Plot Summary of the Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist

Updated on March 10, 2018
Colin Quartermain profile image

Colin has been reading as long as he can remember, and the works of Conan Doyle were some of the early works that kept him reading.

Sherlock Holmes and the Solitary Cyclist

The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist is one of the most overlooked stories from the original Sherlock Holmes canon. The case faced by Holmes initially seems purely a case of an unwanted admirer for a female client, but from the very outset, Holmes can see something far more sinister.

Publication

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would write The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist in December 1903, and the short story would appear in Collier’s Weekly and the Strand Magazine. It is told though, that the editor of the Strand Magazine would refuse to publish the first draft, as Holmes was somewhat of a peripheral character.

The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist would subsequently be republished as part of the compilation work, The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

A Short Review

The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist is not one of the Sherlock Holmes stories that immediately springs to mind but there are some interesting features to it.

Most notably is the fact that the detective shows his physical prowess. The strength of Sherlock Holmes had been displayed in The Adventure of the Speckled Band, but in this story Conan Doyle also shows that the detective can fight. For in an encounter in a pub, had seen his opponent rendered unconscious, whilst Holmes himself was unscathed.

There are also some features within The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist that have been seen before in Conan Doyle stories. The overpayment for services rendered is an indication of a potential crime that was previously used in the case of The Red Headed League and The Adventure of the Copper Beeches. Also the fact that some people were making fortunes in the “colonies” had also previously been used in such stories as The Boscombe Valley Mystery.

The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist is one of the short Sherlock Holmes stories that was faithfully adapted for television by Granada TV, with Jeremy Brett starring in the lead role.

Sherlock Holmes Gets into a Fight

Violet Smith Followed

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

Spoiler Alert - Plot Summary

According to Dr Watson, the period when Miss Violet Smith called upon Sherlock Holmes, was a busy one for the detective, with a heavy workload. Nevertheless, the detective would make time for the damsel in distress, even if Holmes was somewhat reluctant to do so.

Even before Violet Smith can tell Holmes of her problem, the detective has already deduced that the potential client is a cyclist, and also a country based music teacher.

Eventually though, Violet Smith tells her tale. Violet and her mother were left quite poorly off when their father died, and so Violet Smith had had to start teaching music. Then news arrived from South Africa, that a long lost uncle, Ralph Smith had died, although this news left them no better off for their was no inheritance.

The news of the death of Ralph Smith was brought to Violet Smith and her mother by two of Smith’s former friends, Mr Carruthers and Mr Woodley; and instantly, Violet takes a dislike to Mr Woodley. Mr Carruthers on the other was quite amiable, and even offered Violet a well paid job.

The job would entail tutoring Carruthers’ ten year old daughter in music. Carruthers’s house was near to Farnham, and Miss Smith would be expected to live at Chiltern Grange during the week, and return to her mother’s home for the weekend. This importantly, would involve cycling to and from Farnham train station every Saturday and Monday.

Violet Smith was enjoying the job, and the only problem that had arisen had occurred when Mr Woodley stayed at Chiltern Grange, for the visitor would try and force himself on Violet. Mr Carruthers had dealt with the problem quickly, but then strangely afterwards, a mysterious bearded man started to follow her on her weekly cycle ride.

For two weekends in a row, Violet Smith was followed to and from the train station by the man; although he only seemed to follow on the most desolate mile of the journey.

Violet had tried to trap the man into revealing himself, but before she could spring the trap, the mysterious cyclist had disappeared into the grounds of Charlington Hall.

Holmes pondered whether it might have been Cyril Morton, Violet’s fiancé on the bicycle, although Miss Smith believes that this is impossible. Holmes then asks whether there are any other potential admirers. Violet though can only think of Mr Woodley, and although she knows Mr Carruthers likes her, he has not done anything untoward.

Violet Smith is worried, and Sherlock Holmes is suspicious, suspicions having been aroused by Mr Carruthers paying Miss Smith double the going rate for a music tutor.

Holmes therefore dispatches Watson down to Farnham, to observe, and keep safe, Miss Smith. Watson conceals himself, and spots Miss Smith and her follower, but like Miss Smith before him, he is unable to get close enough to the man to identify him. Once again, the mysterious bicyclist is lost in the grounds of Charlington Hall.

Watson would report back to Holmes, having made some enquiries about the occupant of Charlington Hall; the only information garnered though, was that it was an elderly gentleman by the name of Mr Williamson in residence.

Holmes Fights in a Pub

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

Little more could be done by Holmes and Watson until the following Saturday, when no doubt the cyclist would appear once again, but the news that Mr Carruthers has proposed to Violet Smith, sees Holmes himself departing for Farnham.

This time it is Holmes who reports back to Watson, for the detective has found out some more details. For it seems that Mr Williamson, a man who had once been of the cloth, was not the only resident of Charlington Hall, for Mr Woodley was also staying there.

Holmes had actually encountered Mr Woodley as well, this time in a local pub, with the two becoming involved in a fight, although the fight proved one side for Woodley was rendered unconscious, whilst Holmes was unscathed.

Following the proposal, Miss Smith has decided to leave the employment of Mr Carruthers, and for Watson, this seems to be an end to the case, for the final journey is to be made in the safety of a horse and trap. Holmes is even more worried than he was before, and he takes up his own gun, and he and Watson depart for Farnham.

Holmes and Watson are just in time to intercept the trap near to Charlington Hall, but the pair are horrified to find that the trap is empty; Violet Smith has already been abducted.

Shortly afterwards, Holmes and Watson encounter the mysterious cyclist that they have been tracking. Surprisingly though, the cyclist pulls a gun on Holmes and Watson, with the cyclist under the mistaken belief that they had abducted Violet Smith; it seems that the solitary cyclist was a protector rather than a threat.

The cyclist immediately rushes off into the grounds of Charlington Hall, promising to rescue Violet Smith from Woodley, and Holmes and Watson follow close behind. The trio quickly find the driver of the trap who has been rendered unconscious. They then come across a marriage ceremony taking place in the grounds of the Hall; it would appear that Woodley has been married to Violet, with Mr Williamson acting as vicar.

The solitary cyclist then reveals himself to be Bob Carruthers, and Carruthers intends to bring the marriage to a premature end by shooting Woodley. Carruthers does indeed shoot, although he only ends up wounding Woodley.

Carruthers it seems has been in love with Violet Smith since the very day that he had first seen her, but he had been unable to explain himself in case he scared her away.

Williamson and Woodley are now held under the threat of Watson’s revolver, and Holmes can now explain the case.

Immediately Holmes points out that the wedding is not valid, for Williamson is a defrocked vicar in possession of a fraudulent marriage licence.

Carruthers and Woodley had once been acquaintances of Ralph Smith in South Africa, and Smith had actually made a large fortune; and upon his death this fortune was to pass to Violet Smith. Carruthers and Woodley had then hatched a plan which would see Woodley, after a game of chance, being wed to Violet Smith. Williamson had of course been brought in to be the vicar.

A falling out had occurred between Woodley and Carruthers when the latter had fallen in love with Violet; and of course Carruthers had subsequently followed Miss Smith to ensure no harm would come to her.

Carruthers had initially not followed the horse and trap on Violet’s final journey, believing that she would be safe, but he had changed his mind, but by then it had been too late.

The police eventually arrive at Charlington Hall, and Woodley, Williamson and Carruthers are arrested; after court proceedings Woodley would receive a ten year sentence, Williamson seven years, and Carruthers served a few months, Carruthers attempts to protect Violet Smith being taken into consideration.

There is a happy end to the case as well, for Violet Smith, as well as being quite well off due to the inheritance, also ends up marrying the man she was intended to, Cyril Morton.

An Empty Trap

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

The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist

  • Date of Events - 1895
  • Client - Violet Smith
  • Locations - Farnham
  • Villain - Mr Woodley and Mr Williamson

Questions & Answers

    Comments

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    • Colin Quartermain profile image
      Author

      Colin Quartermain 3 years ago

      Kevin, many thanks for reading and promoting. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes were one of the very first adult book I ever read, and have never forgotten that it got me really interested in reading.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      Very well written and reviewed Colin. I love Sherlock Holmes, he is my favorite mystery detective. Mysteries and suspense are one of my top fiction stroies which I read. I voted up+++, shared and pinned it.

      Kevin

    • Colin Quartermain profile image
      Author

      Colin Quartermain 3 years ago

      Can't think of a Holmes I haven't enjoyed, and although not necessarily in keeping with the original stories, I did like the fight scenes from Robert Downey Jr's films

    • dreamaserve profile image

      Chase Smith 3 years ago from London, Great Britain

      The Solitary Cyclist is one of my favorite Holmes stories, renowned for his intellect he proved he could also stand his ground in fight. Like FatBoyThin I enjoyed Jeremy Brett as Holmes.

    • Colin Quartermain profile image
      Author

      Colin Quartermain 3 years ago

      Thanks Lions, as they say there is nothing new under the sun and of course history repeats.

    • Colin Quartermain profile image
      Author

      Colin Quartermain 3 years ago

      Thanks FatBoyThin, I do appreciate the way that Granada TV closely followed the storylines of Conan Doyle.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 3 years ago from Auburn, WA

      As I read this I was stuck by the story's modern parallels. It had all the elements: stalking, gun violence, cyncial police, love triangle and a bar fight. Maybe the crimes that we think are a result of our "crazy" world, are nothing more than a continuation of human nature. Great summary. Time for me to get back to Sherlock Holmes. Voted up and shared.

    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 3 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      I do like the Jeremy Brett version of this - as you point out, the episode follows ACD's original story very closely. Another excellent Hub, Voted up.

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