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The Valley of Fear

The Valley of Fear

Arthur Conan Doyle

Update: 2020-04-22

Chapter 1 The Warning

  • "I am inclined to think—" said I.
  • "I should do so," Sherlock Holmes remarked impatiently.
  • I believe that I am one of the most long-suffering of mortals; but I'll admi_hat I was annoyed at the sardonic interruption. "Really, Holmes," said _everely, "you are a little trying at times."
  • He was too much absorbed with his own thoughts to give any immediate answer t_y remonstrance. He leaned upon his hand, with his untasted breakfast befor_im, and he stared at the slip of paper which he had just drawn from it_nvelope. Then he took the envelope itself, held it up to the light, and ver_arefully studied both the exterior and the flap.
  • "It is Porlock's writing," said he thoughtfully. "I can hardly doubt that i_s Porlock's writing, though I have seen it only twice before. The Greek _ith the peculiar top flourish is distinctive. But if it is Porlock, then i_ust be something of the very first importance."
  • He was speaking to himself rather than to me; but my vexation disappeared i_he interest which the words awakened.
  • "Who then is Porlock?" I asked.
  • "Porlock, Watson, is a nom-de-plume, a mere identification mark; but behind i_ies a shifty and evasive personality. In a former letter he frankly informe_e that the name was not his own, and defied me ever to trace him among th_eeming millions of this great city. Porlock is important, not for himself, but for the great man with whom he is in touch. Picture to yourself the pilo_ish with the shark, the jackal with the lion—anything that is insignifican_n companionship with what is formidable: not only formidable, Watson, bu_inister—in the highest degree sinister. That is where he comes within m_urview. You have heard me speak of Professor Moriarty?"
  • "The famous scientific criminal, as famous among crooks as—"
  • "My blushes, Watson!" Holmes murmured in a deprecating voice.
  • "I was about to say, as he is unknown to the public."
  • "A touch! A distinct touch!" cried Holmes. "You are developing a certai_nexpected vein of pawky humour, Watson, against which I must learn to guar_yself. But in calling Moriarty a criminal you are uttering libel in the eye_f the law—and there lie the glory and the wonder of it! The greatest scheme_f all time, the organizer of every deviltry, the controlling brain of th_nderworld, a brain which might have made or marred the destiny o_ations—that's the man! But so aloof is he from general suspicion, so immun_rom criticism, so admirable in his management and self-effacement, that fo_hose very words that you have uttered he could hale you to a court and emerg_ith your year's pension as a solatium for his wounded character. Is he no_he celebrated author of The Dynamics of an Asteroid, a book which ascends t_uch rarefied heights of pure mathematics that it is said that there was n_an in the scientific press capable of criticizing it? Is this a man t_raduce? Foul-mouthed doctor and slandered professor—such would be you_espective roles! That's genius, Watson. But if I am spared by lesser men, ou_ay will surely come."
  • "May I be there to see!" I exclaimed devoutly. "But you were speaking of thi_an Porlock."
  • "Ah, yes—the so-called Porlock is a link in the chain some little way from it_reat attachment. Porlock is not quite a sound link—between ourselves. He i_he only flaw in that chain so far as I have been able to test it."
  • "But no chain is stronger than its weakest link."
  • "Exactly, my dear Watson! Hence the extreme importance of Porlock. Led on b_ome rudimentary aspirations towards right, and encouraged by the judiciou_timulation of an occasional ten-pound note sent to him by devious methods, h_as once or twice given me advance information which has been of value—tha_ighest value which anticipates and prevents rather than avenges crime. _annot doubt that, if we had the cipher, we should find that thi_ommunication is of the nature that I indicate."
  • Again Holmes flattened out the paper upon his unused plate. I rose and, leaning over him, stared down at the curious inscription, which ran a_ollows:
  • 534 C2 13 127 36 31 4 17 21 41 DOUGLAS 109 293 5 37 BIRLSTONE 26
  • BIRLSTONE 9 47 171
  • "What do you make of it, Holmes?"
  • "It is obviously an attempt to convey secret information."
  • "But what is the use of a cipher message without the cipher?"
  • "In this instance, none at all."
  • "Why do you say 'in this instance'?"
  • "Because there are many ciphers which I would read as easily as I do th_pocrypha of the agony column: such crude devices amuse the intelligenc_ithout fatiguing it. But this is different. It is clearly a reference to th_ords in a page of some book. Until I am told which page and which book I a_owerless."
  • "But why 'Douglas' and 'Birlstone'?"
  • "Clearly because those are words which were not contained in the page i_uestion."
  • "Then why has he not indicated the book?"
  • "Yow native shrewdness, my dear Watson, that innate cunning which is th_elight of your friends, would surely prevent you from inclosing cipher an_essage in the same envelope. Should it miscarry, you are undone. As it is, both have to go wrong before any harm comes from it. Our second post is no_verdue, and I shall be surprised if it does not bring us either a furthe_etter of explanation, or, as is more probable, the very volume to which thes_igures refer."
  • Holmes's calculation was fulfilled within a very few minutes by the appearanc_f Billy, the page, with the very letter which we were expecting.
  • "The same writing," remarked Holmes, as he opened the envelope, "and actuall_igned," he added in an exultant voice as he unfolded the epistle. "Come, w_re getting on, Watson." His brow clouded, however, as he glanced over th_ontents.
  • "Dear me, this is very disappointing! I fear, Watson, that all ou_xpectations come to nothing. I trust that the man Porlock will come to n_arm.
  • "DEAR MR. HOLMES [he says]:
  • "I will go no further in this matter. It is too dangerous—he suspects me. _an see that he suspects me. He came to me quite unexpectedly after I ha_ctually addressed this envelope with the intention of sending you the key t_he cipher. I was able to cover it up. If he had seen it, it would have gon_ard with me. But I read suspicion in his eyes. Please burn the ciphe_essage, which can now be of no use to you.
  • FRED PORLOCK."
  • Holmes sat for some little time twisting this letter between his fingers, an_rowning, as he stared into the fire.
  • "After all," he said at last, "there may be nothing in it. It may be only hi_uilty conscience. Knowing himself to be a traitor, he may have read th_ccusation in the other's eyes."
  • "The other being, I presume, Professor Moriarty."
  • "No less! When any of that party talk about 'He' you know whom they mean.
  • There is one predominant 'He' for all of them."
  • "But what can he do?"
  • "Hum! That's a large question. When you have one of the first brains of Europ_p against you, and all the powers of darkness at his back, there are infinit_ossibilities. Anyhow, Friend Porlock is evidently scared out of hi_enses—kindly compare the writing in the note to that upon its envelope; whic_as done, he tells us, before this ill-omened visit. The one is clear an_irm. The other hardly legible."
  • "Why did he write at all? Why did he not simply drop it?"
  • "Because he feared I would make some inquiry after him in that case, an_ossibly bring trouble on him."
  • "No doubt," said I. "Of course." I had picked up the original cipher messag_nd was bending my brows over it. "It's pretty maddening to think that a_mportant secret may lie here on this slip of paper, and that it is beyon_uman power to penetrate it."
  • Sherlock Holmes had pushed away his untasted breakfast and lit the unsavour_ipe which was the companion of his deepest meditations. "I wonder!" said he, leaning back and staring at the ceiling. "Perhaps there are points which hav_scaped your Machiavellian intellect. Let us consider the problem in the ligh_f pure reason. This man's reference is to a book. That is our point o_eparture."
  • "A somewhat vague one."
  • "Let us see then if we can narrow it down. As I focus my mind upon it, i_eems rather less impenetrable. What indications have we as to this book?"
  • "None."
  • "Well, well, it is surely not quite so bad as that. The cipher message begin_ith a large 534, does it not? We may take it as a working hypothesis that 53_s the particular page to which the cipher refers. Soour book has alread_ecome a LARGE book, which is surely something gained. What other indication_ave we as to the nature of this large book? The next sign is C2. What do yo_ake of that, Watson?"
  • "Chapter the second, no doubt."
  • "Hardly that, Watson. You will, I am sure, agree with me that if the page b_iven, the number of the chapter is immaterial. Also that if page 534 finds u_nly in the second chapter, the length of the first one must have been reall_ntolerable."
  • "Column!" I cried.
  • "Brilliant, Watson. You are scintillating this morning. If it is not column, then I am very much deceived. So now, you see, we begin to visualize a larg_ook printed in double columns which are each of a considerable iength, sinc_ne of the words is numbered in the document as the two hundred and ninety- third. Have we reached the limits of what reasoncan supply?"
  • "I fear that we have."
  • "Surely you do yourself an injustice. One more coruscation, my dear Watson—ye_nother brain-wave! Had the volume been an unusual one, he would have sent i_o me. Instead of that, he had intended, before his plans were nipped, to sen_e the clue in this envelope. He says so in his note. This would seem t_ndicate that the book is one which he thought I would have no difficulty i_inding for myself. He had it—and he imagined that I would have it, too. I_hort, Watson, it is a very common book."
  • "What you say certainly sounds plausible."
  • "So we have contracted our field of search to a large book, printed in doubl_olumns and in common use."
  • "The Bible!" I cried triumphantly.
  • "Good, Watson, good! But not, if I may say so, quite good enough! Even if _ccepted the compliment for myself I could hardly name any volume which woul_e less likely to lie at the elbow of one of Moriarty's associates. Besides, the editions of Holy Writ are so numerous that he could hardly suppose tha_wo copies would have the same pagination. This is clearly abook which i_tandardized. He knows for certain that his page 534 will exactly agree wit_y page 534."
  • "But very few books would correspond with that."
  • "Exactly. Therein lies our salvation. Our search is narrowed down t_tandardized books which anyone may be supposed to possess."
  • "Bradshaw!"
  • "There are difficulties, Watson. The vocabulary of Bradshaw is nervous an_erse, but limited. The selection of words would hardly lend itself to th_ending of general messages. We will eliminate Bradshaw. The dictionary is, _ear, inadmissible for the same reason. What then is left?"
  • "An almanac!"
  • "Excellent, Watson! I am very much mistaken if you have not touched the spot.
  • An almanac! Let us consider the claims of Whitaker's Almanac. It is in commo_se. It has the requisite number of pages. It is in double column. Thoug_eserved in its earlier vocabulary, it becomes, if I remember right, quit_arrulous towards the end." He picked the volume from his desk. "Here is pag_34, column two, a substantial block of print dealing, I perceive, with th_rade and resources of British India. Jot down the words, Watson! Numbe_hirteen is 'Mahratta.' Not, I fear, a very auspicious beginning. Number on_undred and twenty-seven is 'Government'; which at least makes sense, thoug_omewhat irrelevant to ourselves and Professor Moriarty. Now let us try again.
  • What does the Mahratta government do? Alas! the next word is 'pig's-bristles.'
  • We are undone, my good Watson! It is finished!"
  • He had spoken in jesting vein, but the twitching of his bushy eyebrows bespok_is disappointment and irritation. I sat helpless and unhappy, staring int_he fire. A long silence was broken by a sudden exclamation from Holmes, wh_ashed at a cupboard, from which he emerged with a second yellow-covere_olume in his hand.
  • "We pay the price, Watson, for being too up-to-date!" he cried. "We are befor_ur time, and suffer the usual penalties. Being the seventh ofJanuary, we hav_ery properly laid in the new almanac. It is more than likely that Porloc_ook his message from the old one. No doubt he would have told us so had hi_etter of explanation been written. Now let us see what page 534 has in stor_or us. Number thirteen is 'There,' which is much more promising. Number on_undred and twenty-seven is 'is'—'There is' "—Holmes's eyes were gleaming wit_xcitement, and his thin, nervous fingers twitched as he counted th_ords—"'danger.' Ha! Ha! Capital! Put that down, Watson. 'There i_anger—may—come—very—soon—one.' Then we have the name
  • 'Douglas'—'rich—country—now—at—Birlstone—House—Birlstone—confidence—is—pressing.'
  • There, Watson! What do you think of pure reason and its fruit? If the green- grocer had such a thing as a laurel wreath, I should send Billy round for it."
  • I was staring at the strange message which I had scrawled, as he deciphere_t, upon a sheet of foolscap on my knee.
  • "What a queer, scrambling way of expressing his meaning!" said I.
  • "On the contrary, he has done quite remarkably well," said Holmes. "When yo_earch a single column for words with which to express your meaning, you ca_ardly expect to get everything you want. You are bound to leave something t_he intelligence of your correspondent. The purport is perfectly clear. Som_eviltry is intended against one Douglas, whoever he may be, residing a_tated, a rich country gentleman. He is sure—'confidence' was as near as h_ould get to 'confident'—that it is pressing. There is our result—and a ver_orkmanlike little bit of analysis it was!"
  • Holmes had the impersonal joy of the true artist in his better work, even a_e mourned darkly when it fell below the high level to which he aspired. H_as still chuckling over his success when Billy swung open the door an_nspector MacDonald of Scotland Yard was ushered into the room.
  • Those were the early days at the end of the '80's, when Alec MacDonald was fa_rom having attained the national fame which he has now achieved. He was _oung but trusted member of the detective force, who had distinguished himsel_n several cases which had been intrusted to him. His tall, bony figure gav_romise of exceptional physical strength, while his great cranium and deep- set, lustrous eyes spoke no less clearly of the keen intelligence whic_winkled out from behind his bushy eyebrows. He was a silent, precise man wit_ dour nature and a hard Aberdonian accent.
  • Twice already in his career had Holmes helped him to attain success, his ow_ole reward being the intellectual joy of the problem. For this reason th_ffection and respect of the Scotchman for his amateur colleague wer_rofound, and he showed them by the frankness with which he consulted Holme_n every difficulty. Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talen_nstantly recognizes genius, and MacDonald had talent enough for hi_rofession to enable him to perceive that there was no humiliation in seekin_he assistance of one who already stood alone in Europe, both in his gifts an_n his experience. Holmes was not prone to friendship, but he was tolerant o_he big Scotchman, and smiled at the sight of him.
  • "You are an early bird, Mr. Mac," said he. "I wish you luck with your worm. _ear this means that there is some mischief afoot."
  • "If you said 'hope' instead of 'fear,' it would be nearer the truth, I'_hinking, Mr. Holmes," the inspector answered, with a knowing grin. "Well, maybe a wee nip would keep out the raw morning chill. No, I won't smoke, _hank you. I'll have to be pushing on my way; for the early hours of a cas_re the precious ones, as no man knows better than your own self. But—but—"
  • The inspector had stopped suddenly, and was staring with a look of absolut_mazement at a paper upon the table. It was the sheet upon which I ha_crawled the enigmatic message.
  • "Douglas!" he stammered. "Birlstone! What's this, Mr. Holmes? Man, it'_itchcraft! Where in the name of all that is wonderful did you get thos_ames?"
  • "It is a cipher that Dr. Watson and I have had occasion to solve. Bu_hy—what's amiss with the names?"
  • The inspector looked from one to the other of us in dazed astonishment. "Jus_his," said he, "that Mr. Douglas of Birlstone Manor House was horribl_urdered last night!"