"The Adventure of the Naval Treaty" is a Sherlock Holmes short story by the British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was originally published in two parts, which appeared in the October and November 1893 issues of The Strand magazine in the United Kingdom and in the October 14 and October 21, 1893 issues of Harper's Weekly magazine in the United States. It was published again in December 1893 as part of the anthology The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.
In the story, an important secret document is stolen from the office of Percy Phelps, a clerk at the Foreign Office, when he leaves it unattended. The police are unable to recover the document and have no clue as to who might have taken it. Through their mutual friend, Dr. Watson, Percy Phelps requests help from the brilliant consulting detective Sherlock Holmes.
In the opening paragraph of "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty", Watson says that the case was one of three of Sherlock Holmes' investigations with which he was involved in the July following his marriage. Another one which Watson names is "The Adventure of the Second Stain". Watson says that it will be impossible for him to write about "The Adventure of the Second Stain" until after the start of the 20th century because it, "deals with interests of such importance and implicates so many of the first families in the kingdom". Eleven years after the first publication of "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty", in December 1904, a Sherlock Holmes story called "The Adventure of the Second Stain" was published.
"The Adventure of the Naval Treaty" has been adapted for radio and television.
Dr. Watson has recently married and no longer lives with Sherlock Holmes. One day in July, Watson receives a letter from his old school friend Percy Phelps, who now lives in a house called Briabrae in Woking. Watson knows that Phelps is the nephew of the politician Lord Holdhurst, now the foreign minister, and that, thanks to his uncle's influence, Phelps was able to obtain a good position at the Foreign Office. In the letter, Phelps says that he has suffered a "terrible misfortune" which is likely to destroy his career. He asks Watson to persuade Sherlock Holmes to look into the matter. Phelps does not give any more details about what happened to him but says that he became seriously ill as a result of it. He is recovering from his illness but is still weak and had to dictate his letter. Watson takes the letter to Holmes. Sherlock Holmes is unable to gather much from the letter, except that the person who wrote it for Phelps was a woman, but is intrigued and agrees to take the case.
At Briarbrae, Holmes and Watson are welcomed by a man named Joseph Harrison. He explains that he is the brother of Anne Harrison, Percy Phelps' fiancée. Anne Harrison has been caring for Percy Phelps during the past nine weeks of his illness. Holmes and Watson are taken to Percy Phelps' room, a large downstairs room which is furnished partly as a bedroom and partly as a living room. Joseph Harrison leaves but Anne Harrison stays with Percy Phelps while he tells his story.
The Foreign Office building in which Percy Phelps worked has two entrances, a main entrance on Whitehall and a side entrance, which leads to a staircase, on Charles Street. Ten weeks earlier, on May 23, Phelps was called into the office of his uncle Lord Holdhurst. Lord Holdhurst produced a gray roll of paper. He explained that it was the text of a secret naval treaty between Great Britain and Italy and that the French and the Russians would pay dearly to get hold of the document. Lord Holdhurst asked Phelps to copy out the treaty and to give him back the original and the copy the following morning. Consequently, Phelps was required to stay very late at the office. Due to the sensitive nature of the document, Phelps was told to begin copying the treaty only after all the other clerks had left the building. Another clerk, Charles Gorot, was also working late that evening. Phelps had to wait for a long time for Gorot to leave.
Phelps knew that his fiancée's brother, Joseph Harrison, was in London that evening and hoped to travel back to Woking with him on the eleven o'clock train. He soon realized that he would be unlikely to finish the task that he had been given by 11:00pm. The treaty was written in French and was made up of twenty-six separate articles. By nine o'clock, Phelps had only copied nine of the articles and was feeling sleepy. He remembered that a doorman, an old soldier named Mr. Tangey, stayed in the building all night and often made coffee for clerks who worked late. He pulled the bell rope next to his desk to summon the doorman. To his surprise, a woman came. She said that she was the doorman's wife and worked as a cleaner in the building. Phelps asked Mrs. Tangey to bring him some coffee. After Phelps had copied two more of the treaty's articles, his coffee had still not arrived. He went downstairs to the main entrance and found Mr. Tangey asleep. The doorman was awoken by the sound of a bell. He said that it was the bell for Mr. Phelps' office.
Mr. Tangey and Phelps went up to Phelps' office. They found that the naval treaty had been taken. In search of the thief, they went out of the building's Charles Street entrance. They asked a policeman if he had seen anybody go past. He replied that a woman matching Mrs. Tangey's description had passed by five minutes earlier. Mr. Tangey insisted that his wife had nothing to do with the crime and that the thief must have gone in the opposite direction. Phelps agreed to go in the direction that Tangey indicated, although he also got Mr. Tangey to give him his address. It had been raining for nearly three hours, which meant that all the people on the street were hurrying to get inside. Phelps, Tangey and the policeman were unable to find anyone who had lingered long enough to be a reliable witness.
Phelps and Tangey returned to the Foreign Office building. They searched Phelps' office, as well as the stairs and corridors which led to it, but found no clues. In spite of the rain, there were no wet footprints.
Inspector Forbes of Scotland Yard and Phelps went to the Tangeys' house. Mrs. Tangey had not yet come home but her daughter let them in. When Mrs. Tangey returned, her daughter told her that two men wanted to see her. Mrs. Tangey ran into the kitchen. Phelps and Inspector Forbes followed her. She was surprised to see Phelps and said that she thought the two men were debt collectors. She was taken to Scotland Yard and searched but the treaty was not found on her. Phelps searched Mrs. Tangey's kitchen but found no trace of the treaty or its burned remains.
Having realized that he was not going to recover the treaty that evening, Phelps became extremely agitated. A policeman took him to the train station, where Phelps happened to meet his local doctor. The doctor accompanied Phelps on the train journey back to Woking. During the journey, the state of Phelps' nervous agitation grew steadily worse. By the time he was brought back to Briarbrae, it was clear that he would be ill for some time. Joseph Harrison was forced to move out of the large downstairs guest bedroom in which he had been staying so that it could be used as Phelps' sick room. For nine weeks, Anne Harrison stayed in the room with Phelps all day and a hired nurse stayed with him all night.
Three days before Holmes' visit, Phelps began to recover from his illness. He had a telegram sent to Inspector Forbes. In reply, Forbes said that the Tangeys had been questioned and investigated but did not appear to be guilty. Charles Gorot had also fallen under suspicion, due to his French surname and the fact that he had been the last clerk to leave the building before Phelps.
In response to Holmes' questions, Phelps says that he did not have the opportunity to tell any of his friends or family members about the naval treaty. He also says that his friends and family have visited him at the Foreign Office in the past and know their way around the building.
The absence of wet footprints inside the building on a rainy night leads Holmes to conclude that the thief must have arrived in a cab. He has an advertisement placed in all the London evening newspapers, offering a reward for information about the cab which went to the Charles Street entrance of the Foreign Office on the evening of May 23. Nobody replies to the advertisement.
Sherlock Holmes speaks to Inspector Forbes. The inspector confirms that the Tangeys and Gorot have been closely followed but no evidence that they stole the document has been found. There are no other leads.
Holmes and Watson go to see Lord Holdhurst. Lord Holdhurst has to admit that there are, as yet, no signs that the secret naval treaty has fallen into the hands of the French or the Russians. None of the serious consequences that he expected if a rival nation found out about the treaty have come to pass. Holmes suggests that the thief might be waiting to get a better price for the sale of the document. Lord Holdhurst replies that the thief will soon be unable to get any money for the papers because the contents of the treaty will soon be made public. Holmes says that the thief may not have been able to sell the document due to a sudden long illness. Lord Holdhurst picks up the implication that Phelps is the thief and seems to find that unlikely.
The following day, Holmes and Watson return to Woking. Phelps tells them that he fears that somebody may have planned to dishonor him and then kill him. The previous night, Phelps felt well enough to sleep without the nurse in his room for the first time. He also did not take the medication which he usually took to help him sleep. At two o'clock in the morning, he was awoken by a noise. He saw a man with a knife, the lower part of his face covered with a cloak, trying to break in through the bedroom window. Phelps woke up the rest of the house. He and Joseph Harrison searched the grounds. Harrison pointed out some damage to the fence which he said could have been made by the intruder going over it.
Watson, Holmes, Phelps and Harrison search the grounds of Briarbrae. Holmes notices that the damage to the fence was done much longer ago than the previous night Holmes tells Anne Harrison to stay in Percy Phelps' bedroom all day. When she leaves the room to go to bed, she is to lock the door and take the key with her. Holmes announces that Percy Phelps will accompany him and Watson back to London and stay there for the night. At the train station, Holmes tells Phelps and Watson that they will be going to London without him. He will be staying in Woking and will be back in Baker Street in time for breakfast the following day.
The following morning, Holmes returns to Baker Street with his left hand bandaged. He refuses to talk about what happened to his hand until after breakfast. The housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson, brings in three covered dishes. Holmes asks Phelps to uncover the dish that is placed in front of him. Although he protests that he is not hungry, Phelps removes the cover. On the dish, he sees a roll of gray papers. It is the secret naval treaty between Great Britain and Italy.
Holmes explains that, after sunset, he climbed over the fence into the grounds of Briarbrae. He waited in hiding. He observed Anne Harrison leave Phelps' bedroom and lock the door. Holmes continued to wait for several more hours, saying that he waited, "nearly as long, Watson, as when you and I waited in that deadly room when we looked into the little problem of The Speckled Band". He eventually saw Joseph Harrison come outside. Harrison was wearing a black cloak that he could use to cover his face if needed. Using a knife, Harrison opened Phelps' bedroom window, lifted a floorboard and took out the treaty.
Harrison climbed out of the window, where Holmes was waiting for him. A fight ensued, during which Harrison cut Holmes' hand. Holmes eventually got the better of Harrison and persuaded him to hand over the treaty. Holmes allowed Harrison to escape. He gave the police Harrison's description. He thinks, however, that Phelps and Lord Holdhurst might prefer it if the police do not catch Harrison and the details of the treaty's theft are never heard in court.
Holmes explains that Joseph Harrison had made some bad investments and needed to recover his money. On the evening of May 23, he went to the Foreign Office building, going in through the Charles Street door, to see Phelps. He went into Phelps' office. Finding nobody there, he pulled the bell rope next to Phelps' desk. He noticed the treaty on the desk. He realized that it was an important document and that he could get a lot of money by selling it to a foreign government. He stole the treaty, went back to Woking by train and hid the treaty beneath a floorboard in the guest bedroom at Briarbrae. Percy Phelps' sudden illness meant that Joseph Harrison had to give up the guest bedroom. The fact that there were always at least two people in the bedroom at all times prevented Harrison from trying to recover the treaty for ten weeks.
Percy Phelps asks if, on his previous attempt to break into the bedroom, Joseph Harrison was only carrying the knife as a burglar's tool or if he would have used it to murder him. Holmes is unable to give Phelps a definitive answer.
"The Adventure of the Naval Treaty" was adapted as an episode of the BBC TV series Sherlock Holmes, starring Peter Cushing. It was first shown in the United Kingdom on October 28, 1968. The episode is now lost.
The story was faithfully adapted as the third episode of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the first of four Granada TV Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett. The episode first aired on the ITV network in the United Kingdom on May 8, 1984. In the final scene of the episode, Percy Phelps walks off with Anne Harrison, who had been waiting for him outside Holmes' apartment. The implication is that, although Phelps has found out that Joseph Harrison is a criminal, he will not break off his engagement to Joseph's sister Anne.
"The Great Game", the second episode of the first season of the BBC TV series Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch, draws inspiration from "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty", "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans" (another Sherlock Holmes story in which secret documents related to the navy are stolen) and several other stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The episode was first shown in the United Kingdom on August 8, 2010.
A radio adaptation, starring Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson, was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in the United Kingdom on October 28, 1992. In the adaptation, the character of Tangey's wife is replaced by that of his daughter. It is explained that Mr. Tangey fell asleep at work due to his being treated for a bout of malaria, which he caught while serving as a soldier overseas. Tangey and his daughter are keen to keep this fact a secret.