The Adventure of the Six Napoleans

“You can see for yourself that anyone going out through that open window could reach the front doorstep by taking a long stride. This was clearly what the burglar had done, so I went round and opened the door. Stepping out into the dark, I nearly fell over a dead man, who was lying there. I ran back for a light and there was the poor fellow, a great gash in his throat and the whole place swimming in blood. He lay on his back, his knees drawn up, and his mouth horribly open. I shall see him in my dreams. I had just time to blow on my police-whistle, and then I must have fainted, for I knew nothing more until I found the policeman standing over me in the hall.”

“Well, who was the murdered man?” asked Holmes.

“There’s nothing to show who he was,” said Lestrade. “You shall see the body at the mortuary, but we have made nothing of it up to now. He is a tall man, sunburned, very powerful, not more than thirty. He is poorly dressed, and yet does not appear to be a labourer. A horn-handled clasp knife was lying in a pool of blood beside him. Whether it was the weapon which did the deed, or whether it belonged to the dead man, I do not know. There was no name on his clothing, and nothing in his pockets save an apple, some string, a shilling map of London, and a photograph. Here it is.”

It was evidently taken by a snapshot from a small camera. It represented an alert, sharp-featured simian man, with thick eyebrows and a very peculiar projection of the lower part of the face, like the muzzle of a baboon.

“And what became of the bust?” asked Holmes, after a careful study of this picture.

“We had news of it just before you came. It has been found in the front garden of an empty house in Campden House Road. It was broken into fragments. I am going round now to see it. Will you come?”

“Certainly. I must just take one look round.” He examined the carpet and the window. “The fellow had either very long legs or was a most active man,” said he. “With an area beneath, it was no mean feat to reach that window ledge and open that window. Getting back was comparatively simple. Are you coming with us to see the remains of your bust, Mr. Harker?”

The disconsolate journalist had seated himself at a writing-table.

“I must try and make something of it,” said he, “though I have no doubt that the first editions of the evening papers are out already with full details. It’s like my luck! You remember when the stand fell at Doncaster? Well, I was the only journalist in the stand, and my journal the only one that had no account of it, for I was too shaken to write it. And now I’ll be too late with a murder done on my own doorstep.”

As we left the room, we heard his pen travelling shrilly over the foolscap.

The spot where the fragments of the bust had been found was only a few hundred yards away. For the first time our eyes rested upon this presentment of the great emperor, which seemed to raise such frantic and destructive hatred in the mind of the unknown. It lay scattered, in splintered shards, upon the grass. Holmes picked up several of them and examined them carefully. I was convinced, from his intent face and his purposeful manner, that at last he was upon a clue.

“Well?” asked Lestrade.

Holmes shrugged his shoulders.

“We have a long way to go yet,” said he. “And yet—and yet—well, we have some suggestive facts to act upon. The possession of this trifling bust was worth more, in the eyes of this strange criminal, than a human life. That is one point. Then there is the singular fact that he did not break it in the house, or immediately outside the house, if to break it was his sole object.”

“He was rattled and bustled by meeting this other fellow. He hardly knew what he was doing.”

“Well, that’s likely enough. But I wish to call your attention very particularly to the position of this house, in the garden of which the bust was destroyed.”

Lestrade looked about him.

“It was an empty house, and so he knew that he would not be disturbed in the garden.”

“Yes, but there is another empty house farther up the street which he must have passed before he came to this one. Why did he not break it there, since it is evident that every yard that he carried it increased the risk of someone meeting him?”

“I give it up,” said Lestrade.

Holmes pointed to the street lamp above our heads.

“He could see what he was doing here, and he could not there. That was his reason.”

“By Jove! that’s true,” said the detective. “Now that I come to think of it, Dr. Barnicot’s bust was broken not far from his red lamp. Well, Mr. Holmes, what are we to do with that fact?”

“To remember it—to docket it. We may come on something later which will bear upon it. What steps do you propose to take now, Lestrade?”

“The most practical way of getting at it, in my opinion, is to identify the dead man. There should be no difficulty about that. When we have found who he is and who his associates are, we should have a good start in learning what he was doing in Pitt Street last night, and who it was who met him and killed him on the doorstep of Mr. Horace Harker. Don’t you think so?”

“No doubt; and yet it is not quite the way in which I should approach the case.”

“What would you do then?”

“Oh, you must not let me influence you in any way. I suggest that you go on your line and I on mine. We can compare notes afterwards, and each will supplement the other.”

“Very good,” said Lestrade.

“If you are going back to Pitt Street, you might see Mr. Horace Harker. Tell him for me that I have quite made up my mind, and that it is certain that a dangerous homicidal lunatic, with Napoleonic delusions, was in his house last night. It will be useful for his article.”

Lestrade stared.

“You don’t seriously believe that?”

Holmes smiled.

“Don’t I? Well, perhaps I don’t. But I am sure that it will interest Mr. Horace Harker and the subscribers of the Central Press Syndicate. Now, Watson, I think that we shall find that we have a long and rather complex day’s work before us. I should be glad, Lestrade, if you could make it convenient to meet us at Baker Street at six o’clock this evening. Until then I should like to keep this photograph, found in the dead man’s pocket. It is possible that I may have to ask your company and assistance upon a small expedition which will have be undertaken to-night, if my chain of reasoning should prove to be correct. Until then good-bye and good luck!”

Sherlock Holmes and I walked together to the High Street, where we stopped at the shop of Harding Brothers, whence the bust had been purchased. A young assistant informed us that Mr. Harding would be absent until afternoon, and that he was himself a newcomer, who could give us no information. Holmes’s face showed his disappointment and annoyance.

“Well, well, we can’t expect to have it all our own way, Watson,” he said, at last. “We must come back in the afternoon, if Mr. Harding will not be here until then. I am, as you have no doubt surmised, endeavouring to trace these busts to their source, in order to find if there is not something peculiar which may account for their remarkable fate. Let us make for Mr. Morse Hudson, of the Kennington Road, and see if he can throw any light upon the problem.”

A drive of an hour brought us to the picture-dealer’s establishment. He was a small, stout man with a red face and a peppery manner.

“Yes, sir. On my very counter, sir,” said he. “What we pay rates and taxes for I don’t know, when any ruffian can come in and break one’s goods. Yes, sir, it was I who sold Dr. Barnicot his two statues. Disgraceful, sir! A Nihilist plot—that’s what I make it. No one but an anarchist would go about breaking statues. Red republicans—that’s what I call ’em. Who did I get the statues from? I don’t see what that has to do with it. Well, if you really want to know, I got them from Gelder & Co., in Church Street, Stepney. They are a well-known house in the trade, and have been this twenty years. How many had I? Three—two and one are three—two of Dr. Barnicot’s, and one smashed in broad daylight on my own counter. Do I know that photograph? No, I don’t. Yes, I do, though. Why, it’s Beppo. He was a kind of Italian piece-work man, who made himself useful in the shop. He could carve a bit, and gild and frame, and do odd jobs. The fellow left me last week, and I’ve heard nothing of him since. No, I don’t know where he came from nor where he went to. I had nothing against him while he was here. He was gone two days before the bust was smashed.”

“Well, that’s all we could reasonably expect from Morse Hudson,” said Holmes, as we emerged from the shop. “We have this Beppo as a common factor, both in Kennington and in Kensington, so that is worth a ten-mile drive. Now, Watson, let us make for Gelder & Co., of Stepney, the source and origin of the busts. I shall be surprised if we don’t get some help down there.”

In rapid succession we passed through the fringe of fashionable London, hotel London, theatrical London, literary London, commercial London, and, finally, maritime London, till we came to a riverside city of a hundred thousand souls, where the tenement houses swelter and reek with the outcasts of Europe. Here, in a broad thoroughfare, once the abode of wealthy City merchants, we found the sculpture works for which we searched. Outside was a considerable yard full of monumental masonry. Inside was a large room in which fifty workers were carving or moulding. The manager, a big blond German, received us civilly and gave a clear answer to all Holmes’s questions. A reference to his books showed that hundreds of casts had been taken from a marble copy of Devine’s head of Napoleon, but that the three which had been sent to Morse Hudson a year or so before had been half of a batch of six, the other three being sent to Harding Brothers, of Kensington. There was no reason why those six should be different from any of the other casts. He could suggest no possible cause why anyone should wish to destroy them—in fact, he laughed at the idea. Their wholesale price was six shillings, but the retailer would get twelve or more. The cast was taken in two moulds from each side of the face, and then these two profiles of plaster of Paris were joined together to make the complete bust. The work was usually done by Italians, in the room we were in. When finished, the busts were put on a table in the passage to dry, and afterwards stored. That was all he could tell us.

But the production of the photograph had a remarkable effect upon the manager. His face flushed with anger, and his brows knotted over his blue Teutonic eyes.

“Ah, the rascal!” he cried. “Yes, indeed, I know him very well. This has always been a respectable establishment, and the only time that we have ever had the police in it was over this very fellow. It was more than a year ago now. He knifed another Italian in the street, and then he came to the works with the police on his heels, and he was taken here. Beppo was his name—his second name I never knew. Serve me right for engaging a man with such a face. But he was a good workman—one of the best.”

“What did he get?”

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