The next afternoon the village was electrified with an immense sensation. A grave and dignified foreigner of distinguished bearing and appearance had arrived at the tavern, and entered this formidable name upon the register:
The news buzzed from cabin to cabin, from claim to claim; tools were dropped, and the town swarmed toward the center of interest. A man passing out at the northern end of the village shouted it to Pat Riley, whose claim was the next one to Flint Buckner's. At that time Fetlock Jones seemed to turn sick. He muttered to himself:
"Uncle Sherlock! The mean luck of it!--that he should come just when...." He dropped into a reverie, and presently said to himself: "But what's the use of being afraid of him? Anybody that knows him the way I do knows he can't detect a crime except where he plans it all out beforehand and arranges the clues and hires some fellow to commit it according to instructions.... Now there ain't going to be any clues this time--so, what show has he got? None at all. No, sir; everything's ready. If I was to risk putting it off--No, I won't run any risk like that. Flint Buckner goes out of this world to-night, for sure." Then another trouble presented itself. "Uncle Sherlock 'll be wanting to talk home matters with me this evening, and how am I going to get rid of him? for I've got to be at my cabin a minute or two about eight o'clock." This was an awkward matter, and cost him much thought. But he found a way to beat the difficulty. "We'll go for a walk, and I'll leave him in the road a minute, so that he won't see what it is I do: the best way to throw a detective off the track, anyway, is to have him along when you are preparing the thing. Yes, that's the safest--I'll take him with me."
* * * * * * *
Meantime the road in front of the tavern was blocked with villagers waiting and hoping for a glimpse of the great man. But he kept his room, and did not appear. None but Ferguson, Jake Parker the blacksmith, and Ham Sandwich had any luck. These enthusiastic admirers of the great scientific detective hired the tavern's detained-baggage lockup, which looked into the detective's room across a little alleyway ten or twelve feet wide, ambushed themselves in it, and cut some peep-holes in the window-blind. Mr. Holmes's blinds were down; but by and by he raised them. It gave the spies a hair-lifting but pleasurable thrill to find themselves face to face with the Extraordinary Man who had filled the world with the fame of his more than human ingenuities. There he sat --not a myth, not a shadow, but real, alive, compact of substance, and almost within touching distance with the hand.
"Look at that head!" said Ferguson, in an awed voice. "By gracious! that's a head!"
"You bet!" said the blacksmith, with deep reverence. "Look at his nose! look at his eyes! Intellect? Just a battery of it!"
"And that paleness," said Ham Sandwich. "Comes from thought--that's what it comes from. Hell! duffers like us don't know what real thought is."
"No more we don't," said Ferguson. "What we take for thinking is just blubber-and-slush."
"Right you are, Wells-Fargo. And look at that frown--that's deep thinking--away down, down, forty fathom into the bowels of things. He's on the track of something."
"Well, he is, and don't you forget it. Say--look at that awful gravity --look at that pallid solemness--there ain't any corpse can lay over it."
"No, sir, not for dollars! And it's his'n by hereditary rights, too; he's been dead four times a'ready, and there's history for it. Three times natural, once by accident. I've heard say he smells damp and cold, like a grave. And he--"
"'Sh! Watch him! There--he's got his thumb on the bump on the near corner of his forehead, and his forefinger on the off one. His think-works is just a-grinding now, you bet your other shirt."
"That's so. And now he's gazing up toward heaven and stroking his mustache slow, and--"
"Now he has rose up standing, and is putting his clues together on his left fingers with his right finger. See? he touches the forefinger--now middle finger--now ring-finger--"
"Look at him scowl! He can't seem to make out that clue. So he--"
"See him smile!--like a tiger--and tally off the other fingers like nothing! He's got it, boys; he's got it sure!"
"Well, I should say! I'd hate to be in that man's place that he's after."
Mr. Holmes drew a table to the window, sat down with his back to the spies, and proceeded to write. The spies withdrew their eyes from the peep-holes, lit their pipes, and settled themselves for a comfortable smoke and talk. Ferguson said, with conviction:
"Boys, it's no use talking, he's a wonder! He's got the signs of it all over him."
"You hain't ever said a truer word than that, Wells-Fargo," said Jake Parker. "Say, wouldn't it 'a' been nuts if he'd a-been here last night?"
"Oh, by George, but wouldn't it!" said Ferguson. "Then we'd have seen scientific work. Intellect--just pure intellect--away up on the upper levels, dontchuknow. Archy is all right, and it don't become anybody to belittle him, I can tell you. But his gift is only just eyesight, sharp as an owl's, as near as I can make it out just a grand natural animal talent, no more, no less, and prime as far as it goes, but no intellect in it, and for awfulness and marvelousness no more to be compared to what this man does than--than--Why, let me tell you what he'd have done. He'd have stepped over to Hogan's and glanced--just glanced, that's all--at the premises, and that's enough. See everything? Yes, sir, to the last little detail; and he'll know more about that place than the Hogans would know in seven years. Next, he would sit down on the bunk, just as ca'm, and say to Mrs. Hogan--Say, Ham, consider that you are Mrs. Hogan. I'll ask the questions; you answer them."
"All right; go on."
"'Madam, if you please--attention--do not let your mind wander. Now, then--sex of the child?'
"'Female, your Honor.'
"'Um--female. Very good, very good. Age?'
"'Turned six, your Honor.'
"'Um--young, weak--two miles. Weariness will overtake it then. It will sink down and sleep. We shall find it two miles away, or less. Teeth?'
"'Five, your Honor, and one a-coming.'
"'Very good, very good, very good, indeed.' You see, boys, he knows a clue when he sees it, when it wouldn't mean a dern thing to anybody else. 'Stockings, madam? Shoes?'
"'Yes, your Honor--both.'
"'Yarn, perhaps? Morocco?'
"'Yarn, your Honor. And kip.'
"'Um--kip. This complicates the matter. However, let it go--we shall manage. Religion?'
"'Catholic, your Honor.'
"'Very good. Snip me a bit from the bed blanket, please. Ah, thanks. Part wool--foreign make. Very well. A snip from some garment of the child's, please. Thanks. Cotton. Shows wear. An excellent clue, excellent. Pass me a pallet of the floor dirt, if you'll be so kind. Thanks, many thanks. Ah, admirable, admirable! Now we know where we are, I think.' You see, boys, he's got all the clues he wants now; he don't need anything more. Now, then, what does this Extraordinary Man do? He lays those snips and that dirt out on the table and leans over them on his elbows, and puts them together side by side and studies them --mumbles to himself, 'Female'; changes them around--mumbles, 'Six years old'; changes them this way and that--again mumbles: 'Five teeth --one a-coming--Catholic--yarn--cotton--kip--damn that kip.' Then he straightens up and gazes toward heaven, and plows his hands through his hair--plows and plows, muttering, 'Damn that kip!' Then he stands up and frowns, and begins to tally off his clues on his fingers--and gets stuck at the ring-finger. But only just a minute--then his face glares all up in a smile like a house afire, and he straightens up stately and majestic, and says to the crowd, 'Take a lantern, a couple of you, and go down to Injun Billy's and fetch the child--the rest of you go 'long home to bed; good-night, madam; good-night, gents.' And he bows like the Matterhorn, and pulls out for the tavern. That's his style, and the Only--scientific, intellectual--all over in fifteen minutes--no poking around all over the sage-brush range an hour and a half in a mass-meeting crowd for him, boys--you hear me!"
"By Jackson, it's grand!" said Ham Sandwich. "Wells-Fargo, you've got him down to a dot. He ain't painted up any exacter to the life in the books. By George, I can just see him--can't you, boys?"
"You bet you! It's just a photograft, that's what it is."
Ferguson was profoundly pleased with his success, and grateful. He sat silently enjoying his happiness a little while, then he murmured, with a deep awe in his voice,
"I wonder if God made him?"
There was no response for a moment; then Ham Sandwich said, reverently:
"Not all at one time, I reckon."