ONE summer night, a few months after my marriage, I was seated by my own hearth smoking a last pipe and nodding over a novel, for my day's work had been an exhausting one. My wife had already gone up stairs, and the sound of the locking of the hall door some time before told me that the servants had also retired. I had risen from my seat and was knocking out the ashes of my pipe, when I suddenly heard the clang of the bell.
I looked at the clock. It was a quarter to twelve. This could not be a visitor at so late an hour. A patient, evidently, and possibly an all-night sitting. With a wry face I went out into the hall and opened the door. To my astonishment, it was Sherlock Holmes who stood upon my step.
'Ah, Watson,' said he, 'I hoped that I might not be too late to catch you.'
'My dear fellow, pray come in.'
'You look surprised, and no wonder! Relieved, too, I fancy! Hum! you still smoke the Arcadia mixture of your bachelor days, then! There's no mistaking that fluffy ash upon your coat. It's easy to tell that you've been accustomed to wear a uniform, Watson; you'll never pass as a purebred civilian as long as you keep that habit of carrying your handkerchief in your sleeve.* Could you put me up to-night?'
'You told me that you had bachelor quarters for one, and I see that you have no gentleman visitor at present. Your hat-stand proclaims as much.'
'I shall be delighted if you will stay.'
'Thank you. I'll fill a vacant peg, then. Sorry to see that you've had the British workman* in the house. He's a token of evil. Not the drains, I hope?'
'No, the gas.'