offered the advantages which London then possessed. But now - - " He
shrugged his shoulders in humorous deprecation of the state of things
which he had himself done so much to produce.
At the time of which I speak, Holmes had been back for some months,
and I at his request had sold my practice and returned to share the old
quarters in Baker Street. A young doctor, named Verner, had purchased my
small Kensington practice, and given with astonishingly little demur the
highest price that I ventured to ask - an incident which only explained
itself some years later, when I found that Verner was a distant relation
of Holmes, and that it was my friend who had really found the money.
Our months of partnership had not been so uneventful as he had stated,
for I find, on looking over my notes, that this period includes the case
of the papers of ex-President Murillo, and also the shocking affair of
the Dutch steamship FRIESLAND, which so nearly cost us both our lives.
His cold and proud nature was always averse, however, from anything
in the shape of public applause, and he bound me in the most
stringent terms to say no further word of himself, his methods, or his
successes - a prohibition which, as I have explained, has only now been
Mr. Sherlock Holmes was leaning back in his chair after his whimsical
protest, and was unfolding his morning paper in a leisurely fashion,
when our attention was arrested by a tremendous ring at the bell,
followed immediately by a hollow drumming sound, as if someone were
beating on the outer door with his fist. As it opened there came a
tumultuous rush into the hall, rapid feet clattered up the stair, and an
instant later a wild-eyed and frantic young man, pale, disheveled, and
palpitating, burst into the room. He looked from one to the other of us,
and under our gaze of inquiry he became conscious that some apology was
needed for this unceremonious entry.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Holmes," he cried. "You mustn't blame me. I am nearly
mad. Mr. Holmes, I am the unhappy John Hector McFarlane."
He made the announcement as if the name alone would explain both his
visit and its manner, but I could see, by my companion's unresponsive
face, that it meant no more to him than to me.
"Have a cigarette, Mr. McFarlane," said he, pushing his case across.
"I am sure that, with your symptoms, my friend Dr. Watson here would
prescribe a sedative. The weather has been so very warm these last few
days. Now, if you feel a little more composed, I should be glad if you
would sit down in that chair, and tell us very slowly and quietly who
you are, and what it is that you want. You mentioned your name, as if
I should recognize it, but I assure you that, beyond the obvious facts
that you are a bachelor, a solicitor, a Freemason, and an asthmatic, I
know nothing whatever about you."
Familiar as I was with my friend's methods, it was not difficult for me
to follow his deductions, and to observe the untidiness of attire, the
sheaf of legal papers, the watch-charm, and the breathing which had
prompted them. Our client, however, stared in amazement.
"Yes, I am all that, Mr. Holmes; and, in addition, I am the most
unfortunate man at this moment in London. For heaven's sake, don't
abandon me, Mr. Holmes! If they come to arrest me before I have finished
my story, make them give me time, so that I may tell you the whole
truth. I could go to jail happy if I knew that you were working for me
"Arrest you!" said Holmes. "This is really most grati - most interesting.
On what charge do you expect to be arrested?"
"Upon the charge of murdering Mr. Jonas Oldacre, of Lower Norwood."
My companion's expressive face showed a sympathy which was not, I am
afraid, entirely unmixed with satisfaction.
"Dear me," said he, "it was only this moment at breakfast that I was
saying to my friend, Dr. Watson, that sensational cases had disappeared
out of our papers."
Our visitor stretched forward a quivering hand and picked up the DAILY
TELEGRAPH, which still lay upon Holmes's knee.
"If you had looked at it, sir, you would have seen at a glance what the
errand is on which I have come to you this morning. I feel as if my name
and my misfortune must be in every man's mouth." He turned it over to
expose the central page. "Here it is, and with your permission I
will read it to you. Listen to this, Mr. Holmes. The headlines are:
'Mysterious Affair at Lower Norwood. Disappearance of a Well Known
Builder. Suspicion of Murder and Arson. A Clue to the Criminal.' That is
the clue which they are already following, Mr. Holmes, and I know that
it leads infallibly to me. I have been followed from London Bridge
Station, and I am sure that they are only waiting for the warrant to
arrest me. It will break my mother's heart - it will break her heart!"
He wrung his hands in an agony of apprehension, and swayed backward and
forward in his chair.
I looked with interest upon this man, who was accused of being the
perpetrator of a crime of violence. He was flaxen-haired and handsome,
in a washed-out negative fashion, with frightened blue eyes, and a
clean-shaven face, with a weak, sensitive mouth. His age may have been
about twenty-seven, his dress and bearing that of a gentleman. From the
pocket of his light summer overcoat protruded the bundle of indorsed
papers which proclaimed his profession.
"We must use what time we have," said Holmes. "Watson, would you have
the kindness to take the paper and to read the paragraph in question?"
Underneath the vigorous headlines which our client had quoted, I read
the following suggestive narrative:
"Late last night, or early this morning, an incident occurred at Lower
Norwood which points, it is feared, to a serious crime. Mr. Jonas
Oldacre is a well known resident of that suburb, where he has carried
on his business as a builder for many years. Mr. Oldacre is a bachelor,
fifty-two years of age, and lives in Deep Dene House, at the Sydenham
end of the road of that name. He has had the reputation of being a
man of eccentric habits, secretive and retiring. For some years he has
practically withdrawn from the business, in which he is said to have
massed considerable wealth. A small timber-yard still exists, however,
at the back of the house, and last night, about twelve o'clock, an alarm
was given that one of the stacks was on fire. The engines were soon upon
the spot, but the dry wood burned with great fury, and it was impossible
to arrest the conflagration until the stack had been entirely consumed.
Up to this point the incident bore the appearance of an ordinary
accident, but fresh indications seem to point to serious crime. Surprise
was expressed at the absence of the master of the establishment from
the scene of the fire, and an inquiry followed, which showed that he had
disappeared from the house. An examination of his room revealed that the
bed had not been slept in, that a safe which stood in it was open, that
a number of important papers were scattered about the room, and finally,
that there were signs of a murderous struggle, slight traces of blood
being found within the room, and an oaken walking-stick, which also
showed stains of blood upon the handle. It is known that Mr. Jonas
Oldacre had received a late visitor in his bedroom upon that night, and
the stick found has been identified as the property of this person, who
is a young London solicitor named John Hector McFarlane, junior partner
of Graham and McFarlane, of 426 Gresham Buildings, E. C. The police
believe that they have evidence in their possession which supplies
a very convincing motive for the crime, and altogether it cannot be
doubted that sensational developments will follow.
"LATER. - It is rumoured as we go to press that Mr. John Hector McFarlane
has actually been arrested on the charge of the murder of Mr. Jonas
Oldacre. It is at least certain that a warrant has been issued. There
have been further and sinister developments in the investigation at
Norwood. Besides the signs of a struggle in the room of the unfortunate
builder it is now known that the French windows of his bedroom (which is
on the ground floor) were found to be open, that there were marks as
if some bulky object had been dragged across to the wood-pile, and,
finally, it is asserted that charred remains have been found among the
charcoal ashes of the fire. The police theory is that a most sensational
crime has been committed, that the victim was clubbed to death in his
own bedroom, his papers rifled, and his dead body dragged across to
the wood-stack, which was then ignited so as to hide all traces of the
crime. The conduct of the criminal investigation has been left in
the experienced hands of Inspector Lestrade, of Scotland Yard, who is
following up the clues with his accustomed energy and sagacity."
Sherlock 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 your arrest?"
"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
"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
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,
"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. "I'll 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 o'clock 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 writing - here they
are - and 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 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 documents - building leases, title-deeds,
mortgages, scrip, and so forth - which 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
"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 door?"
"A middle-aged woman, who was, I suppose, his housekeeper."
"And it was she, I presume, who mentioned your name?"
"Exactly," said McFarlane.
McFarlane wiped his damp brow, and then continued his narrative:
"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
"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 remarkable
"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 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 remained.
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 Bridge."
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 man's story to the extent that the
will was drawn up by Jonas Oldacre in his journey yesterday. It is
curious - is 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
"Oh, you think so?"
"Well, it is quite possible, but the case is not clear to me yet."
"Not clear? Well, if that isn't 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 man's 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
death - traces 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 facts."
"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
"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
"And why did the tramp take nothing?"
"Because they were papers that he could not negotiate."
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 don't 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 getting on."
When the detective departed, my friend rose and made his preparations
for the day's 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 incident - the curious will, so suddenly made, and
to so unexpected an heir. It may do something to simplify what followed.
No, my dear fellow, I don't 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
"It's all going wrong, Watson - all 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 Lestrade's 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 home - a 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