I've read the book "The Signs of the Four", and I can't stand pursuing its contradictions as an irregular Sherlockian.
I'm most interested in the relationship between Holmes and Dr. Watson. Many Sherlockians are interested in it and some Sherlockians insist that Dr. Watson is a woman; other Sherlockians insist that Holmes is a woman! But my interpretation on first reading this story was that Holmes is a gay, who loved Dr. Watson, and Dr. Watson is a really insensitive man, who never noticed Holmes' love, when I read this story straight.
Dr. Watson fell in love with Miss Mary Morstan, who was Holmes' client in this case, and finally they got engaged.
I'll quote the opening scene, where Holmes, Dr. Watson and Miss Morstan took a four-wheeler, pursuing an invitation from a mysterious person.
He leaned back in the cab, and I could see by his drawn brow and his vacant eye that he was thinking intently. Miss Morstan and I chatted in an undertone about our present expedition and its possible outcome, but our companion maintained his impenetrable reserve until the end of our journey.
Dr. Watson loved Miss Morstan at first sight. Holmes, who was quite observant, never missed that Dr. Watson fell in love with Miss Morstan. When they talked intimately with each other, Holmes was sullen.
It might not be enough to prove that Holmes loved Dr. Watson. How about the next scene?
"… Look here, Watson; you look regularly done. Lie down there on the sofa, and see if I can put you to sleep."
He took up his violin from the corner, and as I stretched myself out he began to play some low, dreamy, melodious air,—his own, no doubt, for he had a remarkable gift for improvisation. I have a vague remembrance of his gaunt limbs, his earnest face, and the rise and fall of his bow. Then I seemed to be floated peacefully away upon a soft sea of sound, until I found myself in dreamland, with the sweet face of Mary Morstan looking down upon me.
Holmes played the violin seriously to make Dr. Watson fall asleep. Dr. Watson dreamed of Miss Morstan while listening to the sound of Holmes' violin. Poor Holmes!
Next morning Dr. Watson said that he would visit Miss Morstan first of all.
"Then I shall run over to Camberwell and call upon Mrs. Cecil Forrester. She asked me to, yesterday."
"On Mrs. Cecil Forrester?" asked Holmes, with the twinkle of a smile in his eyes.
"Well, of course Miss Morstan too. They were anxious to hear what happened."
"I would not tell them too much," said Holmes. "Women are never to be entirely trusted,—not the best of them."
I did not pause to argue over this atrocious sentiment. "I shall be back in an hour or two," I remarked.
"All right! Good luck! But, I say, if you are crossing the river you may as well return Toby, for I don't think it is at all likely that we shall have any use for him now."
How insensitive Dr. Watson was! Last night he fell asleep listening to Holmes' violin, but he never noticed Holmes' love at all. If he noticed it, he would be a really cruel man.
He said to Holmes "I shall be back in an hour or two," but he would no be back so soon because he met Miss Morstan.
It was evening before I left Camberwell, and quite dark by the time I reached home. My companion's book and pipe lay by his chair, but he had disappeared. I looked about in the hope of seeing a note, but there was none.
"I suppose that Mr. Sherlock Holmes has gone out," I said to Mrs. Hudson as she came up to lower the blinds.
"No, sir. He has gone to his room, sir. Do you know, sir," sinking her voice into an impressive whisper, "I am afraid for his health?"
"Why so, Mrs. Hudson?"
"Well, he's that strange, sir. After you was gone he walked and he walked, up and down, and up and down, until I was weary of the sound of his footstep. Then I heard him talking to himself and muttering, and every time the bell rang out he came on the stairhead, with 'What is that, Mrs. Hudson?' And now he has slammed off to his room, but I can hear him walking away the same as ever. I hope he's not going to be ill, sir. I ventured to say something to him about cooling medicine, but he turned on me, sir, with such a look that I don't know how ever I got out of the room."
"I don't think that you have any cause to be uneasy, Mrs. Hudson," I answered. "I have seen him like this before. He has some small matter upon his mind which makes him restless."
Such insensitivity is guilt. Dr. Watson said "I have seen him like this before." It was your own affair, Dr. Watson.
And then the last scene was so merciless.
"Well, and there is the end of our little drama," I remarked, after we had set some time smoking in silence. "I fear that it may be the last investigation in which I shall have the chance of studying your methods. Miss Morstan has done me the honor to accept me as a husband in prospective."
He gave a most dismal groan. "I feared as much," said he. "I really cannot congratulate you."
I was a little hurt. "Have you any reason to be dissatisfied with my choice?" I asked.
"Not at all. I think she is one of the most charming young ladies I ever met, and might have been most useful in such work as we have been doing. She had a decided genius that way: witness the way in which she preserved that Agra plan from all the other papers of her father. But love is an emotional thing, and whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason which I place above all things. I should never marry myself, lest I bias my judgment."
"I trust," said I, laughing, "that my judgment may survive the ordeal. But you look weary."
"Yes, the reaction is already upon me. I shall be as limp as a rag for a week."
"Strange," said I, "how terms of what in another man I should call laziness alternate with your fits of splendid energy and vigor."
"Yes," he answered, "there are in me the makings of a very fine loafer and also of a pretty spry sort of fellow. I often think of those lines of old Goethe,—
Schade dass die Natur nur EINEN Mensch aus Dir schuf, Denn zum wuerdigen Mann war und zum Schelmen der Stoff.
"By the way, a propos of this Norwood business, you see that they had, as I surmised, a confederate in the house, who could be none other than Lal Rao, the butler: so Jones actually has the undivided honor of having caught one fish in his great haul."
"The division seems rather unfair," I remarked. "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.
What a tragedy! Holmes knew what the outcome would be from the beginning, but he couldn't stop it at all. And Dr. Watson was innocently happy to get Miss Morstan.
I've thought that "Kiss of the Spider Woman (El beso de la mujer araña)", which was written by Manuel Puig was the masterpiece of the tragic gay love, but is there more tragic love than Holmes' one in "The Sign of the Four". His reason taught him he could never be satisfied. He had just a cocaine bottle.
I wonder what Arthur Conan Doyle thought of this story. Did he intentionally write the tragic love, or did he unintentionally write the ultimate tragedy? Sherlockians are stimulated by the fact that Doyle’s