Tuesday, January 18, 2022

January Meeting: The Second Stain

Josh Harvey got special recognition on the latest episode of The Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes Podcast for his extensive knowledge of the music used on that show.

We’ve had two really great blog posts recently about this month’s story, The Second Stain.  Rich posted in December and Bill had this month’s post.

Rob announced a new book from Wessex Press, The Finest Assorted Collection, and his new book of essays, The Common-Place Book.

The Legion of Zoom will be hosting an online conference on February 20.

Holmes, Doyle, and Friends will take place in Dayton, Ohio on March 11 & 12.

221B Con will take place in Atlanta, Georgia on April 8-10.

DePaul University’s Pop Culture Conference, “A Celebration of Sherlock Holmes” will take place in Chicago, Illinois on May 7.

The BSI will be hosting “Sherlock Holmes and the British Empire” in Bear Mountain, New York on July 29-31.

Our next meeting will be on March 19 via Zoom to discuss The Valley of Fear.  Registration for that meeting will open on our Facebook page next month.

SECO starts off with a lot of information in its first paragraph: "Abbey Grange" was supposed to be the last story of the Canon. Holmes has retired to raise bees on the Sussex Downs. Watson had promised his readers that "The Second Stain" would be published eventually (in "The Naval Treaty" and "Yellow Face") and he was able to convince Holmes to let him publish this story because it was so important.

Rob noted that based off of the publication date, Holmes had only been retired for two months, so Watson couldn’t have been badgering him for too long about getting this in print.

In an unnamed year and an unnamed decade, Baker Street is visited by the Prime Minister, Lord Bellinger, and the Secretary for European Affair, Trelawney Hope.  So much has been written about who these characters would have been in real life, but we wanted to get on with the story and didn’t spend much time arguing which Prime Minister it could be.

A document has gone missing and "peace or war may hang upon the issue."

It was a letter from a foreign potentate (most researchers think this would have been Kaiser Wilhelm II) that arrived six days ago.  Hope kept the letter with him either in a safe at work or a locked dispatch box at home.  It was in his room, unguarded, from 7:30-11:30 the previous night.  And the letter was gone this morning.

Hope testifies that no one goes into his room.  Except for Hope, his wife, the housemaid, his valet, his wife’s maid… you know, no one!  Sonia said this setup reminded her of the “safety” in “The Beryl Coronet” and Ian pointed out that it was common practice for government officials to carry documents to and from work in their red boxes.  Sandy thought that the answer was always that the butler did it.  Susan pointed out that servants weren’t considered people and Beth thought it would be petrifying for these people to think about what all their servants could know about them.

Holmes asks for the specifics of the letter and the Prime Minister describes its physical shape and envelope.  When Holmes asks for the letter’s contents, he is told that it was a state secret, to which Holmes replies, “I regret exceedingly that I cannot help you in this matter, and any continuation of this interview would be a waste of time.”

Bellinger gets mad and “for a minute or more we all sat in silence.”  Holmes is not playing games.  Either he gets the information or he’s not interested.  Patrick noted how awkward that full minute must have been.

Finally the Prime Minister concedes and tells him that the potentate fired off a hasty letter which used language that if it were made public, the public opinion would be so hostile that it would lead to war.  But the potentate now regrets sending it and wants it recovered just as much as the British government does.  

Kevin noted that the Prime Minister still didn’t tell Holmes what exactly was in that letter.

Rich pointed out that the Prime Minister told Bellinger that he could not be blamed because there was no precaution he failed to take.  Rich then rattled off half a dozen precautions that could have been done.

Michael pointed out that Parliament passed the Official Secrets Act in 1899, so depending on where this story falls in chronology, it could or could not have been used against Lady Hilda or Trelawney Hope.  Rob said that many chronologies list this as an early case so most of them have it before this act.

Holmes’s response to the Prime Minister’s disclosure?  Prepare for war.  If the letter disappeared 12 hours ago, it is most likely in the hands of one of the top three spies in London.  Holmes will check on them to proceed but he doesn’t have high hopes.  

Bellinger and Hope leave and Holmes begins to think over the problem.  He tells Watson that he will try to buy the letter back from whichever spy has it.  It is most likely with either La Rothiere, Oberstein, or Edwardo Lucas. Rob noted how he loves that Oberstein is used again in “The Bruce-Partington Plans.”  There’s at least a little bit of continuity in the Canon!

Watson: You won’t talk to Edwardo Lucas.  He was murdered last night.  It’s always great when Watson knows something Holmes doesn’t!

Patrick noted how well this was executed in the Granada series and Kevin talked about the extra lines that were added to this conversation, maybe even improving on the original.

A constable discovered that Lucas’s house was in disarray and Lucas was stabbed in the heart with a dagger that was on display in his room.  Watson says this is an amazing coincidence.  Holmes: “The odds are enormous against its being a coincidence.”

Andy said maybe Holmes subscribed to the NCIS theory that there’s no such thing as coincidences and Rob said Holmes is wrong because it WAS a coincidence.  Madeline dismantled that point by saying Lucas’s wife seeing him with Lady Hilda could have provoked the attack, making it NOT a coincidence.  Michael pointed out that it wasn't just any woman, but one of the most beautiful women Watson had ever seen.

Right after this, Lady Hilda visits Baker Street and Watson is immediately smitten.  She wants to know what exactly was stolen from her husband.  Obviously, Holmes doesn’t tell her and she asks if her husband’s career will suffer to which Holmes says yes.

After she leaves, Holmes turns to Watson.  “Now, Watson, the fair sex is your department.”  Rob wondered why Holmes would ask for Watson’s take on the situation.  He knows Watson is always swayed by a pretty face!

Elaine announced that she was happy to read this story just so she could remember that there was at least one happy story in the Canon.  Shana pushed back and said that Lady Hilda’s fear of her husband finding out about a previous relationship could prove that it was not a happy marriage.  Kevin wondered if Lady Hilda’s letter was as scandalous as the one in Sherlock Holmes’s Smarter Brother.  

Watson tells us that “[a]ll that day and the next and the next Holmes was in a mood which his friends would call taciturn.”  Rob wondered just who these “friends” of Sherlock Holmes were.  Alisha argued that the word “friend” probably meant a different thing to Watson than it did to Holmes.  Sandy noted all of the people Holmes kept in contact with and Patrick said maybe Watson considered them his friends.  Jerry said it was just like Facebook friends.

Finally it was discovered that Mrs. Henri Fournaye was found out of her mind in Paris.  She is actually Eduardo Lucas’s wife in his double life.  She was the one who killed the spy.  Holmes notes that what is important now is that nothing has happened in international relations, proving that the letter has not been used.  The letter that did nothing in the night-time.  Rich talked about how this argument works in the legal field as well.

Lestrade calls Holmes over to Lucas’s house over a trifle that he thinks Holmes might find interesting.  The blood stain on the carpet doesn’t line up with the stain on the floor.  After looking, Holmes tells Lestrade that his constable has let someone into the house and Lestrade storms off to confront the man.

Holmes scrabbles over the floor to find a hiding place.  Once he does, it’s empty!  We took a moment to discuss just how great this scene was in the Granada episode.

Lestrade brings the constable in to tell Holmes and Watson his story, taking full credit for figuring out the man’s negligence.  On the way out of the house, Holmes shows the constable a picture and he gasps, closing the last link in Holmes’s chain of deductions.

Rob wondered why Holmes would have a picture of Lady Hilda on him during the investigation.  Elaine said she thought Holmes probably suspected her involvement since she had visited Baker Street.

Holmes and Watson are off to see Lady Hilda.  He gives her two chances to come clean, telling her exactly what happened and she denies it both times.  Finally Holmes says he will wait and tell her husband.  That ends the discussion.

Lady Hilda gives Holmes the papers and he slips them back into the dispatch box.  Rob wondered why he didn’t just deliver them to Hope or Bellinger.  He could have his dramatic moment and still say he has his diplomatic secrets.  This way makes Trelawney Hope look like a real idiot.  “Sorry about all of that war talk, cabinet ministers.  Turns out I didn’t look closely enough!”  There was a pretty spirited discussion from our group if Holmes should have hand delivered his the lost letter or if he was right to put it back in the dispatch box.

Lady Hilda tells Holmes her story, that Lucas blackmailed her into giving him the letter because of some letters she wrote to another man before she was married.  Is this really a fair trade?  Madeline wondered if Lucas could’ve gotten this love letter from Charles Augustus Milverton.

Alisha detailed all of Lady Hilda’s events from that night and was amazed that she could accomplish all of that in four hours.  Sandy wondered if she could have made an impression of the key on a previous night.

Rich wondered what was more important: protecting Lady Hilda’s marriage or exposing a spy in the government?  Alisha offered that Mycroft could have taken care of the spy after Holmes cleared up the crime.

We talked a bit about the spy that Lucas had in the foreign office.  Why wasn’t this man exposed?  Patrick wondered how the spy knew about it in the first place and Ian said subordinates would often be in and out of Minister’s boxes during the day.  Andy said it seemed about as secure as the locks sold at Wal-Mart.

The Prime Minister can smell something fishy and asks Holmes if the papers had really been in Hope’s dispatch box all along.  He responds, “We also have our diplomatic secrets,” and gets out of the house quickly.  No more questions, please!

We went round and round, discussing if Trelawney Hope’s career would be affected by this.  People in our group came down on all sides of this debate.  

Michael noted that this whole issue was caused by imprudent letters and Kevin said that’s why we should think twice before posting to Facebook.

Despite all of the issues, Michael hoped that Trelawney and Hilda went on to have a happy marriage and a baby so there would be a little Hope in their lives.

Don’t forget to join us back on Zoom on March 19 to discuss The Valley of Fear.  Come at once if convenient!

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Katham by William Cochran


by William R. Cochran, BSI OEH 

“The Adventure of the Second Stain” has proven to be an enigma of the first order. It would seem that this narrative has more lives than Watson has wives — according to the dean of Sherlockian Scholars, H. W. Bell —who cites not one, nor two, but possibly three isolated mentions of the case in the Canon.2 No less a critic than Anthony Boucher relates Bell’s conundrum:  

“The Second Stain” of 1888 (mentioned in The Naval Treaty), involving Monsieur Dubuque, of the Paris police, and Fritz von Waldbaum, the well-known specialist of Danzig, is certainly not the story later told in full. But “The Second Stain” referred to in 1890 (in The Veiled Lodger) is quite possibly the published story. In this (H. W. Bell’s Second Stain I) ‘it chanced that even when [Holmes] erred the truth was still discovered,’ which is true of the published Second Stain if one views it from the aspect of the murder of Eduardo Lucas, which was solved by chance, quite without the efforts of Holmes.3 

It would seem that many critics believe this Canonical trinity were all were the same narrative.  Many point to the extreme security surrounding the actual case being at fault for the omission of these facts in the published account. 

To arrive at the truth, one must, first eliminate the impossible. It is mentioned in the canon in various forms 3 times. The first mention of the case is names the case, and appears to date the case based upon his mention of his marriage in “The Naval Treaty,” 1887-1889. However, since Watson was married more than once, one must ponder which one. 

THE July which immediately succeeded my marriage was made memorable by three cases of interest in which I had the privilege of being associated with Sherlock Holmes, and of studying his methods. I find them recorded in my notes under the headings of “The Adventure of the Second Stain,” “The Adventure of the Naval Treaty,” and “The Adventure of the Tired Captain.” The first of these, however, deals with interests of such importance, and implicates so many of the first families in the kingdom, that for many years it will be impossible to make it public. 

The pertinent data contained in this statement is that the month was July. If Watson is referring to his first marriage to Mary Morstan. The consensus of the chronologists would place the date as early 1887 and as late as 1889. This three year period mirrors the time spent on Hiatus from May 1891 to 05 April 1894. 

In regards to Mary Morstan, a perusal of 15 opinions about the dating of The Sign of Four, only Ernest Bloomfield Zeisler in his Baker Street Chronology lists a month for the case that would allow the Watsons to wed before July. Seven chronologists pick September; however, of the remaining opinions three select July or September, and only five select July. The arguments presented by the chronologists would fill volumes, and never reach a consensus opinion. Therefore, because the decided majority have selected September, it would seem that because “The Naval Treaty” states the case succeeded his marriage, it appears it cannot eliminate Watson’s marriage to Mary Morstan.  If one examines “The Second Stain” referred to in “The Veiled Lodger” one is again confronted with some conundrums. 

I may say that the writers of agonized letters, who beg that the honour of their families or the reputation of famous forebears may not be touched, have nothing to fear. The discretion and high sense of professional honour which have always distinguished my friend are still at work in the choice of these memoirs, and no confidence will be abused. 

The reference to “The Second Stain” is rather oblique in this case which was not published until 1927. Chronologists date this case as having taken place in 1896. Mary Morstan died before Holmes’s return from ‘”The Great Hiatus” in 1894. It is probable that this reference refers to the time of this earlier case, but, it allows for the argument that ‘”The Second Stain” occurred before 1896.  Once again, there is no tangible truth to unravel the conundrum. 

An examination of the available evidence above does allow that these two mentions are referencing the published case. In the first instance, the narrative mentions “Monsieur Dubuque, of the Paris police, and Fritz von Waldbaum, the well-known specialist of Danzig.” Eduardo Lucas  did live in Paris. It is probable that Holmes does contact these gentlemen about Eduardo, but it does not appear in the narrative because once Lucas is discovered murdered in his apartment, it does not concern Holmes who was hired to recover the important document, not solve the murder. In regard to the second mention above, the case does involve “discretion and high sense of professional honour.” However, all they establish is that the case did not take place prior to1888. 

In an effort to refute the validity of the case many critics report that for one reason or another that facts were either changed, omitted, or possibly altered, to protect the great detective’s reputation.  It is doubtful that the latter is true. Holmes has often allowed the police to handle the matter—  when the consequence does not involve the outcome of his case. The death of Eduardo Lucas and the recovery of the missing letter brought Holmes’s involvement in the case to an end. Therefore, it is more probable that the facts that were suppressed were those involving the true second stain mentioned in the title. 

Considering Holmes’s errors, it is not as if the data provided by the Right Honourable Trelawney Hope, Secretary for European Affairs, was consistent and accurate. When asked how many had entered the room where the purloined document was kept, his answer was “No one is ever permitted to enter that room.” By definition, "No one” means: “no person : nobody.4 Every thing seems cloudy, because if nobody entered the room, how did the letter disappear? However, Hope elaborates: “save the housemaid in the morning, and my valet, or my wife’s maid, during the rest of the day. They are both trusty servants who have been with us for some time (my emphasis).” Need I mention that “both” relates to two, not three servants. Perhaps it was a slip by Watson, or something else altogether. Note carefully that the third person mentioned in this list is Mrs. Hope’s maid.  Holmes, who usually notes such anomalies in someone’s narrative, begins to grow impatient with the subject — believing they may not have been forthcoming with the truth, and dismisses them altogether. For example, later in the narrative Hope refuses to tell him about the contents of the document that can ruin reputations and lead to war, Holmes threatens to leave. Yet, in this instance, he appears to not notice the reference to the third servant, and moves on. Such incidents as these raise questions concerning Holmes’s diminishing powers of observation. 

One critic was certain that Watson was either in error, or he intended to show Holmes’s abilities have fallen into decay. “Could it be that Watson, in a sort of get-even-for-once mood, was somewhat pleased to be recounting how seven times in a single case Holmes displayed weaknesses one would expect only of a dull assistant?”5 Suffice it to say that John H. Watson, who has been the brunt of Holmes’s sharp tongue in the past, never tried to get even; therefore, why should he do so now? There is another, more probable resolution — Holmes has a plan, and he uses these strange, out of character behaviors in order to distract everyone else in order to discover why she was involved. Based on the plethora of critics discussing Holmes’s bumbling, it would seem that his plan his plan worked to perfection. 

Perhaps a careful study of Watson’s use of noun stain in the title will reveal what it was that Holmes observes, and what others have completely missed. As noted above, many prominent scholars have found dating the case difficult, yet others have concentrated on the “out of character” behavior of the detective. Very few discussions have centered on the significance of the stain in the title. Remember that Holmes has stated, “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact,”6 and the literal stains found on the rug, and the corresponding stain on the floor, are in fact the same stain. If this is so, then where is the second stain of the title? Like the three servants being mentioned as “both,” the purported two stains are but one stain. Thus, an examination of the varied meanings for the word stain may well be a good starting point.  

A physical stain, such as the rug and the floor, can be removed through the use of soap, or a chemical cleaner. It is more likely that Watson’s title refers to a permanent stain that cannot be erased. Is it a mere coincidence that Holmes remarks “Now, Watson, the fair sex is your department,” said Holmes, with a smile, when the dwindling frou-frou of skirts had ended in the slam of the front door. “What was the fair lady’s game? What did she really want?” What did Holmes observe that Watson did not? Watson’s lengthy description of Lady Hope’s physical appearance is consistent with all of his Canonical descriptions of the ladies, but he did not observe.  Following the departure of Lady Hope from their quarters, Holmes departs for 16 Godolfin Street alone. Why did he not invite Watson? 

A careful study of the types of stains may well explain why Holmes went alone. The Oxford English Dictionary7takes three pages to define the word stain. Yet, It is definition one: “the action of staining, pollution, disgrace,” that reveals this mysterious state of being unclean. This would be the case of Cain who slew his brother Abel. Ironically, in his discussion with God, Cain protests that if banished, others might kill him. As much as God loved Abel, he decides to protect Cain by stating: “‘15 In that case, whoever kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.’ And He placed a mark on Cain so that whoever found him would not kill him.”8 This mark was a brand, a stigma, a stain — a symbol of his disgrace. It cannot be removed. 

There is also the case of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. As the play unfolds, the audience observes Lady Macbeth whose ambition has driven her to cajole her husband into murdering King Duncan to purloin the throne of Scotland. Her ambition has led to sleepless nights as she wrestles with her conscious, imagining the stain of her sin, something that no mortal can wash away.9 The behavior of Lady Macbeth, and her infamous nocturnal admission: “Out, damned spot! out, I say!” reveals a stain that is only present in her own mind. This is what Holmes observes in Lady Hope–her fear of being discovered. Having first judged her character, he suspects that someone has forced her to steal the document, and knowing Eduardo Lucas is involved, he deduces that she is somehow tied to him. 

Watson notes the stunning presence of Lady Hilda Trelawney Hope, yet Holmes observes something quite unique. He discovers that in her mind, she has committed not one but two sins. The first was the indiscretion that led to her being blackmailed by Eduardo Lucas in the first place. The second was taking the letter to Lucas to save her marriage. She did not realize that her impulsive act to save her marriage will destroy her husband. Holmes’s concern for Lady Hope would tend to indicate that the narrative must have taken place after Holmes returned from the Great Hiatus in 1891, because before this time he was not concerned with how his results will affect the lives of those involved. This would quantify Bell’s third theorem, SECO III,10on the dating of the case as the correct version of this adventure. Bell places the date of the case that was published as occurring in the year 1894 — post-hiatus. 

Lady Hope has intimate secrets that she has kept from her husband. Will she share these secrets with her husband? “‘Take your husband into your confidence.’ he tells her.” To which she pleads she cannot. It makes one wonder what types of secrets these young Victorian/Edwardian women write in these letters? Lady Hope’s offense was “an indiscreet letter written before my marriage—a foolish letter, a letter of an impulsive, loving girl.” It is hard to imagine that the man she came to love would throw her out for something that happened long before their marriage. Read Watson’s detailed description of her. I would dare say Watson would have kept her if she had written these letters the night before the wedding. However, we have her word on it: “For his own honour stands so high that he could not forget or pardon a lapse in another.” This view of her husband would tend to indicate that the title may well relate to her husband’s arrogance, pride, and his refusal to forgive her for “a foolish letter, a letter of an impulsive, loving girl.” Lady Hope admits what she did was foolish, but it is not a crime, nor a sin to be foolish. The sin is all in her own mind.  

It would appear that Lady Hope would be better off without such an unforgiving man, but Holmes realizes that his wife is the source of Hope’s backbone. Without her he is the sniveling, anxious man who first visited Holmes at Baker street. She is a woman of action, though sometimes too impulsive. She is honest to a fault. It is clear that Sherlock Holmes has determined that saving Lady Hilda Trelawney Hope’s reputation and her marriage is more important than the discovery of who murdered Eduardo Lucas. Lucas is a blackmailer and an international spy. Contrary to what some may suggest, allowing the official force to sort out who killed him is not new behavior for Sherlock Holmes. In “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton,” Holmes reacts in the same manner as he remarks to Lestrade:  

“I knew this fellow Milverton, that I considered him one of the most dangerous men in London, and that I think there are certain crimes which the law cannot touch, and which therefore, to some extent, justify private revenge. No, it's no use arguing. I have made up my mind. My sympathies are with the criminals rather than with the victim, and I will not handle this case.”  

It is evident that contrary to what one sees in the narrative, one observes that Sherlock Holmes knew what he was doing every step of the way. The only evident mistakes are those were made by those who overlooked the obvious facts. 

End Notes 

1. Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary: a primitive root; properly, to carve or engrave, i.e. (by implication) to inscribe indelibly:--mark. 

2. Bell, H. W., Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: The Chronology of Their Adventures, New York: The Baker Street Irregulars, 1953. 

3. Boucher, Anthony. in “From the Editor’s Commonplace Book,” BSJ (os) 2:1 (January 1947) pp. 60—61. 

4. “no one”: retrieved from The Miriam-Webster online dictionary

5. Roberts, Aubrey C. “The Real Second Stain: A Tarnished Idol, The Baker Street Journal, ed. Peter Blau, 32:4 (December 1982) p. 227. 

6. “The Boscombe Valley Mystery” 

7. The Compact Edition of The Oxford English Dictionary, vol. II, Oxford, England: Oxford UP,  May 1979, pp. 774-6. 

8. The Holy Bible, “Genesis 4" 

9. Jeremiah 2:22. “Even if you wash with lye and use a great amount of soap, the stain of your sin is still in front of Me.” 

10. Bell, p. 78.