Holmes listened with closed eyes and fingertips together to this remarkable account.
The case has certainly some points of interest,
said he, in his languid fashion. May I ask, in the first place, Mr. McFarlane, how
it is that you are still at liberty, since there appears to be enough evidence to justify
I live at Torrington Lodge, Blackheath, with my parents,
Mr. Holmes, but last night, having to do business very late with Mr. Jonas Oldacre, I
stayed at an hotel in Norwood, and came to my business from there. I knew nothing of this
affair until I was in the train, when I read what you have just heard. I at once saw the
horrible danger of my position, and I hurried to put the case into your hands. I have no
doubt that I should have been arrested either at my city office or at my home. A man
followed me from London Bridge Station, and I have no doubt Great heaven!
what is that?
It was a clang of the bell, followed instantly by heavy steps
upon the stair. A moment later, our old friend Lestrade appeared in the doorway. Over his
shoulder I caught a glimpse of one or two uniformed policemen outside.
Mr. John Hector McFarlane? said Lestrade.
Our unfortunate client rose with a ghastly face.
I arrest you for the wilful murder of Mr. Jonas Oldacre,
of Lower Norwood.
McFarlane turned to us with a gesture of despair, and sank
into his chair once more like one who is crushed.
One moment, Lestrade, said Holmes. Half an
hour more or less can make no difference to you, and the gentleman was about to give us an
account of this very interesting affair, which might aid us in clearing it up.
I think there will be no difficulty in clearing it
up, said Lestrade, grimly.
None the less, with your permission, I should be much
interested to hear his account.
Well, Mr. Holmes, it is difficult for me to refuse you
anything, for you have been of use to the force once or twice in the past, and we owe you
a good turn at Scotland Yard, said Lestrade. At the same time I must remain
with my prisoner, and I am bound to warn him that anything he may say will appear in
evidence against him.
I wish nothing better, said our client. All
I ask is that you should hear and recognize the absolute truth.
Lestrade looked at his watch. Ill give you half an
hour, said he.
I must explain first, said McFarlane, that I
knew nothing of Mr. Jonas Oldacre. His name was familiar to me, for many years ago my
parents were acquainted with him, but they drifted apart. I was very much surprised,
therefore, when yesterday, about three oclock in the afternoon, he walked into my
office in the city. But I was still more astonished when he told me the object of his
visit. He had in his hand several sheets of a notebook, covered with scribbled
writinghere they areand he laid them on my table.
Here is my will, said he. I want you,
Mr. McFarlane, to cast it into proper legal shape. I will sit here while you do so.
I set myself to copy it, and you can imagine my
astonishment when I found that, with some reservations, he had left all his property to
me. He was a strange little ferret-like man, with white eyelashes, and when I looked up at
him I found his keen gray eyes fixed upon me with an amused expression. I could hardly
believe my own senses as I read the terms of the will; but he explained that he was a  bachelor with hardly any living
relation, that he had known my parents in his youth, and that he had always heard of me as
a very deserving young man, and was assured that his money would be in worthy hands. Of
course, I could only stammer out my thanks. The will was duly finished, signed, and
witnessed by my clerk. This is it on the blue paper, and these slips, as I have explained,
are the rough draft. Mr. Jonas Oldacre then informed me that there were a number of
documentsbuilding leases, title-deeds, mortgages, scrip, and so forthwhich it
was necessary that I should see and understand. He said that his mind would not be easy
until the whole thing was settled, and he begged me to come out to his house at Norwood
that night, bringing the will with me, and to arrange matters. Remember, my boy, not
one word to your parents about the affair until everything is settled. We will keep it as
a little surprise for them. He was very insistent upon this point, and made me
promise it faithfully.
You can imagine, Mr. Holmes, that I was not in a humour
to refuse him anything that he might ask. He was my benefactor, and all my desire was to
carry out his wishes in every particular. I sent a telegram home, therefore, to say that I
had important business on hand, and that it was impossible for me to say how late I might
be. Mr. Oldacre had told me that he would like me to have supper with him at nine, as he
might not be home before that hour. I had some difficulty in finding his house, however,
and it was nearly half-past before I reached it. I found him
One moment! said Holmes. Who opened the
A middle-aged woman, who was, I suppose, his
And it was she, I presume, who mentioned your
Exactly, said McFarlane.
McFarlane wiped his damp brow, and then continued his
I was shown by this woman into a sitting-room, where a
frugal supper was laid out. Afterwards, Mr. Jonas Oldacre led me into his bedroom, in
which there stood a heavy safe. This he opened and took out a mass of documents, which we
went over together. It was between eleven and twelve when we finished. He remarked that we
must not disturb the housekeeper. He showed me out through his own French window, which
had been open all this time.
Was the blind down? asked Holmes.
I will not be sure, but I believe that it was only half
down. Yes, I remember how he pulled it up in order to swing open the window. I could not
find my stick, and he said, Never mind, my boy, I shall see a good deal of you now,
I hope, and I will keep your stick until you come back to claim it. I left him
there, the safe open, and the papers made up in packets upon the table. It was so late
that I could not get back to Blackheath, so I spent the night at the Anerley Arms, and I
knew nothing more until I read of this horrible affair in the morning.
Anything more that you would like to ask, Mr.
Holmes? said Lestrade, whose eyebrows had gone up once or twice during this
Not until I have been to Blackheath.
You mean to Norwood, said Lestrade.
Oh, yes, no doubt that is what I must have meant,
said Holmes, with his enigmatical smile. Lestrade had learned by more experiences than he
would care to acknowledge that that razor-like brain could cut through that which was
impenetrable to him. I saw him look curiously at my companion.
I think I should like to have a word with you presently,
Mr. Sherlock Holmes,  said
he. Now, Mr. McFarlane, two of my constables are at the door, and there is a
four-wheeler waiting. The wretched young man arose, and with a last beseeching
glance at us walked from the room. The officers conducted him to the cab, but Lestrade
Holmes had picked up the pages which formed the rough draft
of the will, and was looking at them with the keenest interest upon his face.
There are some points about that document, Lestrade, are
there not? said he, pushing them over.
The official looked at them with a puzzled expression.
I can read the first few lines, and these in the middle
of the second page, and one or two at the end. Those are as clear as print, said he,
but the writing in between is very bad, and there are three places where I cannot
read it at all.
What do you make of that? said Holmes.
Well, what do you make of it?
That it was written in a train. The good writing
represents stations, the bad writing movement, and the very bad writing passing over
points. A scientific expert would pronounce at once that this was drawn up on a suburban
line, since nowhere save in the immediate vicinity of a great city could there be so quick
a succession of points. Granting that his whole journey was occupied in drawing up the
will, then the train was an express, only stopping once between Norwood and London
Lestrade began to laugh.
You are too many for me when you begin to get on your
theories, Mr. Holmes, said he. How does this bear on the case?
Well, it corroborates the young mans story to the
extent that the will was drawn up by Jonas Oldacre in his journey yesterday. It is
curiousis it not?that a man should draw up so important a document in so
haphazard a fashion. It suggests that he did not think it was going to be of much
practical importance. If a man drew up a will which he did not intend ever to be
effective, he might do it so.
Well, he drew up his own death warrant at the same
time, said Lestrade.
Oh, you think so?
Well, it is quite possible, but the case is not clear to
Not clear? Well, if that isnt clear, what could be
clear? Here is a young man who learns suddenly that, if a certain older man dies, he will
succeed to a fortune. What does he do? He says nothing to anyone, but he arranges that he
shall go out on some pretext to see his client that night. He waits until the only other
person in the house is in bed, and then in the solitude of a mans room he murders
him, burns his body in the wood-pile, and departs to a neighbouring hotel. The
blood-stains in the room and also on the stick are very slight. It is probable that he
imagined his crime to be a bloodless one, and hoped that if the body were consumed it
would hide all traces of the method of his deathtraces which, for some reason, must
have pointed to him. Is not all this obvious?
It strikes me, my good Lestrade, as being just a trifle
too obvious, said Holmes. You do not add imagination to your other great
qualities, but if you could for one moment put yourself in the place of this young man,
would you choose the very night after the will had been made to commit your crime? Would
it not seem dangerous to you to make so very close a relation between the two incidents?
Again, would you choose an occasion when you are known to be in the house, when a servant
has let you in? And, finally, would you take the great pains to conceal the body,  and yet leave your own stick as a
sign that you were the criminal? Confess, Lestrade, that all this is very unlikely.
As to the stick, Mr. Holmes, you know as well as I do
that a criminal is often flurried, and does such things, which a cool man would avoid. He
was very likely afraid to go back to the room. Give me another theory that would fit the
I could very easily give you half a dozen, said
Holmes. Here, for example, is a very possible and even probable one. I make you a
free present of it. The older man is showing documents which are of evident value. A
passing tramp sees them through the window, the blind of which is only half down. Exit the
solicitor. Enter the tramp! He seizes a stick, which he observes there, kills Oldacre, and
departs after burning the body.
Why should the tramp burn the body?
For the matter of that, why should McFarlane?
To hide some evidence.
Possibly the tramp wanted to hide that any murder at all
had been committed.
And why did the tramp take nothing?
Because they were papers that he could not
Lestrade shook his head, though it seemed to me that his
manner was less absolutely assured than before.
Well, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, you may look for your tramp,
and while you are finding him we will hold on to our man. The future will show which is
right. Just notice this point, Mr. Holmes: that so far as we know, none of the papers were
removed, and that the prisoner is the one man in the world who had no reason for removing
them, since he was heir-at-law, and would come into them in any case.
My friend seemed struck by this remark.
I dont mean to deny that the evidence is in some
ways very strongly in favour of your theory, said he. I only wish to point out
that there are other theories possible. As you say, the future will decide. Good-morning!
I dare say that in the course of the day I shall drop in at Norwood and see how you are
When the detective departed, my friend rose and made his
preparations for the days work with the alert air of a man who has a congenial task
My first movement, Watson, said he, as he bustled
into his frockcoat, must, as I said, be in the direction of Blackheath.
And why not Norwood?
Because we have in this case one singular incident
coming close to the heels of another singular incident. The police are making the mistake
of concentrating their attention upon the second, because it happens to be the one which
is actually criminal. But it is evident to me that the logical way to approach the case is
to begin by trying to throw some light upon the first incidentthe curious will, so
suddenly made, and to so unexpected an heir. It may do something to simplify what
followed. No, my dear fellow, I dont think you can help me. There is no prospect of
danger, or I should not dream of stirring out without you. I trust that when I see you in
the evening, I will be able to report that I have been able to do something for this
unfortunate youngster, who has thrown himself upon my protection.
It was late when my friend returned, and I could see, by a
glance at his haggard and anxious face, that the high hopes with which he had started had
not been fulfilled. For an hour he droned away upon his violin, endeavouring to soothe his
own ruffled spirits. At last he flung down the instrument, and plunged into a detailed
account of his misadventures.
all going wrong, Watsonall as wrong as it can go. I kept a bold face before
Lestrade, but, upon my soul, I believe that for once the fellow is on the right track and
we are on the wrong. All my instincts are one way, and all the facts are the other, and I
much fear that British juries have not yet attained that pitch of intelligence when they
will give the preference to my theories over Lestrades facts.
Did you go to Blackheath?
Yes, Watson, I went there, and I found very quickly that
the late lamented Oldacre was a pretty considerable blackguard. The father was away in
search of his son. The mother was at homea little, fluffy, blue-eyed person, in a
tremor of fear and indignation. Of course, she would not admit even the possibility of his
guilt. But she would not express either surprise or regret over the fate of Oldacre. On
the contrary, she spoke of him with such bitterness that she was unconsciously
considerably strengthening the case of the police for, of course, if her son had heard her
speak of the man in this fashion, it would predispose him towards hatred and violence.
He was more like a malignant and cunning ape than a human being, said she,
and he always was, ever since he was a young man.
You knew him at that time? said I.
Yes, I knew him well, in fact, he was an old
suitor of mine. Thank heaven that I had the sense to turn away from him and to marry a
better, if poorer, man. I was engaged to him, Mr. Holmes, when I heard a shocking story of
how he had turned a cat loose in an aviary, and I was so horrified at his brutal cruelty
that I would have nothing more to do with him. She rummaged in a bureau, and
presently she produced a photograph of a woman, shamefully defaced and mutilated with a
knife. That is my own photograph, she said. He sent it to me in that
state, with his curse, upon my wedding morning.
Well, said I, at least he has
forgiven you now, since he has left all his property to your son.
Neither my son nor I want anything from Jonas
Oldacre, dead or alive! she cried, with a proper spirit. There is a God in
heaven, Mr. Holmes, and that same God who has punished that wicked man will show, in His
own good time, that my sons hands are guiltless of his blood.
Well, I tried one or two leads, but could get at nothing
which would help our hypothesis, and several points which would make against it. I gave it
up at last, and off I went to Norwood.
This place, Deep Dene House, is a big modern villa of
staring brick, standing back in its own grounds, with a laurel-clumped lawn in front of
it. To the right and some distance back from the road was the timber-yard which had been
the scene of the fire. Heres a rough plan on a leaf of my notebook. This window on
the left is the one which opens into Oldacres room. You can look into it from the
road, you see. That is about the only bit of consolation I have had to-day. Lestrade was
not there, but his head constable did the honours. They had just found a great
treasure-trove. They had spent the morning raking among the ashes of the burned wood-pile,
and besides the charred organic remains they had secured several discoloured metal discs.
I examined them with care, and there was no doubt that they were trouser buttons. I even
distinguished that one of them was marked with the name of Hyams, who was
Oldacres tailor. I then worked the lawn very carefully for signs and traces, but
this drought has made everything as hard as iron. Nothing was to be seen save that some
body or bundle had been dragged through a low privet hedge which is in a line with the
wood-pile. All that, of course, fits in with the official  theory. I crawled about the lawn with an August sun on
my back, but I got up at the end of an hour no wiser than before.
Well, after this fiasco I went into the bedroom and
examined that also. The blood-stains were very slight, mere smears and discolourations,
but undoubtedly fresh. The stick had been removed, but there also the marks were slight.
There is no doubt about the stick belonging to our client. He admits it. Footmarks of both
men could be made out on the carpet, but none of any third person, which again is a trick
for the other side. They were piling up their score all the time and we were at a
Only one little gleam of hope did I getand yet it
amounted to nothing. I examined the contents of the safe, most of which had been taken out
and left on the table. The papers had been made up into sealed envelopes, one or two of
which had been opened by the police. They were not, so far as I could judge, of any great
value, nor did the bank-book show that Mr. Oldacre was in such very affluent
circumstances. But it seemed to me that all the papers were not there. There were
allusions to some deedspossibly the more valuablewhich I could not find. This,
of course, if we could definitely prove it, would turn Lestrades argument against
himself; for who would steal a thing if he knew that he would shortly inherit it?
Finally, having drawn every other cover and picked up no
scent, I tried my luck with the housekeeper. Mrs. Lexington is her namea little,
dark, silent person, with suspicious and sidelong eyes. She could tell us something if she
wouldI am convinced of it. But she was as close as wax. Yes, she had let Mr.
McFarlane in at half-past nine. She wished her hand had withered before she had done so.
She had gone to bed at half-past ten. Her room was at the other end of the house, and she
could hear nothing of what passed. Mr. McFarlane had left his hat, and to the best of her
belief his stick, in the hall. She had been awakened by the alarm of fire. Her poor, dear
master had certainly been murdered. Had he any enemies? Well, every man had enemies, but
Mr. Oldacre kept himself very much to himself, and only met people in the way of business.
She had seen the buttons, and was sure that they belonged to the clothes which he had worn
last night. The wood-pile was very dry, for it had not rained for a month. It burned like
tinder, and by the time she reached the spot, nothing could be seen but flames. She and
all the firemen smelled the burned flesh from inside it. She knew nothing of the papers,
nor of Mr. Oldacres private affairs.
So, my dear Watson, theres my report of a failure.
And yetand yet he clenched his thin hands in a paroxysm of
convictionI know its all wrong. I feel it in my bones. There is
something that has not come out, and that housekeeper knows it. There was a sort of sulky
defiance in her eyes, which only goes with guilty knowledge. However, theres no good
talking any more about it, Watson; but unless some lucky chance comes our way I fear that
the Norwood Disappearance Case will not figure in that chronicle of our successes which I
foresee that a patient public will sooner or later have to endure.
Surely, said I, the mans appearance
would go far with any jury?
That is a dangerous argument, my dear Watson. You
remember that terrible murderer, Bert Stevens, who wanted us to get him off in 87?
Was there ever a more mild-mannered, Sunday-school young man?
It is true.
Unless we succeed in establishing an alternative theory,
this man is lost. You can hardly find a flaw in the case which can now be presented
against him, and all  further
investigation has served to strengthen it. By the way, there is one curious little point
about those papers which may serve us as the starting-point for an inquiry. On looking
over the bank-book I found that the low state of the balance was principally due to large
checks which have been made out during the last year to Mr. Cornelius. I confess that I
should be interested to know who this Mr. Cornelius may be with whom a retired builder has
had such very large transactions. Is it possible that he has had a hand in the affair?
Cornelius might be a broker, but we have found no scrip to correspond with these large
payments. Failing any other indication, my researches must now take the direction of an
inquiry at the bank for the gentleman who has cashed these checks. But I fear, my dear
fellow, that our case will end ingloriously by Lestrade hanging our client, which will
certainly be a triumph for Scotland Yard.
I do not know how far Sherlock Holmes took any sleep that
night, but when I came down to breakfast I found him pale and harassed, his bright eyes
the brighter for the dark shadows round them. The carpet round his chair was littered with
cigarette-ends and with the early editions of the morning papers. An open telegram lay
upon the table.
What do you think of this, Watson? he asked,
tossing it across.
It was from Norwood, and ran as follows:
- Important fresh evidence to hand. McFarlanes guilt
definitely established. Advise you to abandon case.
This sounds serious, said I.
It is Lestrades little cock-a-doodle of
victory, Holmes answered, with a bitter smile. And yet it may be premature to
abandon the case. After all, important fresh evidence is a two-edged thing, and may
possibly cut in a very different direction to that which Lestrade imagines. Take your
breakfast, Watson, and we will go out together and see what we can do. I feel as if I
shall need your company and your moral support to-day.
My friend had no breakfast himself, for it was one of his
peculiarities that in his more intense moments he would permit himself no food, and I have
known him presume upon his iron strength until he has fainted from pure inanition.
At present I cannot spare energy and nerve force for digestion, he would say
in answer to my medical remonstrances. I was not surprised, therefore, when this morning
he left his untouched meal behind him, and started with me for Norwood. A crowd of morbid
sightseers were still gathered round Deep Dene House, which was just such a suburban villa
as I had pictured. Within the gates Lestrade met us, his face flushed with victory, his
manner grossly triumphant.
Well, Mr. Holmes, have you proved us to be wrong yet?
Have you found your tramp? he cried.
I have formed no conclusion whatever, my companion
But we formed ours yesterday, and now it proves to be
correct, so you must acknowledge that we have been a little in front of you this time, Mr.
You certainly have the air of something unusual having
occurred, said Holmes.
Lestrade laughed loudly.
You dont like being beaten any more than the rest
of us do, said he. A man cant expect always to have it his own way, can
he, Dr. Watson? Step this way, if you please, gentlemen, and I think I can convince you
once for all that it was John McFarlane who did this crime.
led us through the passage and out into a dark hall beyond.
This is where young McFarlane must have come out to get
his hat after the crime was done, said he. Now look at this. With
dramatic suddenness he struck a match, and by its light exposed a stain of blood upon the
whitewashed wall. As he held the match nearer, I saw that it was more than a stain. It was
the well-marked print of a thumb.
Look at that with your magnifying glass, Mr.
Yes, I am doing so.
You are aware that no two thumb-marks are alike?
I have heard something of the kind.
Well, then, will you please compare that print with this
wax impression of young McFarlanes right thumb, taken by my orders this
As he held the waxen print close to the blood-stain, it did
not take a magnifying glass to see that the two were undoubtedly from the same thumb. It
was evident to me that our unfortunate client was lost.
That is final, said Lestrade.
Yes, that is final, I involuntarily echoed.
It is final, said Holmes.
Something in his tone caught my ear, and I turned to look at
him. An extraordinary change had come over his face. It was writhing with inward
merriment. His two eyes were shining like stars. It seemed to me that he was making
desperate efforts to restrain a convulsive attack of laughter.
Dear me! Dear me! he said at last. Well,
now, who would have thought it? And how deceptive appearances may be, to be sure! Such a
nice young man to look at! It is a lesson to us not to trust our own judgment, is it not,
Yes, some of us are a little too much inclined to be
cock-sure, Mr. Holmes, said Lestrade. The mans insolence was maddening, but we
could not resent it.
What a providential thing that this young man should
press his right thumb against the wall in taking his hat from the peg! Such a very natural
action, too, if you come to think if it. Holmes was outwardly calm, but his whole
body gave a wriggle of suppressed excitement as he spoke.
By the way, Lestrade, who made this remarkable
It was the housekeeper, Mrs. Lexington, who drew the
night constables attention to it.
Where was the night constable?
He remained on guard in the bedroom where the crime was
committed, so as to see that nothing was touched.
But why didnt the police see this mark
Well, we had no particular reason to make a careful
examination of the hall. Besides, its not in a very prominent place, as you
No, noof course not. I suppose there is no doubt
that the mark was there yesterday?
Lestrade looked at Holmes as if he thought he was going out of
his mind. I confess that I was myself surprised both at his hilarious manner and at his
rather wild observation.
I dont know whether you think that McFarlane came
out of jail in the dead of the night in order to strengthen the evidence against
himself, said Lestrade. I leave it to any expert in the world whether that is
not the mark of his thumb.
It is unquestionably the mark of his thumb.
thats enough, said Lestrade. I am a practical man, Mr. Holmes, and when
I have got my evidence I come to my conclusions. If you have anything to say, you will
find me writing my report in the sitting-room.
Holmes had recovered his equanimity, though I still seemed to
detect gleams of amusement in his expression.
Dear me, this is a very sad development, Watson, is it
not? said he. And yet there are singular points about it which hold out some
hopes for our client.
I am delighted to hear it, said I, heartily.
I was afraid it was all up with him.
I would hardly go so far as to say that, my dear Watson.
The fact is that there is one really serious flaw in this evidence to which our friend
attaches so much importance.
Indeed, Holmes! What is it?
Only this: that I know that that mark was not
there when I examined the hall yesterday. And now, Watson, let us have a little stroll
round in the sunshine.
With a confused brain, but with a heart into which some warmth
of hope was returning, I accompanied my friend in a walk round the garden. Holmes took
each face of the house in turn, and examined it with great interest. He then led the way
inside, and went over the whole building from basement to attic. Most of the rooms were
unfurnished, but none the less Holmes inspected them all minutely. Finally, on the top
corridor, which ran outside three untenanted bedrooms, he again was seized with a spasm of
There are really some very unique features about this
case, Watson, said he. I think it is time now that we took our friend Lestrade
into our confidence. He has had his little smile at our expense, and perhaps we may do as
much by him, if my reading of this problem proves to be correct. Yes, yes, I think I see
how we should approach it.
The Scotland Yard inspector was still writing in the parlour
when Holmes interrupted him.
I understood that you were writing a report of this
case, said he.
So I am.
Dont you think it may be a little premature? I
cant help thinking that your evidence is not complete.
Lestrade knew my friend too well to disregard his words. He
laid down his pen and looked curiously at him.
What do you mean, Mr. Holmes?
Only that there is an important witness whom you have
Can you produce him?
I think I can.
Then do so.
I will do my best. How many constables have you?
There are three within call.
Excellent! said Holmes. May I ask if they
are all large, able-bodied men with powerful voices?
I have no doubt they are, though I fail to see what
their voices have to do with it.
Perhaps I can help you to see that and one or two other
things as well, said Holmes. Kindly summon your men, and I will try.
Five minutes later, three policemen had assembled in the hall.
In the outhouse you will find a considerable quantity of
straw, said Holmes.  I
will ask you to carry in two bundles of it. I think it will be of the greatest assistance
in producing the witness whom I require. Thank you very much. I believe you have some
matches in your pocket, Watson. Now, Mr. Lestrade, I will ask you all to accompany me to
the top landing.
As I have said, there was a broad corridor there, which ran
outside three empty bedrooms. At one end of the corridor we were all marshalled by
Sherlock Holmes, the constables grinning and Lestrade staring at my friend with amazement,
expectation, and derision chasing each other across his features. Holmes stood before us
with the air of a conjurer who is performing a trick.
Would you kindly send one of your constables for two
buckets of water? Put the straw on the floor here, free from the wall on either side. Now
I think that we are all ready.
Lestrades face had begun to grow red and angry.
I dont know whether you are playing a game with
us, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, said he. If you know anything, you can surely say it
without all this tomfoolery.
I assure you, my good Lestrade, that I have an excellent
reason for everything that I do. You may possibly remember that you chaffed me a little,
some hours ago, when the sun seemed on your side of the hedge, so you must not grudge me a
little pomp and ceremony now. Might I ask you, Watson, to open that window, and then to
put a match to the edge of the straw?
I did so, and driven by the draught, a coil of gray smoke
swirled down the corridor, while the dry straw crackled and flamed.
Now we must see if we can find this witness for you,
Lestrade. Might I ask you all to join in the cry of Fire!? Now then; one, two,
Fire! we all yelled.
Thank you. I will trouble you once again.
Just once more, gentlemen, and all together.
Fire! The shout must have rung over Norwood.
It had hardly died away when an amazing thing happened. A door
suddenly flew open out of what appeared to be solid wall at the end of the corridor, and a
little, wizened man darted out of it, like a rabbit out of its burrow.
Capital! said Holmes, calmly. Watson, a
bucket of water over the straw. That will do! Lestrade, allow me to present you with your
principal missing witness, Mr. Jonas Oldacre.
The detective stared at the newcomer with blank amazement. The
latter was blinking in the bright light of the corridor, and peering at us and at the
smouldering fire. It was an odious facecrafty, vicious, malignant, with shifty,
light-gray eyes and white lashes.
Whats this, then? said Lestrade, at last.
What have you been doing all this time, eh?
Oldacre gave an uneasy laugh, shrinking back from the furious
red face of the angry detective.
I have done no harm.
No harm? You have done your best to get an innocent man
hanged. If it wasnt for this gentleman here, I am not sure that you would not have
The wretched creature began to whimper.
I am sure, sir, it was only my practical joke.
Oh! a joke, was it? You wont find the laugh on
your side, I promise you. Take  him
down, and keep him in the sitting-room until I come. Mr. Holmes, he continued, when
they had gone, I could not speak before the constables, but I dont mind
saying, in the presence of Dr. Watson, that this is the brightest thing that you have done
yet, though it is a mystery to me how you did it. You have saved an innocent mans
life, and you have prevented a very grave scandal, which would have ruined my reputation
in the Force.
Holmes smiled, and clapped Lestrade upon the shoulder.
Instead of being ruined, my good sir, you will find
that your reputation has been enormously enhanced. Just make a few alterations in that
report which you were writing, and they will understand how hard it is to throw dust in
the eyes of Inspector Lestrade.
And you dont want your name to appear?
Not at all. The work is its own reward. Perhaps I shall
get the credit also at some distant day, when I permit my zealous historian to lay out his
foolscap once moreeh, Watson? Well, now, let us see where this rat has been
A lath-and-plaster partition had been run across the passage
six feet from the end, with a door cunningly concealed in it. It was lit within by slits
under the eaves. A few articles of furniture and a supply of food and water were within,
together with a number of books and papers.
Theres the advantage of being a builder,
said Holmes, as we came out. He was able to fix up his own little hiding-place
without any confederate save, of course, that precious housekeeper of his, whom I
should lose no time in adding to your bag, Lestrade.
Ill take your advice. But how did you know of this
place, Mr. Holmes?
I made up my mind that the fellow was in hiding in the
house. When I paced one corridor and found it six feet shorter than the corresponding one
below, it was pretty clear where he was. I thought he had not the nerve to lie quiet
before an alarm of fire. We could, of course, have gone in and taken him, but it amused me
to make him reveal himself. Besides, I owed you a little mystification, Lestrade, for your
chaff in the morning.
Well, sir, you certainly got equal with me on that. But
how in the world did you know that he was in the house at all?
The thumb-mark, Lestrade. You said it was final; and so
it was, in a very different sense. I knew it had not been there the day before. I pay a
good deal of attention to matters of detail, as you may have observed, and I had examined
the hall, and was sure that the wall was clear. Therefore, it had been put on during the
Very simply. When those packets were sealed up, Jonas
Oldacre got McFarlane to secure one of the seals by putting his thumb upon the soft wax.
It would be done so quickly and so naturally, that I daresay the young man himself has no
recollection of it. Very likely it just so happened, and Oldacre had himself no notion of
the use he would put it to. Brooding over the case in that den of his, it suddenly struck
him what absolutely damning evidence he could make against McFarlane by using that
thumb-mark. It was the simplest thing in the world for him to take a wax impression from
the seal, to moisten it in as much blood as he could get from a pin-prick, and to put the
mark upon the wall during the night, either with his own hand or with that of his
housekeeper. If you examine among those documents which he took with him into his retreat,
I will lay you a wager that you find the seal with the thumb-mark upon it.
said Lestrade. Wonderful! Its all as clear as crystal, as you put it. But what
is the object of this deep deception, Mr. Holmes?
It was amusing to me to see how the detectives
overbearing manner had changed suddenly to that of a child asking questions of its
Well, I dont think that is very hard to explain. A
very deep, malicious, vindictive person is the gentleman who is now waiting us downstairs.
You know that he was once refused by McFarlanes mother? You dont! I told you
that you should go to Blackheath first and Norwood afterwards. Well, this injury, as he
would consider it, has rankled in his wicked, scheming brain, and all his life he has
longed for vengeance, but never seen his chance. During the last year or two, things have
gone against himsecret speculation, I thinkand he finds himself in a bad way.
He determines to swindle his creditors, and for this purpose he pays large checks to a
certain Mr. Cornelius, who is, I imagine, himself under another name. I have not traced
these checks yet, but I have no doubt that they were banked under that name at some
provincial town where Oldacre from time to time led a double existence. He intended to
change his name altogether, draw this money, and vanish, starting life again
Well, thats likely enough.
It would strike him that in disappearing he might throw
all pursuit off his track, and at the same time have an ample and crushing revenge upon
his old sweetheart, if he could give the impression that he had been murdered by her only
child. It was a masterpiece of villainy, and he carried it out like a master. The idea of
the will, which would give an obvious motive for the crime, the secret visit unknown to
his own parents, the retention of the stick, the blood, and the animal remains and buttons
in the wood-pile, all were admirable. It was a net from which it seemed to me, a few hours
ago, that there was no possible escape. But he had not that supreme gift of the artist,
the knowledge of when to stop. He wished to improve that which was already perfectto
draw the rope tighter yet round the neck of his unfortunate victimand so he ruined
all. Let us descend, Lestrade. There are just one or two questions that I would ask
The malignant creature was seated in his own parlour, with a
policeman upon each side of him.
It was a joke, my good sira practical joke,
nothing more, he whined incessantly. I assure you, sir, that I simply
concealed myself in order to see the effect of my disappearance, and I am sure that you
would not be so unjust as to imagine that I would have allowed any harm to befall poor
young Mr. McFarlane.
Thats for a jury to decide, said Lestrade.
Anyhow, we shall have you on a charge of conspiracy, if not for attempted
And youll probably find that your creditors will
impound the banking account of Mr. Cornelius, said Holmes.
The little man started, and turned his malignant eyes upon my
I have to thank you for a good deal, said he.
Perhaps Ill pay my debt some day.
Holmes smiled indulgently.
I fancy that, for some few years, you will find your
time very fully occupied, said he. By the way, what was it you put into the
wood-pile besides your old trousers? A dead dog, or rabbits, or what? You wont tell?
Dear me, how very unkind of you! Well, well, I daresay that a couple of rabbits would
account both for the blood and for the charred ashes. If ever you write an account,
Watson, you can make rabbits serve your turn.