If there’s one thing this episode teaches the viewer, it is that if you’re neurotic and of a particularly delicate sensibility, taking a high-pressure government job is probably a mistake. Alas, that’s the career choice of one Mr. Percy Phelps, and when he loses a valuable naval treaty entrusted to his care, he becomes a hyperventilating wreck and spends nine weeks gasping for air while his fiancée ministers to his needs. When all hope appears to be lost, he contacts his old school chum, Watson, and asks if Holmes can help. Keep a paper bag handy while watching in case Percy makes you need to hyperventilate; his performance is nerve-shattering.
While copying the Naval treaty, Percy wants some coffee so he leaves the document on his desk, as one does when entrusted a highly confidential document. In fairness, he believes the office is empty, short of the night porter and a cleaner. While speaking to said porter, someone rings the bell in the very room Percy had been working. He bolts back to the room but the document has gone and the only person seen leaving the building is a charwoman and the document is not in her possession.
Like last week, the motive is simple, but this time it’s greed. Sometimes you don’t need to dig too deeply to see what’s going on. Percy’s bride-to-be has a brother, Joseph Harrison, who dabbles in stocks and is in a particularly bad financial hole when he comes to visit Percy at work one night. Upon arriving at Percy’s office through the back entrance, he rings the bell before spying the titular document on the desk. He absconds with it before anyone knows he was there, planning to sell it at the first opportunity.
It all comes down to the room wherein he hid the document. Upon arriving home, he secrets it away in the bottom of a couch with the hope of recovering it to sell to the highest bidder. Thankfully, Percy’s hypersensitivity, which sends him to the brink of a nervous breakdown, also has the family turn the very room with the hidden document into a makeshift hospital room. This means that there’s never a time when someone isn’t present thus preventing Joseph from recovering the document. Holmes begins to piece it together and arranges for a time when no one will be in the room while he waits to pounce. Harrison goes to retrieve the documents and is intercepted by Holmes.
The episode opens with Holmes conducting chemical experiments to determine if a man is guilty or not. Watson observes the infamous “V.R.” shot into the wall. (This is known to fans as Holmes’ own particular brand of tribute to Victoria Regina, or Queen Victoria.) Another classic Holmesian reference appears when Sherlock offers Watson some tobacco, located in his “Persian slipper” by the mantlepiece. Holmes again smokes his briar pipe, but this time a collection of pipes can be seen on the wall of his office. Holmes uses a cane sword later in the episode as well. Watson’s medical practice is mentioned, and that it is a slow time of year so he could afford to be away for a few days. Watson also states that Holmes has a “French grandma”, to Sherlock’s annoyance.
Most impressively, we learn that of the 53 cases he’s solved for Scotland Yard, he’s only taken any credit for 4 of them. This is especially important when he’s speaking to Inspector Forbes who is a far more arrogant policeman than the previous episode’s Inspector Ross. (Watching Holmes knock him down a peg was almost as rewarding as the final victory!)
Holmes enjoys a touch of the dramatic at the end of this adventure. Having successfully recovered the Naval Treaty for Mr. Phelps, he presents it as part of a meal that Percy uncovers. Percy, delighted, dances about the flat. I confess, Percy is hard to warm to, but Holmes more than makes up for any failings on the side of the guest star. We can’t help but find joy in Holmes’ enthusiasm. Interestingly, the first story saw Holmes fail in his quest, while the second saw him fail to prevent a murder. In this, he allows the villain to escape to avoid public scandal. For being such a success, the Adventures are off to a strange start. ML