The Return of Sherlock Holmes
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"It suggested that at the time of the firing, the window as well
as the door of the room had been open. Otherwise the fumes of
powder could not have been blown so rapidly through the house.
A draught in the room was necessary for that. Both door and
window were only open for a very short time, however."
"How do you prove that?"
"Because the candle was not guttered."
"Capital!" cried the inspector. "Capital!"
"Feeling sure that the window had been open at the time of
the tragedy, I conceived that there might have been a third
person in the affair, who stood outside this opening and fired
through it. Any shot directed at this person might hit the sash. I
looked, and there, sure enough, was the bullet mark!"
"But how came the window to be shut and fastened?"
"The woman's first instinct would be to shut and fasten the
window. But, halloa! what is this?"
It was a lady's hand-bag which stood upon the study table -- a
trim little handbag of crocodile-skin and silver. Holmes opened it
and turned the contents out. There were twenty fifty-pound notes
of the Bank of England, held together by an india-rubber band --
"This must be preserved, for it will figure in the trial," said
Holmes, as he handed the bag with its contents to the inspector.
"It is now necessary that we should try to throw some light upon
this third bullet, which has clearly, from the splintering of the
wood, been fired from inside the room. I should like to see Mrs.
King, the cook, again. You said, Mrs. King, that you were
awakened by a loud explosion. When you said that, did you
mean that it seemed to you to be louder than the second one?"
"Well, sir, it wakened me from my sleep, so it is hard to
judge. But it did seem very loud."
"You don't think that it might have been two shots fired
almost at the same instant?"
"I am sure I couldn't say, sir."
"I believe that it was undoubtedly so. I rather think, Inspector
Mattin, that we have now exhausted all that this room can teach
us. If you will kindly step round with me, we shall see what
fresh evidence the garden has to offer."
A flower-bed extended up to the study window, and we all
broke into an exclamation as we approached it. The flowers were
trampled down, and the soft soil was imprinted all over with
footmarks. Large, masculine feet they were, with peculiarly
long, sharp toes. Holmes hunted about among the grass and
leaves like a retriever after a wounded bird. Then, with a cry of
satisfaction, he bent forward and picked up a little brazen cylinder.
"I thought so," said he; "the revolver had an ejector, and
here is the third cartridge. I really think, Inspector Martin, that
our case is almost complete."
The country inspector's face had shown his intense amazement
at the rapid and masterful progress of Holmes's investigation. At
first he had shown some disposition to assert his own position,
but now he was overcome with admiration, and ready to follow
without question wherever Holmes led.
"Whom do you suspect?" he asked.
"I'll go into that later. There are several points in this problem
which I have not been able to explain to you yet. Now that I
have got so far, I had best proceed on my own lines, and then
clear the whole matter up once and for all."
"Just as you wish, Mr. Holmes, so long as we get our man."
"I have no desire to make mysteries, but it is impossible at the
moment of action to enter into long and complex explanations. I
have the threads of this affair all in my hand. Even if this lady
should never recover consciousness, we can still reconstruct the
events of last night, and insure that justice be done. First of all, I
wish to know whether there is any inn in this neighbourhood
known as 'Elrige's'?"
The servants were cross-questioned, but none of them had
heard of such a place. The stable-boy threw a light upon the
matter by remembering that a farmer of that name lived some
miles off, in the direction of East Ruston.
"Is it a lonely farm?"
"Very lonely, sir."
"Perhaps they have not heard yet of all that happened here
during the night?"
"Maybe not, sir."
Holmes thought for a little, and then a curious smile played
over his face.
"Saddle a horse, my lad," said he. "I shall wish you to take a
note to Elrige's Farm."
He took from his pocket the various slips of the dancing men.
With these in front of him he worked for some time at the
study-table. Finally he handed a note to the boy, with directions
to put it into the hands of the person to whom it was addressed,
and especially to answer no questions of any sort which might be
put to him. I saw the outside of the note, addressed in straggling,
irregular characters, very unlike Holmes's usual precise hand. It
was consigned to Mr. Abe Slaney, Elrige's Farm, East Ruston,
"I think, Inspector," Holmes remarked, "that you would do
well to telegraph for an escort, as, if my calculations prove to be
correct, you may have a particularly dangerous prisoner to con-
vey to the county jail. The boy who takes this note could no
doubt forward your telegram. If there is an afternoon train to
town, Watson, I think we should do well to take it, as I have a
chemical analysis of some interest to finish, and this investiga-
tion draws rapidly to a close."
When the youth had been dispatched with the note, Sherlock
Holmes gave his instructions to the servants. If any visitor were
to call asking for Mrs. Hilton Cubitt, no information should be
given as to her condition, but he was to be shown at once into
the drawing-room. He impressed these points upon them with the
utmost earnestness. Finally he led the way into the drawing-room,
with the remark that the business was now out of our hands, and
that we must while away the time as best we might until we
could see what was in store for us. The doctor had departed to
his patients and only the inspector and myself remained.
"I think that I can help you to pass an hour in an interesting
and profitable manner," said Holmes, drawing his chair up to
the table, and spreading out in front of him the various papers
upon which were recorded the antics of the dancing men. "As to
you, friend Watson, I owe you every atonement for having
allowed your natural curiosity to remain so long unsatisfied. To
you, Inspector, the whole incident may appeal as a remarkable
professional study. I must tell you, first of all, the interesting
circumstances connected with the previous consultations which
Mr. Hilton Cubitt has had with me in Baker Street." He then
shortly recapitulated the facts which have already been recorded.
"I have here in front of me these singular productions, at which
one might smile, had they not proved themselves to be the
forerunners of so terrible a tragedy. I am fairly familiar with all
forms of secret writings, and am myself the author of a trifling
monograph upon the subject, in which I analyze one hundred and
sixty separate ciphers, but I confess that this is entirely new to
me. The object of those who invented the system has apparently
been to conceal that these characters convey a message, and to
give the idea that they are the mere random sketches of children.
"Having once recognized, however, that the symbols stood
for letters, and having applied the rules which guide us in all
forms of secret writings, the solution was easy enough. The first
message submitted to me was so short that it was impossible for
me to do more than to say, with some confidence, that the
symbol ~ stood for E. As you are aware, E is the most common
letter in the English alphabet, and it predominates to so marked
an extent that even in a short sentence one would expect to find
it most often. Out of fifteen symbols in the first message, four
were the same, so it was reasonable to set this down as E. It is
true that in some cases the figure was bearing a flag, and in some
cases not, but it was probable, from the way in which the flags
were distributed, that they were used to break the sentence up
into words. I accepted this as a hypothesis, and noted that E was
represented by ~.
"But now came the real difficulty of the inquiry. The order of
the English letters after E is by no means well marked, and any
preponderance which may be shown in an average of a printed
sheet may be reversed in a single short sentence. Speaking
roughly, T, A, 0, I, N, S, H, R, D, and L are the numerical
order in which letters occur; but T, A, 0, and I are very nearly
abreast of each other, and it would be an endless task to try each
combination until a meaning was arrived at. I therefore waited
for fresh material. In my second interview with Mr. Hilton
Cubitt he was able to give me two other short sentences and one
message, which appeared -- since there was no flag -- to be a
single word. Here are the symbols. Now, in the single word I
have already got the two E's coming second and fourth in a word
of five letters. It might be 'sever.' or 'lever,' or 'never.' There
can be no question that the latter as a reply to an appeal is far the
most probable, and the circumstances pointed to its being a reply
written by the lady. Accepting it as correct, we are now able to say
that the symbols ~~~ stand respectively for N, V, and R.
"Even now I was in considerable difficulty, but a happy
thought put me in possession of several other letters. It occurred
to me that if these appeals came, as I expected, from someone
who had been intimate with the lady in her early life, a combina-
tion which contained two E's with three letters between might
very well stand for the name 'ELSIE.' On examination I found
that such a combination formed the termination of the message