Saturday, November 16, 2019
November Meeting: The Naval Treaty
Last weekend found The Parallel Case of St. Louis once again at capacity for our meeting room as we rounded out 2019 with a lively discussion on this month's adventure. Two new members, Kevin and Ota, joined us for their first meetings, and it's always a pleasure to have new folks with us!
There was a lot of news to discuss, but the biggest is that we are moving locations for 2020! Because attendance has grown so much, we barely fit in the meeting room at the Schafly Library anymore, so we will hold all of our meetings next year at The Ethical Society of St. Louis, 9001 Clayton Rd, close to the Galleria Mall. We will meet in the same room that we've hosted our last two movie nights in, so make sure to join us in January at our new home!
And speaking of 2020, here is the schedule of our meetings for next year:
January 11 - The Final Problem
March 14 - The Hound of the Baskervilles
May 9 - The Empty House
July 11 - The Norwood Builder
September 12 - The Dancing Men
November 14 - The Solitary Cyclist
A few members picked up their new Parallel Case membership pin. If you haven't gotten yours yet, plan on bringing $10 to the next meeting and we will be happy to supply you with one!
Other big news involved a new Sherlock Holmes statue just down the road from us in Chester, Illinois. The first permanent granite statue of Sherlock Holmes will be unveiled on Saturday, December 7, just a little over an hour from St. Louis and everyone is invited to join the Chester Baskerville Society in their ceremony! The Parallel Case of St. Louis is sponsoring the paver for The Sign of Four, the storm from which our scion's name came. We have raised half of the $150 sponsorship so far, and we are asking for anyone interested in supporting this exciting offer to make a donation to the Parallel Case's Paypal account at email@example.com If you would prefer to donate by check, please email Rob and he will send you a mailing address. Once we've completed our $150 pledge, it would be great to schedule a group outing to see the statue! Please consider making any donation you can. Thanks!
Those of us that attended the Kirkwood Theatre Guild's performance of "The Game's Afoot" recapped the evening for everyone that couldn't make it out the previous weekend. We all agreed that dinner and a play was a nice social outing and everyone seemed to have a great time.
Mary Schroeder is hosting her annual holiday open house on December 8 from 1-5 at her house in The Hill neighborhood of St. Louis. Mary promises to have her famous Sherlockian Christmas cards on display and you know you'll find some fine folks to spend the afternoon with at her house! If you didn't receive the email announcement with Mary's address, please let us know and we will be happy to send it to you. Hope you can join us!
And speaking of Mary, she had some great thoughts on this month's story, so we posted them as a separate blog. You can check out Mary's strong opinion on The Naval Treaty here.
The Harpooners of the Sea Unicorn had their monthly meeting last night in St. Charles to discuss The Mazarin Stone. You can watch the Facebook Live video of their meeting here.
Nellie reminded everyone that Webster University was screening Sherlock Jr. starring Buster Keaton and accompanied by live music on Friday night.
Rob and Heather had some books and other items of interest for show and tell. Rob shared Watson Does Not Lie by Paul Thomas Miller, Being Sherlock: A Sherlockian's Stroll Through the Best Sherlock Holmes Stories by Ashley Polasek, and Sherlock Holmes is Everywhere edited by David Marcum. Heather had The Annotated Speckled Band and Sherlock Holmes and the Cryptic Clues both by Michael McClure, and The Sherlock Holmes Challenge Trilogy Box.
And last, but definitely not lease, registration for Holmes in the Heartland is now open! You can register for just Friday and Saturday's events, or all three days at the Holmes in the Heartland page. We are already getting registrations in, so sign up now!
"The Naval Treaty" starts off with Watson receiving a letter from an old schoolmate, Percy Phelps, asking for help. Phelps was in charge of copying a secret treaty between England and Italy and the treaty has been stolen. This gave Phelps brain fever, and he has only just recovered from the 9 week illness. Watson brings this case to Baker Street, where he finds Holmes in the middle of a chemical experiment which will "mean a man his life."
Rob wondered why Holmes took up the case so quickly, having known so little about it. We've seen him dismiss other cases with much more information in other stories. Nellie offered that it could have been early in his career and he was happy for the work. Heather thought it was because Watson had brought the problem to him, and he was happy to help his friend. Adam said that Holmes had just finished up whatever case he was working on with the chemical experiment and wanted something to do immediately before he got bored again. And Michael thought it was because Mycroft had already told Holmes about the missing treaty, so he would have had the facts already.
Holmes and Watson are off to Woking to visit Percy Phelps in his sick room. There they are greeted by Phelps's fiancee's brother, whom Holmes immediately sizes up. He responds with "For a moment I thought you had dome something clever," and dismisses Holmes's deductions. Kevin pointed out that Jabez Wilson said the same thing in REDH, and Rob thought that Holmes should have admired the man because he says so often that his abilities are something that anyone could acquire if they tried.
When they are ushered into the room, Phelps exclaims to Watson, "I should never have known you under that mustache." This is the first of only three mentions of Watson's facial hair in the entire Canon. Michael said that the mustache is probably so iconic for the good doctor because of Paget's illustrations, and Srini pointed out that facial hair was very common among the British military.
Phelps tells Holmes and Watson that his uncle was the Foreign Minister and got Phelps his job at the Foreign Office. Phelps was to copy this secret treaty between Italy and England. Right after this, Phelps's fiancee, Annie Harrison, is described as having an "olive complexion" and "Italian eyes." Rob wondered if this was laid out to be a red herring in the story, but Stacey pointed out that the treaty was to Italy's benefit. Elaine took issue with Watson's description of Miss Harrison as being short and thick
If the treaty was between England and Italy, why was it written and copied in French? Rob, Kevin, Chris, and Stacy had quite a bit of discussion about this, but no one really came up with an argument that pleased everyone.
Phelps has been at work for a while on the treaty and rang the commissionaire. The man's wife came up and took his order for coffee. After a while, Phelps goes to check on the coffee and finds the commissionaire asleep and his wife gone. The bell from Phelps's room rings, and Phelps and the commissionaire run back to the room, but the treaty is gone.
Chris wondered how convenient it was that the thief was so fluent in French that they would be able to identify the important document on site. Ota asked how this theft could have been pulled off so quickly.
Phelps and the commissionaire run outside and find a police officer to report the theft. He says he saw the wife walk by a few minutes ago, but the commissionaire tries to get Phelps to look elsewhere. The wife was arrested, but no papers were found on her. After all of this, Phelps has a breakdown. One of his neighbors and a police officer help him make it home on the train that night. We wondered what happened with the copy of the treaty at this point. Had that been stolen too or was it just left our for everyone to see?
Phelps leaving the treaty unguarded and his handling of the theft led to a big discussion on his character. Chris wondered if he was someone who could handle such a job in the first place. Nellie believed that he had been promoted beyond his ability due to his uncle was. Michael agreed that the system of nobility awarded heredity over merit in such jobs. Our group in general did not feel like Percy Phelps was someone we would trust with a secret.
When Phelps returned home, his brother-in-law Joseph was kicked out of his room to make a sick-room for Phelps. Rob thought that odd that this house wouldn't have another room for Phelps to use to recover in.
After hearing this story, Holmes wanders over to a window, picks up a rose and states, "What a lovely thing a rose is!" Surprising everyone in the room with the non-sequitur, Holmes continues. "There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion,” said he, leaning with his back against the shutters. “It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”
The floodgates really opened up at this point! Chris took Holmes to task for saying that the rose is extra, and not knowing the purpose of its specific parts. Adam said that Holmes was also the man who didn't understand the solar system, and Elaine agreed that he specifically compartmentalized things in his mind.
But the larger question was, what on earth was he doing when he started that soliloquy? Heather thought that Phelps was coming close to disclosing information that Holmes didn't want shared, so he used this as a distraction. Michael said he could have been doing this to get everyone in their room to drop their guard and possibly let something slip. Stacey said perhaps Holmes was thinking out loud; Holmes viewed Phelps and Miss Harrison represent 'goodness' while Joseph did not and Holmes let his mind wander.
Holmes is quiet on the train ride home until they pass the board schools, where he proclaims them to be, "Light-houses my boy! Beacons of the future! Capsules with hundreds of bright little seeds in each one, out of which will spring the wiser, better England of the future." Stacey viewed this as Holmes waxing philosophically.
But then Holmes took a hard left turn and said, "I suppose that man Phelps does not drink?" Rob argued that Holmes's behavior throughout all of this story, jumping at a case he knows little about, deducing Joseph at first sight and not getting miffed by his rebuttal, the talk about the rose, jumping from education to alcoholism, and get getting testy with Watson proved that Holmes was on cocaine during this case. His mind was racing from thought to thought and they all seemed to be spilling out of him at once.
Also on the train ride back, Holmes says that he knew about the fiancee and her brother. "I've been making a few independent inquiries you see." Rob wanted to know when he could have done this. Watson brought him the problem, they left from Baker Street to the train, arrived at Woking and met with Phelps, and were then on the train home at this point. There was no downtime in the narrative for Holmes to make these inquiries. Chris said that this proved that Holmes already knew about the missing treaty and had made these inquiries before Watson had shown up with Phelps's letter.
Holmes and Watson head to Scotland Yard and are met by an Inspector Forbes who expects Holmes to "use all the information that the police can lay at your disposal, and then you try to finish the case yourself and bring discredit on them." Even though Holmes set the man straight, we could only wonder just how many other Yarders had this opinion of Sherlock Holmes.
Forbes can only say that the commissionaire's wife and another man working in Phelps's office have been investigated, but nothing has shown up. So Holmes and Watson interview the Foreign Minister, and Phelps's uncle, Lord Holdhurst. He feels that the treaty hasn't been sold, possibly because the thief has been suffering from brain fever.
Nellie posited that if Phelps were going to sell the treaty, why not just make an extra copy of it instead of stealing it? The fact that Holdhurst doesn't give his nephew enough credit to think of this proves that Phelps was unqualified for his position in the Foreign Office. Kevin offered that the ringing bell proves the Phelps wasn't in the room when the treaty was stolen and the minister was ignoring that fact.
The next day, Holmes and Watson return to Woking with no news but find that someone tried to break into Phelps's room the previous night. Making sure Miss Harrison does not leave the sick room, Holmes, Watson, and Joseph search the grounds. After that, Holmes declares that Phelps should return to London with he and Watson.
But at the station, Holmes reveals that he will be staying behind, leaving Watson in charge of Phelps. "Watson, when you reach London, you would oblige me by driving at once to Baker Street without friend here, and remain with him until I see you again." Rob pointed out that Holmes may have well added "And never mind about your wife" to the end of that statement.
The next morning, Holmes arrives back at Baker Street with a bandaged hand. Watson and Phelps want to hear his news, but Holmes refuses to talk about it until after breakfast. Three covered dishes are brought in, but Phelps doesn't take the cover off of his. After some prodding, he finally does and screams. The treaty is on his plate! Phelps gets so excited that he dances around and almost passes out. Good thing Watson has brandy on hand! Nellie pointed out that this is more evidence that Phelps was too excitable for this job.
"It was too bad to spring it on you like this," Holmes admits, "but Watson here will tell you that I never can resist a touch of the dramatic." After finishing breakfast and coffee, Holmes says that he caught Joseph breaking into Phelps's old sick-room to retrieve the treaty. Holmes fought the man to get the treaty but Joseph escaped.
Throughout the whole discussion, the most used word to describe Joseph by everyone in the room was "slimy." He warranted revulsion from every single one of us.
Ota wondered if any of us would have been smart enough to stake out the house that night. Most of us said no.
Mary and Chris both thought that Miss Harrison was much stronger than Phelps and Heather felt bad for the life that the lady had ahead of her with such a weak-willed man. Stacey wondered if Miss Harrison wanted to be in government herself, but couldn't because of her gender. She found someone she could manipulate in Phelps and had a way to have a hand in the government.
As you can see, there were lots of thoughts about this story, and there are sure to be plenty when we meet again in January for The Final Problem. Remember, we will be meeting at the Ethical Society next year, so come at once if convenient!