The Sign of Four


The Sign of Four

Chapter II

The Statement (introduction) of the Case

       Miss Morstan entered the room with a firm step and an outward composure of manner. She was a young lady, small, dainty, well gloved, and dressed in the most perfect taste.  There was, however, a   plainness   and   simplicity   about   her costume which bore with it a suggestion of limited means. The dress was a somber grayish beige, untrimmed and unbraided, and she wore a small turban of the same dull hue, relieved only by a suspicion of white feather in the side. 

            Her face had neither regularity of feature nor beauty of complexion, but her expression was sweet and amiable, and her large blue eyes were singularly spiritual and sympathetic. In an experience of women which extends over many nations and   three   separate   continents,  I   have never looked upon  a face  which  gave  a clearer promise of a refined and sensitive nature.  I could not but observe that as she took the seat which Sherlock Holmes placed for her, her lip trembled, her hand quivered, and she showed every sign of intense inward agitation.

       “I have come to you, Mr.  Holmes,” she said, “because you once enabled my employer, Mrs. Cecil Forrester, to unravel a little domestic complication.  She was much impressed by your kindness  and skill.”

       “Mrs. Cecil Forrester,” he repeated thoughtfully. “I believe that I was of some slight service to her. The case, however, as I remember it, was a very simple one.”

      “She did not think so. But at least you cannot say the same of mine. I can hardly imagine anything more strange, more utterly inexplicable, than the situation in which I find myself.” 

 Holmes rubbed his hands, and his eyes glistened. He leaned forward in his chair with an expression of extraordinary concentration upon his clear-cut, hawk – like features. “State your case,” said he, in brisk, business tones. 

I felt   that   my   position   was   an embarrassing one. “You will, I am sure, excuse me,” I said, rising from my chair.

      To my surprise, the young lady held up her gloved hand to detain me. “If your friend,” she said, “would be good enough to stop, he might be of inestimable service to me.” I relapsed into my chair. 

      “Briefly,” she  continued,  “the  facts are  these.  My  father  was  an  officer  in an  Indian  regiment  who  sent  me  home when I was quite a child. My mother was dead, and I  had  no  relative in England. I was placed, however, in a comfortable boarding establishment   at   Edinburgh, and there I remained until I was seventeen years of age. In the year 1878 my father, who was senior captain of his regiment, obtained twelve months’ leave and came home. He telegraphed to me from London  that  he  had  arrived  all  safe, and directed me  to  come  down  at  once, giving the Langham Hotel as his address. His message, as I remember, was full of kindness and love. On reaching London I drove to the Langham, and was informed that Captain Morstan was staying there, but that he had gone out the night before and had not yet returned.  I waited all day without news of him. That night, on the advice of the manager of the hotel, I communicated with the police, and next morning we advertised in all the papers.

    Our inquiries led to no result; and from that day to this no word has ever been heard of my unfortunate father. He came home with his heart full of hope, to find some peace, some comfort, and instead—” She put her hand to her throat, and a choking sob cut short the sentence.

“The date?” asked Holmes, opening his note-book. “He disappeared upon the 3rd of December, 1878. —nearly ten years ago.  “His luggage?”  “Remained at the hotel. There was nothing in it to suggest a clue,-some clothes, some books, and a considerable number of curiosities from the Andaman  Islands.  He had been  one of the officers in charge of the convict – guard there.”

“Had he any friends in town?”

“Only one that we know of,—Major Sholto, of his  own  regiment, the 34th Bombay Infantry. The major had retired some little time before, and lived at Upper Norwood. We communicated with him, of course, but he did not even know that his brother officer was in England.”

“A singular case,” remarked Holmes.

“I have not yet described to you the most singular part. About six years ago— to be exact, upon the 4th of May, 1882— an advertisement appeared in the Times asking  for  the  address  of  Miss  Mary Morstan  and  stating  that  it  would  be  to her  advantage  to  come  forward.  There was no name or  address  appended .  I had at that time  just  entered  the  family of Mrs. Cecil Forrester in the capacity of governess. By her advice I published my address in the advertisement column. The same day there arrived through the post a small card-board box addressed to me, which I found to contain a very large and lustrous pearl.  No word of  writing  was enclosed. Since then every year upon the same  date  there  has  always  appeared  a similar  box,  containing  a  similar  pearl, without  any  clue  as  to  the  sender. They have been pronounced by  an  expert  to be of a rare variety and of considerable value.  You can see  for  yourselves  that they are very handsome.” She opened a flat box as she spoke, and showed me six of the finest pearls that I had ever seen.

“Your statement is most interesting,” said Sherlock  Holmes.  “Has anything else occurred to you?”

“Yes  and  no  later  than  to-day.  That is why I have come to you. This morning I   received this   letter,   which   you   will perhaps read for yourself.”

“Thank   you,”   said   Holmes. 

“The envelope too, please. Postmark, London, S.W. Date, July 7. 

Hum!  Man’s  thumb- mark on corner—probably postman. Best quality paper.  Envelopes at six  pence  a packet. Particular  man  in  his  stationery. No address. ‘Be at the third pillar from the left outside the Lyceum Theatre to-night at seven o’clock.  If you are  distrustful, bring  two  friends.  You are  a  wronged woman,  and  shall  have  justice.  Do not bring police. If you do, all will be in vain. Your unknown friend.’ Well, really, this is a very pretty little mystery. What do you intend to do, Miss Morstan?”

“That is  exactly  what  I  want  to  ask you.”

“Then we shall most certainly go. You and I  and—yes,  why,  Dr.  Watson is   the   very   man.   Your   correspondent says two friends. He and I have worked together before.”

“But would he come?” she asked, with  something  appealing   in  her  voice and  expression. “I should be proud and happy,” said I, fervently, “if I can be of any service.”

          “You are both very kind,” she answered. “I have led a  retired  life and have no friends whom I could appeal to. If I am here at six it will do, I suppose?”

“You must not be later ,” said Holmes. “There is one other point, however. Is this handwriting the same as that upon  the pearl-box addresses?”

“I have them here,” she answered, producing half a dozen pieces of paper.

“You are certainly a model client. You have the correct intuition (sense). Let us see, now.” He spread out the papers upon the table, and gave little darting (moving) glances (look) from one to the other. “They are disguised hands, except   the   letter,”   he   said, presently, “but there can  be  no  question  as  to  the authorship. See   how   the   irrepressible (style) Greeke will break out, and see the twirl of the finals. They are undoubtedly by the same person. I should not like to suggest false hopes, Miss  Morstan,  but  is  there any resemblance between this hand and that of your father?”

“Nothing could be more unlike.”

          “I expected to hear  you  say  so.  We shall look out for you, then, at six. Please allow me to keep the papers. I may look into the matter before then. It is only half- past three. Au revoir, (good bye) then.”

“Au  revoir,”  said  our  visitor,  and, with a bright, kindly glance from one to the other of us, she replaced her pearl-box in her bosom and hurried away. Standing at  the  window,  I  watched  her  walking briskly  down  the  street,  until  the  gray turban and white feather were but a speck (dot) in the somber (dark)  crowd.

“What a very attractive woman!”  I exclaimed, turning to my companion. He had lit his pipe again, and was  leaning back with drooping (bending) eyelids. “Is she?” he said, languidly (slowly). “I did not observe.”

     “You really are an automaton,—a calculating-machine!” I   cried. “There is something positively inhuman in you at times.”  He smiled gently.  “It  is of  the  first  importance,”  he  said,  “not to  allow  your  judgment  to  be  biased (turned/based)  by personal  qualities.  A  client  is  to  me  a mere  unit,—a  factor  in  a  problem.  The emotional qualities are antagonistic (oppose/stop) to clear reasoning (thinking).  I  assure  you  that  the most  winning (attractive) woman  I  ever  knew  was hanged for poisoning three little children for their insurance-money,  and  the  most repellant (horrible) man of   my   acquaintance   (contact/familiar) is a philanthropist (benefactor/helper) who  has  spent  nearly  a quarter of a million upon the London poor.”

“In this case, however—”

             “I    never    make    exceptions.  An exception disproves (break) the rule.  Have you ever had occasion to study character  in handwriting? What do you make of this fellow’s scribble (piece of writing)?”

“It is legible (clear enough to read.) and regular,” I answered.

“A man of business habits and some force of character.”

Holmes shook his head. “Look at his long letters,” he said.  “They hardly rise above the common herd (large).

      That d might be an a, and that  l  an e. Men of character always differentiate their long  letters, however illegibly (unreadable) they may write.  There is vacillation (not constant) in his k’s and self-esteem in his capitals. I am going out now. I have some few references to make. Let me recommend this  book,  one  of  the  most remarkable  ever  penned.  It  is Winwood Reade’s ‘Martyrdom of Man.’ I shall be back in an hour.”

        I sat in the window with the volume (book) in  my  hand,  but  my  thoughts  were  far from the daring speculations (talk) of the writer. My mind ran upon our late visitor, —her smiles, the deep rich tones of her voice, the strange mystery which overhung (turn/extend) her life. If she were seventeen at the time of her father’s disappearance  she  must  be seven-and-twenty now,—a   sweet age, when youth has lost its self-consciousness and become a little sobered (serious) by experience. So I sat and mused (think) , until such dangerous thoughts came into my head that I hurried away to my desk and plunged (jumped) furiously into the latest treatise (essay/ lesson) upon pathology.

       What was I, an army surgeon with a weak leg and a weaker banking-account that I should dare to think of such things? She was a unit, a factor,—nothing more. If my future were  black,  it  was  better surely to face it like a man than to attempt to brighten it by mere will-o’-the-wisps of the imagination.

Chapter III

In Quest of a Solution

     It was  half-past  five  before  Holmes returned.  He  was  bright,  eager,  and  in excellent  spirits,—a  mood  which  in  his case  alternated  with  fits  of  the  blackest depression.

     “There  is  no  great  mystery  in  this matter,”  he  said,  taking  the  cup  of  tea which I had poured out for him. “The facts appear to admit of only one explanation.”

     “What! you have solved it already?” “Well, that would be too much to say.

I have discovered a suggestive fact, that is all. It is, however, very suggestive. The details are still to be added. I have just found, on consulting the back files of the Times, that Major Sholto, of Upper Norword, late of the 34th Bombay Infantry, died upon the 28th of April, 1882.”
“I may be very obtuse (dull), Holmes, but I fail to see what this suggests.”
“No? You surprise me. Look at it in this way, then. Captain Morstan disappears. The only person in London whom he could have visited is Major Sholto. Major Sholto denies having heard that he was in London. Four years later Sholto dies. Within a week of his death Captain Morstan’s daughter receives a valuable present, which is repeated from year to year, and now culminates (result) in a letter which describes her as a wronged woman. What wrong can it refer to except this deprivation (kept away/ lost) of her father? And why should the presents begin immediately after Sholto’s death, unless it is that Sholto’s heir knows something of the mystery and desires to make compensation (repayment /मुआवजा)? Have you any alternative theory which will meet the facts?”

“But what a strange compensation! And how strangely made! Why, too, should he write a letter now, rather than six years ago? Again, the letter speaks of giving her justice. What justice can she have? It is too much to suppose that her father is still alive. There is no other injustice in her case that you know of.”
“There are difficulties; there are certainly difficulties,”
said Sherlock Holmes, pensively (thinking). “But our expedition (mission) of to-night will solve them all. Ah, here is a four-wheeler, and Miss Morstan is inside. Are you all ready? Then we had better go down, for it is a little past the hour.”
I picked up my hat and my heaviest stick, but I observed that Holmes took his revolver from his drawer and slipped it into his pocket. It was clear that he thought that our night’s work might be a serious one.
Miss Morstan was muffled (covered) in a dark cloak, and her sensitive (भावुक) face was composed (cool), but pale (sad). She must have been more than woman if she did not feel some uneasiness at the strange enterprise (activity) upon which we were embarking, yet her self-control was perfect, and she readily answered the few additional questions which Sherlock Holmes put to her.
“Major Sholto was a very particular friend of papa’s,” she said. “His letters were full of allusions (mention) to the major. He and papa were in command of the troops at the Andaman Islands, so they were thrown a great deal together. By the way, a curious paper was found in papa’s desk which no one could understand. I don’t suppose that it is of the slightest importance, but I thought you might care to see it, so I brought it with me. It is here.”
Holmes unfolded the paper carefully and smoothed it out upon his knee. He then very methodically examined it all over with his double lens.
“It is paper of native Indian manufacture,” he remarked. “It has at some time been pinned to a board. The diagram upon it appears to be a plan of part of a large building with numerous halls, corridors, and passages. At one point is a small cross done in red ink, and above it is ‘3.37 from left,’ in faded pencil-writing. In the left-hand corner is a curious hieroglyphic (code/symbol / चित्रलिपि संबंधी) like four crosses in a line with their arms touching.
Beside it is written, in very rough and coarse characters, ‘The sign of the four,—Jonathan Small, Mahomet Singh, Abdullah Khan, Dost Akbar.’

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No, I confess that I do not see how this bears upon the matter. Yet it is evidently a document of importance. It has been kept carefully in a pocket-book; for the one side is as clean as the other.”
“It was in his pocket-book that we found it.”
“Preserve it carefully, then, Miss Morstan, for it may prove to be of use to us. I begin to suspect that this matter may turn out to be much deeper and more subtle (difficult to analyse or describe.) than I at first supposed. I must reconsider my ideas.” He leaned back in the cab, and I could see by his drawn brow and his vacant eye that he was thinking intently. Miss Morstan and I chatted in an undertone about our present expedition and its possible outcome, but our companion maintained his impenetrable reserve (silent) until the end of our journey.
It was a September evening and not yet seven o’clock, but the day had been a dreary (dull/like night) one, and a dense drizzly (wet) fog lay low upon (covered) the great city. Mud-coloured clouds drooped sadly over the muddy streets. Down the Strand the lamps were but misty (not bright) splotches (spot) of diffused (spread) light which threw a feeble (dim) circular glimmer (shine) upon the slimy (wet) pavement. The yellow glare (light/beam) from the shop-windows streamed (came) out into the steamy, vaporous(6)

air, and threw a murky (dim), shifting radiance (shine/light) across the crowded thoroughfare (street). There was, to my mind, something eerie (fearful) and ghost- like in the endless procession of faces (people) which flitted (move swiftly and lightly) across these narrow bars of light,—sad faces and glad, haggard (looking worried) and merry. Like all human kind, they flitted (move) from the gloom (darkness) into the light, and so back into the gloom once more. I am not subject to impressions (not any effect), but the dull, heavy evening, with the strange business (mission/work) upon which we were engaged, combined to make me nervous and depressed. I could see from Miss Morstan’s manner (behaviour) that she was suffering from the same feeling. Holmes alone could rise superior to petty influences (not affected of the situation).
He held his open note-book upon his knee, and from time to time he jotted (write) down figures and memoranda (taking notes) in the light of his pocket-lantern (lamp/ torch).
At the Lyceum Theatre the crowds were already thick at the side-entrances. In front a continuous stream of hansoms (a two-wheeled horse-drawn cab) and four-wheelers were rattling (making sound) up, discharging (release) their cargoes (vehicle) of shirt-fronted men (well dressed men) and beshawled, bediamonded women. We had hardly reached the third pillar, which was our rendezvous (meeting place), before a small, dark, brisk (active/sharp) man in the dress of a coachman accosted (talked to) us.
“Are you the parties who come with Miss Morstan?” he asked.
“I am Miss Morstan, and these two gentlemen are my friends,” said she.
He bent (glanced) a pair of wonderfully penetrating (entering) and questioning eyes upon us. “You will excuse me, miss,” he said with a certain dogged (focused) manner, “but I was to ask you to give me your word (promise) that neither of your companions is a police-officer.”
“I give you my word on that,” she answered.
He gave a shrill (high) whistle, on which a street Arab led across a four-wheeler and opened the door. The man who had addressed us mounted to (sat on) the box, while we took our places inside. We had hardly done so before the driver whipped (beaten) up his horse, and we plunged (drive) away at a furious (wild) pace (speed) through the foggy streets.
The situation was a curious (strange) one. We were driving to an unknown place, on an unknown errand (trip/job). Yet our invitation was either a complete hoax (not true),—which was an inconceivable (unbelievable) hypothesis (idea) ,—or else we had good reason to think that important issues might hang upon our journey. Miss Morstan’s demeanour (attitude) was as resolute (determined) and collected (calm/cool) as ever. I endeavoured (tried) to cheer and amuse her by reminiscences (memories/ stories) of my adventures in Afghanistan; but, to tell the truth, I was myself so excited at our situation and so curious as to our destination (stopping place) that my stories were slightly (not much) involved. To this day she declares that I told her one moving anecdote (story) as to how a musket looked into my tent at the dead of night, and how I fired a double-barrelled tiger cub at it. At first I had some idea as to the direction in which we were driving; but soon, what with our pace, the fog, and my own limited knowledge of London, I lost my bearings (way), and knew nothing, save that we seemed to be going a very long way. Sherlock Holmes was never at fault, however, and he muttered the names as the cab rattled through squares and in and out by tortuous (winding) by-streets.
“Rochester Row,” said he. “Now Vincent Square. Now we come out on the Vauxhall Bridge Road. We are making for the Surrey side, apparently. Yes, I thought so. Now we are on the bridge. You can catch glimpses of the river.”
We did indeed get a fleeting view of a stretch of the Thames with the lamps shining upon the broad, silent water; but our cab dashed on, and was soon involved in a labyrinth (complicated) of streets upon the other side.
“Wordsworth Road,” said my companion. “Priory Road. Lark Hall Lane. Stockwell Place. Robert Street. Cold Harbor Lane. Our quest does not appear to take us to very fashionable regions (area).”

We had, indeed, reached a questionable (doubtful) and forbidding (restricted) neighbourhood (area). Long lines of dull (old) brick houses were only relieved (feel better) by the coarse (rough) glare (shine) and tawdry (of poor quality) brilliancy (brightness) of public houses at the corner. Then came rows of two-storied villas each with a fronting of miniature (small) garden, and then again interminable (endless) lines of new staring (dark) brick buildings,—the monster (giant) tentacles (trap/जाल) which the giant city was throwing out into the country (control). At last the cab drew up (stopped) at the third house in a new terrace (line). None of the other houses were inhabited, and that at which we stopped was as dark as its neighbours, save for (besides) a single glimmer in the kitchen window. On our knocking however, the door was instantly thrown open by a servant clad (dressed) in a yellow turban, white loose-fitting clothes, and a yellow sash (belt). There was something strangely incongruous (unsuited) in this Oriental figure (eastern/Indian) framed in the commonplace door-way of a third- rate suburban dwelling-house.
“The Sahib awaits you,” said he, and even as he spoke there came a high piping voice from some inner room. “Show them in to me, khitmutgar,” it cried. “Show them straight in to me.”

– Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle

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