The Adventure of the Empty House

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The Adventure of the Empty House, one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 13 stories in the cycle collected as The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

Synopsis

This is the first Holmes story set after his supposed death at the Reichenbach Falls, as recounted in "The Final Problem".

The Hound of the Baskervilles had seen the return of a pre-Reichenbach Falls Sherlock Holmes which only served to whet readers' hunger.

The resurrection of Sherlock Holmes in "The Adventure of the Empty House" has led some scholars to compare it with the story of Easter, others to identify Holmes as a solar myth.

The story itself begins, typically enough, with a murder, the Park Lane Mystery, the seemingly motiveless killing of Mr. Ronald Adair, a man whose father is a high colonial official. The authorities, not to mention the man's family, are perplexed by the case as it seems that the Honourable Ronald Adair hadn't an enemy in the world. He was in his sitting room, with a window open, working on accounts of some kind, as indicated by the papers and money found by police. Ronald liked playing whist and regularly did so at several clubs, but never for great sums of money. It does, however, come out that he won as much as 420 in partnership with a Colonel Moran.

The motive does not appear to be robbery; nothing has been stolen.

It seems odd that Ronald's door was locked from the inside. The only other way out was the window, and there was a 20-foot (about 6.1m) drop below it onto a flower bed, which now shows no sign of being disturbed. How did the murderer get out?

Ronald was killed with a soft-nosed revolver bullet to the head. No-one in the neighbourhood heard a shot.

Watson visits the crime scene and sees a plainclothes detective there with police, and also runs into an elderly deformed book-collector, knocking several of his books to the ground. The encounter ends with the man snarling and going away, but that is not the last that Watson sees of him, for a short time later, the man comes to Watson's study. Once he manages to distract Watson's attention for a few seconds, he transforms himself into Sherlock Holmes, much to Watson's great astonishment when he turns back around.

The next part of the story involves Holmes's explanation of how he got out of the bind at Reichenbach Falls. Contrary to what Watson believed, Holmes won against Professor Moriarty, flinging him into the gorge with the help of baritsu, and then climbed up the cliff beside the path to make it appear as though he, too, had fallen to his death. This was a plan that Holmes had just conceived to defend against Moriarty's confederates. However, one at least knew that he was still alive and tried to kill him by dropping rocks down on the ledge where he had taken refuge. Hurriedly climbing back down the cliff — and falling the last short distance to the path — Holmes ran for his life.

He spent the next few years travelling to various parts of the world, but was finally brought back to London by news of this Adair murder.

During all this time, the only people who knew that Holmes was alive were Moriarty's henchmen and Holmes's brother Mycroft.

Holmes tells Watson that they are going to do some dangerous work that evening, and after a roundabout trip through the city, Holmes and Watson enter an empty house, and make their way to a front room overlooking — to Watson's great surprise — Baker Street. Holmes's room can be seen across the street, and more surprisingly still, Holmes can be seen silhouetted against the blind. It is, of course, a waxwork dummy.

Holmes is expecting an attempt on his life that very night, well aware as he is that Moriarty's men know that he is back in London. The police, unknown to Watson at this time, are nearby, having been told that they will be needed. As usual, Holmes has deduced everything correctly, but with one almost disastrous exception: he fails to realize that the would-be murderer might actually use the same empty house for his nefarious deed that he and Watson are now using as their vantage point. In he comes, with his specially designed airgun, utterly unaware that his intended victim is right in the same room, for it is quite dark.

Once the ruffian shoots his airgun, scoring a direct hit on Holmes's dummy across the street, Holmes and Watson are on him, and he is soon disarmed and restrained. Holmes summons the police by blowing a whistle. They are led by Inspector Lestrade, who arrests the gunman. It is none other than Colonel Moran, Ronald Adair's whist partner, and the same man who threw rocks down on the ledge at Holmes at Reichenbach Falls. Holmes does not wish the police to press charges of attempted murder in connection with what Moran has just done. Instead, he tells Lestrade to charge him with murder, for Moran is the man who murdered Ronald Adair. The airgun, it turns out, has been specially designed to shoot revolver bullets, and a quick check of the one that "killed" his dummy shows, as Holmes expected, that it is the same kind used to kill Adair.

Moran's motive in killing Adair is a matter of speculation even for Holmes. Nonetheless, his theory is that Adair had caught Moran cheating at cards, and threatened to expose his dishonourable behaviour. Moran, thug that he is, therefore got rid of the one man who could rob him of his livelihood, for he earned a living playing cards crookedly, and could ill afford to be barred from all his clubs.

Three years of travelling have not changed Holmes very much. For instance, he still does not hold Scotland Yard detectives in general, or Lestrade in particular, in very high esteem. Upon meeting Lestrade at the "takedown", Holmes offers him a backhanded compliment:

"Three undetected murders in one year won't do, Lestrade. But you handled the Molesey Mystery with less than your usual — that's to say, you handled it fairly well."

Trivia

  • Harry Paget Flashman witnesses the events of this story in the novel Flashman and the Tiger by George MacDonald Fraser.
  • The Tankerville Club which Colonel Moran is a member of is also mentioned in the short story "The Five Orange Pips" in which John Openshaw says that Holmes saved Major Pendergast from public scandal.

External links

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