SHERLOCK HOLMES DISCOURSES
IT WAS one of those dramatic moments for which my friend existed. It
would be an overstatement to say that he was shocked or even excited by the amazing
announcement. Without having a tinge of cruelty in his singular composition, he was
undoubtedly callous from long overstimulation. Yet, if his emotions were dulled, his
intellectual perceptions were exceedingly active. There was no trace then of the horror
which I had myself felt at this curt declaration; but his face showed rather the quiet and
interested composure of the chemist who sees the crystals falling into position from his
Remarkable! said he. Remarkable!
You dont seem surprised.
Interested, Mr. Mac, but hardly surprised. Why should I
be surprised? I receive an anonymous communication from a quarter which I know to be
important, warning me that danger threatens a certain person. Within an hour I learn that
this danger has actually materialized and that the person is dead. I am interested; but,
as you observe, I am not surprised.
In a few short sentences he explained to the inspector the
facts about the letter and the cipher. MacDonald sat with his chin on his hands and his
great sandy eyebrows bunched into a yellow tangle.
I was going down to Birlstone this morning, said
he. I had come to ask you if you cared to come with meyou and your friend
here. But from what you say we might perhaps be doing better work in London.
I rather think not, said Holmes.
it all, Mr. Holmes! cried the inspector. The papers will be full of the
Birlstone mystery in a day or two; but wheres the mystery if there is a man in
London who prophesied the crime before ever it occurred? We have only to lay our hands on
that man, and the rest will follow.
No doubt, Mr. Mac. But how do you propose to lay your
hands on the so-called Porlock?
MacDonald turned over the letter which Holmes had handed him.
Posted in Camberwellthat doesnt help us much. Name, you say, is assumed.
Not much to go on, certainly. Didnt you say that you have sent him money?
In notes to Camberwell postoffice.
Did you ever trouble to see who called for them?
The inspector looked surprised and a little shocked. Why
Because I always keep faith. I had promised when he
first wrote that I would not try to trace him.
You think there is someone behind him?
I know there is.
This professor that Ive heard you mention?
Inspector MacDonald smiled, and his eyelid quivered as he
glanced towards me. I wont conceal from you, Mr. Holmes, that we think in the
C. I. D. that you have a wee bit of a bee in your bonnet over this professor. I made some
inquiries myself about the matter. He seems to be a very respectable, learned, and
talented sort of man.
Im glad youve got so far as to recognize the
Man, you cant but recognize it! After I heard your
view I made it my business to see him. I had a chat with him on eclipses. How the talk got
that way I canna think; but he had out a reflector lantern and a globe, and made it all
clear in a minute. He lent me a book; but I dont mind saying that it was a bit above
my head, though I had a good Aberdeen upbringing. Hed have made a grand meenister
with his thin face and gray hair and solemn-like way of talking. When he put his hand on
my shoulder as we were parting, it was like a fathers blessing before you go out
into the cold, cruel world.
Holmes chuckled and rubbed his hands. Great! he
said. Great! Tell me, Friend MacDonald, this pleasing and touching interview was, I
suppose, in the professors study?
A fine room, is it not?
Very finevery handsome indeed, Mr. Holmes.
You sat in front of his writing desk?
Sun in your eyes and his face in the shadow?
Well, it was evening; but I mind that the lamp was
turned on my face.
It would be. Did you happen to observe a picture over
the professors head?
I dont miss much, Mr. Holmes. Maybe I learned that
from you. Yes, I saw the picturea young woman with her head on her hands, peeping at
That painting was by Jean Baptiste Greuze.
inspector endeavoured to look interested.
Jean Baptiste Greuze, Holmes continued, joining
his finger tips and leaning well back in his chair, was a French artist who
flourished between the years 1750 and 1800. I allude, of course, to his working career.
Modern criticism has more than indorsed the high opinion formed of him by his
The inspectors eyes grew abstracted. Hadnt
we better he said.
We are doing so, Holmes interrupted. All
that I am saying has a very direct and vital bearing upon what you have called the
Birlstone Mystery. In fact, it may in a sense be called the very centre of it.
MacDonald smiled feebly, and looked appealingly to me.
Your thoughts move a bit too quick for me, Mr. Holmes. You leave out a link or two,
and I cant get over the gap. What in the whole wide world can be the connection
between this dead painting man and the affair at Birlstone?
All knowledge comes useful to the detective,
remarked Holmes. Even the trivial fact that in the year 1865 a picture by Greuze
entitled La Jeune Fille a lAgneau fetched one million two hundred thousand
francsmore than forty thousand poundsat the Portalis sale may start a train of
reflection in your mind.
It was clear that it did. The inspector looked honestly
I may remind you, Holmes continued, that the
professors salary can be ascertained in several trustworthy books of reference. It
is seven hundred a year.
Then how could he buy
Quite so! How could he?
Ay, thats remarkable, said the inspector
thoughtfully. Talk away, Mr. Holmes. Im just loving it. Its fine!
Holmes smiled. He was always warmed by genuine
admirationthe characteristic of the real artist. What about Birlstone?
Weve time yet, said the inspector, glancing
at his watch. Ive a cab at the door, and it wont take us twenty minutes
to Victoria. But about this picture: I thought you told me once, Mr. Holmes, that you had
never met Professor Moriarty.
No, I never have.
Then how do you know about his rooms?
Ah, thats another matter. I have been three times
in his rooms, twice waiting for him under different pretexts and leaving before he came.
Once well, I can hardly tell about the once to an official detective. It was on the
last occasion that I took the liberty of running over his paperswith the most
You found something compromising?
Absolutely nothing. That was what amazed me. However,
you have now seen the point of the picture. It shows him to be a very wealthy man. How did
he acquire wealth? He is unmarried. His younger brother is a station master in the west of
England. His chair is worth seven hundred a year. And he owns a Greuze.
Surely the inference is plain.
You mean that he has a great income and that he must
earn it in an illegal fashion?
Exactly. Of course I have other reasons for thinking
sodozens of exiguous threads which lead vaguely up towards the centre of the web
where the poisonous, motionless creature is lurking. I only mention the Greuze because it
brings the matter within the range of your own observation.
Mr. Holmes, I admit that what you say is interesting: its more than
interestingits just wonderful. But let us have it a little clearer if you can.
Is it forgery, coining, burglarywhere does the money come from?
Have you ever read of Jonathan Wild?
Well, the name has a familiar sound. Someone in a novel,
was he not? I dont take much stock of detectives in novelschaps that do things
and never let you see how they do them. Thats just inspiration: not business.
Jonathan Wild wasnt a detective, and he
wasnt in a novel. He was a master criminal, and he lived last century1750 or
Then hes no use to me. Im a practical
Mr. Mac, the most practical thing that you ever did in
your life would be to shut yourself up for three months and read twelve hours a day at the
annals of crime. Everything comes in circleseven Professor Moriarty. Jonathan Wild
was the hidden force of the London criminals, to whom he sold his brains and his
organization on a fifteen per cent. commission. The old wheel turns, and the same spoke
comes up. Its all been done before, and will be again. Ill tell you one or two
things about Moriarty which may interest you.
Youll interest me, right enough.
I happen to know who is the first link in his
chaina chain with this Napoleon-gone-wrong at one end, and a hundred broken fighting
men, pickpockets, blackmailers, and card sharpers at the other, with every sort of crime
in between. His chief of staff is Colonel Sebastian Moran, as aloof and guarded and
inaccessible to the law as himself. What do you think he pays him?
Id like to hear.
Six thousand a year. Thats paying for brains, you
seethe American business principle. I learned that detail quite by chance. Its
more than the Prime Minister gets. That gives you an idea of Moriartys gains and of
the scale on which he works. Another point: I made it my business to hunt down some of
Moriartys checks latelyjust common innocent checks that he pays his household
bills with. They were drawn on six different banks. Does that make any impression on your
Queer, certainly! But what do you gather from it?
That he wanted no gossip about his wealth. No single man
should know what he had. I have no doubt that he has twenty banking accounts; the bulk of
his fortune abroad in the Deutsche Bank or the Credit Lyonnais as likely as not. Sometime
when you have a year or two to spare I commend to you the study of Professor
Inspector MacDonald had grown steadily more impressed as the
conversation proceeded. He had lost himself in his interest. Now his practical Scotch
intelligence brought him back with a snap to the matter in hand.
He can keep, anyhow, said he. Youve
got us side-tracked with your interesting anecdotes, Mr. Holmes. What really counts is
your remark that there is some connection between the professor and the crime. That you
get from the warning received through the man Porlock. Can we for our present practical
needs get any further than that?
We may form some conception as to the motives of the
crime. It is, as I gather from your original remarks, an inexplicable, or at least an
unexplained, murder. Now, presuming that the source of the crime is as we suspect it to
be, there might be two different motives. In the first place, I may tell you that Moriarty
rules with a rod of iron over his people. His discipline is tremendous. There is only one  punishment in his code. It is
death. Now we might suppose that this murdered manthis Douglas whose approaching
fate was known by one of the arch-criminals subordinateshad in some way
betrayed the chief. His punishment followed, and would be known to allif only to put
the fear of death into them.
Well, that is one suggestion, Mr. Holmes.
The other is that it has been engineered by Moriarty in
the ordinary course of business. Was there any robbery?
I have not heard.
If so, it would, of course, be against the first
hypothesis and in favour of the second. Moriarty may have been engaged to engineer it on a
promise of part spoils, or he may have been paid so much down to manage it. Either is
possible. But whichever it may be, or if it is some third combination, it is down at
Birlstone that we must seek the solution. I know our man too well to suppose that he has
left anything up here which may lead us to him.
Then to Birlstone we must go! cried MacDonald,
jumping from his chair. My word! its later than I thought. I can give you,
gentlemen, five minutes for preparation, and that is all.
And ample for us both, said Holmes, as he sprang
up and hastened to change from his dressing gown to his coat. While we are on our
way, Mr. Mac, I will ask you to be good enough to tell me all about it.
All about it proved to be disappointingly little,
and yet there was enough to assure us that the case before us might well be worthy of the
experts closest attention. He brightened and rubbed his thin hands together as he
listened to the meagre but remarkable details. A long series of sterile weeks lay behind
us, and here at last there was a fitting object for those remarkable powers which, like
all special gifts, become irksome to their owner when they are not in use. That razor
brain blunted and rusted with inaction.
Sherlock Holmess eyes glistened, his pale cheeks took
a warmer hue, and his whole eager face shone with an inward light when the call for work
reached him. Leaning forward in the cab, he listened intently to MacDonalds short
sketch of the problem which awaited us in Sussex. The inspector was himself dependent, as
he explained to us, upon a scribbled account forwarded to him by the milk train in the
early hours of the morning. White Mason, the local officer, was a personal friend, and
hence MacDonald had been notified much more promptly than is usual at Scotland Yard when
provincials need their assistance. It is a very cold scent upon which the Metropolitan
expert is generally asked to run.
- DEAR INSPECTOR MACDONALD [said
the letter which he read to us]:
Official requisition for your services is in separate
envelope. This is for your private eye. Wire me what train in the morning you can get for
Birlstone, and I will meet itor have it met if I am too occupied. This case is a
snorter. Dont waste a moment in getting started. If you can bring Mr. Holmes, please
do so; for he will find something after his own heart. We would think the whole thing had
been fixed up for theatrical effect if there wasnt a dead man in the middle of it.
My word! it is a snorter.
Your friend seems to be no fool, remarked
No, sir, White Mason is a very live man, if I am any
Well, have you anything more?
Only that he will give us every detail when we
how did you get at Mr. Douglas and the fact that he had been horribly murdered?
That was in the inclosed official report. It didnt
say horrible: thats not a recognized official term. It gave the name
John Douglas. It mentioned that his injuries had been in the head, from the discharge of a
shotgun. It also mentioned the hour of the alarm, which was close on to midnight last
night. It added that the case was undoubtedly one of murder, but that no arrest had been
made, and that the case was one which presented some very perplexing and extraordinary
features. Thats absolutely all we have at present, Mr. Holmes.
Then, with your permission, we will leave it at that,
Mr. Mac. The temptation to form premature theories upon insufficient data is the bane of
our profession. I can see only two things for certain at presenta great brain in
London, and a dead man in Sussex. Its the chain between that we are going to