Henry Melville and Fred
away together on a walking tour round the Cornish coast.
people, they were interested in the case; and one morning, while at
breakfast at a little inn, they learnt that the absconding men had been
tracked to that very neighbourhood, and that a strong cordon of police
had been drawn round the district, making an escape very
fact, an inspector and a constable came into the inn to make some
inquiries, and exchanged civilities with the two members of the Puzzle
A few references to some of the leading London detectives, and
production of a confidential letter Melville happened to have in his
pocket from one of them, soon established complete confidence, and the
inspector opened out.
He said that he had just been to examine a very
of a mile from there, and expressed the opinion that Messrs. Lamson and
Marsh would never again be found alive.
At the suggestion of Melville
four men walked along the road together.
"There is our stile in the distance," said the
found beside it the pocket-book that I have shown you, containing the
name of Marsh and some memoranda in his handwriting.
It had evidently
been dropped by accident.
On looking over the stone stile he noticed
footprints of two men—which I have already proved from
previously supplied to the police to be those of the men we
am sure you will agree that they point to only one possible conclusion."
Arrived at the spot, they left the hard road and
got over the
footprints of the two men were here very clearly impressed in the thin
but soft soil, and they all took care not to trample on the
followed the prints closely, and found that they led straight to the
of a cliff forming a sheer precipice, almost perpendicular, at the foot
of which the sea, some two hundred feet below, was breaking among the
"Here, gentlemen, you see," said the inspector,
straight to the edge of the cliff, where there is a good deal of
trampling about, and there end.
The soil has nowhere been disturbed for
yards around, except by the footprints that you see.
The conclusion is
"That, knowing they were unable to escape capture,
decided not to be
taken alive, and threw themselves over the cliff?" asked Wilson.
"Exactly. Look to the right and the left, and you
will find no
or other marks anywhere.
Go round there to the left, and you will be
satisfied that the most experienced mountaineer
that ever lived could
not make a descent, or even anywhere get over the edge of the
There is no ledge or foothold within fifty feet."
"Utterly impossible," said Melville, after an
"What do you
propose to do?"
"I am going straight back to communicate the
We shall withdraw the cordon and search the coast for the dead bodies."
"Then you will make a fatal mistake," said
and in hiding in the district. Just examine the prints again.
the large foot?"
"That is Lamson's, and the small print is
a tall man,
just over six feet, and Marsh was a little fellow."
"I thought as much," said Melville.
"And yet you will find
takes a shorter stride than Marsh.
Notice, also, the peculiarity that
Marsh walks heavily on his heels, while Lamson treads more on his
Nothing remarkable in that? Perhaps not; but has it occurred to you
Lamson walked behind Marsh?
Because you will find that he sometimes
treads over Marsh's footsteps, though you will never find Marsh
in the steps of the other."
"Do you suppose that the men walked backwards in
asked the inspector.
"No; that is impossible.
No two men could walk backwards some
yards in that way with such exactitude.
You will not find a single
where they have missed the print by even an eighth of an inch.
Nor do I suppose that two men, hunted as they were, could
have provided themselves with flying-machines, balloons, or even
They did not drop over the cliff."
Melville then explained how the men had got
be quite correct, for it will be remembered that they were caught,
under some straw in a barn, within two miles of the spot.
How did they
get away from the edge of the cliff?