Miss Morstan entered the room with a firm step and an outward composure o_anner. She was a blonde young lady, small, dainty, well gloved, and dresse_n the most perfect taste. There was, however, a plainness and simplicit_bout her costume which bore with it a suggestion of limited means. The dres_as a sombre grayish beige, untrimmed and unbraided, and she wore a smal_urban of the same dull hue, relieved only by a suspicion of white feather i_he side. Her face had neither regularity of feature nor beauty of complexion, but her expression was sweet and amiable, and her large blue eyes wer_ingularly spiritual and sympathetic. In an experience of women which extend_ver many nations and three separate continents, I have never looked upon _ace which gave a clearer promise of a refined and sensitive nature. I coul_ot but observe that as she took the seat which Sherlock Holmes placed fo_er, her lip trembled, her hand quivered, and she showed every sign of intens_nward agitation.
"I have come to you, Mr. Holmes," she said,"because you once enabled m_mployer, Mrs. Cecil Forrester, to unravel a little domestic complication. Sh_as much impressed by your kindness and skill."
"Mrs. Cecil Forrester," he repeated thoughtfully. "I believe that I was o_ome slight service to her. The case, however, as I remember it, was a ver_imple one."
"She did not think so. But at least you cannot say the same of mine. I ca_ardly imagine anything more strange, more utterly inexplicable, than th_ituation in which I find myself."
Holmes rubbed his hands, and his eyes glistened. He leaned forward in hi_hair 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 o_nestimable service to me."
I relapsed into my chair.
"Briefly," she continued, "the facts are these. My father was an officer in a_ndian regiment, who sent me home when I was quite a child. My mother wa_ead, and I had no relative in England. I was placed, however, in _omfortable boarding establishment at Edinburgh, and there I remained until _as seventeen years of age. In the year 1878 my father, who was senior captai_f his regiment, obtained twelve months' leave and came home. He telegraphe_o me from London that he had arrived all safe and directed me to come down a_nce, giving the Langham Hotel as his address. His message, as I remember, wa_ull of kindness and love. On reaching London I drove to the Langham and wa_nformed that Captain Morstan was staying there, but that he had gone out th_ight before and had not returned. I waited all day without news of him. Tha_ight, on the advice of the manager of the hotel, I communicated with th_olice, and next morning we advertised in all the papers. Our inquiries led t_o result; and from that day to this no word has ever been heard of m_nfortunate father. He came home with his heart full of hope to find som_eace, 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 notebook.
"He disappeared upon the third of December, 1878 — nearly ten years ago."
"Remained at the hotel. There was nothing in it to suggest a clue — som_lothes, some books, and a considerable number of curiosities from the Andama_slands. He had been one of the officers in charge of the convict-guar_here."
"Had he any friends in town?"
"Only one that we know of — Major Sholto, of his own regiment, the Thirty- fourth Bombay Infantry. The major had retired some little time before an_ived at Upper Norwood. We communicated with him, of course, but he did no_ven 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 fourth of May, 1882 — an advertisement appeared in th_imes asking for the address of Miss Mary Morstan, and stating that it woul_e to her advantage to come forward. There was no name or address appended. _ad at that time just entered the family of Mrs. Cecil Forrester in th_apacity of governess. By her advice I published my address in th_dvertisement column. The same day there arrived through the post a smal_ardboard box addressed to me, which I found to contain a very large an_ustrous pearl. No word of writing was enclosed. Since then every year upo_he same date there has always appeared a similar box, containing a simila_earl, without any clue as to the sender. They have been pronounced by a_xpert to be of a rare variety and of considerable value. You can see fo_ourself that they are very handsome."
She opened a flat box as she spoke and showed me six of the finest pearls tha_ had ever seen.
"Your statement is most interesting," said Sherlock Holmes. "Has anything els_ccurred to you?"
"Yes, and no later than to-day. That is why I have come to you. This morning _eceived this letter, which you will perhaps read for yourself."
"Thank you," said Holmes. "The envelope, too, please. Post-mark, London, S. W.
Date, July 7. Hum! Man's thumbmark on corner — probably postman. Best qualit_aper. Envelopes at sixpence a packet. Particular man in his stationery. N_ddress.
"Be at the third pillar from the left outside the Lyceum Theatre to-night a_even o'clock. If you are distrustful bring two friends. You are a wronge_oman and shall have justice. Do not bring police. If you do, all will be i_ain. 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 th_ery man. Your correspondent says two friends. He and I have worked togethe_efore."
"But would he come?" she asked with something appealing in her voice an_xpression.
"I shall 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 n_riends 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. I_his 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 glance_rom one to the other. "They are disguised hands, except the letter," he sai_resently; "but there can be no question as to the authorship. See how th_rrepressible Greek e will break out, and see the twirl of the final s. The_re 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 you_ather?"
"Nothing could be more unlike."
"I expected to hear you say so. We shall look out for you, then, at six. Pra_llow me to keep the papers. I may look into the matter before then. It i_nly half-past three. Au revoir then."
"Au revoir," said our visitor; and with a bright, kindly glance from one t_he 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 unti_he 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. "I_he?" he said languidly; "I did not observe."
"You really are an automaton — a calculating machine," I cried. "There i_omething positively inhuman in you at times."
He smiled gently.
"It is of the first importance," he cried, "not to allow your judgment to b_iased by personal qualities. A client is to me a mere unit, a factor in _roblem. The emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning. I assur_ou that the most winning woman I ever knew was hanged for poisoning thre_ittle children for their insurance-money, and the most repellent man of m_cquaintance is a philanthropist who has spent nearly a quarter of a millio_pon the London poor."
"In this case, however —"
"I never make exceptions. An exception disproves the rule. Have you ever ha_ccasion to study character in handwriting? What do you make of this fellow'_cribble?"
"It is legible and regular," I answered. "A man of business habits and som_orce 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 I an e. Men of character always differentiat_heir long letters, however illegibly they may write. There is vacillation i_is k's and self-esteem in his capitals. I am going out now. I have some fe_eferences to make. Let me recommend this book — one of the most remarkabl_ver penned. It is Winwood Reade's Martyrdom of Man. I shall be back in a_our."
I sat in the window with the volume in my hand, but my thoughts were far fro_he daring speculations of the writer. My mind ran upon our late visitor — he_miles, the deep rich tones of her voice, the strange mystery which overhun_er life. If she were seventeen at the time of her father's disappearance sh_ust 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 muse_ntil such dangerous thoughts came into my head that I hurried away to my des_nd plunged furiously into the latest treatise upon pathology. What was I, a_rmy surgeon with a weak leg and a weaker banking account, that I should dar_o think of such things? She was a unit, a factor — nothing more. If my futur_ere black, it was better surely to face it like a man than to attempt t_righten it by mere will-o'-the-wisps of the imagination.