The Adventure Of The Devil's Foot

In recording from time to time some of the curious experiences

and interesting recollections which I associate with my long and

intimate friendship with Mr. Sherlock Holmes, I have continually

been faced by difficulties caused by his own aversion to

publicity. To his sombre and cynical spirit all popular applause

was always abhorrent, and nothing amused him more at the end of a

successful case than to hand over the ac
ual exposure to some

orthodox official, and to listen with a mocking smile to the

general chorus of misplaced congratulation. It was indeed this

attitude upon the part of my friend and certainly not any lack of

interesting material which has caused me of late years to lay

very few of my records before the public. My participation in

some if his adventures was always a privilege which entailed

discretion and reticence upon me.

It was, then, with considerable surprise that I received a

telegram from Homes last Tuesday--he has never been known to

write where a telegram would serve--in the following terms:

Why not tell them of the Cornish horror--strangest case I have


I have no idea what backward sweep of memory had brought the

matter fresh to his mind, or what freak had caused him to desire

that I should recount it; but I hasten, before another cancelling

telegram may arrive, to hunt out the notes which give me the

exact details of the case and to lay the narrative before my


It was, then, in the spring of the year 1897 that Holmes's iron

constitution showed some symptoms of giving way in the face of

constant hard work of a most exacting kind, aggravated, perhaps,

by occasional indiscretions of his own. In March of that year

Dr. Moore Agar, of Harley Street, whose dramatic introduction to

Holmes I may some day recount, gave positive injunctions that the

famous private agent lay aside all his cases and surrender

himself to complete rest if he wished to avert an absolute

breakdown. The state of his health was not a matter in which he

himself took the faintest interest, for his mental detachment was

absolute, but he was induced at last, on the threat of being

permanently disqualified from work, to give himself a complete

change of scene and air. Thus it was that in the early spring of

that year we found ourselves together in a small cottage near

Poldhu Bay, at the further extremity of the Cornish peninsula.

It was a singular spot, and one peculiarly well suited to the

grim humour of my patient. From the windows of our little

whitewashed house, which stood high upon a grassy headland, we

looked down upon the whole sinister semicircle of Mounts Bay,

that old death trap of sailing vessels, with its fringe of black

cliffs and surge-swept reefs on which innumerable seamen have met

their end. With a northerly breeze it lies placid and sheltered,

inviting the storm-tossed craft to tack into it for rest and


Then come the sudden swirl round of the wind, the blistering gale

from the south-west, the dragging anchor, the lee shore, and the

last battle in the creaming breakers. The wise mariner stands

far out from that evil place.

On the land side our surroundings were as sombre as on the sea.

It was a country of rolling moors, lonely and dun-colored, with

an occasional church tower to mark the site of some old-world

village. In every direction upon these moors there were traces

of some vanished race which had passed utterly away, and left as

it sole record strange monuments of stone, irregular mounds which

contained the burned ashes of the dead, and curious earthworks

which hinted at prehistoric strife. The glamour and mystery of

the place, with its sinister atmosphere of forgotten nations,

appealed to the imagination of my friend, and he spent much of

his time in long walks and solitary meditations upon the moor.

The ancient Cornish language had also arrested his attention, and

he had, I remember, conceived the idea that it was akin to the

Chaldean, and had been largely derived from the Phoenician

traders in tin. He had received a consignment of books upon

philology and was settling down to develop this thesis when

suddenly, to my sorrow and to his unfeigned delight, we found

ourselves, even in that land of dreams, plunged into a problem at

our very doors which was more intense, more engrossing, and

infinitely more mysterious than any of those which had driven us

from London. Our simple life and peaceful, healthy routine were

violently interrupted, and we were precipitated into the midst of

a series of events which caused the utmost excitement not only in

Cornwall but throughout the whole west of England. Many of my

readers may retain some recollection of what was called at the

time "The Cornish Horror," though a most imperfect account of the

matter reached the London press. Now, after thirteen years, I

will give the true details of this inconceivable affair to the


I have said that scattered towers marked the villages which

dotted this part of Cornwall. The nearest of these was the

hamlet of Tredannick Wollas, where the cottages of a couple of

hundred inhabitants clustered round an ancient, moss-grown

church. The vicar of the parish, Mr. Roundhay, was something of

an archaeologist, and as such Holmes had made his acquaintance.

He was a middle-aged man, portly and affable, with a considerable

fund of local lore. At his invitation we had taken tea at the

vicarage and had come to know, also, Mr. Mortimer Tregennis, an

independent gentleman, who increased the clergyman's scanty

resources by taking rooms in his large, straggling house. The

vicar, being a bachelor, was glad to come to such an arrangement,

though he had little in common with his lodger, who was a thin,

dark, spectacled man, with a stoop which gave the impression of

actual, physical deformity. I remember that during our short

visit we found the vicar garrulous, but his lodger strangely

reticent, a sad-faced, introspective man, sitting with averted

eyes, brooding apparently upon his own affairs.

These were the two men who entered abruptly into our little

sitting-room on Tuesday, March the 16th, shortly after our

breakfast hour, as we were smoking together, preparatory to our

daily excursion upon the moors.

"Mr. Holmes," said the vicar in an agitated voice, "the most

extraordinary and tragic affair has occurred during the night.

It is the most unheard-of business. We can only regard it as a

special Providence that you should chance to be here at the time,

for in all England you are the one man we need."

I glared at the intrusive vicar with no very friendly eyes; but

Holmes took his pipe from his lips and sat up in his chair like

an old hound who hears the view-halloa. He waved his hand to the

sofa, and our palpitating visitor with his agitated companion sat

side by side upon it. Mr. Mortimer Tregennis was more self-

contained than the clergyman, but the twitching of his thin hands

and the brightness of his dark eyes showed that they shared a

common emotion.

"Shall I speak or you?" he asked of the vicar.

"Well, as you seem to have made the discovery, whatever it may

be, and the vicar to have had it second-hand, perhaps you had

better do the speaking," said Holmes.

I glanced at the hastily clad clergyman, with the formally

dressed lodger seated beside him, and was amused at the surprise

which Holmes's simple deduction had brought to their faces.

"Perhaps I had best say a few words first," said the vicar, "and

then you can judge if you will listen to the details from Mr.

Tregennis, or whether we should not hasten at once to the scene

of this mysterious affair. I may explain, then, that our friend

here spent last evening in the company of his two brothers, Owen

and George, and of his sister Brenda, at their house of

Tredannick Wartha, which is near the old stone cross upon the

moor. He left them shortly after ten o'clock, playing cards

round the dining-room table, in excellent health and spirits.

This morning, being an early riser, he walked in that direction

before breakfast and was overtaken by the carriage of Dr.

Richards, who explained that he had just been sent for on a most

urgent call to Tredannick Wartha. Mr. Mortimer Tregennis

naturally went with him. When he arrived at Tredannick Wartha he

found an extraordinary state of things. His two brothers and his

sister were seated round the table exactly as he had left them,

the cards still spread in front of them and the candles burned

down to their sockets. The sister lay back stone-dead in her

chair, while the two brothers sat on each side of her laughing,

shouting, and singing, the senses stricken clean out of them.

All three of them, the dead woman and the two demented men,

retained upon their faces an expression of the utmost horror--a

convulsion of terror which was dreadful to look upon. There was

no sign of the presence of anyone in the house, except Mrs.

Porter, the old cook and housekeeper, who declared that she had

slept deeply and heard no sound during the night. Nothing had

been stolen or disarranged, and there is absolutely no

explanation of what the horror can be which has frightened a

woman to death and two strong men out of their senses. There is

the situation, Mr. Holmes, in a nutshell, and if you can help us

to clear it up you will have done a great work."

I had hoped that in some way I could coax my companion back into

the quiet which had been the object of our journey; but one

glance at his intense face and contracted eyebrows told me how

vain was now the expectation. He sat for some little time in

silence, absorbed in the strange drama which had broken in upon

our peace.

"I will look into this matter," he said at last. "On the face of

it, it would appear to be a case of a very exceptional nature.

Have you been there yourself, Mr. Roundhay?"

"No, Mr. Holmes. Mr. Tregennis brought back the account to the

vicarage, and I at once hurried over with him to consult you."

"How far is it to the house where this singular tragedy


"About a mile inland."

"Then we shall walk over together. But before we start I must

ask you a few questions, Mr. Mortimer Tregennis."

The other had been silent all this time, but I had observed that

his more controlled excitement was even greater than the

obtrusive emotion of the clergyman. He sat with a pale, drawn

face, his anxious gaze fixed upon Holmes, and his thin hands

clasped convulsively together. His pale lips quivered as he

listened to the dreadful experience which had befallen his

family, and his dark eyes seemed to reflect something of the

horror of the scene.

"Ask what you like, Mr. Holmes," said he eagerly. "It is a bad

thing to speak of, but I will answer you the truth."

"Tell me about last night."

"Well, Mr. Holmes, I supped there, as the vicar has said, and my

elder brother George proposed a game of whist afterwards. We sat

down about nine o'clock. It was a quarter-past ten when I moved

to go. I left them all round the table, as merry as could be."

"Who let you out?"

"Mrs. Porter had gone to bed, so I let myself out. I shut the

hall door behind me. The window of the room in which they sat

was closed, but the blind was not drawn down. There was no

change in door or window this morning, or any reason to think

that any stranger had been to the house. Yet there they sat,

driven clean mad with terror, and Brenda lying dead of fright,

with her head hanging over the arm of the chair. I'll never get

the sight of that room out of my mind so long as I live."

"The facts, as you state them, are certainly most remarkable,"

said Holmes. "I take it that you have no theory yourself which

can in any way account for them?"

"It's devilish, Mr. Holmes, devilish!" cried Mortimer Tregennis.

"It is not of this world. Something has come into that room

which has dashed the light of reason from their minds. What

human contrivance could do that?"

"I fear," said Holmes, "that if the matter is beyond humanity it

is certainly beyond me. Yet we must exhaust all natural

explanations before we fall back upon such a theory as this. As

to yourself, Mr. Tregennis, I take it you were divided in some

way from your family, since they lived together and you had rooms


"That is so, Mr. Holmes, though the matter is past and done with.

We were a family of tin-miners at Redruth, but we sold our

venture to a company, and so retired with enough to keep us. I

won't deny that there was some feeling about the division of the

money and it stood between us for a time, but it was all forgiven

and forgotten, and we were the best of friends together."

"Looking back at the evening which you spent together, does

anything stand out in your memory as throwing any possible light

upon the tragedy? Think carefully, Mr. Tregennis, for any clue

which can help me."

"There is nothing at all, sir."

"Your people were in their usual spirits?"

"Never better."

"Were they nervous people? Did they ever show any apprehension

of coming danger?"

"Nothing of the kind."

"You have nothing to add then, which could assist me?"

Mortimer Tregennis considered earnestly for a moment.

"There is one thing occurs to me," said he at last. "As we sat

at the table my back was to the window, and my brother George, he

being my partner at cards, was facing it. I saw him once look

hard over my shoulder, so I turned round and looked also. The

blind was up and the window shut, but I could just make out the

bushes on the lawn, and it seemed to me for a moment that I saw

something moving among them. I couldn't even say if it was man

or animal, but I just thought there was something there. When I

asked him what he was looking at, he told me that he had the same

feeling. That is all that I can say."

"Did you not investigate?"

"No; the matter passed as unimportant."

"You left them, then, without any premonition of evil?"

"None at all."

"I am not clear how you came to hear the news so early this


"I am an early riser and generally take a walk before breakfast.

This morning I had hardly started when the doctor in his carriage

overtook me. He told me that old Mrs. Porter had sent a boy down

with an urgent message. I sprang in beside him and we drove on.

When we got there we looked into that dreadful room. The candles

and the fire must have burned out hours before, and they had been

sitting there in the dark until dawn had broken. The doctor said

Brenda must have been dead at least six hours. There were no

signs of violence. She just lay across the arm of the chair with

that look on her face. George and Owen were singing snatches of

songs and gibbering like two great apes. Oh, it was awful to

see! I couldn't stand it, and the doctor was as white as a

sheet. Indeed, he fell into a chair in a sort of faint, and we

nearly had him on our hands as well."

"Remarkable--most remarkable!" said Holmes, rising and taking his

hat. "I think, perhaps, we had better go down to Tredannick

Wartha without further delay. I confess that I have seldom known

a case which at first sight presented a more singular problem."

Our proceedings of that first morning did little to advance the

investigation. It was marked, however, at the outset by an

incident which left the most sinister impression upon my mind.

The approach to the spot at which the tragedy occurred is down a

narrow, winding, country lane. While we made our way along it we

heard the rattle of a carriage coming towards us and stood aside

to let it pass. As it drove by us I caught a glimpse through the

closed window of a horribly contorted, grinning face glaring out

at us. Those staring eyes and gnashing teeth flashed past us

like a dreadful vision.

"My brothers!" cried Mortimer Tregennis, white to his lips.

"They are taking them to Helston."

We looked with horror after the black carriage, lumbering upon

its way. Then we turned our steps towards this ill-omened house

in which they had met their strange fate.

It was a large and bright dwelling, rather a villa than a

cottage, with a considerable garden which was already, in that

Cornish air, well filled with spring flowers. Towards this

garden the window of the sitting-room fronted, and from it,

according to Mortimer Tregennis, must have come that thing of

evil which had by sheer horror in a single instant blasted their

minds. Holmes walked slowly and thoughtfully among the flower-

plots and along the path before we entered the porch. So

absorbed was he in his thoughts, I remember, that he stumbled

over the watering-pot, upset its contents, and deluged both our

feet and the garden path. Inside the house we were met by the

elderly Cornish housekeeper, Mrs. Porter, who, with the aid of a

young girl, looked after the wants of the family. She readily

answered all Holmes's questions. She had heard nothing in the

night. Her employers had all been in excellent spirits lately,

and she had never known them more cheerful and prosperous. She

had fainted with horror upon entering the room in the morning and

seeing that dreadful company round the table. She had, when she

recovered, thrown open the window to let the morning air in, and

had run down to the lane, whence she sent a farm-lad for the

doctor. The lady was on her bed upstairs if we cared to see her.

It took four strong men to get the brothers into the asylum

carriage. She would not herself stay in the house another day

and was starting that very afternoon to rejoin her family at St.


We ascended the stairs and viewed the body. Miss Brenda

Tregennis had been a very beautiful girl, though now verging upon

middle age. Her dark, clear-cut face was handsome, even in

death, but there still lingered upon it something of that

convulsion of horror which had been her last human emotion. From

her bedroom we descended to the sitting-room, where this strange

tragedy had actually occurred. The charred ashes of the

overnight fire lay in the grate. On the table were the four

guttered and burned-out candles, with the cards scattered over

its surface. The chairs had been moved back against the walls,

but all else was as it had been the night before. Holmes paced

with light, swift steps about the room; he sat in the various

chairs, drawing them up and reconstructing their positions. He

tested how much of the garden was visible; he examined the floor,

the ceiling, and the fireplace; but never once did I see that

sudden brightening of his eyes and tightening of his lips which

would have told me that he saw some gleam of light in this utter


"Why a fire?" he asked once. "Had they always a fire in this

small room on a spring evening?"

Mortimer Tregennis explained that the night was cold and damp.

For that reason, after his arrival, the fire was lit. "What are

you going to do now, Mr. Holmes?" he asked.

My friend smiled and laid his hand upon my arm. "I think,

Watson, that I shall resume that course of tobacco-poisoning

which you have so often and so justly condemned," said he. "With

your permission, gentlemen, we will now return to our cottage,

for I am not aware that any new factor is likely to come to our

notice here. I will turn the facts over in my mid, Mr,

Tregennis, and should anything occur to me I will certainly

ommunicate with you and the vicar. In the meantime I wish you

both good-morning."

It was not until long after we were back in Poldhu Cottage that

Holmes broke his complete and absorbed silence. He sat coiled in

his armchair, his haggard and ascetic face hardly visible amid

the blue swirl of his tobacco smoke, his black brows drawn down,

his forehead contracted, his eyes vacant and far away. Finally

he laid down his pipe and sprang to his feet.

"It won't do, Watson!" said he with a laugh. "Let us walk along

the cliffs together and search for flint arrows. We are more

likely to find them than clues to this problem. To let the brain

work without sufficient material is like racing an engine. It

racks itself to pieces. The sea air, sunshine, and patience,

Watson--all else will come.

"Now, let us calmly define our position, Watson," he continued as

we skirted the cliffs together. "Let us get a firm grip of the

very little which we DO know, so that when fresh facts arise we

may be ready to fit them into their places. I take it, in the

first place, that neither of us is prepared to admit diabolical

intrusions into the affairs of men. Let us begin by ruling that

entirely out of our minds. Very good. There remain three

persons who have been grievously stricken by some conscious or

unconscious human agency. That is firm ground. Now, when did

this occur? Evidently, assuming his narrative to be true, it was

immediately after Mr. Mortimer Tregennis had left the room. That

is a very important point. The presumption is that it was within

a few minutes afterwards. The cards still lay upon the table.

It was already past their usual hour for bed. Yet they had not

changed their position or pushed back their chairs. I repeat,

then, that the occurrence was immediately after his departure,

and not later than eleven o'clock last night.

"Our next obvious step is to check, so far as we can, the

movements of Mortimer Tregennis after he left the room. In this

there is no difficulty, and they seem to be above suspicion.

Knowing my methods as you do, you were, of course, conscious of

the somewhat clumsy water-pot expedient by which I obtained a

clearer impress of his foot than might otherwise have been

possible. The wet, sandy path took it admirably. Last night was

also wet, you will remember, and it was not difficult--having

obtained a sample print--to pick out his track among others and

to follow his movements. He appears to have walked away swiftly

in the direction of the vicarage.

"If, then, Mortimer Tregennis disappeared from the scene, and yet

some outside person affected the card-players, how can we

reconstruct that person, and how was such an impression of horror

conveyed? Mrs. Porter may be eliminated. She is evidently

harmless. Is there any evidence that someone crept up to the

garden window and in some manner produced so terrific an effect

that he drove those who saw it out of their senses? The only

suggestion in this direction comes from Mortimer Tregennis

himself, who says that his brother spoke about some movement in

the garden. That is certainly remarkable, as the night was

rainy, cloudy, and dark. Anyone who had the design to alarm

these people would be compelled to place his very face against

the glass before he could be seen. There is a three-foot flower-

border outside this window, but no indication of a footmark. It

is difficult to imagine, then, how an outsider could have made so

terrible an impression upon the company, nor have we found any

possible motive for so strange and elaborate an attempt. You

perceive our difficulties, Watson?"

"They are only too clear," I answered with conviction.

"And yet, with a little more material, we may prove that they are

not insurmountable," said Holmes. "I fancy that among your

extensive archives, Watson, you may find some which were nearly

as obscure. Meanwhile, we shall put the case aside until more

accurate data are available, and devote the rest of our morning

to the pursuit of neolithic man."

I may have commented upon my friend's power of mental detachment,

but never have I wondered at it more than upon that spring

morning in Cornwall when for two hours he discoursed upon celts,

arrowheads, and shards, as lightly as if no sinister mystery were

waiting for his solution. It was not until we had returned in

the afternoon to our cottage that we found a visitor awaiting us,

who soon brought our minds back to the matter in hand. Neither

of us needed to be told who that visitor was. The huge body, the

craggy and deeply seamed face with the fierce eyes and hawk-like

nose, the grizzled hair which nearly brushed our cottage ceiling,

the beard--golden at the fringes and white near the lips, save

for the nicotine stain from his perpetual cigar--all these were

as well known in London as in Africa, and could only be

associated with the tremendous personality of Dr. Leon Sterndale,

the great lion-hunter and explorer.

We had heard of his presence in the district and had once or

twice caught sight of his tall figure upon the moorland paths.

He made no advances to us, however, nor would we have dreamed of

doing so to him, as it was well known that it was his love of

seclusion which caused him to spend the greater part of the

intervals between his journeys in a small bungalow buried in the

lonely wood of Beauchamp Arriance. Here, amid his books and his

maps, he lived an absolutely lonely life, attending to his own

simple wants and paying little apparent heed to the affairs of

his neighbours. It was a surprise to me, therefore, to hear him

asking Holmes in an eager voice whether he had made any advance

in his reconstruction of this mysterious episode. "The county

police are utterly at fault," said he, "but perhaps your wider

experience has suggested some conceivable explanation. My only

claim to being taken into your confidence is that during my many

residences here I have come to know this family of Tregennis very

well--indeed, upon my Cornish mother's side I could call them

cousins--and their strange fate has naturally been a great shock

to me. I may tell you that I had got as far as Plymouth upon my

way to Africa, but the news reached me this morning, and I came

straight back again to help in the inquiry."

Holmes raised his eyebrows.

"Did you lose your boat through it?"

"I will take the next."

"Dear me! that is friendship indeed."

"I tell you they were relatives."

"Quite so--cousins of your mother. Was your baggage aboard the


"Some of it, but the main part at the hotel."

"I see. But surely this event could not have found its way into

the Plymouth morning papers."

"No, sir; I had a telegram."

"Might I ask from whom?"

A shadow passed over the gaunt face of the explorer.

"You are very inquisitive, Mr. Holmes."

"It is my business."

With an effort Dr. Sterndale recovered his ruffled composure.

"I have no objection to telling you," he said. "It was Mr.

Roundhay, the vicar, who sent me the telegram which recalled me."

"Thank you," said Holmes. "I may say in answer to your original

question that I have not cleared my mind entirely on the subject

of this case, but that I have every hope of reaching some

conclusion. It would be premature to say more."

"Perhaps you would not mind telling me if your suspicions point

in any particular direction?"

"No, I can hardly answer that."

"Then I have wasted my time and need not prolong my visit." The

famous doctor strode out of our cottage in considerable ill-

humour, and within five minutes Holmes had followed him. I saw

him no more until the evening, when he returned with a slow step

and haggard face which assured me that he had made no great

progress with his investigation. He glanced at a telegram which

awaited him and threw it into the grate.

"From the Plymouth hotel, Watson," he said. "I learned the name

of it from the vicar, and I wired to make certain that Dr. Leon

Sterndale's account was true. It appears that he did indeed

spend last night there, and that he has actually allowed some of

his baggage to go on to Africa, while he returned to be present

at this investigation. What do you make of that, Watson?"

"He is deeply interested."

"Deeply interested--yes. There is a thread here which we had not

yet grasped and which might lead us through the tangle. Cheer

up, Watson, for I am very sure that our material has not yet all

come to hand. When it does we may soon leave our difficulties

behind us."

Little did I think how soon the words of Holmes would be

realized, or how strange and sinister would be that new

development which opened up an entirely fresh line of

investigation. I was shaving at my window in the morning when I

heard the rattle of hoofs and, looking up, saw a dog-cart coming

at a gallop down the road. It pulled up at our door, and our

friend, the vicar, sprang from it and rushed up our garden path.

Holmes was already dressed, and we hastened down to meet him.

Our visitor was so excited that he could hardly articulate, but

at last in gasps and bursts his tragic story came out of him.

"We are devil-ridden, Mr. Holmes! My poor parish is devil-

ridden!" he cried. "Satan himself is loose in it! We are given

over into his hands!" He danced about in his agitation, a

ludicrous object if it were not for his ashy face and startled

eyes. Finally he shot out his terrible news.

"Mr. Mortimer Tregennis died during the night, and with exactly

the same symptoms as the rest of his family."

Holmes sprang to his feet, all energy in an instant.

"Can you fit us both into your dog-cart?"

"Yes, I can."

"Then, Watson, we will postpone our breakfast. Mr. Roundhay, we

are entirely at your disposal. Hurry--hurry, before things get


The lodger occupied two rooms at the vicarage, which were in an

angle by themselves, the one above the other. Below was a large

sitting-room; above, his bedroom. They looked out upon a croquet

lawn which came up to the windows. We had arrived before the

doctor or the police, so that everything was absolutely

undisturbed. Let me describe exactly the scene as we saw it upon

that misty March morning. It has left an impression which can

never be effaced from my mind.

The atmosphere of the room was of a horrible and depressing

stuffiness. The servant had first entered had thrown up the

window, or it would have been even more intolerable. This might

partly be due to the fact that a lamp stood flaring and smoking

on the centre table. Beside it sat the dead man, leaning back in

his chair, his thin beard projecting, his spectacles pushed up

on to his forehead, and his lean dark face turned towards the

window and twisted into the same distortion of terror which had

marked the features of his dead sister. His limbs were convulsed

and his fingers contorted as though he had died in a very

paroxysm of fear. He was fully clothed, though there were signs

that his dressing had been done in a hurry. We had already

learned that his bed had been slept in, and that the tragic end

had come to him in the early morning.

One realized the red-hot energy which underlay Holmes's

phlegmatic exterior when one saw the sudden change which came

over him from the moment that he entered the fatal apartment. In

an instant he was tense and alert, his eyes shining, his face

set, his limbs quivering with eager activity. He was out on the

lawn, in through the window, round the room, and up into the

bedroom, for all the world like a dashing foxhound drawing a

cover. In the bedroom he made a rapid cast around and ended by

throwing open the window, which appeared to give him some fresh

cause for excitement, for he leaned out of it with loud

ejaculations of interest and delight. Then he rushed down the

stair, out through the open window, threw himself upon his face

on the lawn, sprang up and into the room once more, all with the

energy of the hunter who is at the very heels of his quarry. The

lamp, which was an ordinary standard, he examined with minute

care, making certain measurements upon its bowl. He carefully

scrutinized with his lens the talc shield which covered the top

of the chimney and scraped off some ashes which adhered to its

upper surface, putting some of them into an envelope, which he

placed in his pocketbook. Finally, just as the doctor and the

official police put in an appearance, he beckoned to the vicar

and we all three went out upon the lawn.

"I am glad to say that my investigation has not been entirely

barren," he remarked. "I cannot remain to discuss the matter

with the police, but I should be exceedingly obliged, Mr.

Roundhay, if you would give the inspector my compliments and

direct his attention to the bedroom window and to the sitting-

room lamp. Each is suggestive, and together they are almost

conclusive. If the police would desire further information I

shall be happy to see any of them at the cottage. And now,

Watson, I think that, perhaps, we shall be better employed


It may be that the police resented the intrusion of an amateur,

or that they imagined themselves to be upon some hopeful line of

investigation; but it is certain that we heard nothing from them

for the next two days. During this time Holmes spent some of his

time smoking and dreaming in the cottage; but a greater portion

in country walks which he undertook alone, returning after many

hours without remark as to where he had been. One experiment

served to show me the line of his investigation. He had bought a

lamp which was the duplicate of the one which had burned in the

room of Mortimer Tregennis on the morning of the tragedy. This

he filled with the same oil as that used at the vicarage, and he

carefully timed the period which it would take to be exhausted.

Another experiment which he made was of a more unpleasant nature,

and one which I am not likely ever to forget.

"You will remember, Watson," he remarked one afternoon, "that

there is a single common point of resemblance in the varying

reports which have reached us. This concerns the effect of the

atmosphere of the room in each case upon those who had first

entered it. You will recollect that Mortimer Tregennis, in

describing the episode of his last visit to his brother's house,

remarked that the doctor on entering the room fell into a chair?

You had forgotten? Well I can answer for it that it was so.

Now, you will remember also that Mrs. Porter, the housekeeper,

told us that she herself fainted upon entering the room and had

afterwards opened the window. In the second case--that of

Mortimer Tregennis himself--you cannot have forgotten the

horrible stuffiness of the room when we arrived, though the

servant had thrown open the window. That servant, I found upon

inquiry, was so ill that she had gone to her bed. You will

admit, Watson, that these facts are very suggestive. In each

case there is evidence of a poisonous atmosphere. In each case,

also, there is combustion going on in the room--in the one case a

fire, in the other a lamp. The fire was needed, but the lamp was

lit--as a comparison of the oil consumed will show--long after it

was broad daylight. Why? Surely because there is some

connection between three things--the burning, the stuffy

atmosphere, and, finally, the madness or death of those

unfortunate people. That is clear, is it not?"

"It would appear so."

"At least we may accept it as a working hypothesis. We will

suppose, then, that something was burned in each case which

produced an atmosphere causing strange toxic effects. Very good.

In the first instance--that of the Tregennis family--this

substance was placed in the fire. Now the window was shut, but

the fire would naturally carry fumes to some extent up the

chimney. Hence one would expect the effects of the poison to be

less than in the second case, where there was less escape for the

vapour. The result seems to indicate that it was so, since in

the first case only the woman, who had presumably the more

sensitive organism, was killed, the others exhibiting that

temporary or permanent lunacy which is evidently the first effect

of the drug. In the second case the result was complete. The

facts, therefore, seem to bear out the theory of a poison which

worked by combustion.

"With this train of reasoning in my head I naturally looked about

in Mortimer Tregennis's room to find some remains of this

substance. The obvious place to look was the talc shelf or

smoke-guard of the lamp. There, sure enough, I perceived a number

of flaky ashes, and round the edges a fringe of brownish powder,

which had not yet been consumed. Half of this I took, as you

saw, and I placed it in an envelope."

"Why half, Holmes?"

"It is not for me, my dear Watson, to stand in the way of the

official police force. I leave them all the evidence which I

found. The poison still remained upon the talc had they the wit

to find it. Now, Watson, we will light our lamp; we will,

however, take the precaution to open our window to avoid the

premature decease of two deserving members of society, and you

will seat yourself near that open window in an armchair unless,

like a sensible man, you determine to have nothing to do with the

affair. Oh, you will see it out, will you? I thought I knew my

Watson. This chair I will place opposite yours, so that we may

be the same distance from the poison and face to face. The door

we will leave ajar. Each is now in a position to watch the other

and to bring the experiment to an end should the symptoms seem

alarming. Is that all clear? Well, then, I take our powder--or

what remains of it--from the envelope, and I lay it above the

burning lamp. So! Now, Watson, let us sit down and await


They were not long in coming. I had hardly settled in my chair

before I was conscious of a thick, musky odour, subtle and

nauseous. At the very first whiff of it my brain and my

imagination were beyond all control. A thick, black cloud

swirled before my eyes, and my mind told me that in this cloud,

unseen as yet, but about to spring out upon my appalled senses,

lurked all that was vaguely horrible, all that was monstrous and

inconceivably wicked in the universe. Vague shapes swirled and

swam amid the dark cloud-bank, each a menace and a warning of

something coming, the advent of some unspeakable dweller upon the

threshold, whose very shadow would blast my soul. A freezing

horror took possession of me. I felt that my hair was rising,

that my eyes were protruding, that my mouth was opened, and my

tongue like leather. The turmoil within my brain was such that

something must surely snap. I tried to scream and was vaguely

aware of some hoarse croak which was my own voice, but distant

and detached from myself At the same moment, in some effort of

escape, I broke through that cloud of despair and had a glimpse

of Holmes's face, white, rigid, and drawn with horror--the very

look which I had seen upon the features of the dead. It was that

vision which gave me an instant of sanity and of strength. I

dashed from my chair, threw my arms round Holmes, and together we

lurched through the door, and an instant afterwards had thrown

ourselves down upon the grass plot and were lying side by side,

conscious only of the glorious sunshine which was bursting its

way through the hellish cloud of terror which had girt us in.

Slowly it rose from our souls like the mists from a landscape

until peace and reason had returned, and we were sitting upon the

grass, wiping our clammy foreheads, and looking with apprehension

at each other to mark the last traces of that terrific experience

which we had undergone.

"Upon my word, Watson!" said Holmes at last with an unsteady

voice, "I owe you both my thanks and an apology. It was an

unjustifiable experiment even for one's self, and doubly so for a

friend. I am really very sorry."

"You know," I answered with some emotion, for I have never seen

so much of Holmes's heart before, "that it is my greatest joy and

privilege to help you."

He relapsed at once into the half-humorous, half-cynical vein

which was his habitual attitude to those about him. "It would be

superfluous to drive us mad, my dear Watson," said he. "A candid

observer would certainly declare that we were so already before

we embarked upon so wild an experiment. I confess that I never

imagined that the effect could be so sudden and so severe." He

dashed into the cottage, and, reappearing with the burning lamp

held at full arm's length, he threw it among a bank of brambles.

"We must give the room a little time to clear. I take it,

Watson, that you have no longer a shadow of a doubt as to how

these tragedies were produced?"

"None whatever."

"But the cause remains as obscure as before. Come into the

arbour here and let us discuss it together. That villainous

stuff seems still to linger round my throat. I think we must

admit that all the evidence points to this man, Mortimer

Tregennis, having been the criminal in the first tragedy, though

he was the victim in the second one. We must remember, in the

first place, that there is some story of a family quarrel,

followed by a reconciliation. How bitter that quarrel may have

been, or how hollow the reconciliation we cannot tell. When I

think of Mortimer Tregennis, with the foxy face and the small

shrewd, beady eyes behind the spectacles, he is not a man whom I

should judge to be of a particularly forgiving disposition.

Well, in the next place, you will remember that this idea of

someone moving in the garden, which took our attention for a

moment from the real cause of the tragedy, emanated from him. He

had a motive in misleading us. Finally, if he did not throw the

substance into the fire at the moment of leaving the room, who

did do so? The affair happened immediately after his departure.

Had anyone else come in, the family would certainly have risen

from the table. Besides, in peaceful Cornwall, visitors did not

arrive after ten o'clock at night. We may take it, then, that

all the evidence points to Mortimer Tregennis as the culprit."

"Then his own death was suicide!"

"Well, Watson, it is on the face of it a not impossible

supposition. The man who had the guilt upon his soul of having

brought such a fate upon his own family might well be driven by

remorse to inflict it upon himself. There are, however, some

cogent reasons against it. Fortunately, there is one man in

England who knows all about it, and I have made arrangements by

which we shall hear the facts this afternoon from his own lips.

Ah! he is a little before his time. Perhaps you would kindly

step this way, Dr. Leon Sterndale. We have been conducing a

chemical experiment indoors which has left our little room hardly

fit for the reception of so distinguished a visitor."

I had heard the click of the garden gate, and now the majestic

figure of the great African explorer appeared upon the path. He

turned in some surprise towards the rustic arbour in which we


"You sent for me, Mr. Holmes. I had your note about an hour ago,

and I have come, though I really do not know why I should obey

your summons."

"Perhaps we can clear the point up before we separate," said

Holmes. "Meanwhile, I am much obliged to you for your courteous

acquiescence. You will excuse this informal reception in the

open air, but my friend Watson and I have nearly furnished an

additional chapter to what the papers call the Cornish Horror,

and we prefer a clear atmosphere for the present. Perhaps, since

the matters which we have to discuss will affect you personally

in a very intimate fashion, it is as well that we should talk

where there can be no eavesdropping."

The explorer took his cigar from his lips and gazed sternly at my


"I am at a loss to know, sir," he said, "what you can have to

speak about which affects me personally in a very intimate


"The killing of Mortimer Tregennis," said Holmes.

For a moment I wished that I were armed. Sterndale's fierce face

turned to a dusky red, his eyes glared, and the knotted,

passionate veins started out in his forehead, while he sprang

forward with clenched hands towards my companion. Then he

stopped, and with a violent effort he resumed a cold, rigid

calmness, which was, perhaps, more suggestive of danger than his

hot-headed outburst.

"I have lived so long among savages and beyond the law," said he,

"that I have got into the way of being a law to myself. You

would do well, Mr. Holmes, not to forget it, for I have no desire

to do you an injury."

"Nor have I any desire to do you an injury, Dr. Sterndale.

Surely the clearest proof of it is that, knowing what I know, I

have sent for you and not for the police."

Sterndale sat down with a gasp, overawed for, perhaps, the first

time in his adventurous life. There was a calm assurance of

power in Holmes's manner which could not be withstood. Our

visitor stammered for a moment, his great hands opening and

shutting in his agitation.

"What do you mean?" he asked at last. "If this is bluff upon

your part, Mr. Holmes, you have chosen a bad man for your

experiment. Let us have no more beating about the bush. What DO

you mean?"

"I will tell you," said Holmes, "and the reason why I tell you is

that I hope frankness may beget frankness. What my next step may

be will depend entirely upon the nature of your own defence."

"My defence?"

"Yes, sir."

"My defence against what?"

"Against the charge of killing Mortimer Tregennis."

Sterndale mopped his forehead with his handkerchief. "Upon my

word, you are getting on," said he. "Do all your successes

depend upon this prodigious power of bluff?"

"The bluff," said Holmes sternly, "is upon your side, Dr. Leon

Sterndale, and not upon mine. As a proof I will tell you some of

the facts upon which my conclusions are based. Of your return

from Plymouth, allowing much of your property to go on to Africa,

I will say nothing save that it first informed me that you were

one of the factors which had to be taken into account in

reconstructing this drama--"

"I came back--"

"I have heard your reasons and regard them as unconvincing and

inadequate. We will pass that. You came down here to ask me

whom I suspected. I refused to answer you. You then went to the

vicarage, waited outside it for some time, and finally returned

to your cottage."

"How do you know that?"

"I followed you."

"I saw no one."

"That is what you may expect to see when I follow you. You spent

a restless night at your cottage, and you formed certain plans,

which in the early morning you proceeded to put into execution.

Leaving your door just as day was breaking, you filled your

pocket with some reddish gravel that was lying heaped beside your


Sterndale gave a violent start and looked at Holmes in amazement.

"You then walked swiftly for the mile which separated you from

the vicarage. You were wearing, I may remark, the same pair of

ribbed tennis shoes which are at the present moment upon your

feet. At the vicarage you passed through the orchard and the

side hedge, coming out under the window of the lodger Tregennis.

It was now daylight, but the household was not yet stirring. You

drew some of the gravel from your pocket, and you threw it up at

the window above you."

Sterndale sprang to his feet.

"I believe that you are the devil himself!" he cried.

Holmes smiled at the compliment. "It took two, or possibly

three, handfuls before the lodger came to the window. You

beckoned him to come down. He dressed hurriedly and descended to

his sitting-room. You entered by the window. There was an

interview--a short one--during which you walked up and down the

room. Then you passed out and closed the window, standing on the

lawn outside smoking a cigar and watching what occurred.

Finally, after the death of Tregennis, you withdrew as you had

come. Now, Dr. Sterndale, how do you justify such conduct, and

what were the motives for your actions? If you prevaricate or

trifle with me, I give you my assurance that the matter will pass

out of my hands forever."

Our visitor's face had turned ashen gray as he listened to the

words of his accuser. Now he sat for some time in thought with

his face sunk in his hands. Then with a sudden impulsive gesture

he plucked a photograph from his breast-pocket and threw it on

the rustic table before us.

"That is why I have done it," said he.

It showed the bust and face of a very beautiful woman. Holmes

stooped over it.

"Brenda Tregennis," said he.

"Yes, Brenda Tregennis," repeated our visitor. "For years I have

loved her. For years she has loved me. There is the secret of

that Cornish seclusion which people have marvelled at. It has

brought me close to the one thing on earth that was dear to me.

I could not marry her, for I have a wife who has left me for

years and yet whom, by the deplorable laws of England, I could

not divorce. For years Brenda waited. For years I waited. And

this is what we have waited for." A terrible sob shook his great

frame, and he clutched his throat under his brindled beard. Then

with an effort he mastered himself and spoke on:

"The vicar knew. He was in our confidence. He would tell you

that she was an angel upon earth. That was why he telegraphed to

me and I returned. What was my baggage or Africa to me when I

learned that such a fate had come upon my darling? There you

have the missing clue to my action, Mr. Holmes."

"Proceed," said my friend.

Dr. Sterndale drew from his pocket a paper packet and laid it

upon the table. On the outside was written "Radix pedis diaboli"

with a red poison label beneath it. He pushed it towards me. "I

understand that you are a doctor, sir. Have you ever heard of

this preparation?"

"Devil's-foot root! No, I have never heard of it."

"It is no reflection upon your professional knowledge," said he,

"for I believe that, save for one sample in a laboratory at Buda,

there is no other specimen in Europe. It has not yet found its

way either into the pharmacopoeia or into the literature of

toxicology. The root is shaped like a foot, half human, half

goatlike; hence the fanciful name given by a botanical

missionary. It is used as an ordeal poison by the medicine-men

in certain districts of West Africa and is kept as a secret among

them. This particular specimen I obtained under very

extraordinary circumstances in the Ubangi country." He opened

the paper as he spoke and disclosed a heap of reddish-brown,

snuff-like powder.

"Well, sir?" asked Holmes sternly.

"I am about to tell you, Mr. Holmes, all that actually occurred,

for you already know so much that it is clearly to my interest

that you should know all. I have already explained the

relationship in which I stood to the Tregennis family. For the

sake of the sister I was friendly with the brothers. There was a

family quarrel about money which estranged this man Mortimer, but

it was supposed to be made up, and I afterwards met him as I did

the others. He was a sly, subtle, scheming man, and several

things arose which gave me a suspicion of him, but I had no cause

for any positive quarrel.

"One day, only a couple of weeks ago, he came down to my cottage

and I showed him some of my African curiosities. Among other

things I exhibited this powder, and I told him of its strange

properties, how it stimulates those brain centres which control

the emotion of fear, and how either madness or death is the fate

of the unhappy native who is subjected to the ordeal by the

priest of his tribe. I told him also how powerless European

science would be to detect it. How he took it I cannot say, for

I never left the room, but there is no doubt that it was then,

while I was opening cabinets and stooping to boxes, that he

managed to abstract some of the devil's-foot root. I well

remember how he plied me with questions as to the amount and the

time that was needed for its effect, but I little dreamed that he

could have a personal reason for asking.

"I thought no more of the matter until the vicar's telegram

reached me at Plymouth. This villain had thought that I would be

at sea before the news could reach me, and that I should be lost

for years in Africa. But I returned at once. Of course, I could

not listen to the details without feeling assured that my poison

had been used. I came round to see you on the chance that some

other explanation had suggested itself to you. But there could

be none. I was convinced that Mortimer Tregennis was the

murderer; that for the sake of money, and with the idea, perhaps,

that if the other members of his family were all insane he would

be the sole guardian of their joint property, he had used the

devil's-foot powder upon them, driven two of them out of their

senses, and killed his sister Brenda, the one human being whom I

have ever loved or who has ever loved me. There was his crime;

what was to be his punishment?

"Should I appeal to the law? Where were my proofs? I knew that

the facts were true, but could I help to make a jury of

countrymen believe so fantastic a story? I might or I might not.

But I could not afford to fail. My soul cried out for revenge.

I have said to you once before, Mr. Holmes, that I have spent

much of my life outside the law, and that I have come at last to

be a law to myself. So it was even now. I determined that the

fate which he had given to others should be shared by himself.

Either that or I would do justice upon him with my own hand. In

all England there can be no man who sets less value upon his own

life than I do at the present moment.

"Now I have told you all. You have yourself supplied the rest.

I did, as you say, after a restless night, set off early from my

cottage. I foresaw the difficulty of arousing him, so I gathered

some gravel from the pile which you have mentioned, and I used it

to throw up to his window. He came down and admitted me through

the window of the sitting-room. I laid his offence before him.

I told him that I had come both as judge and executioner. The

wretch sank into a chair, paralyzed at the sight of my revolver.

I lit the lamp, put the powder above it, and stood outside the

window, ready to carry out my threat to shoot him should he try

to leave the room. In five minutes he died. My God! how he

died! But my heart was flint, for he endured nothing which my

innocent darling had not felt before him. There is my story, Mr.

Holmes. Perhaps, if you loved a woman, you would have done as

much yourself. At any rate, I am in your hands. You can take

what steps you like. As I have already said, there is no man

living who can fear death less than I do."

Holmes sat for some little time in silence.

"What were your plans?" he asked at last.

"I had intended to bury myself in central Africa. My work there

is but half finished."

"Go and do the other half," said Holmes. "I, at least, am not

prepared to prevent you."

Dr. Sterndale raised his giant figure, bowed gravely, and walked

from the arbour. Holmes lit his pipe and handed me his pouch.

"Some fumes which are not poisonous would be a welcome change,"

said he. "I think you must agree, Watson, that it is not a case

in which we are called upon to interfere. Our investigation has

been independent, and our action shall be so also. You would not

denounce the man?"

"Certainly not," I answered.

"I have never loved, Watson, but if I did and if the woman I

loved had met such an end, I might act even as our lawless lion-

hunter has done. Who knows? Well, Watson, I will not offend

your intelligence by explaining what is obvious. The gravel upon

the window-sill was, of course, the starting-point of my

research. It was unlike anything in the vicarage garden. Only

when my attention had been drawn to Dr. Sterndale and his cottage

did I find its counterpart. The lamp shining in broad daylight

and the remains of powder upon the shield were successive links

in a fairly obvious chain. And now, my dear Watson, I think we

may dismiss the matter from our mind and go back with a clear

conscience to the study of those Chaldean roots which are surely

to be traced in the Cornish branch of the great Celtic speech."