Remember that touching and romantic scene at the end of The Sign of Four, when Watson and his beloved Mary rejoiced in the loss of the Agra treasure because it meant they could get married without besmirching his honor with the suspicion that he was a mere fortune hunter? Okay, now that you’ve remembered it, you can do your best to forget it, because when the bachelor is from a noble family, fortune-hunting isn’t a shameful thing anymore: it’s a duty. But isn’t it delicious that Lord Robert St. Simon, so determined to marry into money, should end up with neither love nor money? He’s such a snob, and he’s anything but noble! Or is there more to him than we think? Next up: the Hounds are invited to attend the wedding breakfast of the Noble Bachelor.
St. Simon “At Bottom”: Would any of us care to make a friend of Lord Robert St. Simon? No one in the story seemed to like him very much. He was so low in everyone’s esteem that they didn’t even take the time to get his title straight, referring to him by the form of address that properly belonged to his elder brother, “Lord St. Simon,” when Robert’s correct appellation was “Lord Robert.” Sherlock Holmes put him in his place by comparing him to his even more exalted royal clients. Flora Millar refused to be dumped by him. Hatty Doran went off with another man. Poor Bob just didn’t get any respect!
But did Lord Robert deserve such treatment? Was more than his pride hurt by his loss of Hatty? Did he love her more than even he knew? Or was he in love with Flora Millar, but forced to give her up because his responsibilities as a son of the Duke of Balmoral? When he spoke of how much Flora loved him, was he actually coming as close as he dared to admitting his own attachment to her? When he spoke of Hatty Doran’s capacity for self-sacrifice, was he thinking of his own sacrifice in giving up Flora so that he could bring the Doran fortune into his own struggling family estate?
And what illness may have been causing Lord Robert to look old before his time? He had “a slight forward stoop and a little bend of the knees as he walked.” Crippling arthritis? That’ll keep a person’s knees bent, for sure. Back trouble? Something else? When he met Hatty Doran in San Francisco, was he on a rest cure? Was he terminally ill and in something of a rush to sire a legitimate heir? What say the Hounds? Should we give this poor stuck-up stiff a break, or at least give him a little sympathy?
The Stars and Stripes: “It is always a joy to meet an American,” said Sherlock Holmes, and here’s another angle on his confusion over how a person ought to address Lord Robert: Did Holmes get mixed up in the titles because he wasn’t as properly British as he ought to be? Was he born in America, and at least partly raised here? Sure, his ancestors were country squires and the sister of a French artist, but nearly all Americans have “foreign” ancestors. Think about the many times Holmes took on cases involving Americans — one published case in every six has an American connection, I believe — almost as if helping Americans was a specialty of his. Think about it. . . .
And how about those lovely and spirited American girls in the Canon? I’m so proud to be able to say that I was born in the same country as those bewitching and ulster-wearing ladies, Irene Adler and Hatty Doran! They are both beautiful, but they are quite different, of course. Irene has the edge in brains and talent, while Hatty has the advantage of youth and innocence. What say the Hounds? Gentlemen, which of these American woman would be most likely to steal your heart? And ladies, which of the two women would you prefer to be?