The Adventure of the Retired Colourman

“I FELT A HAND INSIDE MY COLLAR.”

“It is only a few hundred yards to the station. We will go together. You can stay here, Watson. I shall be back within half an hour.”

The old colourman had the strength of a lion in that great trunk of his, but he was helpless in the hands of the two experienced man-handlers. Wriggling and twisting he was dragged to the waiting cab, and I was left to my solitary vigil in the ill-omened house. In less time than he had named, however, Holmes was back, in company with a smart young police inspector.

“I’ve left Barker to look after the formalities,” said Holmes. “You had not met Barker, Watson. He is my hated rival upon the Surrey shore. When you said a tall dark man it was not difficult for me to complete the picture. He has several good cases to his credit, has he not, Inspector?”

“He has certainly interfered several times,” the inspector answered with reserve.

“His methods are irregular, no doubt, like my own. The irregulars are useful sometimes, you know. You, for example, with your compulsory warning about whatever he said being used against him, could never have bluffed this rascal into what is virtually a confession.”

“Perhaps not. But we get there all the same, Mr. Holmes. Don’t imagine that we had not formed our own views of this case, and that we would not have laid our hands on our man. You will excuse us for feeling sore when you jump in with methods which we cannot use, and so rob us of the credit.”

“There shall be no such robbery, MacKinnon. I assure you that I efface myself from now onward, and as to Barker, he has done nothing save what I told him.”

The inspector seemed considerably relieved.

“That is very handsome of you, Mr. Holmes. Praise or blame can matter little to you, but it is very different to us when the newspapers begin to ask questions.”

“Quite so. But they are pretty sure to ask questions anyhow, so it would be as well to have answers. What will you say, for example, when the intelligent and enterprising reporter asks you what the exact points were which aroused your suspicion, and finally gave you a certain conviction as to the real facts?”

The inspector looked puzzled.

“We don’t seem to have got any real facts yet, Mr. Holmes. You say that the prisoner, in the presence of three witnesses, practically confessed by trying to commit suicide, that he had murdered his wife and her lover. What other facts have you?”

“Have you arranged for a search?”

“There are three constables on their way.”

“Then you will soon get the clearest fact of all. The bodies cannot be far away. Try the cellars and the garden. It should not take long to dig up the likely places. This house is older than the water-pipes. There must be a disused well somewhere. Try your luck there.”

“But how did you know of it, and how was it done?”

“I’ll show you first how it was done, and then I will give the explanation which is due to you, and even more to my longsuffering friend here, who has been invaluable throughout. But, first, I would give you an insight into this man’s mentality. It is a very unusual one –so much so that I think his destination is more likely to be Broadmoor than the scaffold. He has, to a high degree, the sort of mind which one associates with the mediaeval Italian nature rather than with the modern Briton. He was a miserable miser who made his wife so wretched by his niggardly ways that she was a ready prey for any adventurer. Such a one came upon the scene in the person of this chess-playing doctor. Amberley excelled at chess–one mark, Watson, of a scheming mind. Like all misers, he was a jealous man, and his jealousy became a frantic mania. Rightly or wrongly, he suspected an intrigue. He determined to have his revenge, and he planned it with diabolical cleverness. Come here!”

Holmes led us along the passage with as much certainty as if he had lived in the house and halted at the open door of the strong-room.

“Pooh! What an awful smell of paint!” cried the inspector.

“That was our first clue,” said Holmes. “You can thank Dr. Watson’s observation for that, though he failed to draw the inference. It set my foot upon the trail. Why should this man at such a time be filling his house with strong odours? Obviously, to cover some other smell which he wisfhed to conceal–some guilty smell which would suggest suspicions. Then came the idea of a room such as you see here with iron door and shutter–a hermetically sealed room. Put those two facts together, and whither do they lead? I could only determine that by examining the house myself. I was already certain that the case was serious, for I had examined the box-office chart at the Haymarket Theatre–another of Dr. Watson’s bull’s-eyes–and ascertained that neither B thirty nor thirty-two of the upper circle had been occupied that night. Therefore, Amberley had not been to the theatre, and his alibi fell to the ground. He made a bad slip when he allowed my astute friend to notice the number of the seat taken for his wife. The question now arose how I might be able to examine the house. I sent an agent to the most impossible village I could think of, and summoned my man to it at such an hour that he could not possibly get back. To prevent any miscarriage, Dr. Watson accompanied him. The good vicar’s name I took, of course, out of my Crockford. Do I make it all clear to you?”

“It is masterly,” said the inspector in an awed voice.

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