The Second Stain – Hounds Summary

J. Randolph Cox – Sat, 15 Jan 1994

  • How does the author establish the reality of this account and that it is not just another fiction?
  • What did Holmes’ insistence on the priority of knowing the content of the letter, over its appearance, suggest about his methods?
  • What can you determine about the role of women, the class structure, and the importance of honor in the attitudes of society during the era of this story?
  • Identify at least three popular traditions of a detective story found in this narrative.
  • While detective stories are indebted to the works of Edgar Allan Poe, in what specific ways can SECO be considered as a tribute to Poe?

Ralph Edwards – Fri, 26 May 1995

  • Was it in character for Holmes to be hateful of notoriety?
  • To whom, and why, had Watson promised publication of this case?
  • Is “vague in certain details” precise?
  • Why was the initial meeting at 221B?
  • Should Mycroft have been consulted?
  • What true facts underlie fictions in this case?
  • Was Trelawney Hope’s “beauty of mind” demonstrated or was he just a likable bumbling “yes” man?
  • What was the motive of those who sought the letter?
  • What was so unsafe about the office safe?
  • Compare curtain time in this adventure and The Sign of the Four.
  • Does the case fit the international situation of the time?
  • Did officials open their own mail?
  • Wouldn’t some of the chancelleries wish the letter suppressed?
  • Couldn’t Holmes trace Lucas’ informant?
  • Did Holmes share the popular belief in the rarity of coincidence?
  • Could Lady Hilda have had a legitimate excuse for visiting 221B?
  • Why is “alibi” italicized?
  • Why was there no relief for the constable?
  • What ever happened to Lucas’ spy who almost caused a war?

Chris Redmond – Sat, 17 Aug 1996

Haven’t we already had most of this story — Oberstein and his spy-vs-spy colleagues in The Bruce-Partington Plans, the stolen document in The Naval Treaty, the blackmail victim in Charles Augustus Milverton, and so on? Why, then, is this story the best of the lot? Or is it really?

Sonia Fetherston – Fri, 7 Nov 1997

A murder in Westminster, compromising letters, desperate women, and a frantic foreign secretary: Sherlock Holmes has his hands full in this week’s story, The Adventure of the Second Stain. The weekly questions and comments from me to you:

  • Is Lady Hilda pregnant? She’s “intensely womanly” and achieves emotional extremes beyond the pale of her “caste.” Watson frets about her feeling faint, and Sherlock Holmes makes her sit down “because you will hurt yourself there if you fall.” Did the cloak that covered her “down to her feet” conceal the next generation of Trelawney Hopes?
  • What became of SECO’s third stain, the blood which must have gushed all over the killer’s clothing? Like O. J. Simpson’s sweatsuit, these stained clothes had to be disposed of. When and where?
  • Trelawney Hope would have judged Lady Hilda’s impulsive, loving letter to be “criminal.” Criminal is a pretty strong word! Shall we gossip? What on earth did she write?!
  • (Authors find inspiration for names in oh-so-many places. Is it possible that the following news item got filed away in somebody’s brain attic and was recalled when SECO was written a few years later?) On January 9, 1900, at London’s Newgate Prison, a young woman named Louise Masset went to the gallows. She’d been found guilty of suffocating her young son, Manfred, and dumping his tiny body in the women’s lavatory of a train station. She’d fallen in love, you see, with someone who absolutely hated children. The name of Masset’s lover…one Euduore Lucas.

Steve Clarkson – Fri, 22 Jan 1999

Lord Bellinger, the British Premier, and his Secretary for European Affairs, the Right Honourable Trelawney Hope, were beside themselves with worry. A letter written by a foreign potentate had disappeared — a letter which was phrased in such unfortunate and inflammatory terms that public knowledge of its contents would very likely ignite a war that would engulf all of Europe. Quite sensibly, the two politicians decided that the only person who could possibly retrieve the missing letter without its contents becoming public was Sherlock Holmes.

Holmes decided that the letter would most likely be in the hands of one of three foreign agents known to be in London, and determined to visit each of them in an effort to recover the letter. Before he could do so, however, he learned that one of them had been murdered on the very night the letter disappeared. Since the odds against this event being a coincidence were astronomical, Holmes went to the scene of the murder, located a likely hiding place under the parquet flooring…and found it empty.

In a few minutes, the Mâitre de Chasse will sound his hunting horn to set the Hounds on the scent of a document which, if it became public, could trigger a war costing thousands of lives and millions of pounds sterling. The trail leads to a demented woman in Paris and to one of the highest families in all of England, but the Mâitre urges the Pack not to give up hope.

It is interesting to speculate the identity of the nameless potentate who started this whole adventure by writing an impulsive and inflammatory letter to high British officials. Although Watson says that the year and even the decade of the adventure must be withheld, surely we have enough information on hand to offer some clues. For what nation, in the last two-or-three decades of the nineteenth century, was a crouching lion a symbol? It would have to have been a nation ruled by an autocrat, and an influential nation at that to be in a position to trigger a European war. Further, it must have been a nation that in some ways had been affected by English colonialism. Can the historians of the Hounds come up with any educated guesses? And would anyone care to speculate who it was that Watson promised to publish SECO?

What bothers me is why the inflammatory letter was even retained in the first place? It, and presumably its contents, was known to only Lord Bellinger, Trelawney Hope, and two or possibly three “officials.” It is not even clear that its contents were known by the last mentioned. What purpose was served by keeping the letter when public knowledge of it would prove so disastrous? Why not just respond with the diplomatic equivalent of a “There, there!” or a “Tough luck, fellah!” and destroy the offensive letter?

Lestrade said of the scene of Lucas’ murder, “…we thought we could tidy up a bit.” Was it the normal routine of the police force to “tidy up” the scene of a crime in a private residence once they had examined it for possible clues?

Lady Hilda Trelawney Hope said that Lucas had some spy in her husband’s office who knew of the existence of the potentate’s letter. Only Lord Bellinger, Trelawney Hope, and the aforementioned “officials” had or could have had such knowledge. Excusing Lord Bellinger and Hope from suspicion (which might not be a wise thing), it must, therefore, have been one of those officials who “leaked” the information to Lucas. Yet, there was no indication that Holmes intended to reveal the presence of a spy to Lord Bellinger. Of course, to do so might have been to incriminate Lady Hilda, but should such a consideration outweigh the continued presence of a spy in the Foreign Office?

Lastly, when Lord Bellinger paid Trelawney Hope a compliment, Hope bowed. Yet at the time, he was seated on the settee. Was it customary to bow while seated?

Discover more about The Second Stain and read the canon.