Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (1925)
The Problem of Thor Bridge
Somewhere in the vaults of the bank of Cox and Co., at
Charing Cross, there is a travel-worn and battered tin
dispatchbox with my name, John H. Watson, M. D., Late Indian Army,
painted upon the lid. It is crammed with papers, nearly all of
which are records of cases to illustrate the curious problems
which Mr. Sherlock Holmes had at various times to examine.
Some, and not the least interesting, were complete failures, and
as such will hardly bear narrating, since no final explanation is
forthcoming. A problem without a solution may interest the
student, but can hardly fail to annoy the casual reader. Among
these unfinished tales is that of Mr. James Phillimore, who,
stepping back into his own house to get his umbrella, was never
more seen in this world. No less remarkable is that of the cutter
Alicia, which sailed one spring morning into a small patch of
mist from where she never again emerged, nor was anything
further ever heard of herself and her crew. A third case worthy
of note is that of Isadora Persano, the well-known journalist and
duellist, who was found stark staring mad with a match box in
front of him which contained a remarkable worm said to be
unknown to science. Apart from these unfathomed cases, there
are some which involve the secrets of private families to an
extent which would mean consternation in many exalted quarters
if it were thought possible that they might find their way into
print. I need not say that such a breach of confidence is
unthinkable, and that these records will be separated and destroyed now
that my friend has time to turn his energies to the matter. There
remain a considerable residue of cases of greater or less interest
which I might have edited before had I not feared to give the
public a surfeit which might react upon the reputation of the man
whom above all others I revere. In some I was myself concerned
and can speak as an eye-witness, while in others I was either not
present or played so small a part that they could only be told as
by a third person. The following narrative is drawn from my own
It was a wild morning in October, and I observed as I was
dressing how the last remaining leaves were being whirled from
the solitary plane tree which graces the yard behind our house. I
descended to breakfast prepared to find my companion in
depressed spirits, for, like all great artists, he was easily impressed
by his surroundings. On the contrary, I found that he had nearly
finished his meal, and that his mood was particularly bright and
joyous, with that somewhat sinister cheerfulness which was
characteristic of his lighter moments.
"You have a case, Holmes?" I remarked.
"The faculty of deduction is certainly contagious, Watson,"
he answered. "It has enabled you to probe my secret. Yes, I
have a case. After a month of trivialities and stagnation the
wheels move once more."
"Might I share it?"
"There is little to share, but we may discuss it when you have
consumed the two hard-boiled eggs with which our new cook has
favoured us. Their condition may not be unconnected with the
copy of the Family Herald which I observed yesterday upon the
hall-table. Even so trivial a matter as cooking an egg demands an
attention which is conscious of the passage of time and
incompatible with the love romance in that excellent periodical."
A quarter of an hour later the table had been cleared and we
were face to face. He had drawn a letter from his pocket.
"You have heard of Neil Gibson, the Gold King?" he said.
"You mean the American Senator?"
"Well, he was once Senator for some Western state, but is
better known as the greatest gold-mining magnate in the world."
"Yes, I know of him. He has surely lived in England for some
time. His name is very familiar."
"Yes, he bought a considerable estate in Hampshire some five
years ago. Possibly you have already heard of the tragic end of
"Of course. I remember it now. That is why the name is
familiar. But I really know nothing of the details."
Holmes waved his hand towards some papers on a chair. "I
had no idea that the case was coming my way or I should have
had my extracts ready," said he. "The fact is that the problem,
though exceedingly sensational, appeared to present no
difficulty. The interesting personality of the accused does not obscure
the clearness of the evidence. That was the view taken by the
coroner's jury and also in the police-court proceedings. It is now
referred to the Assizes at Winchester. I fear it is a thankless
business. I can discover facts, Watson, but I cannot change
them. Unless some entirely new and unexpected ones come to
light I do not see what my client can hope for."
"Ah, I forgot I had not told you. I am getting into your
involved habit, Watson, of telling a story backward. You had
best read this first."
The letter which he handed to me, written in a bold, masterful
hand, ran as follows:
DEAR MR. SHERLOCK HOLMES:
I can't see the best woman God ever made go to her
death without doing all that is possible to save her. I can't
explain things -- I can't even try to explain them, but I know
beyond all doubt that Miss Dunbar is innocent. You know
the facts -- who doesn't? It has been the gossip of the country.
And never a voice raised for her! It's the damned
injustice of it all that makes me crazy. That woman has a heart
that wouldn't let her kill a fly. Well, I'll come at eleven
to-morrow and see if you can get some ray of light in the
dark. Maybe I have a clue and don't know it. Anyhow, all I
know and all I have and all I am are for your use if only you
can save her. If ever in your life you showed your powers,
put them now into this case.
J. NEIL GIBSON.
"There you have it," said Sherlock Holmes, knocking out the
ashes of his after-breakfast pipe and slowly refilling it. "That is
the gentleman I await. As to the story, you have hardly time to
master all these papers, so I must give it to you in a nutshell if
you are to take an intelligent interest in the proceedings. This
man is the greatest financial power in the world, and a man, as I
understand, of most violent and formidable character. He
married a wife, the victim of this tragedy, of whom I know nothing
save that she was past her prime, which was the more
unfortunate as a very attractive governess superintended the education of
two young children. These are the three people concerned, and
the scene is a grand old manor house, the centre of a historical
English state. Then as to the tragedy. The wife was found in the
grounds nearly half a mile from the house, late at night, clad in
her dinner dress, with a shawl over her shoulders and a revolver
bullet through her brain. No weapon was found near her and
there was no local clue as to the murder. No weapon near her,
Watson -- mark that! The crime seems to have been committed
late in the evening, and the body was found by a gamekeeper
about eleven o'clock, when it was examined by the police and by
a doctor before being carried up to the house. Is this too
condensed, or can you follow it clearly?"
"It is all very clear. But why suspect the governess?"
"Well, in the first place there is some very direct evidence. A
revolver with one discharged chamber and a calibre which
corresponded with the bullet was found on the floor of her
wardrobe." His eyes fixed and he repeated in broken words,
"On -- the -- floor -- of -- her -- wardrobe." Then he sank into
silence, and I saw that some train of thought had been set moving
which I should be foolish to interrupt. Suddenly with a start he
emerged into brisk life once more. "Yes, Watson, it was found.
Pretty damning, eh? So the two juries thought. Then the dead
woman had a note upon her making an appointment at that very
place and signed by the governess. How's that? Finally there is
the motive. Senator Gibson is an attractive person. If his wife
dies, who more likely to succeed her than the young lady who
had already by all accounts received pressing attentions from her
employer? Love, fortune, power, all depending upon one
middleaged life. Ugly, Watson -- very ugly!"
"Yes, indeed, Holmes."
"Nor could she prove an alibi. On the contrary, she had to
admit that she was down near Thor Bridge -- that was the scene
of the tragedy -- about that hour. She couldn't deny it, for some
passing villager had seen her there."
"That really seems final."
"And yet, Watson -- and yet! This bridge -- a single broad span
of stone with balustraded sides -- carries the drive over the
narrowest part of a long, deep, reed-girt sheet of water. Thor Mere it
is called. In the mouth of the bridge lay the dead woman. Such
are the main facts. But here, if I mistake not, is our client,
considerably before his time."
Billy had opened the door, but the name which he announced
was an unexpected one. Mr. Marlow Bates was a stranger to
both of us. He was a thin, nervous wisp of a man with frightened
eyes and a twitching, hesitating manner -- a man whom my own
professional eye would judge to be on the brink of an absolute
"You seem agitated, Mr. Bates," said Holmes. "Pray sit
down. I fear I can only give you a short time, for I have an
appointment at eleven."
"I know you have," our visitor gasped, shooting out short
sentences like a man who is out of breath. "Mr. Gibson is
coming. Mr. Gibson is my employer. I am manager of his estate.
Mr. Holmes, he is a villain -- an infernal villain."
"Strong language, Mr. Bates."
"I have to be emphatic, Mr. Holmes, for the time is so
limited. I would not have him find me here for the world. He is
almost due now. But I was so situated that I could not come
earlier. His secretary, Mr. Ferguson, only told me this morning of
his appointment with you."
"And you are his manager?"
"I have given him notice. In a couple of weeks I shall have
shaken off his accursed slavery. A hard man, Mr. Holmes, hard
to all about him. Those public charities are a screen to cover his
private iniquities. But his wife was his chief victim. He was
brutal to her -- yes, sir, brutal! How she came by her death I do
not know, but I am sure that he had made her life a misery to
her. She was a creature of the tropics, a Brazilian by birth, as no
doubt you know."
"No, it had escaped me."
"Tropical by birth and tropical by nature. A child of the sun
and of passion. She had loved him as such women can love, but
when her own physical charms had faded -- I am told that they
once were great -- there was nothing to hold him. We all liked
her and felt for her and hated him for the way that he treated her.
But he is plausible and cunning. That is all I have to say to you.
Don't take him at his face value. There is more behind. Now I'll
go. No, no, don't detain me! He is almost due."
With a frightened look at the clock our strange visitor literally
ran to the door and disappeared.
"Well! Well!" said Holmes after an interval of silence. "Mr.
Gibson seems to have a nice loyal household. But the warning is
a useful one, and now we can only wait till the man himself
Sharp at the hour we heard a heavy step upon the stairs, and
the famous millionaire was shown into the room. As I looked
upon him I understood not only the fears and dislike of his
manager but also the execrations which so many business rivals
have heaped upon his head. If I were a sculptor and desired to
idealize the successful man of affairs, iron of nerve and leathery
of conscience, I should choose Mr. Neil Gibson as my model.
His tall, gaunt, craggy figure had a suggestion of hunger and
rapacity. An Abraham Lincoln keyed to base uses instead of high
ones would give some idea of the man. His face might have been
chiselled in granite, hard-set, craggy, remorseless, with deep
lines upon it, the scars of many a crisis. Cold gray eyes, looking
shrewdly out from under bristling brows, surveyed us each in
turn. He bowed in perfunctory fashion as Holmes mentioned my
name, and then with a masterful air of possession he drew a
chair up to my companion and seated himself with his bony
knees almost touching him.
"Let me say right here, Mr. Holmes," he began, "that money
is nothing to me in this case. You can burn it if it's any use in
lighting you to the truth. This woman is innocent and this
woman has to be cleared, and it's up to you to do it. Name your
"My professional charges are upon a fixed scale," said Holmes
coldly. "I do not vary them, save when I remit them altogether."
"Well, if dollars make no difference to you, think of the
reputation. If you pull this off every paper in England and
America will be booming you. You'll be the talk of two
"Thank you, Mr. Gibson, I do not think that I am in need of
booming. It may surprise you to know that I prefer to work
anonymously, and that it is the problem itself which attracts me.
But we are wasting time. Let us get down to the facts."
"I think that you will find all the main ones in the press
reports. I don't know that I can add anything which will help
you. But if there is anything you would wish more light upon --
well, I am here to give it."
"Well, there is just one point."
"What is it?"
"What were the exact relations between you and Miss Dunbar?"
The Gold King gave a violent start and half rose from his
chair. Then his massive calm came back to him.
"I suppose you are within your rights -- and maybe doing your
duty -- in asking such a question, Mr. Holmes."
"We will agree to suppose so," said Holmes.
"Then I can assure you that our relations were entirely and
always those of an employer towards a young lady whom he
never conversed with, or ever saw, save when she was in the
company of his children."
Holmes rose from his chair.
"I am a rather busy man, Mr. Gibson," said he, "and I have
no time or taste for aimless conversations. I wish you
Our visitor had risen also, and his great loose figure towered
above Holmes. There was an angry gleam from under those
bristling brows and a tinge of colour in the sallow cheeks.
"What the devil do you mean by this, Mr. Holmes? Do you
dismiss my case?"
"Well, Mr. Gibson, at least I dismiss you. I should have
thought my words were plain."
"Plain enough, but what's at the back of it? Raising the price
on me, or afraid to tackle it, or what? I've a right to a plain
"Well, perhaps you have," said Holmes. "I'll give you one.
This case is quite sufficiently complicated to start with without
the further difficulty of false information."
"Meaning that I lie."
"Well, I was trying to express it as delicately as I could, but if
you insist upon the word I will not contradict you."
I sprang to my feet, for the expression upon the millionaire's
face was fiendish in its intensity, and he had raised his great
knotted fist. Holmes smiled languidly and reached his hand out
for his pipe.
"Don't be noisy, Mr. Gibson. I find that after breakfast even
the smallest argument is unsettling. I suggest that a stroll in the
morning air and a little quiet thought will be greatly to your
With an effort the Gold King mastered his fury. I could not
but admire him, for by a supreme self-command he had turned in
a minute from a hot flame of anger to a frigid and contemptuous
"Well, it's your choice. I guess you know how to run your
own business. I can't make you touch the case against your will.
You've done yourself no good this morning, Mr. Holmes, for I
have broken stronger men than you. No man ever crossed me
and was the better for it."
"So many have said so, and yet here I am," said Holmes,
smiling. "Well, good-morning, Mr. Gibson. You have a good
deal yet to learn."
Our visitor made a noisy exit, but Holmes smoked in
imperturbable silence with dreamy eyes fixed upon the ceiling.
"Any views, Watson?" he asked at last.
"Well, Holmes, I must confess that when I consider that this
is a man who would certainly brush any obstacle from his path,
and when I remember that his wife may have been an obstacle
and an object of dislike, as that man Bates plainly told us, it
seems to me --"
"Exactly. And to me also."
"But what were his relations with the governess, and how did
you discover them?"
"Bluff, Watson, bluff! When I considered the passionate,
unconventional, unbusinesslike tone of his letter and contrasted it
with his self-contained manner and appearance, it was pretty
clear that there was some deep emotion which centred upon the
accused woman rather than upon the victim. We've got to
understand the exact relations of those three people if we are to reach
the truth. You saw the frontal attack which I made upon him,
and how imperturbably he received it. Then I bluffed him by
giving him the impression that I was absolutely certain, when in
reality I was only extremely suspicious."
"Perhaps he will come back?"
"He is sure to come back. He must come back. He can't leave
it where it is. Ha! isn't that a ring? Yes, there is his footstep.
Well, Mr. Gibson, I was just saying to Dr. Watson that you were
The Gold King had reentered the room in a more chastened
mood than he had left it. His wounded pride still showed in his
resentful eyes, but his common sense had shown him that he
must yield if he would attain his end.
"I've been thinking it over, Mr. Holmes, and I feel that I have
been hasty in taking your remarks amiss. You are justified in
getting down to the facts, whatever they may be, and I think the
more of you for it. I can assure you, however, that the relations
between Miss Dunbar and me don't really touch this case."
"That is for me to decide, is it not?"
"Yes, I guess that is so. You're like a surgeon who wants
every symptom before he can give his diagnosis."
"Exactly. That expresses it. And it is only a patient who has
an object in deceiving his surgeon who would conceal the facts
of his case."
"That may be so, but you will admit, Mr. Holmes, that most
men would shy off a bit when they are asked point-blank what
their relations with a woman may be -- if there is really some
serious feeling in the case. I guess most men have a little private
reserve of their own in some corner of their souls where they
don't welcome intruders. And you burst suddenly into it. But the
object excuses you, since it was to try and save her. Well, the
stakes are down and the reserve open, and you can explore
where you will. What is it you want?"
The Gold King paused for a moment as one who marshals his
thoughts. His grim, deep-lined face had become even sadder and
"I can give it to you in a very few words, Mr. Holmes," said
he at last. "There are some things that are painful as well as
difficult to say, so I won't go deeper than is needful. I met my
wife when I was gold-hunting in Brazil. Maria Pinto was the
daughter of a government official at Manaos, and she was very
beautiful. I was young and ardent in those days, but even now,
as I look back with colder blood and a more critical eye, I can
see that she was rare and wonderful in her beauty. It was a deep
rich nature, too, passionate, whole-hearted, tropical, ill-balanced,
very different from the American women whom I had known.
Well, to make a long story short, I loved her and I married her.
It was only when the romance had passed -- and it lingered for
years -- that I realized that we had nothing -- absolutely nothing -- in
common. My love faded. If hers had faded also it might have
been easier. But you know the wonderful way of women! Do
what I might, nothing could turn her from me. If I have been
harsh to her, even brutal as some have said, it has been because I
knew that if I could kill her love, or if it turned to hate, it would
be easier for both of us. But nothing changed her. She adored me
in those English woods as she had adored me twenty years ago
on the banks of the Amazon. Do what I might, she was as
devoted as ever.
"Then came Miss Grace Dunbar. She answered our
advertisement and became governess to our two children. Perhaps you
have seen her portrait in the papers. The whole world has
proclaimed that she also is a very beautiful woman. Now, I make no
pretence to be more moral than my neighbours, and I will admit
to you that I could not live under the same roof with such a
woman and in daily contact with her without feeling a passionate
regard for her. Do you blame me, Mr. Holmes?"
"I do not blame you for feeling it. I should blame you if you
expressed it, since this young lady was in a sense under your
"Well, maybe so," said the millionaire, though for a moment
the reproof had brought the old angry gleam into his eyes. "I'm
not pretending to be any better than I am. I guess all my life I've
been a man that reached out his hand for what he wanted, and I
never wanted anything more than the love and possession of that
woman. I told her so."
"Oh, you did, did you?"
Holmes could look very formidable when he was moved.
"I said to her that if I could marry her I would, but that it was
out of my power. I said that money was no object and that all I
could do to make her happy and comfortable would be done."
"Very generous, I am sure," said Holmes with a sneer.
"See here, Mr. Holmes. I came to you on a question of
evidence, not on a question of morals. I'm not asking for your
"It is only for the young lady's sake that I touch your case at
all," said Holmes sternly. "I don't know that anything she is
accused of is really worse than what you have yourself admitted,
that you have tried to ruin a defenceless girl who was under your
roof. Some of you rich men have to be taught that all the world
cannot be bribed into condoning your offences."
To my surprise the Gold King took the reproof with equanimity.
"That's how I feel myself about it now. I thank God that my
plans did not work out as I intended. She would have none of it,
and she wanted to leave the house instantly."
"Why did she not?"
"Well, in the first place, others were dependent upon her, and
it was no light matter for her to let them all down by sacrificing
her living. When I had sworn -- as I did -- that she should never
be molested again, she consented to remain. But there was
another reason. She knew the influence she had over me, and
that it was stronger than any other influence in the world. She
wanted to use it for good."
"Well, she knew something of my affairs. They are large,
Mr. Holmes -- large beyond the belief of an ordinary man. I can
make or break -- and it is usually break. It wasn't individuals
only. It was communities, cities, even nations. Business is a
hard game, and the weak go to the wall. I played the game for
all it was worth. I never squealed myself, and I never cared if the
other fellow squealed. But she saw it different. I guess she was
right. She believed and said that a fortune for one man that was
more than he needed should not be built on ten thousand ruined
men who were left without the means of life. That was how she
saw it, and I guess she could see past the dollars to something
that was more lasting. She found that I listened to what she said,
and she believed she was serving the world by influencing my
actions. So she stayed -- and then this came along."
"Can you throw any light upon that?"
The Gold King paused for a minute or more, his head sunk in
his hands, lost in deep thought.
"It's very black against her. I can't deny that. And women
lead an inward life and may do things beyond the judgment of a
man. At first I was so rattled and taken aback that I was ready to
think she had been led away in some extraordinary fashion that
was clean against her usual nature. One explanation came into
my head. I give it to you, Mr. Holmes, for what it is worth.
There is no doubt that my wife was bitterly jealous. There is a
soul-jealousy that can be as frantic as any body-jealousy, and
though my wife had no cause -- and I think she understood
this -- for the latter, she was aware that this English girl exerted
an influence upon my mind and my acts that she herself never
had. It was an influence for good, but that did not mend the
matter. She was crazy with hatred and the heat of the Amazon
was always in her blood. She might have planned to murder
Miss Dunbar -- or we will say to threaten her with a gun and so
frighten her into leaving us. Then there might have been a
scuffle and the gun gone off and shot the woman who held it."
"That possibility had already occurred to me," said Holmes.
"Indeed, it is the only obvious alternative to deliberate murder."
"But she utterly denies it."
"Well, that is not final -- is it? One can understand that a
woman placed in so awful a position might hurry home still in
her bewilderment holding the revolver. She might even throw it
down among her clothes, hardly knowing what she was doing,
and when it was found she might try to lie her way out by a total
denial, since all explanation was impossible. What is against
such a supposition?"
"Miss Dunbar herself."
Holmes looked at his watch. "I have no doubt we can get the
necessary permits this morning and reach Winchester by the
evening train. When I have seen this young lady it is very
possible that I may be of more use to you in the matter, though I
cannot promise that my conclusions will necessarily be such as
There was some delay in the official pass, and instead of
reaching Winchester that day we went down to Thor Place, the
Hampshire estate of Mr. Neil Gibson. He did not accompany us
himself, but we had the address of Sergeant Coventry, of the
local police, who had first examined into the affair. He was a
tall, thin, cadaverous man, with a secretive and mysterious
manner which conveyed the idea that he knew or suspected a
very great deal more than he dared say. He had a trick, too, of
suddenly sinking his voice to a whisper as if he had come upon
something of vital importance, though the information was
usually commonplace enough. Behind these tricks of manner he
soon showed himself to be a decent, honest fellow who was not
too proud to admit that he was out of his depth and would
welcome any help.
"Anyhow, I'd rather have you than Scotland Yard, Mr.
Holmes," said he. "If the Yard gets called into a case, then the
local loses all credit for success and may be blamed for failure.
Now, you play straight, so I've heard."
"I need not appear in the matter at all," said Holmes to the
evident relief of our melancholy acquaintance. "If I can clear it
up I don't ask to have my name mentioned."
"Well, it's very handsome of you, I am sure. And your
friend, Dr. Watson, can be trusted, I know. Now, Mr. Holmes,
as we walk down to the place there is one question I should like
to ask you. I'd breathe it to no soul but you." He looked round
as though he hardly dare utter the words. "Don't you think there
might be a case against Mr. Neil Gibson himself?"
"I have been considering that."
"You've not seen Miss Dunbar. She is a wonderful fine
woman in every way. He may well have wished his wife out of
the road. And these Americans are readier with pistols than our
folk are. It was his pistol, you know."
"Was that clearly made out?"
"Yes, sir. It was one of a pair that he had."
"One of a pair? Where is the other?"
"Well, the gentleman has a lot of firearms of one sort and
another. We never quite matched that particular pistol -- but the
box was made for two."
"If it was one of a pair you should surely be able to match
"Well, we have them all laid out at the house if you would
care to look them over."
"Later, perhaps. I think we will walk down together and have
a look at the scene of the tragedy."
This conversation had taken place in the little front room of
Sergeant Coventry's humble cottage which served as the local
police-station. A walk of half a mile or so across a wind-swept
heath, all gold and bronze with the fading ferns, brought us to a
side-gate opening into the grounds of the Thor Place estate. A
path led us through the pheasant preserves, and then from a
clearing we saw the widespread, half-timbered house, half Tudor
and half Georgian, upon the crest of the hill. Beside us there was
a long, reedy pool, constricted in the centre where the main
carriage drive passed over a stone bridge, but swelling into small
lakes on either side. Our guide paused at the mouth of this
bridge, and he pointed to the ground.
"That was where Mrs. Gibson's body lay. I marked it by that
"I understand that you were there before it was moved?"
"Yes, they sent for me at once."
"Mr. Gibson himself. The moment the alarm was given and
he had rushed down with others from the house, he insisted that
nothing should be moved until the police should arrive."
"That was sensible. I gathered from the newspaper report that
the shot was fired from close quarters."
"Yes, sir, very close."
"Near the right temple?"
"Just behind it, sir."
"How did the body lie?"
"On the back, sir. No trace of a struggle. No marks. No
weapon. The short note from Miss Dunbar was clutched in her
"Clutched, you say?"
"Yes, sir, we could hardly open the fingers."
"That is of great importance. It excludes the idea that anyone
could have placed the note there after death in order to furnish a
false clue. Dear me! The note, as I remember, was quite short:
"I will be at Thor Bridge at nine o'clock."
Was that not so?"
"Did Miss Dunbar admit writing it?"
"What was her explanation?"
"Her defence was reserved for the Assizes. She would say
"The problem is certainly a very interesting one. The point of
the letter is very obscure, is it not?"
"Well, sir," said the guide, "it seemed, if I may be so bold
as to say so, the only really clear point in the whole case."
Holmes shook his head.
"Granting that the letter is genuine and was really written, it
was certainly received some time before -- say one hour or two.
Why, then, was this lady still clasping it in her left hand? Why
should she carry it so carefully? She did not need to refer to it in
the interview. Does it not seem remarkable?"
"Well, sir, as you put it, perhaps it does."
"I think I should like to sit quietly for a few minutes and think
it out." He seated himself upon the stone ledge of the bridge,
and I could see his quick gray eyes darting their questioning
glances in every direction. Suddenly he sprang up again and ran
across to the opposite parapet, whipped his lens from his pocket,
and began to examine the stonework.
"This is curious," said he.
"Yes, sir, we saw the chip on the ledge. I expect it's been
done by some passer-by."
The stonework was gray, but at this one point it showed white
for a space not larger than a sixpence. When examined closely
one could see that the surface was chipped as by a sharp blow.
"It took some violence to do that," said Holmes thoughtfully.
With his cane he struck the ledge several times without leaving a
mark. "Yes, it was a hard knock. In a curious place, too. It was
not from above but from below, for you see that it is on the
lower edge of the parapet."
"But it is at least fifteen feet from the body."
"Yes, it is fifteen feet from the body. It may have nothing to
do with the matter, but it is a point worth noting. I do not think
that we have anything more to learn here. There were no
footsteps, you say?"
"The ground was iron hard, sir. There were no traces at all."
"Then we can go. We will go up to the house first and look
over these weapons of which you speak. Then we shall get on to
Winchester, for I should desire to see Miss Dunbar before we go
Mr. Neil Gibson had not returned from town, but we saw in
the house the neurotic Mr. Bates who had called upon us in the
morning. He showed us with a sinister relish the formidable
array of firearms of various shapes and sizes which his employer
had accumulated in the course of an adventurous life.
"Mr. Gibson has his enemies, as anyone would expect who
knew him and his methods," said he. "He sleeps with a loaded
revolver in the drawer beside his bed. He is a man of violence,
sir, and there are times when all of us are afraid of him. I am
sure that the poor lady who has passed was often terrified."
"Did you ever witness physical violence towards her?"
"No, I cannot say that. But I have heard words which were
nearly as bad -- words of cold, cutting contempt, even before the
"Our millionaire does not seem to shine in private life,"
remarked Holmes as we made our way to the station. "Well,
Watson, we have come on a good many facts, some of them new
ones, and yet I seem some way from my conclusion. In spite of
the very evident dislike which Mr. Bates has to his employer, I
gather from him that when the alarm came he was undoubtedly
in his library. Dinner was over at 8:30 and all was normal up to
then. It is true that the alarm was somewhat late in the evening,
but the tragedy certainly occurred about the hour named in the
note. There is no evidence at all that Mr. Gibson had been out of
doors since his return from town at five o'clock. On the other
hand, Miss Dunbar, as I understand it, admits that she had made
an appointment to meet Mrs. Gibson at the bridge. Beyond this
she would say nothing, as her lawyer had advised her to reserve
her defence. We have several very vital questions to ask that
young lady, and my mind will not be easy until we have seen
her. I must confess that the case would seem to me to be very
black against her if it were not for one thing."
"And what is that, Holmes?"
"The finding of the pistol in her wardrobe."
"Dear me, Holmes!" I cried, "that seemed to me to be the
most damning incident of all."
"Not so, Watson. It had struck me even at my first
perfunctory reading as very strange, and now that I am in closer touch
with the case it is my only firm ground for hope. We must look
for consistency. Where there is a want of it we must suspect
"I hardly follow you."
"Well now, Watson, suppose for a moment that we visualize
you in the character of a woman who, in a cold, premeditated
fashion, is about to get rid of a rival. You have planned it. A
note has been written. The victim has come. You have your
weapon. The crime is done. It has been workmanlike and
complete. Do you tell me that after carrying out so crafty a crime you
would now ruin your reputation as a criminal by forgetting to
fling your weapon into those adjacent reed-beds which would
forever cover it, but you must needs carry it carefully home and
put it in your own wardrobe, the very first place that would be
searched? Your best friends would hardly call you a schemer,
Watson, and yet I could not picture you doing anything so crude
"In the excitement of the moment "
"No, no, Watson, I will not admit that it is possible. Where a
crime is coolly premeditated, then the means of covering it are
coolly premeditated also. I hope, therefore, that we are in the
presence of a serious misconception."
"But there is so much to explain."
"Well, we shall set about explaining it. When once your point
of view is changed, the very thing which was so damning
becomes a clue to the truth. For example, there is this revolver.
Miss Dunbar disclaims all knowledge of it. On our new theory
she is speaking truth when she says so. Therefore, it was placed
in her wardrobe. Who placed it there? Someone who wished to
incriminate her. Was not that person the actual criminal? You
see how we come at once upon a most fruitful line of inquiry."
We were compelled to spend the night at Winchester, as the
formalities had not yet been completed, but next morning, in the
company of Mr. Joyce Cummings, the rising barrister who was
entrusted with the defence, we were allowed to see the young
lady in her cell. I had expected from all that we had heard to see
a beautiful woman, but I can never forget the effect which Miss
Dunbar produced upon me. It was no wonder that even the
masterful millionaire had found in her something more powerful
than himself -- something which could control and guide him.
One felt, too, as one looked at the strong, clear-cut, and yet
sensitive face, that even should she be capable of some
impetuous deed, none the less there was an innate nobility of character
which would make her influence always for the good. She was a
brunette, tall, with a noble figure and commanding presence, but
her dark eyes had in them the appealing, helpless expression of
the hunted creature who feels the nets around it, but can see no
way out from the toils. Now, as she realized the presence and the
help of my famous friend, there came a touch of colour in her
wan cheeks and a light of hope began to glimmer in the glance
which she turned upon us.
"Perhaps Mr. Neil Gibson has told you something of what
occurred between us?" she asked in a low, agitated voice.
"Yes," Holmes answered, "you need not pain yourself by
entering into that part of the story. After seeing you, I am
prepared to accept Mr. Gibson's statement both as to the
influence which you had over him and as to the innocence of your
relations with him. But why was the whole situation not brought
out in court?"
"It seemed to me incredible that such a charge could be
sustained. I thought that if we waited the whole thing must clear
itself up without our being compelled to enter into painful details
of the inner life of the family. But I understand that far from
clearing it has become even more serious."
"My dear young lady," cried Holmes earnestly, "I beg you
to have no illusions upon the point. Mr. Cummings here would
assure you that all the cards are at present against us, and that we
must do everything that is possible if we are to win clear. It
would be a cruel deception to pretend that you are not in very
great danger. Give me all the help you can, then, to get at the
"I will conceal nothing."
"Tell us, then, of your true relations with Mr. Gibson's
"She hated me, Mr. Holmes. She hated me with all the
fervour of her tropical nature. She was a woman who would do
nothing by halves, and the measure of her love for her husband
was the measure also of her hatred for me. It is probable that she
misunderstood our relations. I would not wish to wrong her, but
she loved so vividly in a physical sense that she could hardly
understand the mental, and even spiritual, tie which held her
husband to me, or imagine that it was only my desire to
influence his power to good ends which kept me under his roof. I can
see now that I was wrong. Nothing could justify me in remaining
where I was a cause of unhappiness, and yet it is certain that the
unhappiness would have remained even if I had left the house."
"Now, Miss Dunbar," said Holmes, "I beg you to tell us
exactly what occurred that evening."
"I can tell you the truth so far as I know it, Mr. Holmes, but I
am in a position to prove nothing, and there are points -- the most
vital points -- which I can neither explain nor can I imagine any
"If you will find the facts, perhaps others may find the
"With regard, then, to my presence at Thor Bridge that night,
I received a note from Mrs. Gibson in the morning. It lay on the
table of the schoolroom, and it may have been left there by her
own hand. It implored me to see her there after dinner, said she
had something important to say to me, and asked me to leave an
answer on the sundial in the garden, as she desired no one to be
in our confidence. I saw no reason for such secrecy, but I did as
she asked, accepting the appointment. She asked me to destroy
her note and I burned it in the schoolroom grate. She was very
much afraid of her husband, who treated her with a harshness for
which I frequently reproached him, and I could only imagine that
she acted in this way because she did not wish him to know of
"Yet she kept your reply very carefully?"
"Yes. I was surprised to hear that she had it in her hand when
"Well, what happened then?"
"I went down as I had promised. When I reached the bridge
she was waiting for me. Never did I realize till that moment how
this poor creature hated me. She was like a mad woman -- indeed,
I think she was a mad woman, subtly mad with the deep power
of deception which insane people may have. How else could she
have met me with unconcern every day and yet had so raging a
hatred of me in her heart? I will not say what she said. She
poured her whole wild fury out in burning and horrible words. I
did not even answer -- I could not. It was dreadful to see her. I
put my hands to my ears and rushed away. When I left her she
was standing, still shrieking out her curses at me, in the mouth
of the bridge."
"Where she was afterwards found?"
"Within a few yards from the spot."
"And yet, presuming that she met her death shortly after you
left her, you heard no shot~"
"No, I heard nothing. But, indeed, Mr. Holmes, I was so
agitated and horrified by this terrible outbreak that I rushed to get
back to the peace of my own room, and I was incapable of
noticing anything which happened."
"You say that you returned to your room. Did you leave it
again before next morning?"
"Yes, when the alarm came that the poor creature had met her
death I ran out with the others "
"Did you see Mr. Gibson?"
"Yes, he had just returned from the bridge when I saw him.
He had sent for the doctor and the police."
"Did he seem to you much perturbed?"
"Mr. Gibson is a very strong, self-contained man. I do not
think that he would ever show his emotions on the surface. But
I, who knew him so well, could see that he was deeply
"Then we come to the all-important point. This pistol that was
found in your room. Had you ever seen it before?"
"Never, I swear it."
"When was it found?"
"Next morning, when the police made their search."
"Among your clothes?"
"Yes, on the floor of my wardrobe under my dresses."
"You could not guess how long it had been there?"
"It had not been there the morning before."
"How do you know?"
"Because I tidied out the wardrobe."
"That is final. Then someone came into your room and placed
the pistol there in order to inculpate you."
"It must have been so."
"It could only have been at meal-time, or else at the hours
when I would be in the schoolroom with the children."
"As you were when you got the note?"
"Yes, from that time onward for the whole morning."
"Thank you, Miss Dunbar. Is there any other point which
could help me in the investigation?"
"I can think of none."
"There was some sign of violence on the stonework of the
bridge -- a perfectly fresh chip just opposite the body. Could you
suggest any possible explanation of that?"
"Surely it must be a mere coincidence."
"Curious, Miss Dunbar, very curious. Why should it appear
at the very time of the tragedy, and why at the very place?"
"But what could have caused it? Only great violence could
have such an effect."
Holmes did not answer. His pale, eager face had suddenly
assumed that tense, far-away expression which I had learned to
associate with the supreme manifestations of his genius. So
evident was the crisis in his mind that none of us dared to speak,
and we sat, barrister, prisoner, and myself, watching him in a
concentrated and absorbed silence. Suddenly he sprang from his
chair, vibrating with nervous energy and the pressing need for
"Come, Watson, come!" he cried.
"What is it, Mr. Holmes?"
"Never mind, my dear lady. You will hear from me, Mr.
Cummings. With the help of the god of justice I will give you a
case which will make England ring. You will get news by
to-morrow, Miss Dunbar, and meanwhile take my assurance that
the clouds are lifting and that I have every hope that the light of
truth is breaking through."
It was not a long journey from Winchester to Thor Place, but
it was long to me in my impatience, while for Holmes it was
evident that it seemed endless; for, in his nervous restlessness
he could not sit still, but paced the carriage or drummed with his
long, sensitive fingers upon the cushions beside him. Suddenly,
however, as we neared our destination he seated himself opposite
to me -- we had a first-class carriage to ourselves -- and laying a
hand upon each of my knees he looked into my eyes with the
peculiarly mischievous gaze which was charactenstic of his more
"Watson," said he, "I have some recollection that you go
armed upon these excursions of ours."
It was as well for him that I did so, for he took little care for
his own safety when his mind was once absorbed by a problem
so that more than once my revolver had been a good friend in
need. I reminded him of the fact.
"Yes, yes, I am a little absent-minded in such matters. But
have you your revolver on you?"
I produced it from my hip-pocket, a short, handy, but very
serviceable little weapon. He undid the catch, shook out the
cartridges, and examined it with care.
"It's heavy -- remarkably heavy," said he.
"Yes, it is a solid bit of work."
He mused over it for a minute.
"Do you know, Watson," said he, "I believe your revolver is
going to have a very intimate connection with the mystery which
we are investigating."
"My dear Holmes, you are joking."
"No, Watson, I am very serious. There is a test before us. If
the test comes off, all will be clear. And the test will depend
upon the conduct of this little weapon. One cartridge out. Now
we will replace the other five and put on the safety-catch. So!
That increases the weight and makes it a better reproduction."
I had no glimmer of what was in his mind, nor did he
enlighten me, but sat lost in thought until we pulled up in the
little Hampshire station. We secured a ramshackle trap, and in a
quarter of an hour were at the house of our confidential friend,
"A clue, Mr. Holmes? What is it?"
"It all depends upon the behaviour of Dr. Watson's revolver,"
said my friend. "Here it is. Now, officer, can you give me ten
yards of string?"
The village shop provided a ball of stout twine.
"I think that this is all we will need," said Holmes. "Now, if
you please, we will get off on what I hope is the last stage of our
The sun was setting and turning the rolling Hampshire moor
into a wonderful autumnal panorama. The sergeant, with many
critical and incredulous glances, which showed his deep doubts
of the sanity of my companion, lurched along beside us. As we
approached the scene of the crime I could see that my friend
under all his habitual coolness was in truth deeply agitated.
"Yes," he said in answer to my remark, "you have seen me
miss my mark before, Watson. I have an instinct for such things,
and yet it has sometimes played me false. It seemed a certainty
when first it flashed across my mind in the cell at Winchester,
but one drawback of an active mind is that one can always
conceive alternative explanations which would make our scent a
false one. And yet -- and yet -- Well, Watson, we can but try."
As he walked he had firmly tied one end of the string to the
handle of the revolver. We had now reached the scene of the
tragedy. With great care he marked out under the guidance of the
policeman the exact spot where the body had been stretched. He
then hunted among the heather and the ferns until he found a
considerable stone. This he secured to the other end of his line of
string, and he hung it over the parapet of the bridge so that it
swung clear above the water. He then stood on the fatal spot,
some distance from the edge of the bridge, with my revolver in
his hand, the string being taut between the weapon and the heavy
stone on the farther side.
"Now for it!" he cried.
At the words he raised the pistol to his head, and then let go
his grip. In an instant it had been whisked away by the weight of
the stone, had struck with a sharp crack against the parapet, and
had vanished over the side into the water. It had hardly gone
before Holmes was kneeling beside the stonework, and a joyous
cry showed that he had found what he expected.
"Was there ever a more exact demonstration?" he cried.
"See, Watson, your revolver has solved the problem!" As he
spoke he pointed to a second chip of the exact size and shape of
the first which had appeared on the under edge of the stone
"We'll stay at the inn to-night," he continued as he rose and
faced the astonished sergeant. "You will, of course, get a
grappling-hook and you will easily restore my friend's revolver.
You will also find beside it the revolver, string and weight with
which this vindictive woman attempted to disguise her own
crime and to fasten a charge of murder upon an innocent victim.
You can let Mr. Gibson know that I will see him in the morning,
when steps can be taken for Miss Dunbar's vindication."
Late that evening, as we sat together smoking our pipes in the
village inn, Holmes gave me a brief review of what had passed.
"I fear, Watson," said he, "that you will not improve any
reputation which I may have acquired by adding the case of the
Thor Bridge mystery to your annals. I have been sluggish in
mind and wanting in that mixture of imagination and reality
which is the basis of my art. I confess that the chip in the
stonework was a sufficient clue to suggest the true solution, and
that I blame myself for not having attained it sooner.
"It must be admitted that the workings of this unhappy
woman's mind were deep and subtle, so that it was no very simple
matter to unravel her plot. I do not think that in our adventures
we have ever come across a stranger example of what perverted
love can bring about. Whether Miss Dunbar was her rival in a
physical or in a merely mental sense seems to have been equally
unforgivable in her eyes. No doubt she blamed this innocent lady
for all those harsh dealings and unkind words with which her
husband tried to repel her too demonstrative affection. Her first
resolution was to end her own life. Her second was to do it in
such a way as to involve her victim in a fate which was worse far
than any sudden death could be.
"We can follow the various steps quite clearly, and they show
a remarkable subtlety of mind. A note was extracted very
cleverly from Miss Dunbar which would make it appear that she had
chosen the scene of the crime. In her anxiety that it should be
discovered she somewhat overdid it by holding it in her hand to
the last. This alone should have excited my suspicions earlier
than it did.
"Then she took one of her husband's revolvers -- there was, as
you saw, an arsenal in the house -- and kept it for her own use. A
similar one she concealed that morning in Miss Dunbar's
wardrobe after discharging one barrel, which she could easily do in
the woods without attracting attention. She then went down to
the bridge where she had contrived this exceedingly ingenious
method for getting rid of her weapon. When Miss Dunbar
appeared she used her last breath in pouring out her hatred, and
then, when she was out of hearing, carried out her terrible
purpose. Every link is now in its place and the chain is complete.
The papers may ask why the mere was not dragged in the first
instance, but it is easy to be wise after the event, and in
any case the expanse of a reed-filled lake is no easy matter
to drag unless you have a clear perception of what you are
looking for and where. Well, Watson, we have helped a
remarkable woman, and also a formidable man. Should they in the
future join their forces, as seems not unlikely, the financial
world may find that Mr. Neil Gibson has learned something
in that schoolroom of sorrow where our earthly lessons are