“Shortly after my marriage I had bought a connection in Paddington.”
The Stockbroker’s Clerk is, for a good Brummie like your correspondent, something of a joy. Here is Holmes arriving into New Street, and walking up Corporation Street! Here he is solving a case on the streets of my own hometown! There is a childish glee in imagining the Master before some of the grander Victorian buildings of Birmingham. The frisson of context and ownership adds spice to an otherwise somewhat limp mystery.
The clerk in question, a Mr Hall Pycroft, has turned over a respectable but lowly new job at the City firm of Mawson’s for the position of business manager at the grand-sounding but unheard of Franco-Midland Hardware Company. He is told by the man from whom he accepts the job, a florid-but-domineering sort named Harry Pinner who visits Pycroft at home, to go up to Birmingham and report to Pinner’s brother at 126B Corporation Street. (At this point Pycroft describes a place in Corporation Street – “a passage between two large shops which led to a winding stone stair” – which must have since been demolished and removed without trace.)
The story here becomes a sort of Red Headed League Lite, with Pyson fobbed off with a pointless task – in this case, going through a Directory of Paris and marking off all the hardware sellers – whilst having a growing sense of the oddness of his situation. From a mere few details in his story, Holmes pieces together what Pinner is up to (he is of course right, although ultimately his story is guesswork more than usual). The final denouement, however, is communicated third-hand by a newspaper article read out by Watson.
There is little more to make of the story, except for that opening section detailing Watson’s business matters: the concern in Paddington must be the same from which he was working during the adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb, and this, plus Watson’s stated separation from Holmes, helps place the two stories together in chronology (though Conan Doyle was surely no continuity policeman for his own work).
In that earlier story, Watson says he “had finally abandoned Holmes in his Baker Street rooms, although I continually visited him, and occasionally even persuaded him to forgo his Bohemian habits so far as to come and visit us.” In the current story, however, Watson confesses he hasn’t seen Holmes in the three months since taking up his practice. It is Holmes who breaks this silence, bursting in on Watson one day and saying, after some perfunctory niceties directed towards the doctor’s wife, “I hope also […] that the cares of medical practice have not entirely obliterated the interest which you used to take in our little deductive problems.”
Putting the two references together, it would seem that it was Holmes who rescued the pair’s friendship, and that it was only after this adventure that the continual visits began again. That evidence of Holmes’s more often wholly hidden human side is a rather fine thing to take away from an otherwise by-the-book little tale.