The Boscombe Valley Mystery
Complete story, ready to print -- free -- by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)
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?"
don't know what to say. I have a fairly long list at
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
"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."
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 reaily
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.
heard anything of the case?" he asked.
"Not a word. I
have not seen a paper for some days."
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
"But it is
profoundly true. Singularity is almost invariably a
clue. 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
"It is a
"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.
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 neighbouring 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 neighbourhood. 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
Hatherley Farmhouse 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
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."
hardly imagine a more damning case," I remarked.
"If ever circumstantial evidence pointed to a criminal it does so
"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 neighbourhood, however, and among them Miss
Turner, the daughter of the neighbouring 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."
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
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."
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
"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."
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
McCarthy, the only son of the deceased,
called and gave evidence as follows: "I had been
home for three days at Bristol, and had only just
upon the morning of last Monday, the 3d. My
absent from home at the time of my arrival, and I
by the maid that he had driven over to Ross
Cobb, the groom. Shortly after my return I heard
of his trap in the yard, and, looking out of my
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
Pool, with the intention of visiting the rabbit
warren which is upon the other side. On my way I saw
Crowder, the game-keeper, as he had stated in his
but he is mistaken in thinking that I was following
my father. I
had no idea that he was in front of me. When
hundred yards from the pool I heard a cry of
which was a usual signal between my father and
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
ensued which led to high words and almost to
my father was a man of a very violent temper.
his passion was becoming ungovernable, I left
returned towards Hatherley Farm. I had not gone
150 yards, however, when I heard a hideous
behind me, which caused me to run back again.
I found my
father expiring upon the ground, with his head
injured. I dropped my gun and held him in my
arms, but he
almost instantly expired. I knelt beside him for
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
being somewhat cold and forbidding in his
he had, as far as I know, no active enemies. I
further of the matter."
Did your father make any statement to you
before he died?
mumbled a few words, but I could only
catch some allusion to a rat.
What did you understand by that?
conveyed no meaning to me. I thought that he
What was the point upon which you and
your father had this final quarrel?
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
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
must still refuse.
The Coroner: I
understand that the cry of "Cooee" was a
common signal between you and your father?
How was it, then, that he uttered it before
he saw you, and before he even knew that you had returned
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?
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 colour, 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
"Yes, it was
say what it was?"
"No, I had a
feeling something was there."
"How far from
"A dozen yards
"And how far
from the edge of the wood?"
"Then if it
was removed it was while you were within a
dozen yards of it?"
"Yes, but with
my back towards it."
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."
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 favour. Don't you see that you alternately
give him credit for having too much imaginition 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
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.
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
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."
laughed indulgently. "Yau 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 hai 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
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."
she cried, throwing back her head and looking
defiantly at Lestrade. "You hear! He gives me hopes."
shrugged his shoulders. "I am afraid that my colleague has been a little quick in
forming his conclusions," he
"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?"
"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."
father?" asked Holmes. "Was he in favour of
such a union?"
"No, he was
averse to it also. No one but Mr. McCarthy was
in favour 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."
"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 nlervous system is shattered. Mr. McCarthy was the only
man alive who had known dad in the old days in Victoria."
Victoria! That is important."
"Yes, at the
"Quite so; at
the gold-mines, where, as I understand, Mr.
Turner made his money."
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
"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
"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?"
"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 favour 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
It was late
before Sherlock Holmes returned. He came back
alone, for Lestrade was staying in lodgings in the town.
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
"And what did
you learn from him?"
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."
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."
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
serious news this morning," Lestrade observed. "It
is said that Mr. Turner, of the Hall, is so ill that his life is
man, I presume?" saild Holmes.
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."
is interesting," said Holmes.
"Oh, yes! In a
hundred other ways he has helped him. Everybody about here speaks of his kindness to
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."
right," said Holmes demurely; "you do find it very
hard to tackle the facts."
have grasped one fact which you seem to find it
difficult to get hold of," replied Lesbiade with some warmth.
"And that is
senior met his death from McCarthy junior
and that all theories to the contrary are the merest moonshine."
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.
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.
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.
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 neighbourhood.
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.
interest you, Lestrade," he remarked, holding it
out. "The murder was done with it."
"I see no
"How do you
"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
"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."
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."
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."
your case unfinished?"
"Who was the
"But who is
would not be difficult to find out. This is not such a
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."
said Holmes quietly. "I have given you the
chance. Here are your lodgings. Good-bye. I shall drop you a
line before I leave."
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.
Watson," he said when the cloth was cleared
"just sit down in this chair and let me preach to you for a little.
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 favour 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
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
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?"
"And now?" He
raised his hand.
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."
wonderful!" I exclaimed.
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
"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."
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
"His height I
know that you might roughly judge from the
length of his stride. His boots, too, might be told from their
were peculiar boots."
impression of his right foot was always less distinct than
his left. He put less weight upon it. Why? Because he limped -- he
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."
"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."
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
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
lodge-keeper brought it up. You said that you
wished to see me here to avoid scandal."
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.
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.
"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."
and sat down at the table with his pen in his hand
and a bundle of paper before him. "lust 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."
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.
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
"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.'
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
"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."
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.' "
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