Decoding the Subtext
Sherlockian Theory
Canon Companions

Decoding the Subtext: Black Peter


Baring-Gould dates The Adventure of Black Peter in July of 1895. Watson tells us that the story took place in the first week of July, 1895, corresponding with Baring-Gould's date. The story was first published in March of 1904.


Inspector Stanley Hopkins seeks Holmes' aid in finding the man responsible for the murder of Peter Carey. Carey, known to many as Black Peter (due to his dark temper) was found dead inside a small cabin in his yard, a harpoon driven clean through his torso. Although Scotland Yard has in its possession an eyewitness, a tobacco pouch with the initials P.C. on the side, and a notebook containing the initials J.H.N., they are unable to put a case together. Holmes, having determined that the murderer must be a man of incredible strength (given that the harpoon passed through the dead man and embedded itself into the wall behind him) sets out on his own investigation, leaving Scotland Yard to focus their attentions on the wrong man. The final solution brings with it a tale of deceit and scandal, both tied directly to several missing securities.

The Subtext:

I have never known my friend to be in better form, both mental and physical, than in the year '95.

So begins The Adventure of Black Peter, and here we cannot help but comment on Watson's opening comment. Indeed, it is quite easy to imagine that Watson knew full well what form, both mental and physical, Holmes was in. It is easy to imagine, too, that Holmes must have been quite content with life. The hiatus over, Holmes was home, and had, within arm's reach, everything he could possibly want (i.e. Watson). This, combined with the physical and mental benefits of a regular sex life, must have seen Holmes in top form. Sex aside, we cannot doubt that Holmes' happiness here was in some way tied to the happy existence he had forged with Watson.

During the first week of July my friend had been absent so often and so long from our lodgings that I knew he had something on hand.

Still in the process of setting the mood for the case, Watson is particular to note that Holmes has begun working on this case alone. This is interesting, for we later learn that Holmes has been spending his days in harpoon practice at the local butcher's shop. One wonders, then, why it was that Holmes chose to hide this from Watson. Clearly Watson knows Holmes well enough to know that Holmes is engaged on a case (and it is quite interesting that Watson chooses not to press Holmes for information, instead waiting for Holmes to come around to the topic in his own time) and so there should be no reason for Holmes to keep Watson in the dark. In order to answer this question, we must first recall Holmes' past behaviour.

In the beginning stages of their acquaintanceship, Holmes often kept his researches to himself. As their relationship progressed, however, Holmes began to include Watson in his researches with increasing frequency. Throughout Watson's marriage, Holmes sought out Watson constantly in hopes that a case might lure his interest. We see now, however, that Holmes has no need to impress Watson, or even to attract Watson with the prospect of a case. Holmes is free to engage in his own researches, without fear of losing Watson's interest or attention. Holmes' absence here, then, can be seen as Holmes' growing comfort in his relationship with Watson. Truly they have become an old married couple.

Holmes does, of course, upon successful completion of his experiment, fill Watson in on the details. He is unable to get to the purpose behind his absences, however, before they are interrupted by the arrival of Inspector Hopkins. Hopkins finishes what Holmes started, filling in the details regarding the curious death of Peter Carey before once again asking for Holmes' aid. Holmes agrees, but he is unwilling to pursue the matter any further without his Watson.

"Watson, if you can spare the time I should be very glad of your company."

Naturally, Watson agrees, and they are soon off for Forest Row and the home of Black Peter. Holmes' investigation does not last long, however, and, having examined the scene of the crime thoroughly only to find nothing of use, Holmes proposes that they pause in their investigation until evening. Holmes' comment here, one will agree, is quite remarkable:

"Let us walk in these beautiful woods, Watson, and give a few hours to the birds and the flowers."

The above statement is so unlike Holmes of old (a man who cared not for nature) that we can only sit back and stare with wonder. Clearly this is Watson's influence, for it would appear as though Watson's romantic tendencies have rubbed off on the Great Detective.

Sadly, their romantic meander through the woods comes to an end, Holmes and Watson forced to return to the scene of the crime, so that they might set an ambush for whoever tried to break into the cabin the night before. They are in luck, and someone does return; a Mr. John Hopley Neligan, who is searching for several of his father's lost securities, which he believes to be in the hands of Peter Carey. Neligan tells his story and is then arrested by Inspector Hopkins on the charge of murder, effectively bringing the case to a close.

The next morning, as Holmes and Watson make their way back to Baker Street, Holmes questions Watson as to his thoughts on the matter. The conversation which follows, I am sure you will agree, is quite suggestive.

"I can see that you are not satisfied."

"Oh, yes, my dear Watson, I am perfectly satisfied."

We later learn that Holmes is not, in fact, satisfied with Hopkins' solution (or the arrest of Mr. Neligan). We must then question what it was that Holmes was referring to when he stated his satisfaction. As Holmes and Watson have just left their hotel room, where they passed a long night together, we can only speculate that Holmes' satisfaction had very little to do with the case.

Holmes and Watson soon arrive at Baker Street, and it is there that Holmes turns his attention back to the case. He arranges for Inspector Hopkins' presence, along with several men that Holmes considers prime suspects. Within seconds of their arrival, Holmes is able to deduce which of the three men is responsible for Black Peter's death. Getting this man in cuffs, however, is not as easy as Holmes planned. Indeed, Watson tells us:

The next instant Holmes and the seaman were rolling on the ground together.

Here we must only hope that Watson forgave Holmes for this transgression.

The story soon draws to a close, and we learn that Watson did indeed forgive Holmes, for Holmes, in his closing remark, states:

"If you want me for the trial, my address and that of Watson will be somewhere in Norway -- I'll send particulars later."

As Holmes is unable to send particulars, we must assume this trip is a spontaneous one. As we know Holmes is not working on a case, we must also assume this trip is a personal one. As Holmes makes particular reference to Watson accompanying him, we must conclude that this trip is their long awaited honeymoon.

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