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A Study in Scarlet - Chapter 2 - The Science of Deduction

1. Part I. Chapter 1 - Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

2. Chapter 2 - The Science of Deduction

3. Chapter 3 - The Lauriston Garden Mystery

4. Chapter 4 - What John Rance Had to Tell

5. Chapter 5 - Our Advertisement Brings a Visitor

6. Chapter 6 - Tobias Gregson Shows What He Can Do

7. Chapter 7 - Light in the Darkness

8. Part II. Chapter 1 - On the Great Alkali Plain

9. Chapter 2 - The Flower of Utah

10. Chapter 3 - John Ferrier Talks with the Prophet

11. Chapter 4 - A Flight for Life

12. Chapter 5 - The Avenging Angels

13. Chapter 6 - A Continuation of the Reminiscences of John Watson, M.D.

14. Chapter 7 - The Conclusion

WE met next day as he had arranged, and inspected the rooms
at No. 221B, {5} Baker Street, of which he had spoken at our
meeting. They consisted of a couple of comfortable bed-rooms
and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished,
and illuminated by two broad windows. So desirable in every
way were the apartments, and so moderate did the terms seem
when divided between us, that the bargain was concluded upon
the spot, and we at once entered into possession. That very
evening I moved my things round from the hotel, and on the
following morning Sherlock Holmes followed me with several
boxes and portmanteaus. For a day or two we were busily
employed in unpacking and laying out our property to the best
advantage. That done, we gradually began to settle down and
to accommodate ourselves to our new surroundings.

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.

As the weeks went by, my interest in him and my curiosity
as to his aims in life, gradually deepened and increased.
His very person and appearance were such as to strike the
attention of the most casual observer. In height he was
rather over six feet, and so excessively lean that he seemed
to be considerably taller. His eyes were sharp and piercing,
save during those intervals of torpor to which I have alluded;
and his thin, hawk-like nose gave his whole expression an air
of alertness and decision. His chin, too, had the prominence
and squareness which mark the man of determination. His hands
were invariably blotted with ink and stained with chemicals,
yet he was possessed of extraordinary delicacy of touch,
as I frequently had occasion to observe when I watched him
manipulating his fragile philosophical instruments.

The reader may set me down as a hopeless busybody,
when I confess how much this man stimulated my curiosity,
and how often I endeavoured to break through the reticence
which he showed on all that concerned himself. Before
pronouncing judgment, however, be it remembered, how objectless
was my life, and how little there was to engage my attention.
My health forbade me from venturing out unless the weather
was exceptionally genial, and I had no friends who would call
upon me and break the monotony of my daily existence.
Under these circumstances, I eagerly hailed the little mystery
which hung around my companion, and spent much of my time in
endeavouring to unravel it.

He was not studying medicine. He had himself, in reply
to a question, confirmed Stamford's opinion upon that point.
Neither did he appear to have pursued any course of reading
which might fit him for a degree in science or any other
recognized portal which would give him an entrance into the
learned world. Yet his zeal for certain studies was
remarkable, and within eccentric limits his knowledge was so
extraordinarily ample and minute that his observations have
fairly astounded me. Surely no man would work so hard or
attain such precise information unless he had some definite
end in view. Desultory readers are seldom remarkable for the
exactness of their learning. No man burdens his mind with
small matters unless he has some very good reason for doing so.

His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge.
Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared
to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle,
he inquired in the naivest way who he might be and what he had
done. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found
incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory
and of the composition of the Solar System. That any
civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not
be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to
be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly
realize it.

"You appear to be astonished," he said, smiling at my
expression of surprise. "Now that I do know it I shall do my
best to forget it."

"To forget it!"

"You see," he explained, "I consider that a man's brain
originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to
stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in
all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that
the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out,
or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that
he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the
skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes
into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools
which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has
a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order.
It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic
walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes
a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something
that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore,
not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones."

"But the Solar System!" I protested.

"What the deuce is it to me?" he interrupted impatiently;
"you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it
would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work."

I was on the point of asking him what that work might be,
but something in his manner showed me that the question would
be an unwelcome one. I pondered over our short conversation,
however, and endeavoured to draw my deductions from it.
He said that he would acquire no knowledge which did not bear
upon his object. Therefore all the knowledge which he
possessed was such as would be useful to him. I enumerated
in my own mind all the various points upon which he had shown
me that he was exceptionally well-informed. I even took a
pencil and jotted them down. I could not help smiling at the
document when I had completed it. It ran in this way --

SHERLOCK HOLMES -- his limits.

1. Knowledge of Literature. -- Nil.
2. Philosophy. -- Nil.
3. Astronomy. -- Nil.
4. Politics. -- Feeble.
5. Botany. -- Variable. Well up in belladonna,
opium, and poisons generally.
Knows nothing of practical gardening.
6. Geology. -- Practical, but limited.
Tells at a glance different soils
from each other. After walks has
shown me splashes upon his trousers,
and told me by their colour and
consistence in what part of London
he had received them.
7. Chemistry. -- Profound.
8. Anatomy. -- Accurate, but unsystematic.
9. Sensational Literature. -- Immense. He appears
to know every detail of every horror
perpetrated in the century.
10. Plays the violin well.
11. Is an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman.
12. Has a good practical knowledge of British law.

When I had got so far in my list I threw it into the fire in
despair. "If I can only find what the fellow is driving at
by reconciling all these accomplishments, and discovering a
calling which needs them all," I said to myself, "I may as
well give up the attempt at once."

I see that I have alluded above to his powers upon the violin.
These were very remarkable, but as eccentric as all his other
accomplishments. That he could play pieces, and difficult pieces,
I knew well, because at my request he has played me some of
Mendelssohn's Lieder, and other favourites.
When left to himself, however, he would seldom produce any
music or attempt any recognized air. Leaning back in his
arm-chair of an evening, he would close his eyes and scrape
carelessly at the fiddle which was thrown across his knee.
Sometimes the chords were sonorous and melancholy.
Occasionally they were fantastic and cheerful. Clearly they
reflected the thoughts which possessed him, but whether the
music aided those thoughts, or whether the playing was simply
the result of a whim or fancy was more than I could determine.
I might have rebelled against these exasperating solos had it
not been that he usually terminated them by playing in quick
succession a whole series of my favourite airs as a slight
compensation for the trial upon my patience.

During the first week or so we had no callers, and I had
begun to think that my companion was as friendless a man as
I was myself. Presently, however, I found that he had many
acquaintances, and those in the most different classes of
society. There was one little sallow rat-faced, dark-eyed
fellow who was introduced to me as Mr. Lestrade, and who came
three or four times in a single week. One morning a young
girl called, fashionably dressed, and stayed for half an hour
or more. The same afternoon brought a grey-headed, seedy
visitor, looking like a Jew pedlar, who appeared to me to be
much excited, and who was closely followed by a slip-shod
elderly woman. On another occasion an old white-haired
gentleman had an interview with my companion; and on another
a railway porter in his velveteen uniform. When any of these
nondescript individuals put in an appearance, Sherlock Holmes
used to beg for the use of the sitting-room, and I would
retire to my bed-room. He always apologized to me for
putting me to this inconvenience. "I have to use this room
as a place of business," he said, "and these people are my
clients." Again I had an opportunity of asking him a point
blank question, and again my delicacy prevented me from
forcing another man to confide in me. I imagined at the time
that he had some strong reason for not alluding to it, but he
soon dispelled the idea by coming round to the subject of his
own accord.

It was upon the 4th of March, as I have good reason to remember,
that I rose somewhat earlier than usual, and found that Sherlock
Holmes had not yet finished his breakfast. The landlady had
become so accustomed to my late habits that my place had not been
laid nor my coffee prepared. With the unreasonable petulance
of mankind I rang the bell and gave a curt intimation that I was
ready. Then I picked up a magazine from the table and attempted
to while away the time with it, while my companion munched
silently at his toast. One of the articles had a pencil mark
at the heading, and I naturally began to run my eye through it.

Its somewhat ambitious title was "The Book of Life," and it
attempted to show how much an observant man might learn by an
accurate and systematic examination of all that came in his
way. It struck me as being a remarkable mixture of
shrewdness and of absurdity. The reasoning was close and
intense, but the deductions appeared to me to be far-fetched
and exaggerated. The writer claimed by a momentary expression,
a twitch of a muscle or a glance of an eye, to fathom a man's
inmost thoughts. Deceit, according to him, was an impossibility
in the case of one trained to observation and analysis.
His conclusions were as infallible as so many propositions
of Euclid. So startling would his results appear to the
uninitiated that until they learned the processes by which he had
arrived at them they might well consider him as a necromancer.

"From a drop of water," said the writer, "a logician could
infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without
having seen or heard of one or the other. So all life is
a great chain, the nature of which is known whenever we are
shown a single link of it. Like all other arts, the Science
of Deduction and Analysis is one which can only be acquired
by long and patient study nor is life long enough to allow
any mortal to attain the highest possible perfection in it.
Before turning to those moral and mental aspects of the
matter which present the greatest difficulties, let the
enquirer begin by mastering more elementary problems.
Let him, on meeting a fellow-mortal, learn at a glance to
distinguish the history of the man, and the trade or
profession to which he belongs. Puerile as such an exercise
may seem, it sharpens the faculties of observation, and
teaches one where to look and what to look for. By a man's
finger nails, by his coat-sleeve, by his boot, by his trouser
knees, by the callosities of his forefinger and thumb, by his
expression, by his shirt cuffs -- by each of these things a
man's calling is plainly revealed. That all united should
fail to enlighten the competent enquirer in any case is
almost inconceivable."

"What ineffable twaddle!" I cried, slapping the magazine down
on the table, "I never read such rubbish in my life."

"What is it?" asked Sherlock Holmes.

"Why, this article," I said, pointing at it with my egg spoon
as I sat down to my breakfast. "I see that you have read it
since you have marked it. I don't deny that it is smartly
written. It irritates me though. It is evidently the theory
of some arm-chair lounger who evolves all these neat little
paradoxes in the seclusion of his own study. It is not
practical. I should like to see him clapped down in a third
class carriage on the Underground, and asked to give the
trades of all his fellow-travellers. I would lay a thousand
to one against him."

"You would lose your money," Sherlock Holmes remarked calmly.
"As for the article I wrote it myself."


"Yes, I have a turn both for observation and for deduction.
The theories which I have expressed there, and which appear
to you to be so chimerical are really extremely practical --
so practical that I depend upon them for my bread and cheese."

"And how?" I asked involuntarily.

"Well, I have a trade of my own. I suppose I am the only one
in the world. I'm a consulting detective, if you can
understand what that is. Here in London we have lots of
Government detectives and lots of private ones. When these
fellows are at fault they come to me, and I manage to put
them on the right scent. They lay all the evidence before
me, and I am generally able, by the help of my knowledge of
the history of crime, to set them straight. There is a
strong family resemblance about misdeeds, and if you have all
the details of a thousand at your finger ends, it is odd if
you can't unravel the thousand and first. Lestrade is a
well-known detective. He got himself into a fog recently
over a forgery case, and that was what brought him here."

"And these other people?"

"They are mostly sent on by private inquiry agencies.
They are all people who are in trouble about something,
and want a little enlightening. I listen to their story,
they listen to my comments, and then I pocket my fee."

"But do you mean to say," I said, "that without leaving your
room you can unravel some knot which other men can make nothing
of, although they have seen every detail for themselves?"

"Quite so. I have a kind of intuition that way.
Now and again a case turns up which is a little more complex.
Then I have to bustle about and see things with my own eyes.
You see I have a lot of special knowledge which I apply to
the problem, and which facilitates matters wonderfully.
Those rules of deduction laid down in that article which
aroused your scorn, are invaluable to me in practical work.
Observation with me is second nature. You appeared to be
surprised when I told you, on our first meeting, that you had
come from Afghanistan."

"You were told, no doubt."

"Nothing of the sort. I _knew_ you came from Afghanistan.
From long habit the train of thoughts ran so swiftly through
my mind, that I arrived at the conclusion without being
conscious of intermediate steps. There were such steps,
however. The train of reasoning ran, `Here is a gentleman of
a medical type, but with the air of a military man. Clearly
an army doctor, then. He has just come from the tropics,
for his face is dark, and that is not the natural tint of his
skin, for his wrists are fair. He has undergone hardship and
sickness, as his haggard face says clearly. His left arm has
been injured. He holds it in a stiff and unnatural manner.
Where in the tropics could an English army doctor have seen
much hardship and got his arm wounded? Clearly in Afghanistan.'
The whole train of thought did not occupy a second. I then
remarked that you came from Afghanistan, and you were astonished."

"It is simple enough as you explain it," I said, smiling.
"You remind me of Edgar Allen Poe's Dupin. I had no idea
that such individuals did exist outside of stories."

Sherlock Holmes rose and lit his pipe. "No doubt you think
that you are complimenting me in comparing me to Dupin,"
he observed. "Now, in my opinion, Dupin was a very inferior
fellow. That trick of his of breaking in on his friends'
thoughts with an apropos remark after a quarter of an hour's
silence is really very showy and superficial. He had some
analytical genius, no doubt; but he was by no means such
a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine."

"Have you read Gaboriau's works?" I asked.
"Does Lecoq come up to your idea of a detective?"

Sherlock Holmes sniffed sardonically. "Lecoq was a miserable
bungler," he said, in an angry voice; "he had only one thing
to recommend him, and that was his energy. That book made me
positively ill. The question was how to identify an unknown
prisoner. I could have done it in twenty-four hours. Lecoq
took six months or so. It might be made a text-book for
detectives to teach them what to avoid."

I felt rather indignant at having two characters whom I had
admired treated in this cavalier style. I walked over to the
window, and stood looking out into the busy street.
"This fellow may be very clever," I said to myself, "but he
is certainly very conceited."

"There are no crimes and no criminals in these days," he said,
querulously. "What is the use of having brains in our
profession. I know well that I have it in me to make my name
famous. No man lives or has ever lived who has brought the
same amount of study and of natural talent to the detection
of crime which I have done. And what is the result? There
is no crime to detect, or, at most, some bungling villany
with a motive so transparent that even a Scotland Yard
official can see through it."

I was still annoyed at his bumptious style of conversation.
I thought it best to change the topic.

"I wonder what that fellow is looking for?" I asked, pointing
to a stalwart, plainly-dressed individual who was walking
slowly down the other side of the street, looking anxiously
at the numbers. He had a large blue envelope in his hand,
and was evidently the bearer of a message.

"You mean the retired sergeant of Marines," said Sherlock Holmes.

"Brag and bounce!" thought I to myself. "He knows that I
cannot verify his guess."

The thought had hardly passed through my mind when the man
whom we were watching caught sight of the number on our door,
and ran rapidly across the roadway. We heard a loud knock,
a deep voice below, and heavy steps ascending the stair.

"For Mr. Sherlock Holmes," he said, stepping into the room
and handing my friend the letter.

Here was an opportunity of taking the conceit out of him.
He little thought of this when he made that random shot.
"May I ask, my lad," I said, in the blandest voice,
"what your trade may be?"

"Commissionaire, sir," he said, gruffly.
"Uniform away for repairs."

"And you were?" I asked, with a slightly malicious glance
at my companion.

"A sergeant, sir, Royal Marine Light Infantry, sir.
No answer? Right, sir."

He clicked his heels together, raised his hand in a salute,
and was gone.

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