“The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb” Or, Holmes must be bored out of his mind!

“The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb” was published in March 1892 and takes place Saturday, September 7 to Sunday, September 8, 1889. Even Baring-Gould’s attempts to date the case seem half-hearted, relying only on the time of the sunrise and the fact that no one in Victorian England worked on a Sunday. There are no weather reports at all! Speaking of weather reports, know what else has been missing lately? That’s right! Moriarty! Still out kicking puppies and knocking over sand castles, I guess. Biding his time.

Aside from that, the Holmesians don’t have much to say. And I can’t really blame them – this is, I think, the first short story in which Not Much Happens. Okay, to be fair, we do get a bit of a sensational thrill, I’m sure, from Hatherley’s grisly tale, but honestly, I’m not sure why Holmes took the “case” unless he was at the very end of his rope or just trying to humor Watson. There’s no mystery here – Hatherley himself realizes what’s going on eventually. The only thing Holmes works out is the misleading length of the late-night carriage ride, but other than that, it’s really not clear why he didn’t just go straight to Scotland Yard!

But there are a couple things. Baring-Gould says that, although there is no Eyford in Berkshire, there is an Eyford in Gloucestershire (though not on the railway) (BG, 213). However, it would seem that even this Eyford has somehow gone missing between 1967 and 2005 because on page 272 of NA, Leslie says ‘there is no Eyford in Berkshire or anywhere else in England, for that matter. Joseph H. Gillies identifies the town as “Twyford” near the borders of Oxfordshire.’ Now this is an interesting case that I think would do Holmes good to pick up – The Adventure of the Missing Town! (I’ll feel really bad if something horribly tragic happened to wipe Eyford off the map since Baring-Gould wrote his book, but I assume Leslie would have mentioned something like that…)

If I want to get something published in a Sherlockian journal, I have got to get my close-reading chops back into shape. How do they catch some of these things?! When Watson first tends to Hatherley (and the Sherlockians are very hard on his doctoring skills, saying that rather than basically giving him a brandy and a bandaid, Watson should instead of stitched up the wound and prescribed a painkiller), Hatherley is noted as placing his hat on Watson’s books (BG, 210). But how did he come to have his hat when he states that he left it downstairs once the Colonel assured him that they would be walking out of doors to see the machine? Seeing as shops would not have been open as early as he was out and about, Bliss Austin writes that ‘one can only conclude that Elise must have recovered it for him; though why she was so solicitous over a cap when his wound was left unattended is not easy to understand’ (BG, 217).

Frankly, I think he must have gone home to change, given the state his clothes would have been in after the night’s adventures (something else the Sherlockians comment on as Watson describes Hatherley as being quietly dressed not covered in mud and soaked in blood), and simply grabbed a different hat. Surely men had more than one hat? I mean, even though his business was doing dismally, he’d said he’d come into some money inherited from his father. So I bet he could afford an extra hat just for such occasions as having one’s thumb lopped off in the middle of the night. Though I guess that’s quite a detour to take when, again, one’s thumb has just been lopped off. So, I don’t know! Maybe Elise laundered his suit for him…somehow.

There is also much discussion about how dangling from a windowsill can put you in the correct position for having your thumb lopped off as well as about which thumb (right or left?) was lost. The argument is strong for the left thumb. Assuming that Hatherley is righthanded (which is statistically likely), the fact that he was able to tie a tourniquet and eat a hearty breakfast points to his dominant hand remaining intact (BG, 221). Also, good old Bliss Austin writes that he was ‘also discussed this matter with a noted experimental psychologist whose interest I have succeeded in arousing to the extent of undertaking some tests. His preliminary results, admittedly tentative, indicate that: “a person in the state defined as stark madness, wielding a cleaver in his own right hand again the hands of an opponent placed opposite him on a window sill, will, approximately 99.44 times out of one hundred, attack the hand opposite his right, that is, the opponent’s left hand”‘ (BG, 221). Very interesting, but I have to say that I would be hard pressed to take part in whatever sorts of experiments he used to prove that. And I have to say that for someone in a state defined as stark madness, it seems like the Colonel gave up pretty easily on murdering Hatherley…

In order for the logistics of dangling out a window to coincide with having your thumb chopped off…no, sorry, I’m too bored just typing that much! Here, Paget worked very hard to get it to work (and he obviously subscribes to the left-hand theory, as well):

My miscellaneous thought! [Let me show it to you!]

  • Leslie has a very weird note concerning the size of the small room inside the machine that Colonel Stark leads Hatherley to for his inspection of the machine. When relaying his story to Holmes and Watson, Hatherley says that the three of them (the Colonel, Ferguson, and himself) could hardly get in at one time (NA, 279). Leslie reports that ‘based on his own experiments, W.T. Rabe concludes that the room was probably no larger than two-and-a-half feet square. Without explaining these experiments, Rabe further concludes that Hatherley was 3.5 feet tall, calling into question Rabe’s originall researches (NA, 279). [Say what now?!]

And I’m afraid that’s it! Tune in next week when I’ll be discussing “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor.” Hopefully Holmes, Watson, and the Sherlockians will be back in top form then!

*Most of my notes, I think, come from the New Annotated simply because I find its format easier to work through and it is, therefore, the version that I’m reading first (I’m only reading the notes in the Baring-Gould). Much of the information is doubled up, but there is some that is unique to either volume, so if you see NA, that’s the Baring-Gould edition and BG is the New Annotated. No, I’m totally kidding – it’s the other way (the logical way) round.