Sign of the Four

Sign of the Four

by Arthur Conan Doyle

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Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle KStJ, DL (22 May 1859 - 7 July 1930) was a British writer and physician, most noted for his fictional stories about the detective Sherlock Holmes, which are generally considered milestones in the field of crime fiction.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781846370748
Publisher: Echo Library
Publication date: 12/01/2005
Series: Sherlock Holmes Mystery Series
Edition description: Large Print
Pages: 236
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.54(d)

About the Author

Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born on 22nd May, 1859 to the family of Charles Altamont Doyle and Mary Foley. His father, apart from being a chronic alcoholic didn't have much influence in his son's life and career. Mary Foley, Arthur's mother was on the other hand a well-educated and vivacious young woman.

Originally Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a master storyteller and acquired a passion for books at a young age in his mother's grace. His most famous work is the Sherlock Holmes series, which is highly considered a golden standard and milestone work of fiction. His first published book was A Study in Scarlet. Post which he wrote fifty short stories on the duo, Sherlock and Watson. His other work includes Brigadier Gerard, Professor Challenger. One of his early works regarding Mary Celeste is idolized as real life mystery, brought to life in the short story J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement.

Date of Birth:

May 22, 1859

Date of Death:

July 7, 1930

Place of Birth:

Edinburgh, Scotland

Place of Death:

Crowborough, Sussex, England


Edinburgh University, B.M., 1881; M.D., 1885

Read an Excerpt

The Sign of the Four

By Arthur Conan Doyle


Copyright © 2014 Road Integrated Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-8974-5


The Science of Deduction

SHERLOCK HOLMES TOOK his bottle from the corner of the mantel-piece and his hypodermic syringe from its neat morocco case. With his long, white, nervous fingers he adjusted the delicate needle, and rolled back his left shirt-cuff. For some little time his eyes rested thoughtfully upon the sinewy forearm and wrist all dotted and scarred with innumerable puncture-marks. Finally he thrust the sharp point home, pressed down the tiny piston, and sank back into the velvet-lined arm-chair with a long sigh of satisfaction.

Three times a day for many months I had witnessed this performance, but custom had not reconciled my mind to it. On the contrary, from day to day I had become more irritable at the sight, and my conscience swelled nightly within me at the thought that I had lacked the courage to protest. Again and again I had registered a vow that I should deliver my soul upon the subject, but there was that in the cool, nonchalant air of my companion which made him the last man with whom one would care to take anything approaching to a liberty. His great powers, his masterly manner, and the experience which I had had of his many extraordinary qualities, all made me diffident and backward in crossing him.

Yet upon that afternoon, whether it was the Beaune which I had taken with my lunch, or the additional exasperation produced by the extreme deliberation of his manner, I suddenly felt that I could hold out no longer.

"Which is it to-day?" I asked,—"morphine or cocaine?"

He raised his eyes languidly from the old black-letter volume which he had opened. "It is cocaine," he said,—"a seven-per-cent solution. Would you care to try it?"

"No, indeed," I answered, brusquely. "My constitution has not got over the Afghan campaign yet. I cannot afford to throw any extra strain upon it."

He smiled at my vehemence. "Perhaps you are right, Watson," he said. "I suppose that its influence is physically a bad one. I find it, however, so transcendently stimulating and clarifying to the mind that its secondary action is a matter of small moment."

"But consider!" I said, earnestly. "Count the cost! Your brain may, as you say, be roused and excited, but it is a pathological and morbid process, which involves increased tissue-change and may at last leave a permanent weakness. You know, too, what a black reaction comes upon you. Surely the game is hardly worth the candle. Why should you, for a mere passing pleasure, risk the loss of those great powers with which you have been endowed? Remember that I speak not only as one comrade to another, but as a medical man to one for whose constitution he is to some extent answerable."

He did not seem offended. On the contrary, he put his finger-tips together and leaned his elbows on the arms of his chair, like one who has a relish for conversation.

"My mind," he said, "rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession,—or rather created it, for I am the only one in the world."

"The only unofficial detective?" I said, raising my eyebrows.

"The only unofficial consulting detective," he answered. "I am the last and highest court of appeal in detection. When Gregson or Lestrade or Athelney Jones are out of their depths—which, by the way, is their normal state—the matter is laid before me. I examine the data, as an expert, and pronounce a specialist's opinion. I claim no credit in such cases. My name figures in no newspaper. The work itself, the pleasure of finding a field for my peculiar powers, is my highest reward. But you have yourself had some experience of my methods of work in the Jefferson Hope case."

"Yes, indeed," said I, cordially. "I was never so struck by anything in my life. I even embodied it in a small brochure with the somewhat fantastic title of 'A Study in Scarlet.'"

He shook his head sadly. "I glanced over it," said he. "Honestly, I cannot congratulate you upon it. Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science, and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it with romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked a love-story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of Euclid."

"But the romance was there," I remonstrated. "I could not tamper with the facts."

"Some facts should be suppressed, or at least a just sense of proportion should be observed in treating them. The only point in the case which deserved mention was the curious analytical reasoning from effects to causes by which I succeeded in unraveling it."

I was annoyed at this criticism of a work which had been specially designed to please him. I confess, too, that I was irritated by the egotism which seemed to demand that every line of my pamphlet should be devoted to his own special doings. More than once during the years that I had lived with him in Baker Street I had observed that a small vanity underlay my companion's quiet and didactic manner. I made no remark, however, but sat nursing my wounded leg. I had a Jezail bullet through it some time before, and, though it did not prevent me from walking, it ached wearily at every change of the weather.

"My practice has extended recently to the Continent," said Holmes, after a while, filling up his old brier-root pipe. "I was consulted last week by Francois Le Villard, who, as you probably know, has come rather to the front lately in the French detective service. He has all the Celtic power of quick intuition, but he is deficient in the wide range of exact knowledge which is essential to the higher developments of his art. The case was concerned with a will, and possessed some features of interest. I was able to refer him to two parallel cases, the one at Riga in 1857, and the other at St. Louis in 1871, which have suggested to him the true solution. Here is the letter which I had this morning acknowledging my assistance." He tossed over, as he spoke, a crumpled sheet of foreign notepaper. I glanced my eyes down it, catching a profusion of notes of admiration, with stray "magnifiques," "coup-de-maitres," and "tours-de-force," all testifying to the ardent admiration of the Frenchman.

"He speaks as a pupil to his master," said I.

"Oh, he rates my assistance too highly," said Sherlock Holmes, lightly. "He has considerable gifts himself. He possesses two out of the three qualities necessary for the ideal detective. He has the power of observation and that of deduction. He is only wanting in knowledge; and that may come in time. He is now translating my small works into French."

"Your works?"

"Oh, didn't you know?" he cried, laughing. "Yes, I have been guilty of several monographs. They are all upon technical subjects. Here, for example, is one 'Upon the Distinction between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccoes.' In it I enumerate a hundred and forty forms of cigar-, cigarette-, and pipe-tobacco, with colored plates illustrating the difference in the ash. It is a point which is continually turning up in criminal trials, and which is sometimes of supreme importance as a clue. If you can say definitely, for example, that some murder has been done by a man who was smoking an Indian lunkah, it obviously narrows your field of search. To the trained eye there is as much difference between the black ash of a Trichinopoly and the white fluff of bird's-eye as there is between a cabbage and a potato."

"You have an extraordinary genius for minutiae," I remarked.

"I appreciate their importance. Here is my monograph upon the tracing of footsteps, with some remarks upon the uses of plaster of Paris as a preserver of impresses. Here, too, is a curious little work upon the influence of a trade upon the form of the hand, with lithotypes of the hands of slaters, sailors, corkcutters, compositors, weavers, and diamond-polishers. That is a matter of great practical interest to the scientific detective,—especially in cases of unclaimed bodies, or in discovering the antecedents of criminals. But I weary you with my hobby."

"Not at all," I answered, earnestly. "It is of the greatest interest to me, especially since I have had the opportunity of observing your practical application of it. But you spoke just now of observation and deduction. Surely the one to some extent implies the other."

"Why, hardly," he answered, leaning back luxuriously in his arm-chair, and sending up thick blue wreaths from his pipe. "For example, observation shows me that you have been to the Wigmore Street Post-Office this morning, but deduction lets me know that when there you dispatched a telegram."

"Right!" said I. "Right on both points! But I confess that I don't see how you arrived at it. It was a sudden impulse upon my part, and I have mentioned it to no one."

"It is simplicity itself," he remarked, chuckling at my surprise,—"so absurdly simple that an explanation is superfluous; and yet it may serve to define the limits of observation and of deduction. Observation tells me that you have a little reddish mould adhering to your instep. Just opposite the Seymour Street Office they have taken up the pavement and thrown up some earth which lies in such a way that it is difficult to avoid treading in it in entering. The earth is of this peculiar reddish tint which is found, as far as I know, nowhere else in the neighborhood. So much is observation. The rest is deduction."

"How, then, did you deduce the telegram?"

"Why, of course I knew that you had not written a letter, since I sat opposite to you all morning. I see also in your open desk there that you have a sheet of stamps and a thick bundle of post-cards. What could you go into the post-office for, then, but to send a wire? Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth."

"In this case it certainly is so," I replied, after a little thought. "The thing, however, is, as you say, of the simplest. Would you think me impertinent if I were to put your theories to a more severe test?"

"On the contrary," he answered, "it would prevent me from taking a second dose of cocaine. I should be delighted to look into any problem which you might submit to me."

"I have heard you say that it is difficult for a man to have any object in daily use without leaving the impress of his individuality upon it in such a way that a trained observer might read it. Now, I have here a watch which has recently come into my possession. Would you have the kindness to let me have an opinion upon the character or habits of the late owner?"

I handed him over the watch with some slight feeling of amusement in my heart, for the test was, as I thought, an impossible one, and I intended it as a lesson against the somewhat dogmatic tone which he occasionally assumed. He balanced the watch in his hand, gazed hard at the dial, opened the back, and examined the works, first with his naked eyes and then with a powerful convex lens. I could hardly keep from smiling at his crestfallen face when he finally snapped the case to and handed it back.

"There are hardly any data," he remarked. "The watch has been recently cleaned, which robs me of my most suggestive facts."

"You are right," I answered. "It was cleaned before being sent to me." In my heart I accused my companion of putting forward a most lame and impotent excuse to cover his failure. What data could he expect from an uncleaned watch?

"Though unsatisfactory, my research has not been entirely barren," he observed, staring up at the ceiling with dreamy, lack-lustre eyes. "Subject to your correction, I should judge that the watch belonged to your elder brother, who inherited it from your father."

"That you gather, no doubt, from the H. W. upon the back?"

"Quite so. The W. suggests your own name. The date of the watch is nearly fifty years back, and the initials are as old as the watch: so it was made for the last generation. Jewelry usually descends to the eldest son, and he is most likely to have the same name as the father. Your father has, if I remember right, been dead many years. It has, therefore, been in the hands of your eldest brother."

"Right, so far," said I. "Anything else?"

"He was a man of untidy habits,—very untidy and careless. He was left with good prospects, but he threw away his chances, lived for some time in poverty with occasional short intervals of prosperity, and finally, taking to drink, he died. That is all I can gather."

I sprang from my chair and limped impatiently about the room with considerable bitterness in my heart.

"This is unworthy of you, Holmes," I said. "I could not have believed that you would have descended to this. You have made inquires into the history of my unhappy brother, and you now pretend to deduce this knowledge in some fanciful way. You cannot expect me to believe that you have read all this from his old watch! It is unkind, and, to speak plainly, has a touch of charlatanism in it."

"My dear doctor," said he, kindly, "pray accept my apologies. Viewing the matter as an abstract problem, I had forgotten how personal and painful a thing it might be to you. I assure you, however, that I never even knew that you had a brother until you handed me the watch."

"Then how in the name of all that is wonderful did you get these facts? They are absolutely correct in every particular."

"Ah, that is good luck. I could only say what was the balance of probability. I did not at all expect to be so accurate."

"But it was not mere guess-work?"

"No, no: I never guess. It is a shocking habit,—destructive to the logical faculty. What seems strange to you is only so because you do not follow my train of thought or observe the small facts upon which large inferences may depend. For example, I began by stating that your brother was careless. When you observe the lower part of that watch-case you notice that it is not only dinted in two places, but it is cut and marked all over from the habit of keeping other hard objects, such as coins or keys, in the same pocket. Surely it is no great feat to assume that a man who treats a fifty-guinea watch so cavalierly must be a careless man. Neither is it a very far-fetched inference that a man who inherits one article of such value is pretty well provided for in other respects."

I nodded, to show that I followed his reasoning.

"It is very customary for pawnbrokers in England, when they take a watch, to scratch the number of the ticket with a pin-point upon the inside of the case. It is more handy than a label, as there is no risk of the number being lost or transposed. There are no less than four such numbers visible to my lens on the inside of this case. Inference,—that your brother was often at low water. Secondary inference,—that he had occasional bursts of prosperity, or he could not have redeemed the pledge. Finally, I ask you to look at the inner plate, which contains the key-hole. Look at the thousands of scratches all round the hole,—marks where the key has slipped. What sober man's key could have scored those grooves? But you will never see a drunkard's watch without them. He winds it at night, and he leaves these traces of his unsteady hand. Where is the mystery in all this?"

"It is as clear as daylight," I answered. "I regret the injustice which I did you. I should have had more faith in your marvellous faculty. May I ask whether you have any professional inquiry on foot at present?"

"None. Hence the cocaine. I cannot live without brain-work. What else is there to live for? Stand at the window here. Was ever such a dreary, dismal, unprofitable world? See how the yellow fog swirls down the street and drifts across the dun-colored houses. What could be more hopelessly prosaic and material? What is the use of having powers, doctor, when one has no field upon which to exert them? Crime is commonplace, existence is commonplace, and no qualities save those which are commonplace have any function upon earth."

I had opened my mouth to reply to this tirade, when with a crisp knock our landlady entered, bearing a card upon the brass salver.

"A young lady for you, sir," she said, addressing my companion.

"Miss Mary Morstan," he read. "Hum! I have no recollection of the name. Ask the young lady to step up, Mrs. Hudson. Don't go, doctor. I should prefer that you remain."


Excerpted from The Sign of the Four by Arthur Conan Doyle. Copyright © 2014 Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

I The Science of Deduction

II The Statement of the Case

III In Quest of a Solution

IV The Story of the Bald-headed Man

V The Tragedy of Pondicherry Lodge

VI Sherlock Holmes Gives a Demonstration

VII The Episode of the Barrel

VIII The Baker Street Irregulars

IX A Break in the Chain

X The End of the Islander

XI The Great Agra Treasure

XII The Strange Story of Jonathan Small

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The Sign of the Four 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a recent college graduate, at 45, I have spent the last five years reading various types of literature. This was my first foray into Holmes. I thoroughly enjoyed it. To think that such a work was first published 45 years ago and is still as interesting and enticing as anything written today! Everyone should take the time to read some mystery from the past. Entrigue without the grotesque. Loved it
david7466 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book confused me with all of the characters running around. The conclusions made by Holmes at times seemed to be too much of a reach, but the boat chase was thrilling. Overall a good read.
michaeldwebb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the second Sherlock Holmes novel, and it hasn't aged as well as other Sherlock books because of it's racial stereotyping. If you can accept that as a product of the time then the story is OK, again, not as clever as some of the shorter stories or more well known novels.
joririchardson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read the Sherlock Holmes series as a child, so I was very startled to re-open this book after ten years to the scene of the beloved detective injecting cocaine into his arm. Obviously, this went right over my head when I was younger."The Sign of the Four," which is the second Sherlock Holmes mystery, has Holmes and Watson investigating a case that involves a beautiful young woman, Miss Morstan. For years, she has been receiving pearls in the mail from a mysterious source. She is given the chance to uncover the benefactor's identity, but within the offer is a puzzling threat to someone who wronged her. Baffled at who this unknown individual could possibly mean, she calls upon Sherlock Holmes for help. But just as they begin to investigate, a man is murdered, and someone whom Holmes is sure is innocent gets the blame. And so the mystery unfolds as the two detectives try to recover Miss Morstan's fortune, find her mysterious pearl-sender, and clear the name of a falsely accused man.Perhaps it was because since reading Doyle as a child I have been introduced to Agatha Christie and other mysteries. Or perhaps it was just because I was expecting something entirely different. But for whatever the reason, I didn't love this book like I thought I would. It was average - and I will keep it, but I don't feel any motivation to take out any more Sherlock books now.While reading, Sherlock Holmes himself struck me as annoying, and I had to struggle to keep looking for anything likable about him. Watson on the other hand (who I used to think was very annoying as a child), was charming and seemed far more realistic of a person than Holmes.Sherlock is very precise and detail-obsessed, and having built a revered name for himself, he also comes across as quite an arrogant, self important person. He is always convinced that he is right, and seems constantly impressed with himself. The scene where he puts on a disguise that fools even Watson, then reveals himself triumphantly, reminded me of a child. He seemed delighted to have pulled off the disguise so well, and told everyone so. I half expected him to say "Ta da!" But of course, if you examine this thinking, you'll just realize that Holmes admittedly deserves to be a bit inflated. He is a brilliant detective, and I suppose that his disguise was, grudgingly, pretty good if it even fooled his longtime companion. But this just annoyed me even further: Holmes is irritating at times, but he deserves every bit of the praise he gets (and he knows it). The author seemed just as enamored with his character as the rest of the city is. Holmes never makes a mistake, or if he does, it is quickly retracted and spun into being beneficial. Holmes always has impressive plans and second-plans and friends and connections and resources at his fingertips. With this set-up, I can't see how Holmes could possibly have failed to become a successful detective.Watson does not exactly play such an important part in solving the mystery, but as a reader, I was happy to overlook this. I was relieved to recall that it is Watson who narrates the stories, not Holmes.Watson is more grounded than Holmes, more practical. Holmes often imagines impossible, exciting solutions to mysteries, while Watson is more likely to think of what is most logical. Of course, since these are, after all, impossible, exciting mystery stories, Holmes' guesses are most often right, but in the real world, it would probably have been Watson solving all the cases.Watson also seems far more, well, human than Holmes. I was very happy for him in finding a love interest with Miss Morstan. He deserves it.Besides the revolution of finding that I actually dislike Sherlock Holmes (that still doesn't sound right), I also found this book to be (surprise, again) a bit dull at times. It simply never held my attention.I am very glad that I re-read this book, even if it was a bit jarring. Some books you read as a child seem completely and totally different when you re
KLmesoftly on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this; though I probably laughed more - at the sexism, racism, and general ethnocentrism ingrained in the text - than Sir Arthur intended, it's an engaging, well-written little caper with some great chase scenes and iconic bits of dialogue.
bookworm12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Watson and Sherlock are back in this delicious mystery, one of only four full Sherlock novels. This one has it all and is my personal favorite. It opens with Sherlock shooting cocaine as a concerned Watson questions the addiction. Things just get better from there. We have a mysterious treasure from India passed down from father to son, murder, great disguises from Sherlock and even a bit of romance for Watson. I love that this novel gives us the full range of Sherlock¿s emotions. He is obviously troubled, both when he is bored and when he is frustrated by a case. At other times he is completely joyous and playful as his mind ticks at a rapid pace, miles ahead of everyone else as he connects the dots. The relationship between Watson and Sherlock is at its best here. It¿s still in its infancy in A Study in Scarlet and it¿s almost completely missing in The Hound of the Baskervilles. This book captures the core of their friendship. They balance each other, Sherlock needs someone to think of the emotional side of things and Watson loves being involved in the thrill of a new case, though he wouldn¿t pursue this line of work on his own. We also have Sherlock¿s fussy landlady, Mrs. Hudson, who worries about her tenant and the client, Miss Mary Morstan, who catches Watson¿s eye. Then there¿s the Baker Street Irregulars, a ragtag group of boys who occasionally help Sherlock with his cases. The novel also has a helpful dog named Toby and some of Sherlock¿s most infamous lines. You can¿t go wrong with this one. BOTTOM LINE: This is definitely my favorite Sherlock Holmes novel so far. I also think it would be a great starting point for anyone who is new to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle¿s work. "My mind," he said, "rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession, or rather created it, for I am the only one in the world." "The chief proof of man's real greatness lies in his perception of his own smallness." ¿No, I am not tired. I have a curious constitution. I never remember feeling tired by work, though idleness exhausts me completely." ¿Miss Morstan and I stood together, and her hand was in mine. A wondrous subtle thing is love, for here were we two who had never seen each other before that day, between whom no word or even look of affection had ever passed, and yet now in an hour of trouble our hands instinctively sought for each other.¿ ¿Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.¿
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm only 13 and have read many sherlock holmes books. This is one of the best!
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