A stone-flagged passage, with the kitchens branching away from it, led by a wooden staircase directly to the first floor of the house. It came out upon the landing opposite to a second more ornamental stair which came up from the front hall. Out of this landing opened the drawing-room and several bedrooms, including those of Mr. Cunningham and his son. Holmes walked slowly, taking keen note of the architecture of the house. I could tell from his expression that he was on a hot scent, and yet I could not in the least imagine in what direction his inferences were leading him.
“My good sir,” said Mr. Cunningharn, with some impatience, “this is surely very unnecessary. That is my room at the end of the stairs, and my son’s is the one beyond it. I leave it to your judgment whether it was possible for the thief to have come up here without disturbing us.”
“You musf try round and get on a fresh scent, I fancy,” said the son with a rather malicious smile.
“Still, I must ask you to humour me a little further. I should like, for example, to see how far the windows of the bedrooms command the front. This, I understand, is your son’s room” — he pushed open the door — “and that, I presume is the dressingroom in which he sat smoking when the alarm was given. Where does the window of that look out to?” He stepped across the bedroom, pushed open the door, and glanced round the other chamber.
“I hope that you are satisfied now?” said Mr. Cunningham tartly.
“Thank you, I think I have seen all that I wished.”
“Then if it is really necessary we can go into my room.”
“If it is not too much trouble.”
The J. P. shrugged his shoulders and led the way into his own chamber, which was a plainly furnished and commonplace room. As we moved across it in the direction of the window, Holmes fell back until he and I were the last of the group. Near the foot of the bed stood a dish of oranges and a carafe of water. As we passed it Holmes, to my unutterable astonishment, leaned over in front of me and deliberately knocked the whole thing over. The glass smashed into a thousand pieces and the fruit rolled about into every corner of the room.
“You’ve done it now, Watson,” said he coolly. “A pretty mess you’ve made of the carpet.”
I stooped in some confusion and began to pick up the fruit, understanding for some reason my companion desired me to take the blame upon myself. The others did the same and set the table on its legs again.
“Hullo!” cried the inspector, “where’s he got to?”
Holmes had disappeared.
“Wait here an instant,” said young Alec Cunningham. “The fellow is off his head, in my opinion. Come with me, father, and see where he has got to!”
They rushed out of the room, leaving the inspector, the colonel, and me staring at each other.
” ‘Pon my word, I am inclined to agree with Master Alec,” said the official. “It may be the effect of this illness, but it seems to me that –“
His words were cut short by a sudden scream of “Help! Help! Murder!” With a thrill I recognized the voice as that of my friend. I rushed madly from the room on to the landing. The cries which had sunk down into a hoarse, inarticulate shouting, came from the room which we had first visited. I dashed in, and on into the dressing-room beyond. The two Cunninghams were bending over the prostrate figure of Sherlock Holmes, the younger clutching his throat with both hands, while the elder seemed to be twisting one of his wrists. In an instant the three of us had torn them away from him, and Holmes staggered to his feet, very pale and evidently greatly exhausted.
“Arrest these men, Inspector,” he gasped.
“On what charge?”
“That of murdering their coachman, William Kirwan.”
The inspector stared about him in bewilderment. “Oh, come now, Mr. Holmes,” said he at last, “I’m sure you don’t really mean to –“
“Tut, man, look at their faces!” cried Holmes curtly.
Never certainly have I seen a plainer confession of guilt upon human countenances. The older man seemed numbed and dazed, with a heavy, sullen expression upon his strongly marked face. The son, on the other hand, had dropped all that jaunty, dashing style which had characterized him, and the ferocity of a dangerous wild beast gleamed in his dark eyes and distorted his handsome features. The inspector said nothing, but, stepping to the door, he blew his whistle. Two of his constables came at the call.
“I have no alternative, Mr. Cunningham,” said he. “I trust that this may all prove to be an absurd mistake, but you can see that Ah, would you? Drop it!” He struck out with his hand, and a revolver which the younger man was in the act of cocking clattered down upon the floor.
“Keep that,” said Holmes, quietly putting his foot upon it; “you will find it useful at the trial. But this is what we really wanted.” He held up a little crumpled piece of paper.
“The remainder of the sheet!” cried the inspector.
“And where was it?”