THE BOSCOMBE VALLEY MYSTERY
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 you go?"
"I really don't know what to say. I have a fairly long list at
"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's 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 gray
travelling-cloak and close-fitting cloth cap.
"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 the rack.
"Have you heard anything of the case?" he asked.
"Not a word. I have not seen a paper for some days."
"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 difficult."
"That sounds a little paradoxical."
"But it is profoundly true. Singularity is almost invariably a
clew. 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
"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 neighboring 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
neighborhood. 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 facts.
"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
"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 police-court."
"I could hardly imagine a more damning case," I remarked. "If
ever circumstantial evidence pointed to a criminal it does so
"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 neighborhood, however, and among them Miss Turner, the
daughter of the neighboring landowner, who believe in his
innocence, and who have retained Lestrade, whom you may recollect
in connection with 'A 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 at home."
"I am afraid," said I, "that the facts are so obvious that
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 characterizes 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 metier, 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 worth considering."
"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
"It was a confession," I ejaculated.
"No, for it was followed by a protestation of innocence."
"Coming on the top of such a damning series of events, it was at
least a most suspicious remark."
"On the contrary," said Holmes, "it is the brightest rift
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
I shook my head. "Many men have been hanged on far slighter
evidence," I remarked.
"So they have. And many men have been wrongfully hanged."
"What is the young man's own account of the matter?"
"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
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 3d. 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
"Witness: 'He mumbled a few words, but I could only catch some
allusion to a rat.'
"The Coroner: 'What did you understand by that?'
"Witness: 'It conveyed no meaning to me. I thought that he was
"The Coroner: 'What was the point upon which you and your father
had this final quarrel?'
"Witness: 'I should prefer not to answer.'
"The Coroner: 'I am afraid that I must press it.'
"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 may arise'
"Witness: 'I must still refuse.'
"The Coroner: 'I understand that the cry of "Cooee" was a
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 suspiclons
when you returned on hearing the cry and found your father
"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 gray in color, a coat of some sort, or a plaid perhaps.
When I rose from my father I looked round for it, but it was
"'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 favor. Don't you see that you alternately give him
credit for having too much imaginition 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 outre 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 recognizing 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.
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 tenderhearted 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 of them."
"And your father?" asked Holmes. "Was he in favor of such
"No, he was averse to it also. No one but Mr. McCarthy was in
favor of it." A quick blush passed over her fresh young face as
Holmes shot one of his keen, questioning glances at her.
"Thank you for this information," said he. "May I see your
if I call to-morrow?"
"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
nlervous system is shattered. Mr. McCarthy was the only man alive
who had known dad in the old days in Victoria."
"Ha! ln 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
"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
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 hail 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 favor 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's 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 gray 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's 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 young
"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
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 to-morrow."
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 Boscombe
"There is serious news this morning," Lestrade observed. "It
said that Mr. Turner, of the Hall, is so ill that his life is
"An elderly man, I presume?" saild 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 Holmes.
"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 and fancies."
"You are right," said Holmes demurely; "you do find it very
to tackle the facts."
"Anyhow, I have grasped one fact which you seem to find it
difficult to get hold of," replied Lesbiade 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 gray 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's 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 Pool.
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 recognize 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
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 land 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 asked.
"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 neighborhood. 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 gray 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 lunchebn. 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
"And the murderer?"
"Is a tall man, left-handed, limps with the right leg, wears
thick-soled shooting-boots and a gray 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 verrons," 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 train."
"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
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
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
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 favor 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 gray 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 gray 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
"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
"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
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
"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 Hall."
"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 answered.
"Yes," said Holmes, answering the look rather than the words.
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
"I am glad to hear you say so," said Holmes gravely.
"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
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 jail."
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
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 power.
"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 Ballarat Gang.
"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 hls 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
"'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
"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 Alice.
"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 we went down there I found him talking with his son, so
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
"Well, it is not for me to judge you," said Holmes as the old
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 to do?"
"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
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
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Room | THE
ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES