“Have you examined the marks?” I asked.
“I have seen them. So has the doctor.”
“But I have examined them very carefully with a lens. They have peculiarities.”
“What are they, Mr. Holmes?”
I stepped to my bureau and brought out an enlarged photograph. “This is my method in such cases,” I explained.
“You certainly do things thoroughly, Mr. Holmes.”
“I should hardly be what I am if I did not. Now let us consider this weal which extends round the right shoulder. Do you observe nothing remarkable?”
“I can’t say I do.”
“Surely it is evident that it is unequal in its intensity. There is a dot of extravasated blood here, and another there. There are similar indications in this other weal down here. What can that mean?”
“I have no idea. Have you?”
“Perhaps I have. Perhaps I haven’t. I may be able to say more soon. Anything which will define what made that mark will bring us a long way towards the criminal.”
“It is, of course, an absurd idea,” said the policeman, “but if a red-hot net of wire had been laid across the back, then these better marked points would represent where the meshes crossed each other.”
“A most ingenious comparison. Or shall we say a very stiff cat-o’-nine-tails with small hard knots upon it?”
“By Jove, Mr. Holmes, I think you have hit it.”
“Or there may be some very different cause, Mr. Bardle. But your case is far too weak for an arrest. Besides, we have those last words — the ‘Lion’s Mane.’ ”
“I have wondered whether Ian —”
“Yes, I have considered that. If the second word had borne any resemblance to Murdoch — but it did not. He gave it almost in a shriek. I am sure that it was ‘Mane.’ ”
“Have you no alternative, Mr. Holmes?”
“Perhaps I have. But I do not care to discuss it until there is something more solid to discuss.”
“And when will that be?”
“In an hour — possibly less.”
The inspector rubbed his chin and looked at me with dubious eyes.
“I wish I could see what was in your mind, Mr. Holmes. Perhaps it’s those fishing-boats.”
“No, no, they were too far out.”
“Well, then, is it Bellamy and that big son of his? They were not too sweet upon Mr. McPherson. Could they have done him a mischief?”
“No, no, you won’t draw me until I am ready,” said I with a smile. “Now, Inspector, we each have our own work to do. Perhaps if you were to meet me here at midday —”
So far we had got when there came the tremendous interruption which was the beginning of the end.
My outer door was flung open, there were blundering footsteps in the passage, and Ian Murdoch staggered into the room, pallid, dishevelled, his clothes in wild disorder, clawing with his bony hands at the furniture to hold himself erect. “Brandy! Brandy!” he gasped, and fell groaning upon the sofa.
He was not alone. Behind him came Stackhurst, hatless and panting, almost as distrait as his companion.
“Yes, yes, brandy!” he cried. “The man is at his last gasp. It was all I could do to bring him here. He fainted twice upon the way.”
Half a tumbler of the raw spirit brought about a wondrous change. He pushed himself up on one arm and swung his coat from his shoulders. “For God’s sake oil, opium, morphia!” he cried. “Anything to ease this infernal agony!”
The inspector and I cried out at the sight. There, crisscrossed upon the man’s naked shoulder, was the same strange reticulated pattern of red, inflamed lines which had been the death-mark of Fitzroy McPherson.
The pain was evidently terrible and was more than local, for the sufferer’s breathing would stop for a time, his face would turn black, and then with loud gasps he would clap his hand to his heart, while his brow dropped beads of sweat. At any moment he might die. More and more brandy was poured down his throat, each fresh dose bringing him back to life. Pads of cotton-wool soaked in salad-oil seemed to take the agony from the strange wounds. At last his head fell heavily upon the cushion. Exhausted Nature had taken refuge in its last storehouse of vitality. It was half a sleep and half a faint, but at least it was ease from pain.
To question him had been impossible, but the moment we were assured of his condition Stackhurst turned upon me.
“My God!” he cried, “what is it, Holmes? What is it?”
“Where did you find him?”
“Down on the beach. Exactly where poor McPherson met his end. If this man’s heart had been weak as McPherson’s was, he would not be here now. More than once I thought he was gone as I brought him up. It was too far to The Gables, so I made for you.”
“Did you see him on the beach?”
“I was walking on the cliff when I heard his cry. He was at the edge of the water, reeling about like a drunken man. I ran down, threw some clothes about him, and brought him up. For heaven’s sake, Holmes, use all the powers you have and spare no pains to lift the curse from this place, for life is becoming unendurable. Can you, with all your world-wide reputation, do nothing for us?”
“I think I can, Stackhurst. Come with me now! And you, Inspector, come along! We will see if we cannot deliver this murderer into your hands.”
Leaving the unconscious man in the charge of my housekeeper, we all three went down to the deadly lagoon. On the shingle there was piled a little heap of towels and clothes left by the stricken man. Slowly I walked round the edge of the water, my comrades in Indian file behind me. Most of the pool was quite shallow, but under the cliff where the beach was hollowed out it was four or five feet deep. It was to this part that a swimmer would naturally go, for it formed a beautiful pellucid green pool as clear as crystal. A line of rocks lay above it at the base of the cliff, and along this I led the way, peering eagerly into the depths beneath me. I had reached the deepest and stillest pool when my eyes caught that for which they were searching, and I burst into a shout of triumph.
“Cyanea!” I cried. “Cyanea! Behold the Lion’s Mane!”
The strange object at which I pointed did indeed look like a tangled mass torn from the mane of a lion. It lay upon a rocky shelf some three feet under the water, a curious waving, vibrating, hairy creature with streaks of silver among its yellow tresses. It pulsated with a slow, heavy dilation and contraction.