Tea with Moriarty


The following short story, written by R. C. Allen, is an exploration of what would happen if Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty met each other for tea before facing off on the criminal stage. It explains a contradiction in the canon, which Allen imagines to be Watson’s deliberate choice not to terrify the public. The “rather bungling idiot” refers to Arthur Conan Doyle, who is canonically the literary agent who assists in the publication of Watson’s writing.

I don't suppose it should be a surprise to any of my readers to find that I was deliberately evasive, nay, contradictory on the subject of Professor Moriarty. In "The Final Problem," I state that Holmes only became aware of Moriarty's vast criminal mind in February 1891 and I pretend to be unaware of even the name of the genius. Later on I published The Valley of Fear, an adventure where not only am I quite familiar with Moriarty but I clearly show that Holmes was on the man's track as early as 1888, if not before.

This was but one of the many variances of information that appear throughout my writings. They are all, with the exception of one or two that were just printing mistakes (I point you towards my late first wife addressing me as James and Mrs. Hudson's quite strange replacement by a housekeeper of a different name in one of my earlier writings), not my own fault, but that of the rather bungling idiot who is my literary agent. He seems to enjoy meddling with the facts within my narratives, distorting dates, changing the color of Holmes' dressing gown, and after all is said and done, employing the clause in my contract that gives him complete rights to put his name upon all my stories.

This rather obvious contradiction, however, was of my own design, upon the recommendation of the Strand publishers. When I submitted them "The Final Problem" in its complete, unedited form they raised a most serious objection. The public's reaction to the fact that Moriarty had been living among them for all these years with no action being taken against him would be scandalous. The vultures that disguise themselves as journalists would bring ruin to the memory of the wisest man I had ever known. The small piece of knowledge that Holmes had not a scrap of evidence against Moriarty for all that time up until 1891 would be conveniently ignored. It was for this reason that I made a slight modification to the details of what I thought would be my last epitome to my dear friend, Sherlock Holmes.

Thank all the graces in the world, I was mistaken. A few years later, after the period known as the Great Hiatus, Holmes returned from his journeys to solve the murder of the Honorable Ronald Adair, and to place Colonel Sebastian Moran, the second most dangerous man in London, into the custody of the constabulary. A few years afterwards, I was once again allowed to continue to publish my experiences with this singular man, Sherlock Holmes. It was then that Holmes became on the level of some half-godly legend, a man whom no one could dare criticize. My little jottings skyrocketed in popularity and I felt confident that now the public could be told of the slight mistruth that I, out of necessity, placed before them.

I included this little explanation within the first chapter of The Valley of Fear. But my literary agent, that completely audacious devil, saw an opportunity to insight some more dispute between my readers. He left out completely my admittance of my white lie and inserted libels stating that the character Porlock was not only under a false name, but a most unscrupulous man who was only motivated by ten-pound notes. Nothing could be further from the truth, as I will soon relate.

However, I did insert one other slightly untruthful item into my novel. I stated that Holmes had never set eyes upon Moriarty, when in fact he had spoken with length with the man for two hours. I was privileged to hear most of this conversation, though I confess quite a bit of it went either to such heights of mathematics that I was completely lost or spoke of such things that I had not the adequate reference knowledge to understand them fully. I will now relate to you, hopefully one who has been awaiting the solution to the aforementioned problem, the circumstances that surrounded this little affair and its intricacies, along with a slight amount of its aftermath.

It was during a cold, sunless morning of early December of '87, when there was no warmth but for that emanating from the fireplace, when Holmes, in one of his moods sat smoking upon a pipe, deep in thought. He held a message he had received from a street urchin earlier this day in his hand and he rubbed it back and forth with his thumb and fore-finger while his gray eyes stared out the window that gave us a view of Baker Street, wrapped in a light fog. His breakfast lay untouched before him, as it had stayed for more than an hour. I did not disturb his thoughts, for I was accustomed to his bouts of moodiness and knew well not to interrupt them. However, this one seemed different, not as if he was engaging all his powers of thought upon some case, or an obscure cryptogram, but as if he straining to pierce the veil of deceptions that had been laid upon him. For I knew my friend, knew that for the past three months or so his thoughts were dwelling upon some great and dangerous secret, so dangerous that he could not share it with his fondest friend. I had pressed, but had been instantly rebuffed and had decided to let the matter be told when my friend wished.

The following conversation I placed, more or less, within the account of Holmes' supposed death, though it actually occurred during this time.

Holmes held his pipe in his hand and allowed the smoke to curl itself upward towards the ceiling, occasionally obscuring his features from me as he asked what might be the most fateful question he ever addressed to me.

"You have probably never heard of Professor Moriarty?" said he, his eyes closed and his voice showing he was clearly in the doldrums.


"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. I can not sit quiet in my chair, knowing that such a man as Professor Moriarty walks 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 rumors 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 months 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 months I have endeavored to break through the veil which shrouded it, and at last the time came when I 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 center 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 detence. But the central power that uses the agent is never caught—never so much as suspected. That central power sits within its study, addresses letters to dozens, gives orders to many more and manages a vast criminal underworld and reaps the profits from it. That study is the very center of the web, the place from which all strings originate. That study holds the greatest challenge to all that is innocent, the greatest threat to justice and someday, it may hold the greatest threat to the entire world. It is within that study, that devil's den, that sorcerer's tower, a place of the most greatest evil, that we are invited to have tea at three o'clock this afternoon," Holmes smiled grimly and tossed me the message he had been contemplating all morning.

Dear Mr. Holmes:As an admirer of your exploits and as a fellow intellectual of the highest nature, I request your presence and that of your associate at tea this afternoon in my study to discuss the matters that lie between us. I believe you are aware of the address,

James Moriarty

"He certainly appears to have a rather large opinion of himself. 'a fellow intellectual of the highest nature' he writes. What an ego!" I was determined to undermine a man who could strike fear into the heart of my dearest friend.

"He certainly deserves to place himself on my level, even though he does have a rather large egotistical nature," Holmes said languidly as he picked up a cup of tea that had stood untouched beside his breakfast. He drank it all without noticing that it was winter cold from its hour long wait to reach the his lips. He then proceeded to eat his breakfast, not noticing or not caring that it was far from warm and infused with tobacco smoke. His eyes narrowed into slits as he looked out upon London and I imagined that he was preparing himself for his encounter with the most dangerous man he had ever encountered.

The day passed rapidly, with Holmes not moving from his chair except to consult his M file once and then tossing it onto the floor with a sigh. At precisely fifteen minutes to our appointment, he grabbed his violin from where it leaned against his chair and played upon it a short series of slow, mournful notes that resembled a funeral dirge. He then rose from his chair and grabbed the attire necessary for the weather and placed his own pistol inside his breast pocket with a meaningful look at my own service revolver. I took his wordless cue and stowed my Webley where I could reach it easily in case of an emergency. Thus armed, we made our way by hansom to Professor Moriarty's study and, unbeknownst to myself, to make mortal enemies of two of the most dangerous men in London, and to find the man that was, indirectly, to be the cause of their undoing.

We arrived at the doorway to the building in which resided the lodgings of Professor Moriarty. Holmes looked amusedly at the sign above the door that gave the street number. It was a large irony that in polished, bronze letters was the numeral 221, corresponding with the address of our own home.

A rather young fellow guided Holmes to the study. Tall, almost as tall as Holmes himself, with a mat of uncombed yet shining black hair on top a face with no complexion at all, leaving his visage a chalky white. Dark eyebrows stood above eyes that did not dart, did not appear to see anything except for that which was straight ahead, but still seemed to take everything in and add the sights to memory. He was dressed all in black except for a white, perfectly straight shirt and he seemed for all the world to be a respectable man. I could not imagine him in a nefarious criminal's employ.

He smiled at Holmes, not the false gestures of cordiality that had been displayed by other enemies of my friend, but a genuine smile as if this man knew Holmes like an old companion. We walked in silence towards the study while I mulled over this rather out of place person being in Moriarty's company.

The man opened the door and I took in the room with fascination. The room's walls were lined with shelves, completely filled with books of all natures. The writing desk, opposite the room, looked as if it had recently been swept clean with only a small pile of papers and a globe upon the desk. On the wall behind the desk hung a rather beautiful picture of a lady, not much more than a girl, with her head resting upon her hands and looking at you with deep eyes. The table in the middle of the room was set for four, and a lamp stood in the middle but it's light was directed upon the two empty chairs and not the occupants of the opposite side.

They both stood when we arrived and I was able to get a good look at the one on my left before the other spoke. A large, deep-lined brow was above cruel eyes framed on top by drooping lids, an aggressive nose between them and a small, yet perfectly formed chin underneath. He sent a chill through me as I looked upon him and I feared for my life at that instant, when his gaze looked upon me and I saw an animal hatred in his features.

The other was extremely tall and thin, his forehead doming out in a white curve, and two eyes sunken deep inside his head. He was clean-shaven and pale, giving him the appearance of just the bones of a skull, with no flesh upon it. His face protruded forward from his round shoulders as he turned to my friend and spoke.

"Mr. Holmes, Doctor Watson, how pleasant of you to come. I am James Moriarty and this is my good friend Colonel Sebastian Moran. Please take a seat," Moriarty's head moved from side to side as he spoke, giving him a rather comical appearance. We took his invitation and sat down, and I noticed again that our hosts could see us but we could not see them clearly at all.

"Porlock, bring the tea," ordered Moriarty to the young man who had escorted us in.

"Yes, Professor," he replied and he left the room and returned a short time later, bearing a tray upon which stood four cups of tea and an array of biscuits, toast, and jam. He placed this upon the table and the Professor was about to open his mouth to say something when Holmes spoke.

"I wonder if you might humor my friend, Professor. He'd prefer it if he could see you in better light, in order to chronicle what may transpire. Of course, we don't know if this little visit is worth mentioning in his little publications but one never knows," Holmes said and he did not await permission from Moriarty before turning the lamp so that he could observe our hosts.

"Certainly. Now, gentleman, you may help yourselves," he said, gesturing to the food set before us. I noticed the awkward silence that filled the room and decided to end it by taking a cup of tea and a biscuit. Immediately after doing so I felt as if I had violated some taboo, or had done the wrong thing in a game of importance. Whatever the case, the silence continued until a slight nudge by Moriarty made Moran quickly grab for some refreshment. He then followed with Holmes being the last to partake in the food. I noticed him quickly sniff the tea as he brought it towards him and so did Moriarty.

"You don't trust me."

"Did you expect me to?"

"No, not at all."

"Good. I would not like if my intelligence were to be under-estimated by a man such as yourself," Holmes returned to his tea and sipped some of it and then began one of the most complex mathematical discourses that I have ever seen. It had something to do with the movement of other planets in our solar system and it seemed to be that both men had an opinion and both could prove their point was correct. It went on for quite a long time, with neither myself nor Colonel Moran saying anything during that time, except for a beast-like grunt from Moran when Holmes seemed to be moving a trifle too close to the Professor with his stabs of his hand to emphasize his points. The Professor was obviously enjoying himself even though from what I could tell, Holmes was winning. When Holmes had finished bashing everything Moriarty had said to pieces, Moriarty smiled and walked over to his desk and handed the papers upon it to my friend.

He scanned it at first but then began to read it with more interest. Finally, he looked up at Moriarty and said, "This is most amazing…"but before he could continue the Professor cut him off.

"Most true. It is the basis of a book I plan on writing. The Dynamics Of An Asteroid, something for the readers of my treatise on the binomial theorem. Did you notice the rather revolutionary theory on page. . ." Now it was Holmes' turn to cut off Moriarty.

"Yes. Absolute rubbish. Energy equals mass times the speed of light or some such. It will take wiser heads than your own to prove that one to me," said Holmes calmly as he tossed the papers upon the table. Moriarty's face grew livid with rage at the insult upon his work.

"Fool! That theory will change everything!" shouted Moriarty and I saw for a moment the slight madness behind the genius.

"Undoubtedly. But, let us return to the matter for which I was called. First of all, I object to the presence of this Moran here," Holmes pointed at the Colonel and an animal grunt came forth from the retired army man. "I did not know that he would be present at this meeting and frankly I do not like dealing with direct murderers of innocent young ladies."

Moriarty chuckled and his head shook from side to side, "Dear me, Mr. Holmes, dear me! Such libelous scandals from you! Colonel Moran is no murderer."

Holmes' right eyebrow raised in an expression of difference. "Oh, I believe Mrs. Stewart's family disagree entirely with that statement."

Moran grunted again and Moriarty, if after all these years I understand what went on, decided to let Holmes score a point. "Come now," said the Professor, "The good colonel is no more of a murderer than I am."

"Exactly," murmured Holmes and I could see him nod slightly, as if to acknowledge Moriarty's acquiesce. Suddenly, Moriarty smiled, and his head turned slowly from side to side as he leered at Holmes.

"Sherlock Holmes, you have caused me a slight deal of trouble over the past little month or two in which you have finally encountered me. I foresee that you will cause me a good deal more trouble still. It is therefore my wish that you see what message has been incorporated into the design on the base of your teacup," Holmes, lazily with drooping eyes, held the teacup aloft and slowly spelt out the words, while I wondered what in the world was transpiring.

"You . . . have . . . just . . . been . . . drugged," he said slowly and slumped in his chair, the teacup falling from his grasp and crashing to the floor. Moriarty smiled and at that moment I jumped upwards with my service revolver held firmly in my hand. Moran batted it away with his stick and it fired, sending off a bullet into the shelves of books.

As I struggled with Moran I wondered idly why if Holmes had been drugged, I had not. I had little time to wonder since Moriarty screamed "Hurt him where his wound is!" to Moran and the animal-like colonel hit his stick down upon my arm with all his force. It smarted, but did little else.

"Idiot!" shouted Moriarty and pointed at my leg. Moran mumbled something like 'cunning fiend' and then he smashed my leg with all his strength. I screamed as my jezail bullet lodged there sent a wave of pain up towards my head, and I fell to the ground grasping my lower limb.

"Got them," said Moriarty and I saw him smiling an evil death's-grin that would have suited the Reaper himself. I knew that the fate in store for us was not good at all.

"Actually no, I got you," said Holmes. His arms were crossed, he was still slumped in his chair but his eyes were wide-awake.

"Careful, Mr. Holmes, it's dangerous to finger fire-arms in one's breast-pocket," said Moriarty and I could now see that Holmes, with his hands crossed across his chest, was covering the Professor with his pistol.

"No, it is dangerous for you. I will shoot each of you now if I so please, and will be able to have self-defense of not only myself but Watson too on my side."

"You will do nothing of the sort. Porlock?" Moriarty called. I heard the sound of footsteps behind me.

"Yes, Professor."

"Mr. Holmes is quite drunk. He attacked my associate and by accident the colonel hit the good doctor instead of the actual danger. He has now taken complete leave of his senses and is about to shoot us with his pistol. Call for the constable."

"Yes, Professor."

Moriarty turned towards us with his head shaking. "Dear me, dear me. You obviously were unaware that I, like yourself, dabble in chemical studies occasionally. A specially brewed tea that puts one to sleep is quite simple actually. The few drops of my own invention that I added put the smell of brandy in one's mouth within an hour of first taste. Clever, is it not?"

"Quite true. It's only a credit to my own iron constitution that I am standing up right now. Undoubtedly, as soon as we reach Baker Street, I will keel over onto the couch. But until then, I can aim as well as always," Holmes quickly drew out the pistol and pointed it right at Moriarty's head.

"Of course. But, perhaps . . ."

"Yes . . . I think so too . . ."

"Then it is agreed."

"Most definitely."

Holmes smiled and withdrew his pistol to his pocket. My pain had subsided slightly and my head had cleared. Holmes helped me to my feet and it was only later on that I comprehended what took place in that almost silent conversation.

As near as I can deduce, both agreed to go back to their respective places and not intrude upon each other again. No arrests were to be made, for neither would get what they truly wanted, complete and total destruction of the other. Instead, the game of thrust-and-parry was to continue for as long as it could, until one broke.

We walked out, but Holmes walked out facing Moriarty, not in reverence but for safety. As I walked out the door, peripherally I saw Porlock walk out of another room and close the door behind him. I got a quick glance of the contents of that room, which seemed to be some sort of workshop. A man with a decidedly German look and dark glasses sat on a bench making some sort of weapon that I could not quite see. The door closed before I could get any more detail and I dismissed the room as irrelevant and did not think about it again.

As Porlock passed Holmes in the hall, he patted his pocket and instantly, Holmes brushed by him. Porlock looked back, smiled and nodded a knowing look to Holmes. He then turned back and walked into the Professor's study.

As we sat in Baker Street once again, Holmes in his dressing gown with his pipe in one hand and a message in the other and myself sitting upon the couch when I realized that Holmes showed no sign of tiredness. I asked him why and he smiled and answered.

"It is because that contrary to Professor Moriarty's belief in that his servant would put the chemicals into my tea, he did nothing of the sort. I saw the message on the cup immediately and deduced the situation. I decided to play along, for as you know I can feign all mannerisms that I need to. And now, with a message in hand from that good man, that one person who is closer to Moriarty than I am and possessed with a true sense of justice, I have been justified in my play-acting," Holmes smiled again and awaited my question.

"Who is this man?"

"Why, the servant Porlock, of course. I have his message here. 'My conscience bothers me . . . I have been pulled into plots that tarnish my soul . . .'and so forth. He feels guilty, and wishes to, in any way possible, help with the bringing down of that great evil that he serves. I admire him for that. I admire him," Holmes said and his eyes once again looked out upon London as he strained to break the web which was being woven around the innocents.