To put this volume back on the shelf, please click here.
To return to the Table of Contents, please click here
The Diogenes Club Logo

Adventure XVI:
The Adventure of the
Stockbroker's Clerk

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Strand Magazine
March, 1893



 
 

  Shortly after my marriage I had bought a connection in the
Paddington district. Old Mr. Farquhar, from whom I purchased
it, had at one time an excellent general practice; but his age, and
an affliction of the nature of St. Vitus's dance from which he
suffered, had very much thinned it. The public not unnaturally
goes on the principle that he who would heal others must him-
self be whole, and looks askance at the curative powers of the
man whose own case is beyond the reach of his drugs. Thus as
my predecessor weakened his practice declined, until when I
purchased it from him it had sunk from twelve hundred to little
more than three hundred a year. I had confidence, however, in
my own youth and energy and was convinced that in a very few
years the concern would be as flourishing as ever.
  For three months after taking over the practice I was kept very
closely at work and saw little of my friend Sherlock Holmes, for
I was too busy to visit Baker Street, and he seldom went
anywhere himself save upon professional business. I was sur-
prised, therefore, when, one morning in June, as I sat reading
the British Medical Journal after breakfast, I heard a ring at the
bell, followed by the high, somewhat strident tones of my old
companion's voice.
  "Ah, my dear Watson," said he, striding into the room, "I
am very delighted to see you! I trust that Mrs. Watson has entirely
recovered from all the little excitements connected with our
adventure of the Sign of Four."
  "Thank you, we are both very well," said I, shaking him
warmly by the hand.
  "And I hope, also," he continued, sitting down in the rocking-
chair, "that the cares of medical practice have not entirely
obliterated the interest which you used to take in our little
deductive problems."
  "On the contrary," I answered, "it was only last night that I
was looking over my old notes, and classifying some of our past
results."
  "I trust that you don't consider your collection closed."
  "Not at all. I should wish nothing better than to have some
more of such experiences."
  "To-day, for example?"
  "Yes, to-day, if you like."
  "And as far off as Birmingham?"
  "Certainly, if you wish it."
  "And the practice?"
  "I do my neighbour's when he goes. He is always ready to
work off the debt."
  "Ha! nothing could be better," said Holmes, leaning back in
his chair and looking keenly at me from under his half-closed
lids. "I perceive that you have been unwell lately. Summer colds
are always a little trying."
  "I was confined to the house by a severe chill for three days
last week. I thought, however, that I had cast off every trace of
it."
  "So you have. You look remarkably robust."
  "How, then, did you know of it?"
  "My dear fellow, you know my methods."
  "You deduced it, then?"
  "Certainly."
  "And from what?"
  "From your slippers."
  I glanced down at the new patent-leathers which I was wear-
ing. "How on earth --" I began, but Holmes answered my
question before it was asked.
  "Your slippers are new," he said. "You could not have had
them more than a few weeks. The soles which you are at this
moment presenting to me are slightly scorched. For a moment I
thought they might have got wet and been burned in the drying.
But near the instep there is a small circular wafer of paper with
the shopman's hieroglyphics upon it. Damp would of course
have removed this. You had, then, been sitting with your feet
outstretched to the fire, which a man would hardly do even in so
wet a June as this if he were in his full health."
  Like all Holmes's reasoning the thing seemed simplicity itself
when it was once explained. He read the thought upon my
features, and his smile had a tinge of bitterness.
  "I am afraid that I rather give myself away when I explain."
said he. "Results without causes are much more impressive.
You are ready to come to Birmingham. then?"
  "Certainly. What is the case?"
  "You shall hear it all in the train. My client is outside in a
four-wheeler. Can you come at once?"
  "In an instant." I scribbled a note to my neighbour, rushed
upstairs to explain the matter to my wife, and joined Holmes
upon the doorstep.
  "Your neighbour is a doctor." said he, nodding at the brass
plate.
  "Yes, he bought a practice as I did."
  "An old-established one?"
  "Just the same as mine. Both have been ever since the houses
were built."
  "Ah! then you got hold of the best of the two."
  "I think I did. But how do you know?"
  "By the steps, my boy. Yours are worn three inches deeper
than his. But this gentleman in the cab is my client, Mr. Hall
Pycroft. Allow me to introduce you to him. Whip your horse up,
cabby, for we have only just time to catch our train."
  The man whom I found myself facing was a well-built, fresh-
complexioned young fellow, with a frank, honest face and a
slight, crisp, yellow moustache. He wore a very shiny top-hat
and a neat suit of sober black, which made him look what he
was -- a smart young City man, of the class who have been
labelled cockneys, but who give us our crack volunteer regi-
ments, and who turn out more fine athletes and sportsmen than
any body of men in these islands. His round, ruddy face was
naturally full of cheeriness, but the corners of his mouth seemed
to me to be pulled down in a half-comical distress. It was not,
however, until we were in a first-class carriage and well started
upon our journey to Birmingham that I was able to learn what
the trouble was which had driven him to Sherlock Holmes.
  "We have a clear run here of seventy minutes," Holmes
remarked. "I want you, Mr. Hall Pycroft, to tell my friend your
very interesting experience exactly as you have told it to me, or
with more detail if possible. It will be of use to me to hear the
succession of events again. It is a case, Watson, which may
prove to have something in it, or may prove to have nothing, but
which, at least, presents those unusual and outre features which
are as dear to you as they are to me. Now, Mr. Pycroft. I shall
not interrupt you again."
  Our young companion looked at me with a twinkle in his eye.
  "The worst of the story is." said he. "that I show myself up
as such a confounded fool. Of course it may work out all right.
and I don't see that I could have done otherwise; but if I have
lost my crib and get nothing in exchange I shall feel what a soft
Johnny I have been. I'm not very good at telling a story, Dr.
Watson, but it is like this with me:
  "I used to have a billet at Coxon & Woodhouse's, of Draper
Gardens, but they were let in early in the spring through the
Venezuelan loan, as no doubt you remember, and came a nasty
cropper. I have been with them five years. and old Coxon gave
me a ripping good testimonial when the smash came. but of
course we clerks were all turned adrift, the twenty-seven of us. I
tried here and tried there, but there were lots of other chaps on
the same lay as myself, and it was a perfect frost for a long time.
I had been taking three pounds a week at Coxon's, and I had
saved about seventy of them, but I soon worked my way through
that and out at the other end. I was fairly at the end of my tether
at last, and could hardly find the stamps to answer the advertise-
ments or the envelopes to stick them to. I had worn out my
boots paddling up office stairs, and I seemed just as far from
getting a billet as ever.
  "At last I saw a vacancy at Mawson & Williams's, the great
stock-broking firm in Lombard Street. I dare say E. C. is not
much in your line, but I can tell you that this is about the richest
house in London. The advertisement was to be answered by
letter only. I sent in my testimonial and application, but without
the least hope of getting it. Back came an answer by return,
saying that if I would appear next Monday I might take over my
new duties at once, provided that my appearance was satisfac-
tory. No one knows how these things are worked. Some people
say that the manager just plunges his hand into the heap and
takes the first that comes. Anyhow it was my innings that time,
and I don't ever wish to feel better pleased. The screw was a
pound a week rise, and the duties just about the same as at
Coxon's.
  "And now I come to the queer part of the business. I was in
diggings out Hampstead way, 17 Potter's Terrace. Well, I was
sitting doing a smoke that very evening after I had been prom-
ised the appointment, when up came my landlady with a card
which had 'Arthur Pinner, Financial Agent,' printed upon it. I
had never heard the name before and could not imagine what he
wanted with me, but of course I asked her to show him up. In he
walked, a middle-sized dark-haired, dark-eyed. black-bearded
man. with a touch of the sheeny about his nose. He had a brisk
kind of way with him and spoke sharply, like a man who knew
the value of time.
  " 'Mr. Hall Pycroft, I believe?' said he.
  " 'Yes, sir,' I answered, pushing a chair towards him.
  " 'Lately engaged at Coxon & Woodhouse's?'
  " 'Yes, sir.'
  " 'And now on the staff of Mawson's.'
  " 'Quite so.'
  " 'Well.' said he, 'the fact is that I have heard some really
extraordinary stories about your financial ability. You remember
Parker, who used to be Coxon's manager. He can never say
enough about it.'
  "Of course I was pleased to hear this. I had always been
pretty sharp in the office, but I had never dreamed that I was
talked about in the City in this fashion.
  " 'You have a good memory?' said he.
  " 'Pretty fair,' I answered modestly.
  " 'Have you kept in touch with the market while you have-
been out of work?' he asked.
  " 'Yes. I read the stock-exchange list every morning.'
  " 'Now that shows real application!' he cried. 'That is the
way to prosper! You won't mind my testing you, will you? Let
me see. How are Ayrshires?'
  " 'A hundred and six and a quarter to a hundred and five and
seven-eighths.'
  " 'And New Zealand consolidated?'
  " 'A hundred and four.'
  " 'And British Broken Hills?'
  " 'Seven to seven-and-six.'
  " 'Wonderful!' he cried with his hands up. 'This quite fits in
with all that I had heard. My boy, my boy, you are very much
too good to be a clerk at Mawson's!'
  "This outburst rather astonished me, as you can think. 'Well,'
said I, 'other people don't think quite so much of me as you
seem to do, Mr. Pinner. I had a hard enough fight to get this
berth, and I am very glad to have it.'
  " 'Pooh, man; you should soar above it. You are not in your
true sphere. Now, I'll tell you how it stands with me. What I
have to offer is little enough when measured by your ability, but
when compared with Mawson's it's light to dark. Let me see.
When do you go to Mawson's?'
  " 'On Monday.'
  " 'Ha, ha! I think I would risk a little sporting flutter that you
don't go there at all.'
  " 'Not go to Mawson's'?'
  " 'No, sir. By that day you will be the business manager of
the Franco-Midland Hardware Company, Limited, with a hun-
dred and thirty-four branches in the towns and villages of France,
not counting one in Brussels and one in San Remo.'
  "This took my breath away. 'I never heard of it.' said I.
  " 'Very likely not. It has been kept very quiet, for the capital
was all privately subscribed, and it's too good a thing to let the
public into. My brother, Harry Pinner, is promoter, and joins the
board after allotment as managing director. He knew I was in the
swim down here and asked me to pick up a good man cheap. A
young, pushing man with plenty of snap about him. Parker spoke
of you, and that brought me here to-night. We can only offer you
a beggarly five hundred to start with.'
  " 'Five hundred a year!' I shouted.
  " 'Only that at the beginning; but you are to have an over-
riding commission of one per cent on all business done by your
agents, and you may take my word for it that this will come to
more than your salary.'
  " 'But I know nothing about hardware.'
  " 'Tut, my boy, you know about figures.'
  "My head buzzed, and I could hardly sit still in my chair. But
suddenly a little chill of doubt came upon me.
  " 'I must be frank with yoli,' said I. 'Mawson only gives me
two hundred, but Mawson is safe. Now, really, I know so little
about your company that --'
  " 'Ah, smart, smart!' he cried in a kind of ecstasy of delight.
'You are the very man for us. You are not to be talked over, and
quite right, too. Now, here's a note for a hundred pounds, and if
you think that we can do business you may just slip it into your
pocket as an advance upon your salary.'
  " 'That is very handsome,' said I. 'When should I take over
my new duties?'
  " 'Be in Birmingham to-morrow at one,' said he. 'I have a
note in my pocket here which you will take to my brother. You
will find him at 126B Corporation Street. where the temporary
offices of the company are situated. Of course he must confirm
your engagement, but between ourselves it will be all right.'
  " 'Really, I hardly know how to express my gratitude, Mr.
Pinner,' said I.
  " 'Not at all, my boy. You have only got your deserts. There
are one or two small things -- mere formalities -- which I must
arrange with you. You have a bit of paper beside you there.
Kindly write upon it "I am perfectly willing to act as business
manager to the Franco-Midland Hardware Company, Limited, at
a minimum salary of 500 pounds." '
  "I did as he asked. and he put the paper in his pocket.
  " 'There is one other detail,' said he. 'What do you intend to
do about Mawson's?'
  "I had forgotten all about Mawson's in my joy. 'I'll write and
resign,' said I.
  " 'Precisely what I don't want you to do. I had a row over
you with Mawson's manager. I had gone up to ask him about
you, and he was very offensive; accused me of coaxing you
away from the service of the firm, and that sort of thing. At last I
fairly lost my temper. "If you want good men you should pay
them a good price," said I.
  " ' "He would rather have our small price than your big
one," said he.
  " ' "I'll lay you a fiver," said I, "that when he has my offer
you'll never so much as hear from him again."
  " ' "Done!" said he. "We picked him out of the gutter, and
he won't leave us so easily." Those were his very words.'
  " 'The impudent scoundrel!' I cried. 'I've never so much as
seen him in my life. Why should I consider him in any way? I
shall certainly not write if you would rather I didn't.'
  " 'Good! That's a promise,' said he, rising from his chair.
'Well, I'm delighted to have got so good a man for my brother.
Here's your advance of a hundred pounds, and here is the letter.
Make a note of the address. 126B Corporation Street, and re-
member that one o'clock to-morrow is your appointment. Good-
night, and may you have all the fortune that you deserve!'
  "That's just about all that passed between us, as near as I can
remember. You can imagine, Dr. Watson, how pleased I was at
such an extraordinary bit of good fortune. I sat up half the night
hugging myself over it, and next day I was off to Birmingham
in a train that would take me in plenty time for my appointment.
I took my things to a hotel in New Street, and then I made my
way to the address which had been given me.
  "It was a quarter of an hour before my time, but I thought that
would makc no difference. 126B was a passage between two
large shops, which led to a winding stone stair, from which there
were many flats, let as offices to companies or professional men.
The names of the occupants were painted at the bottom on the
wall, but there was no such name as the Franco-Midland
Hardware Company, Limited. I stood for a few minutes with my
heart in my boots, wondering whether the whole thing was an
elaborate hoax or not, when up came a man and addressed me. He
was very like the chap I had seen the night before, the same
figure and voice, but he was clean-shaven and his hair was
lighter.
  " 'Are you Mr. Hall Pycroft?' he asked.
  " 'Yes,' said I.
  " 'Oh! I was expecting you, but you are a trifle before your
time. I had a note from my brother this morning in which he
sang your praises very loudly.'
  " 'I was just looking for the offices when you came.'
  " 'We have not got our name up yet, for we only secured
these temporary premises last week. Come up with me, and we
will talk the matter over.'
  "I followed him to the top of a very lofty stair, and there,
right under the slates, were a couple of empty, dusty little
rooms, uncarpeted and uncurtained, into which he led me. I had
thought of a great office with shining tables and rows of clerks,
such as I was used to, and I daresay I stared rather straight at the
two deal chairs and one little table, which with a ledger and a
waste-paper basket, made up the whole furniture.
  " 'Don't be disheartened, Mr. Pycroft,' said my new ac-
quaintance, seeing the length of my face. 'Rome was not built in
a day, and we have lots of money at our backs, though we don't
cut much dash yet in offices. Pray sit down, and let me have
your letter.'
  "I gave it to him, and he read it over very carefully.
  " 'You seem to have made a vast impression upon my brother
Arthur,' said he, 'and I know that he is a pretty shrewd judge.
He swears by London, you know; and I by Birmingham; but this
time I shall follow his advice. Pray consider yourself definitely
engaged.'
  " 'What are my duties?' I asked.
  " 'You will eventually manage the great depot in Paris, which
will pour a flood of English crockery into the shops of a hundred
and thirty-four agents in France. The purchase will be completed
in a week, and meanwhile you will remain in Birmingham and
make yourself useful.'
  " 'How?'
  "For answer, he took a big red book out of a drawer.
  " 'This is a directory of Paris,' said he, 'with the trades after
the names of the people. I want you to take it home with you
and to mark off all the hardware-sellers, with their addresses. It
would be of the greatest use to me to have them.'
  " 'Surely, there are classified lists?' I suggested.
  " 'Not reliable ones. Their system is different from ours. Stick at
it, and let me have the lists by Monday, at twelve. Good-day,
Mr. Pycroft. If you continue to show zeal and intelligence you
will find the company a good master.'
  "I went back to the hotel with the big book under my arm, and
with very conflicting feelings in my breast. On the one hand, I
was definitely engaged and had a hundred pounds in my pocket;
on the other, the look of the offices, the absence of name on the
wall, and other of the points which would strike a business man
had left a bad impression as to the position of my employers.
However, come what might, I had my money, so l settled down
to my task. All Sunday I was kept hard at work, and yet by
Monday I had only got as far as H. I went round to my
employer, found him in the same dismantled kind of room, and
was told to keep at it until Wednesday, and then come again. On
Wednesday it was still unfinished, so I hammered away until
Friday -- that is, yesterday. Then I brought it round to Mr. Harry
Pinner.
  " 'Thank you very much,' said he, 'I fear that I underrated
the difficulty of the task. This list will be of very material
assistance to me.'
  " 'It took some time,' said I.
  " 'And now,' said he, 'I want you to make a list of the
furniture shops, for they all sell crockery.'
  " 'Very good.'
  " 'And you can come up to-morrow evening at seven and let
me know how you are getting on. Don't overwork yourself. A
couple of hours at Day's Music Hall in the evening would do
you no harm after your labours.' He laughed as he spoke, and I
saw with a thrill that his second tooth upon the left-hand side had
been very badly stuffed with gold."
  Sherlock Holmes rubbed his hands with delight, and I stared
with astonishment at our client.
  "You may well look surprised, Dr. Watson, but it is this
way," said he: "When I was speaking to the other chap in
London, at the time that he laughed at my not going to Maw-
son's, I happened to notice that his tooth was stuffed in this very
identical fashion. The glint of the gold in each case caught my
eye, you see. When I put that with the voice and figure being the
same, and only those things altered which might be changed by a
razor or a wig, I could not doubt that it was the same man. Of
course you expect two brothers to be alike, but not that they
should have the same tooth stuffed in the same way. He bowed
me out, and I found myself in the street, hardly knowing whether
I was on my head or my heels. Back I went to my hotel, put my
head in a basin of cold water, and tried to think it out. Why had
he sent me from London to Birmingham? Why had he got there
before me? And why had he written a letter from himself to
himself? It was altogether too much for me, and I could make no
sense of it. And then suddenly it struck me that what was dark to
me might be very light to Mr. Sherlock Holmes. I had just time
to get up to town by the night train to see him this morning, and
to bring you both back with me to Birmingham."
  There was a pause after the stock-broker's clerk had concluded
his surprising experience. Then Sherlock Holmes cocked his eye
at me, leaning back on the cushions with a pleased and yet
critical face, like a connoisseur who has just taken his first sip of
a comet vintage.
  "Rather fine, Watson, is it not?" said he. "There are points
in it which please me. I think that you will agree with me that an
interview with Mr. Arthur Harry Pinner in the temporary offices
of the Franco-Midland Hardware Company, Limited, would be a
rather interesting experience for both of us."
  "But how can we do it?" I asked.
  "Oh, easily enough," said Hall Pycroft cheerily. "You are
two friends of mine who are in want of a billet, and what could
be more natural than that I should bring you both round to the
managing direetor?"
  "Quite so, of course," said Holmes. "I should like to have a
look at the gentleman and see if I can make anything of his little
game. What qualities have you, my friend, which would make
your services so valuable? Or is it possible that --" He began
biting his nails and staring blankly out of the window, and we
hardly drew another word from him until we were in New Street.
  At seven o'clock that evening we were walking, the three of
us, down Corporation Street to the company's offices.
  "It is no use our being at all before our time," said our client.
"He only comes there to see me, apparently, for the place is
deserted up to the very hour he names."
  "That is suggestive," remarked Holmes.
  "By Jove, I told you so!" cried the clerk. "That's he walking
ahead of us there."
  He pointed to a smallish, dark, well-dressed man who was
bustling along the other side of the road. As we watched him he
looked across at a boy who was bawling out the latest edition of
the evening paper, and, running over among the cabs and busses,
he bought one from him. Then, clutching it in his hand, he
vanished through a doorway.
  "There he goes!" cried Hall Pycroft. "These are the compa-
ny's offices into which he has gone. Come with me, and I'll fix
it up as easily as possible."
  Following his lead, we ascended five stories, until we found
ourselves outside a half-opened door, at which our client tapped.
A voice within bade us enter, and we entered a bare, unfurnished
room such as Hall Pycroft had described. At the single table sat
the man whom we had seen in the street, with his evening paper
spread out in front of him, and as he looked up at us it seemed to
me that I had never looked upon a face which bore such marks of
grief, and of something beyond grief -- of a horror such as comes
to few men in a lifetime. His brow glistened with perspiration,
his cheeks were of the dull, dead white of a fish's belly, and his
eyes were wild and staring. He looked at his clerk as though he
failed to recognize him, and I could see by the astonishment
depicted upon our conductor's face that this was by no means the
usual appearance of his employer.
  "You look ill, Mr. Pinner!" he exclaimed.
  "Yes, I am not very well," answered the other, making
obvious efforts to pull himself together and licking his dry lips
before he spoke. "Who are these gentlemen whom you have
brought with you?"
  "One is Mr. Harris, of Bermondsey, and the other is Mr.
Price, of this town," said our clerk glibly. "They are friends of
mine and gentlemen of experience, but they have been out of a
place for some little time, and they hoped that perhaps you might
find an opening for them in the company's employment."
  "Very possibly! very possibly!" cried Mr. Pinner with a
ghastly smile. "Yes, I have no doubt that we shall be able to do
something for you. What is your particular line, Mr. Harris?"
  "I am an accountant," said Holmes.
  "Ah, yes, we shall want something of the sort. And you. Mr.
Price? "
  "A clerk," said I.
  "I have every hope that the company may accommodate you.
I will let you know about it as soon as we come to any conclu-
sion. And now I beg that you will go. For God's sake leave me
to myself!"
  These last words were shot out of him, as though the con-
straint which he was evidently setting upon himself had sud-
denly and utterly burst asunder. Holmes and I glanced at each
other, and Hall Pycroft took a step towards the table.
  "You forget, Mr. Pinner, that I am here by appointment to
receive some directions from you," said he.
  "Certainly, Mr. Pycroft, certainly," the other resumed in a
calmer tone. "You may wait here a moment and there is no
reason why your friends should not wait with you. I will be
entirely at your service in three minutes, if I might trespass upon
your patience so far." He rose with a very courteous air, and,
bowing to us, he passed out through a door at the farther end of
the room, which he closed behind him.
  "What now?" whispered Holmes. "Is he giving us the slip?"
  "Impossible," answered Pycroft.
  "Why so?"
  "That door leads into an inner room."
  "There is no exit?"
  "None."
  "Is it furnished?"
  "It was empty yesterday."
  "Then what on earth can he be doing? There is something
which I don't understand in this matter. If ever a man was three
parts mad with terror, that man's name is Pinner. What can have
put the shivers on him?"
  "He suspects that we are detectives," I suggested.
  "That's it," cried Pycroft.
  Holmes shook his head. "He did not turn pale. He was pale
when we entered the room," said he. "It is just possible that --"
  His words were interrupted by a sharp rat-tat from the direc-
tion of the inner door.
  "What the deuce is he knocking at his own door for?" cried
the clerk.
  Again and much louder came the rat-tat-tat. We all gazed
expectantly at the closed door. Glancing at Holmes, I saw his
face turn rigid, and he leaned forward in intense excitement.
Then suddenly came a low guggling, gargling sound, and a brisk
drumming upon woodwork. Holmes sprang frantically across the
room and pushed at the door. It was fastened on the inner side.
Following his example, we threw ourselves upon it with all our
weight. One hinge snapped, then the other, and down came the
door with a crash. Rushing over it, we found ourselves in the
inner room. It was empty.
  But it was only for a moment that we were at fault. At one
corner, the corner nearest the room which we had left, there was
a second door. Holmes sprang to it and pulled it open. A coat
and waistcoat were lying on the floor, and from a hook behind
the door, with his own braces round his neck, was hanging the
managing director of the Franco-Midland Hardware Company.
His knees were drawn up, his head hung at a dreadful angle to
his body, and the clatter of his heels against the door made the
noise which had broken in upon our conversation. In an instant I
had caught him round the waist, and held him up while Holmes
and Pycroft untied the elastic bands which had disappeared
between the livid creases of skin. Then we carried him into the
other room, where he lay with a clay-coloured face, puffing his
purple lips in and out with every breath -- a dreadful wreck of all
that he had been but five minutes before.
  "What do you think of him, Watson?" asked Holmes.
  I stooped over him and examined him. His pulse was feeble
and intermittent, but his breathing grew longer, and there was a
little shivering of his eyelids, which showed a thin white slit of
ball beneath.
  "It has been touch and go with him," said I, "but he'll live
now. Just open that window, and hand me the water carafe." I
undid his collar, poured the cold water over his face, and raised
and sank his arms until he drew a long, natural breath. "It's only
a question of time now," said I as I turned away from him.
  Holmes stood by the table, with his hands deep in his trousers'
pockets and his chin upon his breast.
  "I suppose we ought to call the police in now," said he.
"And yet I confess that I'd like to give them a complete case
when they come."
  "It's a blessed mystery to me," cried Pycroft, scratching his
head. "Whatever they wanted to bring me all the way up here
for, and then --"
  "Pooh! All that is clear enough," said Holmes impatiently.
"It is this last sudden move."
  "You understand the rest, then?"
  "I think that it is fairly obvious. What do you say, Watson?"
  I shrugged my shoulders. "I must confess that I am out of my
depths," said I.
  "Oh, surely if you consider the events at first they can only
point to one conclusion."
  "What do you make of them?"
  "Well, the whole thing hinges upon two points. The first is
the making of Pycroft write a declaration by which he entered
the service of this preposterous company. Do you not see how
very suggestive that is?"
  "I am afraid I miss the point."
  "Well, why did they want him to do it? Not as a business
matter, for these arrangements are usually verbal, and there was
no earthly business reason why this should be an exception.
Don't you see, my young friend, that they were very anxious to
obtain a specimen of your handwriting, and had no other way of
doing it?"
  "And why?"
  "Quite so. Why? When we answer that we have made some
progress with our little problem. Why? There can be only one
adequate reason. Someone wanted to learn to imitate your writ-
ing and had to procure a specimen of it first. And now if we pass
on to the second point we find that each throws light upon the
other. That point is the request made by Pinner that you should
not resign your place, but should leave the manager of this
important business in the full expectation that a Mr. Hall Pycroft,
whom he had never seen, was about to enter the office upon the
Monday morning."
  "My God!" cried our client, "what a blind beetle I have
been!"
  "Now you see the point about the handwriting. Suppose that
someone turned up in your place who wrote a completely differ-
ent hand from that in which you had applied for the vacancy, of
course the game would have been up. But in the interval the
rogue had learned to imitate you, and his position was therefore
secure, as I presume that nobody in the office had ever set eyes
upon you.
  "Not a soul," groaned Hall Pycroft.
  "Very good. Of course it was of the utmost importance to
prevent you from thinking better of it, and also to keep you from
coming into contact with anyone who might tell you that your
double was at work in Mawson's office. Therefore they gave
you a handsome advance on your salary, and ran you off to the
Midllands, where they gave you enough work to do to prevent
your going to London, where you might have burst their little
game up. That is all plain enough."
  "But why should this man pretend to be his own brother?"
  "Well, that is pretty clear also. There are evidently only two
of them in it. The other is impersonating you at the office. This
one acted as your engager, and then found that he could not find
you an employer without admitting a third person into his plot.
That he was most unwilling to do. He changed his appearance as
far as he could, and trusted that the likeness, which you could
not fail to observe, would be put down to a family resemblance.
But for the happy chance of the gold stuffing, your suspicions
would probably never have been aroused."
  Hall Pycroft shook his clenched hands in the air. "Good
Lord!" he cried, "while I have been fooled in this way, what
has this other Hall Pycroft been doing at Mawson's? What
should we do, Mr. Holmes? Tell me what to do."
  "We must wire to Mawson's."
  "They shut at twelve on Saturdays."
  "Never mind. There may be some door-keeper or attendant --"
  "Ah, yes, they keep a permanent guard there on account of
the value of the securities that they hold. I remember hearing it
talked of in the City."
  "Very good, we shall wire to him and see if all is well, and if
a clerk of your name is working there. That is clear enough, but
what is not so clear is why at sight of us one of the rogues should
instantly walk out of the room and hang himself."
  "The paper!" croaked a voice behind us. The man was sitting
up, blanched and ghastly, with returning reason in his eyes, and
hands which rubbed nervously at the broad red band which still
encircled his throat.
  "The paper! Of course!" yelled Holmes in a paroxysm of
excitement. "Idiot that I was! I thought so much of our visit that
the paper never entered my head for an instant. To be sure, the
secret must lie there." He flattened it out upon the table, and a
cry of triumph burst from his lips. "Look at this, Watson," he
cried. "It is a London paper, an early edition of the Evening
Standard. Here is what we want. Look at the headlines: 'Crime
in the City. Murder at Mawson & Williams's. Gigantic At-
tempted Robbery. Capture of the Criminal.' Here, Watson, we
are all equally anxious to hear it, so kindly read it aloud to
us."
  It appeared from its position in the paper to have been the one
event of importance in town, and the account of it ran in this
way:

     "A desperate attempt at robbery, culminating in the death
   of one man and the capture of the criminal, occurred this
   afternoon in the City. For some time back Mawson &
   Williams, the famous financial house, have been the guard-
   ians of securities which amount in the aggregate to a sum of
   considerably over a million sterling. So conscious was the
   manager of the responsibility which devolved upon him in
   consequence of the great interests at stake that safes of the
   very latest construction have been employed, and an armed
   watchman has been left day and night in the building. It
   appears that last week a new clerk named Hall Pycroft was
   engaged by the firm. This person appears to have been none
   other than Beddington, the famous forger and cracksman,
   who, with his brother, has only recently emerged from a
   five years' spell of penal servitude. By some means, which
   are not yet clear, he succeeded in winning, under a false
   name, this official position in the office, which he utilized
   in order to obtain mouldings of various locks, and a thor-
   ough knowledge of the position of the strongroom and the
   safes.
     "It is customary at Mawson's for the clerks to leave at
   midday on Saturday. Sergeant Tuson, of the City police,
   was somewhat surprised, therefore, to see a gentleman with
   a carpet-bag come down the steps at twenty minutes past
   one. His suspicions being aroused, the sergeant followed
   the man, and with the aid of Constable Pollock succeeded,
   after a most desperate resistance, in arresting him. It was at
   once clear that. a daring and gigantic robbery had been
   committed. Nearly a hundred thousand pounds' worth of
   American railway bonds, with a large amount of scrip in
   mines and other companies, was discovered in the bag. On
   examining the premises the body of the unfortunate watch-
   man was found doubled up and thrust into the largest of the
   safes, where it would not have been discovered until Mon-
   day morning had it not been for the prompt action of
   Sergeant Tuson. The man's-skull had been shattered by a
   blow from a poker delivered from behind. There could be
   no doubt that Beddington had obtained entrance by pretend-
   ing that he had left something behind him, and having
   murdered the watchman, rapidly rifled the large safe, and
   then made off with his booty. His brother, who usually
   works with him, has not appeared in this job as far as can at
   present be ascertained, although the police are making ener-
   getic inquiries as to his whereabouts."

  "Well, we may save the police some little trouble in that
direction," said Holmes, glancing at the haggard figure huddled
up by the window. "Human nature is a strange mixture, Watson.
You see that even a villain and murderer can inspire such
affection that his brother turns to suicide when he learns that his
neck is forfeited. However, we have no choice as to our action.
The doctor and I will remain on guard, Mr. Pycroft, if you will
have the kindness to step out for the police."
 

To return to the Table of Contents, please click here
The Diogenes Club:  (c) Copyright 1999-2000 The Diogenes Club All Rights Reserved