The Return of Sherlock Holmes #6

Page 32

“On the Tuesday, Peter Carey was in one of his blackest moods, flushed with drink and as savage as a dangerous wild beast. He roamed about the house, and the women ran for it when they heard him coming. Late in the evening, he went down to his own hut. About two o’clock the following morning, his daughter, who slept with her window open, heard a most fearful yell from that direction, but it was no unusual thing for him to bawl and shout when he was in drink, so no notice was taken. On rising at seven, one of the maids noticed that the door of the hut was open, but so great was the terror which the man caused that it was midday before anyone would venture down to see what had become of him. Peeping into the open door, they saw a sight which sent them flying, with white faces, into the village. Within an hour, I was on the spot and had taken over the case.

“Well, I have fairly steady nerves, as you know, Mr. Holmes, but I give you my word, that I got a shake when I put my head into that little house. It was droning like a harmonium with the flies and bluebottles, and the floor and walls were like a slaughter-house. He had called it a cabin, and a cabin it was, sure enough, for you would have thought that you were in a ship. There was a bunk at one end, a sea-chest, maps and charts, a picture of the SEA UNICORN, a line of logbooks on a shelf, all exactly as one would expect to find it in a captain’s room. And there, in the middle of it, was the man himself—his face twisted like a lost soul in torment, and his great brindled beard stuck upward in his agony. Right through his broad breast a steel harpoon had been driven, and it had sunk deep into the wood of the wall behind him. He was pinned like a beetle on a card. Of course, he was quite dead, and had been so from the instant that he had uttered that last yell of agony.

“I know your methods, sir, and I applied them. Before I permitted anything to be moved, I examined most carefully the ground outside, and also the floor of the room. There were no footmarks.”

“Meaning that you saw none?”

“I assure you, sir, that there were none.”

“My good Hopkins, I have investigated many crimes, but I have never yet seen one which was committed by a flying creature. As long as the criminal remains upon two legs so long must there be some indentation, some abrasion, some trifling displacement which can be detected by the scientific searcher. It is incredible that this blood-bespattered room contained no trace which could have aided us. I understand, however, from the inquest that there were some objects which you failed to overlook?”

The young inspector winced at my companion’s ironical comments.

“I was a fool not to call you in at the time Mr. Holmes. However, that’s past praying for now. Yes, there were several objects in the room which called for special attention. One was the harpoon with which the deed was committed. It had been snatched down from a rack on the wall. Two others remained there, and there was a vacant place for the third. On the stock was engraved ‘SS. SEA UNICORN, Dundee.’ This seemed to establish that the crime had been done in a moment of fury, and that the murderer had seized the first weapon which came in his way. The fact that the crime was committed at two in the morning, and yet Peter Carey was fully dressed, suggested that he had an appointment with the murderer, which is borne out by the fact that a bottle of rum and two dirty glasses stood upon the table.”

“Yes,” said Holmes; “I think that both inferences are permissible. Was there any other spirit but rum in the room?”

“Yes, there was a tantalus containing brandy and whisky on the sea-chest. It is of no importance to us, however, since the decanters were full, and it had therefore not been used.”

“For all that, its presence has some significance,” said Holmes. “However, let us hear some more about the objects which do seem to you to bear upon the case.”

“There was this tobacco-pouch upon the table.”

“What part of the table?”

“It lay in the middle. It was of coarse sealskin—the straight-haired skin, with a leather thong to bind it. Inside was ‘P.C.’ on the flap. There was half an ounce of strong ship’s tobacco in it.”

“Excellent! What more?”

Stanley Hopkins drew from his pocket a drab-covered notebook. The outside was rough and worn, the leaves discoloured. On the first page were written the initials “J.H.N.” and the date “1883.” Holmes laid it on the table and examined it in his minute way, while Hopkins and I gazed over each shoulder. On the second page were the printed letters “C.P.R.,” and then came several sheets of numbers. Another heading was “Argentine,” another “Costa Rica,” and another “San Paulo,” each with pages of signs and figures after it.

“What do you make of these?” asked Holmes.

“They appear to be lists of Stock Exchange securities. I thought that ‘J.H.N.’ were the initials of a broker, and that ‘C.P.R.’ may have been his client.”

“Try Canadian Pacific Railway,” said Holmes.

Stanley Hopkins swore between his teeth, and struck his thigh with his clenched hand.

“What a fool I have been!” he cried. “Of course, it is as you say. Then ‘J.H.N.’ are the only initials we have to solve. I have already examined the old Stock Exchange lists, and I can find no one in 1883, either in the house or among the outside brokers, whose initials correspond with these. Yet I feel that the clue is the most important one that I hold. You will admit, Mr. Holmes, that there is a possibility that these initials are those of the second person who was present—in other words, of the murderer. I would also urge that the introduction into the case of a document relating to large masses of valuable securities gives us for the first time some indication of a motive for the crime.”

Sherlock Holmes’s face showed that he was thoroughly taken aback by this new development.

“I must admit both your points,” said he. “I confess that this notebook, which did not appear at the inquest, modifies any views which I may have formed. I had come to a theory of the crime in which I can find no place for this. Have you endeavoured to trace any of the securities here mentioned?”

“Inquiries are now being made at the offices, but I fear that the complete register of the stockholders of these South American concerns is in South America, and that some weeks must elapse before we can trace the shares.”

Holmes had been examining the cover of the notebook with his magnifying lens.

“Surely there is some discolouration here,” said he.

“Yes, sir, it is a blood-stain. I told you that I picked the book off the floor.”

“Was the blood-stain above or below?”

“On the side next the boards.”

“Which proves, of course, that the book was dropped after the crime was committed.”

“Exactly, Mr. Holmes. I appreciated that point, and I conjectured that it was dropped by the murderer in his hurried flight. It lay near the door.”

“I suppose that none of these securities have been found among the property of the dead man?”

“No, sir.”

“Have you any reason to suspect robbery?”

“No, sir. Nothing seemed to have been touched.”

“Dear me, it is certainly a very interesting case. Then there was a knife, was there not?”

“A sheath-knife, still in its sheath. It lay at the feet of the dead man. Mrs. Carey has identified it as being her husband’s property.”

Holmes was lost in thought for some time.

“Well,” said he, at last, “I suppose I shall have to come out and have a look at it.”

Stanley Hopkins gave a cry of joy.

“Thank you, sir. That will, indeed, be a weight off my mind.”

Holmes shook his finger at the inspector.

“It would have been an easier task a week ago,” said he. “But even now my visit may not be entirely fruitless. Watson, if you can spare the time, I should be very glad of your company. If you will call a four-wheeler, Hopkins, we shall be ready to start for Forest Row in a quarter of an hour.”