J. Randolph Cox - 15 Jan 1994
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?
A murder in Westminster, compromising letters, desperate women, 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:
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 very likely
would 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
as to 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 to 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 wise 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?
Brad Keefauver - Thu, 24 May 2001
What bothers me is why the inflammatory letter was even retained in the first place? It, and presumbably its contents, were 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's 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 is 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?
Rosemary Michaud - Thu, 30 Mar 2000
Return to Introducing the 60 Stories
Brad Keefauver - Thu, 24 May 2001