Having proved his trial candle's rate, he blew it out--I have already shown it to you-- and put his inch-marks on a fresh one.
"He put the fresh one into a tin candlestick. Then at the five-hour mark he bored a hole through the candle with a red-hot wire. I have already shown you the wire, with a smooth coat of tallow on it--tallow that had been melted and had cooled.
"With labor--very hard labor, I should say--he struggled up through the stiff chaparral that clothes the steep hillside back of Flint Buckner's place, tugging an empty flour-barrel with him. He placed it in that absolutely secure hiding-place, and in the bottom of it he set the candlestick. Then he measured off about thirty-five feet of fuse--the barrel's distance from the back of the cabin. He bored a hole in the side of the barrel--here is the large gimlet he did it with. He went on and finished his work; and when it was done, one end of the fuse was in Buckner's cabin, and the other end, with a notch chipped in it to expose the powder, was in the hole in the candle--timed to blow the place up at one o'clock this morning, provided the candle was lit about eight o'clock yesterday evening--which I am betting it was--and provided there was an explosive in the cabin and connected with that end of the fuse--which I am also betting there was, though I can't prove it. Boys, the barrel is there in the chaparral, the candle's remains are in it in the tin stick; the burnt-out fuse is in the gimlet-hole, the other end is down the hill where the late cabin stood. I saw them all an hour or two ago, when the Professor here was measuring off unimplicated vacancies and collecting relics that hadn't anything to do with the case."
He paused. The house drew a long, deep breath, shook its strained cords and muscles free and burst into cheers. "Dang him!" said Ham Sandwich, "that's why he was snooping around in the chaparral, instead of picking up points out of the P'fessor's game. Looky here--he ain't no fool, boys."
"No, sir! Why, great Scott--"
But Stillman was resuming:
"While we were out yonder an hour or two ago, the owner of the gimlet and the trial candle took them from a place where he had concealed them--it was not a good place--and carried them to what he probably thought was a better one, two hundred yards up in the pine woods, and hid them there, covering them over with pine needles. It was there that I found them. The gimlet exactly fits the hole in the barrel. And now--"
The Extraordinary Man interrupted him. He said, sarcastically:
"We have had a very pretty fairy tale, gentlemen--very pretty indeed. Now I would like to ask this young man a question or two."
Some of the boys winced, and Ferguson said:
"I'm afraid Archy's going to catch it now."
The others lost their smiles and sobered down. Mr. Holmes said:
"Let us proceed to examine into this fairy tale in a consecutive and orderly way--by geometrical progression, so to speak--linking detail to detail in a steadily advancing and remorselessly consistent and unassailable march upon this tinsel toy fortress of error, the dream fabric of a callow imagination. To begin with, young sir, I desire to ask you but three questions at present--at present. Did I understand you to say it was your opinion that the supposititious candle was lighted at about eight o'clock yesterday evening?"
"Yes, sir--about eight."
"Could you say exactly eight?"
"Well, no, I couldn't be that exact."
"Um. If a person had been passing along there just about that time, he would have been almost sure to encounter that assassin, do you think?"
"Yes, I should think so."
"Thank you, that is all. For the present. I say, all for the present."
"Dern him. he's laying for Archy," said Ferguson.
"It's so," said Ham Sandwich. "I don't like the look of it."
Stillman said, glancing at the guest, "I was along there myself at half- past eight--no, about nine."
"In-deed? This is interesting--this is very interesting. Perhaps you encountered the assassin?"
"No, I encountered no one."