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Return of Sherlock Holmes, The

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It was late when my friend returned, and I could see, by a glance at his haggard and anxious face, that the high hopes with which he had started had not been fulfilled. For an hour he droned away upon his violin, endeavouring to soothe his own ruffled spirits. At last he flung down the instrument, and plunged into a detailed account of his misadventures. </p> <p> "It's all going wrong, Watson&mdash;all as wrong as it can go. I kept a bold face before Lestrade, but, upon my soul, I believe that for once the fellow is on the right track and we are on the wrong. All my instincts are one way, and all the facts are the other, and I much fear that British juries have not yet attained that pitch of intelligence when they will give the preference to my theories over Lestrade's facts." </p> <p> "Did you go to Blackheath?" </p> <p> "Yes, Watson, I went there, and I found very quickly that the late lamented Oldacre was a pretty considerable blackguard. The father was away in search of his son. The mother was at home&mdash;a little, fluffy, blue-eyed person, in a tremor of fear and indignation. Of course, she would not admit even the possibility of his guilt. But she would not express either surprise or regret over the fate of Oldacre. On the contrary, she spoke of him with such bitterness that she was unconsciously considerably strengthening the case of the police for, of course, if her son had heard her speak of the man in this fashion, it would predispose him towards hatred and violence. 'He was more like a malignant and cunning ape than a human being,' said she, 'and he always was, ever since he was a young man.' </p> <p> "'You knew him at that time?' said I. </p> <p> "'Yes, I knew him well, in fact, he was an old suitor of mine. Thank heaven that I had the sense to turn away from him and to marry a better, if poorer, man. I was engaged to him, Mr. Holmes, when I heard a shocking story of how he had turned a cat loose in an aviary, and I was so horrified at his brutal cruelty that I would have nothing more to do with him.' She rummaged in a bureau, and presently she produced a photograph of a woman, shamefully defaced and mutilated with a knife. 'That is my own photograph,' she said. 'He sent it to me in that state, with his curse, upon my wedding morning.' </p> <p> "'Well,' said I, 'at least he has forgiven you now, since he has left all his property to your son.' </p> <p> "'Neither my son nor I want anything from Jonas Oldacre, dead or alive!' she cried, with a proper spirit. 'There is a God in heaven, Mr. Holmes, and that same God who has punished that wicked man will show, in His own good time, that my son's hands are guiltless of his blood.' </p> <p> "Well, I tried one or two leads, but could get at nothing which would help our hypothesis, and several points which would make against it. I gave it up at last and off I went to Norwood. </p> <p> "This place, Deep Dene House, is a big modern villa of staring brick, standing back in its own grounds, with a laurel-clumped lawn in front of it. To the right and some distance back from the road was the timber-yard which had been the scene of the fire. Here's a rough plan on a leaf of my notebook. This window on the left is the one which opens into Oldacre's room. You can look into it from the road, you see. That is about the only bit of consolation I have had to-day. Lestrade was not there, but his head constable did the honours. They had just found a great treasure-trove. They had spent the morning raking among the ashes of the burned wood-pile, and besides the charred organic remains they had secured several discoloured metal discs. I examined them with care, and there was no doubt that they were trouser buttons. I even distinguished that one of them was marked with the name of 'Hyams,' who was Oldacres tailor. I then worked the lawn very carefully for signs and traces, but this drought has made everything as hard as iron. Nothing was to be seen save that some body or bundle had been dragged through a low privet hedge which is in a line with the wood-pile. All that, of course, fits in with the official theory. I crawled about the lawn with an August sun on my back, but I got up at the end of an hour no wiser than before. </p> <p> "Well, after this fiasco I went into the bedroom and examined that also. The blood-stains were very slight, mere smears and discolourations, but undoubtedly fresh. The stick had been removed, but there also the marks were slight. There is no doubt about the stick belonging to our client. He admits it. Footmarks of both men could be made out on the carpet, but none of any third person, which again is a trick for the other side. They were piling up their score all the time and we were at a standstill. </p> <p> "Only one little gleam of hope did I get&mdash;and yet it amounted to nothing. I examined the contents of the safe, most of which had been taken out and left on the table. The papers had been made up into sealed envelopes, one or two of which had been opened by the police. They were not, so far as I could judge, of any great value, nor did the bank-book show that Mr. Oldacre was in such very affluent circumstances. But it seemed to me that all the papers were not there. There were allusions to some deeds&mdash;possibly the more valuable&mdash;which I could not find. This, of course, if we could definitely prove it, would turn Lestrade's argument against himself, for who would steal a thing if he knew that he would shortly inherit it? </p> <p> "Finally, having drawn every other cover and picked up no scent, I tried my luck with the housekeeper. Mrs. Lexington is her name&mdash;a little, dark, silent person, with suspicious and sidelong eyes. She could tell us something if she would&mdash;I am convinced of it. But she was as close as wax. Yes, she had let Mr. McFarlane in at half-past nine. She wished her hand had withered before she had done so. She had gone to bed at half-past ten. Her room was at the other end of the house, and she could hear nothing of what had passed. Mr. McFarlane had left his hat, and to the best of her belief his stick, in the hall. She had been awakened by the alarm of fire. Her poor, dear master had certainly been murdered. Had he any enemies? Well, every man had enemies, but Mr. Oldacre kept himself very much to himself, and only met people in the way of business. She had seen the buttons, and was sure that they belonged to the clothes which he had worn last night. The wood-pile was very dry, for it had not rained for a month. It burned like tinder, and by the time she reached the spot, nothing could be seen but flames. She and all the firemen smelled the burned flesh from inside it. She knew nothing of the papers, nor of Mr. Oldacre's private affairs. </p> <p> "So, my dear Watson, there's my report of a failure. And yet&mdash;and yet&mdash;" he clenched his thin hands in a paroxysm of conviction&mdash;"I KNOW it's all wrong. I feel it in my bones. There is something that has not come out, and that housekeeper knows it. There was a sort of sulky defiance in her eyes, which only goes with guilty knowledge. However, there's no good talking any more about it, Watson; but unless some lucky chance comes our way I fear that the Norwood Disappearance Case will not figure in that chronicle of our successes which I foresee that a patient public will sooner or later have to endure." </p> <p> "Surely," said I, "the man's appearance would go far with any jury?" </p> <p> "That is a dangerous argument my dear Watson. You remember that terrible murderer, Bert Stevens, who wanted us to get him off in '87? Was there ever a more mild-mannered, Sunday-school young man?" </p> <p> "It is true." </p> <p> "Unless we succeed in establishing an alternative theory, this man is lost. You can hardly find a flaw in the case which can now be presented against him, and all further investigation has served to strengthen it. By the way, there is one curious little point about those papers which may serve us as the starting-point for an inquiry. On looking over the bank-book I found that the low state of the balance was principally due to large checks which have been made out during the last year to Mr. Cornelius. I confess that I should be interested to know who this Mr. Cornelius may be with whom a retired builder has such very large transactions. Is it possible that he has had a hand in the affair? Cornelius might be a broker, but we have found no scrip to correspond with these large payments. Failing any other indication, my researches must now take the direction of an inquiry at the bank for the gentleman who has cashed these checks. But I fear, my dear fellow, that our case will end ingloriously by Lestrade hanging our client, which will certainly be a triumph for Scotland Yard." </p> <p> I do not know how far Sherlock Holmes took any sleep that night, but when I came down to breakfast I found him pale and harassed, his bright eyes the brighter for the dark shadows round them. The carpet round his chair was littered with cigarette-ends and with the early editions of the morning papers. An open telegram lay upon the table. </p> <p> "What do you think of this, Watson?" he asked, tossing it across. </p> <p> It was from Norwood, and ran as follows: </p> <p> Important fresh evidence to hand. McFarlane's guilt definitely established. Advise you to abandon case. LESTRADE. </p> <p> "This sounds serious," said I. </p> <p> "It is Lestrade's little cock-a-doodle of victory," Holmes answered, with a bitter smile. "And yet it may be premature to abandon the case. After all, important fresh evidence is a two-edged thing, and may possibly cut in a very different direction to that which Lestrade imagines. Take your breakfast, Watson, and we will go out together and see what we can do. I feel as if I shall need your company and your moral support today." </p> <p> My friend had no breakfast himself, for it was one of his peculiarities that in his more intense moments he would permit himself no food, and I have known him presume upon his iron strength until he has fainted from pure inanition. "At present I cannot spare energy and nerve force for digestion," he would say in answer to my medical remonstrances. I was not surprised, therefore, when this morning he left his untouched meal behind him, and started with me for Norwood. A crowd of morbid sightseers were still gathered round Deep Dene House, which was just such a suburban villa as I had pictured. Within the gates Lestrade met us, his face flushed with victory, his manner grossly triumphant. </p> <p> "Well, Mr. Holmes, have you proved us to be wrong yet? Have you found your tramp?" he cried. </p> <p> "I have formed no conclusion whatever," my companion answered. </p> <p> "But we formed ours yesterday, and now it proves to be correct, so you must acknowledge that we have been a little in front of you this time, Mr. Holmes." </p> <p> "You certainly have the air of something unusual having occurred," said Holmes. </p> <p> Lestrade laughed loudly. </p> <p> "You don't like being beaten any more than the rest of us do," said he. "A man can't expect always to have it his own way, can he, Dr. Watson? Step this way, if you please, gentlemen, and I think I can convince you once for all that it was John McFarlane who did this crime." </p> <p> He led us through the passage and out into a dark hall beyond. </p> <p> "This is where young McFarlane must have come out to get his hat after the crime was done," said he. "Now look at this." With dramatic suddenness he struck a match, and by its light exposed a stain of blood upon the whitewashed wall. As he held the match nearer, I saw that it was more than a stain. It was the well-marked print of a thumb. </p> <p> "Look at that with your magnifying glass, Mr. Holmes." </p> <p> "Yes, I am doing so." </p> <p> "You are aware that no two thumb-marks are alike?" </p> <p> "I have heard something of the kind." </p> <p> "Well, then, will you please compare that print with this wax impression of young McFarlane's right thumb, taken by my orders this morning?" </p> <p> As he held the waxen print close to the blood-stain, it did not take a magnifying glass to see that the two were undoubtedly from the same thumb. It was evident to me that our unfortunate client was lost. </p> <p> "That is final," said Lestrade. </p> <p> "Yes, that is final," I involuntarily echoed. </p> <p> "It is final," said Holmes. </p> <p> Something in his tone caught my ear, and I turned to look at him. An extraordinary change had come over his face. It was writhing with inward merriment. His two eyes were shining like stars. It seemed to me that he was making desperate efforts to restrain a convulsive attack of laughter. </p> <p> "Dear me! Dear me!" he said at last. "Well, now, who would have thought it? And how deceptive appearances may be, to be sure! Such a nice young man to look at! It is a lesson to us not to trust our own judgment, is it not, Lestrade?" </p> <p> "Yes, some of us are a little too much inclined to be cock-sure, Mr. Holmes," said Lestrade. The man's insolence was maddening, but we could not resent it. </p> <p> "What a providential thing that this young man should press his right thumb against the wall in taking his hat from the peg! Such a very natural action, too, if you come to think of it." Holmes was outwardly calm, but his whole body gave a wriggle of suppressed excitement as he spoke. </p> <p> "By the way, Lestrade, who made this remarkable discovery?" </p> <p> "It was the housekeeper, Mrs. Lexington, who drew the night constable's attention to it." </p> <p> "Where was the night constable?" </p> <p> "He remained on guard in the bedroom where the crime was committed, so as to see that nothing was touched." </p> <p> "But why didn't the police see this mark yesterday?" </p> <p> "Well, we had no particular reason to make a careful examination of the hall. Besides, it's not in a very prominent place, as you see." </p> <p> "No, no&mdash;of course not. I suppose there is no doubt that the mark was there yesterday?" </p> <p> Lestrade looked at Holmes as if he thought he was going out of his mind. I confess that I was myself surprised both at his hilarious manner and at his rather wild observation. </p> <p> "I don't know whether you think that McFarlane came out of jail in the dead of the night in order to strengthen the evidence against himself," said Lestrade. "I leave it to any expert in the world whether that is not the mark of his thumb." </p> <p> "It is unquestionably the mark of his thumb." </p> <p> "There, that's enough," said Lestrade. "I am a practical man, Mr. Holmes, and when I have got my evidence I come to my conclusions. If you have anything to say, you will find me writing my report in the sitting-room." </p> <p> Holmes had recovered his equanimity, though I still seemed to detect gleams of amusement in his expression. </p> <p> "Dear me, this is a very sad development, Watson, is it not?" said he. "And yet there are singular points about it which hold out some hopes for our client." </p> <p> "I am delighted to hear it," said I, heartily. "I was afraid it was all up with him." </p> <p> "I would hardly go so far as to say that, my dear Watson. The fact is that there is one really serious flaw in this evidence to which our friend attaches so much importance." </p> <p> "Indeed, Holmes! What is it?" </p> <p> "Only this: that I KNOW that that mark was not there when I examined the hall yesterday. And now, Watson, let us have a little stroll round in the sunshine." </p> <p> With a confused brain, but with a heart into which some warmth of hope was returning, I accompanied my friend in a walk round the garden. Holmes took each face of the house in turn, and examined it with great interest. He then led the way inside, and went over the whole building from basement to attic. Most of the rooms were unfurnished, but none the less Holmes inspected them all minutely. Finally, on the top corridor, which ran outside three untenanted bedrooms, he again was seized with a spasm of merriment. </p> <p> "There are really some very unique features about this case, Watson," said he. "I think it is time now that we took our friend Lestrade into our confidence. He has had his little smile at our expense, and perhaps we may do as much by him, if my reading of this problem proves to be correct. Yes, yes, I think I see how we should approach it." </p> <p> The Scotland Yard inspector was still writing in the parlour when Holmes interrupted him. </p> <p> "I understood that you were writing a report of this case," said he. </p> <p> "So I am." </p> <p> "Don't you think it may be a little premature? I can't help thinking that your evidence is not complete." </p> <p> Lestrade knew my friend too well to disregard his words. He laid down his pen and looked curiously at him. </p> <p> "What do you mean, Mr. Holmes?" </p> <p> "Only that there is an important witness whom you have not seen." </p> <p> "Can you produce him?" </p> <p> "I think I can." </p> <p> "Then do so." </p> <p> "I will do my best. How many constables have you?" </p> <p> "There are three within call." </p> <p> "Excellent!" said Holmes. "May I ask if they are all large, able-bodied men with powerful voices?" </p> <p> "I have no doubt they are, though I fail to see what their voices have to do with it." </p> <p> "Perhaps I can help you to see that and one or two other things as well," said Holmes. "Kindly summon your men, and I will try." </p> <p> Five minutes later, three policemen had assembled in the hall. </p> <p> "In the outhouse you will find a considerable quantity of straw," said Holmes. "I will ask you to carry in two bundles of it. I think it will be of the greatest assistance in producing the witness whom I require. Thank you very much. I believe you have some matches in your pocket Watson. Now, Mr. Lestrade, I will ask you all to accompany me to the top landing." </p> <p> As I have said, there was a broad corridor there, which ran outside three empty bedrooms. At one end of the corridor we were all marshalled by Sherlock Holmes, the constables grinning and Lestrade staring at my friend with amazement, expectation, and derision chasing each other across his features. Holmes stood before us with the air of a conjurer who is performing a trick. </p> <p> "Would you kindly send one of your constables for two buckets of water? Put the straw on the floor here, free from the wall on either side. Now I think that we are all ready." </p> <p> Lestrade's face had begun to grow red and angry. "I don't know whether you are playing a game with us, Mr. Sherlock Holmes," said he. "If you know anything, you can surely say it without all this tomfoolery." </p> <p> "I assure you, my good Lestrade, that I have an excellent reason for everything that I do. You may possibly remember that you chaffed me a little, some hours ago, when the sun seemed on your side of the hedge, so you must not grudge me a little pomp and ceremony now. Might I ask you, Watson, to open that window, and then to put a match to the edge of the straw?" </p> <p> I did so, and driven by the draught a coil of gray smoke swirled down the corridor, while the dry straw crackled and flamed. </p> <p> "Now we must see if we can find this witness for you, Lestrade. Might I ask you all to join in the cry of 'Fire!'? Now then; one, two, three&mdash;&mdash;" </p> <p> "Fire!" we all yelled. </p> <p> "Thank you. I will trouble you once again." </p> <p> "Fire!" </p> <p> "Just once more, gentlemen, and all together." </p> <p> "Fire!" The shout must have rung over Norwood. </p> <p> It had hardly died away when an amazing thing happened. A door suddenly flew open out of what appeared to be solid wall at the end of the corridor, and a little, wizened man darted out of it, like a rabbit out of its burrow. </p> <p> "Capital!" said Holmes, calmly. "Watson, a bucket of water over the straw. That will do! Lestrade, allow me to present you with your principal missing witness, Mr. Jonas Oldacre." </p> <p> The detective stared at the newcomer with blank amazement. The latter was blinking in the bright light of the corridor, and peering at us and at the smouldering fire. It was an odious face&mdash;crafty, vicious, malignant, with shifty, light-gray eyes and white lashes. </p> <p> "What's this, then?" said Lestrade, at last. "What have you been doing all this time, eh?" </p> <p> Oldacre gave an uneasy laugh, shrinking back from the furious red face of the angry detective. </p> <p> "I have done no harm." </p> <p> "No harm? You have done your best to get an innocent man hanged. If it wasn't for this gentleman here, I am not sure that you would not have succeeded." </p> <p> The wretched creature began to whimper. </p> <p> "I am sure, sir, it was only my practical joke." </p> <p> "Oh! a joke, was it? You won't find the laugh on your side, I promise you. Take him down, and keep him in the sitting-room until I come. Mr. Holmes," he continued, when they had gone, "I could not speak before the constables, but I don't mind saying, in the presence of Dr. Watson, that this is the brightest thing that you have done yet, though it is a mystery to me how you did it. You have saved an innocent man's life, and you have prevented a very grave scandal, which would have ruined my reputation in the Force." </p> <p> Holmes smiled, and clapped Lestrade upon the shoulder. </p> <p> "Instead of being ruined, my good sir, you will find that your reputation has been enormously enhanced. Just make a few alterations in that report which you were writing, and they will understand how hard it is to throw dust in the eyes of Inspector Lestrade." </p> <p> "And you don't want your name to appear?" </p> <p> "Not at all. The work is its own reward. Perhaps I shall get the credit also at some distant day, when I permit my zealous historian to lay out his foolscap once more&mdash;eh, Watson? Well, now, let us see where this rat has been lurking." </p> <p> A lath-and-plaster partition had been run across the passage six feet from the end, with a door cunningly concealed in it. It was lit within by slits under the eaves. A few articles of furniture and a supply of food and water were within, together with a number of books and papers. </p> <p> "There's the advantage of being a builder," said Holmes, as we came out. "He was able to fix up his own little hiding-place without any confederate&mdash;save, of course, that precious housekeeper of his, whom I should lose no time in adding to your bag, Lestrade." </p> <p> "I'll take your advice. But how did you know of this place, Mr. Holmes?" </p> <p> "I made up my mind that the fellow was in hiding in the house. When I paced one corridor and found it six feet shorter than the corresponding one below, it was pretty clear where he was. I thought he had not the nerve to lie quiet before an alarm of fire. We could, of course, have gone in and taken him, but it amused me to make him reveal himself. Besides, I owed you a little mystification, Lestrade, for your chaff in the morning." </p> <p> "Well, sir, you certainly got equal with me on that. But how in the world did you know that he was in the house at all?" </p> <p> "The thumb-mark, Lestrade. You said it was final; and so it was, in a very different sense. I knew it had not been there the day before. I pay a good deal of attention to matters of detail, as you may have observed, and I had examined the hall, and was sure that the wall was clear. Therefore, it had been put on during the night." </p> <p> "But how?" </p> <p> "Very simply. When those packets were sealed up, Jonas Oldacre got McFarlane to secure one of the seals by putting his thumb upon the soft wax. It would be done so quickly and so naturally, that I daresay the young man himself has no recollection of it. Very likely it just so happened, and Oldacre had himself no notion of the use he would put it to. Brooding over the case in that den of his, it suddenly struck him what absolutely damning evidence he could make against McFarlane by using that thumb-mark. It was the simplest thing in the world for him to take a wax impression from the seal, to moisten it in as much blood as he could get from a pin-prick, and to put the mark upon the wall during the night, either with his own hand or with that of his housekeeper. If you examine among those documents which he took with him into his retreat, I will lay you a wager that you find the seal with the thumb-mark upon it." </p> <p> "Wonderful!" said Lestrade. "Wonderful! It's all as clear as crystal, as you put it. But what is the object of this deep deception, Mr. Holmes?" </p> <p> It was amusing to me to see how the detective's overbearing manner had changed suddenly to that of a child asking questions of its teacher. </p> <p> "Well, I don't think that is very hard to explain. A very deep, malicious, vindictive person is the gentleman who is now waiting us downstairs. You know that he was once refused by McFarlane's mother? You don't! I told you that you should go to Blackheath first and Norwood afterwards. Well, this injury, as he would consider it, has rankled in his wicked, scheming brain, and all his life he has longed for vengeance, but never seen his chance. During the last year or two, things have gone against him&mdash;secret speculation, I think&mdash;and he finds himself in a bad way. He determines to swindle his creditors, and for this purpose he pays large checks to a certain Mr. Cornelius, who is, I imagine, himself under another name. I have not traced these checks yet, but I have no doubt that they were banked under that name at some provincial town where Oldacre from time to time led a double existence. He intended to change his name altogether, draw this money, and vanish, starting life again elsewhere." </p> <p> "Well, that's likely enough." </p> <p> "It would strike him that in disappearing he might throw all pursuit off his track, and at the same time have an ample and crushing revenge upon his old sweetheart, if he could give the impression that he had been murdered by her only child. It was a masterpiece of villainy, and he carried it out like a master. The idea of the will, which would give an obvious motive for the crime, the secret visit unknown to his own parents, the retention of the stick, the blood, and the animal remains and buttons in the wood-pile, all were admirable. It was a net from which it seemed to me, a few hours ago, that there was no possible escape. But he had not that supreme gift of the artist, the knowledge of when to stop. He wished to improve that which was already perfect&mdash;to draw the rope tighter yet round the neck of his unfortunate victim&mdash;and so he ruined all. Let us descend, Lestrade. There are just one or two questions that I would ask him." </p> <p> The malignant creature was seated in his own parlour, with a policeman upon each side of him. </p> <p> "It was a joke, my good sir&mdash;a practical joke, nothing more," he whined incessantly. "I assure you, sir, that I simply concealed myself in order to see the effect of my disappearance, and I am sure that you would not be so unjust as to imagine that I would have allowed any harm to befall poor young Mr. McFarlane." </p> <p> "That's for a jury to decide," said Lestrade. "Anyhow, we shall have you on a charge of conspiracy, if not for attempted murder." </p> <p> "And you'll probably find that your creditors will impound the banking account of Mr. Cornelius," said Holmes. </p> <p> The little man started, and turned his malignant eyes upon my friend. </p> <p> "I have to thank you for a good deal," said he. "Perhaps I'll pay my debt some day." </p> <p> Holmes smiled indulgently. </p> <p> "I fancy that, for some few years, you will find your time very fully occupied," said he. "By the way, what was it you put into the wood-pile besides your old trousers? A dead dog, or rabbits, or what? You won't tell? Dear me, how very unkind of you! Well, well, I daresay that a couple of rabbits would account both for the blood and for the charred ashes. If ever you write an account, Watson, you can make rabbits serve your turn." </p> <p>
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