Literature Study GuidesThe Adventures Of Sherlock HolmesThe Adventure Of The Noble Bachelor Summary

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes | Study Guide

Arthur Conan Doyle

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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes | The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor | Summary

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Summary

A few weeks before Watson's wedding when he is living at Baker Street with Holmes, Holmes returns home one afternoon to find a letter in a fancy envelope waiting for him. To his surprise (and delight) it's not an invitation to a social function, but a request from a nobleman, Lord St. Simon. The letter explains St. Simon would like to speak with Holmes about the "very painful event" that occurred at his wedding. He says he has already discussed the situation with Lestrade, the Scotland Yard detective, but he would like to review the case with Holmes as well. As a result he will be visiting Baker Street at 4:00 p.m. that day. It's already 3:00 p.m. when Holmes gets the letter, so he spends the next hour reviewing St. Simon's case. With Watson's help he digs through his archives. He learns Lord Robert Walsingham de Vere St. Simon is 41 and comes from a long line of famed British nobility.

Watson then directs his attention to recent newspaper mentions of St. Simon. The first paper, published a few weeks earlier, contains a section announcing the wedding between St. Simon and a San Francisco woman named Hatty Doran. Her father is Aloysius Doran, a lawyer, and she is his only daughter. The next story they review is from a society paper published the same week. This paper explains Aloysius Doran is a millionaire, and St. Simon will likely net a six-figure dowry from marrying the beautiful young heiress. This will come in handy, as his family fortune is severely diminished and the only property he has left is a small estate called Birchmoor. Other papers provide further details about the wedding: it will take place at St. George's church; only half a dozen friends are invited to the ceremony; the reception will take place at the large house Aloysius Doran has rented in London; and the honeymoon will be taken at Lord Backwater's estate.

Given all of this information, Watson is shocked when Holmes explains Hatty Doran disappeared at the reception. The men turn their attention to the most recent paper, published the day before, which gives an account of the disappearance. According to the report the morning ceremony proceeded without incident, and the small wedding party made its way to Aloysius Doran's rented house. During breakfast, however, an unidentified woman forced her way into the house "alleging that she had some claim upon Lord St Simon"; she was forcibly ejected from the premises but not before causing a huge scene. While the bride ate breakfast with the wedding party she excused herself and went up to her room. When she didn't return her father went looking for her, but the servants in the house told him she went to her room only to grab her coat and hat and then fled the house. Aloysius Doran contacted the police, and they arrested the woman who caused the incident at the reception, a former dancer named Flora Millar who has known St. Simon "for some years."

The doorbell rings at Baker Street, and St. Simon enters. Watson observes their visitor is predictably patrician looking, but he comes off older than his age, and he dresses "to the verge of foppishness." Holmes and St. Simon make small talk, and then Holmes gets down to questioning. St. Simon says he and Hatty Doran met—but did not become engaged—in San Francisco the previous year, while St. Simon was on vacation in America. Her father, "the richest man on the Pacific slope," made his fortune in gold mining and investing—but she was 20 years old when the family became rich. Before she was catapulted to the upper crust she was a tomboy who explored the outdoors and knew her way around mining camps. He adds she has a "volcanic" temper and is tremendously strong-willed. Hatty and her father came to London during the previous season, and after a few meetings the couple became engaged.

St. Simon asserts nothing was out of the ordinary during their wedding day, but he recalls a minor incident. As Hatty Doran was walking down the aisle she dropped her bouquet into a pew, and a man handed it back to her. It didn't seem like a big deal, but when St. Simon discussed the incident with her in their cab to the reception she made a huge fuss about it. Per Holmes's questioning, St. Simon confirms the man wasn't a member of the wedding party, just a member of the public visiting the church that morning. When the couple arrived back to the house, Hatty went directly to speak with her maid, Alice, whom she had brought from California and was particularly close with. St. Simon didn't pay much attention to the conversation, but he heard his wife utter the saying "jumping a claim," which he didn't understand because it was American slang. After this exchange she sat down for breakfast. Ten minutes later she "muttered some words of apology" and then fled the house. She was spotted later walking in Hyde Park with Flora Millar.

Holmes asks St. Simon about his relationship with Millar. He says he has been on "a very friendly footing" with the dancer, but he has always been kind to her. Still, she has a terrible temper and is extremely possessive of St. Simon, which is why he planned such a low-key wedding. He had expected her to show up at Aloysius Doran's house during the reception, so he hired plainclothes police officers to guard the premises; they threw Millar out after she showed up and caused a racket. Hatty Doran didn't witness Millar's disruption, yet she was later spotted with Millar. The police think Millar may have somehow tricked Doran into leaving, St. Simon says, but that's about as far as their theorizing goes. St. Simon's theory is his wife decided entering British high society was too intense and too different from her carefree days in America, so she ran off.

Holmes asks St. Simon one clarifying question: where was his position at the breakfast table? He responds that he could see the street and the park through the window. Holmes tells St. Simon he believes he has solved the case and will get back to him shortly once he confirms Hatty's whereabouts. St. Simon leaves Baker Street and shortly after Lestrade enters. A frustrated Lestrade says he has directed police to search for Doran's body in the Serpentine, a lake inside Hyde Park. When Holmes doubts this approach, Lestrade angrily produces a waterlogged bridal dress and other wedding-day accouterments. There's a note inside the dress: "You will see me when all is ready. Come at once." It's signed with the initials "F.H.M.," which obviously implicates Flora Millar in Doran's disappearance, Lestrade argues. Holmes turns the note over and sees a list of hotel charges. He argues this bill fragment is the most important information for the case, but Lestrade denounces Holmes's armchair reasoning and leaves Baker Street in a huff. Before he exits, however, Holmes offers his rival a clue: "Lady St. Simon is a myth."

Holmes leaves Baker Street to investigate the matter further, leaving Watson at home. An hour later, around 5:00 p.m., a large delivery of food arrives without explanation. At around 9:00 Holmes returns to Baker Street. He is glad to see dinner has arrived, and says that company should be arriving any minute. St. Simon arrives looking upset. He confirms a message Holmes sent had reached him, and it unsettled him greatly. He alludes to some sort of embarrassment, but Holmes assures him whatever happened "is the purest accident." The door rings, and a couple enter the house; Holmes introduces them to St. Simon as Mr. and Mrs. Francis Hay Moulton.

The sight of his wife—nay, Mrs. Moulton, formerly Hatty Doran—repels St. Simon, but she tries to sympathize with his distress. St. Simon continues to respond bitterly, but upon Holmes's urging she offers her side of the story. She explains she and Frank (the man she's with) met in a mining camp in the Rockies in 1884 and became engaged. Hatty's father struck gold in the camp and became very wealthy, but Frank had no similar luck. As a result Hatty's father called off the engagement and moved the family to San Francisco. Frank followed them to San Francisco, secretly, and the couple vowed to be together as soon as Frank made his fortune. Before he left, however, the couple married in secret. Hatty followed Frank's movements around the country. One day a newspaper reported he had been killed during an Apache raid, and Hatty had a breakdown. A year later she met St. Simon in California. She decided to remarry when her father moved the family to London, partly to please her father, but she still longed for Frank. However, she says, she intended to be a good wife to St. Simon and to throw herself into the marriage.

On her wedding day, as she made her way down the aisle, she spotted Frank in the front pew. Though dazed, she decided to go through with the wedding rather than cause a scene. She saw him writing a note. On her way out she purposely dropped her bouquet in front of Frank, who handed it back to her along with his note. When she got back to the house she told her maid (who was a close confidant) everything. While she was thinking about what to do over breakfast, she saw Frank through the window. He beckoned for her to come follow him toward the park. That's when she ran up to her room and then slipped out of the house. As she was in the park "some woman"—Flora Millar, no doubt—came up to her alleging St. Simon had skeletons in his closet, but she shook her off and found Frank. He explained he had been taken prisoner by the Apaches but escaped to San Francisco. While he was there he read about Hatty's upcoming wedding, so he traveled all the way to London to find her.

Hatty says despite her happiness at finding Frank she was ashamed of leaving St. Simon the way she did. She thought it would be best for everyone if she completely vanished, so Frank put her clothes together and hid them in Hyde Park. When Holmes visited her earlier this evening and made the case that she owed St. Simon an explanation, however, she reconsidered her plan and agreed to come to Holmes's house. She asks St. Simon, her (brief) second husband, for his forgiveness. St. Simon shakes her hand, but insists he doesn't like to air personal business in front of any group, and leaves the house after turning down Holmes's invitation to dine together. The remaining foursome eats dinner.

After the Moultons leave, Holmes explains to Watson how he cracked the case. Hatty Doran's strange behavior on her wedding day must have been triggered by something from her past, he says. Because she had spent so little time in London, this trigger must have come from America. When St. Simon described the man in the first pew, Hatty's bouquet dropping—an obvious ruse—and her talk with her maid about "jumping a claim," Holmes knew she had run off to be with another man. He tracked her down through the hotel receipt found with her clothes. The prices on the bill indicated that whoever wrote the note had been staying at a very expensive place, so Holmes narrowed his search to the most expensive hotels in the city. The ledger of the second hotel he visited indicated that an American named Francis H. Moulton—initials F.H.M.—had recently stayed there. After inquiring about the man, Holmes was given a London address where the man's mail was to be forwarded, and that's where he found the couple.

Analysis

The plot of "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor" is a bit lighter than many of Holmes's other investigations. No one is killed or placed at risk of being killed, nor does anyone's thumb go on a separate adventure from his body, and no actual crime is committed (except, perhaps for a crime of the heart). It's a fairly conventional mystery that takes the reader along as the characters confront—and discard—one potential theory after the next. With Holmes as the guide through the zigs and zags, this domestic drama becomes much more interesting than if it were simply a story of a runaway bride.

This story also reveals much about social class in the late 19th century, particularly the upper class. The gossipy society papers—one of which Holmes relies on for information about the St. Simons' marriage—reveal the values and insecurities of the age. Snobbishly but cleverly, the paper Holmes consults spells out the mutual benefits of the wedding transaction between Lord St. Simon and Hatty Doran: the economically humbled Lord will gain access to her family's fabulous California riches, and she will "transition from a Republican lady to a British peeress." It's intriguing St. Simon is willing to go along with such a nakedly opportunistic coupling despite his obvious upper-class pretensions. The first time he arrives at Baker Street, Watson finds him almost a caricature of an English aristocrat; St. Simon, he observed, had the "well-opened eye of a man whose pleasant lot it had ever been to command and to be obeyed."

Perhaps he's willing to make an exception because his bride-to-be (and fortune-to-be) is American. Among the British upper class, nothing was less distasteful than new money. And yet, Aloysius Doran is an entirely self-made man, a complete contrast to the "foppish," entitled St. Simon, a "gentleman" whose financial status is tenuous but whose social status remains as high as ever. In the end, however, Hatty opts for love, not status, a twist that suggests Doyle was sympathetic toward such New World values.

This story also highlights the recurring tension between Holmes and Lestrade. Lestrade comes to Holmes's house to grumble about Hatty Doran's disappearance, but Holmes's response leaves him frustrated and unsatisfied. Lestrade has little time for Holmes's speculations; after all, he's been the one chasing down clues all day, while Holmes seems to have been lounging around thinking hard. "I believe in hard work and not in sitting by the fire spinning fine theories," he tells Holmes in a huff before he leaves Baker Street. Their encounter, as always, is meant to contrast Holmes—the savvy outsider—with the establishment. Still, while Holmes may be the superior intellect, he still owes a debt to Lestrade, who (accidentally) presented him with the final clue to the disappearance: the receipt from the hotel Frank Moulton was staying in.

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