The Final Problem is one of the short stories about Sherlock Holmes written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, first published in The Strand Magazine in 1894. It is now in the public domain. It has been transferred to electronic text by optical character recognition, and this copy has been reformatted for E2 and cleaned of OCR errors by rootbeer277. A paper version can be found in a collection of short stories called Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.
The final problem of Sherlock's career is a fitting end for the great detective. For some time now Holmes has been on the trail of Professor Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime, a brilliant criminal mastermind who is at the center of a vast web of criminal actives throughout Europe. Twice in previous stories we have heard Scotland Yard proclaim that they are glad that Holmes has turned his talents to upholding law rather than fighting it, and in this story we see a man who is in every way his equal doing just that.
Holmes has set all the chess pieces in place by the time the story opens, and it only remains for him to survive the next few days while the game plays itself out to its only possible conclusion: the apprehension of Moriarty's gang by the British police force. Moriarty, however, escapes, and pursues Holmes across Europe to enact his revenge. What follows is a game of misdirection and second-guessing that pushes both men to their limits.
The famous conclusion sees both Holmes and Moriarty fight each other to the death at Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. Doyle was reportedly tired of writing the character and so devised a way to let him go out in a blaze of glory, fighting an arch-nemesis worthy of his powers. The character was so popular, however, that The Hound of the Baskervilles soon followed, but chronologically set before Holmes' death. Doyle was eventually compelled to bring the character back from the grave in The Adventure of the Empty House.
Professor Moriarty also plays an off-screen role in The Valley of Fear.
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Next story: The Hound of the Baskervilles
The Final Problem
It is with a heavy heart that I take up my pen to write these the
last words in which I shall ever record the singular gifts by
which my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes was distinguished. In an
incoherent and, as I deeply feel, an entirely inadequate fashion, I
have endeavoured to give some account of my strange experiences
in his company from the chance which first brought us together
at the period of the "Study in Scarlet", up to the time of his
interference in the matter of the "Naval Treaty" — an interference which had the unquestionable effect of preventing a serious
international complication. It was my intention to have stopped
there, and to have said nothing of that event which has created a
void in my life which the lapse of two years has done little to
fill. My hand has been forced, however, by the recent letters in
which Colonel James Moriarty defends the memory of his brother,
and I have no choice but to lay the facts before the public exactly
as they occurred. I alone know the absolute truth of the matter,
and I am satisfied that the time has come when no good purpose
is to be served by its suppression. As far as I know, there have
been only three accounts in the public press: that in the Journal
de Geneve on May 6th, 1891, the Reuter's dispatch in the
English papers on May 7th, and finally the recent letters to
which I have alluded. Of these the first and second were extremely condensed, while the last is, as I shall now show, an
absolute perversion of the facts. It lies with me to tell for the first
time what really took place between Professor Moriarty and Mr.
It may be remembered that after my marriage, and my subsequent start in private practice, the very intimate relations which
had existed between Holmes and myself became to some extent
modified. He still came to me from time to time when he desired
a companion in his investigations, but these occasions grew more
and more seldom, until I find that in the year 1890 there were
only three cases of which I retain any record. During the winter
of that year and the early spring of 1891, I saw in the papers that
he had been engaged by the French government upon a matter of
supreme importance, and I received two notes from Holmes,
dated from Narbonne and from Nimes, from which I gathered
that his stay in France was likely to be a long one. It was with
some surprise, therefore, that I saw him walk into my consulting-room upon the evening of April 24th. It struck me that he was
looking even paler and thinner than usual.
"Yes, I have been using myself up rather too freely," he
remarked, in answer to my look rather than to my words; "I
have been a little pressed of late. Have you any objection to my
closing your shutters?"
The only light in the room came from the lamp upon the table
at which I had been reading. Holmes edged his way round the
wall, and, flinging the shutters together, he bolted them securely.
"You are afraid of something?" I asked.
"Well, I am."
"My dear Holmes, what do you mean?"
"I think that you know me well enough. Watson. to understand that I am by no means a nervous man. At the same time, it
is stupidity rather than courage to refuse to recognize danger
when it is close upon you. Might I trouble you for a match?" He
drew in the smoke of his cigarette as if the soothing influence
was grateful to him.
"I must apologize for calling so late," said he, "and I must
further beg you to be so unconventional as to allow me to leave
your house presently by scrambling over your back garden wall."
"But what does it all mean?" I asked.
He held out his hand, and I saw in the light of the lamp that
two of his knuckles were burst and bleeding.
"It's not an airy nothing, you see," said he, smiling. "On the
contrary, it is solid enough for a man to break his hand over. Is
Mrs. Watson in?"
"She is away upon a visit."
"Indeed! You are alone?"
"Then it makes it the easier for me to propose that you should
come away with me for a week to the Continent."
"Oh, anywhere. It's all the same to me."
There was something very strange in all this. It was not
Holmes's nature to take an aimless holiday, and something
about his pale, worn face told me that his nerves were at their
highest tension. He saw the question in my eyes, and, putting his
finger-tips together and his elbows upon his knees, he explained
"You have probably never heard of Professor Moriarty?" said
"Ay, there's the genius and the wonder of the thing!" he
cried. "The man pervades London, and no one has heard of him.
That's what puts him on a pinnacle in the records of crime. I tell
you Watson, in all seriousness, that if I could beat that man, if I
could free society of him, I should feel that my own career had
reached its summit, and I should be prepared to turn to some
more placid line in life. Between ourselves, the recent cases in
which I have been of assistance to the royal family of Scandinavia, and to the French republic, have left me in such a position
that I could continue to live in the quiet fashion which is most
congenial to me, and to concentrate my attention upon my
chemical researches. But I could not rest. Watson, I could not sit
quiet in my chair, if I thought that such a man as Professor
Moriarty were walking the streets of London unchallenged."
"What has he done, then?"
"His career has been an extraordinary one. He is a man of
good birth and excellent education, endowed by nature with a
phenomenal mathematical faculty. At the age of twenty-one he
wrote a treatise upon the binomial theorem, which has had a
European vogue. On the strength of it he won the mathematical
chair at one of our smaller universities, and had, to all appearances, a most brilliant career before him. But the man had
hereditary tendencies of the most diabolical kind. A criminal
strain ran in his blood, which, instead of being modified, was
increased and rendered infinitely more dangerous by his extraordinary mental powers. Dark rumours gathered round him in the
university town, and eventually he was compelled to resign his
chair and to come down to London, where he set up as an army
coach. So much is known to the world, but what I am telling you
now is what I have myself discovered.
"As you are aware, Watson, there is no one who knows the
higher criminal world of London so well as I do. For years past I
have continually been conscious of some power behind the malefactor, some deep organizing power which forever stands in the
way of the law, and throws its shield over the wrong-doer. Again
and again in cases of the most varying sorts — forgery cases,
robberies, murders — I have felt the presence of this force, and I
have deduced its action in many of those undiscovered crimes in
which I have not been personally consulted. For years I have
endeavoured to break through the veil which shrouded it, and at
last the time came when l seized my thread and followed it, until
it led me, after a thousand cunning windings, to ex-Professor
Moriarty, of mathematical celebrity.
"He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of
half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great
city. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a
brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the
centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he
knows well every quiver of each of them. He does little himself.
He only plans. But his agents are numerous and splendidly
organized. Is there a crime to be done, a paper to be abstracted,
we will say, a house to be rifled, a man to be removed — the
word is passed to the professor, the matter is organized and
carried out. The agent may be caught. In that case money is
found for his bail or his defence. But the central power which
uses the agent is never caught — never so much as suspected.
This was the organization which I deduced, Watson, and which I
devoted my whole energy to exposing and breaking up.
"But the professor was fenced round with safeguards so cunningly devised that, do what I would, it seemed impossible to get
evidence which would convict in a court of law. You know my
powers, my dear Watson, and yet at the end of three months I
was forced to confess that I had at last met an antagonist who
was my intellectual equal. My horror at his crimes was lost in
my admiration at his skill. But at last he made a trip — only a
little, little trip but it was more than he could afford, when I
was so close upon him. I had my chance, and, starting from that
point, I have woven my net round him until now it is all ready to
close. In three days — that is to say, on Monday next — matters
will be ripe, and the professor, with all the principal members of
his gang, will be in the hands of the police. Then will come the
greatest criminal trial of the century, the clearing up of over forty
mysteries, and the rope for all of them; but if we move at all
prematurely, you understand, they may slip out of our hands
even at the last moment.
"Now, if I could have done this without the knowledge of
Professor Moriarty, all would have been well. But he was too
wily for that. He saw every step which I took to draw my toils
round him. Again and again he strove to break away, but I as
often headed him off. I tell you, my friend, that if a detailed
account of that silent contest could be written, it would take its
place as the most brilliant bit of thrust-and-parry work in the
history of detection. Never have I risen to such a height, and
never have I been so hard pressed by an opponent. He cut deep,
and yet I just undercut him. This morning the last steps were
taken, and three days only were wanted to complete the business. I was sitting in my room thinking the matter over when the
door opened and Professor Moriarty stood before me.
"My nerves are fairly proof, Watson, but I must confess to a
start when I saw the very man who had been so much in my
thoughts standing there on my threshold. His appearance was
quite familiar to me. He is extremely tall and thin, his forehead
domes out in a white curve, and his two eyes are deeply sunken
in his head. He is clean-shaven, pale, and ascetic-looking, retaining something of the professor in his features. His shoulders
are rounded from much study, and his face protrudes forward
and is forever slowly oscillating from side to side in a curiously
reptilian fashion. He peered at me with great curiosity in his
" 'You have less frontal development than I should have
expected,' said he at last. 'It is a dangerous habit to finger
loaded firearms in the pocket of one's dressing-gown.'
"The fact is that upon his entrance I had instantly recognized
the extreme personal danger in which I lay. The only conceivable escape for him lay in silencing my tongue. In an instant I
had slipped the revolver from the drawer into my pocket and was
covering him through the cloth. At his remark I drew the weapon
out and laid it cocked upon the table. He still smiled and
blinked, but there was something about his eyes which made me
feel very glad that I had it there.
" 'You evidently don't know me,' said he.
" 'On the contrary,' I answered, 'I think it is fairly evident
that I do. Pray take a chair. I can spare you five minutes if you
have anything to say.'
" 'All that I have to say has already crossed your mind,' said
" 'Then possibly my answer has crossed yours,' I replied.
" 'You stand fast?'
" 'Absolutely. '
"He clapped his hand into his pocket, and I raised the pistol
from the table. But he merely drew out a memorandum-book in
which he had scribbled some dates.
" 'You crossed my path on the fourth of January,' said he.
'On the twenty-third 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.'
" 'Have you any suggestion to make?' I asked.
" 'You must drop it, Mr. Holmes,' said he, swaying his face
about. 'You really must, you know.'
" 'After Monday,' said I.
" 'Tut, tut!' said he. 'I am quite sure that a man of your
intelligence will see that there can be but one outcome to this
affair. It is necessary that you should withdraw. You have
worked things in such a fashion that we have only one resource
left. It has been an intellectual treat to me to see the way in
which you have grappled with this affair, and I say, unaffectedly, that it would be a grief to me to be forced to take any
extreme measure. You smile, sir, but I assure you that it really
" 'Danger is part of my trade,' I remarked.
" 'This is not danger,' said he. 'It is inevitable destruction.
You stand in the way not merely of an individual but of a mighty
organization, the full extent of which you, with all your cleverness, have been unable to realize. You must stand clear, Mr.
Holmes, or be trodden under foot.'
" 'I am afraid,' said I, rising, 'that in the pleasure of this
conversation I am neglecting business of importance which awaits
"He rose also and looked at me in silence, shaking his head
" 'Well, well,' said he at last. 'It seems a pity, but I have
done what I could. I know every move of your game. You can
do nothing before Monday. It has been a duel between you and
me, Mr. Holmes. You hope to place me in the dock. I tell you
that I will never stand in the dock. You hope to beat me. I tell
you that you will never beat me. If you are clever enough to
bring destruction upon me, rest assured that I shall do as much to
" 'You have paid me several compliments, Mr. Moriarty,'
said I. 'Let me pay you one in return when I say that if I were
assured of the former eventuality I would, in the interests of the
public, cheerfully accept the latter.'
" 'I can promise you the one, but not the other,' he snarled,
and so turned his rounded back upon me and went peering and
blinking out of the room.
"That was my singular interview with Professor Moriarty. I
confess that it left an unpleasant effect upon my mind. His soft,
precise fashion of speech leaves a conviction of sincerity which a
mere bully could not produce. Of course, you will say: 'Why not
take police precautions against him?' The reason is that I am
well convinced that it is from his agents the blow would fall. I
have the best of proofs that it would be so."
"You have already been assaulted?"
"My dear Watson, Professor Moriarty is not a man who lets
the grass grow under his feet. I went out about midday to
transact some business in Oxford Street. As I passed the corner
which leads from Bentinck Street on to the Welbeck Street
crossing a two-horse van furiously driven whizzed round and
was on me like a flash. I sprang for the foot-path and saved
myself by the fraction of a second. The van dashed round by
Marylebone Lane and was gone in an instant. I kept to the
pavement after that, Watson, but as I walked down Vere Street a
brick came down from the roof of one of the houses and was
shattered to fragments at my feet. I called the police and had the
place examined. There were slates and bricks piled up on the
roof preparatory to some repairs, and they would have me believe that the wind had toppled over one of these. Of course I
knew better, but I could prove nothing. I took a cab after that
and reached my brother's rooms in Pall Mall, where I spent the
day. Now I have come round to you, and on my way I was
attacked by a rough with a bludgeon. I knocked him down, and
the police have him in custody; but I can tell you with the most
absolute confidence that no possible connection will ever be
traced between the gentleman upon whose front teeth I have
barked my knuckles and the retiring mathematical coach, who is,
I daresay, working out problems upon a black-board ten miles
away. You will not wonder, Watson, that my first act on entering your rooms was to close your shutters, and that I have been
compelled to ask your permission to leave the house by some
less conspicuous exit than the front door."
I had often admired my friend's courage, but never more than
now, as he sat quietly checking off a series of incidents which
must have combined to make up a day of horror.
"You will spend the night here?" I said.
"No, my friend, you might find me a dangerous guest. I have
my plans laid, and all will be well. Matters have gone so far now
that they can move without my help as far as the arrest goes,
though my presence is necessary for a conviction. It is obvious,
therefore, that I cannot do better than get away for the few days
which remain before the police are at liberty to act. It would be a
great pleasure to me, therefore, if you could come on to the
Continent with me."
"The practice is quiet," said I, "and I have an accommodating neighbour. I should be glad to come."
"And to start to-morrow morning?"
"Oh, yes, it is most necessary. Then these are your instructions, and I beg, my dear Watson, that you will obey them to the
letter, for you are now playing a double-handed game with me
against the cleverest rogue and the most powerful syndicate of
criminals in Europe. Now listen! You will dispatch whatever
luggage you intend to take by a trusty messenger unaddressed to
Victoria to-night. In the morning you will send for a hansom,
desiring your man to take neither the first nor the second which
may present itself. Into this hansom you will jump, and you will
drive to the Strand end of the Lowther Arcade, handing the
address to the cabman upon a slip of paper, with a request that
he will not throw it away. Have your fare ready, and the instant
that your cab stops, dash through the Arcade, timing yourself to
reach the other side at a quarter-past nine. You will find a small
brougham waiting close to the curb, driven by a fellow with a
heavy black cloak tipped at the collar with red. Into this you will
step, and you will reach Victoria in time for the Continental
"Where shall I meet you?"
"At the station. The second first-class carriage from the front
will be reserved for us."
"The carriage is our rendezvous, then?"
It was in vain that I asked Holmes to remain for the evening.
It was evident to me that he thought he might bring trouble to the
roof he was under, and that that was the motive which impelled
him to go. With a few hurried words as to our plans for the
morrow he rose and came out with me into the garden, clambering over the wall which leads into Mortimer Street, and immediately whistling for a hansom, in which I heard him drive away.
In the morning I obeyed Holmes's injunctions to the letter. A
hansom was procured with such precautions as would prevent its
being one which was placed ready for us, and I drove immediately after breakfast to the Lowther Arcade, through which I
hurried at the top of my speed. A brougham was waiting with a
very massive driver wrapped in a dark cloak, who, the instant
that I had stepped in, whipped up the horse and rattled off to
Victoria Station. On my alighting there he turned the carriage,
and dashed away again without so much as a look in my direction.
So far all had gone admirably. My luggage was waiting for
me, and I had no difficulty in finding the carriage which Holmes
had indicated, the less so as it was the only one in the train
which was marked "Engaged." My only source of anxiety now
was the non-appearance of Holmes. The station clock marked
only seven minutes from the time when we were due to start. In
vain I searched among the groups of travellers and leave-takers
for the lithe figure of my friend. There was no sign of him. I
spent a few minutes in assisting a venerable Italian priest, who
was endeavouring to make a porter understand, in his broken
English, that his luggage was to be booked through to Paris.
Then, having taken another look round, I returned to my carriage, where I found that the porter, in spite of the ticket, had
given me my decrepit Italian friend as a travelling companion. It
was useless for me to explain to him that his presence was an
intrusion, for my Italian was even more limited than his English,
so I shrugged my shoulders resignedly, and continued to look out
anxiously for my friend. A chill of fear had come over me, as I
thought that his absence might mean that some blow had fallen
during the night. Already the doors had all been shut and the
whistle blown, when —
"My dear Watson," said a voice, "you have not even condescended to say good-morning."
I turned in uncontrollable astonishment. The aged ecclesiastic
had turned his face towards me. For an instant the wrinkles were
smoothed away, the nose drew away from the chin, the lower lip
ceased to protrude and the mouth to mumble, the dull eyes
regained their fire, the drooping figure expanded. The next the
whole frame collapsed again, and Holmes had gone as quickly as
he had come.
"Good heavens!" I cried, "how you startled me!"
"Every precaution is still necessary," he whispered. "I have
reason to think that they are hot upon our trail. Ah, there is
The train had already begun to move as Holmes spoke. Glancing back, I saw a tall man pushing his way furiously through the
crowd, and waving his hand as if he desired to have the train
stopped. It was too late, however, for we were rapidly gathering
momentum, and an instant later had shot clear of the station.
"With all our precautions, you see that we have cut it rather
fine," said Holmes, laughing. He rose, and throwing off the
black cassock and hat which had formed his disguise, he packed
them away in a hand-bag.
"Have you seen the morning paper, Watson?"
"You haven't seen about Baker Street, then?"
"They set fire to our rooms last night. No great harm was
"Good heavens, Holmes, this is intolerable!"
"They must have lost my track completely after their
bludgeonman was arrested. Otherwise they could not have imagined that I had returned to my rooms. They have evidently taken
the precaution of watching you, however, and that is what has
brought Moriarty to Victoria. You could not have made any slip
"I did exactly what you advised."
"Did you find your brougham?"
"Yes, it was waiting."
"Did you recognize your coachman?"
"It was my brother Mycroft. It is an advantage to get about in
such a case without taking a mercenary into your confidence.
But we must plan what we are to do about Moriarty now."
"As this is an express, and as the boat runs in connection with
it, I should think we have shaken him off very effectively."
"My dear Watson, you evidently did not realize my meaning
when I said that this man may be taken as being quite on the
same intellectual plane as myself. You do not imagine that if I
were the pursuer I should allow myself to be baffled by so slight
an obstacle. Why, then, should you think so meanly of him?"
"What will he do?"
"What I should do."
"What would you do, then?"
"Engage a special."
"But it must be late."
"By no means. This train stops at Canterbury; and there is
always at least a quarter of an hour's delay at the boat. He will
catch us there."
"One would think that we were the criminals. Let us have him
arrested on his arrival."
"It would be to ruin the work of three months. We should get
the big fish, but the smaller would dart right and left out of the
net. On Monday we should have them all. No, an arrest is
"We shall get out at Canterbury."
"Well, then we must make a cross-country journey to
Newhaven, and so over to Dieppe. Moriarty will again do what I
should do. He will get on to Paris, mark down our luggage, and
wait for two days at the depot. In the meantime we shall treat
ourselves to a couple of carpet-bags, encourage the manufactures
of the countries through which we travel, and make our way at
our leisure into Switzerland, via Luxembourg and Basle."
At Canterbury, therefore, we alighted, only to find that we
should have to wait an hour before we could get a train to
I was still looking rather ruefully after the rapidly disappearing
luggage-van which contained my wardrobe, when Holmes pulled
my sleeve and pointed up the line.
"Already, you see," said he.
Far away, from among the Kentish woods there rose a thin
spray of smoke. A minute later a carriage and engine could be
seen flying along the open curve which leads to the station. We
had hardly time to take our place behind a pile of luggage when
it passed with a rattle and a roar, beating a blast of hot air into
"There he goes," said Holmes, as we watched the carriage
swing and rock over the points. "There are limits, you see, to
our friend's intelligence. It would have been a coup-de-maître
had he deduced what I would deduce and acted accordingly."
"And what would he have done had he overtaken us?"
"There cannot be the least doubt that he would have made a
murderous attack upon me. It is, however, a game at which two
may play. The question now is whether we should take a premature lunch here, or run our chance of starving before we reach
the buffet at Newhaven."
We made our way to Brussels that night and spent two days
there, moving on upon the third day as far as Strasbourg. On the
Monday morning Holmes had telegraphed to the London police,
and in the evening we found a reply waiting for us at our hotel.
Holmes tore it open, and then with a bitter curse hurled it into
"I might have known it!" he groaned. "He has escaped!"
"They have secured the whole gang with the exception of
him. He has given them the slip. Of course, when I had left the
country there was no one to cope with him. But I did think that I
had put the game in their hands. I think that you had better return
to England, Watson."
"Because you will find me a dangerous companion now. This
man's occupation is gone. He is lost if he returns to London. If I
read his character right he will devote his whole energies to
revenging himself upon me. He said as much in our short
interview, and I fancy that he meant it. I should certainly recommend you to return to your practice."
It was hardly an appeal to be successful with one who was an
old campaigner as well as an old friend. We sat in the Strasbourg
salle-a-manger arguing the question for half an hour, but the
same night we had resumed our journey and were well on our
way to Geneva.
For a charming week we wandered up the valley of the Rhone,
and then, branching off at Leuk, we made our way over the
Gemmi Pass, still deep in snow, and so, by way of Interlaken, to
Meiringen. It was a lovely trip, the dainty green of the spring
below, the virgin white of the winter above; but it was clear to
me that never for one instant did Holmes forget the shadow
which lay across him. In the homely Alpine villages or in the
lonely mountain passes, I could still tell by his quick glancing
eyes and his sharp scrutiny of every face that passed us, that he
was well convinced that, walk where we would, we could not
walk ourselves clear of the danger which was dogging our
Once, I remember, as we passed over the Gemmi, and walked
along the border of the melancholy Daubensee, a large rock
which had been dislodged from the ridge upon our right clattered
down and roared into the lake behind us. In an instant Holmes
had raced up on to the ridge, and, standing upon a lofty pinnacle, craned his neck in every direction. It was in vain that our
guide assured him that a fall of stones was a common chance in
the springtime at that spot. He said nothing, but he smiled at me
with the air of a man who sees the fulfilment of that which he
And yet for all his watchfulness he was never depressed. On
the contrary, I can never recollect having seen him in such
exuberant spirits. Again and again he recurred to the fact that if
he could be assured that society was freed from Professor Moriarty
he would cheerfully bring his own career to a conclusion.
"I think that I may go so far as to say, Watson, that I have not
lived wholly in vain," he remarked. "If my record were closed
to-night I could still survey it with equanimity. The air of
London is the sweeter for my presence. In over a thousand cases
I am not aware that I have ever used my powers upon the wrong
side. Of late I have been tempted to look into the problems
furnished by nature rather than those more superficial ones for
which our artificial state of society is responsible. Your memoirs
will draw to an end, Watson, upon the day that I crown my
career by the capture or extinction of the most dangerous and
capable criminal in Europe."
I shall be brief, and yet exact, in the little which remains for
me to tell. It is not a subject on which I would willingly dwell,
and yet I am conscious that a duty devolves upon me to omit no
It was on the third of May that we reached the little village of
Meiringen, where we put up at the Englischer Hof, then kept by
Peter Steiler the elder. Our landlord was an intelligent man and
spoke excellent English, having served for three years as waiter
at the Grosvenor Hotel in London. At his advice, on the afternoon of the fourth we set off together, with the intention of
crossing the hills and spending the night at the hamlet of Rosenlaui.
We had strict injunctions, however, on no account to pass the
falls of Reichenbach, which are about halfway up the hills,
without making a small detour to see them.
It is, indeed, a fearful place. The torrent, swollen by the
melting snow, plunges into a tremendous abyss, from which the
spray rolls up like the smoke from a burning house. The shaft
into which the river hurls itself is an immense chasm, lined by
glistening coal-black rock, and narrowing into a creaming, boiling pit of incalculable depth, which brims over and shoots the
stream onward over its jagged lip. The long sweep of green
water roaring forever down, and the thick flickering curtain of
spray hissing forever upward, turn a man giddy with their constant whirl and clamour. We stood near the edge peering down at
the gleam of the breaking water far below us against the black
rocks, and listening to the half-human shout which came booming up with the spray out of the abyss.
The path has been cut halfway round the fall to afford a
complete view, but it ends abruptly, and the traveller has to
return as he came. We had turned to do so, when we saw a
Swiss lad come running along it with a letter in his hand. It bore
the mark of the hotel which we had just left and was addressed to
me by the landlord. It appeared that within a very few minutes of
our leaving, an English lady had arrived who was in the last
stage of consumption. She had wintered at Davos Platz and was
journeying now to join her friends at Lucerne, when a sudden
hemorrhage had overtaken her. It was thought that she could
hardly live a few hours, but it would be a great consolation to
her to see an English doctor, and, if I would only return, etc.
The good Steiler assured me in a postscript that he would himself
look upon my compliance as a very great favour, since the lady
absolutely refused to see a Swiss physician, and he could not but
feel that he was incurring a great responsibility.
The appeal was one which could not be ignored. It was
impossible to refuse the request of a fellow-countrywoman dying
in a strange land. Yet I had my scruples about leaving Holmes. It
was finally agreed, however, that he should retain the young
Swiss messenger with him as guide and companion while I
returned to Meiringen. My friend would stay some little time at
the fall, he said, and would then walk slowly over the hill to
Rosenlaui, where I was to rejoin him in the evening. As I turned
away I saw Holmes, with his back against a rock and his arms
folded, gazing down at the rush of the waters. It was the last that
I was ever destined to see of him in this world.
When I was near the bottom of the descent I looked back. It
was impossible, from that position, to see the fall, but I could
see the curving path which winds over the shoulder of the hills
and leads to it. Along this a man was, I remember, walking very
I could see his black figure clearly outlined against the green
behind him. I noted him, and the energy with which he walked,
but he passed from my mind again as I hurried on upon my
It may have been a little over an hour before I reached
Meiringen. Old Steiler was standing at the porch of his hotel.
"Well," said I, as I came hurrying up, "I trust that she is no
A look of surprise passed over his face, and at the first quiver
of his eyebrows my heart turned to lead in my breast.
"You did not write this?" I said, pulling the letter from my
pocket. "There is no sick Englishwoman in the hotel?"
"Certainly not!" he cried. "But it has the hotel mark upon it!
Ha, it must have been written by that tall Englishman who came
in after you had gone. He said —"
But I waited for none of the landlord's explanation. In a tingle
of fear I was already running down the village street, and making
for the path which I had so lately descended. It had taken me an
hour to come down. For all my efforts two more had passed
before I found myself at the fall of Reichenbach once more.
There was Holmes's Alpine-stock still leaning against the rock
by which I had left him. But there was no sign of him, and it
was in vain that I shouted. My only answer was my own voice
reverberating in a rolling echo from the cliffs around me.
It was the sight of that Alpine-stock which turned me cold and
sick. He had not gone to Rosenlaui, then. He had remained on
that three-foot path, with sheer wall on one side and sheer drop
on the other, until his enemy had overtaken him. The young
Swiss had gone too. He had probably been in the pay of Moriarty
and had left the two men together. And then what had happened?
Who was to tell us what had happened then?
I stood for a minute or two to collect myself, for I was dazed
with the horror of the thing. Then I began to think of Holmes's
own methods and to try to practise them in reading this tragedy.
It was, alas, only too easy to do. During our conversation we
had not gone to the end of the path, and the Alpine-stock marked
the place where we had stood. The blackish soil is kept forever
soft by the incessant drift of spray, and a bird would leave its
tread upon it. Two lines of footmarks were clearly marked along
the farther end of the path, both leading away from me. There
were none returning. A few yards from the end the soil was all
ploughed up into a patch of mud, and the brambles and ferns
which fringed the chasm were torn and bedraggled. I lay upon
my face and peered over with the spray spouting up all around
me. It had darkened since I left, and now I could only see here
and there the glistening of moisture upon the black walls, and far
away down at the end of the shaft the gleam of the broken water.
I shouted; but only that same half-human cry of the fall was
borne back to my ears.
But it was destined that I should, after all, have a last word of
greeting from my friend and comrade. I have said that his
Alpine-stock had been left leaning against a rock which jutted on
to the path. From the top of this bowlder the gleam of something
bright caught my eye, and raising my hand I found that it came
from the silver cigarette-case which he used to carry. As I took it
up a small square of paper upon which it had lain fluttered down
on to the ground. Unfolding it, I found that it consisted of three
pages torn from his notebook and addressed to me. It was
characteristic of the man that the direction was as precise, and
the writing as firm and clear, as though it had been written in his
MY DEAR WATSON [it said]:
I write these few lines through the courtesy of Mr.
Moriarty, who awaits my convenience for the final discussion of those questions which lie between us. He has been
giving me a sketch of the methods by which he avoided the
English police and kept himself informed of our movements. They certainly confirm the very high opinion which
I had formed of his abilities. I am pleased to think that I
shall be able to free society from any further effects of his
presence, though I fear that it is at a cost which will give
pain to my friends, and especially, my dear Watson, to you.
I have already explained to you, however, that my career
had in any case reached its crisis, and that no possible
conclusion to it could be more congenial to me than this.
Indeed, if I may make a full confession to you, I was quite
convinced that the letter from Meiringen was a hoax, and I
allowed you to depart on that errand under the persuasion
that some development of this sort would follow. Tell Inspector Patterson that the papers which he needs to convict
the gang are in pigeonhole M., done up in a blue envelope
and inscribed "Moriarty." I made every disposition of my
property before leaving England and handed it to my brother
Mycroft. Pray give my greetings to Mrs. Watson, and
believe me to be, my dear fellow
Very sincerely yours,
A few words may suffice to tell the little that remains. An
examination by experts leaves little doubt that a personal contest
between the two men ended, as it could hardly fail to end in such
a situation, in their reeling over, locked in each other's arms.
Any attempt at recovering the bodies was absolutely hopeless,
and there, deep down in that dreadful cauldron of swirling water
and seething foam, will lie for all time the most dangerous
criminal and the foremost champion of the law of their generation. The Swiss youth was never found again, and there can be
no doubt that he was one of the numerous agents whom Moriarty
kept in his employ. As to the gang, it will be within the memory
of the public how completely the evidence which Holmes had
accumulated exposed their organization, and how heavily the
hand of the dead man weighed upon them. Of their terrible chief
few details came out during the proceedings, and if I have now
been compelled to make a clear statement of his career, it is due
to those injudicious champions who have endeavoured to clear
his memory by attacks upon him whom I shall ever regard as the
best and the wisest man whom I have ever known.
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