(Being a reprint from the reminiscences of John H. Watson
late of the Army Medical Department.
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 pack-horse, 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 verandah,
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 dispatched, 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
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 to 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 some one tapped me
on the shoulder, and turning round I recognized young Stamford,
who had been a dresser under me at Barts. 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 nut."
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 reasonable price."
"That's a strange thing," remarked my companion; "you are
the second man to-day 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 wine-glass.
"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 to night. If you like, we shall drive round
together after luncheon."
"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 knowledge."
"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 further end a low
arched passage branched away from it and led to the chemical
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 h&eolig;moglobin,
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 hoemoglobin. No doubt you see the significance
of this discovery of mine?"
"It is interesting, chemically, no doubt," I answered,
"but practically ----"
"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 Guiacum 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 their crimes."
"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' test, and there will no longer be any
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 decisive."
"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 strong acids.
"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 asked, anxiously.
"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.