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The Adventure of the Mysterious Words

By Mario Becroft (mb@gem.win.co.nz)

(Being a reprint from the memoirs of JOHN H. WATSON, M.D.)

"Take a look at this, Watson," Holmes exclaimed suddenly at breakfast one autumn morning, thrusting a telegram into my hand.

Putting down my copy of the Times, I examined the note Holmes presented to me:


"What do you make of it?" Holmes asked keenly, seeing that I had read the note.

I admitted that the message seemed to bear little meaning. After all, what consequences could be attached to finding a common theme among words? I suggested to Holmes that it was more likely some sort of practical joke than any matter of importance.

"Indeed," said Holmes, "it may be so. Yet--" He sank into a state of silent thought; and it seemed to me, accustomed as I was to his every mood, that some new possibility had dawned suddenly upon him.

It was not until a rainy evening several days later that Holmes drew my attention once more to the curious telegram.

We were seated in front of the fire, when Holmes addressed me, "Watson, do you remember the singular telegram we received on Monday in connection with five words found in a notebook? Some new facts have come to my attention which cast quite a new light upon the case."

At this, Holmes showed me three other telegrams, each bearing a single word: IRADE, AMBIT and ESTIVAL.

"A curious collection, is it not? Can you see any particular pattern which connects these four words?'"

"It seems to me that they are all rather uncommon words, that is to say, not ones you would be likely to hear in day-to-day conversation."

Holmes leaned back in his armchair, and replied, "True enough. Yet I fancy there is something more behind this. I shall know tomorrow, but unless I am much mistaken, the mystery is already solved."

"Really Holmes," I said, "I am at a loss to know what the connection could possibly be. The words have quite disparate meanings."

"Take the first word," Holmes replied, "ubiety. There is, I think, a single letter which, added to the beginning of the word, transforms it into another English word."

"That would be a D, resulting in dubiety, a feeling of doubt, or a doubtful matter."

"Precisely. Now let us consider the second word, irade. By adding a letter to the beginning of this word, we can transform it into another English word. There is only one such letter, T, making tirade, a long vehement speech or passage of declamation."

"Indeed," said I, "I seem to see what you are driving at. What connects all of the words with which we have been presented is the fact that each may be transformed into another English word by adding one, and only one, letter before its beginning. In the case of ambit, that letter is G, forming gambit, an opening in which a sacrifice is made to secure advantage. And adding an F to estival results in the word festival, a feast day or celebration."

"Good old Watson," Holmes exclaimed, jumping up from his armchair with much energy, "reliable as always. I believe that the telegram we receive tomorrow will certainly confirm our hypothesis. In fact, I think I will save our correspondent some trouble and advise him immediately that he need concern himself no further with the matter."

So saying, Holmes turned to his desk and scribbled off a telegram which he handed over to the page-boy.

"You have unravelled the mystery admirably," I said to Holmes, "but what could be the object of such an arcane enquiry, and to what consequences could our correspondent possibly be alluding?"

"I confess," replied he, "that those questions remain a mystery to me. Perhaps the man had unwisely placed a bet upon the matter, or maybe it is nothing more than a trivial puzzle which threatened to drive him insane if no answer was found. At any rate, the case was a unique one which, I have no doubt, will add an interesting episode to your chronicles of the many small cases with which I sometimes interest myself."


As I knew would be the case, Holmes's inferences proved correct when the next day we received a fifth and final telegram bearing only the word: LANATE. Once more there was but a single letter which transformed this into another English word: planate, or the state of having been flattened. Thus ended the story of one of the most singular cases in my friend's career.


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