“A Case of Identity” from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
This is a really interesting case as it is one that Sherlock solves, but doesn’t “solve” as he can never reveal the truth to the client as she wouldn’t believe it.
One day Sherlock is remarking to Watson he hasn’t had an interesting case. However, there may be one in the future, near future, as in the girl who is pacing outside their door.
“I have seen those symptoms before,’ said Holmes, throwing his cigarette into the fire. ‘Oscillation upon the pavement always means an affair de coeur. She would like advice, but is not sure that the matter is not too delicate for communication.”
This new client is Miss Mary Sutherland. After Holmes amazes her with his deductive abilities, she introduces her case.
She is here to seek help in finding a Mr. Hosmer Angel.
Mary’s father died not to long ago, and shortly after her mother remarried a Mr. Windibank, fifteen years her junior and five years older than Mary, and they sold the Sutherland plumbing business for £4700. Mary has £100 annual that she receives from her uncle Ned.
She lives at home, earning a side income of £60 at typing, and has a genial relationship with her mother and “father”. She signs over her her £100, as she wants to help at home and can do well off her side income.
Mary used to go out and have fun while her father was alive, but Mr. Windibank never let’s them go anywhere. When they receive tickets to the gasfitter’s ball, in memoriam to her late father, Mary rebels. She decides to go, while her stepfather sulks off to France. She attends the dance with her mother and their old foreman, Mr. Hardy.
There she met Hosmer Angel. They continued to spend time together, as he asked her for walks, courting her. But then one day, her stepfather returns and no more is seen of Mr. Angel.
The two wrote letters and became engaged. However, he will not come around when her father is home.
He was a shy man, retiring, gentlemanly, soft voice, he had weak eyes like Mary and wore tinted glasses.
When her stepfather left, Hosmer Angel returned. They planned to get married and Hosmer made her swear on a bible that whatever happened she would always be true. Mary was worried about stepfather but her mother said to forget it. Mary was still worried as it felt underhanded and wrote to her stepfather, only to receive the letter back.
The day of the wedding Hosmer Angel placed Mary and her mother in a cab , following behind them. But when they reached the church, he had VANISHED!
Her mother and father were very upset and told Mary to forget him. He was just a cad and it wasn’t like he had borrowed money or married her and took off. But Mary can’t forget. She must know where her love is.
She advertised for him in the paper, but nothing. No one knows him and she has not heard from him again.
Where is he?
Sherlock agrees to the case and Mary leaves him to think on it.
Now Sherlock has picked up on many clues, one of which being the letters she received from her Betrothed, Hosmer Angel, were all typewritten, even the signature. Very odd.
He then writes two letters-one to a firm in the city, sand the second to Mr. Windibank.
The two wait for the reply.
The next day, Mr. Windibank answers the note and arrives at Baker Street. Sherlock discusses the case, the letters, etc-Mr. Windibank making a lot of bluster that he would like to catch the guy who did this to his daughter. But then Sherlock reveals who the guy is, Mr. Windibank.
Yes, Mr. Windibank was just a gold digger. He married the widow for her money and was also enjoying the money of the stepdaughter. He tried to do everything he could to keep her from marrying and taking her money with her.
First he never let her out or to any events, but soon Mary grew tired of this and rebelled. Windibank knew it was only a matter of time until she went somewhere and met someone, and he decided the only one she would meet would be himself.
He got his wife to help him and disguised himself. He wanted to distract Mary and knew the best way to hook her was to get her promise of undying love. And on the day of the wedding he entered the carriage on one side, exiting through the other to “vanish”. With such an event, he knew that Mary would never stop trying to look for her “fiancé” and that her heart would be stolen forever.
Thoughts After Reading:
The sad thing about this is that Mary is unlikely to believe him, so he decides to give that view up. But poor girl, how sad that her stepfather and MOTHER would conspire against her like that? I think this is one of the sadder stories in Sherlock Holmes. And now she will spend her life thinking and having her heart stolen by that jerk. And him, nothing he did was really against the law, but how horrible. Sherlock threatens to beat him with a whip for his treachery, but Wiindibank hurries away-fast. Too bad, I would have liked him to get his just desserts.
For more Sherlock Holmes, go to The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
For more by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, go to The Red Headed League
For more from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, go to A Scandal in Bohemia
For more short stories, go to Punishment Without Crime