Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 879
The story opens in the familiar quarters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson at 221-B Baker Street in London. It is a warm summer evening, and their conversation wanders from subject to subject until Holmes mentions his family. Despite Watson’s sharing the apartment for several years, he has never known Holmes to speak much of his background, and Watson is surprised to hear that Holmes has an elder brother, Mycroft, whom the detective describes as a reasoner even greater than himself. However, Mycroft, Holmes explains, has an absolute aversion to interrupting his daily routine for the sometimes vigorous activity needed to solve crimes.
Holmes has a purpose in mentioning Mycroft precisely at this time, because his corpulent brother has summoned him to what Holmes characterizes as one of the strangest clubs in London. Holmes and Watson, therefore, stroll to the Diogenes Club for Watson’s first sight of this strangest member of the city’s strangest club. The Diogenes Club was founded for gentlemen who desired the refuge of a club and the privacy of their homes: Conversation is forbidden except in the Strangers’ Room, in which Holmes and Watson are joined by Mycroft.
Mycroft sets before Holmes the mystery of the story: A neighbor of his, a Mr. Melas, has come to him with the tale of a very strange experience. Thinking at once of his younger brother, Mycroft has asked Melas to join them at the club so that Holmes may pursue the problem. Melas, a Greek, works as a translator in London, and his adventure began when he was hired for that purpose by a Mr. Latimer. Latimer asked Melas to accompany him to his house; when they entered their carriage, Latimer closed the window shades so that Melas could not see where they were going. Latimer then drew out a blackjack and threatened Melas so effectively that the interpreter made no protest during their ride of almost two hours.
Because night had fallen, Melas was unable to identify his surroundings when the carriage stopped. He was shown into a house and introduced first to a small, mean-looking man, and then to an emaciated figure whose head was crisscrossed and whose mouth was sealed with adhesive tape. The man, obviously a prisoner, was given a slate, and Melas was instructed to ask him questions (in Greek).
During the questioning, the captors insisted that the taped figure sign some papers, an act that he absolutely refused to do. After a session of several hours, Melas was taken back to town in the same furtive manner and warned to tell no one.
Melas immediately went to the police, who refused to credit his story, and he then turned to Mycroft Holmes. The stage is now set, and Sherlock Holmes’s work begins. They have a few clues: Melas had been able during his questioning to find out that the captive’s name was Paul Kratides, and, during an unexpected intrusion, that the man’s young sister was also in the house, although she was unaware that her brother was under the same roof. Unfortunately for Holmes (and for Melas, too, eventually), Mycroft has run an advertisement in the papers for anyone knowing anything about a Paul Kratides or his sister. As Holmes points out, this notice will inform Latimer and his confederate that Melas has talked about their actions.
After leaving the Diogenes Club, Holmes and Watson send some telegrams to some possible sources of information, but when they enter their flat at Baker Street, Mycroft is already there. He says that an answer to his advertisement has identified the house in question. Mycroft wants to interview the writer of the letter, but Holmes rightly observes that the captive man is being starved to death and that they should head immediately for the house.
Watson suggests that they pick up Melas on the way, should they need an interpreter, but when they arrive at Melas’s address, he has already gone off with the mean-looking little man he had described to them earlier that day. Knowing that Melas is now in mortal danger as well, Holmes rushes to Scotland Yard to appeal for a warrant to force entry into the sinister house. After a worrisome delay, they receive the warrant and reach the house in question only to find that the captors have escaped. They hear a groan from upstairs and rush up to find two prostrate figures in a room with a burning charcoal fire—the taped man, already suffocated, and Melas, whom they are able to save.
In the quiet aftermath of the action, Holmes pieces together the story of a young Greek woman, obviously with prospects of inheriting some wealth, who fell in love with the Englishman Latimer. When her brother arrived in England, he was taken by Latimer and his confederate, who attempted to force him to sign over the girl’s property; keeping his arrival a secret from his sister, they had taped the brother’s face so that she would not recognize him should she see him being moved about the house. The story ends with a notice in a European paper that the two Englishmen have been found stabbed, and that the woman with whom they were traveling has vanished.