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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMike - Chapter XLVIII - THE SLEUTH-HOUND
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Mike - Chapter XLVIII - THE SLEUTH-HOUND Post by :imjay Category :Long Stories Author :P G Wodehouse Date :June 2011 Read :3224

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Mike - Chapter XLVIII - THE SLEUTH-HOUND

CHAPTER XLVIII - THE SLEUTH-HOUND


For the Doctor Watsons of this world, as opposed to the Sherlock
Holmeses, success in the province of detective work must always be, to
a very large extent, the result of luck. Sherlock Holmes can extract a
clue from a wisp of straw or a flake of cigar-ash. But Doctor Watson
has got to have it taken out for him, and dusted, and exhibited
clearly, with a label attached.

The average man is a Doctor Watson. We are wont to scoff in a
patronising manner at that humble follower of the great investigator,
but, as a matter of fact, we should have been just as dull ourselves.
We should not even have risen to the modest level of a Scotland Yard
Bungler. We should simply have hung around, saying:

"My dear Holmes, how--?" and all the rest of it, just as the
downtrodden medico did.

It is not often that the ordinary person has any need to see what he
can do in the way of detection. He gets along very comfortably in the
humdrum round of life without having to measure footprints and smile
quiet, tight-lipped smiles. But if ever the emergency does arise, he
thinks naturally of Sherlock Holmes, and his methods.

Mr. Downing had read all the Holmes stories with great attention, and
had thought many times what an incompetent ass Doctor Watson was; but,
now that he had started to handle his own first case, he was compelled
to admit that there was a good deal to be said in extenuation of
Watson's inability to unravel tangles. It certainly was uncommonly
hard, he thought, as he paced the cricket field after leaving Sergeant
Collard, to detect anybody, unless you knew who had really done the
crime. As he brooded over the case in hand, his sympathy for Dr.
Watson increased with every minute, and he began to feel a certain
resentment against Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was all very well for
Sir Arthur to be so shrewd and infallible about tracing a mystery to
its source, but he knew perfectly well who had done the thing before
he started!

Now that he began really to look into this matter of the alarm bell
and the painting of Sammy, the conviction was creeping over him that
the problem was more difficult than a casual observer might imagine.
He had got as far as finding that his quarry of the previous night was
a boy in Mr. Outwood's house, but how was he to get any farther? That
was the thing. There were, of course, only a limited number of boys in
Mr. Outwood's house as tall as the one he had pursued; but even if
there had been only one other, it would have complicated matters. If
you go to a boy and say, "Either you or Jones were out of your house
last night at twelve o'clock," the boy does not reply, "Sir, I cannot
tell a lie--I was out of my house last night at twelve o'clock." He
simply assumes the animated expression of a stuffed fish, and leaves
the next move to you. It is practically Stalemate.

All these things passed through Mr. Downing's mind as he walked up and
down the cricket field that afternoon.

What he wanted was a clue. But it is so hard for the novice to tell
what is a clue and what isn't. Probably, if he only knew, there were
clues lying all over the place, shouting to him to pick them up.

What with the oppressive heat of the day and the fatigue of hard
thinking, Mr. Downing was working up for a brain-storm, when Fate once
more intervened, this time in the shape of Riglett, a junior member of
his house.

Riglett slunk up in the shamefaced way peculiar to some boys, even
when they have done nothing wrong, and, having capped Mr. Downing with
the air of one who has been caught in the act of doing something
particularly shady, requested that he might be allowed to fetch his
bicycle from the shed.

"Your bicycle?" snapped Mr. Downing. Much thinking had made him
irritable. "What do you want with your bicycle?"

Riglett shuffled, stood first on his left foot, then on his right,
blushed, and finally remarked, as if it were not so much a sound
reason as a sort of feeble excuse for the low and blackguardly fact
that he wanted his bicycle, that he had got leave for tea that
afternoon.

Then Mr. Downing remembered. Riglett had an aunt resident about three
miles from the school, whom he was accustomed to visit occasionally on
Sunday afternoons during the term.

He felt for his bunch of keys, and made his way to the shed, Riglett
shambling behind at an interval of two yards.

Mr. Downing unlocked the door, and there on the floor was the Clue!

A clue that even Dr. Watson could not have overlooked.

Mr. Downing saw it, but did not immediately recognise it for what it
was. What he saw at first was not a Clue, but just a mess. He had a
tidy soul and abhorred messes. And this was a particularly messy mess.
The greater part of the flooring in the neighbourhood of the door was
a sea of red paint. The tin from which it had flowed was lying on its
side in the middle of the shed. The air was full of the pungent scent.

"Pah!" said Mr. Downing.

Then suddenly, beneath the disguise of the mess, he saw the clue. A
foot-mark! No less. A crimson foot-mark on the grey concrete!

Riglett, who had been waiting patiently two yards away, now coughed
plaintively. The sound recalled Mr. Downing to mundane matters.

"Get your bicycle, Riglett," he said, "and be careful where you tread.
Somebody has upset a pot of paint on the floor."

Riglett, walking delicately through dry places, extracted his bicycle
from the rack, and presently departed to gladden the heart of his
aunt, leaving Mr. Downing, his brain fizzing with the enthusiasm of
the detective, to lock the door and resume his perambulation of the
cricket field.

Give Dr. Watson a fair start, and he is a demon at the game. Mr.
Downing's brain was now working with a rapidity and clearness which a
professional sleuth might have envied.

Paint. Red paint. Obviously the same paint with which Sammy had been
decorated. A foot-mark. Whose foot-mark? Plainly that of the criminal
who had done the deed of decoration.

Yoicks!

There were two things, however, to be considered. Your careful
detective must consider everything. In the first place, the paint
might have been upset by the ground-man. It was the ground-man's
paint. He had been giving a fresh coating to the wood-work in front of
the pavilion scoring-box at the conclusion of yesterday's match. (A
labour of love which was the direct outcome of the enthusiasm for work
which Adair had instilled into him.) In that case the foot-mark might
be his.

_Note one_: Interview the ground-man on this point.

In the second place Adair might have upset the tin and trodden in its
contents when he went to get his bicycle in order to fetch the doctor
for the suffering MacPhee. This was the more probable of the two
contingencies, for it would have been dark in the shed when Adair went
into it.

_Note two Interview Adair as to whether he found, on returning to
the house, that there was paint on his boots.

Things were moving.

* * * * *

He resolved to take Adair first. He could get the ground-man's address
from him.

Passing by the trees under whose shade Mike and Psmith and Dunster had
watched the match on the previous day, he came upon the Head of his
house in a deck-chair reading a book. A summer Sunday afternoon is the
time for reading in deck-chairs.

"Oh, Adair," he said. "No, don't get up. I merely wished to ask you if
you found any paint on your boots when you returned to the house last
night?"

"Paint, sir?" Adair was plainly puzzled. His book had been
interesting, and had driven the Sammy incident out of his head.

"I see somebody has spilt some paint on the floor of the bicycle shed.
You did not do that, I suppose, when you went to fetch your bicycle?"

"No, sir."

"It is spilt all over the floor. I wondered whether you had happened
to tread in it. But you say you found no paint on your boots this
morning?"

"No, sir, my bicycle is always quite near the door of the shed. I
didn't go into the shed at all."

"I see. Quite so. Thank you, Adair. Oh, by the way, Adair, where does
Markby live?"

"I forget the name of his cottage, sir, but I could show you in a
second. It's one of those cottages just past the school gates, on the
right as you turn out into the road. There are three in a row. His is
the first you come to. There's a barn just before you get to them."

"Thank you. I shall be able to find them. I should like to speak to
Markby for a moment on a small matter."

A sharp walk took him to the cottages Adair had mentioned. He
rapped at the door of the first, and the ground-man came out in
his shirt-sleeves, blinking as if he had just woke up, as was
indeed the case.

"Oh, Markby!"

"Sir?"

"You remember that you were painting the scoring-box in the pavilion
last night after the match?"

"Yes, sir. It wanted a lick of paint bad. The young gentlemen will
scramble about and get through the window. Makes it look shabby, sir.
So I thought I'd better give it a coating so as to look ship-shape
when the Marylebone come down."

"Just so. An excellent idea. Tell me, Markby, what did you do with the
pot of paint when you had finished?"

"Put it in the bicycle shed, sir."

"On the floor?"

"On the floor, sir? No. On the shelf at the far end, with the can of
whitening what I use for marking out the wickets, sir."

"Of course, yes. Quite so. Just as I thought."

"Do you want it, sir?"

"No, thank you, Markby, no, thank you. The fact is, somebody who had
no business to do so has moved the pot of paint from the shelf to the
floor, with the result that it has been kicked over, and spilt. You
had better get some more to-morrow. Thank you, Markby. That is all I
wished to know."

Mr. Downing walked back to the school thoroughly excited. He was hot
on the scent now. The only other possible theories had been tested and
successfully exploded. The thing had become simple to a degree. All he
had to do was to go to Mr. Outwood's house--the idea of searching a
fellow-master's house did not appear to him at all a delicate task;
somehow one grew unconsciously to feel that Mr. Outwood did not really
exist as a man capable of resenting liberties--find the paint-splashed
boot, ascertain its owner, and denounce him to the headmaster.
Picture, Blue Fire and "God Save the King" by the full strength of the
company. There could be no doubt that a paint-splashed boot must be in
Mr. Outwood's house somewhere. A boy cannot tread in a pool of paint
without showing some signs of having done so. It was Sunday, too, so
that the boot would not yet have been cleaned. Yoicks! Also Tally-ho!
This really was beginning to be something like business.

Regardless of the heat, the sleuth-hound hurried across to Outwood's
as fast as he could walk.

Content of CHAPTER XLVIII - THE SLEUTH-HOUND (P G Wodehouse's novel: Mike)

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