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THE ADVENTURE OF THE ABBEY GRANGE
It was on a bitterly cold and frosty morning, towards the end of the
winter of '97, that I was awakened by a tugging at my shoulder. It was
Holmes. The candle in his hand shone upon his eager, stooping face, and
told me at a glance that something was amiss.
"Come, Watson, come!" he cried. "The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your
clothes and come!"
Ten minutes later we were both in a cab, and rattling through the silent
streets on our way to Charing Cross Station. The first faint winter's dawn
was beginning to appear, and we could dimly see the occasional figure of
an early workman as he passed us, blurred and indistinct in the opalescent
London reek. Holmes nestled in silence into his heavy coat, and I was glad
to do the same, for the air was most bitter, and neither of us had broken
It was not until we had consumed some hot tea at the station and taken our
places in the Kentish train that we were sufficiently thawed, he to speak
and I to listen. Holmes drew a note from his pocket, and read aloud:
Abbey Grange, Marsham, Kent, 3:30 A.M. MY DEAR MR. HOLMES:
I should be very glad of your immediate assistance in what promises to be
a most remarkable case. It is something quite in your line. Except for
releasing the lady I will see that everything is kept exactly as I have
found it, but I beg you not to lose an instant, as it is difficult to
leave Sir Eustace there. Yours faithfully, STANLEY HOPKINS.
"Hopkins has called me in seven times, and on each occasion his summons
has been entirely justified," said Holmes. "I fancy that every one of his
cases has found its way into your collection, and I must admit, Watson,
that you have some power of selection, which atones for much which I
deplore in your narratives. Your fatal habit of looking at everything from
the point of view of a story instead of as a scientific exercise has
ruined what might have been an instructive and even classical series of
demonstrations. You slur over work of the utmost finesse and delicacy, in
order to dwell upon sensational details which may excite, but cannot
possibly instruct, the reader."
"Why do you not write them yourself?" I said, with some bitterness.
"I will, my dear Watson, I will. At present I am, as you know, fairly
busy, but I propose to devote my declining years to the composition of a
textbook, which shall focus the whole art of detection into one volume.
Our present research appears to be a case of murder."
"You think this Sir Eustace is dead, then?"
"I should say so. Hopkins's writing shows considerable agitation, and he
is not an emotional man. Yes, I gather there has been violence, and that
the body is left for our inspection. A mere suicide would not have caused
him to send for me. As to the release of the lady, it would appear that
she has been locked in her room during the tragedy. We are moving in high
life, Watson, crackling paper, 'E.B.' monogram, coat-of-arms, picturesque
address. I think that friend Hopkins will live up to his reputation, and
that we shall have an interesting morning. The crime was committed before
twelve last night."
"How can you possibly tell?"
"By an inspection of the trains, and by reckoning the time. The local
police had to be called in, they had to communicate with Scotland Yard,
Hopkins had to go out, and he in turn had to send for me. All that makes a
fair night's work. Well, here we are at Chiselhurst Station, and we shall
soon set our doubts at rest."
A drive of a couple of miles through narrow country lanes brought us to a
park gate, which was opened for us by an old lodge-keeper, whose haggard
face bore the reflection of some great disaster. The avenue ran through a
noble park, between lines of ancient elms, and ended in a low, widespread
house, pillared in front after the fashion of Palladio. The central part
was evidently of a great age and shrouded in ivy, but the large windows
showed that modern changes had been carried out, and one wing of the house
appeared to be entirely new. The youthful figure and alert, eager face of
Inspector Stanley Hopkins confronted us in the open doorway.
"I'm very glad you have come, Mr. Holmes. And you, too, Dr. Watson. But,
indeed, if I had my time over again, I should not have troubled you, for
since the lady has come to herself, she has given so clear an account of
the affair that there is not much left for us to do. You remember that
Lewisham gang of burglars?"
"What, the three Randalls?"
"Exactly; the father and two sons. It's their work. I have not a doubt of
it. They did a job at Sydenham a fortnight ago and were seen and
described. Rather cool to do another so soon and so near, but it is they,
beyond all doubt. It's a hanging matter this time."
"Sir Eustace is dead, then?"
"Yes, his head was knocked in with his own poker."
"Sir Eustace Brackenstall, the driver tells me."
"Exactly—one of the richest men in Kent—Lady Brackenstall is
in the morning-room. Poor lady, she has had a most dreadful experience.
She seemed half dead when I saw her first. I think you had best see her
and hear her account of the facts. Then we will examine the dining-room
Lady Brackenstall was no ordinary person. Seldom have I seen so graceful a
figure, so womanly a presence, and so beautiful a face. She was a blonde,
golden-haired, blue-eyed, and would no doubt have had the perfect
complexion which goes with such colouring, had not her recent experience
left her drawn and haggard. Her sufferings were physical as well as
mental, for over one eye rose a hideous, plum-coloured swelling, which her
maid, a tall, austere woman, was bathing assiduously with vinegar and
water. The lady lay back exhausted upon a couch, but her quick, observant
gaze, as we entered the room, and the alert expression of her beautiful
features, showed that neither her wits nor her courage had been shaken by
her terrible experience. She was enveloped in a loose dressing-gown of
blue and silver, but a black sequin-covered dinner-dress lay upon the
couch beside her.
"I have told you all that happened, Mr. Hopkins," she said, wearily.
"Could you not repeat it for me? Well, if you think it necessary, I will
tell these gentlemen what occurred. Have they been in the dining-room
"I thought they had better hear your ladyship's story first."
"I shall be glad when you can arrange matters. It is horrible to me to
think of him still lying there." She shuddered and buried her face in her
hands. As she did so, the loose gown fell back from her forearms. Holmes
uttered an exclamation.
"You have other injuries, madam! What is this?" Two vivid red spots stood
out on one of the white, round limbs. She hastily covered it.
"It is nothing. It has no connection with this hideous business to-night.
If you and your friend will sit down, I will tell you all I can.
"I am the wife of Sir Eustace Brackenstall. I have been married about a
year. I suppose that it is no use my attempting to conceal that our
marriage has not been a happy one. I fear that all our neighbours would
tell you that, even if I were to attempt to deny it. Perhaps the fault may
be partly mine. I was brought up in the freer, less conventional
atmosphere of South Australia, and this English life, with its proprieties
and its primness, is not congenial to me. But the main reason lies in the
one fact, which is notorious to everyone, and that is that Sir Eustace was
a confirmed drunkard. To be with such a man for an hour is unpleasant. Can
you imagine what it means for a sensitive and high-spirited woman to be
tied to him for day and night? It is a sacrilege, a crime, a villainy to
hold that such a marriage is binding. I say that these monstrous laws of
yours will bring a curse upon the land—God will not let such
wickedness endure." For an instant she sat up, her cheeks flushed, and her
eyes blazing from under the terrible mark upon her brow. Then the strong,
soothing hand of the austere maid drew her head down on to the cushion,
and the wild anger died away into passionate sobbing. At last she
"I will tell you about last night. You are aware, perhaps, that in this
house all the servants sleep in the modern wing. This central block is
made up of the dwelling-rooms, with the kitchen behind and our bedroom
above. My maid, Theresa, sleeps above my room. There is no one else, and
no sound could alarm those who are in the farther wing. This must have
been well known to the robbers, or they would not have acted as they did.
"Sir Eustace retired about half-past ten. The servants had already gone to
their quarters. Only my maid was up, and she had remained in her room at
the top of the house until I needed her services. I sat until after eleven
in this room, absorbed in a book. Then I walked round to see that all was
right before I went upstairs. It was my custom to do this myself, for, as
I have explained, Sir Eustace was not always to be trusted. I went into
the kitchen, the butler's pantry, the gun-room, the billiard-room, the
drawing-room, and finally the dining-room. As I approached the window,
which is covered with thick curtains, I suddenly felt the wind blow upon
my face and realized that it was open. I flung the curtain aside and found
myself face to face with a broad-shouldered elderly man, who had just
stepped into the room. The window is a long French one, which really forms
a door leading to the lawn. I held my bedroom candle lit in my hand, and,
by its light, behind the first man I saw two others, who were in the act
of entering. I stepped back, but the fellow was on me in an instant. He
caught me first by the wrist and then by the throat. I opened my mouth to
scream, but he struck me a savage blow with his fist over the eye, and
felled me to the ground. I must have been unconscious for a few minutes,
for when I came to myself, I found that they had torn down the bell-rope,
and had secured me tightly to the oaken chair which stands at the head of
the dining-table. I was so firmly bound that I could not move, and a
handkerchief round my mouth prevented me from uttering a sound. It was at
this instant that my unfortunate husband entered the room. He had
evidently heard some suspicious sounds, and he came prepared for such a
scene as he found. He was dressed in nightshirt and trousers, with his
favourite blackthorn cudgel in his hand. He rushed at the burglars, but
another—it was an elderly man—stooped, picked the poker out of
the grate and struck him a horrible blow as he passed. He fell with a
groan and never moved again. I fainted once more, but again it could only
have been for a very few minutes during which I was insensible. When I
opened my eyes I found that they had collected the silver from the
sideboard, and they had drawn a bottle of wine which stood there. Each of
them had a glass in his hand. I have already told you, have I not, that
one was elderly, with a beard, and the others young, hairless lads. They
might have been a father with his two sons. They talked together in
whispers. Then they came over and made sure that I was securely bound.
Finally they withdrew, closing the window after them. It was quite a
quarter of an hour before I got my mouth free. When I did so, my screams
brought the maid to my assistance. The other servants were soon alarmed,
and we sent for the local police, who instantly communicated with London.
That is really all that I can tell you, gentlemen, and I trust that it
will not be necessary for me to go over so painful a story again."
"Any questions, Mr. Holmes?" asked Hopkins.
"I will not impose any further tax upon Lady Brackenstall's patience and
time," said Holmes. "Before I go into the dining-room, I should like to
hear your experience." He looked at the maid.
"I saw the men before ever they came into the house," said she. "As I sat
by my bedroom window I saw three men in the moonlight down by the lodge
gate yonder, but I thought nothing of it at the time. It was more than an
hour after that I heard my mistress scream, and down I ran, to find her,
poor lamb, just as she says, and him on the floor, with his blood and
brains over the room. It was enough to drive a woman out of her wits, tied
there, and her very dress spotted with him, but she never wanted courage,
did Miss Mary Fraser of Adelaide and Lady Brackenstall of Abbey Grange
hasn't learned new ways. You've questioned her long enough, you gentlemen,
and now she is coming to her own room, just with her old Theresa, to get
the rest that she badly needs."
With a motherly tenderness the gaunt woman put her arm round her mistress
and led her from the room.
"She has been with her all her life," said Hopkins. "Nursed her as a baby,
and came with her to England when they first left Australia, eighteen
months ago. Theresa Wright is her name, and the kind of maid you don't
pick up nowadays. This way, Mr. Holmes, if you please!"
The keen interest had passed out of Holmes's expressive face, and I knew
that with the mystery all the charm of the case had departed. There still
remained an arrest to be effected, but what were these commonplace rogues
that he should soil his hands with them? An abstruse and learned
specialist who finds that he has been called in for a case of measles
would experience something of the annoyance which I read in my friend's
eyes. Yet the scene in the dining-room of the Abbey Grange was
sufficiently strange to arrest his attention and to recall his waning
It was a very large and high chamber, with carved oak ceiling, oaken
panelling, and a fine array of deer's heads and ancient weapons around the
walls. At the further end from the door was the high French window of
which we had heard. Three smaller windows on the right-hand side filled
the apartment with cold winter sunshine. On the left was a large, deep
fireplace, with a massive, overhanging oak mantelpiece. Beside the
fireplace was a heavy oaken chair with arms and cross-bars at the bottom.
In and out through the open woodwork was woven a crimson cord, which was
secured at each side to the crosspiece below. In releasing the lady, the
cord had been slipped off her, but the knots with which it had been
secured still remained. These details only struck our attention
afterwards, for our thoughts were entirely absorbed by the terrible object
which lay upon the tigerskin hearthrug in front of the fire.
It was the body of a tall, well-made man, about forty years of age. He lay
upon his back, his face upturned, with his white teeth grinning through
his short, black beard. His two clenched hands were raised above his head,
and a heavy, blackthorn stick lay across them. His dark, handsome,
aquiline features were convulsed into a spasm of vindictive hatred, which
had set his dead face in a terribly fiendish expression. He had evidently
been in his bed when the alarm had broken out, for he wore a foppish,
embroidered nightshirt, and his bare feet projected from his trousers. His
head was horribly injured, and the whole room bore witness to the savage
ferocity of the blow which had struck him down. Beside him lay the heavy
poker, bent into a curve by the concussion. Holmes examined both it and
the indescribable wreck which it had wrought.
"He must be a powerful man, this elder Randall," he remarked.
"Yes," said Hopkins. "I have some record of the fellow, and he is a rough
"You should have no difficulty in getting him."
"Not the slightest. We have been on the look-out for him, and there was
some idea that he had got away to America. Now that we know that the gang
are here, I don't see how they can escape. We have the news at every
seaport already, and a reward will be offered before evening. What beats
me is how they could have done so mad a thing, knowing that the lady could
describe them and that we could not fail to recognize the description."
"Exactly. One would have expected that they would silence Lady
Brackenstall as well."
"They may not have realized," I suggested, "that she had recovered from
"That is likely enough. If she seemed to be senseless, they would not take
her life. What about this poor fellow, Hopkins? I seem to have heard some
queer stories about him."
"He was a good-hearted man when he was sober, but a perfect fiend when he
was drunk, or rather when he was half drunk, for he seldom really went the
whole way. The devil seemed to be in him at such times, and he was capable
of anything. From what I hear, in spite of all his wealth and his title,
he very nearly came our way once or twice. There was a scandal about his
drenching a dog with petroleum and setting it on fire—her ladyship's
dog, to make the matter worse—and that was only hushed up with
difficulty. Then he threw a decanter at that maid, Theresa Wright—there
was trouble about that. On the whole, and between ourselves, it will be a
brighter house without him. What are you looking at now?"
Holmes was down on his knees, examining with great attention the knots
upon the red cord with which the lady had been secured. Then he carefully
scrutinized the broken and frayed end where it had snapped off when the
burglar had dragged it down.
"When this was pulled down, the bell in the kitchen must have rung
loudly," he remarked.
"No one could hear it. The kitchen stands right at the back of the house."
"How did the burglar know no one would hear it? How dared he pull at a
bell-rope in that reckless fashion?"
"Exactly, Mr. Holmes, exactly. You put the very question which I have
asked myself again and again. There can be no doubt that this fellow must
have known the house and its habits. He must have perfectly understood
that the servants would all be in bed at that comparatively early hour,
and that no one could possibly hear a bell ring in the kitchen. Therefore,
he must have been in close league with one of the servants. Surely that is
evident. But there are eight servants, and all of good character."
"Other things being equal," said Holmes, "one would suspect the one at
whose head the master threw a decanter. And yet that would involve
treachery towards the mistress to whom this woman seems devoted. Well,
well, the point is a minor one, and when you have Randall you will
probably find no difficulty in securing his accomplice. The lady's story
certainly seems to be corroborated, if it needed corroboration, by every
detail which we see before us." He walked to the French window and threw
it open. "There are no signs here, but the ground is iron hard, and one
would not expect them. I see that these candles in the mantelpiece have
"Yes, it was by their light and that of the lady's bedroom candle, that
the burglars saw their way about."
"And what did they take?"
"Well, they did not take much—only half a dozen articles of plate
off the sideboard. Lady Brackenstall thinks that they were themselves so
disturbed by the death of Sir Eustace that they did not ransack the house,
as they would otherwise have done."
"No doubt that is true, and yet they drank some wine, I understand."
"To steady their nerves."
"Exactly. These three glasses upon the sideboard have been untouched, I
"Yes, and the bottle stands as they left it."
"Let us look at it. Halloa, halloa! What is this?"
The three glasses were grouped together, all of them tinged with wine, and
one of them containing some dregs of beeswing. The bottle stood near them,
two-thirds full, and beside it lay a long, deeply stained cork. Its
appearance and the dust upon the bottle showed that it was no common
vintage which the murderers had enjoyed.
A change had come over Holmes's manner. He had lost his listless
expression, and again I saw an alert light of interest in his keen,
deep-set eyes. He raised the cork and examined it minutely.
"How did they draw it?" he asked.
Hopkins pointed to a half-opened drawer. In it lay some table linen and a
"Did Lady Brackenstall say that screw was used?"
"No, you remember that she was senseless at the moment when the bottle was
"Quite so. As a matter of fact, that screw was not used. This bottle was
opened by a pocket screw, probably contained in a knife, and not more than
an inch and a half long. If you will examine the top of the cork, you will
observe that the screw was driven in three times before the cork was
extracted. It has never been transfixed. This long screw would have
transfixed it and drawn it up with a single pull. When you catch this
fellow, you will find that he has one of these multiplex knives in his
"Excellent!" said Hopkins.
"But these glasses do puzzle me, I confess. Lady Brackenstall actually SAW
the three men drinking, did she not?"
"Yes; she was clear about that."
"Then there is an end of it. What more is to be said? And yet, you must
admit, that the three glasses are very remarkable, Hopkins. What? You see
nothing remarkable? Well, well, let it pass. Perhaps, when a man has
special knowledge and special powers like my own, it rather encourages him
to seek a complex explanation when a simpler one is at hand. Of course, it
must be a mere chance about the glasses. Well, good-morning, Hopkins. I
don't see that I can be of any use to you, and you appear to have your
case very clear. You will let me know when Randall is arrested, and any
further developments which may occur. I trust that I shall soon have to
congratulate you upon a successful conclusion. Come, Watson, I fancy that
we may employ ourselves more profitably at home."
During our return journey, I could see by Holmes's face that he was much
puzzled by something which he had observed. Every now and then, by an
effort, he would throw off the impression, and talk as if the matter were
clear, but then his doubts would settle down upon him again, and his
knitted brows and abstracted eyes would show that his thoughts had gone
back once more to the great dining-room of the Abbey Grange, in which this
midnight tragedy had been enacted. At last, by a sudden impulse, just as
our train was crawling out of a suburban station, he sprang on to the
platform and pulled me out after him.
"Excuse me, my dear fellow," said he, as we watched the rear carriages of
our train disappearing round a curve, "I am sorry to make you the victim
of what may seem a mere whim, but on my life, Watson, I simply CAN'T leave
that case in this condition. Every instinct that I possess cries out
against it. It's wrong—it's all wrong—I'll swear that it's
wrong. And yet the lady's story was complete, the maid's corroboration was
sufficient, the detail was fairly exact. What have I to put up against
that? Three wine-glasses, that is all. But if I had not taken things for
granted, if I had examined everything with the care which I should have
shown had we approached the case DE NOVO and had no cut-and-dried story to
warp my mind, should I not then have found something more definite to go
upon? Of course I should. Sit down on this bench, Watson, until a train
for Chiselhurst arrives, and allow me to lay the evidence before you,
imploring you in the first instance to dismiss from your mind the idea
that anything which the maid or her mistress may have said must
necessarily be true. The lady's charming personality must not be permitted
to warp our judgment.
"Surely there are details in her story which, if we looked at in cold
blood, would excite our suspicion. These burglars made a considerable haul
at Sydenham a fortnight ago. Some account of them and of their appearance
was in the papers, and would naturally occur to anyone who wished to
invent a story in which imaginary robbers should play a part. As a matter
of fact, burglars who have done a good stroke of business are, as a rule,
only too glad to enjoy the proceeds in peace and quiet without embarking
on another perilous undertaking. Again, it is unusual for burglars to
operate at so early an hour, it is unusual for burglars to strike a lady
to prevent her screaming, since one would imagine that was the sure way to
make her scream, it is unusual for them to commit murder when their
numbers are sufficient to overpower one man, it is unusual for them to be
content with a limited plunder when there was much more within their
reach, and finally, I should say, that it was very unusual for such men to
leave a bottle half empty. How do all these unusuals strike you, Watson?"
"Their cumulative effect is certainly considerable, and yet each of them
is quite possible in itself. The most unusual thing of all, as it seems to
me, is that the lady should be tied to the chair."
"Well, I am not so clear about that, Watson, for it is evident that they
must either kill her or else secure her in such a way that she could not
give immediate notice of their escape. But at any rate I have shown, have
I not, that there is a certain element of improbability about the lady's
story? And now, on the top of this, comes the incident of the
"What about the wineglasses?"
"Can you see them in your mind's eye?"
"I see them clearly."
"We are told that three men drank from them. Does that strike you as
"Why not? There was wine in each glass."
"Exactly, but there was beeswing only in one glass. You must have noticed
that fact. What does that suggest to your mind?"
"The last glass filled would be most likely to contain beeswing."
"Not at all. The bottle was full of it, and it is inconceivable that the
first two glasses were clear and the third heavily charged with it. There
are two possible explanations, and only two. One is that after the second
glass was filled the bottle was violently agitated, and so the third glass
received the beeswing. That does not appear probable. No, no, I am sure
that I am right."
"What, then, do you suppose?"
"That only two glasses were used, and that the dregs of both were poured
into a third glass, so as to give the false impression that three people
had been here. In that way all the beeswing would be in the last glass,
would it not? Yes, I am convinced that this is so. But if I have hit upon
the true explanation of this one small phenomenon, then in an instant the
case rises from the commonplace to the exceedingly remarkable, for it can
only mean that Lady Brackenstall and her maid have deliberately lied to
us, that not one word of their story is to be believed, that they have
some very strong reason for covering the real criminal, and that we must
construct our case for ourselves without any help from them. That is the
mission which now lies before us, and here, Watson, is the Sydenham