Published in October 1924, this story takes place at “the latter end of June, 1902… the same month that Holmes refused a knighthood for services which may perhaps some day be described.” It is of note that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle clearly didn’t refuse his own knighthood, which happened around this time frame. Speaks quite a bit to Holmes’ disdain for the nobility. Sometimes I think he and Beethoven might have been kindred spirits… had Holmes been a real person, of course.
Nathan Garrideb seeks the aid of Holmes to find another man with his last name. Doing so will earn him a $5 million inheritance. He has been contacted by John Garrideb of Kansas, who is also seeking others of that name.
John Garrideb comes to 221B, not pleased at all to find that Nathan has involved a detective. The American claims to be a lawyer, working a ridiculous story about A millionaire land tycoon he met in Kansas, one Alexander Hamilton Garrideb. This tycoon left a $15 million estate to John on the condition he find two more men of the Garrideb name to share it equally. Having failed in the States, John came to England to continue the search.
Through careful questioning, Holmes is able to skewer lie after lie without tipping his hand to the American. He pays a visit to Nathan Garrideb, and the nameplate outside his house has been there for years, suggesting this to be his true name.
Nathan Garrideb is an elderly eccentric, a collector of a great many things — good collections, but nothing of inherent value. Holmes learns that John Garrideb has never asked for money nor suggested any course of action, so Nathan has no reason to be suspicious, which puzzles Holmes.
During the visit, John Garrideb arrives in a really good mood. One Howard Garrideb placed an ad in regards to his business, though Holmes instantly sees through the ruse. There are too many American spellings and word choices. As Holmes says, it’s bad English, but good American. John insists that Nathan meet with Howard, at which point Holmes deduces that the entire affair was meant to get Nathan out of his house.
Holmes pays a visit to Inspector Lestrade at Scotland Yard the next day, wherein John Garrideb is revealed to be James Winter, alias Morecroft, alias “Killer” Evans, who escaped prison after shooting three men in the States. In London, he killed a Chicago forger, Rodger Prescott, who appears to have been the former occupant of Nathan Garrideb’s room.
Armed with revolvers, Holmes and Watson return to the Garrideb home and hide out. Winter shows up in short order, opening a trapdoor into a cellar. Winter is captured, but he manages to shoot Watson in the leg. Distraught over his friend, Holmes unleashes, pistol-whipping Winter, drawing blood, and proclaiming that had Watson been killed, Winter would not be leaving the room alive. As Watson narrates, the entirety of his friendship with Holmes culminated in that moment.
The wound is superficial, and the cellar contains a press and stacks of counterfeit banknotes. Winter is sent back to prison. Garrideb is so disappointed, he ends up in an nursing home. The CID are pleased to know Prescott’s equipment has been found.
“It was worth a wound, it was worth many wounds, to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask.”
That says it all, I think. Not a bad little story on its own. It’s fun to have Holmes explain how he sees past the lies, and for those who read for the characters, this moment where Holmes loses it for the sake of his friend is priceless. Easily one of the most memorable moments in the canon.