The Boscombe Valley Mystery

We were seated at breakfast one morning, my wife and I, when the

maid brought in a telegram. It was from Sherlock Holmes and ran

in this way:

"Have you a couple of days to spare? Have just been wired for from

the west of England in connection with Boscombe Valley tragedy.

Shall be glad if you will come with me. Air and scenery perfect.

Leave Paddington by the 11:15."

"What do yo
say, dear?" said my wife, looking across at me.

"Will you go?"

"I really don't know what to say. I have a fairly long list at


"Oh, Anstruther would do your work for you. You have been looking

a little pale lately. I think that the change would do you good,

and you are always so interested in Mr. Sherlock Holmes' cases."

"I should be ungrateful if I were not, seeing what I gained

through one of them," I answered. "But if I am to go, I must pack

at once, for I have only half an hour."

My experience of camp life in Afghanistan had at least had the

effect of making me a prompt and ready traveller. My wants were

few and simple, so that in less than the time stated I was in a

cab with my valise, rattling away to Paddington Station. Sherlock

Holmes was pacing up and down the platform, his tall, gaunt

figure made even gaunter and taller by his long grey

travelling-cloak and close-fitting cloth cap.

"It is really very good of you to come, Watson," said he. "It

makes a considerable difference to me, having someone with me on

whom I can thoroughly rely. Local aid is always either worthless

or else biassed. If you will keep the two corner seats I shall

get the tickets."

We had the carriage to ourselves save for an immense litter of

papers which Holmes had brought with him. Among these he rummaged

and read, with intervals of note-taking and of meditation, until

we were past Reading. Then he suddenly rolled them all into a

gigantic ball and tossed them up onto the rack.

"Have you heard anything of the case?" he asked.

"Not a word. I have not seen a paper for some days."

"The London press has not had very full accounts. I have just

been looking through all the recent papers in order to master the

particulars. It seems, from what I gather, to be one of those

simple cases which are so extremely difficult."

"That sounds a little paradoxical."

"But it is profoundly true. Singularity is almost invariably a

clue. The more featureless and commonplace a crime is, the more

difficult it is to bring it home. In this case, however, they

have established a very serious case against the son of the

murdered man."

"It is a murder, then?"

"Well, it is conjectured to be so. I shall take nothing for

granted until I have the opportunity of looking personally into

it. I will explain the state of things to you, as far as I have

been able to understand it, in a very few words.

"Boscombe Valley is a country district not very far from Ross, in

Herefordshire. The largest landed proprietor in that part is a

Mr. John Turner, who made his money in Australia and returned

some years ago to the old country. One of the farms which he

held, that of Hatherley, was let to Mr. Charles McCarthy, who was

also an ex-Australian. The men had known each other in the

colonies, so that it was not unnatural that when they came to

settle down they should do so as near each other as possible.

Turner was apparently the richer man, so McCarthy became his

tenant but still remained, it seems, upon terms of perfect

equality, as they were frequently together. McCarthy had one son,

a lad of eighteen, and Turner had an only daughter of the same

age, but neither of them had wives living. They appear to have

avoided the society of the neighbouring English families and to

have led retired lives, though both the McCarthys were fond of

sport and were frequently seen at the race-meetings of the

neighbourhood. McCarthy kept two servants--a man and a girl.

Turner had a considerable household, some half-dozen at the

least. That is as much as I have been able to gather about the

families. Now for the facts.

"On June 3rd, that is, on Monday last, McCarthy left his house at

Hatherley about three in the afternoon and walked down to the

Boscombe Pool, which is a small lake formed by the spreading out

of the stream which runs down the Boscombe Valley. He had been

out with his serving-man in the morning at Ross, and he had told

the man that he must hurry, as he had an appointment of

importance to keep at three. From that appointment he never came

back alive.

"From Hatherley Farm-house to the Boscombe Pool is a quarter of a

mile, and two people saw him as he passed over this ground. One

was an old woman, whose name is not mentioned, and the other was

William Crowder, a game-keeper in the employ of Mr. Turner. Both

these witnesses depose that Mr. McCarthy was walking alone. The

game-keeper adds that within a few minutes of his seeing Mr.

McCarthy pass he had seen his son, Mr. James McCarthy, going the

same way with a gun under his arm. To the best of his belief, the

father was actually in sight at the time, and the son was

following him. He thought no more of the matter until he heard in

the evening of the tragedy that had occurred.

"The two McCarthys were seen after the time when William Crowder,

the game-keeper, lost sight of them. The Boscombe Pool is thickly

wooded round, with just a fringe of grass and of reeds round the

edge. A girl of fourteen, Patience Moran, who is the daughter of

the lodge-keeper of the Boscombe Valley estate, was in one of the

woods picking flowers. She states that while she was there she

saw, at the border of the wood and close by the lake, Mr.

McCarthy and his son, and that they appeared to be having a

violent quarrel. She heard Mr. McCarthy the elder using very

strong language to his son, and she saw the latter raise up his

hand as if to strike his father. She was so frightened by their

violence that she ran away and told her mother when she reached

home that she had left the two McCarthys quarrelling near

Boscombe Pool, and that she was afraid that they were going to

fight. She had hardly said the words when young Mr. McCarthy came

running up to the lodge to say that he had found his father dead

in the wood, and to ask for the help of the lodge-keeper. He was

much excited, without either his gun or his hat, and his right

hand and sleeve were observed to be stained with fresh blood. On

following him they found the dead body stretched out upon the

grass beside the pool. The head had been beaten in by repeated

blows of some heavy and blunt weapon. The injuries were such as

might very well have been inflicted by the butt-end of his son's

gun, which was found lying on the grass within a few paces of the

body. Under these circumstances the young man was instantly

arrested, and a verdict of 'wilful murder' having been returned

at the inquest on Tuesday, he was on Wednesday brought before the

magistrates at Ross, who have referred the case to the next

Assizes. Those are the main facts of the case as they came out

before the coroner and the police-court."

"I could hardly imagine a more damning case," I remarked. "If

ever circumstantial evidence pointed to a criminal it does so


"Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing," answered Holmes

thoughtfully. "It may seem to point very straight to one thing,

but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it

pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something

entirely different. It must be confessed, however, that the case

looks exceedingly grave against the young man, and it is very

possible that he is indeed the culprit. There are several people

in the neighbourhood, however, and among them Miss Turner, the

daughter of the neighbouring landowner, who believe in his

innocence, and who have retained Lestrade, whom you may recollect

in connection with the Study in Scarlet, to work out the case in

his interest. Lestrade, being rather puzzled, has referred the

case to me, and hence it is that two middle-aged gentlemen are

flying westward at fifty miles an hour instead of quietly

digesting their breakfasts at home."

"I am afraid," said I, "that the facts are so obvious that you

will find little credit to be gained out of this case."

"There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact," he

answered, laughing. "Besides, we may chance to hit upon some

other obvious facts which may have been by no means obvious to

Mr. Lestrade. You know me too well to think that I am boasting

when I say that I shall either confirm or destroy his theory by

means which he is quite incapable of employing, or even of

understanding. To take the first example to hand, I very clearly

perceive that in your bedroom the window is upon the right-hand

side, and yet I question whether Mr. Lestrade would have noted

even so self-evident a thing as that."

"How on earth--"

"My dear fellow, I know you well. I know the military neatness

which characterises you. You shave every morning, and in this

season you shave by the sunlight; but since your shaving is less

and less complete as we get farther back on the left side, until

it becomes positively slovenly as we get round the angle of the

jaw, it is surely very clear that that side is less illuminated

than the other. I could not imagine a man of your habits looking

at himself in an equal light and being satisfied with such a

result. I only quote this as a trivial example of observation and

inference. Therein lies my métier, and it is just possible that

it may be of some service in the investigation which lies before

us. There are one or two minor points which were brought out in

the inquest, and which are worth considering."

"What are they?"

"It appears that his arrest did not take place at once, but after

the return to Hatherley Farm. On the inspector of constabulary

informing him that he was a prisoner, he remarked that he was not

surprised to hear it, and that it was no more than his deserts.

This observation of his had the natural effect of removing any

traces of doubt which might have remained in the minds of the

coroner's jury."

"It was a confession," I ejaculated.

"No, for it was followed by a protestation of innocence."

"Coming on the top of such a damning series of events, it was at

least a most suspicious remark."

"On the contrary," said Holmes, "it is the brightest rift which I

can at present see in the clouds. However innocent he might be,

he could not be such an absolute imbecile as not to see that the

circumstances were very black against him. Had he appeared

surprised at his own arrest, or feigned indignation at it, I

should have looked upon it as highly suspicious, because such

surprise or anger would not be natural under the circumstances,

and yet might appear to be the best policy to a scheming man. His

frank acceptance of the situation marks him as either an innocent

man, or else as a man of considerable self-restraint and

firmness. As to his remark about his deserts, it was also not

unnatural if you consider that he stood beside the dead body of

his father, and that there is no doubt that he had that very day

so far forgotten his filial duty as to bandy words with him, and

even, according to the little girl whose evidence is so

important, to raise his hand as if to strike him. The

self-reproach and contrition which are displayed in his remark

appear to me to be the signs of a healthy mind rather than of a

guilty one."

I shook my head. "Many men have been hanged on far slighter

evidence," I remarked.

"So they have. And many men have been wrongfully hanged."

"What is the young man's own account of the matter?"

"It is, I am afraid, not very encouraging to his supporters,

though there are one or two points in it which are suggestive.

You will find it here, and may read it for yourself."

He picked out from his bundle a copy of the local Herefordshire

paper, and having turned down the sheet he pointed out the

paragraph in which the unfortunate young man had given his own

statement of what had occurred. I settled myself down in the

corner of the carriage and read it very carefully. It ran in this


"Mr. James McCarthy, the only son of the deceased, was then called

and gave evidence as follows: 'I had been away from home for

three days at Bristol, and had only just returned upon the

morning of last Monday, the 3rd. My father was absent from home at

the time of my arrival, and I was informed by the maid that he

had driven over to Ross with John Cobb, the groom. Shortly after

my return I heard the wheels of his trap in the yard, and,

looking out of my window, I saw him get out and walk rapidly out

of the yard, though I was not aware in which direction he was

going. I then took my gun and strolled out in the direction of

the Boscombe Pool, with the intention of visiting the rabbit

warren which is upon the other side. On my way I saw William

Crowder, the game-keeper, as he had stated in his evidence; but

he is mistaken in thinking that I was following my father. I had

no idea that he was in front of me. When about a hundred yards

from the pool I heard a cry of "Cooee!" which was a usual signal

between my father and myself. I then hurried forward, and found

him standing by the pool. He appeared to be much surprised at

seeing me and asked me rather roughly what I was doing there. A

conversation ensued which led to high words and almost to blows,

for my father was a man of a very violent temper. Seeing that his

passion was becoming ungovernable, I left him and returned

towards Hatherley Farm. I had not gone more than 150 yards,

however, when I heard a hideous outcry behind me, which caused me

to run back again. I found my father expiring upon the ground,

with his head terribly injured. I dropped my gun and held him in

my arms, but he almost instantly expired. I knelt beside him for

some minutes, and then made my way to Mr. Turner's lodge-keeper,

his house being the nearest, to ask for assistance. I saw no one

near my father when I returned, and I have no idea how he came by

his injuries. He was not a popular man, being somewhat cold and

forbidding in his manners, but he had, as far as I know, no

active enemies. I know nothing further of the matter.'

"The Coroner: Did your father make any statement to you before

he died?

"Witness: He mumbled a few words, but I could only catch some

allusion to a rat.

"The Coroner: What did you understand by that?

"Witness: It conveyed no meaning to me. I thought that he was


"The Coroner: What was the point upon which you and your father

had this final quarrel?

"Witness: I should prefer not to answer.

"The Coroner: I am afraid that I must press it.

"Witness: It is really impossible for me to tell you. I can

assure you that it has nothing to do with the sad tragedy which


"The Coroner: That is for the court to decide. I need not point

out to you that your refusal to answer will prejudice your case

considerably in any future proceedings which may arise.

"Witness: I must still refuse.

"The Coroner: I understand that the cry of 'Cooee' was a common

signal between you and your father?

"Witness: It was.

"The Coroner: How was it, then, that he uttered it before he saw

you, and before he even knew that you had returned from Bristol?

"Witness (with considerable confusion): I do not know.

"A Juryman: Did you see nothing which aroused your suspicions

when you returned on hearing the cry and found your father

fatally injured?

"Witness: Nothing definite.

"The Coroner: What do you mean?

"Witness: I was so disturbed and excited as I rushed out into

the open, that I could think of nothing except of my father. Yet

I have a vague impression that as I ran forward something lay

upon the ground to the left of me. It seemed to me to be

something grey in colour, a coat of some sort, or a plaid perhaps.

When I rose from my father I looked round for it, but it was


"'Do you mean that it disappeared before you went for help?'

"'Yes, it was gone.'

"'You cannot say what it was?'

"'No, I had a feeling something was there.'

"'How far from the body?'

"'A dozen yards or so.'

"'And how far from the edge of the wood?'

"'About the same.'

"'Then if it was removed it was while you were within a dozen

yards of it?'

"'Yes, but with my back towards it.'

"This concluded the examination of the witness."

"I see," said I as I glanced down the column, "that the coroner

in his concluding remarks was rather severe upon young McCarthy.

He calls attention, and with reason, to the discrepancy about his

father having signalled to him before seeing him, also to his

refusal to give details of his conversation with his father, and

his singular account of his father's dying words. They are all,

as he remarks, very much against the son."

Holmes laughed softly to himself and stretched himself out upon

the cushioned seat. "Both you and the coroner have been at some

pains," said he, "to single out the very strongest points in the

young man's favour. Don't you see that you alternately give him

credit for having too much imagination and too little? Too

little, if he could not invent a cause of quarrel which would

give him the sympathy of the jury; too much, if he evolved from

his own inner consciousness anything so outré as a dying

reference to a rat, and the incident of the vanishing cloth. No,

sir, I shall approach this case from the point of view that what

this young man says is true, and we shall see whither that

hypothesis will lead us. And now here is my pocket Petrarch, and

not another word shall I say of this case until we are on the

scene of action. We lunch at Swindon, and I see that we shall be

there in twenty minutes."

It was nearly four o'clock when we at last, after passing through

the beautiful Stroud Valley, and over the broad gleaming Severn,

found ourselves at the pretty little country-town of Ross. A

lean, ferret-like man, furtive and sly-looking, was waiting for

us upon the platform. In spite of the light brown dustcoat and

leather-leggings which he wore in deference to his rustic

surroundings, I had no difficulty in recognising Lestrade, of

Scotland Yard. With him we drove to the Hereford Arms where a

room had already been engaged for us.

"I have ordered a carriage," said Lestrade as we sat over a cup

of tea. "I knew your energetic nature, and that you would not be

happy until you had been on the scene of the crime."

"It was very nice and complimentary of you," Holmes answered. "It

is entirely a question of barometric pressure."

Lestrade looked startled. "I do not quite follow," he said.

"How is the glass? Twenty-nine, I see. No wind, and not a cloud

in the sky. I have a caseful of cigarettes here which need

smoking, and the sofa is very much superior to the usual country

hotel abomination. I do not think that it is probable that I

shall use the carriage to-night."

Lestrade laughed indulgently. "You have, no doubt, already formed

your conclusions from the newspapers," he said. "The case is as

plain as a pikestaff, and the more one goes into it the plainer

it becomes. Still, of course, one can't refuse a lady, and such a

very positive one, too. She has heard of you, and would have your

opinion, though I repeatedly told her that there was nothing

which you could do which I had not already done. Why, bless my

soul! here is her carriage at the door."

He had hardly spoken before there rushed into the room one of the

most lovely young women that I have ever seen in my life. Her

violet eyes shining, her lips parted, a pink flush upon her

cheeks, all thought of her natural reserve lost in her

overpowering excitement and concern.

"Oh, Mr. Sherlock Holmes!" she cried, glancing from one to the

other of us, and finally, with a woman's quick intuition,

fastening upon my companion, "I am so glad that you have come. I

have driven down to tell you so. I know that James didn't do it.

I know it, and I want you to start upon your work knowing it,

too. Never let yourself doubt upon that point. We have known each

other since we were little children, and I know his faults as no

one else does; but he is too tender-hearted to hurt a fly. Such a

charge is absurd to anyone who really knows him."

"I hope we may clear him, Miss Turner," said Sherlock Holmes.

"You may rely upon my doing all that I can."

"But you have read the evidence. You have formed some conclusion?

Do you not see some loophole, some flaw? Do you not yourself

think that he is innocent?"

"I think that it is very probable."

"There, now!" she cried, throwing back her head and looking

defiantly at Lestrade. "You hear! He gives me hopes."

Lestrade shrugged his shoulders. "I am afraid that my colleague

has been a little quick in forming his conclusions," he said.

"But he is right. Oh! I know that he is right. James never did

it. And about his quarrel with his father, I am sure that the

reason why he would not speak about it to the coroner was because

I was concerned in it."

"In what way?" asked Holmes.

"It is no time for me to hide anything. James and his father had

many disagreements about me. Mr. McCarthy was very anxious that

there should be a marriage between us. James and I have always

loved each other as brother and sister; but of course he is young

and has seen very little of life yet, and--and--well, he

naturally did not wish to do anything like that yet. So there

were quarrels, and this, I am sure, was one of them."

"And your father?" asked Holmes. "Was he in favour of such a


"No, he was averse to it also. No one but Mr. McCarthy was in

favour of it." A quick blush passed over her fresh young face as

Holmes shot one of his keen, questioning glances at her.

"Thank you for this information," said he. "May I see your father

if I call to-morrow?"

"I am afraid the doctor won't allow it."

"The doctor?"

"Yes, have you not heard? Poor father has never been strong for

years back, but this has broken him down completely. He has taken

to his bed, and Dr. Willows says that he is a wreck and that his

nervous system is shattered. Mr. McCarthy was the only man alive

who had known dad in the old days in Victoria."

"Ha! In Victoria! That is important."

"Yes, at the mines."

"Quite so; at the gold-mines, where, as I understand, Mr. Turner

made his money."

"Yes, certainly."

"Thank you, Miss Turner. You have been of material assistance to


"You will tell me if you have any news to-morrow. No doubt you

will go to the prison to see James. Oh, if you do, Mr. Holmes, do

tell him that I know him to be innocent."

"I will, Miss Turner."

"I must go home now, for dad is very ill, and he misses me so if

I leave him. Good-bye, and God help you in your undertaking." She

hurried from the room as impulsively as she had entered, and we

heard the wheels of her carriage rattle off down the street.

"I am ashamed of you, Holmes," said Lestrade with dignity after a

few minutes' silence. "Why should you raise up hopes which you

are bound to disappoint? I am not over-tender of heart, but I

call it cruel."

"I think that I see my way to clearing James McCarthy," said

Holmes. "Have you an order to see him in prison?"

"Yes, but only for you and me."

"Then I shall reconsider my resolution about going out. We have

still time to take a train to Hereford and see him to-night?"


"Then let us do so. Watson, I fear that you will find it very

slow, but I shall only be away a couple of hours."

I walked down to the station with them, and then wandered through

the streets of the little town, finally returning to the hotel,

where I lay upon the sofa and tried to interest myself in a

yellow-backed novel. The puny plot of the story was so thin,

however, when compared to the deep mystery through which we were

groping, and I found my attention wander so continually from the

action to the fact, that I at last flung it across the room and

gave myself up entirely to a consideration of the events of the

day. Supposing that this unhappy young man's story were

absolutely true, then what hellish thing, what absolutely

unforeseen and extraordinary calamity could have occurred between

the time when he parted from his father, and the moment when,

drawn back by his screams, he rushed into the glade? It was

something terrible and deadly. What could it be? Might not the

nature of the injuries reveal something to my medical instincts?

I rang the bell and called for the weekly county paper, which

contained a verbatim account of the inquest. In the surgeon's

deposition it was stated that the posterior third of the left

parietal bone and the left half of the occipital bone had been

shattered by a heavy blow from a blunt weapon. I marked the spot

upon my own head. Clearly such a blow must have been struck from

behind. That was to some extent in favour of the accused, as when

seen quarrelling he was face to face with his father. Still, it

did not go for very much, for the older man might have turned his

back before the blow fell. Still, it might be worth while to call

Holmes' attention to it. Then there was the peculiar dying

reference to a rat. What could that mean? It could not be

delirium. A man dying from a sudden blow does not commonly become

delirious. No, it was more likely to be an attempt to explain how

he met his fate. But what could it indicate? I cudgelled my

brains to find some possible explanation. And then the incident

of the grey cloth seen by young McCarthy. If that were true the

murderer must have dropped some part of his dress, presumably his

overcoat, in his flight, and must have had the hardihood to

return and to carry it away at the instant when the son was

kneeling with his back turned not a dozen paces off. What a

tissue of mysteries and improbabilities the whole thing was! I

did not wonder at Lestrade's opinion, and yet I had so much faith

in Sherlock Holmes' insight that I could not lose hope as long

as every fresh fact seemed to strengthen his conviction of young

McCarthy's innocence.

It was late before Sherlock Holmes returned. He came back alone,

for Lestrade was staying in lodgings in the town.

"The glass still keeps very high," he remarked as he sat down.

"It is of importance that it should not rain before we are able

to go over the ground. On the other hand, a man should be at his

very best and keenest for such nice work as that, and I did not

wish to do it when fagged by a long journey. I have seen young


"And what did you learn from him?"


"Could he throw no light?"

"None at all. I was inclined to think at one time that he knew

who had done it and was screening him or her, but I am convinced

now that he is as puzzled as everyone else. He is not a very

quick-witted youth, though comely to look at and, I should think,

sound at heart."

"I cannot admire his taste," I remarked, "if it is indeed a fact

that he was averse to a marriage with so charming a young lady as

this Miss Turner."

"Ah, thereby hangs a rather painful tale. This fellow is madly,

insanely, in love with her, but some two years ago, when he was

only a lad, and before he really knew her, for she had been away

five years at a boarding-school, what does the idiot do but get

into the clutches of a barmaid in Bristol and marry her at a

registry office? No one knows a word of the matter, but you can

imagine how maddening it must be to him to be upbraided for not

doing what he would give his very eyes to do, but what he knows

to be absolutely impossible. It was sheer frenzy of this sort

which made him throw his hands up into the air when his father,

at their last interview, was goading him on to propose to Miss

Turner. On the other hand, he had no means of supporting himself,

and his father, who was by all accounts a very hard man, would

have thrown him over utterly had he known the truth. It was with

his barmaid wife that he had spent the last three days in

Bristol, and his father did not know where he was. Mark that

point. It is of importance. Good has come out of evil, however,

for the barmaid, finding from the papers that he is in serious

trouble and likely to be hanged, has thrown him over utterly and

has written to him to say that she has a husband already in the

Bermuda Dockyard, so that there is really no tie between them. I

think that that bit of news has consoled young McCarthy for all

that he has suffered."

"But if he is innocent, who has done it?"

"Ah! who? I would call your attention very particularly to two

points. One is that the murdered man had an appointment with

someone at the pool, and that the someone could not have been his

son, for his son was away, and he did not know when he would

return. The second is that the murdered man was heard to cry

'Cooee!' before he knew that his son had returned. Those are the

crucial points upon which the case depends. And now let us talk

about George Meredith, if you please, and we shall leave all

minor matters until to-morrow."

There was no rain, as Holmes had foretold, and the morning broke

bright and cloudless. At nine o'clock Lestrade called for us with

the carriage, and we set off for Hatherley Farm and the Boscombe


"There is serious news this morning," Lestrade observed. "It is

said that Mr. Turner, of the Hall, is so ill that his life is

despaired of."

"An elderly man, I presume?" said Holmes.

"About sixty; but his constitution has been shattered by his life

abroad, and he has been in failing health for some time. This

business has had a very bad effect upon him. He was an old friend

of McCarthy's, and, I may add, a great benefactor to him, for I

have learned that he gave him Hatherley Farm rent free."

"Indeed! That is interesting," said Holmes.

"Oh, yes! In a hundred other ways he has helped him. Everybody

about here speaks of his kindness to him."

"Really! Does it not strike you as a little singular that this

McCarthy, who appears to have had little of his own, and to have

been under such obligations to Turner, should still talk of

marrying his son to Turner's daughter, who is, presumably,

heiress to the estate, and that in such a very cocksure manner,

as if it were merely a case of a proposal and all else would

follow? It is the more strange, since we know that Turner himself

was averse to the idea. The daughter told us as much. Do you not

deduce something from that?"

"We have got to the deductions and the inferences," said

Lestrade, winking at me. "I find it hard enough to tackle facts,

Holmes, without flying away after theories and fancies."

"You are right," said Holmes demurely; "you do find it very hard

to tackle the facts."

"Anyhow, I have grasped one fact which you seem to find it

difficult to get hold of," replied Lestrade with some warmth.

"And that is--"

"That McCarthy senior met his death from McCarthy junior and that

all theories to the contrary are the merest moonshine."

"Well, moonshine is a brighter thing than fog," said Holmes,

laughing. "But I am very much mistaken if this is not Hatherley

Farm upon the left."

"Yes, that is it." It was a widespread, comfortable-looking

building, two-storied, slate-roofed, with great yellow blotches

of lichen upon the grey walls. The drawn blinds and the smokeless

chimneys, however, gave it a stricken look, as though the weight

of this horror still lay heavy upon it. We called at the door,

when the maid, at Holmes' request, showed us the boots which her

master wore at the time of his death, and also a pair of the

son's, though not the pair which he had then had. Having measured

these very carefully from seven or eight different points, Holmes

desired to be led to the court-yard, from which we all followed

the winding track which led to Boscombe Pool.

Sherlock Holmes was transformed when he was hot upon such a scent

as this. Men who had only known the quiet thinker and logician of

Baker Street would have failed to recognise him. His face flushed

and darkened. His brows were drawn into two hard black lines,

while his eyes shone out from beneath them with a steely glitter.

His face was bent downward, his shoulders bowed, his lips

compressed, and the veins stood out like whipcord in his long,

sinewy neck. His nostrils seemed to dilate with a purely animal

lust for the chase, and his mind was so absolutely concentrated

upon the matter before him that a question or remark fell

unheeded upon his ears, or, at the most, only provoked a quick,

impatient snarl in reply. Swiftly and silently he made his way

along the track which ran through the meadows, and so by way of

the woods to the Boscombe Pool. It was damp, marshy ground, as is

all that district, and there were marks of many feet, both upon

the path and amid the short grass which bounded it on either

side. Sometimes Holmes would hurry on, sometimes stop dead, and

once he made quite a little detour into the meadow. Lestrade and

I walked behind him, the detective indifferent and contemptuous,

while I watched my friend with the interest which sprang from the

conviction that every one of his actions was directed towards a

definite end.

The Boscombe Pool, which is a little reed-girt sheet of water

some fifty yards across, is situated at the boundary between the

Hatherley Farm and the private park of the wealthy Mr. Turner.

Above the woods which lined it upon the farther side we could see

the red, jutting pinnacles which marked the site of the rich

landowner's dwelling. On the Hatherley side of the pool the woods

grew very thick, and there was a narrow belt of sodden grass

twenty paces across between the edge of the trees and the reeds

which lined the lake. Lestrade showed us the exact spot at which

the body had been found, and, indeed, so moist was the ground,

that I could plainly see the traces which had been left by the

fall of the stricken man. To Holmes, as I could see by his eager

face and peering eyes, very many other things were to be read

upon the trampled grass. He ran round, like a dog who is picking

up a scent, and then turned upon my companion.

"What did you go into the pool for?" he asked.

"I fished about with a rake. I thought there might be some weapon

or other trace. But how on earth--"

"Oh, tut, tut! I have no time! That left foot of yours with its

inward twist is all over the place. A mole could trace it, and

there it vanishes among the reeds. Oh, how simple it would all

have been had I been here before they came like a herd of buffalo

and wallowed all over it. Here is where the party with the

lodge-keeper came, and they have covered all tracks for six or

eight feet round the body. But here are three separate tracks of

the same feet." He drew out a lens and lay down upon his

waterproof to have a better view, talking all the time rather to

himself than to us. "These are young McCarthy's feet. Twice he

was walking, and once he ran swiftly, so that the soles are

deeply marked and the heels hardly visible. That bears out his

story. He ran when he saw his father on the ground. Then here are

the father's feet as he paced up and down. What is this, then? It

is the butt-end of the gun as the son stood listening. And this?

Ha, ha! What have we here? Tiptoes! tiptoes! Square, too, quite

unusual boots! They come, they go, they come again--of course

that was for the cloak. Now where did they come from?" He ran up

and down, sometimes losing, sometimes finding the track until we

were well within the edge of the wood and under the shadow of a

great beech, the largest tree in the neighbourhood. Holmes traced

his way to the farther side of this and lay down once more upon

his face with a little cry of satisfaction. For a long time he

remained there, turning over the leaves and dried sticks,

gathering up what seemed to me to be dust into an envelope and

examining with his lens not only the ground but even the bark of

the tree as far as he could reach. A jagged stone was lying among

the moss, and this also he carefully examined and retained. Then

he followed a pathway through the wood until he came to the

highroad, where all traces were lost.

"It has been a case of considerable interest," he remarked,

returning to his natural manner. "I fancy that this grey house on

the right must be the lodge. I think that I will go in and have a

word with Moran, and perhaps write a little note. Having done

that, we may drive back to our luncheon. You may walk to the cab,

and I shall be with you presently."

It was about ten minutes before we regained our cab and drove

back into Ross, Holmes still carrying with him the stone which he

had picked up in the wood.

"This may interest you, Lestrade," he remarked, holding it out.

"The murder was done with it."

"I see no marks."

"There are none."

"How do you know, then?"

"The grass was growing under it. It had only lain there a few

days. There was no sign of a place whence it had been taken. It

corresponds with the injuries. There is no sign of any other


"And the murderer?"

"Is a tall man, left-handed, limps with the right leg, wears

thick-soled shooting-boots and a grey cloak, smokes Indian

cigars, uses a cigar-holder, and carries a blunt pen-knife in his

pocket. There are several other indications, but these may be

enough to aid us in our search."

Lestrade laughed. "I am afraid that I am still a sceptic," he

said. "Theories are all very well, but we have to deal with a

hard-headed British jury."

"Nous verrons," answered Holmes calmly. "You work your own

method, and I shall work mine. I shall be busy this afternoon,

and shall probably return to London by the evening train."

"And leave your case unfinished?"

"No, finished."

"But the mystery?"

"It is solved."

"Who was the criminal, then?"

"The gentleman I describe."

"But who is he?"

"Surely it would not be difficult to find out. This is not such a

populous neighbourhood."

Lestrade shrugged his shoulders. "I am a practical man," he said,

"and I really cannot undertake to go about the country looking

for a left-handed gentleman with a game leg. I should become the

laughing-stock of Scotland Yard."

"All right," said Holmes quietly. "I have given you the chance.

Here are your lodgings. Good-bye. I shall drop you a line before

I leave."

Having left Lestrade at his rooms, we drove to our hotel, where

we found lunch upon the table. Holmes was silent and buried in

thought with a pained expression upon his face, as one who finds

himself in a perplexing position.

"Look here, Watson," he said when the cloth was cleared "just sit

down in this chair and let me preach to you for a little. I don't

know quite what to do, and I should value your advice. Light a

cigar and let me expound."

"Pray do so."

"Well, now, in considering this case there are two points about

young McCarthy's narrative which struck us both instantly,

although they impressed me in his favour and you against him. One

was the fact that his father should, according to his account,

cry 'Cooee!' before seeing him. The other was his singular dying

reference to a rat. He mumbled several words, you understand, but

that was all that caught the son's ear. Now from this double

point our research must commence, and we will begin it by

presuming that what the lad says is absolutely true."

"What of this 'Cooee!' then?"

"Well, obviously it could not have been meant for the son. The

son, as far as he knew, was in Bristol. It was mere chance that

he was within earshot. The 'Cooee!' was meant to attract the

attention of whoever it was that he had the appointment with. But

'Cooee' is a distinctly Australian cry, and one which is used

between Australians. There is a strong presumption that the

person whom McCarthy expected to meet him at Boscombe Pool was

someone who had been in Australia."

"What of the rat, then?"

Sherlock Holmes took a folded paper from his pocket and flattened

it out on the table. "This is a map of the Colony of Victoria,"

he said. "I wired to Bristol for it last night." He put his hand

over part of the map. "What do you read?"

"ARAT," I read.

"And now?" He raised his hand.


"Quite so. That was the word the man uttered, and of which his

son only caught the last two syllables. He was trying to utter

the name of his murderer. So and so, of Ballarat."

"It is wonderful!" I exclaimed.

"It is obvious. And now, you see, I had narrowed the field down

considerably. The possession of a grey garment was a third point

which, granting the son's statement to be correct, was a

certainty. We have come now out of mere vagueness to the definite

conception of an Australian from Ballarat with a grey cloak."


"And one who was at home in the district, for the pool can only

be approached by the farm or by the estate, where strangers could

hardly wander."

"Quite so."

"Then comes our expedition of to-day. By an examination of the

ground I gained the trifling details which I gave to that

imbecile Lestrade, as to the personality of the criminal."

"But how did you gain them?"

"You know my method. It is founded upon the observation of


"His height I know that you might roughly judge from the length

of his stride. His boots, too, might be told from their traces."

"Yes, they were peculiar boots."

"But his lameness?"

"The impression of his right foot was always less distinct than

his left. He put less weight upon it. Why? Because he limped--he

was lame."

"But his left-handedness."

"You were yourself struck by the nature of the injury as recorded

by the surgeon at the inquest. The blow was struck from

immediately behind, and yet was upon the left side. Now, how can

that be unless it were by a left-handed man? He had stood behind

that tree during the interview between the father and son. He had

even smoked there. I found the ash of a cigar, which my special

knowledge of tobacco ashes enables me to pronounce as an Indian

cigar. I have, as you know, devoted some attention to this, and

written a little monograph on the ashes of 140 different

varieties of pipe, cigar, and cigarette tobacco. Having found the

ash, I then looked round and discovered the stump among the moss

where he had tossed it. It was an Indian cigar, of the variety

which are rolled in Rotterdam."

"And the cigar-holder?"

"I could see that the end had not been in his mouth. Therefore he

used a holder. The tip had been cut off, not bitten off, but the

cut was not a clean one, so I deduced a blunt pen-knife."

"Holmes," I said, "you have drawn a net round this man from which

he cannot escape, and you have saved an innocent human life as

truly as if you had cut the cord which was hanging him. I see the

direction in which all this points. The culprit is--"

"Mr. John Turner," cried the hotel waiter, opening the door of

our sitting-room, and ushering in a visitor.

The man who entered was a strange and impressive figure. His

slow, limping step and bowed shoulders gave the appearance of

decrepitude, and yet his hard, deep-lined, craggy features, and

his enormous limbs showed that he was possessed of unusual

strength of body and of character. His tangled beard, grizzled

hair, and outstanding, drooping eyebrows combined to give an air

of dignity and power to his appearance, but his face was of an

ashen white, while his lips and the corners of his nostrils were

tinged with a shade of blue. It was clear to me at a glance that

he was in the grip of some deadly and chronic disease.

"Pray sit down on the sofa," said Holmes gently. "You had my


"Yes, the lodge-keeper brought it up. You said that you wished to

see me here to avoid scandal."

"I thought people would talk if I went to the Hall."

"And why did you wish to see me?" He looked across at my

companion with despair in his weary eyes, as though his question

was already answered.

"Yes," said Holmes, answering the look rather than the words. "It

is so. I know all about McCarthy."

The old man sank his face in his hands. "God help me!" he cried.

"But I would not have let the young man come to harm. I give you

my word that I would have spoken out if it went against him at

the Assizes."

"I am glad to hear you say so," said Holmes gravely.

"I would have spoken now had it not been for my dear girl. It

would break her heart--it will break her heart when she hears

that I am arrested."

"It may not come to that," said Holmes.


"I am no official agent. I understand that it was your daughter

who required my presence here, and I am acting in her interests.

Young McCarthy must be got off, however."

"I am a dying man," said old Turner. "I have had diabetes for

years. My doctor says it is a question whether I shall live a

month. Yet I would rather die under my own roof than in a gaol."

Holmes rose and sat down at the table with his pen in his hand

and a bundle of paper before him. "Just tell us the truth," he

said. "I shall jot down the facts. You will sign it, and Watson

here can witness it. Then I could produce your confession at the

last extremity to save young McCarthy. I promise you that I shall

not use it unless it is absolutely needed."

"It's as well," said the old man; "it's a question whether I

shall live to the Assizes, so it matters little to me, but I

should wish to spare Alice the shock. And now I will make the

thing clear to you; it has been a long time in the acting, but

will not take me long to tell.

"You didn't know this dead man, McCarthy. He was a devil

incarnate. I tell you that. God keep you out of the clutches of

such a man as he. His grip has been upon me these twenty years,

and he has blasted my life. I'll tell you first how I came to be

in his power.

"It was in the early '60's at the diggings. I was a young chap

then, hot-blooded and reckless, ready to turn my hand at

anything; I got among bad companions, took to drink, had no luck

with my claim, took to the bush, and in a word became what you

would call over here a highway robber. There were six of us, and

we had a wild, free life of it, sticking up a station from time

to time, or stopping the wagons on the road to the diggings.

Black Jack of Ballarat was the name I went under, and our party

is still remembered in the colony as the Ballarat Gang.

"One day a gold convoy came down from Ballarat to Melbourne, and

we lay in wait for it and attacked it. There were six troopers

and six of us, so it was a close thing, but we emptied four of

their saddles at the first volley. Three of our boys were killed,

however, before we got the swag. I put my pistol to the head of

the wagon-driver, who was this very man McCarthy. I wish to the

Lord that I had shot him then, but I spared him, though I saw his

wicked little eyes fixed on my face, as though to remember every

feature. We got away with the gold, became wealthy men, and made

our way over to England without being suspected. There I parted

from my old pals and determined to settle down to a quiet and

respectable life. I bought this estate, which chanced to be in

the market, and I set myself to do a little good with my money,

to make up for the way in which I had earned it. I married, too,

and though my wife died young she left me my dear little Alice.

Even when she was just a baby her wee hand seemed to lead me down

the right path as nothing else had ever done. In a word, I turned

over a new leaf and did my best to make up for the past. All was

going well when McCarthy laid his grip upon me.

"I had gone up to town about an investment, and I met him in

Regent Street with hardly a coat to his back or a boot to his


"'Here we are, Jack,' says he, touching me on the arm; 'we'll be

as good as a family to you. There's two of us, me and my son, and

you can have the keeping of us. If you don't--it's a fine,

law-abiding country is England, and there's always a policeman

within hail.'

"Well, down they came to the west country, there was no shaking

them off, and there they have lived rent free on my best land

ever since. There was no rest for me, no peace, no forgetfulness;

turn where I would, there was his cunning, grinning face at my

elbow. It grew worse as Alice grew up, for he soon saw I was more

afraid of her knowing my past than of the police. Whatever he

wanted he must have, and whatever it was I gave him without

question, land, money, houses, until at last he asked a thing

which I could not give. He asked for Alice.

"His son, you see, had grown up, and so had my girl, and as I was

known to be in weak health, it seemed a fine stroke to him that

his lad should step into the whole property. But there I was

firm. I would not have his cursed stock mixed with mine; not that

I had any dislike to the lad, but his blood was in him, and that

was enough. I stood firm. McCarthy threatened. I braved him to do

his worst. We were to meet at the pool midway between our houses

to talk it over.

"When I went down there I found him talking with his son, so I

smoked a cigar and waited behind a tree until he should be alone.

But as I listened to his talk all that was black and bitter in

me seemed to come uppermost. He was urging his son to marry my

daughter with as little regard for what she might think as if she

were a slut from off the streets. It drove me mad to think that I

and all that I held most dear should be in the power of such a

man as this. Could I not snap the bond? I was already a dying and

a desperate man. Though clear of mind and fairly strong of limb,

I knew that my own fate was sealed. But my memory and my girl!

Both could be saved if I could but silence that foul tongue. I

did it, Mr. Holmes. I would do it again. Deeply as I have sinned,

I have led a life of martyrdom to atone for it. But that my girl

should be entangled in the same meshes which held me was more

than I could suffer. I struck him down with no more compunction

than if he had been some foul and venomous beast. His cry brought

back his son; but I had gained the cover of the wood, though I

was forced to go back to fetch the cloak which I had dropped in

my flight. That is the true story, gentlemen, of all that


"Well, it is not for me to judge you," said Holmes as the old man

signed the statement which had been drawn out. "I pray that we

may never be exposed to such a temptation."

"I pray not, sir. And what do you intend to do?"

"In view of your health, nothing. You are yourself aware that you

will soon have to answer for your deed at a higher court than the

Assizes. I will keep your confession, and if McCarthy is

condemned I shall be forced to use it. If not, it shall never be

seen by mortal eye; and your secret, whether you be alive or

dead, shall be safe with us."

"Farewell, then," said the old man solemnly. "Your own deathbeds,

when they come, will be the easier for the thought of the peace

which you have given to mine." Tottering and shaking in all his

giant frame, he stumbled slowly from the room.

"God help us!" said Holmes after a long silence. "Why does fate

play such tricks with poor, helpless worms? I never hear of such

a case as this that I do not think of Baxter's words, and say,

'There, but for the grace of God, goes Sherlock Holmes.'"

James McCarthy was acquitted at the Assizes on the strength of a

number of objections which had been drawn out by Holmes and

submitted to the defending counsel. Old Turner lived for seven

months after our interview, but he is now dead; and there is

every prospect that the son and daughter may come to live happily

together in ignorance of the black cloud which rests upon their