Engage a special

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vkhu

Senior Member
Vietnamese
“As this is an express, and as the boat runs in connection with it, I should think we have shaken him off very effectively.”

“My dear Watson, you evidently did not realize my meaning when I said that this man may be taken as being quite on the same intellectual plane as myself. [...]”

“What will he do?” [...]

Engage a special.”
Context: Holmes and Watson just caught an express train to run to the Continent. They narrowly missed Moriarity.

What's a special? I have an inkling this might be a vehicle of a sort, but not sure what.

Source: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
 
  • dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    A "special" is something in the 1800s. Something that can travel faster than them, to catch them.

    Here "engage" means "rent".
     

    vkhu

    Senior Member
    Vietnamese
    Isn't the train the fastest possible vehicle they can get? What else can chase after an express train?
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Isn't the train the fastest possible vehicle they can get? What else can chase after an express train?
    Another express train. With just one carriage.

    A "special" is a private train.

    Moriarty is trying to catch Holmes and Watson (I forget why; it is ages since I read this particular story). He has just missed the train they are on, an express that will connect with the boat at Dover. Watson reckons that there is no way that Moriarty can now catch them because he will never be able to get to the boat before it sails. Holmes reminds him,
    "This train stops at Canterbury; and there is always at least a quarter of an hour's delay at the boat. He will catch us there.”​
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    In modern American English we might call that a charter. He's going to hire (charter) the train and be the only passenger. Watson was thinking conventionally because for just about anyone else in the world their tactics would have worked. But a master criminal doesn't follow the normal rules (of waiting for a train).
     
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