The View Halloa – The Second Stain

It’s a story of international intrigue, love and loose carpets, and of what can happen when you don’t think twice before sending off an impulsive letter! It’s “The Adventure of the Second Stain,” and the Hounds are putting on the dog in some very exalted circles to sniff out the connection between a missing missive, a messy murder, and a much-moved Mrs. So grab your hairpins, your curling tongs and your curved Indian daggers, and let’s all try to build our theories on the quicksand that is Canonical Woman.
Lady Hilda: Lady Hilda described her letter as “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.” We all jump to the logical conclusion that the letter had something to do with an earlier romance in Lady Hilda’s life, whether innocent or not so innocent, and that it was the strict code of upper class Victorian behavior which threatened her with ruin if the contents of her letter were made known. That would have been sufficient trouble, surely, but was it the whole story? And was it enough to be considered “criminal?” As the daughter of a Duke, as a woman who married a man who either was then or later became the “European Secretary,” Lady Hilda’s earlier romance would have probably been on a similar plane – but would it necessarily have been with an Englishman? What kind of love affair might she have had which would have led her into criminal, or perhaps even treasonous, behavior? And isn’t that just the kind of letter which would have ended up in Eduardo Lucas’s hands, rather than those of an “ordinary” blackmailer?

In last week’s story, some of us were a little hard on Lady Brackenstall and her ability to manipulate men – even Sherlock Holmes, at least temporarily – to get what she wanted. What do the Hounds think of Lady Hilda? Is she a brave and admirable lady, or is she a spoiled and foolish beauty who resorts to tears and fainting spells whenever things get difficult? If you had been in a situation similar to the one faced by Lady Hilda, what do you think you would have done to resolve it?

Our diplomatic secrets : What might have been the consequences if Holmes had decided to tell Trelawney Hope and the Prime Minister the whole truth about Lady Hilda’s actions? Obviously there would have been trouble in the Trelawney Hope household, but would there have been any repercussions at the Foreign Office? Do you agree with Holmes’s decision to screen Lady Hilda? Despite all of Holmes’s efforts at secrecy, Lord Bellinger had his suspicions about the affair. Do you think that Trelawney Hope’s career suffered anyway?

The official police never knew that there was any other crime connected to the death of Lucas. Although Holmes had already been to the crime scene, his visit presumably took place under the pretext of an interest in the murder itself. We know that Holmes must have been there prior to the turning of the carpet, but Lestrade seemed not to realize that the carpet had been displaced long after the crime took place. My question is this: since the murder had already been solved, why DID Lestrade want Holmes to look at the bloodstains? When Lestrade said that the stains didn’t “correspond,” was he hinting that he knew something about another item of “correspondence” — namely, the letter that had gone missing from the Foreign Office?

The View Halloa – The Abbey Grange

The opening of “The Adventure of the Abbey Grange” is surely one of our most treasured images of Sherlock Holmes. “The candle in his hand shone upon his eager, stooping face, and told me at a glance that something was amiss. ‘Come, Watson, come!’ he cried. ‘The game is afoot.'” And sure enough, this opening heralds a story that has everything: murder, romance, brilliant deductions, a confused Stanley Hopkins, and even a trial by jury. Please join with the Hounds as we pursue Canonical justice for those who would mistreat spouses and dogs within the once-noble walls of “The Abbey Grange.”
“Not guilty, my lord:” We often speak of Holmes’s criteria for granting mercy to those who have committed crimes. In this case, Holmes suggested that the law would probably agree with him that Crocker acted in self defense, and “under the most extreme provocation to which any man could be subjected.” On one level, Holmes was certainly referring to the fact that Sir Eustace came at Crocker with a cudgel, but is it possible that Holmes was also thinking that Crocker had been little more than a pawn in the hands of a more scheming mind than his own – possibly the maid Theresa, or even Lady Brackenstall herself?

Prior to telling the tale of her husband’s death, Mary Fraser, Lady Brackenstall, launched into quite a denunciation of the English divorce laws of the time. The Doyleans among us will be aware of the depth of feeling behind those lines, but within the context of the story, the words have the ring of an oft-repeated lament. We may imagine how often and to whom this complaint was voiced: if not to Jack Crocker, then certainly her Ladyship’s maid, Theresa Wright. And Theresa seems a clever woman as well as a devoted one. Did Theresa foresee the violent possibilities if she managed to bring the hot-tempered Crocker into the picture? Did she arrange the confrontation on the fatal night? Did she make sure that Sir Eustace would wake up in time to catch his wife with her friend Crocker?

Holmes almost had the solution to the case when he pointed out that the scene at the Abbey Grange suggested the complicity of the servants. And he even knew which one. “All things being equal, one would suspect the one at whose head the master threw a decanter.” Did he recall this later on when weighing the culpability of Captain Crocker?

I believe that you are a wizard: Holmes reproached himself for not solving the case more quickly. “If I had examined everything with 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.” And yet it seems typical of Holmes’s methods to listen to the eye-witness accounts before viewing the crime scene, and his investigation of the physical clues serve to confirm or refute the stories he heard. His mind never seemed “warped” before. Was he truly so distracted by Lady Brackenstall’s beauty and charm? Was she a dangerous woman?

Holmes gave several hints to Stanley Hopkins that might have led him to the solution of the crime, and it seems that even to the last moment, Holmes gave his pupil the opportunity to be in on the finish of the case. What might have happened had Hopkins accepted Holmes’s invitation to dinner? Did Holmes let Crocker’s fate hang on the issue of whether or not Hopkins decided to be present that evening?

The View Halloa – The Missing Three-Quarter

Watson wrote, “I blessed this Mr. Overton” for bringing a case to Sherlock Holmes at a period of inactivity. The good doctor was worried that Holmes might otherwise have turned to his “drug mania.” I think we can all agree with Watson that any case is preferable to the seven percent solution, but it seems to me that Holmes may have “OD’d” on this case instead, ascribing to it all manner of ominous connotations which were not supported by the facts of the case. The case reads like a “Norbury” in reverse (Does that make it a “Yrubron?”) and the reader feels a genuine pain of apprehension at the possibility that Holmes is about to make a complete fool of himself.
Mr. Holmes, I thought you knew things: We smile at Holmes’s ignorance of the world of amateur sport, but we are even more surprised, I think, to find that Watson seemed to be no better informed than his friend. Is that possible? Even had Watson lost touch with sports over the years, so that the names Overton and Staunton meant nothing to him, wouldn’t he nevertheless have recognized the term “right wing three-quarter” and all the rest of Overton’s comments on his rugby woes? Are there any reasons why Watson might have feigned ignorance even though his knowledge was actually greater than Holmes’s?

Cyril Overton had already consulted the official police concerning the disappearance of his star player, but Inspector Stanley Hopkins did not take up the case, and instead sent Overton along to Sherlock Holmes. This seems like an odd thing to do in a case of possible kidnapping. It’s true that there was no ransom note, but even if Godfrey Staunton had been waylaid merely in order to affect the outcome of the rugby match, it would still be a crime to keep a man prisoner against his will. Is it possible that Overton presented the situation in a slightly more embellished light when he retold his story for Holmes? Or is it possible that Stanley Hopkins somehow found out the truth about Staunton’s whereabouts and then deliberately sent Overton to Holmes, perhaps as a form of revenge for his mentor’s sometimes harsh comments about Hopkins’ detective abilities?

If Holmes was convinced that there was dirty work afoot, why didn’t he go back to the official police with his theories? He mentioned that a warrant would have made it easier to obtain a copy of the telegram, and surely a police presence would given him more leverage in his dealings Dr. Armstrong as well. Or would the involvement of the official police have influenced the strong-willed doctor in any way? Was Holmes right to work his own line? Had Holmes made up his mind fairly early that the case was not a criminal one? If so, what was the reason for his strong suspicions against Dr. Armstrong?

Oh, the cunning rascal! It’s easy to fault Holmes in this case, but certainly Dr. Leslie Armstrong has even more to be ashamed of. And I don’t mean merely his attitude towards private detectives, though this certainly suggests an unpleasant incident from his own past, but also his entire involvement with the poor young woman’s illness. Was there not a point at which discretion and the fear of Staunton’s disinheritance should have given way to the patient’s well-being? Why did a man in Armstrong’s position take personal charge of her care, rather than allowing the treatment to be conducted by a doctor with more time to devote to her case? Why was there no other medical attendant or nurse in that out-of-the-way cottage? Was there a danger that Mrs. Staunton’s illness would be spread to the community at large through her continual contact with her husband? Was Dr. Armstrong touchy about outside interference because he had mishandled the case? What do you think was Watson’s personal opinion of the conduct of his fellow physician?

At the conclusion of the story, we can see that Dr. Armstrong most certainly had not kidnapped or murdered Godfrey Staunton. But there was apparently an air of evil about the doctor which had set off that alarm in Holmes’s sensitive nature. Do you think that Holmes’s instincts were true? Was there a criminal strain in Dr. Armstrong which might have eventually resulted in some serious transgression?

The View Halloa – The Golden Pince-Nez

It hasn’t rained this hard since “The Five Orange Pips,” and there seems to be something about the “wild, tempestuous” weather that brings out the worst in Canonical people who have past connections to secret societies. Oddly enough, “The Golden Pince-nez” has another feature in common with “The Five Orange Pips,” and that is – a pair of golden pince-nez. John Openshaw wore them in “The Five Orange Pips,” but the latest pair appears from the pocket of Stanley Hopkins, who prised them from the hand of the doomed Willougby Smith, who snatched them from the face of the doomed Anna. It’s quite a “spectacle” of gloom and doom, and though the trail may be as hard to follow as the writing on a palimpsest, I trust that the Hounds will swing into line and focus upon this week’s story of “The Golden Pince-Nez.”
The vision thing: Holmes said, “It would be difficult to name any articles which afford a finer field for inference than a pair of glasses.” I believe that the Hounds have discussed bootlaces and other articles mentioned by Holmes as clues to their owners, but surely eyeglasses are in a class by themselves in this regard. What would Holmes make of our modern array of tinted lenses, designer frames, blended bifocals, etc.? Would contact lenses put a serious crimp in Holmes’s style?

Holmes is so sharp-eyed that I always think of him as having 20/20 vision, yet he seemed remarkably familiar with the perils of nearsightedness. Even granting that part of Holmes’s genius lies in his ability to see the world through other people’s eyes, is it just possible that Holmes did require glasses, and that Watson, Doyle and Paget conspired to conceal this fact from the public?

Speaking of shortsighted, Stanley Hopkins mentioned that he “intended to go the round of the London opticians” in order to trace the golden pince-nez. Do you think that Hopkins might have eventually found Anna without Holmes’s help? Would everybody in the story (except for Willoughby Smith, of course, but he was already dead) have been better off if Hopkins had kept Holmes out of the case?

A simple case: Can anyone think of a plausible reason for Holmes to decipher that palimpsest? It does not seem to have been connected with any crime. Was it a hobby of his? Where does a person lay his hands upon a palimpsest? At the palimpsest shop? @Palimpsest.COM?

Why did Anna take the poison before she emerged from her hiding place? Or let me put it this way: Why did she take poison before she knew whether or not anyone was going to take those letters and the diary to the Russian embassy? Wouldn’t it have been more natural for her to want to live until that task had been carried out, or at least until she knew for certain that she had failed?

For that matter, why kill herself at all? And that leads me to another question. Was Anna’s suicide genuine, or was it a fake? Consider Holmes’s ultra-calm attitude towards the case afterward. To hear him discuss his deductions about the pince-nez, you would never imagine that a woman had just taken her own life right in front of him. Is it possible that the entire suicide scene was invented by Watson as part of a scheme to allow Anna to begin her life over again?

The View Halloa – The Three Students

As if to give us a chance to recover from the blood and busts of “The Six Napoleons,” Watson offers up a course of academic scandal, where the participants’ knives are used only for the purpose of whittling down pencil points. It’s no wonder Holmes was reluctant at first to get involved – a case like this hovers dangerously near to the “zero-point” he mentioned in “The Copper Beeches,” of “recovering lost lead pencils and giving advice to young ladies from boarding schools.” Still, Holmes never could resist a mystery, no matter how trivial – and neither can we. Once the client begins to state the evidence, it’s hard not to be caught up in the chase. Please join in the scholarly baying as the Hounds travel to “one of our great university towns” and select the cheating heart from among “The Three Students.”
Cozy, tricky and oddly familiar: This case has one feature that I admire: its “trick confession” scene is one of the more plausible in mystery fiction. Notice how Holmes’s flair for the dramatic inspires him to arrange an imposing tribunal that would be almost certain to rattle both the honest Bannister and the impulse-cheater Gilchrist. But supposing the scene had not come off, is there any other way that Holmes could have settled the matter?

One thing has always troubled me about this case, and that’s the trips to the stationers’ shops for clues as to the origin of the pencil. Holmes called it “the best and only final clue,” but isn’t it true that he had already drawn his conclusions based on the height of the three students? And what would it have told him if he could have found the right kind of pencil at one of the shops? Even if he could have shown that Gilchrist purchased a pencil of that sort, couldn’t he have claimed to have lost it or lent it to someone else? Weren’t the clay pellets a better clue than a pencil?

Baring-Gould’s Annotated mentions various theories that “The Three Students” was a hoax, possibly arranged by Watson. What evidence is there that this case, small as it was, may not have been the genuine article, but instead a bit of theatre itself?

“Come if you want to:” Does this story tell us of a certain fraying in the relationship between Holmes and Watson? Note Holmes’s thinly veiled insults: “Not one of your cases, Watson – mental, not physical,” and “There are others.” There are many times when Holmes gives Watson a zing, but he does it with wit or a certain amount of gentleness – or at the very least he waits until Watson does or says something wrong, which is not the case for these two remarks. Of course there must have always been limits to how much Watson reported back to his readers. Was Holmes getting nastier, or was Watson just editing less of it out of the published versions? Could it be that Holmes was going through some difficult experience? Had he quit smoking, for instance? If this story takes place in 1895, does it help to explain why Watson wasn’t living with him in 1896?

The View Halloa – The Six Napoleons

“I’ve seen you handle a good many cases, Mr. Holmes, but I don’t know that I ever knew a more workmanlike one than that.” Thus spoke Inspector Lestrade in admiration of Holmes’s efforts, and I think we can all agree that this is a remarkably fine combination of imagination, logic and legwork. In fact, Holmes’s investigations are so thorough and irreproachable that, judging from the “Best of Hounds” printouts, previous discussions have all but passed this story by. I can only conclude that it’s more fun to pick holes in a shaky case than it is to analyze a near-perfect one. (I recommend the Hounds Best of “The Six Napoleons,” however, for some entertaining discussions about the depth to which parsley sinks into butter, and the lengths to which some Sherlockians will go to emulate the Master’s methods.) But see here: this story contains The Amazing Beppo AND the illustrious Morse Hudson – what more do the Hounds need to inspire them?! So let’s see if we can’t chase down some good conversation even if all we do is praise Holmes for a successful case. As Doctor Watson probably said many times, “I hope my story about the black pearl hasn’t Borgia.”
The spirit of cooperation: This story shows Holmes and Lestrade working in perfect and amicable cooperation. Holmes left the identification of the body to the official police while he pursued the busts. Nowadays, the police would hardly leave any aspect of the case to an amateur, no matter how gifted and helpful he was, would they? And as for letting Holmes walk away with Beppo’s picture – well, that does seem highly unprofessional even for its time, doesn’t it? Was it Lestrade’s idea of a joke to let Holmes take on what might have seemed to him like the tedious aspects of the case, while he, Lestrade covered the sensational murder aspect? But the joke was on Lestrade: Shouldn’t he have made the connection between the name of the dead man to the theft of the Borgia pearl only one year earlier?

Cooperation also existed between Holmes and the press. Holmes bragged to Watson about his ability to use the press for his own purposes (a good purpose in this case) but it’s also true that his suggestions to Horace Harker seem to have broken through the newspaperman’s shock and allowed him to write up his news account after all. This makes me wonder if Holmes ever had any kind of reciprocal relationships with other reporters. Certainly Holmes was always consulting the newspapers for information; is it possible that he returned the favor now and then?

His second name I never knew: In my introduction to “The Six Napoleons,” I referred to The Amazing Beppo, and really, he is quite a versatile guy. By day he was “one of the best” workmen at Gelder and Co. He could carve and gild and frame. On the darker side, he could break into houses (and surgeries) with ease, and he seemed to win all his knife fights. He was quick-witted enough to hide the black pearl in a place where he might easily have gotten away with his crime, had chance been more on his side when he went to find his stash later on.

Beppo hid the pearl because he was about to be arrested for knifing “another Italian.” Was this crime related to the theft of the pearl, or was the knifing a mere coincidence? Why was Beppo carrying the pearl around with him? Had he only just stolen it? Was Pietro Venucci also the victim of this first knifing? When Beppo was released from prison, was Venucci on his trail from the start, or did the breaking of the busts give Beppo’s game away to his criminal rival as well as to Sherlock Holmes?

Why do you suppose Holmes was unable to make anything of the original theft of the pearl from the Dacre Hotel? It’s interesting that even after Holmes found the pearl, he still was not entirely sure how Beppo came into possession of it. If Beppo was such a clever criminal, was he responsible for any other unsolved thefts and burglaries? How was it that Holmes had never heard of him before?

The View Halloa – Charles Augustus Milverton

What a great story this is! It has a wonderful, hissable villain and some exciting surprises in the climactic moments. Its moral ambiguities are thicker than a London fog. Everything seems the wrong way round: the detective becomes a criminal, the criminal becomes a victim, and the victim becomes an avenger. How far should Holmes go to protect his client’s (and his own) reputation? Should he break the law? Should he break a heart? Should he, and we, condone a killing? Please join the pack as we discuss this week’s fascinating tale, “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton.”
Such intensity of feeling: After relating Sherlock Holmes’s description of Milverton’s blackmail operation, Watson commented, “I had seldom heard my friend speak with such intensity of feeling.” And neither have we! Holmes obviously had a special hatred for the crime of blackmail. Remembering back to his statement from “The Boscombe Valley Mystery,” “There but for the grace of God goes Sherlock Holmes,” one has to wonder if Holmes or someone very close to him might once have been the victim of a blackmailer. If so, is it possible that the blackmailer was Milverton himself?

It is suggestive that this story does not begin with a typical “beautiful client in distress calls upon Sherlock Holmes” scene. We hear of Lady Eva’s plight, but we do not see her. And there is an interesting exchange between Holmes and Milverton over the contents of Lady Eva’s letters. Holmes had told Watson that they were “imprudent, nothing worse,” though of course Holmes could not have seen the actual letters, and had to take Lady Eva’s word in the matter. When Milverton described the letters as “very sprightly,” did Holmes go “gray with anger and mortification” because he suddenly realize that Lady Eva had lied to him? Supposing for a moment that Lady Eva’s connection with that “impecunious young squire in the country” was a good deal more than a mild flirtation, could one take the point of view that she had no business trying to represent herself to the Earl of Dovercourt as marriageable material? Yes, Milverton was a villain to blackmail her about her earlier love life, but according to the standards of her day, was it possible that she did not “deserve” to marry the Earl? But whatever Lady Eva’s past history or true character, does anyone else share my reservations about the unspoken assumption in the story that nothing must ever be allowed to stand in the way of a pretty debutante’s marital and social ambitions?

So dangerous a course: I never read this story without thinking of the line from “My Fair Lady,” where Eliza says something to this effect: “The difference between a lady and a flower girl isn’t in how she behaves but in how she’s treated.” What do you think about Holmes’s “engagement” to the housemaid? Did Holmes use Agatha, or was he swept up into a situation that he was not able to control? Did Watson suspect the latter, and was that why he was so insistent on accompanying Holmes to Appledore Towers?

Did Holmes consider other alternatives before making his decision to burgle Milverton’s house? For instance, couldn’t he have tried to raise the money to pay for the recovery of Lady Eva’s letters, if only as a means to buy time for a more carefully considered plan to bring Milverton’s blackmailing career to an end? What else might he have tried?

Do you think that Inspector Lestrade suspected Holmes of Milverton’s murder?

The View Halloa – Black Peter

These are the moments that Sherlockians live for: to be sitting with Doctor Watson at breakfast when Sherlock Holmes walks in with “his hat upon his head and a huge barbed-headed spear tucked like an umbrella under his arm.” (Which proves that Sherlock Holmes is a creative guy when it comes to accessorizing!) Of course the harpoon is connected to a case, and since the case concerns sailors, you can bet your belaying pin that there is blood, gore and a murderous past to be revealed. So clew up your port to’ga’nt sails, shiver yer timbers and batten the hatches! There’s fire in the fo’c’sle and crime blows on every strand as the Hounds turn sea-dog and investigate the unlamented death of “Black Peter.”
“Lend me a hand:” When Stanley Hopkins came to call at Baker Street, Holmes told him, “Well, well, it just happens that I have already read the available evidence, including the report of the inquest. . . .” And Watson makes it clear at the outset that Holmes had been working on the case for a least a couple of days prior to the pig-sticking incident. The question is: Why was Holmes involved? Did he look into it at first just because he thought it seemed interesting, or had he been engaged by a client? If the latter, who might the client have been?

Do you think that Holmes was justified in the “high hopes” he had for the future career of Stanley Hopkins? Does Hopkins seem to have any special qualities, other than an almost Watson-like ability to withstand Holmes’s sarcasm and come back for more? Was it likely that Hopkins paid Holmes a fee for his advice and assistance?

Norway and other mysteries: In describing his father’s disappearance, Nelligan says, “He started in his little yacht for Norway.” The phrase “his little yacht,” as opposed to “a little yacht,” suggests that Nelligan senior owned his own boat. That seems a little odd for a West Country banker, doesn’t it? It’s almost as if he knew he might have to make that voyage one day. Nelligan’s partner Dawson had retired and was supposedly not involved in the bank failure, but where exactly was Dawson at the time Nelligan disappeared? Could Dawson have been in Norway already, and was that why Nelligan was headed there? And is this the reason that Holmes himself decided to go to Norway at the conclusion of the case?

Holmes was “thoroughly taken aback” by the evidence of the notebook and the story of the missing securities, presumably because they weakened his theory that an experienced harpooner committed the crime. And yet Holmes was right on the mark after all, because it was entirely a coincidence that Nelligan traced the missing securities back to Peter Carey at the same time Patrick Cairns began his efforts at blackmail. Or was it? It is certainly an unlikely convergence of events, given that both men must have been searching for Carey for some time. Is it an unlikely enough coincidence to make us suspect that there actually was some connection between Nelligan and Cairns? Note that Nelligan never did give a completely true account of his visit to Carey’s cabin. Only Cairns ever told that part of the story, and his version may have been somewhat modified in an effort to show that he acted in self defense. There is room for doubt here. What say the Hounds to a Nelligan/Cairns conspiracy?

The View Halloa – The Priory School

The smiling and beautiful countryside strikes again! The sheep may safely graze, but the people and even the cows are not what they seem out on the morasses and moors surrounding the most exclusive preparatory school in England. It’s a good thing that we can count on Sherlock Holmes to shine the light of reason into to the darkness of the human heart, and if he was able to pocket a tidy sum while he was at it, who are we to quibble? Well, the Hounds of the Internet thrive on a diet of Quibbles and Bits, so please join the pack as we pursue the wild and Wilder life along the track that leads to Holdernesse Hall from “The Priory School.”
Educator of the Year: It seems to me that the real hero of this story is Dr. Thorneycroft Huxtable. He may be large, pompous and a bit comical to our eyes, but his heart is in the right place, and it was only due to his efforts that Holmes was brought into the case at all. Unlike all the other people surrounding poor little Lord Saltire, Dr. Huxtable kept the child’s well-being foremost in his mind throughout the crisis. And listen to Dr. Huxtable’s astute observations on the boy’s father: “His Grace is never very friendly with anyone. He is completely immersed in large public questions, and rather inaccessible to all ordinary emotions. But he was always kind to the boy in his own way.” The good doctor was no fool.

Yes, this paean to Thorney is leading to some questions. First of all, does it seem to anyone else as if Dr. Huxtable knew the Duke fairly well even before Lord Saltire enrolled in the Priory School? The closeness of the school to Holdernesse Hall suggests that there might have been opportunities for the two men to have met many times over the years since Dr. Huxtable founded the school. How much did Dr. Huxtable know about the family relationships at the Hall? Was he responsible for persuading the Duke to enroll his heir at the school, so as to get him away from the unhappy situation at home? And did Huxtable have some suspicions that the disappearance of Lord Saltire was anything but an “ordinary” type of kidnaping? Was that why he took the first opportunity to call in expert help from the outside?

The consequences: Once Holmes had located the missing boy at the Fighting Cock Inn, why did he leave him there overnight? Granted that Reuben Hayes had fled the scene, but after what had happened already, how could Holmes be certain that Lord Saltire would not be harmed, either by James Wilder or even by the Duke himself?

And while we’re second-guessing Holmes, are the Hounds satisfied with his decision to let James Wilder go free? Was it enough punishment for him to lose his home and his last hope of inheriting his father’s estate? Was Holmes moved by the Duke’s plea on his son’s behalf, or do you think he was influenced by that 6,000 or 12,000 cheque? Or was Holmes thinking ahead to consequences of Wilder’s criminal trial upon Lord Saltire, who had been through so much already? Do the Hounds think that this was the last seriously evil deed that James Wilder ever committed?

As for Reuben Hayes, was Holmes correct in saying that the gallows awaited him? Was it not possible that the Duke hired a clever counsel who might have gotten the sentence reduced to a prison term on the grounds that the attack on Heidegger was not intended to cause his death? This is not to say that such an argument is just; only to discuss the possibility that it might have been successful. What say the Hounds?

The View Halloa – The Solitary Cyclist

It is that sacred year of 1895 — Watson even says so! — and Sherlock Holmes interrupts another case long enough to listen to the story told by Miss Violet Smith, the tall, graceful and queenly music teacher. And for once, Holmes sets aside his precept that a client is “a mere unit, a factor in a problem” (The Sign of Four), and sees her as a person. He touches her face, calls her “Miss Violet,” teases her about her engagement, and takes her problem seriously when even Watson seems inclined to dismiss the matter as bizarre but harmless. Good for Holmes! Maybe he learned something during that Hiatus of his! In a moment, the Hounds mount their own bicycles (an interesting picture — The Hounds of the Bicycles!) to pursue “The Solitary Cyclist.”
Carruthers: Most Sherlockian scholars agree that Bob Carruthers is indeed the title character of the story, and he is certainly one of those people who give the Canon its great depth and breadth. Not quite a bad man, not quite a good man, a hot-headed guy with a mysterious past – and the entire story hinges on his unpredictable actions. By the way, I highly recommend the BBC audio tape (the Clive Merrison series) of this adventure. Bert Coules’s excellent dramatization takes Violet Smith’s phrase, “I play his [Carruthers’s] accompaniments in the evening,” and extrapolates some very plausible possibilities about the relationahip between Carruthers and Miss Smith. But whether or not you have heard the tape, here’s a question: Do you think that Violet Smith may have found herself drawn to Carruthers more than she admitted?

Remembering a parallel line of reasoning from “The Copper Beeches,” do you think Holmes deduced anything from Violet Smith’s opinion that Carruthers’s ten year old daughter was “a dear?” But was the girl Carruthers’s daughter, do you think? Or was she hired along with the housekeeper?

Holmes muses, “Then again, how about the connection between Carruthers and Woodley, since they appear to be men of such a different type?” That’s a very good question. How did Carruthers get mixed up with Woodley?

Unexpected tragedy: In the opening lines of the story, Watson writes of “The curious sequel of our investigation, which culminated in unexpected tragedy.” But the end of “The Solitary Cyclist” is a happy one! Surely the shooting of Woodley cannot be considered tragic; even setting aside our guilty pleasure at seeing the odious Woodley get his comeuppance, the incident avoids tragedy because Woodley is not killed or permanently injured. Where, then is Watson’s tragedy? Was the word nothing more than a slip of Watson’s pen, some confusion over which story he was starting to tell us? What about this idea instead: suppose the story as published omitted certain events that took place some time after the involvement of Holmes and Watson. Why? Well, perhaps the reason depends on the events. Here are some suggested tragedies. The Hounds are welcome to comment on these, or to suggest their own:

Peter the groom suffered permanent brain damage or perhaps even died of a brain hemorrhage.
Williamson and Woodley broke out of jail and “served” Bob Carruthers.
Cyril Morton turned out to be an abusive husband.