the sign of four chapter 7


The Tiny Footprints

‘Go to the police station, Mr Sholto,’ said Holmes. ‘Ask the police to come quickly. Doctor Watson and I will wait here.’

Thaddeus Sholto turned away. We heard him going downstairs.

‘Now, Watson,’ said Holmes. ‘We have some work to do before the police arrive. We must find out how the murderer got into the room. The door was locked. But what about the window?’

He carried the lamp to the window and examined the window sill carefully.

‘Look,’ he said. ‘Someone has come in by the window. Here is the print of a foot on the window-sill. And here is a round mark. And look on the floor — here is another footprint and another mark. And again by the table. See, here, Watson.’

I looked at the marks. Some were footprints, but some were in the shape of small circles.

‘Those are not footprints,’ I said.

‘No,’ replied Holmes. ‘They are the marks made by someone with a wooden leg.’

‘Someone with a wooden leg?’ I said. ‘Holmes! Thaddeus Sholto told us that his father was afraid of a man with a wooden leg.’

‘Yes,’ said Holmes. ‘But the wooden-legged man was not alone. Someone else has been here too. Look outside.’ We both went to the window and looked down. ‘We are very high up,’ said Holmes. ‘A man with a wooden leg would not be able to climb here by himself. Two people came into this room. We will call them Number One and Number Two. Number Two is the wooden-legged man. But who is Number One? And how did he get in?’

I looked round the room. I thought quickly. Then suddenly I knew the answer.

In the ceiling of the room was a hole. Thaddeus Sholto had told us that his brother had made this hole. The Agra Treasure had been hidden in the secret room above. The two Sholto brothers had lowered the treasure chest through this hole the night before.

A set of steps was standing beneath the hole. On the floor by the set of steps was a rope.

‘Number One must have looked through the hole in the ceiling,’ I said. ‘He saw Bartholomew Sholto sitting on the chair below him. He killed Sholto with a poisoned thorn. Then he must have taken the rope, opened the window and thrown the end of the rope down into the garden. His friend, Number Two, the wooden-legged man, must have been waiting below. Number Two climbed up the rope with the help of Number One. The murderers then lowered the treasure chest to the ground with the rope. Number Two climbed down the rope. Number One got out of the room through the hole in the ceiling.’

‘Excellent, Watson,’ said Holmes. ‘We shall now go up and have a look at the secret room. Perhaps we can find out more information about Number One.’

We climbed the steps and found ourselves in a small dark room without any windows. There was thick dust on the floor. It was here that the treasure had been hidden for so many years.

‘Look,’ said Holmes. ‘There is a small door in the roof. That is how Number One got in.’

Then Holmes shone the lamp down at the floor. By the light of the lamp, I saw that the floor was covered with many footprints. They showed very clearly in the thick dust. They were the prints of bare feet.

But they were not the footprints of an ordinary man. They were extremely small. Suddenly, a horrible thought came into my mind.

‘Holmes!’ I whispered. ‘A child has done this terrible thing.’

Holmes did not answer. He was still studying the tiny footprints. Finally he spoke. ‘No,’ he said slowly. ‘I don’t think it was a child. Look at this footprint. Look at the marks of the toes. They are very wide apart. It is not a child’s footprint. It is a man’s. They are the prints of a tiny man.’

‘Do you mean a dwarf?’ I asked in surprise.

‘I will show you,’ replied Holmes. ‘Let’s go into the room again. Let’s examine once more the poisoned thorn which killed Bartholomew Sholto.’

In the room below, I picked up the thorn. I held it carefully between my fingers. I felt afraid. It was long and sharp.

‘Now then,’ said Holmes. ‘What do you think about this thorn? Is it an English thorn?’

‘No,’ I said. ‘It certainly is not.’

‘You see,’ said Holmes, ‘already we begin to know many things about murderer Number One.

‘He is a very small man — in other words, a pygmy — from some foreign land. He is very strong and can climb great heights easily. He is also extremely dangerous. He kills people by shooting them with poisoned thorns.’


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