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Mark Twain > A Double Barrelled Detective Story > Chapter VII

A Double Barrelled Detective Story

Chapter VII

At eight o'clock that evening two persons were groping their way past
Flint Buckner's cabin in the frosty gloom. They were Sherlock Holmes and
his nephew.

"Stop here in the road a moment, uncle," said Fetlock, "while I run to my
cabin; I won't be gone a minute."

He asked for something--the uncle furnished it--then he disappeared in
the darkness, but soon returned, and the talking-walk was resumed. By
nine o'clock they had wandered back to the tavern. They worked their way
through the billiard-room, where a crowd had gathered in the hope of
getting a glimpse of the Extraordinary Man. A royal cheer was raised.
Mr. Holmes acknowledged the compliment with a series of courtly bows, and
as he was passing out his nephew said to the assemblage:

"Uncle Sherlock's got some work to do, gentlemen, that 'll keep him till
twelve or one; but he'll be down again then, or earlier if he can, and
hopes some of you'll be left to take a drink with him."

"By George, he's just a duke, boys! Three cheers for Sherlock Holmes,
the greatest man that ever lived!" shouted Ferguson. "Hip, hip, hip--"

"Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah! Tiger!"

The uproar shook the building, so hearty was the feeling the boys put
into their welcome. Up-stairs the uncle reproached the nephew gently,

"What did you get me into that engagement for?"

"I reckon you don't want to be unpopular, do you, uncle? Well, then,
don't you put on any exclusiveness in a mining-camp, that's all. The
boys admire you; but if you was to leave without taking a drink with
them, they'd set you down for a snob. And besides, you said you had home
talk enough in stock to keep us up and at it half the night."

The boy was right, and wise--the uncle acknowledged it. The boy was wise
in another detail which he did not mention--except to himself: "Uncle and
the others will come handy--in the way of nailing an alibi where it can't
be budged."

He and his uncle talked diligently about three hours. Then, about
midnight, Fetlock stepped down-stairs and took a position in the dark a
dozen steps from the tavern, and waited. Five minutes later Flint
Buckner came rocking out of the billiard-room and almost brushed him as
he passed.

"I've got him!" muttered the boy. He continued to himself, looking after
the shadowy form: "Good-by--good-by for good, Flint Buckner; you called
my mother a--well, never mind what: it's all right, now; you're taking
your last walk, friend."

He went musing back into the tavern. "From now till one is an hour.
We'll spend it with the boys; it's good for the alibi."

He brought Sherlock Holmes to the billiard-room, which was jammed with
eager and admiring miners; the guest called the drinks, and the fun
began. Everybody was happy; everybody was complimentary; the ice was
soon broken, songs, anecdotes, and more drinks followed, and the pregnant
minutes flew. At six minutes to one, when the jollity was at its


There was silence instantly. The deep sound came rolling and rumbling
frown peak to peak up the gorge, then died down, and ceased. The spell
broke, then, and the men made a rush for the door, saying:

"Something's blown up!"

Outside, a voice in the darkness said, "It's away down the gorge; I saw
the flash."

The crowd poured down the canyon--Holmes, Fetlock, Archy Stillman,
everybody. They made the mile in a few minutes. By the light of a
lantern they found the smooth and solid dirt floor of Flint Buckner's
cabin; of the cabin itself not a vestige remained, not a rag nor a
splinter. Nor any sign of Flint. Search-parties sought here and there
and yonder, and presently a cry went up.

"Here he is!"

It was true. Fifty yards down the gulch they had found him--that is,
they had found a crushed and lifeless mass which represented him.
Fetlock Jones hurried thither with the others and looked.

The inquest was a fifteen-minute affair. Ham Sandwich, foreman of the
jury, handed up the verdict, which was phrased with a certain unstudied
literary grace, and closed with this finding, to wit: that "deceased came
to his death by his own act or some other person or persons unknown to
this jury not leaving any family or similar effects behind but his cabin
which was blown away and God have mercy on his soul amen."

Then the impatient jury rejoined the main crowd, for the storm-center of
interest was there--Sherlock Holmes. The miners stood silent and
reverent in a half-circle, inclosing a large vacant space which included
the front exposure of the site of the late premises. In this
considerable space the Extraordinary Man was moving about, attended by
his nephew with a lantern. With a tape he took measurements of the cabin
site; of the distance from the wall of chaparral to the road; of the
height of the chaparral bushes; also various other measurements. He
gathered a rag here, a splinter there, and a pinch of earth yonder,
inspected them profoundly, and preserved them. He took the "lay" of the
place with a pocket-compass, allowing two seconds for magnetic variation.
He took the time (Pacific) by his watch, correcting it for local time.
He paced off the distance from the cabin site to the corpse, and
corrected that for tidal differentiation. He took the altitude with a
pocket-aneroid, and the temperature with a pocket-thermometer. Finally
he said, with a stately bow:

"It is finished. Shall we return, gentlemen?"

He took up the line of march for the tavern, and the crowd fell into his
wake, earnestly discussing and admiring the Extraordinary Man, and
interlarding guesses as to the origin of the tragedy and who the author
of it might he.

"My, but it's grand luck having him here--hey, boys?" said Ferguson.

"It's the biggest thing of the century," said Ham Sandwich. "It 'll go
all over the world; you mark my words."

"You bet!" said Jake Parker, the blacksmith. "It 'll boom this camp.
Ain't it so, Wells-Fargo?"

"Well, as you want my opinion--if it's any sign of how I think about it,
I can tell you this: yesterday I was holding the Straight Flush claim at
two dollars a foot; I'd like to see the man that can get it at sixteen

"Right you are, Wells-Fargo! It's the grandest luck a new camp ever
struck. Say, did you see him collar them little rags and dirt and
things? What an eye! He just can't overlook a clue--'tain't in him."

"That's so. And they wouldn't mean a thing to anybody else; but to him,
why, they're just a book--large print at that."

"Sure's you're born! Them odds and ends have got their little old
secret, and they think there ain't anybody can pull it; but, land! when
he sets his grip there they've got to squeal, and don't you forget it."

"Boys, I ain't sorry, now, that he wasn't here to roust out the child;
this is a bigger thing, by a long sight. Yes, sir, and more tangled up
and scientific and intellectual."

"I reckon we're all of us glad it's turned out this way. Glad? 'George!
it ain't any name for it. Dontchuknow, Archy could 've learnt something
if he'd had the nous to stand by and take notice of how that man works
the system. But no; he went poking up into the chaparral and just missed
the whole thing."

"It's true as gospel; I seen it myself. Well, Archy's young. He'll know
better one of these days."

"Say, boys, who do you reckon done it?"

That was a difficult question, and brought out a world of unsatisfying
conjecture. Various men were mentioned as possibilities, but one by one
they were discarded as not being eligible. No one but young Hillyer had
been intimate with Flint Buckner; no one had really had a quarrel with
him; he had affronted every man who had tried to make up to him, although
not quite offensively enough to require bloodshed. There was one name
that was upon every tongue from the start, but it was the last to get
utterance--Fetlock Jones's. It was Pat Riley that mentioned it.

"Oh, well," the boys said, "of course we've all thought of him, because
he had a million rights to kill Flint Buckner, and it was just his plain
duty to do it. But all the same there's two things we can't get around:
for one thing, he hasn't got the sand; and for another, he wasn't
anywhere near the place when it happened."

"I know it," said Pat. "He was there in the billiard-room with us when
it happened."

"Yes, and was there all the time for an hour before it happened."

"It's so. And lucky for him, too. He'd have been suspected in a minute
if it hadn't been for that."

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