The Yellow Face

Sherlock Holmes was a man who seldom took exercise for exercise’s sake. Few men were capable of greater muscular effort, and he was undoubtedly one of the finest boxers of his weight that I have ever seen; but he looked upon aimless bodily exertion as a waste of energy, and he seldom bestirred himself save where there was some professional object to be served. Then he was absolutely untiring and indefatigable. That he should have kept himself in training under such circumstances is remarkable, but his diet was usually of the sparest, and his habits were simple to the verge of austerity. Save for the occasional use of cocaine he had no vices, and he only turned to the drug as a protest against the monotony of existence when cases were scanty and the papers uninteresting.

One day in early spring he had so far relaxed as to go for a walk with me in the Park, where the first faint shoots of green were breaking out upon the elms, and the sticky spearheads of the chestnuts were just beginning to burst into their five-fold leaves. For two hours we rambled about together, in silence for the most part, as befits two men who know each other intimately. It was nearly five before we were back in Baker Street once more.

‘Beg pardon, sir,’ said our page-boy, as he opened the door; ‘there’s been a gentleman here asking for you, sir.’

Holmes glanced reproachfully at me. ‘So much for afternoon walks!’ said he. ‘Has this gentleman gone, then?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Didn’t you ask him in?’

‘Yes, sir; he came in.’

‘How long did he wait?’

‘Half an hour, sir. He was a very restless gentleman, sir, awalkin’ and a-stampin’ all the time he was here. I was waitin’ outside the door, sir, and I could hear him. At last he goes out into the passage and he cries: “Is that man never goin’ to come?” Those were his very words, sir. “You’ll only need to wait a little longer,” says I. “Then I’ll wait in the open air, for I feel half choked,” says he. “I’ll be back before long,” and with that he ups and he outs, and all I could say wouldn’t hold him back.’

‘Well, well, you did your best,’ said Holmes, as we walked into our room. ‘It’s very annoying though, Watson. I was badly in need of a case, and this looks, from the man’s impatience, as if it were of importance. Halloa! that’s not your pipe on the table! He must have left his behind him. A nice old briar, with a good long stem of what the tobacconists call amber. I wonder how many real amber mouthpieces there are in London. Some people think a fly in it is a sign. Why, it is quite a branch of trade, the putting of sham flies into the sham amber. Well, he must have been disturbed in his mind to leave a pipe behind him which he evidently values highly.’

‘How do you know that he values it highly?’ I asked.

‘Well, I should put the original cost of the pipe at seven-and-sixpence. Now it has, you see, been twice mended: once in the wooden stem and once in the amber. Each of these mends, done, as you observe, with silver bands, must have cost more than the pipe did originally. The man must value the pipe highly when he prefers to patch it up rather than buy a new one with the same money.’

‘Anything else?’ I asked, for Holmes was turning the pipe about in his hand and staring at it in his peculiar pensive way.

He held it up and tapped on it with his long, thin forefinger as a professor might who was lecturing on a bone.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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