Literature Study GuidesThe Adventures Of Sherlock HolmesThe Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet Summary

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes | Study Guide

Arthur Conan Doyle

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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes | The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet | Summary

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Summary

One snowy winter morning a large and elegantly dressed man shows up at Baker Street in a harried and agitated state. He appears to be around 50 years old. He tells Holmes and Watson his name is Alexander Holder, of the well-known London banking firm Holder & Stevenson, and he was referred to Holmes by the police. The previous day a British nobleman—Holder doesn't identify him, but claims he has "one of the highest, noblest, most exalted names in England"—visited Holder in his office to arrange a loan of £50,000, to be repaid in four days. Despite his client's standing Holder insisted he must follow official bank procedure and take some sort of collateral. The nobleman presented him with the Beryl Coronet, "one of the most precious public possessions of the empire." The coronet consists of 39 large beryls attached to a gold chasing; according to the aristocrat, its value is at least £100,000. With his collateral in hand Holder processed the loan, but after the aristocrat left Holder second-guessed his decision to make himself the guardian of such an expensive and important national treasure. Thus he decided to take the coronet home with him that evening and to keep it in his personal possession until it returned to its owner.

Holder switches to describing his household. He says he has three servants; two of them have worked with him for many years, and though the most recent hire, Lucy Parr, has only worked at the house for a few months, she has shown herself to be an honest and hard worker. Her only fault is she occasionally attracts suitors to the house because she is so pretty. Holder is a widower and has one son, Arthur, who is a "grievous disappointment." He is a wastrel and gambler and isn't good with money or work. He prefers to spend his time at an aristocratic gentleman's club, where he has fallen under the spell of an enchantingly charismatic man named Sir George Burnwell. Arthur has asked his father to loan him money to pay off his debts many times.

Holder's niece, Mary, also lives in his house. He adopted her five years ago after Holder's brother died, and their relationship is so close she refers to him as "dad." Holder is remarkably fond of Mary, whom he calls "sweet, loving, beautiful," and "my right hand." The only times she disappointed him are when she rejected (twice) marriage proposals from Arthur; Holder believes their marriage could straighten Arthur out for good.

Holder returns to his story. That evening he told Arthur and Mary he had the famous Beryl Coronet in his possession. No one else was in the room, but the door may not have been closed, and his maid Lucy may have heard his disclosure. Holder told Arthur and Mary he locked the coronet in the bureau in his dressing room, but Arthur said this isn't very secure, adding he used to open it with a different key when he was a kid. Later that night Arthur went to Holder's room and asked him for a loan of £200, saying he needed the money to repay yet another loan to someone in his club. Fed up, Holder adamantly refused. Arthur said he would be disgraced if he couldn't pay the loan back, so he would have to find the money somewhere. He sulked out of the room.

Before Holder went to sleep he checked all of the locks around the house to make sure they were secure. On his way downstairs he spotted Mary next to an open side window in the hall. When she saw Holder heading toward her she closed the window and asked if he had given Lucy permission to leave the house that night; he said he had not. Mary said Lucy was probably just talking to someone at the gate outside the house, but she had just come in through the back door. Holder was bothered by this and asserted either he or Mary should talk to Lucy the next morning. He then headed back upstairs and went to sleep.

At around two o'clock that night Holder was woken by a sound from somewhere in the house. He then heard footsteps in his dressing room. He entered the room and saw Arthur bending the coronet in some way. Arthur dropped the coronet at the sound of his father's roars. When Holder picked it up he saw that one of the gold corners and three of the beryls were missing. He accused Arthur of being a thief, but Arthur vehemently denied the charge and insisted nothing was missing. Holder called him a liar and accused him of trying to rip off another gold corner. Arthur said he could stand it no more and that he would leave the household for good the next morning. Holder, who was beside himself, said he was going to call the police on Arthur. Arthur told him to "let the police find what they can."

The screaming match woke up the household, and Mary ran into the dressing room; she fainted when she saw the coronet and then both of the men. Holder sent one of the maids out to summon the police. Arthur remained defiant after a constable and inspector arrived, and he resisted all of Holder's appeals to confess. He was taken into custody, and his room in the house was searched, to no avail. Frantic over the missing parts of the coronet, Holder has offered a reward of £1,000. "My God, what shall I do! I have lost my honour, my gems, and my son in one night," he despairs.

Holmes sits thinking for a few minutes, and then asks Holder a number of clarifying questions. He learns Holder and Mary almost never go out, and people rarely visit the house apart from Holder's business partner and an occasional friend of Arthur's. He recalls Sir George Burnwell has visited a few times recently. Holmes says the fact that Arthur was found with the coronet doesn't necessarily mean he is the one who stole the beryls, and he adds it's possible Arthur was trying to straighten out the coronet when Holder entered the dressing room. Holder says he appreciates Holmes's attempt to exonerate Arthur, but the evidence of his guilt seems so overwhelming. Holmes wonders, however, why Arthur didn't just confess if he was guilty given he was caught red-handed. "His silence appears to me to cut both ways," Holmes asserts. Holder says the detectives have looked all over his household, including outside, but still can't find the beryls. Holmes isn't surprised to learn this; in his view it's clear the theft "strikes very much deeper than either [Holder] or the police were at first inclined to think." He argues it's very unlikely Arthur is involved in the theft given the facts.

Holmes, Watson, and Holder travel to the banker's house in Streatham, a suburb south of London. After they arrive Holmes walks painstakingly around the grounds looking for clues while Watson and Holmes wait inside. Holder's niece enters the room they're waiting in looking severely distraught. She asks Holder if he has told the police to release Arthur, but Holder says he hasn't, as "the matter must be probed to the bottom." She continues pleading with her uncle, to no avail; Holder says he is committed to finding the jewels and has even brought in a private investigator, who is currently probing around the stable lane outside the house. She raises her eyebrows at hearing this, and then greets Holmes, who has entered the house. He asks Mary a few questions. She says she didn't hear anything the previous night until her uncle started yelling, and she confirmed she fastened the windows and doors that night and they were fastened when she woke up this morning. She also confirms she saw Lucy, the maid, talking to someone the previous night, adding that this was the same maid who could have overhead Holder talk about the jewels. She says Lucy came back into the house via the kitchen door; after Mary checked to ensure the door was locked, she spotted Lucy's admirer outside, a greengrocer named Francis Prosper standing on the path some ways from the door. Holmes then asks if Prosper has a wooden leg, and Lucy's face seems to change before she confirms he does.

Holmes closely examines the windows downstairs and then heads upstairs to Holder's dressing room. He unlocks the bureau with the key—noting the lock is noiseless—and takes out the coronet. To demonstrate how incredibly strong the coronet is Holmes attempts to break off a piece of it as a shocked Holder looks on. Holmes is unable to even bend the coronet, however. He says it would be nearly impossible for someone to break off a piece of it, and if he did, it would make a sound "like a pistol shot." There's no way Arthur (or anyone) could have ripped off a piece of the coronet without waking Holder up. Holder confirms Arthur was wearing only his nightclothes when he was spotted, no shoes or slippers.

Holmes goes back outside the house to investigate. He asks the rest of the party to stay inside, lest they mess up the tracks in the snow. After an hour he comes back into the house, and tells Holder he must return to Baker Street, but the banker should visit him the next day. Holder affirms Holmes may spare no expense to get the stones back. Holmes and Watson return to Baker Street, and the detective changes into the disguise of "a common loafer." He returns a few hours later, and tells Watson he has been back to the Streatham area, but did not visit the Holder's house. He changes back into his normal clothes and then heads back out. The next morning Watson sees Holmes at breakfast. Before they can talk, Holder shows up at the house. He is crestfallen—even worse off than he was the previous day. He tells Holmes and Watson he discovered that morning that Mary has run away. She left a cryptic note for him apologizing for "[bringing] trouble upon" Holder and "this terrible misfortune." Holder wonders if this is a suicide note, but Holmes says it's not, and it's "perhaps the best possible solution." He asks Holder to write a check for £4,000. After the banker writes the check, Holmes goes to his desk and pulls out the coronet's missing gold section and three beryls. Holder is overjoyed at the sight.

Holmes asks Holder to apologize to his son, Arthur, who has actually acted nobly throughout the ordeal. He proceeds to explain his findings to the confused banker. He starts by explaining that Mary, Holder's beloved niece, has come under the spell of Sir George Burnwell, Arthur's charismatic friend from his club, and the pair has taken off. Holder is incredulous, but Holmes explains Burnwell "is one of the most dangerous men in England." He used Mary—as he had used so many women before. When Holder came downstairs and saw Mary at the window two nights ago, she was discussing the coronet with Burnwell. She used Lucy's meet-up with the greengrocer (which really happened) as a cover story.

Later that night Arthur was awoken by Mary's footsteps outside his door. He quietly followed her into Holder's dressing room and then watched in horror as she took the coronet out of the bureau and handed it off to someone through the downstairs window. He felt he couldn't intervene at that moment because it would implicate Mary—with whom he was deeply in love—but he ran downstairs and out the door, barefoot, and chased after her co-conspirator. He caught up with Burnwell and the two men fought over the coronet; drops of Burnwell's blood dripped into the snow. As Arthur pulled the coronet off Burnwell there was a loud snap, and Arthur ran home with the jewelry. He was attempting to straighten it when Holder woke up and saw him. Despite Holder's insults, Arthur refused to explain what had happened in order to protect Mary.

At Holder's house Holmes examined the tracks in the snow in the lane outside the home. He noticed a pair of boot tracks leading toward and from the house, and a pair of footprints, going away from the house, on top of the boot tracks. The boot tracks led from the downstairs window and through the lane—to a spot with bloodstains. (He also saw the greengrocer's benign tracks.) Further inspection inside the house made the plot, and Arthur's innocence, clear to Holmes. Once he figured out whom Arthur struggled with in the snow, he would find the missing coronet piece. By process of deduction Holmes settled on Burnwell as the culprit. It's unlikely Arthur would have sacrificed himself on behalf of one of the maids, and Burnwell was known to Holmes "as being a man of evil reputation among women." Holmes traveled to Burnwell's house in his loafer disguise. He befriended Burnwell's valet, who informed him Burnwell was injured the previous night. Holmes was even able to buy Burnwell's boots off the man, which perfectly matched the tracks in the snow outside Holder's house. Holmes returned to Burnwell's house that night dressed in his normal clothes. Holmes said he would pay £1,000 for each stone, but Burnwell explained he had already sold them—for £200 each. After Holmes promised Burnwell he wouldn't report him, Burnwell gave him the address of the man who bought the stones; Holmes bought them from this man for £1,000 each. With the stones securely in his possession, he visited Arthur in prison to talk, and then returned home.

Analysis

Holmes earns his bread in this adventure, which is less of an armchair riddle than many of his other commissions. Over the course of two days he pounds the pavement doing old-fashioned investigative work. He travels twice to the Holder's house from Baker Street, twice to Sir George Burnwell's home, once to the coronet-fragment buyer, and once to the prison where Arthur is being held. His return to Baker Street, he says, comes "after what I may call a really hard day's work."

Because of the case's complexity, Holmes must utilize every effort and trick at his disposal. At the Holder home he pores painstakingly over physical evidence with his magnifying glass and imagination. He even slips into disguise in order to get intelligence on Sir George Burnwell. He is in total sleuth mode, sniffing out the details of the coronet mystery one clue at a time. Holder can't quite make sense of Holmes's questioning and running around. To him it's obvious Arthur is the culprit; after all, he was caught literally holding the broken coronet. Holmes disagrees, saying, "To me it seems exceedingly complex."

Fortunately, he gets an assist from Mother Nature. The snow is as much a character in this story as anyone else, as it reveals critical information about the theft. It exonerates Arthur Holder and the wooden-legged greengrocer, and it incriminates Sir George Burnwell. Only Holmes, however, has the sense to consider the snow for clues. Until Holmes explains his findings at the end of the story, Alexander Holder and Watson (and most readers, no doubt) remain convinced Arthur has committed the crime.

Burnwell is depicted as a perfectly dastardly villain, a sweet-talking sociopath whose moral rot is directly proportional to his charisma. Even Alexander Holder, a distinguished and wealthy professional, finds he can't resist Burnwell's charms, though he knows the fellow is bad news; Holder calls him a "brilliant talker" and a "man of great personal beauty." To an outsider such as Holmes, it's not very surprising Burnwell could (successfully) prey on someone like Mary, Holder's "sweet, loving, beautiful" niece. As a master scholar of human nature, Holmes realizes the powerful effects of romantic love. "I have no doubt that [Mary] loved you," he tells Holder, "but there are women in whom the love of a lover extinguishes all other loves."

The young rake's reputation is deserved, for he ultimately betrays the Holders in three ways: by attempting to steal the coronet; by letting Arthur take the fall for his crime; and by successfully stealing the beloved Mary away from the family.

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