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This is like a much, much earlier version of Julia Roberts's flick Runaway Bride (only with 100% more detective story plot). Watson starts out this adventure saying that, while gossip about the Lord St. Simon marriage has finally died down after four years, no memoir of Sherlock Holmes would be complete without it.
Just a few weeks before Watson's own marriage (so it's now 1887), he's still living at Baker Street with Holmes.
Watson's old war wound has been acting up (he was shot in the leg by a Jezail rifle, a kind of flintlock gun native to Afghanistan) so he has spent the whole day inside.
Holmes comes in holding a letter with a fancy wax seal that signals it's from a noble client. And by noble here, we don't mean virtuous or self-sacrificing or anything. It's from an aristocrat, one of the highest in England.
Watson's impressed, but Holmes just says that he values the content of his cases over the status of the people who hire him.
The letter is from Lord St. Simon. He has a problem he wants to talk over with Holmes, so he plans to visit at 4pm that afternoon. St. Simon has already talked to Lestrade, at Scotland Yard, but he's been referred to Holmes by friends.
Lord St. Simon is 41 years old, and has been one of the high administrators of the Victorian state. His father, the Duke of Balmoral, used to be Secretary of Foreign Affairs. And their bloodlines are really excellent – the father's side goes back to the Plantagenets, and the mother's side, to the Tudors.
Watson gives Holmes all the newspaper articles he has found on the marriage: one clipping from the Morning Post newspaper announces the engagement of Lord St. Simon to an American woman, Hatty Doran.
Apparently, Doran is the "fascinating" (Bachelor.8) daughter of a California millionaire, who's bringing a huge amount of money to her otherwise broke husband.
The wedding is supposed to be small, with only six people invited, and it's going to be at St. George's Church in Hanover Square.
Then – the bride vanishes.
Holmes observes truthfully that you often see brides taking off before the ceremony, sometimes during the honeymoon, but pretty rarely at the reception afterwards (or, in this case, at the wedding breakfast).
One newspaper reports that the tiny wedding ceremony seems to have gone off without a hitch, but then a woman tried to break into the house following the bridal party.
This woman had to be forcibly tossed out of the house.
The bride, meanwhile, said she felt sick and went up to her room.
After a really long time, her father went upstairs to check on her, only to find that she appears to have left the house.
No one knows where Hatty Doran is, and the police have arrested the woman who tried to break in on suspicion of causing the new bride's disappearance.
This woman who caused the disturbance is Miss Flora Miller, who was once a dancer and who has been an acquaintance of Lord St. Simon's for years.
Holmes is excited: this case is shaping up to be interesting!
At just this moment, St. Simon arrives.
St. Simon looks like a nice enough guy, but like someone who's definitely used to having his own way. He also seems prematurely aged, and really anal about his appearance.
St. Simon makes a weird little comment that he's heard Holmes has done this kind of work before, though probably never in such upper class circles.
Holmes says, oh no, my friend – my last job was for the King of Scandinavia. But Holmes can't talk about the case, since he's so discreet, so they get down to St. Simon's business:
St. Simon meets his fiancée in San Francisco a year before this whole disappearance thing.
She's a bit of a tomboy, a woman of "volcanic" (Bachelor.56) feelings, who grew up in her dad's mining camps until he struck it rich when she was twenty years old.
St. Simon says that she's a free spirit, and would loathe anything that seems dishonorable.
St. Simon hands over an image of her to Holmes to show how lovely she is.
(Back in the day, the "London season" would have been the winter season, when most of England's aristocrats and landed gentry left behind their summer estates to live in the city, socialize with one another, and try to marry off their sons and daughters.)
So, St. Simon meets up with Hatty Doran again this past London season, and that's when they get engaged.
Holmes asks about this giant dowry that she's supposed to have brought to St. Simon. He says that it was big, but pretty normal for his family, and that he has "made no inquiries" (Bachelor.64) about whether he gets to keep it now that his wife has disappeared.
St. Simon says that Doran was in great spirits until after the ceremony, when she showed a weird sign of bad temper.
Doran dropped her bouquet in the church where they were married and a guy sitting in the front pew handed it back to her. This incident seemed to have upset her, and she couldn't let it go as the she and St. Simon drove off for their bridal breakfast.
Holmes notes that there were some random people in the church at the same time the wedding was going on. St. Simon agrees: after all, it's a public church.
Once they got back to Doran's father's house, Doran starts talking to Alice, her maid and one of her close friends. St. Simon overhears something about "jumping a claim."
They go in to breakfast, Doran excuses herself ten minutes later, and the rest is history.
Doran went up to her room, threw on a long coat (or "ulster") and ran out of the house.
Afterwards, she was spotted walking in Hyde Park with Flora Miller – remember, that dancer we mentioned a few paragraphs ago? And that's it.
St. Simon admits that he was on "very friendly footing" (Bachelor.95) with Miller. He says that he really liked her, and was generous with her, but "you know what women are" (Bachelor.95) – actually, we're not sure that Holmes does know what women are, but that's a subject for our "Character Analysis" on him.
At any rate, St. Simon says Miller was devoted to him, and wrote him awful letters once she heard he was engaged to Doran. In fact, they kept the wedding small to try to minimize the chance that Miller would cause a scene at the church (nice try!). The "butler" and the "footman" who threw Miller out of the house after the wedding were actually plainclothes cops he'd requested for the sole purpose of keeping Miller away from Doran.
St. Simon says that his wife knew nothing of this business with Miller, and that's why Lestrade (that's the Scotland Yard detective) thinks Miller and Doran's later meeting in Hyde Park is so suspicious.
St. Simon's theory is that, having been lucky enough to marry so highly, into such a great family, has made his wife a little crazy for a while. That's the only way that he can account for her baffling decision to ditch all of the great things that marriage with Lord Robert St. Simon means.
Holmes smiles and more or less ushers St. Simon out. He says he has solved the case, but St. Simon remains doubtful.
Holmes says that he's seen similar cases, and he starts to describe them, but Lestrade comes in and interrupts.
Lestrade is baffled: every detail of the St. Simon case has been slipping through his fingers. He's just come from dragging the Serpentine (a lake in Hyde Park) in search of Doran's body.
Homes starts to laugh, and says there's not a chance he'll find anything.
But in fact, the cops have found something: a soaking wet wedding dress, complete with veil, satin shoes, and even a wedding ring.
Actually, the cops didn't find these: they were discovered by a park warden as they were just floating at the edge of the lake.
Holmes gives a sarcastic reply that of course a person's body has to be close to her clothes.
Lestrade claims that this proves Flora Miller did it. In the pocket of the dress is a note: "You will see me when all is ready. Come at once. F. H.M." (Bachelor.148).
For Lestrade, this is proof that Miller lured Doran away from her family and then ambushed her with the help of some buddies.
Holmes says, actually, this note is important, but not for the note part. What's important is what it was written on – a hotel receipt for drinks, meals, and rooms.
Lestrade thinks Holmes is wasting his time. Holmes gives Lestrade a parting hint: there is no such person as "Lady St. Simon" (whom Lestrade has been calling Doran), and there never has been.
Lestrade thinks Holmes is nuts, and takes his leave.
Holmes also goes off to do some exploring, leaving Watson at home. A mysterious, rich meal is delivered to the house, which totally confuses Watson.
At 9pm, Holmes comes home. He's the one who ordered the dinner, which is enough for five people.
St. Simon arrives soon after. He's really upset, and asks Holmes if there is proof for "what [he] says" (Bachelor.169). Holmes says yes, and St. Simon looks truly miserable.
Holmes says that the girl had been put into an impossible position, but St. Simon won't hear any of it: he feels used.
At that point, there's a knock, and in come a couple Holmes introduces as Mr. and Mrs. Francis Hay Moulton.
One of them is recognizable: the lady formerly known as Hatty Doran.
Doran-now-Moulton notices that Robert's angry that she's treated him "real bad" (Bachelor.183).
But what could she do? She was so freaked out when she saw Frank again that she didn't know how to handle herself.
What happened is this:
Hatty Doran meets Frank Moulton in 1884, near the Rockies, where her father's trying to find gold on a small plot of land he's claimed.
Doran and Moulton get engaged.
Meanwhile, Doran's father strikes it rich and takes his daughter to San Francisco. He doesn't want her to marry some poor chump like Moulton. Moulton promises that he'll marry her once he's made as much money as her father has.
Doran pledges that she'll wait for Moulton, and they wind up getting married on the sly before he leaves to make his fortune.
Doran follows the news of Moulton's adventures prospecting in Montana, Arizona, and New Mexico. And then she sees his name on a list of people killed by a group of Apache. So, naturally, she believes that he is, in fact, dead, and that she's free to marry St. Simon.
Doran doesn't really love St. Simon, but she doesn't mind marrying him if it will make her father happy. She feels that she will never love again (is anyone else reminded of Princess Buttercup in The Princess Bride?).
And then – Doran sees Moulton sitting in the church where she's supposed to be marrying another guy.
Doran has no idea what it would be best to do at that moment: should she make a scene?
Moulton indicates that she should be quiet, and then slips her a note when she drops her bouquet next to his pew.
Doran mentions "some woman" (Bachelor.190) who tries to come talking to her about St. Simon – poor Flora Miller – but Doran doesn't pay any attention to the lady. All she wants is to catch up with Moulton.
They meet up in Hyde Park and then drive off to his house. Moulton explains that he had been a prisoner of the Apache, escaped, and then traced Doran to England to catch her the morning of her second wedding.
Moulton wants to be open about the whole thing, but Doran is frightened and ashamed of the reaction she's sure St. Simon's relatives will have given this turn of events. So Moulton takes her bridal clothes and tosses them into the Serpentine so she can't be traced.
They plan to flee to Paris together, but "this good gentleman, Mr. Holmes" (Bachelor.192) catches them and convinces Doran that they should speak to St. Simon in person before leaving.
Doran apologizes to St. Simon for the pain she's caused him.
St. Simon is still fuming a bit, and reproaches her for talking over these personal things in front of other people.
St. Simon says he'll have no choice but to admit that his wife isn't his anymore, but he's not going to sit around celebrating the fact. He rejects the dinner invitation, and storms out in a huff.
Here Holmes says, friendly-like, that he's really pleased to have the chance to have dinner with an American, Moulton. After all, Holmes says, he foresees a future in which the world will be united under one flag, which will be part Stars and Stripes, part Union Jack.
Afterwards, Holmes explains to Watson two key points: that Doran had been happy to be married before the ceremony, but repented immediately afterwards. Something must have happened, she must have seen someone that could totally change her mind in the space of a few minutes.
Holmes figures out who that someone must have been when he hears about Doran's quick conversation with her maid, in which she talks about claim jumping (a miner's slang term for stealing something that has already been claimed by someone else). He realizes that she must have seen a former lover or husband in that church.
That hotel bill that Lestrade had dismissed as nothing is precisely the clue that allows Holmes to trace the couple. Holmes narrows down where Moulton has been staying by looking at hotels in the receipt's price range, and then asking those places about American guests they've had recently. He stumbles on a place with a forwarding address to 226 Gordon Square left by a recent American lodger, a Mr. Francis H. Moulton, and knows he's found his man.
So Holmes visits the couple at home and gives them some fatherly advice about coming clean to St. Simon. And the rest is clear!
Watson says that St. Simon's behavior wasn't particularly gracious.
Holmes replies sympathetically: how would you feel if, after going to all this trouble, you were deprived of both beautiful wife and her fortune in one fell swoop?