Miss Susan Cushing, living at Cross Street, Croydon, has
been made the victim of what must be regarded as a peculiarly revolting practical joke
unless some more sinister meaning should prove to be attached to the incident. At two
oclock yesterday afternoon a small packet, wrapped in brown paper, was handed in by
the postman. A cardboard box was inside, which was filled with coarse salt. On emptying
this, Miss Cushing was horrified to find two human ears, apparently quite freshly severed.
The box had been sent by parcel post from Belfast upon the morning before. There is no
indication as to the sender, and the matter is the more mysterious as Miss Cushing, who is
a maiden lady of fifty, has led a most retired life, and has so few acquaintances or
correspondents that it is a rare event for her to receive anything through the post. Some
years ago, however, when she resided at Penge, she let apartments in her house to three
young medical students, whom she was obliged to get rid of on account of their noisy and
irregular habits. The police are of opinion that this outrage may have been perpetrated
upon Miss Cushing by these youths, who owed her a grudge and who hoped to frighten her by
sending her these relics of the dissecting-rooms. Some probability is lent to the theory
by the fact that one of these students came from the north of Ireland, and, to the best of
Miss Cushings belief, from Belfast. In the meantime, the matter is being actively
investigated, Mr. Lestrade, one of the very smartest of our detective officers, being in
charge of the case.
So much for the Daily Chronicle, said
Holmes as I finished reading. Now for our friend Lestrade. I had a note from him
this morning, in which he says:
- I think that this case is very much in your line. We
have every hope of clearing the matter up, but we find a little difficulty in getting
anything to work upon. We have, of course, wired to the Belfast post-office, but a large
number of parcels were handed in upon that day, and they have no means of identifying this
particular one, or of remembering the sender. The box is a half-pound box of honeydew
tobacco and does not help us in any way. The medical student theory still appears to me to
be the most feasible, but if you should have a few hours to spare I should be very happy
to see you out here. I shall be either at the house or in the police-station all day.
What say you, Watson? Can you rise superior to the heat and run down to Croydon with me
on the off chance of a case for your annals?
I was longing for something to do.
You shall have it then. Ring for our boots and tell them
to order a cab. Ill be back in a moment when I have changed my dressing-gown and
filled my cigar-case.
A shower of rain fell while we were in the train, and the heat
was far less  oppressive
in Croydon than in town. Holmes had sent on a wire, so that Lestrade, as wiry, as dapper,
and as ferret-like as ever, was waiting for us at the station. A walk of five minutes took
us to Cross Street, where Miss Cushing resided.
It was a very long street of two-story brick houses, neat and
prim, with whitened stone steps and little groups of aproned women gossiping at the doors.
Halfway down, Lestrade stopped and tapped at a door, which was opened by a small servant
girl. Miss Cushing was sitting in the front room, into which we were ushered. She was a
placid-faced woman, with large, gentle eyes, and grizzled hair curving down over her
temples on each side. A worked antimacassar lay upon her lap and a basket of coloured
silks stood upon a stool beside her.
They are in the outhouse, those dreadful
things, said she as Lestrade entered. I wish that you would take them away
So I shall, Miss Cushing. I only kept them here until my
friend, Mr. Holmes, should have seen them in your presence.
Why in my presence, sir?
In case he wished to ask any questions.
What is the use of asking me questions when I tell you I
know nothing whatever about it?
Quite so, madam, said Holmes in his soothing way.
I have no doubt that you have been annoyed more than enough already over this
Indeed, I have, sir. I am a quiet woman and live a
retired life. It is something new for me to see my name in the papers and to find the
police in my house. I wont have those things in here, Mr. Lestrade. If you wish to
see them you must go to the outhouse.
It was a small shed in the narrow garden which ran behind the
house. Lestrade went in and brought out a yellow cardboard box, with a piece of brown
paper and some string. There was a bench at the end of the path, and we all sat down while
Holmes examined, one by one, the articles which Lestrade had handed to him.
The string is exceedingly interesting, he
remarked, holding it up to the light and sniffing at it. What do you make of this
It has been tarred.
Precisely. It is a piece of tarred twine. You have also,
no doubt, remarked that Miss Cushing has cut the cord with a scissors, as can be seen by
the double fray on each side. This is of importance.
I cannot see the importance, said Lestrade.
The importance lies in the fact that the knot is left
intact, and that this knot is of a peculiar character.
It is very neatly tied. I had already made a note to
that effect, said Lestrade complacently.
So much for the string, then, said Holmes,
smiling, now for the box wrapper. Brown paper, with a distinct smell of coffee.
What, did you not observe it? I think there can be no doubt of it. Address printed in
rather straggling characters: Miss S. Cushing, Cross Street, Croydon. Done
with a broad-pointed pen, probably a J, and with very inferior ink. The word
Croydon has been originally spelled with an i, which has been
changed to y. The parcel was directed, then, by a manthe printing is
distinctly masculine of limited education and unacquainted with the town of Croydon.
So far, so good! The box is a yellow, half-pound honeydew box, with nothing distinctive
save two thumb marks at the left bottom corner. It is filled with rough salt of the
quality used for preserving hides and other of the  coarser commercial purposes. And embedded in it are
these very singular enclosures.
He took out the two ears as he spoke, and laying a board
across his knee he examined them minutely, while Lestrade and I, bending forward on each
side of him, glanced alternately at these dreadful relics and at the thoughtful, eager
face of our companion. Finally he returned them to the box once more and sat for a while
in deep meditation.
You have observed, of course, said he at last,
that the ears are not a pair.
Yes, I have noticed that. But if this were the practical
joke of some students from the dissecting-rooms, it would be as easy for them to send two
odd ears as a pair.
Precisely. But this is not a practical joke.
You are sure of it?
The presumption is strongly against it. Bodies in the
dissecting-rooms are injected with preservative fluid. These ears bear no signs of this.
They are fresh, too. They have been cut off with a blunt instrument, which would hardly
happen if a student had done it. Again, carbolic or rectified spirits would be the
preservatives which would suggest themselves to the medical mind, certainly not rough
salt. I repeat that there is no practical joke here, but that we are investigating a
A vague thrill ran through me as I listened to my
companions words and saw the stern gravity which had hardened his features. This
brutal preliminary seemed to shadow forth some strange and inexplicable horror in the
background. Lestrade, however, shook his head like a man who is only half convinced.
There are objections to the joke theory, no doubt,
said he, but there are much stronger reasons against the other. We know that this
woman has led a most quiet and respectable life at Penge and here for the last twenty
years. She has hardly been away from her home for a day during that time. Why on earth,
then, should any criminal send her the proofs of his guilt, especially as, unless she is a
most consummate actress, she understands quite as little of the matter as we do?
That is the problem which we have to solve, Holmes
answered, and for my part I shall set about it by presuming that my reasoning is
correct, and that a double murder has been committed. One of these ears is a womans,
small, finely formed, and pierced for an earring. The other is a mans, sun-burned,
discoloured, and also pierced for an earring. These two people are presumably dead, or we
should have heard their story before now. To-day is Friday. The packet was posted on
Thursday morning. The tragedy, then, occurred on Wednesday or Tuesday, or earlier. If the
two people were murdered, who but their murderer would have sent this sign of his work to
Miss Cushing? We may take it that the sender of the packet is the man whom we want. But he
must have some strong reason for sending Miss Cushing this packet. What reason then? It
must have been to tell her that the deed was done! or to pain her, perhaps. But in that
case she knows who it is. Does she know? I doubt it. If she knew, why should she call the
police in? She might have buried the ears, and no one would have been the wiser. That is
what she would have done if she had wished to shield the criminal. But if she does not
wish to shield him she would give his name. There is a tangle here which needs
straightening out. He had been talking in a high, quick voice, staring blankly up
over the garden fence, but now he sprang briskly to his feet and walked towards the house.
have a few questions to ask Miss Cushing, said he.
In that case I may leave you here, said Lestrade,
for I have another small business on hand. I think that I have nothing further to
learn from Miss Cushing. You will find me at the police-station.
We shall look in on our way to the train, answered
Holmes. A moment later he and I were back in the front room, where the impassive lady was
still quietly working away at her antimacassar. She put it down on her lap as we entered
and looked at us with her frank, searching blue eyes.
I am convinced, sir, she said, that this
matter is a mistake, and that the parcel was never meant for me at all. I have said this
several times to the gentleman from Scotland Yard, but he simply laughs at me. I have not
an enemy in the world, as far as I know, so why should anyone play me such a trick?
I am coming to be of the same opinion, Miss
Cushing, said Holmes, taking a seat beside her. I think that it is more than
probable he paused, and I was surprised, on glancing round to see that
he was staring with singular intentness at the ladys profile. Surprise and
satisfaction were both for an instant to be read upon his eager face, though when she
glanced round to find out the cause of his silence he had become as demure as ever. I
stared hard myself at her flat, grizzled hair, her trim cap, her little gilt earrings, her
placid features; but I could see nothing which could account for my companions
There were one or two questions
Oh, I am weary of questions! cried Miss Cushing
You have two sisters, I believe.
How could you know that?
I observed the very instant that I entered the room that
you have a portrait group of three ladies upon the mantelpiece, one of whom is undoubtedly
yourself, while the others are so exceedingly like you that there could be no doubt of the
Yes, you are quite right. Those are my sisters, Sarah
And here at my elbow is another portrait, taken at
Liverpool, of your younger sister, in the company of a man who appears to be a steward by
his uniform. I observe that she was unmarried at the time.
You are very quick at observing.
That is my trade.
Well, you are quite right. But she was married to Mr.
Browner a few days afterwards. He was on the South American line when that was taken, but
he was so fond of her that he couldnt abide to leave her for so long, and he got
into the Liverpool and London boats.
Ah, the Conqueror, perhaps?
No, the May Day, when last I heard. Jim came
down here to see me once. That was before he broke the pledge; but afterwards he would
always take drink when he was ashore, and a little drink would send him stark, staring
mad. Ah! it was a bad day that ever he took a glass in his hand again. First he dropped
me, then he quarrelled with Sarah, and now that Mary has stopped writing we dont
know how things are going with them.
It was evident that Miss Cushing had come upon a subject on
which she felt very deeply. Like most people who lead a lonely life, she was shy at first,
but ended by becoming extremely communicative. She told us many details about her
brother-in-law the steward, and then wandering off on the subject of her former lodgers,  the medical students, she
gave us a long account of their delinquencies, with their names and those of their
hospitals. Holmes listened attentively to everything, throwing in a question from time to
About your second sister, Sarah, said he. I
wonder, since you are both maiden ladies, that you do not keep house together.
Ah! you dont know Sarahs temper or you would
wonder no more. I tried it when I came to Croydon, and we kept on until about two months
ago, when we had to part. I dont want to say a word against my own sister, but she
was always meddlesome and hard to please, was Sarah.
You say that she quarrelled with your Liverpool
Yes, and they were the best of friends at one time. Why,
she went up there to live in order to be near them. And now she has no word hard enough
for Jim Browner. The last six months that she was here she would speak of nothing but his
drinking and his ways. He had caught her meddling, I suspect, and given her a bit of his
mind, and that was the start of it.
Thank you, Miss Cushing, said Holmes, rising and
bowing. Your sister Sarah lives, I think you said, at New Street, Wallington?
Good-bye, and I am very sorry that you should have been troubled over a case with which,
as you say, you have nothing whatever to do.
There was a cab passing as we came out, and Holmes hailed it.
How far to Wallington? he asked.
Only about a mile, sir.
Very good. Jump in, Watson. We must strike while the
iron is hot. Simple as the case is, there have been one or two very instructive details in
connection with it. Just pull up at a telegraph office as you pass, cabby.
Holmes sent off a short wire and for the rest of the drive lay
back in the cab, with his hat tilted over his nose to keep the sun from his face. Our
driver pulled up at a house which was not unlike the one which we had just quitted. My
companion ordered him to wait, and had his hand upon the knocker, when the door opened and
a grave young gentleman in black, with a very shiny hat, appeared on the step.
Is Miss Cushing at home? asked Holmes.
Miss Sarah Cushing is extremely ill, said he.
She has been suffering since yesterday from brain symptoms of great severity. As her
medical adviser, I cannot possibly take the responsibility of allowing anyone to see her.
I should recommend you to call again in ten days. He drew on his gloves, closed the
door, and marched off down the street.
Well, if we cant we cant, said Holmes,
Perhaps she could not or would not have told you
I did not wish her to tell me anything. I only wanted to
look at her. However, I think that I have got all that I want. Drive us to some decent
hotel, cabby, where we may have some lunch, and afterwards we shall drop down upon friend
Lestrade at the police-station.
We had a pleasant little meal together, during which Holmes
would talk about nothing but violins, narrating with great exultation how he had purchased
his own Stradivarius, which was worth at least five hundred guineas, at a Jew
brokers in Tottenham Court Road for fifty-five shillings. This led him to Paganini,
and we sat for an hour over a bottle of claret while he told me anecdote after anecdote of
that extraordinary man. The afternoon was far advanced and the hot glare had  softened into a mellow glow
before we found ourselves at the police-station. Lestrade was waiting for us at the door.
A telegram for you, Mr. Holmes, said he.
Ha! It is the answer! He tore it open, glanced his
eyes over it, and crumpled it into his pocket. Thats all right, said he.
Have you found out anything?
I have found out everything!
What! Lestrade stared at him in amazement.
You are joking.
I was never more serious in my life. A shocking crime
has been committed, and I think I have now laid bare every detail of it.
And the criminal?
Holmes scribbled a few words upon the back of one of his
visiting cards and threw it over to Lestrade.
That is the name, he said. You cannot effect
an arrest until to-morrow night at the earliest. I should prefer that you do not mention
my name at all in connection with the case, as I choose to be only associated with those
crimes which present some difficulty in their solution. Come on, Watson. We strode
off together to the station, leaving Lestrade still staring with a delighted face at the
card which Holmes had thrown him.
The case, said Sherlock Holmes as we chatted
over our cigars that night in our rooms at Baker Street, is one where, as in the
investigations which you have chronicled under the names of A Study in Scarlet
and of The Sign of Four, we have been compelled to reason backward from
effects to causes. I have written to Lestrade asking him to supply us with the details
which are now wanting, and which he will only get after he has secured his man. That he
may be safely trusted to do, for although he is absolutely devoid of reason, he is as
tenacious as a bulldog when he once understands what he has to do, and, indeed, it is just
this tenacity which has brought him to the top at Scotland Yard.
Your case is not complete, then? I asked.
It is fairly complete in essentials. We know who the
author of the revolting business is, although one of the victims still escapes us. Of
course, you have formed your own conclusions.
I presume that this Jim Browner, the steward of a
Liverpool boat, is the man whom you suspect?
Oh! it is more than a suspicion.
And yet I cannot see anything save very vague
On the contrary, to my mind nothing could be more clear.
Let me run over the principal steps. We approached the case, you remember, with an
absolutely blank mind, which is always an advantage. We had formed no theories. We were
simply there to observe and to draw inferences from our observations. What did we see
first? A very placid and respectable lady, who seemed quite innocent of any secret, and a
portrait which showed me that she had two younger sisters. It instantly flashed across my
mind that the box might have been meant for one of these. I set the idea aside as one
which could be disproved or confirmed at our leisure. Then we went to the garden, as you
remember, and we saw the very singular contents of the little yellow box.
The string was of the quality which is used by
sailmakers aboard ship, and at once a whiff of the sea was perceptible in our
investigation. When I observed  that
the knot was one which is popular with sailors, that the parcel had been posted at a port,
and that the male ear was pierced for an earring which is so much more common among
sailors than landsmen, I was quite certain that all the actors in the tragedy were to be
found among our seafaring classes.
When I came to examine the address of the packet I
observed that it was to Miss S. Cushing. Now, the oldest sister would, of course, be Miss
Cushing, and although her initial was S it might belong to one of the others
as well. In that case we should have to commence our investigation from a fresh basis
altogether. I therefore went into the house with the intention of clearing up this point.
I was about to assure Miss Cushing that I was convinced that a mistake had been made when
you may remember that I came suddenly to a stop. The fact was that I had just seen
something which filled me with surprise and at the same time narrowed the field of our
As a medical man, you are aware, Watson, that there is
no part of the body which varies so much as the human ear. Each ear is as a rule quite
distinctive and differs from all other ones. In last years Anthropological
Journal you will find two short monographs from my pen upon the subject. I had,
therefore, examined the ears in the box with the eyes of an expert and had carefully noted
their anatomical peculiarities. Imagine my surprise, then, when on looking at Miss Cushing
I perceived that her ear corresponded exactly with the female ear which I had just
inspected. The matter was entirely beyond coincidence. There was the same shortening of
the pinna, the same broad curve of the upper lobe, the same convolution of the inner
cartilage. In all essentials it was the same ear.
Of course I at once saw the enormous importance of the
observation. It was evident that the victim was a blood relation, and probably a very
close one. I began to talk to her about her family, and you remember that she at once gave
us some exceedingly valuable details.
In the first place, her sisters name was Sarah,
and her address had until recently been the same, so that it was quite obvious how the
mistake had occurred and for whom the packet was meant. Then we heard of this steward,
married to the third sister, and learned that he had at one time been so intimate with
Miss Sarah that she had actually gone up to Liverpool to be near the Browners, but a
quarrel had afterwards divided them. This quarrel had put a stop to all communications for
some months, so that if Browner had occasion to address a packet to Miss Sarah, he would
undoubtedly have done so to her old address.
And now the matter had begun to straighten itself out wonderfully. We had learned
of the existence of this steward, an impulsive man, of strong passions you remember
that he threw up what must have been a very superior berth in order to be nearer to his
wifesubject, too, to occasional fits of hard drinking. We had reason to believe that
his wife had been murdered, and that a manpresumably a seafaring manhad been
murdered at the same time. Jealousy, of course, at once suggests itself as the motive for
the crime. And why should these proofs of the deed be sent to Miss Sarah Cushing? Probably
because during her residence in Liverpool she had some hand in bringing about the events
which led to the tragedy. You will observe that this line of boats calls at Belfast,
Dublin, and Waterford; so that, presuming that Browner had committed the deed and had
embarked at once upon his steamer, the May Day, Belfast would be the first place
at which he could post his terrible packet.
A second solution was at this stage obviously possible,
and although I thought  it
exceedingly unlikely, I was determined to elucidate it before going further. An
unsuccessful lover might have killed Mr. and Mrs. Browner, and the male ear might have
belonged to the husband. There were many grave objections to this theory, but it was
conceivable. I therefore sent off a telegram to my friend Algar, of the Liverpool force,
and asked him to find out if Mrs. Browner were at home, and if Browner had departed in the
May Day. Then we went on to Wallington to visit Miss Sarah.
I was curious, in the first place, to see how far the
family ear had been reproduced in her. Then, of course, she might give us very important
information, but I was not sanguine that she would. She must have heard of the business
the day before, since all Croydon was ringing with it, and she alone could have understood
for whom the packet was meant. If she had been willing to help justice she would probably
have communicated with the police already. However, it was clearly our duty to see her, so
we went. We found that the news of the arrival of the packetfor her illness dated
from that timehad such an effect upon her as to bring on brain fever. It was clearer
than ever that she understood its full significance, but equally clear that we should have
to wait some time for any assistance from her.
However, we were really independent of her help. Our
answers were waiting for us at the police-station, where I had directed Algar to send
them. Nothing could be more conclusive. Mrs. Browners house had been closed for more
than three days, and the neighbours were of opinion that she had gone south to see her
relatives. It had been ascertained at the shipping offices that Browner had left aboard of
the May Day, and I calculate that she is due in the Thames to-morrow night. When
he arrives he will be met by the obtuse but resolute Lestrade, and I have no doubt that we
shall have all our details filled in.
Sherlock Holmes was not disappointed in his expectations. Two
days later he received a bulky envelope, which contained a short note from the detective,
and a typewritten document, which covered several pages of foolscap.
Lestrade has got him all right, said Holmes,
glancing up at me. Perhaps it would interest you to hear what he says.
- MY DEAR MR. HOLMES:
In accordance with the scheme which we had formed in
order to test our theories [the we is rather fine, Watson, is it
not?] I went down to the Albert Dock yesterday at 6 P.M., and
boarded the S. S. May Day, belonging to the Liverpool, Dublin, and London Steam
Packet Company. On inquiry, I found that there was a steward on board of the name of James
Browner and that he had acted during the voyage in such an extraordinary manner that the
captain had been compelled to relieve him of his duties. On descending to his berth, I
found him seated upon a chest with his head sunk upon his hands, rocking himself to and
fro. He is a big, powerful chap, clean-shaven, and very swarthysomething like
Aldridge, who helped us in the bogus laundry affair. He jumped up when he heard my
business, and I had my whistle to my lips to call a couple of river police, who were round
the corner, but he seemed to have no heart in him, and he held out his hands quietly
enough for the darbies. We brought him along to the cells, and his box as well, for we
thought there might be something incriminating; but, bar a big sharp knife such as most
sailors have, we got nothing  for
our trouble. However, we find that we shall want no more evidence, for on being brought
before the inspector at the station he asked leave to make a statement, which was, of
course, taken down, just as he made it, by our shorthand man. We had three copies
typewritten, one of which I enclose. The affair proves, as I always thought it would, to
be an extremely simple one, but I am obliged to you for assisting me in my investigation.
With kind regards,
- Yours very truly,
- G. LESTRADE.
Hum! The investigation really was a very simple
one, remarked Holmes, but I dont think it struck him in that light when
he first called us in. However, let us see what Jim Browner has to say for himself. This
is his statement as made before Inspector Montgomery at the Shadwell Police Station, and
it has the advantage of being verbatim.
Have I anything to say? Yes, I have a deal to
say. I have to make a clean breast of it all. You can hang me, or you can leave me alone.
I dont care a plug which you do. I tell you Ive not shut an eye in sleep since
I did it, and I dont believe I ever will again until I get past all waking.
Sometimes its his face, but most generally its hers. Im never without
one or the other before me. He looks frowning and black-like, but she has a kind o
surprise upon her face. Ay, the white lamb, she might well be surprised when she read
death on a face that had seldom looked anything but love upon her before.
But it was Sarahs fault, and may the curse
of a broken man put a blight on her and set the blood rotting in her veins! Its not
that I want to clear myself. I know that I went back to drink, like the beast that I was.
But she would have forgiven me; she would have stuck as close to me as a rope to a block
if that woman had never darkened our door. For Sarah Cushing loved methats the
root of the businessshe loved me until all her love turned to poisonous hate when
she knew that I thought more of my wifes footmark in the mud than I did of her whole
body and soul.
There were three sisters altogether. The old one
was just a good woman, the second was a devil, and the third was an angel. Sarah was
thirty-three, and Mary was twenty-nine when I married. We were just as happy as the day
was long when we set up house together, and in all Liverpool there was no better woman
than my Mary. And then we asked Sarah up for a week, and the week grew into a month, and
one thing led to another, until she was just one of ourselves.
I was blue ribbon at that time, and we were
putting a little money by, and all was as bright as a new dollar. My God, whoever would
have thought that it could have come to this? Whoever would have dreamed it?
I used to be home for the week-ends very often,
and sometimes if the ship were held back for cargo I would have a whole week at a time,
and in this way I saw a deal of my sister-in-law, Sarah. She was a fine tall woman, black
and quick and fierce, with a proud way of carrying her head, and a glint from her eye like
a spark from a flint. But when little Mary was there I had never a thought of her, and
that I swear as I hope for Gods mercy.
It had seemed to me sometimes that she liked
to be alone with me, or to coax me out for a walk with her, but I had never thought
anything of that. But one evening my eyes were opened. I had come up from the ship and
found my wife out, but Sarah at home. Wheres Mary? I asked. Oh,
she has gone to pay  some
accounts. I was impatient and paced up and down the room. Cant you be
happy for five minutes without Mary, Jim? says she. Its a bad compliment
to me that you cant be contented with my society for so short a time.
Thats all right, my lass, said I, putting out my hand towards her in a
kindly way, but she had it in both hers in an instant, and they burned as if they were in
a fever. I looked into her eyes and I read it all there. There was no need for her to
speak, nor for me either. I frowned and drew my hand away. Then she stood by my side in
silence for a bit, and then put up her hand and patted me on the shoulder. Steady
old Jim! said she, and with a kind o mocking laugh, she ran out of the room.
Well, from that time Sarah hated me with her
whole heart and soul, and she is a woman who can hate, too. I was a fool to let her go on
biding with us a besotted foolbut I never said a word to Mary, for I knew it
would grieve her. Things went on much as before, but after a time I began to find that
there was a bit of a change in Mary herself. She had always been so trusting and so
innocent, but now she became queer and suspicious, wanting to know where I had been and
what I had been doing, and whom my letters were from, and what I had in my pockets, and a
thousand such follies. Day by day she grew queerer and more irritable, and we had
ceaseless rows about nothing. I was fairly puzzled by it all. Sarah avoided me now, but
she and Mary were just inseparable. I can see now how she was plotting and scheming and
poisoning my wifes mind against me, but I was such a blind beetle that I could not
understand it at the time. Then I broke my blue ribbon and began to drink again, but I
think I should not have done it if Mary had been the same as ever. She had some reason to
be disgusted with me now, and the gap between us began to be wider and wider. And then
this Alec Fairbairn chipped in, and things became a thousand times blacker.
It was to see Sarah that he came to my house
first, but soon it was to see us, for he was a man with winning ways, and he made friends
wherever he went. He was a dashing, swaggering chap, smart and curled, who had seen half
the world and could talk of what he had seen. He was good company, I wont deny it,
and he had wonderful polite ways with him for a sailor man, so that I think there must
have been a time when he knew more of the poop than the forecastle. For a month he was in
and out of my house, and never once did it cross my mind that harm might come of his soft,
tricky ways. And then at last something made me suspect, and from that day my peace was
It was only a little thing, too. I had come into
the parlour unexpected, and as I walked in at the door I saw a light of welcome on my
wifes face. But as she saw who it was it faded again, and she turned away with a
look of disappointment. That was enough for me. There was no one but Alec Fairbairn whose
step she could have mistaken for mine. If I could have seen him then I should have killed
him, for I have always been like a madman when my temper gets loose. Mary saw the
devils light in my eyes, and she ran forward with her hands on my sleeve.
Dont, Jim, dont! says she. Wheres Sarah? I
asked. In the kitchen, says she. Sarah, says I as I went in,
this man Fairbairn is never to darken my door again. Why not? says
she. Because I order it. Oh! says she, if my friends are not
good enough for this house, then I am not good enough for it either. You can
do what you like, says I, but if Fairbairn shows his face here again Ill
send you one of his ears for a keepsake. She was frightened by my face, I think, for
she never answered a word, and the same evening she left my house.
Well, I dont know now whether it was pure
devilry on the part of this woman,  or
whether she thought that she could turn me against my wife by encouraging her to
misbehave. Anyway, she took a house just two streets off and let lodgings to sailors.
Fairbairn used to stay there, and Mary would go round to have tea with her sister and him.
How often she went I dont know, but I followed her one day, and as I broke in at the
door Fairbairn got away over the back garden wall, like the cowardly skunk that he was. I
swore to my wife that I would kill her if I found her in his company again, and I led her
back with me, sobbing and trembling, and as white as a piece of paper. There was no trace
of love between us any longer. I could see that she hated me and feared me, and when the
thought of it drove me to drink, then she despised me as well.
Well, Sarah found that she could not make a
living in Liverpool, so she went back, as I understand, to live with her sister in
Croydon, and things jogged on much the same as ever at home. And then came this last week
and all the misery and ruin.
It was in this way. We had gone on the May
Day for a round voyage of seven days, but a hogshead got loose and started one of our
plates, so that we had to put back into port for twelve hours. I left the ship and came
home, thinking what a surprise it would be for my wife, and hoping that maybe she would be
glad to see me so soon. The thought was in my head as I turned into my own street, and at
that moment a cab passed me, and there she was, sitting by the side of Fairbairn, the two
chatting and laughing, with never a thought for me as I stood watching them from the
I tell you, and I give you my word for it, that
from that moment I was not my own master, and it is all like a dim dream when I look back
on it. I had been drinking hard of late, and the two things together fairly turned my
brain. Theres something throbbing in my head now, like a dockers hammer, but
that morning I seemed to have all Niagara whizzing and buzzing in my ears.
Well, I took to my heels, and I ran after the
cab. I had a heavy oak stick in my hand, and I tell you I saw red from the first; but as I
ran I got cunning, too, and hung back a little to see them without being seen. They pulled
up soon at the railway station. There was a good crowd round the booking-office, so I got
quite close to them without being seen. They took tickets for New Brighton. So did I, but
I got in three carriages behind them. When we reached it they walked along the Parade, and
I was never more than a hundred yards from them. At last I saw them hire a boat and start
for a row, for it was a very hot day, and they thought, no doubt, that it would be cooler
on the water.
It was just as if they had been given into my
hands. There was a bit of a haze, and you could not see more than a few hundred yards. I
hired a boat for myself, and I pulled after them. I could see the blur of their craft, but
they were going nearly as fast as I, and they must have been a long mile from the shore
before I caught them up. The haze was like a curtain all round us, and there were we three
in the middle of it. My God, shall I ever forget their faces when they saw who was in the
boat that was closing in upon them? She screamed out. He swore like a madman and jabbed at
me with an oar, for he must have seen death in my eyes. I got past it and got one in with
my stick that crushed his head like an egg. I would have spared her, perhaps, for all my
madness, but she threw her arms round him, crying out to him, and calling him
Alec. I struck again, and she lay stretched beside him. I was like a wild
beast then that had tasted blood. If Sarah had been there, by the Lord, she should have
joined them. I pulled out my knife,  andwell,
there! Ive said enough. It gave me a kind of savage joy when I thought how Sarah
would feel when she had such signs as these of what her meddling had brought about. Then I
tied the bodies into the boat, stove a plank, and stood by until they had sunk. I knew
very well that the owner would think that they had lost their bearings in the haze, and
had drifted off out to sea. I cleaned myself up, got back to land, and joined my ship
without a soul having a suspicion of what had passed. That night I made up the packet for
Sarah Cushing, and next day I sent it from Belfast.
There you have the whole truth of it. You can
hang me, or do what you like with me, but you cannot punish me as I have been punished
already. I cannot shut my eyes but I see those two faces staring at mestaring at me
as they stared when my boat broke through the haze. I killed them quick, but they are
killing me slow; and if I have another night of it I shall be either mad or dead before
morning. You wont put me alone into a cell, sir? For pitys sake dont,
and may you be treated in your day of agony as you treat me now.
What is the meaning of it, Watson? said Holmes
solemnly as he laid down the paper. What object is served by this circle of misery
and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance,
which is unthinkable. But what end? There is the great standing perennial problem to which
human reason is as far from an answer as ever.