Em A study in Scarlet, Sir Arthur Connan Doyle apresenta, por meio do diário de doutor Watson, o primeiro mistério desvendado por aquele que se tornará seu lendário detetive, Sherlock Holmes.
O corpo de um cavalheiro americano é encontrando em uma casa desocupada de Brixton Road. A fisionomia do cadáver é pavorosa; contudo, não há sinais de luta ou qualquer indício da ação do criminoso, a não ser pela palavra “rache” desenhada com sangue na parede.
Após fabulosas deduções, o próprio Holmes efetua a prisão de Jefferson Hope, diante dos olhares atônitos de dois altos oficiais da Scotland Yard. O assassino confessa os crimes e, em face da morte iminente, explicita, também, os seus motivos.
Eis, sucintamente, as declarações do vilão:
I’ve got a good deal to say. I want to tell you gentlemen all about it.
I’m on the brink of the grave, and I am not likely to lie to you. Every word I say is the absolute truth (…).
It don’t much matter to you why I hated these men; it’s enough that they were guilty of the death of two human beings — a father and a daughter — and they had, therefore, forfeited their own lives. Afther the lapse of time that had passed since their crime, it was impossible for me to secure a conviction against them in any court. I knew of their guilt, though, and I determined that I should be judge, jury and executioner all rolled ito one. You’d have done the same if you have any manhood in you, if you had been in my place.
That girl that I spooke of was to have married me twenty years ago. she was forced into marrying that same Drebber, and broke her heart over it. I took the marriage ring from her dead finger, and I vowed that his dying eyes should rest upon that very ring, and the last throughts should be of the crime for which he was punished. I have carried it about with me, and have followed him and his accomplide over two continents until I caught them. (…)
They were rich and I was poor, so that it was no easy matter for me to follow them. (…)
The moment for which I had waited so long had at las come. I had my enimies within my power. Together they could protect each other but singly they were at my mercy. I did not act, however, with undue precipitation. My plans were already formed. There is no satisfaction in vengeance unless the offender has time to realise who it is that strikes eim, and why retribution has come upon him. (…)
Don’t image that I intended to kill him in cold blood. I would only have been rigid justice if I had done so, but I could not bring myself to do it. I had long determined that I should have a show for his life if he chose to take advantage of it. Among the many billets which I have filled in America during my wandering live, I was once janitor and sweeper-out the laboratory at York College. One day the professor was lecturig on poisons, and he showed his students some alkaloid, as he called is, which he had extracted from some South America arrow poison, and which was so powerful that the least grain meant instant death. I spotted the bottle in which his preparation was kept, and when they were all gone, I helped myself to a little of it. I was a fairly good dispenser, so I worked this alkaloid into small, soluble pills, and each pill I put in a box which a similar pill made without the poison. I determined at the time that when I had my chance my gentlenen should each have a draw out one of these boxes, while I ate the pill tha remained. (…)
“Would you murder me?” he stampmered.
There is no murder, I answered. Who talks os murdering a mad dog? What mercy had you upon my poor darling, when you dragged her from her slaughtered father, and bore her away to your accused and shameless harem?
“But was not I who killed her father”, he cried.
But it was you who broke her innocent heart. (…) Let the high God judge between us. Chose and eat. There is death in one and life in the other. I shall take you leave. Let us see if there is justice upon the earth, or if we are ruled by chance.
Do discurso desse vilão, extrai-se um comportamento moral, uma vez que sua ação homicida constitui, na verdade, uma reação viril a um ato de crueldade que foi perpetrado por outrem — no caso, os mórmons Debber and Stangerson. Observa-se que, pela maneira como se expressa, o vilão vê-se na posição de vítima e, ainda assim, mostra-se ético por dois aspectos de seu comportamento:
– não busca vingança em razão do próprio vilipêncio, mas em nome de outras vítimas indefesas que já não tem voz ou forças por si próprias (a amada Lucy e seu pai adotivo, John Ferrier);
– entrega à sorte — ou à Providência divina — os resultados de seu intento, uma vez que franqueia ao seu inimigo declarado a escolha de uma entre as pílulas (uma envenenada e outra inofensiva).
Conclui-se que a razão-chave por detrás da ação criminosa do vilão Jefferson Hope é a vingança.