A Scandal in Bohemia
After our narrator Dr. John Watson gets married (to Mary Morstan, in Conan Doyle’s second Sherlock Holmes novel, The Sign of Four) he doesn’t see Holmes quite as often as he used to. As Watson sets up a happy home with his wife, Holmes remains as weird as ever, hanging around their old place in Baker Street and alternating between cocaine and criminal cases.
Watson happens to be passing his former apartment on the walk back from his medical practice one evening, and decides to stop in to see his old pal Holmes. The two bat jokes back and forth about Holmes’s deductive ability. Holmes finally comes out and asks if Watson can even recall the number of stairs that lead up to the 221B Baker Street apartment, and Watson admits that he cannot. “Ah ha!” crows Holmes: proof that, while Watson sees the same things that Holmes does, he fails to observe them.
A new client arrives to meet Holmes and, after trying to hide his identity for about two seconds, comes clean: he is Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein, Grand Duke of Cassel-Felstein and hereditary King of Bohemia (whoa, that’s a lot of letters for one name! Bohemia, by the way, is now part of the modern-day Czech Republic). His problem is that he’s about to marry the daughter of the King of Scandinavia. The thing is, though, she’s from a family with very strict morals, and she wouldn’t be pleased to know that he had a serious affair with another woman before their engagement.
This woman is Irene Adler – who lives on in Holmes’s memory as the woman. She’s a singer who met the King in Warsaw, where they subsequently had a bit of a fling. Unfortunately, the King allowed himself to be photographed with Adler, and she has the picture. The King wants Holmes to recover the incriminating photo. Holmes agrees.
Holmes then puts on a disguise and goes to Irene Adler’s current house in London to stake it out. He finds out that she gets frequent calls from a lawyer, Godfrey Norton. Holmes even happens to be on the site when Adler rushes out of her house to meet Norton at a small church and – get this – our detective is actually called upon (still in disguise) to be the witness for her marriage to the guy. After their surprise elopement, Adler goes back to her house, and Holmes realizes he has to hurry to get the photo back before she has a chance to leave with her new husband.
Holmes comes up with the perfect plan for finding the photo: he disguises himself as a clergyman, stages a riot outside her house, pretends to be injured, and is carried into her living room for medical treatment. Meanwhile, Watson, waiting outside, throws a smoke bomb into her house through the open living room window. In a moment’s panic, Adler runs for a small hidden compartment in the wall, where, Holmes guesses, she keeps the photograph. At this discovery, and amidst the confusion, Holmes takes off with Watson in tow. The two wind up back at Holmes’s apartment building. As Holmes is looking for his key, a young man walks by and greets him by name, with a cheery “Good evening.”
The next morning, the King of Bohemia arrives at Holmes’s apartment, where Holmes and Watson are waiting. All three head off to Adler’s house. To Holmes’s surprise, an elderly woman is expecting them. She hands Holmes a letter signed by Irene Adler and addressed to Holmes himself.
Adler’s letter tells Holmes that she had been warned that he was on her trail. Even so, she didn’t recognize him immediately when she saw him disguised as such a kindly-looking old priest. But she guessed that it was Holmes when she realized the smoke bomb was a fake fire alarm. Adler then confirmed Holmes’s identity by putting on men’s clothes (she was once an actress), following him to his home, and greeting him by name. Adler tells Holmes she’s keeping the photos as collateral against the King should he ever decide to ruin her reputation. But for now, she’s content to live with her new, much worthier husband, and she considers the matter finished.
The King is satisfied with this news, even though Holmes apologizes for failing to recover the photo. Holmes then asks the King if he can keep the photograph of Adler alone that accompanied the letter. The King, surprised, agrees. Watson finishes the story by adding that, while Holmes used to joke about women’s intelligence, he hasn’t been cracking wise lately: Adler will always be, for Holmes, the ultimate woman.
The Red-Headed League
Watson visits Holmes one day, only to find him in conversation with a fat, old red-haired fellow. This guy is a pawnbroker, a Mr. Jabez Wilson, who has come to Holmes because he’s been the victim of a practical joke and wants to get to the bottom of it.
What happened is this: Wilson has a smart young employee named Mr. Vincent Spaulding. He trusts Spaulding absolutely, even though Spaulding has two unusual traits. First, he loves photography and is always going down to the basement to develop photographs. Second (this part Wilson really loves) Spaulding is willing to come work at Wilson’s pawnshop for half the going rate so he can learn the business.
This Spaulding comes to Wilson one day with a strange advertisement in the paper looking for a red-headed man who can fill a vacancy in the “Red-Headed League,” a club funded by the will of an eccentric American millionaire looking to support red-headed dudes. The club pays four pounds a week to its members for “nominal” (or in other words, minor) services. Spaulding convinces Wilson, who has a very fine head of red hair, to apply. Wilson does, and is accepted. His job is to sit in an office every day from 10 to 2, copying volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Wilson does this copying happily, leaving the pawnshop in Spaulding’s care while he’s making some extra money on the side. But suddenly, after two months of this work, the offices he’s been using have abruptly been locked up. He wants Holmes to get to the bottom of this sudden dissolving of the Red-Headed League.
Holmes finds Spaulding kind of suspicious, since he’s willing to work for half his market price. He must have a very strong reason for wanting the job. So Holmes and Watson head over to Wilson’s pawnshop to investigate further. Holmes taps his stick against the street, visits Spaulding at the pawnshop, and appears to arrive at some sort of conclusion that leaves Watson totally in the dark.
That Saturday night, Holmes collects a local police officer, Peter Jones, and the manager of the nearby City and Suburban Bank, Mr. Merryweather. He insists that Jones, Merryweather, and Watson sit in the dark bank vault underneath the local City and Suburban Bank branch to wait for master thief John Clay, who’s planning a massive bank robbery. And there’s something strange about John Clay – he has the same acid scar and pierced ears that Holmes observed on Spaulding, Wilson’s shop assistant. Coincidence? Nope! Spaulding is, in fact, an alias for Clay.
Explanations have to wait, though, because suddenly Holmes’s suspicions are confirmed: a flagstone in the floor of the vault lifts up, and John Clay (a.k.a. Vincent Spaulding) comes up through the floor into the waiting arms of the police officer. Having caught the thief, Holmes explains.
When Holmes and Watson visited the pawnshop, he observed that the knees of “Spaulding’s” pants were filthy: signs of prolonged digging. “Spaulding’s” dark room in the basement was really a tunneling project into the local bank. That’s why he was willing to come in for less than the market price – because he needed access to Wilson’s basement. That’s also why Clay/Spaulding and his gang set up the whole Red-Headed League trick. They needed to get Wilson out of the way for a substantial portion of the day every day while they did their tunneling. And voilà: case closed!
A Case of Identity
A young woman hesitates nervously in front of Holmes’s apartment building before deciding to enter. Her name is Mary Sutherland, and she is a typist. She has come to see Holmes against the advice of her stepfather, Mr. Windibank, who thinks the whole thing is unsolvable – and who is also only five years older than Sutherland herself. But Sutherland has decided to come anyway: she’s desperate to know the location of one Mr. Hosmer Angel.
Now we get the background on Mary Sutherland and her case. Sutherland’s stepfather is a wine importer. He generally frowns on young women like Sutherland going out in company, but she’s an independent adult with her own income (left to her by an uncle in New Zealand). So one evening, when Sutherland’s stepfather is off in France on wine business, Sutherland decides to go to a local ball. There, she meets a young man, Mr. Hosmer Angel. They arrange in secret to be married. He’s a very sensitive young gentleman, nervous about meeting her stepfather. The suitor also insists on meeting her only in the evenings, and he wears sunglasses because his eyes are so sensitive. Despite his many infirmities and his nervousness, the two decide (with the blessing of Sutherland’s mother) to elope.
So, when Mr. Windibank, Sutherland’s stepfather, is once again out of the country, Sutherland, her mother, and Mr. Hosmer Angel all arrange to meet at a local church to celebrate the happy event. Sutherland turns up at the church – but the cab holding Mr. Hosmer Angel arrives empty.
Mary Sutherland is desperate for Holmes to find him. She produces a stack of love letters from her lost love for Holmes to use as evidence, and then heads out. Holmes notes with great interest that all the letters are typed – even the signatures. Someone is disguising his handwriting.
Watson admits that he’s lost. He has no idea where to start. Holmes, however, is totally fired up. He writes two letters, one to an office in the city, the second to an unknown gentleman. The unknown gentleman, Watson eventually discovers, is Mr. Windibank, who arrives at Holmes’s office.
Holmes confronts Windibank, Sutherland’s stepfather: he accuses him of posing as Hosmer Angel while pretending to be away in France, in order to capture Sutherland’s affections. By disappearing in such a mysterious way, Windibank ensures that Sutherland, heartbroken, won’t get married any time soon. Why should he want to prevent her from getting married? Because if she weds, he will have no legal access to Sutherland’s inheritance from her uncle New Zealand. His letter to the city proves it: Holmes has written to Windibank’s wine importing office with a description of Mr. Hosmer Angel that was provided by Sutherland. The office has written back confirming that the depiction of Angel corresponds with Windibank’s own appearance.
The problem is, Windibank hasn’t broken any laws. There’s nothing Holmes can do to punish him, though he does try to put a bit of the fear of God into the scoundrel. All Holmes can do is promise Watson that a louse like Windibank will eventually commit a crime so bad he’ll be hanged for it.
The Boscombe Valley Mystery
Watson gets a telegram one morning, asking him to meet Holmes at the train station for an adventure. Watson’s wife says he’s been looking a little down in the dumps, and encourages him to go. So he does. Holmes escorts Watson to a small town in Boscombe Valley, where a man named Charles McCarthy has been murdered. McCarthy has been living as a tenant on the land of his much richer buddy, John Turner. Both of them knew each other back in Australia, where Turner struck it rich. McCarthy has a son, James, and Turner has a daughter.
McCarthy was killed by a blow to the back of the head while standing next to Boscombe Pool. Witnesses saw McCarthy walking towards the pool, followed quickly by his son, James; they also saw the two of them fighting violently. James is found near the body of his father with blood on his hands. To make matters worse for James McCarthy, when the police arrest him on suspicion of murdering his father, James says that he’s getting his just desserts. Everyone (including Watson) thinks this sounds like a confession.
Holmes is not so sure. After all, witnesses mention that Charles McCarthy called out “Cooee” to James – but how could he have known that James was behind him? McCarthy didn’t even know that James was in town. Couldn’t McCarthy have been expecting someone else at the pool? And if James did kill his dad, why didn’t he bother to make up a story explaining their argument? Why remain silent on that point? James’s statement does add two new pieces of evidence: his father’s last words were something about “a rat,” and James noticed a grey cloak on the ground next to his father’s body when he ran over to see him. When James looked up, the cloak was gone.
Holmes goes to see James. He finds out that James has no idea who killed his father. Inspector Lestrade, the Scotland Yard officer who loves giving Holmes a hard time, is sure that James is guilty. But Holmes keeps defending James: after all, he notes, “Cooee” is an Australian cry, and McCarthy’s last words weren’t “a rat” but “Ballarat,” an Australian city name. Doesn’t it seem more likely that the last person to see McCarthy before his fatal injury was a fellow Australian? Lestrade sneers and takes his leave.
Holmes, meanwhile, has arranged a meeting with John Turner, McCarthy’s old buddy from Australia. It turns out that it was Turner who McCarthy was meeting by Boscombe Pool. Turner was a robber back in Australia, and McCarthy knew about it. He had been blackmailing Turner for years. The last straw was that McCarthy had been trying to make his son marry Turner’s daughter. But Turner will not tolerate McCarthy mixing his blood with Turner’s daughter. So he picked up a rock and hit McCarthy over the head. When he heard James coming to the pool, he ran off, dropping his cloak. He managed to grab the cloak without being seen and got away.
Turner agrees to sign a confession so that, if James McCarthy is convicted of murder, Holmes can get the young man off. But Turner is dying, and doesn’t want to spend his final days in prison for justifiable homicide (what with the blackmail and all). Holmes agrees that Turner’s about to meet a higher judge than England can provide. Fortunately, James’s case is dismissed due to lack of evidence, James marries Miss Turner, and John Turner takes his secret to the grave seven months later.
The Five Orange Pips
It’s a dark and stormy night and Watson’s wife is out of town, so he’s sleeping over with Holmes. Their peaceful evening is suddenly interrupted by the appearance of a young man, John Openshaw, who’s worried about a series of weird events that have happened to his family. We get the whole back-story on John’s family:John’s father, Joseph Openshaw, is a bicycle factory owner. Joseph’s brother Elias, on the other hand, heads to Florida to start a plantation in the mid-1800s. Once the Civil War breaks out, Elias sides with the South and becomes a colonel in the Confederate Army. Once the Confederacy loses, even though he’s made lots of money in the South, Elias Openshaw flounces off back to England to retire with his fortune.
Elias is a real tool and has no friends. But he’s taken a liking to his nephew John Openshaw, and so he invites John to live with him. Elias uses John as a kind of household manager and go-between with everyone else in the world. Elias mostly likes to stay locked up in his room drinking a lot.
One day, Elias receives an envelope that says, on the back flap, “K.K.K.” and that includes an instruction to put “the papers” on the sundial outside. Inside the envelope are five orange pips. Elias freaks out, runs to his locked room, and burns a bunch of papers he’s been keeping locked up. After getting this envelope, Elias’s bad behavior really becomes extreme: he seems alternately terrified and furious. Finally, one night, he gets drunk and winds up dead the next day. It seems that he ran out of the house and drowned in a small pool at the foot of the garden during that drunken spell. The coroner rules his death a suicide, but John doesn’t think it is.
Next up, Joseph, Elias’s brother, inherits his brother’s fortune. What’s weird, though, is that Joseph then receives the same envelope, also with the same instructions, initials, and orange pips. And he also winds up dead, from a fall in a rock quarry. The coroner decides it’s an accident, but, again, John Openshaw’s not certain.
It’s come down to John himself. He, too, has now received the fatal envelope. He has also found one tiny scrap of paper with some names and dates he doesn’t understand, still in the fireplace where his uncle burned the papers before drowning. Now John wants Holmes’s help.Holmes tells Openshaw to go home right away, put the scrap of paper and the envelope on the sundial with a note saying everything else has been burned, and above all not to do anything dumb like confront the murderers.
Once Openshaw leaves, Holmes then tells Watson that these orange pips are the traditional symbol of the Ku Klux Klan, a post-Civil War American terrorist organization. They are known, Holmes tells Watson, for arranging unlikely deaths for people who support, among other things, African-American voting rights. Holmes continues that Elias must have been connected to this group: it can’t be a coincidence that he left the States in 1869, the same year the group apparently disbanded.
But despite Holmes’s solution of the case, he’s too late: the next morning’s newspaper carries news that John Openshaw fell into a river and drowned near the local train station. Holmes knows it’s no accident, though. He resolves to get justice by tracking down the postmarks of the three fatal envelopes, all of which lead him to one ship, the “Lone Star,” which was in the three origin cities at the right time to send these awful orange pips. Holmes cables Savannah, Georgia with the news that there are men on the “Lone Star” wanted for murder in the U.K., but divine justice intervenes. The ship sinks on its way across the Atlantic, and Holmes never gets his direct revenge on the murderers of his client.
The Man With the Twisted Lip
One night, one of Mrs. Watson’s friends, a lady named Kate Whitney, turns up at the Watsons’ home. She’s at her wit’s end because her husband Isa, an opium addict, has been away from home for some time. She begs Watson to visit her husband’s opium den to fish him out. Even though it’s late at night, Watson agrees to head straight over. While there, who should he bump into but his good pal Sherlock Holmes, wearing the disguise of an addict. Holmes invites Watson to walk home with him, and explains that he’s at the den trying to trace a missing person, one Neville St. Clair.
This St. Clair lives in a small town called Lee with his wife and two children. He has regular habits that include going into the city at the same time every morning and coming home on the same train at night. He earns good money doing something vague in investments. The Monday before, St. Clair went into town early after promising to get some toy blocks for the kids. Soon after he leaves, Mrs. St. Clair decides to go into the city as well, to run an errand. This errand brings her into kind of a bad part of town.
As Mrs. St. Clair is walking down this nasty street, she looks up to see her husband’s face looking down at her from a second-story window (in fact, from the window of the exact same opium den Holmes has been staking out). She tries to get in to see him, but the owner of the opium den stops her. Mrs. St. Clair runs to get some cops, the cops go in, but they don’t find anyone on the second floor except this exceptionally ugly beggar, Hugh Boone. No one buys Mrs. St. Clair’s story that she saw her husband until they find the blocks St. Clair had promised to buy on a table in the den.
So they arrest Boone on suspicion of murder. He’s well known throughout London as one of the cleverest beggars in the city. He’s got blood on his sleeve, but he also has a cut on his finger that, according to Boone, explains this. He swears he’s innocent. The police find St. Clair’s coat weighed down with coins in the nearby Thames, but not a trace of his body.
Holmes and Watson go to visit Mrs. St. Clair. She greets them happily with the news that she’s certain her husband is still alive. How does she know? She’s received a letter from him, in his handwriting, with his wedding ring as further proof. Holmes is up all night thinking about this new evidence, but he finally gets it, and feels dumb for not seeing it sooner. Watson is like – what? Holmes asks him to come for a morning drive into the city.
Holmes and Watson arrive at the police station and ask to see Boone. He’s fast asleep. Holmes pulls out a large sponge from his bag and suddenly gives Boone a vigorous face wash. Underneath the grease, face paint, fake scar, and wig, the famous beggar Boone turns out to be none other than Neville St. Clair.
It all becomes clear: St. Clair was once a journalist. He posed as a beggar to research an article once and made the accidental discovery that he could make more money as a beggar than he ever did in regular business. So all of those regular hours he’s been working in the city, he’s really been sneaking off to the room he’s rented in that opium den to change into his Hugh Boone disguise. When his wife happened to walk by that one afternoon, he was just changing back into his Neville St. Clair clothes. He was too ashamed of being discovered to admit to her (or, later, to the police) what had actually happened. So he weighed down his coat with coins and tossed it out the window into the river, and then rapidly put his Hugh Boone disguise back on. He handed the owner of the opium den that letter for his wife and then waited for the police to arrive.
Since he hasn’t actually committed a crime, Inspector Bradstreet agrees to let St. Clair go – with the strict promise that they’ll see no more of Hugh Boone around. If St. Clair goes back to his old tricks, his secret will become public and his family will be shamed. St. Clair promises, and that’s that!
The Blue Carbuncle
When Watson comes over two days after Christmas to wish Holmes a happy holiday, he finds Holmes contemplating a battered old hat. This hat has been brought to Holmes by Peterson, a hotel employee they both know. Here’s the story behind the hat:Peterson surprises a group of guys harassing some older fellow on the street. Startled, the old guy runs away, dropping his hat and a goose. The goose is labeled “To Mrs. Henry Baker,” but there are so many Henry Bakers in London that the note’s not much help. Peterson brings both objects to Holmes to trace their ownership. Holmes gives Peterson the goose but keeps the hat to see what he can reason from it to narrow down which Henry Baker. Holmes figures out that the hat’s owner is a smart, well-educated guy who’s fallen on hard times (and perhaps into drink?) and who’s subsequently alienated his wife (hence the present of the goose).
Holmes and Watson are chatting over his deductions when Peterson comes running back into to Holmes’s place. As his wife was preparing the goose for cooking, she found a blue diamond in the bird’s throat. Holmes identifies it at once as a jewel belonging to the Countess of Morcar, called the Blue Carbuncle, which was recently stolen from the Hotel Cosmopolitan. On the evidence of hotel employee James Ryder, a plumber named John Horner has been arrested, but the jewel still hasn’t been found.
Holmes puts an ad in the newspaper – Found: goose and black felt hat. Holmes figures that Henry Baker (the name attached to the goose’s leg) will definitely answer because he’s poor and probably really misses his hat. Holmes also asks Peterson to buy Holmes a second goose. Indeed, Baker answers the ad, and he is exactly as Holmes described in the first scene: out of condition, bearing signs of alcohol addiction, but educated. The guy is relieved to get his hat back, but he shows no signs of distress that this second goose is not the original – in other words, he knows nothing about the blue diamond.
Baker does put Holmes on the trail of the original goose, though, by telling the detective that he got the goose from the owner of the Alpha Inn. Holmes uses this information to get to a Covent Garden poultry seller, where he’s surprised to find someone else trying to figure out where a certain goose has gotten to.
This someone else is James Ryder, the hotel employee who ratted out John Horner, the plumber. But Holmes knows better: he tells Ryder that he’s found the jewel in the original goose and he knows Ryder himself is the culprit. Ryder basically disintegrates. He starts crying and carrying on. Holmes is disgusted, and demands that the guy pull himself together and tell Holmes how the diamond got into a goose’s throat in the first place.
Ryder explains: he decided to steal the carbuncle with the help of the Countess’s lady’s maid, Catherine Cusack. The two set up poor John Horner, and then Ryder made off with the stone. He planed to bring it to a friend of his who’s been in prison and who knows how to sell stolen jewelry for gold. But how should Ryder get the precious gem to his friend without getting caught? Well, Ryder had been staying over with his sister that night. She raises geese, and she had already offered him one. Ryder took a chance by stuffing the gem into the throat of one of the geese and then claiming it for his own. But when he opened the goose up later on, he saw that he’s killed the wrong goose in the shuffle. Hence his efforts to try and figure out where his particular goose got to once his sister brought her flock to market.
Ryder weeps and begs Holmes not to ruin him, and Holmes tells him to get out. After all, Holmes tells Watson, 1) Ryder’s so scared he’ll never do anything wrong again, and 2) it’s not Holmes’s job to make up for the fact that the police suck.
The Speckled Band
Watson jumps pretty far back in time in this story, to the period before his marriage when he and Holmes were still roomies at 221B Baker Street. One morning, Holmes wakes Watson early because he has a client he wants Watson to see. She’s a lady of about thirty with prematurely white hair who’s shaking with terror. The situation is this:
The lady’s name is Helen Stoner. She has a stepfather, Dr. Grimesby Roylott, who is the last representative of a great family that has utterly used up all of its resources. Helen’s mother died eight years ago in a train accident. Her will left Roylott a steady income, but it also included provisions for Helen and for her twin sister, Julia, if they ever get married. A marriage of either or both of his stepdaughters would leave Roylott really struggling financially. Personally speaking, Roylott is also a pretty terrible guy: he’s extremely violent and temperamental, and he’s actually done time in India for beating his Indian butler to death. Apparently, he was lucky to escape a death sentence there. And yet, the Stoner sisters’ mother married him.
So, anyway, flash to two years ago when Julia, Helen’s sister, gets engaged. She complains to Helen that her sleep is being disturbed by a strange whistling sound in the middle of the night. Helen dismisses this as nothing, but one night two weeks before Julia’s wedding, Helen hears a horrible scream. It’s Julia in the bedroom next door. Helen runs over to find Julia looking terrified and ill. Julia slips into convulsions, but before she falls unconscious (never to awaken), she makes reference to “a speckled band.” No one knows what could have killed Julia because the room was all locked up from the inside and there is no sign of a break in.
Now Helen herself has become engaged to a nice young fellow, Percy Armitage. Her stepfather has started some random construction on the wall outside her bedroom that has made Helen move into her sister’s old bedroom next to her stepfather’s. And she’s pretty freaked out because she, like her sister before her, has begun to hear a low whistle in the middle of the night. Holmes reassures her that he’ll do what he can, and offers to come out to their estate that night.
As soon as Stoner leaves Holmes’s office, Dr. Grimesby Roylott announces himself. He makes a threaten and says that if Holmes gets involved, he’ll be sorry. Holmes doesn’t take this warning very seriously. So he and Watson head out to Roylott’s estate that afternoon to set up a plan. Holmes tells Stoner to go to bed early but not to stay in her sister’s former bedroom. He and Watson plan to sneak in and spend the night there to find out what’s up.
Holmes and Watson do in fact manage to sneak into Julia Stoner’s old room. It has some weird features: a bell-pull that’s not actually attached to a bell, a ventilator that connects Julia’s room with Roylott’s, and a bed that’s nailed to the floor. All of these changes to the house date to about two years ago.
At around 3am, Holmes and Watson hear an eerie low whistle. Holmes strikes a match and starts beating the bell pull with his cane. Suddenly, they hear a yell from the next room. It’s Roylott, and he’s stone dead. He’s been killed by his own trained poisonous snake, which he has been sending into the next room through the ventilator to try to murder his second stepdaughter.
Why? It’s all about money: Roylott doesn’t want Stoner to marry Percy Armitage and take away her part of the inheritance. But he’s gotten his just desserts: killed by the snake he’s been trying to turn on other people. Holmes seems totally OK with that.
The Engineer’s Thumb
One morning at around 7am, two men come to Watson’s house from nearby Paddington train station. One of the two is a guard who knows Watson. He’s come to drop off a patient. The other guy is, well, the patient: a young man named Victor Hatherley who appears at some point to have misplaced his thumb. After treating Hatherley, Watson brings him to Holmes so they can get to the bottom of Hatherley’s weird adventure.
Here’s the story: Hatherley’s an orphan with no family. He’s a hydraulics engineer who set up his own private practice two years ago, but he hasn’t been getting any business. He’s desperate for money, so he’s really excited when a client comes to him offering a huge sum of money for one night’s work. The client is a vaguely creepy fellow named Colonel Lysander Stark, who’s happy to pay top dollar for Hatherley’s services if he’s willing to keep a secret.
The secret Hatherley has to keep is that Stark is working on processing a bunch of fuller’s earth (a kind of clay used in filtering for oils) on his land. He has a big press to shape this earth into blocks for transport. If his neighbors find out, they’ll realize they have valuable fuller’s earth deposits on their land, too, and they won’t sell that land to Stark for cheap. Something’s gone wrong with the press, though, so he needs Hatherley to tell him how to fix it. Hatherley’s not totally satisfied with this explanation, but he comes out with Stark anyway. They arrive on the last train to a small country station, and Stark confuses Hatherley further by insisting they drive in a carriage with the blinds drawn so Hatherley can’t see where they’re going.
They reach Colonel Stark’s house. Stark leaves Hatherley in a drawing room for a bit. Suddenly, a mysterious German-accented woman bursts in and warns Hatherley to run away. But he really needs that money, and he has his pride, so he won’t. The lady darts away and then Stark and his manager, a silent fat man named Mr. Ferguson, both come in to take Hatherley to the press.
The instant Hatherley sees the press, he knows that Stark is lying about what he’s using it for. Hatherley gives some advice about what Stark can do to fix it, but when Stark notices Hatherley’s interest in some metal deposits all around the room, he quickly jumps out of the press apparatus, locks Hatherley in, and starts the machine. Hatherley is about to get squashed.
Luckily, just as things are starting to look really bad for our young engineer, he notices that the walls of the press are actually made of wood. He manages to kick out a loose panel and escape into a new passage in the house. There, he meets the woman who tried to warn him. She leads him to an open window, but they’re not fast enough, and Stark appears carrying a cleaver. Stark warns the woman (“Elise”) away.
Hatherley manages to get out the window, where he’s hanging on the sill by his fingertips. Stark hacks at Hatherley’s hands with the cleaver, cutting off Hatherley’s thumb and sending him dropping to the garden. Hatherley tries to run away, but he faints from the blood loss. He has the vague memory of someone carrying him. When he wakes up the next morning, he’s lying next to the train station. He takes the train to London, meets up with a helpful guard, and that’s how he wound up at Watson’s.
Holmes is very interested in all of this. He, Watson, and Hatherley pick up police reinforcements and head over to the train station near Stark’s home. Inspector Bradstreet is very excited: he believes that this is a silver counterfeiting gang that Scotland Yard’s been trying to find for ages. That’s what Stark and his gang have really been using the press for, hence all of the nickel and tin that Hatherley noticed.
But by the time the group gets to Stark’s house, the inspector’s dream of a bunch of arrests is ruined. Stark’s house has burned to the ground, possibly thanks to the lamp shut in with Hatherley when Stark started the press. It looks like the gang was able to flee, but neither Stark nor Ferguson nor Elise are ever seen again. Holmes suspects that it was Ferguson and Elise who carried Hatherley to the train station out of pity. Hatherley, for his part, is disappointed: he’s lost his money and his thumb, and what has he gained? A good story, replies Holmes.
The Noble Bachelor
It’s 1887, just a few weeks before Watson’s marriage. The wet weather has made Watson’s old war wound act up a little, so he’s mostly been staying inside reading the papers. At one point, Holmes comes in holding an envelope with a nobleman’s seal on it. It belongs to Lord St. Simon, son of the Duke of Balmoral and one of the highest aristocrats in England. Watson gives Holmes the skinny on what the papers have been saying about a scandal surrounding St. Simon: his wife has disappeared.
Here’s the back-story: Hatty Doran is the daughter of an American millionaire. She manages to get through the ceremony tying her to St. Simon. But then, at the wedding breakfast after the ceremony, she excuses herself after ten minutes, goes upstairs, grabs a long coat and, apparently, just walks out the side door. Witnesses mention seeing her in Hyde Park walking with a woman named Flora Miller, a former dancer and love of St. Simon’s who tried to interrupt the wedding. On the strength of this evidence, Miller has been arrested for murder.
After Watson recaps all of this through newspaper clippings, St. Simon comes in. He makes a strange little comment about Holmes being unused to working with people of such high stature (which we know isn’t true, since we started off this collection with the King of Bohemia). Holmes dismisses this silly comment and gets down to business. St. Simon tells Holmes that Doran seemed in good spirits before the wedding, but irritable afterwards. The only way that he can account for the change is that Doran dropped her bouquet as they started to walk out of the church after the ceremony, and was irritated because of this. A stranger sitting in the front pew handed it back to her, but this only seemed to upset her more. Ten minutes later, she left the wedding breakfast as described above.
Holmes says that he already knows what has happened, but St. Simon seems skeptical. He leaves. Then in comes Lestrade, who has been dragging the Hyde Park lake, the Serpentine, looking for Doran’s body. The police have found one thing of interest: her wedding clothes and ring all tossed into the water in a heap. In the pocket of this dress is a note that says, “Come at once. F.H.M.” (Bachelor.148). On the other side is a hotel receipt that Holmes seems to find particularly important.
After this visit from Lestrade, Holmes spends most of the day out of the house. But he’s ready to receive St. Simon at 9pm, with a dinner set for five. And who are the other two guests? The missing Hatty Doran and her new husband, Francis Hay Moulton. Doran apologizes for running away and hurting St. Simon, but she really couldn’t think of anything else to do. She had actually married Moulton years before in the US in secret. He went off to seek his fortune. Eventually, she heard that he had been killed. So she thought she was free to follow her father’s wishes and marry St. Simon – but she was wrong. That scene in the church when she dropped her bouquet and some guy handed it to her? That guy was Moulton, and he used the opportunity to slip her a note asking for a meeting.
It’s the note that gives Holmes the evidence he needs to find the couple and to persuade them to come clean with St. Simon. Holmes is able to narrow down his hotel search to places that charge the amounts on the receipt for lodging and food. Once he’s shortened his list, he visits different hotels asking after recent American guests, finds a forwarding address for Francis Hay Moulton, and goes to visit him directly.
Despite Doran’s heartfelt apology to St. Simon, he’s not exactly ready to forgive and forget. While he can’t do anything to change the events now, since his wife is already married, he won’t stay and have dinner with her. Watson thinks that’s kind of mean, but Holmes is sympathetic. After all, it must be really disappointing to go to all the trouble of marrying somebody and then have neither wife nor money to show for it.
The Beryl Coronet
As Watson’s looking out on the street one morning, he sees a man who he thinks is crazy: the guy’s well dressed, sure, but he’s running flat out and he keeps tearing at his hair and twisting his face. Holmes is pleased, since it looks like the madman is coming to 221B Baker Street. The madman is actually named Alexander Holder, and he is one of the senior partners of the second largest private bank in London.
Holder’s bank often gives loans to very highly placed families, as long as they’re able to put down something valuable as a security deposit. One day, a man from a very good family comes in and asks for a loan of 50,000 pounds. In exchange, he leaves behind the Beryl Coronet, a golden crown with 39 beryls (a kind of gem) inset, which is worth about double the loan he’s asking for. Holder takes the coronet and gives the nobleman his loan, on the understanding that he’ll return the crown to the nobleman the next Monday when the guy pays off his debt.
Holder brings the coronet home because he’s worried about his office security. He locks it in his bureau. He then mentions to his son, Arthur, and his niece/adopted daughter, Mary, what’s currently nestling in his dressing room: this coronet. While he’s sure that he waited until the maid, Lucy Parr, left the room before telling them this news, he can’t be sure the door was shut. Anyway, he checks with his niece Mary that the house is locked up tight and they all retire for the evening.
In the middle of the night, he hears footsteps in the room next door, where the bureau is. In a panic, Holder rushes over, only to find his son, Arthur, holding the crown. Arthur has a gambling problem and that very evening he had been asking his father for a loan. Holder assumes immediately that Arthur was trying to steal the coronet. He grabs the jewels back from his son, only to find that an end piece has been broken off, and three of the beryls are missing. Holder demands that Arthur produce the jewels, but Arthur won’t say a word about it. Holder calls the cops, and Arthur asks for five minutes before he’s arrested. Holder’s like, fat chance, you’re not running away on my watch, and the police cart Arthur off to prison. They’ve searched both Arthur and the whole house, though, and haven’t been able to find the missing piece of the coronet.
Holmes asks if there are any regular visits to the house. Holder says not many, but one guy does come often – a friend of Arthur’s who’s been a terrible influence, a Sir George Burnwell.
Holmes, Holder, and Watson all head over to Holder’s house to investigate further. They meet Mary, the niece, who thinks it was probably Lucy, the maid, and her boyfriend, a wooden-legged grocer named Francis Prosper. Holmes doesn’t seem persuaded, but he does get very interested in a back alley behind the house. He confirms that Arthur was barefoot when Holder found him holding the crown. Watson and Holmes head home after Holmes asks Holder to come to Baker Street again the next morning.
As soon as they return to the apartment, Holmes puts on one of his disguises and heads out again to run a mysterious errand. Watson doesn’t really see him again until the next morning, when they greet Holder. Holder’s looking really upset: his niece Mary has run away. He wonders if it was suicide. Holmes reassures Holder that this turn of events may be all good. Holmes then asks his client for a check for 4,000 pounds, takes it from Holder, and then hands him a small triangle of gold with the three missing beryls. Holder is thrilled.
Holmes is stern: Holder owes Arthur an apology. What happened was this: Mary has actually run away with Sir George Burnwell, who was the real thief. She told him about the crown and passed it to him that fatal evening. Arthur, seeing Mary do this, didn’t want to shame her but also didn’t want to ruin his father. So he ran after Burnwell, tried to grab the crown away from him, and came away with, well, most of it. That’s when Holder unluckily caught him holding the coronet and made totally the wrong assumptions. Meanwhile, Holmes managed to find out that Burnwell had already sold the coronet pieces, traced it to a given dealer, and bought the gems back for 3,000 pounds. So all’s well! …Except Holder is still pretty upset to know that his niece has eloped with a scoundrel. Can she be traced? Holmes says, no, and that wherever she is and whatever wrong she’s done to Holder, she’s going to suffer plenty of punishment as the wife of a fiend like Burnwell.
The Copper Beeches
Holmes is a little miffed because he gets a note from a woman asking for his advice about whether or not she should take a governess position. He feels like he’s really scraping rock bottom if this is the kind of case he’s getting nowadays. Watson reassures him that the case might still be kind of interesting. Holmes hopes so.
The lady is Violet Hunter, who’s been a governess for about five years, and has just gotten the weirdest job offer through her employment agency. A man wants to pay her double her usual salary to look after one kid. But he also wants her to adhere to he and his wife’s “fads”: he’ll want her to wear a dress of a certain shade of blue inside, to sit where he places her, and to cut off her hair. Now, Hunter’s really vain about her hair, which is a highly unusual shade of reddish brown, and she doesn’t want to cut it. But in the end, she’s thinking: a hundred pounds a year! Who would say no?
Holmes asks why she has come to see him if she’s already made up her mind. The thing is, Violet is still uneasy. The job seems so bizarre. She wants support in case something goes wrong. Holmes assures her that he’ll help; all she has to do is send a telegram if she needs him. Hunter is deeply grateful, and goes on her merry way. Holmes tells Watson he’s sure they’ll hear from her again.
And indeed they do. Hunter asks them to meet her the next day at noon, which Holmes and Watson duly do. Hunter tells Holmes and Watson that the Rucastles, her employers, are really freaking her out. The mother is intensely quiet and devoted to her husband, the son is a monster (he likes to torture animals), and the two servants are either silent (Mrs. Toller) or drunk (Mr. Toller). There is also a daughter from Mr. Rucastle’s first marriage, but she’s apparently living in Philadelphia because she can’t get along with her stepmother.
On the third day after Hunter’s arrival at the house (which is called the Copper Beeches) the Rucastles instruct her to put on an electric blue dress, which they happen to have in just her size, and to sit in the drawing room with her back to a large window. In the drawing room, Mr. Rucastle proceeds to make Hunter crack up with a standup comedy routine; Mrs. Rucastle, meanwhile, just sits staring at Hunter. Mr. Rucastle abruptly stops his jokes after about an hour and sends Hunter about her business. The same thing happens again several times.
Hunter is sure that there’s something going on behind her that they don’t want her to see during these interludes in the drawing room. The next time she’s called in to sit through this performance, she manages to peek into a mirror just in time to see a man out on the street looking straight through the window at her back. Mrs. Rucastle sees that Hunter has looked behind her and tells Hunter to wave at the man in the driveway to make him go away, which Hunter does. They then draw the curtains, and Hunter hasn’t been invited into the drawing room since.
Hunter has also noticed a couple of other things: 1) a giant dog patrols the grounds at night, and 2) there’s a closed off room in an unused part of the house that Mr. Rucastle sometimes visits. He threatens Hunter to ensure that she stays away from there, so she’s certain there’s something weird going on – something the servants (Mr. and Mrs. Toller) also know about.
Holmes asks if Toller is still drunk, if the Rucastles are going out that night, and if there’s a cellar with a strong lock. Hunter answers yes to all of these. Holmes arranges to come with Watson to the Copper Beeches at 7pm, at which point the Rucastles should be out and Toller will likely be unconscious. He wants Hunter to try and lure Mrs. Toller into the wine cellar and then lock her in, if possible. Holmes explains that all of this strangeness – the cutting of the hair and the blue dress and so on – is because Hunter’s being used to impersonate someone else, probably Rucastle’s twenty-year-old daughter.
They proceed with Holmes’s plan, Holmes and Watson breaks into the unused section of Copper Beeches, but they’re too late! There’s no one there. And Mr. Rucastle comes storming in demanding to know what they’ve done with his daughter. Rucastle runs to get his dog, but the dog has become savage. It hasn’t been fed in two days and suddenly attacks its master. Watson shoots the dog and treats Mr. Rucastle’s wounds, but everyone’s still in the dark about what happened to his daughter.
Just then, Mrs. Toller appears, having escaped from the locked cellar. She explains that Miss Rucastle has now eloped with the girl’s beloved Mr. Fowler. And it turns out Mr. Rucastle has been keeping her locked up for all these weeks to prevent her from marrying Fowler without signing a paper that gives Rucastle control of her inheritance from her mother. Rucastle hired Hunter so that she could gesture Fowler away from the house, but Fowler was too smart for this. He bribed Mrs. Toller to pass messages to Miss Rucastle, and two arranged to run away together, a plan they successfully complete that evening.
Rucastle never really recovers from his injuries, but he doesn’t die either. Hunter goes on to become the successful principal of a private school. And thus ends The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes!