“The Cunninghams joined us. as you doubtless remember outside the kitchen door. It was, of course, of the very first importance that they should not be reminded of the existence of this paper otherwise they would naturally destroy it without delay. The inspector was about to tell them the importance which we attached to it when, by the luckiest chance in the world, I tumbled down in a sort of fit and so changed the conversation.”
“Good heavens!” cned the colonel, laughing, “do you mean to say all our sympathy was wasted and your fit an imposture?”
“Speaking professionally, it was admirably done,” cried I, looking in amazement at this man who was forever confounding me with some new phase of his astuteness.
“It is an art which is often useful,” said he. “When I recovered I managed, by a device which had perhaps some little merit of ingenuity, to get old Cunningham to write the word ‘twelve,’ so that I might compare it with the ‘twelve’ upon the paper.”
“Oh, what an ass I have been!” I exclaimed.
“I could see that you were commiserating me over my weakness,” said Holmes, laughing. “I was sorry to cause you the sympathetic pain which I know that you felt. We then went upstairs together, and, having entered the room and seen the dressing-gown hanging up behind the door, I contrived, by upsetting a table, to engage their attention for the moment and slipped back to examine the pockets. I had hardly got the paper, however — which was, as I had expected, in one of them — when the two Cunninghams were on me, and would, I verily believe, have murdered me then and there but for your prompt and friendly aid. As it is, I feel that young man’s grip on my throat now, and the father has twisted my wrist round in the effort to get the paper out of my hand. They saw that I must know all about it, you see, and the sudden change from absolute security to complete despair made them perfectly desperate.
“I had a little talk with old Cunningham afterwards as to the motive of the crime. He was tractable enough, though his son was a perfect demon. ready to blow out his own or anybody else’s brains if he could have got to his revolver. When Cunningham saw that the case against him was so strong he lost all heart and made a clean breast of everything. It seems that William had secretly followed his two masters on the night when they made their raid upon Mr. Acton’s and, having thus got them into his power, proceeded, under threats of exposure, to levy blackmail upon them. Mr. Alec, however, was a dangerous man to play games of that sort with. It was a stroke of positive genius on his part to see in the burglary scare which was convulsing the countryside an opportunity of plausibly getting rid of the man whom he feared. William was decoyed up and shot. and had they only got the whole of the note and paid a little more attention to detail in their accessories, it is very possible that suspicion might never have been aroused.”
“And the note?” I asked.
Sherlock Holmes placed the subjoined paper before us.
If you will only come around
to the east gate you will
will very much surprise you and
be of the greatest service to you and also
to Annie Morrison. But say nothing to anyone
upon the matter.
“It is very much the sort of thing that I expected,” said he. “Of course, we do not yet know what the relations may have been between Alec Cunningham, William Kirwan, and Annie Morrison. The result shows that the trap was skilfully baited. I am sure that you cannot fail to be delighted with the traces of heredity shown in the p’s and in the tails of the g’s. The absence of the i-dots in the old man’s writing is also most characteristic. Watson, I think our quiet rest in the country has been a distinct success, and I shall certainly return much invigorated to Baker Street to-morrow.”