The Sign of the "400"
Being a continuation of the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Arthur Conan Doyle (per RKM - R. K. Munkittrick)
October 24, 1894
For the nonce, Holmes was slighting his cocaine and was joyously jabbing himself with morphine — his favorite 70 per cent solution when a knock came at the door; it was our landlady with a telegram. Holmes opened it and read it carelessly.
"H'm!" he said. "What do you think of this, Watson?"
I picked it up. "COME AT ONCE. WE NEED YOU. SEVENTY-TWO CHINCHBUGGE PLACE, S.W.," I read.
"Why, it's from Athelney Jones," I remarked.
"Just so," said Holmes, "call a cab."
We were soon at the address given, 72 Chinchbugge Place being the town house of the Dowager Countess of Coldslaw. It was an old-fashioned mansion, somewhat weather-beaten. The old hat stuffed in the broken pane in the drawing room gave the place an air of unstudied artistic negligence, which we both remarked at the time.
Athelney Jones met us at the door. He wore a troubled expression. "Here's a pretty go, gentlemen!" was his greeting. "A forcible entrance has been made to Lady Coldslaw's boudoir, and the famous Coldslaw diamonds are stolen."
Without a word Holmes drew out his pocket lens and examined the atmosphere. "The whole thing wears an air of mystery," he said, quietly.
We then entered the house. Lady Coldslaw was completely prostrated and could not be seen. We went at once to the scene of the robbery. There was no sign of anything unusual in the boudoir, except that the windows and furniture had been smashed and the pictures had been removed from the walls. An attempt had been made by the thief to steal the wallpaper, also. However, he had not succeeded. It had rained the night before and muddy footprints led up to the escritoire from which the jewels had been taken. A heavy smell of stale cigar smoke hung over the room. Aside from these hardly noticeable details, the despoiler had left no trace of his presence.
In an instant Sherlock Holmes was down on his knees examining the footprints with a stethoscope. "H'm!" he said; "so you can make nothing out of this, Jones?"
"No, sir," answered the detective; "but I hope to; there's a big reward."
"It's all very simple, my good fellow," said Holmes. "The robbery was committed at three o'clock this morning by a short, stout, middle-aged, hen-pecked man with a cast in his eye. His name is Smythe, and he lives at 239 Toff Terrace."
Jones fairly gasped. "What! Major Smythe, one of the highest thought-of and richest men in the city?" he said.
In half an hour we were at Smythe's bedside. Despite his protestations, he was pinioned and driven to prison.
"For heaven's sake, Holmes," said I, when we returned to our rooms, "how did you solve that problem so quickly?"
"Oh, it was easy, dead easy!" said he. "As soon as we entered the room, I noticed the cigar smoke. It was cigar smoke from a cigar that had been given a husband by his wife. I could tell that, for I have made a study of cigar smoke. Any other but a hen-pecked man throws such cigars away. Then I could tell by the footprints that the man had had appendicitis. Now, no one but members of the '400' have that. Who then was hen-pecked in the '400,' and had had appendicitis recently? Why, Major Smythe, of course! He is middle-aged, stout, and has a cast in his eye."
I could not help but admire my companion's reasoning, and told him so. "Well," he said, "it is very simple if you know how."
Thus ended the Coldslaw robbery, so far as we were concerned.
Of course, Jones got all the credit. I showed the newspaper accounts to Holmes. He only laughed, and said: "You see how it is, Watson, Scotland Yard, as usual, gets the glory." As I perceived he was going to play "Sweet Marie" on his violin, I reached for the morphine, myself.
(Prepared by Adrian Nebbett for Gaslight)