“The Reigate Squires” Or, you show those uppity aristocrats, Holmes!

“The Reigate Squires” was published in June 1893 and takes place Thursday April 14 to Tuesday, April 26, 1887. According to Baring-Gould, something very shocking has happened here – all chronologists are in complete agreement with each other and, more importantly…with Watson!

The story opens with Holmes convalescing in a hotel in Lyons with Watson by his side for his recovery, though not for the preceding case. Watson states that when he arrives, Holmes’ hotel room is ‘literally ankle-deep with congratulatory telegrams’ (NA, 558). Frankly, I’m surprised only one Holmesian took up the gauntlet that had been thrown here. Carol P. Woods ‘calculates that to fill the average French hotel room to “ankle-deep” would require 10,741 crumpled telegrams; and she muses that Holmes’ illness was caused not entirely by the exertions put forth in the Netherlands-Sumatra case but also by the telegram-crumpling itself, which would have required slightly over 179 hours of opening, reading, crumpling, and tossing’ (NA, 558). And with those calculations, Carol moves into fourth place!

Watson indeed earns the nickname Mother Hen in this one – when discussing the recent robbery of Colonel Hayter’s home, Holmes begins to get intrigued:

“Oh, the fellows evidently grabbed hold of anything they could get.”

Holmes grunted from the sofa.

“The county police ought to make something of that,” said he. “Why, it is surely obvious that–”

But I held up a warning finger.

“You are here for a rest, my dear fellow. For heaven’s sake, don’t get started on a new problem when your nerves are all in shreds.”

Holmes shrugged his shoulders with a glance of comic resignation towards the Colonel, and the talk drifted away into less dangerous channels.

I can hear him tutting from here!

Much of the mystery is solved based on Holmes’ deductions from the scrap of the note they find clutched in William Kirwin’s hand – the fact that there are two writers, alternating words; that they are related; that one is older and one is younger; that one is in poor health; and that one is in charge while one is following. John Ball Jr. outlines the twenty-three deductions that Holmes makes but chooses not to reveal as they have less bearing on the case:

  1. The quality of the paper – costly, average, or cheap
  2. The rag content of the paper, if any
  3. The probably source of the paper (from the above)
  4. The quality of the ink
  5. The chemical nature of the ink
  6. The probable source of the ink (from the above)
  7. The age of the writing
  8. The presence, or absence, of folds in the paper
  9. Whether the fragment had been torn from the whole, or the whole from the fragment
  10. The direction of the tear–up or down
  11. Whether the first penman was right- or left-handed
  12. Whether the second penman was right- or left-handed
  13. The type of pen used
  14. Whether or not both penmen used the same writing point
  15. Whether the fragment came from a corner of a standard sheet, or was otherwise cut from a larger piece of paper
  16. The original use of the paper – notepaper, wrapping paper, or other
  17. The presence or absence of erasures
  18. The evidence, or lack of evidence, that the writing had been blotted after the first writing
  19. The evidence, or lack of evidence, that the writing had been blotted after the first writing
  20. Whether or not both penmen had used the identical ink supply
  21. The presence, or absence, of fingernail marks made by the hand which tore the paper
  22. Any evidence of a scent still clinging to the paper
  23. The presence, or absence, of extraneous marks or stains on the paper which would also include evidence of pocket-rubbing had the whole document been carried on anyone’s person for any length of time (BG, 343)

Apparently, the Victorians (who got the idea from the French) put a lot of stock into graphology. Winifred Christie isn’t buying some of Holmes’ deductions, saying that ‘By modern standards, Holmes was mistaken in thinking that you can tell the age of adult writers. But he concluded perfectly rightly that you can deduce the state of health. What he called the broken-backed appearance of the older man’s writing presents two symptoms: tremulousness shows debility, and the broken upstrokes heart disease. Heart weakness is confirmed by the presence of irrelevant dots’ (BG, 342). She also agrees with him that ‘there are family writings as there are family walk and voices’ (BG, 343). Which brings me to ask – what does form our handwriting? I really can’t think of anything other than it must have something to do with fine differences in muscles and tendons in the hand and wrist – things shifted tiny, tiny bits from person to person and ever so sightly stronger or weaker. Maybe? Theories? Any handwriting experts out there who want to enlighten me?

Part of the mystery remains unsolved, though! Who in the world is Annie Morrison?! Seems like rather an important thread to leave untied after all this! According to Leslie, ‘the connection of Annie Morrison, if any, to Miss Morrison of “The Crooked Man” or to Morrison, Morrison & Dodd of “The Sussex Vampire” is unknown (NA, 581). I find it hard to believe that none of the Holmesians have any theories as to our mystery woman – surely someone out there thinks she was married to Holmes or secretly Watson’s sister or something!

An interesting tidbit about the title just before I sign off – when it was published in Harper’s Weekly in the States, the editors changed the title to “The Reigate Puzzle” ‘evidently fearful that the term “squires” might affront the robust American democracy of those days’ (BG, 345). Also, ACD ranked this 12th on his list of favorites.

Tune in next week for “The Crooked Man”!

*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.

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2 thoughts on ““The Reigate Squires” Or, you show those uppity aristocrats, Holmes!

    • I think I probably just didn’t happen to have anything to say that wasn’t related to actual stuff in the text – never fear, though, there are more miscellaneous thoughts in later posts!

      Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

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