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"I am inclined to think--" said I.

"I should do so," Sherlock Holmes remarked impatiently.

I believe that I am one of the most long-suffering of mortals; but I'll admit that I was annoyed at the sardonic interruption. "Really, Holmes," said I severely, "you are a little trying at times."

He was too much absorbed with his own thoughts to give any immediate answer to my remonstrance. He leaned upon his hand, with his untasted breakfast before him, and he stared at the slip of paper which he had just drawn from its envelope. Then he took the envelope itself, held it up to the light, and very carefully studied both the exterior and the flap.

"It is Porlock's writing," said he thoughtfully. "I can hardly doubt that it is Porlock's writing, though I have seen it only twice before. The Greek e with the peculiar top flourish is distinctive. But if it is Porlock, then it must be something of the very first importance."

He was speaking to himself rather than to me; but my vexation disappeared in the interest which the words awakened.

"Who then is Porlock?" I asked.

"Porlock, Watson, is a nom-de-plume, a mere identification mark; but behind it lies a shifty and evasive personality. In a former letter he frankly informed me that the name was not his own, and defied me ever to trace him among the teeming millions of this great city. Porlock is important, not for himself, but for the great man with whom he is in touch. Picture to yourself the pilot fish with the shark, the jackal with the lion--anything that is insignificant in companionship with what is formidable: not only formidable, Watson, but sinister--in the highest degree sinister. That is where he comes within my purview. You have heard me speak of Professor Moriarty?"

"The famous scientific criminal, as famous among crooks as--"

"My blushes, Watson!" Holmes murmured in a deprecating voice.

"I was about to say, as he is unknown to the public."

"A touch! A distinct touch!" cried Holmes. "You are developing a certain unexpected vein of pawky humour, Watson, against which I must learn to guard myself. But in calling Moriarty a criminal you are uttering libel in the eyes of the law--and there lie the glory and the wonder of it! The greatest schemer of all time, the organizer of every deviltry, the controlling brain of the underworld, a brain which might have made or marred the destiny of nations--that's the man! But so aloof is he from general suspicion, so immune from criticism, so admirable in his management and self-effacement, that for those very words that you have uttered he could hale you to a court and emerge with your year's pension as a solatium for his wounded character. Is he not the celebrated author of The Dynamics of an Asteroid, a book which ascends to such rarefied heights of pure mathematics that it is said that there was no man in the scientific press capable of criticizing it? Is this a man to traduce? Foul-mouthed doctor and slandered professor--such would be your respective roles! That's genius, Watson. But if I am spared by lesser men, our day will surely come."

"May I be there to see!" I exclaimed devoutly. "But you were speaking of this man Porlock."

"Ah, yes--the so-called Porlock is a link in the chain some little way from its great attachment. Porlock is not quite a sound link--between ourselves. He is the only flaw in that chain so far as I have been able to test it."

"But no chain is stronger than its weakest link."

"Exactly, my dear Watson! Hence the extreme importance of Porlock. Led on by some rudimentary aspirations towards right, and encouraged by the judicious stimulation of an occasional ten-pound note sent to him by devious methods, he has once or twice given me advance information which has been of value--that highest value which anticipates and prevents rather than avenges crime. I cannot doubt that, if we had the cipher, we should find that this communication is of the nature that I indicate."

Again Holmes flattened out the paper upon his unused plate. I rose and, leaning over him, stared down at the curious inscription, which ran as follows:

534 C2 13 127 36 31 4 17 21 41 DOUGLAS 109 293 5 37 BIRLSTONE 26 BIRLSTONE 9 47 171

"What do you make of it, Holmes?"

"It is obviously an attempt to convey secret information."

"But what is the use of a cipher message without the cipher?"

"In this instance, none at all."

"Why do you say 'in this instance'?"

"Because there are many ciphers which I would read as easily as I do the apocrypha of the agony column: such crude devices amuse the intelligence without fatiguing it. But this is different. It is clearly a reference to the words in a page of some book. Until I am told which page and which book I am powerless."

"But why 'Douglas' and 'Birlstone'?"

"Clearly because those are words which were not contained in the page in question."

"Then why has he not indicated the book?"

"Your native shrewdness, my dear Watson, that innate cunning which is the delight of your friends, would surely prevent you from inclosing cipher and message in the same envelope. Should it miscarry, you are undone. As it is, both have to go wrong before any harm comes from it. Our second post is now overdue, and I shall be surprised if it does not bring us either a further letter of explanation, or, as is more probable, the very volume to which these figures refer."

Holmes's calculation was fulfilled within a very few minutes by the appearance of Billy, the page, with the very letter which we were expecting.

"The same writing," remarked Holmes, as he opened the envelope, "and actually signed," he added in an exultant voice as he unfolded the epistle. "Come, we are getting on, Watson." His brow clouded, however, as he glanced over the contents.

"Dear me, this is very disappointing! I fear, Watson, that all our expectations come to nothing. I trust that the man Porlock will come to no harm.

"DEAR MR. HOLMES (he says):

"I will go no further in this matter. It is too dangerous--he suspects me. I can see that he suspects me. He came to me quite unexpectedly after I had actually addressed this envelope with the intention of sending you the key to the cipher. I was able to cover it up. If he had seen it, it would have gone hard with me. But I read suspicion in his eyes. Please burn the cipher message, which can now be of no use to you.

FRED PORLOCK."

Holmes sat for some little time twisting this letter between his fingers, and frowning, as he stared into the fire.

"After all," he said at last, "there may be nothing in it. It may be only his guilty conscience. Knowing himself to be a traitor, he may have read the accusation in the other's eyes."

"The other being, I presume, Professor Moriarty."

"No less! When any of that party talk about 'He' you know whom they mean. There is one predominant 'He' for all of them."

"But what can he do?"

"Hum! That's a large question. When you have one of the first brains of Europe up against you, and all the powers of darkness at his back, there are infinite possibilities. Anyhow, Friend Porlock is evidently scared out of his senses--kindly compare the writing in the note to that upon its envelope; which was done, he tells us, before this ill-omened visit. The one is clear and firm. The other hardly legible."

"Why did he write at all? Why did he not simply drop it?"

"Because he feared I would make some inquiry after him in that case, and possibly bring trouble on him."

"No doubt," said I. "Of course." I had picked up the original cipher message and was bending my brows over it. "It's pretty maddening to think that an important secret may lie here on this slip of paper, and that it is beyond human power to penetrate it."

Sherlock Holmes had pushed away his untasted breakfast and lit the unsavoury pipe which was the companion of his deepest meditations. "I wonder!" said he, leaning back and staring at the ceiling. "Perhaps there are points which have escaped your Machiavellian intellect. Let us consider the problem in the light of pure reason. This man's reference is to a book. That is our point of departure."

"A somewhat vague one."

"Let us see then if we can narrow it down. As I focus my mind upon it, it seems rather less impenetrable. What indications have we as to this book?"

"None."

"Well, well, it is surely not quite so bad as that. The cipher message begins with a large 534, does it not? We may take it as a working hypothesis that 534 is the particular page to which the cipher refers. So our book has already become a LARGE book, which is surely something gained. What other indications have we as to the nature of this large book? The next sign is C2. What do you make of that, Watson?"

"Chapter the second, no doubt."

"Hardly that, Watson. You will, I am sure, agree with me that if the page be given, the number of the chapter is immaterial. Also that if page 534 finds us only in the second chapter, the length of the first one must have been really intolerable."

"Column!" I cried.

"Brilliant, Watson. You are scintillating this morning. If it is not column, then I am very much deceived. So now, you see, we begin to visualize a large book printed in double columns which are each of a considerable length, since one of the words is numbered in the document as the two hundred and ninety-third. Have we reached the limits of what reason can supply?"

"I fear that we have."

"Surely you do yourself an injustice. One more coruscation, my dear Watson--yet another brain-wave! Had the volume been an unusual one, he would have sent it to me. Instead of that, he had intended, before his plans were nipped, to send me the clue in this envelope. He says so in his note. This would seem to indicate that the book is one which he thought I would have no difficulty in finding for myself. He had it--and he imagined that I would have it, too. In short, Watson, it is a very common book."

"What you say certainly sounds plausible."

"So we have contracted our field of search to a large book, printed in double columns and in common use."

"The Bible!" I cried triumphantly.

"Good, Watson, good! But not, if I may say so, quite good enough! Even if I accepted the compliment for myself I could hardly name any volume which would be less likely to lie at the elbow of one of Moriarty's associates. Besides, the editions of Holy Writ are so numerous that he could hardly suppose that two copies would have the same pagination. This is clearly a book which is standardized. He knows for certain that his page 534 will exactly agree with my page 534."

"But very few books would correspond with that."

"Exactly. Therein lies our salvation. Our search is narrowed down to standardized books which anyone may be supposed to possess."

"Bradshaw!"

"There are difficulties, Watson. The vocabulary of Bradshaw is nervous and terse, but limited. The selection of words would hardly lend itself to the sending of general messages. We will eliminate Bradshaw. The dictionary is, I fear, inadmissible for the same reason. What then is left?"

"An almanac!"

"Excellent, Watson! I am very much mistaken if you have not touched the spot. An almanac! Let us consider the claims of Whitaker's Almanac. It is in common use. It has the requisite number of pages. It is in double column. Though reserved in its earlier vocabulary, it becomes, if I remember right, quite garrulous towards the end." He picked the volume from his desk. "Here is page 534, column two, a substantial block of print dealing, I perceive, with the trade and resources of British India. Jot down the words, Watson! Number thirteen is 'Mahratta.' Not, I fear, a very auspicious beginning. Number one hundred and twenty-seven is 'Government'; which at least makes sense, though somewhat irrelevant to ourselves and Professor Moriarty. Now let us try again. What does the Mahratta government do? Alas! the next word is 'pig's-bristles.' We are undone, my good Watson! It is finished!"

He had spoken in jesting vein, but the twitching of his bushy eyebrows bespoke his disappointment and irritation. I sat helpless and unhappy, staring into the fire. A long silence was broken by a sudden exclamation from Holmes, who dashed at a cupboard, from which he emerged with a second yellow-covered volume in his hand.

"We pay the price, Watson, for being too up-to-date!" he cried. "We are before our time, and suffer the usual penalties. Being the seventh of January, we have very properly laid in the new almanac. It is more than likely that Porlock took his message from the old one. No doubt he would have told us so had his letter of explanation been written. Now let us see what page 534 has in store for us. Number thirteen is 'There,' which is much more promising. Number one hundred and twenty-seven is 'is'--'There is' "--Holmes's eyes were gleaming with excitement, and his thin, nervous fingers twitched as he counted the words-- "'danger.' Ha! Ha! Capital! Put that down, Watson. 'There is danger--may--come--very--soon--one.' Then we have the name 'Douglas'--'rich--country--now--at--Birlstone--House--Birlstone-- confidence--is--pressing.' There, Watson! What do you think of pure reason and its fruit? If the green-grocer had such a thing as a laurel wreath, I should send Billy round for it."

I was staring at the strange message which I had scrawled, as he deciphered it, upon a sheet of foolscap on my knee.

"What a queer, scrambling way of expressing his meaning!" said I.

"On the contrary, he has done quite remarkably well," said Holmes. "When you search a single column for words with which to express your meaning, you can hardly expect to get everything you want. You are bound to leave something to the intelligence of your correspondent. The purport is perfectly clear. Some deviltry is intended against one Douglas, whoever he may be, residing as stated, a rich country gentleman. He is sure--'confidence' was as near as he could get to 'confident'--that it is pressing. There is our result--and a very workmanlike little bit of analysis it was!"

Holmes had the impersonal joy of the true artist in his better work, even as he mourned darkly when it fell below the high level to which he aspired. He was still chuckling over his success when Billy swung open the door and Inspector MacDonald of Scotland Yard was ushered into the room.

Those were the early days at the end of the '80's, when Alec MacDonald was far from having attained the national fame which he has now achieved. He was a young but trusted member of the detective force, who had distinguished himself in several cases which had been intrusted to him. His tall, bony figure gave promise of exceptional physical strength, while his great cranium and deep-set, lustrous eyes spoke no less clearly of the keen intelligence which twinkled out from behind his bushy eyebrows. He was a silent, precise man with a dour nature and a hard Aberdonian accent.

Twice already in his career had Holmes helped him to attain success, his own sole reward being the intellectual joy of the problem. For this reason the affection and respect of the Scotchman for his amateur colleague were profound, and he showed them by the frankness with which he consulted Holmes in every difficulty. Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognizes genius, and MacDonald had talent enough for his profession to enable him to perceive that there was no humiliation in seeking the assistance of one who already stood alone in Europe, both in his gifts and in his experience. Holmes was not prone to friendship, but he was tolerant of the big Scotchman, and smiled at the sight of him.

"You are an early bird, Mr. Mac," said he. "I wish you luck with your worm. I fear this means that there is some mischief afoot."

"If you said 'hope' instead of 'fear,' it would be nearer the truth, I'm thinking, Mr. Holmes," the inspector answered, with a knowing grin. "Well, maybe a wee nip would keep out the raw morning chill. No, I won't smoke, I thank you. I'll have to be pushing on my way; for the early hours of a case are the precious ones, as no man knows better than your own self. But--but--"

The inspector had stopped suddenly, and was staring with a look of absolute amazement at a paper upon the table. It was the sheet upon which I had scrawled the enigmatic message.

"Douglas!" he stammered. "Birlstone! What's this, Mr. Holmes? Man, it's witchcraft! Where in the name of all that is wonderful did you get those names?"

"It is a cipher that Dr. Watson and I have had occasion to solve. But why--what's amiss with the names?"

The inspector looked from one to the other of us in dazed astonishment. "Just this," said he, "that Mr. Douglas of Birlstone Manor House was horribly murdered last night!"

 

 

一 警告

“我倒以为……"我说。

“我应当这样做,"福尔摩斯急躁地说。

我自信是一个极有耐性的人;可是,我得承认,他这样嘲笑地打断我的话,的确使我有点不快。因此我严肃地说:“福尔摩斯,说真的,你有时真叫人有点难堪啊。”

他全神贯注地沉思,没有即刻回答我的抗议。他一只手支着头,面前放着一口未尝的早餐,两眼凝视着刚从信封中抽出来的那张纸条,然后拿起信封 ,举到灯前,非常仔细地研究它的外观和封口。

“这是波尔洛克的笔迹,"他若有所思地说,“尽管我以前只见过两次波尔洛克的笔迹,我也毫不怀疑这小条就是他写的。希腊字母ε上端写成花体,这就是它的特色。不过,这要真是波尔洛克写的,那它就一定有极为重要的事了。”

他是在自言自语,而不是对我说的,可是这番话却引起了我的兴趣,使我的不快为之烟消云散。

“那么,波尔洛克是什么人呢?”

“华生,波尔洛克是个假名,它不过是一个人的身分符号而已;可是在它背后却是一个诡计多端、难以捉摸的人物。在前一封信里,他直言不讳地告诉我,这不是他的名字,并且公然向我指出,要想在这大都会的茫茫人海中去追踪他是徒劳无益的。波尔洛克之所以重要,并不在于他本身,而在于他所结交的那个大人物。你想想看,一条鲭鱼和一条鲨鱼,一只豺狼和一头狮子——总之,一个本身虽不是了不起的东西一旦和一个凶恶的怪物携起手来,那会怎么样呢?那怪物不仅凶恶,而且阴险至极。华生,据我看来,他就是这样一个怪物,你听说过有个莫里亚蒂教授吗?”

“那个著名的手段高超的罪犯,在贼党中的名声犹如……”

“别说外行话,华生,"福尔摩斯不赞成地嘟囔着。

“我是想说,犹如在公众中一样默默无闻。”

“妙!你真有过人的机灵!"福尔摩斯大声说道,“真没想到你说起话来也富有狡黠的幽默腔调呢。华生,这我可要小心提防着点呢。可是把莫里亚蒂叫做罪犯,从法律上讲,你却是公然诽谤——这正是奥妙之所在!他是古往今来最大的阴谋家,是一切恶行的总策划人,是黑社会的首脑,一个足以左右民族命运的智囊!他就是这样一个人。可是一般人对他却毫无怀疑,他从未受到任何指摘,他的善于处世为人和厌恶自我表现的风度又是那么令人钦佩。因此,就凭你说的这几句话,他就可以把你拖上法庭,罚你一年的年金去抵偿他的名誉损失。他不就是《小行星力学》这部书的驰名作者么?这部书上升到纯数学罕有的高度,据说科学界没有人能对它提出什么批评。这样的人,是可以中伤的么?信口雌黄的医生和受人诽谤的教授——这就是你们两人将分别得到的头衔!那可真是个天才呢,华生,可是,只要那些小爪牙弄不死我,我们就总有一天会得胜的。”

“但愿能看到这一天!"我热诚地欢呼道,“可是你刚才提到波尔洛克……”

“噢,不错,这个所谓的波尔洛克是整个链条中的一环,离它连接着的那个庞然大物并不远。波尔洛克不是十分坚固的一环——这只是咱俩之间这样说罢了。就我所能测到的来说,他是这个链条中唯一的薄弱环节。”

“可是一环薄弱,全局也不能坚固啊!”

“一点不错!我亲爱的华生。因此,波尔洛克就非常重要了。他还有点起码的正义感,我又偶尔暗地里送给他一张十镑的钞票,在这一点适当的鼓励下,他已经有一两次事先给我送来了有价值的消息,其所以很有价值,因为它能使我预见并防止某一罪行,而不是让我事后去惩办罪犯。我毫不怀疑,如果手头有密码,我们就能发现这正是我上面说过的那种信。”

福尔摩斯又把那张纸平铺在空盘子上,我站了起来,在他身后低头注视着那些稀奇古怪的文字,文字排列如下:

534 C2 13 127 36 31 4 17 21 41

DOUGLAS 109 293 5 37 BIRLSTONE

26 BIRLSTONE 9 47 171

“福尔摩斯,你从这些字能得出什么结论呢?”

“很明显,这是想用来传达秘密消息的。”

“可是没有密码本,密码信又有什么用呢?”

“在这种情况下,是完全没有用的。”

“为什么你说'在这种情况下'呢?”

“因为有许多密码,在我读起来,就象读报纸通告栏里的山海经一样容易。那些简单的东西对人的智力来讲,只能使人感到有趣,而不感到厌倦。可是这次就不同了,它显然指的是某本书中某页上的某些词。只要不告诉我是在哪本书的哪一页上,那我就无能为力了。”

“那为什么又要道格拉斯(DOUGLAS)和伯尔斯通(BIRLSTONE)两个字呢?”

“显然是因为这本书上没有那两个字。”

“那他为什么不指出是哪本书呢?”

“亲爱的华生,你有天赋的机智、生来的狡黠,使你的朋友们都感到高兴;就凭这点机智,你也不至于把密码信和密码本放在同一信封里。因为信件一旦投递错了,那你就败露了。象现在这样,只有两封信都出了差错,才能出乱子。我们的第二封信现在已经该到了,如果未来的那封信里不给我们送来解释的文字,或者更可能的是,查阅这些符号的原书,那才使我奇怪呢。”

果然不出福尔摩斯所料,过了几分钟,小仆人毕利进来了,送来了我们所期待的那封信。

“笔迹相同,"福尔摩斯打开信封时说,"并且竟然签了名,"当他展开信笺的时候,兴高采烈地接着说,“喂,华生,咱们有进展了。"可是他看完信的内容以后,双眉又紧锁起来。

"哎呀,这可太使人失望啦!华生,恐怕我们的期待都要变成泡影了。但愿波尔洛克这个人不会遭到不幸。

'亲爱的福尔摩斯先生:

这件事我不愿再干下去了。这太危险了,他怀疑我了。我看得出来他怀疑我了。当我写完通信地址,打算把密码索引送给你时,他完全意想不到地来了。幸亏我把它盖住了。要是他看到了的话,那对我就非常不利了。可是我从他目光里看出不信任的神色来,请你把上次寄去的密码信烧了吧,那封信现在对你没有用处了。

弗莱德·波尔洛克'”

福尔摩斯用手指搓弄着这封信,坐了一会儿,皱着眉头,凝视着壁炉。

“也许这并没有什么。也许只不过是他作贼心虚罢了。他自觉是贼党中的叛逆者,所以可能从那个人的眼光里看出了谴责的神色。"福尔摩斯终于说道。

“那个人,我想就是莫里亚蒂教授吧。”

“一点不差!他们那一伙人,不管谁只要一提到'他',都知道指的是谁。他们全体只有一个发号施令的'他'。”

“可是他又能怎么样呢?”

“哼!这倒是个大问题。当有一个欧洲第一流的智囊在与你作对,而他背后还有黑社会的一切势力,那就什么都可能发生了。不管怎么说,咱们的朋友波尔洛克显然是吓胡涂了——请你把信纸上的笔迹和信封上的比较一下看。这说明,信封上的字是那个人突然来访前写的,所以清楚而有力,可是信纸上的字就潦草得几乎看不清楚了。”

“那他何必写这封信呢?索性放下不管就算了。”

“因为他怕那样一来,我就会去追问他,给他找麻烦。”

“不错,"我说,“当然了,"我拿平原来用密码写的那封信,皱着眉头仔细看着,“明知这张纸上有重大秘密,可是又毫无办法去破译它,简直把人急疯了。”

歇洛克·福尔摩斯推开他一口没尝过的早餐,点着了索然乏味的烟斗,这是他默然沉思时的伴侣。"我很奇怪!"他把身子仰靠在椅背上,凝视着天花板,说道,“也许你那马基雅维里的才智,漏过了一些东西。让我们靠单纯推理来考虑一下①这个问题吧。这个人编写密码信的蓝本是一本书。咱们就从这点出发吧。”

“相当没把握的出发点啊。”

“那末让咱们看看能不能把范围缩小一点吧。当我把思想集中到它上面的时候,这件事就似乎不是那么莫测高深了。关于这本书,我们有什么可供查清的迹象没有呢?”

“一点也没有。”

“嗯,嗯,未必完全糟到这个地步。这封密码信,开始是一个大534,不是吗?我们可以假设,534是密码出处的页数。那么我们这本书就是一本很厚的书了。这样我们就多少有所进展了。关于这本厚书的种类,我们有些什么别的可以查明的迹象没有呢?第二个符号是C2,你看它是什么意思呢?华生。”①马基雅维里系意大利政治家兼历史学家。——译者注

“当然是说第二章了。"①

“不见得是这样,华生。我相信你会同意我的理由的:既然已经指出了页码,那章数就无关紧要了。再说,假如534页还在第二章,那第一章就一定长得令人吃不消了。”

“代表第几栏!”我喊道。②

①②英文的章为Chapter,栏为Column,均以字母"C"开头。——译者注

“高明,华生。今天早晨,你真是才华横溢呀。如果它不是第几栏,那我可就真是误入歧途了。所以现在你看,我们设想有一本很厚的书,每页分两栏排印,每一栏又相当长,因为在这信中,有一个词的标数是二百九十三。现在我们的推理是否到顶了呢?”

“恐怕是到顶了。”

“你太小看自己了,我亲爱的华生。让你的智慧再放一次光芒吧。再动一动脑筋看!如果这本书是一本不常见的书,他一定早已寄给我了。在他的计划遭到挫败以前,他没有把书寄给我,只是打算通过信件把线索告诉我。他在信中是这样说的。这就足以表明,这本书一定是他认为我自己不难找到的。他有这样一本,所以料想我也会有。总之,华生,这是一本很普通的书。”

“你的话听起来确实合情合理。”

“所以我们已经把探讨的范围缩小到一本厚书上了。书分两栏排印,并且是一本常用的书。”

“圣经!"我得意洋洋地大声说道。

“好,华生,好!可是,如果你不见怪的话,还不够十分好。即使我接受对我的赞扬,我也不会列举出一个莫里亚蒂党徒手边不大会有的书来。此外,《圣经》的版本那么多,很难设想两个版本页码都相同。这本书显然是版本统一的书。他知道他书上的534页肯定和我书上的534页完全相同。”

“一点也不错,我们的出路恰恰就在这里。我们的查找范围又缩小到版本统一而又人人都会有的一本书了。”

“肖伯纳的著作!”

“华生,这还是有问题的。肖伯纳的文字洗炼而简洁,但词汇量有限。其词汇很难选择用来传递普通消息。我们还是把肖伯纳的著作排除吧。由于同样的理由,我看字典也不适合。那么还有什么书籍呢?”

“年鉴!”

“太好了,华生!如果你没有猜中要害,那我就大错特错了!一本年鉴!让我们来仔细考虑一下惠特克年鉴的条件吧。这是本常有的书。它有我们需要的那么多页数,分两栏排印,虽然开始词汇很简练,如果我没记错,它快到结尾时就很罗嗦了。"福尔摩斯从写字台上拿起这本书来,“这是第534页,第二栏,我看这是很长的一栏,是讨论英属印度的贸易和资源问题的。华生,请你把这些字记下来!第十三个字是'马拉塔',我担心这不是一个吉利的开始,第一百二十七个字是'政府',虽然这个字对我们和莫里亚蒂教授都有点离题,但至少还有点意义。现在我们再试试看。马拉塔政府做了些什么呢?哎呀,下一个字是'猪鬃'。我的好华生,咱们失败了!这下子算完了!”

他说话时虽然用的是开玩笑的语气,可是颤动的浓眉却反映出了内心的失望和恼怒。我也无可奈何闷闷不乐地坐在那里,凝视着炉火。忽然间,福尔摩斯的一声欢呼打破了长时间的沉默。他奔向书橱,从里面拿出第二本黄色封面的书来。

“华生,我们吃了太时新的亏了!"他大声说道,“咱们追求时髦,所以受到了应得的惩罚。今天是一月七号,我们非常及时地买了这本新年鉴。看来很可能波尔洛克是根据一本旧年鉴凑成他那封信的。毫无疑问,如果他把那封说明信写完的话,他一定会告诉我们这一点的。现在我们看看第534页都讲了些什么。第十三个字是‘There’,这就有希望得多了。第一百二十七个字里'is'——'There is'(两个字连起来,是'有'的意思——译者),"福尔摩斯兴奋得两眼发光,在他数一个个字的时候,他那细长而激动的手指不住地颤抖着,“‘danger’('危险'——译者),哈!哈!好极了!华生,把它记下来。

‘There is danger—may—come—very—soon—one’('有危险即将降临到某人身上'——译者),接下去是‘Douglas’('道格拉斯'——译者)这个人名,再下面是'rich—country—now—at—Birl-stone House—Birlstone——confidence——is——pressin-g'。('确信有危险即将降临到一个富绅道格拉斯身上,此人现住在伯尔斯通村伯尔斯通庄园,火急'——译者)。你看,华生!你觉得纯推理和它的成果如何?如果鲜货店有桂冠这种商品出售,我一定要叫毕利去买一顶来。”

福尔摩斯一面破译那密码,我一面在膝上把它草草记在一张大页书写纸上。我不禁全神贯注地凝视着这些奇怪的词句。

“他表达意思的方法是多么古怪而勉强啊。"我说道。

“恰恰相反,他干得简直太妙了,"福尔摩斯说道,“当你只在一栏文字里找那些用来表达你的意思的字眼时,你很难指望能找到你所需要的每个词。因此你也只好留下一些东西,让你的收信人靠他的智慧去理解了。这封信的意思,十分清楚。有些恶魔正在和一个叫道格拉斯的人作对,不管这个人是谁,信上说明他是一个富乡绅。他确信——他找不到‘Confident’('确信'——译者)这个字,只能找到与它相近的字‘Confi dence’('信任'——译者)来代替——事情已经万分紧急了。这就是我们的成果——而且是一点非常象样的分析工作呢!”

福尔摩斯好象一个真正的艺术家那样,即使在他没有达到自己孜孜以求的高标准而暗自失望的时候,对于自己比较好的工作成果还是会产生一种不带个人品见的欣喜的。当毕利推开门,把苏格兰场的警官麦克唐纳引进屋来时,福尔摩斯还在为自己的成绩而轻声发笑呢。

那还是早在十八世纪八十年代末的时候,亚历克·麦克唐纳还没有象现在这样名噪全国。他那时还是个青年,可是,由于他经手的案子都办得很出色,因而在侦探界已经成为深受信赖的一员了。他身材高大,体形健壮,使人一看就知道具有过人的体力;他那巨大的头盖骨和一双深陷而炯炯有神的眼睛,更清楚地说明他有敏锐的智力,这种机智就从他那两道浓眉下闪烁出来。他是一个沉默寡言、一丝不苟的人,性格倔强,带有很重的阿伯丁港的口音。

福尔摩斯已经帮他办了两起案子,均告成功。而福尔摩斯自己所得到的唯一酬劳,就是享受用智力去解决疑难的快乐。因此,这个苏格兰人对他的业余同行非常热爱和尊敬,这表现在,每逢他有什么困难,就老老实实地来向福尔摩斯求教。一个平庸的人看不到比自己高明的东西,但是一个有才能的人却能立即认出别人的天才来。麦克唐纳很有才干,他深知向福尔摩斯求援并不有辱身分,因为福尔摩斯无论在才能上和经验上,都已经是欧洲独一无二的侦探了。福尔摩斯不善交游,可是他对这个高大的苏格兰人却并不讨厌,每见麦克唐纳,他总是面带微笑。

“你真来得早,麦克先生,"福尔摩斯说,“祝你顺利,我担心又有什么案件发生了吧?”

“福尔摩斯先生,我想,如果你不说'担心',而是说'希望',倒还更近情理些。"这个警官会心地微笑着回答,“好,一小口酒就可以驱走清早阴冷的寒气。谢谢你,我不抽烟。我不得不赶路,因为一件案子发生后,最初的时刻是最珍贵的,这一点你是最清楚不过了,不过……不过……”

警官突然停下来,非常惊异地凝视着桌上的一页纸。这是我草草记下密码信的那张纸。

“道格拉斯!"他结结巴巴地说,“伯尔斯通!这是怎么回事?福尔摩斯先生。哎呀,这简直是在变魔术了!你到底从哪儿搞到这两个名字的?”

“这是华生医生和我两个人偶然从一封密码信中破译出来的。可是怎么,这两个名字出什么岔子了吗?”

警官茫然不解、目瞪口呆地看看我,看看福尔摩斯。“正是这样,"他说,“伯尔斯通庄园的道格拉斯先生今天早晨被人惨杀了!”

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“可是符合这种条件的书却很少呢。”