It is a most singular thing that a problem which was certainly as abstruse an_nusual as any which I have faced in my long professional career should hav_ome to me after my retirement, and be brought, as it were, to my very door.
It occurred after my withdrawal to my little Sussex home, when I had give_yself up entirely to that soothing life of Nature for which I had so ofte_earned during the long years spent amid the gloom of London. At this perio_f my life the good Watson had passed almost beyond my ken. An occasiona_eek-end visit was the most that I ever saw of him. Thus I must act as my ow_hronicler. Ah! had he but been with me, how much he might have made of s_onderful a happening and of my eventual triumph against every difficulty! A_t is, however, I must needs tell my tale in my own plain way, showing by m_ords each step upon the difficult road which lay before me as I searched fo_he mystery of the Lion's Mane.
My villa is situated upon the southern slope of the downs, commanding a grea_iew of the Channel. At this point the coast-line is entirely of chalk cliffs, which can only be descended by a single, long, tortuous path, which is stee_nd slippery. At the bottom of the path lie a hundred yards of pebbles an_hingle, even when the tide is at full. Here and there, however, there ar_urves and hollows which make splendid swimmingpools filled afresh with eac_low. This admirable beach extends for some miles in each direction, save onl_t one point where the little cove and village of Fulworth break the line.
My house is lonely. I, my old housekeeper, and my bees have the estate all t_urselves. Half a mile off, however, is Harold Stackhurst's well-know_oaching establishment, The Gables, quite a large place, which contains som_core of young fellows preparing for various professions, with a staff o_everal masters. Stackhurst himself was a well-known rowing Blue in his day, and an excellent all-round scholar. He and I were always friendly from the da_ came to the coast, and he was the one man who was on such terms with me tha_e could drop in on each other in the evenings without an invitation.
Towards the end of July, 1907, there was a severe gale, the wind blowing up- channel, heaping the seas to the base of the cliffs and leaving a lagoon a_he turn of the tide. On the morning of which I speak the wind had abated, an_ll Nature was newly washed and fresh. It was impossible to work upon s_elightful a day, and I strolled out before breakfast to enjoy the exquisit_ir. I walked along the cliff path which led to the steep descent to th_each. As I walked I heard a shout behind me, and there was Harold Stackhurs_aving his hand in cheery greeting.
"What a morning, Mr. Holmes! I thought I should see you out."
"Going for a swim, I see."
"At your old tricks again," he laughed, patting his bulging pocket. "Yes.
McPherson started early, and I expect I may find him there."
Fitzroy McPherson was the science master, a fine upstanding young fellow whos_ife had been crippled by heart trouble following rheumatic fever. He was _atural athlete, however, and excelled in every game which did not throw to_reat a strain upon him. Summer and winter he went for his swim, and, as I a_ swimmer myself, I have often joined him.
At this moment we saw the man himself. His head showed above the edge of th_liff where the path ends. Then his whole figure appeared at the top, staggering like a drunken man. The next instant he threw up his hands and, with a terrible cry, fell upon his face. Stackhurst and I rushed forward — i_ay have been fifty yards — and turned him on his back. He was obviousl_ying. Those glazed sunken eyes and dreadful livid cheeks could mean nothin_lse. One glimmer of life came into his face for an instant, and he uttere_wo or three words with an eager air of warning. They were slurred an_ndistinct, but to my ear the last of them, which burst in a shriek from hi_ips, were "the Lion's Mane." It was utterly irrelevant and unintelligible, and yet I could twist the sound into no other sense. Then he half raise_imself from the ground, threw his arms into the air, and fell forward on hi_ide. He was dead.
My companion was paralyzed by the sudden horror of it, but I, as may well b_magined, had every sense on the alert. And I had need, for it was speedil_vident that we were in the presence of an extraordinary case. The man wa_ressed only in his Burberry overcoat, his trousers, and an unlaced pair o_anvas shoes. As he fell over, his Burberry, which had been simply throw_ound his shoulders, slipped off, exposing his trunk. We stared at it i_mazement. His back was covered with dark red lines as though he had bee_erribly flogged by a thin wire scourge. The instrument with which thi_unishment had been inflicted was clearly flexible, for the long, angry weal_urved round his shoulders and ribs. There was blood dripping down his chin, for he had bitten through his lower lip in the paroxysm of his agony. Hi_rawn and distorted face told how terrible that agony had been.
I was kneeling and Stackhurst standing by the body when a shadow fell acros_s, and we found that Ian Murdoch was by our side. Murdoch was th_athematical coach at the establishment, a tall, dark, thin man, so tacitur_nd aloof that none can be said to have been his friend. He seemed to live i_ome high abstract region of surds and conic sections, with little to connec_im with ordinary life. He was looked upon as an oddity by the students, an_ould have been their butt, but there was some strange outlandish blood in th_an, which showed itself not only in his coal-black eyes and swarthy face bu_lso in occasional outbreaks of temper, which could only be described a_erocious. On one occasion, being plagued by a little dog belonging t_cPherson, he had caught the creature up and hurled it through the plate-glas_indow, an action for which Stackhurst would certainly have given him hi_ismissal had he not been a very valuable teacher. Such was the strang_omplex man who now appeared beside us. He seemed to be honestly shocked a_he sight before him, though the incident of the dog may show that there wa_o great sympathy between the dead man and himself.
"Poor fellow! Poor fellow! What can I do? How can I help?"
"Were you with him? Can you tell us what has happened?"
"No, no, I was late this morning. I was not on the beach at all. I have com_traight from The Gables. What can I do?"
"You can hurry to the police-station at Fulworth. Report the matter at once."
Without a word he made off at top speed, and I proceeded to take the matter i_and, while Stackhurst, dazed at this tragedy, remained by the body. My firs_ask naturally was to note who was on the beach. From the top of the path _ould see the whole sweep of it, and it was absolutely deserted save that tw_r three dark figures could be seen far away moving towards the village o_ulworth. Having satisfied myself upon this point, I walked slowly down th_ath. There was clay or soft marl mixed with the chalk, and every here an_here I saw the same footstep, both ascending and descending. No one else ha_one down to the beach by this track that morning. At one place I observed th_rint of an open hand with the fingers towards the incline. This could onl_ean that poor McPherson had fallen as he ascended. There were rounde_epressions, too, which suggested that he had come down upon his knees mor_han once. At the bottom of the path was the considerable lagoon left by th_etreating tide. At the side of it McPherson had undressed, for there lay hi_owel on a rock. It was folded and dry, so that it would seem that, after all, he had never entered the water. Once or twice as I hunted round amid the har_hingle I came on little patches of sand where the print of his canvas shoe, and also of his naked foot, could be seen. The latter fact proved that he ha_ade all ready to bathe, though the towel indicated that he had not actuall_one so.
And here was the problem clearly defined — as strange a one as had eve_onfronted me. The man had not been on the beach more than a quarter of a_our at the most. Stackhurst had followed him from The Gables, so there coul_e no doubt about that. He had gone to bathe and had stripped, as the nake_ootsteps showed. Then he had suddenly huddled on his clothes again — the_ere all dishevelled and unfastened — and he had returned without bathing, o_t any rate without drying himself. And the reason for his change of purpos_ad been that he had been scourged in some savage, inhuman fashion, torture_ntil he bit his lip through in his agony, and was left with only strengt_nough to crawl away and to die. Who had done this barbarous deed? There were, it is true, small grottos and caves in the base of the cliffs, but the low su_hone directly into them, and there was no place for concealment. Then, again, there were those distant figures on the beach. They seemed too far away t_ave been connected with the crime, and the broad lagoon in which McPherso_ad intended to bathe lay between him and them, lapping up to the rocks. O_he sea two or three fishingboats were at no great distance. Their occupant_ight be examined at our leisure. There were several roads for inquiry, bu_one which led to any very obvious goal.
When I at last returned to the body I found that a little group of wonderin_olk had gathered round it. Stackhurst was, of course, still there, and Ia_urdoch had just arrived with Anderson, the village constable, a big, ginger- moustached man of the slow, solid Sussex breed — a breed which covers muc_ood sense under a heavy, silent exterior. He listened to everything, too_ote of all we said, and finally drew me aside.
"I'd be glad of your advice, Mr. Holmes. This is a big thing for me to handle, and I'll hear of it from Lewes if I go wrong."
I advised him to send for his immediate superior, and for a doctor; also t_llow nothing to be moved, and as few fresh footmarks as possible to be made, until they came. In the meantime I searched the dead man's pockets. There wer_is handkerchief, a large knife, and a small folding card-case. From thi_rojected a slip of paper, which I unfolded and handed to the constable. Ther_as written on it in a scrawling, feminine hand:
I will be there, you may be sure.
It read like a love affair, an assignation, though when and where were _lank. The constable replaced it in the card-case and returned it with th_ther things to the pockets of the Burberry. Then, as nothing more suggeste_tself, I walked back to my house for breakfast, having first arranged tha_he base of the cliffs should be thoroughly searched.
Stackhurst was round in an hour or two to tell me that the body had bee_emoved to The Gables, where the inquest would be held. He brought with hi_ome serious and definite news. As I expected, nothing had been found in th_mall caves below the cliff, but he had examined the papers in McPherson'_esk and there were several which showed an intimate correspondence with _ertain Miss Maud Bellamy, of Fulworth. We had then established the identit_f the writer of the note.
"The police have the letters," he explained. "I could not bring them. Bu_here is no doubt that it was a serious love affair. I see no reason, however, to connect it with that horrible happening save, indeed, that the lady ha_ade an appointment with him."
"But hardly at a bathing-pool which all of you were in the habit of using," _emarked.
"It is mere chance," said he, "that several of the students were not wit_cPherson."
"Was it mere chance?"
Stackhurst knit his brows in thought.
"Ian Murdoch held them back," said he. "He would insist upon some algebrai_emonstration before breakfast. Poor chap, he is dreadfully cut up about i_ll."
"And yet I gather that they were not friends."
"At one time they were not. But for a year or more Murdoch has been as near t_cPherson as he ever could be to anyone. He is not of a very sympatheti_isposition by nature."
"So I understand. I seem to remember your telling me once about a quarrel ove_he ill-usage of a dog."
"That blew over all right."
"But left some vindictive feeling, perhaps."
"No, no, I am sure they were real friends."
"Well, then, we must explore the matter of the girl. Do you know her?"
"Everyone knows her. She is the beauty of the neighbourhood -a real beauty, Holmes, who would draw attention everywhere. I knew that McPherson wa_ttracted by her, but I had no notion that it had gone so far as these letter_ould seem to indicate."
"But who is she?"
"She is the daughter of old Tom Bellamy who owns all the boats and bathing- cots at Fulworth. He was a fisherman to start with, but is now a man of som_ubstance. He and his son William run the business."
"Shall we walk into Fulworth and see them?"
"On what pretext?"
"Oh, we can easily find a pretext. After all, this poor man did not ill-us_imself in this outrageous way. Some human hand was on the handle of tha_courge, if indeed it was a scourge which inflicted the injuries. His circl_f acquaintances in this lonely place was surely limited. Let us follow it u_n every direction and we can hardly fail to come upon the motive, which i_urn should lead us to the criminal."
It would have been a pleasant walk across the thyme-scented downs had ou_inds not been poisoned by the tragedy we had witnessed. The village o_ulworth lies in a hollow curving in a semicircle round the bay. Behind th_ld-fashioned hamlet several modern houses have been built upon the risin_round. It was to one of these that Stackhurst guided me.
"That's The Haven, as Bellamy called it. The one with the corner tower an_late roof. Not bad for a man who started with nothing but — By Jove, look a_hat!"
The garden gate of The Haven had opened and a man had emerged. There was n_istaking that tall, angular, straggling figure. It was Ian Murdoch, th_athematician. A moment later we confronted him upon the road.
"Hullo!" said Stackhurst. The man nodded, gave us a sideways glance from hi_urious dark eyes, and would have-passed us, but his principal pulled him up.
"What were you doing there?" he asked.
Murdoch's face flushed with anger. "I am your subordinate, sir, under you_oof. I am not aware that I owe you any account of my private actions."
Stackhurst's nerves were near the surface after all he had endured. Otherwise, perhaps, he would have waited. Now he lost his temper completely.
"In the circumstances your answer is pure impertinence, Mr. Murdoch."
"Your own question might perhaps come under the same heading."
"This is not the first time that I have had to overlook your insubordinat_ays. It will certainly be the last. You will kindly make fresh arrangement_or your future as speedily as you can."
"I had intended to do so. I have lost to-day the only person who made Th_ables habitable."
He strode off upon his way, while Stackhurst, with angry eyes, stood glarin_fter him. "Is he not an impossible, intolerable man?" he cried.
The one thing that impressed itself forcibly upon my mind was that Mr. Ia_urdoch was taking the first chance to open a path of escape from the scene o_he crime. Suspicion, vague and nebulous, was now beginning to take outline i_y mind. Perhaps the visit to the Bellamys might throw some further light upo_he matter. Stackhurst pulled himself together, and we went forward to th_ouse.
Mr. Bellamy proved to be a middle-aged man with a flaming red beard. He seeme_o be in a very angry mood, and his face was soon as florid as his hair.
"No, sir, I do not desire any particulars. My son here" -indicating a powerfu_oung man, with a heavy, sullen face, in the corner of the sitting-room — "i_f one mind with me that Mr. McPherson's attentions to Maud were insulting.
Yes, sir, the word 'marriage' was never mentioned, and yet there were letter_nd meetings, and a great deal more of which neither of us could approve. Sh_as no mother, and we are her only guardians. We are determined —"
But the words were taken from his mouth by the appearance of the lady herself.
There was no gainsaying that she would have graced any assembly in the world.
Who could have imagined that so rare a flower would grow from such a root an_n such an atmosphere? Women have seldom been an attraction to me, for m_rain has always governed my heart, but I could not look upon her perfec_lear-cut face, with all the soft freshness of the downlands in her delicat_olouring, without realizing that no young man would cross her path unscathed.
Such was the girl who had pushed open the door and stood now, wide-eyed an_ntense, in front of Harold Stackhurst.
"I know already that Fitzroy is dead," she said. "Do not be afraid to tell m_he particulars."
"This other gentleman of yours let us know the news," explained the father.
"There is no reason why my sister should be brought into the matter," growle_he younger man.
The sister turned a sharp, fierce look upon him. "This is my business, William. Kindly leave me to manage it in my own way. By all accounts there ha_een a crime committed. If I can help to show who did it, it is the least _an do for him who is gone."
She listened to a short account from my companion, with a compose_oncentration which showed me that she possessed strong character as well a_reat beauty. Maud Bellamy will always remain in my memory as a most complet_nd remarkable woman. It seems that she already knew me by sight, for sh_urned to me at the end.
"Bring them to justice, Mr. Holmes. You have my sympathy and my help, whoeve_hey may be." It seemed to me that she glanced defiantly at her father an_rother as she spoke.
"Thank you," said I. "I value a woman's instinct in such matters. You use th_ord 'they.' You think that more than one was concerned?"
"I knew Mr. McPherson well enough to be aware that he was a brave and a stron_an. No single person could ever have inflicted such an outrage upon him."
"Might I have one word with you alone?"
"I tell you, Maud, not to mix yourself up in the matter," cried her fathe_ngrily.
She looked at me helplessly. "What can I do?"
"The whole world will know the facts presently, so there can be no harm if _iscuss them here," said I. "I should have preferred privacy, but if you_ather will not allow it he must share the deliberations." Then I spoke of th_ote which had been found in the dead man's pocket. "It is sure to be produce_t the inquest. May I ask you to throw any light upon it that you can?"
"I see no reason for mystery," she answered. "We were engaged to be married, and we only kept it secret because Fitzroy's uncle, who is very old and sai_o be dying, might have disinherited him if he had married against his wish.
There was no other reason."
"You could have told us," growled Mr. Bellamy.
"So I would, father, if you had ever shown sympathy."
"I object to my girl picking up with men outside her own station."
"It was your prejudice against him which prevented us from telling you. As t_his appointment" — she fumbled in her dress and produced a crumpled note —
"it was in answer to this."
DEAREST [ran the message]:
The old place on the beach just after sunset on Tuesday.
It is the only time I can get away.
"Tuesday was to-day, and I had meant to meet him to-night."
I turned over the paper. "This never came by post. How did you get it?"
"I would rather not answer that question. It has really nothing to do with th_atter which you are investigating. But anything which bears upon that I wil_ost freely answer."
She was as good as her word, but there was nothing which was helpful in ou_nvestigation. She had no reason to think that her fiance had any hidde_nemy, but she admitted that she had had several warm admirers.
"May I ask if Mr. Ian Murdoch was one of them?"
She blushed and seemed confused.
"There was a time when I thought he was. But that was all changed when h_nderstood the relations between Fitzroy and myself."
Again the shadow round this strange man seemed to me to be taking mor_efinite shape. His record must be examined. His rooms must be privatel_earched. Stackhurst was a willing collaborator, for in his mind als_uspicions were forming. We returned from our visit to The Haven with the hop_hat one free end of this tangled skein was already in our hands.
A week passed. The inquest had thrown no light upon the matter and had bee_djourned for further evidence. Stackhurst had made discreet inquiry about hi_ubordinate, and there had been a superficial search of his room, but withou_esult. Personally, I had gone over the whole ground again, both physicall_nd mentally, but with no new conclusions. In all my chronicles the reade_ill find no case which brought me so completely to the limit of my powers.
Even my imagination could conceive no solution to the mystery. And then ther_ame the incident of the dog.
It was my old housekeeper who heard of it first by that strange wireless b_hich such people collect the news of the countryside.
"Sad story this, sir, about Mr. McPherson's dog," said she one evening.
I do not encourage such conversations, but the words arrested my attention.
"What of Mr. McPherson's dog?"
"Dead, sir. Died of grief for its master."
"Who told you this?"
"Why, sir, everyone is talking of it. It took on terrible, and has eate_othing for a week. Then to-day two of the young gentlemen from The Gable_ound it dead — down on the beach, sir, at the very place where its master me_is end."
"At the very place." The words stood out clear in my memory. Some di_erception that the matter was vital rose in my mind. That the dog should di_as after the beautiful, faithful nature of dogs. But "in the very place"! Wh_hould this lonely beach be fatal to it? Was it possible that it also had bee_acrificed to some revengeful feud? Was it possible —? Yes, the perception wa_im, but already something was building up in my mind. In a few minutes I wa_n my way to The Gables, where I found Stackhurst in his study. At my reques_e sent for Sudbury and Blount, the two students who had found the dog.
"Yes, it lay on the very edge of the pool," said one of them. "It must hav_ollowed the trail of its dead master."
I saw the faithful little creature, an Airedale terrier, laid out upon the ma_n the hall. The body was stiff and rigid, the eyes projecting, and the limb_ontorted. There was agony in every line of it.
From The Gables I walked down to the bathing-pool. The sun had sunk and th_hadow of the great cliff lay black across the water, which glimmered dull_ike a sheet of lead. The place was deserted and there was no sign of lif_ave for two sea-birds circling and screaming overhead. In the fading light _ould dimly make out the little dog's spoor upon the sand round the very roc_n which his master's towel had been laid. For a long time I stood in dee_editation while the shadows grew darker around me. My mind was filled wit_acing thoughts. You have known what it was to be in a nightmare in which yo_eel that there is some all-important thing for which you search and which yo_now is there, though it remains forever just beyond your reach. That was ho_ felt that evening as I stood alone by that place of death. Then at last _urned and walked slowly homeward.
I had just reached the top of the path when it came to me. Like a flash, _emembered the thing for which I had so eagerly and vainly grasped. You wil_now, or Watson has written in vain, that I hold a vast store of out-of-the- way knowledge without scientific system, but very available for the needs o_y work. My mind is like a crowded box-room with packets of all sorts stowe_way therein — so many that I may well have but a vague perception of what wa_here. I had known that there was something which might bear upon this matter.
It was still vague, but at least I knew how I could make it clear. It wa_onstrous, incredible, and yet it was always a possibility. I would test it t_he full.
There is a great garret in my little house which is stuffed with books. It wa_nto this that I plunged and rummaged for an hour. At the end of that time _merged with a little chocolate and silver volume. Eagerly I turned up th_hapter of which I had a dim remembrance. Yes, it was indeed a far-fetched an_nlikely proposition, and yet I could not be at rest until I had made sure i_t might, indeed, be so. It was late when I retired, with my mind eagerl_waiting the work of the morrow.
But that work met with an annoying interruption. I had hardly swallowed m_arly cup of tea and was starting for the beach when_ I had a call fro_nspector Bardle of the Sussex Constabulary — a steady, solid, bovine man wit_houghtful eyes, which looked at me now with a very troubled expression.
"I know your immense experience, sir," said he. "This is quite unofficial, o_ourse, and need go no farther. But I am fairly up against it in thi_cPherson case. The question is, shall I make an arrest, or shall I not?"
"Meaning Mr. Ian Murdoch?"
"Yes, sir. There is really no one else when you come to think of it. That'_he advantage of this solitude. We narrow it down to a very small compass. I_e did not do it, then who did?"
"What have you against him?"
He had gleaned along the same furrows as I had. There was Murdoch's characte_nd the mystery which seemed to hang round the man. His furious bursts o_emper, as shown in the incident of the dog. The fact that he had quarrelle_ith McPherson in the past, and that there was some reason to think that h_ight have resented his attentions to Miss Bellamy. He had all my points, bu_o fresh ones, save that Murdoch seemed to be making every preparation fo_eparture.
"What would my position be if I let him slip away with all this evidenc_gainst him?" The burly, phlegmatic man was sorely troubled in his mind.
"Consider," I said, "all the essential gaps in your case. On the morning o_he crime he can surely prove an alibi. He had been with his scholars till th_ast moment, and within a few minutes of McPherson's appearance he came upo_s from behind. Then bear in mind the absolute impossibility that he coul_ingle-handed have inflicted this outrage upon a man quite as strong a_imself. Finally, there is this question of the instrument with which thes_njuries were inflicted."
"What could it be but a scourge or flexible whip of some sort?"
"Have you examined the marks?" I asked.
"I have seen them. So has the doctor."
"But I have examined them very carefully with a lens. They hav_eculiarities."
"What are they, Mr. Holmes?"
I stepped to my bureau and brought out an enlarged photograph. "This is m_ethod in such cases," I explained.
"You certainly do things thoroughly, Mr. Holmes."
"I should hardly be what I am if I did not. Now let us consider this wea_hich extends round the right shoulder. Do you observe nothing remarkable?"
"I can't say I do."
"Surely it is evident that it is unequal in its intensity. There is a dot o_xtravasated blood here, and another there. There are similar indications i_his other weal down here. What can that mean?"
"I have no idea. Have you?"
"Perhaps I have. Perhaps I haven't. I may be able to say more soon. Anythin_hich will define what made that mark will bring us a long way towards th_riminal."
"It is, of course, an absurd idea," said the policeman, "but if a red-hot ne_f wire had been laid across the back, then these better marked points woul_epresent where the meshes crossed each other."
"A most ingenious comparison. Or shall we say a very stiff cat-o'-nine-tail_ith small hard knots upon it?"
"By Jove, Mr. Holmes, I think you have hit it."
"Or there may be some very different cause, Mr. Bardle. But your case is fa_oo weak for an arrest. Besides, we have those last words — the 'Lion's Mane.'
"I have wondered whether Ian —"
"Yes, I have considered that. If the second word had borne any resemblance t_urdoch — but it did not. He gave it almost in a shriek. I am sure that it was
"Have you no alternative, Mr. Holmes?"
"Perhaps I have. But I do not care to discuss it until there is something mor_olid to discuss."
"And when will that be?"
"In an hour — possibly less."
The inspector rubbed his chin and looked at me with dubious eyes.
"I wish I could see what was in your mind, Mr. Holmes. Perhaps it's thos_ishing-boats."
"No, no, they were too far out."
"Well, then, is it Bellamy and that big son of his? They were not too swee_pon Mr. McPherson. Could they have done him a mischief?"
"No, no, you won't draw me until I am ready," said I with a smile. "Now, Inspector, we each have our own work to do. Perhaps if you were to meet m_ere at midday —"
So far we had got when there came the tremendous interruption which was th_eginning of the end.
My outer door was flung open, there were blundering footsteps in the passage, and Ian Murdoch staggered into the room, pallid, dishevelled, his clothes i_ild disorder, clawing with his bony hands at the furniture to hold himsel_rect. "Brandy! Brandy!" he gasped, and fell groaning upon the sofa.
He was not alone. Behind him came Stackhurst, hatless and panting, almost a_istrait as his companion.
"Yes, yes, brandy!" he cried. "The man is at his last gasp. It was all I coul_o to bring him here. He fainted twice upon the way."
Half a tumbler of the raw spirit brought about a wondrous change. He pushe_imself up on one arm and swung his coat from his shoulders. "For God's sak_il, opium, morphia!" he cried. "Anything to ease this infernal agony!"
The inspector and I cried out at the sight. There, crisscrossed upon the man'_aked shoulder, was the same strange reticulated pattern of red, inflame_ines which had been the death-mark of Fitzroy McPherson.
The pain was evidently terrible and was more than local, for the sufferer'_reathing would stop for a time, his face would turn black, and then with lou_asps he would clap his hand to his heart, while his brow dropped beads o_weat. At any moment he might die. More and more brandy was poured down hi_hroat, each fresh dose bringing him back to life. Pads of cotton-wool soake_n salad-oil seemed to take the agony from the strange wounds. At last hi_ead fell heavily upon the cushion. Exhausted Nature had taken refuge in it_ast storehouse of vitality. It was half a sleep and half a faint, but a_east it was ease from pain.
To question him had been impossible, but the moment we were assured of hi_ondition Stackhurst turned upon me.
"My God!" he cried, "what is it, Holmes? What is it?"
"Where did you find him?"
"Down on the beach. Exactly where poor McPherson met his end. If this man'_eart had been weak as McPherson's was, he would not be here now. More tha_nce I thought he was gone as I brought him up. It was too far to The Gables, so I made for you."
"Did you see him on the beach?"
"I was walking on the cliff when I heard his cry. He was at the edge of th_ater, reeling about like a drunken man. I ran down, threw some clothes abou_im, and brought him up. For heaven's sake, Holmes, use all the powers yo_ave and spare no pains to lift the curse from this place, for life i_ecoming unendurable. Can you, with all your world-wide reputation, do nothin_or us?"
"I think I can, Stackhurst. Come with me now! And you, Inspector, come along!
We will see if we cannot deliver this murderer into your hands."
Leaving the unconscious man in the charge of my housekeeper, we all three wen_own to the deadly lagoon. On the shingle there was piled a little heap o_owels and clothes left by the stricken man. Slowly I walked round the edge o_he water, my comrades in Indian file behind me. Most of the pool was quit_hallow, but under the cliff where the beach was hollowed out it was four o_ive feet deep. It was to this part that a swimmer would naturally go, for i_ormed a beautiful pellucid green pool as clear as crystal. A line of rock_ay above it at the base of the cliff, and along this I led the way, peerin_agerly into the depths beneath me. I had reached the deepest and stilles_ool when my eyes caught that for which they were searching, and I burst int_ shout of triumph.
"Cyanea!" I cried. "Cyanea! Behold the Lion's Mane!"
The strange object at which I pointed did indeed look like a tangled mass tor_rom the mane of a lion. It lay upon a rocky shelf some three feet under th_ater, a curious waving, vibrating, hairy creature with streaks of silve_mong its yellow tresses. It pulsated with a slow, heavy dilation an_ontraction.
"It has done mischief enough. Its day is over!" I cried. "Help me, Stackhurst!
Let us end the murderer forever."
There was a big boulder just above the ledge, and we pushed it until it fel_ith a tremendous splash into the water. When the ripples had cleared we sa_hat it had settled upon the ledge below. One flapping edge of yellow membran_howed that our victim was beneath it. A thick oily scum oozed out from belo_he stone and stained the water round, rising slowly to the surface.
"Well, this gets me!" cried the inspector. "What was it, Mr. Holmes? I'm bor_nd bred in these parts, but I never saw such a thing. It don't belong t_ussex."
"Just as well for Sussex," I remarked. "It may have been the southwest gal_hat brought it up. Come back to my house, both of you, and I will give yo_he terrible experience of one who has good reason to remember his own meetin_ith the same peril of the seas."
When we reached my study we found that Murdoch was so far recovered that h_ould sit up. He was dazed in mind, and every now and then was shaken by _aroxysm of pain. In broken words he explained that he had no notion what ha_ccurred to him, save that terrific pangs had suddenly shot through him, an_hat it had taken all his fortitude to reach the bank.
"Here is a book," I said, taking up the little volume, "which first brough_ight into what might have been forever dark. It is Out of Doors, by th_amous observer, J. G. Wood. Wood himself very nearly perished from contac_ith this vile creature, so he wrote with a very full knowledge. Cyane_apillata is the miscreant's full name, and he can be as dangerous to life as, and far more painful than, the bite of the cobra. Let me briefly give thi_xtract.
"If the bather should see a loose roundish mass of tawny
membranes and fibres, something like very large handfuls
of lion's mane and silver paper, let him beware, for this is
the fearful stinger, Cyanea capillata.
Could our sinister acquaintance be more clearly described?
"He goes on to tell of his own encounter with one when swimming off the coas_f Kent. He found that the creature radiated almost invisible filaments to th_istance of fifty feet, and that anyone within that circumference from th_eadly centre was in danger of death. Even at a distance the effect upon Woo_as almost fatal.
"The multitudinous threads caused light scarlet lines upon
the skin which on closer examination resolved into minute
dots or pustules, each dot charged as it were with a red-hot
needle making its way through the nerves.
"The local pain was, as he explains, the least part of the exquisite torment.
"Pangs shot through the chest, causing me to fall as if
struck by a bullet. The pulsation would cease, and then the
heart would give six or seven leaps as if it would force its
way through the chest.
"It nearly killed him, although he had only been exposed to it in th_isturbed ocean and not in the narrow calm waters of a bathing-pool. He say_hat he could hardly recognize himself afterwards, so white, wrinkled an_hrivelled was his face. He gulped down brandy, a whole bottleful, and i_eems to have saved his life. There is the book, Inspector. I leave it wit_ou, and you cannot doubt that it contains a full explanation of the traged_f poor McPherson."
"And incidentally exonerates me," remarked Ian Murdoch with a wry smile. "I d_ot blame you, Inspector, nor you, Mr. Holmes, for your suspicions wer_atural. I feel that on the very eve of my arrest I have only cleared mysel_y sharing the fate of my poor friend."
"No, Mr. Murdoch. I was already upon the track, and had I been out as early a_ intended I might well have saved you from this terrific experience."
"But how did you know, Mr. Holmes?"
"I am an omnivorous reader with a strangely retentive memory for trifles. Tha_hrase 'the Lion's Mane' haunted my mind. I knew that I had seen it somewher_n an unexpected context. You have seen that it does describe the creature. _ave no doubt that it was floating on the water when McPherson saw it, an_hat this phrase was the only one by which he could convey to us a warning a_o the creature which had been his death."
"Then I, at least, am cleared," said Murdoch, rising slowly to his feet.
"There are one or two words of explanation which I should give, for I know th_irection in which your inquiries have run. It is true that I loved this lady, but from the day when she chose my friend McPherson my one desire was to hel_er to happiness. I was well content to stand aside and act as their go- between. Often I carried their messages, and it was because I was in thei_onfidence and because she was so dear to me that I hastened to tell her of m_riend's death, lest someone should forestall me in a more sudden an_eartless manner. She would not tell you, sir, of our relations lest yo_hould disapprove and I might suffer. But with your leave I must try to ge_ack to The Gables, for my bed will be very welcome."
Stackhurst held out his hand. "Our nerves have all been at concert-pitch,"
said he. "Forgive what is past, Murdoch. We shall understand each other bette_n the future." They passed out together with their arms linked in friendl_ashion. The inspector remained, staring at me in silence with his ox-lik_yes.
"Well, you've done it!" he cried at last. "I had read of you, but I neve_elieved it. It's wonderful!"
I was forced to shake my head. To accept such praise was to lower one's ow_tandards.
"I was slow at the outset — culpably slow. Had the body been found in th_ater I could hardly have missed it. It was the towel which misled me. Th_oor fellow had never thought to dry himself, and so I in turn was led t_elieve that he had never been in the water. Why, then, should the attack o_ny water creature suggest itself to me? That was where I went astray. Well, well, Inspector, I often ventured to chaff you gentlemen of the police force, but Cyanea capillata very nearly avenged Scotland Yard."