The Adventure of the Priory School
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|"The Adventure of the Priory School"|
Holmes discovers Heidegger's body, illustration by Sidney Paget
|Author||Arthur Conan Doyle|
|Series||The Return of Sherlock Holmes|
"The Adventure of the Priory School", 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. Doyle ranked "The Adventure of the Priory School" tenth in his list of his twelve favorite Holmes stories.
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Holmes receives a visit from Dr. Thorneycroft Huxtable, the founder and principal of a preparatory school called Priory School in Northern England. He beseeches Holmes to come back to Mackleton with him to look into the disappearance of one of his pupils, the ten-year-old Lord Saltire, whose father is the very rich and famous Duke of Holdernesse. Huxtable explains that not only the boy has disappeared, but also the German master, Heidegger, along with his bicycle.
Once in the North, the Duke says to Holmes that he does not think that his estranged wife has anything to do with his son's disappearance, nor has there been a ransom demand. Holmes establishes that the boy and his kidnappers could not have used the nearby road without being seen, suggesting that they went cross-country. As if to confirm this, the police find the boy's school cap in some gypsies' possession. They swear that they simply found it on the moor, but the police lock them up.
Holmes and Dr. Watson go hunting for clues. They find a bicycle track, but it is not Heidegger's; it does not match his tyres. Holmes observes, however, that one tyre has a patch on it. Almost everything observable has been obliterated by cow tracks (which are the only marks on the ground anywhere). Eventually, Heidegger's bicycle tracks are found, and they end where he lies, quite dead. After that, Holmes and Watson arrive at the Fighting Cock Inn, and meet the innkeeper, Reuben Hayes, who seems startled indeed to hear that Holmes wants to go to Holdernesse Hall, the Duke's nearby house, to tell him news of his son. The two men have lunch there, and Holmes suddenly realises that he and Watson saw lots of cow tracks out on the moor, but never at any time did they see any cows. Furthermore, the patterns of the hoof prints were quite unusual, suggesting that the cow in question trotted, cantered, and galloped. Holmes and Watson sneak out to Hayes's stable and examine the horse's hooves. As Holmes has expected, there is evidence of recent shoeing, but with old shoes and new nails. Examining the nearby smithy, Holmes and Watson are rather belligerently asked to leave by Mr. Hayes.
Shortly afterwards, the two men hide as a cyclist comes along the road from the direction of the Duke's. It is James Wilder, and he looks agitated. He arrives at the inn. Soon afterwards, a trap pulls out of the stable yard and goes along the road towards Chesterfield. A while later, someone else – it is getting dark and only a fleeting glimpse of the new visitor is caught – arrives at the inn. Coming closer, Holmes observes Wilder's bicycle tyres and notes that they are the same make as the first ones encountered on the moor.
The next morning, they go to Holdernesse Hall, where they find that the Duke is not at all well. Nevertheless, Holmes demands from him a cheque for £6000, saying that he has earned the reward. His son is at the Fighting Cock, and the accused is the Duke himself, but the actual mastermind of this crime is James Wilder, who has a terrible secret: he is the illegitimate son of the Duke. He conceived a plan to kidnap Lord Saltire to force the Duke to change his will, knowing very well that his father would not call the police on him, as he abhorred the very idea of scandal. The plan began to unravel when Wilder hired Hayes – who has now fled, but been caught on Holmes's information – to do the actual kidnapping. Hayes killed Heidegger, and when Wilder heard the news, he confessed all to his father. So anxious was the Duke to avoid scandal, he agreed to let his younger son stay at the inn for another three days, and to keep quiet, so that Hayes could flee justice.
All ends well, except for Hayes, who faces the gallows. Lord Saltire is brought home from the inn and the Duke writes to his estranged wife asking her to reconcile with him. This he feels she will be willing to do, for the source of the friction between them is going away: James Wilder is being packed off to Australia to seek his fortune there. As for the cow tracks, they were accomplished by shoeing the horses with special shoes shaped like cow's hooves.
The story was dramatised as part of the Granada TV Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett. However, the ending was changed. In the dramatisation, Wilder takes Lord Saltire as a hostage in a chase led by Holmes, the Duke of Holdernesse, and Watson through an underground cavern beneath the priory cathedral. Having climbed to the top of a cliff-like structure with the boy, Wilder slips and falls to his death, while Lord Saltire is rescued. Also, in this version, the Duke volunteers a reward of £6000 early on, but in the end writes Holmes a cheque for £12000. This would be over a million dollars in today's money.
"The Priory School" was dramatised for BBC Radio 4 in 1993 by Michael Bakewell as part of Bert Coules' complete radio adaptation of the canon, starring Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson, and featuring Norman Bird as Dr Huxtable and Nigel Davenport as the Duke.
- Bert Coules. "The Return of Sherlock Holmes". The BBC complete audio Sherlock Holmes. Retrieved 12 December 2016.