The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

Part 1 out of 7

The Return of Sherlock Holmes, A Collection of Holmes Adventures




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 do 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withdrawn upon the third of last month.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 willful 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 {sic}
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 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 banknotes 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, he would indeed be
a remarkable shot who could with a revolver inflict so deadly a
wound. Again, Park Lane is a frequented thoroughfare; 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 waterpipe 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,
croaking voice.

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 gray
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 arms.

"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'm 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 frockcoat 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 cooperation, 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 gray 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 soon 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.
That 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 upward, 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 lama. 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 Montpellier, 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 armchair 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 forward 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
dim window.

"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 your little fairy-tales? 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 recognized 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."

"But why?"

"Because, my dear Watson, I had the strongest possible reason
for wishing certain people to think that I was there when I was
really elsewhere."

"And you thought the rooms were watched?"

"I KNEW that they were watched."

"By whom?"

"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 recognized 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 upward.

"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-lock. 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 foresight. 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 existance 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.
Sherlock Holmes."

"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 thirtieth 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 profitable

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 observed 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 airgun? 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 frockcoat, 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 right, 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 Bangalore
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
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 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, 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."


"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
be 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, 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, from 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, disheveled, 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 recognize
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 jail 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 headlines 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 backward and forward 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 indorsed papers which proclaimed his

"We must use what time we have," said Holmes. "Watson, would you have
the kindness to take the paper and to read the paragraph in question?"

Underneath the vigorous headlines 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 massed 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 fingertips
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 recognize the absolute truth."

Lestrade looked at his watch. "I'll give you half an hour," said he.

"I must explain first," said McFarlane, "that I knew nothing of
Mr. 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 notebook,
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
gray eyes fixed upon me with an amused expression. I could
hardly believe my own 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.

"Pray proceed."

McFarlane wiped his damp brow, and then continued his narrative:

"I was shown by this woman into a sitting-room, where a frugal
supper was 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 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," said

"Oh, you think so?"

"Don't you?"

"Well, it is quite possible, but the case is not clear to me yet."

"Not clear? Well, if that isn't clear, what COULD be clear? Here
is a 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 not all this 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 such 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
been committed."

"And why did the tramp take nothing?"

"Because they were papers that he could not negotiate."

Lestrade shook his head, though it seemed to me that his manner
was 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
frockcoat, "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 be 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 blackguard. 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 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 notebook. 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 found 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 Oldacres 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
discolourations, 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

"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 had passed. Mr. McFarlane had
left his hat, and to the best of her 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 checks 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
checks. 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.

"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 today."

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
grossly triumphant.

"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," said Holmes.

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
this morning?"

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 cock-sure,
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 jail
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 attic. 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

"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 gray 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 newcomer 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-gray eyes
and white lashes.

"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

"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, Mr. Holmes?"

"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."

"But how?"

"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 daresay 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 waiting
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 checks to a certain Mr. Cornelius, who is, I imagine,
himself under another name. I have not traced these checks 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
impression that he had been murdered by her only child. It was
a masterpiece of villainy, and he carried it out like a master.
The idea of the will, which would give an obvious motive for the
crime, the secret visit unknown to his own parents, the
retention of the stick, the blood, and the animal remains and
buttons in the wood-pile, all were admirable. It was a net from
which it seemed to me, a few hours ago, that there was no


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