The Statement of the Case

Miss Morstan entered the room with a firm step and an outward composure
of manner. She was a blonde young lady, small, dainty, well gloved,
and dressed in the most perfect taste. There was, however, a plainness
and simplicity about her costume which bore with it a suggestion of
limited means. The dress was a sombre grayish beige, untrimmed and
unbraided, and she wore a small turban of the same dull hue, relieved
only by a suspicion of white feather in the side. Her face had neither
regularity of feature nor beauty of complexion, but her expression was
sweet and amiable, and her large blue eyes were singularly spiritual
and sympathetic. In an experience of women which extends over many
nations and three separate continents, I have never looked upon a face
which gave a clearer promise of a refined and sensitive nature. I could
not but observe that as she took the seat which Sherlock Holmes placed
for her, her lip trembled, her hand quivered, and she showed every sign
of intense inward agitation.

“I have come to you, Mr. Holmes,” she said, “because you once enabled
my employer, Mrs. Cecil Forrester, to unravel a little domestic
complication. She was much impressed by your kindness and skill.”

“Mrs. Cecil Forrester,” he repeated thoughtfully. “I believe that I
was of some slight service to her. The case, however, as I remember
it, was a very simple one.”

“She did not think so. But at least you cannot say the same of mine.
I can hardly imagine anything more strange, more utterly inexplicable,
than the situation in which I find myself.”

Holmes rubbed his hands, and his eyes glistened. He leaned forward in
his chair with an expression of extraordinary concentration upon his
clear-cut, hawklike features. “State your case,” said he, in brisk,
business tones.

I felt that my position was an embarrassing one. “You will, I am sure,
excuse me,” I said, rising from my chair.

To my surprise, the young lady held up her gloved hand to detain me.
“If your friend,” she said, “would be good enough to stop, he might be
of inestimable service to me.”

I relapsed into my chair.

“Briefly,” she continued, “the facts are these. My father was an
officer in an Indian regiment who sent me home when I was quite a
child. My mother was dead, and I had no relative in England. I was
placed, however, in a comfortable boarding establishment at Edinburgh,
and there I remained until I was seventeen years of age. In the year
1878 my father, who was senior captain of his regiment, obtained twelve
months’ leave and came home. He telegraphed to me from London that he
had arrived all safe, and directed me to come down at once, giving the
Langham Hotel as his address. His message, as I remember, was full of
kindness and love. On reaching London I drove to the Langham, and was
informed that Captain Morstan was staying there, but that he had gone
out the night before and had not yet returned. I waited all day without
news of him. That night, on the advice of the manager of the hotel, I
communicated with the police, and next morning we advertised in all the
papers. Our inquiries led to no result; and from that day to this no
word has ever been heard of my unfortunate father. He came home with
his heart full of hope, to find some peace, some comfort, and
instead–” She put her hand to her throat, and a choking sob cut short
the sentence.

“The date?” asked Holmes, opening his note-book.

“He disappeared upon the 3d of December, 1878,–nearly ten years ago.”

“His luggage?”

“Remained at the hotel. There was nothing in it to suggest a
clue,–some clothes, some books, and a considerable number of
curiosities from the Andaman Islands. He had been one of the officers
in charge of the convict-guard there.”

“Had he any friends in town?”

“Only one that we know of,–Major Sholto, of his own regiment, the 34th
Bombay Infantry. The major had retired some little time before, and
lived at Upper Norwood. We communicated with him, of course, but he
did not even know that his brother officer was in England.”

“A singular case,” remarked Holmes.

“I have not yet described to you the most singular part. About six
years ago–to be exact, upon the 4th of May, 1882–an advertisement
appeared in the Times asking for the address of Miss Mary Morstan and
stating that it would be to her advantage to come forward. There was
no name or address appended. I had at that time just entered the
family of Mrs. Cecil Forrester in the capacity of governess. By her
advice I published my address in the advertisement column. The same
day there arrived through the post a small card-board box addressed to
me, which I found to contain a very large and lustrous pearl. No word
of writing was enclosed. Since then every year upon the same date
there has always appeared a similar box, containing a similar pearl,
without any clue as to the sender. They have been pronounced by an
expert to be of a rare variety and of considerable value. You can see
for yourselves that they are very handsome.” She opened a flat box as
she spoke, and showed me six of the finest pearls that I had ever seen.

“Your statement is most interesting,” said Sherlock Holmes. “Has
anything else occurred to you?”

“Yes, and no later than to-day. That is why I have come to you. This
morning I received this letter, which you will perhaps read for
yourself.”

“Thank you,” said Holmes. “The envelope too, please. Postmark,
London, S.W. Date, July 7. Hum! Man’s thumb-mark on
corner,–probably postman. Best quality paper. Envelopes at sixpence
a packet. Particular man in his stationery. No address. ‘Be at the
third pillar from the left outside the Lyceum Theatre to-night at seven
o’clock. If you are distrustful, bring two friends. You are a wronged
woman, and shall have justice. Do not bring police. If you do, all
will be in vain. Your unknown friend.’ Well, really, this is a very
pretty little mystery. What do you intend to do, Miss Morstan?”

“That is exactly what I want to ask you.”

“Then we shall most certainly go. You and I and–yes, why, Dr. Watson
is the very man. Your correspondent says two friends. He and I have
worked together before.”

“But would he come?” she asked, with something appealing in her voice
and expression.

“I should be proud and happy,” said I, fervently, “if I can be of any
service.”

“You are both very kind,” she answered. “I have led a retired life,
and have no friends whom I could appeal to. If I am here at six it
will do, I suppose?”

“You must not be later,” said Holmes. “There is one other point,
however. Is this handwriting the same as that upon the pearl-box
addresses?”

“I have them here,” she answered, producing half a dozen pieces of
paper.

“You are certainly a model client. You have the correct intuition.
Let us see, now.” He spread out the papers upon the table, and gave
little darting glances from one to the other. “They are disguised
hands, except the letter,” he said, presently, “but there can be no
question as to the authorship. See how the irrepressible Greek e will
break out, and see the twirl of the final s. They are undoubtedly by
the same person. I should not like to suggest false hopes, Miss
Morstan, but is there any resemblance between this hand and that of
your father?”

“Nothing could be more unlike.”

“I expected to hear you say so. We shall look out for you, then, at
six. Pray allow me to keep the papers. I may look into the matter
before then. It is only half-past three. Au revoir, then.”

“Au revoir,” said our visitor, and, with a bright, kindly glance from
one to the other of us, she replaced her pearl-box in her bosom and
hurried away. Standing at the window, I watched her walking briskly
down the street, until the gray turban and white feather were but a
speck in the sombre crowd.

“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. I assure you that the most winning
woman I ever knew was hanged for poisoning three little children for
their insurance-money, and the most repellant man of my acquaintance is
a philanthropist who has spent nearly a quarter of a million upon the
London poor.”

“In this case, however–”

“I never make exceptions. An exception disproves the rule. Have you
ever had occasion to study character in handwriting? What do you make
of this fellow’s scribble?”

“It is legible and regular,” I answered. “A man of business habits and
some force of character.”

Holmes shook his head. “Look at his long letters,” he said. “They
hardly rise above the common herd. That d might be an a, and that l an
e. Men of character always differentiate their long letters, however
illegibly they may write. There is vacillation in his k’s and
self-esteem in his capitals. I am going out now. I have some few
references to make. Let me recommend this book,–one of the most
remarkable ever penned. It is Winwood Reade’s ‘Martyrdom of Man.’ I
shall be back in an hour.”

I sat in the window with the volume in my hand, but my thoughts were
far from the daring speculations of the writer. My mind ran upon our
late visitor,–her smiles, the deep rich tones of her voice, the
strange mystery which overhung her life. If she were seventeen at the
time of her father’s disappearance she must be seven-and-twenty now,–a
sweet age, when youth has lost its self-consciousness and become a
little sobered by experience. So I sat and mused, until such dangerous
thoughts came into my head that I hurried away to my desk and plunged
furiously into the latest treatise upon pathology. What was I, an army
surgeon with a weak leg and a weaker banking-account, that I should
dare to think of such things? She was a unit, a factor,–nothing more.
If my future were black, it was better surely to face it like a man
than to attempt to brighten it by mere will-o’-the-wisps of the
imagination.