Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story, “The Man With the Twisted Lip,” is an account of one of Holmes and Watson’s adventures. The mystery would not have come to a solution as quickly as it did, and without certain inferences made by Holmes the truth would have only been revealed at a later time, possibly without the whole truth known.
The story began when Kate Whitney, a friend of Watson and his wife, came to them late Friday night inquiring for help to find her husband. Her husband had a ridiculous opium addiction and so pursued further inquiry at a nearby opium den on Swandam Lane. Once Watson arrives and turns Isa Whitney, Kate Whitney’s husband, over to her he discovers Holmes lurking in the background of the den in one of his disguises. Holmes then invites Watson on the adventure of solving a mystery he had just begun to inquire. The mystery before them was about a missing man, perhaps kidnapped or murdered, Mr. Neville St. Clair. As the two began their journey to Mr. Neville St. Clair’s house to stay with Mrs. St. Clair during the duration of their investigation Holmes begins sharing the facts of the case with Watson.
When reviewing the facts, Holmes notes that Mr. St. Clair was financially stable. He appeared to have plenty of money, though he had no occupation. Because there were substantial funds available to him it would be improbable that he did not have any financial stresses.
Holmes does not explicate this reasoning, but as seen in the final inferences of the story, his financial and occupational statuses do play an inferential role. Because St. Clair is financially stable, one would expect him to have a job that provided such stability. He did not have that job; therefore, he should not have that financial stability. However, St. Clair did have the financial stability, but how? The inference he assumes was that there are no other sources of income which would qualify the St. Clairs with such a financial status.
This inference, or speculation, as to the lack of evidence for a steady stream of finances was vindicated when it was discovered that Mr. St. Clair, disguised as Hugh Boone, had a means of financial income as a beggar on the streets in the financial district. Referring back to the syllogism where Holmes would have expected St. Clair to have job in light of his lifestyle and influx of funds, it seemed to be invalid because even though he did not have a job he did have financial stability. What is important to note is though the original syllogism, as presented, is valid (modus tollens), it was true that it was not known that he had a job as a beggar, which accounted for the [given] financial stability.
Holmes then describes the situation when Mr. St. Clair was last seen. He was seen in a window of a building partially clothed. Mrs. St. Clair saw him waving as if he were to try to get her attention and then suddenly he disappeared as if he were pulled back into the room suddenly. Holmes notes the bias and error in the situation. As it was described to Holmes, St. Clair’s wife assumed that her husband would have wanted her to notice him, to get her attention. She was under the presupposition that he had unwillingly left. She assumed that the counterfactual: If St. Clair saw his wife then he would try to get her attention or have his present circumstances known, was true. Her counterfactual knowledge of her husband was false in this particular case. Given the situation, and the many variables leading up to the moment, he would have not done so and did not. Holmes asked her if it was possible that he had leapt backwards intentionally and she conceded that it was possible, but for her it would have been more improbable. Holmes’ inference, at this point in the story line, had to be noted that it was certainly possible that he willingly removed himself from her view.
When Mrs. St. Clair runs up the stairs of the building to try to find her husband she does not find him (having a minimum expectation to find him wearing what she just saw him wearing). She finds the toy bricks and infers that it actually had been him whom she saw in the window. However, she does not find her husband, as she would expect him, in the room. There was also blood present on the windowsill and the floor, which indicated that it might have been the case that St. Clair left though the window, or tried to save himself by leaving.
Holmes noted that at the time when the tide was it at highest and that it was improbable that swimming would have been the best option for him as a means of escape. However, Holmes notes that there were not any other exits available for him other than the door or window. Presumably, if he had left out the door his wife would have passed or seen him. Because she did not pass or see him he infers that he did not leave the building by the door and stairs. The only two exists have been removed as a likelihood for a means of escape. The stairs are most improbable because it would have been a greater probability that she would have seen him. On the other horn, the tide outside the window would have made an inopportune circumstance for escape, though possible. Because the exits to the room are only a matter of probability he can only assign probability values to the horns. Each of the options renders high improbability each. Given the two improbabilities of escape, it would have then been probable that he remain in the room. At this point Holmes must still gather more evidence for a conclusion.
So far Holmes is left with an uncertainty about his job and financial situation and given the sighting of St. Clair, it was probable that he still be in the room. Given that there was only one person in the room, Hugh Boone, it may be inferred that St. Clair was disposed of through the window and the murder was the only one that remained in the room. With this information thus far, it would render a greater probability that Boone was the murderer. A murder is inferred by the sighting of St. Clair, a lack of his presence once Mrs. St. Clair arrives, and the presence of blood in the room.
Watson challenges the inference made with regards to the probability that Boone had murdered St. Clair. Boone was a cripple and walked with a limp. Given that background information Watson questioned whether he could have managed to subdue St. Clair. Holmes then makes a medical inference. It has been known, by medical doctors, that when one limb is weaker the other limbs may compensate. Thus, given that Boone appears to be well nurtured and competent with his upper-body it is still possible that he overpowered St. Clair. This inference only permits the option of Boone murdering St. Clair as a viable option, it does not bear more credence or probability to conclusion nor does it remove any probability.
When the lascar of the building was questioned as to the whereabouts of St. Clair he claimed ignorance. He also could not account for the presence of his clothes in the room. The lascar rented out the room to him but really could not account for the situation and the presence of St. Clair. He claimed that Mrs. St. Clair was either mad or dreaming. Upon having the lascar’s testimony, who was taken in as an accessory to murder, Holmes had a dilemma on his hands. Either she actually saw her husband or she was mad or dreaming. By all accounts and interaction with Mrs. St. Clair and the presence of St. Clair’s clothes, he had to eliminate that horn as a possibility. Why was St. Clair not present in the room then? This contributed to a probability that St. Clair was in the room, or at least that he did not escape.
Next, there had to be an account for the coat in the eddy outside of the window, which was stuffed with coins. Holmes and Watson commence in a dialogue. Given the circumstances thus far, if it were a murder, how would it have taken place? It may have been possible that St. Clair, if thrown out the window alive, could have swam away so he weighed down the body and the tide took him away and out of the jacket. It may have also been the case where the body was thrown out with anticipation of it sinking and the jacket was weighted down by coins with hopes that the beggar may get the money later because it may be confiscated.
While Holmes and Watson are lodging at Mrs. St. Clair’s for the evening, on a Friday, Holmes begins to ask more questions due to his confusion. Mrs. St. Clair asks Holmes if she thinks her husband is dead. Holmes stated that he believed he was dead. Mrs. St. Clair responds with a question of how it is the case that she has a letter from her husband that was post marked for that day, a Friday, when his disappearance occurred on a Monday. The three then began to go back and forth as to the possibility of each explanation. It could have been the case that the letter was sent Monday, or before Monday, but was not postmarked until Friday. Mrs. St. Clair’s inquiry was as to why that would have been the case. There was no certainty, and with the information available to them at this point, there was no way to account for what actually happened with the postmark date. What Holmes had to be certain of was whether or not it was St. Clair who actually wrote the letter. This would serve as true data, a control to work as a referent to.
This is when Holmes spends the night making his inferences, examining the aggregate data, and investigating a plausible solution. Holmes concluded that Boone was St. Clair in a disguise. The inferences that St. Clair had to have some means of income and his presence having to be in the room seem to be the strongest inferences. The control data, the letter informing Mrs. St. Clair not to fret, served as a means to suggest that he may not have been murdered.
Holmes uses the letter as a control referent and attempts to have the remaining data support the referent. The lack of St. Clair being in the room was due to an expectation of seeing him, as he appeared in the window. St. Clair was in the room, only dressed as the beggar. St. Clair was at one time an actor and was familiar with disguises, costumes, and make up, which accounted for his physical appearance. The blood on the floor accounted for a cut that he had incurred earlier in the day as he was preparing himself in the morning. He was getting changed when he saw his wife outside the window. He leapt back in surprise, attempting to remove himself from her sight because she did not know that he was a beggar, rather she thought that he merely had business in the financial district doing independent work for some of the companies there. That would account for him being halfway dressed because it was about the time when he would retire for the evening and return home. The evident toy bricks were present merely because St. Clair was in the room, as the beggar, where he took temporary residence as a changing room.
St. Clair’s financial situation explained why he was a beggar. As a beggar in the financial district he was able to incur a substantial amount of money. It was noted at the beginning of the story that St. Clair was highly esteemed and well liked by his neighbors. He loved his wife and was an affectionate father. Out of a desire to maintain such esteem with friends and family St. Clair took on the disguise as Hugh Boone.
The truth was inevitable. In the final scene of the story in the jail cell Hugh Boone was sleeping and was eventually going to be cleaned up and bathed. He was incredibly dirty. Bradstreet told Holmes that he was to be cleaned soon after some things were to be done. It was matter of time, whether it is by Holmes bathing Boone and discovering it to actually be Neville St. Clair.
Throughout the story Holmes is constantly making inferences from different referential data. Some of his inferences had no explanation and needed further collaboration whereas other inferences were founded and absolute, like that of Mrs. St. Clair’s testimony that the letter really was a letter from her husband. Some data, if independent of other data, would infer St. Clair’s murder and some inferences would infer contradictions (i.e. St. Clair being in the building when he was no where to be found). It was Mrs. St. Clair’s false counterfactual knowledge of her husband when inferred an involuntary disappearance of her husband. With the aggregate data, Holmes inferred that the most probable solution was to deny Mrs. St. Clair’s initial belief that it was involuntary. By using a voluntary absence as a referent (by evidence of the letter) Holmes was able to make consistent inferences, which lead to the discovery of St. Clair’s disguise as Hugh Boone.