The boy was wise in another detail which he did not mention--except to himself: "Uncle and the others will come handy--in the way of nailing an alibi where it can't be budged."
He and his uncle talked diligently about three hours. Then, about midnight, Fetlock stepped down-stairs and took a position in the dark a dozen steps from the tavern, and waited. Five minutes later Flint Buckner came rocking out of the billiard-room and almost brushed him as he passed.
"I've got him!" muttered the boy. He continued to himself, looking after the shadowy form: "Good-by--good-by for good, Flint Buckner; you called my mother a--well, never mind what: it's all right, now; you're taking your last walk, friend."
He went musing back into the tavern. "From now till one is an hour. We'll spend it with the boys; it's good for the alibi."
He brought Sherlock Holmes to the billiard-room, which was jammed with eager and admiring miners; the guest called the drinks, and the fun began. Everybody was happy; everybody was complimentary; the ice was soon broken, songs, anecdotes, and more drinks followed, and the pregnant minutes flew. At six minutes to one, when the jollity was at its highest--
There was silence instantly. The deep sound came rolling and rumbling frown peak to peak up the gorge, then died down, and ceased. The spell broke, then, and the men made a rush for the door, saying:
"Something's blown up!"
Outside, a voice in the darkness said, "It's away down the gorge; I saw the flash."
The crowd poured down the canyon--Holmes, Fetlock, Archy Stillman, everybody. They made the mile in a few minutes. By the light of a lantern they found the smooth and solid dirt floor of Flint Buckner's cabin; of the cabin itself not a vestige remained, not a rag nor a splinter. Nor any sign of Flint. Search-parties sought here and there and yonder, and presently a cry went up.
"Here he is!"
It was true. Fifty yards down the gulch they had found him--that is, they had found a crushed and lifeless mass which represented him. Fetlock Jones hurried thither with the others and looked.
The inquest was a fifteen-minute affair. Ham Sandwich, foreman of the jury, handed up the verdict, which was phrased with a certain unstudied literary grace, and closed with this finding, to wit: that "deceased came to his death by his own act or some other person or persons unknown to this jury not leaving any family or similar effects behind but his cabin which was blown away and God have mercy on his soul amen."
Then the impatient jury rejoined the main crowd, for the storm-center of interest was there--Sherlock Holmes. The miners stood silent and reverent in a half-circle, inclosing a large vacant space which included the front exposure of the site of the late premises. In this considerable space the Extraordinary Man was moving about, attended by his nephew with a lantern. With a tape he took measurements of the cabin site; of the distance from the wall of chaparral to the road; of the height of the chaparral bushes; also various other measurements. He gathered a rag here, a splinter there, and a pinch of earth yonder, inspected them profoundly, and preserved them. He took the "lay" of the place with a pocket-compass, allowing two seconds for magnetic variation. He took the time (Pacific) by his watch, correcting it for local time. He paced off the distance from the cabin site to the corpse, and corrected that for tidal differentiation. He took the altitude with a pocket-aneroid, and the temperature with a pocket-thermometer. Finally he said, with a stately bow:
"It is finished. Shall we return, gentlemen?"
He took up the line of march for the tavern, and the crowd fell into his wake, earnestly discussing and admiring the Extraordinary Man, and interlarding guesses as to the origin of the tragedy and who the author of it might he.
"My, but it's grand luck having him here--hey, boys?" said Ferguson.
"It's the biggest thing of the century," said Ham Sandwich.