A Case of Identity
'My dear fellow,' said Sherlock Holmes as we sat by the fire in his house at Baker Street, 'real life is infinitely stranger than anything we could invent. We would not dare invent things, which are commonplace things of life. If we could go out of that window, fly over this great city, gently remove the roofs of houses and look at the peculiar things that are happening, the strange coincidences, the plans, and the wonderful chains of events, we would discover things much more interesting than in books.'
'But I do not believe it,' I answered. 'The stories in the newspapers are never very interesting. In fact, they are always very boring.'
'That is because,' said Holmes, 'newspapers always repeat the official reports of magistrates and police reports. You can be certain that there is nothing as unnatural and strange as the commonplace.'
'I know,' I replied, 'that your cases are always very interesting, but let us look at today's newspaper.'
I picked up the newspaper and began to read an article. It was about a husband who was cruel to his wife.
'I don't have to read the article,' I said, 'but I am sure that the man had a girlfriend, that he drank and that he began to hit his wife. I am also sure that there was a sympathetic sister or landlady.'
'You have chosen a bad example, Watson,' said Holmes, 'because I have worked on this case. The man, Mr Dundas, did not have a girlfriend and he did not drink and he did not hit her. Instead, at the end of every meal he took out his false teeth and threw them at his wife. You must admit that nobody could invent such a story!'
'Do you have any interesting cases now?' I asked. 'Well, I am working on ten or twelve cases, but none of them are interesting. They are important, you understand, without being interesting. I have found that unimportant matters are usually more interesting. If there is a big crime, the motive is generally obvious. So, they are generally not very interesting. But I think I will have an interesting case in a few minutes.'
Holmes was standing at the window and looking down at the dull, grey London streets. There was a woman standing in the street. She was moving her hands nervously. It was obvious that she could not make up her mind. Then suddenly she ran across the road and rang Holmes' doorbell. 'I know those symptoms,' said Holmes. 'When a woman hesitates like that on the pavement, it means that she has a love problem. She wants help, but she thinks that her problem is too delicate to communicate. But when a woman does not hesitate and rings the doorbell hard, it means she was seriously wronged. In this case, this woman is confused and perplexed, and wants an explanation. '
As Holmes was speaking, the servant announced Miss Mary Sutherland. She was a large woman. She wore a hat with a red feather, a black jacket, a dark brown dress and grey gloves. She also wore small, round gold earrings.
When Holmes saw her he said, 'Isn't it difficult for you to type with such bad eyesight.'
'I thought so at first,' Miss Sutherland replied, 'but now I can type without looking at the keys.' Then she looked surprised and frightened when she understood that Holmes already knew so much about her.
'How do you know that?' asked Miss Sutherland. 'It is my business to know things,' said Holmes laughing. 'If I could not see these things, why would people come to me? In any case, I can see the marks of the glasses on your nose.'
'I have come here,' she said, 'because I want to know where Mr Hosmer Angel has gone.'
'Why did you come here in such a hurry?' asked Holmes. Once again Miss Sutherland looked very surprised. Holmes then explained that her boots were not the same and that they were not completely buttoned.
'Yes, I did hurry out of the house because I was angry at Mr Windibank, that is, my father. He did not want to ask the police about Mr Angel. He said that nothing bad had happened. This made me angry so I came here to see you.'
'Your father?' said Holmes. 'He must be your stepfather because his surname is different from yours.'
'Yes, my stepfather. I call him father, even though that seems strange to me. You see, he is only five years older than me.'
'And is your mother alive?' asked Holmes.
'Oh, yes, mother is alive and well,' answered Miss Sutherland, 'but I was not happy when she married Mr Windibank so soon after father died. Also, Mr Windibank is fifteen years younger than mother. Father was a plumber and had a good business, and when he died mother continued the business.
But when she married Mr Windibank, he made her sell it.'
'Do you live on the money from the business?' asked Holmes.
'Oh no,' replied Miss Sutherland, 'I inherited some money from my uncle. I cannot touch it, but with the interest I receive one hundred pounds a year.'
'That should be enough for you to live quite comfortably,' said Holmes.
'I give that money to mother, and I live on the money I make typing,' she replied.
'Now, can you tell us about Mr Hosmer Angel?' asked Holmes. Miss Sutherland blushed deeply and said, 'I met him at the plumbers' ball. They used to send tickets to my father when he was alive, and after he died they sent them to my mother. But Mr Windibank didn't want us to go.
He said that my father's friends were not good enough for us. But the day ofthe ball, Mr Windibank went to France on business, so mother and I went to the ball, and it was there I met Mr Angel.'
'I suppose,' said Holmes, 'that Mr Windibank was very angry with you when he discovered that you had gone to the ball.'
'No, not very,' replied Miss Sutherland, 'he said that it was impossible to stop a woman when she really wanted something. '
'And did you see Mr Hosmer after the ball?' asked Holmes.
'Yes, but he couldn't come to the house when father was there. Father didn't want anybody to come to the house. So Mr Hosmer said, "We should wait until your father goes to France before we see each other. In the meantime, we can write to each other every day."'
'Were you engaged to the gentleman at this time?' asked Holmes.
'Oh yes, Mr Holmes. We were engaged after the first walk that we took.
Mr Angel worked in an office in Leadenhall Street. '
'That's the worst part. I don't know.'
'Then where did you send your letters?'
'To the Leadenhall Street Post Office where he got them. He said to me,
"The other workers in my office will make fun of me, if they seemy letters."'
'I told him that I could type my letters, like he did his. But he said, "A typed letter comes from an impersonal machine and not from you." This shows how fond he was of me, Mr Holmes, and the nice little things he thought of'.'
'It was most suggestive,' said Holmes. 'I have always said that the little things are infinitely the most important. Can you remember any other little things about Mr Hosmer Angel?'
'He was a very shy man, Mr Holmes. He always wanted to walk with me in the evening instead of during the day. He was very gentlemanly. Even his voice was gentle. He told me that he had had a bad infection of the tonsils when he was a child, so he had to whisper. He always wore elegant clothes. His eyes were weak, just like mine, and he wore dark glasses against the sun.'
'Well, what happened when Mr Windibank returned to France?' asked Holmes.
'Mr Angel came to my house and said that we should get married before father returned. He was very serious and said, "Put your hand on the Bibleand promise me that you will always love me." Mother agreed with him. Mother liked him from the beginning, and liked him even more than I did. When they started talking about our getting married within the week, I asked them if I should ask father first. They said no. I, however, did not want to do anything in secret, so I wrote to father at his office in France. But the letter came back to me on the very day of the wedding.'
'It missed him then?'
'Yes, sir, he had started back to England just before the letter arrived in France.'
'Ha! That was unfortunate. Your wedding was planned then for the Friday of that week. Was it to be in church?'
'Yes, sir, but very quietly. On the day of the wedding Hosmer came in a hansom to take mother and me to the church. But since there were two of us, mother and I went in the hansom, and Hosmer took a cab. We got to the church first, and when the cab arrived, we waited for him to come out, but he never did. The cabman said that he could not understand what had happened to him.'
'I think that you have been very badly treated,' said Holmes.
'Oh no, sir! Hosmer was too good and kind to leave so. Why, all morning before the wedding he said to me, "If anything happens to me, you must always love me. You must wait for me. I will return to you." I thought this very strange to say on the day of our wedding, but his disappearance explains everything. '
'It certainly does,' said Holmes. 'In your opinion, did he know that he was in danger?'
'Yes, I think so.'
'But do you know what the danger was?'
'No, I don't.'
'One more question. How did your mother react?'
'She was angry and told me that I should never speak about him again.'
'And your father? Did you tell him?'
'Yes, he said, "Something terrible has happened to Hosmer, but he will return." I agree with my father. Why would Hosmer leave me? After all, there was no money involved. Hosmer did not borrow money from me, and I never put the money which I had inherited in his name. So he did not take my money and leave.'
Then she pulled out a handkerchief, and began to cry.
'I will try to solve your problem,' said Holmes, 'but don't think about it anymore. Forget about Mr Angel.'
'Do you think that I will ever see him again?' 'No, I'm afraid not.'
'Then what has happened to him?'
'You will leave the question with me. Now, I need some of Mr Angel's letters, a good description of him, and also your father's address.'
'I never had Mr Angel's address,' said Miss Sutherland, 'but here is Mr Windibank's address. He works for a wine importer. Here is the advertisement with a description of Hosmer that I put in the newspaper the Chronicle.'
Miss Sutherland then left, but before leaving she said, 'I will always wait for Hosmer Angel to return.'