“Have you examined the marks?” I asked.
“I have seen them. So has the doctor.”
“But I have examined them very carefully with a lens. They have peculiarities.”
“What are they, Mr. Holmes?”
I stepped to my bureau and brought out an enlarged photograph. “This is my method in such cases,” I explained.
“You certainly do things thoroughly, Mr. Holmes.”
“I should hardly be what I am if I did not. Now let us consider this weal which extends round the right shoulder. Do you observe nothing remarkable?”
“I can’t say I do.”
“Surely it is evident that it is unequal in its intensity. There is a dot of extravasated blood here, and another there. There are similar indications in this other weal down here. What can that mean?”
“I have no idea. Have you?”
“Perhaps I have. Perhaps I haven’t. I may be able to say more soon. Anything which will define what made that mark will bring us a long way towards the criminal.”
“It is, of course, an absurd idea,” said the policeman, “but if a red-hot net of wire had been laid across the back, then these better marked points would represent where the meshes crossed each other.”
“A most ingenious comparison. Or shall we say a very stiff cat-o’-nine-tails with small hard knots upon it?”
“By Jove, Mr. Holmes, I think you have hit it.”
“Or there may be some very different cause, Mr. Bardle. But your case is far too weak for an arrest. Besides, we have those last words–the ‘Lion’s Mane.'”
“I have wondered whether Ian–”
“Yes, I have considered that. If the second word had borne any resemblance to Murdoch–but it did not. He gave it almost in a shriek. I am sure that it was ‘Mane.'”
“Have you no alternative, Mr. Holmes?”
“Perhaps I have. But I do not care to discuss it until there is something more solid to discuss.”
“And when will that be?”
“In an hour–possibly less.”
The inspector rubbed his chin and looked at me with dubious eyes.
“I wish I could see what was in your mind, Mr. Holmes. Perhaps it’s those fishing-boats.”
“No, no, they were too far out.”
“Well, then, is it Bellamy and that big son of his? They were not too sweet upon Mr. McPherson. Could they have done him a mischief?”
“No, no, you won’t draw me until I am ready,” said I with a smile. “Now, Inspector, we each have our own work to do. Perhaps if you were to meet me here at midday–”
So far we had got when there came the tremendous interruption which was the beginning of the end.
My outer door was flung open, there were blundering footsteps in the passage, and Ian Murdoch staggered into the room, pallid, dishevelled, his clothes in wild disorder, clawing with his bony hands at the furniture to hold himself erect. “Brandy! Brandy!” he gasped, and fell groaning upon the sofa.
He was not alone. Behind him came Stackhurst, hatless and panting, almost as distrait as his companion.
“Yes, yes, brandy!” he cried. “The man is at his last gasp. It was all I could do to bring him here. He fainted twice upon the way.”
Half a tumbler of the raw spirit brought about a wondrous change. He pushed himself up on one arm and swung his coat from his shoulders. “For God’s sake oil, opium, morphia!” he cried. “Anything to ease this infernal agony!”