A Study In Scarlet |
Chapter 2: The Science of Deduction
Part I, Chapter 1
Mr. Sherlock Holmes
In the year 1878 I took my degree of Doctor of Medicine of the
University of London, and proceeded to Netley to go through the
course prescribed for surgeons in the Army. Having completed
my studies there, I was duly attached to the Fifth Northumberland
Fusiliers as assistant surgeon. The regiment was stationed in
India at the time, and before I could join it, the second Afghan
war had broken out. On landing at Bombay, I learned that my
corps had advanced through the passes, and was already deep in
the enemy's country. I followed, however, with many other
officers who were in the same situation as myself, and succeeded
in reaching Candahar in safety, where I found my regiment, and
at once entered upon my new duties.
The campaign brought honours and promotion to many, but
for me it had nothing but misfortune and disaster. I was removed
from my brigade and attached to the Berkshires, with whom I
served at the fatal battle of Maiwand. There I was struck on the
shoulder by a Jezail bullet, which shattered the bone and grazed
the subclavian artery. I should have fallen into the hands of the
murderous Ghazis had it not been for the devotion and courage
shown by Murray, my orderly, who threw me across a packhorse,
and succeeded in bringing me safely to the British lines.
Worn with pain, and weak from the prolonged hardships
which I had undergone, I was removed, with a great train of
wounded sufferers, to the base hospital at Peshawar. Here I
rallied, and had already improved so far as to be able to walk
about the wards, and even to bask a little upon the veranda
when I was struck down by enteric fever, that curse of our Indian
possessions. For months my life was despaired of, and when at
last I came to myself and became convalescent, I was so weak
and emaciated that a medical board determined that not a day
should be lost in sending me back to England. I was despatched
accordingly, in the troopship Orontes, and landed a month later
on Portsmouth jetty, with my health irretrievably ruined, but
with permission from a paternal government to spend the next
nine months in attempting to improve it.
I had neither kith nor kin in England, and was therefore as free
as air — or as free as an income of eleven shillings and sixpence a
day will permit a man to be. Under such circumstances I naturally
gravitated to London, that great cesspool into which all the
loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained. There I
stayed for some time at a private hotel in the Strand, leading a
comfortless, meaningless existence, and spending such money as
I had, considerably more freely than I ought. So alarming did the
state of my finances become, that I soon realized that I must
either leave the metropolis and rusticate somewhere in the country,
or that I must make a complete alteration in my style of
living. Choosing the latter alternative, I began by making up my
mind to leave the hotel, and take up my quarters in some less
pretentious and less expensive domicile.
On the very day that I had come to this conclusion, I was
standing at the Criterion Bar, when someone tapped me on the
shoulder, and turning round I recognized young Stamford, who
had been a dresser under me at Bart's. The sight of a friendly
face in the great wilderness of London is a pleasant thing indeed
to a lonely man. In old days Stamford had never been a particular
crony of mine, but now I hailed him with enthusiasm, and he,
in his turn, appeared to be delighted to see me. In the exuberance
of my joy, I asked him to lunch with me at the Holborn, and we
started off together in a hansom.
"Whatever have you been doing with yourself, Watson?" he
asked in undisguised wonder, as we rattled through the crowded
London streets. "You are as thin as a lath and as brown as a
I gave him a short sketch of my adventures, and had hardly
concluded it by the time that we reached our destination.
"Poor devil!" he said, commiseratingly, after he had listened
to my misfortunes. "What are you up to now?"
"Looking for lodgings," I answered. "Trying to solve the
problem as to whether it is possible to get comfortable rooms at a
"That's a strange thing," remarked my companion; "you are
the second man today that has used that expression to me."
"And who was the first?" I asked.
"A fellow who is working at the chemical laboratory up at the
hospital. He was bemoaning himself this morning because he
could not get someone to go halves with him in some nice rooms
which he had found, and which were too much for his purse."
"By Jove!" I cried; "if he really wants someone to share the
rooms and the expense, I am the very man for him. I should
prefer having a partner to being alone."
Young Stamford looked rather strangely at me over his wineglass.
"You don't know Sherlock Holmes yet," he said; "perhaps you would
not care for him as a constant companion."
"Why, what is there against him?"
"Oh, I didn't say there was anything against him. He is a little
queer in his ideas — an enthusiast in some branches of science.
As far as I know he is a decent fellow enough."
"A medical student, I suppose?" said I.
"No — I have no idea what he intends to go in for. I believe he
is well up in anatomy, and he is a first-class chemist; but, as far
as I know, he has never taken out any systematic medical
classes. His studies are very desultory and eccentric, but he has
amassed a lot of out-of-the-way knowledge which would astonish his professors."
"Did you never ask him what he was going in for?" I asked.
"No; he is not a man that it is easy to draw out, though he can
be communicative enough when the fancy seizes him."
"I should like to meet him," I said. "If I am to lodge with
anyone, I should prefer a man of studious and quiet habits. I am
not strong enough yet to stand much noise or excitement. I had
enough of both in Afghanistan to last me for the remainder of my
natural existence. How could I meet this friend of yours?"
"He is sure to be at the laboratory," returned my companion.
"He either avoids the place for weeks, or else he works there
from morning till night. If you like, we will drive round together
"Certainly," I answered, and the conversation drifted away
into other channels.
As we made our way to the hospital after leaving the Holborn,
Stamford gave me a few more particulars about the gentleman
whom I proposed to take as a fellow-lodger.
"You mustn't blame me if you don't get on with him," he
said; "I know nothing more of him than I have learned from
meeting him occasionally in the laboratory. You proposed this
arrangement, so you must not hold me responsible."
"If we don't get on it will be easy to part company," I
answered. "It seems to me, Stamford," I added, looking hard at
my companion, "that you have some reason for washing your
hands of the matter. Is this fellow's temper so formidable, or
what is it? Don't be mealy-mouthed about it."
"It is not easy to express the inexpressible," he answered
with a laugh. "Holmes is a little too scientific for my tastes — it
approaches to cold-bloodedness. I could imagine his giving a
friend a little pinch of the latest vegetable alkaloid, not out of
malevolence, you understand, but simply out of a spirit of
inquiry in order to have an accurate idea of the effects. To do
him justice, I think that he would take it himself with the same
readiness. He appears to have a passion for definite and exact
"Very right too."
"Yes, but it may be pushed to excess. When it comes to
beating the subjects in the dissecting-rooms with a stick, it is
certainly taking rather a bizarre shape."
"Beating the subjects!"
"Yes, to verify how far bruises may be produced after death. I
saw him at it with my own eyes."
"And yet you say he is not a medical student?"
"No. Heaven knows what the objects of his studies are. But
here we are, and you must form your own impressions about
him." As he spoke, we turned down a narrow lane and passed
through a small side-door, which opened into a wing of the great
hospital. It was familiar ground to me, and I needed no guiding
as we ascended the bleak stone staircase and made our way down
the long corridor with its vista of whitewashed wall and dun-coloured
doors. Near the farther end a low arched passage
branched away from it and led to the chemical laboratory.
This was a lofty chamber, lined and littered with countless
bottles. Broad, low tables were scattered about, which bristled
with retorts, test-tubes, and little Bunsen lamps, with their blue
flickering flames. There was only one student in the room, who
was bending over a distant table absorbed in his work. At the
sound of our steps he glanced round and sprang to his feet with a
cry of pleasure. "I've found it! I've found it," he shouted to my
companion, running towards us with a test-tube in his hand. "I
have found a re-agent which is precipitated by haemoglobin, and
by nothing else." Had he discovered a gold mine, greater delight
could not have shone upon his features.
"Dr. Watson, Mr. Sherlock Holmes," said Stamford, introducing us.
"How are you?" he said cordially, gripping my hand with a
strength for which I should hardly have given him credit. "You
have been in Afghanistan, I perceive."
"How on earth did you know that?" I asked in astonishment.
"Never mind," said he, chuckling to himself "The question
now is about haemoglobin. No doubt you see the significance of
this discovery of mine?"
"It is interesting, chemically, no doubt," I answered, "but
"Why, man, it is the most practical medico-legal discovery
for years. Don't you see that it gives us an infallible test for
blood stains? Come over here now!" He seized me by the
coat-sleeve in his eagerness, and drew me over to the table at
which he had been working. "Let us have some fresh blood,"
he said, digging a long bodkin into his finger, and drawing off
the resulting drop of blood in a chemical pipette. "Now, I add
this small quantity of blood to a litre of water. You perceive that
the resulting mixture has the appearance of pure water. The
proportion of blood cannot be more than one in a million. I have
no doubt, however, that we shall be able to obtain the characteristic
reaction." As he spoke, he threw into the vessel a few
white crystals, and then added some drops of a transparent fluid.
In an instant the contents assumed a dull mahogany colour, and a
brownish dust was precipitated to the bottom of the glass jar.
"Ha! ha!" he cried, clapping his hands, and looking as delighted
as a child with a new toy. "What do you think of that?"
"It seems to be a very delicate test," I remarked.
"Beautiful! beautiful! The old guaiacum test was very clumsy
and uncertain. So is the microscopic examination for blood
corpuscles. The latter is valueless if the stains are a few hours
old. Now, this appears to act as well whether the blood is old or
new. Had this test been invented, there are hundreds of men now
walking the earth who would long ago have paid the penalty of
"Indeed!" I murmured.
"Criminal cases are continually hinging upon that one point.
A man is suspected of a crime months perhaps after it has been
committed. His linen or clothes are examined and brownish
stains discovered upon them. Are they blood stains, or mud
stains, or rust stains, or fruit stains, or what are they? That is a
question which has puzzled many an expert, and why? Because
there was no reliable test. Now we have the Sherlock Holmes's
test, and there will no longer be any difficulty."
His eyes fairly glittered as he spoke, and he put his hand over
his heart and bowed as if to some applauding crowd conjured up
by his imagination.
"You are to be congratulated," I remarked, considerably
surprised at his enthusiasm.
"There was the case of Von Bischoff at Frankfort last year.
He would certainly have been hung had this test been in existence.
Then there was Mason of Bradford, and the notorious
Muller, and Lefevre of Montpellier, and Samson of New Orleans.
I could name a score of cases in which it would have been
"You seem to be a walking calendar of crime," said Stamford
with a laugh. "You might start a paper on those lines. Call it the
'Police News of the Past.' "
"Very interesting reading it might be made, too," remarked
Sherlock Holmes, sticking a small piece of plaster over the prick
on his finger. "I have to be careful," he continued, turning to
me with a smile, "for I dabble with poisons a good deal." He
held out his hand as he spoke, and I noticed that it was all
mottled over with similar pieces of plaster, and discoloured with
"We came here on business," said Stamford, sitting down on
a high three-legged stool, and pushing another one in my direction
with his foot. "My friend here wants to take diggings; and
as you were complaining that you could get no one to go halves
with you, I thought that I had better bring you together."
Sherlock Holmes seemed delighted at the idea of sharing his
rooms with me. "I have my eye on a suite in Baker Street," he
said, "which would suit us down to the ground. You don't mind
the smell of strong tobacco, I hope?"
"I always smoke 'ship's' myself," I answered.
"That's good enough. I generally have chemicals about, and
occasionally do experiments. Would that annoy you?"
"By no means."
"Let me see — what are my other shortcomings? I get in the
dumps at times, and don't open my mouth for days on end. You
must not think I am sulky when I do that. Just let me alone, and
I'll soon be right. What have you to confess now? It's just as
well for two fellows to know the worst of one another before
they begin to live together."
I laughed at this cross-examination. "I keep a bull pup," I
said, "and I object to rows because my nerves are shaken, and I
get up at all sorts of ungodly hours, and I am extremely lazy. I
have another set of vices when I'm well, but those are the
principal ones at present."
"Do you include violin playing in your category of rows?" he
"It depends on the player," I answered. "A well-played
violin is a treat for the gods — a badly played one —"
"Oh, that's all right," he cried, with a merry laugh. "I think
we may consider the thing as settled — that is if the rooms are
agreeable to you."
"When shall we see them?"
"Call for me here at noon to-morrow, and we'll go together
and settle everything," he answered.
"All right — noon exactly," said I, shaking his hand.
We left him working among his chemicals, and we walked
together towards my hotel.
"By the way," I asked suddenly, stopping and turning upon
Stamford, "how the deuce did he know that I had come from
My companion smiled an enigmatical smile. "That's just his
little peculiarity," he said. "A good many people have wanted
to know how he finds things out."
"Oh! a mystery is it?" I cried, rubbing my hands. "This is
very piquant. I am much obliged to you for bringing us together.
'The proper study of mankind is man,' you know."
"You must study him, then," Stamford said, as he bade me
good-bye. "You'll find him a knotty problem, though. I'll wager
he learns more about you than you about him. Good-bye."
"Good-bye," I answered, and strolled on to my hotel, considerably
interested in my new acquaintance.
A Study In Scarlet |
Chapter 2: The Science of Deduction