Writer: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Published Year: 1892
Size: 106 KB
In his narration, Dr. Watson notes that this is only one of two cases which he personally brought to the attention of Sherlock Holmes.
The story, set in 1889, mainly consists of a young London consultant hydraulic engineer, Mr. Victor Hatherley, recounting strange happenings of the night before, first to Dr. Watson who dresses the stump where Mr. Hatherley's thumb has been cut off, and then to Sherlock Holmes himself.
Hatherley had been visited in his office by a man who identified himself as Colonel Lysander Stark. He offered Hatherley a commission at a country house, to examine a hydraulic press used, as Stark explains, to compress fuller's earth into bricks. Stark warned Hatherley to keep the job confidential, offering himw 50 guineas (£52 10s, an enormous sum at the time, worth over 4000 GBP today). Hatherley felt compelled to take this work, despite his misgivings, as his business was newly established and he had very little work.
Upon arriving late at night at the appointed train station, Hatherley is met by Colonel Stark, is blindfolded and driven a considerable distance in a carriage to the house where he is to examine the machine. (A minor detail is that the house was actually quite near the station, and the carriage drove around in circles to disguise the house's location from Hatherley). Hatherley is still under the spell of the 50 guineas and does not become afraid even when a woman at the house warns him to flee. He is presently shown the press, and makes his recommendations as to needed repairs. Then, he rashly decides to inspect the press more closely, discovering that it is certainly not used for pressing fuller's earth. Hatherley narrowly escapes getting crushed to death when the machine is turned on, and is forced to jump from a window and run for his life, in the process getting his thumb severed. Holmes then makes sense of the happenings, recognising Stark and his allies as counterfeiters, but he, Watson, and the police arrive too late: the house is on fire, and the perpetrators have fled. Ironically, the press was destroyed when Hatherley's lamp was crushed inside it, setting the machine on fire and ruining the criminals' operation.
This case is one of the few where Holmes fails to bring the villains to justice.