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Short Plot Summary of the Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton

The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton is one of the most famous tales of Sherlock Holmes ever written by Sir Arthur Doyle. First published in Collier’s Weekly on 26th March 1904, the Sherlock Holmes story would appear a few days later in the April 1904 edition of the Strand Magazine.

In 1905, The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton would also be republished as one of the stories that make up The Return of Sherlock Holmes; appearing after The Adventure of Black Peter.

The fame of The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton is helped in no small part that it was dramatised by Granada TV, and became one of the most memorable in the series. Granada TV would of course cast Jeremy Brett as Holmes, and Robert Hardy as Charles Augustus Milverton.

The story of course sees Holmes deal with one of the worst villains he has ever met, Charles Augustus Milverton, a blackmailer, who is prepared to ruin people if they do not pay. Holmes and Watson are quite prepared to break the law though to get the better of Milverton.

The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton

  • Date of Events - 1899
  • Client - Lady Eva Blackwell
  • Locations - Hampstead Heath, London
  • Villain - Charles Augustus Milverton

Meeting with Milverton

Sidney Paget (1860 - 1908) - PD-art-100
Sidney Paget (1860 - 1908) - PD-art-100 | Source

Spoiler Alert - Plot Summary

The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton sees Dr Watson recount a case of a highly sensitive nature, where names have been changed and dates never mentioned.

Holmes and Watson return to Baker Street from one of their walks to find the calling card of one Charles Augustus Milverton, a name that means nothing to Watson, but one that disgusts Holmes. Holmes tells Watson that Milverton is the “worst man in London”, and the “king of all the blackmailers”.

Milverton pays large sums of money for compromising material, and receives much from maids, valets and other sources, and then, when the time is right, demands a great deal more to not release the content of the said material. Noble families have been brought to their knees, and more than one suicide can be attributed to the work of Milverton.

Of course, Milverton is breaking the law, but which victim is going to expose themselves to ruin, in order that Milverton would spend a few months in prison?

Milverton though is due at Baker Street by invitation, for Lady Eva Brackwell, the intended bride of the Earl of Dovercourt, has commissioned Holmes to work on her behalf. Years previously Lady Brackwell had written “imprudent” letters, and it was these letters that were threatened with exposure.

At the given time, Charles Augustus Milverton arrived at Baker Street. A man of intellectual appearance, with gold-rimmed glasses, Milverton immediately sets about his business, and asks for £7000, a huge sum for the time, for the return of the letters. Milverton is insistent that if he is not paid, then the forthcoming wedding will be cancelled.

Holmes suggests he will tell his client not to pay, but to tell the Earl of Dovercourt about the letters, but Milverton is convinced that the Earl will break off the engagement if she does this.

Holmes then offers Milverton £2000, the most that Lady Brackwell has at her disposal, but Milverton tells Holmes to get his client to get her friends and family to contribute. Milverton then indicates other recent scandals that have come to pass because money has not been paid. In any case, Milverton would rather make an example of Lady Brackwell than take a lesser sum for the letters.

A seething Holmes then strangely goes for the physical approach, and he and Watson attempt to take Milverton’s notebook by force. Milverton though quickly drawers a revolver to ward off the attack, but Milverton is intelligent enough not to have brought the incriminating letters with him anyway.

Milverton departs from Baker Street, and as negotiations have failed, Holmes now has to take other action. With hardly a word to Watson, Holmes disguises himself up as a workman, and departs from the shared rooms.

After several days, Holmes eventually gets around to telling Watson just what he has been doing. Holmes’ actions have seen him, in his disguise, become engaged to a maid in the Milverton household; a ruse that had allowed him to gain intimate knowledge of the household and the house’s layout.

Charles Augustus Milverton Shot

Sidney Paget (1860 - 1908) - PD-art-100
Sidney Paget (1860 - 1908) - PD-art-100 | Source

Holmes plans involves an act of burglary; Watson points out that Holmes’ reputation will be ruined if he is caught, but despite the risk, Watson is soon volunteering to go along, although Holmes does try and dissuade his friend from sharing the risk.

With burglary attire hidden beneath theatre going clothes, Homes and Watson were soon on Hampstead Heath, making their way to the home of Charles Augustus Milverton. Holmes has already discovered that Milverton is a heavy sleeper, and with his knowledge of the grounds, Holmes is soon guiding Watson into the house through greenhouse.

In almost pitch-black, Holmes leads Watson into Milverton’s study, and whilst Watson looks out for trouble, Holmes unpacks his tools to make headway on the safe. In a matter of minutes the safe was open and various letters and packets could be discerned.

A noise though disturbs Holmes, and soon he and Watson are hidden behind the study’s curtains. Holmes had made a mistake for Milverton was not asleep as was normal at that time, but was wide awake and obviously awaiting the arrival of someone. Milverton is now sitting in one of the study’s chairs, but Watson quickly realises that the door of the safe is still ajar, and at any time the burglary might be discovered.

Luckily though, Milverton doesn’t look towards the safe, and after a long wait there was a gentle knock at one of the study’s doors. Milverton arose and admitted a woman into the study; it appears that the guest is a servant willing to sell some incriminating letters.

The woman though soon turns out to be no maid, for she unmasks herself as a woman previously blackmailed by Milverton, a woman who Milverton had laughed at when she had begged for mercy, and a woman whose husband had died of grief when the scandal broke.

Milverton tries to talk the woman down, but the woman pulls out a revolver and shoots Milverton dead. Watson initially attempts to leave hid hiding place, but Holmes holds him back, justice has been done. The woman is soon gone out into the garden, but Holmes and Watson are now at the scene of a murder, and the sound of the shots had awoken the household

Holmes springs into action, but there is no thought of flight just yet. Holmes locks the internal doors, and then at the safe, quickly chucks all of the content into the study’s fire. Only when all the blackmail material is destroyed do Holmes and Watson think of their escape. Into the garden the pair go, but pursuers are not far behind. Holmes makes it easily over the 6ft garden wall, but as Watson clambers up, a pursuer grabs hold of the doctor’s leg.

Watson kicks himself free, and Holmes and Watson are soon running through the wilderness of Hampstead Heath. After a couple of miles there is no sign of any pursuit, and the pair are soon back at 221B Baker Street.

The next morning, the pair’s breakfast is disturbed by the arrival of Lestrade, he though is not here to arrest Holmes, but to ask for the detective’s help in solving the murder of Milverton. Despite being confident of an arrest, the detective has after all a description of the two murderers, Lestrade still wants some assistance.

Holmes though refuses to help, commenting that his sympathies like with the criminals in this case rather than the victim; and the detective also points out that the descriptions are vague at best, with one fitting Watson.

Lestrade departs to try to do the police work by himself, and shortly afterwards Holmes leads Watson to Regent Circus. There, in one of the shop windows, after various photographs of the ladies of society, and Watson gasps as he spots the likeness of the murderess, a widow of the highest standing in society.

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