Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Valley of Fear (1914)
Part I - The Tragedy of Birlstone
The People Of the Drama
"Have you seen all you want of the study?" asked White Mason
as we reentered the house.
"For the time," said the inspector, and Holmes nodded.
"Then perhaps you would now like to hear the evidence of
some of the people in the house. We could use the dining-room,
Ames. Please come yourself first and tell us what you know."
The butler's account was a simple and a clear one, and he
gave a convincing impression of sincerity. He had been engaged
five years before, when Douglas first came to Birlstone. He
understood that Mr. Douglas was a rich gentleman who had
made his money in America. He had been a kind and considerate
employer -- not quite what Ames was used to, perhaps; but one
can't have everything. He never saw any signs of apprehension
in Mr. Douglas: on the contrary, he was the most fearless man
he had ever known. He ordered the drawbridge to be pulled up
every night because it was the ancient custom of the old house,
and he liked to keep the old ways up.
Mr. Douglas seldom went to London or left the village; but on
the day before the crime he had been shopping at Tunbridge
Wells. He (Ames) had observed some restlessness and
excitement on the part of Mr. Douglas that day; for he had seemed
impatient and irritable, which was unusual with him. He had not
gone to bed that night; but was in the pantry at the back of the
house, putting away the silver, when he heard the bell ring
violently. He heard no shot; but it was hardly possible he would,
as the pantry and kitchens were at the very back of the house and
there were several closed doors and a long passage between. The
housekeeper had come out of her room, attracted by the violent
ringing of the bell. They had gone to the front of the house
As they reached the bottom of the stair he had seen Mrs.
Douglas coming down it. No, she was not hurrying; it did not
seem to him that she was particularly agitated. Just as she
reached the bottom of the stair Mr. Barker had rushed out of the
study. He had stopped Mrs. Douglas and begged her to go back.
"For God's sake, go back to your room!" he cried. "Poor
Jack is dead! You can do nothing. For God's sake, go back!"
After some persuasion upon the stairs Mrs. Douglas had gone
back. She did not scream. She made no outcry whatever. Mrs.
Allen, the housekeeper, had taken her upstairs and stayed with
her in the bedroom. Ames and Mr. Barker had then returned to
the study, where they had found everything exactly as the police
had seen it. The candle was not lit at that time; but the lamp was
burning. They had looked out of the window; but the night was
very dark and nothing could be seen or heard. They had then
rushed out into the hall, where Ames had turned the windlass
which lowered the drawbridge. Mr. Barker had then hurried off
to get the police.
Such, in its essentials, was the evidence of the butler.
The account of Mrs. Allen, the housekeeper, was, so far as it
went, a corroboration of that of her fellow servant. The
housekeeper's room was rather nearer to the front of the house than the
pantry in which Ames had been working. She was preparing to
go to bed when the loud ringing of the bell had attracted her
attention. She was a little hard of hearing. Perhaps that was why
she had not heard the shot; but in any case the study was a long
way off. She remembered hearing some sound which she
imagined to be the slamming of a door. That was a good deal
earlier -- half an hour at least before the ringing of the bell. When
Mr. Ames ran to the front she went with him. She saw Mr.
Barker, very pale and excited, come out of the study. He
intercepted Mrs. Douglas, who was coming down the stairs. He
entreated her to go back, and she answered him, but what she
said could not be heard.
"Take her up! Stay with her!" he had said to Mrs. Allen.
She had therefore taken her to the bedroom, and endeavoured
to soothe her. She was greatly excited, trembling all over, but
made no other attempt to go downstairs. She just sat in her
dressing gown by her bedroom fire, with her head sunk in her
hands. Mrs. Allen stayed with her most of the night. As to the
other servants, they had all gone to bed, and the alarm did not
reach them until just before the police arrived. They slept at the
extreme back of the house, and could not possibly have heard
So far the housekeeper could add nothing on cross-examination
save lamentations and expressions of amazement.
Cecil Barker succeeded Mrs. Allen as a witness. As to the
occurrences of the night before, he had very little to add to what
he had already told the police. Personally, he was convinced that
the murderer had escaped by the window. The bloodstain was
conclusive, in his opinion, on that point. Besides, as the bridge
was up, there was no other possible way of escaping. He could
not explain what had become of the assassin or why he had not
taken his bicycle, if it were indeed his. He could not possibly
have been drowned in the moat, which was at no place more
than three feet deep.
In his own mind he had a very definite theory about the
murder. Douglas was a reticent man, and there were some
chapters in his life of which he never spoke. He had emigrated to
America when he was a very young man. He had prospered
well, and Barker had first met him in California, where they had
become partners in a successful mining claim at a place called
Benito Canon. They had done very well; but Douglas had
suddenly sold out and started for England. He was a widower at
that time. Barker had afterwards realized his money and come to
live in London. Thus they had renewed their friendship.
Douglas had given him the impression that some danger was
hanging over his head, and he had always looked upon his
sudden departure from California, and also his renting a house in
so quiet a place in England, as being connected with this peril.
He imagined that some secret society, some implacable
organization, was on Douglas's track, which would never rest until it
killed him. Some remarks of his had given him this idea; though
he had never told him what the society was, nor how he had
come to offend it. He could only suppose that the legend upon
the placard had some reference to this secret society.
"How long were you with Douglas in California?" asked
"Five years altogether."
"He was a bachelor, you say?"
"Have you ever heard where his first wife came from?"
"No, I remember his saying that she was of German
extraction, and I have seen her portrait. She was a very beautiful
woman. She died of typhoid the year before I met him."
"You don't associate his past with any particular part of
"I have heard him talk of Chicago. He knew that city well and
had worked there. I have heard him talk of the coal and iron
districts. He had travelled a good deal in his time."
"Was he a politician? Had this secret society to do with
"No, he cared nothing about politics."
"You have no reason to think it was criminal?"
"On the contrary, I never met a straighter man in my life."
"Was there anything curious about his life in California?"
"He liked best to stay and to work at our claim in the
mountains. He would never go where other men were if he could
help it. That's why I first thought that someone was after him.
Then when he left so suddenly for Europe I made sure that it was
so. I believe that he had a warning of some sort. Within a week
of his leaving half a dozen men were inquiring for him."
"What sort of men?"
"Well, they were a mighty hard-looking crowd. They came
up to the claim and wanted to know where he was. I told them
that he was gone to Europe and that I did not know where to find
him. They meant him no good -- it was easy to see that."
"Were these men Americans -- Californians?"
"Well, I don't know about Californians. They were
Americans, all right. But they were not miners. I don't know what they
were, and was very glad to see their backs."
"That was six years ago?"
"And then you were together five years in California, so that
this business dates back not less than eleven years at the least?"
"That is so."
"It must be a very serious feud that would be kept up with
such earnestness for as long as that. It would be no light thing
that would give rise to it."
"I think it shadowed his whole life. It was never quite out of
"But if a man had a danger hanging over him, and knew what
it was, don't you think he would turn to the police for protection?"
"Maybe it was some danger that he could not be protected
against. There's one thing you should know. He always went
about armed. His revolver was never out of his pocket. But, by
bad luck, he was in his dressing gown and had left it in the
bedroom last night. Once the bridge was up, I guess he thought
he was safe."
"I should like these dates a little clearer," said MacDonald.
"It is quite six years since Douglas left California. You followed
him next year, did you not?"
"That is so."
"And he had been married five years. You must have returned
about the time of his marriage."
"About a month before. I was his best man."
"Did you know Mrs. Douglas before her marriage?"
"No, I did not. I had been away from England for ten years."
"But you have seen a good deal of her since."
Barker looked sternly at the detective. "I have seen a good
deal of him since," he answered. "If I have seen her, it is
because you cannot visit a man without knowing his wife. If you
imagine there is any connection --"
"I imagine nothing, Mr. Barker. I am bound to make every
inquiry which can bear upon the case. But I mean no offense."
"Some inquiries are offensive," Barker answered angrily.
"It's only the facts that we want. It is in your interest and
everyone's interest that they should be cleared up. Did Mr.
Douglas entirely approve your friendship with his wife?"
Barker grew paler, and his great, strong hands were clasped
convulsively together. "You have no right to ask such
questions!" he cried. "What has this to do with the matter you are
"I must repeat the question."
"Well, I refuse to answer."
"You can refuse to answer; but you must be aware that your
refusal is in itself an answer, for you would not refuse if you had
not something to conceal."
Barker stood for a moment with his face set grimly and his
strong black eyebrows drawn low in intense thought. Then he
looked up with a smile. "Well, I guess you gentlemen are only
doing your clear duty after all, and I have no right to stand in the
way of it. I'd only ask you not to worry Mrs. Douglas over this
matter; for she has enough upon her just now. I may tell you that
poor Douglas had just one fault in the world, and that was his
jealousy. He was fond of me -- no man could be fonder of a
friend. And he was devoted to his wife. He loved me to come
here, and was forever sending for me. And yet if his wife and I
talked together or there seemed any sympathy between us, a kind
of wave of jealousy would pass over him, and he would be off
the handle and saying the wildest things in a moment. More than
once I've sworn off coming for that reason, and then he would
write me such penitent, imploring letters that I just had to. But
you can take it from me, gentlemen, if it was my last word, that
no man ever had a more loving, faithful wife -- and I can say also
no friend could be more loyal than I!"
It was spoken with fervour and feeling, and yet Inspector
MacDonald could not dismiss the subject.
"You are aware," said he, "that the dead man's wedding ring
has been taken from his finger?"
"So it appears," said Barker.
"What do you mean by 'appears'? You know it as a fact."
The man seemed confused and undecided . "When I said
'appears' I meant that it was conceivable that he had himself
taken off the ring."
"The mere fact that the ring should be absent, whoever may
have removed it, would suggest to anyone's mind, would it not,
that the marriage and the tragedy were connected?"
Barker shrugged his broad shoulders. "I can't profess to say
what it means." he answered. "But if you mean to hint that it
could reflect in any way upon this lady's honour" -- his eyes
blazed for an instant, and then with an evident effort he got a
grip upon his own emotions "well, you are on the wrong track.
"I don't know that I've anything else to ask you at present,"
said MacDonald, coldly.
"There was one small point," remarked Sherlock Holmes.
"When you entered the room there was only a candle lighted on
the table, was there not?"
"Yes, that was so."
"By its light you saw that some terrible incident had occurred?"
"You at once rang for help?"
"And it arrived very speedily?"
"Within a minute or so."
"And yet when they arrived they found that the candle was
out and that the lamp had been lighted. That seems very
Again Barker showed some signs of indecision. "I don't see
that it was remarkable, Mr. Holmes," he answered after a pause.
"The candle threw a very bad light. My first thought was to get
a better one. The lamp was on the table; so I lit it."
"And blew out the candle?"
Holmes asked no further question, and Barker, with a
deliberate look from one to the other of us, which had, as it seemed to
me, something of defiance in it, turned and left the room.
Inspector MacDonald had sent up a note to the effect that he
would wait upon Mrs. Douglas in her room; but she had replied
that she would meet us in the dining room. She entered now, a
tall and beautiful woman of thirty, reserved and self-possessed to
a remarkable degree, very different from the tragic and distracted
figure I had pictured. It is true that her face was pale and drawn,
like that of one who has endured a great shock; but her manner
was composed, and the finely moulded hand which she rested
upon the edge of the table was as steady as my own. Her sad,
appealing eyes travelled from one to the other of us with a
curiously inquisitive expression. That questioning gaze
transformed itself suddenly into abrupt speech.
"Have you found anything out yet?" she asked.
Was it my imagination that there was an undertone of fear
rather than of hope in the question?
"We have taken every possible step, Mrs. Douglas," said the
inspector. "You may rest assured that nothing will be neglected."
"Spare no money," she said in a dead, even tone. "It is my
desire that every possible effort should be made."
"Perhaps you can tell us something which may throw some
light upon the matter."
"I fear not; but all I know is at your service."
"We have heard from Mr. Cecil Barker that you did not
actually see -- that you were never in the room where the tragedy
"No, he turned me back upon the stairs. He begged me to
return to my room."
"Quite so. You had heard the shot, and you had at once come
"I put on my dressing gown and then came down."
"How long was it after hearing the shot that you were stopped
on the stair by Mr. Barker?"
"It may have been a couple of minutes. It is so hard to reckon
time at such a moment. He implored me not to go on. He
assured me that I could do nothing. Then Mrs. Allen, the
housekeeper, led me upstairs again. It was all like some dreadful
"Can you give us any idea how long your husband had been
downstairs before you heard the shot?"
"No, I cannot say. He went from his dressing room, and I did
not hear him go. He did the round of the house every night, for
he was nervous of fire. It is the only thing that I have ever
known him nervous of."
"That is just the point which I want to come to, Mrs.
Douglas. You have known your husband only in England, have you
"Yes, we have been married five years."
"Have you heard him speak of anything which occurred in
America and might bring some danger upon him?"
Mrs. Douglas thought earnestly before she answered. "Yes."
she said at last, "I have always felt that there was a danger
hanging over him. He refused to discuss it with me. It was not
from want of confidence in me -- there was the most complete
love and confidence betwecn us -- but it was out of his desire to
keep all alarm away from me. He thought I should brood over it
if I knew all, and so he was silent."
"How did you know it, then?"
Mrs. Douglas's face lit with a quick smile. "Can a husband
ever carry about a secret all his life and a woman who loves him
have no suspicion of it? I knew it by his refusal to talk about
some episodes in his American life. I knew it by certain
precautions he took. I knew it by certain words he let fall. I knew it by
the way he looked at unexpected strangers. I was perfectly
certain that he had some powerful enemies, that he believed they
were on his track, and that he was always on his guard against
them. I was so sure of it that for years I have been terrified if
ever he came home later than was expected."
"Might I ask," asked Holmes, "what the words were which
attracted your attention?"
"The Valley of Fear," the lady answered. "That was an
expression he has used when I questioned him. 'I have been in
the Valley of Fear. I am not out of it yet.' -- 'Are we never to get
out of the Valley of Fear?' I have asked him when I have seen
him more serious than usual. 'Sometimes I think that we never
shall,' he has answered."
"Surely you asked him what he meant by the Valley of
"I did; but his face would become very grave and he would
shake his head. 'It is bad enough that one of us should have been
in its shadow,' he said. 'Please God it shall never fall upon you!'
It was some real valley in which he had lived and in which
something terrible had occurred to him, of that I am certain; but I
can tell you no more."
"And he never mentioned any names?"
"Yes, he was delirious with fever once when he had his
hunting accident three years ago. Then I remember that there
was a name that came continually to his lips. He spoke it with
anger and a sort of horror. McGinty was the name -- Bodymaster
McGinty. I asked him when he recovered who Bodymaster
McGinty was, and whose body he was master of. 'Never of
mine, thank God!' he answered with a laugh, and that was all I
could get from him. But there is a connection between Bodymaster
McGinty and the Valley of Fear."
"There is one other point," said Inspector MacDonald. "You
met Mr. Douglas in a boarding house in London, did you not,
and became engaged to him there? Was there any romance,
anything secret or mysterious, about the wedding?"
"There was romance. There is always romance. There was
"He had no rival?"
"No, I was quite free."
"You have heard, no doubt, that his wedding ring has been
taken. Does that suggest anything to you? Suppose that some
enemy of his old life had tracked him down and committed this
crime, what possible reason could he have for taking his
For an instant I could have sworn that the faintest shadow of a
smile flickered over the woman's lips.
"I really cannot tell," she answered. "It is certainly a most
"Well, we will not detain you any longer, and we are sorry to
have put you to this trouble at such a time," said the inspector.
"There are some other points, no doubt; but we can refer to you
as they arise."
She rose, and I was again conscious of that quick, questioning
glance with which she had just surveyed us. "What impression
has my evidence made upon you?" The question might as well
have been spoken. Then, with a bow, she swept from the room.
"She's a beautiful woman -- a very beautiful woman," said
MacDonald thoughtfully, after the door had closed behind her.
"This man Barker has certainly been down here a good deal. He
is a man who might be attractive to a woman. He admits that the
dead man was jealous, and maybe he knew best himself what
cause he had for jealousy. Then there's that wedding ring. You
can't get past that. The man who tears a wedding ring off a dead
man's -- What do you say to it, Mr. Holmes?"
My friend had sat with his head upon his hands, sunk in the
deepest thought. Now he rose and rang the bell. "Ames," he
said, when the butler entered, "where is Mr. Cecil Barker
"I'll see, sir."
He came back in a moment to say that Barker was in the
"Can you remember, Ames, what Mr. Barker had on his feet
last night when you joined him in the study?"
"Yes, Mr. Holmes. He had a pair of bedroom slippers. I
brought him his boots when he went for the police."
"Where are the slippers now?"
"They are still under the chair in the hall."
"Very good, Ames. It is, of course, important for us to know
which tracks may be Mr. Barker's and which from outside."
"Yes, sir. I may say that I noticed that the slippers were
stained with blood -- so indeed were my own."
"That is natural enough, considering the condition of the
room. Very good, Ames. We will ring if we want you."
A few minutes later we were in the study. Holmes had brought
with him the carpet slippers from the hall. As Ames had
observed, the soles of both were dark with blood.
"Strange!" murmured Holmes, as he stood in the light of the
window and examined them minutely. "Very strange indeed!"
Stooping with one of his quick feline pounces, he placed the
slipper upon the blood mark on the sill. It exactly corresponded.
He smiled in silence at his colleagues.
The inspector was transfigured with excitement. His native
accent rattled like a stick upon railings.
"Man," he cried, "there's not a doubt of it! Barker has just
marked the window himself. It's a good deal broader than any
bootmark. I mind that you said it was a splay-foot, and here's
the explanation. But what's the game, Mr. Holmes -- what's the
"Ay, what's the game?" my friend repeated thoughtfully.
White Mason chuckled aind rubbed his fat hands together in
his professional satisfaction. "I said it was a snorter!" he cried.
"And a real snorter it is!"