A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet Summary and Analysis of Part I, Chapter III: The Lauriston Gardens Mystery


Watson was shocked by Holmes’ deductive powers; his respect for the man grew immensely. Upon request, Holmes explained to Watson how he had ascertained the man at the door was a retired Marine sergeant. He then turned his attention to the letter and excitedly announced that he was wrong about the dearth of crime in London. He gave the letter to Watson to read aloud; it seemed that a man was found dead in an empty house in Lauriston Gardens. A lawman saw a light on in the house, went to investigate, and discovered a man lying upon the floor with marks of blood in the room but no bodily wounds. Nothing had been stolen. The man had cards in his pockets with the name Enoch Drebber from Cleveland, Ohio. The detective from Scotland Yard who wrote the letter was named Tobias Gregson.

Holmes more or less liked Gregson and another detective, Lestrade, because the two men, although rivals, were the "pick of a bad lot." Holmes was not initially sure he should go to the house as Gregson requested because he was the "most incurably lazy devil," but after some slight prodding from Watson he decided to go observe the scene.

Watson accompanied Holmes to the scene of the crime. In the hansom Watson remarked that Holmes did not look as if he was giving the matter at hand any thought, and the latter responded with "no data yet...it is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence [as] it biases the judgment."

The two men arrived at Number 3, Lauriston Gardens. The house, as Watson observed, looked rather ill-omened with its vacant and blank windows, dying plants, dull gravel, and bounding fence. Holmes did not run into the house as Watson supposed he might, but instead spent time looking around the outside of the property, staring at messy and chaotic footprints in the mud and occasionally exclaiming in excitement.

Gregson met Watson and Holmes at the door to the house, telling Holmes that he left everything untouched. Holmes was slightly annoyed at this, retorting that it looked as if a herd of buffalos had passed through the mud outdoors. Gregson said that he and the other detectives had done everything they could at the scene but wanted Holmes to take a look. The men went inside the dark house and came to the room where the incident had occurred.

The room was empty of furniture, the yellowed wallpaper hung off the wall in strips, a stump of a burned-out red candle sat atop a fireplace mantle, and the dirty windows made the light that entered the room hazy. On the floor was a man stretched out; he was of medium build with dark curly hair and a short beard, wearing a coat and trousers and a top hat lay on the floor. On his face was an "expression of horror, and, as it seemed to [Watson], of hatred, such as [he had] never seen upon human features. This malignant and terrible contortion, combined with the low forehead, blunt nose, and prognathous jaw, gave the dead man a singularly simious and ape-like appearance..." Watson had never seen a death like this.

The splashes of blood in the room were from another person, presumably the murderer, as Holmes deduced. He looked all over the body and eventually concluded that nothing more could be learned from it. As the body was raised a woman's wedding ring fell off of it onto the floor. Holmes asked about the man's possessions, which included two letters- one addressed to the deceased and the other to a Joseph Stangerson at the American Exchange in the Strand. Both were to return to New York by the Guion Steamship Company. Gregson had looked into Stangerson and placed an advertisement in the newspaper in Cleveland asking for information.

Lestrade, who had left the room during this exchange, returned excitedly and claimed to have made a very significant discovery in room. The party moved to a corner where the wallpaper was peeling from the wall. In blood-red letters the word RACHE was spelled on the plaster. Lestrade was proud of his discovery, and concluded that the word was RACHEL and the writer/murderer did not have time to finish it. He smugly averred "It's all very well for you to laugh, Mr. Sherlock Holmes. You may be very smart and clever, but the old hound is the best, when all is said and done."

Holmes was unperturbed by the man's rudeness but set about examining the room in detail. Watson watched him in awe as he dashed about with his tape measure and gave frequent exclamations of delight and comprehension. Lestrade and Gregson also watched Holmes with a mixture of curiosity and contempt. When he finished, he noted that if he were to help it would rob them of the credit of the case, but he would like to talk to the constable who found the body. He would look up this man -John Rance -the following day.

As Holmes prepared to leave, he offered a portrait of the murderer: tall, middle-aged, small-footed, smoked cigars, came with the victim in a cab, had a florid face, and long fingernails on his right hand. The incredulous detectives asked how Drebber was murdered, and Holmes succinctly answered that it was poison. On his way out he tossed over his shoulder, "'Rache' is the German word for revenge; so don't waste your time by looking for Miss Rachel."


The reader has the opportunity to observe Holmes fully in his element as he perambulates the crime scene, putting his formidable brain to work on the perplexing death of Enoch Drebber. The information might seem somewhat scanty to Watson and the Scotland Yard detectives, but Holmes, through a close look at the outside yard of the house, the footprints in the mud, and the body itself, is able to put together a portrait of the man who committed the murder. He is able to conclude that the word RACHE is the German word for revenge and not the first letters of a woman's name and deduces that the man was poisoned.

Poison is a key element in many of Doyle's tales; its presence is not only an interesting literary explanation for a character's death but also an indicator of the historical context in which the Holmes works were written. Literary scholar Susan Cannon Harris' influential essay on the "pathological possibilities" present in the Holmes stories seeks to "examine Doyle's use of the metaphor of contagion through his deployment of the complex nineteenth-century construct of 'poison,' hoping to show how and why this new 'science of deduction' was able to do what ordinary medical science could not," as well as how poison was identified with Britain's imperial holdings and why Holmes’ role as a specialist allowed him to allay fears about Britain's increasingly close contact with people on the periphery of the Empire.

There are five cases of homicidal poisoning out of the sixty Sherlock Holmes stories. Since criminal poisoning was a known crime in the tropics, the anxiety spread back into the Empire, and these cases of homicidal poisoning did suggest that London had somehow allowed the vice from the tropics to seep back into the metropolis itself. The medical discourse at the time, Harris explains, "identifies criminal poisoning with colonial subjects." In one Holmes story, the detective is able to deduce certain elements of the murderer's identity from the type of poison used. Holmes can also dismiss certain clues on the basis of the strong identification of exotic poison and exotic people.

What made poison so terrifying to Britons in the 19th century was that it "affected not simply the odd victim of a particularly clever murderer, but the constitution of the body politic itself, and it is because Doyle's poisoners incarnated these more nebulous and pervasive dangers in human and controllable forms that Holmes’ work on them was so useful." Harris also demonstrates that Holmes can assuage the fears of his readers by revealing that, in some of the stories, that the poison was in fact not from exotic sources.

Of course, A Study in Scarlet is a bit different, as Jefferson Hope uses a South American alkaloid but he and his victims are American. The poison comes from university laboratory, not the tropics. However, other scholars such as Lydia Alix Fillingham link the usage of Mormons –a religious group that is very "other" –to African/Asian polygamous practices. The Mormons may be a product of the Occident, but they are quite possibly meant to evoke the Orient. Their strange "otherness" makes them sinister and hateful enemies and has the remarkable effect of making the murderer seem sympathetic and righteous.