Adventure of the Noble Bachelor
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"It is a murder, then?"
"Well, it is conjectured to be so. I shall take nothing for
granted until I have the opportunity of looking personally into
it. I will explain the state of things to you, as far as I have
been able to understand it, in a very few words.
"Boscombe Valley is a country district not very far from Ross, in
Herefordshire. The largest landed proprietor in that part is a
Mr. John Turner, who made his money in Australia and returned
some years ago to the old country. One of the farms which he
held, that of Hatherley, was let to Mr. Charles McCarthy, who was
also an ex-Australian. The men had known each other in the
colonies, so that it was not unnatural that when they came to
settle down they should do so as near each other as possible.
Turner was apparently the richer man, so McCarthy became his
tenant but still remained, it seems, upon terms of perfect
equality, as they were frequently together. McCarthy had one son,
a lad of eighteen, and Turner had an only daughter of the same
age, but neither of them had wives living. They appear to have
avoided the society of the neighboring English families and to
have led retired lives, though both the McCarthys were fond of
sport and were frequently seen at the race-meetings of the
neighborhood. McCarthy kept two servants--a man and a girl.
Turner had a considerable household, some half-dozen at the
least. That is as much as I have been able to gather about the
families. Now for the facts.
"On June 3rd, that is, on Monday last, McCarthy left his house at
Hatherley about three in the afternoon and walked down to the
Boscombe Pool, which is a small lake formed by the spreading out
of the stream which runs down the Boscombe Valley. He had been
out with his serving-man in the morning at Ross, and he had told
the man that he must hurry, as he had an appointment of
importance to keep at three. From that appointment he never came
"From Hatherley Farm-house to the Boscombe Pool is a quarter of a
mile, and two people saw him as he passed over this ground. One
was an old woman, whose name is not mentioned, and the other was
William Crowder, a game-keeper in the employ of Mr. Turner. Both
these witnesses depose that Mr. McCarthy was walking alone. The
game-keeper adds that within a few minutes of his seeing Mr.
McCarthy pass he had seen his son, Mr. James McCarthy, going the
same way with a gun under his arm. To the best of his belief, the
father was actually in sight at the time, and the son was
following him. He thought no more of the matter until he heard in
the evening of the tragedy that had occurred.
"The two McCarthys were seen after the time when William Crowder,
the game-keeper, lost sight of them. The Boscombe Pool is thickly
wooded round, with just a fringe of grass and of reeds round the
edge. A girl of fourteen, Patience Moran, who is the daughter of
the lodge-keeper of the Boscombe Valley estate, was in one of the
woods picking flowers. She states that while she was there she
saw, at the border of the wood and close by the lake, Mr.
McCarthy and his son, and that they appeared to be having a
violent quarrel. She heard Mr. McCarthy the elder using very
strong language to his son, and she saw the latter raise up his
hand as if to strike his father. She was so frightened by their
violence that she ran away and told her mother when she reached
home that she had left the two McCarthys quarrelling near
Boscombe Pool, and that she was afraid that they were going to
fight. She had hardly said the words when young Mr. McCarthy came
running up to the lodge to say that he had found his father dead
in the wood, and to ask for the help of the lodge-keeper. He was
much excited, without either his gun or his hat, and his right
hand and sleeve were observed to be stained with fresh blood. On
following him they found the dead body stretched out upon the
grass beside the pool. The head had been beaten in by repeated
blows of some heavy and blunt weapon. The injuries were such as
might very well have been inflicted by the butt-end of his son's
gun, which was found lying on the grass within a few paces of the
body. Under these circumstances the young man was instantly
arrested, and a verdict of 'wilful murder' having been returned
at the inquest on Tuesday, he was on Wednesday brought before the
magistrates at Ross, who have referred the case to the next
Assizes. Those are the main facts of the case as they came out
before the coroner and the police-court."
"I could hardly imagine a more damning case," I remarked. "If
ever circumstantial evidence pointed to a criminal it does so
"Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing," answered Holmes
thoughtfully. "It may seem to point very straight to one thing,
but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it
pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something
entirely different. It must be confessed, however, that the case
looks exceedingly grave against the young man, and it is very
possible that he is indeed the culprit. There are several people
in the neighborhood, however, and among them Miss Turner, the
daughter of the neighboring landowner, who believe in his
innocence, and who have retained Lestrade, whom you may recollect
in connection with 'A Study in Scarlet', to work out the case in
his interest. Lestrade, being rather puzzled, has referred the
case to me, and hence it is that two middle-aged gentlemen are
flying westward at fifty miles an hour instead of quietly
digesting their breakfasts at home."
"I am afraid," said I, "that the facts are so obvious that you
will find little credit to be gained out of this case."
"There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact," he
answered, laughing. "Besides, we may chance to hit upon some
other obvious facts which may have been by no means obvious to
Mr. Lestrade. You know me too well to think that I am boasting
when I say that I shall either confirm or destroy his theory by
means which he is quite incapable of employing, or even of
understanding. To take the first example to hand, I very clearly
perceive that in your bedroom the window is upon the right-hand
side, and yet I question whether Mr. Lestrade would have noted
even so self-evident a thing as that."
"How on earth--"
"My dear fellow, I know you well. I know the military neatness
which characterizes you. You shave every morning, and in this
season you shave by the sunlight; but since your shaving is less
and less complete as we get farther back on the left side, until
it becomes positively slovenly as we get round the angle of the
jaw, it is surely very clear that that side is less illuminated
than the other. I could not imagine a man of your habits looking
at himself in an equal light and being satisfied with such a
result. I only quote this as a trivial example of observation and
inference. Therein lies my metier, and it is just possible that
it may be of some service in the investigation which lies before
us. There are one or two minor points which were brought out in
the inquest, and which are worth considering."
"What are they?"
"It appears that his arrest did not take place at once, but after
the return to Hatherley Farm. On the inspector of constabulary
informing him that he was a prisoner, he remarked that he was not
surprised to hear it, and that it was no more than his deserts.
This observation of his had the natural effect of removing any
traces of doubt which might have remained in the minds of the
"It was a confession," I ejaculated.
"No, for it was followed by a protestation of innocence."
"Coming on the top of such a damning series of events, it was at
least a most suspicious remark."
"On the contrary," said Holmes, "it is the brightest rift which I
can at present see in the clouds. However innocent he might be,
he could not be such an absolute imbecile as not to see that the
circumstances were very black against him. Had he appeared
surprised at his own arrest, or feigned indignation at it, I
should have looked upon it as highly suspicious, because such
surprise or anger would not be natural under the circumstances,
and yet might appear to be the best policy to a scheming man. His
frank acceptance of the situation marks him as either an innocent
man, or else as a man of considerable self-restraint and
firmness. As to his remark about his deserts, it was also not
unnatural if you consider that he stood beside the dead body of
his father, and that there is no doubt that he had that very day
so far forgotten his filial duty as to bandy words with him, and
even, according to the little girl whose evidence is so
important, to raise his hand as if to strike him. The
self-reproach and contrition which are displayed in his remark
appear to me to be the signs of a healthy mind rather than of a
I shook my head. "Many men have been hanged on far slighter
evidence," I remarked.
"So they have. And many men have been wrongfully hanged."
"What is the young man's own account of the matter?"
"It is, I am afraid, not very encouraging to his supporters,
though there are one or two points in it which are suggestive.
You will find it here, and may read it for yourself."
He picked out from his bundle a copy of the local Herefordshire
paper, and having turned down the sheet he pointed out the
paragraph in which the unfortunate young man had given his own
statement of what had occurred. I settled myself down in the
corner of the carriage and read it very carefully. It ran in this
Mr. James McCarthy, the only son of the deceased, was then called
and gave evidence as follows: "I had been away from home for
three days at Bristol, and had only just returned upon the
morning of last Monday, the 3d. My father was absent from home at
the time of my arrival, and I was informed by the maid that he
had driven over to Ross with John Cobb, the groom. Shortly after
my return I heard the wheels of his trap in the yard, and,
looking out of my window, I saw him get out and walk rapidly out
of the yard, though I was not aware in which direction he was
going. I then took my gun and strolled out in the direction of
the Boscombe Pool, with the intention of visiting the rabbit
warren which is upon the other side. On my way I saw William
Crowder, the game-keeper, as he had stated in his evidence; but