The Naval Treaty is one of the short stories about Sherlock Holmes written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, first published in The Strand Magazine in 1894. It is now in the public domain. It has been transferred to electronic text by optical character recognition, and this copy has been reformatted for E2 and cleaned of OCR errors by rootbeer277. A paper version can be found in a collection of short stories called Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.
The mystery involves the disappearance of a highly confidential document detailing a maritime treaty between Britain and France, concerning their future dealings with the Triple Alliance. The document had not been officially released to the public, or to anyone in fact except for some French officials, and a great number of people would be very interested in getting their hands on it early. Not the least of them would be agents or spies of the Triple Alliance countries.
An old school chum of Watson's is entrusted with copying this top secret document, but when he gets up for a cup of coffee he returns to find it missing. The stress, and his own delicate nerves, eventually cause an episode of VND, and when he recovers somewhat nine weeks later he calls upon Sherlock Holmes for help in recovering it.
Once again, however, although the criminal is caught and the document recovered, the decision is made to let him go rather than allow a public trial to cause a scandal.
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Please note: Everything2 has a limit on the maximum length of a single article. Since The Naval Treaty is longer than this maximum, the second half of the story is posted in The Naval Treaty 2/2. A link is provided at the end of Part 1. Fortunately the original story has a convenient breaking point to use for this.
The Naval Treaty
The July which immediately succeeded my marriage was made
memorable by three cases of interest, in which I had the privilege of being associated with Sherlock Holmes and of studying
his methods. I find them recorded in my notes under the headings of "The Adventure of the Second Stain," "The Adventure
of the Naval Treaty," and "The Adventure of the Tired Captain." The first of these, however, deals with interests of such
importance and implicates so many of the first families in the
kingdom that for many years it will be impossible to make it
public. No case, however, in which Holmes was engaged has
ever illustrated the value of his analytical methods so clearly or
has impressed those who were associated with him so deeply. I
still retain an almost verbatim report of the interview in which he
demonstrated the true facts of the case to Monsieur Dubugue of
the Paris police, and Fritz von Waldbaum, the well-known specialist of Dantzig, both of whom had wasted their energies upon
what proved to be side-issues. The new century will have come,
however, before the story can be safely told. Meanwhile I pass
on to the second on my list, which promised also at one time to
be of national importance and was marked by several incidents
which give it a quite unique character.
During my school-days I had been intimately associated with a
lad named Percy Phelps, who was of much the same age as
myself, though he was two classes ahead of me. He was a very
brilliant boy and carried away every prize which the school had
to offer, finishing his exploits by winning a scholarship which
sent him on to continue his triumphant career at Cambridge. He
was, I remember, extremely well connected, and even when we
were all little boys together we knew that his mother's brother
was Lord Holdhurst, the great conservative politician. This gaudy
relationship did him little good at school. On the contrary, it
seemed rather a piquant thing to us to chevy him about the
playground and hit him over the shins with a wicket. But it was
another thing when he came out into the world. I heard vaguely
that his abilities and the influences which he commanded had won
him a good position at the Foreign Office, and then he passed
completely out of my mind until the following letter recalled his
MY DEAR WATSON:
I have no doubt that you can remember "Tadpole" Phelps,
who was in the fifth form when you were in the third. It is
possible even that you may have heard that through my
uncle's influence I obtained a good appointment at the
Foreign Office, and that I was in a situation of trust and
honour until a horrible misfortune came suddenly to blast
There is no use writing the details of that dreadful event.
In the event of your acceding to my request it is probable
that I shall have to narrate them to you. I have only just
recovered from nine weeks of brain-fever and am still
exceedingly weak. Do you think that you could bring your
friend Mr. Holmes down to see me? I should like to have
his opinion of the case, though the authorities assure me
that nothing more can be done. Do try to bring him down,
and as soon as possible. Every minute seems an hour while
I live in this state of horrible suspense. Assure him that if I
have not asked his advice sooner it was not because I did
not appreciate his talents, but because I have been off my
head ever since the blow fell. Now I am clear again, though
I dare not think of it too much for fear of a relapse. I am
still so weak that I have to write, as you see, by dictating.
Do try to bring him.
Your old school-fellow,
There was something that touched me as I read this letter,
something pitiable in the reiterated appeals to bring Holmes. So
moved was I that even had it been a difficult matter I should
have tried it, but of course I knew well that Holmes loved his
art, so that he was ever as ready to bring his aid as his client
could be to receive it. My wife agreed with me that not a
moment should be lost in laying the matter before him, and so
within an hour of breakfast-time I found myself back once more
in the old rooms in Baker Street.
Holmes was seated at his side-table clad in his dressing-gown
and working hard over a chemical investigation. A large curved
retort was boiling furiously in the bluish flame of a Bunsen
burner, and the distilled drops were condensing into a two-litre
measure. My friend hardly glanced up as I entered, and I, seeing
that his investigation must be of importance, seated myself in an
armchair and waited. He dipped into this bottle or that, drawing
out a few drops of each with his glass pipette, and finally
brought a test-tube containing a solution over to the table. In his
right hand he held a slip of litmus-paper.
"You come at a crisis, Watson," said he. "If this paper
remains blue, all is well. If it turns red, it means a man's life."
He dipped it into the test-tube and it flushed at once into a dull,
dirty crimson. "Hum! I thought as much!" he cried. "I will be
at your service in an instant, Watson. You will find tobacco in
the Persian slipper." He turned to his desk and scribbled off
several telegrams, which were handed over to the page-boy.
Then he threw himself down into the chair opposite and drew up
his knees until his fingers clasped round his long, thin shins.
"A very commonplace little murder," said he. "You've got
something better, I fancy. You are the stormy petrel of crime,
Watson. What is it?"
I handed him the letter, which he read with the most concentrated attention.
"It does not tell us very much, does it?" he remarked as he
handed it back to me.
"And yet the writing is of interest."
"But the writing is not his own."
"Precisely. It is a woman's."
"A man's surely," I cried.
"No, a woman's, and a woman of rare character. You see, at
the commencement of an investigation it is something to know
that your client is in close contact with someone who, for good
or evil, has an exceptional nature. My interest is already awakened in the case. If you are ready we will start at once for
Woking and see this diplomatist who is in such evil case and the
lady to whom he dictates his letters."
We were fortunate enough to catch an early train at Waterloo,
and in a little under an hour we found ourselves among the
fir-woods and the heather of Woking. Briarbrae proved to be a
large detached house standing in extensive grounds within a few
minutes' walk of the station. On sending in our cards we were
shown into an elegantly appointed drawing-room, where we
were joined in a few minutes by a rather stout man who received
us with much hospitality. His age may have been nearer forty
than thirty, but his cheeks were so ruddy and his eyes so merry
that he still conveyed the impression of a plump and mischievous
"I am so glad that you have come," said he, shaking our
hands with effusion. "Percy has been inquiring for you all
morning. Ah, poor old chap, he clings to any straw! His father
and his mother asked me to see you, for the mere mention of the
subject is very painful to them."
"We have had no details yet," observed Holmes. "I perceive
that you are not yourself a member of the family."
Our acquaintance looked surprised, and then, glancing down,
he began to laugh.
"Of course you saw the J H monogram on my locket," said
he. "For a moment I thought you had done something clever.
Joseph Harrison is my name, and as Percy is to marry my sister
Annie I shall at least be a relation by marriage. You will find my
sister in his room, for she has nursed him hand and foot this two
months back. Perhaps we'd better go in at once, for I know how
impatient he is."
The chamber into which we were shown was on the same
floor as the drawing-room. It was furnished partly as a sitting and
partly as a bedroom, with flowers arranged daintily in every
nook and corner. A young man, very pale and worn, was lying
upon a sofa near the open window, through which came the rich
scent of the garden and the balmy summer air. A woman was
sitting beside him, who rase as we entered.
"Shall I leave, Percy?" she asked.
He clutched her hand to detain her. "How are you, Watson?"
said he cordially. "I should never have known you under that
mustache, and I daresay you would not be prepared to swear to
me. This I presume is your celebrated friend, Mr. Sherlock
I introduced him in a few words, and we both sat down. The
stout young man had left us, but his sister still remained with her
hand in that of the invalid. She was a striking-looking woman, a
little short and thick for symmetry, but with a beautiful olive
complexion, large, dark, Italian eyes, and a wealth of deep black
hair. Her rich tints made the white face of her companion the
more worn and haggard by the contrast.
"I won't waste your time," said he, raising himself upon the
sofa. "I'll plunge into the matter without further preamble. I was
a happy and successful man, Mr. Holmes, and on the eve of
being married, when a sudden and dreadful misfortune wrecked
all my prospects in life.
"I was, as Watson may have told you, in the Foreign Office,
and through the influence of my uncle, Lord Holdhurst, I rose
rapidly to a responsible position. When my uncle became foreign
minister in this administration he gave me several missions of
trust, and as I always brought them to a successful conclusion,
he came at last to have the utmost confidence in my ability and
"Nearly ten weeks ago — to be more accurate, on the twenty-third of May — he called me into his private room, and, after
complimenting me on the good work which I had done, he
informed me that he had a new commission of trust for me to
" 'This,' said he, taking a gray roll of paper from his bureau,
'is the original of that secret treaty between England and Italy of
which, I regret to say, some rumours have already got into the
public press. It is of enormous importance that nothing further
should leak out. The French or the Russian embassy would pay
an immense sum to learn the contents of these papers. They
should not leave my bureau were it not that it is absolutely
necessary to have them copied. You have a desk in your office?'
" 'Yes, sir.'
" 'Then take the treaty and lock it up there. I shall give
directions that you may remain behind when the others go, so
that you may copy it at your leisure without fear of being
overlooked. When you have finished, relock both the original
and the draft in the desk, and hand them over to me personally
"I took the papers and —"
"Excuse me an instant," said Holmes. "Were you alone
during this conversation?"
"In a large room?"
"Thirty feet each way."
"In the centre?"
"Yes, about it."
"And speaking low?"
"My uncle's voice is always remarkably low. I hardly spoke
"Thank you," said Holmes, shutting his eyes; "pray go on."
"I did exactly what he indicated and waited until the other
clerks had departed. One of them in my room, Charles Gorot,
had some arrears of work to make up, so I left him there and
went out to dine. When I returned he was gone. I was anxious to
hurry my work, for I knew that Joseph — the Mr. Harrison whom
you saw just now — was in town, and that he would travel down
to Woking by the eleven-o'clock train, and I wanted if possible
to catch it.
"When I came to examine the treaty I saw at once that it was
of such importance that my uncle had been guilty of no exaggeration in what he said. Without going into details, I may say that
it defined the position of Great Britain towards the Triple Alliance, and foreshadowed the policy which this country would
pursue in the event of the French fleet gaining a complete
ascendency over that of Italy in the Mediterranean. The questions treated in it were purely naval. At the end were the
signatures of the high dignitaries who had signed it. I glanced
my eyes over it, and then settled down to my task of copying.
"It was a long document, written in the French language, and
containing twenty-six separate articles. I copied as quickly as I
could, but at nine o'clock I had only done nine articles, and it
seemed hopeless for me to attempt to catch my train. I was
feeling drowsy and stupid, partly from my dinner and also from
the effects of a long day's work. A cup of coffee would clear my
brain. A commissionaire remains all night in a little lodge at the
foot of the stairs and is in the habit of making coffee at his
spirit-lamp for any of the officials who may be working over-time. I rang the bell, therefore, to summon him.
"To my surprise, it was a woman who answered the summons, a large, coarse-faced, elderly woman, in an apron. She
explained that she was the commissionaire's wife, who did the
charing, and I gave her the order for the coffee.
"I wrote two more articles, and then, feeling more drowsy
than ever, I rose and walked up and down the room to stretch my
legs. My coffee had not yet come, and I wondered what the
cause of the delay could be. Opening the door, I started down
the corridor to find out. There was a straight passage, dimly
lighted, which led from the room in which I had been working,
and was the only exit from it. It ended in a curving staircase,
with the commissionaire's lodge in the passage at the bottom.
Halfway down this staircase is a small landing, with another
passage running into it at right angles. This second one leads by
means of a second small stair to a side door, used by servants,
and also as a short cut by clerks when coming from Charles
Street. Here is a rough chart of the place."
"Thank you. I think that I quite follow you," said Sherlock
"It is of the utmost importance that you should notice this
point. I went down the stairs and into the hall, where I found the
commissionaire fast asleep in his box, with the kettle boiling
furiously upon the spirit-lamp. I took off the kettle and blew out
the lamp, for the water was spurting over the floor. Then I put
out my hand and was about to shake the man, who was still
sleeping soundly, when a bell over his head rang loudly, and he
woke with a start.
" 'Mr. Phelps, sir!' said he, looking at me in bewilderment.
" 'I came down to see if my coffee was ready.'
" 'I was boiling the kettle when I fell asleep, sir.' He looked
at me and then up at the still quivering bell with an ever-growing
astonishment upon his face.
" 'If you was here, sir, then who rang the bell?' he asked.
" 'The bell!' I cried. 'What bell is it?'
" 'It's the bell of the room you were working in.'
"A cold hand seemed to close round my heart. Someone, then,
was in that room where my precious treaty lay upon the table. I
ran frantically up the stair and along the passage. There was no
one in the corridors, Mr. Holmes. There was no one in the room.
All was exactly as I left it, save only that the papers which had
been committed to my care had been taken from the desk on
which they lay. The copy was there, and the original was gone."
Holmes sat up in his chair and rubbed his hands. I could see
that the problem was entirely to his heart. "Pray what did you do
then?" he murmured.
"I recognized in an instant that the thief must have come up
the stairs from the side door. Of course I must have met him if
he had come the other way."
"You were satisfied that he could not have been concealed in
the room all the time, or in the corridor which you have just
described as dimly lighted?"
It is absolutely impossible. A rat could not conceal himself
either in the room or the corridor. There is no cover at all."
"Thank you. Pray proceed."
"The commissionaire, seeing by my pale face that something
was to be feared, had followed me upstairs. Now we both rushed
along the corridor and down the steep steps which led to Charles
Street. The door at the bottom was closed but unlocked. We
flung it open and rushed out. I can distinctly remember that as
we did so there came three chimes from a neighbouring clock. It
was a quarter to ten."
"That is of enormous importance," said Holmes, making a
note upon his shirtcuff.
"The night was very dark, and a thin, warm rain was falling.
There was no one in Charles Street, but a great traffic was going
on, as usual, in Whitehall, at the extremity. We rushed along the
pavement, bare-headed as we were, and at the far corner we
found a policeman standing.
" 'A robbery has been committed,' I gasped. 'A document of
immense value has been stolen from the Foreign Office. Has
anyone passed this way?'
" 'I have been standing here for a quarter of an hour, sir,' said
he, 'only one person has passed during that time a woman, tall
and elderly, with a Paisley shawl.'
" 'Ah, that is only my wife,' cried the commissionaire; 'has
no one else passed?'
" 'No one.'
" 'Then it must be the other way that the thief took,' cried the
fellow, tugging at my sleeve.
"But I was not satisfied, and the attempts which he made to
draw me away increased my suspicions.
" 'Which way did the woman go?' I cried.
" 'I don't know, sir. I noticed her pass, but I had no special
reason for watching her. She seemed to be in a hurry.'
" 'How long ago was it?'
" 'Oh, not very many minutes.'
" 'Within the last five?'
" 'Well, it could not be more than five.'
" 'You're only wasting your time, sir, and every minute now
is of importance,' cried the commissionaire; 'take my word for it
that my old woman has nothing to do with it and come down to
the other end of the street. Well, if you won't, I will.' And with
that he rushed off in the other direction.
"But I was after him in an instant and caught him by the
" 'Where do you live?' said I.
" '16 Ivy Lane, Brixton,' he answered. 'But don't let yourself
be drawn away upon a false scent, Mr. Phelps. Come to the
other end of the street and let us see if we can hear of anything.'
"Nothing was to be lost by following his advice. With the
policeman we both hurried down, but only to find the street full
of traffic, many people coming and going, but all only too eager
to get to a place of safety upon so wet a night. There was no
lounger who could tell us who had passed.
"Then we returned to the office and searched the stairs and
the passage without result. The corridor which led to the room
was laid down with a kind of creamy linoleum which shows an
impression very easily. We examined it very carefully, but found
no outline of any footmark."
"Had it been raining all evening?"
"Since about seven."
"How is it, then, that the woman who came into the room
about nine left no traces with her muddy boots?"
"I am glad you raised the point. It occurred to me at the time.
The charwomen are in the habit of taking off their boots at the
commissionaire's office, and putting on list slippers."
"That is very clear. There were no marks, then, though the
night was a wet one? The chain of events is certainly one of
extraordinary interest. What did you do next?"
"We examined the room also. There is no possibility of a
secret door, and the windows are quite thirty feet from the
ground. Both of them were fastened on the inside. The carpet
prevents any possibility of a trapdoor, and the ceiling is of the
ordinary whitewashed kind. I will pledge my life that whoever
stole my papers could only have come through the door."
"How about the fireplace?"
"They use none. There is a stove. The bell-rope hangs from
the wire just to the right of my desk. Whoever rang it must have
come right up to the desk to do it. But why should any criminal
wish to ring the bell? It is a most insoluble mystery."
"Certainly the incident was unusual. What were your next
steps? You examined the room, I presume, to see if the intruder
had left any traces — any cigar-end or dropped glove or hairpin or
"There was nothing of the sort."
"Well, we never thought of that."
"Ah, a scent of tobacco would have been worth a great deal to
us in such an investigation."
"I never smoke myself, so I think I should have observed it if
there had been any smell of tobacco. There was absolutely no
clue of any kind. The only tangible fact was that the commissionaire's wife — Mrs. Tangey was the name — had hurried out of
the place. He could give no explanation save that it was about the
time when the woman always went home. The policeman and I
agreed that our best plan would be to seize the woman before she
could get rid of the papers, presuming that she had them.
"The alarm had reached Scotland Yard by this time, and Mr.
Forbes, the detective, came round at once and took up the case
with a great deal of energy. We hired a hansom, and in half an
hour we were at the address which had been given to us. A
young woman opened the door, who proved to be Mrs. Tangey's
eldest daughter. Her mother had not come back yet, and we were
shown into the front room to wait.
"About ten minutes later a knock came at the door, and here
we made the one serious mistake for which I blame myself.
Instead of opening the door ourselves, we allowed the girl to do
so. We heard her say, 'Mother, there are two men in the house
waiting to see you,' and an instant afterwards we heard the patter
of feet rushing down the passage. Forbes flung open the door,
and we both ran into the back room or kitchen, but the woman
had got there before us. She stared at us with defiant eyes. and
then, suddenly recognizing me, an expression of absolute astonishment came over her face.
" 'Why, if it isn't Mr. Phelps, of the office!' she cried.
" 'Come, come, who did you think we were when you ran
away from us?' asked my companion.
" 'I thought you were the brokers,' said she, 'we have had
some trouble with a tradesman.'
" 'That's not quite good enough.' answered Forbes. 'We have
reason to believe that you have taken a paper of importance from
the Foreign Office, and that you ran in here to dispose of it. You
must come back with us to Scotland Yard to be searched.'
"It was in vain that she protested and resisted. A four-wheeler
was brought, and we all three drove back in it. We had first
made an examination of the kitchen, and especially of the kitchen
fire, to see whether she might have made away with the papers
during the instant that she was alone. There were no signs,
however, of any ashes or scraps. When we reached Scotland
Yard she was handed over at once to the female searcher. I
waited in an agony of suspense until she came back with her
report. There were no signs of the papers.
"Then for the first time the horror of my situation came in its
full force. Hitherto I had been acting, and action had numbed
thought. I had been so confident of regaining the treaty at once
that I had not dared to think of what would be the consequence if
I failed to do so. But now there was nothing more to be done,
and I had leisure to realize my position. It was horrible. Watson
there would tell you that I was a nervous, sensitive boy at
school. It is my nature. I thought of my uncle and of his
colleagues in the Cabinet, of the shame which I had brought
upon him, upon myself, upon everyone connected with me.
What though I was the victim of an extraordinary accident? No
allowance is made for accidents where diplomatic interests are at
stake. I was ruined, shamefully, hopelessly ruined. I don't know
what I did. I fancy I must have made a scene. I have a dim
recollection of a group of officials who crowded round me,
endeavouring to soothe me. One of them drove down with me to
Waterloo, and saw me into the Woking train. I believe that he
would have come all the way had it not been that Dr. Ferrier,
who lives near me, was going down by that very train. The
doctor most kindly took charge of me, and it was well he did so,
for I had a fit in the station, and before we reached home I was
practically a raving maniac.
"You can imagine the state of things here when they were
roused from their beds by the doctor's ringing and found me in
this condition. Poor Annie here and my mother were broken-hearted. Dr. Ferrier had just heard enough from the detective at
the station to be able to give an idea of what had happened, and
his story did not mend matters. It was evident to all that I was in
for a long illness, so Joseph was bundled out of this cheery
bedroom, and it was turned into a sickroom for me. Here I have
lain. Mr. Holmes. for over nine weeks, unconscious, and raving
with brain-fever. If it had not been for Miss Harrison here and
for the doctor's care. I should not be speaking to you now. She
has nursed me by day and a hired nurse has looked after me by
night, for in my mad fits I was capable of anything. Slowly my
reason has cleared, but it is only during the last three days that
my memory has quite returned. Sometimes I wish that it never
had. The first thing that I did was to wire to Mr. Forbes, who
had the case in hand. He came out, and assures me that, though
everything has been done, no trace of a clue has been discovered. The commissionaire and his wife have been examined in
every way without any light being thrown upon the matter. The
suspicions of the police then rested upon young Gorot, who, as
you may remember, stayed over-time in the office that night. His
remaining behind and his French name were really the only two
points which could suggest suspicion; but, as a matter of fact, I
did not begin work until he had gone, and his people are of
Huguenot extraction, but as English in sympathy and tradition as
you and I are. Nothing was found to implicate him in any way,
and there the matter dropped. I turn to you, Mr. Holmes, as
absolutely my last hope. If you fail me, then my honour as well
as my position are forever forfeited."
The invalid sank back upon his cushions, tired out by this long
recital, while his nurse poured him out a glass of some stimulating medicine. Holmes sat silently, with his head thrown back
and his eyes closed, in an attitude which might seem listless to a
stranger, but which I knew betokened the most intense self-absorption.
"Your statement has been so explicit," said he at last, "that
you have really left me very few questions to ask. There is one
of the very utmost importance, however. Did you tell anyone
that you had this special task to perform?"
"Not Miss Harrison here, for example?"
"No. I had not been back to Woking between getting the
order and executing the commission."
"And none of your people had by chance been to see you?"
"Did any of them know their way about in the office?"
"Oh, yes, all of them had been shown over it."
"Still, of course, if you said nothing to anyone about the
treaty these inquiries are irrelevant."
"I said nothing."
"Do you know anything of the commissionaire?"
"Nothing except that he is an old soldier."
"Oh, I have heard — Coldstream Guards."
"Thank you. I have no doubt I can get details from Forbes.
The authorities are excellent at amassing facts, though they do
not always use them to advantage. What a lovely thing a rose
He walked past the couch to the open window and held up the
drooping stalk of a moss-rose, looking down at the dainty blend
of crimson and green. It was a new phase of his character to me,
for I had never before seen him show any keen interest in natural
"There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in
religion," said he, leaning with his back against the shutters. "It
can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest
assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in
the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food,
are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But
this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which
gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from
Percy Phelps and his nurse looked at Holmes during this
demonstration with surprise and a good deal of disappointment
written upon their faces. He had fallen into a reverie, with the
moss-rose between his fingers. It had lasted some minutes before
the young lady broke in upon it.
"Do you see any prospect of solving this mystery, Mr.
Holmes?" she asked with a touch of asperity in her voice.
"Oh, the mystery!" he answered, coming back with a start to
the realities of life. "Well, it would be absurd to deny that the
case is a very abstruse and complicated one, but I can promise
you that I will look into the matter and let you know any points
which may strike me."
"Do you see any clue?"
"You have furnished me with seven, but of course I must test
them before I can pronounce upon their value."
"You suspect someone?"
"I suspect myself."
"Of coming to conclusions too rapidly."
"Then go to London and test your conclusions."
"Your advice is very excellent. Miss Harrison." said Holmes
rising. "I think, Watson, we cannot do better. Do not allow
yourself to indulge in false hopes, Mr. Phelps. The affair is a
very tangled one."
"I shall be in a fever until I see you again," cried the
"Well, I'll come out by the same train to-morrow, though it's
more than likely that my report will be a negative one."
"God bless you for promising to come," cried our client. "It
gives me fresh life to know that something is being done. By the
way, I have had a letter from Lord Holdhurst."
"Ha! what did he say?"
"He was cold, but not harsh, I dare say my severe illness
prevented him from being that. He repeated that the matter was
of the utmost importance, and added that no steps would be
taken about my future — by which he means, of course, my
dismissal — until my health was restored and I had an opportunity
of repairing my misfortune."
"Well, that was reasonable and considerate," said Holmes.
"Come, Watson, for we have a good day's work before us in
Mr. Joseph Harrison drove us down to the station, and we
were soon whirling up in a Portsmouth train. Holmes was sunk
in profound thought and hardly opened his mouth until we had
passed Clapham Junction.
"It's a very cheery thing to come into London by any of these
lines which run high and allow you to look down upon the
houses like this."
I thought he was joking, for the view was sordid enough, but
he soon explained himself.
"Look at those big, isolated clumps of buildings rising up
above the slates, like brick islands in a lead-coloured sea."
"Light-houses, my boy! Beacons of the future! Capsules with
hundreds of bright little seeds in each, out of which will spring
the wiser, better England of the future. I suppose that man
Phelps does not drink?"
"I should not think so."
"Nor should I, but we are bound to take every possibility into
account. The poor devil has certainly got himself into very deep
water, and it's a question whether we shall ever be able to get
him ashore. What do you think of Miss Harrison?"
"A girl of strong character."
"Yes, but she is a good sort, or I am mistaken. She and her
brother are the only children of an iron-master somewhere up
Northumberland way. He got engaged to her when travelling last
winter, and she came down to be introduced to his people, with
her brother as escort. Then came the smash, and she stayed on to
nurse her lover, while brother Joseph, finding himself pretty
snug, stayed on, too. I've been making a few independent
inquiries, you see. But to-day must be a day of inquiries."
"My practice —" I began.
"Oh, if you find your own cases more interesting than
mine —" said Holmes with some asperity.
"I was going to say that my practice could get along very well
for a day or two, since it is the slackest time in the year."
"Excellent," said he, recovering his good-humour. "Then
we'll look into this matter together. I think that we should begin
by seeing Forbes. He can probably tell us all the details we want
until we know from what side the case is to be approached."
"You said you had a clue?"
"Well, we have several, but we can only test their value by
further inquiry. The most difficult crime to track is the one
which is purposeless. Now this is not purposeless. Who is it who
profits by it? There is the French ambassador, there is the
Russian, there is whoever might sell it to either of these, and
there is Lord Holdhurst."
"Well, it is just conceivable that a statesman might find
himself in a position where he was not sorry to have such a
document accidentally destroyed."
"Not a statesman with the honourable record of Lord Holdhurst?"
"It is a possibility and we cannot afford to disregard it. We
shall see the noble lord to-day and find out if he can tell us
anything. Meanwhile I have already set inquiries on foot."
"Yes, I sent wires from Woking station to every evening
paper in London. This advertisement will appear in each of
He handed over a sheet torn from a notebook. On it was
scribbled in pencil:
10 pounds reward. The number of the cab which dropped a fare
at or about the door of the Foreign Office in Charles Street
at quarter to ten in the evening of May 23d. Apply 221B,
"You are confident that the thief came in a cab?"
"If not, there is no harm done. But if Mr. Phelps is correct in
stating that there is no hiding-place either in the room or the
corridors, then the person must have come from outside. If he
came from outside on so wet a night, and yet left no trace of
damp upon the linoleum, which was examined within a few
minutes of his passing, then it is exceedingly probable that he
came in a cab. Yes, I think that we may safely deduce a cab."
"It sounds plausible."
"That is one of the clues of which I spoke. It may lead us to
something. And then, of course, there is the bell — which is the
most distinctive feature of the case. Why should the bell ring?
Was it the thief who did it out of bravado? Or was it someone
who was with the thief who did it in order to prevent the crime?
Or was it an accident? Or was it —?" He sank back into the state
of intense and silent thought from which he had emerged; but it
seemed to me, accustomed as I was to his every mood, that some
new possibility had dawned suddenly upon him.
It was twenty past three when we reached our terminus, and after
a hasty luncheon at the buffet we pushed on at once to Scotland
Yard. Holmes had already wired to Forbes, and we found him
waiting to receive us — a small, foxy man with a sharp but by no
means amiable expression. He was decidedly frigid in his manner to us, especially when he heard the errand upon which we
"I've heard of your methods before now, Mr. Holmes," said
he tartly. "You are ready enough to use all the information that
the police can lay at your disposal, and then you try to finish the
case yourself and bring discredit on them."
"On the contrary," said Holmes, "out of my last fifty-three
cases my name has only appeared in four, and the police have
had all the credit in forty-nine. I don't blame you for not
knowing this, for you are young and inexperienced, but if you
wish to get on in your new duties you will work with me and not
"I'd be very glad of a hint or two," said the detective,
changing his manner. "I've certainly had no credit from the case
"What steps have you taken?"
"Tangey, the commissionaire, has been shadowed. He left the
Guards with a good character, and we can find nothing against
him. His wife is a bad lot, though. I fancy she knows more about
this than appears."
"Have you shadowed her?"
"We have set one of our women on to her. Mrs. Tangey
drinks, and our woman has been with her twice when she was
well on, but she could get nothing out of her."
"I understand that they have had brokers in the house?"
"Yes, but they were paid off."
"Where did the money come from?"
"That was all right. His pension was due. They have not
shown any sign of being in funds."
"What explanation did she give of having answered the bell
when Mr. Phelps rang for the coffee?"
"She said that her husband was very tired and she wished to
"Well, certainly that would agree with his being found a little
later asleep in his chair. There is nothing against them then but
the woman's character. Did you ask her why she hurried away
that night? Her haste attracted the attention of the police constable."
"She was later than usual and wanted to get home."
"Did you point out to her that you and Mr. Phelps, who
started at least twenty minutes after her, got home before her?"
"She explains that by the difference between a bus and a
"Did she make it clear why, on reaching her house, she ran
into the back kitchen?"
"Because she had the money there with which to pay off the
"She has at least an answer for everything. Did you ask her
whether in leaving she met anyone or saw anyone loitering about
"She saw no one but the constable."
"Well, you seem to have cross-examined her pretty thoroughly. What else have you done?"
"The clerk Gorot has been shadowed all these nine weeks, but
without result. We can show nothing against him."
"Well, we have nothing else to go upon — no evidence of any
"Have you formed any theory about how that bell rang?"
"Well, I must confess that it beats me. It was a cool hand
whoever it was, to go and give the alarm like that."
"Yes, it was a queer thing to do. Many thanks to you for what
you have told me. If I can put the man into your hands you shall
hear from me. Come along. Watson."
"Where are we going to now?" I asked as we left the office.
"We are now going to interview Lord Holdhurst, the cabinet
minister and future premier of England."
We were fortunate in finding that Lord Holdhurst was still in
his chambers in Downing Street, and on Holmes sending in his
card we were instantly shown up. The statesman received us
with that old-fashioned courtesy for which he is remarkable and
seated us on the two luxuriant lounges on either side of the
fireplace. Standing on the rug between us, with his slight, tall
figure, his sharp features, thoughtful face, and curling hair
prematurely tinged with gray, he seemed to represent that not
too common type, a nobleman who is in truth noble.
"Your name is very familiar to me, Mr. Holmes," said he,
smiling. "And of course I cannot pretend to be ignorant of the
object of your visit. There has only been one occurrence in these
offices which could call for your attention. In whose interest are
you acting, may I ask?"
"In that of Mr. Percy Phelps," answered Holmes
"Ah, my unfortunate nephew! You can understand that our
kinship makes it the more impossible for me to screen him in any
way. I fear that the incident must have a very prejudicial effect
upon his career."
"But if the document is found?"
"Ah, that, of course, would be different."
"I had one or two questions which I wished to ask you, Lord
"I shall be happy to give you any information in my power."
"Was it in this room that you gave your instructions as to the
copying of the document?"
"Then you could hardly have been overheard?"
"It is out of the question."
"Did you ever mention to anyone that it was your intention to
give anyone the treaty to be copied?"
"You are certain of that?"
"Well, since you never said so, and Mr. Phelps never said so,
and nobody else knew anything of the matter, then the thief's
presence in the room was purely accidental. He saw his chance
and he took it."
The statesman smiled. "You take me out of my province
there," said he.
Holmes considered for a moment. "There is another very
important point which I wish to discuss with you," said he.
"You feared, as I understand, that very grave results might
follow from the details of this treaty becoming known."
A shadow passed over the expressive face of the statesman.
"Very grave results indeed."
"And have they occurred?"
"If the treaty had reached, let us say, the French or Russian
Foreign Office, you would expect to hear of it?"
"I should," said Lord Holdhurst with a wry face.
"Since nearly ten weeks have elapsed, then, and nothing has
been heard, it is not unfair to suppose that for some reason the
treaty has not reached them."
Lord Holdhurst shrugged his shoulders.
"We can hardly suppose, Mr. Holmes, that the thief took the
treaty in order to frame it and hang it up."
"Perhaps he is waiting for a better price."
"If he waits a little longer he will get no price at all. The
treaty will cease to be secret in a few months."
"That is most important," said Holmes. "Of course, it is a
possible supposition that the thief has had a sudden illness —"
"An attack of brain-fever, for example?" asked the statesman, flashing a swift glance at him.
"I did not say so," said Holmes imperturbably. "And now
Lord Holdhurst, we have already taken up too much of your
valuable time, and we shall wish you good-day."
"Every success to your investigation, be the criminal who it
may," answered the nobleman as he bowed us out at the door.
"He's a fine fellow," said Holmes as we came out into
Whitehall. "But he has a struggle to keep up his position. He is
far from rich and has many calls. You noticed, of course, that
his boots had been resoled. Now, Watson, I won't detain you
from your legitimate work any longer. I shall do nothing more
to-day unless I have an answer to my cab advertisement. But I
should be extremely obliged to you if you would come down
with me to Woking to-morrow by the same train which we took
* * *
On to Part 2/2