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The 17 Steps: Shoscombe Old Place

The 17 Steps: Shoscombe Old Place

Seventeen thoughts for further ponderance of the case at hand – Shoscombe Old Place (SHOS)

‘I also have a question to ask you, Sir Robert,’ he said in his sternest tone. – Illustration by Frank Wiles in The Strand Magazine, April 1927


“Is it one of your cases?” Watson asks Holmes of his microscope study.

“No; my friend, Merivale, of the Yard, asked me to look into the case.”

If the matter of the dead policeman wasn’t Holmes’s case, it would seem Merivale only brought the cap to Holmes for forensic work. Was he the only outlet Scotland Yard had for the scientific study of evidence at the time? Or was this a sign of his friendship for Merivale?

“Since I ran down that coiner by the zinc and copper filings in the seam of his cuff they have begun to realize the importance of the microscope.”

Wouldn’t Holmes have had the culprit if he had his cuff? Could Scotland Yard search a suspect’s home and take his shirt?

Did Holmes purposely stay “forensics only” with the picture-frame maker case because it involved a cop-killing and he wanted to allow the police to deal with the murder of one of their own? Would the men of the Yard have worried too much about corroborating evidence once they had someone they thought had killed a fellow cop? Or was Merivale trying to make sure his fellow officers didn’t come down with a vengeance on an innocent man?

“By the way, Watson, you know something of racing?”

“I ought to. I pay for it with about half my wound pension.”

Obviously, Watson’s not hurting for cash if he fritters his pension money away at the track. So what were his sources of income at the time of this case? Did he have any responsibilities to worry about saving money for? What age would he have had to have been to be collecting a wound pension?

“He lives at Shoscombe Old Place, and I know it well, for my summer quarters were down there once.”

Is Watson referring to a place he stayed for a single vacation, or a place he owned and returned to for several seasons? If the latter, when in his life could this have occurred?

“There are the Shoscombe spaniels. You hear of them at every dog show. The most exclusive breed in England. They are the special pride of the lady of Shoscombe Old Place.”

Were the Shoscombe spaniels a breed unto themselves? What qualities would make one set of spaniels more desirable than another, and how exclusive would they have been? How long could a particular breed be expected to breed true?

“It was when he horsewhipped Sam Brewer, the well-known Curzon Street money-lender, on Newmarket Heath. He nearly killed the man.”

Would the horsewhip referred to be a stiff buggy-whip type or more of the bullwhip variety? What manner of abuse would it take to nearly kill a man with a such a whip? Wouldn’t it have taken a lot of time? Why wouldn’t someone intervene in that time?

Watson writes, “The door had opened and the page had shown in a tall, clean-shaven man with the firm, austere expression which is only seen upon those who have to control horses or boys.”

Riding herd on a family of wound-up boys can take the humor out of a person surely enough, but horses? Are they that hard to get along with, that one would expect a horse trainer to be so austere?

“It was burned to a black cinder, but there could be no question as to its anatomical significance.”

“‘It’s the upper condyle of a human femur,’ said I.”

Can one burn an entire skeleton in the standard heating furnace? Would we have expect more than a femur to be left?

“A highly coloured young woman with flaxen hair and impudent eyes sat on the left.”

Okay, we know by the “flaxen” hair that Carrie Evans is a blonde. But what does Watson mean by “highly coloured”? Lots of make-up or lots of freckles? Rosy red cheeks or flashy outfits?

“My companion seemed to have no further plans for the day, and we did actually use our fishing tackle in the mill-stream, with the result that we had a dish of trout for our supper.”

When Holmes shows a skill not related to the field of detection, one can’t help but wonder if it relates to his childhood. Does trout-fishing give us a clue as to where Sherlock Holmes grew up? When might he have learned to fish, if not as a child, and why would he have taken it up during his crime-obsessed years?

“The rack above us was covered with a formidable litter of rods, reels, and baskets. On reaching our destination a short drive took us to an old-fashioned tavern, where a sporting host, Josiah Barnes, entered eagerly into our plans for the extirpation of the fish of the neighbourhood.”

While Holmes and Watson wind up going after trout, there is much talk of pike, jack, eels, and dace. How much different equipment would they need for all these different types of fish?

“Holmes had lit his lantern, which shot a tiny tunnel of vivid yellow light upon the mournful scene.”

From the fact it has a directed beam, one would guess Holmes is using a dark lantern. But would such a lamp put out a yellow-colored beam? Isn’t firelight basically white?

“Holmes set to work making a very careful examination of the graves, ranging from a very ancient one, which appeared to be Saxon, in the centre, through a long line of Norman Hugos and Odos, until we reached the Sir William and Sir Denis Falder of the eighteenth century.”

Considering the hundreds and hundreds of years represented in this crypt, wouldn’t it have had to be pretty large? Whose remains would have been allowed in it, and whose wouldn’t?

Sir Robert explains, “I am running a dark horse for the Derby and that everything depends upon my success. If I win, all is easy. If I lose–well, I dare not think of that!”

“I understand the position,” Holmes replies.

What does this statement say, if anything, about Holmes’s actions in “Silver Blaze”? Had Holmes invested a large share of his wordly possesions at that time on his inside knowledge about Silver Blaze, just as Sir Robert was doing this time?

“Shoscombe Prince did win the Derby, the sporting owner did net eighty thousand pounds in bets, and the creditors did hold their hand until the race was over, when they were paid in full, and enough was left to reestablish Sir Robert in a fair position in life.”

Earlier, we were told the odds were “forties now, but it was nearer the hundred when he began to back him.” So how much did Sir Robert have to bet to get his net profits, allowing for the fact he probably borrowed most, if not all of it? How much of the profits would have to be left for him to be in “a fair position for life”?

“Both police and coroner took a lenient view of the transaction, and beyond a mild censure for the delay in registering the lady’s decease, the lucky owner got away scatheless from this strange incident in a career which has now outlived its shadows and promises to end in an honoured old age.”

Did the leniency of all involved have anything to do with inside info on Sir Robert’s “dark horse”? Would he have to have told them the full situation, or could he have kept the money-making part of his scheme quiet?

The Seventeen Steps originally appeared on the Hounds of the Internet e-list from September 2000 to October 2001 and later on the Sherlock Peoria blog.

Brad KeefauverBrad Keefauver, the 41st Garrideb, is the author of The Elementary Methods of Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock and the Ladies, and The Armchair Baskerville Tour. Former publisher of The Holmes & Watson ReportThe Dangling Prussian, and a whole lot of obscure, collectable little things on our boy Sherlock. Keefauver is a member of the Baker Street Irregulars and the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes.

The 17 Steps: The Red Circle

The 17 Steps: The Red Circle

Seventeen thoughts for further ponderance of the case at hand – The Red Circle (REDC)   WHAT’S SHERLOCK GOT AGAINST MRS. WARREN? We begin this case with Holmes saying, “Well, Mrs. Warren, I cannot see that you have any particular cause for uneasiness, nor do I understand why I, whose time is of some value, should interfere… Continue Reading

The 17 Steps: The Devil’s Foot

The 17 Steps: The Devil’s Foot

Seventeen thoughts for further ponderance of the case at hand – The Devil’s Foot (DEVI) “GIVE ME BACK THAT PEN, HOLMES!” Watson begins this tale with: “In recording from time to time some of the curious experiences and interesting recollections which I associate with my long and intimate friendship with Mr. Sherlock Holmes, I have… Continue Reading

The 17 Steps: The Engineer’s Thumb

The 17 Steps: The Engineer’s Thumb

Seventeen thoughts for further ponderance of the case at hand – The Engineer’s Thumb (ENGR) WATSON VERSUS JOURNALISM Watson writes of ENGR: “The story has, I believe, been told more than once in the newspapers, but, like all such narratives, its effect is much less striking when set forth en bloc in a single half-column… Continue Reading

The 17 Steps: The Red-Headed League

The 17 Steps: The Red-Headed League

Seventeen thoughts for further ponderance of the case at hand – The Red-Headed League (REDH) WHO GETS THE SETTEE? As Holmes interviews Jabez Wilson, Dr. Watson wanders in. The courteous pawnbroker, Wilson, half-rises. He looks at somebody with a question in his “fat-encircled eyes.” Next Holmes utters the words, “Try the settee.” In every previous… Continue Reading

The 17 Steps: The Beryl Coronet

The 17 Steps: The Beryl Coronet

Seventeen thoughts for further ponderance of the case at hand – The Beryl Coronet (BERY) THE FINE ART OF PAVEMENT-SCRAPING Watson writes: “Down the centre of Baker Street it had been ploughed into a brown crumbly band by the traffic, but at either side and on the heaped-up edges of the foot-paths it still lay… Continue Reading

The 17 Steps: The Crooked Man

The 17 Steps: The Crooked Man

Seventeen thoughts for further ponderance of the case at hand – The Crooked Man (CROO) HOLMES STOPS BY FOR AN OVERNIGHT Holmes’s overnight stay is an item that it is almost too easy to breeze over in The Crooked Man. The detective shows up on Watson’s doorstep at 11:45 at night, asks if he can… Continue Reading

The 17 Steps: The Retired Colourman

The 17 Steps: The Retired Colourman

Seventeen thoughts for further ponderance of the case at hand – The Retired Colourman (RETI) AND NOW, THE END IS NEAR . . . Sherlock Holmes begins this last tale with a sad soliloquy: “But is not all life pathetic and futile? Is not his story a microcosm of the whole? We reach. We grasp.… Continue Reading

The 17 Steps: Silver Blaze

The 17 Steps: Silver Blaze

Seventeen thoughts for further ponderance of the case at hand – Silver Blaze (SILV) HIS OWN PERSONAL CNN “Fresh editions of every paper had been sent up by our news agent,” Watson writes. We all know London had a lot of papers in those days, but did everyone have a newsagent to deal with their newsprint… Continue Reading

The 17 Steps: The Yellow Face

The 17 Steps: The Yellow Face

Seventeen thoughts for further ponderance of the case at hand – The Yellow Face (YELL)   THE STORY THAT COMES WITH A DISCLAIMER The bracketed paragraph that introduces this story is an interesting commentary on what Watson thought of this story. The good doctor had published tales of Holmes failing before now (A Scandal in Bohemia… Continue Reading