The Adventure of the
Arthur Conan Doyle
The Strand Magazine
"Good old Index.
You can't beat it."
The Greek Interpreter
| During my long and intimate acquaintance with
Holmes I had never heard him refer to his relations, and hardly
ever to his own early life. This reticence upon his part had
increased the somewhat inhuman effect which he produced upon
me, until sometimes I found myself regarding him as an isolated
phenomenon, a brain without a heart, as deficient in human
sympathy as he was preeminent in intelligence. His aversion to
women and his disinclination to form new friendships were both
typical of his unemotional character, but not more so than his
complete suppression of every reference to his own people. I had
come to believe that he was an orphan with no relatives living;
but one day. to my very great surprise, he began to talk to me
about his brother.
It was after tea on a summer evening, and the conversation,
which had roamed in a desultory, spasmodic fashion from golf
clubs to the causes of the change in the obliquity of the ecliptic,
came round at last to the question of atavism and hereditary
aptitudes. The point under discussion was, how far any singular
gift in an individual was due to his ancestry and how far to his
own early training.
"In your own case," said I, "from all that you have told me,
it seems obvious that your faculty of observation and your
peculiar facility for deduction are due to your own systematic
"To some extent," he answered thoughtfully. "My ancestors
were country squires, who appear to have led much the same life
as is natural to their class. But, none the less, my turn that way
is in my veins, and may have come with my grandmother, who
was the sister of Vernet, the French artist. Art in the blood is
liable to take the strangest forms."
"But how do you know that it is hereditary?"
"Because my brother Mycroft possesses it in a larger degree
than I do."
This was news to me indeed. If there were another man with
such singular powers in England, how was it that neither police
nor public had heard of him? I put the question, with a hint that
it was my companion's modesty which made him acknowledge
his brother as his superior. Holmes laughed at my suggestion.
"My dear Watson," said he, "I cannot agree with those who
rank modesty among the virtues. To the logician all things
should be seen exactly as they are, and to underestimate one's
self is as much a departure from truth as to exaggerate one's own
powers. When I say, therefore, that Mycroft has better powers of
observation than I, you may take it that I am speaking the exact
and literal truth."
"Is he your junior?"
"Seven years my senior."
"How comes it that he is unknown?''
"Oh, he is very well known in his own circle."
"Well, in the Diogenes Club, for example."
I had never heard of the institution, and my face must have
proclaimed as much, for Sherlock Homes pulled out his watch.
"The Diogenes Club is the queerest club in London, and
Mycroft one of the queerest men. He's always there from quarter
to five to twenty to eight. It's six now, so if you care for a stroll
this beautiful evening I shall be very happy to introduce you to
Five minutes later we were in the street, walking towards
"You wonder," said my companion, "why it is that Mycroft
does not use his powers for detective work. He is incapable of
"But I thought you said --"
"I said that he was my superior in observation and deduction.
If the art of the detective began and ended in reasoning from an
armchair, my brother would be the greatest criminal agent that
ever lived. But he has no ambition and no energy. He will not
even go out of his way to verify his own solutions, and would
rather be considered wrong than take the trouble to prove himself
right. Again and again I have taken a problem to him, and have
received an explanation which has afterwards proved to be the
correct one. And yet he was absolutely incapable of working out
the practical points which must be gone into before a case could
be laid before a judge or jury."
"It is not his profession, then?"
"By no means. What is to me a means of livelihood is to him
the merest hobby of a dilettante. He has an extraordinary faculty
for figures, and audits the books in some of the government
departments. Mycroft lodges in Pall Mall, and he walks round
the corner into Whitehall every morning and back every evening.
From year's end to year's end he takes no other exercise, and is
seen nowhere else, except only in the Diogenes Club, which is
just opposite his rooms."
"I cannot recall the name."
"Very likely not. There are many men in London, you know,
who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish
for the company of their fellows. Yet they are not averse to
comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals. It is for the conve-
nience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now
contains the most unsociable and unclubable men in town. No
member is permitted to take the least notice of any other one.
Save in the Stranger's Room, no talking is, under any circum-
stances, allowed. and three offences, if brought to the notice of
the committee, render the talker liable to expulsion. My brother
was one of the founders, and I have myself found it a very
We had reached Pall Mall as we talked, and were walking
down it from the St. James's end. Sherlock Holmes stopped at a
door some little distance from the Carlton, and, cautioning me
not to speak, he led the way into the hall. Through the glass
panelling I caught a glimpse of a large and luxurious room, in
which a considerable number of men were sitting about and
reading papers, each in his own little nook. Holmes showed me
into a small chamber which looked out into Pall Mall, and then,
leaving me for a minute, he came back with a companion whom
I knew could only be his brother.
Mycroft Holmes was a much larger and stouter man than Sher-
lock. His body was absolutely corpulent, but his face, though
massive, had preserved something of the sharpness of expression
which was so remarkable in that of his brother. His eyes, which
were of a peculiarly light, watery gray, seemed to always retain
that far-away, introspective look which I had only observed in
Sherlock's when he was exerting his full powers.
"I am glad to meet you, sir," said he, putting out a broad, fat
hand like the flipper of a seal. "I hear of Sherlock everywhere
since you became his chronicler. By the way, Sherlock, I ex-
pected to see you round last week to consult me over that Manor
House case. I thought you might be a little out of your depth."
"No, I solved it," said my friend, smiling.
"It was Adams, of course."
"Yes, it was Adams."
"I was sure of it from the first." The two sat down together in
the bow-window of the club. "To anyone who wishes to study
mankind this is the spot," said Mycroft. "Look at the magnifi-
cent types! Look at these two men who are coming towards us,
"The billiard-marker and the other?"
"Precisely. What do you make of the other?"
The two men had stopped opposite the window. Some chalk
marks over the waistcoat pocket were the only signs of billiards
which I could see in one of them. The other was a very small,
dark fellow, with his hat pushed back and several packages
under his arm.
"An old soldier, I perceive," said Sherlock.
"And very recently discharged," remarked the brother.
"Served in India, I see."
"And a non-commissioned officer."
"Royal Artillery, I fancy,'' said Sherlock.
"And a widower."
"But with a child."
"Children, my dear boy, children."
"Come," said I. laughing, "this is a little too much."
"Surely." answered Holmes, "it is not hard to say that a man
with that bearing. expression of authority, and sun-baked skin. is
a soldier, is more than a private, and is not long from India."
"That he has not left the service long is shown by his still
wearing his ammunition boots, as they are called," observed
"He had not the cavalry stride, yet he wore his hat on one
side, as is shown by the lighter skin on that side of his brow. His
weight is against his being a sapper. He is in the artillery."
"Then, of course, his complete mourning shows that he has
lost someone very dear. The fact that he is doing his own
shopping looks as though it were his wife. He has been buying
things for children, you perceive. There is a rattle, which shows
that one of them is very young. The wife probably died in
childbed. The fact that he has a picture-book under his arm
shows that there is another child to be thought of."
I began to understand what my friend meant when he said that
his brother possessed even keener faculties than he did himself.
He glanced across at me and smiled. Mycroft took snuff from a
tortoise-shell box and brushed away the wandering grains from
his coat front with a large, red silk handkerchief.
"By the way, Sherlock," said he, "I have had something
quite after your own heart -- a most singular problem -- submltted
to my judgment. I really had not the energy to follow it up save
in a very incomplete fashion, but it gave me a basis for some
pleasing speculations. If you would care to hear the facts --"
"My dear Mycroft, I should be delighted."
The brother scribbled a note upon a leaf of his pocket-book,
and, ringing the bell, he handed it to the waiter.
"I have asked Mr. Melas to step across," said he. "He lodges
on the floor above me, and I have some slight acquaintance with
him, which led him to come to me in his perplexity. Mr. Melas
is a Greek by extraction, as I understand, and he is a remarkable
linguist. He earns his living partly as interpreter in the law courts
and partly by acting as guide to any wealthy Orientals who may
visit the Northumberland Avenue hotels. I think I will leave him
to tell his very remarkable experience in his own fashion."
A few minutes later we were joined by a short, stout man
whose olive face and coal black hair proclaimed his Southern
origin, though his speech was that of an educated Englishman.
He shook hands eagerly with Sherlock Holmes, and his dark
eyes sparkled with pleasure when he understood that the special-
ist was anxious to hear his story.
"I do not believe that the police credit me -- on my word, I do
not," said he in a wailing voice. "Just because they have never
heard of it before, they think that such a thing cannot be. But I
know that I shall never be easy in my mind until I know what
has become of my poor man with the sticking-plaster upon his
"I am all attention," said Sherlock Holmes.
"This is Wednesday evening," said Mr. Melas. "Well, then,
it was Monday night -- only two days ago, you understand -- that
all this happened. I am an interpreter, as perhaps my neighbour
there has told you. I interpret all languages -- or nearly all -- but
as I am a Greek by birth and with a Grecian name, it is with that
particular tongue that I am principally associated. For many
years I have been the chief Greek interpreter in London, and my
name is very well known in the hotels.
"It happens not unfrequently that I am sent for at strange
hours by foreigners who get into difficulties, or by travellers who
arrive late and wish my services. I was not surprised, therefore,
on Monday night when a Mr. Latimer, a very fashionably
dressed young man, came up to my rooms and asked me to
accompany him in a cab which was waiting at the door. A Greek
friend had come to see him upon business, he said, and as he
could speak nothing but his own tongue, the services of an
interpreter were indispensable. He gave me to understand that his
house was some little distance off, in Kensington, and he seemed
to be in a great hurry, bustling me rapidly into the cab when we
had descended to the street.
"I say into the cab, but I soon became doubtful as to whether
tt was not a carriage in which I found myself. It was certainly
more roomy than the ordinary four-wheeled disgrace to London,
and the fittings, though frayed, were of rich quality. Mr. Latimer
seated himself opposite to me and we started off through Charing
Cross and up the Shaftesbury Avenue. We had come out upon
Oxford Street and I had ventured some remark as to this being a
roundabout way to Kensington, when my words were arrested by
the extraordinary conduct of my companion.
"He began by drawing a most formidable-looking bludgeon
loaded with lead from his pocket, and switching it backward and
forward several times, as if to test its weight and strength. Then
he placed it without a word upon the seat beside him. Having
done this, he drew up the windows on each side, and I found to
my astonishment that they were covered with paper so as to
prevent my seeing through them.
" 'I am sorry to cut off your view, Mr. Melas,' said he. 'The
fact is that I have no intention that you should see what the place
is to which we are driving. It might possibly be inconvenient to
me if you could find your way there again.'
"As you can imagine, I was utterly taken aback by such an
address. My companion was a powerful, broad-shouldered young
fellow, and, apart from the weapon, I should not have had the
slightest chance in a struggle with him.
" 'This is very extraordinary conduct, Mr. Latimer,' I stam-
mered. 'You must be aware that what you are doing is quite
" 'It is somewhat of a liberty, no doubt,' said he, 'but we'll
make it up to you. I must warn you, however, Mr. Melas, that if
at any time to-night you attempt to raise an alarm or do anything
which is against my interest, you will find it a very serious thing.
I beg you to remember that no one knows where you are, and
that, whether you are in this carriage or in my house, you are
equally in my power.'
"His words were quiet, but he had a rasping way of saying
them, which was very menacing. I sat in silence wondering what
on earth could be his reason for kidnapping me in this extraordi-
nary fashion. Whatever it might be, it was perfectly clear that
there was no possible use in my resisting, and that I could only
wait to see what might befall.
"For nearly two hours we drove without my having the least
clue as to where we were going. Sometimes the rattle of the
stones told of a paved causeway, and at others our smooth, silent
course suggested asphalt; but, save by this variation in sound,
there was nothing at all which could in the remotest way help me
to form a guess as to where we were. The paper over each
window was impenetrable to light, and a blue curtain was drawn
across the glasswork in front. It was a quarter-past seven when
we left Pall Mall, and my watch showed me that it was ten
minutes to nine when we at last came to a standstill. My com-
panion let down the window, and I caught a glimpse of a low,
arched doorway with a lamp burning above it. As I was hurried
from the carriage it swung open, and I found myself inside the
house, with a vague impression of a lawn and trees on each side
of me as I entered. Whether these were private grounds, how-
ever, or bona-fide country was more than I could possibly ven-
ture to say.
"There was a coloured gas-lamp inside which was turned so
low that I could see little save that the hall was of some size and
hung with pictures. In the dim light I could make out that the
person who had opened the door was a small, mean-looking,
middle-aged man with rounded shoulders. As he turned towards
us the glint of the light showed me that he was wearing glasses.
" 'Is this Mr. Melas, Harold?' said he.
" 'Well done, well done! No ill-will, Mr. Melas, I hope, but
we could not get on without you. If you deal fair with us you'll
not regret it, but if you try any tricks, God help you!' He spoke
in a nervous, jerky fashion, and with little giggling laughs in
between, but somehow he impressed me with fear more than the
" 'What do you want with me?' I asked.
" 'Only to ask a few questions of a Greek gentleman who is
visiting us, and to let us have the answers. But say no more than
you are told to say, or --' here came the nervous giggle again --
'you had better never have been born.'
"As he spoke he opened a door and showed the way into a
room which appeared to be very richly furnished, but again the
only light was afforded by a single lamp half-turned down. The
chamber was certainly large, and the way in which my feet sank
into the carpet as I stepped across it told me of its richness. I
caught glimpses of velvet chairs, a high white marble mantel-
piece, and what seemed to be a suit of Japanese armour at one
side of it. There was a chair just under the lamp, and the elderly
man motioned that I should sit in it. The younger had left us, but
he suddenly returned through another door, leading with him a
gentleman clad in some sort of loose dressing-gown who moved
slowly towards us. As he came into the circle of dim light which
enabled me to see him more clearly I was thrilled with horror at
his appearance. He was deadly pale and terribly emaciated, with
the protruding, brilliant eyes of a man whose spirit was greater
than his strength. But what shocked me more than any signs of
physical weakness was that his face was grotesquely criss-crossed
with sticking-plaster, and that one large pad of it was fastened
over his mouth.
" 'Have you the slate, Harold?' cried the older man, as this
strange being fell rather than sat down into a chair. 'Are his
hands loose? Now, then, give him the pencil. You are to ask the
questions, Mr. Melas, and he will write the answers. Ask him
first of all whether he is prepared to sign the papers?"
"The man's eyes flashed fire.
" 'Never!' he wrote in Greek upon the slate.
" 'On no conditions?' I asked at the bidding of our tyrant.
" 'Only if I see her married in my presence by a Greek priest
whom I know.'
"The man giggled in his venomous way.
" 'You know what awaits you, then?'
" 'I care nothing for myself.'
"These are samples of the questions and answers which made
up our strange half-spoken, half-written conversation. Again and
again I had to ask him whether he would give in and sign the
documents. Again and again I had the same indignant reply. But
soon a happy thought came to me. I took to adding on little
sentences of my own to each question, innocent ones at first, to
test whether either of our companions knew anything of the
matter, and then, as I found that they showed no sign I played a
more dangerous game. Our conversation ran something like this:
" 'You can do no good by this obstinacy. Who are you?'
" 'I care not. I am a stranger in London.'
" 'Your fate will be on your own head. How long have you
" 'Let it be so. Three weeks.'
" 'The property can never be yours. What ails you?'
" 'It shall not go to villains. They are starving me.'
" 'You shall go free if you sign. What house is this?'
" 'I will never sign. I do not know.'
" 'You are not doing her any service. What is your name?'
" 'Let me hear her say so. Kratides.'
" 'You shall see her if you sign. Where are you from?'
" 'Then I shall never see her. Athens.'
"Another five minutes, Mr. Holmes, and I should have wormed
out the whole story under their very noses. My very next ques-
tion might have cleared the matter up, but at that instant the door
opened and a woman stepped into the room. I could not see her
clearly enough to know more than that she was tall and graceful,
with black hair, and clad in some sort of loose white gown.
" 'Harold,' said she, speaking English with a broken accent.
'I could not stay away longer. It is so lonely up there with
only -- Oh, my God, it is Paul!'
"These last words were in Greek, and at the same instant the
man with a convulsive effort tore the plaster from his lips, and
screaming out 'Sophy! Sophy!' rushed into the woman's arms.
Their embrace was but for an instant, however, for the younger
man seized the woman and pushed her out of the room, while the
elder easily overpowered his emaciated victim and dragged him
away through the other door. For a moment I was left alone in
the room, and I sprang to my feet with some vague idea that I
might in some way get a clue to what this house was in which I
found myself. Fortunately, however, I took no steps, for looking
up I saw that the older man was standing in the doorway, with
his eyes fixed upon me.
" 'That will do, Mr. Melas,' said he. 'You perceive that we
have taken you into our confidence over some very private
business. We should not have troubled you, only that our friend
who speaks Greek and who began these negotiations has been
forced to return to the East. It was quite necessary for us to find
someone to take his place, and we were fortunate in hearing of
" 'There are five sovereigns here,' said he, walking up to me,
'which will, I hope, be a sufficient fee. But remember,' he
added, tapping me lightly on the chest and giggling, 'if you
speak to a human soul about this -- one human soul, mind -- well,
may God have mercy upon your soul!'
"I cannot tell you the loathing and horror with which this
insignificant-looking man inspired me. I could see him better
now as the lamp-light shone upon him. His features were peaky
and sallow, and his little pointed beard was thready and ill-
nourished. He pushed his face forward as he spoke and his lips
and eyelids were continually twitching like a man with St.
Vitus's dance. I could not help thinking that his strange, catchy
little laugh was also a symptom of some nervous malady. The
terror of his face lay in his eyes, however, steel gray, and
glistening coldly with a malignant, inexorable cruelty in their
" 'We shall know if you speak of this,' said he. 'We have our
own means of information. Now you will find the carriage
waiting, and my friend will see you on your way.'
"I was hurried through the hall and into the vehicle, again
obtaining that momentary glimpse of trees and a garden. Mr.
Latimer followed closely at my heels and took his place opposite
to me without a word. In silence we again drove for an intermi-
nable distance with the windows raised, until at last, just after
midnight, the carriage pulled up.
" 'You will get down here, Mr. Melas,' said my companion.
'I am sorry to leave you so far from your house, but there is no
alternative. Any attempt upon your part to follow the carriage
can only end in injury to yourself.'
"He opened the door as he spoke. and I had hardly time to
spring out when the coachman lashed the horse and the carriage
rattled away. I looked around me in astonishment. I was on some
sort of a heathy common mottled over with dark clumps of
furze-bushes. Far away stretched a line of houses, with a light
here and there in the upper windows. On the other side I saw the
red signal-lamps of a railway.
"The carriage which had brought me was already out of sight.
I stood gazing round and wondering where on earth I might be,
when I saw someone coming towards me in the darkness. As he
came up to me I made out that he was a railway porter.
" 'Can you tell me what place this is?' I asked.
" 'Wandsworth Common,' said he.
" 'Can I get a train into town?'
" 'If you walk on a mile or so to Clapham Junction,' said he,
'you'll just be in time for the last to Victoria.'
"So that was the end of my adventure, Mr. Holmes. I do not
know where I was, nor whom I spoke with, nor anything save
what I have told you. But I know that there is foul play going
on, and I want to help that unhappy man if I can. I told the
whole story to Mr. Mycroft Holmes next morning, and subse-
quently to the police."
We all sat in silence for some little time after listening to this
extraordinary narrative. Then Sherlock looked across at his brother.
"Any steps?" he asked.
Mycroft picked up the Daily News, which was lying on the
any information as to the where-
"That was in all the dailies. No answer."
"Sir [he saysl:
"He writes from Lower Brixton," said Mycroft