“It was my duty to bring the facts to light, and there I must leave it. As to the morality or decency of your conduct, it is not for me to express an opinion.”
—“The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place”
We bid farewell to Holmes and Watson on familiar ground. “Shoscombe Old Place” revisits and reimagines elements of one of the most popular canonical tales, “Silver Blaze,” making much of dogs and horses. Scholars have also seen similarities between “Shoscombe” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher” and, as Sherlockian Sonia Fetherston noted in a 2006 issue of the Baker Street Journal, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass. In addition to these influential forebears, however, there is something even more to “Shoscombe” marking the end of our literary travels with Holmes. It is the fact that, even amid the mystery, suspicion of foul play, and the same eerie trappings that characterize many of the canon’s most Gothic “country house” tales, the story manages to have a happy ending.
“Shoscombe,” or “The Adventure of the Black Spaniel,” as it was originally titled, unfolds, as many of the stories in the Case-Book, without a specific crime having taken place. The client, a horse trainer named John Mason, comes to Holmes, as many others have, like James Dodd in “Blanched Soldier” or Sir James Damery, on orders from “The Illustrious Client,” because his own observations of recent unusual events seem to point to something criminal afoot. While the resolution of the tale is not without its mordant and horrific elements, like “Veiled Lodger,” Holmes reads the acts as ultimately dishonorable and ill-planned, and makes mention of bringing the matter to the authorities while admonishing the guilty party, but makes a hasty retreat, leaving the recording of the happy ending to a Watsonian coda.
But it is on a happy note, nonetheless, that we, as readers, take our leave, as well. And, perhaps it is in reading “Shoscombe” that the Holmes aficionado appreciates Conan Doyle’s deviations from standard chronology, for we are, at very least, assured that there would be much more in store for the doctor and the detective for many, many years to come. And that perhaps, makes it the happiest “ending” of all.