The Stock-Broker’s Clerk – Hounds Summary

Ralph Edwards – Fri, 16 Dec 1994

  • How did Watson pay for the practice?
  • With 75% of the practice gone, why was Watson so busy?
  • Did Holmes and Watson keep separate notes of the same cases?
  • Who paid Watson’s expenses?
  • Would substituting create a debt?
  • Could the slippers have been bought at a fire sale?
  • Did Watson change to shoes or take any luggage?
  • Would the current value of the practice be determined by the steps or by which substituted for the other more often?
  • Does “from spring until June” correlate with £70 at £3 per week?
  • Does £70 correlate with £60 Holmes suggested for Mary Sutherland?
  • Should £500 have made Pycroft suspicious?
  • What insider knew of Pycroft’s hiring and of Parker?
  • Why and how (if so) was Pycroft’s hiring rigged?
  • Is hardware primarily crockery?
  • Why didn’t the other brother conduct the interview?
  • Why did Pycroft return on Saturday at 7 p.m.?
  • How could Pycroft already have local friendships?
  • How could the Beddingtons know stock-broking so well?
  • Doesn’t hanging require a box or similar elevation?
  • What made the listing so long?
  • Is middle-sized in London smallish in Birmingham?
  • Why was Pinner carried out before resuscitation started?
  • Where did the water carafe come from?
  • Why didn’t Holmes follow up on locating the discloser of information at Mawson’s?
  • Why did Holmes take Watson along?
  • Is placing your head in a basin of cold water conducive to deep thought?
  • Why didn’t Pycroft sign the note?
  • Compare Pycroft’s writing speed with that of Jabez Wilson (REDH).

Chris Redmond – Thu, 21 Mar 1996

This tale is no one’s favourite, and its settings seem deliberately dull, including a stockbroking firm and the notoriously uninteresting industrial city of Birmingham. Has it any particular merits that raise it from mediocrity?

Sonia Fetherston – Sat, 14 Jun 1997

Some thoughts and questions as I re-read this week’s story:

  • In Watson’s house, Holmes chose the rocking chair, and he seems quite comfortable in it. Many members of our list recently discussed the Mormons, and I’m reminded that there was a rocking chair in STUD as well, at Ferrier’s house. I think that was the only other rocking chair in the entire canon. I don’t know about Ferrier, but I like to think Watson kept one because he and Mary were planning to start a family soon. Rocking chairs are so convenient for mothers with infants, I can’t imagine a young mother without her rocking chair nearby.
  • Compare Watson’s rich narrative description of Hall Pycroft’s appearance with the bare-bones description he left us of Grant Munro in YELL. The difference, I think, is Holmes. Before we met Munro we were treated to the virtuoso “reading” Holmes gave of Munro’s pipe. We, therefore, knew a great about Munro from Holmes and it wasn’t necessary for Watson to add much. But in STOC Holmes doesn’t “read” Pycroft out loud for us. It’s left to the good doctor to describe the client. From a reader’s perspective, who gives better information — Holmes in YELL, or Watson in STOC?
  • Pycroft modestly says his memory is “pretty fair,” then goes on to quote the stock report chapter and verse. How many companies were listed on the exchange (or printed in the paper) in London back in the late 1880’s? There must be hundreds of New York exchange listings printed in my newspaper. I can understand somebody following a few key companies, but a photographic memory (or a computer) would be necessary to keep track of the volume reported there each day.
  • In Birmingham, Holmes, Watson, and Pycroft ascend five stories to get to the Franco-Midland office. Ascending five stories in Britain means they ended up where? — the 4th, 5th, or 6th floor? Is it the 4th? I asked my half-British husband and he accused me of trying to trick him with a nasty math problem. No help there!
  • The watchman’s death was caused by the blow of a poker to the back of his head. Pokers put in appearances throughout the canon. In addition to this reference, I can think of pokers in ABBE, SPEC, SIXN, 3GAB off the top of my head, and there must be a number of others. Are they mentioned frequently because people used them more in those days before central heating? Or do many people keep pokers handy for defensive/offensive purposes? I have one, but can’t remember the last time I looked at it, let alone used it.

Steve Clarkson – Fri, 28 Aug 1998

Young Hall Pycroft was out of a job. His former employer, a stock firm named Coxon & Woodhouse, had suffered a grievous loss through an investment in Venezuela and had to let a number of their clerks go as a result. Pycroft pounded the pavement and mailed inquiries to prospective employers until he had run through his savings, with no results. Then just as he was beginning to despair, he received a letter from one of the biggest stock companies in London, Mawson & Williams, hiring him and even naming a salary slightly above what he had been receiving at his previous job.

That very evening, a stranger named Arthur Pinner visited Pycroft at his residence and offered him a job managing a company which would sell English crockery in France. The salary mentioned was an incredible £500 per year, with an overriding commission on sales that would bring him as much more. Flabbergasted but grateful, Pycroft wrote Pinner a note accepting the position. Pinner, in turn, directed Pycroft to present himself the next day to Pinner’s brother Harry, who had an office in Birmingham, a town north of London.

Pycroft made his appearance in Birmingham as arranged and was interviewed by Harry Pinner, who bore a strong resemblance to his brother Arthur. So strong was the resemblance, in fact, that Pycroft noticed that each Pinner had the same tooth badly stuffed with a gold filling. Realizing that the two Pinners must be one and the same person, Pycroft sought out Sherlock Holmes to unravel the deception being practiced upon him. Little did he know that the trail would lead to robbery, murder, and attempted suicide.

In a few minutes, the Mâitre de Chasse will sound the hunting horn to send the Hounds on the track of this bewildering situation. He is confident of his hard-working pack, however, and places great stock in them.

Watson says that he bought his practice from old Mr. Farquhar and that the practice had declined from a respectable income of £1,200 a year to about £300 a year. How much would Watson have paid Mr. Farquhar for the practice? And where did Watson get the money to buy it?

Holmes observes that Watson bought the better of two practices because Watson’s office steps were worn “three inches deeper” than his neighbor’s. Both houses were apparently rather old and were built at about the same time and used from that time forward for medical practices. What material were the steps made from? Surely not wood, since it would be unusual, to say the least, to make wooden steps more than three inches thick. Concrete, then, or marble? The secondary inference we can make from Holmes’ observation is that Watson’s office had nearly always had the “better” practice from the time the building was constructed since it takes many years to wear stone or concrete steps in that fashion. Is this a valid conclusion?

How did “Arthur Pinner” find out that Hall Pycroft was offered the job at Mawson & Williams? For that matter, how did he find out the very same day Pycroft received the letter employing him? And was it reasonable for “Pinner” to expect Pycroft to know the contents of each day’s stock exchange list from memory? (Note to our British Hounds: How many stocks might this have encompassed in 1888?) And did Pycroft expect the same mnemonic feat from “Pinner” by expecting him to know the accuracy of the stock quotations Pycroft supplied?

When Holmes, Watson, and Pycroft were discussing the case while “Harry Pinner” was catching his breath, Holmes commented, concerning written employment contracts such as that struck between “Pinner” and Pycroft, “‘Well, why did they want him to do it? Not as a business matter, for these arrangements are usually verbal…'” Is that the way employment was arranged in 1888…on a “handshake” basis?

Watson said of the Evening Standard article announcing the robbery at Mawson & Williams, “It appeared from its position in the paper to have been the one event of importance in town…” Did the London newspapers “signal” the relative importance of a news item by placing it in a certain position on the page, and if so, where did they place it?

Would even so prominent a stock-broking firm as Mawson & Williams have had guardianship over securities amounting “‘in the aggregate to a sum of considerably over a million sterling?'” Judging from the comments made while the Hounds were discussing BERY, it would have been unusual to say the least for that to have been the situation.

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