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                                SHERLOCK HOLMES

                       THE ADVENTURE OF THE SECOND STAIN

                           by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


  I had intended "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange" to be the last of

those exploits of my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, which I should

ever communicate to the public. This resolution of mine was not due to

any lack of material, since I have notes of many hundreds of cases

to which I have never alluded, nor was it caused by any waning

interest on the part of my readers in the singular personality and

unique methods of this remarkable man. The real reason lay in the

reluctance which Mr. Holmes has shown to the continued publication

of his experiences. So long as he was in actual professional

practice the records of his successes were of some practical value

to him, but since he has definitely retired from London and betaken

himself to study and bee-farming on the Sussex Downs, notoriety has

become hateful to him, and he has peremptorily requested that his

wishes in this matter should be strictly observed. It was only upon my

representing to him that I had given a promise that "The Adventure

of the Second Stain" should be published when the times were ripe, and

pointing out to him that it is only appropriate that this long

series of episodes should culminate in the most important

international case which he has ever been called upon to handle,

that I at last succeeded in obtaining his consent that a carefully

guarded account of the incident should at last be laid before the

public. If in telling the story I seem to be somewhat vague in certain

details, the public will readily understand that there is an excellent

reason for my reticence.

  It was, then, in a year, and even in a decade, that shall be

nameless, that upon one Tuesday morning in autumn we found two

visitors of European fame within the walls of our humble room in Baker

Street. The one, austere, high-nosed, eagle-eyed, and dominant, was

none other than the illustrious Lord Bellinger, twice Premier of

Britain. The other, dark, clear-cut, and elegant, hardly yet of middle

age, and endowed with every beauty of body and of mind, was the

Right Honourable Trelawney Hope, Secretary for European Affairs, and

the most rising statesman in the country. They sat side by side upon

our paper-littered settee, and it was easy to see from their worn

and anxious faces that it was business of the most pressing importance

which had brought them. The Premier's thin, blue-veined hands were

clasped tightly over the ivory head of his umbrella, and his gaunt,

ascetic face looked gloomily from Holmes to me. The European Secretary

pulled nervously at his moustache and fidgeted with the seals of his


  "When I discovered my loss, Mr. Holmes, which was at eight o'clock

this morning, I at once informed the Prime Minister. It was at his

suggestion that we have both come to you."

  "Have you informed the police?"

  "No, sir," said the Prime Minister, with the quick, decisive

manner for which he was famous. "We have not done so, nor is it

possible that we should do so. To inform the police must, in the

long run, mean to inform the public. This is what we particularly

desire to avoid."

  "And why, sir?"

 "Because the document in question is of such immense importance

that its publication might very easily- I might almost say probably-

lead to European complications of the utmost moment. It is not too

much to say that peace or war may hang upon the issue. Unless its

recovery can be attended with the utmost secrecy, then it may as

well not be recovered at all, for all that is aimed at by those who

have taken it is that its contents should be generally known."

  "I understand. Now, Mr. Trelawney Hope, I should be much obliged

if you would tell me exactly the circumstances under which this

document disappeared."

 "That can be done in a very few words, Mr. Holmes. The letter- for it

was a letter from a foreign potentate- was received six days ago. It

was of such importance that I have never left it in my safe, but

have taken it across each evening to my house in Whitehall Terrace,

and kept it in my bedroom in a locked despatch-box. It was there

last night. Of that I am certain. I actually opened the box while I

was dressing for dinner and saw the document inside. This morning it

was gone. The despatch-box had stood beside the glass upon my

dressing-table all night. I am a light sleeper, and so is my wife.

We are both prepared to swear that no one could have entered the

room during the night. And yet I repeat that the paper is gone."

  "What time did you dine?"

  "Half-past seven."

  "How long was it before you went to bed?"

  "My wife had gone to the theatre. I waited up for her. It was

half-past eleven before we went to our room."

  "Then for four hours the despatch-box had lain unguarded?"

  "No one is ever permitted to enter that room save the house-maid

in the morning, and my valet, or my wife's maid, during the rest of

the day. They are both trusty servants who have been with us for

some time. Besides, neither of them could possibly have known that

there was anything more valuable than the ordinary departmental papers

in my despatch-box."

  "Who did know of the existence of that letter?"

  "No one in the house."

  "Surely your wife knew?'

  "No, sir. I had said nothing to my wife until I missed the paper

this morning."

  The Premier nodded approvingly.

  "I have long known, sir, how high is your sense of public duty,"

said he. "I am convinced that in the case of a secret of this

importance it would rise superior to the most intimate domestic ties.

  The European Secretary bowed.

  "You do me no more than justice, sir. Until this morning I have

never breathed one word to my wife upon this matter."

  "Could she have guessed?"

  "No, Mr. Holmes, she could not have guessed- nor could anyone have


  "Have you lost any documents before?"

  "No, sir."

  "Who is there in England who did know of the existence of this


  "Each member of the Cabinet was informed of it yesterday, but the

pledge of secrecy which attends every Cabinet meeting was increased by

the solemn warning which was given by the Prime Minister. Good

heavens, to think that within a few hours I should myself have lost

it!" His handsome face was distorted with a spasm of despair, and

his hands tore at his hair. For a moment we caught a glimpse of the

natural man, impulsive, ardent, keenly sensitive. The next the

aristocratic mask was replaced, and the gentle voice had returned.

"Besides the members of the Cabinet there are two, or possibly

three, departmental officials who know of the letter. No one else in

England, Mr. Holmes, I assure you."

  "But abroad?"

  "I believe that no one abroad has seen it save the man who wrote it.

I am well convinced that his Ministers- that the usual official

channels have not been employed."

  Holmes considered for some little time.

  "Now, sir, I must ask you more particularly what this document is,

and why its disappearance should have such momentous consequences?"

  The two statesmen exchanged a quick glance and the Premier's

shaggy eyebrows gathered in a frown.

  "Mr. Holmes, the envelope is a long, thin one of pale blue colour.

There is a seal of red wax stamped with a crouching lion. It is

addressed in large, bold handwriting to-"

  "I fear, sir," said Holmes, "that, interesting and indeed

essential as these details are, my inquiries must go more to the

root of things. What was the letter?"

  "That is a State secret of the utmost importance, and I fear that

I cannot tell you, nor do I see that it is necessary. If by the aid of

the powers which you are said to possess you can find such an envelope

as I describe with its enclosure, you will have deserved well of

your country, and earned any reward which it lies in our power to


  Sherlock Holmes rose with a smile.

  "You are two of the most busy men in the country," said he, "and

in my own small way I have also a good many calls upon me. I regret

exceedingly that I cannot help you in this matter, and any

continuation of this interview would be a waste of time."

  The Premier sprang to his feet with that quick, fierce gleam of

his deep-set eyes before which a Cabinet has cowered. "I am not

accustomed, sir," he began, but mastered his anger and resumed his

seat. For a minute or more we all sat in silence. Then the old

statesman shrugged his shoulders.

  "We must accept your terms, Mr. Holmes. No doubt you are right,

and it is unreasonable for us to expect you to act unless we give

you our entire confidence."

  "I agree with you," said the younger statesman.

  "Then I will tell you, relying entirely upon your honour and that of

your colleague, Dr. Watson. I may appeal to your patriotism also,

for I could not imagine a greater misfortune for the country than that

this affair should come out."

  "You may safely trust us."

  "The letter, then, is from a certain foreign potentate who bas

been ruffled by some recent Colonial developments of this country.

It has been written hurriedly and upon his own responsibility

entirely. Inquiries have shown that his Ministers know nothing of

the matter. At the same time it is couched in so unfortunate a manner,

and certain phrases in it are of so provocative a character, that

its publication would undoubtedly lead to a most dangerous state of...
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