Double Barreled Detective Story
by Mark Twain
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 her heart.
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 mockery.
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
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 things.
"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 said:
"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
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 he 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
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
"It is quite likely that that relative is in the room
and hearing what this town thinks of that unspeakable scoundrel. I hope
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
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 boas 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
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
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
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
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 Melbourne.
HOPE CAÑON, 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
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--Newer 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 Cañon; 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 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
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 esophagus1 slept upon
motionless wing; everywhere brooded stillness, serenity, and the peace of
1 From the Springfield Republican, April 12, 1902.
To the Editor of the Republican:
One of your citizens has asked me a question about the
"esophagus," and I wish to answer him through you. This in the hope that
the answer will get around, and save me some penmanship, for I have already
replied to the same question more than several times, and am not getting
as much holiday as I ought to have.
I published a short story lately, and it was in that
that I put the esophagus. I will say privately that I expected it to bother
some people--in fact, that was the intention--but the harvest has been larger
than I was calculating upon. The esophagus has gathered in the guilty and
the innocent alike, whereas I was only fishing for the innocent--the innocent
and confiding. I knew a few of these would write and ask me; that would give
me but little trouble; but, I was not expecting that the wise and the learned
would call upon me for succor. However, that has happened, and it is time
for me to speak up and stop the inquiries if I can, for letter-writing is
not restful to me, and I am not having so much fun out of this thing as I
counted on. That you may understand the situation, I will insert a couple
of sample inquiries. The first is from a public instructor in the Philippines:
SANTA CRUZ, Ilocos, Sur, P. I.
February 13, 1902
My dear Sir,--I have just been reading the first part
of your latest story, entitled "A Double-barreled Detective Story," and am
very much delighted with it. In Part IV, page 264, Harper's Magazine
for January, occurs this passage: "far in the empty sky a solitary 'esophagus'
slept upon motionless wing; everywhere brooded stillness, serenity, and the
peace of God." Now, there is one word I do not understand, namely, "esophagus."
My only work of reference is the Standard Dictionary, but that fails
to explain the meaning. If you can spare the time, I would be glad to have
the meaning cleared up, as I consider the passage a very touching and beautiful
one. It may seem foolish to you, but consider my lack of means away out in
the northern part of Luzon.
Yours very truly.
Do you notice? Nothing in the paragraph disturbed him
but that one word. It shows that the paragraph was most ably constructed
for the deception it was intended to put upon the reader. It was my intention
that it should read plausibly, and it is now plain that it does; it was my
intention that it should be emotional and touching, and you see, yourself,
that it fetched this public instructor. Alas, If I had but left that one
treacherous word out, I should have scored! scored everywhere; and the paragraph
would have slidden through every reader's sensibilities like oil, and left
not a suspicion behind.
The other sample inquiry is from a professor in a New
England university. It contains one naughty word (which I cannot bear to
suppress), but he is not in the theological department, so it is no harm:
Dear Mr. Clemens: "Far in the empty sky a "solitary
esophagus slept upon motionless wing."
It is not often I get a chance to read much periodical
literature, but I have just gone through at this belated period, with much
gratification and edification, your "Double-barreled Detective Story."
But what in hell is an esophagus? I keep one myself,
but it never sleeps in the air or anywhere else. My profession is to deal
with words, and esophagus interested me the moment I lighted upon it. But
as a companion of my youth used to say, "I'll be eternally, co-eternally
cussed" if l can make it out. Is it a joke, or I an ignoramus?
Between you and me, I was almost ashamed of having fooled
that man, but for pride's sake I was not going to say so. I wrote and told
him it was a joke--and that is what I am now saying to my Springfield inquirer.
And I told him to carefully read the whole paragraph, and he would find not
a vestige of sense in any detail of it. This also I commend to my Springfield
I have confessed. I am sorry--partially. I will not
do so any more--for the present. Don't ask me any more questions; let the
esophagus have a rest--on his same old motionless wing.
New York City, April 10, 1902
( Editorial )
The "Double-barreled Detective Story," which appeared
in Harper's Magazine for January and February last, is the most elaborate
of burlesques on detective fiction, with striking melodramatic passages in
which it is difficult to detect the deception, so ably is it done. But the
illusion ought not to endure even the first incident in the February number.
As for the paragraph which has so admirably illustrated the skill of Mr.
Clemens's ensemble and the carelessness of readers, here it is:
"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 home 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 the empty sky a solitary esophagus slept upon motionless
wings; everywhere brooded stillness, serenity, and the peace of God."
The success of Mark Twain's joke recalls to mind his
story of the petrified man in the cavern, whom he described most punctiliously,
first giving a picture of the scene, its impressive solitude, and all that;
then going on to describe the majesty of the figure, casually mentioning
that the thumb of his right hand rested against the side of his nose; then
after further description observing that the fingers of the right hand were
extended in a radiating fashion; and, recurring to the dignified attitude
and position of the man, incidentally remarked that the thumb of the left
hand was in contact with the little finger of the right--and so on. But was
it so ingeniously written that Mark, relating the history years later in
an article which appeared in that excellent magazine of the past, the
Galaxy, declared that no one ever found out the joke, and, if we remember
aright, that that astonishing old mockery was actually looked for in the
region where he, as a Nevada newspaper editor, had located it. It is certain
that Mark Twain's jumping frog has a good many more "pints" than any other
October is the time--1900; Hope Cañon 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 cañon 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
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 happiness.
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 oppressor.
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
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 aghast.
"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
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 being excited."
"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
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 your Waterbury."
"And it's the only virtue he's got, as fur as I know,"
said Peter Hawes, miner.
"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 them out."
"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.
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
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
"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 particulars.
"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 heartbroke; 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
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
"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 how."
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 it out."
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
"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
"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
"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 morning.
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 register:
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
"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 blubber-and-slush,"
"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 after."
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 over him."
"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
"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
" '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 manage. Religion?'
" '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 juse 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,
"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 his nephew.
"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
"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 be budged."
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 he passed.
"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 highest--
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 flash."
The crowd poured down the cañon--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
"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 to-day."
"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 it happened."
"Yes, and was there all the time for an hour before
"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 the explosions"
"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 us.
"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 response.
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 left-handed."
"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 before."
"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
"Take care, gentlemen--be not hasty. Observe--he has the
blood-mark on his brow."
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 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 room.
"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 correct."
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
"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
"Yes, I should think so."
"Thank you, that is all. For the present. I say, all for
"Dern him. he's laying for Archy," said Ferguson.
"It's so," said Ham Sandwich. "I don't like the look of
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 time!"
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 there."
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 another muttered:
"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, boys--"
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 said, shyly:
"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
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
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 hope!
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 more."
"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 the
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 people."
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 bloodheat, he sure of it. As for me--each word burnt a hole in me where
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 he 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
"Drop your hand, you parlor desperado. Kick the fire away.
Now unchain the stranger."
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
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 said:
"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 him rest.