Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Adventure Of The Second Stain--A Tale Of Two Letters!

There is a letter whose exact contents remain unrevealed. But if this letter were to be made public, it would have extremely damaging consequences: relationships would be broken, and the status quo irrevocably altered, and not for the better. So terrible is this letter, that people will go to nay lengths to keep its words from being unveiled publicly.

Actually, there are two such letters!!

Which brings us to The Adventure Of The Second Stain.

There is quite a clever little double act that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has set up, as it becomes very easy to forget that there are two scandalous missives at large in this tale. But we shouldn't forget, because they provide an intriguing mirror to each other, and display how the personal can be just as frightening, just as damaging as the political. Despite what Lord Bellinger and The Right Honourable Trewlaney Hope aver, it is incontestably untrue that "in the case of a secret of this importance it would rise superior to the most intimate domestic ties." And this refusal to admit any spillover of their public and private worlds that causes most of the problems in this story.

Most obviously, we have the letter from an unnamed "foreign potentate," apparently written in an angry moment, which threatens the peace of the entire continent. Let's let our Stuffy Government Officials describe it for us:
[T]he document in question is of such immense importance that its publication might very easily--I might almost say probably--lead to European complications of the utmost moment. It is not too much to say that peace or war may hang upon the issue...
 ...The letter, then, is from a certain foreign potentate who has been ruffled by some recent Colonial developments of this country. It has been written hurriedly and upon his own responsibility entirely. Inquiries have shown that his Ministers know nothing of the matter. At the same time it is couched in so unfortunate a manner, and certain phrases in it are of so provocative a character, that its publication would undoubtedly lead to a most dangerous state of feeling in this country. There would be such a ferment, sir, that I do not hesitate to say that within a week of the publication of that letter this country would be involved in a great war...this letter which may well mean the expenditure of a thousand millions and the lives of a hundred thousand men...
...But if you consider the European situation you will have no difficulty in perceiving the motive. The whole of Europe is an armed camp. There is a double league which makes a fair balance of military power. Great Britain holds the scales. If Britain were driven into war with one confederacy, it would assure the supremacy of the other confederacy, whether they joined in the war or not.
All that, from one letter? Well, we'll come back to that in a minute.

What is often overlooked, because Holmes has already solved the titular clue by the time the issue arises, is that another embarrassing letter was the instigating incident for the other piece of mail's vanishing! There wasn't just a second stain--there was a second letter!!

Lady Hilda Trelawney Hope, it turns out, had one of those indiscreet romances that we've seen before in these stories. Let her tell us the tale:
It was a letter of mine, Mr. Holmes, an indiscreet letter written before my marriage--a foolish letter, a letter of an impulsive, loving girl. I meant no harm, and yet he would have thought it criminal. Had he read that letter his confidence would have been forever destroyed. It is years since I wrote it. I had thought that the whole matter was forgotten.

...On the one side seemed certain ruin, on the other, terrible as it seemed to take my husband's paper, still in a matter of politics I could not understand the consequences, while in a matter of love and trust they were only too clear to me.
So there we have it. Two "foolish letters," "indiscreet" and "hot-headed." Each with shattering consequences if it were revealed. Each of our parties is too frozen by fear to notice what is happening to the other. Trelawney is afraid of the global implications, he can't conceive of a personal problem that could compare to it. But Hilda is equally misguided, more afraid of the consequences to her marriage than potential international political consequences. I suppose a base moral we could draw right away is that, if these two could only communicate better, this mystery wouldn't have happened.

Drawing some larger lessons, we can wonder first about the international implications of the letter from the mysterious sovereign. Who was this foreign leader? What could he possibly have said? How could a simple letter have had such frightful implications?

Many Holmes scholars have suggested that our foreign leader might be Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II. Nothing in the story actually confirms that--Watson is, after all discreet--but it's a fair guess, given his known behaviour and the political situation of the times.

As to what the letter could have actually said? Well, that may seem something of a mystery to modern readers. It's hard to imagine a letter so inflammatory that it could drive the English public to demand war, isn't it? What could be so provocative, "couched in such an unfortunate manner," that it could cause such fury? "Dear Queen Victoria: You are ugly, and I fart in your general direction! You English are tiny-brained wipers of other people's bottoms! Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelled of elderberry! Signed, The King Of Belgium!"??

It is possible, of course, that Hope and Bellinger were gravely overestimating the impact the letter would have, clutching their pearls, as it were, and imaging that something embarrassing somehow equated to a cause for war. Or, perhaps, they were deliberately overstating the threat from the letter, to ensure that Holmes would assist them.

Of course, it's also possible that, as a political species, we've matured a little bit over the past century and a quarter. After all, it's not uncommon for, say, secret U.S. State Department documents to leak, with American officials being caught saying unflattering things about foreign leaders and nations. And it's all too frequent for leaders to make public gaffes, straying outside the official lines to say something they probably shouldn't say publicly (as Michael Kinsley says, "A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth."). Yet war doesn't seem to result from indiscreet words. Apologies are issued, feathers are ruffled, and in about three days all is forgotten and more or less back to normal. Stick and stones may start wars, but words will never hurt us.

After all, this is unlike The Naval Treaty, wherein Britain and Italy secretly agreed to certain actions, or to support each other against others, or something--it was, after all a secret treaty. But at least there were specific actions and concrete promises which might trigger foreign responses, not just indiscreet and inflammatory words. Or did the Kaiser (or whomever) actually threaten war in the letter? A promise to attack over certain British "colonial developments?" 

Another thing to note is the high level of respect, if not worship for diplomats--at least from other diplomats. The potentate may be the sovereign of his nation, but we're told he shouldn't be sending letters without the approval of his ministers. Why, without government functionaries to parse every word and smooth every phrase, the consequences could be "a thousand million pounds and the lives of hundreds of thousands of men!" Leaders should sit back, and let the bureaucrats do all the actual communication (and by implication, perhaps, the actual policy-making?)! We can't trust sovereigns to rule!

Just as a simple letter can potentially cause international chaos, we're given a similar situation on a personal level. We've seen this before, especially in the case of Charles Augustus Milverton. A young woman, before her marriage, writes an indiscreet letter to a someone (Boyfriend? Lover?), that if it were revealed would cause the immediate dissolution of her current marriage.

I have already discussed, in the essay about Charles Augustus Milverton, how such blackmail schemes are, in part, a reflection of Victorian gender politics. A woman, it seems must be emotionally a virgin as well as physically, or her husband will reject her. (Then again, we saw a powerful male scared that word of a former dalliance might come to light in Scandal In Bohemia, so the phenomenon was not exclusively gender hypocrisy...)

What, pray tell, could have been in Lady Hilda's that was so damning? She says that Trelawney "would think it criminal"--is this just a metaphor? Is her shame enlarging the "crime" in her mind to epic proportions? Or do the letters indicate that she was involved in something actually forbidden by law, such as adultery, or a lesbian relationship?

Or perhaps it's fear of her priggish husband, the man who won't even discuss his job with her, and avers to Holmes that politics is more important than his wife. Hilda tells us "[H]is own honour stands so high that he could not forget or pardon a lapse in another." That's not honor--that's standing in obnoxious moral judgement of others. "I'm perfect, so if you're not, you're shit"?!? This is surely not someone I would want to married to.

Then again, that may be her fear and shame talking again. Perhaps if she were honest with him, Trelawney Hope would have easily forgiven her, as happened in The Yellow Face. And perhaps if he had been honest with her, she would never have taken the envelope if the first place, or returned it right away once she learned of its importance.

Similarly, if the English government had not been obsessed with secrecy, perhaps this wouldn't have been a crisis. Obviously, in the spin-doctor run 21st century, the Prime Minister et al would have tried to get in front of this story, to lessen the blow if the letter were revealed. The imprudent sovereign's ministers will deny the letter's veracity, as they had nothing to do with it, so you're already halfway home. Put a fake story out there, saying the Foreign Ministry had been receiving forged letters, allegedly from heads of state, seeking to foment war. Release the less inflammatory parts of the letter (if there were any!) to the press, so the full letter's release would not be thought "news." Arrange a quick summit or treaty with the foreign potentate, so everyone sees you're all good friends. Have Victoria "backdate" a letter from herself to the leader, making it look as this had all been part of a quasi-joking exchange. Instead of simply sitting around and hoping that the letter is never revealed, get active, and find a way to minimize the damage. 

Two letters, written imprudently. If revealed, the consequences will be disastrous, either to the continent or personally. Yet people are so frightened at the possibility of the missives becoming public, they act foolishly, and let secrecy nearly destroy everything. 

The Second Stain is really a story about communication, and secrets. It's about how there really is no difference between the personal and political--rulers and lovers will say stupid things, and everyone else has to learn how to handle the fallout.

Honestly, given the dangerous outcomes, it's a wonder people ever put pen to paper for a letter in those days...


**As we've previously mentioned, there have been two prior mentions of this case...of have there?

In The Yellow Face (the British edition, at least), Watson listed "the affair of the second stain" (no capitals) as one of Holmes' few failures. Well, that doesn't seem to match this case at all.

In The Naval Treaty, Watson goes on at length about "The Adventure Of The Second Stain" which
deals with interest of such importance and implicates so many of the first families in the kingdom that for many years it will be impossible to make it public. No case, however, in which Holmes was engaged has ever illustrated the value of his analytical methods so clearly or has impressed those who were associated with him so deeply. I still retain an almost verbatim report of the interview in which he demonstrated the true facts of the case to Monsieur Dubugue of the Paris police, and Fritz von Waldbaum, the well-known specialist of Dantzig, both of whom had wasted their energies upon what proved to be side-issues.
Well, again, that doesn't seem terribly apt to this case, especially the "demonstration" to French and German detectives.

I guess Sir Arthur just had a real liking for the title, and unlike most of the "apocryphal" cases mentioned in the Canon, he came up with an actual case to portray. Even if he had forgotten what he had hinted about the case earlier...

**Speaking of which..."I have notes of many hundreds of cases to which I have never alluded..."

Watson!! Get writing!!

**Once again, this is the "final" Holmes story. He's retired, you see, and he doesn't want the "notoriety" any longer.

At least Doyle had learned his lesson this time, and didn't kill him off only to have to resurrect him again.

The gap between published stories would be much shorter, this time.

**Perhaps the biggest unanswered question about Second Stain is, why keep the letter? Why doesn't the government destroy it?!?

This is a letter whose revelation will surely lead to war and great loss of life. And England does not want it revealed.

Yet, for the past 6 days, Trelawney Hope has carried the letter back and forth between work and home each day!! Good heavens, that's a terrible risk to take, isn't it? If the letter is so dangerous, why keep it around? Why risk any possibility of it getting out?

The only thing I can think of is that the government wanted to keep it around, so they could blackmail the imprudent potentate at some later point. or perhaps to use the letter when Britain was more ready to go to war--then they would release the letter to foment war-fever amongst the populace.

Otherwise, why not burn the deuced thing immediately upon recovering it?!?

Not a particularly flattering portrayal of Her Majesty's ministers...

**As has been noted, Second Stain comes across as a amalgam of other stories. Most obviously, it strongly resembles The Naval Treaty--a vital government document is stolen, which could lead to war and the end of a client's career, but it's found hidden in the client's own house. It's also clearly an echo of Charles Augustus Milverton, with a cad blackmailing women over their previous dalliances (the Granada adaptation goes so far as to use some actual dialogue from CAM when they show Eduardo Lucas putting the screws to lady Hilda!). The Yellow Face had a wife with a secret so dark that she was certain that it would destroy her marriage. The emergency causing the villain to reveal the hiding place reminds of of Scandal in Bohemia. And most recently, Abbey Grange had Holmes begging people to "be frank" with him, so he could properly cover up matters.

**Watson on Trelawney: "dark, clear-cut, and elegant, hardly yet of middle age, and endowed with every beauty of body and of mind..."

Some might suspect that "beauty of the mind" shouldn't locking your wife out of the most important aspect of your life. Or being willing to dump her if you found out that she had had an earlier relationship (although perhaps that was just lady Hilda's paranoia speaking...).

**"They sat side by side upon our paper-littered settee..."

Dudes--these are high government officials!! You're making the Secretary For European Affairs and the former Prime Minister sit on your messy clippings collection? Stop hoarding, and clean your place up!!!

**What the hell is wrong with security at the Foreign Office? "[The letter] was of such importance that I have never left it in my safe, but have taken it across each evening to my house in Whitehall Terrace..."

Sir, if you think that your safe at work is not secure, than you need to have some immediate work done in that building!! And it's hard to imagine that your locked despatch-box at home is seriously more secure than a government safe, no matter how arrogant you are about how wonderful your servants are.

Then again, this was the same building (presumably) as in The Naval Treaty, wherein a civilian can just walk in through an unguarded door after hours and make his way to offices without ever once encountering any security whatsoever. I guess home doesn't look like such a bad option. But that's not excuse for not upgrading security at the Foreign office!!

**Trelawney Hope insisted that "besides the members of the Cabinet there are two, or possibly three, departmental officials who know of the letter. No one else in England, Mr. Holmes, I assure you."

Well, somehow Eduardo Lucas found out. "He had some spy in the office who had told him of its existence," Lady Hilda tells us. And Lucas had good enough information that he was able to give an accurate physical description of the envelope.

So either a) A cabinet minister is a traitor, b) one of the two or possibly three officials are a traitor, or c) somehow someone else who was close enough to describe the letter was a traitor.

But there is absolutely no follow-up to this. This person is never mentioned to Hope and  Bellinger, and Holmes does his best to make people think the letter was never taken. Yet this person still knows of the letter's existence!!

So this person is still employed, and still able to betray England's secrets to the highest bidder. Another reason why Holmes may have been wrong to take justice into his own hands. In order to protect a lady's honor and marriage, he has allowed a snake to continue to nest in the highest levels of government...

**Trelawney Hope's absolute faith in his servants really is silly. Not that we have any reason to suspect them. But we've seen in other stories, such as Charles August Milverton, that many a serving class person is willing to betray their 1% masters for a sufficient price. To swear that his employees are perfectly happy and thus immune is arrogance talking, especially when he keeps insisting that no one could have gotten into the house from outside.

**Holmes on some international men of mystery: "There are three who may be said to be the heads of their profession. I will begin my research by going round and finding if each of them is at his post."

How can they be great spies if they're so well known? I mean, he is Holmes, after all, so of course he knows them. But still, when a daring theft occurs and the immediate response is "it can only have been one of these 3 people," that means that their cover is well known, and that has to counter their effectiveness, right? Couldn't the government just deport them? Wouldn't the government have them under fairly constant surveillance? Or does only Holmes know this information?

**Holmes getting practical: "all, it is a question of money with these fellows, and I have the British treasury behind me. If it's on the market I'll buy it--if it means another penny on the income-tax."

Sherlock is being fairly cavalier with other people's tax money, but as a matter of efficiency, he's certainly correct. If you can just buy the letter back, and avoid cloak-and-dagger shenanigans, that's  by far the best policy.

Still it's probably a good thing that he didn't have the British treasury behind him on most would make for some fairly dull mysteries if Holmes just showed up flashing huge wads of cash, yelling "Money for whomever gives me answers!!'

**One of the better comedy moments in the Canon:
There are only those three capable of playing so bold a game--there are Oberstein, La Rothiere, and Eduardo Lucas. I will see each of them." 
 I glanced at my morning paper. 
         "Is that Eduardo Lucas of Godolphin Street?" 
"You will not see him." 
"Why not?" 
"He was murdered in his house last night." 
My friend has so often astonished me in the course of our adventures that it was with a sense of exultation that I realized how completely I had astonished him.
Well played, John Watson!

**Just how good  a spy was Lucas?

All of this information is from newspaper accounts:
Mr. Eduardo Lucas, well known in society circles both on account of his charming personality and because he has the well-deserved reputation of being one of the best amateur tenors in the country...
A comparison of photographs has proved conclusively that M. Henri Fournaye and Eduardo Lucas were really one and the same person, and that the deceased had for some reason lived a double life in London and Paris
We need more playboy tenors who lead double lives and have crazy wives following them about serving as spies. Seriously, getting yourself famous is not a good way to lead a "secret double life," right? And jealous women stalking you, as we saw, cannot be good for a spy career...

**Holmes, on Lucas being murdered just as Holmes decides that he's one of the top suspects:
A coincidence! Here is one of the three men whom we had named as possible actors in this drama, and he meets a violent death during the very hours when we know that that drama was being enacted. The odds are enormous against its being coincidence. No figures could express them. No, my dear Watson, the two events are connected--MUST be connected. It is for us to find the connection.
Of course, it was a complete coincidence, although we can hardly blame Sherlock for making the same leap we all no doubt did when reading the story.

Then again, he never apologized to Watson, or admitted his error.

**Oh, John, the fair sex really is your department! His description of Lady Hilda: "the most lovely woman in London...the subtle, delicate charm and the beautiful colouring of that exquisite head...It was a queenly presence--tall, graceful, and intensely womanly."

Now, I don't want to suggest that Watson is easily smitten with female clients, or that he exaggerates at all.

Yet Constable MacPherson was not nearly so impressed: " respectable," "very pleasant, "genteel." When pressed, he admitted "I suppose you might say she was handsome."

That hardly seems like someone describing "the most lovely woman in London." Yes, Hilda was trying to be incognito, so she might have trying to be a bit dowdy. But MacPherson still recognized her instantly from her picture.

Let that be a lesson: one man's "most lovely woman" is another's "well, I suppose you might say she was handsome."

And, perhaps, Watson is a little too easily charmed by a pretty woman...

**Lady Hilda: "There is complete confidence between my husband and me on all matters save one. That one is politics."

Well, obviously not, as you so desperately wish to make sure that not even a hint of your youthful letter exists.

So you've lied to Holmes, and no doubt yourself...

**I don't want to pick on Lady Hilda too much. The shame spiral/panic is a tough beast to be under the control of.

But on the day the letter is discovered missing:
"Is my husband's political career likely to suffer through this incident?" 
"Well, madam, unless it is set right it may certainly have a very unfortunate effect." 
"Ah!" She drew in her breath sharply as one whose doubts are resolved. 
"One more question, Mr. Holmes. From an expression which my husband dropped in the first shock of this disaster I understood that terrible public consequences might arise from the loss of this document." 
"If he said so, I certainly cannot deny it."
And yet she still won't turn over the letter!! Perhaps she could be forgiven about initially taking the letter. She had no idea what is was, thank to her husband's policy of keeping "politics" completely secret from him.

But now, thanks to Holmes, she knows that it's going to ruin his career, and perhaps cause terrible public consequences.

Yet even when she gets the letter back, she still won't return it!! Why?

"I could hardly prevent myself from there and then kneeling down at his feet and telling him what I had done. But that again would mean a confession of the past."

So covering up her past is more important that her family's welfare, and that of the nation? She'd rather let her husband suffer disgrace? Good heavens, what self-importance she attributes to her "past."

Especially when she could have found other ways to return the letter without confessing: put it back in the despatch-box herself; stash it under the bed or against the wainscoting and dramatically declare "look what I found!"; drop it in the post anonymously to her husband's office; give it to Holmes and have him make up a story about finding it (perhaps at Lucas' scene!).

But keeping it hidden, for 4 days after she knew the potential consequences? Staggeringly selfish.

**Apocryphal case: "You remember the woman at Margate whom I suspected for the same reason. No powder on her nose--that proved to be the correct solution."

**"Only one important thing has happened in the last three days, and that is that nothing has happened."

As with the dog who did nothing in the night-time, a wonderful example of negative evidence.

**Wait...Lestrade called in Holmes because the stains didn't match? He couldn't have figured out for himself that meant that someone had moved the carpet, and it had to have been either the constable or someone he had allowed into the room?

Maybe there is no hope for him.

** **Lady Hilda's was quite busy. She went to Lucas' to be confronted about her letter; she made an impression of her husband's key, and took that to Lucas; she went to Lucas to get the new key; after she had taken the letter, she brought it to Lucas. And after Lucas' murder, she came back to steal it from his hiding place.

That's a lot of visits to his dwelling, even if he lived only a "short walk" from the Hope home. One can only wonder that her husband never got suspicious.

**So, where did Lucas get the Hilda's letter from? From her former love interest? From a servant?

**Why the hell did Holmes carry a picture of Hilda with him?

I suppose that, as Holmes initially knew that someone inside the household must be involved, she was considered a suspect. That only increased with her visit to Baker Street. So it made sense to carry a picture to help identify any female suspect.

But where did he get a photo portrait to cut her face from?!?

You will be relieved to hear that there will be no war, that the Right Honourable Trelawney Hope will suffer no setback in his brilliant career, that the indiscreet Sovereign will receive no punishment for his indiscretion, that the Prime Minister will have no Europe an complication to deal with, and that with a little tact and management upon our part nobody will be a penny the worse for what might have been a very ugly incident.
Well, Trelawney Hope must appear as an idiot to his peers, which can't help his "brilliant career." The indiscreet sovereign's suffering no punishment may only encourage him to be indiscreet in the future. The man in the Foreign office who passed the information on to Lucas is still there.

And most importantly, Hope and his wife still have secrets from each other, and would willingly risk ruin and war rather than be honest with each other. I can't say that a expect a happy future for them as a couple.

**Great closing line: "We also have our diplomatic secrets."


Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Adventure of The Abbey Grange--Judge, Jury and Executioner?!?

The Adventure Of The Abbey Grange, of course, is the source of one of the more famous Sherlock Holmes quotes: "The game is afoot!"

As it turns out, Abbey Grange is also the story that makes us ask whether or not Sherlock Holmes is treating justice too much like a game.

We have seen thus far many stories where Holmes does not turn in the perpetrator. In A Case of Identity, there was no crime committed, and Holmes also decided that it would be far too icky to tell his client that she was wooed by her own stepfather. In The Boscombe Valley Mystery, the murderer was dying, and Holmes made sure that he left a signed confession so no innocent party would be convicted. In The Blue Carbuncle, Holmes hadn't been hired by the police, and chose to show holiday-inspired mercy to an inept thief who seemed unlikely to break the law again. In Beryl Coronet, Holmes allowed a blackguard to flee in order to protect his client--as well as one of England's "highest, noblest, most exalted names"--from scandal. In Copper Beeches, Holmes did not turn in Rucastle for kidnapping--perhaps because his victim had escaped and eloped, perhaps because the detective thought getting mauled by a dog was punishment enough.

In The Naval Treaty, Holmes allowed Joseph to flee, in order to get the papers back, although he did wire Scotland Yard about him--but not until the next morning. In The Priory School, Sherlock was persuaded by a very wealthy man to allow the villain to get away ("no, really, he's leaving the country and will reform!!"). He lied to the police about his knowledge of the murder of Charles Augustus Milverton, because the blackmailer had it coming (and to turn in the mysterious lady would have incriminated he and Watson for burglary!).

So, there have been plenty of times when Holmes has substituted his own judgement for that of the official legal system. It's hardly a rare occurrence. Whether it is because he feels the criminal has been punished harshly enough, or in order to best protect his client, Holmes has shown little compunction about covering up the truth, and allowing criminals to go.

Holmes tells Watson that "Once or twice in my career I feel that I have done more real harm by my discovery of the criminal than ever he had done by his crime. I have learned caution now, and I had rather play tricks with the law of England than with my own conscience." Perhaps Sir Arthur Conan Doyle should have shown us one of those stories, where Holmes turning in the crook did "more harm than the criminal deserved." As a reader, I'd like to see something concrete to justify Holmes' decision to use his "right of private judgement" so often.

Personally, I find the "protect someone from scandal" excuse fairly flimsy. If the "highest, noblest, most exalted name" in England did something so ridiculously stupid--pawning a national treasure!!--perhaps it is in the best interest of the nation to let that news become public, especially when the stupid act results in sordid consequences. If the Duke of Holderness aids and abets murderers and kidnappers to hide the fact that he has an illegitimate son, well, maybe it is better that the truth comes out, so no one will trust him with public office again. If a government clerk (who got his post through nepotism) is careless enough to leave an important secret treaty on the desk of his unlocked office while he goes to get coffee--well, maybe he should have to resign his office in disgrace.

In Abbey Grange, the problem is perhaps a bit more tangled. In this case, Holmes is not protecting his client--he was brought in by Inspector Hopkins. So in this instance, by covering up the murders, he is actually acting against his client's wishes and interests.

And yet, if we believe the story spun by Croker--a huge if, to be sure--certainly he and Lady Brackenstall are certainly more deserving of mercy than many of the other criminals Holmes has chosen to let off the hook.

That fact, though, makes it all the more curious why Holmes might circumvent the police and courts. If their story is true, Croker certainly has a very strong case for self-defense, or even justifiable homicide, in defense of  Mary. And as for Mary, if Croker is found not guilty, it would be difficult to convict her of being an accomplice. Both still might face some type of obstruction charges--lying to the police, tampering with evidence--but given that they killed man and covered it up, that's hardly too large an inconvenience to suffer, is it? And surely the woman who declared that "this English life, with its proprieties and its primness, is not congenial to me" is not afraid of some scandal, especially when the fact of Sir Eustace's behaviour was already "known to everyone." If it is so obvious that a jury would acquit, why does Holmes feel the need to "take a great responsibility" upon himself?

And when you throw in the possibility that "innocent" people--the Randall family of burglars--were being framed for murder, well, that adds to the scales on the side of telling Inspector Hopkins everything, doesn't it? Theresa, Mary and Captain Croker had no way of knowing that the "Lewisham gang" had fled to America (or did they?). By basing their false tale of murderous burglars on a real group of people, they quite deliberately put the Randalls in jeopardy of facing the gallows for a crime these criminals didn't commit. No matter how sympathetic you are to the conspirators, that kind of recklessness with the lives of others should not--cannot--be condoned. In my view, at least, the selfishness of the "Abbey Grange Gang"--the willingness to put others in jeopardy of capital punishment to cover their own, supposedly lesser, crime--suggests that they don't deserve to have the affair covered up by Holmes.

It should also be noted that perhaps we should not trust the veracity of Croker's story. When you reread the story, you realize that 100% of the evidence Holmes finds, and the 100% deductions he makes, are of events after the murder. There is not one shred of evidence to support the captain's version of events--that he came in (through the window!!) for a platonic goodbye, that Sir Eustace then came in and attacked first. There is nothing to support this tale besides the testimony of the conspirators themselves, who have already proven less than trustworthy.

Some commentators have suggested that Lady Brackenstall was really a very clever murderess. Some go so far as to suggest she made up the stories of abuse, stabbing herself with hatpins to make her husband look like a cad. With this she lured Captain Croker to keep seeing her, and to come to her "defense." Or perhaps Mary and Croker were having an affair, and this was an attempt by them to remove her husband from the picture. These strike me as too clever by half--a frame, wrapped around  a carefully cultivated lie to bring forth if anyone saw through that? Still, none of these possibilities are ruled out by any of the evidence that Holmes gathers. Perhaps, then, Sherlock should not be so quick to extend his mercy and subvert the law.

Finally, Holmes himself seems less than firmly resolved to keep the police away from the truth. He tells Hopkins where the silver was, and tries to convince the inspector to accept the theory that it was a blind. This could only have led to the conclusion that Lady Brackenstall's tale was not true, had Hopkins had the sense to use it. Holmes declaration at the end of the tale--"I have given Hopkins an excellent hint and if he can't avail himself of it I can do no more"--does not sound like the attitude of a man who is convinced that he is morally right in this matter. It sounds more as if he is playing a game, rolling the 12-sided die for the fate of all involved.

Ironically, with his constant 'testing' of Croker--"and you ring true every time"--Holmes is doing exactly what he accuses Watson of doing--reacting to emotional responses, instead of real evidence and justice!

By our modern times, we're used to vigilantes in fiction, those who take the law into their own hands. Heroes who decide who should be punished, and who shouldn't. In this, as in so many other ways, Sherlock Holmes was a pioneer.

But Holmes was not omniscient. In this very case he nearly "committed the blunder of [his] lifetime." One would hope that he would be far less cavalier in letting thieves and murderers roam free, more cautious in protecting the rest of the public from potential future crimes. Discretion is one thing; whimsical "sentencing," is not what we expect from someone who is playing judge and jury.

When Sherlock Holmes covers up major crimes to protect reputations or avert scandal, he forfeits a bit of his moral authority. When he treats dispensing justice like a game, "playing tricks with the law"--"Hey, if Hopkins picks up on it, you're arrested, if not, c'est la vie!"--he loses the audiences trust a bit.

The game is afoot--but too often, it's because Holmes let them go himself.


**One theory that  haven't seen get a lot of play is that maybe, just maybe, Theresa the maid is not an innocent in all this. 

If you recall, it was Theresa whom Jack Croker first encounters in England, and it is from her that he learns of  Brackenstall's (alleged?) cruel treatment of Mary. It was Theresa's tales that "nearly drove him mad." It was from Theresa that Croker "learned the ways of the household." It was no doubt Theresa who arranged the initial meeting of Jack and Mary, if not all of them.

And when it came to the cover-up, well, "Theresa was as cool as ice, and it was her plot as much as mine." Pretty telling, that.

Theresa hated Sir Eustace, especially after he threw a decanter at her head (if that happened). Her mistress stood to become quite wealthy should anything befall him. And she seems to have been a prime mover in getting all our players to the same place at the crucial time. Was she trying to mastermind a justifiable homicide?!?

**"Watson, you are a British jury, and I never met a man who was more eminently fitted to represent one."

Well, hold on now, Sherlock. Not that Watson isn't quite the wonderful chap. But he is your best friend and biographer, and always seems inclined to believe whatever theory you put forth. Somehow I don't think that he can be impartial in any matter where you're playing both judge and prosecutor.

Indeed, Watson may very well not be impartial when it comes to Lady Brackenstall, either. Some have commented that Holmes might have been hoodwinked by her charms. But read Watson's description of their first meeting, and you tell me if you think he could be a fair "jury" for her:
Seldom have I seen so graceful a figure, so womanly a presence, and so beautiful a face. She was a blonde, golden-haired, blue-eyed, and would no doubt have had the perfect complexion which goes with such colouring...
Vox populi, vox dei? Watson seems a little too smitten, methinks, to make that conclusion.

**British editions spelled the captain's name "Crocker;" American versions went with "Crocker."

**Again, the message come through loud and clear: don't marry someone from one of the colonies. America, Australia...their women are nothing but trouble!!

**More great imagery from Sir Arthur's pen:
The first faint winter's dawn was beginning to appear, and we could dimly see the occasional figure of an early workman as he passed us, blurred and indistinct in the opalescent London reek.
"The opalescent London reek"?? Such delicious stuff...

**As Holmes and Watson peruse Hopkins' note on the train: "We are moving in high life, Watson, crackling paper, 'E.B.' monogram, coat-of-arms..."

Wait a minute!! Did Hopkins post a letter on Sir Eustace's own stationary, rather than send a telegram? Wouldn't the latter have been faster (especially after midnight?) If the former, didn't Hopkins have any paper of his own to write on?

Purloining the stationery of a murder victim, Hopkins? That is...well, unseemly?

**Holmes declares that "Hopkins has called me in 7 times." Assuming he's not counting this very incident, we've seen 3 of those cases (if you consider Hopkins referring a client to Holmes in The Missing Three Quarter)...what were the other 4 cases? Tell us, Watson!!

**Once again, Sir Arthur has fun using Holmes to critique Watson's writing. So Doyle is actually having his most famous creation mock his own writing!
I must admit, Watson, that you have some power of selection, which atones for much which I deplore in your narratives. Your fatal habit of looking at everything from the point of view of a story instead of as a scientific exercise has ruined what might have been an instructive and even classical series of demonstrations. You slur over work of the utmost finesse and delicacy, in order to dwell upon sensational details which may excite, but cannot possibly instruct, the reader."
We'll see Sherlock's own writing up of his cases soon enough, and see how well his critique bears up...

**Mary: "I was brought up in the freer, less conventional atmosphere of South Australia, and this English life, with its proprieties and its primness, is not congenial to me."

Well, the English don't condone murder, if that's what you mean...or meeting with strange men who come in through your window in the middle of the night...

More seriously, it would be of interest to hear which proprieties and primnesses were not so congenial to her. She's certainly prim enough to condemn her husband's drinking...

**"Sir Eustace was a confirmed drunkard. To be with such a man for an hour is unpleasant. Can you imagine what it means for a sensitive and high-spirited woman to be tied to him for day and night?"

Well, that's a bit of a humble brag, isn't it? Calling herself sensitive and high-spirited?

But more seriously, was none of this evident before the marriage? There were 6 months between their meeting and the wedding. Did he never get "half-drunk" during their courtship or engagement? Did he hide it? Did he manage not to burn dogs or throw glassware at servants or stab people for the whole period? Did he abstain from liquor whenever he was going to be with he for half a year?

**Mary again: "It is a sacrilege, a crime, a villainy to hold that such a marriage is binding. I say that these monstrous laws of yours will bring a curse upon the land--God will not let such wickedness endure."

Doyle was a strong advocate for reforming these draconian divorce laws, and this certainly sounds like a bit of proselytizing for changes.

**Sir Eustace was said to have come at the burglars "with his favourite blackthorn cudgel in his hand."

His favourite? He had more than one blackthorne cudgel? He had them ranked? 

**When the mystery begins to look like an open and shut case, Watson notes that Sherlock begins to look like "an abstruse and learned specialist who finds that he has been called in for a case of measles would experience something of the annoyance which I read in my friend's eyes."

Is this Watson snidely attacking specialists, too annoyed with their higher studies to help the commonplace ill? Maybe even Sir Arthur sticking it to his own profession?

**Holmes, examining the ground outside the windows where the burglars allegedly came in, and where Jack Croker did actually center from:"There are no signs here, but the ground is iron hard, and one would not expect them."

Again, remember when Holmes gave Hopkins crap for such a lackluster analysis of the ground in Black Peter?
My good Hopkins, I have investigated many crimes, but I have never yet seen one which was committed by a flying creature. As long as the criminal remains upon two legs so long must there be some indentation, some abrasion, some trifling displacement which can be detected by the scientific searcher..
So, detective, heal thyself?!?

**Self-analysis from Sherlock: "Perhaps, when a man has special knowledge and special powers like my own, it rather encourages him to seek a complex explanation when a simpler one is at hand."

Watson should have shown us such a tale, at some point. Holmes coming up with an amazing theory of the crime, and it turns out to be pretty simple...

 **Holmes again, on why you should never take seemingly innocent but out-of-place details lightly:
Every instinct that I possess cries out against it. It's wrong--it's all wrong--I'll swear that it's wrong. And yet the lady's story was complete, the maid's corroboration was sufficient, the detail was fairly exact. What have I to put up against that? Three wine-glasses, that is all. But if I had not taken things for granted, if I had examined everything with the care which I should have shown had we approached the case DE NOVO and had no cut-and-dried story to warp my mind, should I not then have found something more definite to go upon? Of course I should.
In other words, don't let "eyewitness" testimony influence you too much, especially when they might be lying...

**Interesting fact about Victorian burglars: "As a matter of fact, burglars who have done a good stroke of business are, as a rule, only too glad to enjoy the proceeds in peace and quiet without embarking on another perilous undertaking."

See, that's why they never get rich. Do a job, lay around and live off the proceeds...then you're broke again, and have to go back into action.

Don't be layabouts, you potential burglars out there! Keep working until you have a sufficient nest egg! Burgle more often--every night if you must!--so you can take an extended vacation!

**Holmes explains why the three wine glasses matter so much:
But if I have hit upon the true explanation of this one small phenomenon, then in an instant the case rises from the commonplace to the exceedingly remarkable, for it can only mean that Lady Brackenstall and her maid have deliberately lied to us, that not one word of their story is to be believed, that they have some very strong reason for covering the real criminal, and that we must construct our case for ourselves without any help from them.
Yet, Holmes ultimately does construct his case with help from them, and believed the (second) story the conspirators gave, even though "not one word of their story is to be believed"! And he took Jack Croker's tale as verbatim truth, without a shred of evidence!

**Both Theresa and Jack seem pretty sure that Mary wed Sir Eustace just for the money.

Theresa: "He won her with his title and his money and his false London ways."

Jack: "Well, why shouldn't she marry whom she liked? Title and money--who could carry them better than she?"

I'm not saying at all that it justified any of the abuse. But seriously, if she didn't like the prim and proper English ways, than marrying a noble for his title and money isn't a recipe for happiness.

**Description of Jack from his shipping company: "[A] wild, desperate fellow off the deck of his ship--hot-headed, excitable..."

This is the guy you promote to captain?

Still, if this was his reputation, perhaps it means that Mary and/or Theresa knew he could be easily goaded into violence, and thus was the perfect patsy to set-up for a "crime of passion."

**"I believe you are a man of your word, and a white man, and I'll tell you the whole story."

Oh, Captain Jack, you racist bastard.

**Sir Eustace "called [Mary] the vilest name that a man could use to a woman."

Admit it, you're dying to know what that could be, circa 1897...

**Croker describing the end of the fight: "Then it was my turn, and I went through him as if he had been a rotten pumpkin. Do you think I was sorry? Not I!"

Wow. And this was the guy Holmes decided was worthy of mercy and a cover-up? If you want mercy from me, you probably should revel in needlessly graphic descriptions of your victim's death...


Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Adventure Of The Missing Three Quarter--It's Not About The Sports, Silly

An awful lot of people seem to think that The Adventure of The Missing Three Quarter is a mystery about sports (sorry, British fans--"sport."). That it's really just Silver Blaze, with a missing human in place of a missing horse.

And it's easy to see where folks might get that impression. The title of the story is a rugby term. Cyril Overton's initial telegram to Sherlock Holmes is couched in sports terms, and his introduction to Holmes is a long paragraph of sport jargon impenetrable to anyone not an avid rugby fan. Overton treats Holmes like a naive shut-in at his lack of awareness of the state of the rugby world.

The mystery is framed for us in terms of the build-up to the crucial "big game." One of the potential motives thrown about is the possibility of gamblers wanting to surreptitiously influence the outcome of that game.

And so, perhaps understandably, much of the commentary about this story seem focused on the rugby. They talk about whether of not a three quarter would really be needed to perform the tasks Overton describes; they discuss when and when the game would likely take place; they try and deduce the year from the score Watson gives; they discuss what kind of gambling there might have been; they discuss the (rapidly dying) amateurism of rugby. Even famed American sportswriter Red Smith, who infamously accused Holmes of chicanery in rigging the race in Silver Blaze for gambling profits, chimes in on this story: Holmes obviously dragged out the investigation so Staunton would miss the game, and Holmes could profit by wagering on Oxford!

But the sporting aspect is merely a distraction, a setting, and not what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wanted to write about.

Note that in the course of the mystery, Holmes never once interviews any of Godfrey Staunton's teammates. He never talks to coaches or players on the other team. He never looks into the gambling aspect at all, never seeks out any of the wagering that was reputedly going on. He tells Watson that the game and/or gamblers are not likely explanations for the disappearance. We're given the score of the Big Game as a casual afterthought 2/3 of the way through the story, and the sporting aspect is never mentioned again.

This story would have been exactly the same had it been about a student vanishing before a big exam, or a nobleman vanishing before an important parliamentary vote. The sporting aspect is merely the window dressing, the aspic holing together the true ingredients of our story: love versus class obligations. Or to put it more sadly, how far a fine young man would go to hide his true love in order to secure an inheritance--love versus money.

It's quite a sad tale, actually. Staunton meets, and marries a woman "as good as she was beautiful and as intelligent as she was good." Sadly, though, she was "beneath his class." And despite the fact that "no man need be ashamed of such a wife," Staunton was certain that the marriage would cause his uncle Lord Mount-James--one of the richest men in England!-- to disinherit him. So Godfrey and his pal Dr. Armstrong conspired to keep the whole marriage secret--they told no one at all of the marriage, and kept the poor (unnamed!) girl in a "lonely cottage," apparently to be visited by her secret husband only when he could get away.

The story is sad and tawdry on a number of levels. You love your wife, but are so afraid of losing an inheritance, you keep her secret? Godfrey was "not fond" of his uncle, and would never go to see him "if he could help it"--yet he was still eager to left in the will of the man he so disliked. It's cruel to say so, but it is difficult to avoid feeling that the lad loved the possibility of the money more than he loved his wife.

The class issues are disturbing to modern ears, as well. The girl was the daughter of a "landlady," certainly middle class--but she was still considered beneath him? I'm never clear on the practices of British nobility, but Godfrey Staunton is never referred to by title. Is he noble? He is Lord Mount-James' only heir--would the title pass to him?

Allow me here, if not a full exoneration, than a least a partial defense of Mount-James. He is a miserly bastard, to be certain. But we never hear him say that  poor marriage by Godfrey would lead to disinheritance. The Lord "knew little" of his nephew's private life, and certainly had no knowledge of this wedding. We only have the assertion of Dr. Armstrong that "it was quite certain that the news of his marriage would have been the end of his inheritance." Yet it clear that Armstrong didn't know Mount-James that well. He assumes that Holmes was hired by the noble skinflint; but as we saw when we met Mount-James, the nobleman cared not a whit about his nephew's life, and declared that he wouldn't spend a farthing to find Godfrey when he was missing--it seems certain that he would never have spared the pounds for private detectives of his own volition. So we only have a third-hand assumption of someone who was in no position to know that Godfrey's wedding would have resulted in disinheritance.

Nonetheless, the fact that Godfrey Staunton and Leslie Armstrong so believed that the three quarter would be deprived of his rightful bequest--and the fact that the unnamed wife was willing to play along with the farce--is indicative of the stranglehold that such class considerations had on the behaviors and imaginations of the people of the era. The certainty that any relationship which threatened class boundaries would be punished led to terribly unhealthy actions--the denial of love, the hiding and suppressing of emotions (and relationships)--elaborate hypocrisies that were almost certainly worse than the "crimes" they were designed to hide.

Still, as much as a victim of the social structures of the time as Godfrey was, I don't think we can completely absolve him of blame, can we? I would certainly like to think that, were I faced with such a choice, I would say, "To hell with the bequest," and publicly marry my true love. I hope that I would, anyway. Yet Staunton was so afraid of the truth getting out, that even when his wife was terribly ill, "he had to go to London to play this match, for he could not get out of it without explanations which would expose his secret."

Yet why the lust for that money? Staunton may have been "of modest means," but he was a Cambridge student, which indicates he likely had some opportunities ahead of him. If he was as good at rugby as Overton averred, the days of professionalism in the sport were very close, and he should have made a fine living. He had wealthy friends (Dr. Armstrong lived in "a large mansion"), who were willing to help him conceal the wedding--wouldn't they have been likely to help him had Mount-James disowned him? He had a "lonely cottage"--surely he could have just as easily afforded the same if his secret were revealed. And he could afford a medical bill for thirteen guineas paid to his friend the doctor.

We know precious little about Staunton and his finances, so we shouldn't be too judgmental. But at least on the surface, we could read this tale as the story of a man who loved his wife, but was too enchanted by the possibility of great wealth to be happy with her and a more modest income.

[In fairness, it's certainly possible that the unnamed wife was just as interested in the inheritance, perhaps even more so than Staunton. The entire scheme may have even been her idea, for all we know. Another reason not to judge Godfrey too harshly based upon the little information we're given.]

So, no, The Adventure Of The Missing Three Quarter had nothing to do with rugby, despite everyone's focus upon that aspect of it. The story is, instead, a love tragedy. It is a Romeo And Juliet story where a secret wedding is made not to protect the young people from a family feud, but to ensure a large estate. It is a story where fear of being discovered marrying outside of one's class leads to unnatural acts, and end in tragedy (although we cannot say that hiding the wife away caused her tuberculosis, having to keep her hidden away in a remote cottage, unvisited by actual practicing physicians --"Armstrong is not really a doctor in practice."--surely didn't aid in any possible recovery). It is the tales of a young man so obsessed with keeping a bequest from a man he barely knew and couldn't stand, that he had to forgo most of the experience of living with the woman he loved.

And that's a lot more important than any rugby game, now matter how big.


**Obviously, the "marry outside your class" could still apply today, although it's a much more subtle phenomenon these days. So if anyone wanted to do a modernization of this story, perhaps they could have Staunton in a secret gay marriage. I do know people who have been disowned for such relationships, sadly...

**While my knowledge of rugby is precisely nil, I feel confident in saying that if your chances of victory depend entirely on one player being present, you might want to do a better job of recruiting (and coaching).

**I am not one of those who suggests that the team is more important than anything, that a player should somehow grin and bear it through personal emergencies rather than miss the big game.

But still, when he left to go be with his dying wife, he should have at least left a note, or sent a telegram, or something. People were depending upon him, and the "vanish without any word for three days" really isn't acceptable. Even a "Sorry, personal emergency, gotta bail--sorry" note would have been better than no word at all.

**So, if Lord Mount-James did decide to disinherit Staunton over his marriage, to whom would the money go? It's hard to see someone as miserly as him leaving all his fortune to charity...

**I don't usually play this game, but a case could be argued that Doctor Armstrong was the true villain of the piece.

Holmes praises his intellect and his skill, comparing him with Moriarty!

Perhaps that comparison was more apt than we know. We've already seen that 100% of what we know about the potential of Mount-James disinheriting Staunton came from Armstrong, and we've discussed how that seems to be a complete misreading of the miser: Mount-James cared little for Godfrey's private life, and seems terribly unlikely to have hired private detectives to investigate him.

Well, what if the concern for that bequest came from Armstrong? What if the whole idea to keep the wedding secret came form Armstrong? The "keep your wife in a secret cottage near me, and live a secret double life" idea--what if it were an idea by Armstrong to manipulate his "intimate" friend? To make Godfrey more dependent upon him, so when Mount-James died, Armstrong's newly rich best friend could funds his literary and scientific endeavors?Maybe Armstrong wasn't as wealthy as he seemed, and...

That might explain why, at the end, Armstrong so readily gave in to Sherlock's request to trust him, which Armstrong had so strongly ignored before--with the wife dead, and the marriage over, there was no longer a threat of Staunton being disowned.

Nah, I don't really believe that.

**Red Smith's calumny against Holmes, tongue-in-cheek or not, cannot go unanswered.

As he did for Silver Blaze, Smith accuses Sherlock of "stage-managing" these cases so that Holmes could make a bundle gambling on the event. He argues that Holmes "slow-footed" the investigation--being put off by a "windy bluff" from Armstrong, and tricked when he should have been able to follow the carriage easily--until after the Cambridge-Oxford match was over, so Holmes could use his knowledge that Staunton would be absent to place wagers on Oxford.


The first thing to note is Holmes complete lack of knowledge on the sport--he doesn't even understand the most basic terminology of rugby. Yet he's supposedly able to suddenly have enough mastery of the sport to make intelligent bets based on one piece of information from a doubtless sincere but possibly overreacting coach?

Second, unlike in Silver Blaze, where Holmes insisted that the owner keep the horse entered, in this case Holmes insists that Overton assume that Staunton won't be coming back:
I should strongly recommend you to make your preparations for your match without reference to this young gentleman. It must, as you say, have been an overpowering necessity which tore him away in such a fashion, and the same necessity is likely to hold him away. 
In other words, unlike Silver Blaze, the word would quickly get out that Godfrey would not be playing, and the odds in favor of Oxford would have quickly risen, negating any advantage that a man hoping to take advantage of the three quarter's absence. If Holmes was indeed planning to make a mint gambling on this case, he went about it in completely the wrong way.

Finally, even had Holmes made Armstrong break down with the truth, or successfully followed him the next day, Staunton would not have played! Holmes himself declared this, and the sight of Staunton prostrate before the corpse of his wife should make that very clear. Godfrey would not have left his dying wife to play in the game. Holmes' investigation, slow or not, made no difference whatsoever in what would have happened in the game. Stalling the investigation made would have been pointless--Holmes could have easily made those alleged bets before leaving London, and the outcome would have been the same.

That's what you get when try to look at Missing Three Quarter as a sport story, and try to use it to commit character assassination against the Great Detective. You come off looking like an idiot who hasn't even read the story...

**Watson: "We were fairly accustomed to receive weird telegrams at Baker Street."

Alright, there's a book I would read: "Come At Once: Telegrams Received At 221B Baker Street." Somebody get to work on this, please.

**Watson worried about the lack of business recently:
I knew by experience that my companion's brain was so abnormally active that it was dangerous to leave it without material upon which to work. For years I had gradually weaned him from that drug mania which had threatened once to check his remarkable career. Now I knew that under ordinary conditions he no longer craved for this artificial stimulus, but I was well aware that the fiend was not dead but sleeping, and I have known that the sleep was a light one and the waking near when in periods of idleness I have seen the drawn look upon Holmes's ascetic face, and the brooding of his deep-set and inscrutable eyes.
This is the first we've heard about Sherlock's drug use in quite awhile. It's interesting, because none of Watson's prior descriptions of Holmes' habit sounded this dire. "Threatened once to check his remarkable career"?

Is Watson exaggerating here...or had he been downplaying how bad things were in earlier tales?

**Apocryphal case: "...there was Henry Staunton, whom I helped to hang..."

**Cyril Overton does a great job of trying to make Holmes feel ashamed for not knowing more about sports: "Why, Mr. Holmes, I thought you knew things." "Good Lord! Mr. Holmes, where HAVE you lived?"

Of course, everyone thinks that everybody else should be familiar with their favorite activity. I can imagine a modern story with a client pillorying Holmes for not being more familiar with Game Of Thrones...

**I really don't have any dog in the "did Sherlock go to Oxford or Cambridge" arguments.

But from my disinterested viewpoint, this story sure make it look like Holmes isn't terribly familiar with Cambridge. He tells Watson that they are "stranded and friendless in this inhospitable town." And he doesn't seem to be terribly familiar with the geography of the area.

If you went by this story alone, you might have to conclude he was an Oxfordian.

**Holmes, as per usual, picks out the important clues of the case, whilst everyone else focuses on trivia. Sherlock evaluates each theory in terms of the visit from the unknown man and the telegram:
...this young man saw a formidable danger which approached him, and from which someone else could protect him. 'US,' mark you! Another person was involved. Who should it be but the pale-faced, bearded man, who seemed himself in so nervous a state? What, then, is the connection between Godfrey Staunton and the bearded man? And what is the third source from which each of them sought for help against pressing danger? Our inquiry has already narrowed down to that."
And Watson proves that he is indeed becoming more adept at the detective's methods, as he notes that all of the potential theories fail to take the telegram into account.

**"Holmes: "As you have no doubt frequently observed, Watson, the impression usually goes through--a fact which has dissolved many a happy marriage."

A lesson to all adulterers--don't write in pencil, and throw away the blotter paper!

**It seems that telecommunications companies in the Victorian era weren't any better at protecting clients' data from snoopers, As Holmes rather effortlessly gets the original telegram from the station office. "There is so much red tape in these matters..."  Not for Sherlock Holmes!

Indeed, he has obviously put a large amount of thought into ways to beat the system: "I had seven different schemes for getting a glimpse of that telegram..." You're a regular NSA, Sherlock!

**Watson's first description of Lord Mount-James:
...a queer little old man, jerking and twitching in the doorway. He was dressed in rusty black, with a very broad-brimmed top-hat and a loose white necktie--the whole effect being that of a very rustic parson or of an undertaker's mute...
One delicious detail highlighting his stinginess: "I came round as quickly as the Bayswater bus would bring me." One of the wealthiest men in England, and he took the public bus instead of a cab...

**Watson seems very impressed by Leslie Amrstrong:
...a thinker of European reputation in more than one branch of science...the square, massive face, the brooding eyes under the thatched brows, and the granite moulding of the inflexible jaw. A man of deep character, a man with an alert mind, grim, ascetic, self-contained, formidable...
**This is the second story in a row to discuss other private detectives. Clearly, they were far more prominent in 1904 than 1886. And they didn't seem to have too fine a reputation, according to Armstrong:
Where your calling is more open to criticism is when you pry into the secrets of private individuals, when you rake up family matters which are better hidden, and when you incidentally waste the time of men who are more busy than yourself.
Of course, Armstrong did have a bit of a stick up his butt, so it's not clear that the general public would share that opinion.

Then again, given the famous British reserve and expectation of privacy, private dicks may not have been well thought of by the general public. Yet, people had to have somewhere to turn when Holmes turned down their case and the police weren't interested...

**Armstrong says he recognizes Holmes' name, but does not really seem that familiar with the detective's reputation:
"I have heard your name, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and I am aware of your profession--one of which I by no means approve."

"In that, Doctor, you will find yourself in agreement with every criminal in the country," said my friend, quietly.

"So far as your efforts are directed towards the suppression of crime, sir, they must have the support of every reasonable member of the community, though I cannot doubt that the official machinery is amply sufficient for the purpose."
As we have seen, of course, and as has been well reported in the press, Holmes has been quite celebrated for solving cases which "the official machinery" is not "amply sufficient." But perhaps Dr. Armstrong has been far more focused on his lectures and treatises...

**Holmes, the great cover-up specialist: "I have already told you that I can hush up that which others will be bound to publish."

Except, of course, when Watson publishes it...

**Given that Armstrong calms the hell down as soon as Sherlock says "I am not employed by Lord Mount-James, and that my sympathies in this matter are entirely against that nobleman," one wonders why Sherlock didn't bring that up far earlier.

Dr. Armstrong dropped off a note to Holmes. Perhaps a simple reply not-- "I don't work for Mount-James"--could have spared us a lot of running around.

Then again, it's possible that Armstrong finally relented because the marriage no longer existed to cover up. It does seem an awfully quick 180 degree turn by him, though.


My friend Dawn hates Sherlock Holmes, but she likes dogs. So this picture is for her.

**Stylistically, we have a return to earlier Holmes stories, with an incredibly abrupt ending, leaving us no information whatsoever about what happens to our characters in the future. What becomes of Staunton? Does he rejoin the team? Does the wedding become public knowledge? Does he get the estate?

Would it have killed you to give us an extra sentence or two, Sir Arthur?