The Adventure Of Black Peter
I have never known my friend to be in better form, both mental and
physical, than in the year '95. His increasing fame had brought with it
an immense practice, and I should be guilty of an indiscretion if I
were even to hint at the identity of some of the illustrious clients who
crossed our humble threshold in Baker Street. Holmes, however, like all
great artists, lived for his art's sake, and, save in the case of the
Duke of Holdernesse, I have seldom known him claim any large reward for
his inestimable services. So unworldly was he--or so capricious--that
he frequently refused his help to the powerful and wealthy where the
problem made no appeal to his sympathies, while he would devote weeks of
most intense application to the affairs of some humble client whose case
presented those strange and dramatic qualities which appealed to his
imagination and challenged his ingenuity.
In this memorable year '95, a curious and incongruous succession of
cases had engaged his attention, ranging from his famous investigation
of the sudden death of Cardinal Tosca--an inquiry which was carried
out by him at the express desire of His Holiness the Pope--down to
his arrest of Wilson, the notorious canary-trainer, which removed a
plague-spot from the East End of London. Close on the heels of these
two famous cases came the tragedy of Woodman's Lee, and the very obscure
circumstances which surrounded the death of Captain Peter Carey. No
record of the doings of Mr. Sherlock Holmes would be complete which did
not include some account of this very unusual affair.
During the first week of July, my friend had been absent so often and
so long from our lodgings that I knew he had something on hand. The fact
that several rough-looking men called during that time and inquired for
Captain Basil made me understand that Holmes was working somewhere under
one of the numerous disguises and names with which he concealed his own
formidable identity. He had at least five small refuges in different
parts of London, in which he was able to change his personality. He
said nothing of his business to me, and it was not my habit to force a
confidence. The first positive sign which he gave me of the direction
which his investigation was taking was an extraordinary one. He had gone
out before breakfast, and I had sat down to mine when he strode into the
room, his hat upon his head and a huge barbed-headed spear tucked like
an umbrella under his arm.
"Good gracious, Holmes!" I cried. "You don't mean to say that you have
been walking about London with that thing?"
"I drove to the butcher's and back."
"And I return with an excellent appetite. There can be no question,
my dear Watson, of the value of exercise before breakfast. But I am
prepared to bet that you will not guess the form that my exercise has
"I will not attempt it."
He chuckled as he poured out the coffee.
"If you could have looked into Allardyce's back shop, you would have
seen a dead pig swung from a hook in the ceiling, and a gentleman in
his shirt sleeves furiously stabbing at it with this weapon. I was that
energetic person, and I have satisfied myself that by no exertion of my
strength can I transfix the pig with a single blow. Perhaps you would
care to try?"
"Not for worlds. But why were you doing this?"
"Because it seemed to me to have an indirect bearing upon the mystery of
Woodman's Lee. Ah, Hopkins, I got your wire last night, and I have been
expecting you. Come and join us."
Our visitor was an exceedingly alert man, thirty years of age, dressed
in a quiet tweed suit, but retaining the erect bearing of one who was
accustomed to official uniform. I recognized him at once as Stanley
Hopkins, a young police inspector, for whose future Holmes had high
hopes, while he in turn professed the admiration and respect of a pupil
for the scientific methods of the famous amateur. Hopkins's brow was
clouded, and he sat down with an air of deep dejection.
"No, thank you, sir. I breakfasted before I came round. I spent the
night in town, for I came up yesterday to report."
"And what had you to report?"
"Failure, sir, absolute failure."
"You have made no progress?"
"Dear me! I must have a look at the matter."
"I wish to heavens that you would, Mr. Holmes. It's my first big chance,
and I am at my wit's end. For goodness' sake, come down and lend me a
"Well, well, it just happens that I have already read all the available
evidence, including the report of the inquest, with some care. By the
way, what do you make of that tobacco pouch, found on the scene of the
crime? Is there no clue there?"
Hopkins looked surprised.
"It was the man's own pouch, sir. His initials were inside it. And it
was of sealskin,--and he was an old sealer."
"But he had no pipe."
"No, sir, we could find no pipe. Indeed, he smoked very little, and yet
he might have kept some tobacco for his friends."
"No doubt. I only mention it because, if I had been handling the case,
I should have been inclined to make that the starting-point of my
investigation. However, my friend, Dr. Watson, knows nothing of this
matter, and I should be none the worse for hearing the sequence of
events once more. Just give us some short sketches of the essentials."
Stanley Hopkins drew a slip of paper from his pocket.
"I have a few dates here which will give you the career of the dead man,
Captain Peter Carey. He was born in '45--fifty years of age. He was a
most daring and successful seal and whale fisher. In 1883 he commanded
the steam sealer SEA UNICORN, of Dundee. He had then had several
successful voyages in succession, and in the following year, 1884, he
retired. After that he travelled for some years, and finally he bought
a small place called Woodman's Lee, near Forest Row, in Sussex. There he
has lived for six years, and there he died just a week ago to-day.
"There were some most singular points about the man. In ordinary
life, he was a strict Puritan--a silent, gloomy fellow. His household
consisted of his wife, his daughter, aged twenty, and two female
servants. These last were continually changing, for it was never a very
cheery situation, and sometimes it became past all bearing. The man
was an intermittent drunkard, and when he had the fit on him he was a
perfect fiend. He has been known to drive his wife and daughter out of
doors in the middle of the night and flog them through the park until
the whole village outside the gates was aroused by their screams.
"He was summoned once for a savage assault upon the old vicar, who had
called upon him to remonstrate with him upon his conduct. In short,
Mr. Holmes, you would go far before you found a more dangerous man than
Peter Carey, and I have heard that he bore the same character when he
commanded his ship. He was known in the trade as Black Peter, and the
name was given him, not only on account of his swarthy features and the
colour of his huge beard, but for the humours which were the terror of
all around him. I need not say that he was loathed and avoided by every
one of his neighbours, and that I have not heard one single word of
sorrow about his terrible end.
"You must have read in the account of the inquest about the man's cabin,
Mr. Holmes, but perhaps your friend here has not heard of it. He had
built himself a wooden outhouse--he always called it the 'cabin'--a few
hundred yards from his house, and it was here that he slept every night.
It was a little, single-roomed hut, sixteen feet by ten. He kept the
key in his pocket, made his own bed, cleaned it himself, and allowed no
other foot to cross the threshold. There are small windows on each side,
which were covered by curtains and never opened. One of these windows
was turned towards the high road, and when the light burned in it at
night the folk used to point it out to each other and wonder what Black
Peter was doing in there. That's the window, Mr. Holmes, which gave us
one of the few bits of positive evidence that came out at the inquest.
"You remember that a stonemason, named Slater, walking from Forest Row
about one o'clock in the morning--two days before the murder--stopped
as he passed the grounds and looked at the square of light still shining
among the trees. He swears that the shadow of a man's head turned
sideways was clearly visible on the blind, and that this shadow was
certainly not that of Peter Carey, whom he knew well. It was that of a
bearded man, but the beard was short and bristled forward in a way very
different from that of the captain. So he says, but he had been two
hours in the public-house, and it is some distance from the road to the
window. Besides, this refers to the Monday, and the crime was done upon
"On the Tuesday, Peter Carey was in one of his blackest moods, flushed
with drink and as savage as a dangerous wild beast. He roamed about the
house, and the women ran for it when they heard him coming. Late in the
evening, he went down to his own hut. About two o'clock the following
morning, his daughter, who slept with her window open, heard a most
fearful yell from that direction, but it was no unusual thing for him to
bawl and shout when he was in drink, so no notice was taken. On rising
at seven, one of the maids noticed that the door of the hut was open,
but so great was the terror which the man caused that it was midday
before anyone would venture down to see what had become of him. Peeping
into the open door, they saw a sight which sent them flying, with white
faces, into the village. Within an hour, I was on the spot and had taken
over the case.
"Well, I have fairly steady nerves, as you know, Mr. Holmes, but I give
you my word, that I got a shake when I put my head into that little
house. It was droning like a harmonium with the flies and bluebottles,
and the floor and walls were like a slaughter-house. He had called it a
cabin, and a cabin it was, sure enough, for you would have thought that
you were in a ship. There was a bunk at one end, a sea-chest, maps and
charts, a picture of the SEA UNICORN, a line of logbooks on a shelf, all
exactly as one would expect to find it in a captain's room. And there,
in the middle of it, was the man himself--his face twisted like a lost
soul in torment, and his great brindled beard stuck upward in his agony.
Right through his broad breast a steel harpoon had been driven, and it
had sunk deep into the wood of the wall behind him. He was pinned like a
beetle on a card. Of course, he was quite dead, and had been so from the
instant that he had uttered that last yell of agony.
"I know your methods, sir, and I applied them. Before I permitted
anything to be moved, I examined most carefully the ground outside, and
also the floor of the room. There were no footmarks."
"Meaning that you saw none?"
"I assure you, sir, that there were none."
"My good Hopkins, I have investigated many crimes, but I have never
yet seen one which was committed by a flying creature. As long as the
criminal remains upon two legs so long must there be some indentation,
some abrasion, some trifling displacement which can be detected by the
scientific searcher. It is incredible that this blood-bespattered room
contained no trace which could have aided us. I understand, however,
from the inquest that there were some objects which you failed to
The young inspector winced at my companion's ironical comments.
"I was a fool not to call you in at the time Mr. Holmes. However, that's
past praying for now. Yes, there were several objects in the room which
called for special attention. One was the harpoon with which the deed
was committed. It had been snatched down from a rack on the wall. Two
others remained there, and there was a vacant place for the third.
On the stock was engraved 'SS. SEA UNICORN, Dundee.' This seemed to
establish that the crime had been done in a moment of fury, and that
the murderer had seized the first weapon which came in his way. The fact
that the crime was committed at two in the morning, and yet Peter
Carey was fully dressed, suggested that he had an appointment with the
murderer, which is borne out by the fact that a bottle of rum and two
dirty glasses stood upon the table."
"Yes," said Holmes; "I think that both inferences are permissible. Was
there any other spirit but rum in the room?"
"Yes, there was a tantalus containing brandy and whisky on the
sea-chest. It is of no importance to us, however, since the decanters
were full, and it had therefore not been used."
"For all that, its presence has some significance," said Holmes.
"However, let us hear some more about the objects which do seem to you
to bear upon the case."
"There was this tobacco-pouch upon the table."
"What part of the table?"
"It lay in the middle. It was of coarse sealskin--the straight-haired
skin, with a leather thong to bind it. Inside was 'P.C.' on the flap.
There was half an ounce of strong ship's tobacco in it."
"Excellent! What more?"
Stanley Hopkins drew from his pocket a drab-covered notebook. The
outside was rough and worn, the leaves discoloured. On the first page
were written the initials "J.H.N." and the date "1883." Holmes laid
it on the table and examined it in his minute way, while Hopkins and I
gazed over each shoulder. On the second page were the printed letters
"C.P.R.," and then came several sheets of numbers. Another heading was
"Argentine," another "Costa Rica," and another "San Paulo," each with
pages of signs and figures after it.
"What do you make of these?" asked Holmes.
"They appear to be lists of Stock Exchange securities. I thought that
'J.H.N.' were the initials of a broker, and that 'C.P.R.' may have been
"Try Canadian Pacific Railway," said Holmes.
Stanley Hopkins swore between his teeth, and struck his thigh with his
"What a fool I have been!" he cried. "Of course, it is as you say. Then
'J.H.N.' are the only initials we have to solve. I have already examined
the old Stock Exchange lists, and I can find no one in 1883, either in
the house or among the outside brokers, whose initials correspond with
these. Yet I feel that the clue is the most important one that I hold.
You will admit, Mr. Holmes, that there is a possibility that these
initials are those of the second person who was present--in other words,
of the murderer. I would also urge that the introduction into the case
of a document relating to large masses of valuable securities gives us
for the first time some indication of a motive for the crime."
Sherlock Holmes's face showed that he was thoroughly taken aback by this
"I must admit both your points," said he. "I confess that this notebook,
which did not appear at the inquest, modifies any views which I may have
formed. I had come to a theory of the crime in which I can find no
place for this. Have you endeavoured to trace any of the securities here
"Inquiries are now being made at the offices, but I fear that the
complete register of the stockholders of these South American concerns
is in South America, and that some weeks must elapse before we can trace
Holmes had been examining the cover of the notebook with his magnifying
"Surely there is some discolouration here," said he.
"Yes, sir, it is a blood-stain. I told you that I picked the book off
"Was the blood-stain above or below?"
"On the side next the boards."
"Which proves, of course, that the book was dropped after the crime was
"Exactly, Mr. Holmes. I appreciated that point, and I conjectured that
it was dropped by the murderer in his hurried flight. It lay near the
"I suppose that none of these securities have been found among the
property of the dead man?"
"Have you any reason to suspect robbery?"
"No, sir. Nothing seemed to have been touched."
"Dear me, it is certainly a very interesting case. Then there was a
knife, was there not?"
"A sheath-knife, still in its sheath. It lay at the feet of the dead
man. Mrs. Carey has identified it as being her husband's property."
Holmes was lost in thought for some time.
"Well," said he, at last, "I suppose I shall have to come out and have a
look at it."
Stanley Hopkins gave a cry of joy.
"Thank you, sir. That will, indeed, be a weight off my mind."
Holmes shook his finger at the inspector.
"It would have been an easier task a week ago," said he. "But even now
my visit may not be entirely fruitless. Watson, if you can spare
the time, I should be very glad of your company. If you will call a
four-wheeler, Hopkins, we shall be ready to start for Forest Row in a
quarter of an hour."
Alighting at the small wayside station, we drove for some miles through
the remains of widespread woods, which were once part of that
great forest which for so long held the Saxon invaders at bay--the
impenetrable "weald," for sixty years the bulwark of Britain. Vast
sections of it have been cleared, for this is the seat of the first
iron-works of the country, and the trees have been felled to smelt the
ore. Now the richer fields of the North have absorbed the trade, and
nothing save these ravaged groves and great scars in the earth show the
work of the past. Here, in a clearing upon the green slope of a hill,
stood a long, low, stone house, approached by a curving drive running
through the fields. Nearer the road, and surrounded on three sides by
bushes, was a small outhouse, one window and the door facing in our
direction. It was the scene of the murder.
Stanley Hopkins led us first to the house, where he introduced us to a
haggard, gray-haired woman, the widow of the murdered man, whose gaunt
and deep-lined face, with the furtive look of terror in the depths of
her red-rimmed eyes, told of the years of hardship and ill-usage which
she had endured. With her was her daughter, a pale, fair-haired girl,
whose eyes blazed defiantly at us as she told us that she was glad that
her father was dead, and that she blessed the hand which had struck him
down. It was a terrible household that Black Peter Carey had made for
himself, and it was with a sense of relief that we found ourselves in
the sunlight again and making our way along a path which had been worn
across the fields by the feet of the dead man.
The outhouse was the simplest of dwellings, wooden-walled,
shingle-roofed, one window beside the door and one on the farther side.
Stanley Hopkins drew the key from his pocket and had stooped to the
lock, when he paused with a look of attention and surprise upon his
"Someone has been tampering with it," he said.
There could be no doubt of the fact. The woodwork was cut, and the
scratches showed white through the paint, as if they had been that
instant done. Holmes had been examining the window.
"Someone has tried to force this also. Whoever it was has failed to make
his way in. He must have been a very poor burglar."
"This is a most extraordinary thing," said the inspector, "I could swear
that these marks were not here yesterday evening."
"Some curious person from the village, perhaps," I suggested.
"Very unlikely. Few of them would dare to set foot in the grounds, far
less try to force their way into the cabin. What do you think of it, Mr.
"I think that fortune is very kind to us."
"You mean that the person will come again?"
"It is very probable. He came expecting to find the door open. He tried
to get in with the blade of a very small penknife. He could not manage
it. What would he do?"
"Come again next night with a more useful tool."
"So I should say. It will be our fault if we are not there to receive
him. Meanwhile, let me see the inside of the cabin."
The traces of the tragedy had been removed, but the furniture within the
little room still stood as it had been on the night of the crime. For
two hours, with most intense concentration, Holmes examined every object
in turn, but his face showed that his quest was not a successful one.
Once only he paused in his patient investigation.
"Have you taken anything off this shelf, Hopkins?"
"No, I have moved nothing."
"Something has been taken. There is less dust in this corner of the
shelf than elsewhere. It may have been a book lying on its side. It may
have been a box. Well, well, I can do nothing more. Let us walk in
these beautiful woods, Watson, and give a few hours to the birds and the
flowers. We shall meet you here later, Hopkins, and see if we can come
to closer quarters with the gentleman who has paid this visit in the
It was past eleven o'clock when we formed our little ambuscade. Hopkins
was for leaving the door of the hut open, but Holmes was of the opinion
that this would rouse the suspicions of the stranger. The lock was a
perfectly simple one, and only a strong blade was needed to push it
back. Holmes also suggested that we should wait, not inside the hut,
but outside it, among the bushes which grew round the farther window.
In this way we should be able to watch our man if he struck a light, and
see what his object was in this stealthy nocturnal visit.
It was a long and melancholy vigil, and yet brought with it something
of the thrill which the hunter feels when he lies beside the water-pool,
and waits for the coming of the thirsty beast of prey. What savage
creature was it which might steal upon us out of the darkness? Was it
a fierce tiger of crime, which could only be taken fighting hard with
flashing fang and claw, or would it prove to be some skulking jackal,
dangerous only to the weak and unguarded?
In absolute silence we crouched amongst the bushes, waiting for whatever
might come. At first the steps of a few belated villagers, or the sound
of voices from the village, lightened our vigil, but one by one these
interruptions died away, and an absolute stillness fell upon us, save
for the chimes of the distant church, which told us of the progress of
the night, and for the rustle and whisper of a fine rain falling amid
the foliage which roofed us in.
Half-past two had chimed, and it was the darkest hour which precedes
the dawn, when we all started as a low but sharp click came from the
direction of the gate. Someone had entered the drive. Again there was a
long silence, and I had begun to fear that it was a false alarm, when
a stealthy step was heard upon the other side of the hut, and a moment
later a metallic scraping and clinking. The man was trying to force the
lock. This time his skill was greater or his tool was better, for there
was a sudden snap and the creak of the hinges. Then a match was struck,
and next instant the steady light from a candle filled the interior of
the hut. Through the gauze curtain our eyes were all riveted upon the
The nocturnal visitor was a young man, frail and thin, with a black
moustache, which intensified the deadly pallor of his face. He could not
have been much above twenty years of age. I have never seen any human
being who appeared to be in such a pitiable fright, for his teeth were
visibly chattering, and he was shaking in every limb. He was dressed
like a gentleman, in Norfolk jacket and knickerbockers, with a cloth cap
upon his head. We watched him staring round with frightened eyes. Then
he laid the candle-end upon the table and disappeared from our view into
one of the corners. He returned with a large book, one of the logbooks
which formed a line upon the shelves. Leaning on the table, he rapidly
turned over the leaves of this volume until he came to the entry which
he sought. Then, with an angry gesture of his clenched hand, he closed
the book, replaced it in the corner, and put out the light. He had
hardly turned to leave the hut when Hopkin's hand was on the fellow's
collar, and I heard his loud gasp of terror as he understood that he
was taken. The candle was relit, and there was our wretched captive,
shivering and cowering in the grasp of the detective. He sank down upon
the sea-chest, and looked helplessly from one of us to the other.
"Now, my fine fellow," said Stanley Hopkins, "who are you, and what do
you want here?"
The man pulled himself together, and faced us with an effort at
"You are detectives, I suppose?" said he. "You imagine I am connected
with the death of Captain Peter Carey. I assure you that I am innocent."
"We'll see about that," said Hopkins. "First of all, what is your name?"
"It is John Hopley Neligan."
I saw Holmes and Hopkins exchange a quick glance.
"What are you doing here?"
"Can I speak confidentially?"
"No, certainly not."
"Why should I tell you?"
"If you have no answer, it may go badly with you at the trial."
The young man winced.
"Well, I will tell you," he said. "Why should I not? And yet I hate to
think of this old scandal gaining a new lease of life. Did you ever hear
of Dawson and Neligan?"
I could see, from Hopkins's face, that he never had, but Holmes was
"You mean the West Country bankers," said he. "They failed for a
million, ruined half the county families of Cornwall, and Neligan
"Exactly. Neligan was my father."
At last we were getting something positive, and yet it seemed a long gap
between an absconding banker and Captain Peter Carey pinned against the
wall with one of his own harpoons. We all listened intently to the young
"It was my father who was really concerned. Dawson had retired. I was
only ten years of age at the time, but I was old enough to feel the
shame and horror of it all. It has always been said that my father stole
all the securities and fled. It is not true. It was his belief that if
he were given time in which to realize them, all would be well and every
creditor paid in full. He started in his little yacht for Norway just
before the warrant was issued for his arrest. I can remember that last
night when he bade farewell to my mother. He left us a list of the
securities he was taking, and he swore that he would come back with his
honour cleared, and that none who had trusted him would suffer. Well,
no word was ever heard from him again. Both the yacht and he vanished
utterly. We believed, my mother and I, that he and it, with the
securities that he had taken with him, were at the bottom of the sea. We
had a faithful friend, however, who is a business man, and it was he who
discovered some time ago that some of the securities which my father
had with him had reappeared on the London market. You can imagine our
amazement. I spent months in trying to trace them, and at last, after
many doubtings and difficulties, I discovered that the original seller
had been Captain Peter Carey, the owner of this hut.
"Naturally, I made some inquiries about the man. I found that he had
been in command of a whaler which was due to return from the Arctic seas
at the very time when my father was crossing to Norway. The autumn of
that year was a stormy one, and there was a long succession of southerly
gales. My father's yacht may well have been blown to the north, and
there met by Captain Peter Carey's ship. If that were so, what had
become of my father? In any case, if I could prove from Peter Carey's
evidence how these securities came on the market it would be a proof
that my father had not sold them, and that he had no view to personal
profit when he took them.
"I came down to Sussex with the intention of seeing the captain, but
it was at this moment that his terrible death occurred. I read at the
inquest a description of his cabin, in which it stated that the old
logbooks of his vessel were preserved in it. It struck me that if I
could see what occurred in the month of August, 1883, on board the SEA
UNICORN, I might settle the mystery of my father's fate. I tried
last night to get at these logbooks, but was unable to open the door.
To-night I tried again and succeeded, but I find that the pages which
deal with that month have been torn from the book. It was at that moment
I found myself a prisoner in your hands."
"Is that all?" asked Hopkins.
"Yes, that is all." His eyes shifted as he said it.
"You have nothing else to tell us?"
"No, there is nothing."
"You have not been here before last night?"
"Then how do you account for THAT?" cried Hopkins, as he held up the
damning notebook, with the initials of our prisoner on the first leaf
and the blood-stain on the cover.
The wretched man collapsed. He sank his face in his hands, and trembled
"Where did you get it?" he groaned. "I did not know. I thought I had
lost it at the hotel."
"That is enough," said Hopkins, sternly. "Whatever else you have to
say, you must say in court. You will walk down with me now to the
police-station. Well, Mr. Holmes, I am very much obliged to you and to
your friend for coming down to help me. As it turns out your presence
was unnecessary, and I would have brought the case to this successful
issue without you, but, none the less, I am grateful. Rooms have been
reserved for you at the Brambletye Hotel, so we can all walk down to the
"Well, Watson, what do you think of it?" asked Holmes, as we travelled
back next morning.
"I can see that you are not satisfied."
"Oh, yes, my dear Watson, I am perfectly satisfied. At the same
time, Stanley Hopkins's methods do not commend themselves to me. I am
disappointed in Stanley Hopkins. I had hoped for better things from him.
One should always look for a possible alternative, and provide against
it. It is the first rule of criminal investigation."
"What, then, is the alternative?"
"The line of investigation which I have myself been pursuing. It may
give us nothing. I cannot tell. But at least I shall follow it to the
Several letters were waiting for Holmes at Baker Street. He snatched
one of them up, opened it, and burst out into a triumphant chuckle of
"Excellent, Watson! The alternative develops. Have you telegraph
forms? Just write a couple of messages for me: 'Sumner, Shipping
Agent, Ratcliff Highway. Send three men on, to arrive ten to-morrow
morning.--Basil.' That's my name in those parts. The other is:
'Inspector Stanley Hopkins, 46 Lord Street, Brixton. Come breakfast
to-morrow at nine-thirty. Important. Wire if unable to come.--Sherlock
Holmes.' There, Watson, this infernal case has haunted me for ten days.
I hereby banish it completely from my presence. To-morrow, I trust that
we shall hear the last of it forever."
Sharp at the hour named Inspector Stanley Hopkins appeared, and we sat
down together to the excellent breakfast which Mrs. Hudson had prepared.
The young detective was in high spirits at his success.
"You really think that your solution must be correct?" asked Holmes.
"I could not imagine a more complete case."
"It did not seem to me conclusive."
"You astonish me, Mr. Holmes. What more could one ask for?"
"Does your explanation cover every point?"
"Undoubtedly. I find that young Neligan arrived at the Brambletye Hotel
on the very day of the crime. He came on the pretence of playing golf.
His room was on the ground-floor, and he could get out when he liked.
That very night he went down to Woodman's Lee, saw Peter Carey at
the hut, quarrelled with him, and killed him with the harpoon. Then,
horrified by what he had done, he fled out of the hut, dropping the
notebook which he had brought with him in order to question Peter Carey
about these different securities. You may have observed that some of
them were marked with ticks, and the others--the great majority--were
not. Those which are ticked have been traced on the London market, but
the others, presumably, were still in the possession of Carey, and young
Neligan, according to his own account, was anxious to recover them in
order to do the right thing by his father's creditors. After his flight
he did not dare to approach the hut again for some time, but at last
he forced himself to do so in order to obtain the information which he
needed. Surely that is all simple and obvious?"
Holmes smiled and shook his head. "It seems to me to have only one
drawback, Hopkins, and that is that it is intrinsically impossible. Have
you tried to drive a harpoon through a body? No? Tut, tut my dear sir,
you must really pay attention to these details. My friend Watson could
tell you that I spent a whole morning in that exercise. It is no easy
matter, and requires a strong and practised arm. But this blow was
delivered with such violence that the head of the weapon sank deep
into the wall. Do you imagine that this anaemic youth was capable of so
frightful an assault? Is he the man who hobnobbed in rum and water with
Black Peter in the dead of the night? Was it his profile that was seen
on the blind two nights before? No, no, Hopkins, it is another and more
formidable person for whom we must seek."
The detective's face had grown longer and longer during Holmes's speech.
His hopes and his ambitions were all crumbling about him. But he would
not abandon his position without a struggle.
"You can't deny that Neligan was present that night, Mr. Holmes. The
book will prove that. I fancy that I have evidence enough to satisfy a
jury, even if you are able to pick a hole in it. Besides, Mr. Holmes,
I have laid my hand upon MY man. As to this terrible person of yours,
where is he?"
"I rather fancy that he is on the stair," said Holmes, serenely. "I
think, Watson, that you would do well to put that revolver where you can
reach it." He rose and laid a written paper upon a side-table. "Now we
are ready," said he.
There had been some talking in gruff voices outside, and now Mrs. Hudson
opened the door to say that there were three men inquiring for Captain
"Show them in one by one," said Holmes.
"The first who entered was a little Ribston pippin of a man, with ruddy
cheeks and fluffy white side-whiskers. Holmes had drawn a letter from
"What name?" he asked.
"I am sorry, Lancaster, but the berth is full. Here is half a sovereign
for your trouble. Just step into this room and wait there for a few
The second man was a long, dried-up creature, with lank hair and sallow
cheeks. His name was Hugh Pattins. He also received his dismissal, his
half-sovereign, and the order to wait.
The third applicant was a man of remarkable appearance. A fierce
bull-dog face was framed in a tangle of hair and beard, and two bold,
dark eyes gleamed behind the cover of thick, tufted, overhung eyebrows.
He saluted and stood sailor-fashion, turning his cap round in his hands.
"Your name?" asked Holmes.
"Yes, sir. Twenty-six voyages."
"Dundee, I suppose?"
"And ready to start with an exploring ship?"
"Eight pounds a month."
"Could you start at once?"
"As soon as I get my kit."
"Have you your papers?"
"Yes, sir." He took a sheaf of worn and greasy forms from his pocket.
Holmes glanced over them and returned them.
"You are just the man I want," said he. "Here's the agreement on the
side-table. If you sign it the whole matter will be settled."
The seaman lurched across the room and took up the pen.
"Shall I sign here?" he asked, stooping over the table.
Holmes leaned over his shoulder and passed both hands over his neck.
"This will do," said he.
I heard a click of steel and a bellow like an enraged bull. The next
instant Holmes and the seaman were rolling on the ground together. He
was a man of such gigantic strength that, even with the handcuffs
which Holmes had so deftly fastened upon his wrists, he would have
very quickly overpowered my friend had Hopkins and I not rushed to
his rescue. Only when I pressed the cold muzzle of the revolver to his
temple did he at last understand that resistance was vain. We lashed his
ankles with cord, and rose breathless from the struggle.
"I must really apologize, Hopkins," said Sherlock Holmes. "I fear that
the scrambled eggs are cold. However, you will enjoy the rest of your
breakfast all the better, will you not, for the thought that you have
brought your case to a triumphant conclusion."
Stanley Hopkins was speechless with amazement.
"I don't know what to say, Mr. Holmes," he blurted out at last, with a
very red face. "It seems to me that I have been making a fool of
myself from the beginning. I understand now, what I should never have
forgotten, that I am the pupil and you are the master. Even now I
see what you have done, but I don't know how you did it or what it
"Well, well," said Holmes, good-humouredly. "We all learn by experience,
and your lesson this time is that you should never lose sight of the
alternative. You were so absorbed in young Neligan that you could not
spare a thought to Patrick Cairns, the true murderer of Peter Carey."
The hoarse voice of the seaman broke in on our conversation.
"See here, mister," said he, "I make no complaint of being man-handled
in this fashion, but I would have you call things by their right names.
You say I murdered Peter Carey, I say I KILLED Peter Carey, and there's
all the difference. Maybe you don't believe what I say. Maybe you think
I am just slinging you a yarn."
"Not at all," said Holmes. "Let us hear what you have to say."
"It's soon told, and, by the Lord, every word of it is truth. I knew
Black Peter, and when he pulled out his knife I whipped a harpoon
through him sharp, for I knew that it was him or me. That's how he died.
You can call it murder. Anyhow, I'd as soon die with a rope round my
neck as with Black Peter's knife in my heart."
"How came you there?" asked Holmes.
"I'll tell it you from the beginning. Just sit me up a little, so as
I can speak easy. It was in '83 that it happened--August of that year.
Peter Carey was master of the SEA UNICORN, and I was spare harpooner. We
were coming out of the ice-pack on our way home, with head winds and a
week's southerly gale, when we picked up a little craft that had been
blown north. There was one man on her--a landsman. The crew had thought
she would founder and had made for the Norwegian coast in the dinghy. I
guess they were all drowned. Well, we took him on board, this man, and
he and the skipper had some long talks in the cabin. All the baggage we
took off with him was one tin box. So far as I know, the man's name was
never mentioned, and on the second night he disappeared as if he had
never been. It was given out that he had either thrown himself overboard
or fallen overboard in the heavy weather that we were having. Only one
man knew what had happened to him, and that was me, for, with my own
eyes, I saw the skipper tip up his heels and put him over the rail
in the middle watch of a dark night, two days before we sighted the
Shetland Lights. Well, I kept my knowledge to myself, and waited to see
what would come of it. When we got back to Scotland it was easily hushed
up, and nobody asked any questions. A stranger died by accident and it
was nobody's business to inquire. Shortly after Peter Carey gave up the
sea, and it was long years before I could find where he was. I guessed
that he had done the deed for the sake of what was in that tin box, and
that he could afford now to pay me well for keeping my mouth shut. I
found out where he was through a sailor man that had met him in London,
and down I went to squeeze him. The first night he was reasonable
enough, and was ready to give me what would make me free of the sea for
life. We were to fix it all two nights later. When I came, I found him
three parts drunk and in a vile temper. We sat down and we drank and we
yarned about old times, but the more he drank the less I liked the look
on his face. I spotted that harpoon upon the wall, and I thought I might
need it before I was through. Then at last he broke out at me, spitting
and cursing, with murder in his eyes and a great clasp-knife in his
hand. He had not time to get it from the sheath before I had the harpoon
through him. Heavens! what a yell he gave! and his face gets between me
and my sleep. I stood there, with his blood splashing round me, and I
waited for a bit, but all was quiet, so I took heart once more. I looked
round, and there was the tin box on the shelf. I had as much right to
it as Peter Carey, anyhow, so I took it with me and left the hut. Like a
fool I left my baccy-pouch upon the table.
"Now I'll tell you the queerest part of the whole story. I had hardly
got outside the hut when I heard someone coming, and I hid among the
bushes. A man came slinking along, went into the hut, gave a cry as if
he had seen a ghost, and legged it as hard as he could run until he was
out of sight. Who he was or what he wanted is more than I can tell.
For my part I walked ten miles, got a train at Tunbridge Wells, and so
reached London, and no one the wiser.
"Well, when I came to examine the box I found there was no money in it,
and nothing but papers that I would not dare to sell. I had lost my hold
on Black Peter and was stranded in London without a shilling. There was
only my trade left. I saw these advertisements about harpooners, and
high wages, so I went to the shipping agents, and they sent me here.
That's all I know, and I say again that if I killed Black Peter, the law
should give me thanks, for I saved them the rice of a hempen rope."
"A very clear statement said Holmes," rising and lighting his pipe. "I
think, Hopkins, that you should lose no time in conveying your prisoner
to a place of safety. This room is not well adapted for a cell, and Mr.
Patrick Cairns occupies too large a proportion of our carpet."
"Mr. Holmes," said Hopkins, "I do not know how to express my gratitude.
Even now I do not understand how you attained this result."
"Simply by having the good fortune to get the right clue from the
beginning. It is very possible if I had known about this notebook
it might have led away my thoughts, as it did yours. But all I heard
pointed in the one direction. The amazing strength, the skill in the use
of the harpoon, the rum and water, the sealskin tobacco-pouch with the
coarse tobacco--all these pointed to a seaman, and one who had been a
whaler. I was convinced that the initials 'P.C.' upon the pouch were a
coincidence, and not those of Peter Carey, since he seldom smoked, and
no pipe was found in his cabin. You remember that I asked whether whisky
and brandy were in the cabin. You said they were. How many landsmen are
there who would drink rum when they could get these other spirits? Yes,
I was certain it was a seaman."
"And how did you find him?"
"My dear sir, the problem had become a very simple one. If it were
a seaman, it could only be a seaman who had been with him on the SEA
UNICORN. So far as I could learn he had sailed in no other ship. I
spent three days in wiring to Dundee, and at the end of that time I had
ascertained the names of the crew of the SEA UNICORN in 1883. When I
found Patrick Cairns among the harpooners, my research was nearing its
end. I argued that the man was probably in London, and that he would
desire to leave the country for a time. I therefore spent some days in
the East End, devised an Arctic expedition, put forth tempting terms for
harpooners who would serve under Captain Basil--and behold the result!"
"Wonderful!" cried Hopkins. "Wonderful!"
"You must obtain the release of young Neligan as soon as possible," said
Holmes. "I confess that I think you owe him some apology. The tin box
must be returned to him, but, of course, the securities which Peter
Carey has sold are lost forever. There's the cab, Hopkins, and you can
remove your man. If you want me for the trial, my address and that of
Watson will be somewhere in Norway--I'll send particulars later."
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