A DOUBLE BARRELLED DETECTIVE
by Mark Twain
"We ought never to do wrong when people are looking."
The first scene is in the country, in Virginia; the time, 1880. There
has been a wedding, between a handsome young man of slender means and a
rich young girl--a case of love at first sight and a precipitate
marriage; a marriage bitterly opposed by the girl's widowed father.
Jacob Fuller, the bridegroom, is twenty-six years old, is of an old but
unconsidered family which had by compulsion emigrated from Sedgemoor, and
for King James's purse's profit, so everybody said--some maliciously the
rest merely because they believed it. The bride is nineteen and
beautiful. She is intense, high-strung, romantic, immeasurably proud of
her Cavalier blood, and passionate in her love for her young husband.
For its sake she braved her father's displeasure, endured his reproaches,
listened with loyalty unshaken to his warning predictions and went from
his house without his blessing, proud and happy in the proofs she was
thus giving of the quality of the affection which had made its home in
The morning after the marriage there was a sad surprise for her. Her
husband put aside her proffered caresses, and said:
"Sit down. I have something to say to you. I loved you. That was
before I asked your father to give you to me. His refusal is not my
grievance--I could have endured that. But the things he said of me to
you--that is a different matter. There--you needn't speak; I know quite
well what they were; I got them from authentic sources. Among other
things he said that my character was written in my face; that I was
treacherous, a dissembler, a coward, and a brute without sense of pity or
compassion: the 'Sedgemoor trade-mark,' he called it--and 'white-sleeve
badge.' Any other man in my place would have gone to his house and shot
him down like a dog. I wanted to do it, and was minded to do it, but a
better thought came to me: to put him to shame; to break his heart; to
kill him by inches. How to do it? Through my treatment of you, his
idol! I would marry you; and then--Have patience. You will see."
From that moment onward, for three months, the young wife suffered all
the humiliations, all the insults, all the miseries that the diligent and
inventive mind of the husband could contrive, save physical injuries
only. Her strong pride stood by her, and she kept the secret of her
troubles. Now and then the husband said, "Why don't you go to your
father and tell him?" Then he invented new tortures, applied them, and
asked again. She always answered, "He shall never know by my mouth," and
taunted him with his origin; said she was the lawful slave of a scion of
slaves, and must obey, and would--up to that point, but no further; he
could kill her if he liked, but he could not break her; it was not in the
Sedgemoor breed to do it. At the end of the three months he said, with a
dark significance in his manner, "I have tried all things but one"--and
waited for her reply. "Try that," she said, and curled her lip in
That night he rose at midnight and put on his clothes, then said to her:
"Get up and dress!"
She obeyed--as always, without a word. He led her half a mile from the
house, and proceeded to lash her to a tree by the side of the public
road; and succeeded, she screaming and struggling. He gagged her then,
struck her across the face with his cowhide, and set his bloodhounds on
her. They tore the clothes off her, and she was naked. He called the
dogs off, and said:
"You will be found--by the passing public. They will be dropping along
about three hours from now, and will spread the news--do you hear?
Good-by. You have seen the last of me."
He went away then. She moaned to herself:
"I shall bear a child--to him! God grant it may be a boy!"
The farmers released her by and by--and spread the news, which was
natural. They raised the country with lynching intentions, but the bird
had flown. The young wife shut herself up in her father's house; he shut
himself up with her, and thenceforth would see no one. His pride was
broken, and his heart; so he wasted away, day by day, and even his
daughter rejoiced when death relieved him.
Then she sold the estate and disappeared.
In 1886 a young woman was living in a modest house near a secluded New
England village, with no company but a little boy about five years old.
She did her own work, she discouraged acquaintanceships, and had none.
The butcher, the baker, and the others that served her could tell the
villagers nothing about her further than that her name was Stillman, and
that she called the child Archy. Whence she came they had not been able
to find out, but they said she talked like a Southerner. The child had
no playmates and no comrade, and no teacher but the mother. She taught
him diligently and intelligently, and was satisfied with the results
--even a little proud of them. One day Archy said:
"Mamma, am I different from other children?"
"Well, I suppose not. Why?"
"There was a child going along out there and asked me if the postman had
been by and I said yes, and she said how long since I saw him and I said
I hadn't seen him at all, and she said how did I know he'd been by, then,
and I said because I smelt his track on the sidewalk, and she said I was
a dum fool and made a mouth at me. What did she do that for?"
The young woman turned white, and said to herself, "It's a birth mark!
The gift of the bloodhound is in him." She snatched the boy to her
breast and hugged him passionately, saying, "God has appointed the way!"
Her eyes were burning with a fierce light, and her breath came short and
quick with excitement. She said to herself: "The puzzle is solved now;
many a time it has been a mystery to me, the impossible things the child
has done in the dark, but it is all clear to me now."
She set him in his small chair, and said:
"Wait a little till I come, dear; then we will talk about the matter."
She went up to her room and took from her dressing-table several small
articles and put them out of sight: a nail-file on the floor under the
bed; a pair of nail-scissors under the bureau; a small ivory paper-knife
under the wardrobe. Then she returned, and said:
"There! I have left some things which I ought to have brought down."
She named them, and said, "Run up and bring them, dear."
The child hurried away on his errand and was soon back again with the
"Did you have any difficulty, dear?"
"No, mamma; I only went where you went."
During his absence she had stepped to the bookcase, taken several books
from the bottom shelf, opened each, passed her hand over a page, noting
its number in her memory, then restored them to their places. Now she
"I have been doing something while you have been gone, Archy. Do you
think you can find out what it was?"
The boy went to the bookcase and got out the books that had been touched,
and opened them at the pages which had been stroked.
The mother took him in her lap, and said:
"I will answer your question now, dear. I have found out that in one way
you are quite different from other people. You can see in the dark, you
can smell what other people cannot, you have the talents of a bloodhound.
They are good and valuable things to have, but you must keep the matter a
secret. If people found it out, they would speak of you as an odd child,
a strange child, and children would be disagreeable to you, and give you
nicknames. In this world one must be like everybody else if he doesn't
want to provoke scorn or envy or jealousy. It is a great and fine
distinction which has been born to you, and I am glad; but you will keep
it a secret, for mamma's sake, won't you?"
The child promised, without understanding.
All the rest of the day the mother's brain was busy with excited
thinkings; with plans, projects, schemes, each and all of them uncanny,
grim, and dark. Yet they lit up her face; lit it with a fell light of
their own; lit it with vague fires of hell. She was in a fever of
unrest; she could not sit, stand, read, sew; there was no relief for her
but in movement. She tested her boy's gift in twenty ways, and kept
saying to herself all the time, with her mind in the past: "He broke my
father's heart, and night and day all these years I have tried, and all
in vain, to think out a way to break his. I have found it now--I have
found it now."
When night fell, the demon of unrest still possessed her. She went on
with her tests; with a candle she traversed the house from garret to
cellar, hiding pins, needles, thimbles, spools, under pillows, under
carpets, in cracks in the walls, under the coal in the bin; then sent the
little fellow in the dark to find them; which he did, and was happy and
proud when she praised him and smothered him with caresses.
From this time forward life took on a new complexion for her. She said,
"The future is secure--I can wait, and enjoy the waiting." The most of
her lost interests revived. She took up music again, and languages,
drawing, painting, and the other long-discarded delights of her
maidenhood. She was happy once more, and felt again the zest of life.
As the years drifted by she watched the development of her boy, and was
contented with it. Not altogether, but nearly that. The soft side of
his heart was larger than the other side of it. It was his only defect,
in her eyes. But she considered that his love for her and worship of her
made up for it. He was a good hater--that was well; but it was a
question if the materials of his hatreds were of as tough and enduring a
quality as those of his friendships--and that was not so well.
The years drifted on. Archy was become a handsome, shapely, athletic
youth, courteous, dignified, companionable, pleasant in his ways, and
looking perhaps a trifle older than he was, which was sixteen. One
evening his mother said she had something of grave importance to say to
him, adding that he was old enough to hear it now, and old enough and
possessed of character enough and stability enough to carry out a stern
plan which she had been for years contriving and maturing. Then she told
him her bitter story, in all its naked atrociousness. For a while the
boy was paralyzed; then he said:
"I understand. We are Southerners; and by our custom and nature there is
but one atonement. I will search him out and kill him."
"Kill him? No! Death is release, emancipation; death is a favor. Do I
owe him favors? You must not hurt a hair of his head."
The boy was lost in thought awhile; then he said:
"You are all the world to me, and your desire is my law and my pleasure.
Tell me what to do and I will do it."
The mother's eyes beamed with satisfaction, and she said:
"You will go and find him. I have known his hiding-place for eleven
years; it cost me five years and more of inquiry, and much money, to
locate it. He is a quartz-miner in Colorado, and well-to-do. He lives
in Denver. His name is Jacob Fuller. There--it is the first time I have
spoken it since that unforgettable night. Think! That name could have
been yours if I had not saved you that shame and furnished you a cleaner
one. You will drive him from that place; you will hunt him down and
drive him again; and yet again, and again, and again, persistently,
relentlessly, poisoning his life, filling it with mysterious terrors,
loading it with weariness and misery, making him wish for death, and that
he had a suicide's courage; you will make of him another Wandering Jew;
he shall know no rest any more, no peace of mind, no placid sleep; you
shall shadow him, cling to him, persecute him, till you break his heart,
as he broke my father's and mine."
"I will obey, mother."
"I believe it, my child. The preparations are all made; everything is
ready. Here is a letter of credit; spend freely, there is no lack of
money. At times you may need disguises. I have provided them; also some
other conveniences." She took from the drawer of the typewriter-table
several squares of paper. They all bore these typewritten words:
It is believed that a certain man who is wanted in an Eastern state
is sojourning here. In 1880, in the night, he tied his young wife
to a tree by the public road, cut her across the face with a
cowhide, and made his dogs tear her clothes from her, leaving her
naked. He left her there, and fled the country. A blood-relative
of hers has searched for him for seventeen years. Address . . .
. . . . . . , . . . . . . . . . . , Post-office.
The above reward will be paid in cash to the person who will furnish
the seeker, in a personal interview, the criminal's address.
"When you have found him and acquainted yourself with his scent, you will
go in the night and placard one of these upon the building he occupies,
and another one upon the post-office or in some other prominent place.
It will be the talk of the region. At first you must give him several
days in which to force a sale of his belongings at something approaching
their value. We will ruin him by and by, but gradually; we must not
impoverish him at once, for that could bring him to despair and injure
his health, possibly kill him."
She took three or four more typewritten forms from the drawer
--duplicates--and read one:
. . . . . . . . . . , . . . . . . . . . . , 18.
. . .
To Jacob Fuller:
You have . . . . . . days in which to settle your affairs.
You will not be disturbed during that limit, which will expire at .
. . . . . M., on the . . . . . . of . . . . . . .
You must then MOVE ON. If you are still in the place after the
named hour, I will placard you on all the dead walls, detailing your
crime once more, and adding the date, also the scene of it, with all
names concerned, including your own. Have no fear of bodily injury
--it will in no circumstances ever be inflicted upon you. You
brought misery upon an old man, and ruined his life and broke his
heart. What he suffered, you are to suffer.
"You will add no signature. He must receive this before he learns of the
reward placard--before he rises in the morning--lest he lose his head and
fly the place penniless."
"I shall not forget."
"You will need to use these forms only in the beginning--once may be
enough. Afterward, when you are ready for him to vanish out of a place,
see that he gets a copy of this form, which merely says:
"MOVE ON. You have . . . . . . days."
"He will obey. That is sure."
Extracts from letters to the mother:
DENVER, April 3, 1897
I have now been living several days in the same hotel with Jacob Fuller.
I have his scent; I could track him through ten divisions of infantry and
find him. I have often been near him and heard him talk. He owns a good
mine, and has a fair income from it; but he is not rich. He learned
mining in a good way--by working at it for wages. He is a cheerful
creature, and his forty-three years sit lightly upon him; he could pass
for a younger man--say thirty-six or thirty-seven. He has never married
again--passes himself off for a widower. He stands well, is liked, is
popular, and has many friends. Even I feel a drawing toward him--the
paternal blood in me making its claim. How blind and unreasoning and
arbitrary are some of the laws of nature--the most of them, in fact! My
task is become hard now--you realize it? you comprehend, and make
allowances?--and the fire of it has cooled, more than I like to confess
to myself, But I will carry it out. Even with the pleasure paled, the
duty remains, and I will not spare him.
And for my help, a sharp resentment rises in me when I reflect that he
who committed that odious crime is the only one who has not suffered by
it. The lesson of it has manifestly reformed his character, and in the
change he is happy. He, the guilty party, is absolved from all
suffering; you, the innocent, are borne down with it. But be comforted
--he shall harvest his share.
SILVER GULCH, May 19
I placarded Form No. 1 at midnight of April 3; an hour later I slipped
Form No. 2 under his chamber door, notifying him to leave Denver at or
before 11.50 the night of the 14th.
Some late bird of a reporter stole one of my placards, then hunted the
town over and found the other one, and stole that. In this manner he
accomplished what the profession call a "scoop"--that is, he got a
valuable item, and saw to it that no other paper got it. And so his
paper--the principal one in the town--had it in glaring type on the
editorial page in the morning, followed by a Vesuvian opinion of our
wretch a column long, which wound up by adding a thousand dollars to our
reward on the paper's account! The journals out here know how to do the
noble thing--when there's business in it.
At breakfast I occupied my usual seat--selected because it afforded a
view of papa Fuller's face, and was near enough for me to hear the talk
that went on at his table. Seventy-five or a hundred people were in the
room, and all discussing that item, and saying they hoped the seeker
would find that rascal and remove the pollution of his presence from the
town--with a rail, or a bullet, or something.
When Fuller came in he had the Notice to Leave--folded up--in one hand,
and the newspaper in the other; and it gave me more than half a pang to
see him. His cheerfulness was all gone, and he looked old and pinched
and ashy. And then--only think of the things he had to listen to!
Mamma, he heard his own unsuspecting friends describe him with epithets
and characterizations drawn from the very dictionaries and phrase-books
of Satan's own authorized editions down below. And more than that, he
had to agree with the verdicts and applaud them. His applause tasted
bitter in his mouth, though; he could not disguise that from me; and it
was observable that his appetite was gone; he only nibbled; he couldn't
eat. Finally a man said:
"It is quite likely that that relative is in the room and hearing what
this town thinks of that unspeakable scoundrel. I hope so."
Ah, dear, it was pitiful the way Fuller winced, and glanced around
scared! He couldn't endure any more, and got up and left.
During several days he gave out that he had bought a mine in Mexico, and
wanted to sell out and go down there as soon as he could, and give the
property his personal attention. He played his cards well; said he would
take $40,000--a quarter in cash, the rest in safe notes; but that as he
greatly needed money on account of his new purchase, he would diminish
his terms for cash in full, He sold out for $30,000. And then, what do
you think he did? He asked for greenbacks, and took them, saying the man
in Mexico was a New-Englander, with a head full of crotchets, and
preferred greenbacks to gold or drafts. People thought it queer, since a
draft on New York could produce greenbacks quite conveniently. There was
talk of this odd thing, but only for a day; that is as long as any topic
lasts in Denver.
I was watching, all the time. As soon as the sale was completed and the
money paid--which was on the 11th--I began to stick to Fuller's track
without dropping it for a moment. That night--no, 12th, for it was a
little past midnight--I tracked him to his room, which was four doors
from mine in the same hall; then I went back and put on my muddy
day-laborer disguise, darkened my complexion, and sat down in my room in
the gloom, with a gripsack handy, with a change in it, and my door ajar.
For I suspected that the bird would take wing now. In half an hour an
old woman passed by, carrying a grip: I caught the familiar whiff, and
followed with my grip, for it was Fuller. He left the hotel by a side
entrance, and at the corner he turned up an unfrequented street and
walked three blocks in a light rain and a heavy darkness, and got into a
two-horse hack, which of course was waiting for him by appointment. I
took a seat (uninvited) on the trunk platform behind, and we drove
briskly off. We drove ten miles, and the hack stopped at a way-station
and was discharged. Fuller got out and took a seat on a barrow under the
awning, as far as he could get from the light; I went inside, and watched
the ticket-office. Fuller bought no ticket; I bought none. Presently
the train came along, and he boarded a car; I entered the same car at the
other end, and came down the aisle and took the seat behind him. When he
paid the conductor and named his objective point, I dropped back several
seats, while the conductor was changing a bill, and when he came to me I
paid to the same place--about a hundred miles westward.
From that time for a week on end he led me a dance. He traveled here and
there and yonder--always on a general westward trend--but he was not a
woman after the first day. He was a laborer, like myself, and wore bushy
false whiskers. His outfit was perfect, and he could do the character
without thinking about it, for he had served the trade for wages. His
nearest friend could not have recognized him. At last he located himself
here, the obscurest little mountain camp in Montana; he has a shanty, and
goes out prospecting daily; is gone all day, and avoids society. I am
living at a miner's boardinghouse, and it is an awful place: the bunks,
the food, the dirt--everything.
We have been here four weeks, and in that time I have seen him but once;
but every night I go over his track and post myself. As soon as he
engaged a shanty here I went to a town fifty miles away and telegraphed
that Denver hotel to keep my baggage till I should send for it. I need
nothing here but a change of army shirts, and I brought that with me.
SILVER GULCH, June 12
The Denver episode has never found its way here, I think. I know the
most of the men in camp, and they have never referred to it, at least in
my hearing. Fuller doubtless feels quite safe in these conditions. He
has located a claim, two miles away, in an out-of-the-way place in the
mountains; it promises very well, and he is working it diligently. Ah,
but the change in him! He never smiles, and he keeps quite to himself,
consorting with no one--he who was so fond of company and so cheery only
two months ago. I have seen him passing along several times recently
--drooping, forlorn, the spring gone from his step, a pathetic figure.
He calls himself David Wilson.
I can trust him to remain here until we disturb him. Since you insist, I
will banish him again, but I do not see how he can be unhappier than he
already is. I will go hack to Denver and treat myself to a little season
of comfort, and edible food, and endurable beds, and bodily decency; then
I will fetch my things, and notify poor papa Wilson to move on.
DENVER, June 19
They miss him here. They all hope he is prospering in Mexico, and they
do not say it just with their mouths, but out of their hearts. You know
you can always tell. I am loitering here overlong, I confess it. But if
you were in my place you would have charity for me. Yes, I know what you
will say, and you are right: if I were in your place, and carried your
scalding memories in my heart--
I will take the night train back to-morrow.
DENVER, June 20
God forgive us, mother, me are hunting the wrong man! I have not slept
any all night. I am now awaiting, at dawn, for the morning train--and
how the minutes drag, how they drag!
This Jacob Fuller is a cousin of the guilty one. How stupid we have been
not to reflect that the guilty one would never again wear his own name
after that fiendish deed! The Denver Fuller is four years younger than
the other one; he came here a young widower in '79, aged twenty-one--a
year before you were married; and the documents to prove it are
innumerable. Last night I talked with familiar friends of his who have
known him from the day of his arrival. I said nothing, but a few days
from now I will land him in this town again, with the loss upon his mine
made good; and there will be a banquet, and a torch-light procession, and
there will not be any expense on anybody but me. Do you call this
"gush"? I am only a boy, as you well know; it is my privilege. By and
by I shall not be a boy any more.
SILVER GULCH, July 3
Mother, he is gone! Gone, and left no trace. The scent was cold when I
came. To-day I am out of bed for the first time since. I wish I were
not a boy; then I could stand shocks better. They all think he went
west. I start to-night, in a wagon--two or three hours of that, then I
get a train. I don't know where I'm going, but I must go; to try to keep
still would be torture.
Of course he has effaced himself with a new name and a disguise. This
means that I may have to search the whole globe to find him. Indeed it
is what I expect. Do you see, mother? It is I that am the Wandering
Jew. The irony of it! We arranged that for another.
Think of the difficulties! And there would be none if I only could
advertise for him. But if there is any way to do it that would not
frighten him, I have not been able to think it out, and I have tried till
my brains are addled. "If the gentleman who lately bought a mine in
Mexico and sold one in Denver will send his address to" (to whom,
mother!), "it will be explained to him that it was all a mistake; his
forgiveness will be asked, and full reparation made for a loss which he
sustained in a certain matter." Do you see? He would think it a trap.
Well, any one would. If I should say, "It is now known that he was not
the man wanted, but another man--a man who once bore the same name, but
discarded it for good reasons"--would that answer? But the Denver people
would wake up then and say "Oho!" and they would remember about the
suspicious greenbacks, and say, "Why did he run away if he wasn't the
right man?--it is too thin." If I failed to find him he would be ruined
there--there where there is no taint upon him now. You have a better
head than mine. Help me.
I have one clue, and only one. I know his handwriting. If he puts his
new false name upon a hotel register and does not disguise it too much,
it will be valuable to me if I ever run across it.
SAN FRANCISCO, June 28, 1898
You already know how well I have searched the states from Colorado to the
Pacific, and how nearly I came to getting him once. Well, I have had
another close miss. It was here, yesterday. I struck his trail, hot, on
the street, and followed it on a run to a cheap hotel. That was a costly
mistake; a dog would have gone the other way. But I am only part dog,
and can get very humanly stupid when excited. He had been stopping in
that house ten days; I almost know, now, that he stops long nowhere, the
past six or eight months, but is restless and has to keep moving. I
understand that feeling! and I know what it is to feel it. He still
uses the name he had registered when I came so near catching him nine
months ago--"James Walker"; doubtless the same he adopted when he fled
from Silver Gulch. An unpretending man, and has small taste for fancy
names. I recognized the hand easily, through its slight disguise. A
square man, and not good at shams and pretenses.
They said he was just gone, on a journey; left no address; didn't say
where he was going; looked frightened when asked to leave his address;
had no baggage but a cheap valise; carried it off on foot--a "stingy old
person, and not much loss to the house." "Old!" I suppose he is, now I
hardly heard; I was there but a moment. I rushed along his trail, and it
led me to a wharf. Mother, the smoke of the steamer he had taken was
just fading out on the horizon! I should have saved half on hour if I
had gone in the right direction at first. I could have taken a fast tug,
and should have stood a chance of catching that vessel. She is bound for
HOPE CANYON, CALIFORNIA, October 3, 1900
You have a right to complain. "A letter a year" is a paucity; I freely
acknowledge it; but how can one write when there is nothing to write
about but failures? No one can keep it up; it breaks the heart,
I told you--it seems ages ago, now--how I missed him at Melbourne, and
then chased him all over Australasia for months on end.
Well, then, after that I followed him to India; almost saw him in Bombay;
traced him all around--to Baroda, Rawal-Pindi, Lucknow, Lahore, Cawnpore,
Allahabad, Calcutta, Madras--oh, everywhere; week after week, month after
month, through the dust and swelter--always approximately on his track,
sometimes close upon him, get never catching him. And down to Ceylon,
and then to--Never mind; by and by I will write it all out.
I chased him home to California, and down to Mexico, and back again to
California. Since then I have been hunting him about the state from the
first of last January down to a month ago. I feel almost sure he is not
far from Hope Canyon; I traced him to a point thirty miles from here, but
there I lost the trail; some one gave him a lift in a wagon, I suppose.
I am taking a rest, now--modified by searchings for the lost trail. I
was tired to death, mother, and low-spirited, and sometimes coming
uncomfortably near to losing hope; but the miners in this little camp are
good fellows, and I am used to their sort this long time back; and their
breezy ways freshen a person up and make him forget his troubles. I have
been here a month. I am cabining with a young fellow named "Sammy"
Hillyer, about twenty-five, the only son of his mother--like me--and
loves her dearly, and writes to her every week--part of which is like me.
He is a timid body, and in the matter of intellect--well, he cannot be
depended upon to set a river on fire; but no matter, he is well liked; he
is good and fine, and it is meat and bread and rest and luxury to sit and
talk with him and have a comradeship again. I wish "James Walker" could
have it. He had friends; he liked company. That brings up that picture
of him, the time that I saw him last. The pathos of it! It comes before
me often and often. At that very time, poor thing, I was girding up my
conscience to make him move on again!
Hillyer's heart is better than mine, better than anybody's in the
community, I suppose, for he is the one friend of the black sheep of the
camp--Flint Buckner--and the only man Flint ever talks with or allows to
talk with him. He says he knows Flint's history, and that it is trouble
that has made him what he is, and so one ought to be as charitable toward
him as one can. Now none but a pretty large heart could find space to
accommodate a lodger like Flint Buckner, from all I hear about him
outside. I think that this one detail will give you a better idea of
Sammy's character than any labored-out description I could furnish you of
him. In one of our talks he said something about like this: "Flint is a
kinsman of mine, and he pours out all his troubles to me--empties his
breast from time to time, or I reckon it would burst. There couldn't be
any unhappier man, Archy Stillman; his life had been made up of misery of
mind--he isn't near as old as he looks. He has lost the feel of
reposefulness and peace--oh, years and years ago! He doesn't know what
good luck is--never has had any; often says he wishes he was in the other
hell, he is so tired of this one."
"No real gentleman will tell the naked truth in the
presence of ladies."
It was a crisp and spicy morning in early October. The lilacs and
laburnums, lit with the glory-fires of autumn, hung burning and flashing
in the upper air, a fairy bridge provided by kind Nature for the wingless
wild things that have their homes in the tree-tops and would visit
together; the larch and the pomegranate flung their purple and yellow
flames in brilliant broad splashes along the slanting sweep of the
woodland; the sensuous fragrance of innumerable deciduous flowers rose
upon the swooning atmosphere; far in he empty sky a solitary oesophagus
slept upon motionless wing; everywhere brooded stillness, serenity, and
the peace of God.
October is the time--1900; Hope Canyon is the place, a silver-mining camp
away down in the Esmeralda region. It is a secluded spot, high and
remote; recent as to discovery; thought by its occupants to be rich in
metal--a year or two's prospecting will decide that matter one way or the
other. For inhabitants, the camp has about two hundred miners, one white
woman and child, several Chinese washermen, five squaws, and a dozen
vagrant buck Indians in rabbit-skin robes, battered plug hats, and
tin-can necklaces. There are no mills as yet; no church, no newspaper.
The camp has existed but two years; it has made no big strike; the world
is ignorant of its name and place.
On both sides of the canyon the mountains rise wall-like, three thousand
feet, and the long spiral of straggling huts down in its narrow bottom
gets a kiss from the sun only once a day, when he sails over at noon.
The village is a couple of miles long; the cabins stand well apart from
each other. The tavern is the only "frame" house--the only house, one
might say. It occupies a central position, and is the evening resort of
the population. They drink there, and play seven-up and dominoes; also
billiards, for there is a table, crossed all over with torn places
repaired with court-plaster; there are some cues, but no leathers; some
chipped balls which clatter when they run, and do not slow up gradually,
but stop suddenly and sit down; there is a part of a cube of chalk, with
a projecting jag of flint in it; and the man who can score six on a
single break can set up the drinks at the bar's expense.
Flint Buckner's cabin was the last one of the village, going south; his
silver-claim was at the other end of the village, northward, and a little
beyond the last hut in that direction. He was a sour creature,
unsociable, and had no companionships. People who had tried to get
acquainted with him had regretted it and dropped him. His history was
not known. Some believed that Sammy Hillyer knew it; others said no.
If asked, Hillyer said no, he was not acquainted with it. Flint had a
meek English youth of sixteen or seventeen with him, whom he treated
roughly, both in public and in private; and of course this lad was
applied to for information, but with no success. Fetlock Jones--name of
the youth--said that Flint picked him up on a prospecting tramp, and as
he had neither home nor friends in America, he had found it wise to stay
and take Buckner's hard usage for the sake of the salary, which was bacon
and beans. Further than this he could offer no testimony.
Fetlock had been in this slavery for a month now, and under his meek
exterior he was slowly consuming to a cinder with the insults and
humiliations which his master had put upon him. For the meek suffer
bitterly from these hurts; more bitterly, perhaps, than do the manlier
sort, who can burst out and get relief with words or blows when the limit
of endurance has been reached. Good-hearted people wanted to help
Fetlock out of his trouble, and tried to get him to leave Buckner; but
the boy showed fright at the thought, and said he "dasn't." Pat Riley
urged him, and said:
"You leave the damned hunks and come with me; don't you be afraid. I'll
take care of him."
The boy thanked him with tears in his eyes, but shuddered and said he
"dasn't risk it"; he said Flint would catch him alone, some time, in the
night, and then--"Oh, it makes me sick, Mr. Riley, to think of it."
Others said, "Run away from him; we'll stake you; skip out for the coast
some night." But all these suggestions failed; he said Flint would hunt
him down and fetch him back, just for meanness.
The people could not understand this. The boy's miseries went steadily
on, week after week. It is quite likely that the people would have
understood if they had known how he was employing his spare time. He
slept in an out-cabin near Flint's; and there, nights, he nursed his
bruises and his humiliations, and studied and studied over a single
problem--how he could murder Flint Buckner and not be found out. It was
the only joy he had in life; these hours were the only ones in the
twenty-four which he looked forward to with eagerness and spent in
He thought of poison. No--that would not serve; the inquest would reveal
where it was procured and who had procured it. He thought of a shot in
the back in a lonely place when Flint would be homeward bound at
midnight--his unvarying hour for the trip. No--somebody might be near,
and catch him. He thought of stabbing him in his sleep. No--he might
strike an inefficient blow, and Flint would seize him. He examined a
hundred different ways--none of them would answer; for in even the very
obscurest and secretest of them there was always the fatal defect of a
risk, a chance, a possibility that he might be found out. He would have
none of that.
But he was patient, endlessly patient. There was no hurry, he said to
himself. He would never leave Flint till he left him a corpse; there was
no hurry--he would find the way. It was somewhere, and he would endure
shame and pain and misery until he found it. Yes, somewhere there was a
way which would leave not a trace, not even the faintest clue to the
murderer--there was no hurry--he would find that way, and then--oh, then,
it would just be good to be alive! Meantime he would diligently keep up
his reputation for meekness; and also, as always theretofore, he would
allow no one to hear him say a resentful or offensive thing about his
Two days before the before-mentioned October morning Flint had bought
some things, and he and Fetlock had brought them home to Flint's cabin: a
fresh box of candles, which they put in the corner; a tin can of
blasting-powder, which they placed upon the candle-box; a keg of
blasting-powder, which they placed under Flint's bunk; a huge coil of
fuse, which they hung on a peg. Fetlock reasoned that Flint's mining
operations had outgrown the pick, and that blasting was about to begin
now. He had seen blasting done, and he had a notion of the process, but
he had never helped in it. His conjecture was right--blasting-time had
come. In the morning the pair carried fuse, drills, and the powder-can
to the shaft; it was now eight feet deep, and to get into it and out of
it a short ladder was used. They descended, and by command Fetlock held
the drill--without any instructions as to the right way to hold it--and
Flint proceeded to strike. The sledge came down; the drill sprang out of
Fetlock's hand, almost as a matter of course.
"You mangy son of a nigger, is that any way to hold a drill? Pick it up!
Stand it up! There--hold fast. D--you! I'll teach you!"
At the end of an hour the drilling was finished.
"Now, then, charge it."
The boy started to pour in the powder.
A heavy bat on the jaw laid the lad out.
"Get up! You can't lie sniveling there. Now, then, stick in the fuse
first. Now put in the powder. Hold on, hold on! Are you going to fill
the hole all up? Of all the sap-headed milksops I--Put in some dirt!
Put in some gravel! Tamp it down! Hold on, hold on! Oh, great Scott!
get out of the way!" He snatched the iron and tamped the charge himself,
meantime cursing and blaspheming like a fiend. Then he fired the fuse,
climbed out of the shaft, and ran fifty yards away, Fetlock following.
They stood waiting a few minutes, then a great volume of smoke and rocks
burst high into the air with a thunderous explosion; after a little there
was a shower of descending stones; then all was serene again.
"I wish to God you'd been in it!" remarked the master.
They went down the shaft, cleaned it out, drilled another hole, and put
in another charge.
"Look here! How much fuse are you proposing to waste? Don't you know
how to time a fuse?"
"You don't! Well, if you don't beat anything I ever saw!"
He climbed out of the shaft and spoke down:
"Well, idiot, are you going to be all day? Cut the fuse and light it!"
The trembling creature began:
"If you please, sir, I--"
"You talk back to me? Cut it and light it!"
The boy cut and lit.
"Ger-reat Scott! a one-minute fuse! I wish you were in--"
In his rage he snatched the ladder out of the shaft and ran. The boy was
"Oh, my God! Help. Help! Oh, save me!" he implored. "Oh, what can I
do! What can I do!"
He backed against the wall as tightly as he could; the sputtering fuse
frightened the voice out of him; his breath stood still; he stood gazing
and impotent; in two seconds, three seconds, four he would be flying
toward the sky torn to fragments. Then he had an inspiration. He sprang
at the fuse; severed the inch of it that was left above ground, and was
He sank down limp and half lifeless with fright, his strength gone; but
he muttered with a deep joy:
"He has learnt me! I knew there was a way, if I would wait."
After a matter of five minutes Buckner stole to the shaft, looking
worried and uneasy, and peered down into it. He took in the situation;
he saw what had happened. He lowered the ladder, and the boy dragged
himself weakly up it. He was very white. His appearance added something
to Buckner's uncomfortable state, and he said, with a show of regret and
sympathy which sat upon him awkwardly from lack of practice:
"It was an accident, you know. Don't say anything about it to anybody;
I was excited, and didn't notice what I was doing. You're not looking
well; you've worked enough for to-day; go down to my cabin and eat what
you want, and rest. It's just an accident, you know, on account of my
"It scared me," said the lad, as he started away; "but I learnt
something, so I don't mind it."
"Damned easy to please!" muttered Buckner, following him with his eye.
"I wonder if he'll tell? Mightn't he?... I wish it had killed him."
The boy took no advantage of his holiday in the matter of resting; he
employed it in work, eager and feverish and happy work. A thick growth
of chaparral extended down the mountainside clear to Flint's cabin; the
most of Fetlock's labor was done in the dark intricacies of that stubborn
growth; the rest of it was done in his own shanty. At last all was
complete, and he said:
"If he's got any suspicions that I'm going to tell on him, he won't keep
them long, to-morrow. He will see that I am the same milksop as I always
was--all day and the next. And the day after to-morrow night there 'll
be an end of him; nobody will ever guess who finished him up nor how it
was done. He dropped me the idea his own self, and that's odd."
The next day came and went.
It is now almost midnight, and in five minutes the new morning will
begin. The scene is in the tavern billiard-room. Rough men in rough
clothing, slouch-hats, breeches stuffed into boot-tops, some with vests,
none with coats, are grouped about the boiler-iron stove, which has ruddy
cheeks and is distributing a grateful warmth; the billiard-balls are
clacking; there is no other sound--that is, within; the wind is fitfully
moaning without. The men look bored; also expectant. A hulking
broad-shouldered miner, of middle age, with grizzled whiskers, and an
unfriendly eye set in an unsociable face, rises, slips a coil of fuse
upon his arm, gathers up some other personal properties, and departs
without word or greeting to anybody. It is Flint Buckner. As the door
closes behind him a buzz of talk breaks out.
"The regularest man that ever was," said Jake Parker, the blacksmith:
"you can tell when it's twelve just by him leaving, without looking at
"And it's the only virtue he's got, as fur as I know," said Peter Hawes,
"He's just a blight on this society," said Wells-Fargo's man, Ferguson.
"If I was running this shop I'd make him say something, some time or
other, or vamos the ranch." This with a suggestive glance at the
barkeeper, who did not choose to see it, since the man under discussion
was a good customer, and went home pretty well set up, every night, with
refreshments furnished from the bar.
"Say," said Ham Sandwich, miner, "does any of you boys ever recollect of
him asking you to take a drink?"
"Him? Flint Buckner? Oh, Laura!"
This sarcastic rejoinder came in a spontaneous general outburst in one
form of words or another from the crowd. After a brief silence, Pat
Riley, miner, said:
"He's the 15-puzzle, that cuss. And his boy's another one. I can't make
"Nor anybody else," said Ham Sandwich; "and if they are 15-puzzles how
are you going to rank up that other one? When it comes to A 1 right-down
solid mysteriousness, he lays over both of them. Easy--don't he?"
Everybody said it. Every man but one. He was the new-comer--Peterson.
He ordered the drinks all round, and asked who No. 3 might be. All
answered at once, "Archy Stillman!"
"Is he a mystery?" asked Peterson.
"Is he a mystery? Is Archy Stillman a mystery?" said Wells-Fargo's man,
Ferguson. "Why, the fourth dimension's foolishness to him."
For Ferguson was learned.
Peterson wanted to hear all about him; everybody wanted to tell him;
everybody began. But Billy Stevens, the barkeeper, called the house to
order, and said one at a time was best. He distributed the drinks, and
appointed Ferguson to lead. Ferguson said:
"Well, he's a boy. And that is just about all we know about him. You
can pump him till you are tired; it ain't any use; you won't get
anything. At least about his intentions, or line of business, or where
he's from, and such things as that. And as for getting at the nature and
get-up of his main big chief mystery, why, he'll just change the subject,
that's all. You can guess till you're black in the face--it's your
privilege--but suppose you do, where do you arrive at? Nowhere, as near
as I can make out."
"What is his big chief one?"
"Sight, maybe. Hearing, maybe. Instinct, maybe. Magic, maybe. Take
your choice--grownups, twenty-five; children and servants, half price.
Now I'll tell you what he can do. You can start here, and just
disappear; you can go and hide wherever you want to, I don't care where
it is, nor how far--and he'll go straight and put his finger on you."
"You don't mean it!"
"I just do, though. Weather's nothing to him--elemental conditions is
nothing to him--he don't even take notice of them."
"Oh, come! Dark? Rain? Snow? Hey?"
"It's all the same to him. He don't give a damn."
"Oh, say--including fog, per'aps?"
"Fog! he's got an eye 't can plunk through it like a bullet."
"Now, boys, honor bright, what's he giving me?"
"It's a fact!" they all shouted. "Go on, Wells-Fargo."
"Well, sir, you can leave him here, chatting with the boys, and you can
slip out and go to any cabin in this camp and open a book--yes, sir, a
dozen of them--and take the page in your memory, and he'll start out and
go straight to that cabin and open every one of them books at the right
page, and call it off, and never make a mistake."
"He must be the devil!"
"More than one has thought it. Now I'll tell you a perfectly wonderful
thing that he done. The other night he--"
There was a sudden great murmur of sounds outside, the door flew open,
and an excited crowd burst in, with the camp's one white woman in the
lead and crying:
"My child! my child! she's lost and gone! For the love of God help me
to find Archy Stillman; we've hunted everywhere!"
Said the barkeeper:
"Sit down, sit down, Mrs. Hogan, and don't worry. He asked for a bed
three hours ago, tuckered out tramping the trails the way he's always
doing, and went up-stairs. Ham Sandwich, run up and roust him out; he's
in No. 14."
The youth was soon down-stairs and ready. He asked Mrs. Hogan for
"Bless you, dear, there ain't any; I wish there was. I put her to sleep
at seven in the evening, and when I went in there an hour ago to go to
bed myself, she was gone. I rushed for your cabin, dear, and you wasn't
there, and I've hunted for you ever since, at every cabin down the gulch,
and now I've come up again, and I'm that distracted and scared and
heart-broke; but, thanks to God, I've found you at last, dear heart,
and you'll find my child. Come on! come quick!"
"Move right along; I'm with you, madam. Go to your cabin first."
The whole company streamed out to join the hunt. All the southern half
of the village was up, a hundred men strong, and waiting outside, a vague
dark mass sprinkled with twinkling lanterns. The mass fell into columns
by threes and fours to accommodate itself to the narrow road, and strode
briskly along southward in the wake of the leaders. In a few minutes the
Hogan cabin was reached.
"There's the bunk," said Mrs. Hogan; "there's where she was; it's where
I laid her at seven o'clock; but where she is now, God only knows."
"Hand me a lantern," said Archy. He set it on the hard earth floor and
knelt by it, pretending to examine the ground closely. "Here's her
track," he said, touching the ground here and there and yonder with his
finger. "Do you see?"
Several of the company dropped upon their knees and did their best to
see. One or two thought they discerned something like a track; the
others shook their heads and confessed that the smooth hard surface had
no marks upon it which their eyes were sharp enough to discover. One
said, "Maybe a child's foot could make a mark on it, but I don't see
Young Stillman stepped outside, held the light to the ground, turned
leftward, and moved three steps, closely examining; then said, "I've got
the direction--come along; take the lantern, somebody."
He strode off swiftly southward, the files following, swaying and bending
in and out with the deep curves of the gorge. Thus a mile, and the mouth
of the gorge was reached; before them stretched the sagebrush plain, dim,
vast, and vague. Stillman called a halt, saying, "We mustn't start
wrong, now; we must take the direction again."
He took a lantern and examined the ground for a matter of twenty yards;
then said, "Come on; it's all right," and gave up the lantern. In and
out among the sage-bushes he marched, a quarter of a mile, bearing
gradually to the right; then took a new direction and made another great
semicircle; then changed again and moved due west nearly half a mile--and
"She gave it up, here, poor little chap. Hold the lantern. You can see
where she sat."
But this was in a slick alkali flat which was surfaced like steel, and no
person in the party was quite hardy enough to claim an eyesight that
could detect the track of a cushion on a veneer like that. The bereaved
mother fell upon her knees and kissed the spot, lamenting.
"But where is she, then?" some one said. "She didn't stay here. We can
see that much, anyway."
Stillman moved about in a circle around the place, with the lantern,
pretending to hunt for tracks.
"Well!" he said presently, in an annoyed tone, "I don't understand it."
He examined again. "No use. She was here--that's certain; she never
walked away from here--and that's certain. It's a puzzle; I can't make
The mother lost heart then.
"Oh, my God! oh, blessed Virgin! some flying beast has got her. I'll
never see her again!"
"Ah, don't give up," said Archy. "We'll find her--don't give up."
"God bless you for the words, Archy Stillman!" and she seized his hand
and kissed it fervently.
Peterson, the new-comer, whispered satirically in Ferguson's ear:
"Wonderful performance to find this place, wasn't it? Hardly worth while
to come so far, though; any other supposititious place would have
answered just as well--hey?"
Ferguson was not pleased with the innuendo. He said, with some warmth:
"Do you mean to insinuate that the child hasn't been here? I tell you
the child has been here! Now if you want to get yourself into as tidy a
little fuss as--"
"All right!" sang out Stillman. "Come, everybody, and look at this! It
was right under our noses all the time, and we didn't see it."
There was a general plunge for the ground at the place where the child
was alleged to have rested, and many eyes tried hard and hopefully to see
the thing that Archy's finger was resting upon. There was a pause, then
a several-barreled sigh of disappointment. Pat Riley and Ham Sandwich
said, in the one breath:
"What is it, Archy? There's nothing here."
"Nothing? Do you call that nothing?" and he swiftly traced upon the
ground a form with his finger. "There--don't you recognize it now? It's
Injun Billy's track. He's got the child."
"God be praised!" from the mother.
"Take away the lantern. I've got the direction. Follow!"
He started on a run, racing in and out among the sage-bushes a matter of
three hundred yards, and disappeared over a sand-wave; the others
struggled after him, caught him up, and found him waiting. Ten steps
away was a little wickiup, a dim and formless shelter of rags and old
horse-blankets, a dull light showing through its chinks.
"You lead, Mrs. Hogan," said the lad. "It's your privilege to be first."
All followed the sprint she made for the wickiup, and saw, with her, the
picture its interior afforded. Injun Billy was sitting on the ground;
the child was asleep beside him. The mother hugged it with a wild
embrace, which included Archy Stillman, the grateful tears running down
her face, and in a choked and broken voice she poured out a golden stream
of that wealth of worshiping endearments which has its home in full
richness nowhere but in the Irish heart.
"I find her bymeby it is ten o'clock," Billy explained. "She 'sleep out
yonder, ve'y tired--face wet, been cryin', 'spose; fetch her home, feed
her, she heap much hungry--go 'sleep 'gin."
In her limitless gratitude the happy mother waived rank and hugged him
too, calling him "the angel of God in disguise." And he probably was in
disguise if he was that kind of an official. He was dressed for the
At half past one in the morning the procession burst into the village
singing, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," waving its lanterns and
swallowing the drinks that were brought out all along its course. It
concentrated at the tavern, and made a night of what was left of the
The next afternoon the village was electrified with an immense sensation.
A grave and dignified foreigner of distinguished bearing and appearance
had arrived at the tavern, and entered this formidable name upon the
The news buzzed from cabin to cabin, from claim to claim; tools were
dropped, and the town swarmed toward the center of interest. A man
passing out at the northern end of the village shouted it to Pat Riley,
whose claim was the next one to Flint Buckner's. At that time Fetlock
Jones seemed to turn sick. He muttered to himself:
"Uncle Sherlock! The mean luck of it!--that he should come just when...."
He dropped into a reverie, and presently said to himself: "But what's the
use of being afraid of him? Anybody that knows him the way I do knows he
can't detect a crime except where he plans it all out beforehand and
arranges the clues and hires some fellow to commit it according to
instructions.... Now there ain't going to be any clues this time--so,
what show has he got? None at all. No, sir; everything's ready. If I
was to risk putting it off--No, I won't run any risk like that. Flint
Buckner goes out of this world to-night, for sure." Then another trouble
presented itself. "Uncle Sherlock 'll be wanting to talk home matters
with me this evening, and how am I going to get rid of him? for I've got
to be at my cabin a minute or two about eight o'clock." This was an
awkward matter, and cost him much thought. But he found a way to beat
the difficulty. "We'll go for a walk, and I'll leave him in the road a
minute, so that he won't see what it is I do: the best way to throw a
detective off the track, anyway, is to have him along when you are
preparing the thing. Yes, that's the safest--I'll take him with me."
Meantime the road in front of the tavern was blocked with villagers
waiting and hoping for a glimpse of the great man. But he kept his room,
and did not appear. None but Ferguson, Jake Parker the blacksmith, and
Ham Sandwich had any luck. These enthusiastic admirers of the great
scientific detective hired the tavern's detained-baggage lockup, which
looked into the detective's room across a little alleyway ten or twelve
feet wide, ambushed themselves in it, and cut some peep-holes in the
window-blind. Mr. Holmes's blinds were down; but by and by he raised
them. It gave the spies a hair-lifting but pleasurable thrill to find
themselves face to face with the Extraordinary Man who had filled the
world with the fame of his more than human ingenuities. There he sat
--not a myth, not a shadow, but real, alive, compact of substance, and
almost within touching distance with the hand.
"Look at that head!" said Ferguson, in an awed voice. "By gracious!
that's a head!"
"You bet!" said the blacksmith, with deep reverence. "Look at his nose!
look at his eyes! Intellect? Just a battery of it!"
"And that paleness," said Ham Sandwich. "Comes from thought--that's what
it comes from. Hell! duffers like us don't know what real thought is."
"No more we don't," said Ferguson. "What we take for thinking is just
"Right you are, Wells-Fargo. And look at that frown--that's deep
thinking--away down, down, forty fathom into the bowels of things. He's
on the track of something."
"Well, he is, and don't you forget it. Say--look at that awful gravity
--look at that pallid solemness--there ain't any corpse can lay over it."
"No, sir, not for dollars! And it's his'n by hereditary rights, too;
he's been dead four times a'ready, and there's history for it. Three
times natural, once by accident. I've heard say he smells damp and cold,
like a grave. And he--"
"'Sh! Watch him! There--he's got his thumb on the bump on the near
corner of his forehead, and his forefinger on the off one. His
think-works is just a-grinding now, you bet your other shirt."
"That's so. And now he's gazing up toward heaven and stroking his
mustache slow, and--"
"Now he has rose up standing, and is putting his clues together on his
left fingers with his right finger. See? he touches the forefinger--now
middle finger--now ring-finger--"
"Look at him scowl! He can't seem to make out that clue. So he--"
"See him smile!--like a tiger--and tally off the other fingers like
nothing! He's got it, boys; he's got it sure!"
"Well, I should say! I'd hate to be in that man's place that he's
Mr. Holmes drew a table to the window, sat down with his back to the
spies, and proceeded to write. The spies withdrew their eyes from the
peep-holes, lit their pipes, and settled themselves for a comfortable
smoke and talk. Ferguson said, with conviction:
"Boys, it's no use talking, he's a wonder! He's got the signs of it all
"You hain't ever said a truer word than that, Wells-Fargo," said Jake
Parker. "Say, wouldn't it 'a' been nuts if he'd a-been here last night?"
"Oh, by George, but wouldn't it!" said Ferguson. "Then we'd have seen
scientific work. Intellect--just pure intellect--away up on the upper
levels, dontchuknow. Archy is all right, and it don't become anybody to
belittle him, I can tell you. But his gift is only just eyesight, sharp
as an owl's, as near as I can make it out just a grand natural animal
talent, no more, no less, and prime as far as it goes, but no intellect
in it, and for awfulness and marvelousness no more to be compared to what
this man does than--than--Why, let me tell you what he'd have done. He'd
have stepped over to Hogan's and glanced--just glanced, that's all--at
the premises, and that's enough. See everything? Yes, sir, to the last
little detail; and he'll know more about that place than the Hogans would
know in seven years. Next, he would sit down on the bunk, just as ca'm,
and say to Mrs. Hogan--Say, Ham, consider that you are Mrs. Hogan. I'll
ask the questions; you answer them."
"All right; go on."
"'Madam, if you please--attention--do not let your mind wander. Now,
then--sex of the child?'
"'Female, your Honor.'
"'Um--female. Very good, very good. Age?'
"'Turned six, your Honor.'
"'Um--young, weak--two miles. Weariness will overtake it then. It will
sink down and sleep. We shall find it two miles away, or less. Teeth?'
"'Five, your Honor, and one a-coming.'
"'Very good, very good, very good, indeed.' You see, boys, he knows a
clue when he sees it, when it wouldn't mean a dern thing to anybody else.
'Stockings, madam? Shoes?'
"'Yes, your Honor--both.'
"'Yarn, perhaps? Morocco?'
"'Yarn, your Honor. And kip.'
"'Um--kip. This complicates the matter. However, let it go--we shall
"'Catholic, your Honor.'
"'Very good. Snip me a bit from the bed blanket, please. Ah, thanks.
Part wool--foreign make. Very well. A snip from some garment of the
child's, please. Thanks. Cotton. Shows wear. An excellent clue,
excellent. Pass me a pallet of the floor dirt, if you'll be so kind.
Thanks, many thanks. Ah, admirable, admirable! Now we know where we
are, I think.' You see, boys, he's got all the clues he wants now; he
don't need anything more. Now, then, what does this Extraordinary Man
do? He lays those snips and that dirt out on the table and leans over
them on his elbows, and puts them together side by side and studies them
--mumbles to himself, 'Female'; changes them around--mumbles, 'Six years
old'; changes them this way and that--again mumbles: 'Five teeth
--one a-coming--Catholic--yarn--cotton--kip--damn that kip.' Then he
straightens up and gazes toward heaven, and plows his hands through his
hair--plows and plows, muttering, 'Damn that kip!' Then he stands up and
frowns, and begins to tally off his clues on his fingers--and gets stuck
at the ring-finger. But only just a minute--then his face glares all up
in a smile like a house afire, and he straightens up stately and
majestic, and says to the crowd, 'Take a lantern, a couple of you, and go
down to Injun Billy's and fetch the child--the rest of you go 'long home
to bed; good-night, madam; good-night, gents.' And he bows like the
Matterhorn, and pulls out for the tavern. That's his style, and the
Only--scientific, intellectual--all over in fifteen minutes--no poking
around all over the sage-brush range an hour and a half in a mass-meeting
crowd for him, boys--you hear me!"
"By Jackson, it's grand!" said Ham Sandwich. "Wells-Fargo, you've got
him down to a dot. He ain't painted up any exacter to the life in the
books. By George, I can just see him--can't you, boys?"
"You bet you! It's just a photograft, that's what it is."
Ferguson was profoundly pleased with his success, and grateful. He sat
silently enjoying his happiness a little while, then he murmured, with a
deep awe in his voice,
"I wonder if God made him?"
There was no response for a moment; then Ham Sandwich said, reverently:
"Not all at one time, I reckon."
At eight o'clock that evening two persons were groping their way past
Flint Buckner's cabin in the frosty gloom. They were Sherlock Holmes and
"Stop here in the road a moment, uncle," said Fetlock, "while I run to my
cabin; I won't be gone a minute."
He asked for something--the uncle furnished it--then he disappeared in
the darkness, but soon returned, and the talking-walk was resumed. By
nine o'clock they had wandered back to the tavern. They worked their way
through the billiard-room, where a crowd had gathered in the hope of
getting a glimpse of the Extraordinary Man. A royal cheer was raised.
Mr. Holmes acknowledged the compliment with a series of courtly bows, and
as he was passing out his nephew said to the assemblage:
"Uncle Sherlock's got some work to do, gentlemen, that 'll keep him till
twelve or one; but he'll be down again then, or earlier if he can, and
hopes some of you'll be left to take a drink with him."
"By George, he's just a duke, boys! Three cheers for Sherlock Holmes,
the greatest man that ever lived!" shouted Ferguson. "Hip, hip, hip--"
"Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah! Tiger!"
The uproar shook the building, so hearty was the feeling the boys put
into their welcome. Up-stairs the uncle reproached the nephew gently,
"What did you get me into that engagement for?"
"I reckon you don't want to be unpopular, do you, uncle? Well, then,
don't you put on any exclusiveness in a mining-camp, that's all. The
boys admire you; but if you was to leave without taking a drink with
them, they'd set you down for a snob. And besides, you said you had home
talk enough in stock to keep us up and at it half the night."
The boy was right, and wise--the uncle acknowledged it. The boy was wise
in another detail which he did not mention--except to himself: "Uncle and
the others will come handy--in the way of nailing an alibi where it can't
He and his uncle talked diligently about three hours. Then, about
midnight, Fetlock stepped down-stairs and took a position in the dark a
dozen steps from the tavern, and waited. Five minutes later Flint
Buckner came rocking out of the billiard-room and almost brushed him as
"I've got him!" muttered the boy. He continued to himself, looking after
the shadowy form: "Good-by--good-by for good, Flint Buckner; you called
my mother a--well, never mind what: it's all right, now; you're taking
your last walk, friend."
He went musing back into the tavern. "From now till one is an hour.
We'll spend it with the boys; it's good for the alibi."
He brought Sherlock Holmes to the billiard-room, which was jammed with
eager and admiring miners; the guest called the drinks, and the fun
began. Everybody was happy; everybody was complimentary; the ice was
soon broken, songs, anecdotes, and more drinks followed, and the pregnant
minutes flew. At six minutes to one, when the jollity was at its
There was silence instantly. The deep sound came rolling and rumbling
frown peak to peak up the gorge, then died down, and ceased. The spell
broke, then, and the men made a rush for the door, saying:
"Something's blown up!"
Outside, a voice in the darkness said, "It's away down the gorge; I saw
The crowd poured down the canyon--Holmes, Fetlock, Archy Stillman,
everybody. They made the mile in a few minutes. By the light of a
lantern they found the smooth and solid dirt floor of Flint Buckner's
cabin; of the cabin itself not a vestige remained, not a rag nor a
splinter. Nor any sign of Flint. Search-parties sought here and there
and yonder, and presently a cry went up.
"Here he is!"
It was true. Fifty yards down the gulch they had found him--that is,
they had found a crushed and lifeless mass which represented him.
Fetlock Jones hurried thither with the others and looked.
The inquest was a fifteen-minute affair. Ham Sandwich, foreman of the
jury, handed up the verdict, which was phrased with a certain unstudied
literary grace, and closed with this finding, to wit: that "deceased came
to his death by his own act or some other person or persons unknown to
this jury not leaving any family or similar effects behind but his cabin
which was blown away and God have mercy on his soul amen."
Then the impatient jury rejoined the main crowd, for the storm-center of
interest was there--Sherlock Holmes. The miners stood silent and
reverent in a half-circle, inclosing a large vacant space which included
the front exposure of the site of the late premises. In this
considerable space the Extraordinary Man was moving about, attended by
his nephew with a lantern. With a tape he took measurements of the cabin
site; of the distance from the wall of chaparral to the road; of the
height of the chaparral bushes; also various other measurements. He
gathered a rag here, a splinter there, and a pinch of earth yonder,
inspected them profoundly, and preserved them. He took the "lay" of the
place with a pocket-compass, allowing two seconds for magnetic variation.
He took the time (Pacific) by his watch, correcting it for local time.
He paced off the distance from the cabin site to the corpse, and
corrected that for tidal differentiation. He took the altitude with a
pocket-aneroid, and the temperature with a pocket-thermometer. Finally
he said, with a stately bow:
"It is finished. Shall we return, gentlemen?"
He took up the line of march for the tavern, and the crowd fell into his
wake, earnestly discussing and admiring the Extraordinary Man, and
interlarding guesses as to the origin of the tragedy and who the author
of it might he.
"My, but it's grand luck having him here--hey, boys?" said Ferguson.
"It's the biggest thing of the century," said Ham Sandwich. "It 'll go
all over the world; you mark my words."
"You bet!" said Jake Parker, the blacksmith. "It 'll boom this camp.
Ain't it so, Wells-Fargo?"
"Well, as you want my opinion--if it's any sign of how I think about it,
I can tell you this: yesterday I was holding the Straight Flush claim at
two dollars a foot; I'd like to see the man that can get it at sixteen
"Right you are, Wells-Fargo! It's the grandest luck a new camp ever
struck. Say, did you see him collar them little rags and dirt and
things? What an eye! He just can't overlook a clue--'tain't in him."
"That's so. And they wouldn't mean a thing to anybody else; but to him,
why, they're just a book--large print at that."
"Sure's you're born! Them odds and ends have got their little old
secret, and they think there ain't anybody can pull it; but, land! when
he sets his grip there they've got to squeal, and don't you forget it."
"Boys, I ain't sorry, now, that he wasn't here to roust out the child;
this is a bigger thing, by a long sight. Yes, sir, and more tangled up
and scientific and intellectual."
"I reckon we're all of us glad it's turned out this way. Glad? 'George!
it ain't any name for it. Dontchuknow, Archy could 've learnt something
if he'd had the nous to stand by and take notice of how that man works
the system. But no; he went poking up into the chaparral and just missed
the whole thing."
"It's true as gospel; I seen it myself. Well, Archy's young. He'll know
better one of these days."
"Say, boys, who do you reckon done it?"
That was a difficult question, and brought out a world of unsatisfying
conjecture. Various men were mentioned as possibilities, but one by one
they were discarded as not being eligible. No one but young Hillyer had
been intimate with Flint Buckner; no one had really had a quarrel with
him; he had affronted every man who had tried to make up to him, although
not quite offensively enough to require bloodshed. There was one name
that was upon every tongue from the start, but it was the last to get
utterance--Fetlock Jones's. It was Pat Riley that mentioned it.
"Oh, well," the boys said, "of course we've all thought of him, because
he had a million rights to kill Flint Buckner, and it was just his plain
duty to do it. But all the same there's two things we can't get around:
for one thing, he hasn't got the sand; and for another, he wasn't
anywhere near the place when it happened."
"I know it," said Pat. "He was there in the billiard-room with us when
"Yes, and was there all the time for an hour before it happened."
"It's so. And lucky for him, too. He'd have been suspected in a minute
if it hadn't been for that."
The tavern dining-room had been cleared of all its furniture save one
six-foot pine table and a chair. This table was against one end of the
room; the chair was on it; Sherlock Holmes, stately, imposing,
impressive, sat in the chair. The public stood. The room was full. The
tobacco-smoke was dense, the stillness profound.
The Extraordinary Man raised his hand to command additional silence; held
it in the air a few moments; then, in brief, crisp terms he put forward
question after question, and noted the answers with "Um-ums," nods of the
head, and so on. By this process he learned all about Flint Buckner,
his character, conduct, and habits, that the people were able to tell
him. It thus transpired that the Extraordinary Man's nephew was the only
person in the camp who had a killing-grudge against Flint Buckner.
Mr. Holmes smiled compassionately upon the witness, and asked, languidly:
"Do any of you gentlemen chance to know where the lad Fetlock Jones was
at the time of the explosion?"
A thunderous response followed:
"In the billiard-room of this house!"
"Ah. And had he just come in?"
"Been there all of an hour!"
"Ah. It is about--about--well, about how far might it be to the scene of
"All of a mile!"
"Ah. It isn't much of an alibi, 'tis true, but--"
A storm-burst of laughter, mingled with shouts of "By jiminy, but he's
chain-lightning!" and "Ain't you sorry you spoke, Sandy?" shut off the
rest of the sentence, and the crushed witness drooped his blushing face
in pathetic shame. The inquisitor resumed:
"The lad Jones's somewhat distant connection with the case" (laughter)
"having been disposed of, let us now call the eye-witnesses of the
tragedy, and listen to what they have to say."
He got out his fragmentary clues and arranged them on a sheet of
cardboard on his knee. The house held its breath and watched.
"We have the longitude and the latitude, corrected for magnetic
variation, and this gives us the exact location of the tragedy. We have
the altitude, the temperature, and the degree of humidity prevailing
--inestimably valuable, since they enable us to estimate with precision
the degree of influence which they would exercise upon the mood and
disposition of the assassin at that time of the night."
(Buzz of admiration; muttered remark, "By George, but he's deep.") He
fingered his clues. "And now let us ask these mute witnesses to speak to
"Here we have an empty linen shot-bag. What is its message? This: that
robbery was the motive, not revenge. What is its further message?
This: that the assassin was of inferior intelligence--shall we say
light-witted, or perhaps approaching that? How do we know this? Because
a person of sound intelligence would not have proposed to rob the man
Buckner, who never had much money with him. But the assassin might have
been a stranger? Let the bag speak again. I take from it this article.
It is a bit of silver-bearing quartz. It is peculiar. Examine it,
please--you--and you--and you. Now pass it back, please. There is but
one lode on this coast which produces just that character and color of
quartz; and that is a lode which crops out for nearly two miles on a
stretch, and in my opinion is destined, at no distant day, to confer upon
its locality a globe-girdling celebrity, and upon its two hundred owners
riches beyond the dreams of avarice. Name that lode, please."
"The Consolidated Christian Science and Mary Ann!" was the prompt
A wild crash of hurrahs followed, and every man reached for his
neighbor's hand and wrung it, with tears in his eyes; and Wells-Fargo
Ferguson shouted, "The Straight Flush is on the lode, and up she goes to
a hunched and fifty a foot--you hear me!"
When quiet fell, Mr. Holmes resumed:
"We perceive, then, that three facts are established, to wit: the
assassin was approximately light-witted; he was not a stranger; his
motive was robbery, not revenge. Let us proceed. I hold in my hand a
small fragment of fuse, with the recent smell of fire upon it. What is
its testimony? Taken with the corroborative evidence of the quartz, it
reveals to us that the assassin was a miner. What does it tell us
further? This, gentlemen: that the assassination was consummated by
means of an explosive. What else does it say? This: that the explosive
was located against the side of the cabin nearest the road--the front
side--for within six feet of that spot I found it.
"I hold in my fingers a burnt Swedish match--the kind one rubs on a
safety-box. I found it in the road, six hundred and twenty-two feet from
the abolished cabin. What does it say? This: that the train was fired
from that point. What further does it tell us? This: that the assassin
was left-handed. How do I know this? I should not be able to explain to
you, gentlemen, how I know it, the signs being so subtle that only long
experience and deep study can enable one to detect them. But the signs
are here, and they are reinforced by a fact which you must have often
noticed in the great detective narratives--that all assassins are
"By Jackson, that's so." said Ham Sandwich, bringing his great hand down
with a resounding slap upon his thigh; "blamed if I ever thought of it
"Nor I!" "Nor I!" cried several. "Oh, there can't anything escape him
--look at his eye!"
"Gentlemen, distant as the murderer was from his doomed victim, he did
not wholly escape injury. This fragment of wood which I now exhibit to
you struck him. It drew blood. Wherever he is, he bears the telltale
mark. I picked it up where he stood when he fired the fatal train,"
He looked out over the house from his high perch, and his countenance
began to darken; he slowly raised his hand, and pointed:
"There stands the assassin!"
For a moment the house was paralyzed with amazement; then twenty voices
burst out with:
"Sammy Hillyer? Oh, hell, no! Him? It's pure foolishness!"
"Take care, gentlemen--be not hasty. Observe--he has the blood-mark on
Hillyer turned white with fright. He was near to crying. He turned this
way and that, appealing to every face for help and sympathy; and held out
his supplicating hands toward Holmes and began to plead:
"Don't, oh, don't! I never did it; I give my word I never did it. The
way I got this hurt on my forehead was--"
"Arrest him, constable!" cried Holmes. "I will swear out the warrant."
The constable moved reluctantly forward--hesitated--stopped.
Hillyer broke out with another appeal. "Oh, Archy, don't let them do it;
it would kill mother! You know how I got the hurt. Tell them, and save
me, Archy; save me!"
Stillman worked his way to the front, and said:
"Yes, I'll save you. Don't be afraid." Then he said to the house,
"Never mind how he got the hurt; it hasn't anything to do with this case,
and isn't of any consequence."
"God bless you, Archy, for a true friend!"
"Hurrah for Archy! Go in, boy, and play 'em a knock-down flush to their
two pair 'n' a jack!" shouted the house, pride in their home talent and a
patriotic sentiment of loyalty to it rising suddenly in the public heart
and changing the whole attitude of the situation.
Young Stillman waited for the noise to cease; then he said:
"I will ask Tom Jeffries to stand by that door yonder, and Constable
Harris to stand by the other one here, and not let anybody leave the
"Said and done. Go on, old man!"
"The criminal is present, I believe. I will show him to you before long,
in case I am right in my guess. Now I will tell you all about the
tragedy, from start to finish. The motive wasn't robbery; it was
revenge. The murderer wasn't light-witted. He didn't stand six hundred
and twenty-two feet away. He didn't get hit with a piece of wood. He
didn't place the explosive against the cabin. He didn't bring a shot-bag
with him, and he wasn't left-handed. With the exception of these errors,
the distinguished guest's statement of the case is substantially
A comfortable laugh rippled over the house; friend nodded to friend, as
much as to say, "That's the word, with the bark on it. Good lad, good
boy. He ain't lowering his flag any!"
The guest's serenity was not disturbed. Stillman resumed:
"I also have some witnesses; and I will presently tell you where you can
find some more." He held up a piece of coarse wire; the crowd craned
their necks to see. "It has a smooth coating of melted tallow on it.
And here is a candle which is burned half-way down. The remaining half
of it has marks cut upon it an inch apart. Soon I will tell you where I
found these things. I will now put aside reasonings, guesses, the
impressive hitchings of odds and ends of clues together, and the other
showy theatricals of the detective trade, and tell you in a plain,
straightforward way just how this dismal thing happened."
He paused a moment, for effect--to allow silence and suspense to
intensify and concentrate the house's interest; then he went on:
"The assassin studied out his plan with a good deal of pains. It was a
good plan, very ingenious, and showed an intelligent mind, not a feeble
one. It was a plan which was well calculated to ward off all suspicion
from its inventor. In the first place, he marked a candle into spaces an
inch apart, and lit it and timed it. He found it took three hours to
burn four inches of it. I tried it myself for half an hour, awhile ago,
up-stairs here, while the inquiry into Flint Buckner's character and ways
was being conducted in this room, and I arrived in that way at the rate
of a candle's consumption when sheltered from the wind. Having proved
his trial candle's rate, he blew it out--I have already shown it to you
--and put his inch-marks on a fresh one.
"He put the fresh one into a tin candlestick. Then at the five-hour mark
he bored a hole through the candle with a red-hot wire. I have already
shown you the wire, with a smooth coat of tallow on it--tallow that had
been melted and had cooled.
"With labor--very hard labor, I should say--he struggled up through the
stiff chaparral that clothes the steep hillside back of Flint Buckner's
place, tugging an empty flour-barrel with him. He placed it in that
absolutely secure hiding-place, and in the bottom of it he set the
candlestick. Then he measured off about thirty-five feet of fuse--the
barrel's distance from the back of the cabin. He bored a hole in the
side of the barrel--here is the large gimlet he did it with. He went on
and finished his work; and when it was done, one end of the fuse was in
Buckner's cabin, and the other end, with a notch chipped in it to expose
the powder, was in the hole in the candle--timed to blow the place up at
one o'clock this morning, provided the candle was lit about eight o'clock
yesterday evening--which I am betting it was--and provided there was an
explosive in the cabin and connected with that end of the fuse--which I
am also betting there was, though I can't prove it. Boys, the barrel is
there in the chaparral, the candle's remains are in it in the tin stick;
the burnt-out fuse is in the gimlet-hole, the other end is down the hill
where the late cabin stood. I saw them all an hour or two ago, when the
Professor here was measuring off unimplicated vacancies and collecting
relics that hadn't anything to do with the case."
He paused. The house drew a long, deep breath, shook its strained cords
and muscles free and burst into cheers. "Dang him!" said Ham Sandwich,
"that's why he was snooping around in the chaparral, instead of picking
up points out of the P'fessor's game. Looky here--he ain't no fool,
"No, sir! Why, great Scott--"
But Stillman was resuming:
"While we were out yonder an hour or two ago, the owner of the gimlet and
the trial candle took them from a place where he had concealed them--it
was not a good place--and carried them to what he probably thought was a
better one, two hundred yards up in the pine woods, and hid them there,
covering them over with pine needles. It was there that I found them.
The gimlet exactly fits the hole in the barrel. And now--"
The Extraordinary Man interrupted him. He said, sarcastically:
"We have had a very pretty fairy tale, gentlemen--very pretty indeed.
Now I would like to ask this young man a question or two."
Some of the boys winced, and Ferguson said:
"I'm afraid Archy's going to catch it now."
The others lost their smiles and sobered down. Mr. Holmes said:
"Let us proceed to examine into this fairy tale in a consecutive and
orderly way--by geometrical progression, so to speak--linking detail to
detail in a steadily advancing and remorselessly consistent and
unassailable march upon this tinsel toy fortress of error, the dream
fabric of a callow imagination. To begin with, young sir, I desire to
ask you but three questions at present--at present. Did I understand you
to say it was your opinion that the supposititious candle was lighted at
about eight o'clock yesterday evening?"
"Yes, sir--about eight."
"Could you say exactly eight?"
"Well, no, I couldn't be that exact."
"Um. If a person had been passing along there just about that time, he
would have been almost sure to encounter that assassin, do you think?"
"Yes, I should think so."
"Thank you, that is all. For the present. I say, all for the present."
"Dern him, he's laying for Archy," said Ferguson.
"It's so," said Ham Sandwich. "I don't like the look of it."
Stillman said, glancing at the guest, "I was along there myself at
half-past eight--no, about nine."
"In-deed? This is interesting--this is very interesting. Perhaps you
encountered the assassin?"
"No, I encountered no one."
"Ah. Then--if you will excuse the remark--I do not quite see the
relevancy of the information."
"It has none. At present. I say it has none--at present."
He paused. Presently he resumed: "I did not encounter the assassin, but
I am on his track, I am sure, for I believe he is in this room. I will
ask you all to pass one by one in front of me--here, where there is a
good light--so that I can see your feet."
A buzz of excitement swept the place, and the march began, the guest
looking on with an iron attempt at gravity which was not an unqualified
success. Stillman stooped, shaded his eyes with his hand, and gazed down
intently at each pair of feet as it passed. Fifty men tramped
monotonously by--with no result. Sixty. Seventy. The thing was
beginning to look absurd. The guest remarked, with suave irony:
"Assassins appear to be scarce this evening."
The house saw the humor if it, and refreshed itself with a cordial laugh.
Ten or twelve more candidates tramped by--no, danced by, with airy and
ridiculous capers which convulsed the spectators--then suddenly Stillman
put out his hand and said:
"This is the assassin!"
"Fetlock Jones, by the great Sanhedrim!" roared the crowd; and at once
let fly a pyrotechnic explosion and dazzle and confusion of stirring
remarks inspired by the situation.
At the height of the turmoil the guest stretched out his hand, commanding
peace. The authority of a great name and a great personality laid its
mysterious compulsion upon the house, and it obeyed. Out of the panting
calm which succeeded, the guest spoke, saying, with dignity and feeling:
"This is serious. It strikes at an innocent life. Innocent beyond
suspicion! Innocent beyond peradventure! Hear me prove it; observe how
simple a fact can brush out of existence this witless lie. Listen. My
friends, that lad was never out of my sight yesterday evening at any
It made a deep impression. Men turned their eyes upon Stillman with
grave inquiry in them. His face brightened, and he said:
"I knew there was another one!" He stepped briskly to the table and
glanced at the guest's feet, then up at his face, and said: "You were
with him! You were not fifty steps from him when he lit the candle that
by and by fired the powder!" (Sensation.) "And what is more, you
furnished the matches yourself!"
Plainly the guest seemed hit; it looked so to the public. He opened his
mouth to speak; the words did not come freely.
"This--er--this is insanity--this--"
Stillman pressed his evident advantage home. He held up a charred match.
"Here is one of them. I found it in the barrel--and there's another one
The guest found his voice at once.
"Yes--and put them there yourself!"
It was recognized a good shot. Stillman retorted.
"It is wax--a breed unknown to this camp. I am ready to be searched for
the box. Are you?"
The guest was staggered this time--the dullest eye could see it. He
fumbled with his hands; once or twice his lips moved, but the words did
not come. The house waited and watched, in tense suspense, the stillness
adding effect to the situation. Presently Stillman said, gently:
"We are waiting for your decision."
There was silence again during several moments; then the guest answered,
in a low voice:
"I refuse to be searched."
There was no noisy demonstration, but all about the house one voice after
"That settles it! He's Archy's meat."
What to do now? Nobody seemed to know. It was an embarrassing situation
for the moment--merely, of course, because matters had taken such a
sudden and unexpected turn that these unpractised minds were not prepared
for it, and had come to a standstill, like a stopped clock, under the
shock. But after a little the machinery began to work again,
tentatively, and by twos and threes the men put their heads together and
privately buzzed over this and that and the other proposition. One of
these propositions met with much favor; it was, to confer upon the
assassin a vote of thanks for removing Flint Buckner, and let him go.
But the cooler heads opposed it, pointing out that addled brains in the
Eastern states would pronounce it a scandal, and make no end of foolish
noise about it. Finally the cool heads got the upper hand, and obtained
general consent to a proposition of their own; their leader then called
the house to order and stated it--to this effect: that Fetlock Jones be
jailed and put upon trial.
The motion was carried. Apparently there was nothing further to do now,
and the people were glad, for, privately, they were impatient to get out
and rush to the scene of the tragedy, and see whether that barrel and the
other things were really there or not.
But no--the break-up got a check. The surprises were not over yet. For
a while Fetlock Jones had been silently sobbing, unnoticed in the
absorbing excitements which had been following one another so
persistently for some time; but when his arrest and trial were decreed,
he broke out despairingly, and said:
"No! it's no use. I don't want any jail, I don't want any trial; I've
had all the hard luck I want, and all the miseries. Hang me now, and let
me out! It would all come out, anyway--there couldn't anything save me.
He has told it all, just as if he'd been with me and seen it--I don't
know how he found out; and you'll find the barrel and things, and then I
wouldn't have any chance any more. I killed him; and you'd have done it
too, if he'd treated you like a dog, and you only a boy, and weak and
poor, and not a friend to help you."
"And served him damned well right!" broke in Ham Sandwich. "Looky here,
From the constable: "Order! Order, gentlemen!"
A voice: "Did your uncle know what you was up to?"
"No, he didn't."
"Did he give you the matches, sure enough?"
"Yes, he did; but he didn't know what I wanted them for."
"When you was out on such a business as that, how did you venture to risk
having him along--and him a detective? How's that?"
The boy hesitated, fumbled with his buttons in an embarrassed way, then
"I know about detectives, on account of having them in the family; and if
you don't want them to find out about a thing, it's best to have them
around when you do it."
The cyclone of laughter which greeted this native discharge of wisdom did
not modify the poor little waif's embarrassment in any large degree.
From a letter to Mrs. Stillman, dated merely "Tuesday."
Fetlock Jones was put under lock and key in an unoccupied log cabin, and
left there to await his trial. Constable Harris provided him with a
couple of days' rations, instructed him to keep a good guard over
himself, and promised to look in on him as soon as further supplies
should be due.
Next morning a score of us went with Hillyer, out of friendship, and
helped him bury his late relative, the unlamented Buckner, and I acted as
first assistant pall-bearer, Hillyer acting as chief. Just as we had
finished our labors a ragged and melancholy stranger, carrying an old
hand-bag, limped by with his head down, and I caught the scent I had
chased around the globe! It was the odor of Paradise to my perishing
In a moment I was at his side and had laid a gentle hand upon his
shoulder. He slumped to the ground as if a stroke of lightning had
withered him in his tracks; and as the boys came running he struggled to
his knees and put up his pleading hands to me, and out of his chattering
jaws he begged me to persecute him no more, and said:
"You have hunted me around the world, Sherlock Holmes, yet God is my
witness I have never done any man harm!"
A glance at his wild eyes showed us that he was insane. That was my
work, mother! The tidings of your death can some day repeat the misery I
felt in that moment, but nothing else can ever do it. The boys lifted
him up, and gathered about him, and were full of pity of him, and said
the gentlest and touchingest things to him, and said cheer up and don't
be troubled, he was among friends now, and they would take care of him,
and protect him, and hang any man that laid a hand on him. They are just
like so many mothers, the rough mining-camp boys are, when you wake up
the south side of their hearts; yes, and just like so many reckless and
unreasoning children when you wake up the opposite of that muscle. They
did everything they could think of to comfort him, but nothing succeeded
until Wells-Fargo Ferguson, who is a clever strategist, said:
"If it's only Sherlock Holmes that's troubling you, you needn't worry any
"Why?" asked the forlorn lunatic, eagerly.
"Because he's dead again."
"Dead! Dead! Oh, don't trifle with a poor wreck like me. Is he dead?
On honor, now--is he telling me true, boys?"
"True as you're standing there!" said Ham Sandwich, and they all backed
up the statement in a body.
"They hung him in San Bernardino last week," added Ferguson, clinching
the matter, "whilst he was searching around after you. Mistook him for
another man. They're sorry, but they can't help it now."
"They're a-building him a monument," said Ham Sandwich, with the air of a
person who had contributed to it, and knew.
"James Walker" drew a deep sigh--evidently a sigh of relief--and said
nothing; but his eyes lost something of their wildness, his countenance
cleared visibly, and its drawn look relaxed a little. We all went to our
cabin, and the boys cooked him the best dinner the camp could furnish the
materials for, and while they were about it Hillyer and I outfitted him
from hat to shoe-leather with new clothes of ours, and made a comely and
presentable old gentleman of him. "Old" is the right word, and a pity,
too: old by the droop of him, and the frost upon his hair, and the marks
which sorrow and distress have left upon his face; though he is only in
his prime in the matter of years. While he ate, we smoked and chatted;
and when he was finishing he found his voice at last, and of his own
accord broke out with his personal history. I cannot furnish his exact
words, but I will come as near it as I can.
THE "WRONG MAN'S" STORY
It happened like this: I was in Denver. I had been there many years;
sometimes I remember how many, sometimes I don't--but it isn't any
matter. All of a sudden I got a notice to leave, or I would be exposed
for a horrible crime committed long before--years and years before--in
I knew about that crime, but I was not the criminal; it was a cousin of
mine of the same name. What should I better do? My head was all
disordered by fear, and I didn't know. I was allowed very little time
--only one day, I think it was. I would be ruined if I was published,
and the people would lynch me, and not believe what I said. It is always
the way with lynchings: when they find out it is a mistake they are
sorry, but it is too late--the same as it was with Mr. Holmes, you see.
So I said I would sell out and get money to live on, and run away until
it blew over and I could come back with my proofs. Then I escaped in the
night and went a long way off in the mountains somewhere, and lived
disguised and had a false name.
I got more and more troubled and worried, and my troubles made me see
spirits and hear voices, and I could not think straight and clear on any
subject, but got confused and involved and had to give it up, because my
head hurt so. It got to be worse and worse; more spirits and more
voices. They were about me all the time; at first only in the night,
then in the day too. They were always whispering around my bed and
plotting against me, and it broke my sleep and kept me fagged out,
because I got no good rest.
And then came the worst. One night the whispers said, "We'll never
manage, because we can't see him, and so can't point him out to the
They sighed; then one said: "We must bring Sherlock Holmes. He can be
here in twelve days."
They all agreed, and whispered and jibbered with joy. But my heart
broke; for I had read about that man, and knew what it would be to have
him upon my track, with his superhuman penetration and tireless energies.
The spirits went away to fetch him, and I got up at once in the middle of
the night and fled away, carrying nothing but the hand-bag that had my
money in it--thirty thousand dollars; two-thirds of it are in the bag
there yet. It was forty days before that man caught up on my track.
I just escaped. From habit he had written his real name on a tavern
register, but had scratched it out and written "Dagget Barclay" in the
place of it. But fear gives you a watchful eye and keen, and I read the
true name through the scratches, and fled like a deer.
He has hunted me all over this world for three years and a half--the
Pacific states, Australasia, India--everywhere you can think of; then
back to Mexico and up to California again, giving me hardly any rest; but
that name on the registers always saved me, and what is left of me is
alive yet. And I am so tired! A cruel time he has given me, yet I give
you my honor I have never harmed him nor any man.
That was the end of the story, and it stirred those boys to blood-heat,
be sure of it. As for me--each word burnt a hole in me where it struck.
We voted that the old man should bunk with us, and be my guest and
Hillyer's. I shall keep my own counsel, naturally; but as soon as he is
well rested and nourished, I shall take him to Denver and rehabilitate
The boys gave the old fellow the bone-smashing good-fellowship handshake
of the mines, and then scattered away to spread the news.
At dawn next morning Wells-Fargo Ferguson and Ham Sandwich called us
softly out, and said, privately:
"That news about the way that old stranger has been treated has spread
all around, and the camps are up. They are piling in from everywhere,
and are going to lynch the P'fessor. Constable Harris is in a dead funk,
and has telephoned the sheriff. Come along!"
We started on a run. The others were privileged to feel as they chose,
but in my heart's privacy I hoped the sheriff would arrive in time; for I
had small desire that Sherlock Holmes should hang for my deeds, as you
can easily believe. I had heard a good deal about the sheriff, but for
reassurance's sake I asked:
"Can he stop a mob?"
"Can he stop a mob! Can Jack Fairfax stop a mob! Well, I should smile!
Ex-desperado--nineteen scalps on his string. Can he! Oh, I say!"
As we tore up the gulch, distant cries and shouts and yells rose faintly
on the still air, and grew steadily in strength as we raced along. Roar
after roar burst out, stronger and stronger, nearer and nearer; and at
last, when we closed up upon the multitude massed in the open area in
front of the tavern, the crash of sound was deafening. Some brutal
roughs from Daly's gorge had Holmes in their grip, and he was the calmest
man there; a contemptuous smile played about his lips, and if any fear of
death was in his British heart, his iron personality was master of it and
no sign of it was allowed to appear.
"Come to a vote, men!" This from one of the Daly gang, Shadbelly Higgins.
"Quick! is it hang, or shoot?"
"Neither!" shouted one of his comrades. "He'll be alive again in a week;
burning's the only permanency for him."
The gangs from all the outlying camps burst out in a thundercrash of
approval, and went struggling and surging toward the prisoner, and closed
around him, shouting, "Fire! fire's the ticket!" They dragged him to the
horse-post, backed him against it, chained him to it, and piled wood and
pine cones around him waist-deep. Still the strong face did not blench,
and still the scornful smile played about the thin lips.
"A match! fetch a match!"
Shadbelly struck it, shaded it with his hand, stooped, and held it under
a pine cone. A deep silence fell upon the mob. The cone caught, a tiny
flame flickered about it a moment or two. I seemed to catch the sound of
distant hoofs--it grew more distinct--still more and more distinct, more
and more definite, but the absorbed crowd did not appear to notice it.
The match went out. The man struck another, stooped, and again the flame
rose; this time it took hold and began to spread--here and there men
turned away their faces. The executioner stood with the charred match in
his fingers, watching his work. The hoof-beats turned a projecting crag,
and now they came thundering down upon us. Almost the next moment there
was a shout:
And straightway he came tearing into the midst, stood his horse almost on
his hind feet, and said:
"Fall back, you gutter-snipes!"
He was obeyed. By all but their leader. He stood his ground, and his
hand went to his revolver. The sheriff covered him promptly, and said:
"Drop your hand, you parlor desperado. Kick the fire away. Now unchain
The parlor desperado obeyed. Then the sheriff made a speech; sitting his
horse at martial ease, and not warming his words with any touch of fire,
but delivering them in a measured and deliberate way, and in a tone which
harmonized with their character and made them impressively disrespectful.
"You're a nice lot--now ain't you? Just about eligible to travel with
this bilk here--Shadbelly Higgins--this loud-mouthed sneak that shoots
people in the back and calls himself a desperado. If there's anything I
do particularly despise, it's a lynching mob; I've never seen one that
had a man in it. It has to tally up a hundred against one before it can
pump up pluck enough to tackle a sick tailor. It's made up of cowards,
and so is the community that breeds it; and ninety-nine times out of a
hundred the sheriff's another one." He paused--apparently to turn that
last idea over in his mind and taste the juice of it--then he went on:
"The sheriff that lets a mob take a prisoner away from him is the
lowest-down coward there is. By the statistics there was a hundred and
eighty-two of them drawing sneak pay in America last year. By the way
it's going, pretty soon there 'll be a new disease in the doctor-books
--sheriff complaint." That idea pleased him--any one could see it.
"People will say, 'Sheriff sick again?' 'Yes; got the same old thing.'
And next there 'll be a new title. People won't say, 'He's running for
sheriff of Rapaho County,' for instance; they'll say, 'He's running for
Coward of Rapaho.' Lord, the idea of a grown-up person being afraid of
a lynch mob!"
He turned an eye on the captive, and said, "Stranger, who are you, and
what have you been doing?"
"My name is Sherlock Holmes, and I have not been doing anything."
It was wonderful, the impression which the sound of that name made on the
sheriff, notwithstanding he must have come posted. He spoke up with
feeling, and said it was a blot on the county that a man whose marvelous
exploits had filled the world with their fame and their ingenuity, and
whose histories of them had won every reader's heart by the brilliancy
and charm of their literary setting, should be visited under the Stars
and Stripes by an outrage like this. He apologized in the name of the
whole nation, and made Holmes a most handsome bow, and told Constable
Harris to see him to his quarters, and hold himself personally
responsible if he was molested again. Then he turned to the mob and
"Hunt your holes, you scum!" which they did; then he said: "Follow me,
Shadbelly; I'll take care of your case myself. No--keep your popgun;
whenever I see the day that I'll be afraid to have you behind me with
that thing, it 'll be time for me to join last year's hundred and
eighty-two"; and he rode off in a walk, Shadbelly following.
When we were on our way back to our cabin, toward breakfast-time, we ran
upon the news that Fetlock Jones had escaped from his lock-up in the
night and is gone! Nobody is sorry. Let his uncle track him out if he
likes; it is in his line; the camp is not interested.
Ten days later.
"James Walker" is all right in body now, and his mind shows improvement
too. I start with him for Denver to-morrow morning.
Next night. Brief note, mailed at a way-station.
As we were starting, this morning, Hillyer whispered to me: "Keep this
news from Walker until you think it safe and not likely to disturb his
mind and check his improvement: the ancient crime he spoke of was really
committed--and by his cousin, as he said. We buried the real criminal
the other day--the unhappiest man that has lived in a century--Flint
Buckner. His real name was Jacob Fuller!" There, mother, by help of me,
an unwitting mourner, your husband and my father is in his grave. Let