English Stories and books

The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (read online)

In the third week of November, in the year 1895, a dense yellow
fog settled down upon London. From the Monday to the Thursday I
doubt whether it was ever possible from our windows in Baker
Street to see the loom of the opposite houses. The first day
Holmes had spent in cross-indexing his huge book of references.
The second and third had been patiently occupied upon a subject
which he hand recently made his hobby–the music of the Middle
Ages. But when, for the fourth time, after pushing back our
chairs from breakfast we saw the greasy, heavy brown swirl still
drifting past us and condensing in oily drops upon the window-
panes, my comrade’s impatient and active nature could endure this
drab existence no longer. He paced restlessly about our sitting-
room in a fever of suppressed energy, biting his nails, tapping
the furniture, and chafing against inaction.

“Nothing of interest in the paper, Watson?” he said.

In was aware that by anything of interest, Holmes meant anything
of criminal interest. There was the news of a revolution, of a
possible war, and of an impending change of government; but these
did not come within the horizon of my companion. I could see
nothing recorded in the shape of crime which was not commonplace
and futile. Holmes groaned and resumed hs restless meanderings.

“The London criminal is certainly a dull fellow,” said he in the
querulous voice of the sportsman whose game has failed him.
“Look out this window, Watson. See how the figures loom up, are
dimly seen, and then blend once more into the cloud-bank. The
thief or the murderer could roam London on such a day as the
tiger does the jungle, unseen until he pounces, and then evident
only to his victim.”

“There have,” said I, “been numerous petty thefts.”

Holmes snorted his contempt.

“This great and sombre stage is set for something more worthy
than that,” said he. “It is fortunate for this community that I
am not a criminal.”

“It is, indeed!” said I heartily.

“Suppose that I were Brooks or Woodhouse, or any of the fifty men
who have good reason for taking my life, how long could I survive
against my own pursuit? A summons, a bogus appointment, and all
would be over. It is well they don’t have days of fog in the
Latin countries–the countries of assassination. By Jove! here
comes something at last to break our dead monotony.”

It was the maid with a telegram. Holmes tore it open and burst
out laughing.

“Well, well! What next?” said he. “Brother Mycroft is coming

“Why not?” I asked.

“Why not? It is as if you met a tram-car coming down a country
lane. Mycroft has his rails and he runs on them. His Pall Mall
lodgings, the Diogenes Club, Whitehall–that is his cycle. Once,
and only once, he has been here. What upheaval can possibly have
derailed him?”

“Does he not explain?”

Holmes handed me his brother’s telegram.

Must see you over Cadogen West. Coming at once.


“Cadogen West? I have heard the name.”

“It recalls nothing to my mind. But that Mycroft should break
out in this erratic fashion! A planet might as well leave its
orbit. By the way, do you know what Mycroft is?”

I had some vague recollection of an explanation at the time of
the Adventure of the Greek Interpreter.

“You told me that he had some small office under the British

Holmes chuckled.

“I did not know you quite so well in those days. One has to be
discreet when one talks of high matters of state. You are right
in thinking that he under the British government. You would also
be right in a sense if you said that occasionally he IS the
British government.”

“My dear Holmes!”

“I thought I might surprise you. Mycroft draws four hundred and
fifty pounds a year, remains a subordinate, has no ambitions of
any kind, will receive neither honour nor title, but remains the
most indispensable man in the country.”

“But how?”

“Well, his position is unique. He has made it for himself.
There has never been anything like it before, nor will be again.
He has the tidiest and most orderly brain, with the greatest
capacity for storing facts, of any man living. The same great
powers which I have turned to the detection of crime he has used
for this particular business. The conclusions of every
department are passed to him, and he is the central exchange, the
clearinghouse, which makes out the balance. All other men are
specialists, but his specialism is omniscience. We will suppose
that a minister needs information as to a point which involves
the Navy, India, Canada and the bimetallic question; he could get
his separate advices from various departments upon each, but only
Mycroft can focus them all, and say offhand how each factor would
affect the other. They began by using him as a short-cut, a
convenience; now he has made himself an essential. In that great
brain of his everything is pigeon-holed and can be handed out in
an instant. Again and again his word has decided the national
policy. He lives in it. He thinks of nothing else save when, as
an intellectual exercise, he unbends if I call upon him and ask
him to advise me on one of my little problems. But Jupiter is
descending to-day. What on earth can it mean? Who is Cadogan
West, and what is he to Mycroft?”

“I have it,” I cried, and plunged among the litter of papers upon
the sofa. “Yes, yes, here he is, sure enough! Cadogen West was
the young man who was found dead on the Underground on Tuesday

Holmes sat up at attention, his pipe halfway to his lips.

“This must be serious, Watson. A death which has caused my
brother to alter his habits can be no ordinary one. What in the
world can he have to do with it? The case was featureless as I
remember it. The young man had apparently fallen out of the
train and killed himself. He had not been robbed, and there was
no particular reason to suspect violence. Is that not so?”

“There has been an inquest,” said I, “and a good many fresh facts
have come out. Looked at more closely, I should certainly say
that it was a curious case.”

“Judging by its effect upon my brother, I should think it must be
a most extraordinary one.” He snuggled down in his armchair.
“Now, Watson, let us have the facts.”

“The man’s name was Arthur Cadogan West. He was twenty-seven
years of age, unmarried, and a clerk at Woolwich Arsenal.”

“Government employ. Behold the link with Brother Mycroft!”

“He left Woolwich suddenly on Monday night. Was last seen by his
fiancee, Miss Violet Westbury, whom he left abruptly in the fog
about 7:30 that evening. There was no quarrel between them and
she can give no motive for his action. The next thing heard of
him was when his dead body was discovered by a plate-layer named
Mason, just outside Aldgate Station on the Underground system in


“The body was found at six on Tuesday morning. It was lying wide
of the metals upon the left hand of the track as one goes
eastward, at a point close to the station, where the line emerges
from the tunnel in which it runs. The head was badly crushed–an
injury which might well have been caused by a fall from the
train. The body could only have come on the line in that way.
Had it been carried down from any neighbouring street, it must
have passed the station barriers, where a collector is always
standing. This point seems absolutely certain.”

“Very good. The case is definite enough. The man, dead or
alive, either fell or was precipitated from a train. So much is
clear to me. Continue.”

“The trains which traverse the lines of rail beside which the
body was found are those which run from west to east, some being
purely Metropolitan, and some from Willesden and outlying
junctions. It can be stated for certain that this young man,
when he met his death, was travelling in this direction at some
late hour of the night, but at what point he entered the train it
is impossible to state.”

“His ticket, of course, would show that.”

“There was no ticket in his pockets.”

“No ticket! Dear me, Watson, this is really very singular.
According to my experience it is not possible to reach the
platform of a Metropolitan train without exhibiting one’s ticket.
Presumably, then, the young man had one. Was it taken from him
in order to conceal the station from which he came? It is
possible. Or did he drop it in the carriage? That is also
possible. But the point is of curious interest. I understand
that there was no sign of robbery?”

“Apparently not. There is a list here of his possessions. His
purse contained two pounds fifteen. He had also a check-book on
the Woolwich branch of the Capital and Counties Bank. Through
this his identity was established. There were also two dress-
circle tickets for the Woolwich Theatre, dated for that very
evening. Also a small packet of technical papers.”

Holmes gave an exclamation of satisfaction.

“There we have it at last, Watson! British government–Woolwich.
Arsenal–technical papers–Brother Mycroft, the chain is
complete. But here he comes, if I am not mistaken, to speak for

A moment later the tall and portly form of Mycroft Holmes was
ushered into the room. Heavily built and massive, there was a
suggestion of uncouth physical inertia in the figure, but above
this unwieldy frame there was perched a head so masterful in its
brow, so alert in its steel-gray, deep-set eyes, so firm in its
lips, and so subtle in its play of expression, that after the
first glance one forgot the gross body and remembered only the
dominant mind.

At his heels came our old friend Lestrade, of Scotland Yard–thin
and austere. The gravity of both their faces foretold some
weighty quest. The detective shook hands without a word.
Mycroft Holmes struggled out of his overcoat and subsided into an

“A most annoying business, Sherlock,” said he. “I extremely
dislike altering my habits, but the powers that be would take no
denial. In the present state of Siam it is most awkward that I
should be away from the office. But it is a real crisis. I have
never seen the Prime Minister so upset. As to the Admiralty–it
is buzzing like an overturned bee-hive. Have you read up the

“We have just done so. What were the technical papers?”

“Ah, there’s the point! Fortunately, it has not come out. The
press would be furious if it did. The papers which this wretched
youth had in his pocket were the plans of the Bruce-Partington

Mycroft Holmes spoke with a solemnity which showed his sense of
the importance of the subject. His brother and I sat expectant.

“Surely you have heard of it? I thought everyone had heard of

“Only as a name.”

“Its importance can hardly be exaggerated. It has been the most
jealously guarded of all government secrets. You may take it
from me that naval warfare becomes impossible withing the radius
of a Bruce-Partington’s operation. Two years ago a very large
sum was smuggled through the Estimates and was expended in
acquiring a monopoly of the invention. Every effort has been
made to keep the secret. The plans, which are exceedingly
intricate, comprising some thirty separate patents, each
essential to the working of the whole, are kept in an elaborate
safe in a confidential office adjoining the arsenal, with
burglar-proof doors and windows. Under no conceivable
circumstances were the plans to be taken from the office. If the
chief constructor of the Navy desired to consult them, even he
was forced to go to the Woolwich office for the purpose. And yet
here we find them in the pocket of a dead junior clerk in the
heart of London. From an official point of view it’s simply

“But you have recovered them?”

“No, Sherlock, no! That’s the pinch. We have not. Ten papers
were taken from Woolwich. There were seven in the pocket of
Cadogan West. The three most essential are gone–stolen,
vanished. You must drop everything, Sherlock. Never mind your
usual petty puzzles of the police-court. It’s a vital
international problem that you have to solve. Why did Cadogan
West take the papers, where are the missing ones, how did he die,
how came his body where it was found, how can the evil be set
right? Find an answer to all these questions, and you will have
done good service for your country.”

“Why do you not solve it yourself, Mycroft? You can see as far
as I.”

“Possibly, Sherlock. But it is a question of getting details.
Give me your details, and from an armchair I will return you an
excellent expert opinion. But to run here and run there, to
cross-question railway guards, and lie on my face with a lens to
my eye–it is not my metier. No, you are the one man who can
clear the matter up. If you have a fancy to see your name in the
next honours list–“

My friend smiled and shook his head.

“I play the game for the game’s own sake,” said he. “But the
problem certainly presents some points of interest, and I shall
be very pleased to look into it. Some more facts, please.”

“I have jotted down the more essential ones upon this sheet of
paper, together with a few addresses which you will find of
service. The actual official guardian of the papers is the
famous government expert, Sir James Walter, whose decorations and
sub-titles fill two lines of a book of reference. He has grown
gray in the service, is a gentleman, a favoured guest in the most
exalted houses, and, above all, a man whose patriotism is beyond
suspicion. He is one of two who have a key of the safe. I may
add that the papers were undoubtedly in the office during working
hours on Monday, and that Sir James left for London about three
o’clock taking his key with him. He was at the house of Admiral
Sinclair at Barclay Square during the whole of the evening when
this incident occurred.”

“Has the fact been verified?”

“Yes; his brother, Colonel Valentine Walter, has testified to his
departure from Woolwich, and Admiral Sinclair to his arrival in
London; so Sir James is no longer a direct factor in the

“Who was the other man with a key?”

“The senior clerk and draughtsman, Mr. Sidney Johnson. He is a
man of forty, married, with five children. He is a silent,
morose man, but he has, on the whole, an excellent record in the
public service. He is unpopular with his colleagues, but a hard
worker. According to his own account, corroborated only by the
word of his wife, he was at home the whole of Monday evening
after office hours, and his key has never left the watch-chain
upon which it hangs.”

“Tell us about Cadogan West.”

“He has been ten years in the service and has done good work. He
has the reputation of being hot-headed and imperious, but a
straight, honest man. We have nothing against him. He was next
Sidney Johnson in the office. His duties brought him into daily,
personal contact with the plans. No one else had the handling of

“Who locked up the plans that night?”

“Mr. Sidney Johnson, the senior clerk.”

“Well, it is surely perfectly clear who took them away. They are
actually found upon the person of this junior clerk, Cadogan
West. That seems final, does it not?”

“It does, Sherlock, and yet it leaves so much unexplained. In
the first place, why did he take them?”

“I presume they were of value?”

“He could have got several thousands for them very easily.”

“Can you suggest any possible motive for taking the papers to
London except to sell them?”

“No, I cannot.”

“Then we must take that as our working hypothesis. Young West
took the papers. Now this could only be done by having a false

“Several false keys. He had to open the building and the room.”

“He had, then, several false keys. He took the papers to London
to sell the secret, intending, no doubt, to have the plans
themselves back in the safe next morning before they were missed.
While in London on this treasonable mission he met his end.”


“We will suppose that he was travelling back to Woolwich when he
was killed and thrown out of the compartment.”

“Aldgate, where the body was found, is considerably past the
station London Bridge, which would be his route to Woolwich.”

“Many circumstances could be imagined under which he would pass
London Bridge. There was someone in the carriage, for example,
with whom he was having an absorbing interview. This interview
led to a violent scene in which he lost his life. Possibly he
tried to leave the carriage, fell out on the line, and so met his
end. The other closed the door. There was a thick fog, and
nothing could be seen.”

“No better explanation can be given with our present knowledge;
and yet consider, Sherlock, how much you leave untouched. We
will suppose, for argument’s sake, that young Cadogan West HAD
determined to convey these papers to London. He would naturally
have made an appointment with the foreign agent and kept his
evening clear. Instead of that he took two tickets for the
theatre, escorted his fiancee halfway there, and then suddenly

“A blind,” said Lestrade, who had sat listening with some
impatience to the conversation.

“A very singular one. That is objection No. 1. Objection No. 2:
We will suppose that he reaches London and sees the foreign
agent. He must bring back the papers before morning or the loss
will be discovered. He took away ten. Only seven were in his
pocket. What had become of the other three? He certainly would
not leave them of his own free will. Then, again, where is the
price of his treason? Once would have expected to find a large
sum of money in his pocket.”

“It seems to me perfectly clear,” said Lestrade. “I have no
doubt at all as to what occurred. He took the papers to sell
them. He saw the agent. They could not agree as to price. He
started home again, but the agent went with him. In the train
the agent murdered him, took the more essential papers, and threw
his body from the carriage. That would account for everything,
would it not?”

“Why had he no ticket?”

“The ticket would have shown which station was nearest the
agent’s house. Therefore he took it from the murdered man’s

“Good, Lestrade, very good,” said Holmes. “Your theory holds
together. But if this is true, then the case is at an end. On
the one hand, the traitor is dead. On the other, the plans of
the Bruce-Partington submarine are presumably already on the
Continent. What is there for us to do?”

“To act, Sherlock–to act!” cried Mycroft, springing to his feet.
“All my instincts are against this explanation. Use your powers!
Go to the scene of the crime! See the people concerned! Leave
no stone unturned! In all your career you have never had so
great a chance of serving your country.”

“Well, well!” said Holmes, shrugging his shoulders. “Come,
Watson! And you, Lestrade, could you favour us with your company
for an hour or two? We will begin our investigation by a visit
to Aldgate Station. Good-bye, Mycroft. I shall let you have a
report before evening, but I warn you in advance that you have
little to expect.”

An hour later Holmes, Lestrade and I stood upon the Underground
railroad at the point where it emerges from the tunnel
immediately before Aldgate Station. A courteous red-faced old
gentleman represented the railway company.

“This is where the young man’s body lay,” said he, indicating a
spot about three feet from the metals. “It could not have fallen
from above, for these, as you see, are all blank walls.
Therefore, it could only have come from a train, and that train,
so far as we can trace it, must have passed about midnight on

“Have the carriages been examined for any sign of violence?”

“There are no such signs, and no ticket has been found.”

“No record of a door being found open?”


“We have had some fresh evidence this morning,” said Lestrade.
“A passenger who passed Aldgate in an ordinary Metropolitan train
about 11:40 on Monday night declares that he heard a heavy thud,
as of a body striking the line, just before the train reached the
station. There was dense fog, however, and nothing could be
seen. He made no report of it at the time. Why, whatever is the
matter with Mr. Holmes?”

My friend was standing with an expression of strained intensity
upon his face, staring at the railway metals where they curved
out of the tunnel. Aldgate is a junction, and there was a
network of points. On these his eager, questioning eyes were
fixed, and I saw on his keen, alert face that tightening of the
lips, that quiver of the nostrils, and concentration of the
heavy, tufted brows which I knew so well.

“Points,” he muttered; “the points.”

“What of it? What do you mean?”

“I suppose there are no great number of points on a system such
as this?”

“No; they are very few.”

“And a curve, too. Points, and a curve. By Jove! if it were
only so.”

“What is it, Mr. Holmes? Have you a clue?”

“An idea–an indication, no more. But the case certainly grows
in interest. Unique, perfectly unique, and yet why not? I do
not see any indications of bleeding on the line.”

“There were hardly any.”

“But I understand that there was a considerable wound.”

“The bone was crushed, but there was no great external injury.”

“And yet one would have expected some bleeding. Would it be
possible for me to inspect the train which contained the
passenger who heard the thud of a fall in the fog?”

“I fear not, Mr. Holmes. The train has been broken up before
now, and the carriages redistributed.”

“I can assure you, Mr. Holmes,” said Lestrade, “that every
carriage has been carefully examined. I saw to it myself.”

It was one of my friend’s most obvious weaknesses that he was
impatient with less alert intelligences than his own.

“Very likely,” said he, turning away. “As it happens, it was not
the carriages which I desired to examine. Watson, we have done
all we can here. We need not trouble you any further, Mr.
Lestrade. I think our investigations must now carry us to

At London Bridge, Holmes wrote a telegram to his brother, which
he handed to me before dispatching it. It ran thus:

See some light in the darkness, but it may possibly flicker out.
Meanwhile, please send by messenger, to await return at Baker
Street, a complete list of all foreign spies or international
agents known to be in England, with full address.


“That should be helpful, Watson,” he remarked as we took our
seats in the Woolwich train. “We certainly owe Brother Mycroft a
debt for having introduced us to what promises to be a really
very remarkable case.”

His eager face still wore that expression of intense and high-
strung energy, which showed me that some novel and suggestive
circumstance had opened up a stimulating line of thought. See
the foxhound with hanging ears and drooping tail as it lolls
about the kennels, and compare it with the same hound as, with
gleaming eyes and straining muscles, it runs upon a breast-high
scent–such was the change in Holmes since the morning. He was a
different man from the limp and lounging figure in the mouse-
coloured dressing-gown who had prowled so restlessly only a few
hours before round the fog-girt room.

“There is material here. There is scope,” said he. “I am dull
indeed not to have understood its possibilities.”

“Even now they are dark to me.”

“The end is dark to me also, but I have hold of one idea which
may lead us far. The man met his death elsewhere, and his body
was on the ROOF of a carriage.”

“On the roof!”

“Remarkable, is it not? But consider the facts. Is it a
coincidence that it is found at the very point where the train
pitches and sways as it comes round on the points? Is not that
the place where an object upon the roof might be expected to fall
off? The points would affect no object inside the train. Either
the body fell from the roof, or a very curious coincidence has
occurred. But now consider the question of the blood. Of
course, there was no bleeding on the line if the body had bled
elsewhere. Each fact is suggestive in itself. Together they
have a cumulative force.”

“And the ticket, too!” I cried.

“Exactly. We could not explain the absence of a ticket. This
would explain it. Everything fits together.”

“But suppose it were so, we are still as far as ever from
unravelling the mystery of his death. Indeed, it becomes not
simpler but stranger.”

“Perhaps,” said Holmes, thoughtfully, “perhaps.” He relapsed
into a silent reverie, which lasted until the slow train drew up
at last in Woolwich Station. There he called a cab and drew
Mycroft’s paper from his pocket.

“We have quite a little round of afternoon calls to make,” said
he. “I think that Sir James Walter claims our first attention.”

The house of the famous official was a fine villa with green
lawns stretching down to the Thames. As we reached it the fog
was lifting, and a thin, watery sunshine was breaking through. A
butler answered our ring.

“Sir James, sir!” said he with solemn face. “Sir James died this

“Good heavens!” cried Holmes in amazement. “How did he die?”

“Perhaps you would care to step in, sir, and see his brother,
Colonel Valentine?”

“Yes, we had best do so.”

We were ushered into a dim-lit drawing-room, where an instant
later we were joined by a very tall, handsome, light-beared man
of fifty, the younger brother of the dead scientist. His wild
eyes, stained cheeks, and unkempt hair all spoke of the sudden
blow which had fallen upon the household. He was hardly
articulate as he spoke of it.

“It was this horrible scandal,” said he. “My brother, Sir James,
was a man of very sensitive honour, and he could not survive such
an affair. It broke his heart. He was always so proud of the
efficiency of his department, and this was a crushing blow.”

“We had hoped that he might have given us some indications which
would have helped us to clear the matter up.”

“I assure you that it was all a mystery to him as it is to you
and to all of us. He had already put all his knowledge at the
disposal of the police. Naturally he had no doubt that Cadogan
West was guilty. But all the rest was inconceivable.”

“You cannot throw any new light upon the affair?”

“I know nothing myself save what I have read or heard. I have no
desire to be discourteous, but you can understand, Mr. Holmes,
that we are much disturbed at present, and I must ask you to
hasten this interview to an end.”

“This is indeed an unexpected development,” said my friend when
we had regained the cab. “I wonder if the death was natural, or
whether the poor old fellow killed himself! If the latter, may
it be taken as some sign of self-reproach for duty neglected? We
must leave that question to the future. Now we shall turn to the
Cadogan Wests.”

A small but well-kept house in the outskirts of the town
sheltered the bereaved mother. The old lady was too dazed with
grief to be of any use to us, but at her side was a white-faced
young lady, who introduced herself as Miss Violet Westbury, the
fiancee of the dead man, and the last to see him upon that fatal

“I cannot explain it, Mr. Holmes,” she said. “I have not shut an
eye since the tragedy, thinking, thinking, thinking, night and
day, what the true meaning of it can be. Arthur was the most
single-minded, chivalrous, patriotic man upon earth. He would
have cut his right hand off before he would sell a State secret
confided to his keeping. It is absurd, impossible, preposterous
to anyone who knew him.”

“But the facts, Miss Westbury?”

“Yes, yes; I admit I cannot explain them.”

“Was he in any want of money?”

“No; his needs were very simple and his salary ample. He had
saved a few hundreds, and we were to marry at the New Year.”

“No signs of any mental excitement? Come, Miss Westbury, be
absolutely frank with us.”

The quick eye of my companion had noted some change in her
manner. She coloured and hesitated.

“Yes,” she said at last, “I had a feeling that there was
something on his mind.”

“For long?”

“Only for the last week or so. He was thoughtful and worried.
Once I pressed him about it. He admitted that there was
something, and that it was concerned with his official life. ‘It
is too serious for me to speak about, even to you,’ said he. I
could get nothing more.”

Holmes looked grave.

“Go on, Miss Westbury. Even if it seems to tell against him, go
on. We cannot say what it may lead to.”

“Indeed, I have nothing more to tell. Once or twice it seemed to
me that he was on the point of telling me something. He spoke
one evening of the importance of the secret, and I have some
recollection that he said that no doubt foreign spies would pay a
great deal to have it.”

My friend’s face grew graver still.

“Anything else?”

“He said that we were slack about such matters–that it would be
easy for a traitor to get the plans.”

“Was it only recently that he made such remarks?”

“Yes, quite recently.”

“Now tell us of that last evening.”

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