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Chapter 2 Sherlock Holmes Discourses

  • 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?"
  • "Twice."
  • "And how?"
  • "In notes to Camberwell postoffice."
  • "Did you ever trouble to see who called for them?"
  • "No."
  • 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?"
  • "Exactly!"
  • 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?"
  • "That's so."
  • "A fine room, is it not?"
  • "Very fine — very handsome indeed, Mr. Holmes."
  • "You sat in front of his writing desk?"
  • "Just so."
  • "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."
  • "Well?"
  • "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."