The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place
|"The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place"|
|Author||Arthur Conan Doyle|
|Series||The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes|
"The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place" is the last of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. The story is part of the series The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes first published in the Strand Magazine from October 1921–April 1927. The original title "The Adventure of the Black Spaniel" was changed before publication.
Head trainer John Mason from Shoscombe Old Place, a racing stable in Berkshire, comes to Holmes about his master, Sir Robert Norberton. Mason thinks he has gone mad. Sir Robert’s sister, Lady Beatrice Falder, owns Shoscombe, but it will revert to her late husband’s brother when she dies. The stable has a horse, Shoscombe Prince, who Sir Robert hopes will win the Derby. He would be out of debt if that actually happened.
Mason is not quite sure what he wants Holmes to investigate, but a number of odd changes have happened at the stable:
- Why has Lady Beatrice suddenly forgone her usual habit of stopping to greet her favourite horse? Why does she just ride on by in her carriage?
- Why has Sir Robert become so wild-eyed lately?
- Why has he given his sister’s dog away to a neighbourhood innkeeper?
- Why does he go to the old crypt at night, and who is that man that he meets there?
- Why have burnt human bones been found in the furnace at Shoscombe?
Holmes decides to investigate on the spot. He and Dr. Watson go to Berkshire posing as anglers and learn some interesting things. The keeper of the inn where they are staying is the one who now has Lady Beatrice’s dog, and it is quite an expensive breed, one that an innkeeper ordinarily could never afford.
With the innkeeper’s permission, Holmes takes the dog for a walk, and goes to Shoscombe, where he releases it as Lady Beatrice’s carriage comes out of the gate. The dog dashes forward enthusiastically at first, but then flees in terror. Then, even though a maid and Lady Beatrice are supposedly the only two people in the carriage, it is a male voice that yells "Drive on!"
Then there is the crypt. John Mason observes that a heap of bones there earlier is now gone. Holmes finds a coffin with a fresh, swathed body in it. Just then, Sir Robert arrives, catching Holmes and Watson in the act. After Holmes makes it plain that he has deduced most of the odd goings-on, Sir Robert invites him and Watson back to the house and explains everything.
About a week earlier, Lady Beatrice died of dropsy, and Sir Robert felt compelled to keep the fact secret so that the creditors would not swoop down on Shoscombe before he had a chance to win the Derby and pay off all his debts. He and the maid’s husband hid the body in the crypt, but also found that they had to dispose of an older body — in the furnace. This same man also dressed up in Lady Beatrice’s clothes and took her place in the carriage each day. The dog knew what had happened and might have given the game away if its noise had aroused suspicion.
Holmes refers the matter to the police, but the story ends happily. Shoscombe Prince wins the Derby, Sir Robert escapes any major judicial penalty for what he did to his sister’s body, and he pays off all his debts with a great deal left over.
The story was also dramatised in 1990 in Granada TV's Sherlock Holmes, starring Jeremy Brett. Jude Law, who later played Dr. Watson in the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes has a small but very important role in the episode.
"Shoscombe Old Place" was dramatised for BBC Radio 4 in 1994 by as part of Bert Coules’ complete radio adaptation of the canon, starring Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson, and featuring Nicholas Le Prevost as John Mason, Donald Pickering as Sir Robert, and Desmond Llewelyn as Palfreyman.