It was one of those dramatic moments for which my friend existed. It would b_n overstatement to say that he was shocked or even excited by the amazin_nnouncement. Without having a tinge of cruelty in his singular composition, he was undoubtedly callous from long overstimulation. Yet, if his emotion_ere dulled, his intellectual perceptions were exceedingly active. There wa_o 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 chemis_ho sees the crystals falling into position from his oversaturated solution.
"Remarkable!" said he. "Remarkahle!"
"You don't seem surprised."
"Interested, Mr. Mac, but hardly surprised. Why should I be surprised? _eceive an anonymous communication from a quarter which I know to b_mportant, warning me that danger threatens a certain person. Within an hour _earn 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 th_etter and the cipher. MacDonald sat with his chin on his hands and his grea_andy eyebrows bunched into a yellow tangle.
"I was going down to Birlstone this morning," said he. "I had come to ask yo_f you cared to come with me—you and your friend here. But from what you sa_e might perhaps be doing better work in London."
"I rather think not," said Holmes.
"Hang it all, Mr. Holmes!" cried the inspector. "The papers will be full o_he Birlstone mystery in a day or two; but where's the mystery if there is _an in London who prophesied the crime before ever it occurred? We have onl_o 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-calle_orlock?"
MacDonald turned over the letter which Holmes had handed him. "Posted i_amberwell—that doesn't help us much. Name, you say, is assumed. Not much t_o on, certainly. Didn't 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 not?"
"Because I always keep faith. I had promised when he first wrote that I woul_ot try to trace him."
"You think there is someone behind him?"
"I know there is."
"This professor that I've heard you mention?"
Inspector MacDonald smiled, and his eyelid quivered as he glanced towards me.
"I won't conceal from you, Mr. Holmes, that we think in the C.I.D. that yo_ave a wee bit of a bee in your bonnet over this professor. I made som_nquiries myself about the matter. He seems to be a verly respectable, learned, and talented sort of man."
"I'm glad you've got so far as to recognize the talent."
"Man, you can't but recognize it! After I heard your view I made it m_usiness to see him. I had a chat with him on eclipses. How the talk got tha_ay I canna think; but he had out a reflector lantern and a globe, and made i_ll clear in a minute. He lent me a book; but I don't mind saying that it wa_ bit above my head, though I had a good Aberdeen upbringing. He'd have made _rand meenister with his thin face and gray hair and solemn-like way o_alking. When he put his hand on my shoulder as we were parting, it was like _ather's 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 th_rofessor's study?"
"A fine room, is it not?"
"Very fine — very 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 professor's head?"
"I don't miss much, Mr. Holmes. Maybe I learned that from you. Yes, I saw th_icture—a young woman with her head on her hands, peeping at you sideways."
"That painting was by Jean Baptiste Greuze."
The inspector endeavoured to look interested.
"Jean Baptiste Greuze," Holmes continued, joining his finger tips and leanin_ell back in his chair, "was a French artist who flourished between the year_750 and 1800. I allude, of course to his working career. Modern criticism ha_ore than indorsed the high opinion formed of him by his contemporaries."
The inspector's eyes grew abstracted. "Hadn't we better—" he said.
"We are doing so," Holmes interrupted. "All that I am saying has a very direc_nd vital bearing upon what you have called the Birlstone Mystery. In fact, i_ay in a sense be called the very centre of it."
MacDonald smiled feebly, and looked appealingly to me. "Your thoughts move _it too quick for me, Mr. Holmes. You leave out a link or two, and I can't ge_ver the gap. What in the whole wide world can be the connection between thi_ead painting man and the affair at Birlstone?"
"All knowledge comes useful to the detective," remarked Holmes. "Even th_rivial fact that in the year 1865 a picture by Greuze entitled La Jeune Fill_ l'Agneau fetched one million two hundred thousand francs—more than fort_housand pounds—at the Portalis sale may start a train of reflection in you_ind."
It was clear that it did. The inspector looked honestly interested.
"I may remind you," Holmes continued, "that the professor's salary can b_scertained in several trustworthy books of reference. It is seven hundred _ear."
"Then how could he buy—"
"Quite so! How could he?"
"Ay, that's remarkable," said the inspector thoughtfully. "Talk away, Mr.
Holmes. I'm just loving it. It's fine!"
Holmes smiled. He was always warmed by genuine admiration—the characteristi_f the real artist. "What about Birlstone?" he asked.
"We've time yet," said the inspector, glancing at his watch. "I've a cab a_he door, and it won't take us twenty minutes to Victoria. But about thi_icture: I thought you told me once, Mr. Holmes, that you had never me_rofessor Moriarty."
"No, I never have."
"Then how do you know about his rooms?"
"Ah, that's another matter. I have been three times in his rooms, twic_aiting for him under different pretexts and leaving before he came.
Once—well, I can hardly tell about the once to an official detective. It wa_n the last occasion that I took the liberty of running over his papers—wit_he most unexpected results."
"You found something compromising?"
"Absolutely nothing. That was what amazed me. However, you have now seen th_oint of the picture. It shows him to be a very wealthy man. How did h_cquire wealth? He is unmarried. His younger brother is a station master i_he west of England. His chair is worth seven hundred a year. And he owns _reuze."
"Surely the inference is plain."
"You mean that he has a great income and that he must earn it in an illega_ashion?"
"Exactly. Of course I have other reasons for thinking so—dozens of exiguou_hreads which lead vaguely up towards the centre of the web where th_oisonous, motionless creature is lurking. I only mention the Greuze becaus_t brings the matter within the range of your own observation."
"Well, Mr. Holmes, I admit that what you say is interesting: it's more tha_nteresting—it's just wonderful. But let us have it a little clearer if yo_an. Is it forgery, coining, burglary—where 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 don'_ake much stock of detectives in novels—chaps that do things and never let yo_ee how they do them. That's just inspiration: not business."
"Jonathan Wild wasn't a detective, and he wasn't in a novel. He was a maste_riminal, and he lived last century—1750 or thereabouts."
"Then he's no use to me. I'm a practical man."
"Mr. Mac, the most practical thing that you ever did in your life would be t_hut yourself up for three months and read twelve hours a day at the annals o_rime. Everything comes in circles—even Professor Moriarty. Jonathan Wild wa_he hidden force of the London criminals, to whom he sold his brains and hi_rganization on a fifteen per cent. commission. The old wheel turns, and th_ame spoke comes up. It's all been done before, and will be again. I'll tel_ou one or two things about Moriarty which may interest you."
"You'll interest me, right enough."
"I happen to know who is the first link in his chain—a chain with thi_apoleon-gone-wrong at one end, and a hundred broken fighting men, pickpockets, blackmailers, and card sharpers at the other, with every sort o_rime in between. His chief of staff is Colonel Sebastian Moran, as aloof an_uarded and inaccessible to the law as himself. What do you think he pay_im?"
"I'd like to hear."
"Six thousand a year. That's paying for brains, you see—the American busines_rinciple. I learned that detail quite by chance. It's more than the Prim_inister gets. That gives you an idea of Moriarty's gains and of the scale o_hich he works. Another point: I made it my business to hunt down some o_oriarty's checks lately—just common innocent checks that he pays hi_ousehold bills with. They were drawn on six different banks. Does that mak_ny impression on your mind?"
"Queer, certainly! But what do you gather from it?"
"That he wanted no gossip about his wealth. No single man should know what h_ad. I have no doubt that he has twenty banking accounts; the bulk of hi_ortune 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 o_rofessor Moriarty."
Inspector MacDonald had grown steadily more impressed as the conversatio_roceeded. He had lost himself in his interest. Now his practical Scotc_ntelligence brought him back with a snap to the matter in hand.
"He can keep, anyhow," said he. "You've got us side-tracked with you_nteresting anecdotes, Mr. Holmes. What really counts is your remark tha_here is some connection between the professor and the crime. That you ge_rom the warning received through the man Porlock. Can we for our presen_ractical needs get any further than that?"
"We may form some conception as to the motives of the crime. It is, as _ather from your original remarks, an inexplicable, or at least a_nexplained, murder. Now, presuming that the source of the crime is as w_uspect it to be, there might be two different motives. In the first place,_ay tell you that Moriarty rules with a rod of iron over his people. Hi_iscipline is tremendous. There is only one punishment in his code. It i_eath. Now we might suppose that this murdered man—this Douglas whos_pproaching fate was known by one of the arch-criminal's subordinates—had i_ome way betrayed the chief. His punishment followed, and would be known t_ll—if 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 cours_f business. Was there any robbery?"
"I have not heard."
"If so, it would, of course, be against the first hypothesis and in favour o_he second. Moriarty may have been engaged to engineer it on a promise of par_poils, or he may have been paid so much down to manage it. Either i_ossible. But whichever it may be, or if it is some third combination, it i_own at Birlstone that we must seek the solution. I know our man too well t_uppose 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. "M_ord! it's later than I thought. I can give you, gentlemen, five minutes fo_reparation, and that is all."
"And ample for us both," said Holmes, as he sprang up and hastened to chang_rom his dressing gown to his coat. "While we are on our way, Mr. Mac, I wil_sk you to be good enough to tell me all about it."
"All about it" proved to be disappointingly little, and yet there was enoug_o assure us that the case before us might well be worthy of the expert'_losest attention. He brightened and rubbed his thin hands together as h_istened to the meagre but remarkable details. A long series of sterile week_ay behind us, and here at last there was a fitting object for thos_emarkable powers which, like all special gifts, become irksome to their owne_hen they are not in use. That razor brain blunted and rusted with inaction.
Sherlock Holmes's eyes glistened, his pale cheeks took a warmer hue, and hi_hole eager face shone with an inward light when the call for work reache_im. Leaning forward in the cab, he listened intently to MacDonald's shor_ketch of the problem which awaited us in Sussex. The inspector was himsel_ependent, as he explained to us, upon a scribbled account forwarded to him b_he milk train in the early hours of the morning. White Mason, the loca_fficer, was a personal friend, and hence MacDonald had been notified muc_ore promptly than is usual at Scotland Yard when provincials need thei_ssistance. It is a very cold scent upon which the Metropolitan expert i_enerally 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 fo_our private eye. Wire me what train in the morning you can get for Birlstone, and I will meet it—or have it met if I am too occupied. This case is _norter. Don't 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 thin_he whole had been fixed up for theatrical effect if there wasn't a dead ma_n the middle of it. My word! it IS a snorter."
"Your friend seems to be no fool," remarked Holmes.
"No, sir, White Mason is a very live man, if I am any judge."
"Well, have you anything more?"
"Only that he will give us every detail when we meet."
"Then how did you get at Mr. Douglas and the fact that he had been horribl_urdered?"
"That was in the inclosed official report. It didn't say 'horrible': that'_ot a recognized official term. It gave the name John Douglas. It mentione_hat his injuries had been in the head, from the discharge of a shotgun. I_lso mentioned the hour of the alarm, which was close on to midnight las_ight. It added that the case was undoubtedly one of murder, but that n_rrest had been made, and that the case was one which presented some ver_erplexing and extraordinary features. That's absolutely all we have a_resent, Mr. Holmes."
"Then, with your permission, we will leave it at that, Mr. Mac. The temptatio_o form premature theories upon insufficient data is the bane of ou_rofession. I can see only two things for certain at present—a greatbrain i_ondon, and a dead man in Sussex. It's the chain between that we are going t_race."