But I held up a warning finger.
You are here for a rest, my dear fellow. For
heavens sake dont get started on a new problem when your nerves are all in
Holmes shrugged his shoulders with a glance of comic
resignation towards the colonel, and the talk drifted away into less dangerous channels.
It was destined, however, that all my professional caution
should be wasted, for next morning the problem obtruded itself upon us in such a way that
it was impossible to ignore it, and our country visit took a turn which neither of us
could have anticipated. We were at breakfast when the colonels butler rushed in with
all his propriety shaken out of him.
Have you heard the news, sir? he gasped. At
the Cunninghams, sir!
Burglary! cried the colonel, with his coffee-cup
The colonel whistled. By Jove! said he.
Whos killed, then? The J. P. or his son?
Neither, sir. It was William the coachman. Shot through
the heart, sir, and never spoke again.
Who shot him, then?
The burglar, sir. He was off like a shot and got clean
away. Hed just broke in at the pantry window when William came on him and met his
end in saving his masters property.
It was last night, sir, somewhere about twelve.
Ah, then, well step over afterwards, said
the colonel, coolly settling down to his breakfast again. Its a baddish
business, he added when the butler had gone; hes our leading man about
here, is old Cunningham, and a very decent fellow too. Hell be cut up over this, for
the man has been in his service for years and was a good servant. Its evidently the
same villains who broke into Actons.
And stole that very singular collection, said
Hum! It may prove the simplest matter in the world, but
all the same at first  glance
this is just a little curious, is it not? A gang of burglars acting in the country might
be expected to vary the scene of their operations, and not to crack two cribs in the same
district within a few days. When you spoke last night of taking precautions I remember
that it passed through my mind that this was probably the last parish in England to which
the thief or thieves would be likely to turn their attentionwhich shows that I have
still much to learn.
I fancy its some local practitioner, said
the colonel. In that case, of course, Actons and Cunninghams are just
the places he would go for, since they are far the largest about here.
Well, they ought to be, but theyve had a lawsuit
for some years which has sucked the blood out of both of them, I fancy. Old Acton has some
claim on half Cunninghams estate, and the lawyers have been at it with both
If its a local villain there should not be much
difficulty in running him down, said Holmes with a yawn. All right, Watson, I
dont intend to meddle.
Inspector Forrester, sir, said the butler,
throwing open the door.
The official, a smart, keen-faced young fellow, stepped into
the room. Good-morning, Colonel, said he. I hope I dont intrude,
but we hear that Mr. Holmes of Baker Street is here.
The colonel waved his hand towards my friend, and the
We thought that perhaps you would care to step across,
The fates are against you, Watson, said he,
laughing. We were chatting about the matter when you came in, Inspector. Perhaps you
can let us have a few details. As he leaned back in his chair in the familiar
attitude I knew that the case was hopeless.
We had no clue in the Acton affair. But here we have
plenty to go on, and theres no doubt it is the same party in each case. The man was
Yes, sir. But he was off like a deer after the shot that
killed poor William Kirwan was fired. Mr. Cunningham saw him from the bedroom window, and
Mr. Alec Cunningham saw him from the back passage. It was quarter to twelve when the alarm
broke out. Mr. Cunningham had just got into bed, and Mr. Alec was smoking a pipe in his
dressing-gown. They both heard William, the coachman, calling for help, and Mr. Alec ran
down to see what was the matter. The back door was open, and as he came to the foot of the
stairs he saw two men wrestling together outside. One of them fired a shot, the other
dropped, and the murderer rushed across the garden and over the hedge. Mr. Cunningham,
looking out of his bedroom, saw the fellow as he gained the road, but lost sight of him at
once. Mr. Alec stopped to see if he could help the dying man, and so the villain got clean
away. Beyond the fact that he was a middle-sized man and dressed in some dark stuff, we
have no personal clue; but we are making energetic inquiries, and if he is a stranger we
shall soon find him out.
What was this William doing there? Did he say anything
before he died?
Not a word. He lives at the lodge with his mother, and
as he was a very faithful fellow we imagine that he walked up to the house with the
intention of seeing that all was right there. Of course this Acton business has put
everyone on their guard. The robber must have just burst open the doorthe lock has
been forcedwhen William came upon him.
William say anything to his mother before going out?
She is very old and deaf, and we can get no information
from her. The shock has made her half-witted, but I understand that she was never very
bright. There is one very important circumstance, however. Look at this!
He took a small piece of torn paper from a notebook and spread
it out upon his knee.
This was found between the finger and thumb of the dead
man. It appears to be a fragment torn from a larger sheet. You will observe that the hour
mentioned upon it is the very time at which the poor fellow met his fate. You see that his
murderer might have torn the rest of the sheet from him or he might have taken this
fragment from the murderer. It reads almost as though it were an appointment.
Holmes took up the scrap of paper, a facsimile of which is
Presuming that it is an appointment, continued
the inspector, it is of course a conceivable theory that this William Kirwan, though
he had the reputation of being an honest man, may have been in league with the thief. He
may have met him there, may even have helped him to break in the door, and then they may
have fallen out between themselves.
This writing is of extraordinary interest, said
Holmes, who had been examining it with intense concentration. These are much deeper
waters than I had thought. He sank his head upon his hands, while the inspector
smiled at the effect which his case had had upon the famous London specialist.
Your last remark, said Holmes presently, as
to the possibility of there being an understanding between the burglar and the servant,
and this being a note of appointment from one to the other, is an ingenious and not
entirely impossible supposition. But this writing opens up He sank his
head into his hands again and remained for some minutes in the deepest thought. When he
raised his face again I was surprised to see that his cheek was tinged with colour, and
his eyes as bright as before his illness. He sprang to his feet with all his old energy.
Ill tell you what, said he, I should
like to have a quiet little glance into the details of this case. There is something in it
which fascinates me extremely. If you will permit me, Colonel, I will leave my friend
Watson and you, and I will step round with the inspector to test the truth of one or two
little fancies of mine. I will be with you again in half an hour.
An hour and a half had elapsed before the inspector returned
Mr. Holmes is walking up and down in the field
outside, said he. He wants us all four to go up to the house together.
To Mr. Cunninghams?
inspector shrugged his shoulders. I dont quite know, sir. Between ourselves, I
think Mr. Holmes has not quite got over his illness yet. Hes been behaving very
queerly, and he is very much excited.
I dont think you need alarm yourself, said
I. I have usually found that there was method in his madness.
Some folk might say there was madness in his
method, muttered the inspector. But hes all on fire to start, Colonel,
so we had best go out if you are ready.
We found Holmes pacing up and down in the field, his chin sunk
upon his breast, and his hands thrust into his trousers pockets.
The matter grows in interest, said he.
Watson, your country trip has been a distinct success. I have had a charming
You have been up to the scene of the crime, I
understand, said the colonel.
Yes, the inspector and I have made quite a little
Well, we have seen some very interesting things.
Ill tell you what we did as we walk. First of all, we saw the body of this
unfortunate man. He certainly died from a revolver wound as reported.
Had you doubted it, then?
Oh, it is as well to test everything. Our inspection was
not wasted. We then had an interview with Mr. Cunningham and his son, who were able to
point out the exact spot where the murderer had broken through the garden-hedge in his
flight. That was of great interest.
Then we had a look at this poor fellows mother. We
could get no information from her, however, as she is very old and feeble.
And what is the result of your investigations?
The conviction that the crime is a very peculiar one.
Perhaps our visit now may do something to make it less obscure. I think that we are both
agreed, Inspector, that the fragment of paper in the dead mans hand, bearing, as it
does, the very hour of his death written upon it, is of extreme importance.
It should give a clue, Mr. Holmes.
It does give a clue. Whoever wrote that note was the man
who brought William Kirwan out of his bed at that hour. But where is the rest of that
sheet of paper?
I examined the ground carefully in the hope of finding
it, said the inspector.
It was torn out of the dead mans hand. Why was
someone so anxious to get possession of it? Because it incriminated him. And what would he
do with it? Thrust it into his pocket, most likely, never noticing that a corner of it had
been left in the grip of the corpse. If we could get the rest of that sheet it is obvious
that we should have gone a long way towards solving the mystery.
Yes, but how can we get at the criminals pocket
before we catch the criminal?
Well, well, it was worth thinking over. Then there is
another obvious point. The note was sent to William. The man who wrote it could not have
taken it; otherwise, of course, he might have delivered his own message by word of mouth.
Who brought the note, then? Or did it come through the post?
I have made inquiries, said the inspector.
William received a letter by the afternoon post yesterday. The envelope was
destroyed by him.
Excellent! cried Holmes, clapping the inspector on
the back. Youve seen the postman. It is a pleasure to work with you. Well,
here is the lodge, and if you will come up, Colonel, I will show you the scene of the
passed the pretty cottage where the murdered man had lived and walked up an oak-lined
avenue to the fine old Queen Anne house, which bears the date of Malplaquet upon the
lintel of the door. Holmes and the inspector led us round it until we came to the side
gate, which is separated by a stretch of garden from the hedge which lines the road. A
constable was standing at the kitchen door.
Throw the door open, officer, said Holmes.
Now, it was on those stairs that young Mr. Cunningham stood and saw the two men
struggling just where we are. Old Mr. Cunningham was at that windowthe second on the
leftand he saw the fellow get away just to the left of that bush. So did the son.
They are both sure of it on account of the bush. Then Mr. Alec ran out and knelt beside
the wounded man. The ground is very hard, you see, and there are no marks to guide
us. As he spoke two men came down the garden path, from round the angle of the
house. The one was an elderly man, with a strong, deep-lined, heavy-eyed face; the other a
dashing young fellow, whose bright, smiling expression and showy dress were in strange
contrast with the business which had brought us there.
Still at it, then? said he to Holmes. I
thought you Londoners were never at fault. You dont seem to be so very quick, after
Ah, you must give us a little time, said Holmes
Youll want it, said young Alec Cunningham.
Why, I dont see that we have any clue at all.
Theres only one, answered the inspector.
We thought that if we could only find Good heavens, Mr. Holmes! what is
My poor friends face had suddenly assumed the most
dreadful expression. His eyes rolled upward, his features writhed in agony, and with a
suppressed groan he dropped on his face upon the ground. Horrified at the suddenness and
severity of the attack, we carried him into the kitchen, where he lay back in a large
chair and breathed heavily for some minutes. Finally, with a shamefaced apology for his
weakness, he rose once more.
Watson would tell you that I have only just recovered
from a severe illness, he explained. I am liable to these sudden nervous
Shall I send you home in my trap? asked old
Well, since I am here, there is one point on which I
should like to feel sure. We can very easily verify it.
What is it?
Well, it seems to me that it is just possible that the
arrival of this poor fellow William was not before, but after, the entrance of the burglar
into the house. You appear to take it for granted that although the door was forced the
robber never got in.
I fancy that is quite obvious, said Mr. Cunningham
gravely. Why, my son Alec had not yet gone to bed, and he would certainly have heard
anyone moving about.
Where was he sitting?
I was smoking in my dressing-room.
Which window is that?
The last on the left, next my fathers.
Both of your lamps were lit, of course?
There are some very singular points here, said
Holmes, smiling. Is it not extraordinary that a burglarand a burglar who had
some previous experience  should
deliberately break into a house at a time when he could see from the lights that two of
the family were still afoot?
He must have been a cool hand.
Well, of course, if the case were not an odd one we
should not have been driven to ask you for an explanation, said young Mr. Alec.
But as to your ideas that the man had robbed the house before William tackled him, I
think it a most absurd notion. Wouldnt we have found the place disarranged and
missed the things which he had taken?
It depends on what the things were, said Holmes.
You must remember that we are dealing with a burglar who is a very peculiar fellow,
and who appears to work on lines of his own. Look, for example, at the queer lot of things
which he took from Actonswhat was it?a ball of string, a letter-weight,
and I dont know what other odds and ends.
Well, we are quite in your hands, Mr. Holmes, said
old Cunningham. Anything which you or the inspector may suggest will most certainly
In the first place, said Holmes, I should
like you to offer a reward coming from yourself, for the officials may take a little
time before they would agree upon the sum, and these things cannot be done too promptly. I
have jotted down the form here, if you would not mind signing it. Fifty pounds was quite
enough, I thought.
I would willingly give five hundred, said the J.
P., taking the slip of paper and the pencil which Holmes handed to him. This is not
quite correct, however, he added, glancing over the document.
I wrote it rather hurriedly.
You see you begin, Whereas, at about a quarter to
one on Tuesday morning an attempt was made, and so on. It was at a quarter to
twelve, as a matter of fact.
I was pained at the mistake, for I knew how keenly Holmes
would feel any slip of the kind. It was his specialty to be accurate as to fact, but his
recent illness had shaken him, and this one little incident was enough to show me that he
was still far from being himself. He was obviously embarrassed for an instant, while the
inspector raised his eyebrows, and Alec Cunningham burst into a laugh. The old gentleman
corrected the mistake, however, and handed the paper back to Holmes.
Get it printed as soon as possible, he said;
I think your idea is an excellent one.
Holmes put the slip of paper carefully away into his
And now, said he, it really would be a good
thing that we should all go over the house together and make certain that this rather
erratic burglar did not, after all, carry anything away with him.
Before entering, Holmes made an examination of the door which
had been forced. It was evident that a chisel or strong knife had been thrust in, and the
lock forced back with it. We could see the marks in the wood where it had been pushed in.
You dont use bars, then? he asked.
We have never found it necessary.
You dont keep a dog?
Yes, but he is chained on the other side of the
When do the servants go to bed?
I understand that William was usually in bed also at
It is singular that on this particular night he should
have been up. Now, I should be very glad if you would have the kindness to show us over
the house, Mr. Cunningham.
A stone-flagged passage, with the kitchens branching away from
it, led by a wooden staircase directly to the first floor of the house. It came out upon
the landing opposite to a second more ornamental stair which came up from the front hall.
Out of this landing opened the drawing-room and several bedrooms, including those of Mr.
Cunningham and his son. Holmes walked slowly, taking keen note of the architecture of the
house. I could tell from his expression that he was on a hot scent, and yet I could not in
the least imagine in what direction his inferences were leading him.
My good sir, said Mr. Cunningham, with some
impatience, this is surely very unnecessary. That is my room at the end of the
stairs, and my sons is the one beyond it. I leave it to your judgment whether it was
possible for the thief to have come up here without disturbing us.
You must try round and get on a fresh scent, I
fancy, said the son with a rather malicious smile.
Still, I must ask you to humour me a little further. I
should like, for example, to see how far the windows of the bedrooms command the front.
This, I understand, is your sons roomhe pushed open the
doorand that, I presume is the dressing-room in which he sat smoking when the
alarm was given. Where does the window of that look out to? He stepped across the
bedroom, pushed open the door, and glanced round the other chamber.
I hope that you are satisfied now? said Mr.
Thank you, I think I have seen all that I wished.
Then if it is really necessary we can go into my
If it is not too much trouble.
The J. P. shrugged his shoulders and led the way into his own
chamber, which was a plainly furnished and commonplace room. As we moved across it in the
direction of the window, Holmes fell back until he and I were the last of the group. Near
the foot of the bed stood a dish of oranges and a carafe of water. As we passed it Holmes,
to my unutterable astonishment, leaned over in front of me and deliberately knocked the
whole thing over. The glass smashed into a thousand pieces and the fruit rolled about into
every corner of the room.
Youve done it now, Watson, said he
coolly. A pretty mess youve made of the carpet.
I stooped in some confusion and began to pick up the fruit,
understanding for some reason my companion desired me to take the blame upon myself. The
others did the same and set the table on its legs again.
Hullo! cried the inspector, wheres he
Holmes had disappeared.
Wait here an instant, said young Alec Cunningham.
The fellow is off his head, in my opinion. Come with me, father, and see where he
has got to!
They rushed out of the room, leaving the inspector, the
colonel, and me staring at each other.
Pon my word, I am inclined to agree with Master
Alec, said the official. It may be the effect of this illness, but it seems to
His words were cut short by a sudden scream of Help!
Help! Murder! With  a
thrill I recognized the voice as that of my friend. I rushed madly from the room on to the
landing. The cries, which had sunk down into a hoarse, inarticulate shouting, came from
the room which we had first visited. I dashed in, and on into the dressing-room beyond.
The two Cunninghams were bending over the prostrate figure of Sherlock Holmes, the younger
clutching his throat with both hands, while the elder seemed to be twisting one of his
wrists. In an instant the three of us had torn them away from him, and Holmes staggered to
his feet, very pale and evidently greatly exhausted.
Arrest these men, Inspector, he gasped.
On what charge?
That of murdering their coachman, William Kirwan.
The inspector stared about him in bewilderment. Oh, come
now, Mr. Holmes, said he at last, Im sure you dont really mean
Tut, man, look at their faces! cried Holmes
Never certainly have I seen a plainer confession of guilt upon
human countenances. The older man seemed numbed and dazed, with a heavy, sullen expression
upon his strongly marked face. The son, on the other hand, had dropped all that jaunty,
dashing style which had characterized him, and the ferocity of a dangerous wild beast
gleamed in his dark eyes and distorted his handsome features. The inspector said nothing,
but, stepping to the door, he blew his whistle. Two of his constables came at the call.
I have no alternative, Mr. Cunningham, said he.
I trust that this may all prove to be an absurd mistake, but you can see that
Ah, would you? Drop it! He struck out with his hand, and a revolver which the
younger man was in the act of cocking clattered down upon the floor.
Keep that, said Holmes, quietly putting his foot
upon it; you will find it useful at the trial. But this is what we really
wanted. He held up a little crumpled piece of paper.
The remainder of the sheet! cried the inspector.
And where was it?
Where I was sure it must be. Ill make the whole
matter clear to you presently. I think, Colonel, that you and Watson might return now, and
I will be with you again in an hour at the furthest. The inspector and I must have a word
with the prisoners, but you will certainly see me back at luncheon time.
Sherlock Holmes was as good as his word, for about one
oclock he rejoined us in the colonels smoking-room. He was accompanied by a
little elderly gentleman, who was introduced to me as the Mr. Acton whose house had been
the scene of the original burglary.
I wished Mr. Acton to be present while I demonstrated
this small matter to you, said Holmes, for it is natural that he should take a
keen interest in the details. I am afraid, my dear Colonel, that you must regret the hour
that you took in such a stormy petrel as I am.
On the contrary, answered the colonel warmly,
I consider it the greatest privilege to have been permitted to study your methods of
working. I confess that they quite surpass my expectations, and that I am utterly unable
to account for your result. I have not yet seen the vestige of a clue.
I am afraid that my explanation may disillusion you, but
it has always been  my
habit to hide none of my methods, either from my friend Watson or from anyone who might
take an intelligent interest in them. But, first, as I am rather shaken by the knocking
about which I had in the dressing-room, I think that I shall help myself to a dash of your
brandy, Colonel. My strength has been rather tried of late.
I trust you had no more of those nervous attacks.
Sherlock Holmes laughed heartily. We will come to that
in its turn, said he. I will lay an account of the case before you in its due
order, showing you the various points which guided me in my decision. Pray interrupt me if
there is any inference which is not perfectly clear to you.
It is of the highest importance in the art of detection
to be able to recognize, out of a number of facts, which are incidental and which vital.
Otherwise your energy and attention must be dissipated instead of being concentrated. Now,
in this case there was not the slightest doubt in my mind from the first that the key of
the whole matter must be looked for in the scrap of paper in the dead mans hand.
Before going into this, I would draw your attention to
the fact that, if Alec Cunninghams narrative was correct, and if the assailant,
after shooting William Kirwan, had instantly fled, then it obviously could not be
he who tore the paper from the dead mans hand. But if it was not he, it must have
been Alec Cunningham himself, for by the time that the old man had descended several
servants were upon the scene. The point is a simple one, but the inspector had overlooked
it because he had started with the supposition that these county magnates had had nothing
to do with the matter. Now, I make a point of never having any prejudices, and of
following docilely wherever fact may lead me, and so, in the very first stage of the
investigation, I found myself looking a little askance at the part which had been played
by Mr. Alec Cunningham.
And now I made a very careful examination of the
corner of paper which the inspector had submitted to us. It was at once clear to me that
it formed part of a very remarkable document. Here it is. Do you not now observe something
very suggestive about it?
It has a very irregular look, said the colonel.
My dear sir, cried Holmes, there cannot be
the least doubt in the world that it has been written by two persons doing alternate
words. When I draw your attention to the strong ts of at and
to, and ask you to compare them with the weak ones of quarter and
twelve, you will instantly recognize the fact. A very brief analysis of these
four words would enable you to say with the utmost confidence that the learn
and the maybe are written in the stronger hand, and the what in
By Jove, its as clear as day! cried the
colonel. Why on earth should two men write a letter in such a fashion?
Obviously the business was a bad one, and one of the men
who distrusted the other was determined that, whatever was done, each should have an equal
hand in it. Now, of the two men, it is clear that the one who wrote the at and
to was the ringleader.
How do you get at that?
We might deduce it from the mere character of the one
hand as compared with the other. But we have more assured reasons than that for supposing
it. If you examine this scrap with attention you will come to the conclusion that the  man with the stronger hand
wrote all his words first, leaving blanks for the other to fill up. These blanks were not
always sufficient, and you can see that the second man had a squeeze to fit his
quarter in between the at and the to, showing that the
latter were already written. The man who wrote all his words first is undoubtedly the man
who planned the affair.
Excellent! cried Mr. Acton.
But very superficial, said Holmes. We come
now, however, to a point which is of importance. You may not be aware that the deduction
of a mans age from his writing is one which has been brought to considerable
accuracy by experts. In normal cases one can place a man in his true decade with tolerable
confidence. I say normal cases, because ill-health and physical weakness reproduce the
signs of old age, even when the invalid is a youth. In this case, looking at the bold,
strong hand of the one, and the rather broken-backed appearance of the other, which still
retains its legibility although the ts have begun to lose their crossing,
we can say that the one was a young man and the other was advanced in years without being
Excellent! cried Mr. Acton again.
There is a further point, however, which is subtler and
of greater interest. There is something in common between these hands. They belong to men
who are blood-relatives. It may be most obvious to you in the Greek es, but
to me there are many small points which indicate the same thing. I have no doubt at all
that a family mannerism can be traced in these two specimens of writing. I am only, of
course, giving you the leading results now of my examination of the paper. There were
twenty-three other deductions which would be of more interest to experts than to you. They
all tend to deepen the impression upon my mind that the Cunninghams, father and son, had
written this letter.
Having got so far, my next step was, of course, to
examine into the details of the crime, and to see how far they would help us. I went up to
the house with the inspector and saw all that was to be seen. The wound upon the dead man
was, as I was able to determine with absolute confidence, fired from a revolver at the
distance of something over four yards. There was no powder-blackening on the clothes.
Evidently, therefore, Alec Cunningham had lied when he said that the two men were
struggling when the shot was fired. Again, both father and son agreed as to the place
where the man escaped into the road. At that point, however, as it happens, there is a
broadish ditch, moist at the bottom. As there were no indications of boot-marks about this
ditch, I was absolutely sure not only that the Cunninghams had again lied but that there
had never been any unknown man upon the scene at all.
And now I have to consider the motive of this singular
crime. To get at this, I endeavoured first of all to solve the reason of the original
burglary at Mr. Actons. I understood, from something which the colonel told us, that
a lawsuit had been going on between you, Mr. Acton, and the Cunninghams. Of course, it
instantly occurred to me that they had broken into your library with the intention of
getting at some document which might be of importance in the case.
Precisely so, said Mr. Acton. There can be
no possible doubt as to their intentions. I have the clearest claim upon half of their
present estate, and if they could have found a single paperwhich, fortunately, was
in the strong-box of my solicitorsthey would undoubtedly have crippled our
There you are, said Holmes, smiling. It was
a dangerous, reckless attempt  in
which I seem to trace the influence of young Alec. Having found nothing, they tried to
divert suspicion by making it appear to be an ordinary burglary, to which end they carried
off whatever they could lay their hands upon. That is all clear enough, but there was much
that was still obscure. What I wanted, above all, was to get the missing part of that
note. I was certain that Alec had torn it out of the dead mans hand, and almost
certain that he must have thrust it into the pocket of his dressing-gown. Where else could
he have put it? The only question was whether it was still there. It was worth an effort
to find out, and for that object we all went up to the house.
The Cunninghams joined us, as you doubtless remember,
outside the kitchen door. It was, of course, of the very first importance that they should
not be reminded of the existence of this paper, otherwise they would naturally destroy it
without delay. The inspector was about to tell them the importance which we attached to it
when, by the luckiest chance in the world, I tumbled down in a sort of fit and so changed
Good heavens! cried the colonel, laughing,
do you mean to say all our sympathy was wasted and your fit an imposture?
Speaking professionally, it was admirably done,
cried I, looking in amazement at this man who was forever confounding me with some new
phase of his astuteness.
It is an art which is often useful, said he.
When I recovered I managed, by a device which had perhaps some little merit of
ingenuity, to get old Cunningham to write the word twelve, so that I might
compare it with the twelve upon the paper.
Oh, what an ass I have been! I exclaimed.
I could see that you were commiserating me over my
weakness, said Holmes, laughing. I was sorry to cause you the sympathetic pain
which I know that you felt. We then went upstairs together, and, having entered the room
and seen the dressing-gown hanging up behind the door, I contrived, by upsetting a table,
to engage their attention for the moment and slipped back to examine the pockets. I had
hardly got the paper, howeverwhich was, as I had expected, in one of themwhen
the two Cunninghams were on me, and would, I verily believe, have murdered me then and
there but for your prompt and friendly aid. As it is, I feel that young mans grip on
my throat now, and the father has twisted my wrist round in the effort to get the paper
out of my hand. They saw that I must know all about it, you see, and the sudden change
from absolute security to complete despair made them perfectly desperate.
I had a little talk with old Cunningham afterwards as to
the motive of the crime. He was tractable enough, though his son was a perfect demon,
ready to blow out his own or anybody elses brains if he could have got to his
revolver. When Cunningham saw that the case against him was so strong he lost all heart
and made a clean breast of everything. It seems that William had secretly followed his two
masters on the night when they made their raid upon Mr. Actons and, having thus got
them into his power, proceeded, under threats of exposure, to levy blackmail upon them.
Mr. Alec, however, was a dangerous man to play games of that sort with. It was a stroke of
positive genius on his part to see in the burglary scare which was convulsing the
countryside an opportunity of plausibly getting rid of the man whom he feared. William was
decoyed up and shot, and had they only got the whole of the note and paid a little more
attention to detail  in
their accessories, it is very possible that suspicion might never have been aroused.
And the note? I asked.
Sherlock Holmes placed the subjoined paper before us.
It is very much the sort of thing that I
expected, said he. Of course, we do not yet know what the relations may have
been between Alec Cunningham, William Kirwan, and Annie Morrison. The result shows that
the trap was skilfully baited. I am sure that you cannot fail to be delighted with the
traces of heredity shown in the ps and in the tails of the gs.
The absence of the i-dots in the old mans writing is also most
characteristic. Watson, I think our quiet rest in the country has been a distinct success,
and I shall certainly return much invigorated to Baker Street to-morrow.