I have never known my friend to be in better form, both mental and physical, than in the year '95. His increasing fame had brought with it an immens_ractice, and I should be guilty of an indiscretion if I were even to hint a_he identity of some of the illustrious clients who crossed our humbl_hreshold in Baker Street. Holmes, however, like all great artists, lived fo_is art's sake, and, save in the case of the Duke of Holdernesse, I hav_eldom known him claim any large reward for his inestimable services. S_nworldly was he — or so capricious — that he frequently refused his help t_he powerful and wealthy where the problem made no appeal to his sympathies, while he would devote weeks of most intense application to the affairs of som_umble client whose case presented those strange and dramatic qualities whic_ppealed to his imagination and challenged his ingenuity.
In this memorable year '95 a curious and incongruous succession of cases ha_ngaged his attention, ranging from his famous investigation of the sudde_eath of Cardinal Tosca — an inquiry which was carried out by him at th_xpress desire of His Holiness the Pope — down to his arrest of Wilson, th_otorious canary-trainer, which removed a plague-spot from the East-End o_ondon. Close on the heels of these two famous cases came the tragedy o_oodman's Lee, and the very obscure circumstances which surrounded the deat_f Captain Peter Carey. No record of the doings of Mr. Sherlock Holmes woul_e complete which did not include some account of this very unusual affair.
During the first week of July my friend had been absent so often and so lon_rom our lodgings that I knew he had something on hand. The fact that severa_ough-looking men called during that time and inquired for Captain Basil mad_e understand that Holmes was working somewhere under one of the numerou_isguises and names with which he concealed his own formidable identity. H_ad at least five small refuges in different parts of London in which he wa_ble to change his personality. He said nothing of his business to me, and i_as not my habit to force a confidence. The first positive sign which he gav_e of the direction which his investigation was taking was an extraordinar_ne. He had gone out before breakfast, and I had sat down to mine, when h_trode into the room, his hat upon his head and a huge barbed-headed spea_ucked like an umbrella under his arm.
"Good gracious, Holmes!" I cried. "You don't mean to say that you have bee_alking about London with that thing?"
"I drove to the butcher's and back."
"And I return with an excellent appetite. There can be no question, my dea_atson, of the value of exercise before breakfast. But I am prepared to be_hat you will not guess the form that my exercise has taken."
"I will not attempt it."
He chuckled as he poured out the coffee.
"If you could have looked into Allardyce's back shop you would have seen _ead pig swung from a hook in the ceiling, and a gentleman in his shirt- sleeves furiously stabbing at it with this weapon. I was that energeti_erson, and I have satisfied myself that by no exertion of my strength can _ransfix the pig with a single blow. Perhaps you would care to try?"
"Not for worlds. But why were you doing this?"
"Because it seemed to me to have an indirect bearing upon the mystery o_oodman's Lee. Ah, Hopkins, I got your wire last night, and I have bee_xpecting you. Come and join us."
Our visitor was an exceedingly alert man, thirty years of age, dressed in _uiet tweed suit, but retaining the erect bearing of one who was accustomed t_fficial uniform. I recognised him at once as Stanley Hopkins, a young polic_nspector for whose future Holmes had high hopes, while he in turn professe_he admiration and respect of a pupil for the scientific methods of the famou_mateur. Hopkins's brow was clouded, and he sat down with an air of dee_ejection.
"No, thank you, sir. I breakfasted before I came round. I spent the night i_own, for I came up yesterday to report."
"And what had you to report?"
"Failure, sir; absolute failure."
"You have made no progress?"
"Dear me! I must have a look at the matter."
"I wish to heavens that you would, Mr. Holmes. It's my first big chance, and _m at my wit's end. For goodness' sake come down and lend me a hand."
"Well, well, it just happens that I have already read all the availabl_vidence, including the report of the inquest, with some care. By the way, what do you make of that tobacco-pouch found on the scene of the crime? I_here no clue there?"
Hopkins looked surprised.
"It was the man's own pouch, sir. His initials were inside it. And it was o_eal-skin — and he an old sealer."
"But he had no pipe."
"No, sir, we could find no pipe; indeed, he smoked very little. And yet h_ight have kept some tobacco for his friends."
"No doubt. I only mention it because if I had been handling the case I shoul_ave been inclined to make that the starting-point of my investigation.
However, my friend Dr. Watson knows nothing of this matter, and I should b_one the worse for hearing the sequence of events once more. Just give us som_hort sketch of the essentials."
Stanley Hopkins drew a slip of paper from his pocket.
"I have a few dates here which will give you the career of the dead man, Captain Peter Carey. He was born in '45 — fifty years of age. He was a mos_aring and successful seal and whale fisher. In 1883 he commanded the stea_ealer SEA UNICORN, of Dundee. He had then had several successful voyages i_uccession, and in the following year, 1884, he retired. After that h_ravelled for some years, and finally he bought a small place called Woodman'_ee, near Forest Row, in Sussex. There he has lived for six years, and ther_e died just a week ago to-day.
"There were some most singular points about the man. In ordinary life he was _trict Puritan — a silent, gloomy fellow. His household consisted of his wife, his daughter, aged twenty, and two female servants. These last wer_ontinually changing, for it was never a very cheery situation, and sometime_t became past all bearing. The man was an intermittent drunkard, and when h_ad the fit on him he was a perfect fiend. He has been known to drive his wif_nd his daughter out of doors in the middle of the night, and flog the_hrough the park until the whole village outside the gates was aroused b_heir screams.
"He was summoned once for a savage assault upon the old vicar, who had calle_pon him to remonstrate with him upon his conduct. In short, Mr. Holmes, yo_ould go far before you found a more dangerous man than Peter Carey, and _ave heard that he bore the same character when he commanded his ship. He wa_nown in the trade as Black Peter, and the name was given him, not only o_ccount of his swarthy features and the colour of his huge beard, but for th_umours which were the terror of all around him. I need not say that he wa_oathed and avoided by every one of his neighbours, and that I have not hear_ne single word of sorrow about his terrible end.
"You must have read in the account of the inquest about the man's cabin, Mr.
Holmes; but perhaps your friend here has not heard of it. He had built himsel_ wooden outhouse — he always called it `the cabin' — a few hundred yards fro_is house, and it was here that he slept every night. It was a little, single- roomed hut, sixteen feet by ten. He kept the key in his pocket, made his ow_ed, cleaned it himself, and allowed no other foot to cross the threshold.
There are small windows on each side, which were covered by curtains and neve_pened. One of these windows was turned towards the high road, and when th_ight burned in it at night the folk used to point it out to each other an_onder what Black Peter was doing in there. That's the window, Mr. Holmes, which gave us one of the few bits of positive evidence that came out at th_nquest.
"You remember that a stonemason, named Slater, walking from Forest Row abou_ne o'clock in the morning — two days before the murder — stopped as he passe_he grounds and looked at the square of light still shining among the trees.
He swears that the shadow of a man's head turned sideways was clearly visibl_n the blind, and that this shadow was certainly not that of Peter Carey, who_e knew well. It was that of a bearded man, but the beard was short an_ristled forwards in a way very different from that of the captain. So h_ays, but he had been two hours in the public-house, and it is some distanc_rom the road to the window. Besides, this refers to the Monday, and the crim_as done upon the Wednesday.
"On the Tuesday Peter Carey was in one of his blackest moods, flushed wit_rink and as savage as a dangerous wild beast. He roamed about the house, an_he women ran for it when they heard him coming. Late in the evening he wen_own to his own hut. About two o'clock the following morning his daughter, wh_lept with her window open, heard a most fearful yell from that direction, bu_t was no unusual thing for him to bawl and shout when he was in drink, so n_otice was taken. On rising at seven one of the maids noticed that the door o_he hut was open, but so great was the terror which the man caused that it wa_idday before anyone would venture down to see what had become of him. Peepin_nto the open door they saw a sight which sent them flying with white face_nto the village. Within an hour I was on the spot and had taken over th_ase.
"Well, I have fairly steady nerves, as you know, Mr. Holmes, but I give you m_ord that I got a shake when I put my head into that little house. It wa_roning like a harmonium with the flies and bluebottles, and the floor an_alls were like a slaughter-house. He had called it a cabin, and a cabin i_as sure enough, for you would have thought that you were in a ship. There wa_ bunk at one end, a sea-chest, maps and charts, a picture of the SEA UNICORN, a line of log-books on a shelf, all exactly as one would expect to find it i_ captain's room. And there in the middle of it was the man himself, his fac_wisted like a lost soul in torment, and his great brindled beard stuc_pwards in his agony. Right through his broad breast a steel harpoon had bee_riven, and it had sunk deep into the wood of the wall behind him. He wa_inned like a beetle on a card. Of course, he was quite dead, and had been s_rom the instant that he had uttered that last yell of agony.
"I know your methods, sir, and I applied them. Before I permitted anything t_e moved I examined most carefully the ground outside, and also the floor o_he room. There were no footmarks."
"Meaning that you saw none?"
"I assure you, sir, that there were none."
"My good Hopkins, I have investigated many crimes, but I have never yet see_ne which was committed by a flying creature. As long as the criminal remain_pon two legs so long must there be some indentation, some abrasion, som_rifling displacement which can be detected by the scientific searcher. It i_ncredible that this blood-bespattered room contained no trace which coul_ave aided us. I understand, however, from the inquest that there were som_bjects which you failed to overlook?"
The young inspector winced at my companion's ironical comments.
"I was a fool not to call you in at the time, Mr. Holmes. However, that's pas_raying for now. Yes, there were several objects in the room which called fo_pecial attention. One was the harpoon with which the deed was committed. I_ad been snatched down from a rack on the wall. Two others remained there, an_here was a vacant place for the third. On the stock was engraved `Ss. SE_NICORN, Dundee.' This seemed to establish that the crime had been done in _oment of fury, and that the murderer had seized the first weapon which cam_n his way. The fact that the crime was committed at two in the morning, an_et Peter Carey was fully dressed, suggested that he had an appointment wit_he murderer, which is borne out by the fact that a bottle of rum and tw_irty glasses stood upon the table."
"Yes," said Holmes; "I think that both inferences are permissible. Was ther_ny other spirit but rum in the room?"
"Yes; there was a tantalus containing brandy and whisky on the sea-chest. I_s of no importance to us, however, since the decanters were full, and it ha_herefore not been used."
"For all that its presence has some significance," said Holmes. "However, le_s hear some more about the objects which do seem to you to bear upon th_ase."
"There was this tobacco-pouch upon the table."
"What part of the table?"
"It lay in the middle. It was of coarse seal-skin — the straight-haired skin, with a leather thong to bind it. Inside was `P.C.' on the flap. There was hal_n ounce of strong ship's tobacco in it."
"Excellent! What more?"
Stanley Hopkins drew from his pocket a drab-covered note-book. The outside wa_ough and worn, the leaves discoloured. On the first page were written th_nitials "J.H.N." and the date "1883." Holmes laid it on the table an_xamined it in his minute way, while Hopkins and I gazed over each shoulder.
On the second page were the printed letters "C.P.R.," and then came severa_heets of numbers. Another heading was Argentine, another Costa Rica, an_nother San Paulo, each with pages of signs and figures after it.
"What do you make of these?" asked Holmes.
"They appear to be lists of Stock Exchange securities. I thought that `J.H.N.'
were the initials of a broker, and that `C.P.R.' may have been his client."
"Try Canadian Pacific Railway," said Holmes.
Stanley Hopkins swore between his teeth and struck his thigh with his clenche_and.
"What a fool I have been!" he cried. "Of course, it is as you say. Then `J.H.N.' are the only initials we have to solve. I have already examined th_ld Stock Exchange lists, and I can find no one in 1883 either in the House o_mong the outside brokers whose initials correspond with these. Yet I fee_hat the clue is the most important one that I hold. You will admit, Mr.
Holmes, that there is a possibility that these initials are those of th_econd person who was present — in other words, of the murderer. I would als_rge that the introduction into the case of a document relating to larg_asses of valuable securities gives us for the first time some indication of _otive for the crime."
Sherlock Holmes's face showed that he was thoroughly taken aback by this ne_evelopment.
"I must admit both your points," said he. "I confess that this note-book, which did not appear at the inquest, modifies any views which I may hav_ormed. I had come to a theory of the crime in which I can find no place fo_his. Have you endeavoured to trace any of the securities here mentioned?"
"Inquiries are now being made at the offices, but I fear that the complet_egister of the stockholders of these South American concerns is in Sout_merica, and that some weeks must elapse before we can trace the shares."
Holmes had been examining the cover of the note-book with his magnifying lens.
"Surely there is some discoloration here," said he.
"Yes, sir, it is a blood-stain. I told you that I picked the book off th_loor."
"Was the blood-stain above or below?"
"On the side next the boards."
"Which proves, of course, that the book was dropped after the crime wa_ommitted."
"Exactly, Mr. Holmes. I appreciated that point, and I conjectured that it wa_ropped by the murderer in his hurried flight. It lay near the door."
"I suppose that none of these securities have been found among the property o_he dead man?"
"Have you any reason to suspect robbery?"
"No, sir. Nothing seemed to have been touched."
"Dear me, it is certainly a very interesting case. Then there was a knife, wa_here not?"
"A sheath-knife, still in its sheath. It lay at the feet of the dead man. Mrs.
Carey has identified it as being her husband's property."
Holmes was lost in thought for some time.
"Well," said he, at last, "I suppose I shall have to come out and have a loo_t it."
Stanley Hopkins gave a cry of joy.
"Thank you, sir. That will indeed be a weight off my mind."
Holmes shook his finger at the inspector.
"It would have been an easier task a week ago," said he. "But even now m_isit may not be entirely fruitless. Watson, if you can spare the time _hould be very glad of your company. If you will call a four-wheeler, Hopkins, we shall be ready to start for Forest Row in a quarter of an hour."
Alighting at the small wayside station, we drove for some miles through th_emains of widespread woods, which were once part of that great forest whic_or so long held the Saxon invaders at bay — the impenetrable "weald," fo_ixty years the bulwark of Britain. Vast sections of it have been cleared, fo_his is the seat of the first iron-works of the country, and the trees hav_een felled to smelt the ore. Now the richer fields of the North have absorbe_he trade, and nothing save these ravaged groves and great scars in the eart_how the work of the past. Here in a clearing upon the green slope of a hil_tood a long, low stone house, approached by a curving drive running throug_he fields. Nearer the road, and surrounded on three sides by bushes, was _mall outhouse, one window and the door facing in our direction. It was th_cene of the murder!
Stanley Hopkins led us first to the house, where he introduced us to _aggard, grey-haired woman, the widow of the murdered man, whose gaunt an_eep-lined face, with the furtive look of terror in the depths of her red- rimmed eyes, told of the years of hardship and ill-usage which she ha_ndured. With her was her daughter, a pale, fair-haired girl, whose eye_lazed defiantly at us as she told us that she was glad that her father wa_ead, and that she blessed the hand which had struck him down. It was _errible household that Black Peter Carey had made for himself, and it wa_ith a sense of relief that we found ourselves in the sunlight again an_aking our way along a path which had been worn across the fields by the fee_f the dead man.
The outhouse was the simplest of dwellings, wooden-walled, shingle-roofed, on_indow beside the door and one on the farther side. Stanley Hopkins drew th_ey from his pocket, and had stooped to the lock, when he paused with a loo_f attention and surprise upon his face.
"Someone has been tampering with it," he said.
There could be no doubt of the fact. The woodwork was cut and the scratche_howed white through the paint, as if they had been that instant done. Holme_ad been examining the window.
"Someone has tried to force this also. Whoever it was has failed to make hi_ay in. He must have been a very poor burglar."
"This is a most extraordinary thing," said the inspector; "I could swear tha_hese marks were not here yesterday evening."
"Some curious person from the village, perhaps," I suggested.
"Very unlikely. Few of them would dare to set foot in the grounds, far les_ry to force their way into the cabin. What do you think of it, Mr. Holmes?"
"I think that fortune is very kind to us."
"You mean that the person will come again?"
"It is very probable. He came expecting to find the door open. He tried to ge_n with the blade of a very small penknife. He could not manage it. What woul_e do?"
"Come again next night with a more useful tool."
"So I should say. It will be our fault if we are not there to receive him.
Meanwhile, let me see the inside of the cabin."
The traces of the tragedy had been removed, but the furniture within th_ittle room still stood as it had been on the night of the crime. For tw_ours, with most intense concentration, Holmes examined every object in turn, but his face showed that his quest was not a successful one. Once only h_aused in his patient investigation.
"Have you taken anything off this shelf, Hopkins?"
"No; I have moved nothing."
"Something has been taken. There is less dust in this corner of the shelf tha_lsewhere. It may have been a book lying on its side. It may have been a box.
Well, well, I can do nothing more. Let us walk in these beautiful woods, Watson, and give a few hours to the birds and the flowers. We shall meet yo_ere later, Hopkins, and see if we can come to closer quarters with th_entleman who has paid this visit in the night."
It was past eleven o'clock when we formed our little ambuscade. Hopkins wa_or leaving the door of the hut open, but Holmes was of the opinion that thi_ould rouse the suspicions of the stranger. The lock was a perfectly simpl_ne, and only a strong blade was needed to push it back. Holmes also suggeste_hat we should wait, not inside the hut, but outside it among the bushes whic_rew round the farther window. In this way we should be able to watch our ma_f he struck a light, and see what his object was in this stealthy nocturna_isit.
It was a long and melancholy vigil, and yet brought with it something of th_hrill which the hunter feels when he lies beside the water pool and waits fo_he coming of the thirsty beast of prey. What savage creature was it whic_ight steal upon us out of the darkness? Was it a fierce tiger of crime, whic_ould only be taken fighting hard with flashing fang and claw, or would i_rove to be some skulking jackal, dangerous only to the weak and unguarded?
In absolute silence we crouched amongst the bushes, waiting for whatever migh_ome. At first the steps of a few belated villagers, or the sound of voice_rom the village, lightened our vigil; but one by one these interruptions die_way and an absolute stillness fell upon us, save for the chimes of th_istant church, which told us of the progress of the night, and for the rustl_nd whisper of a fine rain falling amid the foliage which roofed us in.
Half-past two had chimed, and it was the darkest hour which precedes the dawn, when we all started as a low but sharp click came from the direction of th_ate. Someone had entered the drive. Again there was a long silence, and I ha_egun to fear that it was a false alarm, when a stealthy step was heard upo_he other side of the hut, and a moment later a metallic scraping an_linking. The man was trying to force the lock! This time his skill wa_reater or his tool was better, for there was a sudden snap and the creak o_he hinges. Then a match was struck, and next instant the steady light from _andle filled the interior of the hut. Through the gauze curtain our eyes wer_ll riveted upon the scene within.
The nocturnal visitor was a young man, frail and thin, with a black moustach_hich intensified the deadly pallor of his face. He could not have been muc_bove twenty years of age. I have never seen any human being who appeared t_e in such a pitiable fright, for his teeth were visibly chattering and he wa_haking in every limb. He was dressed like a gentleman, in Norfolk jacket an_nickerbockers, with a cloth cap upon his head. We watched him staring roun_ith frightened eyes. Then he laid the candle-end upon the table an_isappeared from our view into one of the corners. He returned with a larg_ook, one of the log-books which formed a line upon the shelves. Leaning o_he table he rapidly turned over the leaves of this volume until he came t_he entry which he sought. Then, with an angry gesture of his clenched hand, he closed the book, replaced it in the corner, and put out the light. He ha_ardly turned to leave the hut when Hopkins's hand was on the fellow's collar, and I heard his loud gasp of terror as he understood that he was taken. Th_andle was re-lit, and there was our wretched captive shivering and cowerin_n the grasp of the detective. He sank down upon the sea-chest, and looke_elplessly from one of us to the other.
"Now, my fine fellow," said Stanley Hopkins, "who are you, and what do yo_ant here?"
The man pulled himself together and faced us with an effort at self-composure.
"You are detectives, I suppose?" said he. "You imagine I am connected with th_eath of Captain Peter Carey. I assure you that I am innocent."
"We'll see about that," said Hopkins. "First of all, what is your name?"
"It is John Hopley Neligan."
I saw Holmes and Hopkins exchange a quick glance.
"What are you doing here?"
"Can I speak confidentially?"
"No, certainly not."
"Why should I tell you?"
"If you have no answer it may go badly with you at the trial."
The young man winced.
"Well, I will tell you," he said. "Why should I not? And yet I hate to thin_f this old scandal gaining a new lease of life. Did you ever hear of Dawso_nd Neligan?"
I could see from Hopkins's face that he never had; but Holmes was keenl_nterested.
"You mean the West-country bankers," said he. "They failed for a million, ruined half the county families of Cornwall, and Neligan disappeared."
"Exactly. Neligan was my father."
At last we were getting something positive, and yet it seemed a long ga_etween an absconding banker and Captain Peter Carey pinned against the wal_ith one of his own harpoons. We all listened intently to the young man'_ords.
"It was my father who was really concerned. Dawson had retired. I was only te_ears of age at the time, but I was old enough to feel the shame and horror o_t all. It has always been said that my father stole all the securities an_led. It is not true. It was his belief that if he were given time in which t_ealise them all would be well and every creditor paid in full. He started i_is little yacht for Norway just before the warrant was issued for his arrest.
I can remember that last night when he bade farewell to my mother. He left u_ list of the securities he was taking, and he swore that he would come bac_ith his honour cleared, and that none who had trusted him would suffer. Well, no word was ever heard from him again. Both the yacht and he vanished utterly.
We believed, my mother and I, that he and it, with the securities that he ha_aken with him, were at the bottom of the sea. We had a faithful friend, however, who is a business man, and it was he who discovered some time ag_hat some of the securities which my father had with him have reappeared o_he London market. You can imagine our amazement. I spent months in trying t_race them, and at last, after many doublings and difficulties, I discovere_hat the original seller had been Captain Peter Carey, the owner of this hut.
"Naturally, I made some inquiries about the man. I found that he had been i_ommand of a whaler which was due to return from the Arctic seas at the ver_ime when my father was crossing to Norway. The autumn of that year was _tormy one, and there was a long succession of southerly gales. My father'_acht may well have been blown to the north, and there met by Captain Pete_arey's ship. If that were so, what had become of my father? In any case, if _ould prove from Peter Carey's evidence how these securities came on th_arket it would be a proof that my father had not sold them, and that he ha_o view to personal profit when he took them.
"I came down to Sussex with the intention of seeing the captain, but it was a_his moment that his terrible death occurred. I read at the inquest _escription of his cabin, in which it stated that the old log-books of hi_essel were preserved in it. It struck me that if I could see what occurred i_he month of August, 1883, on board the SEA UNICORN, I might settle th_ystery of my father's fate. I tried last night to get at these log-books, bu_as unable to open the door. To-night I tried again, and succeeded; but I fin_hat the pages which deal with that month have been torn from the book. It wa_t that moment I found myself a prisoner in your hands."
"Is that all?" asked Hopkins.
"Yes, that is all." His eyes shifted as he said it.
"You have nothing else to tell us?"
"No; there is nothing."
"You have not been here before last night?"
"Then how do you account for THAT?" cried Hopkins, as he held up the damnin_ote-book, with the initials of our prisoner on the first leaf and the blood- stain on the cover.
The wretched man collapsed. He sank his face in his hands and trembled al_ver.
"Where did you get it?" he groaned. "I did not know. I thought I had lost i_t the hotel."
"That is enough," said Hopkins, sternly. "Whatever else you have to say yo_ust say in court. You will walk down with me now to the police-station. Well, Mr. Holmes, I am very much obliged to you and to your friend for coming dow_o help me. As it turns out your presence was unnecessary, and I would hav_rought the case to this successful issue without you; but none the less I a_ery grateful. Rooms have been reserved for you at the Brambletye Hotel, so w_an all walk down to the village together."
"Well, Watson, what do you think of it?" asked Holmes, as we travelled bac_ext morning.
"I can see that you are not satisfied."
"Oh, yes, my dear Watson, I am perfectly satisfied. At the same time Stanle_opkins's methods do not commend themselves to me. I am disappointed i_tanley Hopkins. I had hoped for better things from him. One should alway_ook for a possible alternative and provide against it. It is the first rul_f criminal investigation."
"What, then, is the alternative?"
"The line of investigation which I have myself been pursuing. It may give u_othing. I cannot tell. But at least I shall follow it to the end."
Several letters were waiting for Holmes at Baker Street. He snatched one o_hem up, opened it, and burst out into a triumphant chuckle of laughter.
"Excellent, Watson. The alternative develops. Have you telegraph forms? Jus_rite a couple of messages for me: `Sumner, Shipping Agent, Ratcliff Highway.
Send three men on, to arrive ten to-morrow morning. — Basil.' That's my nam_n those parts. The other is: `Inspector Stanley Hopkins, 46, Lord Street, Brixton. Come breakfast to-morrow at nine-thirty. Important. Wire if unable t_ome. — Sherlock Holmes.' There, Watson, this infernal case has haunted me fo_en days. I hereby banish it completely from my presence. To-morrow I trus_hat we shall hear the last of it for ever."
Sharp at the hour named Inspector Stanley Hopkins appeared, and we sat dow_ogether to the excellent breakfast which Mrs. Hudson had prepared. The youn_etective was in high spirits at his success.
"You really think that your solution must be correct?" asked Holmes.
"I could not imagine a more complete case."
"It did not seem to me conclusive."
"You astonish me, Mr. Holmes. What more could one ask for?"
"Does your explanation cover every point?"
"Undoubtedly. I find that young Neligan arrived at the Brambletye Hotel on th_ery day of the crime. He came on the pretence of playing golf. His room wa_n the ground-floor, and he could get out when he liked. That very night h_ent down to Woodman's Lee, saw Peter Carey at the hut, quarrelled with him, and killed him with the harpoon. Then, horrified by what he had done, he fle_ut of the hut, dropping the note-book which he had brought with him in orde_o question Peter Carey about these different securities. You may hav_bserved that some of them were marked with ticks, and the others — the grea_ajority — were not. Those which are ticked have been traced on the Londo_arket; but the others presumably were still in the possession of Carey, an_oung Neligan, according to his own account, was anxious to recover them i_rder to do the right thing by his father's creditors. After his flight he di_ot dare to approach the hut again for some time; but at last he force_imself to do so in order to obtain the information which he needed. Surel_hat is all simple and obvious?"
Holmes smiled and shook his head.
"It seems to me to have only one drawback, Hopkins, and that is that it i_ntrinsically impossible. Have you tried to drive a harpoon through a body?
No? Tut, tut, my dear sir, you must really pay attention to these details. M_riend Watson could tell you that I spent a whole morning in that exercise. I_s no easy matter, and requires a strong and practised arm. But this blow wa_elivered with such violence that the head of the weapon sank deep into th_all. Do you imagine that this anaemic youth was capable of so frightful a_ssault? Is he the man who hobnobbed in rum and water with Black Peter in th_ead of the night? Was it his profile that was seen on the blind two night_efore? No, no, Hopkins; it is another and a more formidable person for who_e must seek."
The detective's face had grown longer and longer during Holmes's speech. Hi_opes and his ambitions were all crumbling about him. But he would not abando_is position without a struggle.
"You can't deny that Neligan was present that night, Mr. Holmes. The book wil_rove that. I fancy that I have evidence enough to satisfy a jury, even if yo_re able to pick a hole in it. Besides, Mr. Holmes, I have laid my hand upo_Y man. As to this terrible person of yours, where is he?"
"I rather fancy that he is on the stair," said Holmes, serenely. "I think, Watson, that you would do well to put that revolver where you can reach it."
He rose, and laid a written paper upon a side-table. "Now we are ready," sai_e.
There had been some talking in gruff voices outside, and now Mrs. Hudso_pened the door to say that there were three men inquiring for Captain Basil.
"Show them in one by one," said Holmes.
The first who entered was a little ribston-pippin of a man, with ruddy cheek_nd fluffy white side-whiskers. Holmes had drawn a letter from his pocket.
"What name?" he asked.
"I am sorry, Lancaster, but the berth is full. Here is half a sovereign fo_our trouble. Just step into this room and wait there for a few minutes."
The second man was a long, dried-up creature, with lank hair and sallo_heeks. His name was Hugh Pattins. He also received his dismissal, his half- sovereign, and the order to wait.
The third applicant was a man of remarkable appearance. A fierce bull-dog fac_as framed in a tangle of hair and beard, and two bold dark eyes gleame_ehind the cover of thick, tufted, overhung eyebrows. He saluted and stoo_ailor-fashion, turning his cap round in his hands.
"Your name?" asked Holmes.
"Yes, sir. Twenty-six voyages."
"Dundee, I suppose?"
"And ready to start with an exploring ship?"
"Eight pounds a month."
"Could you start at once?"
"As soon as I get my kit."
"Have you your papers?"
"Yes, sir." He took a sheaf of worn and greasy forms from his pocket. Holme_lanced over them and returned them.
"You are just the man I want," said he. "Here's the agreement on the side- table. If you sign it the whole matter will be settled."
The seaman lurched across the room and took up the pen.
"Shall I sign here?" he asked, stooping over the table.
Holmes leaned over his shoulder and passed both hands over his neck.
"This will do," said he.
I heard a click of steel and a bellow like an enraged bull. The next instan_olmes and the seaman were rolling on the ground together. He was a man o_uch gigantic strength that, even with the handcuffs which Holmes had s_eftly fastened upon his wrists, he would have very quickly overpowered m_riend had Hopkins and I not rushed to his rescue. Only when I pressed th_old muzzle of the revolver to his temple did he at last understand tha_esistance was vain. We lashed his ankles with cord and rose breathless fro_he struggle.
"I must really apologise, Hopkins," said Sherlock Holmes; "I fear that th_crambled eggs are cold. However, you will enjoy the rest of your breakfas_ll the better, will you not, for the thought that you have brought your cas_o a triumphant conclusion."
Stanley Hopkins was speechless with amazement.
"I don't know what to say, Mr. Holmes," he blurted out at last, with a ver_ed face. "It seems to me that I have been making a fool of myself from th_eginning. I understand now, what I should never have forgotten, that I am th_upil and you are the master. Even now I see what you have done, but I don'_now how you did it, or what it signifies."
"Well, well," said Holmes, good-humouredly. "We all learn by experience, an_our lesson this time is that you should never lose sight of the alternative.
You were so absorbed in young Neligan that you could not spare a thought t_atrick Cairns, the true murderer of Peter Carey."
The hoarse voice of the seaman broke in on our conversation.
"See here, mister," said he, "I make no complaint of being man-handled in thi_ashion, but I would have you call things by their right names. You say _urdered Peter Carey; I say I Killed Peter Carey, and there's all th_ifference. Maybe you don't believe what I say. Maybe you think I am jus_linging you a yarn."
"Not at all," said Holmes. "Let us hear what you have to say."
"It's soon told, and, by the Lord, every word of it is truth. I knew Blac_eter, and when he pulled out his knife I whipped a harpoon through him sharp, for I knew that it was him or me. That's how he died. You can call it murder.
Anyhow, I'd as soon die with a rope round my neck as with Black Peter's knif_n my heart."
"How came you there?" asked Holmes.
"I'll tell it you from the beginning. Just sit me up a little so as I ca_peak easy. It was in '83 that it happened — August of that year. Peter Care_as master of the SEA UNICORN, and I was spare harpooner. We were coming ou_f the ice-pack on our way home, with head winds and a week's southerly gale, when we picked up a little craft that had been blown north. There was one ma_n her — a landsman. The crew had thought she would founder, and had made fo_he Norwegian coast in the dinghy. I guess they were all drowned. Well, w_ook him on board, this man, and he and the skipper had some long talks in th_abin. All the baggage we took off with him was one tin box. So far as I know, the man's name was never mentioned, and on the second night he disappeared a_f he had never been. It was given out that he had either thrown himsel_verboard or fallen overboard in the heavy weather that we were having. Onl_ne man knew what had happened to him, and that was me, for with my own eyes _aw the skipper tip up his heels and put him over the rail in the middle watc_f a dark night, two days before we sighted the Shetland lights.
"Well, I kept my knowledge to myself and waited to see what would come of it.
When we got back to Scotland it was easily hushed up, and nobody asked an_uestions. A stranger died by an accident, and it was nobody's business t_nquire. Shortly after Peter Carey gave up the sea, and it was long year_efore I could find where he was. I guessed that he had done the deed for th_ake of what was in that tin box, and that he could afford now to pay me wel_or keeping my mouth shut.
"I found out where he was through a sailor man that had met him in London, an_own I went to squeeze him. The first night he was reasonable enough, and wa_eady to give me what would make me free of the sea for life. We were to fi_t all two nights later. When I came I found him three parts drunk and in _ile temper. We sat down and we drank and we yarned about old times, but th_ore he drank the less I liked the look on his face. I spotted that harpoo_pon the wall, and I thought I might need it before I was through. Then a_ast he broke out at me, spitting and cursing, with murder in his eyes and _reat clasp-knife in his hand. He had not time to get it from the sheat_efore I had the harpoon through him. Heavens! what a yell he gave; and hi_ace gets between me and my sleep! I stood there, with his blood splashin_ound me, and I waited for a bit; but all was quiet, so I took heart onc_ore. I looked round, and there was the tin box on a shelf. I had as muc_ight to it as Peter Carey, anyhow, so I took it with me and left the hut.
Like a fool I left my baccy-pouch upon the table.
"Now I'll tell you the queerest part of the whole story. I had hardly go_utside the hut when I heard someone coming, and I hid among the bushes. A ma_ame slinking along, went into the hut, gave a cry as if he had seen a ghost, and legged it as hard as he could run until he was out of sight. Who he was o_hat he wanted is more than I can tell. For my part I walked ten miles, got _rain at Tunbridge Wells, and so reached London, and no one the wiser.
"Well, when I came to examine the box I found there was no money in it, an_othing but papers that I would not dare to sell. I had lost my hold on Blac_eter, and was stranded in London without a shilling. There was only my trad_eft. I saw these advertisements about harpooners and high wages, so I went t_he shipping agents, and they sent me here. That's all I know, and I say agai_hat if I killed Black Peter the law should give me thanks, for I saved the_he price of a hempen rope."
"A very clear statement," said Holmes, rising and lighting his pipe. "I think, Hopkins, that you should lose no time in conveying your prisoner to a place o_afety. This room is not well adapted for a cell, and Mr. Patrick Cairn_ccupies too large a proportion of our carpet."
"Mr. Holmes," said Hopkins, "I do not know how to express my gratitude. Eve_ow I do not understand how you attained this result."
"Simply by having the good fortune to get the right clue from the beginning.
It is very possible if I had known about this note-book it might have led awa_y thoughts, as it did yours. But all I heard pointed in the one direction.
The amazing strength, the skill in the use of the harpoon, the rum and water, the seal-skin tobacco-pouch, with the coarse tobacco — all these pointed to _eaman, and one who had been a whaler. I was convinced that the initials `P.C.' upon the pouch were a coincidence, and not those of Peter Carey, sinc_e seldom smoked, and no pipe was found in his cabin. You remember that _sked whether whisky and brandy were in the cabin. You said they were. Ho_any landsmen are there who would drink rum when they could get these othe_pirits? Yes, I was certain it was a seaman."
"And how did you find him?"
"My dear sir, the problem had become a very simple one. If it were a seaman, it could only be a seaman who had been with him on the Sea Unicorn. So far a_ could learn he had sailed in no other ship. I spent three days in wiring t_undee, and at the end of that time I had ascertained the names of the crew o_he Sea Unicorn in 1883. When I found Patrick Cairns among the harpooners m_esearch was nearing its end. I argued that the man was probably in London, and that he would desire to leave the country for a time. I therefore spen_ome days in the East-end, devised an Arctic expedition, put forth temptin_erms for harpooners who would serve under Captain Basil — and behold th_esult!"
"Wonderful!" cried Hopkins. "Wonderful!"
"You must obtain the release of young Neligan as soon as possible," sai_olmes. "I confess that I think you owe him some apology. The tin box must b_eturned to him, but, of course, the securities which Peter Carey has sold ar_ost for ever. There's the cab, Hopkins, and you can remove your man. If yo_ant me for the trial, my address and that of Watson will be somewhere i_orway — I'll send particulars later."