The Final Problem - Conan Doyle

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PART ONE

A CRIMINAL MASTERMIND
Almost two years have passed since that terrible day. I never wanted to speak about it again but I feel it is my responsibility to describe the events leading up to it. A certain Colonel Moriarty, brother of Professor James Moriarty, is responsible for rumours and lies about the character of my dear friend Sherlock Holmes that I will not repeat here. I am the only one who knows what happened between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty and it is time that the world knew the truth.
I still visited 221B Baker Street from time to time when Holmes wanted a companion to help with his investigations, but not as often as before. In the final year of my visits Holmes spent more and more time alone. The mystery he was trying to solve occupied a lot of his time but he wouldn't speak about it, not even to me.
One day, in early spring, I received a letter from France.
Dear Watson,
I am working in France for the French Government on an important matter that will take me many months to solve. The weather is good but the food is not so good. I hope all is well with the surgery.
I will write again soon.
Sherlock Holmes
From the letter it seemed clear that I would not see him for some time, so you can imagine my surprise when only a month later he appeared at the window of my surgery. He looked pale and very worried. He entered at a door around the side.
'I know what you're thinking,' he said before I could speak. 'I look terrible.'
I watched as Holmes went around the room making sure all the windows were locked. He closed the blinds.
'Holmes, what's the matter?' I asked.
'Air guns,' he replied.
'Air guns?'
'I think you know me by now,' he continued. 'I am not a nervous man but there's a difference between stupidity and courage, and when someone is trying to kill me… I don't want them to have a clear shot through your windows. Do you have anything to drink?'
I gave him a glass of water. He checked the windows again.
'I'm sorry for coming here so late. I won't stay long. I think it's best if I leave over the wall at the back,' he said.
'Holmes, please explain what all this is about.'
He said nothing. I looked at his hand. It was bleeding. I offered him something to clean it with.
'Holmes, this isn't a little fight. Look at your hand!'
'Are you alone here in the surgery?' he asked.
'Yes, I am now. There is another doctor who helps me during the week.'
'Maybe he can help while you're away. I want you to come with me on a trip to Europe. I'm not sure of the exact location. We can decide when we get there.'
Holmes' behaviour was very strange. He never went on holiday. He certainly didn't go on 'trips' for no reason. He saw the worried look in my eyes.
'There's only one person I can trust with this information, Watson, and that's you. For the first time in my life,' he said, 'I have finally met my equal. His name is known to every criminal in London, but ask anyone in the street and they'll say they've never heard of him. Professor Moriarty! The man is a genius — he's a criminal mastermind!'
'Moriarty — a mastermind?'
'You see!' he laughed. 'No-one knows the real Moriarty — but I do! The man is responsible for half the crimes in London. I could continue working for the French government. It's a nice life, it's well paid, but I cannot rest until Moriarty is in prison!'
'Half the crimes in London!' I repeated. 'But if you really believe this, why haven't you asked Scotland Yard to arrest him? Do you have the evidence?'
'Crimes happen all the time. The criminal is caught. Sometimes they go to prison, then someone pays money and they go free. Sometimes they are never found. The important thing is that the man who controls everything is never caught. No-one must ever suspect him.'
'But what does he do?'
'Everything and nothing! He is a well-educated university professor and one of the greatest mathematicians in Europe. At the age of twenty-one he wrote a thesis that was read all over the world. He was offered a job at a university. He worked very hard, but not towards anything good. He moved to London where he has chosen to use his extraordinary brain for a life of crime.
'No-one knows the criminal world better than I do. For years I have known that there is someone else behind the crimes I investigate. He is like a spider that sits in the centre of a very large web. He plans, he sits and he waits. He makes the threads and I follow them. In three days' time, with my information, they could arrest Moriarty and all his men. But if I take one step in the wrong direction, then all my work counts for nothing.
'I was sitting in my chair thinking about a case this morning, when a man walked into my room. I knew him immediately. His forehead was high, his skin was pale and his shoulders were round from the time spent in his study. His eyes were so dark I couldn't read the slightest emotion in them. He observed me with simple curiosity as his head moved from side to side like a snake.
«You're not as intelligent as I thought,» he said. «Don't you know it's dangerous to keep a loaded gun in your pocket?»
'I took out the gun that was in my pocket and put it on the table, but I kept my fingers close to it.
«You know who I am,» he hissed softly.
'If you have something to tell me, Professor Moriarty, I am free for around five minutes,' I replied.
PART TWO
A NARROW ESCAPE
Holmes moved around the room restlessly.
'And what happened next?' I asked.
'Moriarty asked me if I would continue with my investigations. I told him he already knew the answer.
«Then you know mine,» he replied. He put his hand in his pocket. I placed my fingers on the gun on the table but instead of a gun he took out a notebook and read aloud:
«On the 4th January you passed me in the street, on the 23rd of January you were in my way, in the middle of February you were causing me problems, by the end of March I had to change my plans… Now I find, a month later, that you are trying to take my freedom from me. We both know that this cannot continue.»
'You're right.' I said. 'It won't continue. Give me three more days and it will end.
«You're an interesting opponent, Holmes. I don't know what I'd do without you. I'd be quite bored. You're smiling but I'm telling you the truth. This little game you are playing is too dangerous,» he continued.
'I'm not afraid of danger. It's part of my profession,' I replied.
«This is not danger!» he cried. «This is madness. There is a whole organisation behind me. Do you think you alone can stop it? There is only one end to this Holmes. We both know what it is.»
'I enjoy your company,' I replied, 'but I have an important matter to investigate.'
«I know every move you make. If you try to destroy me, I will do the same to you,» he said.
'You are too kind if you think I am capable of destroying you, but I will happily accept my own destruction if I can free the world of you, Moriarty.'
«Such a pity!» he said as he went out of the door, «but you leave me with no choice.»
'Moriarty is a man of his word and he doesn't waste time. On the way here I almost lost my life three times. First, a carriage with two horses came towards me at full speed. Fortunately, I jumped from the road just in time. Then, as I was walking around the corner, a stone fell from the top of the town hall; it missed me by the smallest amount. Finally, on the road to your house a man attacked me. I hit him hard and he fell over.'
I was amazed at the way my friend spoke of these events. He was lucky to be alive and yet he told his story so calmly.
'You can understand now, Watson, why I shouldn't leave by the front door,' he continued.
'Holmes, you can't go home. You must stay here!'
Holmes would not listen. He left, as planned over the back wall, but only after we had made arrangements for the next day.
'I'll see you tomorrow morning,' he said. 'Take this note. Follow these instructions carefully. Do exactly what it says. Destroy it afterwards.'
'Where will I meet you?' I asked.
'I'll see you on the train. The third carriage from the front is reserved.'
The next day I followed Holmes's instructions. I did not take the first cab that arrived outside my door, or the second, I took the third. I gave the cab driver an address to take my luggage to. I got out early, ten minutes away from the station. I ran around the corner where a horse and carriage was waiting. He didn't ask for my destination; he took me directly to the station. When I arrived I was just in time for the express train that connects with the ferry to France. I ran as fast as I could and I saw a porter taking my luggage to a carriage. There was a reserved sign on the window and I got in. There was a man in the carriage but it wasn't Holmes; it was a priest. I was confused. Holmes said the carriage was only reserved for us. I sat down and the train left the station.
Where was Holmes? After last night's events I was very worried for my friend's safety. Then the priest spoke.
'It's good manners to say «good morning,» Watson.'
Within moments, I realised that Holmes, disguised as a priest, was sitting before me in the carriage.
'We must be careful. There's Moriarty now!' he added.
I looked out of the window and saw a man running towards the train, shouting angrily at the guard. I could see his large forehead and small dark eyes in the distance. Holmes smiled, sat down, and took out a newspaper.
'Holmes, this can't continue. Tell the police they have to arrest Moriarty! They can hold him until you have all the evidence they need.'
'No,' replied Holmes. 'There are too many fish in this net and I intend to catch them all. Now, we must plan what to do next. Moriarty will soon catch the train.'
'How?' I asked. 'This is the express train. There aren't any faster trains.'
'Think, Watson!' sighed Holmes. 'Moriarty is as intelligent as I am. Imagine I'm Moriarty! What would I do?'
'You could hire a private train.'
'Precisely.'
Fifty-five minutes later the train stopped at a station.
'Quick!' said Holmes. 'We're getting off here.'
'What about our bags?' I asked.
'They'll arrive in Paris, where one of Moriarty's men will wait for us to come and collect them. We won't be there, of course, because we're getting a ferry to Belgium. We'll buy new bags and new clothes on the way.'
We jumped off the train. Holmes pulled me to the ground and we hid behind some bags on the platform. I watched as the train left and our own luggage disappeared. At that same moment another train passed by on another platform, going at full speed. A man looked out of the window. We saw the face of Professor Moriarty.
'We guessed his plan,' said Holmes. 'We're lucky he didn't guess mine.'
PART THREE
THE REICHENBACH FALLS
On the third day of our travels in Europe, Holmes sent a telegram to the police. Later that evening he received a reply.
'I knew it!' he cried.
'Have they caught Moriarty?' I asked.
He shook his head. 'He has escaped. You should return to England, Watson. Moriarty will try to find me.'
'No,' I said. 'I'm going to come with you.' We discussed the matter for over an hour until Holmes became bored and agreed that I could stay.
Holmes decided it was best for us to walk from France into Switzerland with the help of a local guide.
One day, after days of walking, we sat down on a pretty area of grass to eat. I looked up and saw a huge rock falling from the top of the mountain towards us. I jumped out of the way and pushed Holmes to one side.
I was surprised the guide didn't try to help. He told us coldly that rocks often fell from the mountain. It was wise to be careful.
'Who's there?' I cried. I ran up the hill, but there was no sign of anyone.
Holmes decided to change our plans. We took a different route into Switzerland and we left our guide. Finally we crossed over the Alps. We arrived at a small village where we rested at the guest house. The owner spoke good English. He knew London well from his time there in one of the city's finest hotels. He told us about the sights in the area.
'You really must go and see the Reichenbach falls,' he said. 'They are a beautiful sight at this time of year. You should stay another night.'
We said we had no plans to stay longer; and that we would continue to the next village of Rosenlaui, but Holmes agreed that we should see the falls first as we weren't far away.
After more than an hour along a steep, narrow path, we heard the falls. The water from the melted snow from the mountains fell into the depths below with a sound like thunder. The path ended at the waterfall. The only way back was along the same path we came. Smoke seemed to rise from the black rock at the bottom like a cauldron. I shouted to Holmes who was at the end of the path; I heard the echo of my voice from the bottom of the falls. We rested on a rock near the falls to admire the view.
Soon after a young Swiss boy came running towards us with a note in his hand.
'Herr Doctor!' He shouted to me. He handed me the note. It was written in English.
'A young English woman is very ill. We think she is dying but she doesn't speak any German. We need an English doctor to come quickly before it's too late.'
Holmes agreed he would continue to Rosenlaui with the Swiss boy as a guide. I would find another guide and see him later. I went back down the hill as quickly as I could to see the poor woman.'
'Where's the patient?' I asked. 'I hope she's not worse.'
'What do you mean?' the guest house owner asked.
I handed him the note written on hotel paper.
'Didn't you write this?' I asked.
'No,' he said. 'This is very strange.'
'Can you remember anyone asking you for paper?'
'Not long before you left a well-educated Englishman came here...' I didn't wait to hear any more because I knew the rest. When I was coming down the path to the hotel, I remembered seeing a man on the other side of the hill walking up towards the falls. He was tall and thin and… I ran back up the path, but it took longer to go up than to come down. When I arrived Holmes wasn't there. My worst fear was true. There wasn't a sick English lady. It was all a lie so that I would leave Holmes.
I tried to think what Holmes would do. It didn't take long to find out what happened. The sight of Holmes's walking stick against a rock nearby told me that his journey went no further than the end of the path by the waterfall. There were no footprints returning back towards the path. I could see the torn roots of plants, and finally the mark of a long fingernail in the ground at the edge of the falls. I looked over into the black water beneath and shouted as loudly as I could.
'Holmes! Sherlock Holmes!'
'Sherlock Holmes!' came the echo of my own voice. I shouted again but it was no good. In that cauldron was one of the world's most dangerous criminals, and in my stomach I knew my friend and one of the world's greatest detectives was with him until the end.
Then, on the rock next to the walking stick, I saw a small silver case. I picked it up. There was a note inside. It read:
I am grateful to Professor Moriarty forgiving me this opportunity to write to you. Now I will finally defeat one of the world's greatest criminals. Tell everyone the news. The police have all the information they need. I have left a file with my brother Mycroft.
I am sorry, Watson, because I know this will be particularly difficult for you, my dear friend, but my disappearance from this world is the price I must pay.
Yours truly,
Sherlock Holmes
Then I understood the guide was paid by Moriarty and Holmes was left alone for the final battle with Moriarty, which ended, so the local police say, with both men falling to their deaths in the falls. The information Holmes left with the police was enough to send most of Moriarty's men to jail but little was ever said of their leader, which is why I feel it is my duty to speak of it now.
I cannot replace the emptiness that has been left in my life but maybe Holmes was right: his disappearance was the price only a brilliant detective could pay. Sherlock Holmes was, and always will be, the best and wisest man that I have ever known.
— THE END -
Hope you have enjoyed the reading!
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