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
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 Norwood, late of the Thirty-fourth Bombay Infantry, died upon
the twenty-eighth of April, 1882.
I may be very obtuse, Holmes, but I fail to see what
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 Morstans daughter receives a
valuable present, which is repeated from year to year and now culminates in a letter which
describes her as a wronged woman. What wrong can it refer to except this deprivation of
her father? And why should the presents begin immediately after Sholtos death unless
it is that Sholtos heir knows something of the mystery and desires to make
compensation? 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; but our expedition 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 nights work might be a serious one.
Miss Morstan was muffled in a dark cloak, and her sensitive
face was composed but pale. She must have been more than woman if she did not feel some
uneasiness at the strange enterprise 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
Papas, she said. His letters were full of allusions 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 Papas desk which no one
could understand. I dont 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 like four crosses
in a line with their arms touching. Beside it is written, in very rough and coarse
characters, The sign of the fourJonathan Small, Mahomet Singh, Abdullah Khan,
Dost Akbar. 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 pocketbook, for the
one side is as clean as the other.
It was in his pocketbook 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 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 until the end of our journey.
It was a September evening and not yet seven oclock, but
the day had been a dreary one, and a dense drizzly fog lay low upon the great city.
Mud-coloured clouds drooped sadly over the muddy streets. Down the Strand the lamps were
but misty splotches of diffused light which threw a feeble circular glimmer upon the slimy
pavement. The yellow glare from the shop-windows streamed out into the steamy, vaporous
air and threw a murky, shifting radiance across the crowded thoroughfare. There was, to my
mind, something eerie and ghostlike in the endless procession of faces which flitted
across these narrow bars of lightsad faces and glad, haggard and merry. Like all
humankind, they flitted from the gloom into the light and so back into the gloom once
more. I am not subject to impressions, but the dull, heavy evening, with the strange
business upon which we were engaged, combined to make me nervous and depressed. I could
see from Miss Morstans manner that she was suffering from the same feeling. Holmes
alone  could rise
superior to petty influences. He held his open notebook upon his knee, and from time to
time he jotted down figures and memoranda in the light of his pocket-lantern.
At the Lyceum Theatre the crowds were already thick at the
side-entrances. In front a continuous stream of hansoms and four-wheelers were rattling
up, discharging their cargoes of shirt-fronted men and beshawled, bediamonded women. We
had hardly reached the third pillar, which was our rendezvous, before a small, dark, brisk
man in the dress of a coachman accosted us.