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22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

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The Adventure of the Reigate Squire

 

1 It was some time before the health of my friend, Mr Sherlock Holmes, recovered from the strain caused by his immense exertions in the spring of '87. 2 The whole question of the Netherland-Sumatra Company and of the colossal schemes of Baron Maupertuis is too recent in the minds of the public, and too intimately concerned with politics and finance, to be a fitting subject for this series of sketches. 3 It led, however, in an indirect fashion to a singular and complex problem, which gave my friend an opportunity of demonstrating the value of a fresh weapon among the many with which he waged his life-long battle against crime.
4 On referring to my notes, I see that it was on the 14th of April that I received a telegram from Lyons, which informed me that Holmes was lying ill in the Hotel Dulong. 5 Within twenty-four hours I was in his sick-room, and was relieved to find that there was nothing formidable in his symptoms. 6 His iron constitution, however, had broken down under the strain of an investigation which had extended over two months, during which 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. 7 The triumphant issue of his labours could not save him from reaction after so terrible an exertion, and at a time when Europe was ringing with his name and when his room was literally ankle-deep with congratulatory telegrams, I found him a prey to the blackest depression. 8 Even the knowledge that he had succeeded where the police of three countries had failed, and that he had out-manoeuvred at every point the most accomplished swindler in Europe, was insufficient to rouse him from his nervous prostration.
9 Three days later we were back in Baker Street together, but it was evident that my friend would be much the better for a change, and the thought of a week of spring-time in the country was full of attractions to me also. 10 My old friend, Colonel Hayter, who had come under my professional care in Afghanistan, had now taken a house near Reigate, in Surrey, and had frequently asked me to come down to him upon a visit. 11 On the last occasion he had remarked that if my friend would only come with me, he would be glad to extend his hospitality to him also. 12 A little diplomacy was needed, but when Holmes understood that the establishment was a bachelor one, and that he would be allowed the fullest freedom, he fell in with my plans, and a week after our return from Lyons we were under the Colonel's roof. 13 Hayter was a fine old soldier, who had seen much of the world, and he soon found, as I had expected, that Holmes and he had plenty in common.
14 On the evening of our arrival we were sitting in the Colonel's gun-room after dinner, Holmes stretched upon the sofa, while Hayter and I looked over his little armoury of fire-arms.
15 'By the way,' said he, suddenly, 'I'll take one of these pistols upstairs with me in case we have an alarm.'
16 'An alarm!' said I.
17 'Yes, we've had a scare in this part lately. 18 Old Acton, who is one of our county magnates, had his house broken into last Monday. 19 No great damage done, but the fellows are still at large.'
20 'No clue?' asked Holmes, cocking his eye at the Colonel.
21 'None as yet. 22 But the affair is a petty one, one of our little country crimes, which must seem too small for your attention, Mr Holmes, after this great international affair.'
23 Holmes waved away the compliment, though his smile showed that it had pleased him.
24 'Was there any feature of interest?'
25 'I fancy not. 26 The thieves ransacked the library, and got very little for their pains. 27 The whole place was turned upside down, drawers burst open and presses ransacked, with the result that an odd volume of Pope "Homer", two plated candlesticks, an ivory letter-weight, a small oak barometer, and a ball of twine are all that have vanished.'
28 'What an extraordinary assortment!' I exclaimed.
29 'Oh, the fellows evidently grabbed hold of anything they could get.'
30 Holmes grunted from the sofa.
31 'The county police ought to make something of that,' said he. 32 'Why, it is surely obvious that-'
33 But I held up a warning finger.
34 'You are here for a rest, my dear fellow. 35 For Heaven's sake, don't get started on a new problem when your nerves are all in shreds.'
36 Holmes shrugged his shoulders with a glance of comic resignation towards the Colonel, and the talk drifted away into less dangerous channels.
37 It was destined, however, that all my professional caution should be wasted, for next morning the problem obtruded itself 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 have anticipated. 38 We were at breakfast when the Colonel's butler rushed in with all his propriety shaken out of him.
39 'Have you heard the news, sir?' he gasped. 40 'At the Cunninghams', sir!'
41 'Burglary?' cried the Colonel, with his coffee cup in mid air.
42 'Murder!'
43 The Colonel whistled. 44 'By Jove!' said he, 'who's killed, then? 45 The J.P., or his son?'
46 'Neither, sir. 47 It was William, the coachman. 48 Shot through the heart, sir, and never spoke again.'
49 'Who shot him, then?'
50 'The burglar, sir. 51 He was off like a shot and got clean away. 52 He'd just broke in at the pantry window when William came on him and met his end in saving his master's property.'
53 'What time?'
54 'It was last night, sir, somewhere about twelve.'
55 'Ah, then, we'll step over presently,' said the Colonel, coolly settling down to his breakfast again. 56 'It's a baddish business,' he added, when the butler had gone. 57 'He's our leading squire about here, is old Cunningham, and a very decent fellow, too. 58 He'll be cut up over this, for the man has been in his service for years, and was a good servant. 59 It's evidently the same villains who broke into Acton's.'
60 'And stole that very singular collection?' said Holmes, thoughtfully.
61 'Precisely.'
62 'Hum! 63 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? 64 A gang of burglars acting in the country might be expected to vary the scene of their operations, and not to crack two cribs in the same district within a few days. 65 When you spoke last night of taking precautions, I remember that it passed through my mind that this was probably the last parish in England to which the thief or thieves would be likely to turn their attention; which shows that I have still much to learn.'
66 'I fancy it's some local practitioner,' said the Colonel. 67 'In that case, of course, Acton's and Cunningham's are just the places he would go for, since they are far the largest about here.'
68 'And richest?'
69 'Well, they ought to be; but they've had a law-suit for some years which has sucked the blood out of both of them, I fancy. 70 Old Acton has some claim on half Cunningham's estate, and the lawyers have been at it with both hands.'
71 'If it's a local villain, there should not be much difficulty in running him down,' said Holmes, with a yawn. 72 'All right, Watson, I don't intend to meddle.'
73 'Inspector Forrester, sir,' said the butler, throwing open the door.
74 The official, a smart, keen-faced young fellow, stepped into the room. 75 'Good morning, Colonel,' said he. 76 'I hope I don't intrude, but we hear that Mr Holmes, of Baker Street, is here.'
77 The Colonel waved his hand towards my friend, and the Inspector bowed.
78 'We thought that perhaps you would care to step across, Mr Holmes.'
79 'The Fates are against you, Watson,' said he, laughing. 80 'We were chatting about the matter when you came in, Inspector. 81 Perhaps you can let us have a few details.' 82 As he leaned back in his chair in the familiar attitude, I knew that the case was hopeless.
83 'We had no clue in the Acton affair. 84 But here we have plenty to go on, and there's no doubt it is the same party in each case. 85 The man was seen.'
86 'Ah!'
87 'Yes, sir. 88 But he was off like a deer after the shot that killed poor William Kirwan was fired. 89 Mr Cunningham saw him from the bedroom window, and Mr Alec Cunningham saw him from the back passage. 90 It was a quarter to twelve when the alarm broke out. 91 Mr Cunningham had just got into bed, and Mister Alec was smoking a pipe in his dressing-gown. 92 They both heard William, the coachman, calling for help, and Mister Alec he ran down to see what was the matter. 93 The back door was open, and as he came to the foot of the stairs he saw two men wrestling together outside. 94 One of them fired a shot, the other dropped, and the murderer rushed across the garden and over the hedge. 95 Mr Cunningham, looking out of his bedroom window, saw the fellow as he gained the road, but lost sight of him at once. 96 Mister Alec stopped to see if he could help the dying man, and so the villain got clean away. 97 Beyond the fact that he was a middle-sized man, and dressed in some dark stuff, we have no personal clue, but we are making energetic inquiries, and if he is a stranger we shall soon find him out.'
98 'What was this William doing there? 99 Did he say anything before he died?'
100 'Not a word. 101 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 there. 102 Of course, this Acton business has put everyone on their guard. 103 The robber must have just bust open the door-the lock has been forced - when William came upon him.'
104 'Did William say anything to his mother before going out?'
105 'She is very old and deaf, and we can get no information from her. 106 The shock has made her half-witted, but I understand that she was never very bright. 107 There is one very important circumstance, however. 108 Look at this!'
109 He took a small piece of torn paper from a note-book and spread it out upon his knee.
110 'This was found between the finger and thumb of the dead man. 111 It appears to be a fragment torn from a larger sheet. 112 You will observe that the hour mentioned upon it is the very time at which the poor fellow met his fate. 113 You see that his murderer might have torn the rest of the sheet from him or he might have taken this fragment from the murderer. 114 It reads almost as though it was an appointment.'
115 Holmes took up the scrap of paper, a facsimile of which is here reproduced.



116 'Presuming that it is an appointment,' continued the Inspector, 'it is, of course, a conceivable theory that this William Kirwan, although he had the reputation of being an honest man, may have been in league with the thief. 117 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.'
118 'This writing is of extraordinary interest,' said Holmes, who had been examining it with intense concentration. 119 'These are much deeper waters than I had thought.' 120 He sank his head upon his hands, while the Inspector smiled at the effect which his case had had upon the famous London specialist.
121 '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 an impossible supposition. 122 But this writing opens up - 123 'He sank his head into his hands again and remained for some minutes in the deepest thought. 124 When he raised his face I was surprised to see that his cheek was tinged with colour, and his eyes as bright as before his illness. 125 He sprang to his feet with all his old energy.
126 'I'll tell you what!' said he. 127 'I should like to have a quiet little glance into the details of this case. 128 There is something in it which fascinates me extremely. 129 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. 130 I will be with you again in half an hour.'
131 An hour and a half had elapsed before the Inspector returned alone.
132 'Mr Holmes is walking up and down in the field outside,' said he. 133 'He wants us all four to go up to the house together.'
134 'To Mr Cunningham's?'
135 'Yes, sir.'
136 'What for?'
137 The Inspector shrugged his shoulders. 138 'I don't quite know, sir. 139 Between ourselves, I think Mr Holmes has not quite got over his illness yet. 140 He's been behaving very queerly, and he is very much excited.'
141 'I don't think you need alarm yourself,' said I. 142 'I have usually found that there was method in his madness.'
143 'Some folk might say there was madness in his method,' muttered the Inspector. 144 'But he's all on fire to start, Colonel, so we had best go out, if you are ready.'
145 We found Holmes pacing up and down in the field, his chin sunk upon his breast, and his hands thrust into his trouser pockets.
146 'The matter grows in interest,' said he. 147 'Watson, your country trip has been a distinct success. 148 I have had a charming morning.'
149 'You have been up to the scene of the crime, I understand?' said the Colonel.
150 'Yes; the Inspector and I have made quite a little reconnaissance together.'
151 'Any success?'
152 'Well, we have seen some very interesting things. 153 I'll tell you what we did as we walk. 154 First of all we saw the body of this unfortunate man. 155 He certainly died from a revolver wound, as reported.'
156 'Had you doubted it, then?'
157 'Oh, it is as well to test everything. 158 Our inspection was not wasted. 159 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. 160 That was of great interest.'
161 'Naturally.'
162 'Then we had a look at this poor fellow's mother. 163 We could get no information from her, however, as she is very old and feeble.'
164 'And what is the result of your investigations?'
165 'The conviction that the crime is a very peculiar one.
166 Perhaps our visit now may do something to make it less obscure. 167 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.'
168 'It should give a clue, Mr Holmes.'
169 'It does give a clue. 170 Whoever wrote that note was the man who brought William Kirwan out of his bed at that hour. 171 But where is the rest of that sheet of paper?'
172 'I examined the ground carefully in the hope of finding it,' said the Inspector.
173 'It was torn out of the dead man's hand. 174 Why was someone so anxious to get possession of it? 175 Because it incriminated him. 176 And what would he do with it? 177 Thrust it into his pocket most likely, never noticing that a corner of it had been left in the grip of the corpse. 178 If we could get the rest of that sheet, it is obvious that we should have gone a long way towards solving the mystery.'
179 'Yes, but how can we get at the criminal's pocket before we catch the criminal?'
180 'Well, well, it was worth thinking over. 181 Then there is another obvious point. 182 The note was sent to William. 183 The man who wrote it could not have taken it, otherwise of course he might have delivered his own message by word of mouth. 184 Who brought the note, then? 185 Or did it come through the post?'
186 'I have made inquiries,' said the Inspector. 187 'William received a letter by the afternoon post yesterday. 188 The envelope was destroyed by him.'
189 'Excellent!' cried Holmes, clapping the Inspector on the back. 190 'You've seen the postman. 191 It is a pleasure to work with you. 192 Well, here is the lodge, and if you will come up, Colonel, I will show you the scene of the crime.'
193 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. 194 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. 195 A constable was standing at the kitchen door.
196 'Throw the door open, officer,' said Holmes. 197 'Now it was on those stairs that young Mr Cunningham stood and saw the two men struggling just where we are. 198 Old Mr Cunningham was at that window - the second on the left - and he saw the fellow get away just to the left of that bush. 199 So did the son. 200 They are both sure of it, on account of the bush. 201 Then Mister Alec ran out and knelt beside the wounded man. 202 The ground is very hard, you see, and there are no marks to guide us.'
203 As he spoke two men came down the garden path, from round the angle of the house. 204 The one was an elderly man, with a strong, deep-lined, heavy-eyed face; the other a dashing young fellow, whose bright, smiling expression and showy dress were in strange contrast with the business which had brought us there.
205 'Still at it, then?' said he to Holmes. 206 'I thought you Londoners were never at fault. 207 You don't seem to be so very quick, after all.'
208 'Ah! you must give us a little time,' said Holmes, good-humouredly.
209 'You'll want it,' said young Alec Cunningham. 210 'Why, I don't see that we have any clue at all.'
211 'There's only one,' answered the Inspector. 212 'We thought that if we could only find - Good heavens! 213 Mr Holmes, what is the matter?'
214 My poor friend's face had suddenly assumed the most dreadful expression. 215 His eyes rolled upwards, his features writhed in agony, and with a suppressed groan he dropped on his face upon the ground. 216 Horrified at the suddenness and severity of the attack, we carried him into the kitchen, where he lay back in a large chair and breathed heavily for some minutes. 217 Finally, with a shame-faced apology for his weakness, he rose once more.
218 'Watson would tell you that I have only just recovered from a severe illness,' he explained. 219 'I am liable to these sudden nervous attacks.'
220 'Shall I send you home in my trap?' asked old Cunningham.
221 'Well, since I am here there is one point on which I should like to feel sure. 222 We can very easily verify it.'
223 'What is it?'
224 'Well, it seems to me that it is just possible that the arrival of this poor fellow William was not before but after the entrance of the burglar into the house. 225 You appear to take it for granted that although the door was forced the robber never got in.'
226 'I fancy that is quite obvious,' said Mr Cunningham, gravely. 227 'Why, my son Alec had not yet gone to bed, and he would certainly have heard anyone moving about.'
228 'Where was he sitting?'
229 'I was sitting smoking in my dressing-room.'
230 'Which window is that?'
231 'The last on the left, next my father's.'
232 'Both your lamps were lit, of course?'
233 'Undoubtedly.'
234 'There are some very singular points here,' said Holmes, smiling. 235 'Is it not extraordinary that a burglar - and a burglar who had had some previous experience - should deliberately break into a house at a time when he could see from the lights that two of the family were still afoot?'
236 'He must have been a cool hand.'
237 'Well, of course, if the case were not an odd one we should not have been driven to ask you for an explanation,' said Mister Alec. 238 'But as to your idea that the man had robbed the house before William tackled him, I think it a most absurd notion. 239 Shouldn't we have found the place disarranged and missed the things which he had taken?'
240 'It depends on what the things were,' said Holmes. 241 'You 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. 242 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, and I don't know what other odds and ends!'
243 'Well, we are quite in your hands, Mr Holmes,' said old Cunningham. 244 'Anything which you or the Inspector may suggest will most certainly be done.'
245 '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, and these things cannot be done too promptly. 246 I have jotted down the form here, if you would not mind signing it. 247 Fifty pounds was quite enough, I thought.'
248 'I would willingly give five hundred,' said the J.P., taking the slip of paper and the pencil which Holmes handed to him. 249 'This is not quite correct, however,' he added, glancing over the document.
250 'I wrote it rather hurriedly.'
251 'You see you begin: 252 "Whereas, at about a quarter to one on Tuesday morning, an attempt was made" — and so on. 253 It was at a quarter to twelve, as a matter of fact.'
254 I was pained at the mistake, for I knew how keenly Holmes would feel any slip of the kind. 255 It was his speciality to be accurate as to fact, but his recent illness had shaken him, and this one little incident was enough to show me that he was still far from being himself. 256 He was obviously embarrassed for an instant, while the Inspector raised his eyebrows and Alec Cunningham burst into a laugh. 257 The old gentleman corrected the mistake, however, and handed the paper back to Holmes.
258 'Get it printed as soon as possible,' he said. 259 'I think your idea is an excellent one.'
260 Holmes put the slip of paper carefully away in his pocketbook.
261 'And now,' said he, 'it would really be a good thing that we should all go over the house together, and make certain that this rather erratic burglar did not, after all, carry anything away with him.'
262 Before entering, Holmes made an examination of the door which had been forced. 263 It was evident that a chisel or strong knife had been thrust in, and the lock forced back with it. 264 We could see the marks in the wood where it had been pushed in.
265 'You don't use bars, then?' he asked.
266 'We have never found it necessary.'
267 'You don't keep a dog?'
268 'Yes; but he is chained on the other side of the house.'
269 'When do the servants go to bed?'
270 'About ten.'
271 'I understand that William was usually in bed also at that hour?'
272 'Yes.'
273 'It is singular that on this particular night he should have been up. 274 Now, I should be very glad if you would have the kindness to show us over the house, Mr Cunningham.'
275 A stone-flagged passage, with the kitchens branching away from it, led by a wooden staircase directly to the first floor of the house. 276 It came out upon the landing opposite to a second more ornamental stair which led up from the front hall. 277 Out of this landing opened the drawing-room and several bedrooms, including those of Mr Cunningham and his son. 278 Holmes walked slowly, taking keen note of the architecture of the house. 279 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.
280 'My good sir,' said Mr Cunningham, with some impatience, 'this is surely very unnecessary. 281 That is my room at the end of the stairs, and my son's is the one beyond it. 282 I leave it to your judgment whether it was possible for the thief to have come up here without disturbing us.'
283 'You must try round and get on a fresh scent, I fancy,' said the son, with a rather malicious smile.
284 'Still, I must ask you to humour me a little further. 285 I should like, for example, to see how far the windows of the bedrooms command the front. 286 This, I understand, is your son's room' - he pushed open the door - 'and that, I presume, is the dressing-room in which he sat smoking when the alarm was given. 287 Where does the window of that look out to?' 288 He stepped across the bedroom, pushed open the door, and glanced round the other chamber.
289 'I hope you are satisfied now?' said Mr Cunningham testily.
290 'Thank you; I think I have seen all that I wished.'
291 'Then, if it is really necessary, we can go into my room.'
292 'If it is not too much trouble.'
293 The J.P. shrugged his shoulders, and led the way into his own chamber, which was a plainly furnished and commonplace room. 294 As we moved across it in the direction of the window, Holmes fell back until he and I were the last of the group. 295 Near the foot of the bed was a small square table, on which stood a dish of oranges and a carafe of water. 296 As we passed it, Holmes, to my unutterable astonishment, leaned over in front of me and deliberately knocked the whole thing over. 297 The glass smashed into a thousand pieces, and the fruit rolled about into every corner of the room.
298 'You've done it now, Watson,' said he, coolly. 299 'A pretty mess you've made of the carpet.'
300 I stooped in some confusion and began to pick up the fruit, understanding that for some reason my companion desired me to take the blame upon myself. 301 The others did the same, and set the table on its legs again.
302 'Hallo!' cried the Inspector, 'where's he got to?'
303 Holmes had disappeared.
304 'Wait here an instant,' said young Alec Cunningham.
305 'The fellow is off his head, in my opinion. 306 Come with me, father, and see where he has got to!'
307 They rushed out of the room, leaving the Inspector, the Colonel, and me, staring at each other.
308 'Pon my word, I am inclined to agree with Mister Alec,' said the official. 309 'It may be the effect of this illness, but it seems to me that-'
310 His words were cut short by a sudden scream of 'Help! 311 Help! 312 Murder!' 313 With a thrill I recognised the voice as that of my friend. 314 I rushed madly from the room on to the landing. 315 The cries, which had sunk down into a hoarse, inarticulate shouting, came from the room which we had first visited. 316 I dashed in, and on into the dressing-room beyond. 317 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. 318 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.
319 'Arrest these men, Inspector!' he gasped.
320 'On what charge?'
321 'That of murdering their coachman, William Kirwan!'
322 The Inspector stared about him in bewilderment. 323 'Oh, come now, Mr Holmes,' said he at last; 'I am sure you don't really mean to-'
324 'Tut, man; look at their faces!' cried Holmes curtly.
325 Never, certainly, have I seen a plainer confession of guilt upon human countenances. 326 The older man seemed numbed and dazed, with a heavy, sullen expression upon his strongly marked face. 327 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. 328 The Inspector said nothing, but, stepping to the door, he blew his whistle. 329 Two of his constables came at the call.
330 'I have no alternative, Mr Cunningham,' said he. 331 'I trust that this may all prove to be an absurd mistake; but you can see that - Ah, would you? 332 Drop it!' 333 He struck out with his hand, and a revolver, which the younger man was in the act of cocking, clattered down upon the floor.
334 'Keep that,' said Holmes, quickly putting his foot upon it. 335 'You will find it useful at the trial. 336 But this is what we really wanted.' 337 He held up a little crumpled piece of paper.
338 'The remainder of the sheet!' cried the Inspector.
339 'Precisely.'
340 'And where was it?'
341 'Where I was sure it must be. 342 I'll make the whole matter clear to you presently. 343 I think, Colonel, that you and Watson might return now, and I will be with you again in an hour at the furthest. 344 The Inspector and I must have a word with the prisoners; but you will certainly see me back at luncheon time.'
345 Sherlock Holmes was as good as his word, for about one o'clock he rejoined us in the Colonel's smoking-room. 346 He was accompanied by a little, elderly gentleman, who was introduced to me as the Mr Acton whose house had been the scene of the original burglary.
347 'I wished Mr Acton to be present while I demonstrated this small matter to you,' said Holmes, 'for it is natural that he should take a keen interest in the details. 348 I am afraid, my dear Colonel, that you must regret the hour that you took in such a stormy petrel as I am.'
349 'On the contrary,' answered the Colonel, warmly, 'I consider it the greatest privilege to have been permitted to study your methods of working. 350 I confess that they quite surpass my expectations, and that I am utterly unable to account for your result. 351 I have not yet seen the vestige of a clue.'
352 'I am afraid that my explanation may disillusionize you, but it has always been my habit to hide none of my methods, either from my friend Watson or from anyone who might take an intelligent interest in them. 353 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. 354 My strength has been rather tried of late.'
355 'I trust you had no more of those nervous attacks.'
356 Sherlock Holmes laughed heartily. 357 'We will come to that in its turn,' said he. 358 'I will lay an account of the case before you in its due order, showing you the various points which guided me in my decision. 359 Pray interrupt me if there is any inference which is not perfectly clear to you.
360 'It is of the highest importance in the art of detection to be able to recognise out of a number of facts which are incidental and which vital. 361 Otherwise your energy and attention must be dissipated instead of being concentrated. 362 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.
363 'Before going into this I would draw your attention to the fact that if Alec Cunningham's narrative were correct, and if the assailant after shooting William Kirwan had instantly fled, then it obviously could not be he who tore the paper from the dead man's hand. 364 But if it was not he, it must have been Alec Cunningham himself, for by the time the old man had descended several servants were upon the scene. 365 The point is a simple one, but the Inspector had overlooked it because he had started with the supposition that these county magnates had had nothing to do with the matter. 366 Now, I make a point of never having any prejudices and of following docilely wherever fact may lead me, and so in the very first stage of the investigation I found myself looking a little askance at the part which had been played by Mr Alec Cunningham.
367 'And now I made a very careful examination of the corner of paper which the Inspector had submitted to us. 368 It was at once clear to me that it formed part of a very remarkable document. 369 Here it is. 370 Do you not now observe something very suggestive about it?'
371 'It has a very irregular look,' said the Colonel.
372 'My dear sir,' cried Holmes, 'there cannot be the least doubt in the world that it has been written by two persons doing alternate words. 373 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 recognise the fact. 374 A very brief analysis of those four words would enable you to say with the utmost confidence that the "learn" and the "maybe" are written in the stronger hand, and the "what" in the weaker.'
375 'By Jove, it's as clear as day!' cried the Colonel. 376 'Why on earth should two men write a letter in such a fashion?'
377 'Obviously the business was a bad one, and one of the men who distrusted the other was determined that, whatever was done, each should have an equal hand in it. 378 Now, of the two men it is clear that the one who wrote the "at" and "to" was the ringleader.'
379 'How do you get at that?'
380 'We might deduce it from the mere character of the one hand as compared with the other. 381 But we have more assured reasons than that for supposing it. 382 If you examine this scrap with attention you will come to the conclusion that the man with the stronger hand wrote all his words first, leaving blanks for the other to fill up. 383 These blanks were not always sufficient, and you can see that the second man had a squeeze to fit his "quarter" in between the "at" and the "to", showing that the latter were already written. 384 The man who wrote all his words first is undoubtedly the man who planned this affair.'
385 'Excellent!' cried Mr Acton.
386 'But very superficial,' said Holmes. 387 'We come now, however, to a point which is of importance. 388 You may not be aware that the deduction of a man's age from his writing is one which has been brought to considerable accuracy by experts. 389 In normal cases one can place a man in his true decade with tolerable confidence. 390 I say normal cases, because ill-health and physical weakness reproduce the signs of old age, even when the invalid is a youth. 391 In this case, looking at the bold, strong hand of the one, and the rather broken-backed appearance of the other, which still retains its legibility, although the t's have begun to lose their crossings, we can say that the one was a young man, and the other was advanced in years without being positively decrepit.'
392 'Excellent!' cried Mr Acton again.
393 'There is a further point, however, which is subtler and of greater interest. 394 There is something in common between these hands. 395 They belong to men who are blood-relatives. 396 It may be most obvious to you in the Greek e's, but to me there are many small points which indicate the same thing. 397 I have no doubt at all that a family mannerism can be traced in these two specimens of writing. 398 I am only, of course, giving you the leading results now of my examination of the paper. 399 There were twenty-three other deductions which would be of more interest to experts than to you. 400 They all tended to deepen the impression upon my mind that the Cunninghams, father and son, had written this letter.
401 'Having got so far, my next step was, of course, to examine into the details of the crime and to see how far they would help us. 402 I went up to the house with the Inspector, and saw all that was to be seen. 403 The wound upon the dead man was, as I was able to determine with absolute confidence, caused by a shot from a revolver fired at the distance of something over four yards. 404 There was no powder-blackening on the clothes. 405 Evidently, therefore, Alec Cunningham had lied when he said that the two men were struggling when the shot was fired. 406 Again, both father and son agreed as to the place where the man escaped into the road. 407 At that point, however, as it happens, there is a broadish ditch, moist at the bottom. 408 As there were no indications of boot-marks about this ditch, I was absolutely sure not only that the Cunninghams had again lied, but that there had never been any unknown man upon the scene at all.
409 'And now I had to consider the motive of this singular crime. 410 To get at this I endeavoured first of all to solve the reason of the original burglary at Mr Acton's. 411 I understood from something which the Colonel told us that a law-suit had been going on between you, Mr Acton, and the Cunninghams. 412 Of course, it instantly occurred to me that they had broken into your library with the intention of getting at some document which might be of importance in the case.'
413 'Precisely so,' said Mr Acton; 'there can be no possible doubt as to their intentions. 414 I have the clearest claim upon half their present estate, and if they could have found a single paper - which, fortunately, was in the strong box of my solicitors - they would undoubtedly have crippled our case.'
415 'There you are!' said Holmes, smiling. 416 'It was a dangerous, reckless attempt, in which I seem to trace the influence of young Alec. 417 Having found nothing, they tried to divert suspicion by making it appear to be an ordinary burglary, to which end they carried off whatever they could lay their hands upon. 418 That is all clear enough, but there was much that was still obscure. 419 What I wanted above all was to get the missing part of that note. 420 I was certain that Alec had torn it out of the dead man's hand, and almost certain that he must have thrust it into the pocket of his dressing-gown. 421 Where else could he have put it? 422 The only question was whether it was still there. 423 It was worth an effort to find out, and for that object we all went up to the house.
424 'The Cunninghams joined us, as you doubtless remember, outside the kitchen door. 425 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. 426 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.'
427 'Good heavens!' cried the Colonel, laughing. 428 'Do you mean to say all our sympathy was wasted and your fit an imposture?'
429 'Speaking professionally, it was admirably done,' cried I, looking in amazement at this man who was for ever confounding me with some new phase of his astuteness.
430 'It is an art which is often useful,' said he. 431 '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.'
432 'Oh, what an ass I have been!' I exclaimed.
433 'I could see that you were commiserating with me over my weakness,' said Holmes, laughing. 434 'I was sorry to cause you the sympathetic pain which I know that you felt. 435 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. 436 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. 437 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. 438 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.
439 'I had a little talk with old Cunningham afterwards as to the motive of the crime. 440 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. 441 When Cunningham saw that the case against him was so strong he lost all heart, and made a clean breast of everything. 442 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. 443 Mister Alec, however, was a dangerous man to play games of that sort with. 444 It was a stroke of positive genius on his part to see in the burglary scare, which was convulsing the country-side, an opportunity of plausibly getting rid of the man whom he feared. 445 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.'
446 'And the note?' I asked.
447 Sherlock Holmes placed the subjoined paper before us:



448 'It is very much the sort of thing that I expected,' said he. 449 'Of course, we do not yet know what the relations may have been between Alec Cunningham, William Kirwan, and Annie Morrison. 450 The result shows that the trap was skilfully baited. 451 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. 452 The absence of the i-dots in the old man's writing is also most characteristic. 453 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.'


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