The Abbey Grange – Hounds Summary

J. Randolph Cox – Sat, 8 Jan 1994

  • How familiar does Holmes appear to be with Watson’s accounts of his cases? What does his opinion of them suggest to us about Holmes’ professional attitude to what he calls “the whole art of detection”?
  • Is there anything in Lady Brackenstall’s statement to Holmes and Stanley Hopkins that you consider to be singular? If so, what does this suggest?
  • What do the three wine glasses suggest to Holmes? Can you think of any alternative explanation for the “beeswing” being present in only one glass?
  • What assumptions about the reader’s general knowledge of world events must the author of this narrative have made? Do you think such assumptions were justified?
  • What view of justice is demonstrated by Holmes’ actions in this story? Has this view of his changed during his career?
  • There seem to be some echoes of past cases in this story. Find as many as you can which can be considered traditions of the genre and which earlier cases are called to mind?

Ralph Edwards – Fri, 19 May 1995

  • Would streets be deserted at dawn in winter?
  • Why not coffee? (see HOUN paragraph 5)
  • How was the note transmitted so quickly?
  • How did Hopkins release the lady?
  • Did Watson slur over the scientific aspects this time?
  • Why did Holmes propose only one volume?
  • Couldn’t Watson improve on vinegar and water?
  • Why use the new wing for the servants?
  • Was Sir Eustace sober that evening?
  • With three floors, was this a low house?
  • Wouldn’t burglars wait until all lights were out?
  • Did the handkerchief provide any clue?
  • When were servants not the kind you don’t pick up nowadays?
  • Would a heavy poker be bent out of shape by a blow to the skull?
  • What alarm had broken out?
  • How were matters hushed up?
  • Was the decanter thrown at Theresa empty?
  • Was the wine bottle two-thirds full or half-full?
  • Why several knots?
  • What was the significance of the mantelpiece candles?
  • What indicated finger dexterity?
  • How could the cord be cut without ringing the bell?
  • What suggests a pre-planned murder?
  • Isn’t “kissed the deck” a bit much?
  • What is the vilest name a man can call a woman?
  • Was “a drop” as much as three men would drink?

Chris Redmond – Fri, 9 Aug 1996

It’s pretty well accepted that this story is about, among other things, the evils of bad marriages and the need for improvements in the divorce law – an issue to which Arthur Conan Doyle devoted much time, money and energy. Is it possible to see other Sherlock Holmes stories also as calls for specific legal and social reform?

Sonia Fetherston – Fri, 31 Oct 1997

Lock up the dog, hide your hatpins, and mind the decanters….welcome to our next story, The Adventure of the Abbey Grange.  My weekly questions and comments as you settle in to read this tale of love and hatred…

  • Have you ever seen so many stoopid men in one story? Lady Brackenstall could’ve told the male investigators anything at all and they would have believed her, no questions asked. It took a thinking machine to see through her lies, and even he had to make two trips to Abbey Grange to do so. A sensible female detective like Miss Marple would have been impervious to Lady B’s charms and solved this case in no time flat.
  • “A curse upon the land” was called down upon England for its stringent divorce laws. Would it have been possible for Lady Brackenstall to flee to her native Australia and divorce Sir Eustace in a court there?
  • Bent pokers, bell ropes, bruised women, exotic Indian animals in conjunction with the bad guy’s corpse — there are many intersecting points between ABBE and SPEC. Does ABBE offer a possible sequel to SPEC? Might Helen’s finance, Percy, have rescued her after all, as Crocker rescued his beloved Mary Fraser?
  • “Except for releasing the lady I will see that everything is kept exactly as I have found it, but I beg you not to lose an instant, as it is difficult to leave Sir Eustace there.” Hopkins knows just how to hook Sherlock Holmes with his wonderful exercise in creative telegraphy. Would Holmes have responded at all to a simple message like “Help! Murder!”?
  • Lady Brackenstall gives some readers the creeps, and I’m one of them. She was hell-bent to marry money and a title. She’s a cool liar. There’s no proof she really loves Crocker. What really clinches it for me, though, is the thought of her wandering around the house at night in that black sequined dress — if I’m not mistaken, the only time sequins are mentioned in the canon. Today sequins are made of plastic. In those days, different materials were used. I don’t know about the particular dress Lady Brackenstall wore that night, but it calls to mind a Worth gown I read about in a fashion history book. The sequins on that c.1880’s dress were made from (shudder) insects, specifically the glossy bodies of beetles. Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms, isn’t it? Before her marriage, Madame Worth, after all, was Mademoiselle Vernet!

Steve Clarkson – Fri, 22 Jan 1999

Once again, Stanley Hopkins summoned Holmes and Watson to the scene of a crime. This time in the early dark of a bitterly cold winter morning. But when they arrived at the Abbey Grange, an estate of wealthy Sir Eustace Brackenstall, Hopkins greeted them with an apology. The matter was not as mysterious as he had first thought, Hopkins said. The murder of Sir Eustace was obviously the work of the Randall gang, a group of three burglars: a father and his two sons. Cut-and-dried, said Hopkins. Sorry to have bothered you on such a morning.

At first, Holmes agreed. The apparent facts of the case, as related by Sir Eustace’s widow Lady Mary Fraser Brackenstall, were overwhelmingly convincing. And yet…and yet…Holmes turned the case over and over in his mind while he and Watson were returning to Baker Street. His instincts told him that something was not right in the scenario as it had been depicted. Reversing course, he and Watson headed back to the Abbey Grange for another look.

In a few minutes, the Mâitre de Chasse will summon the Hounds to assist The Great Detective in his quest for the truth. A cunning spoor awaits them, laid down by a big, handsome sailor and Lady Brackenstall’s personal maid. A scent of rotten pumpkin will overlay the trail, but the Mâitre is supremely confident that the Pack will once more bring its quarry to bay.

If Moran was the most dangerous man in London and Milverton was the worst man in London, what soubriquet would apply to Sir Eustace Brackenstall? I have always considered him to be a complete scoundrel, as Izaak Walton might have put it. Here we have a man who beats his wife and stabs her with a hatpin, among other indignities which we can only imagine. He hurls a decanter (probably after he had emptied it first) at his wife’s faithful maid, and in a fit of abominable cruelty, soaks a little dog in petroleum and ignites it. Is there a more despicable character anywhere in the Canon?

Watson tells us that Lady Mary Brackenstall is a handsome woman with a fine figure, who evidently wore a black sequin-covered dinner-dress the evening of her husband’s murder. Given her professed intense dislike for her husband, why would she go to the trouble of dressing so finely for dinner?

Lady Brackenstall was of a fair complexion; Watson rather lasciviously mentions her “white, round limbs.” In her narrative, she tells Holmes that her assailant “caught me first by the wrist and then by the throat.” But Watson mentions no bruises in either place, which surely would have occurred if someone so fair-skinned was roughly handled. Why would Lady Brackenstall tell such a story when she did not have the marks to show for it?

Supposedly, Lady Brackenstall was “so firmly bound that [she] could not move,” and yet we learn that “In releasing the lady, the cord had been slipped off her, but the knots with which it had been secured still remained.” How was this possible, particularly with the cord twined through the structure of the chair to which the victim was bound? (Kids, don’t try this at home!)

Chislehurst, and the Abbey Grange, was located near Sydenham. Was it a coincidence that Jack Croker lived in Sydenham, or perhaps did he follow Mary Fraser Brackenstall after her marriage to Sir Eustace? In any case, when Croker decided to tell Holmes the whole story, he thought about it for a little, and then cried, “I’ll chance it!” But what choice did he have, really?

The above are prolegomena to the central question: Was Croker as innocent as he proclaimed? The same set of circumstances, the same clues would have been present had he and Mary Fraser Brackenstall conspired to get rid of her abusive and sodden spouse. The only fact he would have needed to alter was that the tryst was innocent. Holmes is by nature a suspicious man, given to questioning apparent “facts.” Was he justified in allowing Croker to go free?

We have had several exposures to Stanley Hopkins in the past few weeks. Once more, I ask the Hounds: Is his performance in ABBE in any wise improved over what we have witnessed in the previous cases?