"This is a most curious affair," I said, dropping The Times on the floor. "Indeed, I am surprised that the family have not already consulted you."
My friend Sherlock Holmes turned away from the window and threw himself into his arm-chair.
"I take it that you refer to the murder at Foulkes Rath," he said languidly. "If so, this might interest you, Watson. It arrived before breakfast."
He had drawn a buff-colored form from the pocket of his dressing-gown and now passed it across to me. The telegram, which bore the postmark of Forest Row, Sussex, ran as follows: "Having regard to Addleton affairs, propose to call on you at 10:15 precisely. Vincent."
Picking up The Times again, I ran my eye quickly down the column. "There is no mention of anybody named Vincent," I said.
"A fact of no importance whatever," replied Holmes impatiently. "Let us assume, from the phraseology of the telegram, that he is a lawyer of the old school employed by the Addleton family. As I observe, Watson, that we have a few minutes in hand, pray refresh my memory by running over the salient points from the account in this morning's paper, while omitting all irrelevant observations from their correspondent."
Holmes, having filled his clay pipe with shag from the Persian slipper, leaned back in his chair and contemplated the ceiling through a cloud of pungent blue smoke.
"The tragedy occurred at Foulkes Rath," I began, "an ancient Sussex manor-house near Forest Row on Ashdown Forest. The curious name of the house is derived from the circumstance that there is an old burial ground—"
"Keep to the facts, Watson."
"The property was owned by Colonel Matthias Addleton," I continued rather stiffly. "Squire Addleton, as he was known, was the local Justice of the Peace and the richest landowner in the district. The household at Foulkes Rath consisted of the squire, his nephew Percy Longton, the butler Morstead and four indoor servants. In addition, there is an outside staff consisting of the lodge-keeper, a groom and several gamekeepers who occupy cottages on the boundaries of the estate. Last night, Squire Addleton and his nephew dined at their usual hour of eight o'clock and after dinner the squire sent for his horse and was absent for about an hour. On his return, shortly before ten, he took a glass of port with his nephew in the hall. The two men appear to have been quarrelling, for the butler has stated that, on entering with the port, he remarked that the squire was flushed and brusque in his manner."
"And the nephew, Longton I think you said his name was?" Holmes interrupted.
"According to the butler, he did not see Longton's face as the young man walked to the window and stood there looking out into the night while the butler was in the room. On retiring, however, the butler caught the sounds of their voices in a furious altercation. Shortly after midnight, the household was roused by a loud cry apparently from the hall and, on rushing down in their night-clothes, they were horrified to discover Squire Addleton lying senseless in a pool of blood with his head split open. Standing beside the body of the dying man was Mr. Percy Longton, clad in a dressing-gown and grasping in his hand a blood-stained axe, a mediaeval executioner's axe, Holmes, which had been torn down from a trophy of arms above the fireplace. Longton was so dazed with horror that he could scarcely assist in lifting the injured man's head and staunching the loss of blood. However, even as Morstead bent over him, the squire raising himself on his elbows gasped out in a dreadful whisper, 'It—was— Long—tom! It—was—Long—!' and sank back dead in the butler's arms. The local police were summoned and, on the evidence of the quarrel between the two men, the discovery of the nephew standing over the body and finally the accusing words of the dying man himself, Mr. Percy Longton has been arrested for the murder of Squire Addleton. I see that there is a note in the late-news column that the accused man, who has never ceased to protest his innocence, has been removed to Lewes. These would appear to be the principal facts, Holmes."
For a while my friend smoked in silence.
"What explanation did Longton offer for the quarrel?" he asked at length.
"It is stated here that he voluntarily informed the police that he and his uncle came to high words on the subject of the latter's sale of Chudford Farm which Longton considered a further and unnecessary reduction of the estate."
"It appears that Squire Addleton has sold other holdings over the last two years," I replied, throwing the paper on the couch. "I must say, Holmes, that I have seldom read a case in which the culprit is more clearly defined."
"Ugly, Watson, very ugly," my friend agreed. "Indeed, presuming the facts to be as stated, I cannot conceive why this Mr. Vincent should propose to waste my time. But here, unless I am much mistaken, is our man upon the staircase."
There came a knock on the door and Mrs. Hudson ushered in our visitor.
Mr. Vincent was a small, elderly man with a long, pale, mournful face framed in a pair of side-whiskers. For a moment, he stood hesitating while he peered at us shortsightedly through his pince-nez which were attached by a black ribbon to the lapel of his rather dingy frock-coat. "This is too bad, Mr. Holmes!" he cried shrilly. "I assumed that my telegram would ensure privacy, sir, absolute privacy. My client's affairs—"
"This is my colleague Dr. Watson," interposed Sherlock Holmes, waving our visitor to the chair which I had drawn forward. "I assure you that his presence may be invaluable."
Mr. Vincent bobbed his head towards me and, depositing his hat and stick on the floor, sank into the cushions.
"Pray believe that I meant you no offence, Dr. Watson," he squeaked. "But this is a terrible morning, a terrible morning I say, for those who cherish goodwill for the Addletons of Foulkes Rath."
"Quite so," said Holmes. "I trust, however, that your early-morning walk to the station did something to restore your nerves. I find that exercise is in itself a sedative."
Our visitor started in his seat. "Really, sir," he cried, "I fail to see how you—"
"Tut, tut;" Holmes interrupted impatiently. "A man who has driven to the station does not appear with a splash of fresh clay on his left gaiter and a similar smear across the ferrule of his stick. You walked through a rough country lane and, as the weather is dry, I should judge that your path took in a ford or water-crossing."
"Your reasoning is perfectly correct, sir," replied Mr. Vincent, with a most suspicious glance at Holmes over the top of his pince-nez. "My horse is at grass and not even a hack available at that hour in the village. I walked as you say, caught the milk train to London and here I am to enlist, nay, Mr. Holmes, to demand, your services for my unfortunate young client, Mr. Percy Longton."
Holmes lay back with closed eyes and his chin resting on his finger-tips. "I fear that there is nothing that I can do in the matter," he announced. "Dr. Watson has already put before me the principal facts, and they would appear to be quite damning. Who is in charge of the case?"
"I understand that the local police, in view of the gravity of the crime, appealed to Scotland Yard, who dispatched an Inspector Lestrade—dear me, Mr. Holmes, I fear that you have a painful twinge of rheumatics—an Inspector Lestrade to take charge. I should explain, perhaps," went on our visitor, "that I am the senior partner of Vincent, Peabody and Vincent, the legal practitioners of Forest Row to whom the Addletons have entrusted their interests for the past hundred years and more."
Leaning forward, Holmes picked up the paper and, tapping the place sharply with his finger, handed it without a word to the lawyer.
"The account is accurate enough," said the little man sadly, after running his eye down the column, "though it omits to state that the front door was unlocked despite the fact that the squire told Morstead the butler that he would lock it himself."
Holmes raised his eyebrows. "Unlocked, you say? H'm. Well, the probable explanation is that Squire Addleton forgot the matter in his quarrel with his nephew. However, there are one or two points which are not yet clear to me."
"I take it that the murdered man was in his night-clothes?"
"No, he was fully dressed. Mr. Longton was in his night-clothes."
"I understand that after dinner the squire left the house for an hour or so. Was it his custom to take nocturnal rides?"
Mr. Vincent ceased to stroke his whiskers and shot a keen glance at Holmes. "Now that you mention it, such was not his custom," he shrilled. "But he returned safely and I cannot see—"
"Quite so," interposed Holmes. "Would you say that the squire was a wealthy man? Pray be precise in your reply."
"Matthias Addleton was a very wealthy man. He was, of course, the younger son and emigrated to Australia some forty years ago, that is to say in 1854. He returned in the seventies having amassed a large fortune in the Australian gold-fields and, his elder brother having died, he inherited the family property of Foulkes Rath. Alas, I cannot pretend that he was liked in the neighborhood, for he was a man of morose disposition and as unpopular with his neighbors as he was feared by our local ne'er-do-wells in his capacity as Justice of the Peace. A hard, bitter, brooding man."
"Was Mr. Percy Longton on good terms with his uncle?"
The lawyer hesitated. "I am afraid not," he said at length. "Mr. Percy, who was the son of the squire's late sister, has lived at Foulkes Rath since his childhood and, on the property passing to his uncle, he remained and managed the estate. He is, of course, the heir under an entailment which covers the house and a part of the land and, on more than one occasion, he has expressed deep resentment at his uncle's sales of certain farms and holdings which led, I fear, to bad blood between them. It was most unfortunate that his wife was absent last night, of all nights."
"Yes, there is a Mrs. Longton, a charming, gracious young woman. She was staying with friends for the night at East Grinstead and is due back this morning." Mr. Vincent paused. "Poor little Mary," he ended quietly. "What a home-coming! The squire dead and her husband charged with murder."
"One final question," said Holmes. "What explanation does your client offer to account for the events of last night?"
"His story is a simple one, Mr. Holmes. He states that at dinner the squire informed him of his intention to sell Chudford Farm and when he remonstrated on the needlessness of the sale and the damage that it would do to the estate, his uncle turned on him roundly and high words ensued. Later, his uncle called for his horse and rode from the house without a word of explanation. Upon his return, the squire ordered a bottle of port and, as the quarrel threatened to grow from bad to worse, Mr. Percy bade his uncle good-night and retired to his room. However, his mind was too agitated for sleep and twice, according to his statement, he sat up in bed under the impression that he had caught the distant sound of his uncle's voice from the great hall."
"Why, then, did he not go to investigate?" interposed Holmes sharply.
"I put that very question to him. He replied that his uncle had been drinking heavily and therefore he assumed that he was raving to himself in the hall. The butler Morstead confirmed that this had occurred not infrequently in the past."
"The clock over the stables had just chimed midnight and he was drifting at last into slumber when in an instant he was brought back to full consciousness by a dreadful yell that rang through the great silent house. Springing out of bed, he pulled on his dressing-gown and, seizing a candle, ran downstairs to the hall, only to recoil before the terrible sight that met his eyes.
"The hearth and fireplace were spattered with blood, and sprawling in a great crimson pool, his arms raised above his head and his teeth grinning through his beard, lay Squire Addleton. Mr. Percy rushed forward and was bending over his uncle when his eyes fell upon an object that turned him sick and faint. Beside the body of the squire and horribly dappled with the blood of its victim lay an executioner's axe! He recognized it vaguely as forming a part of a trophy of arms that hung above the chimney-piece and without thinking what he was doing he had stooped and picked up the thing when Morstead accompanied by the terrified maidservants burst into the room. Such is the explanation of my unhappy client."
"Dear me," said Holmes.
For a long moment, the lawyer and I sat in silence, our eyes fixed upon my friend. His head had fallen back against the chair top, his eyes were closed and only a thin, quick spiral of smoke rising from his clay pipe hinted at the activity of the mind behind that impassive aquiline mask. A moment later, he had sprung to his feet.
"A breath of Ashdown air will certainly do you no harm, Watson," he said briskly. "Mr. Vincent, my friend and I are very much at your disposal."
It was mid-afternoon when we alighted from the train at the wayside station of Forest Row. Mr. Vincent had telegraphed our reservations at the Green Man, an old-weald-stone inn which appeared to be the only building of any consequence in the little hamlet. The air was permeated with the scent of the woodlands clothing the low, rounded Sussex hills that hemmed us in on every side, and as I contemplated that green smiling landscape it seemed to me that the tragedy of Foulkes Rath took on a grimmer, darker shade through the very serenity of the pastoral surroundings amid which it had been enacted. Though it was evident that the worthy lawyer shared my feelings, Sherlock Holmes was completely absorbed in his own thoughts, and took no part in our conversation save for a remark that the station-master was unhappily married and had recently changed the position of his shaving-mirror.
Hiring a fly at the inn, we set out on the three-mile journey that lay between the village and the manor-house, and as our road wound its way up the wooded slopes of Pippinford Hill, we caught occasional glimpses of a sombre, heather-covered ridge where the edge of the great Ashdown moors loomed against the sky-line.
We had topped the hill and I was absorbed in the wonderful view of the moorland rolling away and away to the faint blue distances of the Sussex Downs when Mr. Vincent touched my arm and pointed ahead.
"Foulkes Rath," he said.
On a crest of the moor stood a gaunt, rambling house of grey stone flanked by a line of stables. A series of fields running from the very walls of the ancient mansion merged into a wilderness of yellow gorse and heather ending in a deep wooded valley from whence arose a pencil of smoke and the high distant droning of a steam-saw.
"The Ashdown Timber Mills," volunteered Mr. Vincent. "Those woods lie beyond the boundary of the estate and there is not another neighbour within three miles. But here we are, Mr. Holmes, and a sorry welcome it is to the manor-house of Foulkes Rath."
At the sound of our wheels upon the drive an elderly manservant had appeared at the beetle-browed Tudor doorway and now, on catching sight of our companion, he hurried forward with an exclamation of relief.
"Thank God you've come, sir," he cried. "Mrs. Longton—"
"She has returned?" interposed Mr. Vincent. "Poor lady, I will go to her at once."
"Sergeant Clare is here, sir, and—er—a person from the London police."
"Very well, Morstead."
"One moment," said Holmes. "Has your master's body been moved?"
"He has been laid in the gun-room, sir."
"I trust that nothing else has been disturbed?" Holmes demanded sharply.
The man's eyes turned slowly towards the dark arch of the doorway. "No, sir," he muttered. "It's all as it was!"
A small vestibule in which Morstead relieved us of our hats and sticks led us into the inner hall. It was a great stone-built chamber with a groined roof and a line of narrow pointed windows emblazoned with stained-glass shields through which the sunlight, now waning towards evening, mottled the oaken floor with vivid patches of vert, gules and azure. A short, thin man who was busy writing at a desk glanced up at our entrance and sprang to his feet with a flush of indignation upon his sharp-featured countenance.
"How's this, Mr. Holmes," he cried. "There's no scope here for the exercise of your talents."
"I have no doubt that you are right, Lestrade," replied my friend carelessly. "Nevertheless, there have been occasions when—"
"—when luck has favoured the theorist, eh, Mr. Holmes? Ah, Dr. Watson. And might I enquire who this is, if the question may be forgiven in a police-officer?"
"This is Mr. Vincent, who is legal advisor to the Addleton family," I replied. "It was he who requested the services of Mr. Sherlock Holmes."
"Oh, he did, did he!" snapped Inspector Lestrade, with a baleful glance at the little lawyer. "Well, it's too late now for any of Mr. Holmes's fine theories. We have our man. Good day, gentlemen."
"Just a moment, Lestrade," said Holmes sternly. "You've made mistakes in the past, and it is not impossible that you may make them in the future. In this case, if you have the right man, and I must confess that up to now I believe that you have, then you have nothing to lose in my confirmation. On the other hand—"
"Ah, it's always 'on the other hand.' However—" Lestrade added grudgingly, "I do not see that you can do any harm. If you want to waste your own time, Mr. Holmes, that's your business. Yes, Dr. Watson, it's a nasty sight, isn't it?"
I had followed Sherlock Holmes to the fireplace at the far end of the room only to recoil before the spectacle that met my eyes. Across the oak floor stretched a great black stain of partly congealed blood while the hearth and fireplace and even the nearby wainscotting were hideously dappled with gouts and splashes of crimson.
Mr. Vincent, white to the lips, turned away and collapsed into a chair.
"Stand back, Watson," Holmes enjoined abruptly. "I take it, Lestrade, that there were no footprints on—" he gestured towards that dreadful floor.
"Just one, Mr. Holmes," replied Lestrade with a bitter smile, "and it fitted Mr. Percy Longton's bedroom-slipper."
"Ah, it would seem that you are learning. By the way, what of the accused man's dressing-gown?"
"Well, what of it?"
"The walls, Lestrade, the walls! Surely the blood-spattered front of Longton's robe goes far towards completing your case."
"Now that you mention it, the sleeves were blood-soaked."
"Tut, that is natural enough, considering that he helped to raise the dying man's head. There is little to be gained from the sleeves. You have the dressing-gown there?"
The Scotland Yard man rummaged in a Gladstone bag and drew out a grey woollen robe.
"This is it."
"H'm. Stains on the sleeves and hem. Not even a mark on the front. Curious but, alas, inconclusive. And this is the weapon?"
Lestrade had drawn from his bag a most fearsome object. It was a short-hafted axe made entirely of steel with a broad crescent-edge blade and a narrow neck.
"This is certainly a very ancient specimen," said Holmes, examining the blade through his lens. "Incidentally, where was the wound inflicted?"
"The whole top of Squire Addleton's skull was cleft like a rotten apple," answered Lestrade. "Indeed, it was a miracle that he regained consciousness even for a moment. An unfortunate miracle for Mr. Longton," he added.
"He named him, I understand."
"Well, he gasped out something about 'Longtom,' which was near enough to the mark for a dying man."
"Quite so. But whom have we here? No, madam, not a step nearer, I beg! This fireplace is no sight for a woman."
A slim, graceful girl, clad in the deepest mourning, had rushed into the room. Her dark eyes shone with almost fevered brilliance in the whiteness of her face and her hands were clasped before her in an agony of distress.
"Save him!" she cried wildly. "He is innocent, I swear it! Oh, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, save my husband!"
I do not think that any of us, even Lestrade, remained unmoved.
"I will do whatever lies in my power, madam," said Holmes gently. "Now tell me about your husband."
"He is the kindest of men."
"Quite so. But I mean physically. For instance, would you say that he was taller than Squire Addleton?"
Mrs. Longton looked at Holmes in amazement. "Good heavens, no," she cried. "Why, the squire was over six feet tall."
"Ah. Now, Mr. Vincent, perhaps you can inform me when it was that Squire Addleton first began to sell portions of the estate?"
"The first sale occurred two years past, the second some six months ago," replied the lawyer hurriedly. "And now, Mr. Holmes, unless you require my presence, I propose to take Mrs. Longton back to the drawing-room."
My friend bowed. "We need not worry Mrs. Longton any further," said he. "But I would be glad of a word with the butler."
While we waited, Holmes strolled to the window and, with his hands behind his back and his chin sunk upon his breast, stared out over the empty landscape. Lestrade, who had returned to his desk, chewed the end of his pen and watched him curiously.
"Ah, Morstead," said Holmes, as the butler entered. "Doubtless you are anxious to do everything possible to assist Mr. Longton, and I wish you to understand that we are here with the same purpose."
The man looked nervously from Lestrade to Holmes.
"Come, now," my friend continued. "I am sure that you can help us. For instance, perhaps you can recall whether the squire received any letters by yesterday's post."
"There was a letter, sir, yes."
"Ah! Can you tell me more?"
"I'm afraid not, sir. It bore the local postmark and seemed a very ordinary cheap envelope such as they use hereabouts. But I was surprised—" the man hesitated for a moment.
"Yes, something surprised you. Something, perhaps, in the squire's manner?" asked Holmes quietly.
"Yes, sir, that's it. As soon as I gave it to him, he opened it and as he read there came a look in his face that made me glad to get out of the room. When I returned later, the squire had gone out and there were bits of burnt paper smouldering in the grate."
Holmes rubbed his hands together. "Your assistance is invaluable, Morstead," said he. "Now, think carefully. Six months ago, as you probably know, your master sold some land. You cannot, of course, recall a similar letter at about that time?"
"Naturally not. Thank you, Morstead, I think that is all."
Something in his voice made me glance at Holmes and I was amazed at the change in him. His eyes gleamed with excitement and a touch of colour showed in his cheeks.
"Sit down, Watson," he cried. "Over there on the trestle." Then, whipping his lens from his pocket, he commenced his examination.
I watched him enthralled. The blood-stains, the fireplace, the mantelpiece, the very floor itself were subjected to a careful and methodical scrutiny as Holmes crawled about on his hands and knees, his long, thin nose within a few inches of the parquet and the lens in his hands catching an occasional sparkle from the light of the dying sun.
A Persian rug lay in the centre of the room and, on reaching the edge of this, I saw him stiffen suddenly.
"You should have observed this, Lestrade," he said softly. "There are faint traces of a foot-mark here."
"What of it, Mr. Holmes?" grinned Lestrade, with a wink at me. "Plenty of people have passed over that rug."
"But it has not rained for days. The boot which made this mark was slightly moist, and I need not tell you that there is something in this room which would easily account for that. Hullo, what have we here?"
Holmes had scraped something from the mat and was closely examining it through his lens. Lestrade and I joined him.
"Well, what is it?"
Without a word, Holmes passed him the lens and held out his hand.
"Dust," announced Lestrade, peering through the glass.
"Pine-wood dust," replied Holmes quietly. "The fine grain is unmistakable. You will note that I scraped it from the traces of the boot-mark."
"Really, Holmes," I cried. "I cannot see—"
My friend looked at me with a gleaming eye. "Come, Watson," said he, "we will stretch our legs as far as the stables."
In the cobbled yard, we came on a groom drawing water from a pump. I have remarked before that Holmes possessed a gift for putting the working classes at their ease and, after exchanging a few words, the man lost so much of his Sussex reserve that when my friend threw out the suggestion that it might be difficult to name which of the horses had been used by his master on the previous night, the information was instantly forthcoming.
"It was Ranger, sir," volunteered the groom. "Here in this stall. You'd like to see her hoofs? Well, why not. There you are, and you can scrape away with your knife to your heart's content and not a stone will you find."
Holmes, after closely examining a fragment of earth which he had taken from the horse's hoof, placed it carefully in an envelope and, pressing a half-sovereign into the groom's hand, strode out of the yard.
"Well, Watson, it only remains for us to collect our hats and sticks before returning to our inn," he announced briskly. "Ah, Lestrade," he continued, as the Scotland Yard man appeared in the front door. "I would draw your attention to the fireplace chair."
"But there is no fireplace chair."
"That is why I draw your attention to it. Come, Watson, there is nothing further to be learned here tonight."
The evening passed pleasantly enough, though I was somewhat irritated with Holmes who, while refusing to answer any of my questions on the grounds that they could be better answered on the morrow, encouraged our landlord to converse on local topics which could hold no interest whatever for strangers like ourselves.
When I awoke the next morning I was surprised to learn that my friend had breakfasted and gone out some two hours earlier. I was concluding my own breakfast when he strolled in, looking invigorated for his exercise in the open air.
"Where have you been?" I enquired.
"Following the example of the early bird, Watson," he chuckled. "If you have finished, then let us drive to Foulkes Rath and pick up Lestrade. There are times when he has his definite uses."
Half an hour later saw us once more at the old mansion. Lestrade, who greeted us rather surlily, stared at my companion in amazement.
"But why a walk on the moors, Mr. Holmes?" he snapped. "What bee has got into your bonnet this time?"
Holmes's face was very stern, as he turned away. "Very well," said he. "I had hoped to give you the undivided credit of capturing the murderer of Squire Addleton."
Lestrade caught my companion by the arm. "Man, are you serious?" he demanded. "But the evidence! Every single fact points clearly to—"
Sherlock Holmes raised his stick and pointed silently down the long slope of fields and heather to the distant wooded valley.
"There," he said quietly.
It was a walk that I will long remember. I am sure that Lestrade had no more idea than I had of what lay before us as we followed Holmes's tall, spare figure across the meadows and down the rough sheep track that led into the desolation of the moor. It was a mile or more before we reached the beginning of the valley and plunged down into the welcome shade of the pine woods through which the whirring of the steam-saw vibrated like the hum of some monstrous insect. The air grew redolent with the tang of burning wood and a few minutes later we found ourselves among the buildings and timber stacks of the Ashdown Timber Mills.
Holmes led the way without hesitation to a hut marked "Manager" and knocked sharply. There was a moment of waiting, and then the door was flung open.
I have seldom seen a more formidable figure than the man who stood upon the threshold. He was a giant in stature, with a breadth of shoulders that blocked the doorway and a matted tangle of red beard that hung down over his chest like the mane of a lion. "What do you want here?" he growled.
"I presume that I have the pleasure of addressing Mr. Thomas Greerly?" asked Holmes politely.
The man remained silent while he bit off a cud of chewing-tobacco, his eyes roving over us in a cold, slow stare.
"What if you have?" he said at length.
"Long Tom to your friends, I think," said Holmes quietly. "Well, Mr. Thomas Greerly, it is no thanks to you that an innocent man is not called upon to pay the penalty for your own misdeeds."
For a moment the giant stood as though turned to stone and then, with the roar of a wild beast, he hurled himself on Holmes. I managed to sieze him round the waist and Holmes's hands were buried deep in that bristling tangle of beard, but it would have gone hard with us had not Lestrade clapped a pistol to the man's head. At the touch of the cold steel against his temples, he ceased to struggle and a moment later Holmes had snapped a pair of handcuffs upon his great knotted wrists.
From the glare in his eyes I thought that Greerly was about to attack us again, but suddenly he gave a rueful laugh and turned his bearded face towards my friend.
"I don't know who you are, mister," he said, "but it's a fair catch. So, if you'll tell me how you did it, I'll answer all your questions."
Lestrade stepped forward. "I must warn you—" he began, with the magnanimous fair play of British justice.
But our prisoner waved his words aside.
"Aye, I killed him," he growled. "I killed Bully Addleton and now that it has come I reckon that I'll swing with an easy heart. Is that plain enough for you? Well, come inside."
He led the way into the little office and threw himself into his chair while the rest of us accommodated ourselves as best we might.
"How did you find me, mister?" he demanded carelessly, raising his manacled hands to bite off a fresh cud of tobacco.
"Fortunately for an innocent man, I discerned certain traces of your presence," said Holmes in his sternest manner. "I admit that I believed Mr. Percy Longton to be guilty when first I was asked to look into the matter nor did I perceive any reason to alter my views when I reached the scene of the crime. It was not long, however, before I found myself faced with certain details which, though insignificant enough in themselves, threw a new and curious light on the whole affair. The frightful blow that killed Squire Addleton had spattered blood over the fireplace and even a part of the wall. Why, then, were there no stains down the front of the dressing-gown worn by the man who struck that blow? Here was something inconclusive and yet troublesome.
"Next, I observed that there was no chair in the vicinity of the fireplace where the murdered man had fallen. He had, therefore, been struck down when standing, not sitting, and yet as the blow cleft the top of his skull it had been delivered from the same level, if not from above. When I learned from Mrs. Longton that the squire was over six feet tall, I was left with no doubt whatever that a serious miscarriage of justice had been committed. But, if not Longton, then who was the real murderer?
"My enquiries brought to light that a letter had reached the squire that morning, that apparently he had burned it, and thereafter quarrelled with his nephew by proposing the sale of a farm. Squire Addleton was a wealthy man. Why, then, these periodic sales which had first commenced two years previously? The man was being heavily blackmailed."
"A lie, by God!" interrupted Greerly fiercely. "He was paying back what didn't belong to him, and that's the truth."
"On examining the room," my friend continued. "I found the faint traces of a boot-mark to which I drew your attention, Lestrade, and as the weather was dry I knew, of course, that the mark had been made after the crime. The man's boot was moist because he had stepped in the blood. My lens disclosed traces of some fine powder adhering to this boot-mark and on closer examination I recognized this powder to be pine sawdust. When I found, pressed into the dried earth in the hoofs of the squire's horse, a quantity of similar sawdust, I was able to form a fairly clear picture of the events which had occurred on the night of the crime.
"The squire, who had been subjected to the vehement protests of his nephew over the proposed sale of some valuable land, instantly mounted his horse after dinner and rode off into the darkness. Obviously, he intended to speak, perhaps appeal, to someone, and about midnight that someone comes. He is a man of lofty stature and of a strength sufficiently formidable to cleave a human skull in a single blow, and the soles of his boots are engrained with pine-dust. There is a quarrel between the two men, perhaps a refusal to pay, a threat and, in an instant, the taller man has torn a weapon from the wall and, burying it in his opponent's skull, rushes out into the night.
"Where, I asked myself, might one expect to find the ground impregnated with wood-dust? Surely in a sawmill; and there down in the valley below the manor-house lay the Ashdown Timber Mills.
"It had occurred to me already that the clue to this terrible event might lie in the squire's earlier life, and therefore, following my usual practice, I spent an instructive evening gossiping with our landlord in course of which I elicited by an idle question that two years ago an Australian had been given the post of Manager at the Ashdown Timber Mills on the personal recommendation of Squire Addleton. When you came out of this hut early this morning, Greerly, to give your orders for the day's work, I was behind that timber shack. I saw you, and my case was complete."
The Australian, who had listened to Holmes's account with the closest attention, leaned back in Ms chair with a bitter smile.
"It's my bad luck they ever sent for you, mister," he said brazenly. "But I'm not the man to break a bargain, and so here's the little that you still need to know.
"It all began in the early seventies at the time of the great gold strike near Kalgoorlie. I had a younger brother who went into partnership with an Englishman whom we knew as Bully Addleton and, sure enough, they struck it rich. At that time the tracks to the goldfields were none too safe, for there were bushrangers at work. Well, only a week after my brother and Addleton hit the vein, the gold-stage to Kalgoorlie was held up and the guard and driver shot dead.
"On the false accusation of Bully Addleton and some trumped-up evidence, my unfortunate brother was seized and tried for the crime. The law was quick to act in those days and they hung him that night to the Bushranger's Tree. Addleton was left with the mine.
"I was away up the Blue Mountains, timber cutting, and two full years passed before I heard the truth of the matter from a digger who had it from a dying cook-boy who had been bribed to silence.
"Addleton had made his pile and gone back to the Old Country, and I hadn't the money to follow him. From that day I wandered from job to job, always saving and planning how to find my brother's murderer, aye murderer, may the devil roast him!
"It was nigh twenty years before I came alongside him and that one moment repaid all my waiting.
" 'Morning, Bully,' said I.
"His face went the colour of putty and the pipe dropped out of his mouth.
" 'Long Tom Greerly!' he gasped, and I thought the man was going to faint.
"Well, we had a talk and I made him get me this job. Then I began to bleed him bit by bit. No blackmail, mister, but restitution of a dead man's goods. Two days ago, I wrote to him again and that night he rode down here, cursing and swearing that I was driving him to ruin. I told him I'd give him until midnight to make his choice, pay or tell, and I'd call for his answer.
"He was waiting for me in the hall, mad with drink and fury, and swearing that I could go to the police or the devil for all he cared. Did I think that the word of a dirty Australian timber-jack would be accepted against that of the Lord of the Manor and Justice of the Peace? He was mad to have ever paid me a penny-piece.
" 'I'll serve you as thoroughly as I served your worthless brother!' he yelled. It was that which did it. Something seemed to snap in my brain and, tearing down the nearest weapon from the wall, I buried it in his snarling, grinning head.
"For a moment I stood looking down at him. 'From me and Jim,' I whispered. Then I turned and ran into the night. That's my story, mister, and now I'd take it kindly if we can go before my men get back."
Lestrade and his prisoner had reached the door when Holmes's voice halted them.
"I only wish to know," he said, "whether you are aware of the weapon with which you killed Squire Addleton?"
"I told you it was the nearest thing on the wall, some old axe or club."
"It was an executioner's axe," said Holmes drily. The Australian made no reply, but as he followed Lestrade to the door it seemed to me that a singular smile lit up his rough, bearded face.
My friend and I walked back slowly through the woods and up the moor where Lestrade and the prisoner had already vanished in the direction of Foulkes Rath. Sherlock Holmes was moody and thoughtful and it was apparent to me that the reaction that generally followed the conclusion of a case was already upon him.
"It is curious," I observed, "that a man's hatred and ferocity should remain unabated after twenty years."
"My dear Watson," replied Holmes, "I would remind you of the old Sicilian adage that vengeance is the only dish that is best when eaten cold. But surely," he continued, shading his eyes with his hand, "the lady hurrying down our path is Mrs. Longton. Though I trust that I am not lacking in chivalry, nevertheless I am in no mood for the effusions of feminine gratitude and therefore, with your permission, we will take this by-path behind the gorse bushes. If we step out, we should be in time for the afternoon train to town.
"Corata is singing tonight at Covent Garden and, braced by our short holiday in the invigorating atmosphere of Ashdown Forest, I think that you will agree with me, Watson, that we could desire no more pleasant homecoming than an hour or two spent amid the magic of Manon Lescaut followed by a cold supper at our rooms in Baker Street."
Here also I find an account of the Addleton tragedy.
FROM "THE GOLDEN PINCE-NEZ"
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