"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.
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?"
"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."
"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."
"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."