“The Adventure of the Priory School” Or, Holmes, even Watson’s not going to buy that ‘deduction’….

“The Adventure of the Priory School” was first published in 1904 (again, Collier’s has beaten the Strand to the press here) and, according to Baring-Gould, takes place Thursday, May 16 to Saturday, May 18, 1901. Despite having read his notes, I can’t say I’m really sure how Baring-Gould dates this story – it seems that all his usual sources have deserted him! The moon, which was full on the night the boy disappeared, was not full on the asserted date in 1901 and, woe of woes, the weather has finally failed him! It has been dry weather when the story takes place, but ‘it rained on only four days in both May of 1900 and the May of 1901′ (BG, 616). I love that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, Baring-Gould soldiers on anyway!

This is the first one where there have been significant variations from the original manuscript to the published version here. I suppose it might just mean that that “The Priory School”‘s manuscript is more accessible and that, given the opportunity to compare them, all the short stories might have such differences. It’s interesting to see the differences between what must have been Watson’s notes and what he finally decided to present to the public:

When despairing of the talents of the local police force, the original manuscript reads “Had the object been to lose the heir instead of to find him, you could have hardly acted with greater indiscretion” (NA, 938).

Upon his reassuring Huxtable (Okay, I can’t be the only one who keeps picturing him wearing a Bill Cosby sweater, can I?) that he and Watson will soon be on the scene, the original left poor Watson out: “…and perhaps the scent is not so cold but that one old hound like myself may get a sniff of it” (NA, 941). Oh, Holmes, you can be so cruel sometimes!

For some reason, Watson has deleted ‘an uncharacteristic remark of concern expressed by Holmes […]: “That unfortunate Dr. Huxtable will be seriously ill, I fear. Do you hear him pacing up and down the passage?” (NA, 946). I guess Watson wanted to make sure to preserve Holmes’ reputation as, what is it, a brain without a heart? I bet he actually took the poor man a pudding cup to make him feel better, but Watson just wasn’t having that in his story.

When theorizing about whether the missing boy had left on his own or in the company of someone else, ‘Watson cuts Holmes’ refreshingly naive statement that follows in the manuscript: “If it were with someone then it was probably with someone whom he knew and trusted. A lad of that age does not willing set out alone in the dark with a stranger” (NA, 952).

When the man in a dog-cart hares off down the road from the inn, Holmes originally thought it was ‘Two men in the dogcart, so far as I could see. Wilder and Hayes–a curious couple to run together’ (NA, 960), leading Leslie to wonder if this is evidence of Holmes’ failing eyesight. Looks like more reading letters aloud is in Watson’s future!

Upon discovering a bicycle outside the inn, Holmes strikes a match in the darkness so that he can examine the tire, but apparently, this was a bit of dramatic license on Watson’s part because it originally read ‘The lamp still gleamed from the bicycle. Holmes slipped it off, and turned it towards the machine. I heard him chuckle in the darkness as the narrow tunnel of vivid light fell upon the patch of a Dunlop [DUNLOP DUNLOP] tyre’ (NA, 961).

I have to say that the Duke of Holdenesse has an impossibly impressive beard. All I can say is that I hope he used it to win longest beard contests. (And I can’t find Frederic Dorr Steele’s version, but it looks almost exactly like Paget’s.)

I find this beard hard to believe...

Leslie points out that this is one of only two instances of Watson smoking cigarettes (the other is in The Hound of the Baskervilles). Both of them take place in the early 20th century (though I think Baring-Gould, rebel that he is, dates Hound at the end of the 19th instead), leading him to wonder if cigarette smoking was ‘a late-acquired and short-lived vice for Watson[.] Or was the doctor instead unable to embrace the rebellious image that cigarettes conveyed?’ (NA, 949) Apparently, cigarette smoking was much more dodgy than smoking a pipe or a cigar; Iain Gately says that ‘cigarette smoker were naturally inferior specimens and best shunned’ (NA, 950). Of course, Holmes smoked anything he could get his hands on, so my guess is that the habit wore off on Watson, who was embarrassed about caving to peer pressure. Probably his shady editor, ACD, added in the two accounts of his smoking. I am full of theories this week – I’ll find my way into a Holmesian journal yet!

There is much discussed about Holmes’ deductions here – mostly concerning the bicycles tire tracks (which I’ll get to in just a moment) – but my darling D. Martin Dakin points out that part of Holmes’ narrowing down which direction the kidnappers must have gone involves the word of a policeman whose job is to stand ‘on duty all night on a lonely road in the heart of the country where apparently no one was likely to pass […] It seems an extraordinary waste of the poor man’s time and energy. What was he supposed to be doing? He wasn’t even patrolling the roads, just standing still in an isolated spot for six hours at night!” (NA, 945) It does seem a bit weird – maybe the policeman, knowing full well who Holmes was, was trying to impress him and maybe, just maybe, get a mention when Watson wrote up the story? That’s my theory, anyway.

I’m not going to go into Holmes’ deductions about which direction the bicycle was going because they involve extraordinarily complex mathematics and I really don’t feel up to it (and I’m running late with my post!), but I am going to say that I’m with T.S. Blakeney who says that ‘Holmes probably had a dozen other small indications to guide him; though he might mention only one factor, he usually had others in reserve as evidence by the twenty-three additional points of difference in the joint letter of the Cunninghams’ (BG, 617). I think either Holmes was simplifying for Watson or Watson dozed off during his explanation and had to make something up later when he went to write up the case.

My favorite bit of Holmesian research (and I’m not just saying this because he pointed it out (!) as his own favorite) is Leslie’s revelation about the Dunlop tire tread. During their search of the surrounding area, Holmes and Watson come across a set of bicycle tire tracks and Holmes says, rather proudly, I think, that he is familiar with forty-two different impressions left by tyres and identifies this track as that of a Dunlop tire (NA, 948). But Leslie points out that ‘by 1891, marketing departments had seen a prime opportunity presenting itself on the surface of the tyre, and they began adding the maker’s name as a central feature of the tread’ (NA, 949). So basically, the tracks that Holmes and Watson are examining say, quite plainly, DUNLOP DUNLOP DUNLOP! I can just picture Holmes trying to pass this off as a brilliant deduction (Watson, of course, would play along). Man, I seriously wish I could draw because I think this would make a very funny Holmesian comic.

My miscellaneous thoughts! [Let me show you them!]:

  • ‘”I must have a peep through that [window], Watson. If you bend your back and support yourself upon the wall, I think that I can manage.” An instant later, his feet were on my shoulders, but he was hardly up before he was down again.’ [There’s a lovely bit of slapstick here in the BBC radio play adaptation of this short story – when Holmes climbs up onto Watson’s shoulders, he’s wearing shoes with spikes in them and Watson’s like ‘Why can’t you bring a pair of slippers along for this sort of thing?!’ Makes me laugh every time.]
  • Frederick Bryan-Brown takes issue, right off the bat, with Dr. Huxtable’s card, saying that ‘”Etc.” is not a word well thought of in educational circles, being normally interpreted as “I don’t know any more” or “I can’t be bothered to put any more.” …Also the Dr. in front, when the PhD is behind, is somewhat redundant and merely to impress credulous parents. True Classical scholars from the major universities go for Doctor of Letters or nothing, and one suspects Huxtable of travelling to Europe in the summer vacation to buy his Doctorate…’ (BG, 607). [Hahaha! I think Mr. Bryan-Brown may win the Snark Award (but it’s very persuasive snark that definitely appeals to the editor in me).]
  • This story comes in at number 10 on ACD’s list of his top twelve Holmes stories! I have to say that I’m a little surprised – it’s not one that really stands out to me, though that might be because it follows “The Solitary Cyclist” and because of the importance of bicycles in both of them, they tend to blur together…

And I think we’re back in the swing of things – that was more of a return to our pre-Final Problem/Empty House write ups! Tune in next week when I’ll be chatting about “The Adventure of Black Peter.”

*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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