The Adventure of the Naval Treaty Summary

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

When an important government document turns up missing, count on Sherlock Holmes to report for duty! In this lesson, we'll take a look at another of Holmes' cases, ''The Adventure of the Naval Treaty.''

Another Mystery to Solve

Sherlock Holmes is at it again! This time there's a very important item stolen, and no obvious suspects. Let's take a look at ''The Adventure of the Naval Treaty,'' and see how Holmes figures it out this time!

A Missing Document

The short story opens with Dr. Watson receiving a letter from an old schoolmate, Percy Phelps. Phelps was a smart guy back in the day, earning lots of scholarships and a paid way into Cambridge. On top of that, his uncle, Lord Holdhurst, was a successful politician with the ability to show favor to Phelps where possible. This translated into a cushy Foreign Office job for Phelps, where the mystery of this story occurs.

Phelps has had an important document, a naval treaty, stolen from his office in a moment of absence. Watson is encouraged to bring Sherlock Holmes around to help get to the bottom of the theft.

Phelps Talks from Bed

When Watson and Holmes arrive at Phelps' home, they find a man ill with ''brain fever,'' likely a result of the missing document and the sickness over his own dishonor. Phelps proceeds to explain what's happened.

The document had been on Phelps' desk when he stepped away to grab some coffee. Phelps was tasked with copying the document and keeping both the original and copy safe. In an office equipped with two entrances, someone managed to slip in and out undetected, grab the document and vanish into the night.

The main entrance was guarded by a commissionaire, or door attendant, but no one was watching the side door. Seems like an oversight for certain.

When the coffee he ordered had still not arrived, he stepped away from his desk, and found the kettle boiling and the commissionaire asleep. As they're talking, the bell in Phelps' office rings, signifying someone had entered the room.

In a panic, Phelps runs back to his office: ''I ran frantically up the stair and along the passage. There was no one in the corridors, Mr. Holmes. There was no one in the room. All was exactly as I left it, save only that the papers which had been committed to my care had been taken from the desk on which they lay.'' Uh-oh.

Clues at the Scene

With few clues to go on, Phelps is unable to determine who entered his office and took the document. It had been rainy, yet there were no footprints (Holmes thinks the perpetrator arrived by cab.) The suspect could not have left the building without running into Phelps. The only person seen entering or leaving the building had been the commissionaire's wife.

The police arrive on the scene and start pursuing leads. They visit the commissionaire's wife at home, and though she acts oddly, no papers are found on her. Other possible suspects were explored, with each lead falling flat.

The situation makes Phelps physically ill, and he is ushered into the room of his fiancée's brother Joseph, converted into a ''sick-room'' for Phelps in the past weeks. He has been cared for by his fiancée, Annie Harrison, during the day and a nurse at night. Joseph, is also staying at the house.

Holmes is Intrigued

Doing what he does best, Holmes starts assessing the clues presented: no footprints, the ringing of the bell, and the still-absent documents, which could have been sold to a foreign entity by now in the two months that have passed. Nothing was adding up.

Holmes conducts several interviews, including with Phelps' uncle, Lord Holdhurst, who conveys the seriousness of the problem were the treaty to fall into the hands of a foreign government. Holdhurst tells Holmes that time is running out for the thief to try to profit from the document, since the contents will be public soon enough.

Holmes returns to Phelps' home to discover an attempted break-in has occurred during his absence.

The Break-In

Phelps tells Holmes that the attempted break-in occurred in the very room where he's been sleeping. He is able to see only the burglar's knife (rather than face) since he was wearing ''some sort of cloak which came across the lower part of his face.'' It was the first night Phelps had slept in the room at night without a nurse present. Coincidence?

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