SHERLOCK HOLMES was in a melancholy and philosophic mood that morning. His alert practical nature was subject to such reactions.

“Did you see him?” he asked.

“You mean the old fellow who has just gone out?”


“Yes, I met him at the door.”

“What did you think of him?”

“A pathetic, futile, broken creature.”

“Exactly, Watson. Pathetic and futile. But is not all life pathetic and futile? Is not his story a microcosm of the whole? We reach. We grasp. And what is left in our hands at the end? A shadow. Or worse than a shadow - misery.”

“Is he one of your clients?”

“Well, I suppose I may call him so. He has been sent on by the Yard. Just as medical men occasionally send their incurables to a quack. They argue that they can do nothing more, and that whatever happens the patient can be no worse than he is.”

“What is the matter?”

Holmes took a rather soiled card from the table. “Josiah Amberley. He says he was junior partner of Brickfall and Amberley, who are manufacturers of artistic materials. You will see their names upon paint-boxes. He made his little pile, retired from business at the age of sixty-one, bought a house at Lewisham, and settled down to rest after a life of ceaseless grind. One would think his future was tolerably assured.”

“Yes, indeed.”

Holmes glanced over some notes which he had scribbled upon the back of an envelope.

“Retired in 1896, Watson. Early in 1897 he married a woman twenty years younger than himself - a good-looking woman, too, if the photograph does not flatter. A competence, a wife, leisure - it seemed a straight road which lay before him. And yet within two years he is, as you have seen, as broken and miserable a creature as crawls beneath the sun.”

“But what has happened?”

“The old story, Watson. A treacherous friend and a fickle wife. It would appear that Amberley has one hobby in life, and it is chess. Not far from him at Lewisham there lives a young doctor who is also a chess-player. I have noted his name as Dr. Ray Ernest. Ernest was frequently in the house, and an intimacy between him and Mrs. Amberley was a natural sequence, for you must admit that our unfortunate client has few outward graces, whatever his inner virtues may be. The couple went off together last week - destination untraced. What is more, the faithless spouse carried off the old man’s deed-box as her personal luggage with a good part of his life’s savings within. Can we find the lady? Can we save the money? A commonplace problem so far as it has developed, and yet a vital one for Josiah Amberley.”

“What will you do about it?”

“Well, the immediate question, my dear Watson, happens to be, What will you do? - if you will be good enough to understudy me. You know that I am preoccupied with this case of the two Coptic Patriarchs, which should come to a head to-day. I really have not time to go out to Lewisham, and yet evidence taken on the spot has a special value. The old fellow was quite insistent that I should go, but I explained my difficulty. He is prepared to meet a representative.”

“By all means,” I answered. “I confess I don’t see that I can be of much service, but I am willing to do my best.” And so it was that on a summer afternoon I set forth to Lewisham, little dreaming that within a week the affair in which I was engaging would be the eager debate of all England.