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4\. Idiosyncrasies of Fictional Detectives

  • Most fictional detectives have peculiar and individual tricks of personality which are doubtless intended for the reader to remember them by.
  • Dupin had the most pronouncedly queer traits of all. Perhaps none of his successors ever achieved anything so freakish as this described below; and which, had he lived to-day, would have given him a claim to the title of "Sun Dodger."
  • > It was a freak of fancy in my friend (for what else shall I call it?) to be enamoured of the night for her own sake, and into this bizarrerie, as into all his others, I quietly fell; giving myself up to his wild whims with a perfect abandon. The sable divinity would not herself dwell with us always; but we could counterfeit her presence. At the first dawn of the morning we closed all the messy shutters of our old building; lighted a couple of tapers, which, strongly perfumed, threw out only the ghastliest and feeblest of rays. By the aid of these we then busied our souls in dreams—reading, writing, or conversing, until warned by the clock of the advent of the true darkness. Then we sallied forth into the streets, arm and arm, continuing the topics of the day, or roaming far and wide until a late hour, seeking, amid the wild lights and shadows of the populous city, that infinity of mental excitement which quiet observation can afford.
  • Sherlock Holmes' idiosyncrasies are too well known to need recapitulation. His morphine habit, his musical taste and his sardonic moods are familiar to all.
  • Holmes also had a habit of listening to his clients' recitals with his eyes shut. Though to be sure this was less radical than the proceeding of Dupin who
  • "sat in his accustomed armchair, the embodiment of respectful attention" but he wore green spectacles which allowed him to "sleep not the less soundly, though silently" throughout the long account of the case by the Prefect.
  • Holmes' odd habits are here referred to:
  • > An anomaly which often struck me in the character of my friend Sherlock Holmes was that, although in his methods of thought he was the neatest and most methodical of mankind, and although also he affected a certain quiet primness of dress, he was none the less in his personal habits one of the most untidy men that ever drove a fellow-lodger to distraction. Not that I am in the least conventional in that respect myself. The rough-and-tumble work in Afghanistan, coming on the top of a natural Bohemianism of disposition, has made me rather more lax than befits a medical man. But with me there is a limit, and when I find a man who keeps his cigars in the coal-scuttle, his tobacco in the toe end of a Persian slipper, and his unanswered correspondence transfixed by a jack-knife into the very centre of his wooden mantelpiece, then I begin to give myself virtuous airs. I have always held, too, that pistol practice should be distinctly an open-air pastime; and when Holmes, in one of his queer humors would sit in an arm-chair with his hair-trigger and a hundred Boxer cartridges, and proceed to adorn the opposite wall with a patriotic V.R. done in bullet-pocks, I felt strongly that neither the atmosphere nor the appearance of our room was improved by it.
  • These are, we must admit, unusual habits, but still Dr. Watson assures us that:
  • > Holmes was certainly not a difficult man to live with. He was quiet in his ways and his habits were regular. It was rare for him to be up after ten at night, and he had invariably breakfasted and gone out before I rose in the morning. Sometimes he spent his day at the chemical laboratory, sometimes in the dissecting-rooms, and occasionally in long walks, which appeared to take him into the lowest portions of the city. Nothing could exceed his energy when the 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, hardly uttering a word or moving a muscle from morning to night. On these occasions I have noticed such a dreamy, vacant expression in his eyes, that I might have suspected him of being addicted to the use of some narcotic, had not the temperance and cleanliness of his whole life forbidden such a notion.
  • Later, Dr. Watson's suspicions were confirmed.
  • Lecoq's eccentricity was his habit of silent communion with a portrait of his wife which he carried with him:
  • > M. Lecoq had recourse to the portrait on the lozenge-box. His look was more than a glance, it was a confidence. He was evidently saying something to the dear defunct, which he dared not utter aloud.
  • This habit is also noted in Mr. Gryce. This delightful old gentleman had a way of addressing himself to any small inanimate object in his neighborhood. It might be an inkstand or a doorknob, but he treated it, to all appearance, as his guide, philosopher and friend. On one occasion he became very chummy with a statue at the foot of a staircase:
  • > Whereupon I repeated my words, this time very quietly but clearly, while Mr.
  • Gryce continued to frown at the bronze figure he had taken into his confidence. When I had finished, Mr. Van Burnam's countenance had changed, so had his manner. He held himself as erect as before, but not with as much bravado. He showed haste and impatience also, but not the same kind of haste and not quite the same kind of impatience. The corners of Mr. Gryce's mouth betrayed that he noted this change, but he did not turn away from the newel- post.
  • And, upon occasion, Mr. Gryce is unable to take active interest in the evidence being deposed by a witness because of his intense absorption in a
  • "close and confidential confab with his own finger-tips."
  • Sergeant Cuff, however, has a very sane and pleasant fad of his own, but he puts it to its proper use when he employs it to evade impertinent or unwelcome queries. Instead of dashing madly into his "investigations" the celebrated detective goes off on a side track thus:
  • > "Ah, you've got the right exposure here to the south and sou'west," says the Sergeant, with a wag of his grizzled head, and a streak of pleasure in his melancholy voice. "This is the shape for a rosery—nothing like a circle set in a square. Yes, yes; with walks between all the beds. But they oughtn't to be gravel-walks like these. Grass, Mr. Gardener—grass-walks between your roses; gravel's too hard for them. That's a sweet pretty bed of white roses and blush roses. They always mix well together, don't they? Here's the white musk-rose, Mr. Betteredge—our old English rose holding up his head along with the best and newest of them. Pretty dear!" says the Sergeant, fondling the musk-rose with his lanky fingers, and speaking to it as if he were speaking to a child.
  • >
  • > This was a nice sort of a man to recover Miss Rachel's Diamond, and to find out the thief who stole it!
  • >
  • > "You seem to be fond of roses, Sergeant?" I remarked.
  • >
  • > "I haven't much time to be fond of anything," says Sergeant Cuff. "But, when I have a moment's fondness to bestow, most times, Mr. Betteredge, the roses get it. I began my life among them in my father's nursery garden, and I shall end my life among them if I can. Yes. One of these days (please God) I shall retire from catching thieves, and try my hand at growing roses. There will be grass-walks, Mr. Gardener, between my beds," says the Sergeant, on whose mind the gravel-paths of a rosery seemed to dwell unpleasantly.
  • >
  • > "It seems an odd taste, sir," I ventured to say, "for a man in your line of life."
  • >
  • > "If you will look about you (which most people won't do)," says Sergeant Cuff, "you will see that the nature of a man's tastes is, most times, as opposite as possible to the nature of a man's business. Show me any two things more opposite one from the other than a rose and a thief, and I'll correct my tastes accordingly—if it isn't too late at my time of life. You find the damask-rose a goodish stock for most of the tender sorts, don't you, Mr.
  • Gardener? Ah! I thought so. Here's a lady coming. Is it Lady Verinder?"
  • The peculiarity of "The Whispering Man," and what gives him his title, is a curious vocal defect which at times prevents his audible speech.