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THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

by Arthur Conan Doyle


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."


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