Dr. Percy Trevelyan has a most unusual business arrangement. Though a brilliant student, his funding is nowhere near sustainable. A man by the name of Blessington has set up Dr. Trevelyan is a practice at a rather luxurious address, all expenses paid. In return, he takes 75% of all earnings, collected every evening. The arrangement stems from Blessington himself being in need of Trevelyan’s services. Everything went well for a time, but now Blessington has become somewhat volatile after reading about a burglary elsewhere in the city.
Shortly after, a Russian nobleman with cataleptic fits turns up as a prospective patient. His son brought him by in the evening while Blessington was out on his usual walk and insisted on waiting in the waiting room while Trevelyan looked over the father. During the visit, the nobleman suffered a fit, sitting bolt upright and rigid. The doctor went to fetch nitrite of amyl for the man to inhale, but he found upon his return that both patient and son had gone. But they returned the next night, the son claiming his father had walked out of the room, so he assumed the consultation had ended, coming to a later conclusion that something wasn’t right. A second consultation ensued, and once it ended, Blessington became unruly and paranoid. He claimed someone had been in his room, and there were footprints to prove it. The only suspect is the nobleman’s son, but nothing was touched or stolen.
Holmes decides to investigate the doctor’s practice firsthand at this point, but when he arrives with Watson and Trevelyan, Blessington is there to meet them at gunpoint, standing down only when Trevelyan convinces him no harm will come. When confronted as to the identity and purpose of the Russian nobleman and his son, Blessington claims he can’t answer the first, but the second can be answered in the knowledge that he keeps his money in a box in his bedroom since he doesn’t trust bankers. Holmes accuses Blessington of deception and leaves in disgust.
Some time after departing, Holmes explains his thoughts to Watson. These two men, and perhaps more, are out for Blessington, faking catalepsy to keep the doctor occupied. Nothing stolen means they’re looking for the man himself. An evening appointment helps to avoid other patients in the waiting room. Blessington’s panic can only mean his life is in danger, and he knows who’s after him.
News comes in the morning that Blessington has hanged himself. Holmes and Watson are returned to Trevelyan’s practice to discover the body is still hanging from a hook in the bedroom ceiling. Inspector Lanner believes suicide, but Holmes dismisses that outright. He points out the discarded cigar butts and other clues that note three men who were there for a while. They were let inside as the door was still barred in the morning. The new suspect: a recently employed page who has vanished. Convenient. A screwdriver and some hardware suggest they were going to rig a pulley system to hang the victim, but stopped short as the hook was already there. The murderers came by to conduct a trial of sorts, reached a guilty verdict, and carried out sentence.
Further digging unveils the full truth. The four men were part of a bank robbery gang. Blessington’s real name was Sutton. After robbing the Worthington Bank years back, Blessington had turned informer. Another gang member was hanged for murdering the caretaker, the rest given 15 years in prison. The paranoia was the result of receiving news of early release. He was hanged to avenge their condemned comrade.
The page is found, but the case against him falls apart for lack of evidence. The other three are never heard from again. It is believed they met their fates in the wreck of the Norah Creina off the coast of Portugal. Strange how so many of “the ones who got away” seem to meet this sort of off-camera end in some divinely-orchestrated disaster…
On the surface of things, this isn’t really one of the better stories in the canon, but there’s something about the character beats in play that makes it work far better than it has a right to. It comes across as an enjoyable read every time. And it seems so simple by comparison of the next three stories in line, almost a red herring of its own to throw the reader off the scent of what’s coming. I’m forced to wonder if Conan Doyle didn’t plan that too.