Can Sherlock Holmes Read Minds?

Right now, you may be thinking of the episode at the beginning of ‘The Cardboard Box’ (and duplicated in the American versions of ‘The Resident Patient’) where Holmes deduces Watson’s thoughts from the latter’s brown study. Please forgive the pun but I have a case in mind rather than a box. In ‘A Case of Identity’ the greatest mystery comes not from the plot, but how does Holmes know the day of the wedding? Does it strike you as odd that Sherlock Holmes is the first to mention that the wedding is set for Friday? The only prior clue as to the day of the week lies in the fact that a letter was returned on the day of the wedding, so Sunday could be ruled out. Here is the relevant part of the passage from the story:

“Well, and what happened when Mr. Windibank, your stepfather, returned to France?”

“Mr. Hosmer Angel came to the house again, and proposed that we should marry before father came back. He was in dreadful earnest, and made me swear, with my hands on the Testament, that whatever happened I would always be true to him. Mother said he was quite right to make me swear, and that it was a sign of his passion. Mother was all in his favour from the first, and was even fonder of him than I was. Then, when they talked of marrying within the week, I began to ask about father; but they both said never to mind about father, but just to tell him afterwards, and mother said she would make it all right with him. I didn’t quite like that, Mr. Holmes. It seemed funny that I should ask his leave, as he was only a few years older than me; but I didn’t want to do anything on the sly, so I wrote to father at Bordeaux, where the Company has its French offices, but the letter came back to me on the very morning of the wedding.”

“It missed him then?”

“Yes, sir, for he had started to England just before it arrived.”

“Ha! that was unfortunate. Your wedding was arranged, then, for the Friday. Was it to be in church?”

“Yes, sir, but very quietly. It was to be at St. Saviour’s, near King’s Cross, and we were to have breakfast afterwards at the St. Pancras Hotel. Hosmer came for us in a hansom, but as there were two of us, he put us both into it, and stepped himself into a four-wheeler which happened to be the only other cab in the street. We got to the church first, and when the four-wheeler drove up we waited for him to step out, but he never did, and when the cabman got down from the box and looked, there was no one there! The cabman said he could not imagine what had become of him, for he had seen him get in with his own eyes. That was last Friday, Mr. Holmes, and I have never seen or heard anything since then to throw any light upon what became of him.”

“It seems to me that you have been very shamefully treated,” said Holmes.

Perhaps Watson was right when he said to Holmes in ‘A Scandal in Bohemia,’ “You would certainly have been burned had you lived a few centuries ago.” What do you make of it?

NEXT WEEK: The Napoleon of crime.

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