The Sign of the Four

by

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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Sherlock Holmes Character Analysis

Sherlock Holmes, the story’s protagonist, is the infamous detective and occupant of 221b Baker Street. He has a supreme, almost superhuman intelligence that allows him to solve difficult cases. This intelligence is based on his deeply held belief in the power of rationalism—essentially, any problem is solvable if looked at clearly and logically enough. Holmes’ mindset is distinctively Victorian, showing an affiliation with the ideas of Charles Darwin and encompassing certain elements of outdated pseudoscience that results in a discomforting belief in the superiority of white people over other races. Because of Holmes’ intellectual and deductive abilities, Miss Morstanasks him to help her solve the case of her missing father, Captain Morstan, which subsequently draws in the mystery of the Agra treasure too. Likewise, Athelney Jones, the Scotland Yard detective, is fully aware of Holmes’ abilities and relies upon him for help in his own work (though doesn’t always give Holmes the credit he deserves). Holmes, for his part, takes on cases for the thrill of it—not because he wants fame or fortune. This thrill-seeking also contributes to the darker side of Holmes’ character: his drug-taking. Holmes’ mind needs stimulation and, when he doesn’t have a case to work, he turns to cocaine, which greatly concerns his assistant, Dr. Watson. Ultimately, the entire novella functions at the pace of Holmes’ thoughts. When Holmes is stuck on an aspect of the case, the action slows to a halt; when he has a breakthrough, the action picks up again.

Sherlock Holmes Quotes in The Sign of the Four

The The Sign of the Four quotes below are all either spoken by Sherlock Holmes or refer to Sherlock Holmes . 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 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 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

“But it does seem a queer thing," he added, with a bitter smile, "that I who have a fair claim to nigh upon half a million of money should spend the first half of my life building a breakwater in the Andamans, and am like to spend the other half digging drains at Dartmoor. It was an evil day for me when first I clapped eyes upon the merchant Achmet and had to do with the Agra treasure, which never brought anything but a curse yet upon the man who owned it. To him it brought murder, to Major Sholto it brought fear and guilt, to me it has meant slavery for life."

Related Symbols: The Agra Treasure
Page Number: 69
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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Sherlock Holmes Character Timeline in The Sign of the Four

The timeline below shows where the character Sherlock Holmes 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
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Sherlock Holmes is sitting on his armchair in his Baker Street apartment, injecting himself with cocaine. Dr.... (full context)
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Watson asks Holmes why he takes drugs and risks damaging the “great powers” of his intellect. Holmes replies... (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 too much emotion and “romanticism.”... (full context)
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Watson asks Holmes if there is a distinction between “observation” and “deduction,” to which he replies that there... (full context)
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Holmes says that, as he has been with Watson all day and not seen him write... (full context)
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Watson proposes a further test of Holmes’ powers of deduction. He offers the other man his watch to examine. Just from looking... (full context)
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Watson is momentarily angered, thinking Holmes must have found out about his brother beforehand. When Holmes explains his process—which rests on... (full context)
Chapter 2 — The Statement of the Case
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...while also appearing to be of “limited means.” She explains that she has come to Holmes on a recommendation from her employer, Mrs. Cecil Forrester. (full context)
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Miss Morstan outlines the facts of her case, as Holmes watches her gleefully with “hawk-like” features. Her father, Captain Morstan, who was an officer in... (full context)
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Holmes reads the note, which instructs Miss Morstan to “be at the third pillar from the... (full context)
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Holmes compares the handwriting on the letter is the same to that on the pearl box... (full context)
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Watson exclaims how attractive he found Miss Morstan. When Holmes says he hadn’t noticed, Watson says, “you really are an automaton – a calculating machine... (full context)
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Holmes goes out for an hour, leaving Watson to daydream about Miss Morstan. He figures out... (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... (full context)
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...the major and their time together commanding troops on the Andaman Islands. Miss Morstan presents Holmes with a “curious paper” she has found in her father’s desk. (full context)
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Holmes examines the paper, which he says is the diagram of a building and has a... (full context)
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...the people that they pass. He can tell that Miss Morstan feels similarly to him; Holmes is deep in thought. (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... (full context)
Chapter 5 — The Tragedy of Pondicherry Lodge
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...iron door for entry. The doorman, McMurdo, is reluctant to let in anyone but Thaddeus. Holmes realizes that he knows McMurdo, whom he has previously fought against in an amateur boxing... (full context)
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...and Watson instinctively hold hands in the dark as they look at the grounds with Holmes. The earth has been dug up all over the place in search of the treasure. (full context)
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They go upstairs. Holmes tries to open the door to Bartholomew’s room, but it is locked. He and Watson... (full context)
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...the foot of the steps. Bartholomew is stiff and cold; he’s been dead for hours. Holmes picks up a note by the body, which once again reads “the sign of the... (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 entirely connected case.” Thaddeus... (full context)
Chapter 6 — Sherlock Holmes Gives a Demonstration
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Holmes gleefully examines the crime scene. He observes two distinctive marks on the floor: a footprint... (full context)
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Watson wonders how the wooden-legged man’s ally could have got into the room. Holmes is mildly annoyed by Watson, saying, “how often have I said to you that when... (full context)
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Holmes and Watson investigate the roof cavity and find a trapdoor leading out on to the... (full context)
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Holmes notices that the wooden-legged man appears to have stepped in creosote. They hear the police... (full context)
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...the bumbling and red-faced Scotland Yard detective, Athelney Jones, arrives on the scene. He addresses Holmes patronizingly, calling him “the theorist.” Jones has already made up his mind that Thaddeus is... (full context)
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Holmes tells Thaddeus he will be freed soon enough. He also names the real suspect, Jonathan... (full context)
Chapter 7 — The Episode of the Barrel
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...to pick up Toby the hound. He finds the house of Mr. Sherman, one of Holmes’ associates, who is glad to lend Toby for service to Sherlock Holmes. Watson returns to... (full context)
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Holmes reexamines the small “child-like” footprints of the accomplice, noticing that the toes are “distinctly divided.”... (full context)
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Watson, now outside, observes Holmes clambering on the roof, looking for the accomplice’s method of entrance. Holmes notices a barrel... (full context)
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Holmes then gives Toby a sniff of a handkerchief coated in the creosote from upstairs, hoping... (full context)
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As they follow Toby, Holmes expands on his views about the case, calling it “simplicity itself.” He identifies the wooden-legged... (full context)
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Holmes gets Watson to realize that the letter that so frightened Major Sholto was most likely... (full context)
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Holmes continues that Small must have returned to England now to find his treasure. He probably... (full context)
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Holmes reasons that Small probably didn’t want Bartholomew dead, but that this was the result of... (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... (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... (full context)
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Holmes speaks with a woman in the doorway of a nearby house, who is trying to... (full context)
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Holmes thanks the woman and goes off with Watson, explaining that “the main thing with people... (full context)
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...the flat, Watson takes some much-needed respite by having a bath. When he gets out, Holmes shows him an article in the paper talking about the case and praising Athelney Jones’... (full context)
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The Baker Street Irregulars arrive. Holmes explains that he wants them to track down the whereabouts of the Aurora by spreading... (full context)
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Watson asks Holmes if he intends to sleep. Holmes says that he is not tired; only “idleness” tires... (full context)
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Holmes consults a book and finds an entry on “the aborigines of the Andaman Islands.” This... (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 solved the case. Watson decides to go... (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 and down in... (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.” He is frustrated to have... (full context)
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The next morning, Holmes decides to go off down the river in search of the Aurora. He instructs Watson... (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... (full context)
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Just then, a wheezy old man in “seafaring garb” comes to the apartment looking for Holmes. He says that he knows the whereabouts of the Aurora, the criminals, and the Agra... (full context)
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...the door so that the old man cannot leave. Suddenly, they hear the voice of Holmes asking for a cigar—the old man was him in disguise all along. Holmes tells Jones... (full context)
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Holmes also insists that, when the capture is complete, he would like to question Jonathan Small... (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... (full context)
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The three men board the police boat and head out in search of the Aurora. Holmes explains that, while conducting his chemical experiment during the night, it had occurred to him... (full context)
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Holmes had then made inquiries at various shipyards along the river before chancing on one where... (full context)
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The boat goes along the river and stops near Jacobson’s Yard, where Holmes tracked the Aurora to. They notice the signal—the waving handkerchief. The Aurora leaves the shipyard;... (full context)
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...writhed back from his teeth, which grinned and chattered at us with half-animal fury.” When Holmes and Watson notice the man (later revealed as Tonga) pulling a short piece of wood... (full context)
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The Aurora runs aground on the shore in “wild and desolate” marsh-land. Holmes and his company ensnare Jonathan Small, and recover the treasure chest from the boat. Holmes... (full context)
Chapter 11 — The Great Agra Treasure
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As the police boat heads back, Holmes talks with Jonathan Small, who denies having anything to do with killing Bartholomew—that was all... (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 the empty treasure box. Small admits that this... (full context)
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Holmes reminds Small that they are yet to hear his side of the story, and so... (full context)
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Holmes remarks that he was surprised to have nearly been hit by one of Tonga’s darts,... (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... (full context)
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Watson remarks that it seems unfair that Holmes gets nothing out of the case’s resolution—Jones has his suspect, and Watson has Miss Morstan.... (full context)