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  • THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES by SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE

  • Adventure IX. THE ADVENTURE OF THE ENGINEER'S THUMB

  • Of all the problems which have been submitted to my friend, Mr. Sherlock

  • Holmes, for solution during the years of our intimacy, there were only two which I

  • was the means of introducing to his notice-

  • -that of Mr. Hatherley's thumb, and that of Colonel Warburton's madness.

  • Of these the latter may have afforded a finer field for an acute and original

  • observer, but the other was so strange in its inception and so dramatic in its

  • details that it may be the more worthy of

  • being placed upon record, even if it gave my friend fewer openings for those

  • deductive methods of reasoning by which he achieved such remarkable results.

  • The story has, I believe, been told more than once in the newspapers, but, like all

  • such narratives, its effect is much less striking when set forth en bloc in a single

  • half-column of print than when the facts

  • slowly evolve before your own eyes, and the mystery clears gradually away as each new

  • discovery furnishes a step which leads on to the complete truth.

  • At the time the circumstances made a deep impression upon me, and the lapse of two

  • years has hardly served to weaken the effect.

  • It was in the summer of '89, not long after my marriage, that the events occurred which

  • I am now about to summarise.

  • I had returned to civil practice and had finally abandoned Holmes in his Baker

  • Street rooms, although I continually visited him and occasionally even persuaded

  • him to forgo his Bohemian habits so far as to come and visit us.

  • My practice had steadily increased, and as I happened to live at no very great

  • distance from Paddington Station, I got a few patients from among the officials.

  • One of these, whom I had cured of a painful and lingering disease, was never weary of

  • advertising my virtues and of endeavouring to send me on every sufferer over whom he

  • might have any influence.

  • One morning, at a little before seven o'clock, I was awakened by the maid tapping

  • at the door to announce that two men had come from Paddington and were waiting in

  • the consulting-room.

  • I dressed hurriedly, for I knew by experience that railway cases were seldom

  • trivial, and hastened downstairs.

  • As I descended, my old ally, the guard, came out of the room and closed the door

  • tightly behind him.

  • "I've got him here," he whispered, jerking his thumb over his shoulder; "he's all

  • right." "What is it, then?"

  • I asked, for his manner suggested that it was some strange creature which he had

  • caged up in my room. "It's a new patient," he whispered.

  • "I thought I'd bring him round myself; then he couldn't slip away.

  • There he is, all safe and sound. I must go now, Doctor; I have my dooties,

  • just the same as you."

  • And off he went, this trusty tout, without even giving me time to thank him.

  • I entered my consulting-room and found a gentleman seated by the table.

  • He was quietly dressed in a suit of heather tweed with a soft cloth cap which he had

  • laid down upon my books.

  • Round one of his hands he had a handkerchief wrapped, which was mottled all

  • over with bloodstains.

  • He was young, not more than five-and- twenty, I should say, with a strong,

  • masculine face; but he was exceedingly pale and gave me the impression of a man who was

  • suffering from some strong agitation, which

  • it took all his strength of mind to control.

  • "I am sorry to knock you up so early, Doctor," said he, "but I have had a very

  • serious accident during the night.

  • I came in by train this morning, and on inquiring at Paddington as to where I might

  • find a doctor, a worthy fellow very kindly escorted me here.

  • I gave the maid a card, but I see that she has left it upon the side-table."

  • I took it up and glanced at it. "Mr. Victor Hatherley, hydraulic engineer,

  • 16A, Victoria Street (3rd floor)."

  • That was the name, style, and abode of my morning visitor.

  • "I regret that I have kept you waiting," said I, sitting down in my library-chair.

  • "You are fresh from a night journey, I understand, which is in itself a monotonous

  • occupation." "Oh, my night could not be called

  • monotonous," said he, and laughed.

  • He laughed very heartily, with a high, ringing note, leaning back in his chair and

  • shaking his sides. All my medical instincts rose up against

  • that laugh.

  • "Stop it!" I cried; "pull yourself together!" and I

  • poured out some water from a caraffe. It was useless, however.

  • He was off in one of those hysterical outbursts which come upon a strong nature

  • when some great crisis is over and gone. Presently he came to himself once more,

  • very weary and pale-looking.

  • "I have been making a fool of myself," he gasped.

  • "Not at all. Drink this."

  • I dashed some brandy into the water, and the colour began to come back to his

  • bloodless cheeks. "That's better!" said he.

  • "And now, Doctor, perhaps you would kindly attend to my thumb, or rather to the place

  • where my thumb used to be." He unwound the handkerchief and held out

  • his hand.

  • It gave even my hardened nerves a shudder to look at it.

  • There were four protruding fingers and a horrid red, spongy surface where the thumb

  • should have been.

  • It had been hacked or torn right out from the roots.

  • "Good heavens!" I cried, "this is a terrible injury.

  • It must have bled considerably."

  • "Yes, it did. I fainted when it was done, and I think

  • that I must have been senseless for a long time.

  • When I came to I found that it was still bleeding, so I tied one end of my

  • handkerchief very tightly round the wrist and braced it up with a twig."

  • "Excellent!

  • You should have been a surgeon." "It is a question of hydraulics, you see,

  • and came within my own province."

  • "This has been done," said I, examining the wound, "by a very heavy and sharp

  • instrument." "A thing like a cleaver," said he.

  • "An accident, I presume?"

  • "By no means." "What! a murderous attack?"

  • "Very murderous indeed." "You horrify me."

  • I sponged the wound, cleaned it, dressed it, and finally covered it over with cotton

  • wadding and carbolised bandages. He lay back without wincing, though he bit

  • his lip from time to time.

  • "How is that?" I asked when I had finished.

  • "Capital! Between your brandy and your bandage, I

  • feel a new man.

  • I was very weak, but I have had a good deal to go through."

  • "Perhaps you had better not speak of the matter.

  • It is evidently trying to your nerves."

  • "Oh, no, not now.

  • I shall have to tell my tale to the police; but, between ourselves, if it were not for

  • the convincing evidence of this wound of mine, I should be surprised if they

  • believed my statement, for it is a very

  • extraordinary one, and I have not much in the way of proof with which to back it up;

  • and, even if they believe me, the clues which I can give them are so vague that it

  • is a question whether justice will be done."

  • "Ha!" cried I, "if it is anything in the nature of a problem which you desire to see

  • solved, I should strongly recommend you to come to my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,

  • before you go to the official police."

  • "Oh, I have heard of that fellow," answered my visitor, "and I should be very glad if

  • he would take the matter up, though of course I must use the official police as

  • well.

  • Would you give me an introduction to him?" "I'll do better.

  • I'll take you round to him myself." "I should be immensely obliged to you."

  • "We'll call a cab and go together.

  • We shall just be in time to have a little breakfast with him.

  • Do you feel equal to it?" "Yes; I shall not feel easy until I have

  • told my story."

  • "Then my servant will call a cab, and I shall be with you in an instant."

  • I rushed upstairs, explained the matter shortly to my wife, and in five minutes was

  • inside a hansom, driving with my new acquaintance to Baker Street.

  • Sherlock Holmes was, as I expected, lounging about his sitting-room in his

  • dressing-gown, reading the agony column of The Times and smoking his before-breakfast

  • pipe, which was composed of all the plugs

  • and dottles left from his smokes of the day before, all carefully dried and collected

  • on the corner of the mantelpiece.

  • He received us in his quietly genial fashion, ordered fresh rashers and eggs,

  • and joined us in a hearty meal.

  • When it was concluded he settled our new acquaintance upon the sofa, placed a pillow

  • beneath his head, and laid a glass of brandy and water within his reach.

  • "It is easy to see that your experience has been no common one, Mr. Hatherley," said

  • he. "Pray, lie down there and make yourself

  • absolutely at home.

  • Tell us what you can, but stop when you are tired and keep up your strength with a

  • little stimulant."

  • "Thank you," said my patient, "but I have felt another man since the doctor bandaged

  • me, and I think that your breakfast has completed the cure.

  • I shall take up as little of your valuable time as possible, so I shall start at once

  • upon my peculiar experiences."

  • Holmes sat in his big armchair with the weary, heavy-lidded expression which veiled

  • his keen and eager nature, while I sat opposite to him, and we listened in silence

  • to the strange story which our visitor detailed to us.

  • "You must know," said he, "that I am an orphan and a bachelor, residing alone in

  • lodgings in London.

  • By profession I am a hydraulic engineer, and I have had considerable experience of

  • my work during the seven years that I was apprenticed to Venner & Matheson, the well-

  • known firm, of Greenwich.

  • Two years ago, having served my time, and having also come into a fair sum of money

  • through my poor father's death, I determined to start in business for myself

  • and took professional chambers in Victoria Street.

  • "I suppose that everyone finds his first independent start in business a dreary

  • experience.

  • To me it has been exceptionally so. During two years I have had three

  • consultations and one small job, and that is absolutely all that my profession has

  • brought me.

  • My gross takings amount to 27 pounds 10s.

  • Every day, from nine in the morning until four in the afternoon, I waited in my

  • little den, until at last my heart began to sink, and I came to believe that I should

  • never have any practice at all.

  • "Yesterday, however, just as I was thinking of leaving the office, my clerk entered to

  • say there was a gentleman waiting who wished to see me upon business.

  • He brought up a card, too, with the name of 'Colonel Lysander Stark' engraved upon it.

  • Close at his heels came the colonel himself, a man rather over the middle size,

  • but of an exceeding thinness.

  • I do not think that I have ever seen so thin a man.

  • His whole face sharpened away into nose and chin, and the skin of his cheeks was drawn

  • quite tense over his outstanding bones.

  • Yet this emaciation seemed to be his natural habit, and due to no disease, for

  • his eye was bright, his step brisk, and his bearing assured.

  • He was plainly but neatly dressed, and his age, I should judge, would be nearer forty

  • than thirty. "'Mr. Hatherley?' said he, with something

  • of a German accent.

  • 'You have been recommended to me, Mr. Hatherley, as being a man who is not only

  • proficient in his profession but is also discreet and capable of preserving a

  • secret.'

  • "I bowed, feeling as flattered as any young man would at such an address.

  • 'May I ask who it was who gave me so good a character?'

  • "'Well, perhaps it is better that I should not tell you that just at this moment.

  • I have it from the same source that you are both an orphan and a bachelor and are

  • residing alone in London.'

  • "'That is quite correct,' I answered; 'but you will excuse me if I say that I cannot

  • see how all this bears upon my professional qualifications.

  • I understand that it was on a professional matter that you wished to speak to me?'

  • "'Undoubtedly so. But you will find that all I say is really

  • to the point.

  • I have a professional commission for you, but absolute secrecy is quite essential--

  • absolute secrecy, you understand, and of course we may expect that more from a man

  • who is alone than from one who lives in the bosom of his family.'

  • "'If I promise to keep a secret,' said I, 'you may absolutely depend upon my doing

  • so.'

  • "He looked very hard at me as I spoke, and it seemed to me that I had never seen so

  • suspicious and questioning an eye. "'Do you promise, then?' said he at last.

  • "'Yes, I promise.'

  • "'Absolute and complete silence before, during, and after?

  • No reference to the matter at all, either in word or writing?'

  • "'I have already given you my word.'

  • "'Very good.' He suddenly sprang up, and darting like

  • lightning across the room he flung open the door.

  • The passage outside was empty.

  • "'That's all right,' said he, coming back. 'I know that clerks are sometimes curious

  • as to their master's affairs. Now we can talk in safety.'

  • He drew up his chair very close to mine and began to stare at me again with the same

  • questioning and thoughtful look.

  • "A feeling of repulsion, and of something akin to fear had begun to rise within me at

  • the strange antics of this fleshless man. Even my dread of losing a client could not

  • restrain me from showing my impatience.

  • "'I beg that you will state your business, sir,' said I; 'my time is of value.'

  • Heaven forgive me for that last sentence, but the words came to my lips.

  • "'How would fifty guineas for a night's work suit you?' he asked.

  • "'Most admirably.' "'I say a night's work, but an hour's would

  • be nearer the mark.

  • I simply want your opinion about a hydraulic stamping machine which has got

  • out of gear. If you show us what is wrong we shall soon

  • set it right ourselves.

  • What do you think of such a commission as that?'

  • "'The work appears to be light and the pay munificent.'

  • "'Precisely so.

  • We shall want you to come to-night by the last train.'

  • "'Where to?' "'To Eyford, in Berkshire.

  • It is a little place near the borders of Oxfordshire, and within seven miles of

  • Reading. There is a train from Paddington which

  • would bring you there at about 11:15.'

  • "'Very good.' "'I shall come down in a carriage to meet

  • you.' "'There is a drive, then?'

  • "'Yes, our little place is quite out in the country.