The View from the East End
L.E.S.K. for NAVA
by Inspector Hopkins
Now let’s take a look at some “Loose Ends and Story Killers” (L.E.S.K) for the tale of The Naval Treaty . . . another one of my favourite stories in the Canon.
This one is very easy!
If Percy Phelps had simply taken the documents with him when he went down to check on his coffee, there would be no story to tell!
But this mistake leads to many other loose ends. At any rate, recall that Phelps was charged with the important task of copying an extremely sensitive treaty between Britain and Italy, and then submitting both it and the original, to Lord Holdhurst the next morning.
There are a number of loose ends in this story. Here are just a few:
1) The Sleeping Commissionaire: Come on now, these guys were supposed to be reliable! Why in the world would a Commissionaire be sleeping at his post at such an early hour as 9 pm?
2) Lax Security: It seems awfully strange that anyone could just walk into such an important building as the Foreign Office via a side street entrance, which housed such important documents as the “Naval Treaty”! Why wasn’t this building more securely locked up? How come the Commissionaire wasn’t actively patrolling the halls of such an establishment?
3) Wording in French: Even if Phelps was lax in leaving the Naval Treaty documents on his desk when he went down to check on his coffee, and the security was lax enough to allow people from off the street from entering the building, how could Joseph Harrison have recognized the importance of such a document written in French? There would have been no clue as to the importance of such a document, unless he was very literate in that language. However, Watson does seem to make some attempt to describe that Joseph had different physical characteristics than his sister. This might suggest that they were perhaps of different blood lines (e.g. that Joseph was adopted). So perhaps he might have had a French background. We’ll never know, will we? But this is just my take on this, and I would humbly add it to the pile of previous Sherlockian commentary efforts for this tale.
4) The hiding place for the document: If Joseph Harrison was simply a guest in Percy Phelp’s house, then why in the world would he have searched out a “hiding place” for anything during his stay there? This does not make any sense whatsoever. Further, an extreme hiding place such as in the flooring over a gas pipe is unbelievable (perhaps this reminds us of the hiding place in SECO?). To their credit, the Granada Films version of this story shows the document hidden in a sofa, which is slightly more credible. However, if I were to write up this story (instead of Watson), I would have simply placed the documents under the rug!
5) Why make a copy in the first place?: Of course in those days, they didn’t have the same sort of the Xerox machines that we have today. Some research shows, however, that there was in fact some means of making copies of documents. Why would Lord Holdhurst ask Phelps to make a handwritten copy if he could have obtained it more easily, especially since he stated later in the story that the Treaty would no longer be a secret in a few months time? I’d like to hear from other more learned Sherlockians in this matter . . .
Until next time, when we will look at another LESK analysis, and thanking you for your attention, I remain as always,
Past 2010 Columns