Sherlock Holmes took his bottle from the corner of the mantel-
piece and his hypodermic syringe from its neat morocco case.
With his long, white, nervous fingers he adjusted the delicate
needle, and rolled back his left shirt-cuff. For some little
time his eyes rested thoughtfully upon the sinewy forearm and
wrist all dotted and scarred with innumerable puncture-marks.
Finally he thrust the sharp point home, pressed down the tiny
piston, and sank back into the velvet-lined arm-chair with a long
sigh of satisfaction.
Three times a day for many months I had witnessed this
performance, but custom had not reconciled my mind to it. On the
contrary, from day to day I had become more irritable at the
sight, and my conscience swelled nightly within me at the thought
that I had lacked the courage to protest. Again and again I had
registered a vow that I should deliver my soul upon the subject,
but there was that in the cool, nonchalant air of my companion
which made him the last man with whom one would care to take
anything approaching to a liberty. His great powers, his
masterly manner, and the experience which I had had of his many
extraordinary qualities, all made me diffident and backward in
Yet upon that afternoon, whether it was the Beaune which I had
taken with my lunch, or the additional exasperation produced by
the extreme deliberation of his manner, I suddenly felt that I
could hold out no longer.
"Which is it to-day?" I asked,--"morphine or cocaine?"
He raised his eyes languidly from the old black-letter volume
which he had opened. "It is cocaine," he said,--"a seven-per-
cent. solution. Would you care to try it?"
"No, indeed," I answered, brusquely. "My constitution has not
got over the Afghan campaign yet. I cannot afford to throw any
extra strain upon it."
He smiled at my vehemence. "Perhaps you are right, Watson," he
said. "I suppose that its influence is physically a bad one. I
find it, however, so transcendently stimulating and clarifying to
the mind that its secondary action is a matter of small moment."
"But consider!" I said, earnestly. "Count the cost! Your brain
may, as you say, be roused and excited, but it is a pathological
and morbid process, which involves increased tissue-change and
may at last leave a permanent weakness. You know, too, what a
black reaction comes upon you. Surely the game is hardly worth
the candle. Why should you, for a mere passing pleasure, risk
the loss of those great powers with which you have been endowed?
Remember that I speak not only as one comrade to another, but as
a medical man to one for whose constitution he is to some extent
He did not seem offended. On the contrary, he put his finger-
tips together and leaned his elbows on the arms of his chair,
like one who has a relish for conversation.
"My mind," he said, "rebels at stagnation. Give me problems,
give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most
intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can
dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull
routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is
why I have chosen my own particular profession,--or rather
created it, for I am the only one in the world."
"The only unofficial detective?" I said, raising my eyebrows.
"The only unofficial consulting detective," he answered. "I am
the last and highest court of appeal in detection. When Gregson
or Lestrade or Athelney Jones are out of their depths--which, by
the way, is their normal state--the matter is laid before me. I
examine the data, as an expert, and pronounce a specialist's
opinion. I claim no credit in such cases. My name figures in no
newspaper. The work itself, the pleasure of finding a field for
my peculiar powers, is my highest reward. But you have yourself
had some experience of my methods of work in the Jefferson Hope
"Yes, indeed," said I, cordially. "I was never so struck by
anything in my life. I even embodied it in a small brochure with
the somewhat fantastic title of 'A Study in Scarlet.'"
He shook his head sadly. "I glanced over it," said he.
"Honestly, I cannot congratulate you upon it. Detection is, or
ought to be, an exact science, and should be treated in the same
cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it with
romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked
a love-story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of
"But the romance was there," I remonstrated. "I could not tamper
with the facts."
"Some facts should be suppressed, or at least a just sense of
proportion should be observed in treating them. The only point
in the case which deserved mention was the curious analytical
reasoning from effects to causes by which I succeeded in
I was annoyed at this criticism of a work which had been
specially designed to please him. I confess, too, that I was
irritated by the egotism which seemed to demand that every line
of my pamphlet should be devoted to his own special doings. More
than once during the years that I had lived with him in Baker
Street I had observed that a small vanity underlay my companion's
quiet and didactic manner. I made no remark, however, but sat
nursing my wounded leg. I had a Jezail bullet through it some
time before, and, though it did not prevent me from walking, it
ached wearily at every change of the weather.
"My practice has extended recently to the Continent," said
Holmes, after a while, filling up his old brier-root pipe. "I
was consulted last week by Francois Le Villard, who, as you
probably know, has come rather to the front lately in the French
detective service. He has all the Celtic power of quick
intuition, but he is deficient in the wide range of exact
knowledge which is essential to the higher developments of his
art. The case was concerned with a will, and possessed some
features of interest. I was able to refer him to two parallel
cases, the one at Riga in 1857, and the other at St. Louis in
1871, which have suggested to him the true solution. Here is the
letter which I had this morning acknowledging my assistance." He
tossed over, as he spoke, a crumpled sheet of foreign notepaper.
I glanced my eyes down it, catching a profusion of notes of
admiration, with stray "magnifiques," "coup-de-maitres," and
"tours-de-force," all testifying to the ardent admiration of the
"He speaks as a pupil to his master," said I.
"Oh, he rates my assistance too highly," said Sherlock Holmes,
lightly. "He has considerable gifts himself. He possesses two
out of the three qualities necessary for the ideal detective. He
has the power of observation and that of deduction. He is only
wanting in knowledge; and that may come in time. He is now
translating my small works into French."
"Oh, didn't you know?" he cried, laughing. "Yes, I have been
guilty of several monographs. They are all upon technical
subjects. Here, for example, is one 'Upon the Distinction
between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccoes.' In it I enumerate a
hundred and forty forms of cigar-, cigarette-, and pipe-tobacco,
with colored plates illustrating the difference in the ash. It
is a point which is continually turning up in criminal trials,
and which is sometimes of supreme importance as a clue. If you
can say definitely, for example, that some murder has been done
by a man who was smoking an Indian lunkah, it obviously narrows
your field of search. To the trained eye there is as much
difference between the black ash of a Trichinopoly and the white
fluff of bird's-eye as there is between a cabbage and a potato."
"You have an extraordinary genius for minutiae," I remarked.
"I appreciate their importance. Here is my monograph upon the
tracing of footsteps, with some remarks upon the uses of plaster
of Paris as a preserver of impresses. Here, too, is a curious
little work upon the influence of a trade upon the form of the
hand, with lithotypes of the hands of slaters, sailors,
corkcutters, compositors, weavers, and diamond-polishers. That
is a matter of great practical interest to the scientific
detective,--especially in cases of unclaimed bodies, or in
discovering the antecedents of criminals. But I weary you with
"Not at all," I answered, earnestly. "It is of the greatest
interest to me, especially since I have had the opportunity of
observing your practical application of it. But you spoke just
now of observation and deduction. Surely the one to some extent
implies the other."
"Why, hardly," he answered, leaning back luxuriously in his arm-
chair, and sending up thick blue wreaths from his pipe. "For
example, observation shows me that you have been to the Wigmore
Street Post-Office this morning, but deduction lets me know that
when there you dispatched a telegram."
"Right!" said I. "Right on both points! But I confess that I
don't see how you arrived at it. It was a sudden impulse upon my
part, and I have mentioned it to no one."
"It is simplicity itself," he remarked, chuckling at my
surprise,--"so absurdly simple that an explanation is
superfluous; and yet it may serve to define the limits of
observation and of deduction. Observation tells me that you have
a little reddish mould adhering to your instep. Just opposite
the Seymour Street Office they have taken up the pavement and
thrown up some earth which lies in such a way that it is
difficult to avoid treading in it in entering. The earth is of
this peculiar reddish tint which is found, as far as I know,
nowhere else in the neighborhood. So much is observation. The
rest is deduction."
"How, then, did you deduce the telegram?"
"Why, of course I knew that you had not written a letter, since I
sat opposite to you all morning. I see also in your open desk
there that you have a sheet of stamps and a thick bundle of post-
cards. What could you go into the post-office for, then, but to
send a wire? Eliminate all other factors, and the one which
remains must be the truth."
"In this case it certainly is so," I replied, after a little
thought. "The thing, however, is, as you say, of the simplest.
Would you think me impertinent if I were to put your theories to a
more severe test?"
"On the contrary," he answered, "it would prevent me from taking
a second dose of cocaine. I should be delighted to look into any
problem which you might submit to me."
"I have heard you say that it is difficult for a man to have any
object in daily use without leaving the impress of his
individuality upon it in such a way that a trained observer might
read it. Now, I have here a watch which has recently come into
my possession. Would you have the kindness to let me have an
opinion upon the character or habits of the late owner?"
I handed him over the watch with some slight feeling of amusement
in my heart, for the test was, as I thought, an impossible one,
and I intended it as a lesson against the somewhat dogmatic tone
which he occasionally assumed. He balanced the watch in his
hand, gazed hard at the dial, opened the back, and examined the
works, first with his naked eyes and then with a powerful convex
lens. I could hardly keep from smiling at his crestfallen face
when he finally snapped the case to and handed it back.
"There are hardly any data," he remarked. "The watch has been
recently cleaned, which robs me of my most suggestive facts."
"You are right," I answered. "It was cleaned before being sent
to me." In my heart I accused my companion of putting forward a
most lame and impotent excuse to cover his failure. What data
could he expect from an uncleaned watch?
"Though unsatisfactory, my research has not been entirely
barren," he observed, staring up at the ceiling with dreamy,
lack-lustre eyes. "Subject to your correction, I should judge
that the watch belonged to your elder brother, who inherited it
from your father."
"That you gather, no doubt, from the H. W. upon the back?"
"Quite so. The W. suggests your own name. The date of the watch
is nearly fifty years back, and the initials are as old as the
watch: so it was made for the last generation. Jewelry usually
descends to the eldest son, and he is most likely to have the
same name as the father. Your father has, if I remember right,
been dead many years. It has, therefore, been in the hands of
your eldest brother."
"Right, so far," said I. "Anything else?"
"He was a man of untidy habits,--very untidy and careless. He
was left with good prospects, but he threw away his chances,
lived for some time in poverty with occasional short intervals of
prosperity, and finally, taking to drink, he died. That is all I
I sprang from my chair and limped impatiently about the room with
considerable bitterness in my heart.
"This is unworthy of you, Holmes," I said. "I could not have
believed that you would have descended to this. You have made
inquires into the history of my unhappy brother, and you now
pretend to deduce this knowledge in some fanciful way. You
cannot expect me to believe that you have read all this from his
old watch! It is unkind, and, to speak plainly, has a touch of
charlatanism in it."
"My dear doctor," said he, kindly, "pray accept my apologies.
Viewing the matter as an abstract problem, I had forgotten how
personal and painful a thing it might be to you. I assure you,
however, that I never even knew that you had a brother until you
handed me the watch."
"Then how in the name of all that is wonderful did you get these
facts? They are absolutely correct in every particular."
"Ah, that is good luck. I could only say what was the balance of
probability. I did not at all expect to be so accurate."
"But it was not mere guess-work?"
"No, no: I never guess. It is a shocking habit,--destructive to
the logical faculty. What seems strange to you is only so
because you do not follow my train of thought or observe the
small facts upon which large inferences may depend. For example,
I began by stating that your brother was careless. When you
observe the lower part of that watch-case you notice that it is
not only dinted in two places, but it is cut and marked all over
from the habit of keeping other hard objects, such as coins or
keys, in the same pocket. Surely it is no great feat to assume
that a man who treats a fifty-guinea watch so cavalierly must be
a careless man. Neither is it a very far-fetched inference that
a man who inherits one article of such value is pretty well
provided for in other respects."
I nodded, to show that I followed his reasoning.
"It is very customary for pawnbrokers in England, when they take
a watch, to scratch the number of the ticket with a pin-point
upon the inside of the case. It is more handy than a label, as
there is no risk of the number being lost or transposed. There
are no less than four such numbers visible to my lens on the
inside of this case. Inference,--that your brother was often at
low water. Secondary inference,--that he had occasional bursts
of prosperity, or he could not have redeemed the pledge.
Finally, I ask you to look at the inner plate, which contains the
key-hole. Look at the thousands of scratches all round the
hole,--marks where the key has slipped. What sober man's key
could have scored those grooves? But you will never see a
drunkard's watch without them. He winds it at night, and he
leaves these traces of his unsteady hand. Where is the mystery
in all this?"
"It is as clear as daylight," I answered. "I regret the
injustice which I did you. I should have had more faith in your
marvellous faculty. May I ask whether you have any professional
inquiry on foot at present?"
"None. Hence the cocaine. I cannot live without brain-work.
What else is there to live for? Stand at the window here. Was
ever such a dreary, dismal, unprofitable world? See how the
yellow fog swirls down the street and drifts across the dun-
colored houses. What could be more hopelessly prosaic and
material? What is the use of having powers, doctor, when one has
no field upon which to exert them? Crime is commonplace,
existence is commonplace, and no qualities save those which are
commonplace have any function upon earth."
I had opened my mouth to reply to this tirade, when with a crisp
knock our landlady entered, bearing a card upon the brass salver.
"A young lady for you, sir," she said, addressing my companion.
"Miss Mary Morstan," he read. "Hum! I have no recollection of
the name. Ask the young lady to step up, Mrs. Hudson. Don't go,
doctor. I should prefer that you remain."