The Sign of the Four (Sherlock Holmes #2) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
So the second book of Sherlock Holmes has us go on as equally an interesting adventure.
We begin the case with a Miss Morstan coming to Sherlock to get assistance with a problem. And immediately Watson finds himself attracted to her.
“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. “
Miss Mostan comes on the recommendation of her employer, a Mrs. Cecil Forrester, who Sherlock Holmes helped before. Her father was an officer in an Indian regiment, and sent her to a boarding school in Edinburgh after her mother died. She stayed there until she was seventeen, when her father took 12 months leave and planned to come home. He telegraphed her in London than he was safe and to meet him at the Langham Hotel. When she arrived she couldn’t find him, and the manager told her he was there but left.
Since then no one has seen him since and the police have been unable to discover anything.
Luggage was left at the hotel with nothing missing. Her father had only one friend lived in London, Major Sholto, but he didn’t even know that Captain Morstan had returned to the country. That was December 3rd, 1878, ten years ago.
But then six years ago, on May 4th, 1882; as advertisement appeared in the newspaper asking after a Miss Mary Morton, saying it would be to her advantage to answer.
When she did s small cardboard box came to her containing a large pearl, but no note.
Since then every year on the same day, May 4th, a similar pearl arrives. She took them to an expert and they were pronounced rare and valuable.
But this morning she received something different; a note that troubles her.
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.
Sherlock agrees to take the case, planning for Dr. Watson and him to accompany Miss Morstan on her meeting.
Holmes looks at the note, studying it and leaves to find the answer to what pricked his mind.
While he is gone Watson can’t get Miss Morston out of his mind, but tries to move past it, Who could want an ex-army surgeon, with a weak leg, and weaker bank account?
Holmes returns much later than planned with some news. Major Sholto died on April 28, 1882. Within a week of his death a pearl arrives for Miss Morston and follows every year? A letter talks about a wrong that has happened to her. What other than her father’s disappearance could be the wrong? And why presents, unless Sholto’s heir knows something about the whole thing.
Miss Morston comes in the carriage, and they start away. She can’t believe Major Sholto would do anything, as he was her father’s best friend. However, she has a new clue to throw in the mix. A piece of paper found with his belongings that no one could quite figure out what it was. She gives it to Sherlock.
Sherlock examines it and sees that it is from India, part of a blueprint for a large building, with a + and “3.37 from left” written in red ink. In the left hand corner, a symbol that looks like four crosses in a line with the following
++++ The sign of the four- Jonathan Small, Mahomet Singh, Abdullah Khan, Dost Akbar.
Sherlock can’t see how it relates now, but asks Mary to hold onto it.
They head to Lyceum Theater where the crowds are thick. Before they even reached the destination point, they are approached by a coachman. They are invited into a coach and travel to an unknown location, a house that appears to be the only one on the block that is occupied. They are met by an Indian servant, who lets them know that the sahib is waiting.
The sahib is Mr. Thaddeus Sholto, Major Sholto’s son. The house on the outside may look worn and neglected, but in this room are riches. After they introduce themselves Thaddeus asks Watson to examine his heart, as he worries about it.
He reveals that Miss Morston father is dead, that he died of a heart attack. (But then why wasn’t the body found?)
He wants them to help settle this matter, to be a united front against his brother Bartholomew. He then tells his story. Major John Sholto was a part of the Indian army but retired 11 years ago and moved to Pondicherry Lodge in Norwood. Thaddeus and Bartholomew lived in luxury with many Indian servants. However all was not happy. Their father was afraid to go out alone and hired ex-prize fighters as body guards. He avoided men with wooden legs, and shot at one once; who was later revealed to be a harmless tradesman. In 1882 he received a shocking letter, that nearly caused him to faint. He suffered previous medical conditions and by April was reaching the end.
Major Sholto then shared his guilt at never helping Miss Morston and asks his boys to give Mary her share of the Agra treasure, but not until he died. Morston and Sholto had come into a large treasure and brought it over from India to England. When Morston came from India he meet with Sholto and wanted his share of the treasure. Sholto and him argued about what was fair, with Morston becoming angry and his weak heart gave out, making him fall, crack his head, and die. Major Sholto then told his son to make sure that Mary received the father’s share and that the treasure was hidden…
After asking them to promise that, Major Sholto started to yell and scream “keep him out”. The two brothers turn to look and see a bearded man with a wooden leg. They try to get him, but he escapes. The next morning the whole house was searched and one message left behind.
The sign of the four
Their father died and then the two brothers dug everywhere searching for the treasure. Bartholomew didn’t want to part with the pearls, but Thaddeus sent them as they was his father’s last wish. The two argued and Thaddeus left to set up his own home. Yesterday, Thaddeus received word that the treasure was found, and valued at half a million.
The group sets out to talk with Bartholomew, Watson a little saddened ay he state of affairs as to how could a millionairess ever want him?
When the reach Pondicherry, they find a strange state of affairs. The servants will let Thaddeus in but no others. To make things even stranger, Bartholomew hasn’t been out of his room all day. And even though he is in there and expecting them, there is no light in the window. Strange.
Thaddeus goes in while the rest wait outside. Mary is frightened and grabs Watson’s hand.
They don’t wait long before Thaddeus comes running back out. He knows something is wrong but not what, they all rush indoors and up the stairs to his room.
He and Watson break down the door and see Bartholomew with a hideous smile fixed upon his face. Bartholomew is dead.
Above him there was an opening large enough for a person to pass through. A piece of rope on the ground and a brown, close-grained stick, with a stone head like a hammer. Beside it a note
The sign of the four
By his ear was a long dark thorn stuck into the skin. A poisoned one according to Sherlock. Watson grows grim at them ever figuring things out.
“On the contrary,’ [Sherlock Holmes] answered, ‘it clears every instant. I only require a few missing links to have an entirely connected case.”
Meanwhile, Thaddeus has discovered that the treasure is gone. Yesterday they lowered it into the room through the ceiling and locked it up at ten last night. What happened since then? Holmes sends Thaddeus to tell the police of the death and assures him he will figure this out.
Holmes deduces it was the one-legged man aided by another, a sailor; and they dropped one of them in through the hole in the ceiling.
The police arrive and suspect Thaddeus of killing his brother, just what Thaddeus feared. Sherlock urges the police to follow his lead. The first man was a Jonathan Small (one of the original four). He’s small, poorly educated, with a wooden leg. The other, too little info yet to determine who he is.
Watson takes Mary home and then heads to a home near the water’s edge to pick up Toby, a dog with the best nose for hunting down criminals.
When he returns he discovers that not only has Thaddeus been arrested, but the gatekeeper, housekeeper, and Indian servant.
The two examine the house closer, seeing the path that the one-legged man took. They also find his thorns dropped in his hurry to leave. They then set Toby upon it and head out after him.
Watson is still mystified as to what happened but Sherlock sets him right. Two officers were in command of convicts and learned an important secret about where the treasure was buried. Jonathan Small drew a map, putting his name and his associates in the corner. The officers took the treasure, one bringing it over from India. Jonathan Small couldn’t get it himself as he was a convict and in jail. What had upset Major Sholto, was that he had received a frightening letter, a letter about Small’s escape. He then tries to protect himself from the one-legged man. Small tried to get the treasure, but his presence interrupted Shlolto from revealing it to the sons. He searched the whole house but found nothing.
Smalls kept watch and when the brothers finally found the treasure he and his associate broke in and killed Bartholomew, escaping with the treasure. Toby takes Watson and Sherlock down to a wharf, where they discover that the one-legged man and his associate have gone in the water.
The two head home while Holmes employs his street urchins to root out some info. He does figure out more about the assistant. He turns out to be a cannibal from the island Andamand.
Watson heads over to Mary to give her an update and stays for most of the day. When he returns home nothing has come to pass. That night Sherlock dresses up as a sailor and heads out to the river to try and find some answers.
It was a long day with no answers as Watson waits for Holmes’ return. Athelney Jones, the inspector joins them and soon an old man arrives, but it turns out to be Holmes himself.
That night they head out to the ship Aurora and capture Smalls. He reveals all that Sherlock Holmes surmised is true, even Tonga, the islander, having killed Bartholomew.
Watson brings the box to Mary and tells her of the good news, The two break it open but find it empty.
But this gives Watson the courage to tell Mary how he feels. And she responds the same.
They return to Smalls but he won’t reveal a thing about where the treasure is, other than he has hid it where none shall find it. They never discover its whereabouts, Smalls goes off to jail, and another case closed for Sherlock.
It ends with Watson sharing how he is engaged to Mary, soon to be married. So ends this story, but many more are right around the corner.
Thoughts After Reading:
I loved it. I thoughts it had great action, drama, mystery, everything you could want.
I highly recommend it for any Sherlock fan.
And I’m pretty sure that this story is what The Great Mouse Detective writers took a lot from when creating their story. The peg-leg, dressing up as a sailor, Toby, missing father, etc.And I love that film so it definitely already set the foundation for how much I would enjoy this.
But whether you are Sherlock or Basil fan, you should definitely take a look over this book. It was fantastic.
For more Sherlock Holmes, go to A Study in Scarlet
For more classic mystery novels, go to The Murder at the Vicarage
For more mysteries with a treasure hunt, go to Lemon Meringue Pie Murder
For more mysteries revolving around a disappearance, go to Emilie & the Hollow World
For more mysteries involving poisonings, go to Catering to Nobody