"The Adventure of the Priory School" is a Sherlock Holmes short story by the British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was first published in 1904, appearing in the January 30 issue of Collier's Weekly magazine in the United States and the February issue of The Strand magazine in the United Kingdom. It would be republished in 1905 as part of the anthology The Return of Sherlock Holmes.
In the story, the brilliant consulting detective Sherlock Holmes is asked to investigate the disappearance of the ten-year old son of the Duke of Holdernesse. The boy went missing from a prestigious private boarding school in the north of England a few days earlier. A teacher is known to have gone missing from the school at the same time, although what connection he has with the boy's disappearance is unclear. The case is further complicated when the teacher is found dead. The teacher is found on damp marshland, having obviously been savagely beaten by a man. However, the only tracks visible near his body are those of cows.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle included "The Adventure of the Priory School" in a list of his twelve favorite Sherlock Holmes short stories which he compiled for The Strand magazine in 1927.
The apartment which Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr. John Watson share in Baker Street, London is visited by Dr. Thorneycrofy Huxtable. Dr. Huxtable is the principal of the Priory School, a preparatory school near Mackleton in the north of England. He tells the detective that he has come to ask for his assistance because one of his students has gone missing. The missing boy is Lord Saltire, the ten-year old son of the Duke of Holdernesse. The Duke has tried to keep news of the boy's disappearance out of the papers but he is offering a reward of six thousand pounds to anyone who can tell him where the boy is and who his captors are.
Lord Saltire arrived at the school a little more than two weeks earlier. From some conversations he had with James Wilder, the Duke of Holdernesse's private secretary, Dr. Huxtable has found out that the boy was not happy at home. His parents have recently separated. The boy's mother has gone to live in the south of France and he misses her very much. It is chiefly for this reason that he has been sent to the Priory School. The boy soon adapted to life at the school and appeared to be happy.
Three days earlier, at seven o'clock in the morning, Lord Saltire was found to be missing. His upper story bedroom can only be entered by passing through a larger room which is shared by two boys. Neither of those boys were woken by an intruder in the night.There were no signs of a struggle in Lord Saltire's room, his bed had been slept in and he had dressed in his usual clothes before leaving. The window was open and he appeared to have climbed down an ivy vine to reach the ground. After Lord Saltire's disappearance was discovered, all of the school's students and staff were gathered together. A German teacher, Herr Heidegger, was also found to be missing. Heidegger's bedroom is on the same floor as Lord Saltire's and faces in the same direction. Heidegger appears to have dressed in a hurry, leaving his socks and his shirt behind. He also appears to have climbed down an ivy vine and his bicycle is missing. Heidegger did not teach Lord Saltire and the two are not known to have had any contact with each other at all. Lord Saltire did not have a bicycle and no other bicycles have gone missing.
Since the Duke's home, Holdernesse Hall, is only a few miles from the Priory School, checks were made to see if the boy had gone back to see his father. He had not. A man and a boy were seen at a nearby train station. The local police concentrated all of their efforts on that sighting. They tracked the man and boy to Liverpool and found that they were unconnected to the case.
Holmes asks if Lord Saltire's disappearance could have been prompted by a visit or a letter he had received. Dr. Huxtable says that the boy never had any visitors. He received a letter on the morning of the day that he disappeared. The coat of arms and the handwriting on the envelope indicated that it was from his father. The boy never received any letters from his mother or anyone else.
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson travel to Mackleton by train with Dr. Huxtable. They arrive at the Priory School in the evening and find that the Duke of Holdernesse and his private secretary James Wilder are waiting there. James Wilder says that Dr. Huxtable should not have asked Sherlock Holmes to investigate the boy's disappearance without asking the Duke's permission first. The Duke, however, says that since Holmes has arrived, he can continue his investigation. The Duke tells Holmes that he has not received a ransom note. He does not believe that his wife is involved in his son's disappearance but he believes that the boy may have been encouraged by Heidegger to go to the south of France. He confirms that he wrote a letter to his son which the boy would have received on the day that he went missing. The Duke did not post the letter himself, James Wilder posted it along with several other letters which the Duke wrote that day.
Holmes examines the bedrooms of the boy and the teacher and finds no clues to their disappearance there. Leaving Watson alone, he goes off on his own for several hours. He later returns with a map. The map shows that there is only one main road which passes east and west of the Priory School with no side roads for a mile. Reliable witnesses were at both ends of the road on the night that Lord Saltire and Heidegger went missing and did not see them. To the south of the school, there is farmland divided by stone walls which could not be crossed by a bicycle. The area to the north of the school is dominated by a moor with a small grove of trees called Ragged Shaw. it is only six miles across the moor to Holdernesse Hall but it is ten miles by road. Holmes is certain that Lord Saltire and Heidegger went across the moor when they left the school.
Dr. Huxtable appears with Lord Saltire's cap. He says that the police found it in the caravan of some Gypsies who had been camping on the moor until the day that Lord Saltire disappeared. The Gypsies claimed that they simply found the cap on the moor but they have all been arrested. Holmes does not think that the Gypsies are of any great significance to the case but the discovery of the cap confirms his theory that Lord Saltire went on the moor. Some areas of the moor are marshy and Holmes plans to examine the wet ground for tracks of Lord Saltire and Heidegger the next day.
The following morning, Holmes and Watson examine the marshy parts of the moor. At first, they see nothing but the hoof prints of cows. Watson spots a track left by bicycle tires but Holmes says that they could not have been left by Heidegger's bicycle. From another teacher, Holmes found out that Heidegger had Palmer's tires on his bicycle. The tracks that Watson spotted were made by Dunlop tires which had had a puncture repaired. Nevertheless, Holmes decides to follow the track of the Dunlop tires. The track, which is often covered over by the hoof prints of cows, leads to the Ragged Shaw.
On another marshy part of the moor, Holmes finds the tracks made by the Palmer's tires of Heidegger's bicycle. Holmes and Watson follow the tracks. At some points, it is clear that the teacher was cycling very quickly. There are also signs that Heidegger fell off his bicycle and went a little way on foot before getting back on it. Watson notices some bloodstains. He and Holmes follow them along with the bicycle tracks. They find Heidegger's damaged bicycle and his dead body nearby it. He died of a violent blow to the head. Heidegger is wearing shoes but no socks and has a nightshirt on under his jacket. Holmes realizes he needs to inform the police about the murder but he also wants to continue his own investigations with Watson's help. Holmes sees a man cutting peat. He asks the man to send a note about Heidegger's death to Dr. Huxtable.
It is clear to Holmes that Lord Saltire left of his own free will, since he took the time to dress properly. Heidegger, however, left in a hurry after he saw the boy leaving. He also chose to take his bicycle rather than just run after the boy. He died five miles from the school as a result of a wound which must have been inflicted by a strong man, not by a ten-year old boy. Holmes concludes that there must have been someone else with Lord Saltire on the night that he disappeared. However, there are no signs of tracks left by other people on the wet ground near Heidegger's body. There are only the tracks of cattle.
Holmes and Watson follow the Dunlop tire tracks again. Coming out of the Ragged Shaw, they see that the cyclist could have gone either to Holdernesse Hall or to the village. Holmes and Watson approach the village inn. A sign declares it to be called the Fighting Cock and its landlord to be a man called Reuben Hayes. When he sees Reuben Hayes, Holmes appears to sprain his ankle. Saying that he wants to go to Holdernesse Hall but cannot walk, Holmes offers to pay Reuben Hayes for the loan of a bicycle. Reuben Hayes says that he does not have a bicycle but can loan Holmes and Watson some horses. He gives the two men some food and leaves them in the kitchen of his inn.
From the kitchen, Holmes can see two horses in the inn's stables and a young man at work in a blacksmith's forge. It suddenly strikes Holmes that he and Watson saw a lot of marks left by cows' hooves on the moor but did not see any cows. He goes to examine the hooves of the horses in the stable, He finds that they have had old horseshoes put back on their hooves with new nails. Reuben Hayes reappears. He does not like the curiosity which Holmes and Watson are showing and asks them to leave.
Holmes and Watson continue to observe the Fighting Cock inn from behind some boulders on a hill. They see James Wilder head towards the inn on a bicycle. When it gets dark, a man leaves the inn in a hurry on a horse-drawn cart. James Wilder remains at the inn. He can be seen standing in a doorway, obviously waiting for someone else to come. Another man eventually arrives, he and James Wilder go inside and a light goes on in an upstairs window. Holmes and Watson go back to the inn. They see that James Wilder's bicycle is still there and that it has Dunlop tires with a puncture repaired. Holmes climbs onto Watson's shoulders in order to see who is in the upstairs room. Before returning to the Priory School, they go to Mackleton train station where Holmes sends some telegrams.
The following morning, Holmes and Watson go to Holdernesse Hall. James Wilder tries to prevent them from seeing the Duke but Holmes insists. Holmes says that he will be able to speak more freely if the Duke's private secretary is not present. James Wilder leaves the room. The detective asks the Duke if he is still prepared to pay a reward of six thousand pounds to anyone who can say where Lord Saltire is being kept and who his captors are. The Duke says that he is and begins writing a check for that amount. Holmes says that the boy is being kept at the Fighting Cock inn and that the Duke himself, whom Holmes saw there the night before, is one of his captors. The Duke tries to bribe Holmes into silence by paying him double the amount he offered as a reward. Holmes, however, wants to hear the whole story first.
The Duke tells Holmes that he recently discovered that James Wilder was responsible for the crime. James Wilder is the illegitimate son of the Duke and a woman who died many years earlier. Although he could not acknowledge James as his son, the Duke tried to take care of him. However, James found out the truth about his origins and wanted to inherit his father's title. The Duke could not bear to send James away because the young man reminded him of his mother. However, James' continued presence contributed to the collapse of the Duke's marriage. James also became extremely jealous of the Duke's legitimate son Lord Saltire.
James Wilder conspired with Reuben Hayes, one of the Duke's tenants whom James met in his capacity as a rent collector, to abduct the boy. James slipped a note into the letter which the Duke wrote to his son. The note said that Lord Saltire's mother wanted to see him. That evening, James rode his bicycle to the Ragged Shaw where he met Lord Saltire. He told the boy to come to the moor at midnight and that a man with a horse would take him to his mother. The boy did as he was told and was met by Reuben Hayes. The landlord noticed Heidegger pursuing them and struck the man on the head with a stick. Lord Saltire was taken to the Fighting Cock inn where Reuben Hayes' wife took care of him. The Duke thinks that James planned to release the boy on the condition that he be named heir to the Duke of Holdernesse instead of the child.
After finding out about the death of Heidegger in a telegram from Dr. Huxtable, James Wilder made a full confession of his crime. He asked that the boy be allowed to remain at the inn for three more days, giving Reuben Hayes time to escape. The Duke wanted to see his young son but could not risk going to the inn in daylight.
Holmes tells the Duke that he could be in serious trouble since he was the one who provided money for Reuben Hayes' escape. He also thinks that the Duke took an unacceptable risk by allowing the boy to continue to stay among criminals at the inn for another three days. Holmes calls for one of the Duke's servants. The man is told to send a carriage to the Fighting Cock inn to bring young Lord Saltire home.
Thanks to a telegram which Holmes sent, Reuben Hayes has been arrested for the murder of Heidegger. There is the possibility that he will tell the police about the involvement of the Duke and James Wilder in the crime but Holmes has no intention of saying anything about it to the police if Hayes does not. The Duke reassures Holmes that James Wilder will leave England forever and start a new life in Australia. With James gone, the Duke also hopes to be reconciled with his wife.
Before Holmes leaves Holdernesse Hall, the Duke shows him some horseshoes which one of his medieval ancestors used. The horseshoes are intended to disguise horses' hoof prints by making them look like the hoof prints of cows. Mud on the horseshoes shows that they have been used recently.
"The Adventure of the Priory School" was adapted as the sixth episode of the Granada TV series The Return of Sherlock Holmes starring Jeremy Brett. It first aired in the United Kingdom on the ITV network on July 16, 1986. There are a number of differences between the television program and the original short story. In the episode, James Wilder moves Lord Saltire away from Reuben Hayes' inn shortly after Holmes realizes that the boy is being kept there. James Wilder does not confess his involvement in the crime to the Duke of Holdernesse. Sherlock Holmes has to persuade the Duke that his illegitimate son organized the abduction and that he does not deserve a father's forgiveness for what he has done. Holmes remembers reading about an underground limestone cave where the Duke of Holdernesse's ancestors used to hide stolen cattle. The detective, the Duke and a large search party made up of the Duke's servants find Wilder and the boy in the cave. James Wilder falls from a nook in the wall of the cave to his death.
- ↑ In the list of his twelve best Sherlock Holmes stories, which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle compiled for The Strand magazine in 1927, the author ranked "The Adventure of the Priory School" as number ten, following "The Adventure of the Speckled Band', "The Red-Headed League", "The Adventure of the Dancing Men', "The Final Problem", "A Scandal in Bohemia", "The Adventure of the Empty House", "The Five Orange Pips", "The Adventure of the Second Stain" and "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot".
- ↑ In Britain, a preparatory school is a private school for children aged between eight and thirteen. It is intended to prepare them for entry into the more prestigious private schools for older children.
- Text of "The Adventure of the Priory School" on Wikisource.
- Quotations from "The Adventure of the Priory School" on Wikiquote.
- Public domain audiobooks of "The Adventure of the Priory School" Part 1 and Part 2 on YouTube.
- "The Adventure of the Priory School" on Baker Street wiki.