"Mr. Holmes, it was death by the visitation of God!"
We have heard many singular statements in our rooms at Baker Street, but few more startling than this pronouncement of the Rev. Mr. James Appley.
I need no reference to my note-book to recall that it was a fine summer day in the year 1887. A telegram had arrived at the breakfast-table. Mr. Sherlock Holmes, with an exclamation of impatience, threw it across to me. The telegram stated merely that the Rev. James Appley requested the favour of waiting upon him that morning, to consult him in a matter of church affairs.
"Really, Watson," Holmes had commented with some asperity, as he lighted his after-breakfast pipe, "matters have indeed come to a pretty pass when clergymen seek my advice as to the length of their sermons or the conduct of the Harvest Festival. I am flattered but out of my depth. What does Crockford say of this strange client?"
Endeavouring to anticipate my friend's methods, I had already taken down the clerical directory. I could find only that the gentleman in question was the vicar of a small parish in Somerset, and had written a monograph on Byzantine medicine.
"An unusual pursuit for a country clergyman," Holmes remarked. "But here, unless I am much mistaken, is the man himself."
As he spoke, there had arisen from below an excited pealing of the door-bell, and, before Mrs. Hudson could announce him, our visitor had burst into the room. He was a tall, thin, high-shouldered man in rustic clerical dress with a benevolent, scholarly face framed in antiquated side-whiskers of the sort once known as Dundreary weepers.
"My dear sirs," he cried, peering at us myopically from behind oval spectacles, "pray accept my assurance that it is only the pressure of events that prompts my invasion of your privacy."
"Come, come," said Sherlock Holmes good-humouredly, waving him to the basket-chair before the empty fireplace. "I am a consulting detective, and therefore my privacy is of no more consequence than that of a doctor."
The clergyman had hardly seated himself when he blurted out the extraordinary words with which I have begun this narrative.
"Death by the visitation of God," repeated Sherlock Holmes. Though his voice was subdued, yet it seemed to me that there was a roll and thrill in the words. "Then surely, my dear sir, the matter lies rather within your province than within mine?"
"I ask your pardon," said the vicar, hastily. "My words were perhaps over-emphatic and even irreverent. But you will understand that this horrible event, this—" his voice sank almost to a whisper as he leaned forward in his chair. "Mr. Holmes, it is villainy: cold-blooded, deliberate villainy!"
"Believe me, sir, I am all attention."
"Mr. John Trelawney—Squire Trelawney, we called him—was the richest landowner for miles about. Four nights ago, when only three months short of his seventieth birthday, he died in his bed."
"Hum! That is not so uncommon."
"No, sir. But hear me!" cried the vicar, raising a long forefinger curiously smudged on the very tip. "John Trelawney was a hale and hearty man, suffering from no organic disease, and good for at least a dozen more years in this mundane sphere. Dr. Paul Griffin, our local medical practitioner and incidentally my nephew, flatly refused to issue a death-certificate. There was a most dreadful business called a post-mortem."
Holmes, who had not yet doffed his mouse-coloured dressing-gown, had been leaning back languidly in his arm-chair. Now he half opened his eyes.
"A post-mortem!" said he. "Performed by your nephew?"
Mr. Appley hesitated. "No, Mr. Holmes. It was performed by Sir Leopold Harper, our foremost living authority on medical jurisprudence. I may tell you, here and now, that poor Trelawney did not die a natural death. Not only the police but Scotland Yard have been called in."
"On the other hand," continued Mr. Appley agitatedly, "Trelawney was not murdered, and he could not possibly have been murdered. The greatest medical skill has been used to pronounce that he could not have died from any cause whatsoever."
For a moment there was a silence in our sitting-room, where the blinds had been half drawn against the summer sun.
"My dear Watson," said Holmes cordially, "will you be good enough to fetch me a clay pipe from the rack over the sofa? Thank you. I find, Mr. Appley, that a clay is most conducive to meditation. Come, where is the coalscuttle? May I venture to offer you a cigar?"
"Cras ingens iterabimus aequor," said the vicar, running his curiously mottled fingers over his side-whiskers. "At the moment, thank you, no. I cannot smoke. I dare not smoke! It would choke me. I am aware that I must tell you the facts in precise detail. But it is difficult. You may have remarked that I am considered somewhat absent-minded?"
"Yes, sir. In youth, before my call to the Church, I once desired to study medicine. But my late father forbade it, due to this absent-mindedness. Were I to become a doctor, said my father, I should instantly chloroform the patient and remove his gall-stones when he had merely come to enquire about a slight cough."
"Well, well," said Holmes, with a touch of impatience. "But you were disturbed in your mind this morning," he continued, regarding our client with his keen glance. "That, no doubt, was why you consulted several books in your study before catching the train to London this morning?"
"Yes, sir. They were medical works."
"Do you not find it inconvenient to have the bookshelves in your study built so high?"
"Dear me, no. Can any room be too high or too large for one's books?"
Abruptly the vicar paused. His long face, framed in the Dundreary weepers, grew even longer as his mouth fell open.
"Now I am positive, I am quite positive," said he, "that I mentioned neither my books nor the height of the shelves in my study! How could you have known these things?"
"Tut, a trifle! How do I know, for instance, that you are either a bachelor or a widower, and that you have a most slovenly housekeeper?"
"Really, Holmes," cried I, "there is another besides Mr. Appley who would like to know how you deduced it!"
"The dust, Watson! The dust!"
"Kindly observe the index finger of Mr. Appley's right hand. You will note, on its tip, smudges of that dark-grey dust which accumulates on the top of books. The smudges, somewhat faded, were made no later than this morning. Since Mr. Appley is a tall man with long arms, surely it is obvious that he plucked down books from a high shelf. When to this accumulation of dust we add an unbrushed top hat, it requires small shrewdness to determine that he has no wife, but an appalling housekeeper."
"Remarkable!" said I.
"Meretricious," said he. "And I apologize to our guest for interrupting his narrative."
"This death was incomprehensible beyond all measure! But you have not yet heard the worst," continued our visitor. "I must tell you that Trelawney has one surviving relative: a niece, aged twenty-one. Her name is Miss Dolores Dale, the daughter of the late Mrs. Copley Dale, of Glastonbury. For several years the young lady has kept house for Trelawney in his great whitewashed home, called Goodman's Rest. It has always been understood that Dolores, who is engaged to be married to a fine young man named Jeffrey Ainsworth, would inherit her uncle's fortune. When I tell you that a sweeter, or kinder spirit never existed, that her hair is darker than Homer's wine-dark sea and that upon occasion she can be all flash and fire suggestive of Southern blood—"
"Yes, yes," said Holmes, closing his eyes. "But you stated that I had not heard the worst?"
"True. Here are the facts. Shortly before his death, Trelawney changed his will. Disinheriting his niece, whom the stern-minded old man considered to be too frivolous, he left his entire fortune to my nephew, Dr. Paul Griffin. Sir, it was the scandal of the country-side! Two weeks later, Trelawney was dead in his bed and my unhappy nephew is now under suspicion of murder."
"Pray be particular in your details," said Holmes.
"In the first place," continued the vicar, "I should describe the late Squire Trelawney as a man of stern and implacable habit. I seem always to see him, tall and big-boned, with his great head and his grizzled silver beard, against the brown of a ploughed field or a line of heavy green trees.
"Each evening, in his bedroom, he would read a chapter of the Bible. Afterwards he would wind up his watch, which had almost run down at that hour. Then he would retire to bed at ten o'clock precisely, and rise at five each morning."
"One moment!" interposed Holmes. "Did these habits of his ever vary?"
"Well, should he become absorbed in the Bible, he might read until very late. But this happened so seldom, Mr. Holmes, that I think you may disregard it."
"Thank you; that is quite clear."
"In the second place, I am sorry to say that he was never on the best of terms with his niece. He was stern to a point of brutality. On one occasion, two years ago, he thrashed poor Dolores with a razor-strop, and confined her to her room on bread and water, because she had gone to Bristol to witness a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera, Patience. I can still see her, with the tears running down her warm-blooded cheeks. You must forgive the intemperance of her language. 'Old devil,' she sobbed.'Old devil!' "
"Am I to understand," interposed Holmes, "that the young lady's future welfare depends on the inheritance of this money?"
"Far from it. Her fiance, Mr. Ainsworth, is a rising young solicitor who is already making his way in the world. Trelawney himself was among his clients."
"I seemed to detect a certain apprehension when you mentioned your nephew," said Holmes. "Since Dr. Griffin inherits this fortune, he was presumably on friendly terms with Trelawney?"
The vicar shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "On the friendliest possible terms," he replied with some haste. "Indeed, on one occasion he saved the squire's life. At the same time, I must confess that he has always been a wild, hot-headed man. His intemperate behaviour has gone a long way towards creating the strong local prejudice which has now risen against him. If the police could show how Trelawney died, my nephew might be under arrest at this moment."
The vicar paused and looked round. There had come an authoritative rap at the door. An instant later, as it was flung open, we had a glimpse of Mrs. Hudson over the shoulder of a short, thin, rat-faced man, clad in a check suit and bowler hat. As his hard blue eyes fell on Mr. Appley, he paused on the threshold with a growl of surprise.
"You have a certain gift, Lestrade, for timing your appearances with a pleasant touch of the dramatic," observed Holmes languidly.
"And very awkward for some folk," remarked the detective, depositing his hat beside the gasogene. "Well, from the presence of this reverend gentleman I take it that you are up to date with this cosy little murder in Somerset. The facts are pretty obvious and all point one way as clear as signposts, eh, Mr. Holmes!"
"Unfortunately, signposts are so easily turned in the opposite direction," said Holmes; "a truism of which I have given you one or two small demonstrations in the past, Lestrade."
The Scotland Yard man flushed angrily. "Well, well, Mr. Holmes, that's as may be. But there is no doubt this time. There are both the motive and the opportunity. We know the man and it only remains to find the means."
"I tell you that my unfortunate nephew—!" broke in the clergyman distractedly.
"I have named no names."
"But you have made it obvious from the moment you heard he was Trelawney's doctor! Admittedly he stands to benefit under that deplorable will."
"You have forgotten to mention his personal reputation, Mr. Appley," said Lestrade grimly.
"Wild, yes; romantic, hot-headed if you like! But a cold-blooded murderer—never! I have known him from his cradle."
"Well, we shall see. Mr. Holmes, I would value a word with you."
During this interchange between our unhappy client and Lestrade, Holmes had been staring at the ceiling with that far-away, dreamy look upon his face which I had noted only on those occasions when his mind whispered that some subtle thread of evidence was already there to hand, but buried as yet in the maze of obvious facts and no less obvious suspicions. He rose abruptly and turned to the vicar.
"I take it that you return to Somerset this afternoon?"
"By the 2:30 from Paddington." There was a tinge of colour in his face as he leapt to his feet. "Am I then to understand, my dear Mr. Holmes—?"
"Dr. Watson and I will accompany you. If you will have the kindness to ask Mrs. Hudson to whistle a cab, Mr. Appley?"
Our client clattered down the stairs.
"This is a somewhat curious affair," said Holmes, filling his travelling-pouch with shag from the Persian slipper.
"I am glad that at last you see it in that light, my dear fellow," I remarked, "for it did seem to me that you were a little impatient from the first with the worthy vicar, especially when he strayed into his early medical ambitions and the probability that he would absent-mindedly have removed a patient's gall-stones."
The effect of this casual remark was extraordinary. After looking fixedly into space, Holmes sprang to his feet.
"By Jove!" he exclaimed. "By Jove!"
There was a touch of colour in his high cheekbones and that sudden gleam in his eyes that I knew of old.
"As usual, Watson, your help has been invaluable," he went on warmly. "Though not yourself luminous, you are a conductor of light."
"I have helped you? By mentioning the vicar's gallstones?"
"At the moment, I must find a certain surname. Yes, unquestionably I must find a certain surname. Will you hand me the commonplace book under the letter 'B'?".
I had given him the bulky volume, one of many in which he pasted press-cuttings of any incidents arresting his attention, before I had time to reflect.
"But, Holmes, there is no one in this affair whose surname begins with a 'B'!"
"Quite so. I was aware of it. B-a, Ba-r, Bartlett! H'm! Ha! Good old index."
After a short perusal, turning over the pages eagerly, Holmes closed the book with a bang and sat tapping its cover with his long, nervous fingers. Behind him, the tubes and beakers and retorts of the chemical table glittered in the sunlight.
"I had not all the data, of course," he added musingly. "Even now they are not complete."
Lestrade caught my eye and winked.
"They are complete enough for me!" he said with a grin. "They can't deceive me. That red-bearded doctor is a murdering devil. We know the man, and we know the motive."
"Then why are you here?"
"Because there is one thing lacking. We know he did it, right enough! But how did he do it?"
No less than a dozen times did Lestrade ask the same question during the course of our journey, until it seemed to throb and echo in my head with the very click of the train wheels.
It was a long, hot day and the afterglow of sunset lay on the crests of the softly rounded Somersetshire hills when we alighted at last at the little wayside station. On the hillside beyond the half-timbered gables of the village and set amid noble elm trees from whence, even at that distance, the clear evening air carried the cawing of the homing rooks, there shone a great white house.
"We have a mile before us," said Lestrade sourly.
"I should prefer not to go to the house at first," said Holmes. "Does this village run to an inn?"
"There is the Camberwell Arms."
"Then let us go there. I prefer to commence on neutral ground."
"Really, Holmes!" cried Lestrade. "I cannot imagine—"
"Precisely," remarked Holmes, and not another word would he utter until we were all ensconced in the private parlour of the ancient hostelry. Holmes scribbled a few lines in his note-book and tore out two leaves.
"Now, Mr. Appley, if I might take the liberty of sending your groom with this note to Goodman's Rest and the other to Mr. Ainsworth?"
"By all means."
"Excellent. Then we have time for a pipe before Miss Dolores and her fiance join us."
For some time we sat in silence, each busy with his own thoughts. As for myself, I had too much confidence in my friend to accept the obvious at its face value so long as he appeared to be perplexed in his own mind.
"Well, Mr. Holmes," said Lestrade sternly, at last. "You have been sufficiently mysterious to satisfy even Dr. Watson here. Let us have your theory."
"I have no theory. I am merely sounding my facts."
"Your facts have overlooked the criminal."
"That remains to be seen. By the way, Vicar, what are the relations between Miss Dolores and your nephew?"
"It is strange that you should mention this," replied Mr. Appley. "Their relationship has been a source of pain to me for some time past. But in justice I must add that the fault lies with the young lady. For no reason, she is gratuitously offensive to him. Worst of all, she shows her dislike in public."
"Ah! And Mr. Ainsworth?"
"Ainsworth is too good a fellow not to deplore his fiancйe's behaviour to my nephew. He takes it almost as a personal affront."
"Indeed. Most praiseworthy. But here, unless I am much mistaken, are our visitors."
The old door creaked open and a tall, graceful girl swept into the room. Her dark eyes, glowing with an unnatural brilliance, turned from one to the other of us with a long, searching glance that had in it a glint of animosity and something more of despair. A slim, fair-haired young man with a fresh complexion and a pair of singularly clear, shrewd blue eyes followed behind her and greeted Appley with a friendly word.
"Which of you is Mr. Sherlock Holmes?" cried the young lady. "Ah, yes. You have uncovered fresh evidence, I imagine?"
"I have come to hear it, Miss Dale. Indeed, I have heard everything except what actually happened on the night your uncle—died."
"You stress the word 'died,' Mr. Holmes."
"But hang it all, my dear, what else could he say?" asked young Ainsworth, with an attempt at a laugh. "You have probably got a lot of superstitious nonsense in your head because the thunder-storm on Tuesday night upset your uncle. But it was over before he was dead."
"How do you know that?"
"Dr. Griffin said that he didn't die until about three o'clock in the morning. Anyway, he was all right in the early hours!"
"You seem very sure."
The young man looked at Holmes in obvious perplexity. "Of course I am. As Mr. Lestrade can tell you, I was in that room three times during the night. The squire asked me to go there."
"Then be good enough to let me have the facts from the beginning. Perhaps, Miss Dale—?"
"Very well, Mr. Holmes. On Tuesday night, my uncle asked my fiancй and Dr. Griffin to dine with us at Goodman's Rest. From the first, he was uneasy. I put it down to the far-off muttering of thunder; he loathed and feared storms. But now I am wondering whether his uneasiness lay in his mind or his conscience. Be that as it may, our nerves grew more and more tense as the evening went on, nor did Dr. Griffin's sense of humor improve matters when lightning struck a tree in the copse. 'I've got to drive home tonight,' he said, 'and I hope nothing happens to me in this storm.' Dr. Griffin is positively insufferable!
" 'Well, I'm glad that I'm staying,' laughed Jeffrey; 'we are snug enough with the good old lightning-conductors.'
"My uncle leaped from his chair.
" 'You young fool!' he cried. 'Don't you know that there are none on this house?' And my uncle stood there shivering like a man out of his wits."
"I couldn't imagine what I'd said," interrupted Ainsworth naively. "Then, when he flew off about his nightmares—"
"Nightmares?" said Holmes.
"Yes. He screeched out that he suffered from nightmares, and that this was no night for the human soul to be alone."
"He grew calmer," continued Miss Dale, "when Jeffrey offered to look in once or twice during the night. It was really rather pitiful. My fiance went in—when was it, Jeffrey?"
"Once at ten-thirty; once at midnight and finally at one in the morning."
"Did you speak with him?" asked Sherlock Holmes.
"No, he was asleep."
"Then, how do you know that he was alive?"
"Well, like many elderly people, the squire kept a night-light. It was a kind of rushlight burning blue in a bowl on the hearth. I couldn't see much, but I could hear his heavy breathing under the howl of the storm."
"It was just after five on the following morning—" said Miss Dale, "when—I can't go on!" she burst out. "I can't!"
"Gently, my dear," said Ainsworth, who was looking at her steadily. "Mr. Holmes, this has been a great strain on my fiancйe."
"Perhaps I may be permitted to continue," suggested the vicar. "Dawn was just breaking when I was roused by a heavy pounding on the vicarage door. A stableboy had been dispatched post-haste from Goodman's Rest with horrible news. It appears that the housemaid carried up the squire's morning tea as usual. On drawing the curtains, she screamed out in horror at beholding her master dead in the bed. Huddling in my clothes, I rushed to Goodman's Rest. When I entered the bedroom, followed by Dolores and Jeffrey, Dr. Griffin—who had been summoned first—had concluded his examination.
" 'He has been dead for about two hours,' said the doctor. 'But for the life of me I can't understand how he died.'
"I had moved round to the other side of the bed, composing myself to pray, when I caught sight of Trelawney's gold watch, gleaming in a ray of morning sunlight. The watch was a stem-winder, without a key. It lay on a small marble-topped table, amid a litter of patent-medicine bottles and liniment-bottles which diffused a strong odour in the stuffy room.
"We are told that in times of crisis our minds will occupy themselves with trifles. This is so, else I cannot account for my own behaviour.
"Fancying that the watch was not ticking, I lifted it to my ear. But it was ticking. I gave the stem two full turns until it was stopped by the spring; but, in any case, I should not have proceeded. The winding caused a harsh noise, cr-r-ack, which drew from Dolores an unnerving scream. I recall her exact words.
" 'Vicar! Put it down! It is like—like a death-rattle.' "
For a moment we sat in silence. Miss Dale turned away her head.
"Mr. Holmes," said Ainsworth earnestly, "these wounds are too recent. May I beg that you will excuse Miss Dale from any further questions tonight?"
Holmes rose to his feet.
"Fears are groundless things without proof, Miss Dale," he observed. Taking out his watch, he looked at it thoughtfully.
"The hour grows late, eh, Mr. Holmes," remarked Lestrade.
"That did not occur to me. But you are right. And now, to Goodman's Rest."
A short journey in the vicar's carriage brought us to a pair of lodge gates opening into a narrow drive. The moon had risen and the long, glimmering avenue stretched away before us, all mottled and barred with the shadows of the great elm trees. As we swung round the final curve, the golden cones of light from the carriage-lamps gleamed faintly on the face of a gaunt, ugly mansion. All the drab-painted window-shutters were closed against the casements, and the front door was shrouded in black crepe.
"It's a house of gloom, all right," said Lestrade in a subdued voice as he tugged at the bell-pull. "Hullo! How's this! What are you doing here, Dr. Griffin?"
The door had swung open and a tall, red-bearded man, clad in a loose-fitting Norfolk jacket and knickerbockers, stood in the entrance. As he glared fiercely from one to the other of us, I noted the clenched hands and heaving chest that told of some fearsome inner tension.
"Must I get your permission to walk a mile, Mr. Lestrade?" he cried. "Isn't it enough that your cursed suspicions have roused the whole country-side against me?" His great hand shot out and siezed my friend by the shoulder. "You're Holmes!" he said passionately. "I got your note, and here I am. Please God that you live up to your repute. So far as I can see, you are all that stands between me and the hangman. There, now, what a brute I am! I've frightened her."
With a low moan, Miss Dale had buried her face in her hands.
"It's the strain, it's—it's everything!" she sobbed. "Oh, horror unthinkable!"
I was really very annoyed with Holmes; for, while we gathered round the weeping girl with words of comfort, he merely observed to Lestrade that presumably the dead man's body was inside. Turning his back on us, he strode into the house, whipping out a pocket lens as he did so.
After a decent interval, I hurried after him with Lestrade on my heels. Through a door on the left of a great dark hall, we caught a glimpse of a candle-lit room piled high with half-withered flowers and of Holmes's long, thin figure stooping over a white-shrouded form in the open coffin. The candlelight twinkled on his lens as he bent down until his face was only a few inches above that of the dead man. There was a period of absolute stillness while he scrutinized the placid features beneath him. Then gently he pulled up the sheet and turned away.
I would have spoken, but he hurried past us swiftly and silently with no more than a curt gesture towards the stairs. On the upper landing, Lestrade led the way into a bedroom with massive dark furniture that loomed up gloomily in the light of a shaded lamp burning on a table beside a great open Bible. The sickly stuffiness of funeral flowers, as well as the dampness of the house, followed me everywhere.
Holmes, his brows drawn into two hard black lines, was crawling on all fours under the windows, examining every inch of the floor with his lens. At my stern word of injunction he rose to his feet.
"No, Watson! These windows were not opened three nights ago. Had they been opened during so heavy a storm, I must have found traces." He sniffed the air. "But it was not necessary to open the windows."
"Listen!" said I. "What is that strange noise?"
I looked over towards the bed, with its curtains and high dark canopy. At the head of the bed my gaze fastened on a marble-topped table littered with dusty medicine-bottles.
"Holmes, it is the dead man's gold watch! It lies upon that little table there, and it is still ticking."
"Does that astonish you?"
"Surely, after three days, they would have allowed it to run down?"
"So they did. But I wound it up. I came up here before I examined the dead man downstairs. In fact, I made this whole journey from the village to wind up Squire Trelawney's watch at precisely ten o'clock."
"Upon my word, Holmes—!"
"And see," he continued, hastening to the small table in question, "what a treasure-trove we have here! Look at this, Lestrade! Look at it!"
"But, Holmes, it is only a small pot of vaseline such as you may buy at any chemist's!"
"On the contrary, it is a hangman's rope. And yet," he finished thoughtfully, "there remains that one point which continues to puzzle me. How was it that you were able to avail yourself of Sir Leopold Harper?" he asked suddenly, turning to Lestrade. "Does he live here?"
"No, he is staying with some friends in the neighbourhood. When the post-mortem was decided on, the local police looked upon it as a bit of luck that the best-known expert in England on medical jurisprudence should be within reach, so they sent for him. And a fine time they had to get him to do it," he added with a sly grin.
"Because he was in bed with a hot-water bottle, a glass of hot toddy, and a cold in his head."
Holmes threw his arms in the air.
"My case is complete," he cried.
Lestrade and I looked at each other in amazement. "I have only one more instruction to give," said Holmes. "Lestrade, nobody must leave this house tonight. The diplomacy of detaining everyone here I leave to you. Watson and I will compose ourselves in this room until five o'clock tomorrow morning."
It was in vain, considering his masterful nature, to ask why we must do this. While he settled into the only rocking-chair, it was in vain to protest that I could not even sit down on the dead man's bed, much less take a brief nap there. I objected for some time. I objected until— "Watson!"
Cleaving through my dreams, that voice roused me from slumber. I sat bolt upright on the quilt, feeling much dishevelled, with the morning sun in my eyes and the dead man's watch still ticking near my ear.
Sherlock Holmes, with his customary catlike neatness of appearance, stood watching me.
"It is ten minutes past five," said he, "and I felt I had best awaken you. Ah, Lestrade," he continued, as there came a knock at the door. "I trust that the others are with you. Pray come in."
I bounded off the bed as Miss Dale entered the room followed by Dr. Griffin, young Ainsworth and, to my astonishment, the vicar.
"Really, Mr. Holmes," cried Dolores Dale, her eyes sparkling with anger. "It is intolerable that a mere whim should keep us here all night—even poor Mr. Appley."
"It was no whim, believe me. I wish to explain how the late Mr. Trelawney was cold-bloodedly murdered."
"Murdered, eh!" blurted out Dr. Griffin. "Then Inspector Lestrade wants to hear you. But the method—?"
"Was diabolical in its simplicity. Dr. Watson here was shrewd enough to call my attention to it. No, Watson, not a word! Mr. Appley gave us the clue when he said that if he had practiced medicine he might absent-mindedly have removed a patient's gall-stones. But that was not all he said. He stated that first he would have chloroformed the patient. The suggestive word was chloroform."
"Chloroform!" echoed Dr. Griffin, rather wildly.
"Exactly. It might well suggest itself to a murderer, since only last year, in a famous murder-trial at the Old Bailey, Mrs. Adelaide Bartlett was acquitted from a charge of poisoning her husband by pouring liquid chloroform down his throat as he lay asleep."
"But, deuce take it! Trelawney swallowed no chloroform!"
"Of course not. But suppose, Dr. Griffin, I were to take a large pad of cotton-wool saturated in chloroform, and press it over the mouth and nostrils of an old man —a heavily sleeping man—for some twenty minutes. What would happen?"
"He would die. Yet you could not do that without leaving traces!"
"Ah, excellent! What traces?"
"Chloroform tends to burn or blister the skin. There would be burns, at least very small burns."
Holmes shot out a long arm towards the marble-topped table.
"Now suppose, Dr. Griffin," said he, holding up the tiny pot of vaseline, "I were first softly to spread on the face of the victim a thin film of such ointment as this. Would there be burns afterwards?"
"No, there wouldn't!"
"I perceive that your medical knowledge leaps ahead and anticipates me. Chloroform is volatile; it evaporates and quickly vanishes from the blood. Delay a postmortem examination for nearly two days, as this was delayed, and no trace will be left."
"Not so fast, Mr. Sherlock Holmes! There is—"
"There is a slight, a very slight possibility, that an odour of chloroform may be detected either in the room of death or at the post-mortem. But here it would have been hidden by the thick pungency of medicine and liniment. At the post-mortem it would have been hidden by that bad cold in the head from which Sir Leopold Harper suffered."
Dr. Griffin's face seemed to stand out white against his red beard.
"By God, that's true!"
"Now we ask ourselves, as the vicar might, cui bono? Who profits from this dastardly crime?"
I noticed that Lestrade moved a step closer to the doctor.
"Take care, curse you!" snarled Griffin.
Holmes put down the ointment and took up the dead man's heavy gold watch, which seemed to tick even more loudly.
"I would draw your attention to this watch, of the sort known as a gold hunter. Last night I wound it up fully at ten o'clock. It is now, as you see, twenty minutes past five."
"And what of that?" cried Miss Dale.
"It is the exact time, if you recall, when the vicar wound up this same watch on the morning you found your uncle dead. Though the performance may distress you now, I beg of you to listen."
Cr-r—r-ack went the harsh, rasping noise as Holmes began slowly to wind it up. On and on it seemed to go, while the stem still turned.
"Hold hard!" said Dr. Griffin. "There's something wrong!"
"Again excellent! And what is wrong?"
"Deuce take it, the vicar made only two full turns of that stem, and it was fully wound up! You've made seven or eight turns, but it still is not wound!"
"Precisely so," returned Holmes, "but I do not emphasize this particular watch. Any watch, if it be wound up at ten o'clock in the evening, cannot possibly be fully wound on the following morning with only two turns."
"My God!" muttered the doctor, staring at Holmes.
"Hence the late Mr. Trelawney did not go to bed at ten o'clock. Surely, considering his badly disturbed nerves and the continued thunder-storm, it is far more likely that he sat up reading his Bible until an unearthly hour, as the vicar said he sometimes did. Though he wound up his watch as usual, he did not retire until three o'clock. The murderer caught him in a heavy sleep."
"And therefore?" almost screamed Dolores.
"Therefore—since one person tells us he saw Trelawney asleep at ten-thirty, at midnight, and again at one o'clock—that person has told us a provable and damning falsehood."
"Holmes," cried I, "at last I see the direction in which all this points. The culprit is—"
Jeffrey Ainsworth sprang for the door.
"Ah, would you!" shouted Lestrade. He hurled himself on the young man, and there was a snap of closing handcuffs.
Miss Dolores Dale ran sobbing forward. She did not run towards Ainsworth. Instead she rushed into the outstretched arms of Dr. Paul Griffin.
"You see, Watson," concluded Mr. Sherlock Holmes, as that night we sat once more in Baker Street, refreshing ourselves with whisky and soda, "the probable guilt of young Ainsworth, who fervently desired to marry the young lady for her money, was at least indicated without even the evidence of the watch."
"Surely not!" I objected.
"My dear fellow, consider Trelawney's will."
"Then, after all, Trelawney did not make that unjust will?"
"Indeed, he did. He let it be known that such was his intention and he carried out that intention. But there was only one person who was aware of the final outcome; namely, that he never actually signed it."
"You mean Trelawney himself?"
"I mean Ainsworth, the solicitor who drew the will. He has admitted as much in his confession."
Holmes leaned back in his chair and placed his fingertips together.
"Chloroform is easily obtainable, as the British public knows from the Bartlett case. In such a small community, a friend of the family, like Ainsworth, would have easy access to the medical works in the vicar's library. He evolved rather a clever plan at his leisure. In my little analysis last night, I should have been less confident had not examination of the dead man's face with a lens revealed jury-proof evidence in the form of minute burns and traces of vaseline in the skin-pores."
"But Miss Dale and Dr. Griffin!"
"Their conduct puzzled you?"
"Well, women are strange."
"My dear Watson, when I hear of a young woman, all fire and temperament, who is thrown into the company of a man of exactly similar characteristics—in sharp contrast to a cold-minded solicitor who watches her carefully —my suspicions are aroused, especially when she expresses unprovoked dislike on all public occasions."
"Then why did she not simply break her engagement!"
"You overlook the fact that her uncle always upbraided her for fickleness. Had she revoked her pledge, she would have lost dignity in her own eyes. But why on earth, Watson, are you chuckling now?"
"Merely a sense of incongruity. I was thinking of the singular name of that village in Somerset."
"The village of Camberwell?" said Holmes, smiling. "Yes, it is indeed different from our London district of Camberwell. You must give the chronicle a different title, Watson, lest readers be confused as to the true locale of the Camberwell poisoning case."
The year '87 furnished us with a long series of cases of greater or less interest, of which I retain the records. Among my headings under this one twelve months I find . . . the Camberwell poisoning case.
FROM "THE FIVE ORANGE PIPS."
Главная Гостевая книга Попытка (сказки)
Артур Конан Дойл и его последователи