Solved by Sherlock Holmes
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Solved by Sherlock Holmes
Being detailed to ferret out the mysteries surrounding the Holt will case, I at once recognized that so Intricate a problem should have brought to bear upon it the discerning mind of the finest detectives that could be procured. This one conclusion Is all that I claim the credit for in unraveling this most mysterious case. Results that followed I attribute to luck only, and I can never doubt that luck is an element In the determination of human affairs.
It was pure luck that led me to discover that Mr. Sherlock Holmes, the famous London detective, whose confidence was gained by one Conan Doyle, was in Washington. I was walking along Pennsylvania avenue on the evening of the day after the burned will was received for record, meditating on the herculean task before me.
My attention was attracted by a strange-looking object hobbling along on crutches. The man had evidently lately met an accident, and I became interested In him at once, thinking there might be a story concerning his mishap that would prove of value. He was gazing in a shop window as I came up to him, and I stopped by his side. His left hand was bandaged and a large piece of court plaster ornamented his right cheek.
"Railroad accident?" I asked as the crippled man glanced toward me.
The stranger did not deign to reply to my question, but, looking me over from head to foot in a hasty manner, replied, to my great astonishment:
"I will see you at 7:30 today. My address."
The man placed a small piece of paper in my hand, and, with no other word, hobbled away on his crutches. This strange proceeding excited my wonder, and I would have again accosted the cripple, but, being pressed for time, I continued my way down the avenue, examining the bit of paper I had just received. I was still more perplexed when I read:
- SHERLOCK HOLMES,
- No. ———— E street,
- Washington, D. C.
"Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes," I repeated, to call to mind any one I had known bearing that name. "That's Conan Doyle's detective," I ruminated; "but surely Conan Doyle's detective is a myth, and, if I remember correctly, he was killed In Switzerland while on the track of a criminal."
My mysterious friend, however, was real flesh and blood, although considerably battered. I determined to allow nothing to prevent me from calling at the address, for I believed there was something about the man and the accident he had lately met worth knowing.
These words came as a response to my knock. I had sought the address of the mysterious cripple and had located him in a back room of the top floor of a rather dingy house. With some hesitation I opened the door. The room was a large one, comfortably furnished, with two large windows facing the south, whence came a refreshing breeze. The gas was burning dimly, and by Its light I saw a man reclining on a couch.
"Be seated. Breeze near the window," he said.
Still the figure reclined, and I felt a little uneasy regarding my surroundings, as I closed the door and accepted his invitation, or rather followed his instruction, as I regarded it from the tone in which it was given. I had actually forgotten to inquire for Mr. Holmes, which I then lost no tine in doing. When I did so the reclining figure sat upright; then arose, and, walking across the room, took a seat by me. It was plain that It was the man I had seen on Pennsylvania avenue, though there was no evidence of lameness, and the bandage and court plaster had disappeared.
"What paper do you report for?" he asked.
I had said nothing that could lead him to believe that I was connected with any newspaper. I was so rmystified that I became abashed, and sat for a moment unable to reply.
"Of course, you are interested in the solution of the Holt will case," he continued. "If such a slight matter should be of importance to you as a newspaper man. I will look it over and unravel the skein of events that make it complicated and unfathomable to the lawyers — and the reporters," he added, with a look that suggested a sneer.
Looking the man over carefully, I was inclined to believe that I had a madman to deal with, or at least a harmless crank, and I remained silent.
"Now, mind you," said my queer acquaintance. "I will give you the results of the investigation I propose making on one condition. I've been cheated by those mushhead Scotland Yard detectives, so that they always get credit for what I do, but they paid me and It made no difference. They got credit for all I have ever done, but the pay I received was all I wanted, together with the amusement that came to me from following my profession. I have decided to leave England forever and to take up my home in Washington, which is destined to be the greatest capital of the world. Conan Doyle wrote a great fake about my being killed in Switzerland."
Holmes smiled with satisfaction as he continued. "But don't blame him for that. He knew no better. That was a little game of my own, to keep the public eye off me while I ran down some delicate matters. But that is past.
"To come right down to business, I propose to settle here, and want an advertisement. Once I am known there will be no end of professional business that will seek me. I will unravel this little mystery about the burned will, and you can have the results, but you are to give me credit for it. See! After I am known here I don't care about having credit for anything. Do you promise?"
I hastily replied that If he would lay before me the solution of the Holt will case I would give him ample credit for his revelations. I asked him to tell me why he supposed he could get at the solution of so great a mystery.
"So great a mystery!" he repeated, as if mocking me, and in a sneering tone. "Anything is mysterious to the ignorant and the blind. I have not yet given a sIngle thought to the case," he went on, "except to see that the newspapers here are making a great hurrah over it. The reporters are about as obtuse as the Scotland Yard detectives."
Having given my solemn promise that he should receive all the credit for unraveling the mystery. I related, at his request, the circumstances of the case, how Judge Holt's property was being distributed to his heirs-at-law when a mysterious burned document was received by the register of wills. I told him all I knew of the case, of which he appeared to be utterly Ignorant. I thought I had given him all Information that a detective could desire, but at the conclusion of my narrative he asked if that was all I knew, and remarked that detectives, lawyers and reporters see only what is unimportant, while they allow the salient facts to pass unnoticed.
"Were there any marks on the burned paper — no finger prints?"
I replied that so far as I knew there had been no attempt to discover such marks.
"Of course not," he ejaculated, with impatience.
"Were there any fly specks on the paper, and on which side were they?"
I told him I didn't know.
"Was either side of the paper stained a light yellow, as if it had been exposed for a long period to the sun?"
I didn't know.
"Was there a small blot of red Ink in the upper right-hand side of the paper on the reverse side?"
I didn't know.
"Of course you don't," exclaimed Sherlock Holmes, jumping to his feet. "If this wasn't the simplest case in the world would have to find something about it. I suppose the lawyers and the reporters have spent their time identifying the signatures and endeavoring to learn at what letter box the document was dropped. That is the way the Scotland Yard mushheads go to work. They concoct theories and then try to work them out. Come here tomorrow evening. Same time."
Sherlock Holmes then crossed the room, and, taking up a violin that lay on a chair, began playing a dainty waltz, his appearance showing that he had become oblivious to my presence. I withdrew from the room and house, and when on the street, for the first time since my call, breathed easily. I firmly believed I had escaped from the presence of a crank; but my curiosity caused me to visit the house again on the following evening.
Upon calling on Sherlock Holmes a second time I found the detective engaged in the performance of a jig, waving his arms In a frantic manner. The door to his room was standing open, and he did not see me for several minutes. When he did observe me he bowed politely, and said he was taking his usual after-dinner exercise. He invited me to a table in the center of the room and lighted the gas, the room on my arrival being lighted only from an electric light on the street. He produced a photographic copy of the burned will and laid It on the table. Then he brought out another sheet of paper, partly burned, and laid It over the will. I at once saw that the burning was exactly the same on both sheets. The holes made In the paper of the will corresponded with those on the sheet of paper he had placed on It. When laid together it appeared evident that the two pieces of paper must have been together when partly consumed by the fire. It seemed Impossible for human effort to have produced such a result except by burning both sheets at one time; but I realized that the real significance of the similarity In the partial destruction of the sheets must be found In the, explanation that Sherlock Holmes was to make, and for the first time I began to regard seriously the queer antics of my newly made acquaintance.
"Read," he said, pointing to some faint marks on the sheet of paper.
He handed me a magnifying glass, and I read:
"Canceled. To be burned."
"That handwriting." said Mr. Holmes, "is in the hand of Judge Holt. That can plainly be seen. These papers, among others. were put aside to be destroyed, and this inscription shows that the judge left their destruction to some servant. They were partially burned over an open grate wood fire. Had they been burned over a gas jet they would not have had these small holes through the center of the sheets. But while they were over the fire in the hands of the servant the importance of the paper was recognized, and it was withdrawn from the flames in time to save it. The fact is Judge Holt in marking this paper 'Canceled. To be burned,' thought he was writing on the back of his will, which was to be made of no effect. These two papers were on his desk and stuck together. See," said Mr. Holmes. pointing to very faint yellow stains on the back of the sheet indorsed "Canceled. To be burned." "I have analyzed those stains and find they contain gum arabic. small drops of which had fallen on the leaf and caused the two sheets to adhere. Similar spots should be found on the back of the will, and upon chemical examination it will be found to contain gum arabic. I have not seen the original sheet of the will, but that little chain in the evidence, I presume, may be left to the paid lawyers in the case or to the newspapers.
"Do you see? These papers were stuck together when Judge Holt thought he was writing a cancellation on the back of his will. The servant started to burn the papers and then saved the will, throwing the sheet in my hand here away. It was this sheet," he said, holding It in his hand, "that was nearest to the fire, as is evidenced by the fact that it is yellow from the heat. In just such a position the writing of the will would be visible to the person burning the papers."
"How is it that the blank sheet was not burned when the servant decided to save the will?"
"That is easily accounted for. DiscoverIng that something of value was being burned the person doing the work walked from the fire and to the light to read what was on the paper more carefully. The blank sheet found sticking to the will was then thrown in the waste basket and the will was saved."
"But. Mr. Holmes," I said. "how do you know that these papers ever were together? You have discovered the servant who mailed the will." I said. continuing to grow Interested. "or else your theory is clever, but of na value."
"Theory." said Holmes, "I have no theory. I have facts. I have discovered this odd sheet of paper at a junk shop."
I could not refrain from giving vent to my amusement. I was wasting my time with a crank and actually taking his ravings for the wisdom of a great detective.
"When I saw that the will had been burned, I concluded," said Mr Sherlock Holmes. "that other papers had been destroyed at the same time. Men very seldom burn a single paper. There are desk cleaning times, when men rummage over their old papers and destroy what is not wanted. Although Judge Holt Is said to have been eccentric, I had no reason to believe that he differed from other men In that respect."
"But," I objected, "where did you discover this paper?"
"The simplest thing in the world," said Mr. Holmes. "I concluded that a man of Judge Holt's prominence must have had many papers. While he kept great quantities of these papers to the day of his death, he also laid aside many others to be burned during the long Illness that preceded his death. It is usual for men to burn only especially important papers, while other documents less important are thrown aside. and generally are sold by servants to the junk shops for the few pennies that may be so secured. This partly burned paper found Its way Into the junk shop in that way."
"But how do you know all this?" I persisted, fully believing that the man wan romancing.
"I have the most satisfactory evidence of it." said Mr. Holmes. "I discovered that in Washington, as in all large cities, the junk dealers have divided the town among themselves. In extraordinary cases waste paper may find its way into any junk shop, but as a rule, paper In any particular section gets Into a particular junk shop. Where there are but small quantities of such paper, it is usually given to the ash man, but in the case of Judge Holt's house, there was such a quantity of paper that it was probably sold to a dealer at so much a pound. I have not thought it necessary to determine this detail, or I could tell exactly how it left the house. But that it got Into the shop of a dealer in the southeastern part of the city there is no doubt. It was a dealer there who got the waste paper from the neighborhood in which the judge lived, and learning this fact, I called on him."
"You don't mean to tell me you found this paper at a junk shop when It was probably taken from the house several years ago, even if your theory is correct?" I queried.
"Young man, Sherlock Holmes has no theories. He has facts only. Had I been looking for an ordinary piece of paper it would have been folly to go to a junk shop for It. But. remember, I was looking for a piece of paper partially burned. With your superficial knowledge of such matters you doubtless do not know that when waste paper is received by junk dealers It is separated Into several classes. Various kinds of paper are placed in separate bags. Are you aware that one of the finest tooth powders is made of burned linen paper? The junk dealer knows that and places in a separate bag all partially burned linen paper, as it could not be sold with other linen paper usually intended to be made over into material of similar grade. As a rule there is very little partly burned linen paper received at a junk shop, so that the bag Into which it is collected does not get filled for very long periods. I have known cases where such material was ten years old in a single junk shop. So I went to the junk dealer for the purpose of examining the burned linen paper he had on hand, and he told me he had been collecting his present stock for three years, and it was probably within that time that Judge Holt laid out the old will to be burned. I have reason to believe that the writing on the back of the will was not placed there before the year 1892, but there are other evidences that prove conclusively that the will was nullified long before that, but I have no time now to give you the foundation for that belief. The will was with many other old papers, and it was only in a general clearing up that it was discovered, canceled and laid aside with instructions for Its burning."
"I admire your ingenuity," I said, addressing myself to Holmes, "but I do not believe that any court would accept your evidence as satisfactory."
Holmes smiled and shook his head. Then, walking across the room, he picked up another paper from a table and brought it to me.
"You doubt." he said, "that the paper I have given you really was a part of the burned document now in the possession of the register of wills. I have told you that something remarkable caught the eye of the servant and stayed the complete burning of the will. It was this."
He allowed me to read the second paper he had to exhibit. It was indeed a remarkabledocument. The writing on it was in red ink, as I thought, and the letters were large and thickly made. I read:
- "Another evidence of human inconstancy. My blood attests my deep regret that love Is born to die, or to give way to other affections.
- J. HOLT."
"That writing," continued Holmes, "is in the hand that wrote the document now held by the recorder of wills, but being written with human blood," as I have ascertained by analysis, "the lines are thicker. It was the remarkable appearance of that page that caused the person burning the papers to save them from the flames, and after examination, to save the charred will. That sheet was pinned on the front of the will and you observe that it is burned on the same edges as is the document which now mystifies the lawyers and the reporters. I attach no especial importance to this writing with blood, or to the expressions used. Men frequently adopt such means of inscribing a thought when deeply affected, and it Is difficult to account for such peculiarities."
Holmes, in an abrupt manner, indicated that he didn't care to pursue the subject longer, He crossed the room and seated himself by the window in an abstracted way. I remained slent several minutes watching his strange mood. When he recovered his usual manner he begged to be excused for his apparent abstraction, and remarked that he had been engaged in forgetting all he knew about the burned will, as he didn't care to remember anything that would be useless to him in the further pursuance of the subject, which would relate solely to the recovery of the later will made by Judge Holt.
I was about to withdraw when It occurred to me that I had had no explanation of Holmes' appearance on the street on crutches and with his hand bandaged.
"Oh, that was my method of getting acquainted with you," he replied. "I really wanted to work this case up for one of the newspapers, and being a stranger Ithe city, knew that If I should appear in pubIic in the disguise in which you saw me. it would not be long until I would be spoken to by a curious reporter. I had no other intention, I assure you."
I left Mr. Holmes with assurances that if I cared to have him discover the missing will he would look it up in a few hours.