Barker’s Canonical Background


Following are all the references from the Sherlockian Canon that directly mention Barker or, according to some Sherlockians, allude to him without naming him. All but the last, which is by no means agreed on, are from the story “The Retired Colourman,” in The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. (These passages are copied from an online version of the story and have not been checked directly against the printed versions, so if any errors are present, we apologize.) Where not evident, we’ve noted who’s doing the speaking in that passage. These passages fall roughly in order of appearance. For the exact context, check out the full text of the story.


From “The Retired Colourman”


Watson: I should not have known which was The Haven had I not asked a lounger who was smoking in the street. I have a reason for mentioning him. He was a tall, dark, heavily moustached, rather military-looking man. He nodded in answer to my inquiry and gave me a curiously questioning glance, which came back to my memory a little later.


Holmes: “Anything more, Watson?”
“Yes, one thing which struck me more than anything else. I had driven to the Blackheath Station and had caught my train there when, just as it was starting, I saw a man dart into the carriage next to my own. You know that I have a quick eye for faces, Holmes. It was undoubtedly the tall, dark man whom I had addressed in the street. I saw him once more at London Bridge, and then I lost him in the crowd. But I am convinced that he was following me.”
“No doubt! No doubt!” said Holmes. “A tall, dark, heavily moustached man, you say, with gray-tinted sun-glasses?”
“Holmes, you are a wizard. I did not say so, but he had gray-tinted sun-glasses.”
“And a Masonic tie-pin?”


Watson: A stern-looking, impassive man sat beside him, a dark man with gray-tinted glasses and a large Masonic pin projecting from his tie.
“This is my friend Mr. Barker,” said Holmes. “He has been interesting himself also in your business, Mr. Josiah Amberley, though we have been working independently. But we both have the same question to ask you!”


Holmes: “No short cuts, Josiah Amberley. Things must be done decently and in order. What about it, Barker?”
“I have a cab at the door,” said our taciturn companion.
“It is only a few hundred yards to the station. We will go together. You can stay here, Watson. I shall be back within half an hour.”
The old colourman had the strength of a lion in that great trunk of his, but he was helpless in the hands of the two experienced man-handlers. Wriggling and twisting he was dragged to the waiting cab, and I was left to my solitary vigil in the ill-omened house.


Holmes: “I’ve left Barker to look after the formalities,” said Holmes. “You had not met Barker, Watson. He is my hated rival upon the Surrey shore. When you said a tall dark man it was not difficult for me to complete the picture. He has several good cases to his credit, has he not, Inspector?”
“He has certainly interfered several times,” the inspector answered with reserve.
“His methods are irregular, no doubt, like my own. The irregulars are useful sometimes, you know.


Holmes: “There shall be no such robbery, MacKinnon. I assure you that I efface myself from now onward, and as to Barker, he has done nothing save what I told him.”


Holmes: “Well, then came an incident which was rather unexpected to myself. I was slipping through the pantry window in the early dawn when I felt a hand inside my collar, and a voice said: ‘Now, you rascal, what are you doing in there?’ When I could twist my head round I looked into the tinted spectacles of my friend and rival, Mr. Barker. It was a curious foregathering and set us both smiling. It seems that he had been engaged by Dr. Ray Ernest’s family to make some investigations and had come to the same conclusion as to foul play. He had watched the house for some days and had spotted Dr. Watson as one of the obviously suspicious characters who had called there. He could hardly arrest Watson, but when he saw a man actually climbing out of the pantry window there came a limit to his restraint. Of course, I told him how matters stood and we continued the case together.”


From “The Adventure of the Empty House” (in The Return of Sherlock Holmes)


Watson: A tall, thin man with coloured glasses, whom I strongly suspected of being a plain-clothes detective, was pointing out some theory of his own [about the Ronald Adair murder—ed.], while the others crowded round to listen to what he said. I got as near him as I could, but his observations seemed to me to be absurd, so I withdrew again in some disgust.


Note: That the preceding passage actually refers to Barker, seen by Watson some four years before he actually met the detective in “Colourman,” is not universally accepted by Sherlockians. For a fuller discussion, see the article on this Web site’s Publications page entitled “The Man Called Barker.”