Unlike the last episode, this one stood out to me as a very good story upon my first reading it, although one wonders how our peers at Scotland Yard would fail to miss so obvious a clue as a rotated rug. Still, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
In this story, we have a similar case to season one’s The Naval Treaty. A top secret document held by a high ranking government official has gone missing and Holmes is called into service again. Of course, being big on the concept of the show, I have to ask how many of Watson’s cases are going to cast a bad light on someone when the truth comes out. Surely this is one such case that will make some people in power a bit annoyed.
A top secret document is so secret that the Prime Minister’s aide, the awesomely named Trelawney Hope, carries it to and fro between work and his home office. He locks it up in his home while there, and brings it to the office to lock up while at work. He refuses to let the thing out of his sight. Then one night while his wife is at the theater, he leaves it out of his sight. Didn’t see that coming, so you bet: it goes missing.
I begin to see that Doyle’s creation isn’t alone in thinking women the weaker sex for it’s not Holmes who actually writes these tales, but Doyle himself! Hope’s wife, the also awesomely named Lady Hilda Trelawney Hope, is being blackmailed with some photo of an indiscretion in her youth. As this was before her marriage to Trelawney, one wonders how big a deal this would be by today’s standards, but at the time of the adventure, there were certain codes of etiquette that would have ruined their respective reputations. She is asked to get this secret document from her husband and the black mark on her reputation, and by extension, on her husband, can be destroyed. She absconds with it on the night of her “theater visit” and presents it to the blackmailer. But then things get more complicated.
The blackmailer, Eduardo Lucas, has an angry wife. When she comes in to see him speaking with Lady Hilda, she assumes he’s up to a different kind of “no good”. Hilda leaves but is unaware of that Lucas’ wife kills him out of jealousy. Talk about a lucky break…
While investigating, Holmes encounters Lestrade, who takes him and Watson to the scene of the crime. When Lestrade points out the bloody carpet that has no corresponding mark on the wood beneath, Holmes figures out that the carpet had been rotated, and begins looking for a hiding place underneath. Finding it, however, reveals nothing. That’s because just before she left, Lady Hilda saw where Lucas was putting the secret document and returns to the scene of the crime the next day, finagles her way into the room then “passes out”. While the constable on duty goes to fetch help, she locates the document and leaves with it. As luck would have it, its contents are never revealed to anyone as the blackmailer was killed before he could do anything with it.
Holmes again shows a disregard for authority even dismissing the Prime Minister. He also continues to think less of women: “The fair sex is your department, Watson.” (A statement that I would argue contradicts the belief by “shippers” who like to speculate that more goes on with Watson and Holmes than is explicitly stated.)
Holmes: The motives of women are so inscrutable. I mean, how can you build on such a quicksand? Their most trivial action may mean volumes or their most extraordinary conduct may depend upon a hairpin or a curling tong!
Holmes isn’t alone in his thoughts: Hope himself ends with saying to his wife that “though it is hard for you to understand…” and yet, she seems miles ahead of all of them. When she meets with Holmes and Watson in their rooms, she positions herself cleverly so her expressions cannot be easily read. She stays steps ahead of the men in the story from start to finish. Hard to understand?! She outwits everyone!
“It is a capital mistake to theorize in advance of the facts” – hands down one of my favorite of Sherlock’s maxims appears in this story. Perhaps showing a more fallible side of Holmes, this is also an episode where he lights a cigarette then throws the match thoughtlessly to the side, only for it to set fire to the newspapers, nearly burning down 221B.
One question I kept asking was: why was the carpet rotated to begin with? When Lucas was found dead, he certainly didn’t decide to rotate it. Of course another good question would be: why would one carry a sensitive document and lock it up in one’s home? Surely that would be better suited in an office safe. And most importantly, the resolution has Holmes confront Lady Hilda, retrieve the document, then cleverly plant it so it looks like it never left its occupant, much to Trelawney Hope’s embarrassment. Now, while this is a wonderful moment, it does beg the question about Watson releasing this information as it shows what really happened which would make the Prime Minister and Hope look particularly foolish. While the contents were never seen by anyone else, it would be an embarrassment, at the very least. Perhaps this is one of those stories that get released after all the key players are deceased. Watson was always thoughtful like that. This episode is another example of those thoroughly enjoyable adventures where Holmes saves the country again. ML