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"The Adventure of the Honest Wife" is a Sherlock Holmes short story by Lyndsay Faye. It was first published in The Strand Magazine, and later included in her collection The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. In it, a jealous husband seeks Holmes' assistance to prove his wife is having an affair after she starts claiming that he is poisoning her jewelry.

Plot[]

Holmes and Watson receive a visit from Mr Lucien Treadwell, a wealthy but brutish banker. He tells Holmes that his wife has recently been acting strange, and demands his help to prove that she is having an affair. Holmes, evincing an instant dislike for the man, angers Treadwell by initially refusing the case, deeming the request beneath abilities (and morals). However, Holmes changes his mind when Treadwell reveals that his wife has been refusing to wear her jewelry for nearly six months, claiming that her husband has poisoned them. She has appeared ill every time her husband has forced her to, though Treadwell suspects her of malingering to confuse him. Holmes agrees to take the case in spite of his dislike for Treadwell; when he is alone with Watson, he reveals he suspects Mrs Treadwell is in danger.

On the way to Treadwell's home in Hampstead, he reveals a few additional clues about the case. He informs them that he had been married for just about two years. About six months ago, she had stopped leaving her correspondence in the open, and begun locking it in a box - though admittedly, the majority of her correspondence was with her sister. This had been around the time his wife had started claiming the jewelry was poisoned, and implying that only her husband hated her enough to do so. She had even refused to wear new pieces that Treadwell bought her, putting her entire collection in a safe. It is clear that the Treadwell's marriage is thoroughly unhappy, and that the husband has little respect for his wife.

When they arrive at the Treadwell's home, Holmes and Watson are conducted to the sitting room where they meet Mrs Alice Treadwell. Watson immediately notes an odd discoloration of her skin, which is a sickly pale white. They introduce themselves as insurance appraisers, and leave to investigate the house. As they head upstairs, Holmes informs Watson that Mrs Treadwell could not have been poisoned by her jewelry, as some of the pieces her husband had mentioned she refused to wear, like a brooch and hair ornament, would not have touched her skin for long.

In Mrs Treadwell's bedroom, Holmes finds no makeup in her vanity except a bottle of theatrical concealer, accounting for her odd pallor. He also sees her locked letter box. Mr Treadwell enters, and Holmes asks him to open his wife's safe. Holmes examines her jewelry, and announces that it is certainly not poisoned. He tells Treadwell that he requires a small experiment to test his hypothesis - that Mrs Treadwell is not lying, but rather suffering from hysteria. He asks Mr Treadwell to shut the flue in the sunroom fireplace, which will cause the downstairs to fill with smoke and make his wife believe the house is on fire. Holmes explains that in the case of fire a woman will attempt to save her most valuable possession, but in Mrs Treadwell's disordered mental state she will no doubt save something worthless, proving her madness. Mr Treadwell readily agrees, and goes downstairs to get ready. Watson asks what Holmes is really planning: Holmes only tells him that he hopes Mrs Treadwell does not save her letter box.

Downstairs, Holmes and Watson engage Mrs Treadwell in conversation. When the sitting room begins to fill with smoke, Mrs Treadwell leaps up in a panic and immediately runs upstairs. She returns wearing a heavy cloak, and Holmes assures her that it was only a false alarm. Mr Treadwell laughs at his wife saving something so ridiculous, and thanks Holmes for proving her madness. After they leave, Holmes comments that the concealer was covering up bruises that Mrs Treadwell had received from her husband. Most importantly, Mrs Treadwell's entire jewelry collection has been replaced with paste copies. She had no doubt been refusing to wear them to prevent anyone from noticing she had sold the real stones. But he says that he slipped Mrs Treadwell his card before he left, so they will no doubt get the whole story from her if she manages to sneak out that night.

Alice Treadwell indeed arrives later that night. She is worried that her husband has discovered her plot, but Holmes reassures her that he remains in the dark. She confirms that her husband is abusive, and that she intends to leave him and rebuild her life under her maiden name, Alice Darlington. She explains that her sister, Rose had recently become independently wealthy after their parent's death, and had encouraged Alice to leave her husband and come live with her. However, Alice did not want to be dependent on her sister, so she planned to raise some money to live on before joining her by selling her jewels. She had purchased paste copies to prevent her husband from divining her intentions, and sewn the money into her cloak to hid it. Holmes admits admiration for her, and ensures that she gets on the next train out of the city.

News of the "Darlington Substitution Scandal" soon leaks, and becomes the hot gossip of London's society papers. Mr Treadwell, however, stubbornly refuses to admit that he has been duped by his wife, and continues to insist that she was simply hysterical.

Trivia[]

  • The story was in inspired by a reference to an unpublished case mentioned in "A Scandal in Bohemia", where Holmes attempts to use the same fire ruse against Irene Adler. He tells Watson, "...I have more than once taken advantage of it. In the case of the Darlington Substitution Scandal it was of use to me..."
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