The Valley of Fear
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Part 2 out of 4
Again Barker showed some signs of indecision. "I don't see that
it was remarkable, Mr. Holmes," he answered after a pause. "The
candle threw aery bad light. My first thought was to get a
better one. The lamp was on the table; so I lit it."
"And blew out the candle?"
Holmes asked no further question, and Barker, with a deliberate
look from one to the other of us, which had, as it seemed to me,
something of defiance in it, turned and left the room.
Inspector MacDonald had sent up a note to the effect that he
would wait upon Mrs. Douglas in her room; but she had replied
that she would meet us in the dining room. She entered now, a
tall and beautiful woman of thirty, reserved and self-possessed
to a remarkable degree, very different from the tragic and
distracted figure I had pictured. It is true that her face was
pale and drawn, like that of one who has endured a great shock;
but her manner was composed, and the finely moulded hand which
she rested upon the edge of the table was as steady as my own.
Her sad, appealing eyes travelled from one to the other of us
with a curiously inquisitive expression. That questioning gaze
transformed itself suddenly into abrupt speech.
"Have you found anything out yet?" she asked.
Was it my imagination that there was an undertone of fear rather
than of hope in the question?
"We have taken every possible step, Mrs. Douglas," said the
inspector. "You may rest assured that nothing will be
"Spare no money," she said in a dead, even tone. "It is my
desire that every possible effort should be made."
"Perhaps you can tell us something which may throw some light
upon the matter."
"I fear not; but all I know is at your service."
"We have heard from Mr. Cecil Barker that you did not actually
see--that you were never in the room where the tragedy occurred?"
"No, he turned me back upon the stairs. He begged me to return
to my room."
"Quite so. You had heard the shot, and you had at once come
"I put on my dressing gown and then came down."
"How long was it after hearing the shot that you were stopped on
the stair by Mr. Barker?"
"It may have been a couple of minutes. It is so hard to reckon
time at such a moment. He implored me not to go on. He assured
me that I could do nothing. Then Mrs. Allen, the housekeeper,
led me upstairs again. It was all like some dreadful dream."
"Can you give us any idea how long your husband had been
downstairs before you heard the shot?"
"No, I cannot say. He went from his dressing room, and I did not
hear him go. He did the round of the house every night, for he
was nervous of fire. It is the only thing that I have ever known
him nervous of."
"That is just the point which I want to come to, Mrs. Douglas.
You have known your husband only in England, have you not?"
"Yes, we have been married five years."
"Have you heard him speak of anything which occurred in America
and might bring some danger upon him?"
Mrs. Douglas thought earnestly before she answered. "Yes," she
said at last, "I have always felt that there was a danger hanging
over him. He refused to discuss it with me. It was not from
want of confidence in me--there was the most complete love and
confidence between us--but it was out of his desire to keep all
alarm away from me. He thought I should brood over it if I knew
all, and so he was silent."
"How did you know it, then?"
Mrs. Douglas's face lit with a quick smile. "Can a husband ever
carry about a secret all his life and a woman who loves him have
no suspicion of it? I knew it by his refusal to talk about some
episodes in his American life. I knew it by certain precautions
he took. I knew it by certain words he let fall. I knew it by
the way he looked at unexpected strangers. I was perfectly
certain that he had some powerful enemies, that he believed they
were on his track, and that he was always on his guard against
them. I was so sure of it that for years I have been terrified
if ever he came home later than was expected."
"Might I ask," asked Holmes, "what the words were which attracted
"The Valley of Fear," the lady answered. "That was an expression
he has used when I questioned him. 'I have been in the Valley of
Fear. I am not out of it yet.'--'Are we never to get out of the
Valley of Fear?' I have asked him when I have seen him more
serious than usual. 'Sometimes I think that we never shall,' he
"Surely you asked him what he meant by the Valley of Fear?"
"I did; but his face would become very grave and he would shake
his head. 'It is bad enough that one of us should have been in
its shadow,' he said. 'Please God it shall never fall upon you!'
It was some real valley in which he had lived and in which
something terrible had occurred to him, of that I am certain; but
I can tell you no more."
"And he never mentioned any names?"
"Yes, he was delirious with fever once when he had his hunting
accident three years ago. Then I remember that there was a name
that came continually to his lips. He spoke it with anger and a
sort of horror. McGinty was the name--Bodymaster McGinty. I
asked him when he recovered who Bodymaster McGinty was, and whose
body he was master of. 'Never of mine, thank God!' he answered
with a laugh, and that was all I could get from him. But there
is a connection between Bodymaster McGinty and the Valley of
"There is one other point," said Inspector MacDonald. "You met
Mr. Douglas in a boarding house in London, did you not, and
became engaged to him there? Was there any romance, anything
secret or mysterious, about the wedding?"
"There was romance. There is always romance. There was nothing
"He had no rival?"
"No, I was quite free."
"You have heard, no doubt, that his wedding ring has been taken.
Does that suggest anything to you? Suppose that some enemy of
his old life had tracked him down and committed this crime, what
possible reason could he have for taking his wedding ring?"
For an instant I could have sworn that the faintest shadow of a
smile flickered over the woman's lips.
"I really cannot tell," she answered. "It is certainly a most
"Well, we will not detain you any longer, and we are sorry to
have put you to this trouble at such a time," said the inspector.
"There are some other points, no doubt; but we can refer to you
as they arise."
She rose, and I was again conscious of that quick, questioning
glance with which she had just surveyed us. "What impression has
my evidence made upon you?" The question might as well have been
spoken. Then, with a bow, she swept from the room.
"She's a beautiful woman--a very beautiful woman," said MacDonald
thoughtfully, after the door had closed behind her. "This man
Barker has certainly been down here a good deal. He is a man who
might be attractive to a woman. He admits that the dead man was
jealous, and maybe he knew best himself what cause he had for
jealousy. Then there's that wedding ring. You can't get past
that. The man who tears a wedding ring off a dead man's--What do
you say to it, Mr. Holmes?"
My friend had sat with his head upon his hands, sunk in the
deepest thought. Now he rose and rang the bell. "Ames," he
said, when the butler entered, "where is Mr. Cecil Barker now?"
"I'll see, sir."
He came back in a moment to say that Barker was in the garden.
"Can you remember, Ames, what Mr. Barker had on his feet last
night when you joined him in the study?"
"Yes, Mr. Holmes. He had a pair of bedroom slippers. I brought
him his boots when he went for the police."
"Where are the slippers now?"
"They are still under the chair in the hall."
"Very good, Ames. It is, of course, important for us to know
which tracks may be Mr. Barker's and which from outside."
"Yes, sir. I may say that I noticed that the slippers were
stained with blood--so indeed were my own."
"That is natural enough, considering the condition of the room.
Very good, Ames. We will ring if we want you."
A few minutes later we were in the study. Holmes had brought
with him the carpet slippers from the hall. As Ames had
observed, the soles of both were dark with blood.
"Strange!" murmured Holmes, as he stood in the light of the
window and examined them minutely. "Very strange indeed!"
Stooping with one of his quick feline pounces, he placed the
slipper upon the blood mark on the sill. It exactly
corresponded. He smiled in silence at his colleagues.
The inspector was transfigured with excitement. His native
accent rattled like a stick upon railings.
"Man," he cried, "there's not a doubt of it! Barker has just
marked the window himself. It's a good deal broader than any
bootmark. I mind that you said it was a splay-foot, and here's
the explanation. But what's the game, Mr. Holmes--what's the
"Ay, what's the game?" my friend repeated thoughtfully.
White Mason chuckled and rubbed his fat hands together in his
professional satisfaction. "I said it was a snorter!" he cried.
"And a real snorter it is!"
Chapter 6 - A Dawning Light
The three detectives had many matters of detail into which to
inquire; so I returned alone to our modest quarters at the
village inn. But before doing so I took a stroll in the curious
old-world garden which flanked the house. Rows of very ancient
yew trees cut into strange designs girded it round. Inside was a
beautiful stretch of lawn with an old sundial in the middle, the
whole effect so soothing and restful that it was welcome to my
somewhat jangled nerves.
In that deeply peaceful atmosphere one could forget, or remember
only as some fantastic nightmare, that darkened study with the
sprawling, bloodstained figure on the floor. And yet, as I
strolled round it and tried to steep my soul in its gentle balm,
a strange incident occurred, which brought me back to the tragedy
and left a sinister impression in my mind.
I have said that a decoration of yew trees circled the garden.
At the end farthest from the house they thickened into a
continuous hedge. On the other side of this hedge, concealed
from the eyes of anyone approaching from the direction of the
house, there was a stone seat. As I approached the spot I was
aware of voices, some remark in the deep tones of a man, answered
by a little ripple of feminine laughter.
An instant later I had come round the end of the hedge and my
eyes lit upon Mrs. Douglas and the man Barker before they were
aware of my presence. Her appearance gave me a shock. In the
dining-room she had been demure and discreet. Now all pretense
of grief had passed away from her. Her eyes shone with the joy
of living, and her face still quivered with amusement at some
remark of her companion. He sat forward, his hands clasped and
his forearms on his knees, with an answering smile upon his bold,
handsome face. In an instant--but it was just one instant too
late--they resumed their solemn masks as my figure came into
view. A hurried word or two passed between them, and then Barker
rose and came towards me.
"Excuse me, sir," said he, "but am I addressing Dr. Watson?"
I bowed with a coldness which showed, I dare say, very plainly
the impression which had been produced upon my mind.
"We thought that it was probably you, as your friendship with Mr.
Sherlock Holmes is so well known. Would you mind coming over and
speaking to Mrs. Douglas for one instant?"
I followed him with a dour face. Very clearly I could see in my
mind's eye that shattered figure on the floor. Here within a few
hours of the tragedy were his wife and his nearest friend
laughing together behind a bush in the garden which had been his.
I greeted the lady with reserve. I had grieved with her grief in
the dining room. Now I met her appealing gaze with an
"I fear that you think me callous and hard-hearted," said she.
I shrugged my shoulders. "It is no business of mine," said I.
"Perhaps some day you will do me justice. If you only
"There is no need why Dr. Watson should realize," said Barker
quickly. "As he has himself said, it is no possible business of
"Exactly," said I, "and so I will beg leave to resume my walk."
"One moment, Dr. Watson," cried the woman in a pleading voice.
"There is one question which you can answer with more authority
than anyone else in the world, and it may make a very great
difference to me. You know Mr. Holmes and his relations with
the police better than anyone else can. Supposing that a matter
were brought confidentially to his knowledge, is it absolutely
necessary that he should pass it on to the detectives?"
"Yes, that's it," said Barker eagerly. "Is he on his own or is
he entirely in with them?"
"I really don't know that I should be justified in discussing
such a point."
"I beg--I implore that you will, Dr. Watson! I assure you that
you will be helping us--helping me greatly if you will guide us
on that point."
There was such a ring of sincerity in the woman's voice that for
the instant I forgot all about her levity and was moved only to
do her will.
"Mr. Holmes is an independent investigator," I said. "He is his
own master, and would act as his own judgment directed. At the
same time, he would naturally feel loyalty towards the officials
who were working on the same case, and he would not conceal from
them anything which would help them in bringing a criminal to
justice. Beyond this I can say nothing, and I would refer you to
Mr. Holmes himself if you wanted fuller information."
So saying I raised my hat and went upon my way, leaving them
still seated behind that concealing hedge. I looked back as I
rounded the far end of it, and saw that they were still talking
very earnestly together, and, as they were gazing after me, it
was clear that it was our interview that was the subject of their
"I wish none of their confidences," said Holmes, when I reported
to him what had occurred. He had spent the whole afternoon at
the Manor House in consultation with his two colleagues, and
returned about five with a ravenous appetite for a high tea which
I had ordered for him. "No confidences, Watson; for they are
mighty awkward if it comes to an arrest for conspiracy and
"You think it will come to that?"
He was in his most cheerful and debonair humour. "My dear
Watson, when I have exterminated that fourth egg I shall be ready
to put you in touch with the whole situation. I don't say that
we have fathomed it--far from it--but when we have traced the
"Dear me, Watson, is it possible that you have not penetrated the
fact that the case hangs upon the missing dumb-bell? Well, well,
you need not be downcast; for between ourselves I don't think
that either Inspector Mac or the excellent local practitioner has
grasped the overwhelming importance of this incident. One
dumb-bell, Watson! Consider an athlete with one dumb-bell!
Picture to yourself the unilateral development, the imminent
danger of a spinal curvature. Shocking, Watson, shocking!"
He sat with his mouth full of toast and his eyes sparkling with
mischief, watching my intellectual entanglement. The mere sight
of his excellent appetite was an assurance of success; for I had
very clear recollections of days and nights without a thought of
food, when his baffled mind had chafed before some problem while
his thin, eager features became more attenuated with the
asceticism of complete mental concentration. Finally he lit his
pipe, and sitting in the inglenook of the old village inn he
talked slowly and at random about his case, rather as one who
thinks aloud than as one who makes a considered statement.
"A lie, Watson--a great, big, thumping, obtrusive, uncompromising
lie--that's what meets us on the threshold! There is our
starting point. The whole story told by Barker is a lie. But
Barker's story is corroborated by Mrs. Douglas. Therefore she
is lying also. They are both lying, and in a conspiracy. So now
we have the clear problem. Why are they lying, and what is the
truth which they are trying so hard to conceal? Let us try,
Watson, you and I, if we can get behind the lie and reconstruct
"How do I know that they are lying? Because it is a clumsy
fabrication which simply could not be true. Consider! According
to the story given to us, the assassin had less than a minute
after the murder had been committed to take that ring, which was
under another ring, from the dead man's finger, to replace the
other ring--a thing which he would surely never have done--and to
put that singular card beside his victim. I say that this was
"You may argue--but I have too much respect for your judgment,
Watson, to think that you will do so--that the ring may have been
taken before the man was killed. The fact that the candle had
been lit only a short time shows that there had been no lengthy
interview. Was Douglas, from what we hear of his fearless
character, a man who would be likely to give up his wedding ring
at such short notice, or could we conceive of his giving it up at
all? No, no, Watson, the assassin was alone with the dead man
for some time with the lamp lit. Of that I have no doubt at all.
"But the gunshot was apparently the cause of death. Therefore
the shot must have been fired some time earlier than we are told.
But there could be no mistake about such a matter as that. We
are in the presence, therefore, of a deliberate conspiracy upon
the part of the two people who heard the gunshot--of the man
Barker and of the woman Douglas. When on the top of this I am
able to show that the blood mark on the windowsill was
deliberately placed there by Barker, in order to give a false
clue to the police, you will admit that the case grows dark
"Now we have to ask ourselves at what hour the murder actually
did occur. Up to half-past ten the servants were moving about
the house; so it was certainly not before that time. At a
quarter to eleven they had all gone to their rooms with the
exception of Ames, who was in the pantry. I have been trying
some experiments after you left us this afternoon, and I find
that no noise which MacDonald can make in the study can penetrate
to me in the pantry when the doors are all shut.
"It is otherwise, however, from the housekeeper's room. It is
not so far down the corridor, and from it I could vaguely hear a
voice when it was very loudly raised. The sound from a shotgun
is to some extent muffled when the discharge is at very close
range, as it undoubtedly was in this instance. It would not be
very loud, and yet in the silence of the night it should have
easily penetrated to Mrs. Allen's room. She is, as she has told
us, somewhat deaf; but none the less she mentioned in her
evidence that she did hear something like a door slamming half an
hour before the alarm was given. Half an hour before the alarm
was given would be a quarter to eleven. I have no doubt that
what she heard was the report of the gun, and that this was the
real instant of the murder.
"If this is so, we have now to determine what Barker and Mrs.
Douglas, presuming that they are not the actual murderers, could
have been doing from quarter to eleven, when the sound of the
shot brought them down, until quarter past eleven, when they rang
the bell and summoned the servants. What were they doing, and
why did they not instantly give the alarm? That is the question
which faces us, and when it has been answered we shall surely
have gone some way to solve our problem."
"I am convinced myself," said I, "that there is an understanding
between those two people. She must be a heartless creature to
sit laughing at some jest within a few hours of her husband's
"Exactly. She does not shine as a wife even in her own account
of what occurred. I am not a whole-souled admirer of womankind,
as you are aware, Watson, but my experience of life has taught me
that there are few wives, having any regard for their husbands,
who would let any man's spoken word stand between them and that
husband's dead body. Should I ever marry, Watson, I should hope
to inspire my wife with some feeling which would prevent her from
being walked off by a housekeeper when my corpse was lying within
a few yards of her. It was badly stage-managed; for even the
rawest investigators must be struck by the absence of the usual
feminine ululation. If there had been nothing else, this
incident alone would have suggested a prearranged conspiracy to
"You think then, definitely, that Barker and Mrs. Douglas are
guilty of the murder?"
"There is an appalling directness about your questions, Watson,"
said Holmes, shaking his pipe at me. "They come at me like
bullets. If you put it that Mrs. Douglas and Barker know the
truth about the murder, and are conspiring to conceal it, then I
can give you a whole-souled answer. I am sure they do. But your
more deadly proposition is not so clear. Let us for a moment
consider the difficulties which stand in the way.
"We will suppose that this couple are united by the bonds of a
guilty love, and that they have determined to get rid of the man
who stands between them. It is a large supposition; for
discreet inquiry among servants and others has failed to
corroborate it in any way. On the contrary, there is a good deal
of evidence that the Douglases were very attached to each other."
"That, I am sure, cannot he true," said I, thinking of the
beautiful smiling face in the garden.
"Well at least they gave that impression. However, we will
suppose that they are an extraordinarily astute couple, who
deceive everyone upon this point, and conspire to murder the
husband. He happens to be a man over whose head some danger
"We have only their word for that."
Holmes looked thoughtful. "I see, Watson. You are sketching out
a theory by which everything they say from the beginning is
false. According to your idea, there was never any hidden
menace, or secret society, or Valley of Fear, or Boss
MacSomebody, or anything else. Well, that is a good sweeping
generalization. Let us see what that brings us to. They invent
this theory to account for the crime. They then play up to the
idea by leaving this bicycle in the park as proof of the
existence of some outsider. The stain on the windowsill conveys
the same idea. So does the card on the body, which might have
been prepared in the house. That all fits into your hypothesis,
Watson. But now we come on the nasty, angular, uncompromising
bits which won't slip into their places. Why a cut-off shotgun
of all weapons--and an American one at that? How could they be
so sure that the sound of it would not bring someone on to them?
It's a mere chance as it is that Mrs. Allen did not start out to
inquire for the slamming door. Why did your guilty couple do all
"I confess that I can't explain it."
"Then again, if a woman and her lover conspire to murder a
husband, are they going to advertise their guilt by
ostentatiously removing his wedding ring after his death? Does
that strike you as very probable, Watson?"
"No, it does not."
"And once again, if the thought of leaving a bicycle concealed
outside had occurred to you, would it really have seemed worth
doing when the dullest detective would naturally say this is an
obvious blind, as the bicycle is the first thing which the
fugitive needed in order to make his escape."
"I can conceive of no explanation."
"And yet there should be no combination of events for which the
wit of man cannot conceive an explanation. Simply as a mental
exercise, without any assertion that it is true, let me indicate
a possible line of thought. It is, I admit, mere imagination;
but how often is imagination the mother of truth?
"We will suppose that there was a guilty secret, a really
shameful secret in the life of this man Douglas. This leads to
his murder by someone who is, we will suppose, an avenger,
someone from outside. This avenger, for some reason which I
confess I am still at a loss to explain, took the dead man's
wedding ring. The vendetta might conceivably date back to the
man's first marriage, and the ring be taken for some such reason.
"Before this avenger got away, Barker and the wife had reached
the room. The assassin convinced them that any attempt to arrest
him would lead to the publication of some hideous scandal. They
were converted to this idea, and preferred to let him go. For
this purpose they probably lowered the bridge, which can be done
quite noiselessly, and then raised it again. He made his escape,
and for some reason thought that he could do so more safely on
foot than on the bicycle. He therefore left his machine where it
would not be discovered until he had got safely away. So far we
are within the bounds of possibility, are we not?"
"Well, it is possible, no doubt," said I, with some reserve.
"We have to remember, Watson, that whatever occurred is certainly
something very extraordinary. Well, now, to continue our
supposititious case, the couple--not necessarily a guilty
couple--realize after the murderer is gone that they have placed
themselves in a position in which it may be difficult for them to
prove that they did not themselves either do the deed or connive
at it. They rapidly and rather clumsily met the situation. The
mark was put by Barker's bloodstained slipper upon the windowsill
to suggest how the fugitive got away. They obviously were the
two who must have heard the sound of the gun; so they gave the
alarm exactly as they would have done, but a good half hour after
"And how do you propose to prove all this?"
"Well, if there were an outsider, he may be traced and taken.
That would be the most effective of all proofs. But if
not--well, the resources of science are far from being exhausted.
I think that an evening alone in that study would help me much."
"An evening alone!"
"I propose to go up there presently. I have arranged it with the
estimable Ames, who is by no means wholehearted about Barker. I
shall sit in that room and see if its atmosphere brings me
inspiration. I'm a believer in the genius loci. You smile,
Friend Watson. Well, we shall see. By the way, you have that
big umbrella of yours, have you not?"
"It is here."
"Well, I'll borrow that if I may."
"Certainly--but what a wretched weapon! If there is danger--"
"Nothing serious, my dear Watson, or I should certainly ask for
your assistance. But I'll take the umbrella. At present I am
only awaiting the return of our colleagues from Tunbridge Wells,
where they are at present engaged in trying for a likely owner to
It was nightfall before Inspector MacDonald and White Mason came
back from their expedition, and they arrived exultant, reporting
a great advance in our investigation.
"Man, I'll admeet that I had my doubts if there was ever an
outsider," said MacDonald, "but that's all past now. We've had
the bicycle identified, and we have a description of our man; so
that's a long step on our journey."
"It sounds to me like the beginning of the end," said Holmes.
"I'm sure I congratulate you both with all my heart."
"Well, I started from the fact that Mr. Douglas had seemed
disturbed since the day before, when he had been at Tunbridge
Wells. It was at Tunbridge Wells then that he had become
conscious of some danger. It was clear, therefore, that if a man
had come over with a bicycle it was from Tunbridge Wells that he
might be expected to have come. We took the bicycle over with us
and showed it at the hotels. It was identified at once by the
manager of the Eagle Commercial as belonging to a man named
Hargrave, who had taken a room there two days before. This
bicycle and a small valise were his whole belongings. He had
registered his name as coming from London, but had given no
address. The valise was London made, and the contents were
British; but the man himself was undoubtedly an American."
"Well, well," said Holmes gleefully, "you have indeed done some
solid work while I have been sitting spinning theories with my
friend! It's a lesson in being practical, Mr. Mac."
"Ay, it's just that, Mr. Holmes," said the inspector with
"But this may all fit in with your theories," I remarked.
"That may or may not be. But let us hear the end, Mr. Mac. Was
there nothing to identify this man?"
"So little that it was evident that he had carefully guarded
himself against identification. There were no papers or letters,
and no marking upon the clothes. A cycle map of the county lay
on his bedroom table. He had left the hotel after breakfast
yesterday morning on his bicycle, and no more was heard of him
until our inquiries."
"That's what puzzles me, Mr. Holmes," said White Mason. "If the
fellow did not want the hue and cry raised over him, one would
imagine that he would have returned and remained at the hotel as
an inoffensive tourist. As it is, he must know that he will be
reported to the police by the hotel manager and that his
disappearance will be connected with the murder."
"So one would imagine. Still, he has been justified of his
wisdom up to date, at any rate, since he has not been taken. But
his description--what of that?"
MacDonald referred to his notebook. "Here we have it so far as
they could give it. They don't seem to have taken any very
particular stock of him; but still the porter, the clerk, and the
chambermaid are all agreed that this about covers the points. He
was a man about five foot nine in height, fifty or so years of
age, his hair slightly grizzled, a grayish moustache, a curved
nose, and a face which all of them described as fierce and
"Well, bar the expression, that might almost be a description of
Douglas himself," said Holmes. "He is just over fifty, with
grizzled hair and moustache, and about the same height. Did you
get anything else?"
"He was dressed in a heavy gray suit with a reefer jacket, and he
wore a short yellow overcoat and a soft cap."
"What about the shotgun?"
"It is less than two feet long. It could very well have fitted
into his valise. He could have carried it inside his overcoat
"And how do you consider that all this bears upon the general
"Well, Mr. Holmes," said MacDonald, "when we have got our
man--and you may be sure that I had his description on the wires
within five minutes of hearing it--we shall be better able to
judge. But, even as it stands, we have surely gone a long way.
We know that an American calling himself Hargrave came to
Tunbridge Wells two days ago with bicycle and valise. In the
latter was a sawed-off shotgun; so he came with the deliberate
purpose of crime. Yesterday morning he set off for this place on
his bicycle, with his gun concealed in his overcoat. No one saw
him arrive, so far as we can learn; but he need not pass through
the village to reach the park gates, and there are many cyclists
upon the road. Presumably he at once concealed his cycle among
the laurels where it was found, and possibly lurked there
himself, with his eye on the house, waiting for Mr. Douglas to
come out. The shotgun is a strange weapon to use inside a house;
but he had intended to use it outside, and there it has very
obvious advantages, as it would be impossible to miss with it,
and the sound of shots is so common in an English sporting
neighbourhood that no particular notice would be taken."
"That is all very clear," said Holmes.
"Well, Mr. Douglas did not appear. What was he to do next? He
left his bicycle and approached the house in the twilight. He
found the bridge down and no one about. He took his chance,
intending, no doubt, to make some excuse if he met anyone. He
met no one. He slipped into the first room that he saw, and
concealed himself behind the curtain. Thence he could see the
drawbridge go up, and he knew that his only escape was through
the moat. He waited until quarter-past eleven, when Mr. Douglas
upon his usual nightly round came into the room. He shot him and
escaped, as arranged. He was aware that the bicycle would be
described by the hotel people and be a clue against him; so he
left it there and made his way by some other means to London or
to some safe hiding place which he had already arranged. How is
that, Mr. Holmes?"
"Well, Mr. Mac, it is very good and very clear so far as it
goes. That is your end of the story. My end is that the crime
was committed half an hour earlier than reported; that Mrs.
Douglas and Barker are both in a conspiracy to conceal something;
that they aided the murderer's escape--or at least that they
reached the room before he escaped--and that they fabricated
evidence of his escape through the window, whereas in all
probability they had themselves let him go by lowering the
bridge. That's my reading of the first half."
The two detectives shook their heads.
"Well, Mr. Holmes, if this is true, we only tumble out of one
mystery into another," said the London inspector.
"And in some ways a worse one," added White Mason. "The lady has
never been in America in all her life. What possible connection
could she have with an American assassin which would cause her to
"I freely admit the difficulties," said Holmes. "I propose to
make a little investigation of my own to-night, and it is just
possible that it may contribute something to the common cause."
"Can we help you, Mr. Holmes?"
"No, no! Darkness and Dr. Watson's umbrella--my wants are simple.
And Ames, the faithful Ames, no doubt he will stretch a point for
me. All my lines of thought lead me back invariably to the one
basic question--why should an athletic man develop his frame upon
so unnatural an instrument as a single dumb-bell?"
It was late that night when Holmes returned from his solitary
excursion. We slept in a double-bedded room, which was the best
that the little country inn could do for us. I was already
asleep when I was partly awakened by his entrance.
"Well, Holmes," I murmured, "have you found anything out?"
He stood beside me in silence, his candle in his hand. Then the
tall, lean figure inclined towards me. "I say, Watson," he
whispered, "would you be afraid to sleep in the same room with a
lunatic, a man with softening of the brain, an idiot whose mind
has lost its grip?"
"Not in the least," I answered in astonishment.
"Ah, that's lucky," he said, and not another word would he utter
Chapter 7 - The Solution
Next morning, after breakfast, we found Inspector MacDonald and
White Mason seated in close consultation in the small parlour of
the local police sergeant. On the table in front of them were
piled a number of letters and telegrams, which they were
carefully sorting and docketing. Three had been placed on one
"Still on the track of the elusive bicyclist?" Holmes asked
cheerfully. "What is the latest news of the ruffian?"
MacDonald pointed ruefully to his heap of correspondence.
"He is at present reported from Leicester, Nottingham,
Southampton, Derby, East Ham, Richmond, and fourteen other
places. In three of them--East Ham, Leicester, and
Liverpool--there is a clear case against him, and he has actually
been arrested. The country seems to be full of the fugitives
with yellow coats."
"Dear me!" said Holmes sympathetically. "Now, Mr. Mac and you,
Mr. White Mason, I wish to give you a very earnest piece of
advice. When I went into this case with you I bargained, as you
will no doubt remember, that I should not present you with
half-proved theories, but that I should retain and work out my
own ideas until I had satisfied myself that they were correct.
For this reason I am not at the present moment telling you all
that is in my mind. On the other hand, I said that I would play
the game fairly by you, and I do not think it is a fair game to
allow you for one unnecessary moment to waste your energies upon
a profitless task. Therefore I am here to advise you this
morning, and my advice to you is summed up in three
words--abandon the case."
MacDonald and White Mason stared in amazement at their celebrated
"You consider it hopeless!" cried the inspector.
"I consider your case to be hopeless. I do not consider that it
is hopeless to arrive at the truth."
"But this cyclist. He is not an invention. We have his
description, his valise, his bicycle. The fellow must be
somewhere. Why should we not get him?"
"Yes, yes, no doubt he is somewhere, and no doubt we shall get
him; but I would not have you waste your energies in East Ham or
Liverpool. I am sure that we can find some shorter cut to a
"You are holding something back. It's hardly fair of you, Mr.
Holmes." The inspector was annoyed.
"You know my methods of work, Mr. Mac. But I will hold it back
for the shortest time possible. I only wish to verify my details
in one way, which can very readily be done, and then I make my
bow and return to London, leaving my results entirely at your
service. I owe you too much to act otherwise; for in all my
experience I cannot recall any more singular and interesting
"This is clean beyond me, Mr. Holmes. We saw you when we
returned from Tunbridge Wells last night, and you were in general
agreement with our results. What has happened since then to give
you a completely new idea of the case?"
"Well, since you ask me, I spent, as I told you that I would,
some hours last night at the Manor House."
"Well, what happened?"
"Ah, I can only give you a very general answer to that for the
moment. By the way, I have been reading a short but clear and
interesting account of the old building, purchasable at the
modest sum of one penny from the local tobacconist."
Here Holmes drew a small tract, embellished with a rude engraving
of the ancient Manor House, from his waistcoat pocket.
"It immensely adds to the zest of an investigation, my dear Mr.
Mac, when one is in conscious sympathy with the historical
atmosphere of one's surroundings. Don't look so impatient; for I
assure you that even so bald an account as this raises some sort
of picture of the past in one's mind. Permit me to give you a
sample. 'Erected in the fifth year of the reign of James I, and
standing upon the site of a much older building, the Manor House
of Birlstone presents one of the finest surviving examples of the
moated Jacobean residence--'"
"You are making fools of us, Mr. Holmes!"
"Tut, tut, Mr. Mac!--the first sign of temper I have detected in
you. Well, I won't read it verbatim, since you feel so strongly
upon the subject. But when I tell you that there is some account
of the taking of the place by a parliamentary colonel in 1644, of
the concealment of Charles for several days in the course of the
Civil War, and finally of a visit there by the second George, you
will admit that there are various associations of interest
connected with this ancient house."
"I don't doubt it, Mr. Holmes; but that is no business of ours."
"Is it not? Is it not? Breadth of view, my dear Mr. Mac, is one
of the essentials of our profession. The interplay of ideas and
the oblique uses of knowledge are often of extraordinary
interest. You will excuse these remarks from one who, though a
mere connoisseur of crime, is still rather older and perhaps more
experienced than yourself."
"I'm the first to admit that," said the detective heartily. "You
get to your point, I admit; but you have such a deuced
round-the-corner way of doing it."
"Well, well, I'll drop past history and get down to present-day
facts. I called last night, as I have already said, at the Manor
House. I did not see either Barker or Mrs. Douglas. I saw no
necessity to disturb them; but I was pleased to hear that the
lady was not visibly pining and that she had partaken of an
excellent dinner. My visit was specially made to the good Mr.
Ames, with whom I exchanged some amiabilities, which culminated
in his allowing me, without reference to anyone else, to sit
alone for a time in the study."
"What! With that?" I ejaculated.
"No, no, everything is now in order. You gave permission for
that, Mr. Mac, as I am informed. The room was in its normal
state, and in it I passed an instructive quarter of an hour."
"What were you doing?"
"Well, not to make a mystery of so simple a matter, I was looking
for the missing dumb-bell. It has always bulked rather large in
my estimate of the case. I ended by finding it."
"Ah, there we come to the edge of the unexplored. Let me go a
little further, a very little further, and I will promise that
you shall share everything that I know."
"Well, we're bound to take you on your own terms," said the
inspector; "but when it comes to telling us to abandon the
case--why in the name of goodness should we abandon the case?"
"For the simple reason, my dear Mr. Mac, that you have not got
the first idea what it is that you are investigating."
"We are investigating the murder of Mr. John Douglas of Birlstone
"Yes, yes, so you are. But don't trouble to trace the mysterious
gentleman upon the bicycle. I assure you that it won't help
"Then what do you suggest that we do?"
"I will tell you exactly what to do, if you will do it."
"Well, I'm bound to say I've always found you had reason behind
all your queer ways. I'll do what you advise."
"And you, Mr. White Mason?"
The country detective looked helplessly from one to the other.
Holmes and his methods were new to him. "Well, if it is good
enough for the inspector, it is good enough for me," he said at
"Capital!" said Holmes. "Well, then, I should recommend a nice,
cheery country walk for both of you. They tell me that the views
from Birlstone Ridge over the Weald are very remarkable. No
doubt lunch could be got at some suitable hostelry; though my
ignorance of the country prevents me from recommending one. In
the evening, tired but happy--"
"Man, this is getting past a joke!" cried MacDonald, rising
angrily from his chair.
"Well, well, spend the day as you like," said Holmes, patting him
cheerfully upon the shoulder. "Do what you like and go where you
will, but meet me here before dusk without fail--without fail,
"That sounds more like sanity."
"All of it was excellent advice; but I don't insist, so long as
you are here when I need you. But now, before we part, I want
you to write a note to Mr. Barker."
"I'll dictate it, if you like. Ready?
"It has struck me that it is our duty to drain the moat, in the
hope that we may find some--"
"It's impossible," said the inspector. "I've made inquiry."
"Tut, tut! My dear sir, please do what I ask you."
"Well, go on."
"--in the hope that we may find something which may bear upon our
investigation. I have made arrangements, and the workmen will be
at work early to-morrow morning diverting the stream--"
"--diverting the stream; so I thought it best to explain matters
"Now sign that, and send it by hand about four o'clock. At that
hour we shall meet again in this room. Until then we may each do
what we like; for I can assure you that this inquiry has come to
a definite pause."
Evening was drawing in when we reassembled. Holmes was very
serious in his manner, myself curious, and the detectives
obviously critical and annoyed.
"Well, gentlemen," said my friend gravely, "I am asking you now
to put everything to the test with me, and you will judge for
yourselves whether the observations I have made justify the
conclusions to which I have come. It is a chill evening, and I
do not know how long our expedition may last; so I beg that you
will wear your warmest coats. It is of the first importance that
we should be in our places before it grows dark; so with your
permission we shall get started at once."
We passed along the outer bounds of the Manor House park until we
came to a place where there was a gap in the rails which fenced
it. Through this we slipped, and then in the gathering gloom we
followed Holmes until we had reached a shrubbery which lies
nearly opposite to the main door and the drawbridge. The latter
had not been raised. Holmes crouched down behind the screen of
laurels, and we all three followed his example.
"Well, what are we to do now?" asked MacDonald with some
"Possess our souls in patience and make as little noise as
possible," Holmes answered.
"What are we here for at all? I really think that you might
treat us with more frankness."
Holmes laughed. "Watson insists that I am the dramatist in real
life," said he. "Some touch of the artist wells up within me,
and calls insistently for a well-staged performance. Surely our
profession, Mr. Mac, would be a drab and sordid one if we did not
sometimes set the scene so as to glorify our results. The blunt
accusation, the brutal tap upon the shoulder--what can one make
of such a denouement? But the quick inference, the subtle trap,
the clever forecast of coming events, the triumphant vindication
of bold theories--are these not the pride and the justification
of our life's work? At the present moment you thrill with the
glamour of the situation and the anticipation of the hunt. Where
would be that thrill if I had been as definite as a timetable? I
only ask a little patience, Mr. Mac, and all will be clear to
"Well, I hope the pride and justification and the rest of it will
come before we all get our death of cold," said the London
detective with comic resignation.
We all had good reason to join in the aspiration; for our vigil
was a long and bitter one. Slowly the shadows darkened over the
long, sombre face of the old house. A cold, damp reek from the
moat chilled us to the bones and set our teeth chattering. There
was a single lamp over the gateway and a steady globe of light in
the fatal study. Everything else was dark and still.
"How long is this to last?" asked the inspector finally. "And
what is it we are watching for?"
"I have no more notion than you how long it is to last," Holmes
answered with some asperity. "If criminals would always schedule
their movements like railway trains, it would certainly be more
convenient for all of us. As to what it is we--Well, THAT'S what
we are watching for!"
As he spoke the bright, yellow light in the study was obscured by
somebody passing to and fro before it. The laurels among which
we lay were immediately opposite the window and not more than a
hundred feet from it. Presently it was thrown open with a
whining of hinges, and we could dimly see the dark outline of a
man's head and shoulders looking out into the gloom. For some
minutes he peered forth in furtive, stealthy fashion, as one who
wishes to be assured that he is unobserved. Then he leaned
forward, and in the intense silence we were aware of the soft
lapping of agitated water. He seemed to be stirring up the moat
with something which he held in his hand. Then suddenly he
hauled something in as a fisherman lands a fish--some large,
round object which obscured the light as it was dragged through
the open casement.
"Now!" cried Holmes. "Now!"
We were all upon our feet, staggering after him with our
stiffened limbs, while he ran swiftly across the bridge and rang
violently at the bell. There was the rasping of bolts from the
other side, and the amazed Ames stood in the entrance. Holmes
brushed him aside without a word and, followed by all of us,
rushed into the room which had been occupied by the man whom we
had been watching.
The oil lamp on the table represented the glow which we had seen
from outside. It was now in the hand of Cecil Barker, who held
it towards us as we entered. Its light shone upon his strong,
resolute, clean-shaved face and his menacing eyes.
"What the devil is the meaning of all this?" he cried. "What are
you after, anyhow?"
Holmes took a swift glance round, and then pounced upon a sodden
bundle tied together with cord which lay where it had been thrust
under the writing table.
"This is what we are after, Mr. Barker--this bundle, weighted
with a dumb-bell, which you have just raised from the bottom of
Barker stared at Holmes with amazement in his face. "How in
thunder came you to know anything about it?" he asked.
"Simply that I put it there."
"You put it there! You!"
"Perhaps I should have said 'replaced it there,'" said Holmes.
"You will remember, Inspector MacDonald, that I was somewhat
struck by the absence of a dumb-bell. I drew your attention to
it; but with the pressure of other events you had hardly the time
to give it the consideration which would have enabled you to draw
deductions from it. When water is near and a weight is missing
it is not a very far-fetched supposition that something has been
sunk in the water. The idea was at least worth testing; so with
the help of Ames, who admitted me to the room, and the crook of
Dr. Watson's umbrella, I was able last night to fish up and
inspect this bundle.
"It was of the first importance, however, that we should be able
to prove who placed it there. This we accomplished by the very
obvious device of announcing that the moat would be dried
to-morrow, which had, of course, the effect that whoever had
hidden the bundle would most certainly withdraw it the moment
that darkness enabled him to do so. We have no less than four
witnesses as to who it was who took advantage of the opportunity,
and so, Mr. Barker, I think the word lies now with you."
Sherlock Holmes put the sopping bundle upon the table beside the
lamp and undid the cord which bound it. From within he extracted
a dumb-bell, which he tossed down to its fellow in the corner.
Next he drew forth a pair of boots. "American, as you perceive,"
he remarked, pointing to the toes. Then he laid upon the table a
long, deadly, sheathed knife. Finally he unravelled a bundle of
clothing, comprising a complete set of underclothes, socks, a
gray tweed suit, and a short yellow overcoat.
"The clothes are commonplace," remarked Holmes, "save only the
overcoat, which is full of suggestive touches." He held it
tenderly towards the light. "Here, as you perceive, is the inner
pocket prolonged into the lining in such fashion as to give ample
space for the truncated fowling piece. The tailor's tab is on
the neck--'Neal, Outfitter, Vermissa, U.S.A.' I have spent an
instructive afternoon in the rector's library, and have enlarged
my knowledge by adding the fact that Vermissa is a flourishing
little town at the head of one of the best known coal and iron
valleys in the United States. I have some recollection, Mr.
Barker, that you associated the coal districts with Mr. Douglas's
first wife, and it would surely not be too far-fetched an
inference that the V.V. upon the card by the dead body might
stand for Vermissa Valley, or that this very valley which sends
forth emissaries of murder may be that Valley of Fear of which we
have heard. So much is fairly clear. And now, Mr. Barker, I
seem to be standing rather in the way of your explanation."
It was a sight to see Cecil Barker's expressive face during this
exposition of the great detective. Anger, amazement,
consternation, and indecision swept over it in turn. Finally he
took refuge in a somewhat acrid irony.
"You know such a lot, Mr. Holmes, perhaps you had better tell us
some more," he sneered.
"I have no doubt that I could tell you a great deal more, Mr.
Barker; but it would come with a better grace from you."
"Oh, you think so, do you? Well, all I can say is that if
there's any secret here it is not my secret, and I am not the man
to give it away."
"Well, if you take that line, Mr. Barker," said the inspector
quietly, "we must just keep you in sight until we have the
warrant and can hold you."
"You can do what you damn please about that," said Barker
The proceedings seemed to have come to a definite end so far as
he was concerned; for one had only to look at that granite face
to realize that no peine forte et dure would ever force him to
plead against his will. The deadlock was broken, however, by a
woman's voice. Mrs. Douglas had been standing listening at the
half opened door, and now she entered the room.
"You have done enough for now, Cecil," said she. "Whatever comes
of it in the future, you have done enough."
"Enough and more than enough," remarked Sherlock Holmes gravely.
"I have every sympathy with you, madam, and should strongly urge
you to have some confidence in the common sense of our
jurisdiction and to take the police voluntarily into your
complete confidence. It may be that I am myself at fault for not
following up the hint which you conveyed to me through my friend,
Dr. Watson; but, at that time I had every reason to believe that
you were directly concerned in the crime. Now I am assured that
this is not so. At the same time, there is much that is
unexplained, and I should strongly recommend that you ask Mr.
Douglas to tell us his own story."
Mrs. Douglas gave a cry of astonishment at Holmes's words. The
detectives and I must have echoed it, when we were aware of a man
who seemed to have emerged from the wall, who advanced now from
the gloom of the corner in which he had appeared. Mrs. Douglas
turned, and in an instant her arms were round him. Barker had
seized his outstretched hand.
"It's best this way, Jack," his wife repeated; "I am sure that it
"Indeed, yes, Mr. Douglas," said Sherlock Holmes, "I am sure that
you will find it best."
The man stood blinking at us with the dazed look of one who comes
from the dark into the light. It was a remarkable face, bold
gray eyes, a strong, short-clipped, grizzled moustache, a square,
projecting chin, and a humorous mouth. He took a good look at us
all, and then to my amazement he advanced to me and handed me a
bundle of paper.
"I've heard of you," said he in a voice which was not quite
English and not quite American, but was altogether mellow and
pleasing. "You are the historian of this bunch. Well, Dr.
Watson, you've never had such a story as that pass through your
hands before, and I'll lay my last dollar on that. Tell it your
own way; but there are the facts, and you can't miss the public
so long as you have those. I've been cooped up two days, and
I've spent the daylight hours--as much daylight as I could get in
that rat trap--in putting the thing into words. You're welcome
to them--you and your public. There's the story of the Valley of
"That's the past, Mr. Douglas," said Sherlock Holmes quietly.
"What we desire now is to hear your story of the present."
"You'll have it, sir," said Douglas. "May I smoke as I talk?
Well, thank you, Mr. Holmes. You're a smoker yourself, if I
remember right, and you'll guess what it is to be sitting for two
days with tobacco in your pocket and afraid that the smell will
give you away." He leaned against the mantelpiece and sucked at
the cigar which Holmes had handed him. "I've heard of you, Mr.
Holmes. I never guessed that I should meet you. But before you
are through with that," he nodded at my papers, "you will say
I've brought you something fresh."
Inspector MacDonald had been staring at the newcomer with the
greatest amazement. "Well, this fairly beats me!" he cried at
last. "If you are Mr. John Douglas of Birlstone Manor, then
whose death have we been investigating for these two days, and
where in the world have you sprung from now? You seemed to me to
come out of the floor like a jack-in-a-box."
"Ah, Mr. Mac," said Holmes, shaking a reproving forefinger, "you
would not read that excellent local compilation which described
the concealment of King Charles. People did not hide in those
days without excellent hiding places, and the hiding place that
has once been used may be again. I had persuaded myself that we
should find Mr. Douglas under this roof."
"And how long have you been playing this trick upon us, Mr.
Holmes?" said the inspector angrily. "How long have you allowed
us to waste ourselves upon a search that you knew to be an absurd
"Not one instant, my dear Mr. Mac. Only last night did I form my
views of the case. As they could not be put to the proof until
this evening, I invited you and your colleague to take a holiday
for the day. Pray what more could I do? When I found the suit
of clothes in the moat, it at once became apparent to me that the
body we had found could not have been the body of Mr. John
Douglas at all, but must be that of the bicyclist from Tunbridge
Wells. No other conclusion was possible. Therefore I had to
determine where Mr. John Douglas himself could be, and the
balance of probability was that with the connivance of his wife
and his friend he was concealed in a house which had such
conveniences for a fugitive, and awaiting quieter times when he
could make his final escape."
"Well, you figured it out about right," said Douglas approvingly.
"I thought I'd dodge your British law; for I was not sure how I
stood under it, and also I saw my chance to throw these hounds
once for all off my track. Mind you, from first to last I have
done nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing that I would not do
again; but you'll judge that for yourselves when I tell you my
story. Never mind warning me, Inspector: I'm ready to stand pat
upon the truth.
"I'm not going to begin at the beginning. That's all there," he
indicated my bundle of papers, "and a mighty queer yarn you'll
find it. It all comes down to this: That there are some men that
have good cause to hate me and would give their last dollar to
know that they had got me. So long as I am alive and they are
alive, there is no safety in this world for me. They hunted me
from Chicago to California, then they chased me out of America;
but when I married and settled down in this quiet spot I thought
my last years were going to be peaceable.
"I never explained to my wife how things were. Why should I pull
her into it? She would never have a quiet moment again; but
would always be imagining trouble. I fancy she knew something,
for I may have dropped a word here or a word there; but until
yesterday, after you gentlemen had seen her, she never knew the
rights of the matter. She told you all she knew, and so did
Barker here; for on the night when this thing happened there was
mighty little time for explanations. She knows everything now,
and I would have been a wiser man if I had told her sooner. But
it was a hard question, dear," he took her hand for an instant in
his own, "and I acted for the best.
"Well, gentlemen, the day before these happenings I was over in
Tunbridge Wells, and I got a glimpse of a man in the street. It
was only a glimpse; but I have a quick eye for these things, and
I never doubted who it was. It was the worst enemy I had among
them all--one who has been after me like a hungry wolf after a
caribou all these years. I knew there was trouble coming, and I
came home and made ready for it. I guessed I'd fight through it
all right on my own, my luck was a proverb in the States about
'76. I never doubted that it would be with me still.
"I was on my guard all that next day, and never went out into the
park. It's as well, or he'd have had the drop on me with that
buckshot gun of his before ever I could draw on him. After the
bridge was up--my mind was always more restful when that bridge
was up in the evenings--I put the thing clear out of my head. I
never dreamed of his getting into the house and waiting for me.
But when I made my round in my dressing gown, as was my habit, I
had no sooner entered the study than I scented danger. I guess
when a man has had dangers in his life--and I've had more than
most in my time--there is a kind of sixth sense that waves the
red flag. I saw the signal clear enough, and yet I couldn't tell
you why. Next instant I spotted a boot under the window curtain,
and then I saw why plain enough.
"I'd just the one candle that was in my hand; but there was a
good light from the hall lamp through the open door. I put down
the candle and jumped for a hammer that I'd left on the mantel.
At the same moment he sprang at me. I saw the glint of a knife,
and I lashed at him with the hammer. I got him somewhere; for
the knife tinkled down on the floor. He dodged round the table
as quick as an eel, and a moment later he'd got his gun from
under his coat. I heard him cock it; but I had got hold of it
before he could fire. I had it by the barrel, and we wrestled
for it all ends up for a minute or more. It was death to the man
that lost his grip.
"He never lost his grip; but he got it butt downward for a moment
too long. Maybe it was I that pulled the trigger. Maybe we just
jolted it off between us. Anyhow, he got both barrels in the
face, and there I was, staring down at all that was left of Ted
Baldwin. I'd recognized him in the township, and again when he
sprang for me; but his own mother wouldn't recognize him as I saw
him then. I'm used to rough work; but I fairly turned sick at
the sight of him.
"I was hanging on the side of the table when Barker came hurrying
down. I heard my wife coming, and I ran to the door and stopped
her. It was no sight for a woman. I promised I'd come to her
soon. I said a word or two to Barker--he took it all in at a
glance--and we waited for the rest to come along. But there was
no sign of them. Then we understood that they could hear
nothing, and that all that had happened was known only to
"It was at that instant that the idea came to me. I was fairly
dazzled by the brilliance of it. The man's sleeve had slipped up
and there was the branded mark of the lodge upon his forearm.
The man whom we had known as Douglas turned up his own coat and
cuff to show a brown triangle within a circle exactly like that
which we had seen upon the dead man.
"It was the sight of that which started me on it. I seemed to
see it all clear at a glance. There were his height and hair and
figure, about the same as my own. No one could swear to his
face, poor devil! I brought down this suit of clothes, and in a
quarter of an hour Barker and I had put my dressing gown on him
and he lay as you found him. We tied all his things into a
bundle, and I weighted them with the only weight I could find and
put them through the window. The card he had meant to lay upon
my body was lying beside his own.
"My rings were put on his finger; but when it came to the wedding
ring," he held out his muscular hand, "you can see for yourselves
that I had struck the limit. I have not moved it since the day I
was married, and it would have taken a file to get it off. I
don't know, anyhow, that I should have cared to part with it; but
if I had wanted to I couldn't. So we just had to leave that
detail to take care of itself. On the other hand, I brought a
bit of plaster down and put it where I am wearing one myself at
this instant. You slipped up there, Mr. Holmes, clever as you
are; for if you had chanced to take off that plaster you would
have found no cut underneath it.
"Well, that was the situation. If I could lie low for a while
and then get away where I could be joined by my 'widow' we should
have a chance at last of living in peace for the rest of our
lives. These devils would give me no rest so long as I was above
ground; but if they saw in the papers that Baldwin had got his
man, there would be an end of all my troubles. I hadn't much
time to make it all clear to Barker and to my wife; but they
understood enough to be able to help me. I knew all about this
hiding place, so did Ames; but it never entered his head to
connect it with the matter. I retired into it, and it was up to
Barker to do the rest.
"I guess you can fill in for yourselves what he did. He opened
the window and made the mark on the sill to give an idea of how
the murderer escaped. It was a tall order, that; but as the
bridge was up there was no other way. Then, when everything was
fixed, he rang the bell for all he was worth. What happened
afterward you know. And so, gentlemen, you can do what you
please; but I've told you the truth and the whole truth, so help
me God! What I ask you now is how do I stand by the English
There was a silence which was broken by Sherlock Holmes.
"The English law is in the main a just law. You will get no
worse than your deserts from that, Mr. Douglas. But I would ask
you how did this man know that you lived here, or how to get into
your house, or where to hide to get you?"
"I know nothing of this."
Holmes's face was very white and grave. "The story is not over
yet, I fear," said he. "You may find worse dangers than the
English law, or even than your enemies from America. I see
trouble before you, Mr. Douglas. You'll take my advice and still
be on your guard."
And now, my long-suffering readers, I will ask you to come away
with me for a time, far from the Sussex Manor House of Birlstone,
and far also from the year of grace in which we made our eventful
journey which ended with the strange story of the man who had
been known as John Douglas. I wish you to journey back some
twenty years in time, and westward some thousands of miles in
space, that I may lay before you a singular and terrible
narrative--so singular and so terrible that you may find it hard
to believe that even as I tell it, even so did it occur.
Do not think that I intrude one story before another is finished.
As you read on you will find that this is not so. And when I
have detailed those distant events and you have solved this
mystery of the past, we shall meet once more in those rooms on
Baker Street, where this, like so many other wonderful
happenings, will find its end.
Part 2 - The Scowrers
Chapter 1 - The Man
It was the fourth of February in the year 1875. It had been a
severe winter, and the snow lay deep in the gorges of the
Gilmerton Mountains. The steam ploughs had, however, kept the
railroad open, and the evening train which connects the long line
of coal-mining and iron-working settlements was slowly groaning
its way up the steep gradients which lead from Stagville on the
plain to Vermissa, the central township which lies at the head of
Vermissa Valley. From this point the track sweeps downward to
Bartons Crossing, Helmdale, and the purely agricultural county of
Merton. It was a single track railroad; but at every siding--and
they were numerous--long lines of trucks piled with coal and iron
ore told of the hidden wealth which had brought a rude population
and a bustling life to this most desolate corner of the United
States of America.
For desolate it was! Little could the first pioneer who had
traversed it have ever imagined that the fairest prairies and the
most lush water pastures were valueless compared to this gloomy
land of black crag and tangled forest. Above the dark and often
scarcely penetrable woods upon their flanks, the high, bare
crowns of the mountains, white snow, and jagged rock towered upon
each flank, leaving a long, winding, tortuous valley in the
centre. Up this the little train was slowly crawling.
The oil lamps had just been lit in the leading passenger car, a
long, bare carriage in which some twenty or thirty people were
seated. The greater number of these were workmen returning from
their day's toil in the lower part of the valley. At least a
dozen, by their grimed faces and the safety lanterns which they
carried, proclaimed themselves miners. These sat smoking in a
group and conversed in low voices, glancing occasionally at two
men on the opposite side of the car, whose uniforms and badges
showed them to be policemen.
Several women of the labouring class and one or two travellers
who might have been small local storekeepers made up the rest of
the company, with the exception of one young man in a corner by
himself. It is with this man that we are concerned. Take a good
look at him; for he is worth it.
He is a fresh-complexioned, middle-sized young man, not far, one
would guess, from his thirtieth year. He has large, shrewd,
humorous gray eyes which twinkle inquiringly from time to time as
he looks round through his spectacles at the people about him.
It is easy to see that he is of a sociable and possibly simple
disposition, anxious to be friendly to all men. Anyone could
pick him at once as gregarious in his habits and communicative in
his nature, with a quick wit and a ready smile. And yet the man
who studied him more closely might discern a certain firmness of
jaw and grim tightness about the lips which would warn him that
there were depths beyond, and that this pleasant, brown-haired
young Irishman might conceivably leave his mark for good or evil
upon any society to which he was introduced.
Having made one or two tentative remarks to the nearest miner,
and receiving only short, gruff replies, the traveller resigned
himself to uncongenial silence, staring moodily out of the window
at the fading landscape.
It was not a cheering prospect. Through the growing gloom there
pulsed the red glow of the furnaces on the sides of the hills.
Great heaps of slag and dumps of cinders loomed up on each side,
with the high shafts of the collieries towering above them.
Huddled groups of mean, wooden houses, the windows of which were
beginning to outline themselves in light, were scattered here and
there along the line, and the frequent halting places were
crowded with their swarthy inhabitants.
The iron and coal valleys of the Vermissa district were no
resorts for the leisured or the cultured. Everywhere there were
stern signs of the crudest battle of life, the rude work to be
done, and the rude, strong workers who did it.
The young traveller gazed out into this dismal country with a
face of mingled repulsion and interest, which showed that the
scene was new to him. At intervals he drew from his pocket a
bulky letter to which he referred, and on the margins of which he
scribbled some notes. Once from the back of his waist he
produced something which one would hardly have expected to find
in the possession of so mild-mannered a man. It was a navy
revolver of the largest size. As he turned it slantwise to the
light, the glint upon the rims of the copper shells within the
drum showed that it was fully loaded. He quickly restored it to
his secret pocket, but not before it had been observed by a
working man who had seated himself upon the adjoining bench.
"Hullo, mate!" said he. "You seem heeled and ready."
The young man smiled with an air of embarrassment.
"Yes," said he, "we need them sometimes in the place I come
"And where may that be?"
"I'm last from Chicago."
"A stranger in these parts?"
"You may find you need it here," said the workman.
"Ah! is that so?" The young man seemed interested.
"Have you heard nothing of doings hereabouts?"
"Nothing out of the way."
"Why, I thought the country was full of it. You'll hear quick
enough. What made you come here?"
"I heard there was always work for a willing man."
"Are you a member of the union?"
"Then you'll get your job, I guess. Have you any friends?"
"Not yet; but I have the means of making them."
"How's that, then?"
"I am one of the Eminent Order of Freemen. There's no town
without a lodge, and where there is a lodge I'll find my
The remark had a singular effect upon his companion. He glanced
round suspiciously at the others in the car. The miners were
still whispering among themselves. The two police officers were
dozing. He came across, seated himself close to the young
traveller, and held out his hand.
"Put it there," he said.
A hand-grip passed between the two.
"I see you speak the truth," said the workman. "But it's well to
make certain." He raised his right hand to his right eyebrow.
The traveller at once raised his left hand to his left eyebrow.
"Dark nights are unpleasant," said the workman.
"Yes, for strangers to travel," the other answered.
"That's good enough. I'm Brother Scanlan, Lodge 341, Vermissa
Valley. Glad to see you in these parts."
"Thank you. I'm Brother John McMurdo, Lodge 29, Chicago.
Bodymaster J.H. Scott. But I am in luck to meet a brother so
"Well, there are plenty of us about. You won't find the order
more flourishing anywhere in the States than right here in
Vermissa Valley. But we could do with some lads like you. I
can't understand a spry man of the union finding no work to do in
"I found plenty of work to do," said McMurdo.
"Then why did you leave?"
McMurdo nodded towards the policemen and smiled. "I guess those
chaps would be glad to know," he said.
Scanlan groaned sympathetically. "In trouble?" he asked in a
"A penitentiary job?"
"And the rest."
"Not a killing!"
"It's early days to talk of such things," said McMurdo with the
air of a man who had been surprised into saying more than he
intended. "I've my own good reasons for leaving Chicago, and let
that be enough for you. Who are you that you should take it on
yourself to ask such things?" His gray eyes gleamed with sudden
and dangerous anger from behind his glasses.
"All right, mate, no offense meant. The boys will think none the
worse of you, whatever you may have done. Where are you bound
"That's the third halt down the line. Where are you staying?"
McMurdo took out an envelope and held it close to the murky oil
lamp. "Here is the address--Jacob Shafter, Sheridan Street.
It's a boarding house that was recommended by a man I knew in
"Well, I don't know it; but Vermissa is out of my beat. I live
at Hobson's Patch, and that's here where we are drawing up. But,
say, there's one bit of advice I'll give you before we part: If
you're in trouble in Vermissa, go straight to the Union House and
see Boss McGinty. He is the Bodymaster of Vermissa Lodge, and
nothing can happen in these parts unless Black Jack McGinty wants
it. So long, mate! Maybe we'll meet in lodge one of these
evenings. But mind my words: If you are in trouble, go to Boss
Scanlan descended, and McMurdo was left once again to his
thoughts. Night had now fallen, and the flames of the frequent
furnaces were roaring and leaping in the darkness. Against their
lurid background dark figures were bending and straining,
twisting and turning, with the motion of winch or of windlass, to
the rhythm of an eternal clank and roar.
"I guess hell must look something like that," said a voice.
McMurdo turned and saw that one of the policemen had shifted in
his seat and was staring out into the fiery waste.
"For that matter," said the other policeman, "I allow that hell
must BE something like that. If there are worse devils down
yonder than some we could name, it's more than I'd expect. I
guess you are new to this part, young man?"
"Well, what if I am?" McMurdo answered in a surly voice.
"Just this, mister, that I should advise you to be careful in
choosing your friends. I don't think I'd begin with Mike Scanlan
or his gang if I were you."
"What the hell is it to you who are my friends?" roared McMurdo
in a voice which brought every head in the carriage round to
witness the altercation. "Did I ask you for your advice, or did
you think me such a sucker that I couldn't move without it? You
speak when you are spoken to, and by the Lord you'd have to wait
a long time if it was me!" He thrust out his face and grinned at
the patrolmen like a snarling dog.
The two policemen, heavy, good-natured men, were taken aback by
the extraordinary vehemence with which their friendly advances
had been rejected.
"No offense, stranger," said one. "It was a warning for your own
good, seeing that you are, by your own showing, new to the
"I'm new to the place; but I'm not new to you and your kind!"
cried McMurdo in cold fury. "I guess you're the same in all
places, shoving your advice in when nobody asks for it."
"Maybe we'll see more of you before very long," said one of the
patrolmen with a grin. "You're a real hand-picked one, if I am a
"I was thinking the same," remarked the other. "I guess we may
"I'm not afraid of you, and don't you think it!" cried McMurdo.
"My name's Jack McMurdo--see? If you want me, you'll find me at
Jacob Shafter's on Sheridan Street, Vermissa; so I'm not hiding
from you, am I? Day or night I dare to look the like of you in
the face--don't make any mistake about that!"
There was a murmur of sympathy and admiration from the miners at
the dauntless demeanour of the newcomer, while the two policemen
shrugged their shoulders and renewed a conversation between
A few minutes later the train ran into the ill-lit station, and
there was a general clearing; for Vermissa was by far the largest
town on the line. McMurdo picked up his leather gripsack and was
about to start off into the darkness, when one of the miners
"By Gar, mate! you know how to speak to the cops," he said in a
voice of awe. "It was grand to hear you. Let me carry your grip
and show you the road. I'm passing Shafter's on the way to my
There was a chorus of friendly "Good-nights" from the other
miners as they passed from the platform. Before ever he had set
foot in it, McMurdo the turbulent had become a character in
The country had been a place of terror; but the town was in its
way even more depressing. Down that long valley there was at
least a certain gloomy grandeur in the huge fires and the clouds
of drifting smoke, while the strength and industry of man found
fitting monuments in the hills which he had spilled by the side
of his monstrous excavations. But the town showed a dead level
of mean ugliness and squalor. The broad street was churned up by
the traffic into a horrible rutted paste of muddy snow. The
sidewalks were narrow and uneven. The numerous gas-lamps served
only to show more clearly a long line of wooden houses, each with
its veranda facing the street, unkempt and dirty.
As they approached the centre of the town the scene was
brightened by a row of well-lit stores, and even more by a
cluster of saloons and gaming houses, in which the miners spent
their hard-earned but generous wages.
"That's the Union House," said the guide, pointing to one saloon
which rose almost to the dignity of being a hotel. "Jack McGinty
is the boss there."
"What sort of a man is he?" McMurdo asked.
"What! have you never heard of the boss?"
"How could I have heard of him when you know that I am a stranger
in these parts?"
"Well, I thought his name was known clear across the country.
It's been in the papers often enough."
"Well," the miner lowered his voice--"over the affairs."
"Good Lord, mister! you are queer, if I must say it without
offense. There's only one set of affairs that you'll hear of in
these parts, and that's the affairs of the Scowrers."
"Why, I seem to have read of the Scowrers in Chicago. A gang of
murderers, are they not?"
"Hush, on your life!" cried the miner, standing still in alarm,
and gazing in amazement at his companion. "Man, you won't live
long in these parts if you speak in the open street like that.
Many a man has had the life beaten out of him for less."
"Well, I know nothing about them. It's only what I have read."
"And I'm not saying that you have not read the truth." The man
looked nervously round him as he spoke, peering into the shadows
as if he feared to see some lurking danger. "If killing is
murder, then God knows there is murder and to spare. But don't
you dare to breathe the name of Jack McGinty in connection with
it, stranger; for every whisper goes back to him, and he is not
one that is likely to let it pass. Now, that's the house you're
after, that one standing back from the street. You'll find old
Jacob Shafter that runs it as honest a man as lives in this
"I thank you," said McMurdo, and shaking hands with his new
acquaintance he plodded, gripsack in hand, up the path which led
to the dwelling house, at the door of which he gave a resounding
It was opened at once by someone very different from what he had
expected. It was a woman, young and singularly beautiful. She
was of the German type, blonde and fair-haired, with the piquant
contrast of a pair of beautiful dark eyes with which she surveyed
the stranger with surprise and a pleasing embarrassment which
brought a wave of colour over her pale face. Framed in the
bright light of the open doorway, it seemed to McMurdo that he
had never seen a more beautiful picture; the more attractive for
its contrast with the sordid and gloomy surroundings. A lovely
violet growing upon one of those black slag-heaps of the mines
would not have seemed more surprising. So entranced was he that
he stood staring without a word, and it was she who broke the
"I thought it was father," said she with a pleasing little touch
of a German accent. "Did you come to see him? He is down town.
I expect him back every minute."
McMurdo continued to gaze at her in open admiration until her
eyes dropped in confusion before this masterful visitor.
"No, miss," he said at last, "I'm in no hurry to see him. But
your house was recommended to me for board. I thought it might
suit me--and now I know it will."
"You are quick to make up your mind," said she with a smile.
"Anyone but a blind man could do as much," the other answered.
She laughed at the compliment. "Come right in, sir," she said.
"I'm Miss Ettie Shafter, Mr. Shafter's daughter. My mother's
dead, and I run the house. You can sit down by the stove in the
front room until father comes along--Ah, here he is! So you can
fix things with him right away."
A heavy, elderly man came plodding up the path. In a few words
McMurdo explained his business. A man of the name of Murphy had
given him the address in Chicago. He in turn had had it from
someone else. Old Shafter was quite ready. The stranger made no
bones about terms, agreed at once to every condition, and was
apparently fairly flush of money. For seven dollars a week paid
in advance he was to have board and lodging.
So it was that McMurdo, the self-confessed fugitive from justice,
took up his abode under the roof of the Shafters, the first step
which was to lead to so long and dark a train of events, ending
in a far distant land.
Chapter 2 - The Bodymaster
McMurdo was a man who made his mark quickly. Wherever he was the
folk around soon knew it. Within a week he had become infinitely
the most important person at Shafter's. There were ten or a
dozen boarders there; but they were honest foremen or commonplace
clerks from the stores, of a very different calibre from the
young Irishman. Of an evening when they gathered together his
joke was always the readiest, his conversation the brightest, and
his song the best. He was a born boon companion, with a
magnetism which drew good humour from all around him.
And yet he showed again and again, as he had shown in the railway
carriage, a capacity for sudden, fierce anger, which compelled
the respect and even the fear of those who met him. For the law,
too, and all who were connected with it, he exhibited a bitter
contempt which delighted some and alarmed others of his fellow
From the first he made it evident, by his open admiration, that
the daughter of the house had won his heart from the instant that
he had set eyes upon her beauty and her grace. He was no
backward suitor. On the second day he told her that he loved
her, and from then onward he repeated the same story with an
absolute disregard of what she might say to discourage him.
"Someone else?" he would cry. "Well, the worse luck for someone
else! Let him look out for himself! Am I to lose my life's
chance and all my heart's desire for someone else? You can keep
on saying no, Ettie: the day will come when you will say yes, and
I'm young enough to wait."
He was a dangerous suitor, with his glib Irish tongue, and his
pretty, coaxing ways. There was about him also that glamour of
experience and of mystery which attracts a woman's interest, and
finally her love. He could talk of the sweet valleys of County
Monaghan from which he came, of the lovely, distant island, the
low hills and green meadows of which seemed the more beautiful
when imagination viewed them from this place of grime and snow.
Then he was versed in the life of the cities of the North, of
Detroit, and the lumber camps of Michigan, and finally of
Chicago, where he had worked in a planing mill. And afterwards
came the hint of romance, the feeling that strange things had
happened to him in that great city, so strange and so intimate
that they might not be spoken of. He spoke wistfully of a sudden
leaving, a breaking of old ties, a flight into a strange world,
ending in this dreary valley, and Ettie listened, her dark eyes
gleaming with pity and with sympathy--those two qualities which
may turn so rapidly and so naturally to love.
McMurdo had obtained a temporary job as bookkeeper for he was a
well-educated man. This kept him out most of the day, and he had
not found occasion yet to report himself to the head of the lodge
of the Eminent Order of Freemen. He was reminded of his
omission, however, by a visit one evening from Mike Scanlan, the
fellow member whom he had met in the train. Scanlan, the small,
sharp-faced, nervous, black-eyed man, seemed glad to see him once
more. After a glass or two of whisky he broached the object of
"Say, McMurdo," said he, "I remembered your address, so l made
bold to call. I'm surprised that you've not reported to the
Bodymaster. Why haven't you seen Boss McGinty yet?"
"Well, I had to find a job. I have been busy."
"You must find time for him if you have none for anything else.
Good Lord, man! you're a fool not to have been down to the Union
House and registered your name the first morning after you came
here! If you run against him--well, you mustn't, that's all!"
McMurdo showed mild surprise. "I've been a member of the lodge
for over two years, Scanlan, but I never heard that duties were
so pressing as all that."
"Maybe not in Chicago."
"Well, it's the same society here."
Scanlan looked at him long and fixedly. There was something
sinister in his eyes.
"You'll tell me that in a month's time. I hear you had a talk
with the patrolmen after I left the train."
"How did you know that?"
"Oh, it got about--things do get about for good and for bad in
"Well, yes. I told the hounds what I thought of them."
"By the Lord, you'll be a man after McGinty's heart!"
"What, does he hate the police too?"
Scanlan burst out laughing. "You go and see him, my lad," said
he as he took his leave. "It's not the police but you that he'll
hate if you don't! Now, take a friend's advice and go at once!"
It chanced that on the same evening McMurdo had another more
pressing interview which urged him in the same direction. It may
have been that his attentions to Ettie had been more evident than
before, or that they had gradually obtruded themselves into the
slow mind of his good German host; but, whatever the cause, the
boarding-house keeper beckoned the young man into his private
room and started on the subject without any circumlocution.
"It seems to me, mister," said he, "that you are gettin' set on
my Ettie. Ain't that so, or am I wrong?"
"Yes, that is so," the young man answered.
"Vell, I vant to tell you right now that it ain't no manner of
use. There's someone slipped in afore you."
"She told me so."
"Vell, you can lay that she told you truth. But did she tell you
who it vas?"
"No, I asked her; but she wouldn't tell."
"I dare say not, the leetle baggage! Perhaps she did not vish to
frighten you avay."
"Frighten!" McMurdo was on fire in a moment.
"Ah, yes, my friend! You need not be ashamed to be frightened of
him. It is Teddy Baldwin."
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