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Chapter 2 The Adventure of the Norwood Builder

  • "From the point of view of the criminal expert," said Mr. Sherlock Holmes,
  • "London has become a singularly uninteresting city since the death of the lat_amented Professor Moriarty."
  • "I can hardly think that you would find many decent citizens to agree wit_ou," I answered.
  • "Well, well, I must not be selfish," said he, with a smile, as he pushed bac_is chair from the breakfast-table. "The community is certainly the gainer, and no one the loser, save the poor out-of-work specialist, whose occupatio_as gone. With that man in the field one's morning paper presented infinit_ossibilities. Often it was only the smallest trace, Watson, the faintes_ndication, and yet it was enough to tell me that the great malignant brai_as there, as the gentlest tremors of the edges of the web remind one of th_oul spider which lurks in the centre. Petty thefts, wanton assaults, purposeless outrage — to the man who held the clue all could be worked int_ne connected whole. To the scientific student of the higher criminal world n_apital in Europe offered the advantages which London then possessed. But now ——" He shrugged his shoulders in humorous deprecation of the state of thing_hich he had himself done so much to produce.
  • At the time of which I speak Holmes had been back for some months, and I, a_is request, had sold my practice and returned to share the old quarters i_aker Street. A young doctor, named Verner, had purchased my small Kensingto_ractice, and given with astonishingly little demur the highest price that _entured to ask — an incident which only explained itself some years late_hen I found that Verner was a distant relation of Holmes's, and that it wa_y friend who had really found the money.
  • Our months of partnership had not been so uneventful as he had stated, for _ind, on looking over my notes, that this period includes the case of th_apers of Ex-President Murillo, and also the shocking affair of the Dutc_teamship Friesland, which so nearly cost us both our lives. His cold an_roud nature was always averse, however, to anything in the shape of publi_pplause, and he bound me in the most stringent terms to say no further wor_f himself, his methods, or his successes — a prohibition which, as I hav_xplained, has only now been removed.
  • Mr. Sherlock Holmes was leaning back in his chair after his whimsical protest, and was unfolding his morning paper in a leisurely fashion, when our attentio_as arrested by a tremendous ring at the bell, followed immediately by _ollow drumming sound, as if someone were beating on the outer door with hi_ist. As it opened there came a tumultuous rush into the hall, rapid fee_lattered up the stair, and an instant later a wild-eyed and frantic youn_an, pale, dishevelled, and palpitating, burst into the room. He looked fro_ne to the other of us, and under our gaze of inquiry he became conscious tha_ome apology was needed for this unceremonious entry.
  • "I'm sorry, Mr. Holmes," he cried. "You mustn't blame me. I am nearly mad. Mr.
  • Holmes, I am the unhappy John Hector McFarlane."
  • He made the announcement as if the name alone would explain both his visit an_ts manner; but I could see by my companion's unresponsive face that it mean_o more to him than to me.
  • "Have a cigarette, Mr. McFarlane," said he, pushing his case across. "I a_ure that with your symptoms my friend Dr. Watson here would prescribe _edative. The weather has been so very warm these last few days. Now, if yo_eel a little more composed, I should be glad if you would sit down in tha_hair and tell us very slowly and quietly who you are and what it is that yo_ant. You mentioned your name as if I should recognise it, but I assure yo_hat, beyond the obvious facts that you are a bachelor, a solicitor, _reemason, and an asthmatic, I know nothing whatever about you."
  • Familiar as I was with my friend's methods, it was not difficult for me t_ollow his deductions, and to observe the untidiness of attire, the sheaf o_egal papers, the watch-charm, and the breathing which had prompted them. Ou_lient, however, stared in amazement.
  • "Yes, I am all that, Mr. Holmes, and in addition I am the most unfortunate ma_t this moment in London. For Heaven's sake don't abandon me, Mr. Holmes! I_hey come to arrest me before I have finished my story, make them give me tim_o that I may tell you the whole truth. I could go to gaol happy if I kne_hat you were working for me outside."
  • "Arrest you!" said Holmes. "This is really most grati — most interesting. O_hat charge do you expect to be arrested?"
  • "Upon the charge of murdering Mr. Jonas Oldacre, of Lower Norwood."
  • My companion's expressive face showed a sympathy which was not, I am afraid, entirely unmixed with satisfaction.
  • "Dear me," said he; "it was only this moment at breakfast that I was saying t_y friend, Dr. Watson, that sensational cases had disappeared out of ou_apers."
  • Our visitor stretched forward a quivering hand and picked up the Dail_elegraph, which still lay upon Holmes's knee.
  • "If you had looked at it, sir, you would have seen at a glance what the erran_s on which I have come to you this morning. I feel as if my name and m_isfortune must be in every man's mouth." He turned it over to expose th_entral page. "Here it is, and with your permission I will read it to you.
  • Listen to this, Mr. Holmes. The head-lines are: `Mysterious Affair at Lowe_orwood. Disappearance of a Well-known Builder. Suspicion of Murder and Arson.
  • A Clue to the Criminal.' That is the clue which they are already following, Mr. Holmes, and I know that it leads infallibly to me. I have been followe_rom London Bridge Station, and I am sure that they are only waiting for th_arrant to arrest me. It will break my mother's heart — it will break he_eart!" He wrung his hands in an agony of apprehension, and swayed backward_nd forwards in his chair.
  • I looked with interest upon this man, who was accused of being the perpetrato_f a crime of violence. He was flaxen-haired and handsome in a washed-ou_egative fashion, with frightened blue eyes and a clean-shaven face, with _eak, sensitive mouth. His age may have been about twenty-seven; his dress an_earing that of a gentleman. From the pocket of his light summer overcoa_rotruded the bundle of endorsed papers which proclaimed his profession.
  • "We must use what time we have," said Holmes. "Watson, would you have th_indness to take the paper and to read me the paragraph in question?"
  • Underneath the vigorous head-lines which our client had quoted I read th_ollowing suggestive narrative:—
  • Late last night, or early this morning, an incident occurred at Lower Norwoo_hich points, it is feared, to a serious crime. Mr. Jonas Oldacre is a well- known resident of that suburb, where he has carried on his business as _uilder for many years. Mr. Oldacre is a bachelor, fifty-two years of age, an_ives in Deep Dene House, at the Sydenham end of the road of that name. He ha_ad the reputation of being a man of eccentric habits, secretive and retiring.
  • For some years he has practically withdrawn from the business, in which he i_aid to have amassed considerable wealth. A small timber-yard still exists, however, at the back of the house, and last night, about twelve o'clock, a_larm was given that one of the stacks was on fire. The engines were soon upo_he spot, but the dry wood burned with great fury, and it was impossible t_rrest the conflagration until the stack had been entirely consumed. Up t_his point the incident bore the appearance of an ordinary accident, but fres_ndications seem to point to serious crime. Surprise was expressed at th_bsence of the master of the establishment from the scene of the fire, and a_nquiry followed, which showed that he had disappeared from the house. A_xamination of his room revealed that the bed had not been slept in, that _afe which stood in it was open, that a number of important papers wer_cattered about the room, and, finally, that there were signs of a murderou_truggle, slight traces of blood being found within the room, and an oake_alking-stick, which also showed stains of blood upon the handle. It is know_hat Mr. Jonas Oldacre had received a late visitor in his bedroom upon tha_ight, and the stick found has been identified as the property of this person, who is a young London solicitor named John Hector McFarlane, junior partner o_raham and McFarlane, of 426, Gresham Buildings, E.C. The police believe tha_hey have evidence in their possession which supplies a very convincing motiv_or the crime, and altogether it cannot be doubted that sensationa_evelopments will follow.
  • Later. — It is rumoured as we go to press that Mr. John Hector McFarlane ha_ctually been arrested on the charge of the murder of Mr. Jonas Oldacre. It i_t least certain that a warrant has been issued. There have been further an_inister developments in the investigation at Norwood. Besides the signs of _truggle in the room of the unfortunate builder it is now known that th_rench windows of his bedroom (which is on the ground floor) were found to b_pen, that there were marks as if some bulky object had been dragged across t_he wood-pile, and, finally, it is asserted that charred remains have bee_ound among the charcoal ashes of the fire. The police theory is that a mos_ensational crime has been committed, that the victim was clubbed to death i_is own bedroom, his papers rifled, and his dead body dragged across to th_ood-stack, which was then ignited so as to hide all traces of the crime. Th_onduct of the criminal investigation has been left in the experienced hand_f Inspector Lestrade, of Scotland Yard, who is following up the clues wit_is accustomed energy and sagacity.
  • Sherlock Holmes listened with closed eyes and finger-tips together to thi_emarkable account.
  • "The case has certainly some points of interest," said he, in his langui_ashion. "May I ask, in the first place, Mr. McFarlane, how it is that you ar_till at liberty, since there appears to be enough evidence to justify you_rrest?"
  • "I live at Torrington Lodge, Blackheath, with my parents, Mr. Holmes; but las_ight, having to do business very late with Mr. Jonas Oldacre, I stayed at a_otel in Norwood, and came to my business from there. I knew nothing of thi_ffair until I was in the train, when I read what you have just heard. I a_nce saw the horrible danger of my position, and I hurried to put the cas_nto your hands. I have no doubt that I should have been arrested either at m_ity office or at my home. A man followed me from London Bridge Station, and _ave no doubt — Great Heaven, what is that?"
  • It was a clang of the bell, followed instantly by heavy steps upon the stair.
  • A moment later our old friend Lestrade appeared in the doorway. Over hi_houlder I caught a glimpse of one or two uniformed policemen outside.
  • "Mr. John Hector McFarlane?" said Lestrade.
  • Our unfortunate client rose with a ghastly face.
  • "I arrest you for the wilful murder of Mr. Jonas Oldacre, of Lower Norwood."
  • McFarlane turned to us with a gesture of despair, and sank into his chair onc_ore like one who is crushed.
  • "One moment, Lestrade," said Holmes. "Half an hour more or less can make n_ifference to you, and the gentleman was about to give us an account of thi_ery interesting affair, which might aid us in clearing it up."
  • "I think there will be no difficulty in clearing it up," said Lestrade, grimly.
  • "None the less, with your permission, I should be much interested to hear hi_ccount."
  • "Well, Mr. Holmes, it is difficult for me to refuse you anything, for you hav_een of use to the force once or twice in the past, and we owe you a good tur_t Scotland Yard," said Lestrade. "At the same time I must remain with m_risoner, and I am bound to warn him that anything he may say will appear i_vidence against him."
  • "I wish nothing better," said our client. "All I ask is that you should hea_nd recognise the absolute truth."
  • Lestrade looked at his watch. "I'll give you half an hour," said he.
  • "I must explain first," said McFarlane, "that I knew nothing of Mr. Jona_ldacre. His name was familiar to me, for many years ago my parents wer_cquainted with him, but they drifted apart. I was very much surprised, therefore, when yesterday, about three o'clock in the afternoon, he walke_nto my office in the City. But I was still more astonished when he told m_he object of his visit. He had in his hand several sheets of a note-book, covered with scribbled writing — here they are — and he laid them on my table.
  • "`Here is my will,' said he. `I want you, Mr. McFarlane, to cast it int_roper legal shape. I will sit here while you do so.'
  • "I set myself to copy it, and you can imagine my astonishment when I foun_hat, with some reservations, he had left all his property to me. He was _trange little, ferret-like man, with white eyelashes, and when I looked up a_im I found his keen grey eyes fixed upon me with an amused expression. _ould hardly believe my own senses as I read the terms of the will; but h_xplained that he was a bachelor with hardly any living relation, that he ha_nown my parents in his youth, and that he had always heard of me as a ver_eserving young man, and was assured that his money would be in worthy hands.
  • Of course, I could only stammer out my thanks. The will was duly finished, signed, and witnessed by my clerk. This is it on the blue paper, and thes_lips, as I have explained, are the rough draft. Mr. Jonas Oldacre the_nformed me that there were a number of documents — building leases, title- deeds, mortgages, scrip, and so forth — which it was necessary that I shoul_ee and understand. He said that his mind would not be easy until the whol_hing was settled, and he begged me to come out to his house at Norwood tha_ight, bringing the will with me, and to arrange matters. `Remember, my boy, not one word to your parents about the affair until everything is settled. W_ill keep it as a little surprise for them.' He was very insistent upon thi_oint, and made me promise it faithfully.
  • "You can imagine, Mr. Holmes, that I was not in a humour to refuse hi_nything that he might ask. He was my benefactor, and all my desire was t_arry out his wishes in every particular. I sent a telegram home, therefore, to say that I had important business on hand, and that it was impossible fo_e to say how late I might be. Mr. Oldacre had told me that he would like m_o have supper with him at nine, as he might not be home before that hour. _ad some difficulty in finding his house, however, and it was nearly half-pas_efore I reached it. I found him —"
  • "One moment!" said Holmes. "Who opened the door?"
  • "A middle-aged woman, who was, I suppose, his housekeeper."
  • "And it was she, I presume, who mentioned your name?"
  • "Exactly," said McFarlane.
  • "Pray proceed."
  • McFarlane wiped his damp brow and then continued his narrative:—
  • "I was shown by this woman into a sitting-room, where a frugal supper was lai_ut. Afterwards Mr. Jonas Oldacre led me into his bedroom, in which ther_tood a heavy safe. This he opened and took out a mass of documents, which w_ent over together. It was between eleven and twelve when we finished. H_emarked that we must not disturb the housekeeper. He showed me out throug_is own French window, which had been open all this time."
  • "Was the blind down?" asked Holmes.
  • "I will not be sure, but I believe that it was only half down. Yes, I remembe_ow he pulled it up in order to swing open the window. I could not find m_tick, and he said, `Never mind, my boy; I shall see a good deal of you now, _ope, and I will keep your stick until you come back to claim it.' I left hi_here, the safe open, and the papers made up in packets upon the table. It wa_o late that I could not get back to Blackheath, so I spent the night at th_nerley Arms, and I knew nothing more until I read of this horrible affair i_he morning."
  • "Anything more that you would like to ask, Mr. Holmes?" said Lestrade, whos_yebrows had gone up once or twice during this remarkable explanation.
  • "Not until I have been to Blackheath."
  • "You mean to Norwood," said Lestrade.
  • "Oh, yes; no doubt that is what I must have meant," said Holmes, with hi_nigmatical smile. Lestrade had learned by more experiences than he would car_o acknowledge that that razor-like brain could cut through that which wa_mpenetrable to him. I saw him look curiously at my companion.
  • "I think I should like to have a word with you presently, Mr. Sherloc_olmes," said he. "Now, Mr. McFarlane, two of my constables are at the doo_nd there is a four-wheeler waiting." The wretched young man arose, and with _ast beseeching glance at us walked from the room. The officers conducted hi_o the cab, but Lestrade remained.
  • Holmes had picked up the pages which formed the rough draft of the will, an_as looking at them with the keenest interest upon his face.
  • "There are some points about that document, Lestrade, are there not?" said he, pushing them over.
  • The official looked at them with a puzzled expression.
  • "I can read the first few lines, and these in the middle of the second page, and one or two at the end. Those are as clear as print," said he; "but th_riting in between is very bad, and there are three places where I cannot rea_t at all."
  • "What do you make of that?" said Holmes.
  • "Well, what do YOU make of it?"
  • "That it was written in a train; the good writing represents stations, the ba_riting movement, and the very bad writing passing over points. A scientifi_xpert would pronounce at once that this was drawn up on a suburban line, since nowhere save in the immediate vicinity of a great city could there be s_uick a succession of points. Granting that his whole journey was occupied i_rawing up the will, then the train was an express, only stopping once betwee_orwood and London Bridge."
  • Lestrade began to laugh.
  • "You are too many for me when you begin to get on your theories, Mr. Holmes,"
  • said he. "How does this bear on the case?"
  • "Well, it corroborates the young man's story to the extent that the will wa_rawn up by Jonas Oldacre in his journey yesterday. It is curious — is it not?
  • — that a man should draw up so important a document in so haphazard a fashion.
  • It suggests that he did not think it was going to be of much practica_mportance. If a man drew up a will which he did not intend ever to b_ffective he might do it so."
  • "Well, he drew up his own death-warrant at the same time," said Lestrade.
  • "Oh, you think so?"
  • "Don't you?"
  • "Well, it is quite possible; but the case is not clear to me yet."
  • "Not clear? Well, if that isn't clear, what COULD be clear? Here is a youn_an who learns suddenly that if a certain older man dies he will succeed to _ortune. What does he do? He says nothing to anyone, but he arranges that h_hall go out on some pretext to see his client that night; he waits until th_nly other person in the house is in bed, and then in the solitude of a man'_oom he murders him, burns his body in the wood-pile, and departs to _eighbouring hotel. The blood-stains in the room and also on the stick ar_ery slight. It is probable that he imagined his crime to be a bloodless one, and hoped that if the body were consumed it would hide all traces of th_ethod of his death — traces which for some reason must have pointed to him.
  • Is all this not obvious?"
  • "It strikes me, my good Lestrade, as being just a trifle too obvious," sai_olmes. "You do not add imagination to your other great qualities; but if yo_ould for one moment put yourself in the place of this young man, would yo_hoose the very night after the will had been made to commit your crime? Woul_t not seem dangerous to you to make so very close a relation between the tw_ncidents? Again, would you choose an occasion when you are known to be in th_ouse, when a servant has let you in? And, finally, would you take the grea_ains to conceal the body and yet leave your own stick as a sign that you wer_he criminal? Confess, Lestrade, that all this is very unlikely."
  • "As to the stick, Mr. Holmes, you know as well as I do that a criminal i_ften flurried and does things which a cool man would avoid. He was ver_ikely afraid to go back to the room. Give me another theory that would fi_he facts."
  • "I could very easily give you half-a-dozen," said Holmes. "Here, for example, is a very possible and even probable one. I make you a free present of it. Th_lder man is showing documents which are of evident value. A passing tram_ees them through the window, the blind of which is only half down. Exit th_olicitor. Enter the tramp! He seizes a stick, which he observes there, kill_ldacre, and departs after burning the body."
  • "Why should the tramp burn the body?"
  • "For the matter of that why should McFarlane?"
  • "To hide some evidence."
  • "Possibly the tramp wanted to hide that any murder at all had been committed."
  • "And why did the tramp take nothing?"
  • "Because they were papers that he could not negotiate."
  • Lestrade shook his head, though it seemed to me that his manner was les_bsolutely assured than before.
  • "Well, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, you may look for your tramp, and while you ar_inding him we will hold on to our man. The future will show which is right.
  • Just notice this point, Mr. Holmes: that so far as we know none of the paper_ere removed, and that the prisoner is the one man in the world who had n_eason for removing them, since he was heir-at-law and would come into them i_ny case."
  • My friend seemed struck by this remark.
  • "I don't mean to deny that the evidence is in some ways very strongly i_avour of your theory," said he. "I only wish to point out that there ar_ther theories possible. As you say, the future will decide. Good morning! _are say that in the course of the day I shall drop in at Norwood and see ho_ou are getting on."
  • When the detective departed my friend rose and made his preparations for th_ay's work with the alert air of a man who has a congenial task before him.
  • "My first movement, Watson," said he, as he bustled into his frock-coat,
  • "must, as I said, be in the direction of Blackheath."
  • "And why not Norwood?"
  • "Because we have in this case one singular incident coming close to the heel_f another singular incident. The police are making the mistake o_oncentrating their attention upon the second, because it happens to be th_ne which is actually criminal. But it is evident to me that the logical wa_o approach the case is to begin by trying to throw some light upon the firs_ncident — the curious will, so suddenly made, and to so unexpected an heir.
  • It may do something to simplify what followed. No, my dear fellow, I don'_hink you can help me. There is no prospect of danger, or I should not drea_f stirring out without you. I trust that when I see you in the evening I wil_e able to report that I have been able to do something for this unfortunat_oungster who has thrown himself upon my protection."
  • It was late when my friend returned, and I could see by a glance at hi_aggard and anxious face that the high hopes with which he had started had no_een fulfilled. For an hour he droned away upon his violin, endeavouring t_oothe his own ruffled spirits. At last he flung down the instrument an_lunged into a detailed account of his misadventures.
  • "It's all going wrong, Watson — all as wrong as it can go. I kept a bold fac_efore Lestrade, but, upon my soul, I believe that for once the fellow is o_he right track and we are on the wrong. All my instincts are one way and al_he facts are the other, and I much fear that British juries have not ye_ttained that pitch of intelligence when they will give the preference to m_heories over Lestrade's facts."
  • "Did you go to Blackheath?"
  • "Yes, Watson, I went there, and I found very quickly that the late lamente_ldacre was a pretty considerable black-guard. The father was away in searc_f his son. The mother was at home — a little, fluffy, blue-eyed person, in _remor of fear and indignation. Of course, she would not admit even th_ossibility of his guilt. But she would not express either surprise or regre_ver the fate of Oldacre. On the contrary, she spoke of him with suc_itterness that she was unconsciously considerably strengthening the case o_he police, for, of course, if her son had heard her speak of the man in thi_ashion it would predispose him towards hatred and violence. `He was more lik_ malignant and cunning ape than a human being,' said she, `and he always was, ever since he was a young man.'
  • "`You knew him at that time?' said I.
  • "`Yes, I knew him well; in fact, he was an old suitor of mine. Thank Heave_hat I had the sense to turn away from him and to marry a better, if a poorer, man. I was engaged to him, Mr. Holmes, when I heard a shocking story of how h_ad turned a cat loose in an aviary, and I was so horrified at his bruta_ruelty that I would have nothing more to do with him.' She rummaged in _ureau, and presently she produced a photograph of a woman, shamefully deface_nd mutilated with a knife. `That is my own photograph,' she said. `He sent i_o me in that state, with his curse, upon my wedding morning.'
  • "`Well,' said I, `at least he has forgiven you now, since he has left all hi_roperty to your son.'
  • "`Neither my son nor I want anything from Jonas Oldacre, dead or alive,' sh_ried, with a proper spirit. `There is a God in Heaven, Mr. Holmes, and tha_ame God who has punished that wicked man will show in His own good time tha_y son's hands are guiltless of his blood.'
  • "Well, I tried one or two leads, but could get at nothing which would help ou_ypothesis, and several points which would make against it. I gave it up a_ast and off I went to Norwood.
  • "This place, Deep Dene House, is a big modern villa of staring brick, standin_ack in its own grounds, with a laurel-clumped lawn in front of it. To th_ight and some distance back from the road was the timber-yard which had bee_he scene of the fire. Here's a rough plan on a leaf of my note-book. Thi_indow on the left is the one which opens into Oldacre's room. You can loo_nto it from the road, you see. That is about the only bit of consolation _ave had to-day. Lestrade was not there, but his head constable did th_onours. They had just made a great treasure-trove. They had spent the mornin_aking among the ashes of the burned wood-pile, and besides the charre_rganic remains they had secured several discoloured metal discs. I examine_hem with care, and there was no doubt that they were trouser buttons. I eve_istinguished that one of them was marked with the name of `Hyams', who wa_ldacre's tailor. I then worked the lawn very carefully for signs and traces, but this drought has made everything as hard as iron. Nothing was to be see_ave that some body or bundle had been dragged through a low privet hedg_hich is in a line with the wood-pile. All that, of course, fits in with th_fficial theory. I crawled about the lawn with an August sun on my back, but _ot up at the end of an hour no wiser than before.
  • "Well, after this fiasco I went into the bedroom and examined that also. Th_lood-stains were very slight, mere smears and discolourations, bu_ndoubtedly fresh. The stick had been removed, but there also the marks wer_light. There is no doubt about the stick belonging to our client. He admit_t. Footmarks of both men could be made out on the carpet, but none of an_hird person, which again is a trick for the other side. They were piling u_heir score all the time and we were at a standstill.
  • "Only one little gleam of hope did I get — and yet it amounted to nothing. _xamined the contents of the safe, most of which had been taken out and lef_n the table. The papers had been made up into sealed envelopes, one or two o_hich had been opened by the police. They were not, so far as I could judge, of any great value, nor did the bank-book show that Mr. Oldacre was in suc_ery affluent circumstances. But it seemed to me that all the papers were no_here. There were allusions to some deeds — possibly the more valuable — whic_ could not find. This, of course, if we could definitely prove it, would tur_estrade's argument against himself, for who would steal a thing if he kne_hat he would shortly inherit it?
  • "Finally, having drawn every other cover and picked up no scent, I tried m_uck with the housekeeper. Mrs. Lexington is her name, a little, dark, silen_erson, with suspicious and sidelong eyes. She could tell us something if sh_ould — I am convinced of it. But she was as close as wax. Yes, she had le_r. McFarlane in at half-past nine. She wished her hand had withered befor_he had done so. She had gone to bed at half-past ten. Her room was at th_ther end of the house, and she could hear nothing of what passed. Mr.
  • McFarlane had left his hat, and to the best of her belief his stick, in th_all. She had been awakened by the alarm of fire. Her poor, dear master ha_ertainly been murdered. Had he any enemies? Well, every man had enemies, bu_r. Oldacre kept himself very much to himself, and only met people in the wa_f business. She had seen the buttons, and was sure that they belonged to th_lothes which he had worn last night. The wood-pile was very dry, for it ha_ot rained for a month. It burned like tinder, and by the time she reached th_pot nothing could be seen but flames. She and all the firemen smelled th_urned flesh from inside it. She knew nothing of the papers, nor of Mr.
  • Oldacre's private affairs.
  • "So, my dear Watson, there's my report of a failure. And yet — and yet —" — h_lenched his thin hands in a paroxysm of conviction — "I know it's all wrong.
  • I feel it in my bones. There is something that has not come out, and tha_ousekeeper knows it. There was a sort of sulky defiance in her eyes, whic_nly goes with guilty knowledge. However, there's no good talking any mor_bout it, Watson; but unless some lucky chance comes our way I fear that th_orwood Disappearance Case will not figure in that chronicle of our successe_hich I foresee that a patient public will sooner or later have to endure."
  • "Surely," said I, "the man's appearance would go far with any jury?"
  • "That is a dangerous argument, my dear Watson. You remember that terribl_urderer, Bert Stevens, who wanted us to get him off in '87? Was there ever _ore mild-mannered, Sunday-school young man?"
  • "It is true."
  • "Unless we succeed in establishing an alternative theory this man is lost. Yo_an hardly find a flaw in the case which can now be presented against him, an_ll further investigation has served to strengthen it. By the way, there i_ne curious little point about those papers which may serve us as th_tarting-point for an inquiry. On looking over the bank-book I found that th_ow state of the balance was principally due to large cheques which have bee_ade out during the last year to Mr. Cornelius. I confess that I should b_nterested to know who this Mr. Cornelius may be with whom a retired builde_as such very large transactions. Is it possible that he has had a hand in th_ffair? Cornelius might be a broker, but we have found no scrip to correspon_ith these large payments. Failing any other indication my researches must no_ake the direction of an inquiry at the bank for the gentleman who has cashe_hese cheques. But I fear, my dear fellow, that our case will end ingloriousl_y Lestrade hanging our client, which will certainly be a triumph for Scotlan_ard."
  • I do not know how far Sherlock Holmes took any sleep that night, but when _ame down to breakfast I found him pale and harassed, his bright eyes th_righter for the dark shadows round them. The carpet round his chair wa_ittered with cigarette-ends and with the early editions of the mornin_apers. An open telegram lay upon the table.
  • "What do you think of this, Watson?" he asked, tossing it across.
  • It was from Norwood, and ran as follows:—
  • "important fresh evidence to hand. Mcfarlane's guilt definitely Established.
  • Advise you to abandon case. — Lestrade."
  • "This sounds serious," said I.
  • "It is Lestrade's little cock-a-doodle of victory," Holmes answered, with _itter smile. "And yet it may be premature to abandon the case. After all, important fresh evidence is a two-edged thing, and may possibly cut in a ver_ifferent direction to that which Lestrade imagines. Take your breakfast, Watson, and we will go out together and see what we can do. I feel as if _hall need your company and your moral support to-day."
  • My friend had no breakfast himself, for it was one of his peculiarities tha_n his more intense moments he would permit himself no food, and I have know_im presume upon his iron strength until he has fainted from pure inanition.
  • "At present I cannot spare energy and nerve force for digestion," he would sa_n answer to my medical remonstrances. I was not surprised, therefore, whe_his morning he left his untouched meal behind him and started with me fo_orwood. A crowd of morbid sightseers were still gathered round Deep Den_ouse, which was just such a suburban villa as I had pictured. Within th_ates Lestrade met us, his face flushed with victory, his manner grossl_riumphant.
  • "Well, Mr. Holmes, have you proved us to be wrong yet? Have you found you_ramp?" he cried.
  • "I have formed no conclusion whatever," my companion answered.
  • "But we formed ours yesterday, and now it proves to be correct; so you mus_cknowledge that we have been a little in front of you this time, Mr. Holmes."
  • "You certainly have the air of something unusual having occurred," sai_olmes.
  • Lestrade laughed loudly.
  • "You don't like being beaten any more than the rest of us do," said he. "A ma_an't expect always to have it his own way, can he, Dr. Watson? Step this way, if you please, gentlemen, and I think I can convince you once for all that i_as John McFarlane who did this crime."
  • He led us through the passage and out into a dark hall beyond.
  • "This is where young McFarlane must have come out to get his hat after th_rime was done," said he. "Now, look at this." With dramatic suddenness h_truck a match and by its light exposed a stain of blood upon the whitewashe_all. As he held the match nearer I saw that it was more than a stain. It wa_he well-marked print of a thumb.
  • "Look at that with your magnifying glass, Mr. Holmes."
  • "Yes, I am doing so."
  • "You are aware that no two thumb marks are alike?"
  • "I have heard something of the kind."
  • "Well, then, will you please compare that print with this wax impression o_oung McFarlane's right thumb, taken by my orders this morning?"
  • As he held the waxen print close to the blood-stain it did not take _agnifying glass to see that the two were undoubtedly from the same thumb. I_as evident to me that our unfortunate client was lost.
  • "That is final," said Lestrade.
  • "Yes, that is final," I involuntarily echoed.
  • "It is final," said Holmes.
  • Something in his tone caught my ear, and I turned to look at him. A_xtraordinary change had come over his face. It was writhing with inwar_erriment. His two eyes were shining like stars. It seemed to me that he wa_aking desperate efforts to restrain a convulsive attack of laughter.
  • "Dear me! Dear me!" he said at last. "Well, now, who would have thought it?
  • And how deceptive appearances may be, to be sure! Such a nice young man t_ook at! It is a lesson to us not to trust our own judgement, is it not, Lestrade?"
  • "Yes, some of us are a little too much inclined to be cocksure, Mr. Holmes,"
  • said Lestrade. The man's insolence was maddening, but we could not resent it.
  • "What a providential thing that this young man should press his right thum_gainst the wall in taking his hat from the peg! Such a very natural action, too, if you come to think of it." Holmes was outwardly calm, but his whol_ody gave a wriggle of suppressed excitement as he spoke. "By the way, Lestrade, who made this remarkable discovery?"
  • "It was the housekeeper, Mrs. Lexington, who drew the night constable'_ttention to it."
  • "Where was the night constable?"
  • "He remained on guard in the bedroom where the crime was committed, so as t_ee that nothing was touched."
  • "But why didn't the police see this mark yesterday?"
  • "Well, we had no particular reason to make a careful examination of the hall.
  • Besides, it's not in a very prominent place, as you see."
  • "No, no, of course not. I suppose there is no doubt that the mark was ther_esterday?"
  • Lestrade looked at Holmes as if he thought he was going out of his mind. _onfess that I was myself surprised both at his hilarious manner and at hi_ather wild observation.
  • "I don't know whether you think that McFarlane came out of gaol in the dead o_he night in order to strengthen the evidence against himself," said Lestrade.
  • "I leave it to any expert in the world whether that is not the mark of hi_humb."
  • "It is unquestionably the mark of his thumb."
  • "There, that's enough," said Lestrade. "I am a practical man, Mr. Holmes, an_hen I have got my evidence I come to my conclusions. If you have anything t_ay you will find me writing my report in the sitting-room."
  • Holmes had recovered his equanimity, though I still seemed to detect gleams o_musement in his expression.
  • "Dear me, this is a very sad development, Watson, is it not?" said he. "An_et there are singular points about it which hold out some hopes for ou_lient."
  • "I am delighted to hear it," said I, heartily. "I was afraid it was all u_ith him."
  • "I would hardly go so far as to say that, my dear Watson. The fact is tha_here is one really serious flaw in this evidence to which our friend attache_o much importance."
  • "Indeed, Holmes! What is it?"
  • "Only this: that I know that that mark was not there when I examined the hal_esterday. And now, Watson, let us have a little stroll round in th_unshine."
  • With a confused brain, but with a heart into which some warmth of hope wa_eturning, I accompanied my friend in a walk round the garden. Holmes too_ach face of the house in turn and examined it with great interest. He the_ed the way inside and went over the whole building from basement to attics.
  • Most of the rooms were unfurnished, but none the less Holmes inspected the_ll minutely. Finally, on the top corridor, which ran outside three untenante_edrooms, he again was seized with a spasm of merriment.
  • "There are really some very unique features about this case, Watson," said he.
  • "I think it is time now that we took our friend Lestrade into our confidence.
  • He has had his little smile at our expense, and perhaps we may do as much b_im if my reading of this problem proves to be correct. Yes, yes; I think _ee how we should approach it."
  • The Scotland Yard inspector was still writing in the parlour when Holme_nterrupted him.
  • "I understood that you were writing a report of this case," said he.
  • "So I am."
  • "Don't you think it may be a little premature? I can't help thinking that you_vidence is not complete."
  • Lestrade knew my friend too well to disregard his words. He laid down his pe_nd looked curiously at him.
  • "What do you mean, Mr. Holmes?"
  • "Only that there is an important witness whom you have not seen."
  • "Can you produce him?"
  • "I think I can."
  • "Then do so."
  • "I will do my best. How many constables have you?"
  • "There are three within call."
  • "Excellent!" said Holmes. "May I ask if they are all large, able-bodied me_ith powerful voices?"
  • "I have no doubt they are, though I fail to see what their voices have to d_ith it."
  • "Perhaps I can help you to see that and one or two other things as well," sai_olmes. "Kindly summon your men, and I will try."
  • Five minutes later three policemen had assembled in the hall.
  • "In the outhouse you will find a considerable quantity of straw," said Holmes.
  • "I will ask you to carry in two bundles of it. I think it will be of th_reatest assistance in producing the witness whom I require. Thank you ver_uch. I believe you have some matches in your pocket, Watson. Now, Mr.
  • Lestrade, I will ask you all to accompany me to the top landing."
  • As I have said, there was a broad corridor there, which ran outside thre_mpty bedrooms. At one end of the corridor we were all marshalled by Sherloc_olmes, the constables grinning and Lestrade staring at my friend wit_mazement, expectation, and derision chasing each other across his features.
  • Holmes stood before us with the air of a conjurer who is performing a trick.
  • "Would you kindly send one of your constables for two buckets of water? Pu_he straw on the floor here, free from the wall on either side. Now I thin_hat we are all ready."
  • Lestrade's face had begun to grow red and angry.
  • "I don't know whether you are playing a game with us, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,"
  • said he. "If you know anything, you can surely say it without all thi_omfoolery."
  • "I assure you, my good Lestrade, that I have an excellent reason fo_verything that I do. You may possibly remember that you chaffed me a littl_ome hours ago, when the sun seemed on your side of the hedge, so you must no_rudge me a little pomp and ceremony now. Might I ask you, Watson, to ope_hat window, and then to put a match to the edge of the straw?"
  • I did so, and, driven by the draught, a coil of grey smoke swirled down th_orridor, while the dry straw crackled and flamed.
  • "Now we must see if we can find this witness for you, Lestrade. Might I as_ou all to join in the cry of `Fire!'? Now, then; one, two, three —"
  • "Fire!" we all yelled.
  • "Thank you. I will trouble you once again."
  • "Fire!"
  • "Just once more, gentlemen, and all together."
  • "Fire!" The shout must have rung over Norwood.
  • It had hardly died away when an amazing thing happened. A door suddenly fle_pen out of what appeared to be solid wall at the end of the corridor, and _ittle, wizened man darted out of it, like a rabbit out of its burrow.
  • "Capital!" said Holmes, calmly. "Watson, a bucket of water over the straw.
  • That will do! Lestrade, allow me to present you with your principal missin_itness, Mr. Jonas Oldacre."
  • The detective stared at the new-comer with blank amazement. The latter wa_linking in the bright light of the corridor, and peering at us and at th_mouldering fire. It was an odious face — crafty, vicious, malignant, wit_hifty, light-grey eyes and white eyelashes.
  • "What's this, then?" said Lestrade at last. "What have you been doing all thi_ime, eh?"
  • Oldacre gave an uneasy laugh, shrinking back from the furious red face of th_ngry detective.
  • "I have done no harm."
  • "No harm? You have done your best to get an innocent man hanged. If it wasn'_or this gentleman here, I am not sure that you would not have succeeded."
  • The wretched creature began to whimper.
  • "I am sure, sir, it was only my practical joke."
  • "Oh! a joke, was it? You won't find the laugh on your side, I promise you.
  • Take him down and keep him in the sitting-room until I come. Mr. Holmes," h_ontinued, when they had gone, "I could not speak before the constables, but _on't mind saying, in the presence of Dr. Watson, that this is the brightes_hing that you have done yet, though it is a mystery to me how you did it. Yo_ave saved an innocent man's life, and you have prevented a very grav_candal, which would have ruined my reputation in the Force."
  • Holmes smiled and clapped Lestrade upon the shoulder.
  • "Instead of being ruined, my good sir, you will find that your reputation ha_een enormously enhanced. Just make a few alterations in that report which yo_ere writing, and they will understand how hard it is to throw dust in th_yes of Inspector Lestrade."
  • "And you don't want your name to appear?"
  • "Not at all. The work is its own reward. Perhaps I shall get the credit als_t some distant day when I permit my zealous historian to lay out his foolsca_nce more — eh, Watson? Well, now, let us see where this rat has bee_urking."
  • A lath-and-plaster partition had been run across the passage six feet from th_nd, with a door cunningly concealed in it. It was lit within by slits unde_he eaves. A few articles of furniture and a supply of food and water wer_ithin, together with a number of books and papers.
  • "There's the advantage of being a builder," said Holmes, as we came out. "H_as able to fix up his own little hiding-place without any confederate — save, of course, that precious housekeeper of his, whom I should lose no time i_dding to your bag, Lestrade."
  • "I'll take your advice. But how did you know of this place, Mr. Holmes?"
  • "I made up my mind that the fellow was in hiding in the house. When I pace_ne corridor and found it six feet shorter than the corresponding one below, it was pretty clear where he was. I thought he had not the nerve to lie quie_efore an alarm of fire. We could, of course, have gone in and taken him, bu_t amused me to make him reveal himself; besides, I owed you a littl_ystification, Lestrade, for your chaff in the morning."
  • "Well, sir, you certainly got equal with me on that. But how in the world di_ou know that he was in the house at all?"
  • "The thumb-mark, Lestrade. You said it was final; and so it was, in a ver_ifferent sense. I knew it had not been there the day before. I pay a goo_eal of attention to matters of detail, as you may have observed, and I ha_xamined the hall and was sure that the wall was clear. Therefore, it had bee_ut on during the night."
  • "But how?"
  • "Very simply. When those packets were sealed up, Jonas Oldacre got McFarlan_o secure one of the seals by putting his thumb upon the soft wax. It would b_one so quickly and so naturally that I dare say the young man himself has n_ecollection of it. Very likely it just so happened, and Oldacre had himsel_o notion of the use he would put it to. Brooding over the case in that den o_is, it suddenly struck him what absolutely damning evidence he could mak_gainst McFarlane by using that thumb-mark. It was the simplest thing in th_orld for him to take a wax impression from the seal, to moisten it in as muc_lood as he could get from a pin-prick, and to put the mark upon the wal_uring the night, either with his own hand or with that of his housekeeper. I_ou examine among those documents which he took with him into his retreat _ill lay you a wager that you find the seal with the thumb-mark upon it."
  • "Wonderful!" said Lestrade. "Wonderful! It's all as clear as crystal, as yo_ut it. But what is the object of this deep deception, Mr. Holmes?"
  • It was amusing to me to see how the detective's overbearing manner had change_uddenly to that of a child asking questions of its teacher.
  • "Well, I don't think that is very hard to explain. A very deep, malicious, vindictive person is the gentleman who is now awaiting us downstairs. You kno_hat he was once refused by McFarlane's mother? You don't! I told you that yo_hould go to Blackheath first and Norwood afterwards. Well, this injury, as h_ould consider it, has rankled in his wicked, scheming brain, and all his lif_e has longed for vengeance, but never seen his chance. During the last yea_r two things have gone against him — secret speculation, I think — and h_inds himself in a bad way. He determines to swindle his creditors, and fo_his purpose he pays large cheques to a certain Mr. Cornelius, who is, _magine, himself under another name. I have not traced these cheques yet, bu_ have no doubt that they were banked under that name at some provincial tow_here Oldacre from time to time led a double existence. He intended to chang_is name altogether, draw this money, and vanish, starting life agai_lsewhere."
  • "Well, that's likely enough."
  • "It would strike him that in disappearing he might throw all pursuit off hi_rack, and at the same time have an ample and crushing revenge upon his ol_weetheart, if he could give the impression that he had been murdered by he_nly child. It was a masterpiece of villainy, and he carried it out like _aster. The idea of the will, which would give an obvious motive for th_rime, the secret visit unknown to his own parents, the retention of th_tick, the blood, and the animal remains and buttons in the wood-pile, al_ere admirable. It was a net from which it seemed to me a few hours ago tha_here was no possible escape. But he had not that supreme gift of the artist, the knowledge of when to stop. He wished to improve that which was alread_erfect — to draw the rope tighter yet round the neck of his unfortunat_ictim — and so he ruined all. Let us descend, Lestrade. There are just one o_wo questions that I would ask him."
  • The malignant creature was seated in his own parlour with a policeman upo_ach side of him.
  • "It was a joke, my good sir, a practical joke, nothing more," he whine_ncessantly. "I assure you, sir, that I simply concealed myself in order t_ee the effect of my disappearance, and I am sure that you would not be s_njust as to imagine that I would have allowed any harm to befall poor youn_r. McFarlane."
  • "That's for a jury to decide," said Lestrade. "Anyhow, we shall have you on _harge of conspiracy, if not for attempted murder."
  • "And you'll probably find that your creditors will impound the banking accoun_f Mr. Cornelius," said Holmes.
  • The little man started and turned his malignant eyes upon my friend.
  • "I have to thank you for a good deal," said he. "Perhaps I'll pay my debt som_ay."
  • Holmes smiled indulgently.
  • "I fancy that for some few years you will find your time very fully occupied,"
  • said he. "By the way, what was it you put into the wood-pile besides your ol_rousers? A dead dog, or rabbits, or what? You won't tell? Dear me, how ver_nkind of you! Well, well, I dare say that a couple of rabbits would accoun_oth for the blood and for the charred ashes. If ever you write an account, Watson, you can make rabbits serve your turn."