The particulars of this case are far more straightforward than Watson would have us believe, though the fun is in the manner of the telling.
Robert, Lord St. Simon, is puzzled and distraught. His bride, Hatty Doran of San Francisco, disappeared on their wedding day, not before the wedding or after the honeymoon, but rather from the reception. To Holmes, that is the singular point that makes this case somewhat unusual from others of this type. As Lord St. Simon relates it, Hatty was full of enthusiasm before the wedding, but her mood changed drastically immediately following the ceremony. The only thing amiss was the part where Hatty accidentally dropped her wedding bouquet, which was retrieved and returned to her by a gentleman in the front row.
During the reception, a dancer named Flora Millar causes a scene and is summarily cast out. Hatty was seen talking with her maid, and then ten minutes into the reception, she claimed “a sudden indisposition” and returned to her room. It was discovered in short order that she’d left the house.
In his usual manner, Holmes sifts through the facts and rapid fires some questions, finding the case quite easy having dealt with similar situations before. He arranges a meeting later wherein Lord St. Simon comes face to face with his bride… and her husband. The mystery man, Francis H. Moulton, had tried and failed to gain his fortune through prospecting. The mining camp where he worked was raided by the Apache, and Hatty had given him up for dead. It turns out, Moulton had been taken prisoner, escaped, and tracked Hatty to London, by which point she’d already arranged marriage to Lord St. Simon after their courtship. Moulton arrived just in time for the ceremony, and rather than have her cause a scene, he gestured for silence and slipped her a note when he returned her bouquet. She had looked to depart without further drama, but Holmes tracked them down in favor of the full reveal. Hatty tries to apologize, but His Lordship is unmoved.
As I said, the manner of the telling is what makes this story. The banter between Holmes and Watson, while still not the best, is a far cry better than the previous story’s near absence of it. When Holmes is insufferable, these tales are far more fun. At least to me.
At the time of this story’s writing, Anglo-American relations were important and feature prominently as part of the story’s background. We’ve seen this from time to time already, going back to the beginning, and it’s even suggested that someday the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes should be quartered together on the same coat of arms. Conan Doyle makes no secret of his appreciation for American life and culture, and throughout Holmes often remarks on his preference for it over stuffy British formality, especially at aristocratic levels. So it is here with His Lordship being left in the lurch, embarrassed and brokenhearted.
There are some inconsistencies that have been noted in Sherlockian circles that I would be remiss if I did not point them out. The first deals with Watson’s wound from Afghanistan. In A Study in Scarlet, he states he was struck in the shoulder. Here, the wound has mysteriously shifted to his leg, which he keeps propped up to help alleviate the pain. The second deals with a matter of aristocratic address, which as an American I would never have known if not for having read it elsewhere. Lord St. Simon, being a second son, does not get the title and should be rightfully addressed as Lord Robert. As such, Hatty should be addressed as Lady Robert, awkward as that sounds.
I think for myself, my favorite part of this tale is when Lord St. Simon tries to over-inflate his importance by suggesting that Holmes had never dealt with a case at this level, and Holmes admits that it is a decline from former adventures wherein he dealt with the King of Bohemia. Again, Conan Doyle uses Holmes to slap the smug off the face of the aristocracy. I rather enjoy those bits.