| It was some time before the health of my friend
Holmes recovered from the strain caused by his immense
tions in the spring of '87. The whole question of
Sumatra Company and of the colossal schemes of Baron
Maupertuis are too recent in the minds of the public,
and are too
intimately concerned with politics and finance to
be fitting sub-
jects for this series of sketches. They led, however,
in an indirect
fashion to a singular and complex problem which gave
an opportunity of demonstrating the value of a fresh
among the many with which he waged his lifelong battle
On referring to my notes I see that it was
upon the fourteenth
of April that l received a telegram from Lyons which
me that Holmes was lying ill in the Hotel Dulong.
twenty-four hours I was in his sick-room and was relieved
that there was nothing formidable in his symptoms.
Even his iron
constitution, however, had broken down under the strain
investigation which had extended over two months,
period he had never worked less than fifteen hours
a day and had
more than once, as he assured me. kept to his task
for five days
at a stretch. Even the triumphant issue of his labours
save him from reaction after so terrible an exertion,
and at a time
when Europe was ringing with his name and when his
literally ankle-deep with congratulatory telegrams
I found him a
prey to the blackest depression. Even the knowledge
that he had
succeeded where the police of three countries had
failed. and that
he had outmanoeuvred at every point the most accomplished
swindler in Europe. was insufficient to rouse him
Three days later we were back in Baker Street
together; but it
was evident that my friend would be much the better
change, and the thought of a week of springtime in
was full of attractions to me also. My old friend,
Hayter, who had come under my professional care in
stan, had now taken a house near Reigate in Surrey
frequently asked me to come down to him upon a visit.
last occasion he had remarked that if my friend would
with me he would be glad to extend his hospitality
to him also.
A little diplomacy was needed, but when Holmes understood
the establishment was a bachelor one, and that he
allowed the fullest freedom, he fell in with my plans
and a week
after our return from Lyons we were under the colonel's
Hayter was a fine old soldier who had seen much of
and he soon found, as I had expected, that Holmes
and he had
much in common.
On the evening of our arrival we were sitting
in the colonel's
gun-room after dinner, Holmes stretched upon the sofa,
Hayter and I looked over his little armory of Eastern
"By the way," said he suddenly, "I think I'll
take one of
these pistols upstairs with me in case we have an
"An alarm!" said I.
"Yes, we've had a scare in this part lately.
Old Acton, who is
one of our county magnates, had his house broken into
Monday. No great damage done, but the fellows are
"No clue?" asked Holmes, cocking his eye at
"None as yet. But the affair is a petty one,
one of our little
country crimes, which must seem too small for your
Mr. Holmes, after this great international affair."
Holmes waved away the compliment, though his
that it had pleased him.
"Was there any feature of interest?"
"I fancy not. The thieves ransacked he library
and got very
little for their pains. The whole place was turned
drawers burst open, and presses ransacked, with the
an odd volume of Pope's Homer, two plated candlesticks,
ivory letter-weight, a small oak barometer, and a
ball of twine
are all that have vanished."
"What an extraordinary assortment!" I exclaimed.
"Oh, the fellows evidently grabbed hold of
Holmes grunted from the sofa.
"The county police ought to make something
of that," said
he; "why, it is surely obvious that --"
But I held up a warning finger.
"You are here for a rest, my dear fellow. For
don't get started on a new problem when your nerves
are all in
Holmes shrugged his shoulders with a glance
of comic resig-
nation towards the colonel, and the talk drifted away
It was destined, however, that all my professional
should be wasted, for next morning the problem obtruded
upon us in such a way that it was impossible to ignore
it, and our
country visit took a turn which neither of us could
pated. We were at breakfast when the colonel's butler
with all his propriety shaken out of him.
"Have you heard the news, sir?" he gasped.
"At the Cun-
"Burglary!" cried the colonel, with his coffee-cup
The colonel whistled. "By Jove!" said he. "Who's
then? The J. P. or his son?"
"Neither, sir. It was William the coachman.
Shot through the
heart, sir, and never spoke again."
"Who shot him, then?"
"The burglar, sir. He was off like a shot and
got clean away.
He'd just broke in at the pantry window when William
him and met his end in saving his master's property."
"It was last night, sir, somewhere about twelve."
"Ah, then, we'll step over afterwards," said
coolly settling down to his breakfast again. "It's
business," he added when the butler had gone; "he's
man about here, is old Cunningham, and a very decent
too. He'll be cut up over this, for the man has been
in his service
for years and was a good servant. It's evidently the
who broke into Acton's."
"And stole that very singular collection,"
"Hum! It may prove the simplest matter in the
world, but all
the same at first glance this is just a little curious,
is it not? A
gang of burglars acting in the country might be expected
the scene of their operations, and not to crack two
cribs in the
same district within a few days. When you spoke last
taking precautions I remember that it passed through
that this was probably the last parish in England
to which the
thief or thieves would be likely to turn their attention
shows that I have still much to learn."
"I fancy it's some local practitioner," said
the colonel. "In
that case, of course, Acton's and Cunningham's are
places he would go for, since they are far the largest
"Well, they ought to be, but they've had a
lawsuit for some
years which has sucked the blood out of both of them,
Old Acton has some claim on half Cunningham's estate,
lawyers have been at it with both hands."
"If it's a local villain there should not be
much difficulty in
running him down," said Holmes with a yawn. "All right,
Watson, I don't intend to meddle."
"Inspector Forrester, sir," said the butler,
throwing open the
The official, a smart, keen-faced young fellow,
the room. "Good-morning, Colonel," said he. "I hope
intrude, but we hear that Mr. Holmes of Baker Street
The colonel waved his hand towards my friend,
"We thought that perhaps you would care to
step across, Mr.
"The fates are against you, Watson," said he,
were chatting about the matter when you came in, Inspector.
Perhaps you can let us have a few details." As he
leaned back in
his chair in the familiar attitude I knew that the
"We had no clue in the Acton affair. But here
we have plenty
to go on, and there's no doubt it is the same party
in each case.
The man was seen."
"Yes, sir. But he was off like a deer after
the shot that killed
poor William Kirwan was fired. Mr. Cunningham saw
the bedroom window, and Mr. Alec Cunningham saw him
the back passage. It was quarter to twelve when the
out. Mr. Cunningham had just got into bed, and Mr.
smoking a pipe in his dressing-gown. They both heard
the coachman, calling for help, and Mr. Alec ran down
what was the matter. The back door was open, and as
he came to
the foot of the stairs he saw two men wrestling together
One of them fired a shot, the other dropped, and the
rushed across the garden and over the hedge. Mr. Cunningham,
looking out of his bedroom, saw the fellow as he gained
road, but lost sight of him at once. Mr. Alec stopped
to see if he
could help the dying man, and so the villain got clean
Beyond the fact that he was a middle-sized man and
some dark stuff, we have no personal clue; but we
energetic inquiries, and if he is a stranger we shall
soon find him
"What was this William doing there? Did he
before he died?"
"Not a word. He lives at the lodge with his
mother, and as he
was a very faithful fellow we imagine that he walked
up to the
house with the intention of seeing that all was right
course this Acton business has put everyone on their
robber must have just burst open the door -- the lock
forced -- when William came upon him."
"Did William say anything to his mother before
"She is very old and deaf, and we can get no
from her. The shock has made her half-witted, but
that she was never very bright. There is one very
circumstance, however. Look at this!"
He took a small piece of torn paper from a
spread it out upon his knee.
"This was found between the finger and thumb
of the dead
man. It appears to be a fragment torn from a larger
will observe that the hour mentioned upon it is the
very time at
which the poor fellow met his fate. You see that his
might have torn the rest of the sheet from him or
he might have
taken this fragment from the murderer. It reads almost
it were an appointment."
Holmes took up the scrap of paper, a facsimile
of which is
AT QUARTER TO TWELVE
"Presuming that it is an appointment," continued
tor, "it is of course a conceivable theory that this
Kirwan, though he had the reputation of being an honest
may have been in league with the thief. He may have
there, may even have helped him to break in the door,
they may have fallen out between themselves."
"This writing is of extraordinary interest,"
said Holmes, who
had been examining it with intense concentration.
much deeper waters than I had thought." He sank his
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 possi-
bility of there being an understanding between the
the servant, and this being a note of appointment
from one to the
other, is an ingenious and not entirely impossible
But this writing opens up --" He sank his head into
again and remained for some minutes in the deepest
When he raised his face again I was surprised to see
cheek was tinged with colour, and his eyes as bright
his illness. He sprang to his feet with all his old
"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
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
"Mr. Holmes is walking up and down in the field
said he. "He wants us all four to go up to the house
"To Mr. Cunningham's?"
The inspector shrugged his shoulders. "I don't
sir. Between ourselves, I think Mr. Holmes has not
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
muttercd the inspector. "But he's all on fire to start,
we had best go out if you are ready."
We found Holmes pacing up and down in the field,
sunk upon his breast, and his hands thrust into his
"The matter grows in interest," said he. "Watson,
country trip has been a distinct success. I have had
"You have been up to the scene of the crime,
said the colonel.
"Yes, the inspector and I have made quite a
"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
unfortunate man. He certainly died from a revolver
"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
son, who were able to point out the exact spot where
murderer had broken through the garden-hedge in his
was of great interest."
"Then we had a look at this poor fellow's mother.
get no information from her, however, as she is very
"And what is the result of your investigations?"
"The conviction that the crime is a very peculiar
our visit now may do something to make it less obscure.
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
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
And what would he do with it? Thrust it into his pocket,
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
"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
wrote it could not have taken it; otherwise, of course,
have delivered his own message by word of mouth. Who
the note, then? Or did it come through the post?"
"I have made inquiries," said the inspector.
ceived a letter by the afternoon post yesterday. The
destroyed by him."
"Excellent!" cried Holmes, clapping the inspector
back. "You've seen the postman. It is a pleasure to
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
lived and walked up an oak-lined avenue to the fine
Anne house, which bears the date of Malplaquet upon
of the door. Holmes and the inspector led us round
it until we
came to the side gate, which is separated by a stretch
from the hedge which lines the road. A constable was
the kitchen door.
"Throw the door open, officer," said Holmes.
"Now, it was
on those stairs that young Mr. Cunningham stood and
two men struggling just where we are. Old Mr. Cunningham
at that window -- the second on the left -- and he
saw the fellow
get away just to the left of that bush. So did the
son. They are
both sure of it on account of the bush. Then Mr. Alec
and knelt beside the wounded man. The ground is very
see, and there are no marks to guide us." As he spoke
came down the garden path, from round the angle of
The one was an elderly man, with a strong, deep-lined,
eyed face; the other a dashing young fellow, whose
smiling expression and showy dress were in strange
the business which had brought us there.
"Still at it, then?" said he to Holmes. "I
thought you Lon-
doners were never at fault. You don't seem to be so
"Ah, you must give us a little time," said
"You'll want it," said young Alec Cunningham.
don't see that we have any clue at all."
"There's only one," answered the inspector.
that if we could only find -- Good heavens. Mr. Holmes!
My poor friend's face had suddenly assumed
the most dreadful
expression. His eyes rolled upward, his features writhed
ony, and with a suppressed groan he dropped on his
the ground. Horrified at the suddenness and severity
attack, we carried him into the kitchen, where he
lay back in a
large chair and breathed heavily for some minutes.
a shamefaced apology for his weakness, he rose once
"Watson would tell you that I have only just
recovered from a
severe illness," he explained. "I am liable to these
"Shall I send you home in my trap?" asked old
"Well, since I am here, there is one point
on which I should
like to feel sure. We can very easily verify it."
"What is it?"
"Well, it seems to me that it is just possible
that the arrival of
this poor fellow William was not before, but after,
of the burglar into the house. You appear to take
it for granted
that although the door was forced the robber never
"I fancy that is quite obvious," said Mr. Cunningham
"Why, my son Alec had not yet gone to bed, and he
certainly have heard anyone moving about."
"Where was he sitting?"
"I was smoking in my dressing-room."
"Which window is that?"
"The last on the left, next my father's."
"Both of your lamps were lit, of course?"
"There are some very singular points here,"
smiling. "Is it not extraordinary that a burglar --
and a burglar
who had some previous experience -- should deliberately
into a house at a time when he could see from the
lights that two
of the family were still afoot?"
"He must have been a cool hand."
"Well, of course, if the case were not an odd
one we should
not have been driven to ask you for an explanation,"
Mr. Alec. "But as to your ideas that the man had robbed
house before William tackled him, I think it a most
notion. Wouldn't we have found the place disarranged
the things which he had taken?"
"It depends on what the things were," said
must remember that we are dealing with a burglar who
is a very
peculiar fellow, and who appears to work on lines
of his own.
Look, for example, at the queer lot of things which
he took from
Acton's -- what was it? -- a ball of string, a letter-weight,
don't know what other odds and ends."
"Well, we are quite in your hands, Mr. Holmes,"
Cunningham. "Anything which you or the inspector may
gest will most certainly be done."
"In the first place," said Holmes, "I should
like you to offer
a reward -- coming from yourself, for the officials
may take a
little time before they would agree upon the sum,
things cannot be done too promptly. I have jotted
down the form
here, if you would not mind signing it. Fifty pounds
enough, I thought."
"I would willingly give five hundred," said
the J. P., taking
the slip of paper and the pencil which Holmes handed
"This is not quite correct, however," he added, glancing
"I wrote it rather hurriedly."
"You see you begin, 'Whereas, at about a quarter
to one on
Tuesday morning an attempt was made,' and so on. It
was at a
quarter to twelve, as a matter of fact."
I was pained at the mistake, for I knew how
would feel any slip of the kind. It was his specialty
accurate as to fact, but his recent illness had shaken
this one little incident was enough to show me that
he was still
far from being himself. He was obviously embarrassed
instant, while the inspector raised his eyebrows,
and Alec Cun-
ningham burst into a laugh. The old gentleman corrected
mistake, however, and handed the paper back to Holmes.
"Get it printed as soon as possible," he said;
"I think your
idea is an excellent one."
Holmes put the slip of paper carefully away
into his pocketbook.
"And now," said he, "it really would be a good
thing that we
should all go over the house together and make certain
rather erratic burglar did not, after all, carry anything
Before entering, Holmes made an examination
of the door
which had been forced. It was evident that a chisel
knife had been thrust in, and the lock forced back
with it. We
could see the marks in the wood where it had been
"You don't use bars, then?" he asked.
"We have never found it necessary."
"You don't keep a dog?"
"Yes, but he is chained on the other side of
"When do the servants go to bed?"
"I understand that William was usually in bed
also at that
"It is singular that on this particular night
he should have been
up. Now, I should be very glad if you would have the
to show us over the house, Mr. Cunningham."
A stone-flagged passage, with the kitchens
from it, led by a wooden staircase directly to the
first floor of the
house. It came out upon the landing opposite to a
ornamental stair which came up from the front hall.
Out of this
landing opened the drawing-room and several bedrooms,
ing 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
were leading him.
"My good sir," said Mr. Cunningharn, with some
tience, "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
command the front. This, I understand, is your son's
room" -- he
pushed open the door -- "and that, I presume is the
room in which he sat smoking when the alarm was given.
does the window of that look out to?" He stepped across
bedroom, pushed open the door, and glanced round the
"I hope that you are satisfied now?" said Mr.
"Thank you, I think I have seen all that I
"Then if it is really necessary we can go into
"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
As we moved across it in the direction of the window,
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
glass smashed into a thousand pieces and the fruit
into every corner of the room.
"You've done it now, Watson," said he coolly.
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
Holmes had disappeared.
"Wait here an instant," said young Alec Cunningham.
fellow is off his head, in my opinion. Come with me,
see where he has got to!"
They rushed out of the room, leaving the inspector,
nel, and me staring at each other.
" 'Pon my word, I am inclined to agree with
said the official. "It may be the effect of this illness,
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
friend. I rushed madly from the room on to the landing.
which had sunk down into a hoarse, inarticulate shouting,
from the room which we had first visited. I dashed
in, and on
into the dressing-room beyond. The two Cunninghams
bending over the prostrate figure of Sherlock Holmes,
er clutching his throat with both hands, while the
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
very pale and evidently greatly exhausted.
"Arrest these men, Inspector," he gasped.
"On what charge?"
"That of murdering their coachman, William
The inspector stared about him in bewilderment.
now, Mr. Holmes," said he at last, "I'm sure you don't
mean to --"
"Tut, man, look at their faces!" cried Holmes
Never certainly have I seen a plainer confession
of guilt upon
human countenances. The older man seemed numbed and
with a heavy, sullen expression upon his strongly
The son, on the other hand, had dropped all that jaunty,
style which had characterized him, and the ferocity
of a danger-
ous wild beast gleamed in his dark eyes and distorted
some features. The inspector said nothing, but, stepping
door, he blew his whistle. Two of his constables came
"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
and a revolver which the younger man was in the act
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?"
"Where I was sure it must be. I'll make the
clear to you presently. I think, Colonel, that you
might return now, and I will be with you again in
an hour at the
furthest. The inspector and I must have a word with
ers, but you will certainly see me back at luncheon
Sherlock Holmes was as good as his word, for
o'clock he rejoined us in the colonel's smoking-room.
accompanied by a little elderly gentleman, who was
to me as the Mr. Acton whose house had been the scene
"I wished Mr. Acton to be present while I demonstrated
small matter to you," said Holmes, "for it is natural
should take a keen interest in the details. I am afraid,
Colonel, that you must regret the hour that you took
in such a
stormy petrel as I am."
"On the contrary," answered the colonel warmly,
it the greatest privilege to have been permitted to
methods of working. I confess that they quite surpass
tations, and that I am utterly unable to account for
your result. I
have not yet seen the vestige of a clue."
"I am afraid that my explanation may disillusion
you, but it
has always been my habit to hide none of my methods,
from my friend Watson or from anyone who might take
intelligent interest in them. But, first, as I am
rather shaken by
the knocking about which I had in the dressing-room.
I think that
I shall help myself to a dash of your brandy, Colonel.
strength has been rather tried of late."
"I trust you had no more of those nervous attacks.''
Sherlock Holmes laughed heartily. "We will
come to that in
its turn," said he. "I will lay an account of the
case before you
in its due order, showing you the various points which
me in my decision. Pray interrupt me if there is any
which is not perfectly clear to you.
"It is of the highest importance in the art
of detection to be
able to recognize, out of a number of facts, which
and which vital. Otherwise your energy and attention
dissipated instead of being concentrated. Now, in
this case there
was not the slightest doubt in my mind from the first
that the key
of the whole matter must be looked for in the scrap
of paper in
the dead man's hand.
"Before going into this, I would draw your
attention to the
fact that, if Alec Cunningham's narrative was correct,
and if the
assailant, after shooting William Kirwan, had instantly
it obviously could not be he who tore the paper from
man's hand. But if it was not he, it must have been
Cunningham himself, for by the time that the old man
descended several servants were upon the scene. The
point is a
simple one, but the inspector had overlooked it because
started with the supposition that these county magnates
nothing to do with the matter. Now, I make a point
having any prejudices, and of following docilely wherever
may lead me, and so, in the very first stage of the
I found myself looking a little askance at the part
which had been
played by Mr. Alec Cunningham.
"And now I made a very careful examination
of the corner of
paper which the inspector had submitted to us. It
was at once
clear to me that it formed part of a very remarkable
Here it is. Do you not now observe something very
"It has a very irregular look," said the colonel.
"My dear sir," cried Holmes, "there cannot
be the least
doubt in the world that it has been written by two
alternate words. When I draw your attention to the
strong t's of
'at' and 'to,' and ask you to compare them with the
weak ones of
'quarter' and 'twelve,' you will instantly recognize
the fact. A
very brief analysis of these four words would enable
you to say
with the utmost confidence that the 'learn' and the
written in the stronger hand, and the 'what' in the
"By Jove, it's as clear as day!" cried the
colonel. "Why on
earth should two men write a letter in such a fashion?"
"Obviously the business was a bad one, and
one of the men
who distrusted the other was determined that, whatever
done, each should have an equal hand in it. Now, of
men, it is clear that the one who wrote the 'at' and
'to' was the
"How do you get at that?"
"We might deduce it from the mere character
of the one hand
as compared with the other. But we have more assured
than that for supposing it. If you examine this scrap
tion you will come to the conclusion that the man
stronger hand wrote all his words first, leaving blanks
other to fill up. These blanks were not always sufficient,
can see that the second man had a squeeze to fit his
between the 'at' and the 'to,' showing that the latter
written. The man who wrote all his words first is
the man who planned the affair."
"Excellent!" cried Mr. Acton.
"But very superficial," said Holmes. "We come
ever, to a point which is of importance. You may not
that the deduction of a man's age from his writing
is one which
has been brought to consideiable accuracy by experts.
cases one can place a man in his true decade with
confidence. I say normal cases, because ill-health
weakness reproduce the signs of old age, even when
is a youth. In this case, looking at the bold, strong
hand of the
one, and the rather broken-backed appearance of the
which still retains its legibility although the t's
have begun to
lose their crossing, we can say that the one was a
young man and
the other was advanced in years without being positively
"Excellent!" cried Mr. Acton again.
"There is a further point, however, which is
subtler and of
greater interest. There is something in common between
hands. They belong to men who are blood-relatives.
It may be
most obvious to you in the Greek e's, but to me there
small points which indicate the same thing. I have
no doubt at all
that a family mannerism can be traced in these two
writing. I am only, of course, giving you the leading
of my examination of the paper. There were twenty-three
deductions which would be of more interest to experts
you. They all tend to deepen the impression upon my
the Cunninghams, father and son, had written this
"Having got so far, my next step was, of course,
into the details of the crime, and to see how far
they would help
us. I went up to the house with the inspector and
saw all that was
to be seen. The wound upon the dead man was, as I
was able to
determine with absolute confidence, fired from a revolver
distance of something over four yards. There was no
blackening on the clothes. Evidently, therefore, Alec
ham had lied when he said that the two men were struggling
when the shot was fired. Again, both father and son
agreed as to
the place where the man escaped into the road. At
however, as it happens, there is a broadish ditch,
moist at the
bottom. As there were no indications of boot-marks
ditch, I was absolutely sure not only that the Cunninghams
again lied but that there had never been any unknown
the scene at all.
"And now I have to consider the motive of this
crime. To get at this, I endeavoured first of all
to solve the
reason of the original burglary at Mr. Acton's. I
from something which the colonel told us, that a lawsuit
been going on between you, Mr. Acton, and the Cunninghams.
Of course, it instantly occurred to me that they had
your library with the intention of getting at some
which might be of importance in the case."
"Precisely so," said Mr. Acton. "There can
be no possible
doubt as to their intentions. I have the clearest
claim upon half of
their present estate, and if they could have found
a single paper --
which, fortunately, was in the strong-box of my solicitors
would undoubtedly have crippled our case."
"There you are," said Holmes, smiling. "It
was a dangerous,
reckless attempt in which I seem to trace the influence
Alec. Having found nothing, they tried to divert suspicion
making it appear to be an ordinary burglary, to which
carried off whatever they could lay their hands upon.
That is all
clear enough, but there was much that was still obscure.
wanted, above all. was to get the missing part of
that note. I was
certain that Alec had torn it out of the dead man's
almost certain that he must have thrust it into the
pocket of his
dressing-gown. Where else could he have put it? The
question was whether it was still there. It was worth
an effort to
find out, and for that object we all went up to the
"The Cunninghams joined us. as you doubtless
outside the kitchen door. It was, of course, of the
importance that they should not be reminded of the
this paper otherwise they would naturally destroy
delay. The inspector was about to tell them the importance
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
"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
merit of ingenuity, to get old Cunningham to write
'twelve,' so that I might compare it with the 'twelve'
"Oh, what an ass I have been!" I exclaimed.
"I could see that you were commiserating me
over my weak-
ness," said Holmes, laughing. "I was sorry to cause
sympathetic pain which I know that you felt. We then
upstairs together, and, having entered the room and
dressing-gown hanging up behind the door, I contrived,
upsetting a table, to engage their attention for the
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
have murdered me then and there but for your prompt
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
about it, you see, and the sudden change from absolute
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
was a perfect demon. ready to blow out his own or
else's brains if he could have got to his revolver.
ham saw that the case against him was so strong he
lost all heart
and made a clean breast of everything. It seems that
secretly followed his two masters on the night when
their raid upon Mr. Acton's and, having thus got them
power, proceeded, under threats of exposure, to levy
upon them. Mr. Alec, however, was a dangerous man
games of that sort with. It was a stroke of positive
genius on his
part to see in the burglary scare which was convulsing
countryside an opportunity of plausibly getting rid
of the man
whom he feared. William was decoyed up and shot. and
they only got the whole of the note and paid a little
attention to detail in their accessories, it is very
suspicion might never have been aroused."
"And the note?" I asked.
Sherlock Holmes placed the subjoined paper
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,"
"Of course, we do not yet know what the relations
been between Alec Cunningham, William Kirwan, and
Morrison. The result shows that the trap was skilfully
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
Watson, I think our quiet rest in the country has
been a distinct
success, and I shall certainly return much invigorated