Part 1 out of 7
This edition of _The Return of Sherlock Holmes_ rholm10a.txt
is based on the PG etext rholm10.txt (prepared by Charles Keller
email@example.com from a 1905 Doubleday-Collier edition)
and proof-read so as to duplicate the original publication
of these stories (using facsimiles) in The Strand Magazine
by Joanne Brown firstname.lastname@example.org, Frank Sadowski
email@example.com, & Roger Squires firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks also to The Hounds of the Internet (email@example.com
for more info) for their assistance and encouragement.
THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES.
By ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE.
I. -- The Adventure of the Empty House.
IT was in the spring of the year 1894 that all London was
interested, and the fashionable world dismayed, by the murder of
the Honourable Ronald Adair under most unusual and inexplicable
circumstances. The public has already learned those particulars
of the crime which came out in the police investigation; but a
good deal was suppressed upon that occasion, since the case for
the prosecution was so overwhelmingly strong that it was not
necessary to bring forward all the facts. Only now, at the end
of nearly ten years, am I allowed to supply those missing links
which make up the whole of that remarkable chain. The crime was
of interest in itself, but that interest was as nothing to me
compared to the inconceivable sequel, which afforded me the
greatest shock and surprise of any event in my adventurous life.
Even now, after this long interval, I find myself thrilling as
I think of it, and feeling once more that sudden flood of joy,
amazement, and incredulity which utterly submerged my mind.
Let me say to that public which has shown some interest in those
glimpses which I have occasionally given them of the thoughts
and actions of a very remarkable man that they are not to blame
me if I have not shared my knowledge with them, for I should
have considered it my first duty to have done so had I not been
barred by a positive prohibition from his own lips, which was
only withdrawn upon the third of last month.
It can be imagined that my close intimacy with Sherlock Holmes
had interested me deeply in crime, and that after his
disappearance I never failed to read with care the various
problems which came before the public, and I even attempted more
than once for my own private satisfaction to employ his methods
in their solution, though with indifferent success. There was
none, however, which appealed to me like this tragedy of Ronald
Adair. As I read the evidence at the inquest, which led up to
a verdict of wilful murder against some person or persons
unknown, I realized more clearly than I had ever done the loss
which the community had sustained by the death of Sherlock
Holmes. There were points about this strange business which
would, I was sure, have specially appealed to him, and the
efforts of the police would have been supplemented, or more
probably anticipated, by the trained observation and the alert
mind of the first criminal agent in Europe. All day as I drove
upon my round I turned over the case in my mind, and found no
explanation which appeared to me to be adequate. At the risk of
telling a twice-told tale I will recapitulate the facts as they
were known to the public at the conclusion of the inquest.
The Honourable Ronald Adair was the second son of the Earl
of Maynooth, at that time Governor of one of the Australian
Colonies. Adair's mother had returned from Australia to
undergo the operation for cataract, and she, her son Ronald,
and her daughter Hilda were living together at 427, Park Lane.
The youth moved in the best society, had, so far as was known,
no enemies, and no particular vices. He had been engaged to Miss
Edith Woodley, of Carstairs, but the engagement had been broken
off by mutual consent some months before, and there was no sign
that it had left any very profound feeling behind it. For the
rest the man's life moved in a narrow and conventional circle,
for his habits were quiet and his nature unemotional. Yet it
was upon this easy-going young aristocrat that death came in
most strange and unexpected form between the hours of ten and
eleven-twenty on the night of March 30, 1894.
Ronald Adair was fond of cards, playing continually, but never
for such stakes as would hurt him. He was a member of the
Baldwin, the Cavendish, and the Bagatelle card clubs. It was
shown that after dinner on the day of his death he had played
a rubber of whist at the latter club. He had also played there
in the afternoon. The evidence of those who had played with him
-- Mr. Murray, Sir John Hardy, and Colonel Moran -- showed that
the game was whist, and that there was a fairly equal fall of
the cards. Adair might have lost five pounds, but not more.
His fortune was a considerable one, and such a loss could not in
any way affect him. He had played nearly every day at one club
or other, but he was a cautious player, and usually rose a winner.
It came out in evidence that in partnership with Colonel Moran
he had actually won as much as four hundred and twenty pounds in
a sitting some weeks before from Godfrey Milner and Lord Balmoral.
So much for his recent history, as it came out at the inquest.
On the evening of the crime he returned from the club exactly at
ten. His mother and sister were out spending the evening with a
relation. The servant deposed that she heard him enter the front
room on the second floor, generally used as his sitting-room.
She had lit a fire there, and as it smoked she had opened the window.
No sound was heard from the room until eleven-twenty, the hour of
the return of Lady Maynooth and her daughter. Desiring to say
good-night, she had attempted to enter her son's room. The door
was locked on the inside, and no answer could be got to their
cries and knocking. Help was obtained and the door forced.
The unfortunate young man was found lying near the table.
His head had been horribly mutilated by an expanding revolver
bullet, but no weapon of any sort was to be found in the room.
On the table lay two bank-notes for ten pounds each and seventeen
pounds ten in silver and gold, the money arranged in little piles
of varying amount. There were some figures also upon a sheet of
paper with the names of some club friends opposite to them,
from which it was conjectured that before his death he was
endeavouring to make out his losses or winnings at cards.
A minute examination of the circumstances served only to make
the case more complex. In the first place, no reason could be
given why the young man should have fastened the door upon the
inside. There was the possibility that the murderer had done
this and had afterwards escaped by the window. The drop was at
least twenty feet, however, and a bed of crocuses in full bloom
lay beneath. Neither the flowers nor the earth showed any sign
of having been disturbed, nor were there any marks upon the
narrow strip of grass which separated the house from the road.
Apparently, therefore, it was the young man himself who had
fastened the door. But how did he come by his death?
No one could have climbed up to the window without leaving traces.
Suppose a man had fired through the window, it would indeed be a
remarkable shot who could with a revolver inflict so deadly a
wound. Again, Park Lane is a frequented thoroughfare, and there
is a cab-stand within a hundred yards of the house. No one had
heard a shot. And yet there was the dead man, and there the
revolver bullet, which had mushroomed out, as soft-nosed bullets
will, and so inflicted a wound which must have caused
instantaneous death. Such were the circumstances of the Park
Lane Mystery, which were further complicated by entire absence
of motive, since, as I have said, young Adair was not known to
have any enemy, and no attempt had been made to remove the money
or valuables in the room.
All day I turned these facts over in my mind, endeavouring to
hit upon some theory which could reconcile them all, and to find
that line of least resistance which my poor friend had declared
to be the starting-point of every investigation. I confess that
I made little progress. In the evening I strolled across the
Park, and found myself about six o'clock at the Oxford Street
end of Park Lane. A group of loafers upon the pavements, all
staring up at a particular window, directed me to the house
which I had come to see. A tall, thin man with coloured
glasses, whom I strongly suspected of being a plain-clothes
detective, was pointing out some theory of his own, while the
others crowded round to listen to what he said. I got as near
him as I could, but his observations seemed to me to be absurd,
so I withdrew again in some disgust. As I did so I struck
against an elderly deformed man, who had been behind me, and I
knocked down several books which he was carrying. I remember
that as I picked them up I observed the title of one of them,
"The Origin of Tree Worship," and it struck me that the fellow
must be some poor bibliophile who, either as a trade or as a
hobby, was a collector of obscure volumes. I endeavoured to
apologize for the accident, but it was evident that these books
which I had so unfortunately maltreated were very precious
objects in the eyes of their owner. With a snarl of contempt
he turned upon his heel, and I saw his curved back and white
side-whiskers disappear among the throng.
My observations of No. 427, Park Lane did little to clear up the
problem in which I was interested. The house was separated from
the street by a low wall and railing, the whole not more than
five feet high. It was perfectly easy, therefore, for anyone
to get into the garden, but the window was entirely inaccessible,
since there was no water-pipe or anything which could help the
most active man to climb it. More puzzled than ever I retraced
my steps to Kensington. I had not been in my study five minutes
when the maid entered to say that a person desired to see me.
To my astonishment it was none other than my strange old
book-collector, his sharp, wizened face peering out from a frame
of white hair, and his precious volumes, a dozen of them at least,
wedged under his right arm.
"You're surprised to see me, sir," said he, in a strange,
I acknowledged that I was.
"Well, I've a conscience, sir, and when I chanced to see you go
into this house, as I came hobbling after you, I thought to myself,
I'll just step in and see that kind gentleman, and tell him that
if I was a bit gruff in my manner there was not any harm meant,
and that I am much obliged to him for picking up my books."
"You make too much of a trifle," said I. "May I ask how you
knew who I was?"
"Well, sir, if it isn't too great a liberty, I am a neighbour
of yours, for you'll find my little bookshop at the corner of
Church Street, and very happy to see you, I am sure. Maybe you
collect yourself, sir; here's `British Birds,' and `Catullus,'
and `The Holy War' -- a bargain every one of them. With five
volumes you could just fill that gap on that second shelf.
It looks untidy, does it not, sir?"
I moved my head to look at the cabinet behind me. When I turned
again Sherlock Holmes was standing smiling at me across my
study table. I rose to my feet, stared at him for some seconds
in utter amazement, and then it appears that I must have fainted
for the first and the last time in my life. Certainly a grey
mist swirled before my eyes, and when it cleared I found my
collar-ends undone and the tingling after-taste of brandy upon
my lips. Holmes was bending over my chair, his flask in his hand.
"My dear Watson," said the well-remembered voice, "I owe you a
thousand apologies. I had no idea that you would be so affected."
I gripped him by the arm.
"Holmes!" I cried. "Is it really you? Can it indeed be that
you are alive? Is it possible that you succeeded in climbing
out of that awful abyss?"
"Wait a moment," said he. "Are you sure that you are really
fit to discuss things? I have given you a serious shock by my
unnecessarily dramatic reappearance."
"I am all right, but indeed, Holmes, I can hardly believe my
eyes. Good heavens, to think that you -- you of all men --
should be standing in my study!" Again I gripped him by the
sleeve and felt the thin, sinewy arm beneath it. "Well, you're
not a spirit, anyhow," said I. "My dear chap, I am overjoyed
to see you. Sit down and tell me how you came alive out of
that dreadful chasm."
He sat opposite to me and lit a cigarette in his old nonchalant
manner. He was dressed in the seedy frock-coat of the book
merchant, but the rest of that individual lay in a pile of white
hair and old books upon the table. Holmes looked even thinner
and keener than of old, but there was a dead-white tinge in his
aquiline face which told me that his life recently had not been
a healthy one.
"I am glad to stretch myself, Watson," said he. "It is no joke
when a tall man has to take a foot off his stature for several
hours on end. Now, my dear fellow, in the matter of these
explanations we have, if I may ask for your co-operation, a hard
and dangerous night's work in front of us. Perhaps it would be
better if I gave you an account of the whole situation when that
work is finished."
"I am full of curiosity. I should much prefer to hear now."
"You'll come with me to-night?"
"When you like and where you like."
"This is indeed like the old days. We shall have time for a
mouthful of dinner before we need go. Well, then, about that
chasm. I had no serious difficulty in getting out of it, for
the very simple reason that I never was in it."
"You never were in it?"
"No, Watson, I never was in it. My note to you was absolutely
genuine. I had little doubt that I had come to the end of my
career when I perceived the somewhat sinister figure of the late
Professor Moriarty standing upon the narrow pathway which led to
safety. I read an inexorable purpose in his grey eyes.
I exchanged some remarks with him, therefore, and obtained his
courteous permission to write the short note which you
afterwards received. I left it with my cigarette-box and my
stick and I walked along the pathway, Moriarty still at my
heels. When I reached the end I stood at bay. He drew no
weapon, but he rushed at me and threw his long arms around me.
He knew that his own game was up, and was only anxious to
revenge himself upon me. We tottered together upon the brink
of the fall. I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the
Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very
useful to me. I slipped through his grip, and he with a
horrible scream kicked madly for a few seconds and clawed the
air with both his hands. But for all his efforts he could not
get his balance, and over he went. With my face over the brink
I saw him fall for a long way. Then he struck a rock, bounded
off, and splashed into the water."
I listened with amazement to this explanation, which Holmes
delivered between the puffs of his cigarette.
"But the tracks!" I cried. "I saw with my own eyes that two
went down the path and none returned."
"It came about in this way. The instant that the Professor had
disappeared it struck me what a really extraordinarily lucky
chance Fate had placed in my way. I knew that Moriarty was not
the only man who had sworn my death. There were at least three
others whose desire for vengeance upon me would only be
increased by the death of their leader. They were all most
dangerous men. One or other would certainly get me. On the
other hand, if all the world was convinced that I was dead they
would take liberties, these men, they would lay themselves open,
and sooner or later I could destroy them. Then it would be time
for me to announce that I was still in the land of the living.
So rapidly does the brain act that I believe I had thought this
all out before Professor Moriarty had reached the bottom
of the Reichenbach Fall.
"I stood up and examined the rocky wall behind me. In your
picturesque account of the matter, which I read with great
interest some months later, you assert that the wall was sheer.
This was not literally true. A few small footholds presented
themselves, and there was some indication of a ledge. The cliff
is so high that to climb it all was an obvious impossibility,
and it was equally impossible to make my way along the wet path
without leaving some tracks. I might, it is true, have reversed
my boots, as I have done on similar occasions, but the sight of
three sets of tracks in one direction would certainly have
suggested a deception. On the whole, then, it was best that I
should risk the climb. It was not a pleasant business, Watson.
The fall roared beneath me. I am not a fanciful person, but
I give you my word that I seemed to hear Moriarty's voice
screaming at me out of the abyss. A mistake would have been fatal.
More than once, as tufts of grass came out in my hand or my foot
slipped in the wet notches of the rock, I thought that I was gone.
But I struggled upwards, and at last I reached a ledge several feet
deep and covered with soft green moss, where I could lie unseen
in the most perfect comfort. There I was stretched when you,
my dear Watson, and all your following were investigating in the most
sympathetic and inefficient manner the circumstances of my death.
"At last, when you had all formed your inevitable and totally
erroneous conclusions, you departed for the hotel and I was left
alone. I had imagined that I had reached the end of my adventures,
but a very unexpected occurrence showed me that there were
surprises still in store for me. A huge rock, falling from above,
boomed past me, struck the path, and bounded over into the chasm.
For an instant I thought that it was an accident; but a moment later,
looking up, I saw a man's head against the darkening sky, and
another stone struck the very ledge upon which I was stretched,
within a foot of my head. Of course, the meaning of this was obvious.
Moriarty had not been alone. A confederate -- and even that one
glance had told me how dangerous a man that confederate was --
had kept guard while the Professor had attacked me. From a distance,
unseen by me, he had been a witness of his friend's death and of my
escape. He had waited, and then, making his way round to the top of
the cliff, he had endeavoured to succeed where his comrade had failed.
"I did not take long to think about it, Watson. Again I saw
that grim face look over the cliff, and I knew that it was the
precursor of another stone. I scrambled down on to the path.
I don't think I could have done it in cold blood. It was a
hundred times more difficult than getting up. But I had no time
to think of the danger, for another stone sang past me as I hung
by my hands from the edge of the ledge. Halfway down I slipped,
but by the blessing of God I landed, torn and bleeding, upon the
path. I took to my heels, did ten miles over the mountains in
the darkness, and a week later I found myself in Florence with the
certainty that no one in the world knew what had become of me.
"I had only one confidant -- my brother Mycroft. I owe you many
apologies, my dear Watson, but it was all-important that it
should be thought I was dead, and it is quite certain that you
would not have written so convincing an account of my unhappy
end had you not yourself thought that it was true. Several
times during the last three years I have taken up my pen to
write to you, but always I feared lest your affectionate regard
for me should tempt you to some indiscretion which would betray
my secret. For that reason I turned away from you this evening
when you upset my books, for I was in danger at the time, and
any show of surprise and emotion upon your part might have drawn
attention to my identity and led to the most deplorable and
irreparable results. As to Mycroft, I had to confide in him in
order to obtain the money which I needed. The course of events
in London did not run so well as I had hoped, for the trial of
the Moriarty gang left two of its most dangerous members, my own
most vindictive enemies, at liberty. I travelled for two years
in Tibet, therefore, and amused myself by visiting Lhassa and
spending some days with the head Llama. You may have read of
the remarkable explorations of a Norwegian named Sigerson, but
I am sure that it never occurred to you that you were receiving
news of your friend. I then passed through Persia, looked in at
Mecca, and paid a short but interesting visit to the Khalifa at
Khartoum, the results of which I have communicated to the
Foreign Office. Returning to France I spent some months in a
research into the coal-tar derivatives, which I conducted in a
laboratory at Montpelier, in the South of France. Having
concluded this to my satisfaction, and learning that only one of
my enemies was now left in London, I was about to return when my
movements were hastened by the news of this very remarkable Park
Lane Mystery, which not only appealed to me by its own merits,
but which seemed to offer some most peculiar personal
opportunities. I came over at once to London, called in my own
person at Baker Street, threw Mrs. Hudson into violent hysterics,
and found that Mycroft had preserved my rooms and my papers
exactly as they had always been. So it was, my dear Watson,
that at two o'clock to-day I found myself in my old arm-chair in
my own old room, and only wishing that I could have seen my old
friend Watson in the other chair which he has so often adorned."
Such was the remarkable narrative to which I listened on that
April evening -- a narrative which would have been utterly
incredible to me had it not been confirmed by the actual sight
of the tall, spare figure and the keen, eager face, which I had
never thought to see again. In some manner he had learned of my
own sad bereavement, and his sympathy was shown in his manner
rather than in his words. "Work is the best antidote to sorrow,
my dear Watson," said he, "and I have a piece of work for us
both to-night which, if we can bring it to a successful
conclusion, will in itself justify a man's life on this planet."
In vain I begged him to tell me more. "You will hear and see
enough before morning," he answered. "We have three years of
the past to discuss. Let that suffice until half-past nine,
when we start upon the notable adventure of the empty house."
It was indeed like old times when, at that hour, I found myself
seated beside him in a hansom, my revolver in my pocket and the
thrill of adventure in my heart. Holmes was cold and stern and
silent. As the gleam of the street-lamps flashed upon his
austere features I saw that his brows were drawn down in thought
and his thin lips compressed. I knew not what wild beast we
were about to hunt down in the dark jungle of criminal London,
but I was well assured from the bearing of this master huntsman
that the adventure was a most grave one, while the sardonic
smile which occasionally broke through his ascetic gloom boded
little good for the object of our quest.
I had imagined that we were bound for Baker Street, but Holmes
stopped the cab at the corner of Cavendish Square. I observed
that as he stepped out he gave a most searching glance to right
and left, and at every subsequent street corner he took the
utmost pains to assure that he was not followed. Our route was
certainly a singular one. Holmes's knowledge of the byways of
London was extraordinary, and on this occasion he passed rapidly,
and with an assured step, through a network of mews and stables
the very existence of which I had never known. We emerged at
last into a small road, lined with old, gloomy houses, which led
us into Manchester Street, and so to Blandford Street. Here he
turned swiftly down a narrow passage, passed through a wooden
gate into a deserted yard, and then opened with a key the back
door of a house. We entered together and he closed it behind us.
The place was pitch-dark, but it was evident to me that it was
an empty house. Our feet creaked and crackled over the bare
planking, and my outstretched hand touched a wall from which the
paper was hanging in ribbons. Holmes's cold, thin fingers
closed round my wrist and led me forwards down a long hall,
until I dimly saw the murky fanlight over the door. Here Holmes
turned suddenly to the right, and we found ourselves in a large,
square, empty room, heavily shadowed in the corners, but faintly
lit in the centre from the lights of the street beyond. There was
no lamp near and the window was thick with dust, so that we could
only just discern each other's figures within. My companion put
his hand upon my shoulder and his lips close to my ear.
"Do you know where we are?" he whispered.
"Surely that is Baker Street," I answered, staring through the
"Exactly. We are in Camden House, which stands opposite to our
own old quarters."
"But why are we here?"
"Because it commands so excellent a view of that picturesque pile.
Might I trouble you, my dear Watson, to draw a little nearer to
the window, taking every precaution not to show yourself,
and then to look up at our old rooms -- the starting-point of so
many of our little adventures? We will see if my three years of
absence have entirely taken away my power to surprise you."
I crept forward and looked across at the familiar window.
As my eyes fell upon it I gave a gasp and a cry of amazement.
The blind was down and a strong light was burning in the room.
The shadow of a man who was seated in a chair within was thrown in
hard, black outline upon the luminous screen of the window.
There was no mistaking the poise of the head, the squareness of
the shoulders, the sharpness of the features. The face was
turned half-round, and the effect was that of one of those black
silhouettes which our grandparents loved to frame. It was a
perfect reproduction of Holmes. So amazed was I that I threw
out my hand to make sure that the man himself was standing
beside me. He was quivering with silent laughter.
"Well?" said he.
"Good heavens!" I cried. "It is marvellous."
"I trust that age doth not wither nor custom stale my infinite
variety,'" said he, and I recognised in his voice the joy and
pride which the artist takes in his own creation. "It really is
rather like me, is it not?"
"I should be prepared to swear that it was you."
"The credit of the execution is due to Monsieur Oscar Meunier,
of Grenoble, who spent some days in doing the moulding. It is a
bust in wax. The rest I arranged myself during my visit to
Baker Street this afternoon."
"Because, my dear Watson, I had the strongest possible reason
for wishing certain people to think that I was there when I was
"And you thought the rooms were watched?"
"I KNEW that they were watched."
"By my old enemies, Watson. By the charming society whose leader
lies in the Reichenbach Fall. You must remember that they knew,
and only they knew, that I was still alive. Sooner or later they
believed that I should come back to my rooms. They watched them
continuously, and this morning they saw me arrive."
"How do you know?"
"Because I recognised their sentinel when I glanced out of my
window. He is a harmless enough fellow, Parker by name,
a garroter by trade, and a remarkable performer upon the Jew's
harp. I cared nothing for him. But I cared a great deal for
the much more formidable person who was behind him, the bosom
friend of Moriarty, the man who dropped the rocks over the cliff,
the most cunning and dangerous criminal in London. That is the
man who is after me to-night, Watson, and that is the man who is
quite unaware that we are after HIM."
My friend's plans were gradually revealing themselves.
From this convenient retreat the watchers were being watched and
the trackers tracked. That angular shadow up yonder was the bait
and we were the hunters. In silence we stood together in the
darkness and watched the hurrying figures who passed and
repassed in front of us. Holmes was silent and motionless;
but I could tell that he was keenly alert, and that his eyes were
fixed intently upon the stream of passers-by. It was a bleak
and boisterous night, and the wind whistled shrilly down the
long street. Many people were moving to and fro, most of them
muffled in their coats and cravats. Once or twice it seemed to
me that I had seen the same figure before, and I especially
noticed two men who appeared to be sheltering themselves from
the wind in the doorway of a house some distance up the street.
I tried to draw my companion's attention to them, but he gave a
little ejaculation of impatience and continued to stare into the
street. More than once he fidgeted with his feet and tapped
rapidly with his fingers upon the wall. It was evident to me
that he was becoming uneasy and that his plans were not working
out altogether as he had hoped. At last, as midnight approached
and the street gradually cleared, he paced up and down the room
in uncontrollable agitation. I was about to make some remark to
him when I raised my eyes to the lighted window and again
experienced almost as great a surprise as before. I clutched
Holmes's arm and pointed upwards.
"The shadow has moved!" I cried.
It was, indeed, no longer the profile, but the back, which was
turned towards us.
Three years had certainly not smoothed the asperities of his temper
or his impatience with a less active intelligence than his own.
"Of course it has moved," said he. "Am I such a farcical
bungler, Watson, that I should erect an obvious dummy and expect
that some of the sharpest men in Europe would be deceived by it?
We have been in this room two hours, and Mrs. Hudson has made
some change in that figure eight times, or once in every quarter
of an hour. She works it from the front so that her shadow may
never be seen. Ah!" He drew in his breath with a shrill,
excited intake. In the dim light I saw his head thrown forward,
his whole attitude rigid with attention. Outside, the street
was absolutely deserted. Those two men might still be crouching
in the doorway, but I could no longer see them. All was still
and dark, save only that brilliant yellow screen in front of us
with the black figure outlined upon its centre. Again in the
utter silence I heard that thin, sibilant note which spoke of
intense suppressed excitement. An instant later he pulled me
back into the blackest corner of the room, and I felt his
warning hand upon my lips. The fingers which clutched me were
quivering. Never had I known my friend more moved, and yet the
dark street still stretched lonely and motionless before us.
But suddenly I was aware of that which his keener senses had
already distinguished. A low, stealthy sound came to my ears,
not from the direction of Baker Street, but from the back of the
very house in which we lay concealed. A door opened and shut.
An instant later steps crept down the passage -- steps which
were meant to be silent, but which reverberated harshly through
the empty house. Holmes crouched back against the wall and I
did the same, my hand closing upon the handle of my revolver.
Peering through the gloom, I saw the vague outline of a man,
a shade blacker than the blackness of the open door. He stood
for an instant, and then he crept forward, crouching, menacing,
into the room. He was within three yards of us, this sinister
figure, and I had braced myself to meet his spring, before I
realized that he had no idea of our presence. He passed close
beside us, stole over to the window, and very softly and
noiselessly raised it for half a foot. As he sank to the level
of this opening the light of the street, no longer dimmed by the
dusty glass, fell full upon his face. The man seemed to be
beside himself with excitement. His two eyes shone like stars
and his features were working convulsively. He was an elderly
man, with a thin, projecting nose, a high, bald forehead, and a
huge grizzled moustache. An opera-hat was pushed to the back of
his head, and an evening dress shirt-front gleamed out through
his open overcoat. His face was gaunt and swarthy, scored with
deep, savage lines. In his hand he carried what appeared to be
a stick, but as he laid it down upon the floor it gave a
metallic clang. Then from the pocket of his overcoat he drew a
bulky object, and he busied himself in some task which ended
with a loud, sharp click, as if a spring or bolt had fallen into
its place. Still kneeling upon the floor he bent forward and
threw all his weight and strength upon some lever, with the
result that there came a long, whirling, grinding noise, ending
once more in a powerful click. He straightened himself then,
and I saw that what he held in his hand was a sort of gun, with
a curiously misshapen butt. He opened it at the breech, put
something in, and snapped the breech-block. Then, crouching
down, he rested the end of the barrel upon the ledge of the open
window, and I saw his long moustache droop over the stock and
his eye gleam as it peered along the sights. I heard a little
sigh of satisfaction as he cuddled the butt into his shoulder,
and saw that amazing target, the black man on the yellow ground,
standing clear at the end of his fore sight. For an instant he
was rigid and motionless. Then his finger tightened on the
trigger. There was a strange, loud whiz and a long, silvery
tinkle of broken glass. At that instant Holmes sprang like a
tiger on to the marksman's back and hurled him flat upon his
face. He was up again in a moment, and with convulsive strength
he seized Holmes by the throat; but I struck him on the head
with the butt of my revolver and he dropped again upon the floor.
I fell upon him, and as I held him my comrade blew a shrill call
upon a whistle. There was the clatter of running feet upon the
pavement, and two policemen in uniform, with one plain-clothes
detective, rushed through the front entrance and into the room.
"That you, Lestrade?" said Holmes.
"Yes, Mr. Holmes. I took the job myself. It's good to see you
back in London, sir."
"I think you want a little unofficial help. Three undetected
murders in one year won't do, Lestrade. But you handled the
Molesey Mystery with less than your usual -- that's to say, you
handled it fairly well."
We had all risen to our feet, our prisoner breathing hard,
with a stalwart constable on each side of him. Already a few
loiterers had begun to collect in the street. Holmes stepped up
to the window, closed it, and dropped the blinds. Lestrade had
produced two candles and the policemen had uncovered their lanterns.
I was able at last to have a good look at our prisoner.
It was a tremendously virile and yet sinister face which was
turned towards us. With the brow of a philosopher above and the
jaw of a sensualist below, the man must have started with great
capacities for good or for evil. But one could not look upon his
cruel blue eyes, with their drooping, cynical lids, or upon the
fierce, aggressive nose and the threatening, deep-lined brow,
without reading Nature's plainest danger-signals. He took no heed
of any of us, but his eyes were fixed upon Holmes's face with an
expression in which hatred and amazement were equally blended.
"You fiend!" he kept on muttering. "You clever, clever fiend!"
"Ah, Colonel!" said Holmes, arranging his rumpled collar;
"`journeys end in lovers' meetings,' as the old play says.
I don't think I have had the pleasure of seeing you since you
favoured me with those attentions as I lay on the ledge above
the Reichenbach Fall."
The Colonel still stared at my friend like a man in a trance.
"You cunning, cunning fiend!" was all that he could say.
"I have not introduced you yet," said Holmes. "This, gentlemen,
is Colonel Sebastian Moran, once of Her Majesty's Indian Army,
and the best heavy game shot that our Eastern Empire has ever
produced. I believe I am correct, Colonel, in saying that your
bag of tigers still remains unrivalled?"
The fierce old man said nothing, but still glared at my companion;
with his savage eyes and bristling moustache he was wonderfully
like a tiger himself.
"I wonder that my very simple stratagem could deceive so old
a shikari," said Holmes. "It must be very familiar to you.
Have you not tethered a young kid under a tree, lain above it
with your rifle, and waited for the bait to bring up your tiger?
This empty house is my tree and you are my tiger. You have
possibly had other guns in reserve in case there should be
several tigers, or in the unlikely supposition of your own aim
failing you. These," he pointed around, "are my other guns.
The parallel is exact."
Colonel Moran sprang forward, with a snarl of rage, but the
constables dragged him back. The fury upon his face was
terrible to look at.
"I confess that you had one small surprise for me," said Holmes.
"I did not anticipate that you would yourself make use of this
empty house and this convenient front window. I had imagined
you as operating from the street, where my friend Lestrade and
his merry men were awaiting you. With that exception all has
gone as I expected."
Colonel Moran turned to the official detective.
"You may or may not have just cause for arresting me," said he,
"but at least there can be no reason why I should submit to the
gibes of this person. If I am in the hands of the law let
things be done in a legal way."
"Well, that's reasonable enough," said Lestrade. "Nothing
further you have to say, Mr. Holmes, before we go?"
Holmes had picked up the powerful air-gun from the floor and
was examining its mechanism.
"An admirable and unique weapon," said he, "noiseless and of
tremendous power. I knew Von Herder, the blind German mechanic,
who constructed it to the order of the late Professor Moriarty.
For years I have been aware of its existence, though I have
never before had the opportunity of handling it. I commend it
very specially to your attention, Lestrade, and also the bullets
which fit it."
"You can trust us to look after that, Mr. Holmes," said Lestrade,
as the whole party moved towards the door. "Anything further to say?"
"Only to ask what charge you intend to prefer?"
"What charge, sir? Why, of course, the attempted murder of Mr.
"Not so, Lestrade. I do not propose to appear in the matter at all.
To you, and to you only, belongs the credit of the remarkable arrest
which you have effected. Yes, Lestrade, I congratulate you! With
your usual happy mixture of cunning and audacity you have got him."
"Got him! Got whom, Mr. Holmes?"
"The man that the whole force has been seeking in vain --
Colonel Sebastian Moran, who shot the Honourable Ronald Adair
with an expanding bullet from an air-gun through the open window
of the second-floor front of No. 427, Park Lane, upon the 30th
of last month. That's the charge, Lestrade. And now, Watson,
if you can endure the draught from a broken window, I think that
half an hour in my study over a cigar may afford you some
Our old chambers had been left unchanged through the supervision
of Mycroft Holmes and the immediate care of Mrs. Hudson.
As I entered I saw, it is true, an unwonted tidiness, but the old
landmarks were all in their place. There were the chemical
corner and the acid-stained, deal-topped table. There upon a
shelf was the row of formidable scrap-books and books of reference
which many of our fellow-citizens would have been so glad to burn.
The diagrams, the violin-case, and the pipe-rack -- even the
Persian slipper which contained the tobacco -- all met my eyes
as I glanced round me. There were two occupants of the room --
one Mrs. Hudson, who beamed upon us both as we entered;
the other the strange dummy which had played so important a part in
the evening's adventures. It was a wax-coloured model of my friend,
so admirably done that it was a perfect facsimile. It stood on a
small pedestal table with an old dressing-gown of Holmes's so draped
round it that the illusion from the street was absolutely perfect.
"I hope you preserved all precautions, Mrs. Hudson?" said Holmes.
"I went to it on my knees, sir, just as you told me."
"Excellent. You carried the thing out very well. Did you observe
where the bullet went?"
"Yes, sir. I'm afraid it has spoilt your beautiful bust, for it
passed right through the head and flattened itself on the wall.
I picked it up from the carpet. Here it is!"
Holmes held it out to me. "A soft revolver bullet, as you
perceive, Watson. There's genius in that, for who would expect
to find such a thing fired from an air-gun. All right, Mrs.
Hudson, I am much obliged for your assistance. And now, Watson,
let me see you in your old seat once more, for there are
several points which I should like to discuss with you."
He had thrown off the seedy frock-coat, and now he was the
Holmes of old in the mouse-coloured dressing-gown which he took
from his effigy.
"The old shikari's nerves have not lost their steadiness nor his
eyes their keenness," said he, with a laugh, as he inspected the
shattered forehead of his bust.
"Plumb in the middle of the back of the head and smack through
the brain. He was the best shot in India, and I expect that
there are few better in London. Have you heard the name?"
"No, I have not."
"Well, well, such is fame! But, then, if I remember aright,
you had not heard the name of Professor James Moriarty, who had
one of the great brains of the century. Just give me down my
index of biographies from the shelf."
He turned over the pages lazily, leaning back in his chair and
blowing great clouds from his cigar.
"My collection of M's is a fine one," said he.
"Moriarty himself is enough to make any letter illustrious,
and here is Morgan the poisoner, and Merridew of abominable memory,
and Mathews, who knocked out my left canine in the waiting-room
at Charing Cross, and, finally, here is our friend of to-night."
He handed over the book, and I read:
"MORAN, SEBASTIAN, COLONEL. Unemployed. Formerly 1st Bengalore
Pioneers. Born London, 1840. Son of Sir Augustus Moran, C.B.,
once British Minister to Persia. Educated Eton and Oxford.
Served in Jowaki Campaign, Afghan Campaign, Charasiab (despatches),
Sherpur, and Cabul. Author of `Heavy Game of the Western Himalayas,'
1881; `Three Months in the Jungle,' 1884. Address: Conduit Street.
Clubs: The Anglo-Indian, the Tankerville, the Bagatelle Card Club."
On the margin was written, in Holmes's precise hand:
"The second most dangerous man in London."
"This is astonishing," said I, as I handed back the volume.
"The man's career is that of an honourable soldier."
"It is true," Holmes answered. "Up to a certain point he did
well. He was always a man of iron nerve, and the story is still
told in India how he crawled down a drain after a wounded
man-eating tiger. There are some trees, Watson, which grow to a
certain height and then suddenly develop some unsightly
eccentricity. You will see it often in humans. I have a theory
that the individual represents in his development the whole
procession of his ancestors, and that such a sudden turn to good
or evil stands for some strong influence which came into the
line of his pedigree. The person becomes, as it were, the
epitome of the history of his own family."
"It is surely rather fanciful."
"Well, I don't insist upon it. Whatever the cause, Colonel
Moran began to go wrong. Without any open scandal he still made
India too hot to hold him. He retired, came to London, and
again acquired an evil name. It was at this time that he was
sought out by Professor Moriarty, to whom for a time he was
chief of the staff. Moriarty supplied him liberally with money
and used him only in one or two very high-class jobs which no
ordinary criminal could have undertaken. You may have some
recollection of the death of Mrs. Stewart, of Lauder, in 1887.
Not? Well, I am sure Moran was at the bottom of it; but nothing
could be proved. So cleverly was the Colonel concealed that
even when the Moriarty gang was broken up we could not
incriminate him. You remember at that date, when I called upon
you in your rooms, how I put up the shutters for fear of
air-guns? No doubt you thought me fanciful. I knew exactly
what I was doing, for I knew of the existence of this remarkable
gun, and I knew also that one of the best shots in the world
would be behind it. When we were in Switzerland he followed us
with Moriarty, and it was undoubtedly he who gave me that evil
five minutes on the Reichenbach ledge.
"You may think that I read the papers with some attention during
my sojourn in France, on the look-out for any chance of laying
him by the heels. So long as he was free in London my life
would really not have been worth living. Night and day the
shadow would have been over me, and sooner or later his chance
must have come. What could I do? I could not shoot him at
sight, or I should myself be in the dock. There was no use
appealing to a magistrate. They cannot interfere on the
strength of what would appear to them to be a wild suspicion.
So I could do nothing. But I watched the criminal news, knowing
that sooner or later I should get him. Then came the death of
this Ronald Adair. My chance had come at last! Knowing what I
did, was it not certain that Colonel Moran had done it? He had
played cards with the lad; he had followed him home from the
club; he had shot him through the open window. There was not a
doubt of it. The bullets alone are enough to put his head in a
noose. I came over at once. I was seen by the sentinel, who
would, I knew, direct the Colonel's attention to my presence. He
could not fail to connect my sudden return with his crime and to
be terribly alarmed. I was sure that he would make an attempt
to get me out of the way AT ONCE, and would bring round his
murderous weapon for that purpose. I left him an excellent mark
in the window, and, having warned the police that they might be
needed -- by the way, Watson, you spotted their presence in that
doorway with unerring accuracy -- I took up what seemed to me to
be a judicious post for observation, never dreaming that he
would choose the same spot for his attack. Now, my dear Watson,
does anything remain for me to explain?"
"Yes," said I. "You have not made it clear what was Colonel
Moran's motive in murdering the Honourable Ronald Adair."
"Ah! my dear Watson, there we come into those realms of
conjecture where the most logical mind may be at fault.
Each may form his own hypothesis upon the present evidence,
and yours is as likely to be correct as mine."
"You have formed one, then?"
"I think that it is not difficult to explain the facts.
It came out in evidence that Colonel Moran and young Adair had
between them won a considerable amount of money. Now, Moran
undoubtedly played foul -- of that I have long been aware.
I believe that on the day of the murder Adair had discovered that
Moran was cheating. Very likely he had spoken to him privately,
and had threatened to expose him unless he voluntarily resigned
his membership of the club and promised not to play cards again.
It is unlikely that a youngster like Adair would at once make a
hideous scandal by exposing a well-known man so much older than
himself. Probably he acted as I suggest. The exclusion from
his clubs would mean ruin to Moran, who lived by his ill-gotten
card gains. He therefore murdered Adair, who at the time was
endeavouring to work out how much money he should himself return,
since he could not profit by his partner's foul play. He locked
the door lest the ladies should surprise him and insist upon knowing
what he was doing with these names and coins. Will it pass?"
"I have no doubt that you have hit upon the truth."
"It will be verified or disproved at the trial. Meanwhile,
come what may, Colonel Moran will trouble us no more, the famous
air-gun of Von Herder will embellish the Scotland Yard Museum,
and once again Mr. Sherlock Holmes is free to devote his life to
examining those interesting little problems which the complex
life of London so plentifully presents."
THE STRAND MAGAZINE
Vol. 26 NOVEMBER, 1903
THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES.
By ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE.
II. -- 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 late lamented Professor Moriarty."
"I can hardly think that you would find many decent citizens
to agree with you," I answered.
"Well, well, I must not be selfish," said he, with a smile,
as he pushed back his chair from the breakfast-table.
"The community is certainly the gainer, and no one the loser,
save the poor out-of-work specialist, whose occupation has gone.
With that man in the field one's morning paper presented
infinite possibilities. Often it was only the smallest trace,
Watson, the faintest indication, and yet it was enough to tell
me that the great malignant brain was there, as the gentlest
tremors of the edges of the web remind one of the foul spider
which lurks in the centre. Petty thefts, wanton assaults,
purposeless outrage -- to the man who held the clue all could
be worked into one connected whole. To the scientific student
of the higher criminal world no capital in Europe offered
the advantages which London then possessed. But now ----"
He shrugged his shoulders in humorous deprecation of the state
of things which he had himself done so much to produce.
At the time of which I speak Holmes had been back for some months,
and I, at his request, had sold my practice and returned to share
the old quarters in Baker Street. A young doctor, named Verner,
had purchased my small Kensington practice, and given with
astonishingly little demur the highest price that I ventured to
ask -- an incident which only explained itself some years later
when I found that Verner was a distant relation of Holmes's, and
that it was my friend who had really found the money.
Our months of partnership had not been so uneventful as he had
stated, for I find, on looking over my notes, that this period
includes the case of the papers of Ex-President Murillo, and
also the shocking affair of the Dutch steamship FRIESLAND, which
so nearly cost us both our lives. His cold and proud nature was
always averse, however, to anything in the shape of public applause,
and he bound me in the most stringent terms to say no further word
of himself, his methods, or his successes -- a prohibition which,
as I have explained, 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 attention was arrested by a
tremendous ring at the bell, followed immediately by a hollow
drumming sound, as if someone were beating on the outer door
with his fist. As it opened there came a tumultuous rush into
the hall, rapid feet clattered up the stair, and an instant
later a wild-eyed and frantic young man, pale, dishevelled,
and palpitating, burst into the room. He looked from one to the
other of us, and under our gaze of inquiry he became conscious
that some 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 and its manner; but I could see by my companion's
unresponsive face that it meant no more to him than to me.
"Have a cigarette, Mr. McFarlane," said he, pushing his case across.
"I am sure that with your symptoms my friend Dr. Watson here would
prescribe a sedative. The weather has been so very warm these
last few days. Now, if you feel a little more composed, I should
be glad if you would sit down in that chair and tell us very slowly
and quietly who you are and what it is that you want. You mentioned
your name as if I should recognise it, but I assure you that,
beyond the obvious facts that you are a bachelor, a solicitor,
a Freemason, and an asthmatic, I know nothing whatever about you."
Familiar as I was with my friend's methods, it was not difficult
for me to follow his deductions, and to observe the untidiness of
attire, the sheaf of legal papers, the watch-charm, and the breathing
which had prompted them. Our client, however, stared in amazement.
"Yes, I am all that, Mr. Holmes, and in addition I am the most
unfortunate man at this moment in London. For Heaven's sake
don't abandon me, Mr. Holmes! If they come to arrest me before
I have finished my story, make them give me time so that I may
tell you the whole truth. I could go to gaol happy if I knew
that you were working for me outside."
"Arrest you!" said Holmes. "This is really most grati -- most
interesting. On what 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 to my friend, Dr. Watson, that sensational cases had
disappeared out of our papers."
Our visitor stretched forward a quivering hand and picked up the
DAILY TELEGRAPH, which still lay upon Holmes's knee.
"If you had looked at it, sir, you would have seen at a glance
what the errand is on which I have come to you this morning.
I feel as if my name and my misfortune must be in every man's
mouth." He turned it over to expose the central 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
Lower Norwood. 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 followed from London Bridge
Station, and I am sure that they are only waiting for the warrant
to arrest me. It will break my mother's heart -- it will break
her heart!" He wrung his hands in an agony of apprehension,
and swayed backwards and forwards in his chair.
I looked with interest upon this man, who was accused of being
the perpetrator of a crime of violence. He was flaxen-haired
and handsome in a washed-out negative fashion, with frightened
blue eyes and a clean-shaven face, with a weak, sensitive mouth.
His age may have been about twenty-seven; his dress and bearing
that of a gentleman. From the pocket of his light summer
overcoat protruded the bundle of endorsed papers which
proclaimed his profession.
"We must use what time we have," said Holmes. "Watson, would
you have the kindness to take the paper and to read me the
paragraph in question?"
Underneath the vigorous head-lines which our client had quoted
I read the following suggestive narrative:---
Late last night, or early this morning, an incident occurred
at Lower Norwood which 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 a builder for many years.
Mr. Oldacre is a bachelor, fifty-two years of age, and lives in
Deep Dene House, at the Sydenham end of the road of that name.
He has had 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 is said 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,
an alarm was given that one of the stacks was on fire. The
engines were soon upon the spot, but the dry wood burned with
great fury, and it was impossible to arrest the conflagration
until the stack had been entirely consumed. Up to this point
the incident bore the appearance of an ordinary accident, but
fresh indications seem to point to serious crime. Surprise was
expressed at the absence of the master of the establishment from
the scene of the fire, and an inquiry followed, which showed
that he had disappeared from the house. An examination of his
room revealed that the bed had not been slept in, that a safe
which stood in it was open, that a number of important papers
were scattered about the room, and, finally, that there were
signs of a murderous struggle, slight traces of blood being
found within the room, and an oaken walking-stick, which also
showed stains of blood upon the handle. It is known that Mr.
Jonas Oldacre had received a late visitor in his bedroom upon
that night, 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 of Graham and McFarlane,
of 426, Gresham Buildings, E.C. The police believe that they
have evidence in their possession which supplies a very
convincing motive for the crime, and altogether it cannot
be doubted that sensational developments will follow.
LATER. -- It is rumoured as we go to press that Mr. John Hector
McFarlane has actually been arrested on the charge of the murder
of Mr. Jonas Oldacre. It is at least certain that a warrant has
been issued. There have been further and sinister developments
in the investigation at Norwood. Besides the signs of a
struggle in the room of the unfortunate builder it is now known
that the French windows of his bedroom (which is on the ground
floor) were found to be open, that there were marks as if some
bulky object had been dragged across to the wood-pile, and,
finally, it is asserted that charred remains have been found
among the charcoal ashes of the fire. The police theory is that
a most sensational crime has been committed, that the victim was
clubbed to death in his own bedroom, his papers rifled, and his
dead body dragged across to the wood-stack, which was then
ignited so as to hide all traces of the crime. The conduct of
the criminal investigation has been left in the experienced
hands of Inspector Lestrade, of Scotland Yard, who is following
up the clues with his accustomed energy and sagacity.
Sherlock Holmes listened with closed eyes and finger-tips
together to this remarkable account.
"The case has certainly some points of interest," said he,
in his languid fashion. "May I ask, in the first place,
Mr. McFarlane, how it is that you are still at liberty, since
there appears to be enough evidence to justify your arrest?"
"I live at Torrington Lodge, Blackheath, with my parents,
Mr. Holmes; but last night, having to do business very late
with Mr. Jonas Oldacre, I stayed at an hotel in Norwood, and
came to my business from there. I knew nothing of this affair
until I was in the train, when I read what you have just heard.
I at once saw the horrible danger of my position, and I hurried
to put the case into your hands. I have no doubt that I should
have been arrested either at my City office or at my home.
A man followed me from London Bridge Station, and I have 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 his shoulder 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 once more like one who is crushed.
"One moment, Lestrade," said Holmes. "Half an hour more or less
can make no difference to you, and the gentleman was about to
give us an account of this very 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 his account."
"Well, Mr. Holmes, it is difficult for me to refuse you anything,
for you have been of use to the force once or twice in the past,
and we owe you a good turn at Scotland Yard," said Lestrade.
"At the same time I must remain with my prisoner, and I am
bound to warn him that anything he may say will appear in
evidence against him."
"I wish nothing better," said our client. "All I ask is that
you should hear and recognise the absolute truth."
Lestrade looked at his watch. "I'll give you half an hour,"
"I must explain first," said McFarlane, "that I knew nothing of
Mr. Jonas Oldacre. His name was familiar to me, for many years
ago my parents were acquainted with him, but they drifted apart.
I was very much surprised, therefore, when yesterday, about
three o'clock in the afternoon, he walked into my office in the
City. But I was still more astonished when he told me the 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 into proper legal shape. I will sit here while you do so.'
"I set myself to copy it, and you can imagine my astonishment
when I found that, with some reservations, he had left all his
property to me. He was a strange little, ferret-like man, with
white eyelashes, and when I looked up at him I found his keen
grey eyes fixed upon me with an amused expression. I could
hardly believe my own senses as I read the terms of the will;
but he explained that he was a bachelor with hardly any living
relation, that he had known my parents in his youth, and that he
had always heard of me as a very deserving 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 these slips, as I have explained, are the rough draft.
Mr. Jonas Oldacre then informed me that there were a number of
documents -- building leases, title-deeds, mortgages, scrip,
and so forth -- which it was necessary that I should see
and understand. He said that his mind would not be easy until
the whole thing was settled, and he begged me to come out to his
house at Norwood that night, 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. We will
keep it as a little surprise for them.' He was very insistent
upon this point, and made me promise it faithfully.
"You can imagine, Mr. Holmes, that I was not in a humour to
refuse him anything that he might ask. He was my benefactor,
and all my desire was to carry 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 for me to say how
late I might be. Mr. Oldacre had told me that he would like me
to have supper with him at nine, as he might not be home before
that hour. I had some difficulty in finding his house, however,
and it was nearly half-past before 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 laid out. Afterwards Mr. Jonas Oldacre led me into
his bedroom, in which there stood a heavy safe. This he opened
and took out a mass of documents, which we went over together.
It was between eleven and twelve when we finished. He remarked
that we must not disturb the housekeeper. He showed me out
through his 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 remember how he pulled it up in order to swing open the
window. I could not find my stick, and he said, `Never mind, my
boy; I shall see a good deal of you now, I hope, and I will keep
your stick until you come back to claim it.' I left him there,
the safe open, and the papers made up in packets upon the table.
It was so late that I could not get back to Blackheath, so I
spent the night at the Anerley Arms, and I knew nothing more
until I read of this horrible affair in the morning."
"Anything more that you would like to ask, Mr. Holmes?"
said Lestrade, whose eyebrows 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 his enigmatical smile. Lestrade had learned by more
experiences than he would care to acknowledge that that
razor-like brain could cut through that which was impenetrable
to him. I saw him look curiously at my companion.
"I think I should like to have a word with you presently,
Mr. Sherlock Holmes," said he. "Now, Mr. McFarlane, two of
my constables are at the door and there is a four-wheeler
waiting." The wretched young man arose, and with a last
beseeching glance at us walked from the room. The officers
conducted him to the cab, but Lestrade remained.
Holmes had picked up the pages which formed the rough draft
of the will, and was 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 the writing in between is very bad,
and there are three places where I cannot read it 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 bad writing movement, and the very bad writing
passing over points. A scientific expert 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 so
quick a succession of points. Granting that his whole journey
was occupied in drawing up the will, then the train was an
express, only stopping once between Norwood 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 was drawn 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 practical
importance. If a man drew up a will which he did not intend
ever to be effective he might do it so."
"Well, he drew up his own death-warrant at the same time,"
"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 young man who learns suddenly that if a certain older
man dies he will succeed to a fortune. What does he do?
He says nothing to anyone, but he arranges that he shall go out
on some pretext to see his client that night; he waits until
the only other person in the house is in bed, and then in the
solitude of a man's room he murders him, burns his body in the
wood-pile, and departs to a neighbouring hotel. The blood-stains
in the room and also on the stick are very 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 the method
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," said Holmes. "You do not add imagination to your
other great qualities; but if you could for one moment put
yourself in the place of this young man, would you choose the
very night after the will had been made to commit your crime?
Would it not seem dangerous to you to make so very close a
relation between the two incidents? Again, would you choose
an occasion when you are known to be in the house, when a servant
has let you in? And, finally, would you take the great pains
to conceal the body and yet leave your own stick as a sign
that you were the 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 is often flurried and does things which a cool man
would avoid. He was very likely afraid to go back to the room.
Give me another theory that would fit the 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. The older man is showing
documents which are of evident value. A passing tramp sees
them through the window, the blind of which is only half down.
Exit the solicitor. Enter the tramp! He seizes a stick,
which he observes there, kills Oldacre, 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
"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 less absolutely assured than before.
"Well, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, you may look for your tramp,
and while you are finding 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 papers were
removed, and that the prisoner is the one man in the world who
had no reason for removing them, since he was heir-at-law and
would come into them in any case."
My friend seemed struck by this remark.
"I don't mean to deny that the evidence is in some ways very
strongly in favour of your theory," said he. "I only wish to
point out that there are other theories possible. As you say,
the future will decide. Good morning! I dare say that in the
course of the day I shall drop in at Norwood and see how you
are getting on."
When the detective departed my friend rose and made his
preparations for the day'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 heels of another singular incident. The police are
making the mistake of concentrating their attention upon the
second, because it happens to be the one which is actually
criminal. But it is evident to me that the logical way to
approach the case is to begin by trying to throw some light upon
the first incident -- 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't think you can help me.
There is no prospect of danger, or I should not dream of
stirring out without you. I trust that when I see you in the
evening I will be able to report that I have been able to do
something for this unfortunate youngster who has thrown himself
upon my protection."
It was late when my friend returned, and I could see by a glance
at his haggard and anxious face that the high hopes with which
he had started had not been fulfilled. For an hour he droned
away upon his violin, endeavouring to soothe his own ruffled
spirits. At last he flung down the instrument and plunged into
a detailed account of his misadventures.
"It's all going wrong, Watson -- all as wrong as it can go.
I kept a bold face before Lestrade, but, upon my soul, I believe
that for once the fellow is on the right track and we are on the
wrong. All my instincts are one way and all the facts are the
other, and I much fear that British juries have not yet attained
that pitch of intelligence when they will give the preference to
my theories over Lestrade's facts."
"Did you go to Blackheath?"
"Yes, Watson, I went there, and I found very quickly that the
late lamented Oldacre was a pretty considerable black-guard.
The father was away in search of his son. The mother was at
home -- a little, fluffy, blue-eyed person, in a tremor of fear
and indignation. Of course, she would not admit even the
possibility of his guilt. But she would not express either
surprise or regret over the fate of Oldacre. On the contrary,
she spoke of him with such bitterness that she was unconsciously
considerably strengthening the case of the police, for, of course,
if her son had heard her speak of the man in this fashion it would
predispose him towards hatred and violence. `He was more like
a 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 Heaven that 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 he had turned
a cat loose in an aviary, and I was so horrified at his brutal
cruelty that I would have nothing more to do with him.'
She rummaged in a bureau, and presently she produced a photograph
of a woman, shamefully defaced and mutilated with a knife.
`That is my own photograph,' she said. `He sent it to 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 his property to your son.'
"`Neither my son nor I want anything from Jonas Oldacre, dead
or alive,' she cried, with a proper spirit. `There is a God
in Heaven, Mr. Holmes, and that same God who has punished that
wicked man will show in His own good time that my son's hands
are guiltless of his blood.'
"Well, I tried one or two leads, but could get at nothing which
would help our hypothesis, and several points which would make
against it. I gave it up at last and off I went to Norwood.
"This place, Deep Dene House, is a big modern villa of staring
brick, standing back in its own grounds, with a laurel-clumped
lawn in front of it. To the right and some distance back from
the road was the timber-yard which had been the scene of the
fire. Here's a rough plan on a leaf of my note-book. This
window on the left is the one which opens into Oldacre's room.
You can look into it from the road, you see. That is about the
only bit of consolation I have had to-day. Lestrade was not
there, but his head constable did the honours. They had just
made a great treasure-trove. They had spent the morning raking
among the ashes of the burned wood-pile, and besides the charred
organic remains they had secured several discoloured metal
discs. I examined them with care, and there was no doubt that
they were trouser buttons. I even distinguished that one of
them was marked with the name of `Hyams,' who was Oldacre'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 seen save that some body or bundle had been
dragged through a low privet hedge which is in a line with the
wood-pile. All that, of course, fits in with the official
theory. I crawled about the lawn with an August sun on my back,
but I got up at the end of an hour no wiser than before.
"Well, after this fiasco I went into the bedroom and examined
that also. The blood-stains were very slight, mere smears and
discolorations, but undoubtedly fresh. The stick had been removed,
but there also the marks were slight. There is no doubt about
the stick belonging to our client. He admits it. Footmarks of
both men could be made out on the carpet, but none of any third
person, which again is a trick for the other side. They were
piling up their 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. I examined the contents of the safe, most of which
had been taken out and left on the table. The papers had been
made up into sealed envelopes, one or two of which 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 such very affluent circumstances. But it seemed to me
that all the papers were not there. There were allusions to
some deeds -- possibly the more valuable -- which I could not
find. This, of course, if we could definitely prove it, would
turn Lestrade's argument against himself, for who would steal
a thing if he knew that he would shortly inherit it?
"Finally, having drawn every other cover and picked up no scent,
I tried my luck with the housekeeper. Mrs. Lexington is her
name, a little, dark, silent person, with suspicious and
sidelong eyes. She could tell us something if she would --
I am convinced of it. But she was as close as wax. Yes, she
had let Mr. McFarlane in at half-past nine. She wished her
hand had withered before she had done so. She had gone to bed at
half-past ten. Her room was at the other 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 the hall.
She had been awakened by the alarm of fire. Her poor, dear
master had certainly been murdered. Had he any enemies?
Well, every man had enemies, but Mr. Oldacre kept himself very
much to himself, and only met people in the way of business.
She had seen the buttons, and was sure that they belonged to the
clothes which he had worn last night. The wood-pile was very dry,
for it had not rained for a month. It burned like tinder, and by
the time she reached the spot nothing could be seen but flames.
She and all the firemen smelled the burned 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 ---" -- he clenched 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 that housekeeper
knows it. There was a sort of sulky defiance in her eyes, which
only goes with guilty knowledge. However, there's no good
talking any more about it, Watson; but unless some lucky chance
comes our way I fear that the Norwood Disappearance Case will
not figure in that chronicle of our successes which 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
terrible murderer, Bert Stevens, who wanted us to get him off in '87?
Was there ever a more mild-mannered, Sunday-school young man?"
"It is true."
"Unless we succeed in establishing an alternative theory this
man is lost. You can hardly find a flaw in the case which can
now be presented against him, and all further investigation has
served to strengthen it. By the way, there is one curious
little point about those papers which may serve us as the
starting-point for an inquiry. On looking over the bank-book
I found that the low state of the balance was principally due
to large cheques which have been made out during the last year
to Mr. Cornelius. I confess that I should be interested to know
who this Mr. Cornelius may be with whom a retired builder has
such very large transactions. Is it possible that he has had
a hand in the affair? Cornelius might be a broker, but we have
found no scrip to correspond with these large payments. Failing
any other indication my researches must now take the direction
of an inquiry at the bank for the gentleman who has cashed these
cheques. But I fear, my dear fellow, that our case will end
ingloriously by Lestrade hanging our client, which will
certainly be a triumph for Scotland Yard."
I do not know how far Sherlock Holmes took any sleep that night,
but when I came down to breakfast I found him pale and harassed,
his bright eyes the brighter for the dark shadows round them.
The carpet round his chair was littered with cigarette-ends and
with the early editions of the morning papers. 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 a bitter 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 very different 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 I shall need your
company and your moral support to-day."
My friend had no breakfast himself, for it was one of his
peculiarities that in his more intense moments he would permit
himself no food, and I have known him 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
say in answer to my medical remonstrances. I was not surprised,
therefore, when this morning he left his untouched meal behind
him and started with me for Norwood. A crowd of morbid
sightseers were still gathered round Deep Dene House, which was
just such a suburban villa as I had pictured. Within the gates
Lestrade met us, his face flushed with victory, his manner
"Well, Mr. Holmes, have you proved us to be wrong yet? Have you
found your tramp?" 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 must acknowledge that we have been a little in front of
you this time, Mr. Holmes."
"You certainly have the air of something unusual having occurred,"
Lestrade laughed loudly.
"You don't like being beaten any more than the rest of us do,"
said he. "A man can'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 it was
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 the crime was done," said he. "Now, look at this." With
dramatic suddenness he struck a match and by its light exposed
a stain of blood upon the whitewashed wall. As he held the
match nearer I saw that it was more than a stain. It was the
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 of young McFarlane's right thumb, taken by my orders
As he held the waxen print close to the blood-stain it did not
take a magnifying glass to see that the two were undoubtedly
from the same thumb. It was 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. An extraordinary change had come over his face. It was
writhing with inward merriment. His two eyes were shining like
stars. It seemed to me that he was making 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 to look at! It is a lesson to us
not to trust our own judgment, 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 thumb against 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 whole body 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's attention to it."
"Where was the night constable?"
"He remained on guard in the bedroom where the crime was
committed, so as to see 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 there yesterday?"
Lestrade looked at Holmes as if he thought he was going out of
his mind. I confess that I was myself surprised both at his
hilarious manner and at his rather wild observation.
"I don't know whether you think that McFarlane came out of gaol
in the dead of the 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 his thumb."
"It is unquestionably the mark of his thumb."
"There, that's enough," said Lestrade. "I am a practical man,
Mr. Holmes, and when I have got my evidence I come to my
conclusions. If you have anything to say you will find me
writing my report in the sitting-room."
Holmes had recovered his equanimity, though I still seemed to
detect gleams of amusement in his expression.
"Dear me, this is a very sad development, Watson, is it not?"
said he. "And yet there are singular points about it which
hold out some hopes for our client."
"I am delighted to hear it," said I, heartily. "I was afraid
it was all up with him."
"I would hardly go so far as to say that, my dear Watson.
The fact is that there is one really serious flaw in this
evidence to which our friend attaches so much importance."
"Indeed, Holmes! What is it?"
"Only this: that I KNOW that that mark was not there when
I examined the hall yesterday. And now, Watson, let us have
a little stroll round in the sunshine."
With a confused brain, but with a heart into which some warmth
of hope was returning, I accompanied my friend in a walk round
the garden. Holmes took each face of the house in turn and
examined it with great interest. He then led 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
them all minutely. Finally, on the top corridor, which ran
outside three untenanted bedrooms, 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 by him if
my reading of this problem proves to be correct. Yes, yes;
I think I see how we should approach it."
The Scotland Yard inspector was still writing in the parlour
when Holmes interrupted 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 your evidence is not complete."
Lestrade knew my friend too well to disregard his words.
He laid down his pen and 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 men with powerful voices?"
"I have no doubt they are, though I fail to see what their
voices have to do with it."
"Perhaps I can help you to see that and one or two other things
as well," said Holmes. "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 the greatest assistance in producing the
witness whom I require. Thank you very much. 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
three empty bedrooms. At one end of the corridor we were all
marshalled by Sherlock Holmes, the constables grinning and Lestrade
staring at my friend with amazement, 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? Put the straw on the floor here, free from the wall
on either side. Now I think that 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 this tomfoolery."
"I assure you, my good Lestrade, that I have an excellent reason
for everything that I do. You may possibly remember that you
chaffed me a little some hours ago, when the sun seemed on your
side of the hedge, so you must not grudge me a little pomp and
ceremony now. Might I ask you, Watson, to open that 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 the corridor, while the dry straw crackled and flamed.
"Now we must see if we can find this witness for you, Lestrade.
Might I ask you 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 flew open out of what appeared to be solid wall at the
end of the corridor, and a little, 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 missing witness, Mr. Jonas Oldacre."
The detective stared at the new-comer with blank amazement.
The latter was blinking in the bright light of the corridor,
and peering at us and at the smouldering fire. It was an odious
face -- crafty, vicious, malignant, with shifty, light-grey eyes
and white eyelashes.
"What's this, then?" said Lestrade at last. "What have you
been doing all this time, eh?"
Oldacre gave an uneasy laugh, shrinking back from the furious
red face of the angry detective.
"I have done no harm."
"No harm? You have done your best to get an innocent man hanged.
If it wasn't for 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," he continued, when they had gone,
"I could not speak before the constables, but I don't mind saying,
in the presence of Dr. Watson, that this is the brightest thing
that you have done yet, though it is a mystery to me how you did
it. You have saved an innocent man's life, and you have
prevented a very grave scandal, 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 has been enormously enhanced. Just make
a few alterations in that report which you were writing,
and they will understand how hard it is to throw dust
in the eyes 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 also at some distant day when I permit my zealous
historian to lay out his foolscap once more -- eh, Watson?
Well, now, let us see where this rat has been lurking."
A lath-and-plaster partition had been run across the passage
six feet from the end, with a door cunningly concealed in it.
It was lit within by slits under the eaves. A few articles of
furniture and a supply of food and water were within, together
with a number of books and papers.
"There's the advantage of being a builder," said Holmes,
as we came out. "He was 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 in adding to your bag, Lestrade."
"I'll take your advice. But how did you know of this place,
"I made up my mind that the fellow was in hiding in the house.
When I paced one 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 quiet before an alarm of
fire. We could, of course, have gone in and taken him, but it
amused me to make him reveal himself; besides, I owed you a
little mystification, Lestrade, for your chaff in the morning."
"Well, sir, you certainly got equal with me on that. But how
in the world did you know that he was in the house at all?"
"The thumb-mark, Lestrade. You said it was final; and so it was,
in a very different sense. I knew it had not been there the day
before. I pay a good deal of attention to matters of detail,
as you may have observed, and I had examined the hall and was
sure that the wall was clear. Therefore, it had been put on
during the night."
"Very simply. When those packets were sealed up, Jonas Oldacre
got McFarlane to secure one of the seals by putting his thumb
upon the soft wax. It would be done so quickly and so naturally
that I dare say the young man himself has no recollection of it.
Very likely it just so happened, and Oldacre had himself no
notion of the use he would put it to. Brooding over the case in
that den of his, it suddenly struck him what absolutely damning
evidence he could make against McFarlane by using that thumb-mark.
It was the simplest thing in the world for him to take a wax
impression from the seal, to moisten it in as much blood as he
could get from a pin-prick, and to put the mark upon the wall
during the night, either with his own hand or with that of his
housekeeper. If you examine among those documents which he took
with him into his retreat I will 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 you put 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 changed suddenly 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 know that he was once refused by McFarlane's
mother? You don't! I told you that you should go to Blackheath
first and Norwood afterwards. Well, this injury, as he would
consider it, has rankled in his wicked, scheming brain, and all
his life he has longed for vengeance, but never seen his chance.
During the last year or two things have gone against him --
secret speculation, I think -- and he finds himself in a bad way.
He determines to swindle his creditors, and for this purpose he
pays large cheques to a certain Mr. Cornelius, who is, I imagine,
himself under another name. I have not traced these cheques yet,
but I have no doubt that they were banked under that name at some
provincial town where Oldacre from time to time led a double
existence. He intended to change his name altogether, draw this
money, and vanish, starting life again elsewhere."
"Well, that's likely enough."
"It would strike him that in disappearing he might throw all
pursuit off his track, and at the same time have an ample and
crushing revenge upon his old sweetheart, if he could give the