One day he had met me, and fell into talk about the ways of thieves, and how they could get rid of what they stole. I knew that he would be true to me, for I knew one or two things about him; so I made up my mind to go right on to Kilburn, where he lived, and take him into my confidence. He would show me how to turn the stone into money. But how to get to him in safety? I thought of the agonies I had gone through in coming from the hotel. I might at any moment be seized and searched, and there would be the stone in my waistcoat pocket. I was leaning against the wall at the time and looking at the geese which were waddling about round my feet, and suddenly an idea came into my head which showed me how I could beat the best detective that ever lived.
"My sister had told me some weeks before that I might have the pick of her geese for a Christmas present, and I knew that she was always as good as her word. I would take my goose now, and in it I would carry my stone to Kilburn. There was a little shed in the yard, and behind this I drove one of the birds--a fine big one, white, with a barred tail. I caught it, and prying its bill open, I thrust the stone down its throat as far as my finger could reach. The bird gave a gulp, and I felt the stone pass along its gullet and down into its crop. But the creature flapped and struggled, and out came my sister to know what was the matter. As I turned to speak to her the brute broke loose and fluttered off among the others.
"'Whatever were you doing with that bird, Jem?' says she.
"'Well,' said I, 'you said you'd give me one for Christmas, and I was feeling which was the fattest.'
"'Oh,' says she, 'we've set yours aside for you--Jem's bird, we call it. It's the big white one over yonder. There's twenty-six of them, which makes one for you, and one for us, and two dozen for the market.'
"'Thank you, Maggie,' says I; 'but if it is all the same to you, I'd rather have that one I was handling just now.'
"'The other is a good three pound heavier,' said she, 'and we fattened it expressly for you.'
"'Never mind. I'll have the other, and I'll take it now,' said I.
"'Oh, just as you like,' said she, a little huffed. 'Which is it you want, then?'
"'That white one with the barred tail, right in the middle of the flock.'
"'Oh, very well. Kill it and take it with you.'
"Well, I did what she said, Mr. Holmes, and I carried the bird all the way to Kilburn. I told my pal what I had done, for he was a man that it was easy to tell a thing like that to. He laughed until he choked, and we got a knife and opened the goose. My heart turned to water, for there was no sign of the stone, and I knew that some terrible mistake had occurred. I left the bird, rushed back to my sister's, and hurried into the back yard. There was not a bird to be seen there.
"'Where are they all, Maggie?' I cried.
"'Gone to the dealer's, Jem.'
"'Breckinridge, of Covent Garden.'
"'But was there another with a barred tail?' I asked, 'the same as the one I chose?'
"'Yes, Jem; there were two barred-tailed ones, and I could never tell them apart.'
"Well, then, of course I saw it all, and I ran off as hard as my feet would carry me to this man Breckinridge; but he had sold the lot at once, and not one word would he tell me as to where they had gone. You heard him yourselves to-night. Well, he has always answered me like that. My sister thinks that I am going mad. Sometimes I think that I am myself. And now--and now I am myself a branded thief, without ever having touched the wealth for which I sold my character. God help me! God help me!" He burst into convulsive sobbing, with his face buried in his hands.
There was a long silence, broken only by his heavy breathing and by the measured tapping of Sherlock Holmes' finger-tips upon the edge of the table. Then my friend rose and threw open the door.
"Get out!" said he.
"What, sir! Oh, Heaven bless you!"
"No more words. Get out!"
And no more words were needed.