His Last Bow – Hounds Summary

Ralph Edwards – Fri, 27 May 1994

  • What was the most terrible August in the twentieth century?
    August, 1914 – the start of WW I
    August, 1939 – the introduction to WW II
    August, 1945 – the atomic bomb explosions over two Japanese cities?
  • Is the word “degenerate” significant?
  • Were the two Germans famous?
  • Why did they speak in low tones outside Von Bork’s house?
  • Is a 100-horsepower automobile huge?
  • What provided the impression that the English were docile and simple?
  • What was Von Bork’s purported occupation?
  • What answer could Von Herling have given to a question about the war tax?
  • Were suffragettes part of the devil’s brew?
  • What was kept in the pigeonhole labeled “Fords”?
  • Has the feeling of Irish-Americans changed during the last 80 years?
  • Did anything happen to Harwich during the war?
  • How was Altamont to be fixed up?
  • Having spoken in low tones outside the house, why was Von Bork now speaking in a normal voice inside his house?
  • What line from Rotterdam was meant?
  • Why did Altamont pay off the gunner in dollars and not in pounds?
  • How did Holmes hide the sponge? When did he soak it with chloroform?
  • Was Von Bork bound on his arms and legs, or on his hands and feet?
  • How did Von Bork clutch at his throat? How was he walked to the car?
  • Why couldn’t the originals have been safely sent out of the country?
  • Why, on the eve of war, did Holmes reveal to Von Bork, who was to be returned to Germany, that his military information was faulty?
  • Did Holmes have anything to do with the separation of Irene Adler and the King of Bohemia?
  • Are German sportsmen rare?
  • Did a cleaner, better, stronger land emerge?
  • August 2, 1914 was a Sunday. The next day was Bank Holiday. What was Holmes’ rush to cash the check early?
  • Why did the British government allow this story to be published in 1917, while the war was still in progress?

Chris Redmond – Fri, 8 Nov 1996

Earlier in Holmes’ career, he faced his Final ProblemThe Second Stain indicates that a previous story was supposed to be the last memoir of Sherlock Holmes. Later The Lion’s Mane seems a sort of epilogue; Shoscombe Old Place was, in fact, the last published, but it was replaced by The Retired Colourman in book editions. Are these successive curtain calls for Sherlock Holmes merely artifacts of the serial way in which the stories were originally published, or do they have an effect on today’s reader also?

Sonia Fetherston – Fri, 6 Feb 1998

Furies, Fenians, Fords, and foreigners? There’s an east wind coming, no doubt about it, and on its leading edge is our next canonical tale, His Last Bow.  My questions and comments this weekend:

  • A half-dozen people “are really in touch with the truth.” Assuming Von Bork and Von Herling are two of that number, who are the four other people in on the secret?
  • Did Holmes get to keep the money that the Germans paid to Altamont?
  • Are the Irish unfairly singled out as Axis collaborators? Didn’t the Germans recruit members of any other nationalist movements within the British Empire?
  • Was Mrs. Hudson “Martha,” or not?
  • Holmes and his agents made a date to debrief at Claridge’s, the ultra-posh hotel in Mayfair. That’s a nice touch. Claridge’s represents Great Britain at its best: elegant rather than showy, extremely attentive, and ever so discreet. Discretion was one reason that the US government chose Claridge’s as the London headquarters for FDR’s personal envoy during World War II, Harry Hopkins. Hopkins was notoriously careless with top secrets and so required exceptionally discreet hosts. Classified documents were routinely strewn all over his suite. He once sent a jacket out to be cleaned and pressed, heedless of secret cables from Washington stuffed in the pockets! Claridge’s circumspect maids, boots, and bellboys so impressed the Americans by their handling of Hopkins, that Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall arranged to stay there themselves. The hotel was (and is) so conscientious about privacy that the Americans may not even have been aware that elsewhere in the hotel Claridge’s staff were looking after King George of Greece, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, King Haakon of Norway, King Peter of Yugoslavia, Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg, the President of Poland, and Princess Alexandra, daughter of Princess Aspasia of the Hellenes. All in a day’s work.

Steve Clarkson – Fri, 9 Apr 1999

It is the last minute before the dawning of World War I. Germany has been building its army, navy, and yes, its air force in preparation for invading France and Belgium. A hidden side of the German preparations is the infiltration of spies into England. For some time the British had known that something was wrong; that there was a well-hidden and active spy ring at work. Yet try as they might, they were unable to uncover the ringleader. Naturally enough, the nation’s leaders turned to Sherlock Holmes, now retired and keeping bees on the Sussex Downs.

In a few minutes, the Mâitre de Chasse will sound his hunting horn to begin the Hounds’ investigation of counter-espionage techniques used by Holmes. It is not a long trail they will follow, but it is a complex one, left by a master spy whose camouflage and elusiveness has baffled lesser packs.

If anyone ever doubted Doyle’s ability to set the stage, this story is one of the finest proofs that he was a master at doing just that. The story has a brooding theme, the theme of a world on the brink of the most destructive war it had yet seen. A sense of foreboding is created by small lights in the dark: the cigar-ends compared to the eyes of a malignant fiend; the headlights of the little Ford driven by Watson. The single room occupied by Martha, “the personification of Britannia,” is the only remaining light in Von Bork’s darkened house and becomes a symbol of Great Britain as the world’s last ray of hope against the German war machine. The entire adventure takes place in the dark of night, relieved only by the lights of towns and ships. There is a feeling that at any moment even those tiny lights will be snuffed out, and the stygian darkness will be complete.

I have often wondered how secure a prisoner would be with a strap around his upper arms? And assuming that Von Bork’s upper arms were firmly bound to his sides, how was he able to clutch at his own throat on hearing Holmes’ revelations? And with his legs strapped together, how was it possible to “walk” Von Bork to Holmes’ and Watsons’ car? “Hopped” might be a better term. Oh, and one for Ford enthusiasts: Would it be safe to assume that the “spare seat” into which Von Bork was wedged was what came to be known as the “rumble seat?”

Why was Von Bork not arrested for espionage? Surely, he was not named as an official member of the German legation, else his motives for being in England for four years would have come under active suspicion. So why was he allowed to return to Germany? Above all, why was he released when it was obvious that he would alert his superiors that the information he had garnered was worthless?

How would a paymaster have access to secret documents, and why would he put his initials on a tracing? Why didn’t Von Bork send his dossiers to Germany as they were completed, instead of keeping them in his safe?

Holmes says, “As to you, Watson, you are joining us with your old service, as I understand…” Wasn’t Watson, at about sixty years of age, a bit old to resume active military service? And what did Holmes mean by “joining us?”

How was Von Bork able to infiltrate the wine cellars of the Schoenbrunn Palace and abscond with bottles of Franz Josef’s Imperial Tokay?

Discover more about His Last Bow and read the canon.