The intelligence with which Lestrade greeted us was so momentous and s_nexpected, that we were all three fairly dumfoundered. Gregson sprang out o_is chair and upset the remainder of his whiskey and water. I stared i_ilence at Sherlock Holmes, whose lips were compressed and his brows draw_own over his eyes.
"Stangerson too!" he muttered. "The plot thickens."
"It was quite thick enough before," grumbled Lestrade, taking a chair. "I see_o have dropped into a sort of council of war."
"Are you — are you sure of this piece of intelligence?" stammered Gregson.
"I have just come from his room," said Lestrade. "I was the first to discove_hat had occurred."
"We have been hearing Gregson's view of the matter," Holmes observed. "Woul_ou mind letting us know what you have seen and done?"
"I have no objection," Lestrade answered, seating himself. "I freely confes_hat I was of the opinion that Stangerson was concerned in the death o_rebber. This fresh development has shown me that I was completely mistaken.
Full of the one idea, I set myself to find out what had become of th_ecretary. They had been seen together at Euston Station about half-past eigh_n the evening of the third. At two in the morning Drebber had been found i_he Brixton Road. The question which confronted me was to find out ho_tangerson had been employed between 8.30 and the time of the crime, and wha_ad become of him afterwards. I telegraphed to Liverpool, giving a descriptio_f the man, and warning them to keep a watch upon the American boats. I the_et to work calling upon all the hotels and lodging-houses in the vicinity o_uston. You see, I argued that if Drebber and his companion had becom_eparated, the natural course for the latter would be to put up somewhere i_he vicinity for the night, and then to hang about the station again nex_orning."
"They would be likely to agree on some meeting-place beforehand," remarke_olmes.
"So it proved. I spent the whole of yesterday evening in making enquirie_ntirely without avail. This morning I began very early, and at eight o'cloc_ reached Halliday's Private Hotel, in Little George Street. On my enquiry a_o whether a Mr. Stangerson was living there, they at once answered me in th_ffirmative.
"'No doubt you are the gentleman whom he was expecting,' they said. 'He ha_een waiting for a gentleman for two days.'
"'Where is he now?' I asked.
"'He is upstairs in bed. He wished to be called at nine.'
"'I will go up and see him at once,' I said.
"It seemed to me that my sudden appearance might shake his nerves and lead hi_o say something unguarded. The Boots volunteered to show me the room: it wa_n the second floor, and there was a small corridor leading up to it. Th_oots pointed out the door to me, and was about to go downstairs again when _aw something that made me feel sickish, in spite of my twenty years'
experience. From under the door there curled a little red ribbon of blood, which had meandered across the passage and formed a little pool along th_kirting at the other side. I gave a cry, which brought the Boots back. H_early fainted when he saw it. The door was locked on the inside, but we pu_ur shoulders to it, and knocked it in. The window of the room was open, an_eside the window, all huddled up, lay the body of a man in his nightdress. H_as quite dead, and had been for some time, for his limbs were rigid and cold.
When we turned him over, the Boots recognized him at once as being the sam_entleman who had engaged the room under the name of Joseph Stangerson. Th_ause of death was a deep stab in the left side, which must have penetrate_he heart. And now comes the strangest part of the affair. What do you suppos_as above the murdered man?"
I felt a creeping of the flesh, and a presentiment of coming horror, eve_efore Sherlock Holmes answered.
"The word RACHE, written in letters of blood," he said.
"That was it," said Lestrade, in an awe-struck voice; and we were all silen_or a while.
There was something so methodical and so incomprehensible about the deeds o_his unknown assassin, that it imparted a fresh ghastliness to his crimes. M_erves, which were steady enough on the field of battle tingled as I though_f it.
"The man was seen," continued Lestrade. "A milk boy, passing on his way to th_airy, happened to walk down the lane which leads from the mews at the back o_he hotel. He noticed that a ladder, which usually lay there, was raise_gainst one of the windows of the second floor, which was wide open. Afte_assing, he looked back and saw a man descend the ladder. He came down s_uietly and openly that the boy imagined him to be some carpenter or joiner a_ork in the hotel. He took no particular notice of him, beyond thinking in hi_wn mind that it was early for him to be at work. He has an impression tha_he man was tall, had a reddish face, and was dressed in a long, brownis_oat. He must have stayed in the room some little time after the murder, fo_e found blood-stained water in the basin, where he had washed his hands, an_arks on the sheets where he had deliberately wiped his knife."
I glanced at Holmes on hearing the description of the murderer, which tallie_o exactly with his own. There was, however, no trace of exultation o_atisfaction upon his face.
"Did you find nothing in the room which could furnish a clue to the murderer?"
"Nothing. Stangerson had Drebber's purse in his pocket, but it seems that thi_as usual, as he did all the paying. There was eighty odd pounds in it, bu_othing had been taken. Whatever the motives of these extraordinary crimes, robbery is certainly not one of them. There were no papers or memoranda in th_urdered man's pocket, except a single telegram, dated from Cleveland about _onth ago, and containing the words, 'J. H. is in Europe.' There was no nam_ppended to this message."
"And there was nothing else?" Holmes asked.
"Nothing of any importance. The man's novel, with which he had read himself t_leep was lying upon the bed, and his pipe was on a chair beside him. Ther_as a glass of water on the table, and on the window-sill a small chi_intment box containing a couple of pills."
Sherlock Holmes sprang from his chair with an exclamation of delight.
"The last link," he cried, exultantly. "My case is complete."
The two detectives stared at him in amazement.
"I have now in my hands," my companion said, confidently, "all the thread_hich have formed such a tangle. There are, of course, details to be fille_n, but I am as certain of all the main facts, from the time that Drebbe_arted from Stangerson at the station, up to the discovery of the body of th_atter, as if I had seen them with my own eyes. I will give you a proof of m_nowledge. Could you lay your hand upon those pills?"
"I have them," said Lestrade, producing a small white box; "I took them an_he purse and the telegram, intending to have them put in a place of safety a_he Police Station. It was the merest chance my taking these pills, for I a_ound to say that I do not attach any importance to them."
"Give them here," said Holmes. "Now, Doctor," turning to me, "are thos_rdinary pills?"
They certainly were not. They were of a pearly grey colour, small, round, an_lmost transparent against the light. "From their lightness and transparency, I should imagine that they are soluble in water," I remarked.
"Precisely so," answered Holmes. "Now would you mind going down and fetchin_hat poor little devil of a terrier which has been bad so long, and which th_andlady wanted you to put out of its pain yesterday."
I went downstairs and carried the dog upstair in my arms. It's laboure_reathing and glazing eye showed that it was not far from its end. Indeed, it_now-white muzzle proclaimed that it had already exceeded the usual term o_anine existence. I placed it upon a cushion on the rug.
"I will now cut one of these pills in two," said Holmes, and drawing hi_enknife he suited the action to the word. "One half we return into the bo_or future purposes. The other half I will place in this wine glass, in whic_s a teaspoonful of water. You perceive that our friend, the Doctor, is right, and that it readily dissolves."
"This may be very interesting," said Lestrade, in the injured tone of one wh_uspects that he is being laughed at, "I cannot see, however, what it has t_o with the death of Mr. Joseph Stangerson."
"Patience, my friend, patience! You will find in time that it has everythin_o do with it. I shall now add a little milk to make the mixture palatable, and on presenting it to the dog we find that he laps it up readily enough."
As he spoke he turned the contents of the wine glass into a saucer and place_t in front of the terrier, who speedily licked it dry. Sherlock Holmes'
earnest demeanour had so far convinced us that we all sat in silence, watchin_he animal intently, and expecting some startling effect. None such appeared, however. The dog continued to lie stretched upon the cushion, breathing in _aboured way, but apparently neither the better nor the worse for its draught.
Holmes had taken out his watch, and as minute followed minute without result, an expression of the utmost chagrin and disappointment appeared upon hi_eatures. He gnawed his lip, drummed his fingers upon the table, and showe_very other symptom of acute impatience. So great was his emotion, that I fel_incerely sorry for him, while the two detectives smiled derisively, by n_eans displeased at this check which he had met.
"It can't be a coincidence," he cried, at last springing from his chair an_acing wildly up and down the room; "it is impossible that it should be a mer_oincidence. The very pills which I suspected in the case of Drebber ar_ctually found after the death of Stangerson. And yet they are inert. What ca_t mean? Surely my whole chain of reasoning cannot have been false. It i_mpossible! And yet this wretched dog is none the worse. Ah, I have it! I hav_t!" With a perfect shriek of delight he rushed to the box, cut the other pil_n two, dissolved it, added milk, and presented it to the terrier. Th_nfortunate creature's tongue seemed hardly to have been moistened in i_efore it gave a convulsive shiver in every limb, and lay as rigid an_ifeless as if it had been struck by lightning.
Sherlock Holmes drew a long breath, and wiped the perspiration from hi_orehead. "I should have more faith," he said; "I ought to know by this tim_hat when a fact appears to be opposed to a long train of deductions, i_nvariably proves to be capable of bearing some other interpretation. Of th_wo pills in that box one was of the most deadly poison, and the other wa_ntirely harmless. I ought to have known that before ever I saw the box a_ll."
This last statement appeared to me to be so startling, that I could hardl_elieve that he was in his sober senses. There was the dead dog, however, t_rove that his conjecture had been correct. It seemed to me that the mists i_y own mind were gradually clearing away, and I began to have a dim, vagu_erception of the truth.
"All this seems strange to you," continued Holmes, "because you failed at th_eginning of the inquiry to grasp the importance of the single real clue whic_as presented to you. I had the good fortune to seize upon that, an_verything which has occurred since then has served to confirm my origina_upposition, and, indeed, was the logical sequence of it. Hence things whic_ave perplexed you and made the case more obscure, have served to enlighten m_nd to strengthen my conclusions. It is a mistake to confound strangeness wit_ystery. The most commonplace crime is often the most mysterious because i_resents no new or special features from which deductions may be drawn. Thi_urder would have been infinitely more difficult to unravel had the body o_he victim been simply found lying in the roadway without any of those outr_nd sensational accompaniments which have rendered it remarkable. Thes_trange details, far from making the case more difficult, have really had th_ffect of making it less so."
Mr. Gregson, who had listened to this address with considerable impatience, could contain himself no longer. "Look here, Mr. Sherlock Holmes," he said,
"we are all ready to acknowledge that you are a smart man, and that you hav_our own methods of working. We want something more than mere theory an_reaching now, though. It is a case of taking the man. I have made my cas_ut, and it seems I was wrong. Young Charpentier could not have been engage_n this second affair. Lestrade went after his man, Stangerson, and it appear_hat he was wrong too. You have thrown out hints here, and hints there, an_eem to know more than we do, but the time has come when we feel that we hav_ right to ask you straight how much you do know of the business. Can you nam_he man who did it?"
"I cannot help feeling that Gregson is right, sir," remarked Lestrade. "W_ave both tried, and we have both failed. You have remarked more than onc_ince I have been in the room that you had all the evidence which you require.
Surely you will not withhold it any longer."
"Any delay in arresting the assassin," I observed, "might give him time t_erpetrate some fresh atrocity."
Thus pressed by us all, Holmes showed signs of irresolution. He continued t_alk up and down the room with his head sunk on his chest and his brows draw_own, as was his habit when lost in thought.
"There will be no more murders," he said at last, stopping abruptly and facin_s. "You can put that consideration out of the question. You have asked me i_ know the name of the assassin. I do. The mere knowing of his name is a smal_hing, however, compared with the power of laying our hands upon him. This _xpect very shortly to do. I have good hopes of managing it through my ow_rrangements; but it is a thing which needs delicate handling, for we have _hrewd and desperate man to deal with, who is supported, as I have ha_ccasion to prove, by another who is as clever as himself. As long as this ma_as no idea that anyone can have a clue there is some chance of securing him; but if he had the slightest suspicion, he would change his name, and vanish i_n instant among the four million inhabitants of this great city. Withou_eaning to hurt either of your feelings, I am bound to say that I conside_hese men to be more than a match for the official force, and that is why _ave not asked your assistance. If I fail I shall, of course, incur all th_lame due to this omission; but that I am prepared for. At present I am read_o promise that the instant that I can communicate with you withou_ndangering my own combinations, I shall do so."
Gregson and Lestrade seemed to be far from satisfied by this assurance, or b_he depreciating allusion to the detective police. The former had flushed u_o the roots of his flaxen hair, while the other's beady eyes glistened wit_uriosity and resentment. Neither of them had time to speak, however, befor_here was a tap at the door, and the spokesman of the street Arabs, youn_iggins, introduced his insignificant and unsavoury person.
"Please, sir," he said, touching his forelock, "I have the cab downstairs."
"Good boy," said Holmes, blandly. "Why don't you introduce this pattern a_cotland Yard?" he continued, taking a pair of steel handcuffs from a drawer.
"See how beautifully the spring works. They fasten in an instant."
"The old pattern is good enough," remarked Lestrade, "if we can only find th_an to put them on."
"Very good, very good," said Holmes, smiling. "The cabman may as well help m_ith my boxes. Just ask him to step up, Wiggins."
I was surprised to find my companion speaking as though he were about to se_ut on a journey, since he had not said anything to me about it. There was _mall portmanteau in the room, and this he pulled out and began to strap. H_as busily engaged at it when the cabman entered the room.
"Just give me a help with this buckle, cabman," he said, kneeling over hi_ask, and never turning his head.
The fellow came forward with a somewhat sullen, defiant air, and put down hi_ands to assist. At that instant there was a sharp click, the jangling o_etal, and Sherlock Holmes sprang to his feet again.
"Gentlemen," he cried, with flashing eyes, "let me introduce you to Mr.
Jefferson Hope, the murderer of Enoch Drebber and of Joseph Stangerson."
The whole thing occurred in a moment — so quickly that I had no time t_ealize it. I have a vivid recollection of that instant, of Holmes' triumphan_xpression and the ring of his voice, of the cabman's dazed, savage face, a_e glared at the glittering handcuffs, which had appeared as if by magic upo_is wrists. For a second or two we might have been a group of statues. Then, with an inarticulate roar of fury, the prisoner wrenched himself free fro_olmes's grasp, and hurled himself through the window. Woodwork and glass gav_ay before him; but before he got quite through, Gregson, Lestrade, and Holme_prang upon him like so many staghounds. He was dragged back into the room, and then commenced a terrific conflict. So powerful and so fierce was he, tha_he four of us were shaken off again and again. He appeared to have th_onvulsive strength of a man in an epileptic fit. His face and hands wer_erribly mangled by his passage through the glass, but loss of blood had n_ffect in diminishing his resistance. It was not until Lestrade succeeded i_etting his hand inside his neckcloth and half-strangling him that we made hi_ealize that his struggles were of no avail; and even then we felt no securit_ntil we had pinioned his feet as well as his hands. That done, we rose to ou_eet breathless and panting.
"We have his cab," said Sherlock Holmes. "It will serve to take him t_cotland Yard. And now, gentlemen," he continued, with a pleasant smile, "w_ave reached the end of our little mystery. You are very welcome to put an_uestions that you like to me now, and there is no danger that I will refus_o answer them."