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THE ADVENTURE OF THE GOLDEN PINCE-NEZ
When I look at the three massive manuscript volumes which contain our work
for the year 1894, I confess that it is very difficult for me, out of such
a wealth of material, to select the cases which are most interesting in
themselves, and at the same time most conducive to a display of those
peculiar powers for which my friend was famous. As I turn over the pages,
I see my notes upon the repulsive story of the red leech and the terrible
death of Crosby, the banker. Here also I find an account of the Addleton
tragedy, and the singular contents of the ancient British barrow. The
famous Smith-Mortimer succession case comes also within this period, and
so does the tracking and arrest of Huret, the Boulevard assassin—an
exploit which won for Holmes an autograph letter of thanks from the French
President and the Order of the Legion of Honour. Each of these would
furnish a narrative, but on the whole I am of opinion that none of them
unites so many singular points of interest as the episode of Yoxley Old
Place, which includes not only the lamentable death of young Willoughby
Smith, but also those subsequent developments which threw so curious a
light upon the causes of the crime.
It was a wild, tempestuous night, towards the close of November. Holmes
and I sat together in silence all the evening, he engaged with a powerful
lens deciphering the remains of the original inscription upon a
palimpsest, I deep in a recent treatise upon surgery. Outside the wind
howled down Baker Street, while the rain beat fiercely against the
windows. It was strange there, in the very depths of the town, with ten
miles of man's handiwork on every side of us, to feel the iron grip of
Nature, and to be conscious that to the huge elemental forces all London
was no more than the molehills that dot the fields. I walked to the
window, and looked out on the deserted street. The occasional lamps
gleamed on the expanse of muddy road and shining pavement. A single cab
was splashing its way from the Oxford Street end.
"Well, Watson, it's as well we have not to turn out to-night," said
Holmes, laying aside his lens and rolling up the palimpsest. "I've done
enough for one sitting. It is trying work for the eyes. So far as I can
make out, it is nothing more exciting than an Abbey's accounts dating from
the second half of the fifteenth century. Halloa! halloa! halloa! What's
Amid the droning of the wind there had come the stamping of a horse's
hoofs, and the long grind of a wheel as it rasped against the curb. The
cab which I had seen had pulled up at our door.
"What can he want?" I ejaculated, as a man stepped out of it.
"Want? He wants us. And we, my poor Watson, want overcoats and cravats and
goloshes, and every aid that man ever invented to fight the weather. Wait
a bit, though! There's the cab off again! There's hope yet. He'd have kept
it if he had wanted us to come. Run down, my dear fellow, and open the
door, for all virtuous folk have been long in bed."
When the light of the hall lamp fell upon our midnight visitor, I had no
difficulty in recognizing him. It was young Stanley Hopkins, a promising
detective, in whose career Holmes had several times shown a very practical
"Is he in?" he asked, eagerly.
"Come up, my dear sir," said Holmes's voice from above. "I hope you have
no designs upon us such a night as this."
The detective mounted the stairs, and our lamp gleamed upon his shining
waterproof. I helped him out of it, while Holmes knocked a blaze out of
the logs in the grate.
"Now, my dear Hopkins, draw up and warm your toes," said he. "Here's a
cigar, and the doctor has a prescription containing hot water and a lemon,
which is good medicine on a night like this. It must be something
important which has brought you out in such a gale."
"It is indeed, Mr. Holmes. I've had a bustling afternoon, I promise you.
Did you see anything of the Yoxley case in the latest editions?"
"I've seen nothing later than the fifteenth century to-day."
"Well, it was only a paragraph, and all wrong at that, so you have not
missed anything. I haven't let the grass grow under my feet. It's down in
Kent, seven miles from Chatham and three from the railway line. I was
wired for at 3:15, reached Yoxley Old Place at 5, conducted my
investigation, was back at Charing Cross by the last train, and straight
to you by cab."
"Which means, I suppose, that you are not quite clear about your case?"
"It means that I can make neither head nor tail of it. So far as I can
see, it is just as tangled a business as ever I handled, and yet at first
it seemed so simple that one couldn't go wrong. There's no motive, Mr.
Holmes. That's what bothers me—I can't put my hand on a motive.
Here's a man dead—there's no denying that—but, so far as I can
see, no reason on earth why anyone should wish him harm."
Holmes lit his cigar and leaned back in his chair.
"Let us hear about it," said he.
"I've got my facts pretty clear," said Stanley Hopkins. "All I want now is
to know what they all mean. The story, so far as I can make it out, is
like this. Some years ago this country house, Yoxley Old Place, was taken
by an elderly man, who gave the name of Professor Coram. He was an
invalid, keeping his bed half the time, and the other half hobbling round
the house with a stick or being pushed about the grounds by the gardener
in a Bath chair. He was well liked by the few neighbours who called upon
him, and he has the reputation down there of being a very learned man. His
household used to consist of an elderly housekeeper, Mrs. Marker, and of a
maid, Susan Tarlton. These have both been with him since his arrival, and
they seem to be women of excellent character. The professor is writing a
learned book, and he found it necessary, about a year ago, to engage a
secretary. The first two that he tried were not successes, but the third,
Mr. Willoughby Smith, a very young man straight from the university, seems
to have been just what his employer wanted. His work consisted in writing
all the morning to the professor's dictation, and he usually spent the
evening in hunting up references and passages which bore upon the next
day's work. This Willoughby Smith has nothing against him, either as a boy
at Uppingham or as a young man at Cambridge. I have seen his testimonials,
and from the first he was a decent, quiet, hard-working fellow, with no
weak spot in him at all. And yet this is the lad who has met his death
this morning in the professor's study under circumstances which can point
only to murder."
The wind howled and screamed at the windows. Holmes and I drew closer to
the fire, while the young inspector slowly and point by point developed
his singular narrative.
"If you were to search all England," said he, "I don't suppose you could
find a household more self-contained or freer from outside influences.
Whole weeks would pass, and not one of them go past the garden gate. The
professor was buried in his work and existed for nothing else. Young Smith
knew nobody in the neighbourhood, and lived very much as his employer did.
The two women had nothing to take them from the house. Mortimer, the
gardener, who wheels the Bath chair, is an army pensioner—an old
Crimean man of excellent character. He does not live in the house, but in
a three-roomed cottage at the other end of the garden. Those are the only
people that you would find within the grounds of Yoxley Old Place. At the
same time, the gate of the garden is a hundred yards from the main London
to Chatham road. It opens with a latch, and there is nothing to prevent
anyone from walking in.
"Now I will give you the evidence of Susan Tarlton, who is the only person
who can say anything positive about the matter. It was in the forenoon,
between eleven and twelve. She was engaged at the moment in hanging some
curtains in the upstairs front bedroom. Professor Coram was still in bed,
for when the weather is bad he seldom rises before midday. The housekeeper
was busied with some work in the back of the house. Willoughby Smith had
been in his bedroom, which he uses as a sitting-room, but the maid heard
him at that moment pass along the passage and descend to the study
immediately below her. She did not see him, but she says that she could
not be mistaken in his quick, firm tread. She did not hear the study door
close, but a minute or so later there was a dreadful cry in the room
below. It was a wild, hoarse scream, so strange and unnatural that it
might have come either from a man or a woman. At the same instant there
was a heavy thud, which shook the old house, and then all was silence. The
maid stood petrified for a moment, and then, recovering her courage, she
ran downstairs. The study door was shut and she opened it. Inside, young
Mr. Willoughby Smith was stretched upon the floor. At first she could see
no injury, but as she tried to raise him she saw that blood was pouring
from the underside of his neck. It was pierced by a very small but very
deep wound, which had divided the carotid artery. The instrument with
which the injury had been inflicted lay upon the carpet beside him. It was
one of those small sealing-wax knives to be found on old-fashioned
writing-tables, with an ivory handle and a stiff blade. It was part of the
fittings of the professor's own desk.
"At first the maid thought that young Smith was already dead, but on
pouring some water from the carafe over his forehead he opened his eyes
for an instant. 'The professor,' he murmured—'it was she.' The maid
is prepared to swear that those were the exact words. He tried desperately
to say something else, and he held his right hand up in the air. Then he
fell back dead.
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"In the meantime the housekeeper had also arrived upon the scene, but she
was just too late to catch the young man's dying words. Leaving Susan with
the body, she hurried to the professor's room. He was sitting up in bed,
horribly agitated, for he had heard enough to convince him that something
terrible had occurred. Mrs. Marker is prepared to swear that the professor
was still in his night-clothes, and indeed it was impossible for him to
dress without the help of Mortimer, whose orders were to come at twelve
o'clock. The professor declares that he heard the distant cry, but that he
knows nothing more. He can give no explanation of the young man's last
words, 'The professor—it was she,' but imagines that they were the
outcome of delirium. He believes that Willoughby Smith had not an enemy in
the world, and can give no reason for the crime. His first action was to
send Mortimer, the gardener, for the local police. A little later the
chief constable sent for me. Nothing was moved before I got there, and
strict orders were given that no one should walk upon the paths leading to
the house. It was a splendid chance of putting your theories into
practice, Mr. Sherlock Holmes. There was really nothing wanting."
"Except Mr. Sherlock Holmes," said my companion, with a somewhat bitter
smile. "Well, let us hear about it. What sort of a job did you make of
"I must ask you first, Mr. Holmes, to glance at this rough plan, which
will give you a general idea of the position of the professor's study and
the various points of the case. It will help you in following my
He unfolded the rough chart, which I here reproduce,
and he laid it across Holmes's knee. I rose and, standing behind Holmes,
studied it over his shoulder.
"It is very rough, of course, and it only deals with the points which seem
to me to be essential. All the rest you will see later for yourself. Now,
first of all, presuming that the assassin entered the house, how did he or
she come in? Undoubtedly by the garden path and the back door, from which
there is direct access to the study. Any other way would have been
exceedingly complicated. The escape must have also been made along that
line, for of the two other exits from the room one was blocked by Susan as
she ran downstairs and the other leads straight to the professor's
bedroom. I therefore directed my attention at once to the garden path,
which was saturated with recent rain, and would certainly show any
"My examination showed me that I was dealing with a cautious and expert
criminal. No footmarks were to be found on the path. There could be no
question, however, that someone had passed along the grass border which
lines the path, and that he had done so in order to avoid leaving a track.
I could not find anything in the nature of a distinct impression, but the
grass was trodden down, and someone had undoubtedly passed. It could only
have been the murderer, since neither the gardener nor anyone else had
been there that morning, and the rain had only begun during the night."
"One moment," said Holmes. "Where does this path lead to?"
"To the road."
"How long is it?"
"A hundred yards or so."
"At the point where the path passes through the gate, you could surely
pick up the tracks?"
"Unfortunately, the path was tiled at that point."
"Well, on the road itself?"
"No, it was all trodden into mire."
"Tut-tut! Well, then, these tracks upon the grass, were they coming or
"It was impossible to say. There was never any outline."
"A large foot or a small?"
"You could not distinguish."
Holmes gave an ejaculation of impatience.
"It has been pouring rain and blowing a hurricane ever since," said he.
"It will be harder to read now than that palimpsest. Well, well, it can't
be helped. What did you do, Hopkins, after you had made certain that you
had made certain of nothing?"
"I think I made certain of a good deal, Mr. Holmes. I knew that someone
had entered the house cautiously from without. I next examined the
corridor. It is lined with cocoanut matting and had taken no impression of
any kind. This brought me into the study itself. It is a scantily
furnished room. The main article is a large writing-table with a fixed
bureau. This bureau consists of a double column of drawers, with a central
small cupboard between them. The drawers were open, the cupboard locked.
The drawers, it seems, were always open, and nothing of value was kept in
them. There were some papers of importance in the cupboard, but there were
no signs that this had been tampered with, and the professor assures me
that nothing was missing. It is certain that no robbery has been
"I come now to the body of the young man. It was found near the bureau,
and just to the left of it, as marked upon that chart. The stab was on the
right side of the neck and from behind forward, so that it is almost
impossible that it could have been self-inflicted."
"Unless he fell upon the knife," said Holmes.
"Exactly. The idea crossed my mind. But we found the knife some feet away
from the body, so that seems impossible. Then, of course, there are the
man's own dying words. And, finally, there was this very important piece
of evidence which was found clasped in the dead man's right hand."
From his pocket Stanley Hopkins drew a small paper packet. He unfolded it
and disclosed a golden pince-nez, with two broken ends of black silk cord
dangling from the end of it. "Willoughby Smith had excellent sight," he
added. "There can be no question that this was snatched from the face or
the person of the assassin."
Sherlock Holmes took the glasses into his hand, and examined them with the
utmost attention and interest. He held them on his nose, endeavoured to
read through them, went to the window and stared up the street with them,
looked at them most minutely in the full light of the lamp, and finally,
with a chuckle, seated himself at the table and wrote a few lines upon a
sheet of paper, which he tossed across to Stanley Hopkins.
"That's the best I can do for you," said he. "It may prove to be of some
The astonished detective read the note aloud. It ran as follows:
"Wanted, a woman of good address, attired like a lady. She has a
remarkably thick nose, with eyes which are set close upon either side of
it. She has a puckered forehead, a peering expression, and probably
rounded shoulders. There are indications that she has had recourse to an
optician at least twice during the last few months. As her glasses are of
remarkable strength, and as opticians are not very numerous, there should
be no difficulty in tracing her."
Holmes smiled at the astonishment of Hopkins, which must have been
reflected upon my features. "Surely my deductions are simplicity itself,"
said he. "It would be difficult to name any articles which afford a finer
field for inference than a pair of glasses, especially so remarkable a
pair as these. That they belong to a woman I infer from their delicacy,
and also, of course, from the last words of the dying man. As to her being
a person of refinement and well dressed, they are, as you perceive,
handsomely mounted in solid gold, and it is inconceivable that anyone who
wore such glasses could be slatternly in other respects. You will find
that the clips are too wide for your nose, showing that the lady's nose
was very broad at the base. This sort of nose is usually a short and
coarse one, but there is a sufficient number of exceptions to prevent me
from being dogmatic or from insisting upon this point in my description.
My own face is a narrow one, and yet I find that I cannot get my eyes into
the centre, nor near the centre, of these glasses. Therefore, the lady's
eyes are set very near to the sides of the nose. You will perceive,
Watson, that the glasses are concave and of unusual strength. A lady whose
vision has been so extremely contracted all her life is sure to have the
physical characteristics of such vision, which are seen in the forehead,
the eyelids, and the shoulders."
"Yes," I said, "I can follow each of your arguments. I confess, however,
that I am unable to understand how you arrive at the double visit to the
Holmes took the glasses in his hand.
"You will perceive," he said, "that the clips are lined with tiny bands of
cork to soften the pressure upon the nose. One of these is discoloured and
worn to some slight extent, but the other is new. Evidently one has fallen
off and been replaced. I should judge that the older of them has not been
there more than a few months. They exactly correspond, so I gather that
the lady went back to the same establishment for the second."
"By George, it's marvellous!" cried Hopkins, in an ecstasy of admiration.
"To think that I had all that evidence in my hand and never knew it! I had
intended, however, to go the round of the London opticians."
"Of course you would. Meanwhile, have you anything more to tell us about
"Nothing, Mr. Holmes. I think that you know as much as I do now—probably
more. We have had inquiries made as to any stranger seen on the country
roads or at the railway station. We have heard of none. What beats me is
the utter want of all object in the crime. Not a ghost of a motive can
"Ah! there I am not in a position to help you. But I suppose you want us
to come out to-morrow?"
"If it is not asking too much, Mr. Holmes. There's a train from Charing
Cross to Chatham at six in the morning, and we should be at Yoxley Old
Place between eight and nine."
"Then we shall take it. Your case has certainly some features of great
interest, and I shall be delighted to look into it. Well, it's nearly one,
and we had best get a few hours' sleep. I daresay you can manage all right
on the sofa in front of the fire. I'll light my spirit lamp, and give you
a cup of coffee before we start."