The Devil’s Foot – Hounds Summary

Ralph Edwards – Fri, 20 May 1994

  • Was Holmes’ aversion to publicity valuable?
  • Did Holmes profit from giving credit to the police?
  • Were the reported cases few in the 1910 era?
  • Why telegraph, and not telephone?
  • Were the indiscretions consistent with or solely from cocaine?
  • What would be the Dr. Agar diagnosis if made today?
  • What is an “old-world” village?
  • When Holmes was solitary, what did Watson do?
  • Why only the “whole west” of England?
  • Why did Holmes let Roundhay take the lead from Mortimer?
  • Can fear cause death?
  • What does, “It is a bad thing to speak of” mean?
  • When did Owen take Mortimer’s seat?
  • Do laughing, shouting, and singing permit an expression of horror?
  • What happened to Mortimer when he “couldn’t stand it”?
  • In what room did the fainting recoveries occur?
  • Why was Watson alert, so long ago, to tobacco danger?
  • Did Mortimer leave two sets of tracks toward the vicarage?
  • Should Sterndale have foreseen Holmes being taciturn and suspicious of being asked?
  • Does a smoke shield prevent smoking?
  • How did the oil consumption analysis work?
  • Would grate fumes not be exceedingly diffuse?
  • Can we accept Brenda having or being a more sensitive organism?
  • Why death to quiescent Brenda and not to her more active brothers?
  • Why the “same distance” for the experiment?
  • Was Mortimer actually wronged?
  • Is facial appearance reflective of character?
  • Did Mortimer disturb the fire to increase the fumes?
  • Did beating about the bush extinguish the bramble fire?
  • What was the evidence of a restless night?
  • Why did Mortimer act so soon after Sterndale’s departure?
  • Did Sterndale ever love his wife, or she him?

Chris Redmond – Fri, 1 Nov 1996

Although a few of the unpublished cases seem to have taken place abroad, rarely does the reader see Holmes at work outside England. In this case that does happen — for Cornwall is not a part of ancient England (as Holmes’ research on the ancient Cornish tongue emphasizes). Is the foreign, Celtic, location particularly appropriate to this tale of grotesquerie and madness?

Sonia Fetherston – Fri, 30 Jan 1998

Sibling rivalry? Kissing cousins? The Tregennis clan has a lot more in common with some Roman imperial families than they do with the Brady Bunch, that’s for sure. We’ll read all about them in the story we turn to this weekend, The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot. Questions and comments to consider:

  • News and gossip mills were full of alleged presidential indiscretions this past week. But what do you suppose are the “occasional indiscretions” that weakened Holmes during the spring of 1897?
  • Exactly what type of doctor was Leon Sterndale?
  • Another Hound recently suggested something to the effect that Roundhay was spared the ravages of intelligence. Can anyone play, uh, the Devil’s Advocate and say a kind word for the vicar’s mental faculties?
  • Did Holmes and Watson really need to view Brenda’s corpse?
  • I’m unaware of any real plant that goes by the name “The Devil’s Foot.” Watson could have invented the name to prevent his readers from finding, and experimenting with, the horrible plant described in this tale. A number of real plants, however, do incorporate the word “devil” in their common names including Devil’s Bit, Devil’s Guts, Devil’s Fuge, Devil’s Eye, Devil’s Turnip, and the Devil Tree. Some of these are poisonous, while others have medicinal uses. Devil’s Eye, more often known as Henbane, is a dangerous narcotic we musn’t toy with. The plant called Devil’s Bit, on the other hand, can be useful (in skilled hands only, don’t try it yourself) for easing fever — this according to my Potter’s New Cyclopaedia of Medicinal Herbs. The Devil’s Foot disabled Owen and George Tregennis, and it’s possible that another “devil” plant may have awaited them after they were removed to Helston. It goes by the improbable name of “Devil’s Dung,” and it was administered by European and Middle Eastern physicians of yore to help calm mania and relax the body. It wasn’t burned, though. Devil’s Dung has such a revolting smell and taste it could only be given in pill form.

Steve Clarkson – Fri, 2 Apr 1999

As happened from time to time, Holmes had spent so freely of his mental and physical energy in solving cases that he was on the verge of nervous collapse. At the insistence of a physician, who told him that further exertions threatened to cut short his career as a consulting detective, Holmes grudgingly betook himself to Cornwall for some much-needed rest and relaxation, accompanied by his trusty Watson.

But Holmes’ recuperative time was destined to be cut short. A visit from the local vicar and a parishioner brought the news that three members of a local family, two brothers and a sister, had suddenly fallen victim to a bizarre fate. The evening before the three of them, in company with another brother, had enjoyed dinner and a pleasant game of whist. The third brother, who had taken his leave early, was the parishioner who accompanied the vicar. Of the other three siblings, two brothers, George and Owen Tregennis, had been found that very morning with their senses stricken clean out of them, raving and singing in complete lunacy, in the room where the whist game had taken place. Their sister Brenda was still in the room also — stone dead in her chair, with a look of indescribable horror and revulsion indelibly stamped on her features. And if this were not bad enough, the next day the third brother, Mortimer, was found dead in the sitting-room of the vicarage where he resided. His face, too, had that look of total dread and horror which had marked his sister’s dying emotions. The vicar was convinced that the Forces of Evil had invaded his little parish.

In a few minutes, the Mâitre de Chasse will send the Hounds on the trail of the Devil’s Foot. It will not be a long distance for them, but the track will take many sudden windings before its end in a strange plot of greed, murder, and vengeance.

Death by asphyxiation is not unusual in the Canon. We have Brunton, the butler of Hurlstone in MUSG, Paul Kratides in GREE, and Dr. Ray Ernest and Mrs. Amberley in RETI as examples. But, to use American drug vernacular, DEVI is the only adventure that features death attributable to a “bad trip.”

In his initial interview with Mortimer Tregennis, Holmes says, “I am not clear how you came to hear the news so early this morning.” Yet only a few minutes earlier he had heard a clear statement from Vicar Roundhay which contained that information, subsequently corroborated by Tregennis. Was this evidence of a mental lapse on Holmes’ part, a symptom of the mental exhaustion for which Dr. Moore Agar had packed him off to Cornwall for recuperation? Or did he suspect Tregennis from the very beginning, and request a repetition of that part of his story in hopes of catching Tregennis in a slip?

It’s apparent that Helston was the name and/or location of a mental asylum. Did such a place, or a counterpart, actually exist in Cornwall in 1897?

After investigating Mortimer Tregennis’ death, Holmes asked Mr. Roundhay to direct the police inspector’s attention to the bedroom window and the sitting-room lamp. What could anyone have expected the inspector to learn from those “clues?” Holmes had knowledge of key elements the inspector had no way of knowing: The source of the reddish gravel found on the sill of or underneath Tregennis’ window; the stuffiness of the room. Is this an example of what we were just discussing about Holmes playing mind tricks with others?

Three years ago, the Hounds discussed the matter of Sterndale’s inability to obtain a divorce. In that discussion, it was revealed that the laws of the time permitted a husband to get a divorce after a minimum two years of separation. There was also some expense involved. Yet Sterndale told Holmes, “…I have a wife who has left me for years and yet whom, by the deplorable laws of England, I could not divorce. For years Brenda waited. For years I waited.” That certainly sounds like more than two years, ostensibly spent waiting for Sterndale’s spouse to die. And given Sterndale’s fame as a hunter and explorer, it seems reasonable to expect that he could have raised the sum — approximately seven hundred pounds — necessary to underwrite the costs of a divorce.

It seems to me that there could be at least one alternate scenario which would account for the lunacy of George and Owen Tregennis and the deaths of Brenda and Mortimer Tregennis. The only incontrovertible fact about the fate of these people is that they were exposed to a powerful hallucinogen. Might Leon Sterndale have been the malefactor? Could he have plotted to kill all of the Tregennises and been obliged to deal separately with Mortimer Tregennis, who unexpectedly left before he could suffer the fate of his siblings? Why would Sterndale do such a thing? Inheritance of the family fortune, through his distant kinship to the Tregennis line, might supply the motive.

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