A Case of Identity
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Strand Magazine
"Good old Index.
You can't beat it."
A Case of Identity
| "My dear fellow." said Sherlock Holmes as we
sat on either
side of the fire in his lodgings at Baker Street, "life is infinitely
stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We
would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere
commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window
hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the
roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the
strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the won-
derful chains of events, working through generation, and leading
to the most outre results, it would make all fiction with its
conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprof-
"And yet I am not convinced of it," I answered. "The cases
which come to light in the papers are, as a rule, bald enough,
and vulgar enough. We have in our police reports realism pushed
to its extreme limits, and yet the result is, it must be confessed,
neither fascinating nor artistic."
"A certain selection and discretion must be used in producing
a realistic effect," remarked Holmes. "This is wanting in the
police report, where more stress is laid, perhaps, upon the
platitudes of the magistrate than upon the details, which to an
observer contain the vital essence of the whole matter. Depend
upon it, there is nothing so unnatural as the commonplace."
I smiled and shook my head. "I can quite understand your
thinking so." I said. "Of course, in your position of unofficial
adviser and helper to everybody who is absolutely puzzled,
throughout three continents, you are brought in contact with all
that is strange and bizarre. But here" -- I picked up the morning
paper from the ground -- "let us put it to a practical test. Here is
the first heading upon which I come. 'A husband's cruelty to his
wife.' There is half a column of print, but I know without
reading it that it is all perfectly familiar to me. There is. of
course, the other woman, the drink, the push, the blow, the
bruise, the sympathetic sister or landlady. The crudest of writers
could invent nothing more crude."
"Indeed, your example is an unfortunate one for your argu-
ment," said Holmes, taking the paper and glancing his eye down
it. "This is the Dundas separation case, and, as it happens, I was
engaged in clearing up some small points in connection with it.
The husband was a teetotaler, there was no other woman, and
the conduct complained of was that he had drifted into the habit
of winding up every meal by taking out his false teeth and
hurling them at his wife, which, you will allow, is not an action
likely to occur to the imagination of the average story-teller.
Take a pinch of snuff, Doctor, and acknowledge that I have
scored over you in your example."
He held out his snuffbox of old gold, with a great amethyst in
the centre of the lid. Its splendour was in such contrast to his
homely ways and simple life that I could not help commenting
"Ah," said he, "I forgot that I had not seen you for some
weeks. It is a little souvenir from the King of Bohemia in return
for my assistance in the case of the Irene Adler papers."
"And the ring?" I asked, glancing at a remarkable brilliant
which sparkled upon his finger.
"It was from the reigning family of Holland, though the
matter in which I served them was of such delicacy that I cannot
confide it even to you, who have been good enough to chronicle
one or two of my little problems."
"And have you any on hand just now?" I asked with interest.
"Some ten or twelve, but none which present any feature of
interest. They are important, you understand, without being
interesting. Indeed, I have found that it is usually in unimportant
matters that there is a field for the observation, and for the quick
analysis of cause and effect which gives the charm to an investi-
gation. The larger crimes are apt to be the simpler, for the
bigger the crime thc more obvious, as a rule, is the motive. In
these cases, save for one rather intricate matter which has been
referred to me from Marseilles, there is nothing which presents
any features of interest. It is possible, however, that I may have
something better before very many minutes are over, for this is
one of my clients, or I am much mistaken."
He had risen from his chair and was standing between the
parted blinds gazing down into the dull neutral-tinted London
street. Looking over his shoulder, I saw that on the pavement
opposite there stood a large woman with a heavy fur boa round
her neck, and a large curling red feather in a broad-brimmed hat
which was tilted in a coquettish Duchess of Devonshire fashion
over her ear. From under this great panoply she peeped up in a
nervous, hesitating fashion at our windows, while her body
oscillated backward and forward, and her fingers fidgeted with
her glove buttons. Suddenly, with a plunge, as of the swimmer
who leaves the bank, she hurried across the road, and we heard
the sharp clang of the bell.
"I have seen those symptoms before," said Holmes, throwing
his cigarette into the fire. "Oscillation upon the pavement al-
ways means an affaire de coeur. She would like advice, but is
not sure that the matter is not too delicate for communication.
And yet even here we may discriminate. When a woman has
been seriously wronged by a man she no longer oscillates, and
the usual symptom is a broken bell wire. Here we may take it
that there is a love matter, but that the maiden is not so much
angry as perplexed, or grieved. But here she comes in person to
resolve our doubts."
As he spoke there was a tap at the door, and the boy in buttons.
entered to announce Miss Mary Sutherland, while the lady her-
self loomed behind his small black figure like a full-sailed
merchant-man behind a tiny pilot boat. Sherlock Holmes wel-
comed her with the easy courtesy for which he was remarkable,
and, having closed the door and bowed her into an armchair, he
looked her over in the minute and yet abstracted fashion which
was peculiar to him.
"Do you not find," he said, "that with your short sight it is a
little trying to do so much typewriting?"
"I did at first," she answered, "but now I know where the
letters are without looking." Then, suddenly realizing the full
purport of his words, she gave a violent start and looked up, with
fear and astonishment upon her broad, good-humoured face.
"You've heard about me, Mr. Holmes," she cried, "else how
could you know all that?"
"Never mind," said Holmes, laughing; "it is my business to
know things. Perhaps I have trained myself to see what others
overlook. If not, why should you come to consult me?"
"I came to you, sir, because I heard of you from Mrs.
Etherege, whose husband you found so easy when the police and
everyone had given him up for dead. Oh, Mr. Holmes, I wish
you would do as much for me. I'm not rich, but still I have a
hundred a year in my own right, besides the little that I make by
the machine, and I would give it all to know what has become of
Mr. Hosmer Angel."
"Why did you come away to consult me in such a hurry?"
asked Sherlock Holmes, with his finger-tips together and his
eyes to the ceiling.
Again a startled look came over the somewhat vacuous face of
Miss Mary Sutherland. "Yes, I did bang out of the house," she
said, "for it made me angry to see the easy way in which Mr.
Windibank -- that is, my father -- took it all. He would not go to
the police, and he would not go to you, and so at last, as he
would do nothing and kept on saying that there was no harm
done, it made me mad, and I just on with my things and came
right away to you."
"Your father," said Holmes, "your stepfather, surely, since
the name is different."
"Yes, my stepfather. I call him father, though it sounds
funny, too, for he is only five years and two months older than
"And your mother is alive?"
"Oh, yes, mother is alive and well. I wasn't best pleased, Mr.
Holmes, when she married again so soon after father's death,
and a man who was nearly fifteen years younger than herself.
Father was a plumber in the Tottenham Court Road, and he left a
tidy business behind him, which mother carried on with Mr.
Hardy, the foreman; but when Mr. Windibank came he made her
sell the business, for he was very superior, being a traveller in
wines. They got 4700 pounds for the goodwill and interest, which
wasn't near as much as father could have got if he had been
I had expected to see Sherlock Holmes impatient under this
rambling and inconsequential narrative, but, on the contrary he
had listened with the greatest concentration of attention.
"Your own little income," he asked, "does it come out of the
"Oh, no, sir. It is quite separate and was left me by my uncle
Ned in Auckland. It is in New Zealand stock, paying 4 1/2 per
cent. Two thousand five hundred pounds was the amount, but I
can only touch the interest."
"You interest me extremely," said Holmes. "And since you
draw so large a sum as a hundred a year, with what you earn into
the bargain, you no doubt travel a little and indulge yourself in
every way. I believe that a single lady can get on very nicely
upon an income of about 60 pounds."
"I could do with much less than that, Mr. Holmes, but you
understand that as long as I live at home I don't wish to be a
burden to them, and so they have the use of the money just while
I am staying with them. Of course, that is only just for the time.
Mr. Windibank draws my interest every quarter and pays it over
to mother, and I find that I can do pretty well with what I earn at
typewriting. It brings me twopence a sheet, and I can often do
from fifteen to twenty sheets in a-day."
"You have made your position very clear to me," said Holmes.
"This is my friend, Dr. Watson, before whom you can speak as
freely as before myself. Kindly tell us now all about your
connection with Mr. Hosmer Angel."
A flush stole over Miss Sutherland's face, and she picked
nervously at the fringe of her jacket. "I met him first at the
gasfitters' ball," she said. "They used to send father tickets
when he was alive, and then afterwards they remembered us, and
sent them to mother. Mr. Windibank did not wish us to go. He
never did wish us to go anywhere. He would get quite mad if I
wanted so much as to join a Sunday-school treat. But this time I
was set on going, and I would go; for what right had he to
prevent? He said the folk were not fit for us to know, when all
father's friends were to be there. And he said that I had nothing
fit to wear, when I had my purple plush that I had never so much
as taken out of the drawer. At last, when nothing else would do,
he went off to France upon the business of the firm, but we
went, mother and I, with Mr. Hardy, who used to be our
foreman, and it was there I met Mr. Hosmer Angel."
"I suppose," said Holmes, "that when Mr. Windibank came
back from France he was very annoyed at your having gone to
"Oh, well, he was very good about it. He laughed, I remem-
ber, and shrugged his shoulders, and said there was no use
denying anything to a woman, for she would have her way."
"I see. Then at the gasfitters' ball you met, as I understand, a
gentleman called Mr. Hosmer Angel."
"Yes, sir. I met him that night, and he called next day to ask
if we had got home all safe, and after that we met him -- that is to
say, Mr. Holmes, I met him twice for walks, but after that father
came back again, and Mr. Hosmer Angel could not come to the
house any more."
"Well, you know father didn't like anything of the sort. He
wouldn't have any visitors if he could help it, and he used to say
that a woman should be happy in her own family circle. But
then, as I used to say to mother, a woman wants her own circle
to begin with, and I had not got mine yet."
"But how about Mr. Hosmer Angel? Did he make no attempt
to see you?"
"Well, father was going off to France again in a week, and
Hosmer wrote and said that it would be safer and better not to
see each other until he had gone. We could write in the mean-
time, and he used to write every day. I took the letters in in the
morning, so there was no need for father to know."
"Were you engaged to the gentleman at this time?"
"Oh, yes, Mr. Holmes. We were engaged after the first walk
that we took. Hosmer -- Mr. Angel -- was a cashier in an office in
Leadenhall Street -- and --"
"That's the worst of it, Mr. Holmes, I don't know."
"Where did he live, then?"
"He slept on the premises."
"And you don't know his address?''
"No -- except that it was Leadenhall Street."
"Where did you address your letters, then?"
"To the Leadenhall Street Post-Office, to be left till called
for. He said that if they were sent to the office he would be
chaffed by all the other clerks about having letters from a lady,
so I offered to typewrite them, like he did his, but he wouldn't
have that, for he said that when I wrote them they seemed to
come from me, but when they were typewritten he always felt
that the machine had come between us. That will just show you
how fond he was of me, Mr. Holmes, and the little things that he
would think of."
"It was most suggestive," said Holmes. "It has long been an
axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most impor-
tant. Can you remember any other little things about Mr. Hosmer
"He was a very shy man, Mr. Holmes. He would rather walk
with me in the evening than in the daylight, for he said that he
hated to be conspicuous. Very retiring and gentlemanly he was.
Even his voice was gentle. He'd had the quinsy and swollen
glands when he was young, he told me, and it had left him with
a weak throat, and a hesitating, whispering fashion of speech.
He was always well dressed, very neat and plain, but his eyes
were weak, just as mine are, and he wore tinted glasses against
"Well, and what happened when Mr. Windibank, your stepfa-
ther, returned to France?"
"Mr. Hosmer Angel came to the house again and proposed
that we should marry before father came back. He was in
dreadful earnest and made me swear, with my hands on the
Testament, that whatever happened I would always be true to
him. Mother said he was quite right to make me swear, and that
it was a sign of his passion. Mother was all in his favour from
the first and was even fonder of him than I was. Then, when
they talked of marrying within the week, I began to ask about
father; but they both said never to mind about father, but just to
tell him afterwards, and mother said she would make it all right
with him. I didn't quite like that, Mr. Holmes. It seemed funny
that I should ask his leave, as he was only a few years older than
me; but I didn't want to do anything on the sly, so l wrote to
father at Bordeaux, where the company has its French offices,
but the letter came back to me on the very morning of the
"It missed him, then?"
"Yes, sir; for he had started to England just before it arrived."
"Ha! that was unfortunate. Your wedding was arranged, then,
for the Friday. Was it to be in church?"
"Yes, sir, but very quietly. It was to be at St. Saviour's, near
King's Cross, and we were to have breakfast afterwards at the
St. Pancras Hotel. Hosmer came for us in a hansom, but as there
were two of us he put us both into it and stepped himself into a
four-wheeler, which happened to be the only other cab in the
street. We got to the church first, and when the four-wheeler
drove up we waited for him to step out, but he never did, and
when the cabman got down from the box and looked there was
no one there! The cabman said that he couid not imagine what
had become of him, for he had seen him get in with his own
eyes. That was last Friday, Mr. Holmes, and I have never seen
or heard anything since then to throw any light upon what
became of him."
"It seems to me that you have been very shamefully treated,"
"Oh, no, sir! He was too good and kind to leave me so. Why,
all the morning he was saying to me that, whatever happened, I
was to be true; and that even if something quite unforeseen
occurred to separate us, I was always to remember that I was
pledged to him, and that he would claim his pledge sooner or
later. It seemed strange talk for a wedding-morning, but what
has happened since gives a meaning to it."
"Most certainly it does. Your own opinion is, then, that some
unforeseen catastrophe has occurred to him?"
"Yes, sir. I believe that he foresaw some danger, or else he
would not have talked so. And then I think that what he foresaw
"But you have no notion as to what it could have been?"
"One more question. How did your mother take the matter?"
"She was angry, and said that I was never to speak of the
"And your father? Did you tell him?"
"Yes; and he seemed to think, with me, that something had
happened, and that I should hear of Hosmer again. As he said,
what interest could anyone have in bringing me to the doors of
the church, and then leaving me? Now, if he had borrowed my
money, or if he had married me and got my money settled on
him, there might be some reason, but Hosmer was very indepen-
dent about money and never would look at a shilling of mine.
And yet, what could have happened? And why could he not
write? Oh, it drives me half-mad to think of it, and I can't sleep
a wink at night." She pulled a little handkerchief out of her muff
and began to sob heavily into it.
"I shall glance into the case for you," said Holmes, rising,
"and I have no doubt that we shall reach some definite result.
Let the weight of the matter rest upon me now, and do not let
your mind dwell upon it further. Above all, try to let Mr.
Hosmer Angel vanish from your memory, as he has done from
"Then you don't think I'll see him again?"
"l fear not."
"Then what has happened to him?"
"You will leave that question in my hands. I should like an
accurate description of him and any letters of his which you can
"I advertised for him in last Saturday's Chronicle," said she.
"Here is the slip and here are four letters from him."
"Thank you. And your address?"
"No. 31 Lyon Place, Camberwell."
"Mr. Angel's address you never had, I understand. Where is
your father's place of business?"
"He travels for Westhouse & Marbank, the great claret im-
porters of Fenchurch Street."
"Thank you. You have made your statement very clearly.
You will leave the papers here, and remember the advice which I
have given you. Let the whole incident be a sealed book, and do
not allow it to affect your life."
"You are very kind, Mr. Holmes, but I cannot do that. I shall
be true to Hosmer. He shall find me ready when he comes
For all the preposterous hat and the vacuous face, there was
something noble in the simple faith of our visitor which com-
pelled our respect. She laid her little bundle of papers upon the
table and went her way, with a promise to come again whenever
she might be summoned.
Sherlock Holmes sat silent for a few minutes with his finger-
tips still pressed together, his legs stretched out in front of him,
and his gaze directed upward to the ceiling. Then he took down
from the rack the old and oily clay pipe, which was to him as a
counsellor, and, having lit it, he leaned back in his chair, with
the thick blue cloud-wreaths spinning up from him, and a look of
infinite languor in his face.
"Quite an interesting study, that maiden," he observed. "I
found her more interesting than her little problem, which, by the
way, is rather a trite one. You will find parallel cases, if you
consult my index, in Andover in '77, and there was something of
the sort at The Hague last year. Old as is the idea, however,
there were one or two details which were new to me. But the
maiden herself was most instructive."
"You appeared to read a good deal upon her which was quite
invisible to me," I remarked.
"Not invisible but unnoticed, Watson. You did not know
where to look, and so you missed all that was important. I can
never bring you to realize the importance of sleeves, the sugges-
tiveness of thumb-nails, or the great issues that may hang from a
boot-lace. Now, what did you gather from that woman's appear-
ance? Describe it."
"Well, she had a slate-coloured, broad-brimmed straw hat,
with a feather of a brickish red. Her jacket was black, with black
beads sewn upon it, and a fringe of little black jet ornaments.
Her dress was brown, rather darker than coffee colour, with a
little purple plush at the neck and sleeves. Her gloves were
grayish and were worn through at the right forefinger. Her boots
I didn't observe. She had small round, hanging gold earrings,
and a general air of being fairly well-to-do in a vulgar, comfort-
able, easy-going way."
Sherlock Holmes clapped his hands softly together and chuckled.
" 'Pon my word, Watson, you are coming along wonderfully.
You have really done very well indeed. It is true that you have
missed everything of importance, but you have hit upon the
method, and you have a quick eye for colour. Never trust to
general impressions, my boy, but concentrate yourself upon
details. My first glance is always at a woman's sleeve. In a man
it is perhaps better first to take the knee of the trouser. As you
observe, this woman had plush upon her sleeves, which is a most
useful material for showing traces. The double line a little above
the wrist, where the typewritist presses against the table, was
beautifully defined. The sewing-machine, of the hand type, leaves
a similar mark, but only on the left arm, and on the side of it
farthest from the thumb, instead of being right across the broad-
est part, as this was. I then glanced at her face, and, observing
the dint of a pince-nez at either side of her nose, I ventured a
remark upon short sight and typewriting, which seemed to sur-
"It surprised me."
"But, surely, it was obvious. I was then much surprised and
interested on glancing down to observe that, though the boots
which she was wearing were not unlike each other, they were
really odd ones; the one having a slightly decorated toe-cap, and
the other a plain one. One was buttoned only in the two lower
buttons out of five, and the other at the first, third, and fifth.
Now, when you see that a young lady, otherwise neatly dressed,
has come away from home with odd boots, half-buttoned, it is
no great deduction to say that she came away in a hurry."
"And what else?" I asked, keenly interested, as I always was,
by my friend's incisive reasoning.
"I noted, in passing, that she had written a note before leaving
home but after being fully dressed. You observed that her right
glove was torn at the forefinger, but you did not apparently see
that both glove and finger were stained with violet ink. She had
written in a hurry and dipped her pen too deep. It must have
been this morning, or the mark would not remain clear upon the
finger. All this is amusing, though rather elementary, but I must
go back to business, Watson. Would you mind reading me the
advertised description of Mr. Hosmer Angel?"
I held the little printed slip to the light.
"Missing [it said]
on the morning of the fourteenth. a
"That will do," said Holmes. "As to the letters,"