of the Tall Man
Arthur Conan Doyle
fragment found by Hesketh Pearson c1940.
Pastiche (still under copyright) written by Robert Cutter in 1947.
| A girl calls on Sherlock
Holmes in great distress. A murder has been committed in her village
- her uncle has been found shot in his bedroom, apparently through the
open window. Her lover has been arrested. He is suspected on
(1) He has had a violent quarrel with the old man, who has threatened to alter his will, which is in the girl's favour, if she ever speaks to her lover again.
(2) A revolver has been found in his house, with his initials scratched on the butt and one chamber discharged. The bullet found in the dead man's body fits this revolver.
(3) He possesses a light ladder, the only one in the village, and there are marks of the foot of such a ladder on the soil below the bedroom window, while similar soil (fresh) has been found on the feet of the ladder.
His only reply is that he never possessed a revolver, and that it has been discovered in a drawer of the hatstand in his hall, where it would be easy for anyone to place it. As for the mould on the ladder (which he has not used for a month) he has no explanation whatever.
Notwithstanding these damning proofs, however, the girl persists in believing her lover to be perfectly innocent, while she suspects another man, who has also been making love to her, though she has no evidence whatever against him, except that she feels by instinct that he is a villain who would stick at nothing.
Sherlock and Watson go down to the village and inspect the spot, together with the detective in charge of the case. The marks of the ladder attract Holmes's special attention. He ponders - looks about him - inquires if there is any place where anything bulky could be concealed. There is - a disused well, which has not been searched because apparently nothing is missing. Sherlock, however, insists on the well being explored. A village boy consents to be lowered into it, with a candle. Before he goes down Holmes whispers something in his ear - he appears surpised. The boy is lowered and, on his signal, pulled up again. He brings to the surface a pair of stilts!
"Good Lord!" cries the detective, "who on earth could have expected this?" - "I did," replies Holmes. - "But, why?" - "Because the marks on the garden soil were made by two perpendicular poles - the feet of a ladder, which is on the slope, would have made depressions slanting towards the wall."
(N.B. The soil was a strip beside a gravel path on which the stilts left no impression.)
This discovery lessened the weight of the evidence of the ladder, though the other evidence remained.
The next step was to trace the user of the stilts, if possible. But he had been to wary, and after two days nothing had been discovered. At the inquest the young man was found guilty of murder. But, Holmes is convinced of his innocence. In these circumstances, and as a last hope, he resolves on a sensational stratagem.
He goes up to London, and, returning on the evening of the day when the old man is buried, he and Watson and the detective go to the cottage of the man whom the girl suspects, taking with them a man whom Holmes has brought from London, who has a disguise which makes him the living image of the murdered man, wizened body, grey shriveled face, skullcap and all. They have also with them the pair of stilts. On reaching the cottage, the disguised man mounts the stilts and stalks up the path towards the man's open bedroom window, at the same time crying out his name in a ghastly sepulchral voice. The man, who is already half mad with guilty terrors, rushes to the window and beholds in the moonlight the terrific spectacle of his victim stalking towards him. He reels back with a scream as the apparition, advancing to the window, calls in the same unearthly voice - "as you came for me, I have come for you!" When the party rush upstairs into his room he darts to them, clinging to them, gasping, and, pointing to the window, where the dead man's face is glaring in, shrieks out, "Save me! My God! He has come for me as I came for him."
Collapsing after this dramatic scene, he makes a full confession. He has marked the revolver, and concealed it where it was found - he has also smeared the ladder-foot with soil from the old man's garden. His object was to put his rival out of the way, in the hope of gaining possession of the girl and her money.