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    The Reigate Puzzle

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    Chapter 6
    Previous Chapter
    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. The whole
    question of the Netherland-Sumatra Company and of the
    colossal schemes of Baron Maupertuis are too recent in
    the minds of the public, and are too intimately
    concerned with politics and finance to be fitting
    subjects for this series of sketches. They 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.

    On referring to my notes I see that it was upon the
    14th of April that I received a telegram from Lyons
    which informed me that Holmes was lying ill in the
    Hotel Dulong. Within twenty-four hours I was in his
    sick-room, and was relieved to find that there was
    nothing formidable in his symptoms. Even 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. Even the triumphant issue of his labors
    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. Even the knowledge that he
    had succeeded where the police of three countries had
    failed, and that he had outmanoeuvred at every point
    the most accomplished swindler in Europe, was
    insufficient to rouse him from his nervous
    prostration.

    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. 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. 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.
    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. 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 much in common.

    On the evening of our arrival we were sitting in the
    Colonel's gun-room after dinner, Holmes stretched upon
    the sofa, while Hayter and I looked over his little
    armory of Eastern weapons.

    "By the way," said he suddenly, "I think I'll take one
    of these pistols upstairs with me in case we have an
    alarm."

    "An alarm!" said I.

    "Yes, we've had a scare in this part lately. Old
    Acton, who is one of our county magnates, had his
    house broken into last Monday. No great damage done,
    but the fellows are still at large."

    "No clue?" asked Holmes, cocking his eye at the
    Colonel.

    "None as yet. But the affair is a pretty one, one of
    our little country crimes, which must seem too small
    for your attention, Mr. Holmes, after this great
    international affair."

    Holmes waved away the compliment, though his smile
    showed that it had pleased him.

    "Was there any feature of interest?"

    "I fancy not. The thieves ransacked the library and
    got very little for their pains. The whole place was
    turned upside down, drawers burst open, and presses
    ransacked, with the result that an odd volume of
    Pope's 'Homer,' two plated candlesticks, an ivory
    letter-weight, a small oak barometer, and a ball of
    twine are all that have vanished."

    "What an extraordinary assortment!" I exclaimed.

    "Oh, the fellows evidently grabbed hold of everything
    they could get."

    Holmes grunted from the sofa.

    "The county police ought to make something of that,"
    said he; "why, it is surely obvious that--"

    But I held up a warning finger.

    "You are here for a rest, my dear fellow. For
    Heaven's sake don't get started on a new problem when
    your nerves are all in shreds."

    Holmes shrugged his shoulders with a glance of comic
    resignation towards the Colonel, and the talk drifted
    away into less dangerous channels.

    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. We
    were at breakfast when the Colonel's butler rushed in
    with all his propriety shaken out of him.

    "Have you heard the news, sir?" he gasped. "At the
    Cunningham's sir!"

    "Burglary!" cried the Colonel, with his coffee-cup in
    mid-air.

    "Murder!"

    The Colonel whistled. "By Jove!" said he. "Who's
    killed, then? The J.P. or his son?"

    "Neither, sir. It was William the coachman. Shot
    through the heart, sir, and never spoke again."

    "Who shot him, then?"

    "The burglar, sir. He was off like a shot and got
    clean away. He'd just broke in at the pantry window
    when William came on him and met his end in saving his
    master's property."

    "What time?"

    "It was last night, sir, somewhere about twelve."

    "Ah, then, we'll step over afterwards," said the
    Colonel, coolly settling down to his breakfast again.
    "It's a baddish business," he added when the butler
    had gone; "he's our leading man about here, is old
    Cunningham, and a very decent fellow too. He'll be
    cut up over this, for the man has been in his service
    for years and was a good servant. It's evidently the
    same villains who broke into Acton's."

    "And stole that very singular collection," said
    Holmes, thoughtfully.

    "Precisely."

    "Hum! It may prove the simplest matter in the world,
    but all the same at first glance this is just a little
    curious, is it not? A gang of burglars acting in the
    country might be expected to vary the scene of their
    operations, and not to crack two cribs in the same
    district within a few days. 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."

    "I fancy it's some local practitioner," said the
    Colonel. "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."

    "And richest?"

    "Well, they ought to be, but they've had a lawsuit for
    some years which has sucked the blood out of both of
    them, I fancy. Old Acton has some claim on half
    Cunningham's estate, and the lawyers have been at it
    with both hands."

    "If it's a local villain there should not be much
    difficulty in running him down," said Holmes with a
    yawn. "All right, Watson, I don't intend to meddle."

    "Inspector Forrester, sir," said the butler, throwing
    open the door.

    The official, a smart, keen-faced young fellow,
    stepped into the room. "Good-morning, Colonel," said
    he; "I hope I don't intrude, but we hear that Mr.
    Holmes of Baker Street is here."

    The Colonel waved his hand towards my friend, and the
    Inspector bowed.

    "We thought that perhaps you would care to step
    across, Mr. Holmes."

    "The fates are against you, Watson," said he,
    laughing. "We were chatting about the matter when you
    came in, Inspector. Perhaps you can let us have a few
    details." As he leaned back in his chair in the
    familiar attitude I knew that the case was hopeless.

    "We had no clue in the Acton affair. But here we have
    plenty to go on, and there's no doubt it is the same
    party in each case. The man was seen."

    "Ah!"

    "Yes, sir. But he was off like a deer after the shot
    that killed poor William Kirwan was fired. Mr.
    Cunningham saw him from the bedroom window, and Mr.
    Alec Cunningham saw him from the back passage. It was
    quarter to twelve when the alarm broke out. Mr.
    Cunningham had just got into bed, and Mr. Alec was
    smoking a pipe in his dressing-gown. They both heard
    William the coachman calling for help, and Mr. Alec
    ran down to see what was the matter. The back door
    was open, and as he came to the foot of the stairs he
    saw two men wrestling together outside. One of them
    fired a shot, the other dropped, and the murderer
    rushed across the garden and over the hedge. Mr.
    Cunningham, looking out of his bedroom, saw the fellow
    as he gained the road, but lost sight of him at once.
    Mr. Alec stopped to see if he could help the dying
    man, and so the villain got clean away. 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."

    "What was this William doing there? Did he say
    anything before he died?"

    "Not a word. He lives at the lodge with his mother,
    and as he was a very faithful fellow we imagine that
    he walked up to the house with the intention of seeing
    that all was right there. Of course this Acton
    business has put every one on their guard. The robber
    must have just burst open the door--the lock has been
    forced--when William came upon him."

    "Did William say anything to his mother before going
    out?"

    "She is very old and deaf, and we can get no
    information from her. The shock has made her
    half-witted, but I understand that she was never very
    bright. There is one very important circumstance,
    however. Look at this!"

    He took a small piece of torn paper from a note-book
    and spread it out upon his knee.

    "This was found between the finger and thumb of the
    dead man. It appears to be a fragment torn from a
    larger sheet. You will observe that the hour
    mentioned upon it is the very time at which the poor
    fellow met his fate. 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. It reads
    almost as though it were an appointment."

    Holmes took up the scrap of paper, a fac-simile of
    which is here reproduced.

    d at quarter to twelve
    learn what
    maybe

    "Presuming that it is an appointment," continued the
    Inspector, "it is of course a conceivable theory that
    this William Kirwan--though he had the reputation of
    being an honest man, may have been in league with the
    thief. 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."

    "This writing is of extraordinary interest," said
    Holmes, who had been examining it with intense
    concentration. "These are much deeper waters than I
    had though." He sank his head upon his hands, while
    the Inspector smiled at the effect which his case had
    had upon the famous London specialist.

    "Your last remark," said Holmes, presently, "as to the
    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 impossible supposition. But this writing
    opens up--" He sank his head into his hands again and
    remained for some minutes in the deepest thought.
    When he raised his face again, I was surprised to see
    that his cheek was tinged with color, and his eyes as
    bright as before his illness. He sprang to his feet
    with all his old energy.

    "I'll tell you what," said he, "I should like to have
    a quiet little glance into the details of this case.
    There is something in it which fascinates me
    extremely. If you will permit me, Colonel, I will
    leave my friend Watson and you, and I will step round
    with the Inspector to test the truth of one or two
    little fancies of mine. I will be with you again in
    half an hour."

    An hour and half had elapsed before the Inspector
    returned alone.

    "Mr. Holmes is walking up and down in the field
    outside," said he. "He wants us all four to go up to
    the house together."

    "To Mr. Cunningham's?"

    "Yes, sir."

    "What for?"

    The Inspector shrugged his shoulders. "I don't quite
    know, sir. Between ourselves, I think Mr. Holmes had
    not quite got over his illness yet. He's been
    behaving very queerly, and he is very much excited."

    "I don't think you need alarm yourself," said I. "I
    have usually found that there was method in his
    madness."

    "Some folks might say there was madness in his
    method," muttered the Inspector. "But he's all on
    fire to start, Colonel, so we had best go out if you
    are ready."

    We found Holmes pacing up and down in the field, his
    chin sunk upon his breast, and his hands thrust into
    his trousers pockets.

    "The matter grows in interest," said he. "Watson,
    your country-trip has been a distinct success. I have
    had a charming morning."

    "You have been up to the scene of the crime, I
    understand," said the Colonel.

    "Yes; the Inspector and I have made quite a little
    reconnaissance together."

    "Any success?"

    "Well, we have seen some very interesting things.
    I'll tell you what we did as we walk. First of all,
    we saw the body of this unfortunate man. He certainly
    died from a revolved wound as reported."

    "Had you doubted it, then?"

    "Oh, it is as well to test everything. Our inspection
    was not wasted. We then had an interview with Mr.
    Cunningham and his son, who were able to point out the
    exact spot where the murderer had broken through the
    garden-hedge in his flight. That was of great
    interest."

    "Naturally."

    "Then we had a look at this poor fellow's mother. We
    could get no information from her, however, as she is
    very old and feeble."

    "And what is the result of your investigations?"

    "The conviction that the crime is a very peculiar one.
    Perhaps our visit now may do something to make it less
    obscure. 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."

    "It should give a clue, Mr. Holmes."

    "It does give a clue. Whoever wrote that note was the
    man who brought William Kirwan out of his bed at that
    hour. But where is the rest of that sheet of paper?"

    "I examined the ground carefully in the hope of
    finding it," said the Inspector.

    "It was torn out of the dead man's hand. Why was some
    one so anxious to get possession of it? Because it
    incriminated him. And what would he do with it?
    Thrust it into his pocket, most likely, never noticing
    that a corner of it had been left in the grip of the
    corpse. If we could get the rest of that sheet it is
    obvious that we should have gone a long way towards
    solving the mystery."

    "Yes, but how can we get at the criminal's pocket
    before we catch the criminal?"

    "Well, well, it was worth thinking over. Then there
    is another obvious point. The note was sent to
    William. The man who wrote it could not have taken
    it; otherwise, of course, he might have delivered his
    own message by word of mouth. Who brought the note,
    then? Or did it come through the post?"

    "I have made inquiries," said the Inspector. "William
    received a letter by the afternoon post yesterday.
    The envelope was destroyed by him."

    "Excellent!" cried Holmes, clapping the Inspector on
    the back. "You've seen the postman. It is a pleasure
    to work with you. Well, here is the lodge, and if you
    will come up, Colonel, I will show you the scene of
    the crime."

    We passed the pretty cottage where the murdered 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. 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. A constable was
    standing at the kitchen door.

    "Throw the door open, officer," said Holmes. "Now, it
    was on those stairs that young Mr. Cunningham stood
    and saw the two men struggling just where we are. 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. Then Mr. Alec ran out and knelt beside
    the wounded man. The ground is very hard, you see,
    and there are no marks to guide us." As he spoke two
    men came down the garden path, from round the angle of
    the house. 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 contract with the business which
    had brought us there.

    "Still at it, then?" said he to Holmes. "I thought
    you Londoners were never at fault. You don't seem to
    be so very quick, after all."

    "Ah, you must give us a little time," said Holmes
    good-humoredly.

    "You'll want it," said young Alec Cunningham. "Why, I
    don't see that we have any clue at all."

    "There's only one," answered the Inspector. "We
    thought that if we could only find--Good heavens, Mr.
    Holmes! What is the matter?"

    My poor friend's face had suddenly assumed the most
    dreadful expression. His eyes rolled upwards, his
    features writhed in agony, and with a suppressed groan
    he dropped on his face upon the ground. 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.
    Finally, with a shamefaced apology for his weakness,
    he rose once more.

    "Watson would tell you that I have only just recovered
    from a severe illness," he explained. "I am liable to
    these sudden nervous attacks."

    "Shall I send you home in my trap?" asked old
    Cunningham.

    "Well, since I am here, there is one point on which I
    should like to feel sure. We can very easily verify
    it."

    "What was it?"

    "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 burglary into
    the house. You appear to take it for granted that,
    although the door was forced, the robber never got
    in."

    "I fancy that is quite obvious," said Mr. Cunningham,
    gravely. "Why, my son Alec had not yet gone to bed,
    and he would certainly have heard any one moving
    about."

    "Where was he sitting?"

    "I was smoking in my dressing-room."

    "Which window is that?"

    "The last on the left next my father's."

    "Both of your lamps were lit, of course?"

    "Undoubtedly."

    "There are some very singular points here," said
    Holmes, smiling. "Is it not extraordinary that a
    burglary--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?"

    "He must have been a cool hand."

    "Well, of course, if the case were not an odd one we
    should not have been driven to ask you for an
    explanation," said young Mr. Alec. "But as to your
    ideas that the man had robbed the house before William
    tackled him, I think it a most absurd notion.
    Wouldn't we have found the place disarranged, and
    missed the things which he had taken?"

    "It depends on what the things were," said Holmes.
    "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. 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."

    "Well, we are quite in your hands, Mr. Holmes," said
    old Cunningham. "Anything which you or the Inspector
    may suggest will most certainly be done."

    "In the first place," said Holmes, "I should like you
    to offer a reward--coming from yourself, for the
    officials may take a little time before they would
    agree upon the sum, and these things cannot be done
    too promptly. I have jotted down the form here, if
    you would not mind signing it. Fifty pound was quite
    enough, I thought."

    "I would willingly give five hundred," said the J.P.,
    taking the slip of paper and the pencil which Holmes
    handed to him. "This is not quite correct, however,"
    he added, glancing over the document.

    "I wrote it rather hurriedly."

    "You see you begin, 'Whereas, at about a quarter to
    one on Tuesday morning an attempt was made,' and so
    on. It was at a quarter to twelve, as a matter of
    fact."

    I was pained at the mistake, for I knew how keenly
    Holmes would feel any slip of the kind. It was his
    specialty 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. He was obviously embarrassed for an instant,
    while the Inspector raised his eyebrows, and Alec
    Cunningham burst into a laugh. The old gentleman
    corrected the mistake, however, and handed the paper
    back to Holmes.

    "Get it printed as soon as possible," he said; "I
    think your idea is an excellent one."

    Holmes put the slip of paper carefully away into his
    pocket-book.

    "And now," said he, "it really would 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."

    Before entering, Holmes made an examination of the
    door which had been forced. It was evident that a
    chisel or strong knife had been thrust in, and the
    lock forced back with it. We could see the marks in
    the wood where it had been pushed in.

    "You don't use bars, then?" he asked.

    "We have never found it necessary."

    "You don't keep a dog?"

    "Yes, but he is chained on the other side of the
    house."

    "When do the servants go to bed?"

    "About ten."

    "I understand that William was usually in bed also at
    that hour."

    "Yes."

    "It is singular that on this particular night he
    should have been up. Now, I should be very glad if
    you would have the kindness to show us over the house,
    Mr. Cunningham."

    A stone-flagged passage, with the kitchens branching
    away from it, led by a wooden staircase directly to
    the first floor of the house. It came out upon the
    landing opposite to a second more ornamental stair
    which came up from the front hall. Out of this
    landing opened the drawing-room and several bedrooms,
    including those of Mr. Cunningham and his son. Holmes
    walked slowly, taking keen note of the architecture of
    the house. I could tell from his expression that he
    was on a hot scent, and yet I could not in the least
    imagine in what direction his inferences were leading
    him.

    "My good sir," said Mr. Cunningham with some
    impatience, "this is surely very unnecessary. That is
    my room at the end of the stairs, and my son's is the
    one beyond it. I leave it to your judgment whether it
    was possible for the thief to have come up here
    without disturbing us."

    "You must try round and get on a fresh scent, I
    fancy," said the son with a rather malicious smile.

    "Still, I must ask you to humor me a little further.
    I should like, for example, to see how far the windows
    of the bedrooms command the front. 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. Where does the
    window of that look out to?" He stepped across the
    bedroom, pushed open the door, and glanced round the
    other chamber.

    "I hope that you are satisfied now?" said Mr.
    Cunningham, tartly.

    "Thank you, I think I have seen all that I wished."

    "Then if it is really necessary we can go into my
    room."

    "If it is not too much trouble."

    The J. P. shrugged his shoulders, and led the way into
    his own chamber, which was a plainly furnished and
    commonplace room. As we moved across it in the
    direction of the window, Holmes fell back until he and
    I were the last of the group. Near the foot of the
    bed stood a dish of oranges and a carafe of water. As
    we passed it Holmes, to my unutterable astonishment,
    leaned over in front of me and deliberately knocked
    the whole thing over. The glass smashed into a
    thousand pieces and the fruit rolled about into every
    corner of the room.

    "You've done it now, Watson," said he, coolly. "A
    pretty mess you've made of the carpet."

    I stooped in some confusion and began to pick up the
    fruit, understanding for some reason my companion
    desired me to take the blame upon myself. The others
    did the same, and set the table on its legs again.

    "Hullo!" cried the Inspector, "where's he got to?"

    Holmes had disappeared.

    "Wait here an instant," said young Alec Cunningham.
    "The fellow is off his head, in my opinion. Come with
    me, father, and see where he has got to!"

    They rushed out of the room, leaving the Inspector,
    the Colonel, and me staring at each other.

    "'Pon my word, I am inclined to agree with Master
    Alec," said the official. "It may be the effect of
    this illness, but it seems to me that--"

    His words were cut short by a sudden scream of "Help!
    Help! Murder!" With a thrill I recognized the voice
    of that of my friend. I rushed madly from the room on
    to the landing. The cries, which had sunk down into a
    hoarse, inarticulate shouting, came from the room
    which we had first visited. I dashed in, and on into
    the dressing-room beyond. 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. 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.

    "Arrest these men, Inspector," he gasped.

    "On what charge?"

    "That of murdering their coachman, William Kirwan."

    The Inspector stared about him in bewilderment. "Oh,
    come now, Mr. Holmes," said he at last, "I'm sure you
    don't really mean to--"

    "Tut, man, look at their faces!" cried Holmes, curtly.

    Never certainly have I seen a plainer confession of
    guilt upon human countenances. The older man seemed
    numbed and dazed with a heavy, sullen expression upon
    his strongly-marked face. 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. The Inspector said nothing, but,
    stepping to the door, he blew his whistle. Two of his
    constables came at the call.

    "I have no alternative, Mr. Cunningham," said he. "I
    trust that this may all prove to be an absurd mistake,
    but you can see that--Ah, would you? Drop it!" He
    struck out with his hand, and a revolver which the
    younger man was in the act of cocking clattered down
    upon the floor.

    "Keep that," said Holmes, quietly putting his foot
    upon it; "you will find it useful at the trial. But
    this is what we really wanted." He held up a little
    crumpled piece of paper.

    "The remainder of the sheet!" cried the Inspector.

    "Precisely."

    "And where was it?"

    "Where I was sure it must be. I'll make the whole
    matter clear to you presently. I think, Colonel, that
    you and Watson might return now, and I will be with
    you again in an hour at the furthest. The Inspector
    and I must have a word with the prisoners, but you
    will certainly see me back at luncheon time."

    Sherlock Holmes was as good as his word, for about one
    o'clock he rejoined us in the Colonel's smoking-room.
    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.

    "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. I am afraid, my dear Colonel, that you must
    regret the hour that you took in such a stormy petrel
    as I am."

    "On the contrary," answered the Colonel, warmly, "I
    consider it the greatest privilege to have been
    permitted to study your methods of working. I confess
    that they quite surpass my expectations, and that I am
    utterly unable to account for you result. I have not
    yet seen the vestige of a clue."

    "I am afraid that my explanation may disillusion you
    but it has always been my habit to hide none of my
    methods, either from my friend Watson or from any one
    who might take an intelligent interest in them. But,
    first, as I am rather shaken by the knocking about
    which I had in the dressing-room, I think that I shall
    help myself to a dash of your brandy, Colonel. My
    strength had been rather tried of late."

    "I trust that you had no more of those nervous
    attacks."

    Sherlock Holmes laughed heartily. "We will come to
    that in its turn," said he. "I will lay an account of
    the case before you in its due order, showing you the
    various points which guided me in my decision. Pray
    interrupt me if there is any inference which is not
    perfectly clear to you.

    "It is of the highest importance in the art of
    detection to be able to recognize, out of a number of
    facts, which are incidental and which vital.
    Otherwise your energy and attention must be dissipated
    instead of being concentrated. Now, in this case
    there was not the slightest doubt in my mind from the
    first that the key of the whole matter must be looked
    for in the scrap of paper in the dead man's hand.

    "Before going into this, I would draw your attention
    to the fact that, if Alec Cunningham's narrative was
    correct, and if the assailant, after shooting William
    Kirwan, had instantly fled, then it obviously could
    not be he who tore the paper from the dead man's hand.
    But if it was not he, it must have been Alec
    Cunningham himself, for by the time that the old man
    had descended several servants were upon the scene.
    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. Now, I make a pint 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.

    "And now I made a very careful examination of the
    corner of paper which the Inspector had submitted to
    us. It was at once clear to me that it formed part of
    a very remarkable document. Here it is. Do you not
    now observed something very suggestive about it?"

    "It has a very irregular look," said the Colonel.

    "My dear sir," cried Holmes, "there cannot be the
    least doubt in the world that it has been written by
    two persons doing alternate words. When I draw your
    attention to the strong t's of 'at' and 'to', and ask
    you to compare them with the weak ones of 'quarter'
    and 'twelve,' you will instantly recognize the fact.
    A very brief analysis of these four words would enable
    you to say with the utmost confidence that the 'learn'
    and the 'maybe' are written in the stronger hand, and
    the 'what' in the weaker."

    "By Jove, it's as clear as day!" cried the Colonel.
    "Why on earth should two men write a letter in such a
    fashion?"

    "Obviously the business was a bad one, and one of the
    men who distrusted the other was determined that,
    whatever was done, each should have an equal hand in
    it. Now, of the two men, it is clear that the one who
    wrote the 'at' and 'to' was the ringleader."

    "How do you get at that?"

    "We might deduce it from the mere character of the one
    hand as compared with the other. But we have more
    assured reasons than that for supposing it. 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. 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. The man
    who wrote all his words first in undoubtedly the man
    who planned the affair."

    "Excellent!" cried Mr. Acton.

    "But very superficial," said Holmes. "We come now,
    however, to a point which is of importance. You may
    not be aware that the deduction of a man's age from
    his writing is one which has brought to considerable
    accuracy by experts. In normal cases one can place a
    man in his true decade with tolerable confidence. I
    say normal cases, because ill-health and physical
    weakness reproduce the signs of old age, even when the
    invalid is a youth. 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 crossing, we can say that the one was a
    young man and the other was advanced in years without
    being positively decrepit."

    "Excellent!" cried Mr. Acton again.

    "There is a further point, however, which is subtler
    and of greater interest. There is something in common
    between these hands. They belong to men who are
    blood-relatives. It may be most obvious to you in the
    Greek e's, but to me there are many small points which
    indicate the same thing. I have no doubt at all that
    a family mannerism can be traced in these two
    specimens of writing. I am only, of course, giving
    you the leading results now of my examination of the
    paper. There were twenty-three other deductions which
    would be of more interest to experts than to you.
    They all tend to deepen the impression upon my mind
    that the Cunninghams, father and son, had written this
    letter.

    "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. I went up to the house with
    the Inspector, and saw all that was to be seen. The
    wound upon the dead man was, as I was able to
    determine with absolute confidence, fired from a
    revolver at the distance of something over four yards.
    There was no powder-blackening on the clothes.
    Evidently, therefore, Alec Cunningham had lied when
    he said that the two men were struggling when the shot
    was fired. Again, both father and son agreed as to
    the place where the man escaped into the road. At
    that point, however, as it happens, there is a
    broadish ditch, moist at the bottom. As there were no
    indications of bootmarks 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.

    "And now I have to consider the motive of this
    singular crime. To get at this, I endeavored first of
    all to solve the reason of the original burglary at
    Mr. Acton's. I understood, from something which the
    Colonel told us, that a lawsuit had been going on
    between you, Mr. Acton, and the Cunninghams. 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."

    "Precisely so," said Mr. Acton. "There can be no
    possible doubt as to their intentions. I have the
    clearest claim upon half of their present estate, and
    if they could have found a single paper--which,
    fortunately, was in the strong-box of my
    solicitors--they would undoubtedly have crippled our
    case."

    "There you are," said Holmes, smiling. "It was a
    dangerous, reckless attempt, in which I seem to trace
    the influence of young Alec. 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. That is all
    clear enough, but there was much that was still
    obscure. What I wanted above all was to get the
    missing part of that note. I was certain that Alec
    had torn it out of the dead man's hand, and almost
    certain that he must have thrust it into the pocket of
    his dressing-gown. Where else could he have put it?
    The only question was whether it was still there. It
    was worth an effort to find out, and for that object
    we all went up to the house.

    "The Cunninghams joined us, as you doubtless remember,
    outside the kitchen door. 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. 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.

    "Good heavens!" cried the Colonel, laughing, "do you
    mean to say all our sympathy was wasted and your fit
    an imposture?"

    "Speaking professionally, it was admirably done,"
    cried I, looking in amazement at this man who was
    forever confounding me with some new phase of his
    astuteness.

    "It is an art which is often useful," said he. "When
    I recovered I managed, by a device which had perhaps
    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."

    "Oh, what an ass I have been!" I exclaimed.

    "I could see that you were commiserating me over my
    weakness," said Holmes, laughing. "I was sorry to
    cause you the sympathetic pain which I know that you
    felt. 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. 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. As it is,
    I feel that young man's grip on my throat now, and the
    father has twisted my wrist round in the effort to get
    the paper out of my hand. They saw that I must know
    all about it, you see, and the sudden change from
    absolute security to complete despair made them
    perfectly desperate.

    "I had a little talk with old Cunningham afterwards as
    to the motive of the crime. He was tractable enough,
    though 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. When Cunningham saw that the case
    against him was so strong he lost all heart and made a
    clean breast of everything. 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 black-mail upon them. Mr. Alec,
    however, was a dangerous man to play games of that
    sort with. 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. 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 the
    accessories, it is very possible that suspicion might
    never have been aroused."

    "And the note?" I asked.

    Sherlock Holmes placed the subjoined paper before us.

    If you will only come around
    to the east gate you will
    will very much surprise you and
    be of the greatest service to you and also
    to Annie Morrison. But say nothing to
    anyone upon the matter

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