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"The Adventure of the Vintner's Codex" 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, Holmes tells Watson Watson about a case from just before their acquaintance, when he helped a wine merchant recover a valuable medieval codex.

Plot[]

On New Year's Eve, Watson returns to Baker Street and is upset to find Holmes holding his syringe. Holmes argues with Watson when he chides him over his drug use, and Watson turns to leave. In a ploy to retain the doctor's company, Holmes recounts an early case from shortly before the two made their acquaintance.

The case concerned a well-known wine merchant named Uriah Vamberry, who provided Holmes with reasonably priced spirits in his early practice. Vamberry's prized possession was a valuable medieval musical codex, which he kept displayed in a back room of his shop. Holmes arrives at Vamberry's one morning to find him quite disturbed. He informs Holmes that his codex has gone missing, and is glad to accept Holmes' assistance in solving the case.

Suspicion immediately falls on Vamberry's two clerks, as Vamberry had not intended to come in that day and the store was otherwise tightly locked up. A quick review of the orderly back room, with the display frames neatly stacked, confirms that the theft had been carefully planned by someone familiar with the store. The only things out of place is a scrap of cotton wool; Holmes also finds a large quantity of damp cotton under the counter in the front room.

Holmes next interviews Vamberry's two clerks. The senior, Aloysius Evers had worked for Vamberry for five years, and appears quite calm. By contrast, the junior, an Italian named Antonio Manente, had only worked at the shop two months and was obviously anxious. Holmes interviews each privately. He notices a spattering of wine on Evers' leg, which the clerk explains as the result of him disposing of a shipment of tainted wine earlier. Holmes asks him about his coworker, and Evers points to Manente's suspicious behavior. He also insinuates that his colleague had a troubled past, but refuses to say more as he was sworn to secrecy.

When Holmes interviews Manente, the clerk adamantly refuses to be searched or to show the contents of his briefcase. To Manente's shock, Holmes reveals that he already knows the clerk is a former convict from the calluses on his hands - sure signs of hard labor. Manente admits that he was sentenced for the accidental death of a drunkard who accosted his sister, which he has kept a secret from Vamberry out of fear of losing his job. His briefcase contains court documents, which he desires to keep hidden from his employer.

With this information, Holmes determines that Evers is certainly the thief, and planned to frame Manente for the crime. He walks back into the front, where a policeman has arrived. Evers is preparing a delivery of wine in heavy green bottles; when Holmes remarks on this, Evers attempts to flee and is tackled by the officer. Holmes explains that Evers had secretly emptied the bottles to conceal the manuscripts, and dried them with cotton wool. And of course, when Vamberry opens the bottles he finds his treasure inside. Evers attempts to pin the blame on Manente by revealing his prior conviction, but Holmes ensures it comes to nothing, and Vamberry does not fire him.

After Holmes finishes his story, Watson considers how many people the detective has helped, and doubles down on his determination to break Holmes' addiction before it ruins his life. Holmes, intuiting Watson's thoughts, admits that he has his doubts it will be possible; however, Watson affirms his faith in his friend.

Trivia[]

  • The story was inspired by an unpublished case mentioned in "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual", where an index of Holmes' cases from before he met Watson contains an entry for "the case of Vamberry, the wine merchant".
  • Holmes' story is set approximately one month before his introduction to Watson in A Study in Scarlet.
  • Vamberry's codex is said to be a later copy of a motet by Adam de la Halle, a 13th-century French poet and composer of secular and religious music.
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