a couple of dozen.”

“Fine birds they were, too. Now where did you get them from?”

To my surprise the question provoked a burst of anger from the salesman.

“Now, then, mister,” said he, with his head cocked and his arms akimbo, “what are you driving at? Let’s have it straight, now.”

“It is straight enough. I should like to know who sold you the geese which you supplied to the Alpha.”

“Well then, I shan’t tell you. So now!”

“Oh, it is a matter of no importance; but I don’t know why you should be so warm over such a trifle.”

“Warm! You’d be as warm, maybe, if you were as pestered as I am. When I pay good money for a good article there should be an end of the business; but it’s ‘Where are the geese?’ and ‘Who did you sell the geese to?’ and ‘What will you take for the geese?’ One would think they were the only geese in the world, to hear the fuss that is made over them.”

“Well, I have no connection with any other people who have been making inquiries,” said Holmes carelessly. “If you won’t tell us the bet is off, that is all. But I’m always ready to back my opinion on a matter of fowls, and I have a fiver on it that the bird I ate is country bred.”

“Well, then, you’ve lost your fiver, for it’s town bred,” snapped the salesman.

“It’s nothing of the kind.”

“I say it is.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“D’you think you know more about fowls than I, who have handled them ever since I was a nipper? I tell you, all those birds that went to the Alpha were town bred.”

“You’ll never persuade me to believe that.”

“Will you bet, then?”

“It’s merely taking your money, for I know that I am right. But I’ll have a sovereign on with you, just to teach you not to be obstinate.”

The salesman chuckled grimly. “Bring me the books, Bill,” said he.

The small boy brought round a small thin volume and a great greasy-backed one, laying them out together beneath the hanging lamp.

“Now then, Mr. Cocksure,” said the salesman, “I thought that I was out of geese, but before I finish you’ll find that there is still one left in my shop. You see this little book?”

“Well?”

“That’s the list of the folk from whom I buy. D’you see? Well, then, here on this page are the country folk, and the numbers after their names are where their accounts are in the big ledger. Now, then! You see this other page in red ink? Well, that is a list of my town suppliers. Now, look at that third name. Just read it out to me.”

“Mrs. Oakshott, 117, Brixton Road—249,” read Holmes.

“Quite so. Now turn that up in the ledger.”

Holmes turned to the page indicated. “Here you are, ‘Mrs. Oakshott, 117, Brixton Road, egg and poultry supplier.’ ”

“Now, then, what’s the last entry?”

“ ‘December 22nd. Twenty-four geese at 7s. 6d.’ ”

“Quite so. There you are. And underneath?”

“ ‘Sold to Mr. Windigate of the Alpha, at 12s.’ ”

“What have you to say now?”

Sherlock Holmes looked deeply chagrined. He drew a sovereign from his pocket and threw it down upon the slab, turning away with the air of a man whose disgust is too deep for words. A few yards off he stopped under a lamp-post and laughed in the hearty, noiseless fashion which was peculiar to him.

“When you see a man with whiskers of that cut and the ‘Pink ’un’ protruding out of his pocket, you can always draw him by a bet,” said he. “I daresay that if I had put £100 down in front of him, that man would not have given me such complete information as was drawn from him by the idea that he was doing me on a wager. Well, Watson, we are, I fancy, nearing the end of our quest, and the only point which remains to be determined is whether we should go on to this Mrs. Oakshott to-night, or whether we should reserve it for to-morrow. It is clear from what that surly fellow said that there are others besides ourselves who are anxious about the matter, and I should—”

His remarks were suddenly cut short by a loud hubbub which broke out from the stall which we had just left. Turning round we saw a little rat-faced fellow standing in the centre of the circle of yellow light which was thrown by the swinging lamp, while Breckinridge, the salesman, framed in the door of his stall, was shaking his fists fiercely at the cringing figure.

“I’ve had enough of you and your geese,” he shouted. “I wish you were all at the devil together. If you come pestering me any more with your silly talk I’ll set the dog at you. You bring Mrs. Oakshott here and I’ll answer her, but what have you to do with it? Did I buy the geese off you?”

“No; but one of them was mine all the same,” whined the little man.

“Well, then, ask Mrs. Oakshott for it.”

“She told me to ask you.”

“Well, you can ask the King of Proosia, for all I care. I’ve had enough of it. Get out of this!” He rushed fiercely forward, and the inquirer flitted away into the darkness.

“Ha! this may save us a visit to Brixton Road,” whispered Holmes. “Come with me, and we will see what is to be made of this fellow.” Striding through the scattered knots of people who lounged round the flaring stalls, my companion speedily overtook the little man and touched him upon the shoulder. He sprang round, and I could see in the gas-light that every vestige of colour had been driven from his face.

“Who are you, then? What do you want?” he asked in a quavering voice.

“You will excuse me,” said Holmes blandly, “but I could not help overhearing the questions which you put to the salesman just now. I think that I could be of assistance to you.”

“You? Who are you? How could you know anything of the matter?”

“My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don’t know.”

“But you can know nothing of this?”

“Excuse me, I know everything of it. You are endeavouring to trace some geese which were sold by Mrs. Oakshott, of Brixton Road, to a salesman named Breckinridge, by him in turn to Mr. Windigate, of the Alpha, and by him to his club, of which Mr. Henry Baker is a member.”

“Oh, sir, you are the very man whom I have longed to meet,” cried the little fellow with outstretched hands and quivering fingers. “I can hardly explain to you how interested I am in this matter.”

Sherlock Holmes hailed a four-wheeler which was passing. “In that case we had better discuss it in a cosy room rather than in this wind-swept market-place,” said he. “But pray tell me, before we go farther, who it is that I have the pleasure of assisting.”

The man hesitated for an instant. “My name is John Robinson,” he answered with a sidelong glance.

“No, no; the real name,” said Holmes sweetly. “It is always awkward doing business with an alias.”

A flush sprang to the white cheeks of the stranger. “Well then,” said he, “my real name is James Ryder.”

“Precisely so. Head attendant at the Hotel Cosmopolitan. Pray step into the cab, and I shall soon be able to tell you everything which you would wish to know.”

The little man stood glancing from one to the other of us with half-frightened, half-hopeful eyes, as one who is not sure whether he is on the verge of a windfall or of a catastrophe. Then he stepped into the cab, and in half an hour we were back in the sitting-room at Baker Street. Nothing had been said during our drive, but the high, thin breathing of our new companion, and the claspings and unclaspings of his hands, spoke of the nervous tension within him.

“Here we are!” said Holmes cheerily as we filed into the room. “The fire looks very seasonable in this weather. You look cold, Mr. Ryder. Pray take the basket-chair. I will just put on my slippers before we settle this little matter of yours. Now, then! You want to know what became of those geese?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Or rather, I fancy, of that goose. It was one bird, I imagine in which you were interested—white, with a black bar across the tail.”

Ryder quivered with emotion. “Oh, sir,” he cried, “can you tell me where it went to?”

“It came here.”

“Here?”

“Yes, and a most remarkable bird it proved. I don’t wonder that you should take an interest in it. It laid an egg after it was dead—the bonniest, brightest little blue egg that ever was seen. I have it here in my museum.”

Our visitor staggered to his feet and clutched the mantelpiece with his right hand. Holmes unlocked his strong-box and held up the blue carbuncle, which shone out like a star, with a cold, brilliant, many-pointed radiance. Ryder stood glaring with a drawn face, uncertain whether to claim or to disown it.

“The game’s up, Ryder,” said Holmes quietly. “Hold up, man, or you’ll be into the fire! Give him an arm back into his chair, Watson. He’s not got blood enough to go in for felony with impunity. Give him a dash of brandy. So! Now he looks a little more human. What a shrimp it is, to be sure!”

For a moment he had staggered and nearly fallen, but the brandy brought a tinge of colour into his cheeks, and he sat staring with frightened eyes at his accuser.

“I have almost every link in my hands, and all the proofs which I could possibly need, so there is little which you need tell me. Still, that little may as well be cleared up to make the case complete. You had heard, Ryder, of this blue stone of the Countess of Morcar’s?”

“It was Catherine Cusack who told me of it,” said he in a crackling voice.

“I see—her ladyship’s waiting-maid. Well, the temptation of sudden wealth so easily acquired was too much for you, as it has been for better men before you; but you were not very scrupulous in the means you used. It seems to me, Ryder, that there is the making of a very pretty villain in you. You knew that this man Horner, the plumber, had been concerned in some such matter before, and that suspicion would rest the more readily upon him. What did you do, then? You made some small job in my lady’s room—you and your confederate Cusack—and you managed that he should be the man sent for. Then, when he had left, you rifled the jewel-case, raised the alarm, and had this unfortunate man arrested. You then—”

Ryder threw himself down suddenly upon the rug and clutched at my companion’s knees. “For God’s sake, have mercy!” he shrieked. “Think of my father! Of my mother! It would break their hearts. I never went wrong before! I never will again. I swear it. I’ll swear it on a Bible. Oh, don’t bring it into court! For Christ’s sake, don’t!”

“Get back into your chair!” said Holmes sternly. “It is very well to cringe and crawl now, but you thought little enough of this poor Horner in the dock for a crime of which he knew nothing.”

“I will fly, Mr. Holmes. I will leave the country, sir. Then the charge against him will break down.”

“Hum! We will talk about that. And now let us hear a true account of the next act. How came the stone into the goose, and how came the goose into the open market? Tell us the truth, for there lies your only hope of safety.”

Ryder passed his tongue over his parched lips. “I will tell you it just as it happened, sir,” said he. “When Horner had been arrested, it seemed to me that it would be best for me to get away with the stone at once, for I did not know at what moment the police might not take it into their heads to search me and my room. There was no place about the hotel where it would be safe. I went out, as if on some commission, and I made for my sister’s house. She had married a man named Oakshott, and lived in Brixton Road, where she fattened fowls for the market. All the way there every man I met seemed to me to be a policeman or a detective; and, for all that it was a cold night, the sweat was pouring down my face before I came to the Brixton Road. My sister asked me what was the matter, and why I was so pale; but I told her that I had been upset by the jewel robbery at the hotel. Then I went into the back yard and smoked a pipe and wondered what it would be best to do.

“I had a friend once called Maudsley, who went to the bad, and has just been serving his time in Pentonville. One day he had met me, and fell into talk about the ways of thieves, and how they could get rid of what they stole. I knew that he would be true to me, for I knew one or two things about him; so I made up my mind to go right on to Kilburn, where he lived, and take him into my confidence. He would show me how to turn the stone into money. But how to get to him in safety? I thought of the agonies I had gone through in coming from the hotel. I might at any moment be seized and searched, and there would be the stone in my waistcoat pocket. I was leaning against the wall at the time and looking at the geese which were waddling about round my feet, and suddenly an idea came into my head which showed me how I could beat the best detective that ever lived.

“My sister had told me some weeks before that I might have the pick of her geese for a Christmas present, and I knew that she was always as good as her word. I would take my goose now, and in it I would carry my stone to Kilburn. There was a little shed in the yard, and behind this I drove one of the birds—a fine big one, white, with a barred tail. I caught it, and prying its bill open, I thrust the stone down its throat as far as my finger could reach. The bird gave a gulp, and I felt the stone pass along its gullet and down into its crop. But the creature flapped and struggled, and out came my sister to know what was the matter. As I turned to speak to her the brute broke loose and fluttered off among the others.

“ ‘Whatever were you doing with that bird, Jem?’ says she.

“ ‘Well,’ said I, ‘you said you’d give me one for Christmas, and I was feeling which was the fattest.’

“ ‘Oh,’ says she, ‘we’ve set yours aside for you—Jem’s bird, we call it. It’s the big white one over yonder. There’s twenty-six of them, which makes one for you, and one for us, and two dozen for the market.’

“ ‘Thank you, Maggie,’ says I; ‘but if it is all the same to you, I’d rather have that one I was handling just now.’

“ ‘The other is a good three pound heavier,’ said she, ‘and we fattened it expressly for you.’

“ ‘Never mind. I’ll have the other, and I’ll take it now,’ said I.

“ ‘Oh, just as you like,’ said she, a little huffed. ‘Which is it you want, then?’

“ ‘That white one with the barred tail, right in the middle of the flock.’

“ ‘Oh, very well. Kill it and take it with you.’

“Well, I did what she said, Mr. Holmes, and I carried the bird all the way to Kilburn. I told my pal what I had done, for he was a man that it was easy to tell a thing like that to. He laughed until he choked, and we got a knife and opened the goose. My heart turned to water, for there was no sign of the stone, and I knew that some terrible mistake had occurred. I left the bird, rushed back to my sister’s, and hurried into the back yard. There was not a bird to be seen there.

“ ‘Where are they all, Maggie?’ I cried.

“ ‘Gone to the dealer’s, Jem.’

“ ‘Which dealer’s?’

“ ‘Breckinridge, of Covent Garden.’

“ ‘But was there another with a barred tail?’ I asked, ‘the same as the one I chose?’

“ ‘Yes, Jem; there were two barred-tailed ones, and I could never tell them apart.’

“Well, then, of course I saw it all, and I ran off as hard as my feet would carry me to this man Breckinridge; but he had sold the lot at once, and not one word would he tell me as to where they had gone. You heard him yourselves to-night. Well, he has always answered me like that. My sister thinks that I am going mad. Sometimes I think that I am myself. And now—and now I am myself a branded thief, without ever having touched the wealth for which I sold my character. God help me! God help me!” He burst into convulsive sobbing, with his face buried in his hands.

There was a long silence, broken only by his heavy breathing and by the measured tapping of Sherlock Holmes’ finger-tips upon the edge of the table. Then my friend rose and threw open the door.

“Get out!” said he.

“What, sir! Oh, Heaven bless you!”

“No more words. Get out!”

And no more words were needed. There was a rush, a clatter upon the stairs, the bang of a door, and the crisp rattle of running footfalls from the street.

“After all, Watson,” said Holmes, reaching up his hand for his clay pipe, “I am not retained by the police to supply their deficiencies. If Horner were in danger it would be another thing; but this fellow will not appear against him, and the case must collapse. I suppose that I am commuting a felony, but it is just possible that I am saving a soul. This fellow will not go wrong again; he is too terribly frightened. Send him to gaol now, and you make him a gaol-bird for life. Besides, it is the season of forgiveness. Chance has put in our way a most singular and whimsical problem, and its solution is its own reward. If you will have the goodness to touch the bell, Doctor, we will begin another investigation, in which, also a bird will be the chief feature.”

 
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