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Shoscombe

Lady Beatrice, her face and shoulders covered, takes her daily carriage ride. Screenshot from the Granada adaptation of "The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place" (1991).

"The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place" is a Sherlock Holmes short story by the British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was first published in the March 5, 1927, issue of the Liberty magazine in the United States and in the April 1927 issue of the Strand Magazine in England. The story was later collected in The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (1927). Although the story was placed second to last in the anthology, before "The Adventure of the Retired Colourman", "The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place" is the last published story of the Sherlock Holmes Canon.

In the story, the brilliant consulting detective Sherlock Holmes is contacted by John Mason, the head trainer at the Shoscombe stables. Mason is alarmed by the strange behavior of his employer, Sir Robert Norberton. Sir Robert is heavily in debt, and he has bet everything he can raise on his horse in the upcoming Derby in the hope of re-establishing himself. The stress has been too much, and Sir Robert has not been himself for the past week. He appears to have quarreled with his ailing sister, Lady Beatrice, upon whom he is financially dependent. He has stopped spending evenings with her, and he has given away her beloved pet spaniel. He has also been seen going into the old church crypt at night with a stranger. Holmes is initially unsure what is to be done about the matter. When Mason produces a charred piece of human bone found in the central furnace, however, he decides to go down to Shoscombe immediately.

"The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place" has been adapted for television and radio.

Plot

Sherlock Holmes receives a letter from a man named John Mason who is the head trainer at the Shoscombe stables in Berkshire. The letter is vague, but the problem appears to concern Mason's employer, Sir Robert Norberton. Dr. Watson, Holmes' friend and housemate, knows Sir Robert by reputation, and is able to supply Holmes with some useful background information. Sir Robert is a bachelor and lives with his widowed sister, Lady Beatrice Falder, at Shoscombe Old Place. The estate belonged to Lady Beatrice's late husband. She has only a life interest so that the estate will revert to her husband's brother after her death. Shoscombe is famous for its stables and also for its very exclusive breed of spaniels. Sir Robert is known as a dangerous man with a bad temper, having once horsewhipped and nearly killed a money lender. He is an athlete, a daredevil rider, and has the reputation of being a lady's man.

As Watson finishes his briefing, the doorbell rings and John Mason enters. Mason begins his story by declaring that Sir Robert seems to have gone mad. Sir Robert, according to Mason, is heavily in debt and has bet everything he could raise on his horse Shoscombe Prince in the upcoming Derby. It is his last chance, and he will be ruined if the horse fails. The stress has been too much for him, and he has been acting quite strangely. Sir Robert and his sister had always been devoted to each other, but there has apparently been a terrible quarrel. Lady Beatrice, who loves the horses as much as Sir Robert does, used to drive down to the stables every morning. The Prince, her favorite, would trot out to get his lump of sugar. For the past week, however, she has driven past the stables showing no interest in the horses. Sir Robert, for his part, has taken away Lady Beatrice's pet spaniel and given it to an innkeeper. Lady Beatrice has a weak heart and keeps mostly to her room. Sir Robert used to spend every evening with her, but he has stopped doing so. Lady Beatrice has been brooding and has taken to drink. In addition to acting strangely towards his sister, Sir Robert has lately been visiting the old church crypt at night. Mason and the butler followed him one night and saw a man waiting for him. They tried to talk to the man after Sir Robert left, but the stranger ran away.

Holmes sits for some time deep in thought then asks who keeps Lady Beatrice company. Mason mentions the lady's maid, Carrie Evans, and hints that the maid is more devoted to Sir Robert than to the lady. Holmes suggests perhaps that has caused the disagreement, but admits it does not explain the business at the old crypt. Mason then tells Holmes about a new development. Sir Robert left for London yesterday, and Mason took the opportunity to go down to the crypt with the butler. They found mummified human remains hidden behind a board in one corner.

Holmes next asks when Sir Robert gave away the dog. Mason answers that it was a week ago. The dog was howling outside the old well house. Sir Robert, who was in a terrible mood, told the jockey to take it away and give it to the innkeeper at the Green Dragon. Holmes sits for a long time smoking his pipe then finally asks Mason what he wants him to do. In response, Mason takes out something wrapped in paper. He unwraps it to reveal a charred piece of bone. Watson identifies it as the condyle of a human femur. Mason says it was found this morning in the central furnace in the cellar. The furnace is unattended during the night so that anyone could have thrown it in, except Sir Robert who is still away in London.

Holmes decides he and Watson will go down to Shoscombe immediately. That evening, they arrive at the Green Dragon carrying fishing rods, reels, and baskets. The innkeeper is eager to discuss local fishing with the vacationing Londoners but warns them to stay away from the Hall lake. He explains that Sir Robert guards the training quarters jealously against spies, and he will deal harshly with any strangers caught trespassing.

The following day, Holmes and Watson borrow the Shoscombe spaniel from the innkeeper and go out for a walk. They come to the Shoscombe Park gates through which, according to the innkeeper, Lady Beatrice's carriage passes everyday at noon. Holmes asks Watson to stop the carriage as it slows down toward the gate. Before long, they spot the carriage in the distance. Holmes hides behind a bush with the dog, leaving Watson standing along the roadway. The gatekeeper runs out and opens the gates. The carriage slows down, and Watson sees a young woman sitting next to an elderly person whose face and shoulders are covered with shawls. He holds up his hand to stop the coach and asks the driver if Sir Robert is at home. At the same moment, Holmes releases the spaniel. The dog dashes excitedly to the carriage and jumps on the step. Then it suddenly turns vicious and snaps at the lady's skirt. A man's voice shrieks "Drive on! Drive on!" and the coachman lashes the horses. Holmes appears satisfied at having proven it is an imposter and not Lady Beatrice in the carriage.

Holmes and Watson spend the rest of the day fishing then walk down to the gates once again after supper. Mason meets them there, having received a note from Holmes, and leads them to the old chapel and down into the crypt. Holmes lights his lantern and asks Mason to show him the bones. Mason leads them to the corner, but the bones are no longer there. After Mason leaves to prepare for Sir Robert's return, Holmes begins to examine the graves. An hour later, he comes to a coffin standing on end near the entrance to the vault. He examines the edges of the lid then, taking out a small crowbar, begins to lever back the front which is secured only by a couple of clamps. The lid is beginning to crack open when they hear noises in the chapel above.

Rapid steps come down and reveal a large, fierce-looking man. Holding up a stable lantern, he glares at Holmes and Watson and demands to know who they are and what they are doing on his property. As he steps forward and raises his walking stick, Holmes steps up and counters with his own question, "Who is this? And what is it doing here?" Then he turns and tears open the lid of the coffin, uncovering a body swathed in a sheet, its face discolored and crumbling. Sir Robert cries out and staggers. He quickly recovers his composure, however, and asks "What business is it of yours?" Holmes calmly introduces himself and states he is there to uphold the law. Sir Robert admits appearances are against him but swears everything is all right and invites Holmes and Watson to the house.

At the house, Sir Robert leaves Holmes and Watson for a moment and returns with two people; a young woman whom they had seen earlier in the carriage, and a small man. Sir Robert introduces them as Mr. and Mrs. Norlette. He explains that Mrs. Norlette has served Lady Beatrice for the past few years under her maiden name of Evans. Sir Robert takes full responsibility for the affair, but he says Mr. and Mrs. Norlette can corroborate his statement. Sir Robert correctly assumes that Holmes is aware of his financial difficulties. He elaborates that he is completely dependent on his sister whose interest in the estate is only for her own lifetime. Her death would prompt all his creditors to seize everything including the stables and the prize horse he has bet everything on.

Sir Robert then reveals that Lady Beatrice died from her illness a week ago. He says he had no choice but to conceal the fact till after the race. Norlette, who is an actor, agreed to impersonate Lady Beatrice. He also helped Sir Robert carry the body to the old well house. Lady Beatrice's spaniel followed them and kept howling at the door, so Sir Robert gave the dog away. They then moved the body to the crypt and placed it in a coffin. Norlette took the old remains they removed and burned them in the furnace.

Watson concludes his narrative with a note that the case ended happily for Sir Robert. Shoscombe Prince won the Derby and Sir Robert made enough money to pay off all his debts and still have enough left over to re-establish himself. As for the delay in registering Lady Beatrice's death, the police and the coroner looked leniently on the matter and did not press charges against him.

Adaptations

"The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place" was adapted as an episode of the BBC Sherlock Holmes television series starring Peter Cushing. The episode first aired in the United Kingdom on December 2,1968.

The story was also adapted for The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes Granada TV series starring Jeremy Brett. The episode was first broadcast on the ITV network in the United Kingdom on March 7, 1991. The adaptation adds a red herring involving the disappearance of Sir Robert's principal creditor. Holmes conducts a more active (and highly irregular) investigation. He lures Sir Robert away from the estate and sneaks into the Hall in his absence to examine the furnace and the lady's bedroom. The character of the maid's husband is replaced by the innkeeper's son (played by Jude Law who would later go on to portray Dr. Watson in the movie Sherlock Holmes series starring Robert Downey, Jr.).

"The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place" has been dramatized many times for various radio adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes series. The first version, an episode of the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes show starring Richard Gordon, was broadcast in America on March 30, 1931 by NBC. Other notable radio adaptations include those done for The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series with Basil Rathbone (first broadcast on NBC on February 12, 1940) and for The BBC Presents: Sherlock Holmes series starring Clive Merrison (first aired on BBC Radio 4 on March 22, 1995).

See also

  • "Silver Blaze", another Sherlock Holmes story involving a champion racehorse in which a dog provides an important clue.

External links