(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Miss Mary Morstan goes to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson with something of a mystery. Her father, formerly an officer in an Indian regiment, sent her word from London that she was to meet him at a certain hotel. When she kept the appointment, her father failed to appear, and he has not been heard from in the ten years elapsed since that time. His only known friend in England was Major Sholto, a brother officer, but that gentleman disclaimed any knowledge of Morstan’s presence in London. For the past six years, Mary has received one large and valuable pearl on a certain date each year. That morning, she received a note asking her to meet the writer at a certain spot near a theater. She is to bring two friends if she likes, but not the police. Apprehensive and puzzled, she turns to Holmes for help.

Holmes and Dr. Watson eagerly accept the assignment, Holmes from a need for excitement, and Dr. Watson from a newly kindled love for the young girl. When the three people keep the appointment at the theater, they are met by a coachman who drives them some distance and then deposits them in front of a house in a long row of new, dreary houses of the same design. Inside they are met by Dr. Thaddeus Sholto, the son of Major Sholto, who tells them a strange and frightening story that their father told him and his twin brother shortly before the major died.

In India, Morstan and Major Sholto came upon a large fortune that Sholto brought back to England. When Morstan arrived in London, where he planned to meet his daughter, he called on Major Sholto. In a disagreement over the division of the treasure, Morstan was stricken by a heart attack, fell, and struck his head a mortal blow. Fearing that he would be accused of murder, Major Sholto disposed of the body with the help of a servant. On his deathbed, Major Sholto wanted to make restitution to Morstan’s daughter and called his twin sons to his side to tell them where the treasure was hidden. As he was about to reveal the hiding place, however, he saw a horrible face staring in the window, and he died before he could disclose his secret.

On the following morning, his sons found the room ransacked and on the dead man’s chest a piece of paper bearing the words “The Sign of Four.” The two brothers differ over their responsibility to Mary; Thaddeus wants to help her, and his twin wants to keep everything for themselves should the treasure be found. It is Thaddeus who sends her the pearl each year, their father having taken the pearls out of the treasure chest before he died.

The day before his meeting with Mary, Holmes,...

(The entire section is 1065 words.)