Several months had passed since the successful conclusion of the adventure which I published under the title of "A Study in Scarlet".
Despite our apparent compatibility and my admiration for Holmes,
I still felt a bit uneasy with what I considered his arrogance.
His faith in the power of deductive reasoning, seemed to me excessive.
I recalled my younger days as a resident physician when I would
make what I considered to be an infallible diagnosis; only to
have the laboratory prove that I had been mistaken. As a consequence
of these experiences, I had learned to modify my conclusions by
preceding them with the phrase "most probably". Holmes
seemed to believe that the only possible sources of error were
wrong information and that the logic itself was infallible. I
conjectured that his apparent arrogance was merely a mannerism
which enabled him to deal more effectively with his clients, who
needed that aura of certainty. Holmes was an eminently rational
man, and no rational man could possibly be as cocksure of himself
as Holmes appeared to be. I comforted myself with the thought
that Holmes would ultimately prove himself to be a man of true
humility. I admired his competence too much to believe otherwise.
Holmes had not been gainfully employed since that last case, and his lack of action was beginning to wear on both of us. He played his fiddle and brooded. While I do enjoy violin music, a steady diet of it can be a bit much. One evening, when I saw him reach for his instrument, I decided to delay the inevitable, and interjected, "I've been wondering, Holmes, whether it isn't possible that a chain of deductions might possibly be entirely misleading."
Holmes head snapped round, as if it were hung on wire and he stared at me icily: "Nonsense!" he spat.
"Seriously, Holmes, even the deductions of the best of physicians can be in error. If I were to give a pathologist a piece of bone from a healing fracture, without telling him that there was a fracture present, he would probably diagnose it as a sarcoma."
"That may be true in medicine, but in the detection of crime it doesn't happen. Of course, it is always possible that a criminal may set up a string of false clues; but there are so many links in the chain of deduction, that it would be relatively simple to detect a deliberate deception. In our last case, you recall that our criminal wrote the German word for revenge on the wall in blood. It was elementary to identify it as a false clue. A detective who is well trained is rarely misled. I recall a story told about the American naturalist Louis Aggasiz. His students decided to fool him by fabricating an insect out of the parts of several different specimens. He examined it carefully and said 'This, gentlemen, is a Humbug."
"Yet," I persisted, "I can't help but think that much as the same road may lead to many different places, a chain of clues might, likewise, lead one to a variety of conclusions."
"Quite so, Watson; still, there is always one direction which is so highly probable that all of the others become inconsequential."
"Still, Holmes, improbable events do occur all the time; albeit infrequently."
Holmes voice was edged with impatience as he summarily dismissed my argument with "One can not base ones actions on the possible occurrence of highly improbable events. To do so would reduce our science to the level of sorcery."
Before I could reply, there was a pounding at the door. Holmes opened it to admit an obviously frightened man. It was our neighbor, Robert Hall, a writer of fiction.
"My wife! my wife!" he shouted; "She's gone, and the house is a shambles --something terrible must have happened!"
I was unnerved at the sight of a black bearded, six foot tall, 250 pound man, looking like a terrified child; but Holmes was unruffled:
"Come now, Hall," he said, "you've been reading or writing too many mystery stories."
Hall eyes were wide with terror; "Please, sirs, come quickly! You might be in time to save her!"
We dashed to our neighbor's house to find his usually immaculate abode much as he had described it. The living room contained a broken lamp, with the porcelain and glass shards scattered over the rug. The kitchen had muddy boot tracks across the floor, which contained a broken bowl and half a dozen or so smashed eggs. There were a number of drops of what appeared to be blood on the floor. Obviously, Hall's concern was amply justified.
Holmes immediately started examining the flat, mumbling as he went: "Hmm, blood hasn't dried nor clotted; couldn't be more than minutes old; boots, large size, type worn by tradesmen: he must weigh at least twenty stone, powerful enough to have taken her without much trouble. He must have struck the lamp on his way out, judging from the direction of the fall." We followed him out into the street, as he moved, head low, like a hound on the scent.
At the curb, he mumbled, "Fortunately, the rain has stopped. The tracks are those of a delivery wagon which was heavily loaded. The cracked left rear wheel should make it relatively simple to identify." He stood up and turned to our neighbor.
"Hall," he said, "do you own a weapon?"
"Only a heavy cane."
"Go and fetch it. Watson, fetch your service revolver, while I call a cab."
We dashed to our respective houses, and returned in less than two minute. We were about to enter a cab, when I spied Mrs. Hall walking toward us. She was a slight woman, with flaming red hair. She was carrying two paper sacks. Her husband rushed to her.
"Thank God!" he exclaimed.
"Thank God for what?" she answered sharply.
"That you're all right."
"Of course I'm all right! Why shouldn't I be all right?"
"The house; the house is a shambles!"
"I'm terribly sorry about that," she said contritely.
"What happened to you? How did you manage to escape?"
"Happened? Escaped?" she said incredulously, "Why nothing happened except a broken lamp, half a dozen smashed eggs and a filthy kitchen floor."
"Who was the large man in the muddy boots?" Holmes asked.
"How did you know about him? It was that ruddy iceman who was the cause of it all -tracking into my clean kitchen with his muddy boots. I really gave him what for, I did. Then, when he left, I was still so upset that I dropped the eggs and smashed every one. I had ten minutes to get to the grocer before it closed for tea. I had to have those eggs if I was to make that cake for your dinner. Then when I put on my coat, it caught on the lamp and smashed that too. I thought that I would clean up the whole mess when I got back. I certainly didn't expect that the whole bloomin' cavalry would be here.
"Where did the blood stains come from?" I asked.
Mrs. Hall's face turned scarlet. "Well," she stammered," it was all the consequence of a perfectly natural event; nothing to be ashamed of. Its earliness took me by surprise. I wasn't expecting the wrong end of the month to come for another week."
I couldn't resist the temptation and, with ill-concealed delight, turned to Holmes and said, "After all; one can't base ones actions upon the occurrence of highly improbable events."
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