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THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

by Arthur Conan Doyle


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 lunchebn. 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 hls 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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