The Sign of the Four

by

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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Dr. John Watson Character Analysis

Dr. Watson is the narrator of the story and Sherlock Holmes’ loyal assistant. He is a doctor by profession and has a background as a surgeon in the British Army. Over the course of the novella, Watson falls in love with Miss Morstan, finally asking her to marry him. Watson aids Holmes throughout the story, though the major breakthroughs in the case are always the result of Holmes’ brilliant mind. Watson functions as a kind of counterpart to Holmes; the detective frequently uses him as a sounding board for his ideas, and in his inability to see problems as clearly as Holmes, Watson is representative of the general reader. That is, Watson is a kind of everyman figure of decent—but not Holmes’ level—intelligence. Watson is more emotional than Holmes and is frequently concerned for the latter’s wellbeing, especially when it comes to Holmes’ drug use. But Watson is in awe of Holmes’ abilities, which is why he decides to preserve them for posterity by writing them down. In his powers of observation about the more emotional side of life, Watson actually possesses something that Holmes lacks—an ability to understand people and the way that they feel.

Dr. John Watson Quotes in The Sign of the Four

The The Sign of the Four quotes below are all either spoken by Dr. John Watson or refer to Dr. John Watson. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Empire and Imperialism Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Spencer Blackett edition of The Sign of the Four published in 1890.
Chapter 1 Quotes

"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."

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), Dr. John Watson
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

“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."

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), Dr. John Watson (speaker)
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

“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.

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), Dr. John Watson (speaker), Miss Mary Morstan
Page Number: 8-9
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

"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 said, "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.”

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), Dr. John Watson (speaker), Miss Mary Morstan
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

It was a September evening, and not yet seven o'clock, 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 ghost-like in the endless procession of faces which flitted across these narrow bars of light,—sad faces and glad, haggard and merry. Like all human kind, 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 Morstan's manner that she was suffering from the same feeling. Holmes alone could rise superior to petty influences. He held his open note-book upon his knee, and from time to time he jotted down figures and memoranda in the light of his pocket-lantern.

Related Characters: Dr. John Watson (speaker), Sherlock Holmes , Miss Mary Morstan
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

"Your servant, Miss Morstan," he kept repeating, in a thin, high voice. "Your servant, gentlemen. Pray step into my little sanctum. A small place, miss, but furnished to my own liking. An oasis of art in the howling desert of South London."

We were all astonished by the appearance of the apartment into which he invited us. In that sorry house it looked as out of place as a diamond of the first water in a setting of brass. The richest and glossiest of curtains and tapestries draped the walls, looped back here and there to expose some richly-mounted painting or Oriental vase. The carpet was of amber-and-black, so soft and so thick that the foot sank pleasantly into it, as into a bed of moss. Two great tiger-skins thrown athwart it increased the suggestion of Eastern luxury, as did a huge hookah which stood upon a mat in the corner. A lamp in the fashion of a silver dove was hung from an almost invisible golden wire in the centre of the room. As it burned it filled the air with a subtle and aromatic odor.

Related Characters: Dr. John Watson (speaker), Thaddeus Sholto (speaker), Sherlock Holmes , Miss Mary Morstan
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

Inside, a gravel path wound through desolate grounds to a huge clump of a house, square and prosaic, all plunged in shadow save where a moonbeam struck one corner and glimmered in a garret window. The vast size of the building, with its gloom and its deathly silence, struck a chill to the heart. Even Thaddeus Sholto seemed ill at ease, and the lantern quivered and rattled in his hand.

Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

I stooped to the hole, and recoiled in horror. Moonlight was streaming into the room, and it was bright with a vague and shifty radiance. Looking straight at me, and suspended, as it were, in the air, for all beneath was in shadow, there hung a face,—the very face of our companion Thaddeus. There was the same high, shining head, the same circular bristle of red hair, the same bloodless countenance. The features were set, however, in a horrible smile, a fixed and unnatural grin, which in that still and moonlit room was more jarring to the nerves than any scowl or contortion. So like was the face to that of our little friend that I looked round at him to make sure that he was indeed with us. Then I recalled to mind that he had mentioned to us that his brother and he were twins.

Related Characters: Dr. John Watson (speaker), Thaddeus Sholto, Bartholomew Sholto
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

"How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains, HOWEVER IMPROBABLE, must be the truth? We know that he did not come through the door, the window, or the chimney. We also know that he could not have been concealed in the room, as there is no concealment possible. Whence, then, did he come?"

"He came through the hole in the roof," I cried.

Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

The police had brought a cab with them, and in this I escorted Miss Morstan back to her home. After the angelic fashion of women, she had borne trouble with a calm face as long as there was some one weaker than herself to support, and I had found her bright and placid by the side of the frightened housekeeper. In the cab, however, she first turned faint, and then burst into a passion of weeping,—so sorely had she been tried by the adventures of the night. She has told me since that she thought me cold and distant upon that journey. She little guessed the struggle within my breast, or the effort of self-restraint which held me back. My sympathies and my love went out to her, even as my hand had in the garden. I felt that years of the conventionalities of life could not teach me to know her sweet, brave nature as had this one day of strange experiences. Yet there were two thoughts which sealed the words of affection upon my lips. She was weak and helpless, shaken in mind and nerve. It was to take her at a disadvantage to obtrude love upon her at such a time. Worse still, she was rich. If Holmes's researches were successful, she would be an heiress. Was it fair, was it honorable, that a half-pay surgeon should take such advantage of an intimacy which chance had brought about? Might she not look upon me as a mere vulgar fortune-seeker? I could not bear to risk that such a thought should cross her mind. This Agra treasure intervened like an impassable barrier between us.

Related Characters: Dr. John Watson (speaker), Miss Mary Morstan
Related Symbols: The Agra Treasure
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

“Now, then, listen to this. 'They are naturally hideous, having large, misshapen heads, small, fierce eyes, and distorted features. Their feet and hands, however, are remarkably small. So intractable and fierce are they that all the efforts of the British official have failed to win them over in any degree. They have always been a terror to shipwrecked crews, braining the survivors with their stone headed clubs, or shooting them with their poisoned arrows. These massacres are invariably concluded by a cannibal feast.' Nice, amiable people, Watson!”

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), Dr. John Watson, Tonga
Related Symbols: Tonga’s Blow Darts
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

"It is a romance!" cried Mrs. Forrester. "An injured lady, half a million in treasure, a black cannibal, and a wooden-legged ruffian. They take the place of the conventional dragon or wicked earl."

"And two knight-errants to the rescue," added Miss Morstan, with a bright glance at me.

"Why, Mary, your fortune depends upon the issue of this search. I don't think that you are nearly excited enough. Just imagine what it must be to be so rich, and to have the world at your feet!"

It sent a little thrill of joy to my heart to notice that she showed no sign of elation at the prospect. On the contrary, she gave a toss of her proud head, as though the matter were one in which she took small interest.

Related Characters: Dr. John Watson (speaker), Miss Mary Morstan (speaker), Mrs. Forrester (speaker), Sherlock Holmes
Related Symbols: The Agra Treasure
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

At the sound of his strident, angry cries there was movement in the huddled bundle upon the deck. It straightened itself into a little black man—the smallest I have ever seen—with a great, misshapen head and a shock of tangled, dishevelled hair. Holmes had already drawn his revolver, and I whipped out mine at the sight of this savage, distorted creature. He was wrapped in some sort of dark ulster or blanket, which left only his face exposed; but that face was enough to give a man a sleepless night. Never have I seen features so deeply marked with all bestiality and cruelty. His small eyes glowed and burned with a sombre light, and his thick lips were writhed back from his teeth, which grinned and chattered at us with a half animal fury.

Related Characters: Dr. John Watson (speaker), Sherlock Holmes , Tonga
Related Symbols: Tonga’s Blow Darts
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

"The treasure is lost," said Miss Morstan, calmly.

As I listened to the words and realized what they meant, a great shadow seemed to pass from my soul. I did not know how this Agra treasure had weighed me down, until now that it was finally removed. It was selfish, no doubt, disloyal, wrong, but I could realize nothing save that the golden barrier was gone from between us. "Thank God!" I ejaculated from my very heart.

She looked at me with a quick, questioning smile. "Why do you say that?" she asked.

"Because you are within my reach again," I said, taking her hand. She did not withdraw it. "Because I love you, Mary, as truly as ever a man loved a woman. Because this treasure, these riches, sealed my lips. Now that they are gone I can tell you how I love you. That is why I said, 'Thank God.'"

"Then I say, 'Thank God,' too," she whispered, as I drew her to my side. Whoever had lost a treasure, I knew that night that I had gained one.

Related Characters: Dr. John Watson (speaker), Miss Mary Morstan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Agra Treasure
Page Number: 71-72
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

"You have done all the work in this business. I get a wife out of it, Jones gets the credit, pray what remains for you?"

"For me," said Sherlock Holmes, "there still remains the cocaine-bottle." And he stretched his long white hand up for it.

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), Dr. John Watson (speaker), Athelney Jones
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:
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Dr. John Watson Character Timeline in The Sign of the Four

The timeline below shows where the character Dr. John Watson appears in The Sign of the Four. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1 — The Science of Deduction
Rationality vs. Emotion Theme Icon
...is sitting on his armchair in his Baker Street apartment, injecting himself with cocaine. Dr. Watson, Holmes’ assistant, remarks that Holmes has been using drugs for three times a day over... (full context)
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Watson asks Holmes why he takes drugs and risks damaging the “great powers” of his intellect.... (full context)
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The two men briefly discuss Watson’s write-up of one of Holmes’ recent cases; Holmes criticizes Watson for treating the subject with... (full context)
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Watson asks Holmes if there is a distinction between “observation” and “deduction,” to which he replies... (full context)
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Holmes says that, as he has been with Watson all day and not seen him write a letter, he knows that the purpose of... (full context)
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Watson proposes a further test of Holmes’ powers of deduction. He offers the other man his... (full context)
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Watson is momentarily angered, thinking Holmes must have found out about his brother beforehand. When Holmes... (full context)
Chapter 2 — The Statement of the Case
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Miss Morstan is a young blonde woman whom Watson describes as “dressed in the most perfect taste” while also appearing to be of “limited... (full context)
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...can bring friends, that she is a “wronged woman and shall have justice.” Holmes and Watson agree to accompany Miss Morstan later that evening. (full context)
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Watson exclaims how attractive he found Miss Morstan. When Holmes says he hadn’t noticed, Watson says,... (full context)
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Holmes goes out for an hour, leaving Watson to daydream about Miss Morstan. He figures out that she must be twenty-seven—“a sweet age,... (full context)
Chapter 3 — In Quest of a Solution
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Holmes comes back to the flat in good spirits. He tells Watson that he has figured out that the pearls must have something to do with Major... (full context)
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Watson describes the gloom of London as they head for the theatre: “dense drizzly fog,” “mud-coloured... (full context)
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...them to follow him. They get into another cab and head through the “foggy streets.” Watson tells Miss Morstan anecdotes about his time serving in Afghanistan. (full context)
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Eventually, the cab pulls up in a south London suburb, which Watson describes as part of the “monster tentacles which the giant city was throwing out into... (full context)
Chapter 4 — The Story of the Bald-Headed Man
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The servant leads Holmes, Watson and Miss Morstan to Thaddeus Sholto. He is an odd-looking 30-year-old man with a jerky... (full context)
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...outside. Thaddeus explains that the value of the treasure is around “half a million sterling.” Watson thinks to himself how this will make Miss Morstan the richest heiress in England; he... (full context)
Chapter 5 — The Tragedy of Pondicherry Lodge
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...goes in meets the house keeper, Mrs. Bernstone, who has been crying. Miss Morstan and Watson instinctively hold hands in the dark as they look at the grounds with Holmes. The... (full context)
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...Holmes tries to open the door to Bartholomew’s room, but it is locked. He and Watson look through the keyhole, surprised to see Bartholomew’s face staring straight at them, fixed in... (full context)
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Surveying the scene, Watson is baffled, but Holmes says he only needs “a few missing links to have an... (full context)
Chapter 6 — Sherlock Holmes Gives a Demonstration
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...on the floor: a footprint and a circular print of a wooden stump. He and Watson agree that the wooden-legged man must have had help; the outer walls of the house... (full context)
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Watson wonders how the wooden-legged man’s ally could have got into the room. Holmes is mildly... (full context)
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Holmes and Watson investigate the roof cavity and find a trapdoor leading out on to the roof. Here,... (full context)
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...he is aware of an accomplice, though does not know his identity yet. Holmes takes Watson aside and asks him to escort Miss Morstan home, before fetching Toby the hound from... (full context)
Chapter 7 — The Episode of the Barrel
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Watson takes Miss Morstan back to her home, feeling that the Agra treasure is “like an... (full context)
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Watson heads for Pinchin Lane to pick up Toby the hound. He finds the house of... (full context)
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...“child-like” footprints of the accomplice, noticing that the toes are “distinctly divided.” He then instructs Watson to go downstairs and let Toby the dog loose. (full context)
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Watson, now outside, observes Holmes clambering on the roof, looking for the accomplice’s method of entrance.... (full context)
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...handkerchief coated in the creosote from upstairs, hoping this will help them find the criminals. Watson and Holmes follow the hound on a lengthy walk into and around London. (full context)
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Holmes gets Watson to realize that the letter that so frightened Major Sholto was most likely from the... (full context)
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...the accomplice, whom he describes as having acted on “savage instincts.” He promises to tell Watson “soon enough.” (full context)
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With London rising to meet the next working day, Holmes and Watson are still walking around London, following Toby. Eventually the hound gets confused, before leading them... (full context)
Chapter 8 — The Baker Street Irregulars
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Holmes and Watson take Toby back to the point where he had got confused, attempting to regain the... (full context)
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Holmes thanks the woman and goes off with Watson, explaining that “the main thing with people of that sort is never to let them... (full context)
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Back at the flat, Watson takes some much-needed respite by having a bath. When he gets out, Holmes shows him... (full context)
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Watson asks Holmes if he intends to sleep. Holmes says that he is not tired; only... (full context)
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...distorted features.” Holmes reasons that this is the likely identity of the accomplice. He instructs Watson to get some rest, playing him to sleep with his violin. (full context)
Chapter 9 — A Break in the Chain
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Watson wakes up late in the afternoon. Holmes appears agitated, frustrated that he has not yet... (full context)
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Watson heads to Miss Morstan’s house, dropping off Toby the hound on the way. He tells... (full context)
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In the evening, Watson returns home. Holmes’ housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson, expresses concern for his health—he has been walking up... (full context)
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At breakfast, Watson talks with the haggard-looking Holmes. The latter says that “this infernal problem is consuming me.”... (full context)
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...Holmes decides to go off down the river in search of the Aurora. He instructs Watson to stay behind to receive any notes and telegrams. At breakfast, Watson reads in the... (full context)
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In the afternoon, the despondent Athelney Jones comes to the apartment, looking for Holmes. Watson offers him a cigar and a whisky and soda while they wait for Holmes to... (full context)
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...is complete, he would like to question Jonathan Small on his own; he also wants Watson to be entrusted with taking the treasure to Miss Morstan. Jones agrees to these demands,... (full context)
Chapter 10 — The End of the Islander
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Holmes, Watson and Jones enjoy dinner together, talking about a wide range of subjects other than the... (full context)
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They pursue the Aurora down the river, dodging past other boats. Watson notices the figures on the deck, including “a dark mass, which looked like a Newfoundland... (full context)
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...black man […] with a great, misshapen head and a shock of tangled, disheveled hair.” Watson says that “never have I seen features so deeply marked with all bestiality and cruelty... (full context)
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...his company ensnare Jonathan Small, and recover the treasure chest from the boat. Holmes and Watson notice a poison dart stuck in the wood on their boat; they are relieved to... (full context)
Chapter 11 — The Great Agra Treasure
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Watson is dropped off at Vauxhall bridge with the treasure box and takes it to Miss... (full context)
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Without a key to open the treasure box, Watson wedges it open using a poker. To their amazement, the box is entirely empty. Miss... (full context)
Chapter 12 — The Strange Story of Jonathan Small
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Watson heads to Baker Street and reconvenes with Holmes, Jones and Jonathan Small. Watson shows them... (full context)
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Athelney Jones thanks Holmes for his assistance and bids him goodbye. As Holmes and Watson leave, Watson indicates that this may be the last case on which he is able... (full context)
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Watson remarks that it seems unfair that Holmes gets nothing out of the case’s resolution—Jones has... (full context)