Chapter 4: The Story of the Bald-Headed Man
| The Sign of Four |
Chapter 6: Sherlock Holmes Gives a Demonstration
The Tragedy of Pondicherry Lodge
It was nearly eleven o'clock when we reached this final stage of
our night's adventures. We had left the damp fog of the great
city behind us, and the night was fairly fine. A warm wind blew
from the westward, and heavy clouds moved slowly across the
sky, with half a moon peeping occasionally through the rifts. It
was clear enough to see for some distance, but Thaddeus Sholto
took down one of the sidelamps from the carriage to give us a
better light upon our way.
Pondicherry Lodge stood in its own grounds and was girt
round with a very high stone wall topped with broken glass. A
single narrow iron-clamped door formed the only means of
entrance. On this our guide knocked with a peculiar postman-like
"Who is there?" cried a gruff voice from within.
"It is I, McMurdo. You surely know my knock by this time."
There was a grumbling sound and a clanking and jarring of
keys. The door swung heavily back, and a short, deep-chested
man stood in the opening, with the yellow light of the lantern
shining upon his protruded face and twinkling, distrustful eyes.
"That you, Mr. Thaddeus? But who are the others? I had no
orders about them from the master."
"No, McMurdo? You surprise me! I told my brother last night
that I should bring some friends."
"He hain't been out o' his rooms to-day, Mr. Thaddeus, and I
have no orders. You know very well that I must stick to regulations. I can let you in, but your friends they must just stop where
This was an unexpected obstacle. Thaddeus Sholto looked
about him in a perplexed and helpless manner.
"This is too bad of you, McMurdo!" he said. "If I guarantee
them, that is enough for you. There is the young lady, too. She
cannot wait on the pubiic road at this hour."
"Very sorry, Mr. Thaddeus," said the porter inexorably.
"Folk may be friends o' yours, and yet no friend o' the master's.
He pays me well to do my duty, and my duty I'll do. I don't
know none o' your friends."
"Oh, yes you do, McMurdo," cried Sherlock Holmes genially. "I don't think you can have forgotten me. Don't you
remember that amateur who fought three rounds with you at
Alison's rooms on the night of your benefit four years back?"
"Not Mr. Sherlock Holmes!" roared the prize-fighter. "God's
truth! how could I have mistook you? If instead o' standin' there
so quiet you had just stepped up and given me that cross-hit of
yours under the jaw, I'd ha' known you without a question. Ah,
you're one that has wasted your gifts, you have! You might have
aimed high, if you had joined the fancy."
"You see, Watson, if all else fails me, I have still one of the
scientific professions open to me," said Holmes, laughing. "Our
friend won't keep us out in the cold now, I am sure."
"In you come, sir, in you come — you and your friends," he
answered. "Very sorry, Mr. Thaddeus, but orders are very
strict. Had to be certain of your friends before I let them in."
Inside, a gravel path wound through desolate grounds to a
huge clump of a house, square and prosaic, all plunged in
shadow save where a moonbeam struck one corner and glimmered in a garret window. The vast size of the building, with its
gloom and its deathly silence, struck a chill to the heart. Even
Thaddeus Sholto seemed ill at ease, and the lantern quivered and
rattled in his hand.
"I cannot understand it," he said. "There must be some
mistake. I distinctly told Bartholomew that we should be here,
and yet there is no light in his window. I do not know what to
make of it."
"Does he always guard the premises in this way?" asked
"Yes; he has followed my father's custom. He was the favourite son you know, and I sometimes think that my father may
have told him more than he ever told me. That is Bartholomew's
window up there where the moonshine strikes. It is quite bright,
but there is no light from within, I think."
"None," said Holmes. "But I see the glint of a light in that
little window beside the door."
"Ah, that is the housekeeper's room. That is where old Mrs.
Bernstone sits. She can tell us all about it. But perhaps you
would not mind waiting here for a minute or two, for if we all go
in together, and she has had no word of our coming, she may be
alarmed. But, hush! what is that?"
He held up the lantern, and his hand shook until the circles of
light flickered and wavered all round us. Miss Morstan seized
my wrist, and we all stood, with thumping hearts, straining our
ears. From the great black house there sounded through the silent
night the saddest and most pitiful of sounds — the shrill, broken
whimpering of a frightened woman.
"It is Mrs. Bernstone," said Sholto. "She is the only woman
in the house. Wait here. I shall be back in a moment."
He hurried, for the door and knocked in his peculiar way. We
could see a tall old woman admit him and sway with pleasure at
the very sight of him.
"Oh, Mr. Thaddeus, sir, I am so glad you have come! I am
so glad you have come, Mr. Thaddeus, sir!"
We heard her reiterated rejoicings until the door was closed
and her voice died away into a muffled monotone.
Our guide had left us the lantern. Holmes swung it slowly
round and peered keenly at the house and at the great rubbish-heaps which cumbered the grounds. Miss Morstan and I stood
together, and her hand was in mine. A wondrous subtle thing is
love, for here were we two, who had never seen each other
before that day, between whom no word or even look of affection had ever passed, and yet now in an hour of trouble our
hands instinctively sought for each other. I have marvelled at it
since, but at the time it seemed the most natural thing that I
should go out to her so, and, as she has often told me, there was
in her also the instinct to turn to me for comfort and protection.
So we stood hand in hand like two children, and there was peace
in our hearts for all the dark things that surrounded us.
"What a strange place!" she said, looking round.
"It looks as though all the moles in England had been let
loose in it. I have seen something of the sort on the side of a hill
near Ballarat, where the prospectors had been at work."
"And from the same cause," said Holmes. "These are the
traces of the treasure-seekers. You must remember that they were
six years looking for it. No wonder that the grounds look like a
At that moment the door of the house burst open, and Thaddeus Sholto came running out, with his hands thrown forward
and terror in his eyes.
"There is something amiss with Bartholomew!" he cried. "I
am frightened! My nerves cannot stand it."
He was, indeed, half blubbering with fear, and his twitching,
feeble face peeping out from the great astrakhan collar had the
helpless, appealing expression of a terrified child.
"Come into the house," said Holmes in his crisp, firm way.
"Yes, do!" pleaded Thaddeus Sholto. "I really do not feel
equal to giving directions."
We all followed him into the housekeeper's room, which
stood upon the lefthand side of the passage. The old woman was
pacing up and down with a scared look and restless, picking
fingers, but the sight of Miss Morstan appeared to have a soothing effect upon her.
"God bless your sweet, calm face!" she cried with a hysterical sob. "It does me good to see you. Oh, but I have been sorely
tried this day!"
Our companion patted her thin, work-worn hand and murmured some few words of kindly, womanly comfort which
brought the colour back into the other's bloodless cheeks.
"Master has locked himself in and will not answer me," she
explained. "All day I have waited to hear from him, for he often
likes to be alone — but an hour ago I feared that something was
amiss, so I went up and peeped through the keyhole. You must
go up, Mr. Thaddeus — you must go up and look for yourself. I
have seen Mr. Bartholomew Sholto in joy and in sorrow for ten
long years, but I never saw him with such a face on him as
Sherlock Holmes took the lamp and led the way, for Thaddeus
Sholto's teeth were chattering in his head. So shaken was he that
I had to pass my hand under his arm as we went up the stairs, for
his knees were trembling under him. Twice as we ascended,
Holmes whipped his lens out of his pocket and carefully examined marks which appeared to me to be mere shapeless smudges
of dust upon the cocoanut-matting which served as a stair-carpet.
He walked slowly from step to step, holding the lamp low, and
shooting keen glances to right and left. Miss Morstan had remained behind with the frightened housekeeper.
The third flight of stairs ended in a straight passage of some
length, with a great picture in Indian tapestry upon the right of it
and three doors upon the left. Holmes advanced along it in the
same slow and methodical way, while we kept close at his heels,
with our long black shadows streaming backward down the
corridor. The third door was that which we were seeking. Holmes
knocked without receiving any answer, and then tried to turn the
handle and force it open. It was locked on the inside, however,
and by a broad and powerful bolt, as we could see when we set
our lamp up against it. The key being turned, however, the hole
was not entirely closed. Sherlock Holmes bent down to it and
instantly rose again with a sharp intaking of the breath.
"There is something devilish in this, Watson," said he, more
moved than I had ever before seen him. "What do you make of
I stooped to the hole and recoiled in horror. Moonlight was
streaming into the room, and it was bright with a vague and
shifty radiance. Looking straight at me and suspended, as it
were, in the air, for all beneath was in shadow, there hung a
face — the very face of our companion Thaddeus. There was the
same high, shining head, the same circular bristle of red hair, the
same bloodless countenance. The features were set, however, in
a horrible smile, a fixed and unnatural grin, which in that still
and moonlit room was more jarring to the nerves than any scowl
or contortion. So like was the face to that of our little friend that
I looked round at him to make sure that he was indeed with us.
Then I recalled to mind that he had mentioned to us that his
brother and he were twins.
"This is terrible!" I said to Holmes. "What is to be done?"
"The door must come down," he answered, and springing
against it, he put all his weight upon the lock.
It creaked and groaned but did not yield. Together we flung
ourselves upon it once more, and this time it gave way with a
sudden snap, and we found ourselves within Bartholomew Sholto's
It appeared to have been fitted up as a chemical laboratory. A
double line of glass-stoppered bottles was drawn up upon the
wall opposite the door, and the table was littered over with
Bunsen burners, test-tubes, and retorts. In the corners stood
carboys of acid in wicker baskets. One of these appeared to
leak or to have been broken, for a stream of dark-coloured liquid
had trickled out from it, and the air was heavy with a peculiarly
pungent, tarlike odour. A set of steps stood at one side of the
room in the midst of a litter of lath and plaster, and above them
there was an opening in the ceiling large enough for a man to
pass through. At the foot of the steps a long coil of rope was
thrown carelessly together.
By the table in a wooden armchair the master of the house was
seated all in a heap, with his head sunk upon his left shoulder
and that ghastly, inscrutable smile upon his face. He was stiff
and cold and had clearly been dead many hours. It seemed to me
that not only his features but all his limbs were twisted and
turned in the most fantastic fashion. By his hand upon the table
there lay a peculiar instrument — a brown, close-grained stick,
with a stone head like a hammer, rudely lashed on with coarse
twine. Beside it was a torn sheet of note-paper with some words
scrawled upon it. Holmes glanced at it and then handed it to me.
"You see," he said with a significant raising of the eyebrows.
In the light of the lantern I read with a thrill of horror, "The
sign of the four."
"In God's name, what does it all mean?" I asked.
"It means murder," said he, stooping over the dead man.
"Ah! I expected it. Look here!"
He pointed to what looked like a long dark thorn stuck in the
skin just above the ear.
"It looks like a thorn," said I.
"It is a thorn. You may pick it out. But be careful, for it is
I took it up between my finger and thumb. It came away from
the skin so readily that hardly any mark was left behind. One
tiny speck of blood showed where the puncture had been.
"This is all an insoluble mystery to me," said I. "It grows
darker instead of clearer."
"On the contrary," he answered, "it clears every instant. I
only require a few missing links to have an entirely connected
We had almost forgotten our companion's presence since we
entered the chamber. He was still standing in the doorway, the
very picture of terror, wringing his hands and moaning to himself. Suddenly, however, he broke out into a sharp, querulous
"The treasure is gone!" he said. "They have robbed him of
the treasure! There is the hole through which we lowered it. I
helped him to do it! I was the last person who saw him! I left
him here last night, and I heard him lock the door as I came
"What time was that?"
"It was ten o'clock. And now he is dead, and the police will
be called in, and I shall be suspected of having had a hand in it.
Oh, yes, I am sure I shall. But you don't think so, gentlemen?
Surely you don't think that it was l? Is it likely that I would have
brought you here if it were I? Oh, dear! oh, dear! I know that I
shall go mad!"
He jerked his arms and stamped his feet in a kind of convulsive frenzy.
"You have no reason for fear, Mr. Sholto," said Holmes
kindly, putting his hand upon his shoulder; "take my advice and
drive down to the station to report the matter to the police. Offer
to assist them in every way. We shall wait here until your
The little man obeyed in a half-stupefied fashion, and we
heard him stumbling down the stairs in the dark.
Chapter 4: The Story of the Bald-Headed Man
| The Sign of Four |
Chapter 6: Sherlock Holmes Gives a Demonstration