Ralph Edwards – Fri, 17 Feb 1995
- Why protect first families?
- Why Monsieur for Paris but not Herr for Dantzig?
- Was Phelps advanced, Watson retarded, or both?
- Should the scholarship have been based on financial need?
- Would a politician’s nephew be noticed in a prestigious school?
- Do modern boys have nicknames like Tadpole?
- Why precisely fifth and third?
- Is brain-fever of such intensity known today?
- Did Watson often bring cases?
- What could Annie’s writing be like to stir such interest?
- Does “an early train” mean “a train promptly”?
- Were the merry eyes an act or a criminal’s conceit?
- Is the moustache mentioned elsewhere in the Canon?
- How did Watson identify eyes as Italian for a person named Annie Harrison?
- Why French and Russian but not German?
- Who usually made copies?
- Does it take brilliance, influence and a rapid rise to attain an official position as a government clerk?
- What was sloppy about security?
- If there had been no theft, where would Phelps have ended his night?
- Were all those steps, passages, doors and the lodge for only a one stove room?
- Why steep stairs?
- Why write on a cuff and not a notebook?
- Was Whitehall the thief’s likeliest choice?
- When and were was charing done?
- How did Holmes know the charwoman’s time of arrival?
- Why did charwomen use the front door to enter and the side door to exit?
- Did Mrs. Tangey again go by bus?
- Why didn’t Phelps think of resorting to Holmes before brain fever set in?
- Why did Holmes divert attention to the rose?
- What were the seven clues?
- Does Portsmouth train have significance?
- Is a resoling less visible now?
- Did the room have an adjoining lavatory?
- Why refer to Watson as “my friend” instead of “our friend”?
- How did Phelps know what a jemmy looked like?
- How might Joseph have regained the treaty sooner?
- Is Joseph still a gentleman?
- What is a Scotchwoman’s breakfast?
- What filled Holmes’s flask?
Chris Redmond – Fri, 10 May 1996
At 12,701 words, this tale is the longest of all 56 Canonical short stories — some 50 per cent longer than the average, in fact. What does it have, by way of plot, character, atmosphere or skill in story-telling, to justify such verbosity?
Sonia Fetherston – Fri, 1 Aug 1997
And now we turn to NAVA — one of the longer short stories in the canon, but well worth the time invested reading it! Watch for all those quotable lines (stormy petrel of crime…..note upon his shirtcuff…..nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion….light-houses my boy!…..). Does it get any better than this?
Here are my questions and comments to start this week’s discussion:
- The clerk, Gorot, was a suspect and was shadowed for weeks on end by the police. Reason? His French surname. Gorot fit a “profile.” Not so different from 1997, when persons with Arabic names are suspected of any number of international crimes. Gorot is also interesting because the description of his background, “of Huguenot extraction, but as English in sympathy and tradition as you and I are,” sounds suspiciously like ACD’s own heritage.
- Surprisingly, Percy Phelps doesn’t smoke or drink. Most of his contemporaries did. Is there evidence in the story of Percy enjoying other “vices?”
- Holmes said that in the course of his interview with Percy he’d been furnished with seven clues to test. What are those seven clues?
- “Watson here will tell you that I never can resist a touch of the dramatic,” Holmes told Percy. I like to think Mrs. Hudson has some dramatic tendencies herself, being an apparently willing participant in the little joke played on Percy. In the name of drama, however, wasn’t the treaty exposed to some risk in the kitchens of 221B? Would you entrust Mediterranean security and world peace to your landlady?
Steve Clarkson – Fri, 16 Oct 1998
Through a combination of personal accomplishment and connections in high political places, young Percy Phelps, a form school acquaintance of Dr. Watson, had attained a sensitive position in the Foreign Office. He was engaged to marry, and his future looked bright and assured.
One day his uncle, the Foreign Minister, gave him an important secret treaty to copy. The document, written in French, outlined Britain’s naval policies under certain circumstances involving the navies of other countries. His uncle told Phelps that several foreign embassies would pay a considerable sum for a look at the treaty, and instructed him to stay late that night in order to copy it when no other Foreign Office employees were about.
After copying about a third of the treaty, Phelps was feeling drowsy and rang the commissionaire at the bottom of the stairs to make some coffee. When the coffee didn’t arrive, he went downstairs to see about it and found the commissionaire asleep and the pot boiling briskly. As he was waking the commissionaire, a bell overhead rang loudly — the bell was sounded from Phelps’s office! Someone was in the same room with the precious treaty! Rushing upstairs, Phelps and the commissionaire found no one, saw no one…but the treaty was gone.
Devastated by this calamitous turn of events, Phelps lapsed into a nine-week bout of brain fever. All during that time, nothing was found of the treaty despite urgent but secret inquiries. Where was it? Why hadn’t the thief delivered it to one of the embassies that would pay well to get it? Phelps thought of his school chum Watson and dictated a letter to him, asking him to bring Holmes down to his residence in Woking.
Seemingly, there was no clue to be found as to what had happened to the Naval Treaty. But after he visited Phelps, Holmes said that he had found seven clues in Phelps’s story. In a few minutes the Mâitre de Chasse will send the Hounds out on a quest for a top-secret scroll of paper. The scent begins in Whitehall, but it will end in Woking.
At the very beginning of the Adventure, there is an extended reference to SECO which for the sake of this discussion I shall sturdily ignore in order to focus upon NAVA. For the record, both NAVA (1893) and SECO (1904) made their debuts in the pages of Strand Magazine. According to Baring-Gould (and I decline to bicker over Canonical Chronology here), SECO predated NAVA by three years and was not published until eighteen years after it occurred under Baring-Gould’s reckoning. NAVA, on the other hand, took place in 1889 and was bared for all the world to see just four years later. One might draw the inference that the significance of military treaties was more ephemeral than that of inflammatory letters from foreign potentates. But for whatever reason, Watson was able to keep SECO under wraps “until the new century.”
The Naval Treaty was written in French, although it was an entente between Italy and England. Was French still the language of diplomacy in 1889? In any case, it was a lengthy document comprised of twenty-six separate articles. We do not know when Percy Phelps set to work copying the document, but we are told that it took him until nine o’clock in the evening to copy the first nine articles. Assuming that he began copying at six o’clock, that would be about three articles per hour, or twenty minutes apiece. If the remaining articles were similar in length and complexity, copying them without so much as a break to stretch would have required another six hours and forty minutes, taking Phelps to forty minutes past three in the morning to complete his task. Surely, Lord Holdhurst must have realized the difficulty of the task he was assigning to his nephew; what could have been the “absolute necessity” which caused him to make such a demanding request? And why did Phelps aspire to catch the eleven o’clock train to Woking under those circumstances?
On examining the chart of the offices supplied by Phelps, I note that the main door opens into Whitehall, while the side door which figures so prominently in this affair opens onto “Lane.” We learn later on that this street was in fact Charles Street. Why is it labeled “Lane” on Phelps’s chart? In which direction did Phelps rush when he first emerged into the “Lane,” and why? (A note to those using the Doubleday edition or texts based on Doubleday: This is the only edition in which the chart shows the street running in front of the main entrance as “Whitehall.” Other editions, including the Strand, do not give it a name.)
Holmes tells Watson, “‘[Annie Harrison] and her brother are the only children of an iron-master somewhere up Northumberland way.'” How and when did he acquire that tidbit of information since his only acquaintance with Joseph Harrison was the recorded interview when Holmes and Watson arrived at Briarbrae and during the brief drive from Briarbrae to the Woking station? And upon their arrival at the station, Watson tells us, “…we were soon whirling up in a Portsmouth train.” How did Holmes have the time to send wires “to every evening paper in London” before entraining?
There is a curious sequence in the conversation that took place between Holmes and Watson as they were returning from Woking. Holmes points out the board-schools and praises them as “‘Capsules with hundreds of bright little seeds in each, out of which will spring the wiser, better England of the future.'” His very next sentence is, “‘I suppose that man Phelps does not drink?'” Is this an example of Holmes’s sometimes erratic thought processes, or is there some obscure but logical link between board-schools and temperance? And why does he refer to Phelps as “‘that man Phelps?'”
Finally, who bandaged Holmes’s left hand?