We were seated at breakfast one morning,
my wife and I, when the maid brought in a telegram.
It was from Sherlock Holmes and ran in this way:
“Have you a couple of days to
spare? Have just been wired for from the west
of England in connection with Boscombe Valley tragedy.
Shall be glad if you will come with me. Air and
scenery perfect. Leave Paddington by the 11:15.”
“What do you say, dear?”
said my wife, looking across at me. “Will
“I really don’t know what
to say. I have a fairly long list at present.”
“Oh, Anstruther would do your
work for you. You have been looking a little
pale lately. I think that the change would do
you good, and you are always so interested in Mr.
Sherlock Holmes’ cases.”
“I should be ungrateful if I
were not, seeing what I gained through one of them,”
I answered. “But if I am to go, I must pack
at once, for I have only half an hour.”
My experience of camp life in Afghanistan
had at least had the effect of making me a prompt
and ready traveller. My wants were few and simple,
so that in less than the time stated I was in a cab
with my valise, rattling away to Paddington Station.
Sherlock Holmes was pacing up and down the platform,
his tall, gaunt figure made even gaunter and taller
by his long grey travelling-cloak and close-fitting
“It is really very good of you
to come, Watson,” said he. “It makes
a considerable difference to me, having someone with
me on whom I can thoroughly rely. Local aid is
always either worthless or else biassed. If you
will keep the two corner seats I shall get the tickets.”
We had the carriage to ourselves save
for an immense litter of papers which Holmes had brought
with him. Among these he rummaged and read, with
intervals of note-taking and of meditation, until
we were past Reading. Then he suddenly rolled
them all into a gigantic ball and tossed them up onto
“Have you heard anything of the case?”
“Not a word. I have not seen a paper for
“The London press has not had
very full accounts. I have just been looking
through all the recent papers in order to master the
particulars. It seems, from what I gather, to
be one of those simple cases which are so extremely
“That sounds a little paradoxical.”
“But it is profoundly true.
Singularity is almost invariably a clue. The
more featureless and commonplace a crime is, the more
difficult it is to bring it home. In this case,
however, they have established a very serious case
against the son of the murdered man.”
“It is a murder, then?”
“Well, it is conjectured to
be so. I shall take nothing for granted until
I have the opportunity of looking personally into
it. I will explain the state of things to you,
as far as I have been able to understand it, in a
very few words.
“Boscombe Valley is a country
district not very far from Ross, in Herefordshire.
The largest landed proprietor in that part is a Mr.
John Turner, who made his money in Australia and returned
some years ago to the old country. One of the
farms which he held, that of Hatherley, was let to
Mr. Charles McCarthy, who was also an ex-Australian.
The men had known each other in the colonies, so that
it was not unnatural that when they came to settle
down they should do so as near each other as possible.
Turner was apparently the richer man, so McCarthy became
his tenant but still remained, it seems, upon terms
of perfect equality, as they were frequently together.
McCarthy had one son, a lad of eighteen, and Turner
had an only daughter of the same age, but neither
of them had wives living. They appear to have
avoided the society of the neighbouring English families
and to have led retired lives, though both the McCarthys
were fond of sport and were frequently seen at the
race-meetings of the neighbourhood. McCarthy
kept two servants a man and a girl.
Turner had a considerable household, some half-dozen
at the least. That is as much as I have been
able to gather about the families. Now for the
“On June 3rd, that is, on Monday
last, McCarthy left his house at Hatherley about three
in the afternoon and walked down to the Boscombe Pool,
which is a small lake formed by the spreading out
of the stream which runs down the Boscombe Valley.
He had been out with his serving-man in the morning
at Ross, and he had told the man that he must hurry,
as he had an appointment of importance to keep at
three. From that appointment he never came back
“From Hatherley Farm-house to
the Boscombe Pool is a quarter of a mile, and two
people saw him as he passed over this ground.
One was an old woman, whose name is not mentioned,
and the other was William Crowder, a game-keeper in
the employ of Mr. Turner. Both these witnesses
depose that Mr. McCarthy was walking alone. The
game-keeper adds that within a few minutes of his seeing
Mr. McCarthy pass he had seen his son, Mr. James McCarthy,
going the same way with a gun under his arm.
To the best of his belief, the father was actually
in sight at the time, and the son was following him.
He thought no more of the matter until he heard in
the evening of the tragedy that had occurred.
“The two McCarthys were seen
after the time when William Crowder, the game-keeper,
lost sight of them. The Boscombe Pool is thickly
wooded round, with just a fringe of grass and of reeds
round the edge. A girl of fourteen, Patience
Moran, who is the daughter of the lodge-keeper of
the Boscombe Valley estate, was in one of the woods
picking flowers. She states that while she was
there she saw, at the border of the wood and close
by the lake, Mr. McCarthy and his son, and that they
appeared to be having a violent quarrel. She
heard Mr. McCarthy the elder using very strong language
to his son, and she saw the latter raise up his hand
as if to strike his father. She was so frightened
by their violence that she ran away and told her mother
when she reached home that she had left the two McCarthys
quarrelling near Boscombe Pool, and that she was afraid
that they were going to fight. She had hardly
said the words when young Mr. McCarthy came running
up to the lodge to say that he had found his father
dead in the wood, and to ask for the help of the lodge-keeper.
He was much excited, without either his gun or his
hat, and his right hand and sleeve were observed to
be stained with fresh blood. On following him
they found the dead body stretched out upon the grass
beside the pool. The head had been beaten in by
repeated blows of some heavy and blunt weapon.
The injuries were such as might very well have been
inflicted by the butt-end of his son’s gun,
which was found lying on the grass within a few paces
of the body. Under these circumstances the young
man was instantly arrested, and a verdict of ‘wilful
murder’ having been returned at the inquest
on Tuesday, he was on Wednesday brought before the
magistrates at Ross, who have referred the case to
the next Assizes. Those are the main facts of
the case as they came out before the coroner and the
“I could hardly imagine a more
damning case,” I remarked. “If ever
circumstantial evidence pointed to a criminal it does
“Circumstantial evidence is
a very tricky thing,” answered Holmes thoughtfully.
“It may seem to point very straight to one thing,
but if you shift your own point of view a little, you
may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising
manner to something entirely different. It must
be confessed, however, that the case looks exceedingly
grave against the young man, and it is very possible
that he is indeed the culprit. There are several
people in the neighbourhood, however, and among them
Miss Turner, the daughter of the neighbouring landowner,
who believe in his innocence, and who have retained
Lestrade, whom you may recollect in connection with
the Study in Scarlet, to work out the case in his
interest. Lestrade, being rather puzzled, has
referred the case to me, and hence it is that two
middle-aged gentlemen are flying westward at fifty
miles an hour instead of quietly digesting their breakfasts
“I am afraid,” said I,
“that the facts are so obvious that you will
find little credit to be gained out of this case.”
“There is nothing more deceptive
than an obvious fact,” he answered, laughing.
“Besides, we may chance to hit upon some other
obvious facts which may have been by no means obvious
to Mr. Lestrade. You know me too well to think
that I am boasting when I say that I shall either
confirm or destroy his theory by means which he is
quite incapable of employing, or even of understanding.
To take the first example to hand, I very clearly
perceive that in your bedroom the window is upon the
right-hand side, and yet I question whether Mr. Lestrade
would have noted even so self-evident a thing as that.”
“How on earth ”
“My dear fellow, I know you
well. I know the military neatness which characterises
you. You shave every morning, and in this season
you shave by the sunlight; but since your shaving is
less and less complete as we get farther back on the
left side, until it becomes positively slovenly as
we get round the angle of the jaw, it is surely very
clear that that side is less illuminated than the
other. I could not imagine a man of your habits
looking at himself in an equal light and being satisfied
with such a result. I only quote this as a trivial
example of observation and inference. Therein
lies my mÃ©tier, and it is just possible that it may
be of some service in the investigation which lies
before us. There are one or two minor points
which were brought out in the inquest, and which are
“What are they?”
“It appears that his arrest
did not take place at once, but after the return to
Hatherley Farm. On the inspector of constabulary
informing him that he was a prisoner, he remarked that
he was not surprised to hear it, and that it was no
more than his deserts. This observation of his
had the natural effect of removing any traces of doubt
which might have remained in the minds of the coroner’s
“It was a confession,” I ejaculated.
“No, for it was followed by a protestation of
“Coming on the top of such a
damning series of events, it was at least a most suspicious
“On the contrary,” said
Holmes, “it is the brightest rift which I can
at present see in the clouds. However innocent
he might be, he could not be such an absolute imbecile
as not to see that the circumstances were very black
against him. Had he appeared surprised at his
own arrest, or feigned indignation at it, I should
have looked upon it as highly suspicious, because such
surprise or anger would not be natural under the circumstances,
and yet might appear to be the best policy to a scheming
man. His frank acceptance of the situation marks
him as either an innocent man, or else as a man of
considerable self-restraint and firmness. As
to his remark about his deserts, it was also not unnatural
if you consider that he stood beside the dead body
of his father, and that there is no doubt that he
had that very day so far forgotten his filial duty
as to bandy words with him, and even, according to
the little girl whose evidence is so important, to
raise his hand as if to strike him. The self-reproach
and contrition which are displayed in his remark appear
to me to be the signs of a healthy mind rather than
of a guilty one.”
I shook my head. “Many
men have been hanged on far slighter evidence,”
“So they have. And many
men have been wrongfully hanged.”
“What is the young man’s own account of
“It is, I am afraid, not very
encouraging to his supporters, though there are one
or two points in it which are suggestive. You
will find it here, and may read it for yourself.”
He picked out from his bundle a copy
of the local Herefordshire paper, and having turned
down the sheet he pointed out the paragraph in which
the unfortunate young man had given his own statement
of what had occurred. I settled myself down in
the corner of the carriage and read it very carefully.
It ran in this way:
“Mr. James McCarthy, the only
son of the deceased, was then called and gave evidence
as follows: ’I had been away from home for
three days at Bristol, and had only just returned upon
the morning of last Monday, the 3rd. My father
was absent from home at the time of my arrival, and
I was informed by the maid that he had driven over
to Ross with John Cobb, the groom. Shortly after
my return I heard the wheels of his trap in the yard,
and, looking out of my window, I saw him get out and
walk rapidly out of the yard, though I was not aware
in which direction he was going. I then took
my gun and strolled out in the direction of the Boscombe
Pool, with the intention of visiting the rabbit warren
which is upon the other side. On my way I saw
William Crowder, the game-keeper, as he had stated
in his evidence; but he is mistaken in thinking that
I was following my father. I had no idea that
he was in front of me. When about a hundred yards
from the pool I heard a cry of “Cooee!”
which was a usual signal between my father and myself.
I then hurried forward, and found him standing by
the pool. He appeared to be much surprised at
seeing me and asked me rather roughly what I was doing
there. A conversation ensued which led to high
words and almost to blows, for my father was a man
of a very violent temper. Seeing that his passion
was becoming ungovernable, I left him and returned
towards Hatherley Farm. I had not gone more than
150 yards, however, when I heard a hideous outcry
behind me, which caused me to run back again.
I found my father expiring upon the ground, with his
head terribly injured. I dropped my gun and held
him in my arms, but he almost instantly expired.
I knelt beside him for some minutes, and then made
my way to Mr. Turner’s lodge-keeper, his house
being the nearest, to ask for assistance. I saw
no one near my father when I returned, and I have
no idea how he came by his injuries. He was not
a popular man, being somewhat cold and forbidding
in his manners, but he had, as far as I know, no active
enemies. I know nothing further of the matter.’
“The Coroner: Did your
father make any statement to you before he died?
“Witness: He mumbled a
few words, but I could only catch some allusion to
“The Coroner: What did you understand by
“Witness: It conveyed no
meaning to me. I thought that he was delirious.
“The Coroner: What was
the point upon which you and your father had this
“Witness: I should prefer not to answer.
“The Coroner: I am afraid that I must press
“Witness: It is really
impossible for me to tell you. I can assure you
that it has nothing to do with the sad tragedy which
“The Coroner: That is for
the court to decide. I need not point out to
you that your refusal to answer will prejudice your
case considerably in any future proceedings which
“Witness: I must still refuse.
“The Coroner: I understand
that the cry of ‘Cooee’ was a common signal
between you and your father?
“Witness: It was.
“The Coroner: How was it,
then, that he uttered it before he saw you, and before
he even knew that you had returned from Bristol?
“Witness (with considerable
confusion): I do not know.
“A Juryman: Did you see
nothing which aroused your suspicions when you returned
on hearing the cry and found your father fatally injured?
“Witness: Nothing definite.
“The Coroner: What do you mean?
“Witness: I was so disturbed
and excited as I rushed out into the open, that I
could think of nothing except of my father. Yet
I have a vague impression that as I ran forward something
lay upon the ground to the left of me. It seemed
to me to be something grey in colour, a coat of some
sort, or a plaid perhaps. When I rose from my
father I looked round for it, but it was gone.
“‘Do you mean that it disappeared before
you went for help?’
“‘Yes, it was gone.’
“‘You cannot say what it was?’
“‘No, I had a feeling something was there.’
“‘How far from the body?’
“‘A dozen yards or so.’
“‘And how far from the edge of the wood?’
“‘About the same.’
“’Then if it was removed
it was while you were within a dozen yards of it?’
“‘Yes, but with my back towards it.’
“This concluded the examination of the witness.”
“I see,” said I as I glanced
down the column, “that the coroner in his concluding
remarks was rather severe upon young McCarthy.
He calls attention, and with reason, to the discrepancy
about his father having signalled to him before seeing
him, also to his refusal to give details of his conversation
with his father, and his singular account of his father’s
dying words. They are all, as he remarks, very
much against the son.”
Holmes laughed softly to himself and
stretched himself out upon the cushioned seat.
“Both you and the coroner have been at some
pains,” said he, “to single out the very
strongest points in the young man’s favour.
Don’t you see that you alternately give him
credit for having too much imagination and too little?
Too little, if he could not invent a cause of quarrel
which would give him the sympathy of the jury; too
much, if he evolved from his own inner consciousness
anything so outrÃ© as a dying reference to a rat,
and the incident of the vanishing cloth. No,
sir, I shall approach this case from the point of view
that what this young man says is true, and we shall
see whither that hypothesis will lead us. And
now here is my pocket Petrarch, and not another word
shall I say of this case until we are on the scene
of action. We lunch at Swindon, and I see that
we shall be there in twenty minutes.”
It was nearly four o’clock when
we at last, after passing through the beautiful Stroud
Valley, and over the broad gleaming Severn, found
ourselves at the pretty little country-town of Ross.
A lean, ferret-like man, furtive and sly-looking,
was waiting for us upon the platform. In spite
of the light brown dustcoat and leather-leggings which
he wore in deference to his rustic surroundings, I
had no difficulty in recognising Lestrade, of Scotland
Yard. With him we drove to the Hereford Arms where
a room had already been engaged for us.
“I have ordered a carriage,”
said Lestrade as we sat over a cup of tea. “I
knew your energetic nature, and that you would not
be happy until you had been on the scene of the crime.”
“It was very nice and complimentary
of you,” Holmes answered. “It is
entirely a question of barometric pressure.”
Lestrade looked startled. “I
do not quite follow,” he said.
“How is the glass? Twenty-nine,
I see. No wind, and not a cloud in the sky.
I have a caseful of cigarettes here which need smoking,
and the sofa is very much superior to the usual country
hotel abomination. I do not think that it is probable
that I shall use the carriage to-night.”
Lestrade laughed indulgently.
“You have, no doubt, already formed your conclusions
from the newspapers,” he said. “The
case is as plain as a pikestaff, and the more one
goes into it the plainer it becomes. Still, of
course, one can’t refuse a lady, and such a
very positive one, too. She has heard of you,
and would have your opinion, though I repeatedly told
her that there was nothing which you could do which
I had not already done. Why, bless my soul! here
is her carriage at the door.”
He had hardly spoken before there
rushed into the room one of the most lovely young
women that I have ever seen in my life. Her violet
eyes shining, her lips parted, a pink flush upon her
cheeks, all thought of her natural reserve lost in
her overpowering excitement and concern.
“Oh, Mr. Sherlock Holmes!”
she cried, glancing from one to the other of us, and
finally, with a woman’s quick intuition, fastening
upon my companion, “I am so glad that you have
come. I have driven down to tell you so.
I know that James didn’t do it. I know
it, and I want you to start upon your work knowing
it, too. Never let yourself doubt upon that point.
We have known each other since we were little children,
and I know his faults as no one else does; but he
is too tender-hearted to hurt a fly. Such a charge
is absurd to anyone who really knows him.”
“I hope we may clear him, Miss
Turner,” said Sherlock Holmes. “You
may rely upon my doing all that I can.”
“But you have read the evidence.
You have formed some conclusion? Do you not see
some loophole, some flaw? Do you not yourself
think that he is innocent?”
“I think that it is very probable.”
“There, now!” she cried,
throwing back her head and looking defiantly at Lestrade.
“You hear! He gives me hopes.”
Lestrade shrugged his shoulders.
“I am afraid that my colleague has been a little
quick in forming his conclusions,” he said.
“But he is right. Oh!
I know that he is right. James never did it.
And about his quarrel with his father, I am sure that
the reason why he would not speak about it to the
coroner was because I was concerned in it.”
“In what way?” asked Holmes.
“It is no time for me to hide
anything. James and his father had many disagreements
about me. Mr. McCarthy was very anxious that
there should be a marriage between us. James and
I have always loved each other as brother and sister;
but of course he is young and has seen very little
of life yet, and and well, he
naturally did not wish to do anything like that yet.
So there were quarrels, and this, I am sure, was one
“And your father?” asked
Holmes. “Was he in favour of such a union?”
“No, he was averse to it also.
No one but Mr. McCarthy was in favour of it.”
A quick blush passed over her fresh young face as
Holmes shot one of his keen, questioning glances at
“Thank you for this information,”
said he. “May I see your father if I call
“I am afraid the doctor won’t allow it.”
“Yes, have you not heard?
Poor father has never been strong for years back,
but this has broken him down completely. He has
taken to his bed, and Dr. Willows says that he is
a wreck and that his nervous system is shattered.
Mr. McCarthy was the only man alive who had known
dad in the old days in Victoria.”
“Ha! In Victoria! That is important.”
“Yes, at the mines.”
“Quite so; at the gold-mines,
where, as I understand, Mr. Turner made his money.”
“Thank you, Miss Turner.
You have been of material assistance to me.”
“You will tell me if you have
any news to-morrow. No doubt you will go to the
prison to see James. Oh, if you do, Mr. Holmes,
do tell him that I know him to be innocent.”
“I will, Miss Turner.”
“I must go home now, for dad
is very ill, and he misses me so if I leave him.
Good-bye, and God help you in your undertaking.”
She hurried from the room as impulsively as she had
entered, and we heard the wheels of her carriage rattle
off down the street.
“I am ashamed of you, Holmes,”
said Lestrade with dignity after a few minutes’
silence. “Why should you raise up hopes
which you are bound to disappoint? I am not over-tender
of heart, but I call it cruel.”
“I think that I see my way to
clearing James McCarthy,” said Holmes.
“Have you an order to see him in prison?”
“Yes, but only for you and me.”
“Then I shall reconsider my
resolution about going out. We have still time
to take a train to Hereford and see him to-night?”
“Then let us do so. Watson,
I fear that you will find it very slow, but I shall
only be away a couple of hours.”
I walked down to the station with
them, and then wandered through the streets of the
little town, finally returning to the hotel, where
I lay upon the sofa and tried to interest myself in
a yellow-backed novel. The puny plot of the story
was so thin, however, when compared to the deep mystery
through which we were groping, and I found my attention
wander so continually from the action to the fact,
that I at last flung it across the room and gave myself
up entirely to a consideration of the events of the
day. Supposing that this unhappy young man’s
story were absolutely true, then what hellish thing,
what absolutely unforeseen and extraordinary calamity
could have occurred between the time when he parted
from his father, and the moment when, drawn back by
his screams, he rushed into the glade? It was
something terrible and deadly. What could it be?
Might not the nature of the injuries reveal something
to my medical instincts? I rang the bell and
called for the weekly county paper, which contained
a verbatim account of the inquest. In the surgeon’s
deposition it was stated that the posterior third of
the left parietal bone and the left half of the occipital
bone had been shattered by a heavy blow from a blunt
weapon. I marked the spot upon my own head.
Clearly such a blow must have been struck from behind.
That was to some extent in favour of the accused, as
when seen quarrelling he was face to face with his
father. Still, it did not go for very much, for
the older man might have turned his back before the
blow fell. Still, it might be worth while to call
Holmes’ attention to it. Then there was
the peculiar dying reference to a rat. What could
that mean? It could not be delirium. A man
dying from a sudden blow does not commonly become
delirious. No, it was more likely to be an attempt
to explain how he met his fate. But what could
it indicate? I cudgelled my brains to find some
possible explanation. And then the incident of
the grey cloth seen by young McCarthy. If that
were true the murderer must have dropped some part
of his dress, presumably his overcoat, in his flight,
and must have had the hardihood to return and to carry
it away at the instant when the son was kneeling with
his back turned not a dozen paces off. What a
tissue of mysteries and improbabilities the whole thing
was! I did not wonder at Lestrade’s opinion,
and yet I had so much faith in Sherlock Holmes’
insight that I could not lose hope as long as every
fresh fact seemed to strengthen his conviction of young
It was late before Sherlock Holmes
returned. He came back alone, for Lestrade was
staying in lodgings in the town.
“The glass still keeps very
high,” he remarked as he sat down. “It
is of importance that it should not rain before we
are able to go over the ground. On the other
hand, a man should be at his very best and keenest
for such nice work as that, and I did not wish to
do it when fagged by a long journey. I have seen
“And what did you learn from him?”
“Could he throw no light?”
“None at all. I was inclined
to think at one time that he knew who had done it
and was screening him or her, but I am convinced now
that he is as puzzled as everyone else. He is
not a very quick-witted youth, though comely to look
at and, I should think, sound at heart.”
“I cannot admire his taste,”
I remarked, “if it is indeed a fact that he
was averse to a marriage with so charming a young lady
as this Miss Turner.”
“Ah, thereby hangs a rather
painful tale. This fellow is madly, insanely,
in love with her, but some two years ago, when he was
only a lad, and before he really knew her, for she
had been away five years at a boarding-school, what
does the idiot do but get into the clutches of a barmaid
in Bristol and marry her at a registry office?
No one knows a word of the matter, but you can imagine
how maddening it must be to him to be upbraided for
not doing what he would give his very eyes to do,
but what he knows to be absolutely impossible.
It was sheer frenzy of this sort which made him throw
his hands up into the air when his father, at their
last interview, was goading him on to propose to Miss
Turner. On the other hand, he had no means of
supporting himself, and his father, who was by all
accounts a very hard man, would have thrown him over
utterly had he known the truth. It was with his
barmaid wife that he had spent the last three days
in Bristol, and his father did not know where he was.
Mark that point. It is of importance. Good
has come out of evil, however, for the barmaid, finding
from the papers that he is in serious trouble and
likely to be hanged, has thrown him over utterly and
has written to him to say that she has a husband already
in the Bermuda Dockyard, so that there is really no
tie between them. I think that that bit of news
has consoled young McCarthy for all that he has suffered.”
“But if he is innocent, who has done it?”
“Ah! who? I would call
your attention very particularly to two points.
One is that the murdered man had an appointment with
someone at the pool, and that the someone could not
have been his son, for his son was away, and he did
not know when he would return. The second is
that the murdered man was heard to cry ‘Cooee!’
before he knew that his son had returned. Those
are the crucial points upon which the case depends.
And now let us talk about George Meredith, if you
please, and we shall leave all minor matters until
There was no rain, as Holmes had foretold,
and the morning broke bright and cloudless. At
nine o’clock Lestrade called for us with the
carriage, and we set off for Hatherley Farm and the
“There is serious news this
morning,” Lestrade observed. “It is
said that Mr. Turner, of the Hall, is so ill that his
life is despaired of.”
“An elderly man, I presume?” said Holmes.
“About sixty; but his constitution
has been shattered by his life abroad, and he has
been in failing health for some time. This business
has had a very bad effect upon him. He was an
old friend of McCarthy’s, and, I may add, a
great benefactor to him, for I have learned that he
gave him Hatherley Farm rent free.”
“Indeed! That is interesting,” said
“Oh, yes! In a hundred
other ways he has helped him. Everybody about
here speaks of his kindness to him.”
“Really! Does it not strike
you as a little singular that this McCarthy, who appears
to have had little of his own, and to have been under
such obligations to Turner, should still talk of marrying
his son to Turner’s daughter, who is, presumably,
heiress to the estate, and that in such a very cocksure
manner, as if it were merely a case of a proposal
and all else would follow? It is the more strange,
since we know that Turner himself was averse to the
idea. The daughter told us as much. Do you
not deduce something from that?”
“We have got to the deductions
and the inferences,” said Lestrade, winking
at me. “I find it hard enough to tackle
facts, Holmes, without flying away after theories
“You are right,” said
Holmes demurely; “you do find it very hard to
tackle the facts.”
“Anyhow, I have grasped one
fact which you seem to find it difficult to get hold
of,” replied Lestrade with some warmth.
“And that is ”
“That McCarthy senior met his
death from McCarthy junior and that all theories to
the contrary are the merest moonshine.”
“Well, moonshine is a brighter
thing than fog,” said Holmes, laughing.
“But I am very much mistaken if this is not Hatherley
Farm upon the left.”
“Yes, that is it.”
It was a widespread, comfortable-looking building,
two-storied, slate-roofed, with great yellow blotches
of lichen upon the grey walls. The drawn blinds
and the smokeless chimneys, however, gave it a stricken
look, as though the weight of this horror still lay
heavy upon it. We called at the door, when the
maid, at Holmes’ request, showed us the boots
which her master wore at the time of his death, and
also a pair of the son’s, though not the pair
which he had then had. Having measured these
very carefully from seven or eight different points,
Holmes desired to be led to the court-yard, from which
we all followed the winding track which led to Boscombe
Sherlock Holmes was transformed when
he was hot upon such a scent as this. Men who
had only known the quiet thinker and logician of Baker
Street would have failed to recognise him. His
face flushed and darkened. His brows were drawn
into two hard black lines, while his eyes shone out
from beneath them with a steely glitter. His
face was bent downward, his shoulders bowed, his lips
compressed, and the veins stood out like whipcord in
his long, sinewy neck. His nostrils seemed to
dilate with a purely animal lust for the chase, and
his mind was so absolutely concentrated upon the matter
before him that a question or remark fell unheeded
upon his ears, or, at the most, only provoked a quick,
impatient snarl in reply. Swiftly and silently
he made his way along the track which ran through
the meadows, and so by way of the woods to the Boscombe
Pool. It was damp, marshy ground, as is all that
district, and there were marks of many feet, both upon
the path and amid the short grass which bounded it
on either side. Sometimes Holmes would hurry
on, sometimes stop dead, and once he made quite a
little detour into the meadow. Lestrade and I
walked behind him, the detective indifferent and contemptuous,
while I watched my friend with the interest which sprang
from the conviction that every one of his actions
was directed towards a definite end.
The Boscombe Pool, which is a little
reed-girt sheet of water some fifty yards across,
is situated at the boundary between the Hatherley
Farm and the private park of the wealthy Mr. Turner.
Above the woods which lined it upon the farther side
we could see the red, jutting pinnacles which marked
the site of the rich landowner’s dwelling.
On the Hatherley side of the pool the woods grew very
thick, and there was a narrow belt of sodden grass
twenty paces across between the edge of the trees and
the reeds which lined the lake. Lestrade showed
us the exact spot at which the body had been found,
and, indeed, so moist was the ground, that I could
plainly see the traces which had been left by the
fall of the stricken man. To Holmes, as I could
see by his eager face and peering eyes, very many
other things were to be read upon the trampled grass.
He ran round, like a dog who is picking up a scent,
and then turned upon my companion.
“What did you go into the pool for?” he
“I fished about with a rake.
I thought there might be some weapon or other trace.
But how on earth ”
“Oh, tut, tut! I have no
time! That left foot of yours with its inward
twist is all over the place. A mole could trace
it, and there it vanishes among the reeds. Oh,
how simple it would all have been had I been here
before they came like a herd of buffalo and wallowed
all over it. Here is where the party with the
lodge-keeper came, and they have covered all tracks
for six or eight feet round the body. But here
are three separate tracks of the same feet.”
He drew out a lens and lay down upon his waterproof
to have a better view, talking all the time rather
to himself than to us. “These are young
McCarthy’s feet. Twice he was walking,
and once he ran swiftly, so that the soles are deeply
marked and the heels hardly visible. That bears
out his story. He ran when he saw his father
on the ground. Then here are the father’s
feet as he paced up and down. What is this, then?
It is the butt-end of the gun as the son stood listening.
And this? Ha, ha! What have we here?
Tiptoes! tiptoes! Square, too, quite unusual
boots! They come, they go, they come again of
course that was for the cloak. Now where did
they come from?” He ran up and down, sometimes
losing, sometimes finding the track until we were
well within the edge of the wood and under the shadow
of a great beech, the largest tree in the neighbourhood.
Holmes traced his way to the farther side of this
and lay down once more upon his face with a little
cry of satisfaction. For a long time he remained
there, turning over the leaves and dried sticks, gathering
up what seemed to me to be dust into an envelope and
examining with his lens not only the ground but even
the bark of the tree as far as he could reach.
A jagged stone was lying among the moss, and this
also he carefully examined and retained. Then
he followed a pathway through the wood until he came
to the highroad, where all traces were lost.
“It has been a case of considerable
interest,” he remarked, returning to his natural
manner. “I fancy that this grey house on
the right must be the lodge. I think that I will
go in and have a word with Moran, and perhaps write
a little note. Having done that, we may drive
back to our luncheon. You may walk to the cab,
and I shall be with you presently.”
It was about ten minutes before we
regained our cab and drove back into Ross, Holmes
still carrying with him the stone which he had picked
up in the wood.
“This may interest you, Lestrade,”
he remarked, holding it out. “The murder
was done with it.”
“I see no marks.”
“There are none.”
“How do you know, then?”
“The grass was growing under
it. It had only lain there a few days. There
was no sign of a place whence it had been taken.
It corresponds with the injuries. There is no
sign of any other weapon.”
“And the murderer?”
“Is a tall man, left-handed,
limps with the right leg, wears thick-soled shooting-boots
and a grey cloak, smokes Indian cigars, uses a cigar-holder,
and carries a blunt pen-knife in his pocket.
There are several other indications, but these may
be enough to aid us in our search.”
Lestrade laughed. “I am
afraid that I am still a sceptic,” he said.
“Theories are all very well, but we have to deal
with a hard-headed British jury.”
“Nous verróns,” answered
Holmes calmly. “You work your own method,
and I shall work mine. I shall be busy this afternoon,
and shall probably return to London by the evening
“And leave your case unfinished?”
“But the mystery?”
“It is solved.”
“Who was the criminal, then?”
“The gentleman I describe.”
“But who is he?”
“Surely it would not be difficult
to find out. This is not such a populous neighbourhood.”
Lestrade shrugged his shoulders.
“I am a practical man,” he said, “and
I really cannot undertake to go about the country looking
for a left-handed gentleman with a game leg. I
should become the laughing-stock of Scotland Yard.”
“All right,” said Holmes
quietly. “I have given you the chance.
Here are your lodgings. Good-bye. I shall
drop you a line before I leave.”
Having left Lestrade at his rooms,
we drove to our hotel, where we found lunch upon the
table. Holmes was silent and buried in thought
with a pained expression upon his face, as one who
finds himself in a perplexing position.
“Look here, Watson,” he
said when the cloth was cleared “just sit down
in this chair and let me preach to you for a little.
I don’t know quite what to do, and I should
value your advice. Light a cigar and let me expound.”
“Pray do so.”
“Well, now, in considering this
case there are two points about young McCarthy’s
narrative which struck us both instantly, although
they impressed me in his favour and you against him.
One was the fact that his father should, according
to his account, cry ‘Cooee!’ before seeing
him. The other was his singular dying reference
to a rat. He mumbled several words, you understand,
but that was all that caught the son’s ear.
Now from this double point our research must commence,
and we will begin it by presuming that what the lad
says is absolutely true.”
“What of this ‘Cooee!’ then?”
“Well, obviously it could not
have been meant for the son. The son, as far
as he knew, was in Bristol. It was mere chance
that he was within earshot. The ‘Cooee!’
was meant to attract the attention of whoever it was
that he had the appointment with. But ‘Cooee’
is a distinctly Australian cry, and one which is used
between Australians. There is a strong presumption
that the person whom McCarthy expected to meet him
at Boscombe Pool was someone who had been in Australia.”
“What of the rat, then?”
Sherlock Holmes took a folded paper
from his pocket and flattened it out on the table.
“This is a map of the Colony of Victoria,”
he said. “I wired to Bristol for it last
night.” He put his hand over part of the
map. “What do you read?”
“Arat,” I read.
“And now?” He raised his hand.
“Quite so. That was the
word the man uttered, and of which his son only caught
the last two syllables. He was trying to utter
the name of his murderer. So and so, of Ballarat.”
“It is wonderful!” I exclaimed.
“It is obvious. And now,
you see, I had narrowed the field down considerably.
The possession of a grey garment was a third point
which, granting the son’s statement to be correct,
was a certainty. We have come now out of mere
vagueness to the definite conception of an Australian
from Ballarat with a grey cloak.”
“And one who was at home in
the district, for the pool can only be approached
by the farm or by the estate, where strangers could
“Then comes our expedition of
to-day. By an examination of the ground I gained
the trifling details which I gave to that imbecile
Lestrade, as to the personality of the criminal.”
“But how did you gain them?”
“You know my method. It
is founded upon the observation of trifles.”
“His height I know that you
might roughly judge from the length of his stride.
His boots, too, might be told from their traces.”
“Yes, they were peculiar boots.”
“But his lameness?”
“The impression of his right
foot was always less distinct than his left.
He put less weight upon it. Why? Because
he limped he was lame.”
“But his left-handedness.”
“You were yourself struck by
the nature of the injury as recorded by the surgeon
at the inquest. The blow was struck from immediately
behind, and yet was upon the left side. Now, how
can that be unless it were by a left-handed man?
He had stood behind that tree during the interview
between the father and son. He had even smoked
there. I found the ash of a cigar, which my special
knowledge of tobacco ashes enables me to pronounce
as an Indian cigar. I have, as you know, devoted
some attention to this, and written a little monograph
on the ashes of 140 different varieties of pipe, cigar,
and cigarette tobacco. Having found the ash,
I then looked round and discovered the stump among
the moss where he had tossed it. It was an Indian
cigar, of the variety which are rolled in Rotterdam.”
“And the cigar-holder?”
“I could see that the end had
not been in his mouth. Therefore he used a holder.
The tip had been cut off, not bitten off, but the
cut was not a clean one, so I deduced a blunt pen-knife.”
“Holmes,” I said, “you
have drawn a net round this man from which he cannot
escape, and you have saved an innocent human life as
truly as if you had cut the cord which was hanging
him. I see the direction in which all this points.
The culprit is ”
“Mr. John Turner,” cried
the hotel waiter, opening the door of our sitting-room,
and ushering in a visitor.
The man who entered was a strange
and impressive figure. His slow, limping step
and bowed shoulders gave the appearance of decrepitude,
and yet his hard, deep-lined, craggy features, and
his enormous limbs showed that he was possessed of
unusual strength of body and of character. His
tangled beard, grizzled hair, and outstanding, drooping
eyebrows combined to give an air of dignity and power
to his appearance, but his face was of an ashen white,
while his lips and the corners of his nostrils were
tinged with a shade of blue. It was clear to me
at a glance that he was in the grip of some deadly
and chronic disease.
“Pray sit down on the sofa,”
said Holmes gently. “You had my note?”
“Yes, the lodge-keeper brought
it up. You said that you wished to see me here
to avoid scandal.”
“I thought people would talk if I went to the
“And why did you wish to see
me?” He looked across at my companion with despair
in his weary eyes, as though his question was already
“Yes,” said Holmes, answering
the look rather than the words. “It is
so. I know all about McCarthy.”
The old man sank his face in his hands.
“God help me!” he cried. “But
I would not have let the young man come to harm.
I give you my word that I would have spoken out if
it went against him at the Assizes.”
“I am glad to hear you say so,” said Holmes
“I would have spoken now had
it not been for my dear girl. It would break
her heart it will break her heart when she
hears that I am arrested.”
“It may not come to that,” said Holmes.
“I am no official agent.
I understand that it was your daughter who required
my presence here, and I am acting in her interests.
Young McCarthy must be got off, however.”
“I am a dying man,” said
old Turner. “I have had diabetes for years.
My doctor says it is a question whether I shall live
a month. Yet I would rather die under my own
roof than in a gaol.”
Holmes rose and sat down at the table
with his pen in his hand and a bundle of paper before
him. “Just tell us the truth,” he
said. “I shall jot down the facts.
You will sign it, and Watson here can witness it.
Then I could produce your confession at the last extremity
to save young McCarthy. I promise you that I shall
not use it unless it is absolutely needed.”
“It’s as well,”
said the old man; “it’s a question whether
I shall live to the Assizes, so it matters little
to me, but I should wish to spare Alice the shock.
And now I will make the thing clear to you; it has
been a long time in the acting, but will not take
me long to tell.
“You didn’t know this
dead man, McCarthy. He was a devil incarnate.
I tell you that. God keep you out of the clutches
of such a man as he. His grip has been upon me
these twenty years, and he has blasted my life.
I’ll tell you first how I came to be in his
“It was in the early ’60’s
at the diggings. I was a young chap then, hot-blooded
and reckless, ready to turn my hand at anything; I
got among bad companions, took to drink, had no luck
with my claim, took to the bush, and in a word became
what you would call over here a highway robber.
There were six of us, and we had a wild, free life
of it, sticking up a station from time to time, or
stopping the wagons on the road to the diggings.
Black Jack of Ballarat was the name I went under, and
our party is still remembered in the colony as the
“One day a gold convoy came
down from Ballarat to Melbourne, and we lay in wait
for it and attacked it. There were six troopers
and six of us, so it was a close thing, but we emptied
four of their saddles at the first volley. Three
of our boys were killed, however, before we got the
swag. I put my pistol to the head of the wagon-driver,
who was this very man McCarthy. I wish to the
Lord that I had shot him then, but I spared him, though
I saw his wicked little eyes fixed on my face, as
though to remember every feature. We got away
with the gold, became wealthy men, and made our way
over to England without being suspected. There
I parted from my old pals and determined to settle
down to a quiet and respectable life. I bought
this estate, which chanced to be in the market, and
I set myself to do a little good with my money, to
make up for the way in which I had earned it.
I married, too, and though my wife died young she
left me my dear little Alice. Even when she was
just a baby her wee hand seemed to lead me down the
right path as nothing else had ever done. In a
word, I turned over a new leaf and did my best to
make up for the past. All was going well when
McCarthy laid his grip upon me.
“I had gone up to town about
an investment, and I met him in Regent Street with
hardly a coat to his back or a boot to his foot.
“‘Here we are, Jack,’
says he, touching me on the arm; ’we’ll
be as good as a family to you. There’s
two of us, me and my son, and you can have the keeping
of us. If you don’t it’s
a fine, law-abiding country is England, and there’s
always a policeman within hail.’
“Well, down they came to the
west country, there was no shaking them off, and there
they have lived rent free on my best land ever since.
There was no rest for me, no peace, no forgetfulness;
turn where I would, there was his cunning, grinning
face at my elbow. It grew worse as Alice grew
up, for he soon saw I was more afraid of her knowing
my past than of the police. Whatever he wanted
he must have, and whatever it was I gave him without
question, land, money, houses, until at last he asked
a thing which I could not give. He asked for
“His son, you see, had grown
up, and so had my girl, and as I was known to be in
weak health, it seemed a fine stroke to him that his
lad should step into the whole property. But there
I was firm. I would not have his cursed stock
mixed with mine; not that I had any dislike to the
lad, but his blood was in him, and that was enough.
I stood firm. McCarthy threatened. I braved
him to do his worst. We were to meet at the pool
midway between our houses to talk it over.
“When I went down there I found
him talking with his son, so I smoked a cigar and
waited behind a tree until he should be alone.
But as I listened to his talk all that was black and
bitter in me seemed to come uppermost. He was
urging his son to marry my daughter with as little
regard for what she might think as if she were a slut
from off the streets. It drove me mad to think
that I and all that I held most dear should be in
the power of such a man as this. Could I not
snap the bond? I was already a dying and a desperate
man. Though clear of mind and fairly strong of
limb, I knew that my own fate was sealed. But
my memory and my girl! Both could be saved if
I could but silence that foul tongue. I did it,
Mr. Holmes. I would do it again. Deeply as
I have sinned, I have led a life of martyrdom to atone
for it. But that my girl should be entangled
in the same meshes which held me was more than I could
suffer. I struck him down with no more compunction
than if he had been some foul and venomous beast.
His cry brought back his son; but I had gained the
cover of the wood, though I was forced to go back
to fetch the cloak which I had dropped in my flight.
That is the true story, gentlemen, of all that occurred.”
“Well, it is not for me to judge
you,” said Holmes as the old man signed the
statement which had been drawn out. “I pray
that we may never be exposed to such a temptation.”
“I pray not, sir. And what do you intend
“In view of your health, nothing.
You are yourself aware that you will soon have to
answer for your deed at a higher court than the Assizes.
I will keep your confession, and if McCarthy is condemned
I shall be forced to use it. If not, it shall
never be seen by mortal eye; and your secret, whether
you be alive or dead, shall be safe with us.”
“Farewell, then,” said
the old man solemnly. “Your own deathbeds,
when they come, will be the easier for the thought
of the peace which you have given to mine.”
Tottering and shaking in all his giant frame, he stumbled
slowly from the room.
“God help us!” said Holmes
after a long silence. “Why does fate play
such tricks with poor, helpless worms? I never
hear of such a case as this that I do not think of
Baxter’s words, and say, ‘There, but for
the grace of God, goes Sherlock Holmes.’”
James McCarthy was acquitted at the
Assizes on the strength of a number of objections
which had been drawn out by Holmes and submitted to
the defending counsel. Old Turner lived for seven
months after our interview, but he is now dead; and
there is every prospect that the son and daughter
may come to live happily together in ignorance of
the black cloud which rests upon their past.