The Episode of the Barrel

The police had brought a cab with them, and in this I escorted Miss
Morstan back to her home. After the angelic fashion of women, she had
borne trouble with a calm face as long as there was some one weaker
than herself to support, and I had found her bright and placid by the
side of the frightened housekeeper. In the cab, however, she first
turned faint, and then burst into a passion of weeping,–so sorely had
she been tried by the adventures of the night. She has told me since
that she thought me cold and distant upon that journey. She little
guessed the struggle within my breast, or the effort of self-restraint
which held me back. My sympathies and my love went out to her, even as
my hand had in the garden. I felt that years of the conventionalities
of life could not teach me to know her sweet, brave nature as had this
one day of strange experiences. Yet there were two thoughts which
sealed the words of affection upon my lips. She was weak and helpless,
shaken in mind and nerve. It was to take her at a disadvantage to
obtrude love upon her at such a time. Worse still, she was rich. If
Holmes’s researches were successful, she would be an heiress. Was it
fair, was it honorable, that a half-pay surgeon should take such
advantage of an intimacy which chance had brought about? Might she not
look upon me as a mere vulgar fortune-seeker? I could not bear to risk
that such a thought should cross her mind. This Agra treasure
intervened like an impassable barrier between us.
It was nearly two o’clock when we reached Mrs. Cecil Forrester’s. The
servants had retired hours ago, but Mrs. Forrester had been so
interested by the strange message which Miss Morstan had received that
she had sat up in the hope of her return. She opened the door herself,
a middle-aged, graceful woman, and it gave me joy to see how tenderly
her arm stole round the other’s waist and how motherly was the voice in
which she greeted her. She was clearly no mere paid dependant, but an
honored friend. I was introduced, and Mrs. Forrester earnestly begged
me to step in and tell her our adventures. I explained, however, the
importance of my errand, and promised faithfully to call and report any
progress which we might make with the case. As we drove away I stole a
glance back, and I still seem to see that little group on the step, the
two graceful, clinging figures, the half-opened door, the hall light
shining through stained glass, the barometer, and the bright
stair-rods. It was soothing to catch even that passing glimpse of a
tranquil English home in the midst of the wild, dark business which had
absorbed us.
And the more I thought of what had happened, the wilder and darker it
grew. I reviewed the whole extraordinary sequence of events as I
rattled on through the silent gas-lit streets. There was the original
problem: that at least was pretty clear now. The death of Captain
Morstan, the sending of the pearls, the advertisement, the letter,–we
had had light upon all those events. They had only led us, however, to
a deeper and far more tragic mystery. The Indian treasure, the curious
plan found among Morstan’s baggage, the strange scene at Major Sholto’s
death, the rediscovery of the treasure immediately followed by the
murder of the discoverer, the very singular accompaniments to the
crime, the footsteps, the remarkable weapons, the words upon the card,
corresponding with those upon Captain Morstan’s chart,–here was indeed
a labyrinth in which a man less singularly endowed than my
fellow-lodger might well despair of ever finding the clue.
Pinchin Lane was a row of shabby two-storied brick houses in the lower
quarter of Lambeth. I had to knock for some time at No. 3 before I
could make my impression. At last, however, there was the glint of a
candle behind the blind, and a face looked out at the upper window.
“Go on, you drunken vagabone,” said the face. “If you kick up any more
row I’ll open the kennels and let out forty-three dogs upon you.”
“If you’ll let one out it’s just what I have come for,” said I.
“Go on!” yelled the voice. “So help me gracious, I have a wiper in the
bag, an’ I’ll drop it on your ‘ead if you don’t hook it.”
“But I want a dog,” I cried.
“I won’t be argued with!” shouted Mr. Sherman. “Now stand clear, for
when I say ‘three,’ down goes the wiper.”
“Mr. Sherlock Holmes–” I began, but the words had a most magical
effect, for the window instantly slammed down, and within a minute the
door was unbarred and open. Mr. Sherman was a lanky, lean old man,
with stooping shoulders, a stringy neck, and blue-tinted glasses.
“A friend of Mr. Sherlock is always welcome,” said he. “Step in, sir.
Keep clear of the badger; for he bites. Ah, naughty, naughty, would
you take a nip at the gentleman?” This to a stoat which thrust its
wicked head and red eyes between the bars of its cage. “Don’t mind
that, sir: it’s only a slow-worm. It hain’t got no fangs, so I gives
it the run o’ the room, for it keeps the beetles down. You must not
mind my bein’ just a little short wi’ you at first, for I’m guyed at by
the children, and there’s many a one just comes down this lane to knock
me up. What was it that Mr. Sherlock Holmes wanted, sir?”
“He wanted a dog of yours.”
“Ah! that would be Toby.”
“Yes, Toby was the name.”
“Toby lives at No. 7 on the left here.” He moved slowly forward with
his candle among the queer animal family which he had gathered round
him. In the uncertain, shadowy light I could see dimly that there were
glancing, glimmering eyes peeping down at us from every cranny and
corner. Even the rafters above our heads were lined by solemn fowls,
who lazily shifted their weight from one leg to the other as our voices
disturbed their slumbers.
Toby proved to be an ugly, long-haired, lop-eared creature, half spaniel
and half lurcher, brown-and-white in color, with a very clumsy waddling
gait. It accepted after some hesitation a lump of sugar which the old
naturalist handed to me, and, having thus sealed an alliance, it
followed me to the cab, and made no difficulties about accompanying me.
It had just struck three on the Palace clock when I found myself back
once more at Pondicherry Lodge. The ex-prize-fighter McMurdo had, I
found, been arrested as an accessory, and both he and Mr. Sholto had
been marched off to the station. Two constables guarded the narrow
gate, but they allowed me to pass with the dog on my mentioning the
detective’s name.
Holmes was standing on the door-step, with his hands in his pockets,
smoking his pipe.
“Ah, you have him there!” said he. “Good dog, then! Atheney Jones has
gone. We have had an immense display of energy since you left. He has
arrested not only friend Thaddeus, but the gatekeeper, the housekeeper,
and the Indian servant. We have the place to ourselves, but for a
sergeant up-stairs. Leave the dog here, and come up.”
We tied Toby to the hall table, and reascended the stairs. The room
was as he had left it, save that a sheet had been draped over the
central figure. A weary-looking police-sergeant reclined in the corner.
“Lend me your bull’s-eye, sergeant,” said my companion. “Now tie this
bit of card round my neck, so as to hang it in front of me. Thank you.
Now I must kick off my boots and stockings.–Just you carry them down
with you, Watson. I am going to do a little climbing. And dip my
handkerchief into the creasote. That will do. Now come up into the
garret with me for a moment.”
We clambered up through the hole. Holmes turned his light once more
upon the footsteps in the dust.
“I wish you particularly to notice these footmarks,” he said. “Do you
observe anything noteworthy about them?”
“They belong,” I said, “to a child or a small woman.”
“Apart from their size, though. Is there nothing else?”
“They appear to be much as other footmarks.”
“Not at all. Look here! This is the print of a right foot in the
dust. Now I make one with my naked foot beside it. What is the chief
“Your toes are all cramped together. The other print has each toe
distinctly divided.”
“Quite so. That is the point. Bear that in mind. Now, would you
kindly step over to that flap-window and smell the edge of the
wood-work? I shall stay here, as I have this handkerchief in my hand.”
I did as he directed, and was instantly conscious of a strong tarry
“That is where he put his foot in getting out. If YOU can trace him, I
should think that Toby will have no difficulty. Now run down-stairs,
loose the dog, and look out for Blondin.”
By the time that I got out into the grounds Sherlock Holmes was on the
roof, and I could see him like an enormous glow-worm crawling very
slowly along the ridge. I lost sight of him behind a stack of
chimneys, but he presently reappeared, and then vanished once more upon
the opposite side. When I made my way round there I found him seated
at one of the corner eaves.
“That you, Watson?” he cried.
“This is the place. What is that black thing down there?”
“A water-barrel.”
“Top on it?”
“No sign of a ladder?”
“Confound the fellow! It’s a most break-neck place. I ought to be
able to come down where he could climb up. The water-pipe feels pretty
firm. Here goes, anyhow.”
There was a scuffling of feet, and the lantern began to come steadily
down the side of the wall. Then with a light spring he came on to the
barrel, and from there to the earth.
“It was easy to follow him,” he said, drawing on his stockings and
boots. “Tiles were loosened the whole way along, and in his hurry he
had dropped this. It confirms my diagnosis, as you doctors express it.”
The object which he held up to me was a small pocket or pouch woven out
of colored grasses and with a few tawdry beads strung round it. In
shape and size it was not unlike a cigarette-case. Inside were half a
dozen spines of dark wood, sharp at one end and rounded at the other,
like that which had struck Bartholomew Sholto.
“They are hellish things,” said he. “Look out that you don’t prick
yourself. I’m delighted to have them, for the chances are that they
are all he has. There is the less fear of you or me finding one in our
skin before long. I would sooner face a Martini bullet, myself. Are
you game for a six-mile trudge, Watson?”
“Certainly,” I answered.
“Your leg will stand it?”
“Oh, yes.”
“Here you are, doggy! Good old Toby! Smell it, Toby, smell it!” He
pushed the creasote handkerchief under the dog’s nose, while the
creature stood with its fluffy legs separated, and with a most comical
cock to its head, like a connoisseur sniffing the bouquet of a famous
vintage. Holmes then threw the handkerchief to a distance, fastened a
stout cord to the mongrel’s collar, and led him to the foot of the
water-barrel. The creature instantly broke into a succession of high,
tremulous yelps, and, with his nose on the ground, and his tail in the
air, pattered off upon the trail at a pace which strained his leash and
kept us at the top of our speed.
The east had been gradually whitening, and we could now see some
distance in the cold gray light. The square, massive house, with its
black, empty windows and high, bare walls, towered up, sad and forlorn,
behind us. Our course led right across the grounds, in and out among
the trenches and pits with which they were scarred and intersected.
The whole place, with its scattered dirt-heaps and ill-grown shrubs,
had a blighted, ill-omened look which harmonized with the black tragedy
which hung over it.
On reaching the boundary wall Toby ran along, whining eagerly,
underneath its shadow, and stopped finally in a corner screened by a
young beech. Where the two walls joined, several bricks had been
loosened, and the crevices left were worn down and rounded upon the
lower side, as though they had frequently been used as a ladder.
Holmes clambered up, and, taking the dog from me, he dropped it over
upon the other side.
“There’s the print of wooden-leg’s hand,” he remarked, as I mounted up
beside him. “You see the slight smudge of blood upon the white
plaster. What a lucky thing it is that we have had no very heavy rain
since yesterday! The scent will lie upon the road in spite of their
eight-and-twenty hours’ start.”
I confess that I had my doubts myself when I reflected upon the great
traffic which had passed along the London road in the interval. My
fears were soon appeased, however. Toby never hesitated or swerved,
but waddled on in his peculiar rolling fashion. Clearly, the pungent
smell of the creasote rose high above all other contending scents.
“Do not imagine,” said Holmes, “that I depend for my success in this
case upon the mere chance of one of these fellows having put his foot
in the chemical. I have knowledge now which would enable me to trace
them in many different ways. This, however, is the readiest and, since
fortune has put it into our hands, I should be culpable if I neglected
it. It has, however, prevented the case from becoming the pretty
little intellectual problem which it at one time promised to be. There
might have been some credit to be gained out of it, but for this too
palpable clue.”
“There is credit, and to spare,” said I. “I assure you, Holmes, that I
marvel at the means by which you obtain your results in this case, even
more than I did in the Jefferson Hope Murder. The thing seems to me to
be deeper and more inexplicable. How, for example, could you describe
with such confidence the wooden-legged man?”

“Pshaw, my dear boy! it was simplicity itself. I don’t wish to be
theatrical. It is all patent and above-board. Two officers who are in
command of a convict-guard learn an important secret as to buried
treasure. A map is drawn for them by an Englishman named Jonathan
Small. You remember that we saw the name upon the chart in Captain
Morstan’s possession. He had signed it in behalf of himself and his
associates,–the sign of the four, as he somewhat dramatically called
it. Aided by this chart, the officers–or one of them–gets the
treasure and brings it to England, leaving, we will suppose, some
condition under which he received it unfulfilled. Now, then, why did
not Jonathan Small get the treasure himself? The answer is obvious.
The chart is dated at a time when Morstan was brought into close
association with convicts. Jonathan Small did not get the treasure
because he and his associates were themselves convicts and could not
get away.”
“But that is mere speculation,” said I.
“It is more than that. It is the only hypothesis which covers the
facts. Let us see how it fits in with the sequel. Major Sholto
remains at peace for some years, happy in the possession of his
treasure. Then he receives a letter from India which gives him a great
fright. What was that?”
“A letter to say that the men whom he had wronged had been set free.”
“Or had escaped. That is much more likely, for he would have known
what their term of imprisonment was. It would not have been a surprise
to him. What does he do then? He guards himself against a
wooden-legged man,–a white man, mark you, for he mistakes a white
tradesman for him, and actually fires a pistol at him. Now, only one
white man’s name is on the chart. The others are Hindoos or
Mohammedans. There is no other white man. Therefore we may say with
confidence that the wooden-legged man is identical with Jonathan Small.
Does the reasoning strike you as being faulty?”
“No: it is clear and concise.”
“Well, now, let us put ourselves in the place of Jonathan Small. Let us
look at it from his point of view. He comes to England with the double
idea of regaining what he would consider to be his rights and of having
his revenge upon the man who had wronged him. He found out where
Sholto lived, and very possibly he established communications with some
one inside the house. There is this butler, Lal Rao, whom we have not
seen. Mrs. Bernstone gives him far from a good character. Small could
not find out, however, where the treasure was hid, for no one ever
knew, save the major and one faithful servant who had died. Suddenly
Small learns that the major is on his death-bed. In a frenzy lest the
secret of the treasure die with him, he runs the gauntlet of the
guards, makes his way to the dying man’s window, and is only deterred
from entering by the presence of his two sons. Mad with hate, however,
against the dead man, he enters the room that night, searches his
private papers in the hope of discovering some memorandum relating to
the treasure, and finally leaves a momento of his visit in the short
inscription upon the card. He had doubtless planned beforehand that
should he slay the major he would leave some such record upon the body
as a sign that it was not a common murder, but, from the point of view
of the four associates, something in the nature of an act of justice.
Whimsical and bizarre conceits of this kind are common enough in the
annals of crime, and usually afford valuable indications as to the
criminal. Do you follow all this?”
“Very clearly.”
“Now, what could Jonathan Small do? He could only continue to keep a
secret watch upon the efforts made to find the treasure. Possibly he
leaves England and only comes back at intervals. Then comes the
discovery of the garret, and he is instantly informed of it. We again
trace the presence of some confederate in the household. Jonathan,
with his wooden leg, is utterly unable to reach the lofty room of
Bartholomew Sholto. He takes with him, however, a rather curious
associate, who gets over this difficulty, but dips his naked foot into
creasote, whence comes Toby, and a six-mile limp for a half-pay officer
with a damaged tendo Achillis.”
“But it was the associate, and not Jonathan, who committed the crime.”
“Quite so. And rather to Jonathan’s disgust, to judge by the way he
stamped about when he got into the room. He bore no grudge against
Bartholomew Sholto, and would have preferred if he could have been
simply bound and gagged. He did not wish to put his head in a halter.
There was no help for it, however: the savage instincts of his
companion had broken out, and the poison had done its work: so
Jonathan Small left his record, lowered the treasure-box to the ground,
and followed it himself. That was the train of events as far as I can
decipher them. Of course as to his personal appearance he must be
middle-aged, and must be sunburned after serving his time in such an
oven as the Andamans. His height is readily calculated from the length
of his stride, and we know that he was bearded. His hairiness was the
one point which impressed itself upon Thaddeus Sholto when he saw him
at the window. I don’t know that there is anything else.”
“The associate?”
“Ah, well, there is no great mystery in that. But you will know all
about it soon enough. How sweet the morning air is! See how that one
little cloud floats like a pink feather from some gigantic flamingo.
Now the red rim of the sun pushes itself over the London cloud-bank.
It shines on a good many folk, but on none, I dare bet, who are on a
stranger errand than you and I. How small we feel with our petty
ambitions and strivings in the presence of the great elemental forces
of nature! Are you well up in your Jean Paul?”
“Fairly so. I worked back to him through Carlyle.”
“That was like following the brook to the parent lake. He makes one
curious but profound remark. It is that the chief proof of man’s real
greatness lies in his perception of his own smallness. It argues, you
see, a power of comparison and of appreciation which is in itself a
proof of nobility. There is much food for thought in Richter. You
have not a pistol, have you?”
“I have my stick.”
“It is just possible that we may need something of the sort if we get
to their lair. Jonathan I shall leave to you, but if the other turns
nasty I shall shoot him dead.” He took out his revolver as he spoke,
and, having loaded two of the chambers, he put it back into the
right-hand pocket of his jacket.
We had during this time been following the guidance of Toby down the
half-rural villa-lined roads which lead to the metropolis. Now,
however, we were beginning to come among continuous streets, where
laborers and dockmen were already astir, and slatternly women were
taking down shutters and brushing door-steps. At the square-topped
corner public houses business was just beginning, and rough-looking men
were emerging, rubbing their sleeves across their beards after their
morning wet. Strange dogs sauntered up and stared wonderingly at us as
we passed, but our inimitable Toby looked neither to the right nor to
the left, but trotted onwards with his nose to the ground and an
occasional eager whine which spoke of a hot scent.
We had traversed Streatham, Brixton, Camberwell, and now found
ourselves in Kennington Lane, having borne away through the
side-streets to the east of the Oval. The men whom we pursued seemed
to have taken a curiously zigzag road, with the idea probably of
escaping observation. They had never kept to the main road if a
parallel side-street would serve their turn. At the foot of Kennington
Lane they had edged away to the left through Bond Street and Miles
Street. Where the latter street turns into Knight’s Place, Toby ceased
to advance, but began to run backwards and forwards with one ear cocked
and the other drooping, the very picture of canine indecision. Then he
waddled round in circles, looking up to us from time to time, as if to
ask for sympathy in his embarrassment.
“What the deuce is the matter with the dog?” growled Holmes. “They
surely would not take a cab, or go off in a balloon.”
“Perhaps they stood here for some time,” I suggested.
“Ah! it’s all right. He’s off again,” said my companion, in a tone of
He was indeed off, for after sniffing round again he suddenly made up
his mind, and darted away with an energy and determination such as he
had not yet shown. The scent appeared to be much hotter than before,
for he had not even to put his nose on the ground, but tugged at his
leash and tried to break into a run. I cold see by the gleam in
Holmes’s eyes that he thought we were nearing the end of our journey.
Our course now ran down Nine Elms until we came to Broderick and
Nelson’s large timber-yard, just past the White Eagle tavern. Here the
dog, frantic with excitement, turned down through the side-gate into
the enclosure, where the sawyers were already at work. On the dog
raced through sawdust and shavings, down an alley, round a passage,
between two wood-piles, and finally, with a triumphant yelp, sprang
upon a large barrel which still stood upon the hand-trolley on which it
had been brought. With lolling tongue and blinking eyes, Toby stood
upon the cask, looking from one to the other of us for some sign of
appreciation. The staves of the barrel and the wheels of the trolley
were smeared with a dark liquid, and the whole air was heavy with the
smell of creasote.
Sherlock Holmes and I looked blankly at each other, and then burst
simultaneously into an uncontrollable fit of laughter.