DOGS AFTER DARK
“Inspector Gregory, let me recommend to your attention this singular set of events. Drive on, coachman!”
The Colonel still wore the skeptical expression which showed the poor opinion which he had formed of Holmes’ ability, but Watson saw by the inspector’s face that his attention had been keenly aroused.
“You consider that to be important?” asked the inspector-detective.
“Exceedingly so.” said Holmes.
“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.
The above exchange took place in the classic Sherlock Holmes story, “Silver Blaze”. To explain: Silver Blaze was a top-level race horse preparing to run in the Wessex cup, a high-stakes and prestigious race. Betting was high, and the race was a big event, capturing the attention of all England. A few days before the race, Silver Blaze disappeared, and his trainer was found dead with his head bashed in. A stable-hand had slept in the loft of the stable as a guard, along with the dog. There had been strangers hanging about, characterized as “damned touts”, looking for inside information to give them an edge in betting on the big race. There were a few physical clues found near the trainer’s body. The case was investigated by Inspector Gregory of Scotland Yard, and he in turn consulted Sherlock Holmes.
Holmes and Watson spent some time at the home of Colonel Ross, Silver Blaze’s owner, investigating the case, when Holmes determined it was necessary to return to London. The exchange between Holmes and Inspector Gregory noted above took place just as Holmes and Watson were departing.
Many Holmes fans think it is one of the Holmes’ more clever observations, and as written by Conan Doyle it is considered one of the best little gems to be found in the Canon; the sort relished and savored by all admirers of the great detective.
What everyone but Holmes had missed is that if a stranger had come into the stable at night and made off with the horse, the dog would have awakened and probably barked its fool head off. That is the nature of dogs, especially after dark, and in a quiet rural setting. We at McMurdo’s camp can attest to this, having two dogs who sleep our house. The inactivity of the dog meant that the horse-napping was an inside job, conducted by someone well-known to the dog. This observation and conclusion led Holmes to make some further checks, explain the death of the trainer, and find the real killer. The curious inactivity of the dog in the night-time was the main clue used to solve the mystery, along with some curried mutton and lame sheep. As usual, Holmes explained it all at the end.
The dog that did nothing in the night-time is now a classic element of detective fiction, and of deductive reasoning in general, and is typically described as absence of a thing, person, or event normally expected to be present or to occur. Conan Doyle, never one to let a good idea go to waste, used this element in more than one story.
In “The Naval Treaty” (NAVA), Holmes investigated an important government document, a copy of a secret treaty being negotiated, which disappeared from the office of an aide to Lord Holdhurst, the Foreign Minister. (In the USA, this position would be roughly equivalent to Secretary of State.) Holmes determined that the treaty had value only to the Russian or French governments, and for a limited time. Major diplomatic problems would have resulted if either of them had seen the treaty prematurely. But nothing happened. This non-event was a “dog in the night-time” clue, which led to the solution of the mystery.
And now a challenge for the readers of McMurdo’s Camp:
Are there any other Sherlock Holmes cases that depend on a “dog in the night-time” clue for their solution? If you know of any, please reply in the “comments” section at the bottom of this page. Just click on the word “comments”. If it is not obvious, or requires a logical stretch, please explain yourself.
We know there is at least one other Holmes case of this type but will leave it up to our readers to identify them (it). Cyber-accolades and eternal fame are in order for whomever supplies a/the correct answer(s).
(If you have not read the story but would like to, go to “Sherlockian Links” in the sidebar on the right, “Doyle’s Works” and go to “Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes”. Click on “Silver Blaze”.)