The Adventure of the Abbey Grange

The Adventure of the Abbey Grange

The Adventure of the Abbey Grange, one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 13 stories in the cycle collected as "The Return of Sherlock Holmes".

ynopsis

Holmes wakes Dr. Watson up early one morning to rush to a murder scene at the Abbey Grange near Chislehurst. Sir Eustace Brackenstall has been killed, apparently by a gang of burglars. Inspector Stanley Hopkins believes that it was the well-known Randall gang, a father and two sons.

Upon arrival at the Abbey Grange, Lady Brackenstall is found resting with a purple swelling over one eye, the result of a blow during the previous night's business. There are also two red spots on her arm. Her maid later tells Holmes that Sir Eustace inflicted those with a hatpin.

Lady Brackenstall tells Holmes that her marriage was not happy. Sir Eustace Brackenstall was a violent, abusive alcoholic. Moreover, Lady Brackenstall found it hard to adjust to life in England after the freedom that she enjoyed in her native Australia, which she left only 18 months ago. She had been married for about a year.

At about eleven o’clock, Lady Brackenstall went about the house before going to a bed. At one window, she found an elderly man who had just climbed in, with two younger ones behind him. He struck her in the face, knocking her out. When she came to herself, she had been tied to an oaken chair with the bellrope, which they had torn down, and gagged. Then, Sir Eustace came into the room with a cudgel, and rushed the intruders. One of them struck and killed him with a poker. After fainting again, Lady Brackenstall came to and saw the men sharing some wine. They left with some silver.

This Lady Brackenstall tells Holmes, and her maid, Theresa Wright, who has been with her mistress since she was a girl, claims that she had seen the men earlier in the evening, never suspecting that they intended to burgle the house.

Sir Eustace's body is still lying at the murder scene. The poker has been bent into a curve, bespeaking a very strong attacker. Hopkins tells Holmes some unsavoury things about Sir Eustace. He poured petroleum over his wife's dog and set it alight, and once threw a decanter at Theresa. Theresa herself describes Sir Eustace as a vicious abusive husband who regularly physically and verbally assaulted his wife, especially when he was drunk.

Holmes examines the knots in the bellrope, and also the frayed end. Realizing that this action must have rung the bell in the kitchen, Holmes asks why no-one heard it. It was late, and the kitchen is at the back of the house, where none of the servants would have heard it at the time. Oddly, the thieves did not take much.

The half-empty wine bottle and glasses interest Holmes. The cork had been pulled out with the corkscrew appliance of a multiplex knife, not the long corkscrew in the drawer, and one of the glasses has beeswing dregs in it, but the others have none. Hopkins had noticed nothing of interest in the wineglasses.

Holmes is already a bit annoyed at being called to investigate a case which apparently has a ready-made solution; so he and Watson leave and catch a train back to London. On the way, however, Holmes thinks better of his haste, and pulls Watson off the train at a suburban station, announcing that they are going back to the Abbey Grange. Having had some time on the train to mull things over, Holmes has reached the following conclusions:
*The Randall gang was clearly described in the papers, and anyone making up a story about burglars breaking into the house could use the descriptions;
*Burglars who have recently made off with a rich haul don’t usually dare to do another job within a fortnight;
*It was an uncommonly early hour for burglars;
*It is odd that they struck Lady Brackenstall to stop her screaming, as this was likelier to start her doing that;
*It is odd that they resorted to murder when the three of them could have overpowered Sir Eustace;
*It is odd that they did not ransack the house;
*It is odd that they left a bottle of wine half empty.Holmes also draws Watson's attention to the wineglasses. The presence of beeswing in only one surely means that only two people used the glasses, pouring the dregs into the third glass to make it look as though there were three. Holmes deduces from this that Lady Brackenstall and her maid have been lying all along.

Upon returning to the Abbey Grange, Holmes climbs on the mantel, examining the cut end of the bellrope, and a bracket upon which he must kneel to reach it. Holmes has now developed the killer's profile: six foot three (~190 cm), active, dexterous, and quick-witted. The killer cut the bellrope with a knife, and used the same knife to fray the loose end, but he could not reach the end still hanging from the ceiling. That has clearly been cut clean. Sir Eustace's blood can also be seen on the oaken chair. How could a splatter have landed there if Lady Brackenstall was bound there "before" her husband's murder?

After observing a hole in the ice on the pond, Holmes writes a note for Hopkins, and then begins his search for the sailor who fell in love with Lady Brackenstall on her voyage from Australia, for surely that is what the profile and the knots, among other evidence, point to.Back at 221B Baker Street, Inspector Hopkins arrives with good news (the stolen silver was found at the bottom of the pond) and bad (the Randall gang has been arrested — in New York). Holmes has some good news, though.

As a result of his enquiries, the sailor whom he has sought, Captain Croker, delivers himself to Baker Street, and is surprised not to be arrested. Holmes simply demands a full account of what happened at the Abbey Grange that night, although he has already deduced most of it.

Yes, Croker loves Mary (Lady Brackenstall). He came to the house to see her at a window when Sir Eustace burst into the room and struck Mary a blow over her eye, and then came at him with the cudgel. There was a fight, and Croker killed Brackenstall with the poker, in self-defence. Realizing what a scandal would ensue, he concocted the cover story.

Holmes tests Croker by offering him the chance to escape and telling him that the story would be published after 24 hours. Croker indignantly refuses the offer, since in that case Mary would be sure to be held as an accomplice, and he would by no means abandon her to such a fate. Rather, he gallantly offers to give himself up and face trial as long as Mary's role is kept secret. Thereupon, Holmes decides to let him go free and not to refer the matter to Hopkins -- but only after putting himself as a "judge" and asking Watson to serve as the "jury" as to whether or not Croker should be found guilty or not guilty. Holmes tells Crocker he will keep the secret only if an innocent person is not charged with Brackenstall's death and further advises Crocker to wait for a year to pass before seeing Mary again.

As earlier in "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" and later in "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot", Holmes lets a proven criminal go free and withholds the information from the police. In the present story as in "The Devil's Foot", it is Holmes' position (which seems to have been the writer's, too) that a man acting to defend his beloved or avenge her deserves sympathy and consideration, even if his acts constituted a serious violation of the law.

One sentence of Holmes' explanation of how he solved the mystery reflect the strict Class system which dominated British society at the time: "No one but a sailor could have made the knots (...). Only once had this lady been brought into contact with sailors, and that was on her voyage [from Australia] , and "it was someone of her own class of life", since she was trying hard to shield him, and so showing that she loved him." Evidently, Holmes categorically rules out the possiblity that a lady may have fallen in love with a common sailor - rather than a captain - and be trying to shield him.

Another casual remark exhibiting the difference between mores and conventions at the time of writing and those of the present is given by Captain Croker's explanation of why he decided to trust Holmes: "I'll chance it. I believe you are a man of your word, "and a white man". (The last seems, however, a reference to Holmes' character rather than literally to the color of his skin - since obviously there would be many white people whom Croker would not have trusted with his secret.)

Trivia

Some editions of the canon spell Captain Croker's name as Captain Crocker.

In the present story, the manner in which knots were tied in a rope makes Holmes conclude that they were tied by a sailor, which leads him to Captain Croker. In Dorothy Sayers' "The Nine Tailors" - which includes several explicit references to various Sherlock Holmes stories - a sailor is suspected of involvement in the murder investigated, but Lord Peter Wimsey remarks: "One thing I am sure of is that it was "not" a sailor who put these knots into the rope" (Part 2, Ch. 7).

The Granada TV adaptation with Jeremy Brett was faithful to the original story.

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