Good-night Mister Sherlock Holmes

March 10, 2009

The wages of sin, Watson – the wages of sin!

In an exchange between Sherlock Holmes and John Openshaw in The Five Orange Pips, Holmes acknowledges four defeats:

“He said that you could solve anything.”

“He said too much.”

“That you are never beaten.”

“I have been beaten four times—three times by men, and once by a woman.”

We can be reasonably sure the woman Mr. Holmes refers to is Irene Adler from A Scandal in Bohemia. The remaining three (men) are not altogether clear but surely Mr. Holmes counts the defeat he suffered at the hands of Baron Adelbert Gruner in the The Adventure of the Illustrious Client.

While it is true Holmes brought the case to a successful resolution, he could have never done it without the unexpected — and serendipitous — actions of Miss Kitty Winter. Holmes dispatched Watson to occupy Baron Gruner while he (Holmes) attempts to burgle the Baron’s house. In the process, the Baron hears Holmes and rushes into the room being burgled.

Watson describes the incident:

“The window leading out to the garden was wide open. Beside it, looking like some terrible ghost, his head gin with bloody bandages, his face drawn and white, stood Sherlock Holmes. The next instant he was through the gap, and I heard the crash of his body among the laurel bushes outside. With a howl of rage the master of the house rushed after him to the open window.

And then! It was done in an instant, and yet I clearly saw it. An arm – a woman’s arm – shot out from among the leaves. At the same instant the Baron uttered a horrible cry – a yell which will always ring in my memory. He clapped his two hands to his face and rushed round the room, beating his head horribly against the walls. Then he fell upon the carpet, rolling and writhing, while scream after scream resounded through the house.”

Had not Miss Winter stopped the Baron, by throwing vitriol in his face, surely he would have apprehended or accosted Holmes.  How could he not? Holmes was injured (and had only just gotten out of the hospital) and unarmed, all the baron had to do was overpower Holmes and retrieve his property.

Was the Baron up to it? Well, Holmes himself considers the Baron:

“Mighty dangerous. I disregard the blusterer, but this is the sort of man who says rather less than he means.”

And Miss Winter notes:

“Adelbert is no coward. His worst enemy couldn’t say that of him. He can look after himself.”

So it’s pretty clear the Baron could have easily handled an injured and unarmed Holmes.

Holmes may not have been up to snuff mentally either.  How could Sherlock Holmes not have noticed that Kitty Winter secreted a bottle of vitriol under her coat?

“Therefore I gathered the girl up at the last moment. How could I guess what the little packet was that she carried so carefully under her cloak? I thought she had come altogether on my business, but it seems she had some of her own.”

He apparently observed that she had something under her cloak because she carried it carefully, but he failed to make the connection to the case. I suggest he was off his game, possibly do to his injuries, making it even more likely the Baron would have bested him had not Kitty Winters intervened.

Clearly Baron Gruner is one of the three men who have beaten Holmes. Now, who were the other two?


  1. You said Holmes was “unarmed” when he was at the Baron’s house? How do you know he was unarmed? He may have carried his pistol.

    Comment by Jimmy Mack — March 12, 2009 @ 8:00 am | Reply

  2. Jimmy,

    Good point.

    I can’t be sure Holmes was unarmed. In fact, now that you mention it, he may well have been armed — he armed himself in similiar situations — but I can’t imagine Holmes using his weapon to commit a crime and that’s what it would have amounted to. If the Baron captured Holmes and simply wanted his own property back, I don’t think Holmes would have shot him. If he had, he surely would have been held accountable. True?

    You may argue that Watson would have come to Holmes aid and I agree, that probably would have happened but now you have three men wrestling on the ground which surely would have caused a commotion. Further, the Baron’s house servants were quickly on the scene and would have caused even more comotion.

    Holmes and Watson were completely in the wrong on this one and would not have wanted to attract any attention.

    Baron Gruner – 1
    Sherlock Holmes – 0

    Comment by Mark Loper — March 12, 2009 @ 10:22 am | Reply

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