The Adventure of the Norwood Builder

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					The Adventure of the Norwood Builder
             Arthur Conan Doyle
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                               The Adventure of the Norwood Builder

        rom the point of view of the crimi-                the bell, followed immediately by a hollow drum-
         nal expert,” said Mr. Sherlock Holmes,            ming sound, as if someone were beating on the
         “London has become a singularly unin-             outer door with his fist. As it opened there came a
         teresting city since the death of the late        tumultuous rush into the hall, rapid feet clattered
lamented Professor Moriarty.”                              up the stair, and an instant later a wild-eyed and
   “I can hardly think that you would find many             frantic young man, pale, dishevelled, and palpitat-
decent citizens to agree with you,” I answered.            ing, burst into the room. He looked from one to
                                                           the other of us, and under our gaze of inquiry he
    “Well, well, I must not be selfish,” said he,           became conscious that some apology was needed
with a smile, as he pushed back his chair from the         for this unceremonious entry.
breakfast-table. “The community is certainly the
gainer, and no one the loser, save the poor out-of-           “I’m sorry, Mr. Holmes,” he cried.    “You
work specialist, whose occupation has gone. With           mustn’t blame me. I am nearly mad. Mr. Holmes,
that man in the field one’s morning paper pre-              I am the unhappy John Hector McFarlane.”
sented infinite possibilities. Often it was only the           He made the announcement as if the name
smallest trace, Watson, the faintest indication, and       alone would explain both his visit and its manner;
yet it was enough to tell me that the great malig-         but I could see by my companion’s unresponsive
nant brain was there, as the gentlest tremors of the       face that it meant no more to him than to me.
edges of the web remind one of the foul spider
which lurks in the centre. Petty thefts, wanton as-             “Have a cigarette, Mr. McFarlane,” said he,
saults, purposeless outrage—to the man who held            pushing his case across. “I am sure that with your
the clue all could be worked into one connected            symptoms my friend Dr. Watson here would pre-
whole. To the scientific student of the higher crim-        scribe a sedative. The weather has been so very
inal world no capital in Europe offered the advan-         warm these last few days. Now, if you feel a lit-
tages which London then possessed. But now—”               tle more composed, I should be glad if you would
He shrugged his shoulders in humorous depreca-             sit down in that chair and tell us very slowly and
tion of the state of things which he had himself           quietly who you are and what it is that you want.
done so much to produce.                                   You mentioned your name as if I should recognise
                                                           it, but I assure you that, beyond the obvious facts
    At the time of which I speak Holmes had been           that you are a bachelor, a solicitor, a Freemason,
back for some months, and I, at his request, had           and an asthmatic, I know nothing whatever about
sold my practice and returned to share the old             you.”
quarters in Baker Street. A young doctor, named
Verner, had purchased my small Kensington prac-                Familiar as I was with my friend’s methods, it
tice, and given with astonishingly little demur            was not difficult for me to follow his deductions,
the highest price that I ventured to ask—an inci-          and to observe the untidiness of attire, the sheaf of
dent which only explained itself some years later          legal papers, the watch-charm, and the breathing
when I found that Verner was a distant relation            which had prompted them. Our client, however,
of Holmes’s, and that it was my friend who had             stared in amazement.
really found the money.                                       “Yes, I am all that, Mr. Holmes, and in addition
    Our months of partnership had not been so un-          I am the most unfortunate man at this moment in
eventful as he had stated, for I find, on looking           London. For Heaven’s sake don’t abandon me, Mr.
over my notes, that this period includes the case          Holmes! If they come to arrest me before I have
of the papers of Ex-President Murillo, and also the        finished my story, make them give me time so that
shocking affair of the Dutch steamship Friesland,          I may tell you the whole truth. I could go to jail
which so nearly cost us both our lives. His cold           happy if I knew that you were working for me out-
and proud nature was always averse, however, to            side.”
anything in the shape of public applause, and he
                                                              “Arrest you!” said Holmes. “This is really most
bound me in the most stringent terms to say no
                                                           grati—most interesting. On what charge do you
further word of himself, his methods, or his suc-
                                                           expect to be arrested?”
cesses—a prohibition which, as I have explained,
has only now been removed.                                    “Upon the charge of murdering Mr. Jonas
                                                           Oldacre, of Lower Norwood.”
   Mr. Sherlock Holmes was leaning back in his
chair after his whimsical protest, and was unfold-            My companion’s expressive face showed a
ing his morning paper in a leisurely fashion, when         sympathy which was not, I am afraid, entirely un-
our attention was arrested by a tremendous ring at         mixed with satisfaction.

                                                       1
                               The Adventure of the Norwood Builder

   “Dear me,” said he; “it was only this moment at        For some years he has practically with-
breakfast that I was saying to my friend, Dr. Wat-        drawn from the business, in which he is
son, that sensational cases had disappeared out of        said to have amassed considerable wealth.
our papers.”                                              A small timber-yard still exists, however,
                                                          at the back of the house, and last night,
   Our visitor stretched forward a quivering hand
                                                          about twelve o’clock, an alarm was given
and picked up the Daily Telegraph, which still lay
                                                          that one of the stacks was on fire. The en-
upon Holmes’s knee.
                                                          gines were soon upon the spot, but the dry
    “If you had looked at it, sir, you would have         wood burned with great fury, and it was
seen at a glance what the errand is on which I            impossible to arrest the conflagration un-
have come to you this morning. I feel as if my            til the stack had been entirely consumed.
name and my misfortune must be in every man’s             Up to this point the incident bore the ap-
mouth.” He turned it over to expose the central           pearance of an ordinary accident, but fresh
page. “Here it is, and with your permission I will        indications seem to point to serious crime.
read it to you. Listen to this, Mr. Holmes. The           Surprise was expressed at the absence of
head-lines are: ‘Mysterious Affair at Lower Nor-          the master of the establishment from the
wood. Disappearance of a Well-known Builder.              scene of the fire, and an inquiry followed,
Suspicion of Murder and Arson. A Clue to the              which showed that he had disappeared from
Criminal.’ That is the clue which they are already        the house. An examination of his room re-
following, Mr. Holmes, and I know that it leads           vealed that the bed had not been slept in,
infallibly to me. I have been followed from Lon-          that a safe which stood in it was open, that a
don Bridge Station, and I am sure that they are           number of important papers were scattered
only waiting for the warrant to arrest me. It will        about the room, and, finally, that there were
break my mother’s heart—it will break her heart!”         signs of a murderous struggle, slight traces
He wrung his hands in an agony of apprehension,           of blood being found within the room, and
and swayed backwards and forwards in his chair.           an oaken walking-stick, which also showed
                                                          stains of blood upon the handle. It is known
    I looked with interest upon this man, who was
                                                          that Mr. Jonas Oldacre had received a late
accused of being the perpetrator of a crime of vi-
                                                          visitor in his bedroom upon that night, and
olence. He was flaxen-haired and handsome in a
                                                          the stick found has been identified as the
washed-out negative fashion, with frightened blue
                                                          property of this person, who is a young
eyes and a clean-shaven face, with a weak, sensi-
                                                          London solicitor named John Hector Mc-
tive mouth. His age may have been about twenty-
                                                          Farlane, junior partner of Graham and Mc-
seven; his dress and bearing that of a gentleman.
                                                          Farlane, of 426, Gresham Buildings, E.C.
From the pocket of his light summer overcoat pro-
                                                          The police believe that they have evidence
truded the bundle of endorsed papers which pro-
                                                          in their possession which supplies a very
claimed his profession.
                                                          convincing motive for the crime, and alto-
    “We must use what time we have,” said                 gether it cannot be doubted that sensational
Holmes. “Watson, would you have the kindness              developments will follow.
to take the paper and to read me the paragraph in
question?”                                                “Later.—It is rumoured as we go to press
                                                          that Mr. John Hector McFarlane has ac-
    Underneath the vigorous head-lines which our          tually been arrested on the charge of the
client had quoted I read the following suggestive         murder of Mr. Jonas Oldacre. It is at
narrative:—                                               least certain that a warrant has been issued.
      “Late last night, or early this morning, an         There have been further and sinister devel-
      incident occurred at Lower Norwood which            opments in the investigation at Norwood.
      points, it is feared, to a serious crime. Mr.       Besides the signs of a struggle in the room
      Jonas Oldacre is a well-known resident of           of the unfortunate builder it is now known
      that suburb, where he has carried on his            that the French windows of his bedroom
      business as a builder for many years. Mr.           (which is on the ground floor) were found
      Oldacre is a bachelor, fifty-two years of            to be open, that there were marks as if some
      age, and lives in Deep Dene House, at the           bulky object had been dragged across to the
      Sydenham end of the road of that name.              wood-pile, and, finally, it is asserted that
      He has had the reputation of being a man            charred remains have been found among the
      of eccentric habits, secretive and retiring.        charcoal ashes of the fire. The police theory

                                                      2
                                  The Adventure of the Norwood Builder

      is that a most sensational crime has been                  “Well, Mr. Holmes, it is difficult for me to
      committed, that the victim was clubbed to              refuse you anything, for you have been of use to
      death in his own bedroom, his papers ri-               the force once or twice in the past, and we owe
      fled, and his dead body dragged across to               you a good turn at Scotland Yard,” said Lestrade.
      the wood-stack, which was then ignited so              “At the same time I must remain with my prisoner,
      as to hide all traces of the crime. The con-           and I am bound to warn him that anything he may
      duct of the criminal investigation has been            say will appear in evidence against him.”
      left in the experienced hands of Inspector                 “I wish nothing better,” said our client. “All I
      Lestrade, of Scotland Yard, who is follow-             ask is that you should hear and recognise the ab-
      ing up the clues with his accustomed en-               solute truth.”
      ergy and sagacity.”                                        Lestrade looked at his watch. “I’ll give you half
Sherlock Holmes listened with closed eyes and                an hour,” said he.
finger-tips together to this remarkable account.                  “I must explain first,” said McFarlane, “that I
                                                             knew nothing of Mr. Jonas Oldacre. His name
    “The case has certainly some points of inter-
                                                             was familiar to me, for many years ago my par-
est,” said he, in his languid fashion. “May I ask,
                                                             ents were acquainted with him, but they drifted
in the first place, Mr. McFarlane, how it is that you
                                                             apart. I was very much surprised, therefore, when
are still at liberty, since there appears to be enough
                                                             yesterday, about three o’clock in the afternoon, he
evidence to justify your arrest?”
                                                             walked into my office in the City. But I was still
    “I live at Torrington Lodge, Blackheath, with            more astonished when he told me the object of his
my parents, Mr. Holmes; but last night, having               visit. He had in his hand several sheets of a note-
to do business very late with Mr. Jonas Oldacre,             book, covered with scribbled writing—here they
I stayed at an hotel in Norwood, and came to my              are—and he laid them on my table.
business from there. I knew nothing of this affair               “ ‘Here is my will,’ said he. ‘I want you, Mr.
until I was in the train, when I read what you have          McFarlane, to cast it into proper legal shape. I will
just heard. I at once saw the horrible danger of my          sit here while you do so.’
position, and I hurried to put the case into your                “I set myself to copy it, and you can imagine
hands. I have no doubt that I should have been               my astonishment when I found that, with some
arrested either at my City office or at my home. A            reservations, he had left all his property to me.
man followed me from London Bridge Station, and              He was a strange little, ferret-like man, with white
I have no doubt—Great Heaven, what is that?”                 eyelashes, and when I looked up at him I found his
    It was a clang of the bell, followed instantly by        keen grey eyes fixed upon me with an amused ex-
heavy steps upon the stair. A moment later our               pression. I could hardly believe my own senses as
old friend Lestrade appeared in the doorway. Over            I read the terms of the will; but he explained that
his shoulder I caught a glimpse of one or two uni-           he was a bachelor with hardly any living relation,
formed policemen outside.                                    that he had known my parents in his youth, and
                                                             that he had always heard of me as a very deserv-
   “Mr. John Hector McFarlane?” said Lestrade.
                                                             ing young man, and was assured that his money
   Our unfortunate client rose with a ghastly face.          would be in worthy hands. Of course, I could only
   “I arrest you for the wilful murder of Mr. Jonas          stammer out my thanks. The will was duly fin-
Oldacre, of Lower Norwood.”                                  ished, signed, and witnessed by my clerk. This
                                                             is it on the blue paper, and these slips, as I have
   McFarlane turned to us with a gesture of de-              explained, are the rough draft. Mr. Jonas Oldacre
spair, and sank into his chair once more like one            then informed me that there were a number of doc-
who is crushed.                                              uments—building leases, title-deeds, mortgages,
   “One moment, Lestrade,” said Holmes. “Half                scrip, and so forth—which it was necessary that I
an hour more or less can make no difference to               should see and understand. He said that his mind
you, and the gentleman was about to give us an               would not be easy until the whole thing was set-
account of this very interesting affair, which might         tled, and he begged me to come out to his house
aid us in clearing it up.”                                   at Norwood that night, bringing the will with me,
                                                             and to arrange matters. ‘Remember, my boy, not
   “I think there will be no difficulty in clearing it        one word to your parents about the affair until ev-
up,” said Lestrade, grimly.                                  erything is settled. We will keep it as a little sur-
   “None the less, with your permission, I should            prise for them.’ He was very insistent upon this
be much interested to hear his account.”                     point, and made me promise it faithfully.

                                                         3
                                  The Adventure of the Norwood Builder

    “You can imagine, Mr. Holmes, that I was not                  “Oh, yes; no doubt that is what I must have
in a humour to refuse him anything that he might               meant,” said Holmes, with his enigmatical smile.
ask. He was my benefactor, and all my desire was               Lestrade had learned by more experiences than
to carry out his wishes in every particular. I sent a          he would care to acknowledge that that razor-like
telegram home, therefore, to say that I had impor-             brain could cut through that which was impenetra-
tant business on hand, and that it was impossible              ble to him. I saw him look curiously at my com-
for me to say how late I might be. Mr. Oldacre                 panion.
had told me that he would like me to have supper                  “I think I should like to have a word with you
with him at nine, as he might not be home be-                  presently, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” said he. “Now,
fore that hour. I had some difficulty in finding his             Mr. McFarlane, two of my constables are at the
house, however, and it was nearly half-past before             door and there is a four-wheeler waiting.” The
I reached it. I found him—”                                    wretched young man arose, and with a last be-
   “One moment!” said Holmes. “Who opened                      seeching glance at us walked from the room. The
the door?”                                                     officers conducted him to the cab, but Lestrade re-
                                                               mained.
    “A middle-aged woman, who was, I suppose,
his housekeeper.”                                                 Holmes had picked up the pages which formed
                                                               the rough draft of the will, and was looking at
   “And it was she, I presume, who mentioned
                                                               them with the keenest interest upon his face.
your name?”
                                                                  “There are some points about that document,
   “Exactly,” said McFarlane.
                                                               Lestrade, are there not?” said he, pushing them
   “Pray proceed.”                                             over.
   McFarlane wiped his damp brow and then con-                    The official looked at them with a puzzled ex-
tinued his narrative:—                                         pression.
   “I was shown by this woman into a sitting-                     “I can read the first few lines, and these in the
room, where a frugal supper was laid out. Af-                  middle of the second page, and one or two at the
terwards Mr. Jonas Oldacre led me into his bed-                end. Those are as clear as print,” said he; “but the
room, in which there stood a heavy safe. This he               writing in between is very bad, and there are three
opened and took out a mass of documents, which                 places where I cannot read it at all.”
we went over together. It was between eleven and                  “What do you make of that?” said Holmes.
twelve when we finished. He remarked that we
must not disturb the housekeeper. He showed me                    “Well, what do you make of it?”
out through his own French window, which had                       “That it was written in a train; the good writ-
been open all this time.”                                      ing represents stations, the bad writing movement,
                                                               and the very bad writing passing over points. A
   “Was the blind down?” asked Holmes.
                                                               scientific expert would pronounce at once that this
     “I will not be sure, but I believe that it was only       was drawn up on a suburban line, since nowhere
half down. Yes, I remember how he pulled it up                 save in the immediate vicinity of a great city could
in order to swing open the window. I could not                 there be so quick a succession of points. Grant-
find my stick, and he said, ‘Never mind, my boy;                ing that his whole journey was occupied in draw-
I shall see a good deal of you now, I hope, and I              ing up the will, then the train was an express,
will keep your stick until you come back to claim              only stopping once between Norwood and Lon-
it.’ I left him there, the safe open, and the papers           don Bridge.”
made up in packets upon the table. It was so late
                                                                  Lestrade began to laugh.
that I could not get back to Blackheath, so I spent
the night at the Anerley Arms, and I knew noth-                   “You are too many for me when you begin to
ing more until I read of this horrible affair in the           get on your theories, Mr. Holmes,” said he. “How
morning.”                                                      does this bear on the case?”
   “Anything more that you would like to ask,                      “Well, it corroborates the young man’s story to
Mr. Holmes?” said Lestrade, whose eyebrows had                 the extent that the will was drawn up by Jonas
gone up once or twice during this remarkable ex-               Oldacre in his journey yesterday. It is curious—is
planation.                                                     it not?—that a man should draw up so important
                                                               a document in so haphazard a fashion. It sug-
   “Not until I have been to Blackheath.”                      gests that he did not think it was going to be of
   “You mean to Norwood,” said Lestrade.                       much practical importance. If a man drew up a

                                                           4
                                The Adventure of the Norwood Builder

will which he did not intend ever to be effective he        He seizes a stick, which he observes there, kills
might do it so.”                                            Oldacre, and departs after burning the body.”
   “Well, he drew up his own death-warrant at the               “Why should the tramp burn the body?”
same time,” said Lestrade.                                      “For the matter of that why should McFar-
                                                            lane?”
   “Oh, you think so?”
                                                                “To hide some evidence.”
   “Don’t you?”                                                 “Possibly the tramp wanted to hide that any
    “Well, it is quite possible; but the case is not        murder at all had been committed.”
clear to me yet.”                                               “And why did the tramp take nothing?”
                                                                “Because they were papers that he could not
    “Not clear? Well, if that isn’t clear, what could
                                                            negotiate.”
be clear? Here is a young man who learns sud-
                                                                Lestrade shook his head, though it seemed to
denly that if a certain older man dies he will suc-
                                                            me that his manner was less absolutely assured
ceed to a fortune. What does he do? He says
                                                            than before.
nothing to anyone, but he arranges that he shall
go out on some pretext to see his client that night;            “Well, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, you may look for
he waits until the only other person in the house           your tramp, and while you are finding him we will
is in bed, and then in the solitude of a man’s room         hold on to our man. The future will show which
he murders him, burns his body in the wood-pile,            is right. Just notice this point, Mr. Holmes: that so
and departs to a neighbouring hotel. The blood-             far as we know none of the papers were removed,
stains in the room and also on the stick are very           and that the prisoner is the one man in the world
slight. It is probable that he imagined his crime           who had no reason for removing them, since he
to be a bloodless one, and hoped that if the body           was heir-at-law and would come into them in any
were consumed it would hide all traces of the               case.”
method of his death—traces which for some rea-                  My friend seemed struck by this remark.
son must have pointed to him. Is all this not obvi-             “I don’t mean to deny that the evidence is in
ous?”                                                       some ways very strongly in favour of your the-
                                                            ory,” said he. “I only wish to point out that there
    “It strikes me, my good Lestrade, as being just
                                                            are other theories possible. As you say, the future
a trifle too obvious,” said Holmes. “You do not
                                                            will decide. Good morning! I dare say that in the
add imagination to your other great qualities; but
                                                            course of the day I shall drop in at Norwood and
if you could for one moment put yourself in the
                                                            see how you are getting on.”
place of this young man, would you choose the
                                                                When the detective departed my friend rose
very night after the will had been made to commit
                                                            and made his preparations for the day’s work with
your crime? Would it not seem dangerous to you
                                                            the alert air of a man who has a congenial task be-
to make so very close a relation between the two
                                                            fore him.
incidents? Again, would you choose an occasion
when you are known to be in the house, when a                   “My first movement, Watson,” said he, as he
servant has let you in? And, finally, would you              bustled into his frock-coat, “must, as I said, be in
take the great pains to conceal the body and yet            the direction of Blackheath.”
leave your own stick as a sign that you were the                “And why not Norwood?”
criminal? Confess, Lestrade, that all this is very              “Because we have in this case one singular in-
unlikely.”                                                  cident coming close to the heels of another singu-
                                                            lar incident. The police are making the mistake
    “As to the stick, Mr. Holmes, you know as well
                                                            of concentrating their attention upon the second,
as I do that a criminal is often flurried and does
                                                            because it happens to be the one which is actu-
things which a cool man would avoid. He was
                                                            ally criminal. But it is evident to me that the logi-
very likely afraid to go back to the room. Give me
                                                            cal way to approach the case is to begin by trying
another theory that would fit the facts.”
                                                            to throw some light upon the first incident—the
    “I could very easily give you half-a-dozen,”            curious will, so suddenly made, and to so unex-
said Holmes. “Here, for example, is a very pos-             pected an heir. It may do something to simplify
sible and even probable one. I make you a free              what followed. No, my dear fellow, I don’t think
present of it. The older man is showing documents           you can help me. There is no prospect of dan-
which are of evident value. A passing tramp sees            ger, or I should not dream of stirring out without
them through the window, the blind of which is              you. I trust that when I see you in the evening I
only half down. Exit the solicitor. Enter the tramp!        will be able to report that I have been able to do

                                                        5
                                 The Adventure of the Norwood Builder

something for this unfortunate youngster who has                “ ‘Neither my son nor I want anything from
thrown himself upon my protection.”                          Jonas Oldacre, dead or alive,’ she cried, with a
   It was late when my friend returned, and I                proper spirit. ‘There is a God in Heaven, Mr.
could see by a glance at his haggard and anxious             Holmes, and that same God who has punished
face that the high hopes with which he had started           that wicked man will show in His own good time
had not been fulfilled. For an hour he droned away            that my son’s hands are guiltless of his blood.’
upon his violin, endeavouring to soothe his own                  “Well, I tried one or two leads, but could get
ruffled spirits. At last he flung down the instru-             at nothing which would help our hypothesis, and
ment and plunged into a detailed account of his              several points which would make against it. I gave
misadventures.                                               it up at last and off I went to Norwood.
    “It’s all going wrong, Watson—all as wrong as                “This place, Deep Dene House, is a big mod-
it can go. I kept a bold face before Lestrade, but,          ern villa of staring brick, standing back in its own
upon my soul, I believe that for once the fellow is          grounds, with a laurel-clumped lawn in front of it.
on the right track and we are on the wrong. All my           To the right and some distance back from the road
instincts are one way and all the facts are the other,       was the timber-yard which had been the scene of
and I much fear that British juries have not yet             the fire. Here’s a rough plan on a leaf of my
attained that pitch of intelligence when they will           note-book. This window on the left is the one
give the preference to my theories over Lestrade’s           which opens into Oldacre’s room. You can look
facts.”                                                      into it from the road, you see. That is about the
   “Did you go to Blackheath?”                               only bit of consolation I have had to-day. Lestrade
                                                             was not there, but his head constable did the hon-
     “Yes, Watson, I went there, and I found very            ours. They had just made a great treasure-trove.
quickly that the late lamented Oldacre was a pretty          They had spent the morning raking among the
considerable black-guard. The father was away in             ashes of the burned wood-pile, and besides the
search of his son. The mother was at home—a                  charred organic remains they had secured sev-
little, fluffy, blue-eyed person, in a tremor of fear         eral discoloured metal discs. I examined them
and indignation. Of course, she would not admit              with care, and there was no doubt that they were
even the possibility of his guilt. But she would not         trouser buttons. I even distinguished that one of
express either surprise or regret over the fate of           them was marked with the name of ‘Hyams,’ who
Oldacre. On the contrary, she spoke of him with              was Oldacre’s tailor. I then worked the lawn very
such bitterness that she was unconsciously consid-           carefully for signs and traces, but this drought has
erably strengthening the case of the police, for, of         made everything as hard as iron. Nothing was to
course, if her son had heard her speak of the man            be seen save that some body or bundle had been
in this fashion it would predispose him towards              dragged through a low privet hedge which is in a
hatred and violence. ‘He was more like a malig-              line with the wood-pile. All that, of course, fits in
nant and cunning ape than a human being,’ said               with the official theory. I crawled about the lawn
she, ‘and he always was, ever since he was a young           with an August sun on my back, but I got up at
man.’                                                        the end of an hour no wiser than before.
   “ ‘You knew him at that time?’ said I.                        “Well, after this fiasco I went into the bedroom
    “ ‘Yes, I knew him well; in fact, he was an old          and examined that also. The blood-stains were
suitor of mine. Thank Heaven that I had the sense            very slight, mere smears and discolorations, but
to turn away from him and to marry a better, if a            undoubtedly fresh. The stick had been removed,
poorer, man. I was engaged to him, Mr. Holmes,               but there also the marks were slight. There is no
when I heard a shocking story of how he had                  doubt about the stick belonging to our client. He
turned a cat loose in an aviary, and I was so horri-         admits it. Footmarks of both men could be made
fied at his brutal cruelty that I would have nothing          out on the carpet, but none of any third person,
more to do with him.’ She rummaged in a bu-                  which again is a trick for the other side. They were
reau, and presently she produced a photograph of             piling up their score all the time and we were at a
a woman, shamefully defaced and mutilated with               standstill.
a knife. ‘That is my own photograph,’ she said.                 “Only one little gleam of hope did I get—and
‘He sent it to me in that state, with his curse, upon        yet it amounted to nothing. I examined the con-
my wedding morning.’                                         tents of the safe, most of which had been taken out
   “ ‘Well,’ said I, ‘at least he has forgiven you           and left on the table. The papers had been made
now, since he has left all his property to your son.’        up into sealed envelopes, one or two of which had

                                                         6
                                The Adventure of the Norwood Builder

been opened by the police. They were not, so far            there ever a more mild-mannered, Sunday-school
as I could judge, of any great value, nor did the           young man?”
bank-book show that Mr. Oldacre was in such very
                                                               “It is true.”
affluent circumstances. But it seemed to me that all
the papers were not there. There were allusions to              “Unless we succeed in establishing an alter-
some deeds—possibly the more valuable—which                 native theory this man is lost. You can hardly
I could not find. This, of course, if we could def-          find a flaw in the case which can now be pre-
initely prove it, would turn Lestrade’s argument            sented against him, and all further investigation
against himself, for who would steal a thing if he          has served to strengthen it. By the way, there is
knew that he would shortly inherit it?                      one curious little point about those papers which
    “Finally, having drawn every other cover and            may serve us as the starting-point for an inquiry.
picked up no scent, I tried my luck with the house-         On looking over the bank-book I found that the
keeper. Mrs. Lexington is her name, a little, dark,         low state of the balance was principally due to
silent person, with suspicious and sidelong eyes.           large cheques which have been made out during
She could tell us something if she would—I am               the last year to Mr. Cornelius. I confess that I
convinced of it. But she was as close as wax.               should be interested to know who this Mr. Cor-
Yes, she had let Mr. McFarlane in at half-past nine.        nelius may be with whom a retired builder has
She wished her hand had withered before she had             such very large transactions. Is it possible that he
done so. She had gone to bed at half-past ten. Her          has had a hand in the affair? Cornelius might be a
room was at the other end of the house, and she             broker, but we have found no scrip to correspond
could hear nothing of what passed. Mr. McFar-               with these large payments. Failing any other indi-
lane had left his hat, and to the best of her belief        cation my researches must now take the direction
his stick, in the hall. She had been awakened by            of an inquiry at the bank for the gentleman who
the alarm of fire. Her poor, dear master had cer-            has cashed these cheques. But I fear, my dear fel-
tainly been murdered. Had he any enemies? Well,             low, that our case will end ingloriously by Lestrade
every man had enemies, but Mr. Oldacre kept him-            hanging our client, which will certainly be a tri-
self very much to himself, and only met people in           umph for Scotland Yard.”
the way of business. She had seen the buttons, and             I do not know how far Sherlock Holmes took
was sure that they belonged to the clothes which            any sleep that night, but when I came down to
he had worn last night. The wood-pile was very              breakfast I found him pale and harassed, his bright
dry, for it had not rained for a month. It burned           eyes the brighter for the dark shadows round
like tinder, and by the time she reached the spot           them. The carpet round his chair was littered with
nothing could be seen but flames. She and all                cigarette-ends and with the early editions of the
the firemen smelled the burned flesh from inside              morning papers. An open telegram lay upon the
it. She knew nothing of the papers, nor of Mr.              table.
Oldacre’s private affairs.
                                                               “What do you think of this, Watson?” he asked,
     “So, my dear Watson, there’s my report of a
                                                            tossing it across.
failure. And yet—and yet—”—he clenched his
thin hands in a paroxysm of conviction—“I know                 It was from Norwood, and ran as follows:
it’s all wrong. I feel it in my bones. There is some-
thing that has not come out, and that housekeeper                 “Important fresh evidence to hand.
knows it. There was a sort of sulky defiance in                    McFarlane’s guilt definitely estab-
her eyes, which only goes with guilty knowledge.                  lished. Advise you to abandon case.
However, there’s no good talking any more about                                            — Lestrade.
it, Watson; but unless some lucky chance comes                 “This sounds serious,” said I.
our way I fear that the Norwood Disappearance
Case will not figure in that chronicle of our suc-                “It is Lestrade’s little cock-a-doodle of victory,”
cesses which I foresee that a patient public will           Holmes answered, with a bitter smile. “And yet
sooner or later have to endure.”                            it may be premature to abandon the case. After
                                                            all, important fresh evidence is a two-edged thing,
   “Surely,” said I, “the man’s appearance would            and may possibly cut in a very different direction
go far with any jury?”                                      to that which Lestrade imagines. Take your break-
   “That is a dangerous argument, my dear Wat-              fast, Watson, and we will go out together and see
son. You remember that terrible murderer, Bert              what we can do. I feel as if I shall need your com-
Stevens, who wanted us to get him off in ’87? Was           pany and your moral support to-day.”

                                                        7
                                The Adventure of the Norwood Builder

    My friend had no breakfast himself, for it was               As he held the waxen print close to the blood-
one of his peculiarities that in his more intense mo-       stain it did not take a magnifying glass to see that
ments he would permit himself no food, and I have           the two were undoubtedly from the same thumb.
known him presume upon his iron strength until              It was evident to me that our unfortunate client
he has fainted from pure inanition. “At present             was lost.
I cannot spare energy and nerve force for diges-                 “That is final,” said Lestrade.
tion,” he would say in answer to my medical re-                  “Yes, that is final,” I involuntarily echoed.
monstrances. I was not surprised, therefore, when                “It is final,” said Holmes.
this morning he left his untouched meal behind                   Something in his tone caught my ear, and I
him and started with me for Norwood. A crowd                turned to look at him. An extraordinary change
of morbid sightseers were still gathered round              had come over his face. It was writhing with in-
Deep Dene House, which was just such a suburban             ward merriment. His two eyes were shining like
villa as I had pictured. Within the gates Lestrade          stars. It seemed to me that he was making desper-
met us, his face flushed with victory, his manner            ate efforts to restrain a convulsive attack of laugh-
grossly triumphant.                                         ter.
    “Well, Mr. Holmes, have you proved us to be                  “Dear me! Dear me!” he said at last. “Well,
wrong yet? Have you found your tramp?” he                   now, who would have thought it? And how de-
cried.                                                      ceptive appearances may be, to be sure! Such a
   “I have formed no conclusion whatever,” my               nice young man to look at! It is a lesson to us not
companion answered.                                         to trust our own judgment, is it not, Lestrade?”
                                                                 “Yes, some of us are a little too much inclined
   “But we formed ours yesterday, and now it
                                                            to be cocksure, Mr. Holmes,” said Lestrade. The
proves to be correct; so you must acknowledge that
                                                            man’s insolence was maddening, but we could not
we have been a little in front of you this time, Mr.
                                                            resent it.
Holmes.”
                                                                 “What a providential thing that this young man
   “You certainly have the air of something un-             should press his right thumb against the wall in
usual having occurred,” said Holmes.                        taking his hat from the peg! Such a very natural
   Lestrade laughed loudly.                                 action, too, if you come to think of it.” Holmes was
    “You don’t like being beaten any more than the          outwardly calm, but his whole body gave a wrig-
rest of us do,” said he. “A man can’t expect always         gle of suppressed excitement as he spoke. “By the
to have it his own way, can he, Dr. Watson? Step            way, Lestrade, who made this remarkable discov-
this way, if you please, gentlemen, and I think I           ery?”
can convince you once for all that it was John Mc-               “It was the housekeeper, Mrs. Lexington, who
Farlane who did this crime.”                                drew the night constable’s attention to it.”
                                                                 “Where was the night constable?”
   He led us through the passage and out into a
                                                                 “He remained on guard in the bedroom where
dark hall beyond.
                                                            the crime was committed, so as to see that nothing
    “This is where young McFarlane must have                was touched.”
come out to get his hat after the crime was done,”               “But why didn’t the police see this mark yes-
said he. “Now, look at this.” With dramatic sud-            terday?”
denness he struck a match and by its light exposed
                                                                 “Well, we had no particular reason to make a
a stain of blood upon the whitewashed wall. As he
                                                            careful examination of the hall. Besides, it’s not in
held the match nearer I saw that it was more than
                                                            a very prominent place, as you see.”
a stain. It was the well-marked print of a thumb.
                                                                 “No, no, of course not. I suppose there is no
  “Look at that with your magnifying glass, Mr.             doubt that the mark was there yesterday?”
Holmes.”                                                         Lestrade looked at Holmes as if he thought he
   “Yes, I am doing so.”                                    was going out of his mind. I confess that I was
    “You are aware that no two thumb marks are              myself surprised both at his hilarious manner and
alike?”                                                     at his rather wild observation.
                                                                 “I don’t know whether you think that McFar-
   “I have heard something of the kind.”                    lane came out of jail in the dead of the night in
   “Well, then, will you please compare that print          order to strengthen the evidence against himself,”
with this wax impression of young McFarlane’s               said Lestrade. “I leave it to any expert in the world
right thumb, taken by my orders this morning?”              whether that is not the mark of his thumb.”

                                                        8
                                The Adventure of the Norwood Builder

   “It is unquestionably the mark of his thumb.”                Lestrade knew my friend too well to disregard
                                                            his words. He laid down his pen and looked curi-
    “There, that’s enough,” said Lestrade. “I am
                                                            ously at him.
a practical man, Mr. Holmes, and when I have got
my evidence I come to my conclusions. If you have              “What do you mean, Mr. Holmes?”
anything to say you will find me writing my report              “Only that there is an important witness whom
in the sitting-room.”                                       you have not seen.”
     Holmes had recovered his equanimity, though               “Can you produce him?”
I still seemed to detect gleams of amusement in his
                                                               “I think I can.”
expression.
                                                               “Then do so.”
    “Dear me, this is a very sad development, Wat-
son, is it not?” said he. “And yet there are singular          “I will do my best. How many constables have
points about it which hold out some hopes for our           you?”
client.”                                                       “There are three within call.”
  “I am delighted to hear it,” said I, heartily. “I            “Excellent!” said Holmes. “May I ask if they
was afraid it was all up with him.”                         are all large, able-bodied men with powerful
                                                            voices?”
    “I would hardly go so far as to say that, my
dear Watson. The fact is that there is one really             “I have no doubt they are, though I fail to see
serious flaw in this evidence to which our friend            what their voices have to do with it.”
attaches so much importance.”                                  “Perhaps I can help you to see that and one or
   “Indeed, Holmes! What is it?”                            two other things as well,” said Holmes. “Kindly
                                                            summon your men, and I will try.”
   “Only this: that I know that that mark was not
there when I examined the hall yesterday. And                  Five minutes later three policemen had assem-
now, Watson, let us have a little stroll round in the       bled in the hall.
sunshine.”                                                      “In the outhouse you will find a considerable
                                                            quantity of straw,” said Holmes. “I will ask you to
    With a confused brain, but with a heart into
                                                            carry in two bundles of it. I think it will be of the
which some warmth of hope was returning, I ac-
                                                            greatest assistance in producing the witness whom
companied my friend in a walk round the garden.
                                                            I require. Thank you very much. I believe you have
Holmes took each face of the house in turn and
                                                            some matches in your pocket, Watson. Now, Mr.
examined it with great interest. He then led the
                                                            Lestrade, I will ask you all to accompany me to the
way inside and went over the whole building from
                                                            top landing.”
basement to attics. Most of the rooms were unfur-
nished, but none the less Holmes inspected them                 As I have said, there was a broad corridor there,
all minutely. Finally, on the top corridor, which           which ran outside three empty bedrooms. At one
ran outside three untenanted bedrooms, he again             end of the corridor we were all marshalled by Sher-
was seized with a spasm of merriment.                       lock Holmes, the constables grinning and Lestrade
                                                            staring at my friend with amazement, expectation,
    “There are really some very unique features             and derision chasing each other across his features.
about this case, Watson,” said he. “I think it is           Holmes stood before us with the air of a conjurer
time now that we took our friend Lestrade into              who is performing a trick.
our confidence. He has had his little smile at our
expense, and perhaps we may do as much by him                  “Would you kindly send one of your consta-
if my reading of this problem proves to be correct.         bles for two buckets of water? Put the straw on
Yes, yes; I think I see how we should approach it.”         the floor here, free from the wall on either side.
                                                            Now I think that we are all ready.”
   The Scotland Yard inspector was still writing in
the parlour when Holmes interrupted him.                       Lestrade’s face had begun to grow red and an-
                                                            gry.
    “I understood that you were writing a report of
                                                                “I don’t know whether you are playing a game
this case,” said he.
                                                            with us, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” said he. “If you
   “So I am.”                                               know anything, you can surely say it without all
   “Don’t you think it may be a little premature? I         this tomfoolery.”
can’t help thinking that your evidence is not com-             “I assure you, my good Lestrade, that I have
plete.”                                                     an excellent reason for everything that I do. You

                                                        9
                                The Adventure of the Norwood Builder

may possibly remember that you chaffed me a lit-             though it is a mystery to me how you did it. You
tle some hours ago, when the sun seemed on your              have saved an innocent man’s life, and you have
side of the hedge, so you must not grudge me a               prevented a very grave scandal, which would have
little pomp and ceremony now. Might I ask you,               ruined my reputation in the Force.”
Watson, to open that window, and then to put a                  Holmes smiled and clapped Lestrade upon the
match to the edge of the straw?”                             shoulder.
   I did so, and, driven by the draught, a coil of               “Instead of being ruined, my good sir, you will
grey smoke swirled down the corridor, while the              find that your reputation has been enormously en-
dry straw crackled and flamed.                                hanced. Just make a few alterations in that report
    “Now we must see if we can find this witness              which you were writing, and they will understand
for you, Lestrade. Might I ask you all to join in the        how hard it is to throw dust in the eyes of Inspec-
cry of ‘Fire!’? Now, then; one, two, three—”                 tor Lestrade.”
   “Fire!” we all yelled.                                       “And you don’t want your name to appear?”
   “Thank you. I will trouble you once again.”                  “Not at all. The work is its own reward. Per-
   “Fire!”                                                   haps I shall get the credit also at some distant day
   “Just once more, gentlemen, and all together.”            when I permit my zealous historian to lay out his
                                                             foolscap once more—eh, Watson? Well, now, let us
  “Fire!” The shout must have rung over Nor-
                                                             see where this rat has been lurking.”
wood.
                                                                A lath-and-plaster partition had been run
     It had hardly died away when an amazing
                                                             across the passage six feet from the end, with a
thing happened. A door suddenly flew open out
                                                             door cunningly concealed in it. It was lit within
of what appeared to be solid wall at the end of the
                                                             by slits under the eaves. A few articles of furni-
corridor, and a little, wizened man darted out of
                                                             ture and a supply of food and water were within,
it, like a rabbit out of its burrow.
                                                             together with a number of books and papers.
   “Capital!” said Holmes, calmly. “Watson, a
                                                                 “There’s the advantage of being a builder,” said
bucket of water over the straw. That will do!
                                                             Holmes, as we came out. “He was able to fix up
Lestrade, allow me to present you with your prin-
                                                             his own little hiding-place without any confeder-
cipal missing witness, Mr. Jonas Oldacre.”
                                                             ate—save, of course, that precious housekeeper of
   The detective stared at the new-comer with                his, whom I should lose no time in adding to your
blank amazement. The latter was blinking in the              bag, Lestrade.”
bright light of the corridor, and peering at us
                                                                 “I’ll take your advice. But how did you know
and at the smouldering fire. It was an odious
                                                             of this place, Mr. Holmes?”
face—crafty, vicious, malignant, with shifty, light-
grey eyes and white eyelashes.                                   “I made up my mind that the fellow was in
  “What’s this, then?” said Lestrade at last.                hiding in the house. When I paced one corridor
“What have you been doing all this time, eh?”                and found it six feet shorter than the correspond-
                                                             ing one below, it was pretty clear where he was.
   Oldacre gave an uneasy laugh, shrinking back              I thought he had not the nerve to lie quiet before
from the furious red face of the angry detective.            an alarm of fire. We could, of course, have gone
   “I have done no harm.”                                    in and taken him, but it amused me to make him
   “No harm? You have done your best to get an               reveal himself; besides, I owed you a little mystifi-
innocent man hanged. If it wasn’t for this gentle-           cation, Lestrade, for your chaff in the morning.”
man here, I am not sure that you would not have                 “Well, sir, you certainly got equal with me on
succeeded.”                                                  that. But how in the world did you know that he
   The wretched creature began to whimper.                   was in the house at all?”
   “I am sure, sir, it was only my practical joke.”              “The thumb-mark, Lestrade. You said it was fi-
    “Oh! a joke, was it? You won’t find the laugh             nal; and so it was, in a very different sense. I knew
on your side, I promise you. Take him down and               it had not been there the day before. I pay a good
keep him in the sitting-room until I come. Mr.               deal of attention to matters of detail, as you may
Holmes,” he continued, when they had gone, “I                have observed, and I had examined the hall and
could not speak before the constables, but I don’t           was sure that the wall was clear. Therefore, it had
mind saying, in the presence of Dr. Watson, that             been put on during the night.”
this is the brightest thing that you have done yet,             “But how?”

                                                        10
                                 The Adventure of the Norwood Builder

    “Very simply. When those packets were sealed               same time have an ample and crushing revenge
up, Jonas Oldacre got McFarlane to secure one of               upon his old sweetheart, if he could give the im-
the seals by putting his thumb upon the soft wax.              pression that he had been murdered by her only
It would be done so quickly and so naturally that              child. It was a masterpiece of villainy, and he car-
I dare say the young man himself has no recol-                 ried it out like a master. The idea of the will, which
lection of it. Very likely it just so happened, and            would give an obvious motive for the crime, the
Oldacre had himself no notion of the use he would              secret visit unknown to his own parents, the re-
put it to. Brooding over the case in that den of his,          tention of the stick, the blood, and the animal re-
it suddenly struck him what absolutely damning                 mains and buttons in the wood-pile, all were ad-
evidence he could make against McFarlane by us-                mirable. It was a net from which it seemed to
ing that thumb-mark. It was the simplest thing in              me a few hours ago that there was no possible es-
the world for him to take a wax impression from                cape. But he had not that supreme gift of the artist,
the seal, to moisten it in as much blood as he could           the knowledge of when to stop. He wished to
get from a pin-prick, and to put the mark upon the             improve that which was already perfect—to draw
wall during the night, either with his own hand                the rope tighter yet round the neck of his unfortu-
or with that of his housekeeper. If you examine                nate victim—and so he ruined all. Let us descend,
among those documents which he took with him                   Lestrade. There are just one or two questions that
into his retreat I will lay you a wager that you find           I would ask him.”
the seal with the thumb-mark upon it.”                            The malignant creature was seated in his own
    “Wonderful!” said Lestrade. “Wonderful! It’s               parlour with a policeman upon each side of him.
all as clear as crystal, as you put it. But what is the
                                                                  “It was a joke, my good sir, a practical joke,
object of this deep deception, Mr. Holmes?”
                                                               nothing more,” he whined incessantly. “I assure
    It was amusing to me to see how the detective’s            you, sir, that I simply concealed myself in order
overbearing manner had changed suddenly to that                to see the effect of my disappearance, and I am
of a child asking questions of its teacher.                    sure that you would not be so unjust as to imagine
    “Well, I don’t think that is very hard to ex-              that I would have allowed any harm to befall poor
plain. A very deep, malicious, vindictive person               young Mr. McFarlane.”
is the gentleman who is now awaiting us down-
                                                                  “That’s for a jury to decide,” said Lestrade.
stairs. You know that he was once refused by
                                                               “Anyhow, we shall have you on a charge of con-
McFarlane’s mother? You don’t! I told you that
                                                               spiracy, if not for attempted murder.”
you should go to Blackheath first and Norwood
afterwards. Well, this injury, as he would con-                    “And you’ll probably find that your creditors
sider it, has rankled in his wicked, scheming brain,           will impound the banking account of Mr. Cor-
and all his life he has longed for vengeance, but              nelius,” said Holmes.
never seen his chance. During the last year or two                The little man started and turned his malignant
things have gone against him—secret speculation,               eyes upon my friend.
I think—and he finds himself in a bad way. He de-
termines to swindle his creditors, and for this pur-              “I have to thank you for a good deal,” said he.
pose he pays large cheques to a certain Mr. Cor-               “Perhaps I’ll pay my debt some day.”
nelius, who is, I imagine, himself under another                  Holmes smiled indulgently.
name. I have not traced these cheques yet, but I                  “I fancy that for some few years you will find
have no doubt that they were banked under that                 your time very fully occupied,” said he. “By the
name at some provincial town where Oldacre from                way, what was it you put into the wood-pile be-
time to time led a double existence. He intended               sides your old trousers? A dead dog, or rabbits,
to change his name altogether, draw this money,                or what? You won’t tell? Dear me, how very un-
and vanish, starting life again elsewhere.”                    kind of you! Well, well, I dare say that a couple of
    “Well, that’s likely enough.”                              rabbits would account both for the blood and for
    “It would strike him that in disappearing he               the charred ashes. If ever you write an account,
might throw all pursuit off his track, and at the              Watson, you can make rabbits serve your turn.”




                                                          11

				
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