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ADVENTURE IV. THE BOSCOMBE VALLEY MYSTERY

We were seated at breakfast one morning, my wife and I, when the

  maid brought in a telegram. It was from Sherlock Holmes and ran

  in this way:

  Have you a couple of days to spare? Have just been wired for from

  the west of England in connection with Boscombe Valley tragedy.

  Shall be glad if you will come with me. Air and scenery perfect.

  Leave Paddington by the 11:15.

  “What do you say, dear?” said my wife, looking across at me.

  “Will you go?”

  “I really don’t know what to say. I have a fairly long list at

  present.”

  “Oh, Anstruther would do your work for you. You have been looking

  a little pale lately. I think that the change would do you good,

  and you are always so interested in Mr. Sherlock Holmes’s cases.”

  “I should be ungrateful if I were not, seeing what I gained

  through one of them,” I answered. “But if I am to go, I must pack

  at once, for I have only half an hour.”

  My experience of camp life in Afghanistan had at least had the

  effect of making me a prompt and ready traveller. My wants were

  few and simple, so that in less than the time stated I was in a

  cab with my valise, rattling away to Paddington Station. Sherlock

  Holmes was pacing up and down the platform, his tall, gaunt

  figure made even gaunter and taller by his long gray

  travelling-cloak and close-fitting cloth cap.

  “It is really very good of you to come, Watson,” said he. “It

  makes a considerable difference to me, having someone with me on

  whom I can thoroughly rely. Local aid is always either worthless

  or else biassed. If you will keep the two corner seats I shall

  get the tickets.”

  We had the carriage to ourselves save for an immense litter of

  papers which Holmes had brought with him. Among these he rummaged

  and read, with intervals of note-taking and of meditation, until

  we were past Reading. Then he suddenly rolled them all into a

  gigantic ball and tossed them up onto the rack.

  “Have you heard anything of the case?” he asked.

  “Not a word. I have not seen a paper for some days.”

  “The London press has not had very full accounts. I have just

  been looking through all the recent papers in order to master the

  particulars. It seems, from what I gather, to be one of those

  simple cases which are so extremely difficult.”

  “That sounds a little paradoxical.”

  “But it is profoundly true. Singularity is almost invariably a

  clew. The more featureless and commonplace a crime is, the more

  difficult it is to bring it home. In this case, however, they

  have established a very serious case against the son of the

  murdered man.”

  “It is a murder, then?”

  “Well, it is conjectured to be so. I shall take nothing for

  granted until I have the opportunity of looking personally into

  it. I will explain the state of things to you, as far as I have

  been able to understand it, in a very few words.

  “Boscombe Valley is a country district not very far from Ross, in

  Herefordshire. The largest landed proprietor in that part is a

  Mr. John Turner, who made his money in Australia and returned

  some years ago to the old country. One of the farms which he

  held, that of Hatherley, was let to Mr. Charles McCarthy, who was

  also an ex-Australian. The men had known each other in the

  colonies, so that it was not unnatural that when they came to

  settle down they should do so as near each other as possible.

  Turner was apparently the richer man, so McCarthy became his

  tenant but still remained, it seems, upon terms of perfect

  equality, as they were frequently together. McCarthy had one son,

  a lad of eighteen, and Turner had an only daughter of the same

  age, but neither of them had wives living. They appear to have

  avoided the society of the neighboring English families and to

  have led retired lives, though both the McCarthys were fond of

  sport and were frequently seen at the race-meetings of the

  neighborhood. McCarthy kept two servants–a man and a girl.

  Turner had a considerable household, some half-dozen at the

  least. That is as much as I have been able to gather about the

  families. Now for the facts.

  “On June 3rd, that is, on Monday last, McCarthy left his house at

  Hatherley about three in the afternoon and walked down to the

  Boscombe Pool, which is a small lake formed by the spreading out

  of the stream which runs down the Boscombe Valley. He had been

  out with his serving-man in the morning at Ross, and he had told

  the man that he must hurry, as he had an appointment of

  importance to keep at three. From that appointment he never came

  back alive.

  “From Hatherley Farm-house to the Boscombe Pool is a quarter of a

  mile, and two people saw him as he passed over this ground. One

  was an old woman, whose name is not mentioned, and the other was

  William Crowder, a game-keeper in the employ of Mr. Turner. Both

  these witnesses depose that Mr. McCarthy was walking alone. The

  game-keeper adds that within a few minutes of his seeing Mr.

  McCarthy pass he had seen his son, Mr. James McCarthy, going the

  same way with a gun under his arm. To the best of his belief, the

  father was actually in sight at the time, and the son was

  following him. He thought no more of the matter until he heard in

  the evening of the tragedy that had occurred.

  “The two McCarthys were seen after the time when William Crowder,

  the game-keeper, lost sight of them. The Boscombe Pool is thickly

  wooded round, with just a fringe of grass and of reeds round the

  edge. A girl of fourteen, Patience Moran, who is the daughter of

  the lodge-keeper of the Boscombe Valley estate, was in one of the

  woods picking flowers. She states that while she was there she

  saw, at the border of the wood and close by the lake, Mr.

  McCarthy and his son, and that they appeared to be having a

  violent quarrel. She heard Mr. McCarthy the elder using very

  strong language to his son, and she saw the latter raise up his

  hand as if to strike his father. She was so frightened by their

  violence that she ran away and told her mother when she reached

  home that she had left the two McCarthys quarrelling near

  Boscombe Pool, and that she was afraid that they were going to

  fight. She had hardly said the words when young Mr. McCarthy came

  running up to the lodge to say that he had found his father dead

  in the wood, and to ask for the help of the lodge-keeper. He was

  much excited, without either his gun or his hat, and his right

  hand and sleeve were observed to be stained with fresh blood. On

  following him they found the dead body stretched out upon the

  grass beside the pool. The head had been beaten in by repeated

  blows of some heavy and blunt weapon. The injuries were such as

  might very well have been inflicted by the butt-end of his son’s

  gun, which was found lying on the grass within a few paces of the

  body. Under these circumstances the young man was instantly

  arrested, and a verdict of ‘wilful murder’ having been returned

  at the inquest on Tuesday, he was on Wednesday brought before the

  magistrates at Ross, who have referred the case to the next

  Assizes. Those are the main facts of the case as they came out

  before the coroner and the police-court.”

  “I could hardly imagine a more damning case,” I remarked. “If

  ever circumstantial evidence pointed to a criminal it does so

  here.”

  “Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing,” answered Holmes

  thoughtfully. “It may seem to point very straight to one thing,

  but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it

  pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something

  entirely different. It must be confessed, however, that the case

  looks exceedingly grave against the young man, and it is very

  possible that he is indeed the culprit. There are several people

  in the neighborhood, however, and among them Miss Turner, the

  daughter of the neighboring landowner, who believe in his

  innocence, and who have retained Lestrade, whom you may recollect

  in connection with ‘A Study in Scarlet’, to work out the case in

  his interest. Lestrade, being rather puzzled, has referred the

  case to me, and hence it is that two middle-aged gentlemen are

  flying westward at fifty miles an hour instead of quietly

  digesting their breakfasts at home.”

  “I am afraid,” said I, “that the facts are so obvious that you

  will find little credit to be gained out of this case.”

  “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact,” he

  answered, laughing. “Besides, we may chance to hit upon some

  other obvious facts which may have been by no means obvious to

  Mr. Lestrade. You know me too well to think that I am boasting

  when I say that I shall either confirm or destroy his theory by

  means which he is quite incapable of employing, or even of

  understanding. To take the first example to hand, I very clearly

  perceive that in your bedroom the window is upon the right-hand

  side, and yet I question whether Mr. Lestrade would have noted

  even so self-evident a thing as that.”

  “How on earth–“

  “My dear fellow, I know you well. I know the military neatness

  which characterizes you. You shave every morning, and in this

  season you shave by the sunlight; but since your shaving is less

  and less complete as we get farther back on the left side, until

  it becomes positively slovenly as we get round the angle of the

  jaw, it is surely very clear that that side is less illuminated

than the other. I could not imagine a man of your habits looking

  at himself in an equal light and being satisfied with such a

  result. I only quote this as a trivial example of observation and

  inference. Therein lies my metier, and it is just possible that

  it may be of some service in the investigation which lies before

  us. There are one or two minor points which were brought out in

  the inquest, and which are worth considering.”

  “What are they?”

  “It appears that his arrest did not take place at once, but after

  the return to Hatherley Farm. On the inspector of constabulary

  informing him that he was a prisoner, he remarked that he was not

  surprised to hear it, and that it was no more than his deserts.

  This observation of his had the natural effect of removing any

  traces of doubt which might have remained in the minds of the

  coroner’s jury.”

  “It was a confession,” I ejaculated.

  “No, for it was followed by a protestation of innocence.”

  “Coming on the top of such a damning series of events, it was at

  least a most suspicious remark.”

  “On the contrary,” said Holmes, “it is the brightest rift which I

  can at present see in the clouds. However innocent he might be,

  he could not be such an absolute imbecile as not to see that the

  circumstances were very black against him. Had he appeared

  surprised at his own arrest, or feigned indignation at it, I

  should have looked upon it as highly suspicious, because such

  surprise or anger would not be natural under the circumstances,

  and yet might appear to be the best policy to a scheming man. His

  frank acceptance of the situation marks him as either an innocent

  man, or else as a man of considerable self-restraint and

  firmness. As to his remark about his deserts, it was also not

  unnatural if you consider that he stood beside the dead body of

  his father, and that there is no doubt that he had that very day

  so far forgotten his filial duty as to bandy words with him, and

  even, according to the little girl whose evidence is so

  important, to raise his hand as if to strike him. The

  self-reproach and contrition which are displayed in his remark

  appear to me to be the signs of a healthy mind rather than of a

  guilty on.”

  I shook my head. “Many men have been hanged on far slighter

  evidence,” I remarked.

  “So they have. And many men have been wrongfully hanged.”

  “What is the young man’s own account of the matter?”

  “It is, I am afraid, not very encouraging to his supporters,

  though there are one or two points in it which are suggestive.

  You will find it here, and may read it for yourself.”

  He picked out from his bundle a copy of the local Herefordshire

  paper, and having turned down the sheet he pointed out the

  paragraph in which the unfortunate young man had given his own

  statement of what had occurred. I settled myself down in the

  corner of the carriage and read it very carefully. It ran in this

  way:

  Mr. James McCarthy, the only son of the deceased, was then called

  and gave evidence as follows: “I had been away from home for

  three days at Bristol, and had only just returned upon the

  morning of last Monday, the 3d. My father was absent from home at

  the time of my arrival, and I was informed by the maid that he

  had driven over to Ross with John Cobb, the groom. Shortly after

  my return I heard the wheels of his trap in the yard, and,

  looking out of my window, I saw him get out and walk rapidly out

  of the yard, though I was not aware in which direction he was

  going. I then took my gun and strolled out in the direction of

  the Boscombe Pool, with the intention of visiting the rabbit

  warren which is upon the other side. On my way I saw William

  Crowder, the game-keeper, as he had stated in his evidence; but

  he is mistaken in thinking that I was following my father. I had

  no idea that he was in front of me. When about a hundred yards

  from the pool I heard a cry of ‘Cooee!’ which was a usual signal

  between my father and myself. I then hurried forward, and found

  him standing by the pool. He appeared to be much surprised at

  seeing me and asked me rather roughly what I was doing there. A

  conversation ensued which led to high words and almost to blows,

  for my father was a man of a very violent temper. Seeing that his

  passion was becoming ungovernable, I left him and returned

  towards Hatherley Farm. I had not gone more than 150 yards,

  however, when I heard a hideous outcry behind me, which caused me

  to run back again. I found my father expiring upon the ground,

  with his head terribly injured. I dropped my gun and held him in

  my arms, but he almost instantly expired. I knelt beside him for

  some minutes, and then made my way to Mr. Turner’s lodge-keeper,

  his house being the nearest, to ask for assistance. I saw no one

  near my father when I returned, and I have no idea how he came by

  his injuries. He was not a popular man, being somewhat cold and

  forbidding in his manners, but he had, as far as I know, no

  active enemies. I know nothing further of the matter.”

  “The Coroner: ‘Did your father make any statement to you before

  he died?’

  “Witness: ‘He mumbled a few words, but I could only catch some

  allusion to a rat.’

  “The Coroner: ‘What did you understand by that?’

  “Witness: ‘It conveyed no meaning to me. I thought that he was

  delirious.’

  “The Coroner: ‘What was the point upon which you and your father

  had this final quarrel?’

  “Witness: ‘I should prefer not to answer.’

  “The Coroner: ‘I am afraid that I must press it.’

  “Witness: ‘It is really impossible for me to tell you. I can

  assure you that it has nothing to do with the sad tragedy which

  followed.’

  “The Coroner: ‘That is for the court to decide. I need not point

  out to you that your refusal to answer will prejudice your case

  considerably in any future proceedings which may arise’

  “Witness: ‘I must still refuse.’

  “The Coroner: ‘I understand that the cry of “Cooee” was a common

  signal between you and your father?’

  “Witness: ‘It was.’

  “The Coroner: ‘How was it, then, that he uttered it before he saw

  you, and before he even knew that you had returned from Bristol?’

  “Witness (with considerable confusion): ‘I do not know.’

  “A Juryman: ‘Did you see nothing which aroused your suspiclons

  when you returned on hearing the cry and found your father

  fatally injured?’

  “Witness: ‘Nothing definite.’

  “The Coroner: ‘What do you mean?’

  “Witness: ‘I was so disturbed and excited as I rushed out into

  the open, that I could think of nothing except of my father. Yet

  I have a vague impression that as I ran forward something lay

  upon the ground to the left of me. It seemed to me to be

  something gray in color, a coat of some sort, or a plaid perhaps.

  When I rose from my father I looked round for it, but it was

  gone.’

  “‘Do you mean that it disappeared before you went for help?’

  “‘Yes, it was gone.’

  “‘You cannot say what it was?’

  “‘No, I had a feeling something was there.’

  “‘How far from the body?’

  “‘A dozen yards or so.’

  “‘And how far from the edge of the wood?’

  “‘About the same.’

  “‘Then if it was removed it was while you were within a dozen

  yards of it?’

  “‘Yes, but with my back towards it.’

  “This concluded the examination of the witness.”

  “I see,” said I as I glanced down the column, “that the coroner

  in his concluding remarks was rather severe upon young McCarthy.

  He calls attention, and with reason, to the discrepancy about his

  father having signalled to him before seeing him also to his

  refusal to give details of his conversation with his father, and

  his singular account of his father’s dying words. They are all,

  as he remarks, very much against the son.”

  Holmes laughed softly to himself and stretched himself out upon

  the cushioned seat. “Both you and the coroner have been at some

  pains,” said he, “to single out the very strongest points in the

  young man’s favor. Don’t you see that you alternately give him

  credit for having too much imagination and too little? Too

  little, if he could not invent a cause of quarrel which would

  give him the sympathy of the jury; too much, if he evolved from

  his own inner consciousness anything so outre as a dying

  reference to a rat, and the incident of the vanishing cloth. No,

  sir, I shall approach this case from the point of view that what

  this young man says is true, and we shall see whither that

  hypothesis will lead us. And now here is my pocket Petrarch, and

  not another word shall I say of this case until we are on the

  scene of action. We lunch at Swindon, and I see that we shall be

  there in twenty minutes.”

  It was nearly four o’clock when we at last, after passing through

  the beautiful Stroud Valley, and over the broad gleaming Severn,

  found ourselves at the pretty little country-town of Ross. A

  lean, ferret-like man, furtive and sly-looking, was waiting for

  us upon the platform. In spite of the light brown dustcoat and

  leather-leggings which he wore in deference to his rustic

  surroundings, I had no difficulty in recognizing Lestrade, of

  Scotland Yard. With him we drove to the Hereford Arms where a

  room had already been engaged for us.

  “I have ordered a carriage,” said Lestrade as we sat over a cup

  of tea. “I knew your energetic nature, and that you would not be

  happy until you had been on the scene of the crime.”

  “It was very nice and complimentary of you,” Holmes answered. “It

  is entirely a question of barometric pressure.”

  Lestrade looked startled. “I do not quite follow,” he said.

  “How is the glass? Twenty-nine, I see. No wind, and not a cloud

  in the sky. I have a caseful of cigarettes here which need

  smoking, and the sofa is very much superior to the usual country

  hotel abomination. I do not think that it is probable that I

  shall use the carriage to-night.”

  Lestrade laughed indulgently. “You have, no doubt, already formed

  your conclusions from the newspapers,” he said. “The case is as

  plain as a pikestaff, and the more one goes into it the plainer

  it becomes. Still, of course, one can’t refuse a lady, and such a

  very positive one, too. She has heard of you, and would have your

  opinion, though I repeatedly told her that there was nothing

  which you could do which I had not already done. Why, bless my

  soul! here is her carriage at the door.”

  He had hardly spoken before there rushed into the room one of the

  most lovely young women that I have ever seen in my life. Her

  violet eyes shining, her lips parted, a pink flush upon her

  cheeks, all thought of her natural reserve lost in her

  overpowering excitement and concern.

  “Oh, Mr. Sherlock Holmes!” she cried, glancing from one to the

  other of us, and finally, with a woman’s quick intuition,

  fastening upon my companion, “I am so glad that you have come. I

  have driven down to tell you so. I know that James didn’t do it.

  I know it, and I want you to start upon your work knowing it,

  too. Never let yourself doubt upon that point. We have known each

  other since we were little children, and I know his faults as no

  one else does; but he is too tenderhearted to hurt a fly. Such a

  charge is absurd to anyone who really knows him.”

  “I hope we may clear him, Miss Turner,” said Sherlock Holmes.

  “You may rely upon my doing all that I can.”

  “But you have read the evidence. You have formed some conclusion?

  Do you not see some loophole, some flaw? Do you not yourself

  think that he is innocent?”

  “I think that it is very probable.”

  “There, now!” she cried, throwing back her head and looking

  defiantly at Lestrade. “You hear! He gives me hopes.”

  Lestrade shrugged his shoulders. “I am afraid that my colleague

  has been a little quick in forming his conclusions,” he said.

  “But he is right. Oh! I know that he is right. James never did

  it. And about his quarrel with his father, I am sure that the

  reason why he would not speak about it to the coroner was because

  I was concerned in it.”

  “In what way?” asked Holmes.

  “It is no time for me to hide anything. James and his father had

  many disagreements about me. Mr. McCarthy was very anxious that

  there should be a marriage between us. James and I have always

  loved each other as brother and sister; but of course he is young

  and has seen very little of life yet, and–and–well, he

  naturally did not wish to do anything like that yet. So there

  were quarrels, and this, I am sure, was one of them.”

  “And your father?” asked Holmes. “Was he in favor of such a

  union?”

  “No, he was averse to it also. No one but Mr. McCarthy was in

  favor of it.” A quick blush passed over her fresh young face as

  Holmes shot one of his keen, questioning glances at her.

  “Thank you for this information,” said he. “May I see your father

  if I call to-morrow?”

  “I am afraid the doctor won’t allow it.”

  “The doctor?”

  “Yes, have you not heard? Poor father has never been strong for

  years back, but this has broken him down completely. He has taken

  to his bed, and Dr. Willows says that he is a wreck and that his

  nervous system is shattered. Mr. McCarthy was the only man alive

  who had known dad in the old days in Victoria.”

  “Ha! In Victoria! That is important.”

  “Yes, at the mines.”

  “Quite so; at the gold-mines, where, as I understand, Mr. Turner

  made his money.”

  “Yes, certainly.”

  “Thank you, Miss Turner. You have been of material assistance to

  me.”

  “You will tell me if you have any news to-morrow. No doubt you

  will go to the prison to see James. Oh, if you do, Mr. Holmes, do

  tell him that I know him to be innocent.”

  “I will, Miss Turner.”

  “I must go home now, for dad is very ill, and he misses me so if

  I leave him. Good-bye, and God help you in your undertaking.” She

  hurried from the room as impulsively as she had entered, and we

  heard the wheels of her carriage rattle off down the street.

  “I am ashamed of you, Holmes,” said Lestrade with dignity after a

  few minutes’ silence. “Why should you raise up hopes which you

  are bound to disappoint? I am not over-tender of heart, but I

  call it cruel.”

  “I think that I see my way to clearing James McCarthy,” said

  Holmes. “Have you an order to see him in prison?”

  “Yes, but only for you and me.”

  “Then I shall reconsider my resolution about going out. We have

  still time to take a train to Hereford and see him to-night?”

  “Ample.”

  “Then let us do so. Watson, I fear that you will find it very

  slow, but I shall only be away a couple of hours.”

  I walked down to the station with them, and then wandered through

  the streets of the little town, finally returning to the hotel,

  where I lay upon the sofa and tried to interest myself in a

  yellow-backed novel. The puny plot of the story was so thin,

  however, when compared to the deep mystery through which we were

  groping, and I found my attention wander so continually from the

  action to the fact, that I at last flung it across the room and

  gave myself up entirely to a consideration of the events of the

  day. Supposing that this unhappy young man’s story were

  absolutely true, then what hellish thing, what absolutely

  unforeseen and extraordinary calamity could have occurred between

  the time when he parted from his father, and the moment when

  drawn back by his screams, he rushed into the glade? It was

  something terrible and deadly. What could it be? Might not the

  nature of the injuries reveal something to my medical instincts?

  I rang the bell and called for the weekly county paper, which

  contained a verbatim account of the inquest. In the surgeon’s

  deposition it was stated that the posterior third of the left

  parietal bone and the left half of the occipital bone hail been

  shattered by a heavy blow from a blunt weapon. I marked the spot

  upon my own head. Clearly such a blow must have been struck from

  behind. That was to some extent in favor of the accused, as when

  seen quarrelling he was face to face with his father. Still, it

  did not go for very much, for the older man might have turned his

  back before the blow fell. Still, it might be worth while to call

  Holmes’s attention to it. Then there was the peculiar dying

  reference to a rat. What could that mean? It could not be

  delirium. A man dying from a sudden blow does not commonly become

  delirious. No, it was more likely to be an attempt to explain how

  he met his fate. But what could it indicate? I cudgelled my

  brains to find some possible explanation. And then the incident

  of the gray cloth seen by young McCarthy. If that were true the

  murderer must have dropped some part of his dress, presumably his

  overcoat, in his flight, and must have had the hardihood to

  return and to carry it away at the instant when the son was

  kneeling with his back turned not a dozen paces off. What a

  tissue of mysteries and improbabilities the whole thing was! I

  did not wonder at Lestrade’s opinion, and yet I had so much faith

  in Sherlock Holmes’s insight that I could not lose hope as long

  as every fresh fact seemed to strengthen his conviction of young

  McCarthy’s innocence.

  It was late before Sherlock Holmes returned. He came back alone,

  for Lestrade was staying in lodgings in the town.

  “The glass still keeps very high,” he remarked as he sat down.

  “It is of importance that it should not rain before we are able

  to go over the ground. On the other hand, a man should be at his

  very best and keenest for such nice work as that, and I did not

  wish to do it when fagged by a long journey. I have seen young

  McCarthy.”

  “And what did you learn from him?”

  “Nothing.”

“Could he throw no light?”

  “None at all. I was inclined to think at one time that he knew

  who had done it and was screening him or her, but I am convinced

  now that he is as puzzled as everyone else. He is not a very

  quick-witted youth, though comely to look at and, I should think,

  sound at heart.”

  “I cannot admire his taste,” I remarked, “if it is indeed a fact

  that he was averse to a marriage with so charming a young lady as

  this Miss Turner.”

  “Ah, thereby hangs a rather painful tale. This fellow is madly,

  insanely, in love with her, but some two years ago, when he was

  only a lad, and before he really knew her, for she had been away

  five years at a boarding-school, what does the idiot do but get

  into the clutches of a barmaid in Bristol and marry her at a

  registry office? No one knows a word of the matter, but you can

  imagine how maddening it must be to him to be upbraided for not

  doing what he would give his very eyes to do, but what he knows

  to be absolutely impossible. It was sheer frenzy of this sort

  which made him throw his hands up into the air when his father,

  at their last interview, was goading him on to propose to Miss

  Turner. On the other hand, he had no means of supporting himself,

  and his father, who was by all accounts a very hard man, would

  have thrown him over utterly had he known the truth. It was with

  his barmaid wife that he had spent the last three days in

  Bristol, and his father did not know where he was. Mark that

  point. It is of importance. Good has come out of evil, however,

  for the barmaid, finding from the papers that he is in serious

  trouble and likely to be hanged, has thrown him over utterly and

  has written to him to say that she has a husband already in the

  Bermuda Dockyard, so that there is really no tie between them. I

  think that that bit of news has consoled young McCarthy for all

  that he has suffered.”

  “But if he is innocent, who has done it?”

  “Ah! who? I would call your attention very particularly to two

  points. One is that the murdered man had an appointment with

  someone at the pool, and that the someone could not have been his

  son, for his son was away, and he did not know when he would

  return. The second is that the murdered man was heard to cry

  ‘Cooee!’ before he knew that his son had returned. Those are the

  crucial points upon which the case depends. And now let us talk

  about George Meredith, if you please, and we shall leave all

  minor matters until to-morrow.”

  There was no rain, as Holmes had foretold, and the morning broke

  bright and cloudless. At nine o’clock Lestrade called for us with

  the carriage, and we set off for Hatherley Farm and the Boscombe

  Pool.

  “There is serious news this morning,” Lestrade observed. “It is

  said that Mr. Turner, of the Hall, is so ill that his life is

  despaired of.”

  “An elderly man, I presume?” said Holmes.

  “About sixty; but his constitution has been shattered by his life

  abroad, and he has been in failing health for some time. This

  business has had a very bad effect upon him. He was an old friend

  of McCarthy’s, and, I may add, a great benefactor to him, for I

  have learned that he gave him Hatherley Farm rent free.”

  “Indeed! That is interesting,” said Holmes.

  “Oh, yes! In a hundred other ways he has helped him. Everybody

  about here speaks of his kindness to him.”

  “Really! Does it not strike you as a little singular that this

  McCarthy, who appears to have had little of his own, and to have

  been under such obligations to Turner, should still talk of

  marrying his son to Turner’s daughter, who is, presumably,

  heiress to the estate, and that in such a very cocksure manner,

  as if it were merely a case of a proposal and all else would

  follow? It is the more strange, since we know that Turner himself

  was averse to the idea. The daughter told us as much. Do you not

  deduce something from that?”

  “We have got to the deductions and the inferences,” said

  Lestrade, winking at me. “I find it hard enough to tackle facts,

  Holmes, without flying away after theories and fancies.”

  “You are right,” said Holmes demurely; “you do find it very hard

  to tackle the facts.”

  “Anyhow, I have grasped one fact which you seem to find it

  difficult to get hold of,” replied Lestrade with some warmth.

  “And that is–“

  “That McCarthy senior met his death from McCarthy junior and that

  all theories to the contrary are the merest moonshine.”

  “Well, moonshine is a brighter thing than fog,” said Holmes,

  laughing. “But I am very much mistaken if this is not Hatherley

  Farm upon the left.”

  “Yes, that is it.” It was a widespread, comfortable-looking

  building, two-storied, slate-roofed, with great yellow blotches

  of lichen upon the gray walls. The drawn blinds and the smokeless

  chimneys, however, gave it a stricken look, as though the weight

  of this horror still lay heavy upon it. We called at the door,

  when the maid, at Holmes’s request, showed us the boots which her

  master wore at the time of his death, and also a pair of the

  son’s, though not the pair which he had then had. Having measured

  these very carefully from seven or eight different points, Holmes

  desired to be led to the court-yard, from which we all followed

  the winding track which led to Boscombe Pool.

  Sherlock Holmes was transformed when he was hot upon such a scent

  as this. Men who had only known the quiet thinker and logician of

  Baker Street would have failed to recognize him. His face flushed

  and darkened. His brows were drawn into two hard black lines,

  while his eyes shone out from beneath them with a steely glitter.

  His face was bent downward, his shoulders bowed, his lips

  compressed, and the veins stood out like whipcord in his long,

  sinewy neck. His nostrils seemed to dilate with a purely animal

  lust for the chase, and his mind was so absolutely concentrated

  upon the matter before him that a question or remark fell

  unheeded upon his ears, or, at the most, only provoked a quick,

  impatient snarl in reply. Swiftly and silently he made his way

  along the track which ran through the meadows, and so by way of

  the woods to the Boscombe Pool. It was damp, marshy ground, as is

  all that district, and there were marks of many feet, both upon

  the path and amid the short grass which bounded it on either

  side. Sometimes Holmes would hurry on, sometimes stop dead, and

  once he made quite a little detour into the meadow. Lestrade and

  I walked behind him, the detective indifferent and contemptuous,

  while I watched my friend with the interest which sprang from the

  conviction that every one of his actions was directed towards a

  definite end.

  The Boscombe Pool, which is a little reed-girt sheet of water

  some fifty yards across, is situated at the boundary between the

  Hatherley Farm and the private park of the wealthy Mr. Turner.

  Above the woods which lined it upon the farther side we could see

  the red, jutting pinnacles which marked the site of the rich

  landowner’s dwelling. On the Hatherley side of the pool the woods

  grew very thick, and there was a narrow belt of sodden grass

  twenty paces across between the edge of the trees land the reeds

  which lined the lake. Lestrade showed us the exact spot at which

  the body had been found, and, indeed, so moist was the ground,

  that I could plainly see the traces which had been left by the

  fall of the stricken man. To Holmes, as I could see by his eager

  face and peering eyes, very many other things were to be read

  upon the trampled grass. He ran round, like a dog who is picking

  up a scent, and then turned upon my companion.

  “What did you go into the pool for?” he asked.

  “I fished about with a rake. I thought there might be some weapon

  or other trace. But how on earth–“

  “Oh, tut, tut! I have no time! That left foot of yours with its

  inward twist is all over the place. A mole could trace it, and

  there it vanishes among the reeds. Oh, how simple it would all

  have been had I been here before they came like a herd of buffalo

  and wallowed all over it. Here is where the party with the

  lodge-keeper came, and they have covered all tracks for six or

  eight feet round the body. But here are three separate tracks of

  the same feet.” He drew out a lens and lay down upon his

  waterproof to have a better view, talking all the time rather to

  himself than to us. “These are young McCarthy’s feet. Twice he

  was walking, and once he ran swiftly, so that the soles are

  deeply marked and the heels hardly visible. That bears out his

  story. He ran when he saw his father on the ground. Then here are

  the father’s feet as he paced up and down. What is this, then? It

  is the butt-end of the gun as the son stood listening. And this?

  Ha, ha! What have we here? Tiptoes! tiptoes! Square, too, quite

  unusual boots! They come, they go, they come again–of course

  that was for the cloak. Now where did they come from?” He ran up

  and down, sometimes losing, sometimes finding the track until we

  were well within the edge of the wood and under the shadow of a

  great beech, the largest tree in the neighborhood. Holmes traced

  his way to the farther side of this and lay down once more upon

  his face with a little cry of satisfaction. For a long time he

  remained there, turning over the leaves and dried sticks,

  gathering up what seemed to me to be dust into an envelope and

  examining with his lens not only the ground but even the bark of

  the tree as far as he could reach. A jagged stone was lying among

  the moss, and this also he carefully examined and retained. Then

  he followed a pathway through the wood until he came to the

  highroad, where all traces were lost.

  “It has been a case of considerable interest,” he remarked,

  returning to his natural manner. “I fancy that this gray house on

  the right must be the lodge. I think that I will go in and have a

  word with Moran, and perhaps write a little note. Having done

  that, we may drive back to our luncheon. You may walk to the cab,

  and I shall be with you presently.”

  It was about ten minutes before we regained our cab and drove

  back into Ross, Holmes still carrying with him the stone which he

  had picked up in the wood.

  “This may interest you, Lestrade,” he remarked, holding it out.

  “The murder was done with it.”

  “I see no marks.”

  “There are none.”

  “How do you know, then?”

  “The grass was growing under it. It had only lain there a few

  days. There was no sign of a place whence it had been taken. It

  corresponds with the injuries. There is no sign of any other

  weapon.”

  “And the murderer?”

  “Is a tall man, left-handed, limps with the right leg, wears

  thick-soled shooting-boots and a gray cloak, smokes Indian

  cigars, uses a cigar-holder, and carries a blunt pen-knife in his

  pocket. There are several other indications, but these may be

  enough to aid us in our search.”

  Lestrade laughed. “I am afraid that I am still a sceptic,” he

  said. “Theories are all very well, but we have to deal with a

  hard-headed British jury.”

  “Nous verrons,” answered Holmes calmly. “You work your own

  method, and I shall work mine. I shall be busy this afternoon,

  and shall probably return to London by the evening train.”

  “And leave your case unfinished?”

  “No, finished.”

  “But the mystery?”

  “It is solved.”

  “Who was the criminal, then?”

  “The gentleman I describe.”

  “But who is he?”

  “Surely it would not be difficult to find out. This is not such a

  populous neighborhood.”

  Lestrade shrugged his shoulders. “I am a practical man,” he said,

  “and I really cannot undertake to go about the country looking

  for a left-handed gentleman with a game leg. I should become the

  laughing-stock of Scotland Yard.”

  “All right,” said Holmes quietly. “I have given you the chance.

  Here are your lodgings. Good-bye. I shall drop you a line before

  I leave.”

  Having left Lestrade at his rooms, we drove to our hotel, where

  we found lunch upon the table. Holmes was silent and buried in

  thought with a pained expression upon his face, as one who finds

  himself in a perplexing position.

  “Look here, Watson,” he said when the cloth was cleared “just sit

  down in this chair and let me preach to you for a little. I don’t

  know quite what to do, and I should value your advice. Light a

  cigar and let me expound.”

  “Pray do so.”

  “Well, now, in considering this case there are two points about

  young McCarthy’s narrative which struck us both instantly,

  although they impressed me in his favor and you against him. One

  was the fact that his father should, according to his account,

  cry ‘Cooee!’ before seeing him. The other was his singular dying

  reference to a rat. He mumbled several words, you understand, but

  that was all that caught the son’s ear. Now from this double

  point our research must commence, and we will begin it by

  presuming that what the lad says is absolutely true.”

  “What of this ‘Cooee!’ then?”

  “Well, obviously it could not have been meant for the son. The

  son, as far as he knew, was in Bristol. It was mere chance that

  he was within earshot. The ‘Cooee!’ was meant to attract the

  attention of whoever it was that he had the appointment with. But

  ‘Cooee’ is a distinctly Australian cry, and one which is used

  between Australians. There is a strong presumption that the

  person whom McCarthy expected to meet him at Boscombe Pool was

  someone who had been in Australia.”

  “What of the rat, then?”

  Sherlock Holmes took a folded paper from his pocket and flattened

  it out on the table. “This is a map of the Colony of Victoria,”

  he said. “I wired to Bristol for it last night.” He put his hand

  over part of the map. “What do you read?”

  “ARAT,” I read.

  “And now?” He raised his hand.

  “BALLARAT.”

  “Quite so. That was the word the man uttered, and of which his

  son only caught the last two syllables. He was trying to utter

  the name of his murderer. So and so, of Ballarat.”

  “It is wonderful!” I exclaimed.

  “It is obvious. And now, you see, I had narrowed the field down

  considerably. The possession of a gray garment was a third point

  which, granting the son’s statement to be correct, was a

  certainty. We have come now out of mere vagueness to the definite

  conception of an Australian from Ballarat with a gray cloak.”

  “Certainly.”

  “And one who was at home in the district, for the pool can only

  be approached by the farm or by the estate, where strangers could

  hardly wander.”

  “Quite so.”

  “Then comes our expedition of to-day. By an examination of the

  ground I gained the trifling details which I gave to that

  imbecile Lestrade, as to the personality of the criminal.”

  “But how did you gain them?”

  “You know my method. It is founded upon the observation of

  trifles.”

  “His height I know that you might roughly judge from the length

  of his stride. His boots, too, might be told from their traces.”

  “Yes, they were peculiar boots.”

  “But his lameness?”

  “The impression of his right foot was always less distinct than

  his left. He put less weight upon it. Why? Because he limped–he

  was lame.”

  “But his left-handedness.”

  “You were yourself struck by the nature of the injury as recorded

  by the surgeon at the inquest. The blow was struck from

  immediately behind, and yet was upon the left side. Now, how can

  that be unless it were by a left-handed man? He had stood behind

  that tree during the interview between the father and son. He had

  even smoked there. I found the ash of a cigar, which my special

  knowledge of tobacco ashes enables me to pronounce as an Indian

  cigar. I have, as you know, devoted some attention to this, and

  written a little monograph on the ashes of 140 different

  varieties of pipe, cigar, and cigarette tobacco. Having found the

  ash, I then looked round and discovered the stump among the moss

  where he had tossed it. It was an Indian cigar, of the variety

  which are rolled in Rotterdam.”

  “And the cigar-holder?”

  “I could see that the end had not been in his mouth. Therefore he

  used a holder. The tip had been cut off, not bitten off, but the

  cut was not a clean one, so I deduced a blunt pen-knife.”

  “Holmes,” I said, “you have drawn a net round this man from which

  he cannot escape, and you have saved an innocent human life as

  truly as if you had cut the cord which was hanging him. I see the

  direction in which all this points. The culprit is–“

  “Mr. John Turner,” cried the hotel waiter, opening the door of

  our sitting-room, and ushering in a visitor.

  The man who entered was a strange and impressive figure. His

  slow, limping step and bowed shoulders gave the appearance of

  decrepitude, and yet his hard, deep-lined, craggy features, and

  his enormous limbs showed that he was possessed of unusual

  strength of body and of character. His tangled beard, grizzled

  hair, and outstanding, drooping eyebrows combined to give an air

  of dignity and power to his appearance, but his face was of an

  ashen white, while his lips and the corners of his nostrils were

  tinged with a shade of blue. It was clear to me at a glance that

  he was in the grip of some deadly and chronic disease.

  “Pray sit down on the sofa,” said Holmes gently. “You had my

  note?”

  “Yes, the lodge-keeper brought it up. You said that you wished to

  see me here to avoid scandal.”

  “I thought people would talk if I went to the Hall.”

  “And why did you wish to see me?” He looked across at my

  companion with despair in his weary eyes, as though his question

  was already answered.

  “Yes,” said Holmes, answering the look rather than the words. “It

is so. I know all about McCarthy.”

  The old man sank his face in his hands. “God help me!” he cried.

  “But I would not have let the young man come to harm. I give you

  my word that I would have spoken out if it went against him at

  the Assizes.”

  “I am glad to hear you say so,” said Holmes gravely.

  “I would have spoken now had it not been for my dear girl. It

  would break her heart–it will break her heart when she hears

  that I am arrested.”

  “It may not come to that,” said Holmes.

  “What?”

  “I am no official agent. I understand that it was your daughter

  who required my presence here, and I am acting in her interests.

  Young McCarthy must be got off, however.”

  “I am a dying man,” said old Turner. “I have had diabetes for

  years. My doctor says it is a question whether I shall live a

  month. Yet I would rather die under my own roof than in a jail.”

  Holmes rose and sat down at the table with his pen in his hand

  and a bundle of paper before him. “Just tell us the truth,” he

  said. “I shall jot down the facts. You will sign it, and Watson

  here can witness it. Then I could produce your confession at the

  last extremity to save young McCarthy. I promise you that I shall

  not use it unless it is absolutely needed.”

  “It’s as well,” said the old man; “it’s a question whether I

  shall live to the Assizes, so it matters little to me, but I

  should wish to spare Alice the shock. And now I will make the

  thing clear to you; it has been a long time in the acting, but

  will not take me long to tell.

  “You didn’t know this dead man, McCarthy. He was a devil

  incarnate. I tell you that. God keep you out of the clutches of

  such a man as he. His grip has been upon me these twenty years,

  and he has blasted my life. I’ll tell you first how I came to be

  in his power.

  “It was in the early ’60’s at the diggings. I was a young chap

  then, hot-blooded and reckless, ready to turn my hand at

  anything; I got among bad companions, took to drink, had no luck

  with my claim, took to the bush, and in a word became what you

  would call over here a highway robber. There were six of us, and

  we had a wild, free life of it, sticking up a station from time

  to time, or stopping the wagons on the road to the diggings.

  Black Jack of Ballarat was the name I went under, and our party

  is still remembered in the colony as the Ballarat Gang.

  “One day a gold convoy came down from Ballarat to Melbourne, and

  we lay in wait for it and attacked it. There were six troopers

  and six of us, so it was a close thing, but we emptied four of

  their saddles at the first volley. Three of our boys were killed,

  however, before we got the swag. I put my pistol to the head of

  the wagon-driver, who was this very man McCarthy. I wish to the

  Lord that I had shot him then, but I spared him, though I saw his

  wicked little eyes fixed on my face, as though to remember every

  feature. We got away with the gold, became wealthy men, and made

  our way over to England without being suspected. There I parted

  from my old pals and determined to settle down to a quiet and

  respectable life. I bought this estate, which chanced to be in

  the market, and I set myself to do a little good with my money,

  to make up for the way in which I had earned it. I married, too,

  and though my wife died young she left me my dear little Alice.

  Even when she was just a baby her wee hand seemed to lead me down

  the right path as nothing else had ever done. In a word, I turned

  over a new leaf and did my best to make up for the past. All was

  going well when McCarthy laid his grip upon me.

  “I had gone up to town about an investment, and I met him in

  Regent Street with hardly a coat to his back or a boot to his

  foot.

  “‘Here we are, Jack,’ says he, touching me on the arm; ‘we’ll be

  as good as a family to you. There’s two of us, me and my son, and

  you can have the keeping of us. If you don’t–it’s a fine,

  law-abiding country is England, and there’s always a policeman

  within hail.’

  “Well, down they came to the west country, there was no shaking

  them off, and there they have lived rent free on my best land

  ever since. There was no rest for me, no peace, no forgetfulness;

  turn where I would, there was his cunning, grinning face at my

  elbow. It grew worse as Alice grew up, for he soon saw I was more

  afraid of her knowing my past than of the police. Whatever he

  wanted he must have, and whatever it was I gave him without

  question, land, money, houses, until at last he asked a thing

  which I could not give. He asked for Alice.

  “His son, you see, had grown up, and so had my girl, and as I was

  known to be in weak health, it seemed a fine stroke to him that

  his lad should step into the whole property. But there I was

  firm. I would not have his cursed stock mixed with mine; not that

  I had any dislike to the lad, but his blood was in him, and that

  was enough. I stood firm. McCarthy threatened. I braved him to do

  his worst. We were to meet at the pool midway between our houses

  to talk it over.

  “When we went down there I found him talking with his son, so

  smoked a cigar and waited behind a tree until he should be alone.

  But as I listened to his talk all that was black and bitter in

  me seemed to come uppermost. He was urging his son to marry my

  daughter with as little regard for what she might think as if she

  were a slut from off the streets. It drove me mad to think that I

  and all that I held most dear should be in the power of such a

  man as this. Could I not snap the bond? I was already a dying and

  a desperate man. Though clear of mind and fairly strong of limb,

  I knew that my own fate was sealed. But my memory and my girl!

  Both could be saved if I could but silence that foul tongue. I

  did it, Mr. Holmes. I would do it again. Deeply as I have sinned,

  I have led a life of martyrdom to atone for it. But that my girl

  should be entangled in the same meshes which held me was more

  than I could suffer. I struck him down with no more compunction

  than if he had been some foul and venomous beast. His cry brought

  back his son; but I had gained the cover of the wood, though I

  was forced to go back to fetch the cloak which I had dropped in

  my flight. That is the true story, gentlemen, of all that

  occurred.”

  “Well, it is not for me to judge you,” said Holmes as the old man

  signed the statement which had been drawn out. “I pray that we

  may never be exposed to such a temptation.”

  “I pray not, sir. And what do you intend to do?”

  “In view of your health, nothing. You are yourself aware that you

  will soon have to answer for your deed at a higher court than the

  Assizes. I will keep your confession, and if McCarthy is

  condemned I shall be forced to use it. If not, it shall never be

  seen by mortal eye; and your secret, whether you be alive or

  dead, shall be safe with us.”

  “Farewell, then,” said the old man solemnly. “Your own deathbeds,

  when they come, will be the easier for the thought of the peace

  which you have given to mine.” Tottering and shaking in all his

  giant frame, he stumbled slowly from the room.

  “God help us!” said Holmes after a long silence. “Why does fate

  play such tricks with poor, helpless worms? I never hear of such

  a case as this that I do not think of Baxter’s words, and say,

  ‘There, but for the grace of God, goes Sherlock Holmes.'”

  James McCarthy was acquitted at the Assizes on the strength of a

  number of objections which had been drawn out by Holmes and

  submitted to the defending counsel. Old Turner lived for seven

  months after our interview, but he is now dead; and there is

  every prospect that the son and daughter may come to live happily

  together in ignorance of the black cloud which rests upon their

  past.

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