I had been delayed at a case, and it was a little after half-past
six when I found myself in Baker Street once more. As I
approached the house I saw a tall man in a Scotch bonnet with a
coat which was buttoned up to his chin waiting outside in the
bright semicircle which was thrown from the fanlight. Just as I
arrived the door was opened, and we were shown up together to
“Mr. Henry Baker, I believe,” said he, rising from his armchair
and greeting his visitor with the easy air of geniality which he
could so readily assume. “Pray take this chair by the fire, Mr.
Baker. It is a cold night, and I observe that your circulation is
more adapted for summer than for winter. Ah, Watson, you have
just come at the right time. Is that your hat, Mr. Baker?”
“Yes, sir, that is undoubtedly my hat.”
He was a large man with rounded shoulders, a massive head, and a
broad, intelligent face, sloping down to a pointed beard of
grizzled brown. A touch of red in nose and cheeks, with a slight
tremor of his extended hand, recalled Holmes’ surmise as to his
habits. His rusty black frock-coat was buttoned right up in
front, with the collar turned up, and his lank wrists protruded
from his sleeves without a sign of cuff or shirt. He spoke in a
slow staccato fashion, choosing his words with care, and gave the
impression generally of a man of learning and letters who had had
ill-usage at the hands of fortune.
“We have retained these things for some days,” said Holmes,
“because we expected to see an advertisement from you giving your
address. I am at a loss to know now why you did not advertise.”
Our visitor gave a rather shamefaced laugh. “Shillings have not
been so plentiful with me as they once were,” he remarked. “I had
no doubt that the gang of roughs who assaulted me had carried off
both my hat and the bird. I did not care to spend more money in a
hopeless attempt at recovering them.”
“Very naturally. By the way, about the bird, we were compelled to
“To eat it!” Our visitor half rose from his chair in his
“Yes, it would have been of no use to anyone had we not done so.
But I presume that this other goose upon the sideboard, which is
about the same weight and perfectly fresh, will answer your
purpose equally well?”
“Oh, certainly, certainly,” answered Mr. Baker with a sigh of
“Of course, we still have the feathers, legs, crop, and so on of
your own bird, so if you wish—”
The man burst into a hearty laugh. “They might be useful to me as
relics of my adventure,” said he, “but beyond that I can hardly
see what use the disjecta membra of my late acquaintance are
going to be to me. No, sir, I think that, with your permission, I
will confine my attentions to the excellent bird which I perceive
upon the sideboard.”
Sherlock Holmes glanced sharply across at me with a slight shrug
of his shoulders.
“There is your hat, then, and there your bird,” said he. “By the
way, would it bore you to tell me where you got the other one
from? I am somewhat of a fowl fancier, and I have seldom seen a
better grown goose.”
“Certainly, sir,” said Baker, who had risen and tucked his newly
gained property under his arm. “There are a few of us who
frequent the Alpha Inn, near the Museum—we are to be found in
the Museum itself during the day, you understand. This year our
good host, Windigate by name, instituted a goose club, by which,
on consideration of some few pence every week, we were each to
receive a bird at Christmas. My pence were duly paid, and the
rest is familiar to you. I am much indebted to you, sir, for a
Scotch bonnet is fitted neither to my years nor my gravity.” With
a comical pomposity of manner he bowed solemnly to both of us and
strode off upon his way.
“So much for Mr. Henry Baker,” said Holmes when he had closed the
door behind him. “It is quite certain that he knows nothing
whatever about the matter. Are you hungry, Watson?”
“Then I suggest that we turn our dinner into a supper and follow
up this clue while it is still hot.”
“By all means.”
It was a bitter night, so we drew on our ulsters and wrapped
cravats about our throats. Outside, the stars were shining coldly
in a cloudless sky, and the breath of the passers-by blew out
into smoke like so many pistol shots. Our footfalls rang out
crisply and loudly as we swung through the doctors’ quarter,
Wimpole Street, Harley Street, and so through Wigmore Street into
Oxford Street. In a quarter of an hour we were in Bloomsbury at
the Alpha Inn, which is a small public-house at the corner of one
of the streets which runs down into Holborn. Holmes pushed open
the door of the private bar and ordered two glasses of beer from
the ruddy-faced, white-aproned landlord.
“Your beer should be excellent if it is as good as your geese,”
“My geese!” The man seemed surprised.
“Yes. I was speaking only half an hour ago to Mr. Henry Baker,
who was a member of your goose club.”
“Ah! yes, I see. But you see, sir, them’s not our geese.”
“Indeed! Whose, then?”
“Well, I got the two dozen from a salesman in Covent Garden.”
“Indeed? I know some of them. Which was it?”
“Breckinridge is his name.”
“Ah! I don’t know him. Well, here’s your good health landlord,
and prosperity to your house. Good-night.”
“Now for Mr. Breckinridge,” he continued, buttoning up his coat
as we came out into the frosty air. “Remember, Watson that though
we have so homely a thing as a goose at one end of this chain, we
have at the other a man who will certainly get seven years’ penal
servitude unless we can establish his innocence. It is possible
that our inquiry may but confirm his guilt; but, in any case, we
have a line of investigation which has been missed by the police,
and which a singular chance has placed in our hands. Let us
follow it out to the bitter end. Faces to the south, then, and
We passed across Holborn, down Endell Street, and so through a
zigzag of slums to Covent Garden Market. One of the largest
stalls bore the name of Breckinridge upon it, and the proprietor
a horsey-looking man, with a sharp face and trim side-whiskers was
helping a boy to put up the shutters.
“Good-evening. It’s a cold night,” said Holmes.
The salesman nodded and shot a questioning glance at my
“Sold out of geese, I see,” continued Holmes, pointing at the
bare slabs of marble.
“Let you have five hundred to-morrow morning.”
“That’s no good.”
“Well, there are some on the stall with the gas-flare.”
“Ah, but I was recommended to you.”
“The landlord of the Alpha.”
“Oh, yes; I sent him a couple of dozen.”
“Fine birds they were, too. Now where did you get them from?”
To my surprise the question provoked a burst of anger from the
“Now, then, mister,” said he, with his head cocked and his arms
akimbo, “what are you driving at? Let’s have it straight, now.”
“It is straight enough. I should like to know who sold you the
geese which you supplied to the Alpha.”
“Well then, I shan’t tell you. So now!”
“Oh, it is a matter of no importance; but I don’t know why you
should be so warm over such a trifle.”
“Warm! You’d be as warm, maybe, if you were as pestered as I am.
When I pay good money for a good article there should be an end
of the business; but it’s ‘Where are the geese?’ and ‘Who did you
sell the geese to?’ and ‘What will you take for the geese?’ One
would think they were the only geese in the world, to hear the
fuss that is made over them.”
“Well, I have no connection with any other people who have been
making inquiries,” said Holmes carelessly. “If you won’t tell us
the bet is off, that is all. But I’m always ready to back my
opinion on a matter of fowls, and I have a fiver on it that the
bird I ate is country bred.”
“Well, then, you’ve lost your fiver, for it’s town bred,” snapped
“It’s nothing of the kind.”
“I say it is.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“D’you think you know more about fowls than I, who have handled
them ever since I was a nipper? I tell you, all those birds that
went to the Alpha were town bred.”
“You’ll never persuade me to believe that.”
“Will you bet, then?”
“It’s merely taking your money, for I know that I am right. But
I’ll have a sovereign on with you, just to teach you not to be
The salesman chuckled grimly. “Bring me the books, Bill,” said
The small boy brought round a small thin volume and a great
greasy-backed one, laying them out together beneath the hanging
“Now then, Mr. Cocksure,” said the salesman, “I thought that I
was out of geese, but before I finish you’ll find that there is
still one left in my shop. You see this little book?”
“That’s the list of the folk from whom I buy. D’you see? Well,
then, here on this page are the country folk, and the numbers
after their names are where their accounts are in the big ledger.
Now, then! You see this other page in red ink? Well, that is a
list of my town suppliers. Now, look at that third name. Just
read it out to me.”
“Mrs. Oakshott, 117, Brixton Road—249,” read Holmes.
“Quite so. Now turn that up in the ledger.”
Holmes turned to the page indicated. “Here you are, ‘Mrs.
Oakshott, 117, Brixton Road, egg and poultry supplier.’ ”
“Now, then, what’s the last entry?”
“ ‘December 22nd. Twenty-four geese at 7s. 6d.’ ”
“Quite so. There you are. And underneath?”
“ ‘Sold to Mr. Windigate of the Alpha, at 12s.’ ”
“What have you to say now?”
Sherlock Holmes looked deeply chagrined. He drew a sovereign from
his pocket and threw it down upon the slab, turning away with the
air of a man whose disgust is too deep for words. A few yards off
he stopped under a lamp-post and laughed in the hearty, noiseless
fashion which was peculiar to him.
“When you see a man with whiskers of that cut and the ‘Pink ’un’
protruding out of his pocket, you can always draw him by a bet,”
said he. “I daresay that if I had put �100 down in front of
him, that man would not have given me such complete information
as was drawn from him by the idea that he was doing me on a
wager. Well, Watson, we are, I fancy, nearing the end of our
quest, and the only point which remains to be determined is
whether we should go on to this Mrs. Oakshott to-night, or
whether we should reserve it for to-morrow. It is clear from what
that surly fellow said that there are others besides ourselves
who are anxious about the matter, and I should—”
His remarks were suddenly cut short by a loud hubbub which broke
out from the stall which we had just left. Turning round we saw a
little rat-faced fellow standing in the centre of the circle of
yellow light which was thrown by the swinging lamp, while
Breckinridge, the salesman, framed in the door of his stall, was
shaking his fists fiercely at the cringing figure.
“I’ve had enough of you and your geese,” he shouted. “I wish you
were all at the devil together. If you come pestering me any more
with your silly talk I’ll set the dog at you. You bring Mrs.
Oakshott here and I’ll answer her, but what have you to do with
it? Did I buy the geese off you?”
“No; but one of them was mine all the same,” whined the little
“Well, then, ask Mrs. Oakshott for it.”
“She told me to ask you.”
“Well, you can ask the King of Proosia, for all I care. I’ve had
enough of it. Get out of this!” He rushed fiercely forward, and
the inquirer flitted away into the darkness.
“Ha! this may save us a visit to Brixton Road,” whispered Holmes.
“Come with me, and we will see what is to be made of this
fellow.” Striding through the scattered knots of people who
lounged round the flaring stalls, my companion speedily overtook
the little man and touched him upon the shoulder. He sprang
round, and I could see in the gas-light that every vestige of
colour had been driven from his face.
“Who are you, then? What do you want?” he asked in a quavering
“You will excuse me,” said Holmes blandly, “but I could not help
overhearing the questions which you put to the salesman just now.
I think that I could be of assistance to you.”
“You? Who are you? How could you know anything of the matter?”
“My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other
people don’t know.”
“But you can know nothing of this?”
“Excuse me, I know everything of it. You are endeavouring to
trace some geese which were sold by Mrs. Oakshott, of Brixton
Road, to a salesman named Breckinridge, by him in turn to Mr.
Windigate, of the Alpha, and by him to his club, of which Mr.
Henry Baker is a member.”
“Oh, sir, you are the very man whom I have longed to meet,” cried
the little fellow with outstretched hands and quivering fingers.
“I can hardly explain to you how interested I am in this matter.”
Sherlock Holmes hailed a four-wheeler which was passing. “In that
case we had better discuss it in a cosy room rather than in this
wind-swept market-place,” said he. “But pray tell me, before we
go farther, who it is that I have the pleasure of assisting.”
The man hesitated for an instant. “My name is John Robinson,” he
answered with a sidelong glance.
“No, no; the real name,” said Holmes sweetly. “It is always
awkward doing business with an alias.”
A flush sprang to the white cheeks of the stranger. “Well then,”
said he, “my real name is James Ryder.”
“Precisely so. Head attendant at the Hotel Cosmopolitan. Pray
step into the cab, and I shall soon be able to tell you
everything which you would wish to know.”
The little man stood glancing from one to the other of us with
half-frightened, half-hopeful eyes, as one who is not sure
whether he is on the verge of a windfall or of a catastrophe.
Then he stepped into the cab, and in half an hour we were back in
the sitting-room at Baker Street. Nothing had been said during
our drive, but the high, thin breathing of our new companion, and
the claspings and unclaspings of his hands, spoke of the nervous
tension within him.
“Here we are!” said Holmes cheerily as we filed into the room.
“The fire looks very seasonable in this weather. You look cold,
Mr. Ryder. Pray take the basket-chair. I will just put on my
slippers before we settle this little matter of yours. Now, then!
You want to know what became of those geese?”
“Or rather, I fancy, of that goose. It was one bird, I imagine in
which you were interested—white, with a black bar across the
Ryder quivered with emotion. “Oh, sir,” he cried, “can you tell
me where it went to?”
“It came here.”
“Yes, and a most remarkable bird it proved. I don’t wonder that
you should take an interest in it. It laid an egg after it was
dead—the bonniest, brightest little blue egg that ever was seen.
I have it here in my museum.”
Our visitor staggered to his feet and clutched the mantelpiece
with his right hand. Holmes unlocked his strong-box and held up
the blue carbuncle, which shone out like a star, with a cold,
brilliant, many-pointed radiance. Ryder stood glaring with a
drawn face, uncertain whether to claim or to disown it.
“The game’s up, Ryder,” said Holmes quietly. “Hold up, man, or
you’ll be into the fire! Give him an arm back into his chair,
Watson. He’s not got blood enough to go in for felony with
impunity. Give him a dash of brandy. So! Now he looks a little
more human. What a shrimp it is, to be sure!”
For a moment he had staggered and nearly fallen, but the brandy
brought a tinge of colour into his cheeks, and he sat staring
with frightened eyes at his accuser.
“I have almost every link in my hands, and all the proofs which I
could possibly need, so there is little which you need tell me.
Still, that little may as well be cleared up to make the case
complete. You had heard, Ryder, of this blue stone of the
Countess of Morcar’s?”
“It was Catherine Cusack who told me of it,” said he in a
“I see—her ladyship’s waiting-maid. Well, the temptation of
sudden wealth so easily acquired was too much for you, as it has
been for better men before you; but you were not very scrupulous
in the means you used. It seems to me, Ryder, that there is the
making of a very pretty villain in you. You knew that this man
Horner, the plumber, had been concerned in some such matter
before, and that suspicion would rest the more readily upon him.
What did you do, then? You made some small job in my lady’s
room—you and your confederate Cusack—and you managed that he
should be the man sent for. Then, when he had left, you rifled
the jewel-case, raised the alarm, and had this unfortunate man
arrested. You then—”
Ryder threw himself down suddenly upon the rug and clutched at my
companion’s knees. “For God’s sake, have mercy!” he shrieked.
“Think of my father! Of my mother! It would break their hearts. I
never went wrong before! I never will again. I swear it. I’ll
swear it on a Bible. Oh, don’t bring it into court! For Christ’s
“Get back into your chair!” said Holmes sternly. “It is very well
to cringe and crawl now, but you thought little enough of this
poor Horner in the dock for a crime of which he knew nothing.”
“I will fly, Mr. Holmes. I will leave the country, sir. Then the
charge against him will break down.”
“Hum! We will talk about that. And now let us hear a true account
of the next act. How came the stone into the goose, and how came
the goose into the open market? Tell us the truth, for there lies
your only hope of safety.”
Ryder passed his tongue over his parched lips. “I will tell you
it just as it happened, sir,” said he. “When Horner had been
arrested, it seemed to me that it would be best for me to get
away with the stone at once, for I did not know at what moment
the police might not take it into their heads to search me and my
room. There was no place about the hotel where it would be safe.
I went out, as if on some commission, and I made for my sister’s
house. She had married a man named Oakshott, and lived in Brixton
Road, where she fattened fowls for the market. All the way there
every man I met seemed to me to be a policeman or a detective;
and, for all that it was a cold night, the sweat was pouring down
my face before I came to the Brixton Road. My sister asked me
what was the matter, and why I was so pale; but I told her that I
had been upset by the jewel robbery at the hotel. Then I went
into the back yard and smoked a pipe and wondered what it would
be best to do.
“I had a friend once called Maudsley, who went to the bad, and
has just been serving his time in Pentonville. One day he had met
me, and fell into talk about the ways of thieves, and how they
could get rid of what they stole. I knew that he would be true to
me, for I knew one or two things about him; so I made up my mind
to go right on to Kilburn, where he lived, and take him into my
confidence. He would show me how to turn the stone into money.
But how to get to him in safety? I thought of the agonies I had
gone through in coming from the hotel. I might at any moment be
seized and searched, and there would be the stone in my waistcoat
pocket. I was leaning against the wall at the time and looking at
the geese which were waddling about round my feet, and suddenly
an idea came into my head which showed me how I could beat the
best detective that ever lived.
“My sister had told me some weeks before that I might have the
pick of her geese for a Christmas present, and I knew that she
was always as good as her word. I would take my goose now, and in
it I would carry my stone to Kilburn. There was a little shed in
the yard, and behind this I drove one of the birds—a fine big
one, white, with a barred tail. I caught it, and prying its bill
open, I thrust the stone down its throat as far as my finger
could reach. The bird gave a gulp, and I felt the stone pass
along its gullet and down into its crop. But the creature flapped
and struggled, and out came my sister to know what was the
matter. As I turned to speak to her the brute broke loose and
fluttered off among the others.
“ ‘Whatever were you doing with that bird, Jem?’ says she.
“ ‘Well,’ said I, ‘you said you’d give me one for Christmas, and I
was feeling which was the fattest.’
“ ‘Oh,’ says she, ‘we’ve set yours aside for you—Jem’s bird, we
call it. It’s the big white one over yonder. There’s twenty-six
of them, which makes one for you, and one for us, and two dozen
for the market.’
“ ‘Thank you, Maggie,’ says I; ‘but if it is all the same to you,
I’d rather have that one I was handling just now.’
“ ‘The other is a good three pound heavier,’ said she, ‘and we
fattened it expressly for you.’
“ ‘Never mind. I’ll have the other, and I’ll take it now,’ said I.
“ ‘Oh, just as you like,’ said she, a little huffed. ‘Which is it
you want, then?’
“ ‘That white one with the barred tail, right in the middle of the
“ ‘Oh, very well. Kill it and take it with you.’
“Well, I did what she said, Mr. Holmes, and I carried the bird
all the way to Kilburn. I told my pal what I had done, for he was
a man that it was easy to tell a thing like that to. He laughed
until he choked, and we got a knife and opened the goose. My
heart turned to water, for there was no sign of the stone, and I
knew that some terrible mistake had occurred. I left the bird,
rushed back to my sister’s, and hurried into the back yard. There
was not a bird to be seen there.
“ ‘Where are they all, Maggie?’ I cried.
“ ‘Gone to the dealer’s, Jem.’
“ ‘Which dealer’s?’
“ ‘Breckinridge, of Covent Garden.’
“ ‘But was there another with a barred tail?’ I asked, ‘the same
as the one I chose?’
“ ‘Yes, Jem; there were two barred-tailed ones, and I could never
tell them apart.’
“Well, then, of course I saw it all, and I ran off as hard as my
feet would carry me to this man Breckinridge; but he had sold the
lot at once, and not one word would he tell me as to where they
had gone. You heard him yourselves to-night. Well, he has always
answered me like that. My sister thinks that I am going mad.
Sometimes I think that I am myself. And now—and now I am myself
a branded thief, without ever having touched the wealth for which
I sold my character. God help me! God help me!” He burst into
convulsive sobbing, with his face buried in his hands.
There was a long silence, broken only by his heavy breathing and
by the measured tapping of Sherlock Holmes’ finger-tips upon the
edge of the table. Then my friend rose and threw open the door.
“Get out!” said he.
“What, sir! Oh, Heaven bless you!”
“No more words. Get out!”
And no more words were needed. There was a rush, a clatter upon
the stairs, the bang of a door, and the crisp rattle of running
footfalls from the street.
“After all, Watson,” said Holmes, reaching up his hand for his
clay pipe, “I am not retained by the police to supply their
deficiencies. If Horner were in danger it would be another thing;
but this fellow will not appear against him, and the case must
collapse. I suppose that I am commuting a felony, but it is just
possible that I am saving a soul. This fellow will not go wrong
again; he is too terribly frightened. Send him to gaol now, and
you make him a gaol-bird for life. Besides, it is the season of
forgiveness. Chance has put in our way a most singular and
whimsical problem, and its solution is its own reward. If you
will have the goodness to touch the bell, Doctor, we will begin
another investigation, in which, also a bird will be the chief