“You crossed my path on the 4th of January,’ said he. ‘On the 23rd you incommoded me; by the middle of February I was seriously inconvenienced by you; at the end of March I was absolutely hampered in my plans; and now, at the close of April, I find myself placed in such a position through your continual persecution that I am in positive danger of losing my liberty. The situation is becoming an impossible one.’”—“The Final Problem” (The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes)
It was on a wild and wintry evening of early January of the year ’91, I find recorded in my notebook, that my friend Sherlock Holmes received his first intimation of that singular chain of circumstances which had shrouded the sudden and tragically untimely death of the prodigious mathematician Arthur Carstairs. These very same circumstances threatened also to impugn the reputation of another profoundly gifted analytical reasoner, the mathematician Sylvester Clark. While the public at large is not ordinarily given to taking any very profound note of events in the arcane world of scholasticism, the names of Carstairs and Clark had nevertheless, for a time, secured a firm berth in the popular imagination. This, regrettably, had less to do with the unfortunate young men’s contributions to the mathematical explanation of the trajectory of an asteroid than with the sensational details of the one’s violent end and the other’s implication in that event. As is often the way of the world, it was notoriety that brought Carstairs’s and Clark’s names to wide general recognition, rather than those amazing feats of the mind with which they had embellished (if so august an institution were at all susceptible of embellishment) that great seat of learning, London City College.
From among the many cases in which it has been my privilege to have been associated with Mr. Sherlock Holmes, there are three in which my friend has been of signal assistance in clearing up puzzles which, without the intervention of that combination of the brilliant deductive faculty and humane sympathy which was peculiar to his genius of reasoning and temperament, might have threatened many well-established reputations and caused needless pain in those exalted quarters whose inhabitants are possessed of a delicacy of sensibility that is incapable of tolerating even the mildest suggestion of scandal or suspicion. Two of these cases I have already recorded elsewhere under the titles, respectively, of ‘The Second Stain’ and ‘The Three Students’. What is about to follow is the third.
On the evening with which my narrative commences, the cold of the sleet penetrated to the very marrow of the bone, while the wind, oscillating between the sobbing of a child and the howling of a banshee, played upon the nerves. I have seldom been as happy as upon that fateful evening to find myself once more in front of my old quarters at 221b Baker Street, the starting point of so many remarkable adventures I have had in the company of my friend Sherlock Holmes. I ascended the well-worn stairs, glad for the prospect of a cheerful fire and the comfort that I could rely upon to be yielded by the contents of the faithful old decanter and gasogene. Conceive then of my astonishment when, on letting myself in, I encountered my friend, fully dressed and apparently on the point of embarking upon some nocturnal excursion.
“My dear Watson!” he cried, adjusting the Inverness and picking up his deerstalker. “’Pon my word, if it’s not my old friend, the very and only man I should have wished for by my side at a time like this! It is hardly fair, my dear fellow, but will you come with me?”
“Need you ask, Holmes? Anywhere and anytime.”
“Splendid. It would be invaluable to have you by my side at this time, for I should be a fool, and worse, if I cannot already detect the hand of that arch villain in this dreadful business.”
“I do not know to whom you refer, but in any event, I am entirely at your disposal. Be that as it may, what is our destination, and what takes us there?”
“Bloomsbury, Watson, in reply to your first question; and in reply to your second: a tragic death. But come now, we are already late upon the hour. I shall fill you in on the details in the course of our journey.”