The Adventure of the Cardboard Box By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

There was a cab passing as we came out, and Holmes hailed it.

“How far to Wallington?” he asked.

“Only about a mile, sir.”

“Very good.  Jump in, Watson.  We must strike while the iron is

hot.  Simple as the case is, there have been one or two very

instructive details in connection with it.  Just pull up at a

telegraph office as you pass, cabby.”

Holmes sent off a short wire and for the rest of the drive lay

back in the cab, with his hat tilted over his nose to keep the

sun from his face. Our drive pulled up at a house which was not

unlike the one which we had just quitted.  My companion ordered

him to wait, and had his hand upon the knocker, when the door

opened and a grave young gentleman in black, with a very shiny

hat, appeared on the step.

“Is Miss Cushing at home?” asked Holmes.

“Miss Sarah Cushing is extremely ill,” said he.  “She has been

suffering since yesterday from brain symptoms of great severity.

As her medical adviser, I cannot possibly take the responsibility

of allowing anyone to see her.  I should recommend you to call

again in ten days.”  He drew on his gloves, closed the door, and

marched off down the street.

“Well, if we can’t we can’t,” said Holmes, cheerfully.

“Perhaps she could not or would not have told you much.”

“I did not wish her to tell me anything.  I only wanted to look

at her.  However, I think that I have got all that I want.  Drive

us to some decent hotel, cabby, where we may have some lunch, and

afterwards we shall drop down upon friend Lestrade at the police-

station.”

We had a pleasant little meal together, during which Holmes would

talk about nothing but violins, narrating with great exultation

how he had purchased his own Stradivarius, which was worth at

least five hundred guineas, at a Jew broker’s in Tottenham Court

Road for fifty-five shillings.  This led him to Paganini, and we

sat for an hour over a bottle of claret while he told me anecdote

after anecdote of that extraordinary man.  The afternoon was far

advanced and the hot glare had softened into a mellow glow before

we found ourselves at the police-station.  Lestrade was waiting

for us at the door.

“A telegram for you, Mr. Holmes,” said he.

“Ha!  It is the answer!”  He tore it open, glanced his eyes over

it, and crumpled it into his pocket.  “That’s all right,” said

he.

“Have you found out anything?”

“I have found out everything!”

“What!” Lestrade stared at him in amazement.  “You are joking.”

“I was never more serious in my life.  A shocking crime has been

committed, and I think I have now laid bare every detail of it.”

“And the criminal?”

Holmes scribbled a few words upon the back of one of his visiting

cards and threw it over to Lestrade.

“That is the name,” he said.  “You cannot effect an arrest until

to-morrow night at the earliest.  I should prefer that you do not

mention my name at all in connection with the case, as I choose

to be only associated with those crimes which present some

difficulty in their solution.  Come on, Watson.”  We strode off

together to the station, leaving Lestrade still staring with a

delighted face at the card which Holmes had thrown him.

“The case,” said Sherlock Holmes as we chatted over or cigars

that night in our rooms at Baker Street, “is one where, as in the

investigations which you have chronicled under the names of ‘A

Study in Scarlet’ and of ‘The Sign of Four,’ we have been

compelled to reason backward from effects to causes.  I have

written to Lestrade asking him to supply us with the details

which are now wanting, and which he will only get after he had

secured his man.  That he may be safely trusted to do, for

although he is absolutely devoid of reason, he is as tenacious as

a bulldog when he once understands what he has to do, and indeed,

it is just this tenacity which has brought him to the top at

Scotland Yard.”

“Your case is not complete, then?” I asked.

“It is fairly complete in essentials.  We know who the author of

the revolting business is, although one of the victims still

escapes us.  Of course, you have formed your own conclusions.”

“I presume that this Jim Browner, the steward of a Liverpool

boat, is the man whom you suspect?”

“Oh! it is more than a suspicion.”

“And yet I cannot see anything save very vague indications.”

“On the contrary, to my mind nothing could be more clear.  Let me

run over the principal steps.  We approached the case, you

remember, with an absolutely blank mind, which is always an

advantage.  We had formed no theories.  We were simply there to

observe and to draw inferences from our observations.  What did

we see first?  A very placid and respectable lady, who seemed

quite innocent of any secret, and a portrait which showed me that

she had two younger sisters.  It instantly flashed across my mind

that the box might have been meant for one of these.  I set the

idea aside as one which could be disproved or confirmed at our

leisure.  Then we went to the garden, as you remember, and we saw

the very singular contents of the little yellow box.

“The string was of the quality which is used by sail-makers

aboard ship, and at once a whiff of the sea was perceptible in

our investigation.  When I observed that the knot was one which

is popular with sailors, that the parcel had been posted at a

port, and that the male ear was pierced for an earring which is

so much more common among sailors than landsmen, I was quite

certain that all the actors in the tragedy were to be found among

our seafaring classes.

“When I came to examine the address of the packet I observed that

it was to Miss S. Cushing.  Now, the oldest sister would, of

course, be Miss Cushing, and although her initial was ‘S’ it

might belong to one of the others as well.  In that case we

should have to commence our investigation from a fresh basis

altogether.  I therefore went into the house with the intention

of clearing up this point.  I was about to assure Miss Cushing

that I was convinced that a mistake had been made when you may

remember that I came suddenly to a stop.  The fact was that I had

just seen something which filled me with surprise and at the same

time narrowed the field of our inquiry immensely.

“As a medical man, you are aware, Watson, that there is no part

of the body which varies so much as the human ear.  Each ear is

as a rule quite distinctive and differs from all other ones.  In

last year’s Anthropological Journal you will find two short

monographs from my pen upon the subject.  I had, therefore,

examined the ears in the box with the eyes of an expert and had

carefully noted their anatomical peculiarities.  Imagine my

surprise, then, when on looking at Miss Cushing I perceived that

her ear corresponded exactly with the female ear which I had just

inspected.  The matter was entirely beyond coincidence.  There

was the same shortening of the pinna, the same broad curve of the

upper lobe, the same convolution of the inner cartilage.  In all

essentials it was the same ear.

“In the first place, her sister’s name was Sarah, and her address

had until recently been the same, so that it was quite obvious

how the mistake had occurred and for whom the packet was meant.

Then we heard of this steward, married to the third sister, and

learned that he had at one time been so intimate with Miss Sarah

that she had actually gone up to Liverpool to be near the

Browners, but a quarrel had afterwards divided them.  This

quarrel had put a stop to all communications for some months, so

that if Browner had occasion to address a packet to Miss Sarah,

he would undoubtedly have done so to her old address.

“And now the matter had begun to straighten itself out

wonderfully.  We had learned of the existence of this steward, an

impulsive man, of strong passions–you remember that he threw up

what must have been a very superior berth in order to be nearer

to his wife–subject, too, to occasional fits of hard drinking.

We had reason to believe that his wife had been murdered, and

that a man–presumably a seafaring man–had been murdered at the

same time.  Jealousy, of course, at once suggests itself as the

motive for the crime.  And why should these proofs of the deed be

sent to Miss Sarah Cushing?  Probably because during her

residence in Liverpool she had some hand in bringing about the

events which led to the tragedy.  You will observe that this line

of boats call at Belfast, Dublin, and Waterford; so that,

presuming that Browner had committed the deed and had embarked at

once upon his steamer, the May Day, Belfast would be the first

place at which he could post his terrible packet.

“A second solution was at this stage obviously possible, and

although I thought it exceedingly unlikely, I was determined to

elucidate it before going further.  An unsuccessful lover might

have killed Mr. and Mrs. Browner, and the male ear might have

belonged to the husband.  There were many grave objections to

this theory, but it was conceivable.  I therefore sent off a

telegram to my friend Algar, of the Liverpool force, and asked

him to find out if Mrs. Browner were at home, and if Browner had

departed in the May Day.  Then we went on to Wallington to visit

Miss Sarah.

“I was curious, in the first place, to see how far the family ear

had been reproduced in her.  Then, of course, she might give us

very important information, but I was not sanguine that she

would.  She must have heard of the business the day before, since

all Croydon was ringing with it, and she alone could have

understood for whom the packet was meant.  If she had been

willing to help justice she would probably have communicated with

the police already.  However, it was clearly our duty to see her,

so we went.  We found that the news of the arrival of the packet–

for her illness dated from that time–had such an effect upon

her as to bring on brain fever.  It was clearer than ever that

she understood its full significance, but equally clear that we

should have to wait some time for any assistance from her.

“However, we were really independent of her help.  Our answers

were waiting for us at the police-station, where I had directed

Algar to send them.  Nothing could be more conclusive.  Mrs.

Browner’s house had been closed for more than three days, and the

neighbours were of opinion that she had gone south to see her

relatives.  It had been ascertained at the shipping offices that

Browner had left aboard of the May Day, and I calculate that she

is due in the Thames tomorrow night.  When he arrives he will be

met by the obtuse but resolute Lestrade, and I have no doubt that

we shall have all our details filled in.”

Sherlock Holmes was not disappointed in his expectations.  Two

days later he received a bulky envelope, which contained a short

note from the detective, and a typewritten document, which

covered several pages of foolscap.

“Lestrade has got him all right,” said Holmes, glancing up at me.

“Perhaps it would interest you to hear what he says.

“My dear Mr. Holmes:

In accordance with the scheme which we had formed in order to

test our theories” [“the ‘we’ is rather fine, Watson, is it

not?”] “I went down to the Albert Dock yesterday at 6 p.m., and

boarded the S.S. May Day, belonging to the Liverpool, Dublin, and

London Steam Packet Company.  On inquiry, I found that there was

a steward on board of the name of James Browner and that he had

acted during the voyage in such an extraordinary manner that the

captain had been compelled to relieve him of his duties.  On

descending to his berth, I found him seated upon a chest with his

head sunk upon his hands, rocking himself to and fro.  He is a

big, powerful chap, clean-shaven, and very swarthy–something

like Aldrige, who helped us in the bogus laundry affair.  He

jumped up when he heard my business, and I had my whistle to my

lips to call a couple of river police, who were round the corner,

but he seemed to have no heart in him, and he held out his hands

quietly enough for the darbies.  We brought him along to the

cells, and his box as well, for we thought there might be

something incriminating; but, bar a big sharp knife such as most

sailors have, we got nothing for our trouble.  However, we find

that we shall want no more evidence, for on being brought before

the inspector at the station he asked leave to make a statement,

which was, of course, taken down, just as he made it, by our

shorthand man.  We had three copies typewritten, one of which I

enclose.  The affair proves, as I always thought it would, to be

an extremely simple one, but I am obliged to you for assisting me

in my investigation.  With kind regards,

“Yours very truly,

“G. Lestrade.

“Hum!  The investigation really was a very simple one,” remarked

Holmes, “but I don’t think it struck him in that light when he

first called us in.  However, let us see what Jim Browner has to

say for himself.  This is his statement as made before Inspector

Montgomery at the Shadwell Police Station, and it has the

advantage of being verbatim.”

“‘Have I anything to say?  Yes, I have a deal to say.  I have to

make a clean breast of it all.  You can hang me, or you can leave

me alone.  I don’t care a plug which you do.  I tell you I’ve not

shut an eye in sleep since I did it, and I don’t believe I ever

will again until I get past all waking.  Sometimes it’s his face,

but most generally it’s hers.  I’m never without one or the other

before me.  He looks frowning and black-like, but she has a kind

o’ surprise upon her face.  Ay, the white lamb, she might well be

surprised when she read death on a face that had seldom looked

anything but love upon her before.

“‘But it was Sarah’s fault, and may the curse of a broken man put

a blight on her and set the blood rotting in her veins!  It’s not

that I want to clear myself.  I know that I went back to drink,

like the beast that I was.  But she would have forgiven me; she

would have stuck as close to me a rope to a block if that woman

had never darkened our door.  For Sarah Cushing loved me–that’s

the root of the business–she loved me until all her love turned

to poisonous hate when she knew that I thought more of my wife’s

footmark in the mud than I did of her whole body and soul.

“‘There were three sisters altogether.  The old one was just a

good woman, the second was a devil, and the third was an angel.

Sarah was thirty-three, and Mary was twenty-nine when I married.

We were just as happy as the day was long when we set up house

together, and in all Liverpool there was no better woman than my

Mary.  And then we asked Sarah up for a week, and the week grew

into a month, and one thing led to another, until she was just

one of ourselves.

“‘I was blue ribbon at that time, and we were putting a little

money by, and all was as bright as a new dollar.  My God, whoever

would have thought that it could have come to this?  Whoever would

have dreamed it?

“‘I used to be home for the week-ends very often, and sometimes

if the ship were held back for cargo I would have a whole week at

a time, and in this way I saw a deal of my sister-in-law, Sarah.

She was a fine tall woman, black and quick and fierce, with a

proud way of carrying her head, and a glint from her eye like a

spark from a flint. But when little Mary was there I had never a

thought of her, and that I swear as I hope for God’s mercy.

“‘It had seemed to me sometimes that she liked to be alone with

me, or to coax me out for a walk with her, but I had never

thought anything of that.  But one evening my eyes were opened.

I had come up from the ship and found my wife out, but Sarah at

home.  “Where’s Mary?” I asked.  “Oh, she has gone to pay some

accounts.”  I was impatient and paced up and down the room.

“Can’t you be happy for five minutes without Mary, Jim?” says

she.  “It’s a bad compliment to me that you can’t be contented

with my society for so short a time.”  “That’s all right, my

lass,” said I, putting out my hand towards her in a kindly way,

but she had it in both hers in an instant, and they burned as if

they were in a fever.  I looked into her eyes and I read it all

there.  There was no need for her to speak, nor for me either.  I

frowned and drew my hand away.  Then she stood by my side in

silence for a bit, and then put up her hand and patted me on the

shoulder.  “Steady old Jim!” said she, and with a kind o’ mocking

laugh, she ran out of the room.

“‘Well, from that time Sarah hated me with her whole heart and

soul, and she is a woman who can hate, too. I was a fool to let

her go on biding with us–a besotted fool–but I never said a

word to Mary, for I knew it would grieve her.  Things went on

much as before, but after a time I began to find that there was a

bit of a change in Mary herself.  She had always been so trusting

and so innocent, but now she became queer and suspicious, wanting

to know where I had been and what I had been doing, and whom my

letters were from, and what I had in my pockets, and a thousand

such follies.  Day by day she grew queerer and more irritable,

and we had ceaseless rows about nothing.  I was fairly puzzled by

it all.  Sarah avoided me now, but she and Mary were just

inseparable.  I can see now how she was plotting and scheming and

poisoning my wife’s mind against me, but I was such a blind

beetle that I could not understand it at the time.  Then I broke

my blue ribbon and began to drink again, but I think I should not

have done it if Mary had been the same as ever. She had some

reason to be disgusted with me now, and the gap between us began

to be wider and wider.  And then this Alec Fairbairn chipped in,

and things became a thousand times blacker.

“‘It was to see Sarah that he came to my house first, but soon it

was to see us, for he was a man with winning ways, and he made

friends wherever he went.  He was a dashing, swaggering chap,

smart and curled, who had seen half the world and could talk of

what he had seen.  He was good company, I won’t deny it, and he

had wonderful polite ways with him for a sailor man, so that I

think there must have been a time when he knew more of the poop

than the forecastle.  For a month he was in and out of my house,

and never once did it cross my mind that harm might come of his

soft, tricky ways.  And then at last something made me suspect,

and from that day my peace was gone forever.

“‘It was only a little thing, too.  I had come into the parlour

unexpected, and as I walked in at the door I saw a light of

welcome on my wife’s face.  But as she saw who it was it faded

again, and she turned away with a look of disappointment.  That

was enough for me.  There was no one but Alec Fairbairn whose

step she could have mistaken for mine.  If I could have seen him

then I should have killed him, for I have always been like a

madman when my temper gets loose.  Mary saw the devil’s light in

my eyes, and she ran forward with her hands on my sleeve.

“Don’t, Jim, don’t!” says she.  “Where’s Sarah?” I asked.  “In

the kitchen,” says she.  “Sarah,” says I as I went in, “this man

Fairbairn is never to darken my door again.”  “Why not?” says

she.  “Because I order it.”  “Oh!” says she, “if my friends are

not good enough for this house, then I am not good enough for it

either.”  “You can do what you like,” says I, “but if Fairbairn

shows his face here again I’ll send you one of his ears for a

keepsake.”  She was frightened by my face, I think, for she never

answered a word, and the same evening she left my house.

“‘Well, I don’t know now whether it was pure devilry on the part

of this woman, or whether she thought that she could turn me

against my wife by encouraging her to misbehave.  Anyway, she

took a house just two streets off and let lodgings to sailors.

Fairbairn used to stay there, and Mary would go round to have tea

with her sister and him.  How often she went I don’t know, but I

followed her one day, and as I broke in at the door Fairbairn got

away over the back garden wall, like the cowardly skunk that he

was.  I swore to my wife that I would kill her if I found her in

his company again, and I led her back with me, sobbing and

trembling, and as white as a piece of paper.  There was no trace

of love between us any longer.  I could see that she hated me and

feared me, and when the thought of it drove me to drink, then she

despised me as well.

“‘Well, Sarah found that she could not make a living in

Liverpool, so she went back, as I understand, to live with her

sister in Croydon, and things jogged on much the same as ever at

home.  And then came this week and all the misery and ruin.

“‘It was in this way.  We had gone on the May Day for a round

voyage of seven days, but a hogshead got loose and started one of

our plates, so that we had to put back into port for twelve

hours.  I left the ship and came home, thinking what a surprise

it would be for my wife, and hoping that maybe she would be glad

to see me so soon.  The thought was in my head as I turned into

my own street, and at that moment a cab passed me, and there she

was, sitting by the side of Fairbairn, the two chatting and

laughing, with never a thought for me as I stood watching them

from the footpath.

“‘I tell you, and I give you my word for it, that from that

moment I was not my own master, and it is all like a dim dream

when I look back on it.  I had been drinking hard of late, and

the two things together fairly turned my brain.  There’s

something throbbing in my head now, like a docker’s hammer, but

that morning I seemed to have all Niagara whizzing and buzzing in

my ears.

“‘Well, I took to my heels, and I ran after the cab.  I had a

heavy oak stick in my hand, and I tell you I saw red from the

first; but as I ran I got cunning, too, and hung back a little to

see them without being seen.  They pulled up soon at the railway

station.  There was a good crowd round the booking-office, so I

got quite close to them without being seen.  They took tickets

for New Brighton.  So did I, but I got in three carriages behind

them.  When we reached it they walked along the Parade, and I was

never more than a hundred yards from them.  At last I saw them

hire a boat and start for a row, for it was a very hot day, and

they thought, no doubt, that it would be cooler on the water.

“‘It was just as if they had been given into my hands.  There was

a bit of a haze, and you could not see more than a few hundred

yards.  I hired a boat for myself, and I pulled after them.  I

could see the blur of their craft, but they were going nearly as

fast as I, and they must have been a long mile from the shore

before I caught them up.  The haze was like a curtain all round

us, and there were we three in the middle of it.  My God, shall I

ever forget their faces when they saw who was in the boat that

was closing in upon them?  She screamed out.  He swore like a

madman and jabbed at me with an oar, for he must have seen death

in my eyes.  I got past it and got one in with my stick that

crushed his head like an egg.  I would have spared her, perhaps,

for all my madness, but she threw her arms round him, crying out

to him, and calling him “Alec.”  I struck again, and she lay

stretched beside him.  I was like a wild beast then that had

tasted blood.  If Sarah had been there, by the Lord, she should

have joined them.  I pulled out my knife, and–well, there! I’ve

said enough.  It gave me a kind of savage joy when I thought how

Sarah would feel when she had such signs as these of what her

meddling had brought about.  Then I tied the bodies into the

boat, stove a plank, and stood by until they had sunk.  I knew

very well that the owner would think that they had lost their

bearings in the haze, and had drifted off out to sea.  I cleaned

myself up, got back to land, and joined my ship without a soul

having a suspicion of what had passed.  That night I made up the

packet for Sarah Cushing, and next day I sent it from Belfast.

“‘There you have the whole truth of it.  You can hang me, or do

what you like with me, but you cannot punish me as I have been

punished already.  I cannot shut my eyes but I see those two

faces staring at me–staring at me as they stared when my boat

broke through the haze.  I killed them quick, but they are

killing me slow; and if I have another night of it I shall be

either mad or dead before morning.  You won’t put me alone into a

cell, sir?  For pity’s sake don’t, and may you be treated in your

day of agony as you treat me now.’

“What is the meaning of it, Watson?” said Holmes solemnly as he

laid down the paper.  “What object is served by this circle of

misery and violence and fear?  It must tend to some end, or else

our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable.  But what

end?  There is the great standing perennial problem to which

human reason is as far from an answer as ever.”

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