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The Sign of the Four

Chapter II
The Statement of the Case


  Miss Morstan entered the room with a firm step and an outward
composure of manner. She was a blonde 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 sombre 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 concen-
tration upon his clear-cut, hawklike 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
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 notebook.
  "He disappeared upon the third 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 regi-
ment, the Thirty-fourth Bombay Infantry. The major had retired
some little time before and lived at Upper Norwood. We com-
municated 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 fourth 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 advan-
tage 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 cardboard 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 pro-
nounced by an expert to be of a rare variety and of considerable
value. You can see for yourself that they are very hanasome."
  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.
Post-mark, London, S. W. Date, July 7. Hum! Man's thumb-
mark on corner -- probably postman. Best quality paper. Enve-
lopes at sixpence 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 shall 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. Let us see, now." He spread out the papers upon the
table and gave little darting glances 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 Greek e will break out, and see the twirl of the final
s. 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. Pray allow me to keep the papers. I may look into
the matter before then. It is only half-past three. Au revoir
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
in the sombre crowd.
  "What a very attractive woman!" I exclaimed, turning to my
companion.
  He had lit his pipe again and was leaning back with drooping
eyelids. "Is she?" he said languidly; "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 cried, "not to allow your
judgment to be biased by personal qualities. A client is to me a
mere unit, a factor in a problem. The emotional qualities are
antagonistic to clear reasoning. I assure you that the most win-
ning woman I ever knew was hanged for poisoning three little
children for their insurance-money, and the most repellent man
of my acquaintance is a philanthropist who has spent nearly a
quarter of a million upon the London poor."
  "In this case, however --"
  "I never make exceptions. An exception disproves the rule.
Have you ever had occasion to study character in handwriting?
What do you make of this fellow's scribble?"
  "It is legible 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. That d might be an a, and that I an e. Men of
character always differentiate their long letters, however illegibly
they may write. There is vacillation 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 remark-
able 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 in my hand, but my
thoughts were far from the daring speculations of the writer. My
mind ran upon our late visitor -- her smiles, the deep rich tones of
her voice, the strange mystery which overhung 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 by experience. So
I sat and mused until such dangerous thoughts came into my
head that I hurried away to my desk and plunged furiously into
the latest treatise 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.

 
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