The Cardboard Box – Hounds Summary

Ralph Edwards – Fri, 15 Apr 1994

  • Does the glare place 221B on the east side of Baker Street?
  • Was 90 degrees all that hot?
  • Do we hear elsewhere of Watson’s holidays?
  • Why Civil War emotion so long after so far away?
  • Why did Holmes not read the paper aloud himself?
  • Did Holmes read all of Lestrade’s note aloud himself?
  • Were the “boots” to be worn?
  • Was brown paper, smelling of coffee, significant?
  • Why did Mary stop writing?
  • Was Susan the sort to offend medical students?
  • When did Susan leave Penge and move to Croydon?
  • Why did Holmes avoid sun on his face?
  • Did physicians wear gloves on 90 days?
  • Why a hotel, not a restaurant, for lunch?
  • What happened to the earrings?
  • Do reading and rereading produce a blank mind?
  • Why did Watson not know about the monographs?
  • Why did Browner write “S.” rather than “Sarah”?
  • What do you infer from “Steady Old Jim”?
  • Why didn’t Sarah go after Alec?
  • Shouldn’t the boat have floated?

Chris Redmond – Fri, 27 Sep 1996

In the introduction to this story, so fine a piece of writing that it was transplanted into The Resident Patient, Watson draws a moral lesson about the absurdity of war. What moral lessons might the author, whether Watson or Doyle, have intended to teach through the plot of the story itself?

Sonia Fetherston – Fri, 26 Dec 1997

It’s Boxing Day!
And in this box we have two severed, salted, mismatched, human…well you’ll have to read this weekend’s story, The Cardboard Box, to learn the particulars. Suffice it to say it’s one of the most savage tales in the canon. It’s also a story that calls to mind many questions and comments, among them:

  • If imitation is, as the saying goes, the sincerest form of flattery, does it follow that Holmes has changed his mind about Poe’s detective?
  • Why would a ship’s steward, a domestic afloat, have a working knowledge of sailors’ knots?
    Can you narrow the list of CARD’s victims down to just one? Who was victimized to the greatest degree, and why do you say so?
  • Who can tell us some anecdotes about Paganini that Holmes may have related to Watson?
  • Scotland Yard called upon their shorthand man to take down the murderer’s statement verbatim. Shorthand has been used by officialdom for several thousand years, going back to the days of papyrus and clay tablets. It enjoyed a vogue in ancient Roman times when Senate speeches were preserved by famed shorthand secretaries like Marcus Tullius Tiro, who devised the Tironian Method. After the Dark Ages, shorthand was something of a lost art until the end of the 1500’s, when the English stenographers Bright and Bales revived it. In the 1830’s, shorthand was popularized by Sir Isaac Pitman, whose Pitman Method is distinguished by the shading of pen strokes, heavy or light, with 204 short forms. Police in STUD (1881) relied on shorthand a couple of times, and they probably used the Pitman Method. Irish native John Robert Gregg developed a new type of shorthand in 1888. The Gregg Method is characterized by symbols based on longhand strokes, with 129 brief forms. Gregg’s Method is easy to learn. It’s swifter and smoother than earlier shorthand methods and may have been used to record the criminal statement in CARD (1889). Most people speak at a rate of 140 words a minute. The world record for shorthand was set during ACD’s lifetime (1927) when an American stenographer achieved 282 words per minute for five continuous minutes. Whew!

Steve Clarkson – Fri, 26 Feb 1999

Susan Cushing was an elderly maiden lady who had, by her own estimate, not an enemy in the world. She lived by herself in a neat, prim little house in Croyden, knitting antimacassars and tending to no one’s business other than her own. It was quite a shock to her, therefore, when she opened a box which had been mailed to “S. Cushing” at her address and found inside a pair of freshly-severed human ears, packed in coarse salt.

It appeared to be a grisly prank at first, and Inspector Lestrade was inclined to consider it as only that, but just to make sure he called upon the services of Sherlock Holmes. After a careful examination of the box and its macabre contents, Holmes was inclined to believe that a brutal double murder had occurred. After questioning the irritable Miss Cushing at some length, he was positive that this was the true situation.

In a few minutes, the Mâitre de Chasse will loose the Hounds upon a track which begins in Liverpool, leads through New Brighton, and to Belfast where the box was posted. In the course of the chase, they will uncover a melancholy tale of alcoholism, marital infidelity, love turned to hatred, and violent death.

This is possibly one of the most melancholy of Holmes’ cases; it is also one of the easier ones he had to solve. Indeed, it well may have been resolved by Jim Browner himself, given his mental state at the time of his arrest and his willingness to unburden himself of his load of guilt and self-loathing.

Watson mentions that a depleted bank account had forced him to defer his vacation (“holiday”). What might have brought his finances to that sorry state? Was summer the horse-racing season?

At the time of the American Civil War, Watson, believed to have been born in 1852, was little more than a stripling. Yet his memory of Henry Ward Beecher’s mission to England in 1863 (on behalf of the North) was so vivid that years later he would express “passionate indignation” over the negative way in which Beecher was received by many Britons. Was such a powerful sentiment, involving international politics as it did, likely to be raised in the breast of an 11-year-old boy?

Was 500 guineas a reasonable valuation for a Stradivarius violin in those times? Before you answer, consider that while there are numerous Stradivarii, only a comparative few are of the quality that makes them in high demand by virtuoso performers. Also consider that these few all have “pedigrees,” and their whereabouts was for the most part known and their numbers accounted for, so that it is unlikely that one would be found at the stall of a Tottenham Court Road pedlar.

Jim Browner’s narrative confession leaves the impression that Alec Fairbairn was the aggressor in pursuing Mary Cushing Browner. But couldn’t it have been Mary who first pursued Fairbairn? Wasn’t it possible that she had a roving eye even before Browner fell off the wagon? And why, if Mary loved her husband as deeply as he believed, would she allow her sister Sarah to poison her relationship with him? Indeed, did Mary Browner deserve the soubriquet of “innocent lamb?”

I wonder how the cab driver knew which house in New Street, Wallington to drive to?

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