It’s a queer cipher that you handle by the yard every day and can get no meaning from

vkhu

Senior Member
Vietnamese
How are the Scowrers getting on in your parts? We read plenty of them in the papers.
[......]
Of course, what I give you is what I learned in business; so it goes no further. It’s a queer cipher that you handle by the yard every day and can get no meaning from.
[Quoted text reduced to the permitted maximum. DonnyB - moderator]
Context: The Scowrers is a criminal organization, and one of their member just received news from a friend he had in the telegraph office that some detective are after them all.

I don't get the last sentence. It just seemed to pop out of nowhere. The man addressed in the letter (the "you") is a dry-good shopkeeper. He's never handled any cipher, much less doing it everyday. Even more baffling is there isn't even one single cipher within this entire section of the story. What is the writer talking about?

Source: The Valley of Fear, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
 
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  • Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    You have misunderstood "you" as referring to the recipient of the letter, but the writer actually meant it to refer to himself, or rather, the type of person that he is, a telegraph clerk.

    It would need to be a very unusual cipher indeed that someone like me, who handles ciphers by the yard, can get no meaning from.​

    The cipher is the message the telegraph clerk transmitted or received that mentioned the Pinkerton's agent.
     

    vkhu

    Senior Member
    Vietnamese
    I get the you part, but the cipher part still baffles me. Let me paraphrase the postscript the way I understand it:
    I got the info I just gave you while I was doing my office work, so don't tell anyone else. I handle tons of ciphers everyday, so unless it's a real tough one, no cipher can fool me.
    He just brag of his deciphering skill all of a sudden. There wasn't a single cipher mentioned, both before and after this part. So why is he talking about it?
     

    baldpate

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    In that era, I imagine telegraph messages (rather like the later telegram) were charged by the letter. So there was an incentive to use abbereviations wherever possible, some of which I imagine were so cryptic as to be almost a cipher. Perhaps it is his capacity to undertand these cipher-like abbreviations that the telegraph clerk is referring to?
    PS - pure hypothesis, but I think a reasonable interpretation.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    I took it to be a true cipher message. The story opens with Holmes decrypting a cipher message, which is discussed in the book at great length. The letter being discussed here contains what is surely highly secret and confidential information, yet the information it contains was transmitted over what appears to be a public telegraph (there is nothing to say to the contrary), therefore it is reasonable to assume it was telegraphed as a cipher message, but one that used a simple cipher, simple enough for the clerk to decrypt it.
     

    ain'ttranslationfun?

    Senior Member
    US English
    I took it to be a true cipher message. The story opens with Holmes decrypting a cipher message, which is discussed in the book at great length. The letter being discussed here contains what is surely highly secret and confidential information, yet the information it contains was transmitted over what appears to be a public telegraph (there is nothing to say to the contrary), therefore it is reasonable to assume it was telegraphed as a cipher message, but one that used a simple cipher, simple enough for the clerk to decrypt it.
    The clerk said he "could get no meaning from" the message becuse it was written in cipher. The clerk had mentioned Birdie Edwards; Jack McMurdo, who speaks at the meeting, really was Edwards (he had infiltrated The Scowrers to bring them down from within). He announces that he has 'discovered' from the clerk that Birdie Edwards was there and that he knew who Edwards was because he had sent the message in cipher. In fact, he was springing the trap. McMurdo/Edwards may well have invented the story about the clerk to do so.
     
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    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    The clerk said he "could get no meaning from" the message becuse it was written in cipher.
    I don't understand your point, ain'tt. It's clear from the context that - as Jack says - what's being conveyed by the topic sentence is that the man in the telegraph office did understand the cipher.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    The clerk said he "could get no meaning from" the message becuse it was written in cipher.
    Where does he say this? And if he can get no meaning from the message, what is the source of the information he writes to Morris (the recipient of the letter)?

    McMurdo claimed to have discovered Birdie Edwards, going under the name Steve Wilson, detecting him in part because Wilson sent a telegraph message "filled...with stuff that might have been Chinese, for all we could make of it", but that is a different message involving a different telegraph clerk.

    There is no suggestion that I can see that Morris was in any way involved in McMurdo/Birdie Edwards's scheme, and Morris knew his correspondent before he moved to Vermissa, so I don't see anything to doubt that the letter was genuine.
     
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