We met next day as he had arranged, and inspected the rooms at No. 221B, Bake_treet, of which he had spoken at our meeting. They consisted of a couple o_omfortable bed-rooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfull_urnished, and illuminated by two broad windows. So desirable in every wa_ere the apartments, and so moderate did the terms seem when divided betwee_s, that the bargain was concluded upon the spot, and we at once entered int_ossession. That very evening I moved my things round from the hotel, and o_he following morning Sherlock Holmes followed me with several boxes an_ortmanteaus. For a day or two we were busily employed in unpacking and layin_ut our property to the best advantage. That done, we gradually began t_ettle down and to accommodate ourselves to our new surroundings.
Holmes was certainly not a difficult man to live with. He was quiet in hi_ays, and his habits were regular. It was rare for him to be up after ten a_ight, and he had invariably breakfasted and gone out before I rose in th_orning. Sometimes he spent his day at the chemical laboratory, sometimes i_he dissecting-rooms, and occasionally in long walks, which appeared to tak_im into the lowest portions of the City. Nothing could exceed his energy whe_he working fit was upon him; but now and again a reaction would seize him, and for days on end he would lie upon the sofa in the sitting-room, hardl_ttering a word or moving a muscle from morning to night. On these occasions _ave noticed such a dreamy, vacant expression in his eyes, that I might hav_uspected him of being addicted to the use of some narcotic, had not th_emperance and cleanliness of his whole life forbidden such a notion.
As the weeks went by, my interest in him and my curiosity as to his aims i_ife, gradually deepened and increased. His very person and appearance wer_uch as to strike the attention of the most casual observer. In height he wa_ather over six feet, and so excessively lean that he seemed to b_onsiderably taller. His eyes were sharp and piercing, save during thos_ntervals of torpor to which I have alluded; and his thin, hawk-like nose gav_is whole expression an air of alertness and decision. His chin, too, had th_rominence and squareness which mark the man of determination. His hands wer_nvariably blotted with ink and stained with chemicals, yet he was possesse_f extraordinary delicacy of touch, as I frequently had occasion to observ_hen I watched him manipulating his fragile philosophical instruments.
The reader may set me down as a hopeless busybody, when I confess how muc_his man stimulated my curiosity, and how often I endeavoured to break throug_he reticence which he showed on all that concerned himself. Befor_ronouncing judgment, however, be it remembered, how objectless was my life, and how little there was to engage my attention. My health forbade me fro_enturing out unless the weather was exceptionally genial, and I had n_riends who would call upon me and break the monotony of my daily existence.
Under these circumstances, I eagerly hailed the little mystery which hun_round my companion, and spent much of my time in endeavouring to unravel it.
He was not studying medicine. He had himself, in reply to a question, confirmed Stamford's opinion upon that point. Neither did he appear to hav_ursued any course of reading which might fit him for a degree in science o_ny other recognized portal which would give him an entrance into the learne_orld. Yet his zeal for certain studies was remarkable, and within eccentri_imits his knowledge was so extraordinarily ample and minute that hi_bservations have fairly astounded me. Surely no man would work so hard o_ttain such precise information unless he had some definite end in view.
Desultory readers are seldom remarkable for the exactness of their learning.
No man burdens his mind with small matters unless he has some very good reaso_or doing so.
His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quotin_homas Carlyle, he inquired in the naivest way who he might be and what he ha_one. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that h_as ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Sola_ystem. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should no_e aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to be to me such a_xtraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.
"You appear to be astonished," he said, smiling at my expression of surprise.
"Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it."
"To forget it!"
"You see," he explained, "I consider that a man's brain originally is like _ittle empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as yo_hoose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, s_hat the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at bes_s jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in layin_is hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to wha_e takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which ma_elp him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all i_he most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room ha_lastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a tim_hen for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you kne_efore. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless fact_lbowing out the useful ones."
"But the Solar System!" I protested.
"What the deuce is it to me?" he interrupted impatiently; "you say that we g_ound the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth o_ifference to me or to my work."
I was on the point of asking him what that work might be, but something in hi_anner showed me that the question would be an unwelcome one. I pondered ove_ur short conversation, however, and endeavoured to draw my deductions fro_t. He said that he would acquire no knowledge which did not bear upon hi_bject. Therefore all the knowledge which he possessed was such as would b_seful to him. I enumerated in my own mind all the various points upon whic_e had shown me that he was exceptionally well-informed. I even took a penci_nd jotted them down. I could not help smiling at the document when I ha_ompleted it. It ran in this way —
SHERLOCK HOLMES — his limits.
1\. Knowledge of Literature. — Nil.
2\. Philosophy. — Nil.
3\. Astronomy. — Nil.
4\. Politics. — Feeble.
5\. Botany. — Variable. Well up in belladonna, opium, and poisons generally.
Knows nothing of practical gardening.
6\. Geology. — Practical, but limited. Tells at a glance different soils fro_ach other. After walks has shown me splashes upon his trousers, and told m_y their colour and consistence in what part of London he had received them.
7\. Chemistry. — Profound.
8\. Anatomy. — Accurate, but unsystematic.
9\. Sensational Literature. — Immense. He appears to know every detail o_very horror perpetrated in the century.
10\. Plays the violin well.
11\. Is an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman.
12\. Has a good practical knowledge of British law.
When I had got so far in my list I threw it into the fire in despair. "If _an only find what the fellow is driving at by reconciling all thes_ccomplishments, and discovering a calling which needs them all," I said t_yself, "I may as well give up the attempt at once."
I see that I have alluded above to his powers upon the violin. These were ver_emarkable, but as eccentric as all his other accomplishments. That he coul_lay pieces, and difficult pieces, I knew well, because at my request he ha_layed me some of Mendelssohn's Lieder, and other favourites. When left t_imself, however, he would seldom produce any music or attempt any recognize_ir. Leaning back in his arm-chair of an evening, he would close his eyes an_crape carelessly at the fiddle which was thrown across his knee. Sometime_he chords were sonorous and melancholy. Occasionally they were fantastic an_heerful. Clearly they reflected the thoughts which possessed him, but whethe_he music aided those thoughts, or whether the playing was simply the resul_f a whim or fancy was more than I could determine. I might have rebelle_gainst these exasperating solos had it not been that he usually terminate_hem by playing in quick succession a whole series of my favourite airs as _light compensation for the trial upon my patience.
During the first week or so we had no callers, and I had begun to think tha_y companion was as friendless a man as I was myself. Presently, however, _ound that he had many acquaintances, and those in the most different classe_f society. There was one little sallow rat-faced, dark-eyed fellow who wa_ntroduced to me as Mr. Lestrade, and who came three or four times in a singl_eek. One morning a young girl called, fashionably dressed, and stayed fo_alf an hour or more. The same afternoon brought a grey-headed, seedy visitor, looking like a Jew pedlar, who appeared to me to be much excited, and who wa_losely followed by a slip-shod elderly woman. On another occasion an ol_hite-haired gentleman had an interview with my companion; and on another _ailway porter in his velveteen uniform. When any of these nondescrip_ndividuals put in an appearance, Sherlock Holmes used to beg for the use o_he sitting-room, and I would retire to my bed-room. He always apologized t_e for putting me to this inconvenience. "I have to use this room as a plac_f business," he said, "and these people are my clients." Again I had a_pportunity of asking him a point blank question, and again my delicac_revented me from forcing another man to confide in me. I imagined at the tim_hat he had some strong reason for not alluding to it, but he soon dispelle_he idea by coming round to the subject of his own accord.
It was upon the 4th of March, as I have good reason to remember, that I ros_omewhat earlier than usual, and found that Sherlock Holmes had not ye_inished his breakfast. The landlady had become so accustomed to my lat_abits that my place had not been laid nor my coffee prepared. With th_nreasonable petulance of mankind I rang the bell and gave a curt intimatio_hat I was ready. Then I picked up a magazine from the table and attempted t_hile away the time with it, while my companion munched silently at his toast.
One of the articles had a pencil mark at the heading, and I naturally began t_un my eye through it.
Its somewhat ambitious title was "The Book of Life," and it attempted to sho_ow much an observant man might learn by an accurate and systemati_xamination of all that came in his way. It struck me as being a remarkabl_ixture of shrewdness and of absurdity. The reasoning was close and intense, but the deductions appeared to me to be far-fetched and exaggerated. Th_riter claimed by a momentary expression, a twitch of a muscle or a glance o_n eye, to fathom a man's inmost thoughts. Deceit, according to him, was a_mpossibility in the case of one trained to observation and analysis. Hi_onclusions were as infallible as so many propositions of Euclid. So startlin_ould his results appear to the uninitiated that until they learned th_rocesses by which he had arrived at them they might well consider him as _ecromancer.
"From a drop of water," said the writer, "a logician could infer th_ossibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one o_he other. So all life is a great chain, the nature of which is known wheneve_e are shown a single link of it. Like all other arts, the Science o_eduction and Analysis is one which can only be acquired by long and patien_tudy nor is life long enough to allow any mortal to attain the highes_ossible perfection in it. Before turning to those moral and mental aspects o_he matter which present the greatest difficulties, let the enquirer begin b_astering more elementary problems. Let him, on meeting a fellow-mortal, lear_t a glance to distinguish the history of the man, and the trade or professio_o which he belongs. Puerile as such an exercise may seem, it sharpens th_aculties of observation, and teaches one where to look and what to look for.
By a man's finger nails, by his coat-sleeve, by his boot, by his trouse_nees, by the callosities of his forefinger and thumb, by his expression, b_is shirt cuffs — by each of these things a man's calling is plainly revealed.
That all united should fail to enlighten the competent enquirer in any case i_lmost inconceivable."
"What ineffable twaddle!" I cried, slapping the magazine down on the table, "_ever read such rubbish in my life."
"What is it?" asked Sherlock Holmes.
"Why, this article," I said, pointing at it with my egg spoon as I sat down t_y breakfast. "I see that you have read it since you have marked it. I don'_eny that it is smartly written. It irritates me though. It is evidently th_heory of some arm-chair lounger who evolves all these neat little paradoxe_n the seclusion of his own study. It is not practical. I should like to se_im clapped down in a third class carriage on the Underground, and asked t_ive the trades of all his fellow-travellers. I would lay a thousand to on_gainst him."
"You would lose your money," Sherlock Holmes remarked calmly. "As for th_rticle I wrote it myself."
"Yes, I have a turn both for observation and for deduction. The theories whic_ have expressed there, and which appear to you to be so chimerical are reall_xtremely practical — so practical that I depend upon them for my bread an_heese."
"And how?" I asked involuntarily.
"Well, I have a trade of my own. I suppose I am the only one in the world. I'_ consulting detective, if you can understand what that is. Here in London w_ave lots of Government detectives and lots of private ones. When thes_ellows are at fault they come to me, and I manage to put them on the righ_cent. They lay all the evidence before me, and I am generally able, by th_elp of my knowledge of the history of crime, to set them straight. There is _trong family resemblance about misdeeds, and if you have all the details of _housand at your finger ends, it is odd if you can't unravel the thousand an_irst. Lestrade is a well-known detective. He got himself into a fog recentl_ver a forgery case, and that was what brought him here."
"And these other people?"
"They are mostly sent on by private inquiry agencies. They are all people wh_re in trouble about something, and want a little enlightening. I listen t_heir story, they listen to my comments, and then I pocket my fee."
"But do you mean to say," I said, "that without leaving your room you ca_nravel some knot which other men can make nothing of, although they have see_very detail for themselves?"
"Quite so. I have a kind of intuition that way. Now and again a case turns u_hich is a little more complex. Then I have to bustle about and see thing_ith my own eyes. You see I have a lot of special knowledge which I apply t_he problem, and which facilitates matters wonderfully. Those rules o_eduction laid down in that article which aroused your scorn, are invaluabl_o me in practical work. Observation with me is second nature. You appeared t_e surprised when I told you, on our first meeting, that you had come fro_fghanistan."
"You were told, no doubt."
"Nothing of the sort. I knew you came from Afghanistan. From long habit th_rain of thoughts ran so swiftly through my mind, that I arrived at th_onclusion without being conscious of intermediate steps. There were suc_teps, however. The train of reasoning ran, 'Here is a gentleman of a medica_ype, but with the air of a military man. Clearly an army doctor, then. He ha_ust come from the tropics, for his face is dark, and that is not the natura_int of his skin, for his wrists are fair. He has undergone hardship an_ickness, as his haggard face says clearly. His left arm has been injured. H_olds it in a stiff and unnatural manner. Where in the tropics could a_nglish army doctor have seen much hardship and got his arm wounded? Clearl_n Afghanistan.' The whole train of thought did not occupy a second. I the_emarked that you came from Afghanistan, and you were astonished."
"It is simple enough as you explain it," I said, smiling. "You remind me o_dgar Allen Poe's Dupin. I had no idea that such individuals did exist outsid_f stories."
Sherlock Holmes rose and lit his pipe. "No doubt you think that you ar_omplimenting me in comparing me to Dupin," he observed. "Now, in my opinion, Dupin was a very inferior fellow. That trick of his of breaking in on hi_riends' thoughts with an apropos remark after a quarter of an hour's silenc_s really very showy and superficial. He had some analytical genius, no doubt; but he was by no means such a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine."
"Have you read Gaboriau's works?" I asked. "Does Lecoq come up to your idea o_ detective?"
Sherlock Holmes sniffed sardonically. "Lecoq was a miserable bungler," h_aid, in an angry voice; "he had only one thing to recommend him, and that wa_is energy. That book made me positively ill. The question was how to identif_n unknown prisoner. I could have done it in twenty-four hours. Lecoq took si_onths or so. It might be made a text-book for detectives to teach them wha_o avoid."
I felt rather indignant at having two characters whom I had admired treated i_his cavalier style. I walked over to the window, and stood looking out int_he busy street. "This fellow may be very clever," I said to myself, "but h_s certainly very conceited."
"There are no crimes and no criminals in these days," he said, querulously.
"What is the use of having brains in our profession. I know well that I hav_t in me to make my name famous. No man lives or has ever lived who ha_rought the same amount of study and of natural talent to the detection o_rime which I have done. And what is the result? There is no crime to detect, or, at most, some bungling villany with a motive so transparent that even _cotland Yard official can see through it."
I was still annoyed at his bumptious style of conversation. I thought it bes_o change the topic.
"I wonder what that fellow is looking for?" I asked, pointing to a stalwart, plainly-dressed individual who was walking slowly down the other side of th_treet, looking anxiously at the numbers. He had a large blue envelope in hi_and, and was evidently the bearer of a message.
"You mean the retired sergeant of Marines," said Sherlock Holmes.
"Brag and bounce!" thought I to myself. "He knows that I cannot verify hi_uess."
The thought had hardly passed through my mind when the man whom we wer_atching caught sight of the number on our door, and ran rapidly across th_oadway. We heard a loud knock, a deep voice below, and heavy steps ascendin_he stair.
"For Mr. Sherlock Holmes," he said, stepping into the room and handing m_riend the letter.
Here was an opportunity of taking the conceit out of him. He little thought o_his when he made that random shot. "May I ask, my lad," I said, in th_landest voice, "what your trade may be?"
"Commissionaire, sir," he said, gruffly. "Uniform away for repairs."
"And you were?" I asked, with a slightly malicious glance at my companion.
"A sergeant, sir, Royal Marine Light Infantry, sir. No answer? Right, sir."
He clicked his heels together, raised his hand in a salute, and was gone.