“Presuming that it is an appointment,” continued the inspector, “it is of course a conceivable theory that this William Kirwan, though he had the reputation of being an honest man, may have been in league with the thief. He may have met him there, may even have helped him to break in the door, and then they may have fallen out between themselves.”
“This writing is of extraordinary interest,” said Holmes, who had been examining it with intense concentration. “These are much deeper waters than I had thought.” He sank his head upon his hands, while the inspector smiled at the effect which his case had had upon the famous London specialist.
“Your last remark,” said Holmes presently, “as to the possibility of there being an understanding between the burglar and the servant, and this being a note of appointment from one to the other, is an ingenious and not entirely impossible supposition. But this writing opens up –” He sank his head into his hands again and remained for some minutes in the deepest thought. When he raised his face again I was surprised to see that his cheek was tinged with colour, and his eyes as bright as before his illness. He sprang to his feet with all his old energy.
“I’ll tell you what,” said he, “I should like to have a quiet little glance into the details of this case. There is something in it which fascinates me extremely. If you will permit me, Colonel, I will leave my friend Watson and you, and I will step round with the inspector to test the truth of one or two little fancies of mine. I will be with you again in half an hour.”
An hour and a half had elapsed before the inspector returned alone.
“Mr. Holmes is walking up and down in the field outside, said he. “He wants us all four to go up to the house together.”
“To Mr. Cunningham’s?”
The inspector shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t quite know sir. Between ourselves, I think Mr. Holmes has not quite got over his illness yet. He’s been behaving very queerly, and he is very much excited.”
“I don’t think you need alarm yourself,” said I. “I have usually found that there was method in his madness.”
“Some folk might say there was madness in his method,” muttercd the inspector. “But he’s all on fire to start, Colonel, so we had best go out if you are ready.”
We found Holmes pacing up and down in the field, his chin sunk upon his breast, and his hands thrust into his trousers pockets.
“The matter grows in interest,” said he. “Watson, your country trip has been a distinct success. I have had a charming morning.”
“You have been up to the scene of the crime, I understand,” said the colonel.
“Yes, the inspector and I have made quite a little reconnaissance together.”
“Well, we have seen some very interesting things. I’ll tell you what we did as we walk. First of all, we saw the body of this unfortunate man. He certainly died from a revolver wound as reported.”
“Had you doubted it, then?”
“Oh, it is as well to test everything. Our inspection was not wasted. We then had an interview with Mr. Cunningham and his son, who were able to point out the exact spot where the murderer had broken through the garden-hedge in his flight. That was of great interest.”
“Then we had a look at this poor fellow’s mother. We could get no information from her, however, as she is very old and feeble.”
“And what is the result of your investigations?”
“The conviction that the crime is a very peculiar one. Perhaps our visit now may do something to make it less obscure. I think that we are both agreed, Inspector, that the fragment of paper in the dead man’s hand, bearing, as it does, the very hour of his death written upon it, is of extreme importance.”
“It should give a clue, Mr. Holmes.”
“It does give a clue. Whoever wrote that note was the man who brought William Kirwan out of his bed at that hour. But where is the rest of that sheet of paper?”
“I examined the ground carefully in the hope of finding it.” said the inspector.
“It was torn out of the dead man’s hand. Why was someone so anxious to get possession of it? Because it incriminated him. And what would he do with it? Thrust it into his pocket, most likely, never noticing that a corner of it had been left in the grip of the corpse. If we could get the rest of that sheet it is obvious that we should have gone a long way towards solving the mystery.”
“Yes, but how can we get at the criminal’s pocket before we catch the criminal?”
“Well, well, it was worth thinking over. Then there is another obvious point. The note was sent to William. The man who wrote it could not have taken it; otherwise, of course, he might have delivered his own message by word of mouth. Who brought the note, then? Or did it come through the post?”
“I have made inquiries,” said the inspector. “William received a letter by the afternoon post yesterday. The envelope was destroyed by him.”
“Excellent!” cried Holmes, clapping the inspector on the back. “You’ve seen the postman. It is a pleasure to work with you. Well, here is the lodge, and if you will come up, Colonel, I will show you the scene of the crime.”
We passed the pretty cottage where the murdered man had lived and walked up an oak-lined avenue to the fine old Queen Anne house, which bears the date of Malplaquet upon the lintel of the door. Holmes and the inspector led us round it until we came to the side gate, which is separated by a stretch of garden from the hedge which lines the road. A constable was standing at the kitchen door.