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Chapter 4 The Story of the Bald-Headed Man

  • We followed the Indian down a sordid and common passage, ill-lit and wors_urnished, until he came to a door upon the right, which he threw open. _laze of yellow light streamed out upon us, and in the centre of the glar_here stood a small man with a very high head, a bristle of red hair all roun_he fringe of it, and a bald, shining scalp which shot out from among it lik_ mountain-peak from fir-trees. He writhed his hands together as he stood, an_is features were in a perpetual jerk — now smiling, now scowling, but neve_or an instant in repose. Nature had given him a pendulous lip, and a to_isible line of yellow and irregular teeth, which he strove feebly to concea_y constantly passing his hand over the lower part of his face. In spite o_is obtrusive baldness he gave the impression of youth. In point of fact, h_ad just turned his thirtieth year.
  • "Your servant, Miss Morstan," he kept repeating in a thin, high voice. "You_ervant, gentlemen. Pray step into my little sanctum. A small place, miss, bu_urnished to my own liking. An oasis of art in the howling desert of Sout_ondon."
  • We were all astonished by the appearance of the apartment into which h_nvited us. In that sorry house it looked as out of place as a diamond of th_irst water in a setting of brass. The richest and glossiest of curtains an_apestries draped the walls, looped back here and there to expose some richl_ounted painting or Oriental vase. The carpet was of amber and black, so sof_nd so thick that the foot sank pleasantly into it, as into a bed of moss. Tw_reat tiger-skins thrown athwart it increased the suggestion of Easter_uxury, as did a huge hookah which stood upon a mat in the corner. A lamp i_he fashion of a silver dove was hung from an almost invisible golden wire i_he centre of the room. As it burned it filled the air with a subtle an_romatic odour.
  • "Mr. Thaddeus Sholto," said the little man, still jerking and smiling. "Tha_s my name. You are Miss Morstan, of course. And these gentlemen —"
  • "This is Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and this Dr. Watson."
  • "A doctor, eh?" cried he, much excited. "Have you your stethoscope? Might _sk you — would you have the kindness? I have grave doubts as to my mitra_alve, if you would be so very good. The aortic I may rely upon, but I shoul_alue your opinion upon the mitral."
  • I listened to his heart, as requested, but was unable to find anything amiss, save, indeed, that he was in an ecstasy of fear, for he shivered from head t_oot.
  • "It appears to be normal," I said. "You have no cause for uneasiness."
  • "You will excuse my anxiety, Miss Morstan," he remarked airily. "I am a grea_ufferer, and I have long had suspicions as to that valve. I am delighted t_ear that they are unwarranted. Had your father, Miss Morstan, refrained fro_hrowing a strain upon his heart, he might have been alive now."
  • I could have struck the man across the face, so hot was I at this callous an_ffhand reference to so delicate a matter. Miss Morstan sat down, and her fac_rew white to the lips.
  • "I knew in my heart that he was dead," said she.
  • "I can give you every information," said he; "and, what is more, I can do yo_ustice; and I will, too, whatever Brother Bartholomew may say. I am so gla_o have your friends here not only as an escort to you but also as witnesse_o what I am about to do and say. The three of us can show a bold front t_rother Bartholomew. But let us have no outsiders — no police or officials. W_an settle everything satisfactorily among ourselves without any interference.
  • Nothing would annoy Brother Bartholomew more than any publicity."
  • He sat down upon a low settee and blinked at us inquiringly with his weak, watery blue eyes.
  • "For my part," said Holmes, "whatever you may choose to say will go n_urther."
  • I nodded to show my agreement.
  • "That is well! That is well" said he. "May I offer you a glass of Chianti, Miss Morstan? Or of Tokay? I keep no other wines. Shall I open a flask? No?
  • Well, then, I trust that you have no objection to tobacco-smoke, to th_alsamic odour of the Eastern tobacco. I am a little nervous, and I find m_ookah an invaluable sedative."
  • He applied a taper to the great bowl, and the smoke bubbled merrily throug_he rose-water. We sat all three in a semicircle, with our heads advanced an_ur chins upon our hands, while the strange, jerky little fellow, with hi_igh, shining head, puffed uneasily in the centre.
  • "When I first determined to make this communication to you," said he, "I migh_ave given you my address; but I feared that you might disregard my reques_nd bring unpleasant people with you. I took the liberty, therefore, of makin_n appointment in such a way that my man Williams might be able to see yo_irst. I have complete confidence in his discretion, and he had orders, if h_ere dissatisfied, to proceed no further in the matter. You will excuse thes_recautions, but I am a man of somewhat retiring, and I might even sa_efined, tastes, and there is nothing more unaesthetic than a policeman. _ave a natural shrinking from all forms of rough materialism. I seldom come i_ontact with the rough crowd. I live, as you see, with some little atmospher_f elegance around me. I may call myself a patron of the arts. It is m_eakness. The landscape is a genuine Corot, and though a connoisseur migh_erhaps throw a doubt upon that Salvator Rosa, there cannot be the leas_uestion about the Bouguereau. I am partial to the modern French school."
  • "You will excuse me, Mr. Sholto," said Miss Morstan, "but I am here at you_equest to learn something which you desire to tell me. It is very late, and _hould desire the interview to be as short as possible."
  • "At the best it must take some time," he answered; "for we shall certainl_ave to go to Norwood and see Brother Bartholomew. We shall all go and try i_e can get the better of Brother Bartholomew. He is very angry with me fo_aking the course which has seemed right to me. I had quite high words wit_im last night. You cannot imagine what a terrible fellow he is when he i_ngry."
  • "If we are to go to Norwood, it would perhaps be as well to start at once," _entured to remark.
  • He laughed until his ears were quite red.
  • "That would hardly do," he cried. "I don't know what he would say if I brough_ou in that sudden way. No, I must prepare you by showing you how we all stan_o each other. In the first place, I must tell you that there are severa_oints in the story of which I am myself ignorant. I can only lay the fact_efore you as far as I know them myself.
  • "My father was, as you may have guessed, Major John Sholto, once of the India_rmy. He retired some eleven years ago and came to live at Pondicherry Lodg_n Upper Norwood. He had prospered in India and brought back with him _onsiderable sum of money, a large collection of valuable curiosities, and _taff of native servants. With these advantages he bought himself a house, an_ived in great luxury. My twin-brother Bartholomew and I were the onl_hildren.
  • "I very well remember the sensation which was caused by the disappearance o_aptain Morstan. We read the details in the papers, and knowing that he ha_een a friend of our father's we discussed the case freely in his presence. H_sed to join in our speculations as to what could have happened. Never for a_nstant did we suspect that he had the whole secret hidden in his own breast, that of all men he alone knew the fate of Arthur Morstan.
  • "We did know, however, that some mystery, some positive danger, overhung ou_ather. He was very fearful of going out alone, and he always employed tw_rize-fighters to act as porters at Pondicherry Lodge. Williams, who drove yo_onight, was one of them. He was once lightweight champion of England. Ou_ather would never tell us what it was he feared, but he had a most marke_version to men with wooden legs. On one occasion he actually fired hi_evolver at a wooden-legged man, who proved to be a harmless tradesma_anvassing for orders. We had to pay a large sum to hush the matter up. M_rother and I used to think this a mere whim of my father's, but events hav_ince led us to change our opinion.
  • "Early in 1882 my father received a letter from India which was a great shoc_o him. He nearly fainted at the breakfast-table when he opened it, and fro_hat day he sickened to his death. What was in the letter we could neve_iscover, but I could see as he held it that it was short and written in _crawling hand. He had suffered for years from an enlarged spleen, but he no_ecame rapidly worse, and towards the end of April we were informed that h_as beyond all hope, and that he wished to make a last communication to us.
  • "When we entered his room he was propped up with pillows and breathin_eavily. He besought us to lock the door and to come upon either side of th_ed. Then grasping our hands he made a remarkable statement to us in a voic_hich was broken as much by emotion as by pain. I shall try and give it to yo_n his own very words.
  • " 'I have only one thing,' he said, 'which weighs upon my mind at this suprem_oment. It is my treatment of poor Morstan's orphan. The cursed greed whic_as been my besetting sin through life has withheld from her the treasure, half at least of which should have been hers. And yet I have made no use of i_yself, so blind and foolish a thing is avarice. The mere feeling o_ossession has been so dear to me that I could not bear to share it wit_nother. See that chaplet tipped with pearls beside the quinine-bottle. Eve_hat I could not bear to part with, although I had got it out with the desig_f sending it to her. You, my sons, will give her a fair share of the Agr_reasure. But send her nothing — not even the chaplet — until I am gone. Afte_ll, men have been as bad as this and have recovered.
  • " 'I will tell you how Morstan died,' he continued. 'He had suffered for year_rom a weak heart, but he concealed it from every one. I alone knew it. Whe_n India, he and I, through a remarkable chain of circumstances, came int_ossession of a considerable treasure. I brought it over to England, and o_he night of Morstan's arrival he came straight over here to claim his share.
  • He walked over from the station and was admitted by my faithful old La_howdar, who is now dead. Morstan and I had a difference of opinion as to th_ivision of the treasure, and we came to heated words. Morstan had sprung ou_f his chair in a paroxysm of anger, when he suddenly pressed his hand to hi_ide, his face turned a dusky hue, and he fell backward, cutting his hea_gainst the corner of the treasure-chest. When I stooped over him I found, t_y horror, that he was dead.
  • " 'For a long time I sat half distracted, wondering what I should do. My firs_mpulse was, of course, to call for assistance; but I could not but recogniz_hat there was every chance that I would be accused of his murder. His deat_t the moment of a quarrel, and the gash in his head, would be black agains_e. Again, an official inquiry could not be made without bringing out som_acts about the treasure, which I was particularly anxious to keep secret. H_ad told me that no soul upon earth knew where he had gone. There seemed to b_o necessity why any soul ever should know.
  • " 'I was still pondering over the matter, when, looking up, I saw my servant, Lal Chowdar, in the doorway. He stole in and bolted the door behind him. "D_ot fear, sahib," he said; "no one need know that you have killed him. Let u_ide him away, and who is the wiser?" "I did not kill him," said I. La_howdar shook his head and smiled. "I heard it all, sahib," said he; "l hear_ou quarrel, and I heard the blow. But my lips are sealed. All are asleep i_he house. Let us put him away together." That was enough to decide me. If m_wn servant could not believe my innocence, how could I hope to make it goo_efore twelve foolish tradesmen in a jury-box? Lal Chowdar and I disposed o_he body that night, and within a few days the London papers were full of th_ysterious disappearance of Captain Morstan. You will see from what I say tha_ can hardly be blamed in the matter. My fault lies in the fact that w_oncealed not only the body but also the treasure and that I have clung t_orstan's share as well as to my own. I wish you, therefore, to mak_estitution. Put your ears down to my mouth. The treasure is hidden in —'
  • "At this instant a horrible change came over his expression; his eyes stare_ildly, his jaw dropped, and he yelled in a voice which I can never forget,
  • 'Keep him out! For Christ's sake keep him out!' We both stared round at th_indow behind us upon which his gaze was fixed. A face was looking in at u_ut of the darkness. We could see the whitening of the nose where it wa_ressed against the glass. It was a bearded, hairy face, with wild cruel eye_nd an expression of concentrated malevolence. My brother and I rushed toward_he window, but the man was gone. When we returned to my father his head ha_ropped and his pulse had ceased to beat.
  • "We searched the garden that night but found no sign of the intruder save tha_ust under the window a single footmark was visible in the flower-bed. But fo_hat one trace, we might have thought that our imaginations had conjured u_hat wild, fierce face. We soon, however, had another and a more strikin_roof that there were secret agencies at work all round us. The window of m_ather's room was found open in the morning, his cupboards and boxes had bee_ifled, and upon his chest was fixed a torn piece of paper with the words 'Th_ign of the four' scrawled across it. What the phrase meant or who our secre_isitor may have been, we never knew. As far as we can judge, none of m_ather's property had been actually stolen, though everything had been turne_ut. My brother and I naturally associated this peculiar incident with th_ear which haunted my father during his life, but it is still a complet_ystery to us."
  • The little man stopped to relight his hookah and puffed thoughtfully for a fe_oments. We had all sat absorbed, listening to his extraordinary narrative. A_he short account of her father's death Miss Morstan had turned deadly white, and for a moment I feared that she was about to faint. She rallied, however, on drinking a glass of water which I quietly poured out for her from _enetian carafe upon the side-table. Sherlock Holmes leaned back in his chai_ith an abstracted expression and the lids drawn low over his glittering eyes.
  • As I glanced at him I could not but think how on that very day he ha_omplained bitterly of the commonplaceness of life. Here at least was _roblem which would tax his sagacity to the utmost. Mr. Thaddeus Sholto looke_rom one to the other of us with an obvious pride at the effect which hi_tory had produced and then continued between the puffs of his overgrown pipe.
  • "My brother and I," said he, "were, as you may imagine, much excited as to th_reasure which my father had spoken of. For weeks and for months we dug an_elved in every part of the garden without discovering its whereabouts. It wa_addening to think that the hiding-place was on his very lips at the momen_hat he died. We could judge the splendour of the missing riches by th_haplet which he had taken out. Over this chaplet my brother Bartholomew and _ad some little discussion. The pearls were evidently of great value, and h_as averse to part with them, for, between friends, my brother was himself _ittle inclined to my father's fault. He thought, too, that if we parted wit_he chaplet it might give rise to gossip and finally bring us into trouble. I_as all that I could do to persuade him to let me find out Miss Morstan'_ddress and send her a detached pearl at fixed intervals so that at least sh_ight never feel destitute."
  • "It was a kindly thought," said our companion earnestly; "it was extremel_ood of you."
  • The little man waved his hand deprecatingly.
  • "We were your trustees," he said; "that was the view which I took of it, though Brother Bartholomew could not altogether see it in that light. We ha_lenty of money ourselves. I desired no more. Besides, it would have been suc_ad taste to have treated a young lady in so scurvy a fashion. 'Le mauvai_odt mene au crime.' The French have a very neat way of putting these things.
  • Our difference of opinion on this subject went so far that I thought it bes_o set up rooms for myself; so I left Pondicherry Lodge, taking the ol_hitmutgar and Williams with me. Yesterday, however, I learned that an even_f extreme importance has occurred. The treasure has been discovered. _nstantly communicated with Miss Morstan, and it only remains for us to driv_ut to Norwood and demand our share. I explained my views last night t_rother Bartholomew, so we shall be expected, if not welcome, visitors."
  • Mr. Thaddeus Sholto ceased and sat twitching on his luxurious settee. We al_emained silent, with our thoughts upon the new development which th_ysterious business had taken. Holmes was the first to spring to his feet.
  • "You have done well, sir, from first to last," said he. "It is possible tha_e may be able to make you some small return by throwing some light upon tha_hich is still dark to you. But, as Miss Morstan remarked just now, it i_ate, and we had best put the matter through without delay."
  • Our new acquaintance very deliberately coiled up the tube of his hookah an_roduced from behind a curtain a very long befrogged topcoat with astrakha_ollar and cuffs. This he buttoned tightly up in spite of the extrem_loseness of the night and finished his attire by putting on a rabbit-skin ca_ith hanging lappets which covered the ears, so that no part of him wa_isible save his mobile and peaky face.
  • "My health is somewhat fragile," he remarked as he led the way down th_assage. "I am compelled to be a valetudinarian."
  • Our cab was awaiting us outside, and our programme was evidently prearranged, for the driver started off at once at a rapid pace. Thaddeus Sholto talke_ncessantly in a voice which rose high above the rattle of the wheels.
  • "Bartholomew is a clever fellow," said he. "How do you think he found ou_here the treasure was? He had come to the conclusion that it was somewher_ndoors, so he worked out all the cubic space of the house and mad_easurements everywhere so that not one inch should be unaccounted for. Amon_ther things, he found that the height of the building was seventy-four feet, but on adding together the heights of all the separate rooms and making ever_llowance for the space between, which he ascertained by borings, he could no_ring the total to more than seventy feet. There were four feet unaccounte_or. These could only be at the top of the building. He knocked a hole, therefore, in the lath and plaster ceiling of the highest room, and there, sure enough, he came upon another little garret above it, which had bee_ealed up and was known to no one. In the centre stood the treasure-ches_esting upon two rafters. He lowered it through the hole, and there it lies.
  • He computes the value of the jewels at not less than half a million sterling."
  • At the mention of this gigantic sum we all stared at one another open-eyed.
  • Miss Morstan, could we secure her rights, would change from a needy governes_o the richest heiress in England. Surely it was the place of a loyal frien_o rejoice at such news, yet I am ashamed to say that selfishness took me b_he soul and that my heart turned as heavy as lead within me. I stammered ou_ome few halting words of congratulation and then sat downcast, with my hea_rooped, deaf to the babble of our new acquaintance. He was clearly _onfirmed hypochondriac, and I was dreamily conscious that he was pourin_orth interminable trains of symptoms, and imploring information as to th_omposition and action of innumerable quack nostrums, some of which he bor_bout in a leather case in his pocket. I trust that he may not remember any o_he answers which I gave him that night. Holmes declares that he overheard m_aution him against the great danger of taking more than two drops of castor- oil, while I recommended strychnine in large doses as a sedative. However tha_ay be, I was certainly relieved when our cab pulled up with a jerk and th_oachman sprang down to open the door.
  • "This, Miss Morstan, is Pondicherry Lodge," said Mr. Thaddeus Sholto as h_anded her out.