A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet Summary and Analysis of Part II, Chapter IV: A Flight for Life


The next day Ferrier gave the message to Hope to an acquaintance who was setting out for Nevada, stressing the urgency of the contents. When he returned to his home he saw that two young men were in his sitting room. One had a long pale face and the other was "a bull-necked youth with coarse, bloated features." The former was the son of Elder Stangerson, the latter the son of Elder Drebber. Stangerson explained that they were there to seek the hand of his daughter; he claimed that he deserved her because he only had four wives and Drebber had seven, but Drebber retorted that he had better financial prospects.

Ferrier was enraged at their presumptuousness and ordered them to leave his home until Lucy summoned them. They were aghast at his rudeness, especially when he told them the way out of his house could be through the door or the window. They cried out that Ferrier had defiled the Prophet and the Council of Four and would regret his insulting manner. Ferrier was about to rush for his gun when Lucy stopped him with soothing words and a reminder that Hope would soon come for them.

Ferrier knew his behavior was problematic, reflecting that "in the whole history of the settlement there had ever been such a case of rank disobedience to the authority of the Elders." Even men richer than him had gone missing. He tried to put on a brave front for his daughter, but she saw through his facade.

The next morning he woke up and found a note pinned to the coverlet over his breast that said "Twenty-nine days are given you for amendment, and then –" This was terrifying in its ambiguity, as well as the fact that Ferrier had no idea how anyone entered the house undetected. The next morning there was a number 28 scratched on the ceiling, and the next found a number 27 painted upon the front door. The Ferriers never heard or glimpsed anyone.

The numbers continued to appear every day as they counted down the days until Lucy had to make her decision. They instilled a "horror which was almost superstitious" upon Ferrier, and he could only wait for young Jefferson Hope to return. As the days got lower and lower, moving past 4 and 3 and finally arriving at 2, Ferrier resolved that the hunter was not coming but that he would still rather die than let Lucy be dishonored.

As he sat disconsolately on the evening before the last day, he pondered what would become of his daughter when he was gone. He began to hear a scratching sound outside the door of the house and a gentle tapping. He got up and went into the hall and opened the door, wondering if he was about to be ambushed by his enemies. To his surprise, when he looked down he saw a man lying spread out on his stomach; the man continued to wriggle on the ground into the house and finally jumped up to reveal the personage of Jefferson Hope.

Ferrier was shocked, but quickly acceded to Hope's demands for food and water, as he had not imbibed for 48 hours. After he had eaten Hope asked after Lucy and explained that his odd method of entering the house was the only way he would not be detected. The house was being watched on every side. Despite this information, Hope felt better now that his ally was here.

Hope told Ferrier he had a mule and two horses waiting in the ravine and that they would push to Carson City, Nevada through the mountains. Ferrier woke up Lucy and Hope packed as much water as he could. The lovers had a brief reunion and then the three prepared to leave the house.

Hope explained that they would have to leave through the side windows and run across the fields to the road, where they would then need to travel two miles to the ravine where their mounts were waiting. Lights in the house were extinguished and the escapees crawled out through the windows into the calm and cool night air. As they moved across the cornfield Hope suddenly pulled them down into the shadows. His keen hearing had picked up the hooting of an owl, answered by more hooting.

One figure emerged and said "tomorrow at midnight." The other agreed and asked if they should tell Brother Drebber. The first man said yes, and then said "Nine to seven!" the second man replied, "Seven to five!" this was a sign of some sorts. When the men departed Hope guided his companions out across the fields as fast as they could go.

They finally reached the ravine and mounted their animals. Only a hunter as skilled as Hope could attempt this confusing and menacing path through craggy cliffs and massive boulders and narrow pathways. At the most dangerous part of the pathway they suddenly saw a single sentinel on an overhanging rock. This man immediately asked "Who goes there?" Hope replied that they were travelers to Nevada. The sentinel asked with whose permission, and Ferrier responded which a phrase he knew –"The Holy Four." The sentinel then said "Nine to seven!" and Hope cleverly answered with "Seven to five" and the sentinel let them proceed. Finally, "they had passed the outlying post of the chosen people, and...freedom lay before them."


This exciting chapter details the clash between Drebber, Stangerson, and John Ferrier that ultimately led to the ratcheting up of the pressure on Lucy to submit and choose a husband. Perhaps if Ferrier had not insulted the two men his house would not be secretly vandalized and his person threatened with the descending number of the days left before Lucy was to be wed. Thankfully, Hope arrives in time to spirit Ferrier and Lucy away from the house into the mountains. The luck of overhearing some of the Mormon spies' secret passwords allows them to slip through the net of surveillance that binds the city.

In this chapter Doyle utilizes several bible verses, both explicitly and implicitly. When Stangerson and Drebber argue over their respective claims to Lucy's hands, Stangerson remarks that when the Lord removes his father he will have access to all of his wealth and thus deserves Lucy because he will be wealthier than Drebber. This alludes to Job 1:21; it is a blasphemous adaptation of Job's words on the deaths of his children and the loss of his property.

Similarly, Stangerson screams at Ferrier in anger that he shall smart for his insult to the Prophet, which is from Proverbs 11:15 – "He that us surety for a stranger shall smart for it." This refers to Stangerson's keen understanding of the bond between Hope and Ferrier. Drebber also cries out to Ferrier that he the hand of the Lord will be heavy upon him, which derives from Psalms 32:4. Both Drebber and Stangerson are well-versed in the scriptures, but apply them to blasphemous ends. This reinforces the negative view of the Mormons as perverting the true Christian faith.

Doyle's debt to the poet and politician Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) is evident in this chapter. Macaulay's most famous work was the Lays of Ancient Rome (1842), a collection of ballads about heroic episodes in Roman history. One of these, "Virginia," featured some of the same themes as this portion of A Study in Scarlet. Owen Dudley Edwards, editor of the Oxford World's Classics edition of the novel, identifies them as such: "[the] relevance to his dearly-beloved sisters, in the heroine/s ambiguity between girlhood and nubility, in the inability to withstand the lust of the powerful, and in the desirability of preventing it by death." The description of Ferrier's staying up to "watch and ward" (94) is from Macaulay's "Ivy."

The mysterious numbers are one of the more fantastic and thrilling elements of the plot. The first one appears pinned on the coverlet under which Ferrier sleeps; he heard and saw nothing and could not ascertain the manner in which someone entered his home. Doyle writes, "How this warning came into his room puzzled John Ferrier sorely, for his servants slept in an outhouse, and the doors and windows had all been secured." This incident alludes to Robert Louis Stevenson's Mormon eye from one of his works. Stevenson's eye was symbolic and visual but ineffectual, Edwards writes, but Doyle's was "invisible but extremely effectual."