One tomato two tomatoes , one hippo two hippos :)
Page loading ... Welcome Guest Sign In 🏡 📚 🔍    

Content Page

/content/English/English-Literature/Sir Arthur Conan Doyle/The-Adventure-Of-Blanced-Soldier
Last Updated October 14, 2020, 3:45 pm 🖶
Modified this week 5 days ago October 14, 2020, 3:45 pm


                                SHERLOCK HOLMES                             
                     THE ADVENTURE OF THE BLANCHED SOLDIER                  
                           by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle                        
  The ideas of my friend Watson, though limited, are exceedingly            
pertinacious. For a long time he has worried me to write an experience      
of my own. Perhaps I have rather invited this persecution, since I          
have often had occasion to point out to him how superficial are his         
own accounts and to accuse him of pandering to popular taste instead        
of confining himself rigidly to facts and figures. "Try it yourself,        
Holmes!" he has retorted, and I am compelled to admit that, having          
taken my pen in my hand, I do begin to realize that the matter must be      
presented in such a way as may interest the reader. The following case      
can hardly fail to do so, as it is among the strangest happenings in        
my collection, though it chanced that Watson had no note of it in           
his collection. Speaking of my old friend and biographer, I would take      
this opportunity to remark that if I burden myself with a companion in      
my various little inquiries it is not done out of sentiment or              
caprice, but it is that Watson has some remarkable characteristics          
of his own to which in his modesty he has given small attention amid        
his exaggerated estimates of my own performances. A confederate who         
foresees your conclusions and course of action is always dangerous,         
but one to whom each development comes as a perpetual surprise, and to      
whom the future is always a closed book, is indeed an ideal helpmate.       
  I find from my notebook that it was in January, 1903, just after the      
conclusion of the Boer War, that I had my visit from Mr. James M.           
Dodd, a big, fresh, sunburned, upstanding Briton. The good Watson           
had at that time deserted me for a wife, the only selfish action which      
I can recall in our association. I was alone.                               
  It is my habit to sit with my back to the window and to place my          
visitors in the opposite chair, where the light falls full upon             
them. Mr. James M. Dodd seemed somewhat at a loss how to begin the          
interview. I did not attempt to help him, for his silence gave me more      
time for observation. I have found it wise to impress clients with a        
sense of power, and so I gave him some of my conclusions.                   
  "From South Africa, sir, I perceive."                                     
  "Yes, sir," he answered, with some surprise.                              
  "Imperial Yeomanry, I fancy."                                             
  "Middlesex Corps, no doubt."                                              
  "That is so. Mr. Holmes, you are a wizard."                               
  I smiled at his bewildered expression.                                    
  "When a gentleman of virile appearance enters my room with such           
tan upon his face as an English sun could never give, and with his          
handkerchief in his sleeve instead of in his pocket, it is not              
difficult to place him. You wear a short beard, which shows that you        
were not a regular. You have the cut of a riding-man. As to Middlesex,      
your card has already shown me that you are a stockbroker from              
Throgmorton Street. What other regiment would you join?"                    
  "You see everything."                                                     
  "I see no more than you, but I have trained myself to notice what         
I see. However, Mr. Dodd, it was not to discuss the science of              
observation that you called upon me this morning. What has been             
happening at Tuxbury Old Park?"                                             
  "Mr. Holmes-!"                                                            
  "My dear sir, there is no mystery. Your letter came with that             
heading, and as you fixed this appointment in very pressing terms it        
was clear that something sudden and important had occurred."                
  "Yes, indeed. But the letter was written in the afternoon, and a          
good deal has happened since, then. If Colonel Emsworth had not kicked      
me out-"                                                                    
  "Kicked you out!"                                                         
  "Well that was what it amounted to. He is a hard nail, is Colonel         
Emsworth. The greatest martinet in the Army in his day, and it was a        
day of rough language, too. I couldn't have stuck the colonel if it         
had not been for Godfrey's sake."                                           
  I lit my pipe and leaned back in my chair.                                
  "Perhaps you will explain what you are talking about."                    
  My client grinned mischievously.                                          
  "I had got into the way of supposing that you knew everything             
without being told," said he. "But I will give you the facts, and I         
hope to God that you will be able to tell me what they mean. I've been      
awake all night puzzling my brain, and the more I think the more            
incredible does it become.                                                  
  "When I joined up in January, 1901- just two years ago- young             
Godfrey Emsworth had joined the same squadron. He was Colonel               
Emsworth's only son- Emsworth, the Crimean V.C.- and he had the             
fighting blood in him, so it is no wonder he volunteered. There was         
not a finer lad in the regiment. We formed a friendship- the sort of        
friendship which can only be made when one lives the same life and          
shares the same joys and sorrows. He was my mate- and that means a          
good deal in the Army. We took the rough and the smooth together for a      
year of hard fighting. Then he was hit with a bullet from an                
elephant gun in the action near Diamond Hill outside Pretoria. I got        
one letter from the hospital at Cape Town and one from South                
Hampton. Since then not a word- not one word, Mr. Holmes, for six           
months and more, and he my closest pal.                                     
  "Well, when the war was over, and we all got back, I wrote to his         
father and asked where Godfrey was. No answer. I waited a bit and then      
I wrote again. This time I had a reply, short and gruff. Godfrey had        
gone on a voyage round the world, and it was not likely that he             
would be back for a year. That was all.                                     
  "I wasn't satisfied, Mr. Holmes. The whole thing seemed to me so          
damned unnatural. He was a good lad, and he would not drop a pal            
like that. It was not like him. Then, again, I happened to know that        
he was heir to a lot of money, and also that his father and he did not      
always hit it off too well. The old man was sometimes a bully, and          
young Godfrey had too much spirit to stand it. No, I wasn't satisfied,      
and I determined that I would get to the root of the matter. It             
happened, however, that my own affairs needed a lot of straightening        
out, after two years' absence, and so it is only this week that I have      
been able to take up Godfrey's case again. But since I have taken it        
up I mean to drop everything in order to see it through."                   
  Mr. James M. Dodd appeared to be the sort of person whom it would be      
better to have as a friend than as an enemy. His blue eyes were             
stern and his square jaw had set hard as he spoke.                          
  "Well, what have you done?" I asked.                                      
  "My first move was to get down to his home, Tuxbury Old Park, near        
Bedford, and to see for myself how the ground lay. I wrote to the           
mother, therefore- I had had quite enough of the curmudgeon of a            
father- and I made a clean frontal attack: Godfrey was my chum, I           
had a great deal of interest which I might tell her of our common           
experiences, I should be in the neighbourhood, would there be any           
objection, et cetera? In reply I had quite an amiable answer from           
her and an offer to put me up for the night. That was what took me          
down on Monday.                                                             
  "Tuxbury Old Hall is inaccessible- five miles from anywhere. There        
was no trap at the station, so I had to walk, carrying my suitcase,         
and it was nearly dark before I arrived. It is a great wandering            
house, standing in a considerable park. I should judge it was of all        
sorts of ages and styles, starting on a half-timbered Elizabethan           
foundation and ending in a Victorian portico. Inside it was all             
panelling and tapestry and half-effaced old pictures, a house of            
shadows and mystery. There was a butler, old Ralph, who seemed about        
the same age as the house, and there was his wife, who might have been      
older. She had been Godfrey's nurse, and I had heard him speak of           
her as second only to his mother in his affections, so I was drawn          
to her in spite of her queer appearance. The mother I liked also- a         
gentle little white mouse of a woman. It was only the colonel               
himself whom I barred.                                                      
  "We had a bit of barney right away, and I should have walked back to      
the station if I had not felt that it might be playing his game for me      
to do so. I was shown straight into his study, and there I found            
him, a huge, bow-backed man with a smoky skin and a straggling gray         
beard, seated behind his littered desk. A red-veined nose jutted out        
like a vulture's beak, and two fierce gray eyes glared at me from           
under tufted brows. I could understand now why Godfrey seldom spoke of      
his father.                                                                 
  "'Well, sir,' said he in a rasping voice, 'I should be interested to      
know the real reasons for this visit.'                                      
  "I answered that I had explained them in my letter to his wife.           
  "'Yes, yes, you said that you had known Godfrey in Africa. We             
have, of course, only your word for that.'                                  
  "'I have his letters to me in my pocket.'                                 
  "'Kindly let me see them.'                                                
  "He glanced at the two which I handed him, and then he tossed them        
  "'Well, what then?' he asked.                                             
  "'I was fond of your son Godfrey, sir. Many ties and memories united      
us. Is it not natural that I should wonder at his sudden silence and        
should wish to know what has become of him?'                                
  "'I have some recollections, sir, that I had already corresponded         
with you and had told you what had become of him. He has gone upon a        
voyage round the world. His health was in a poor way after his African      
experiences, and both his mother and I were of opinion that complete        
rest and change were needed. Kindly pass that explanation on to any         
other friends who may be interested in the matter.'                         
  "'Certainly,' I answered. 'But perhaps you would have the goodness        
to let me have the name of the steamer and of the line by which he          
sailed, together with the date. I have no doubt that I should be            
able to get a letter through to him.'                                       
  "My request seemed both to puzzle and to irritate my host. His great      
eyebrows came down over his eyes, and he tapped his fingers                 
impatiently on the table. He looked up at last with the expression          
of one who has seen his adversary make a dangerous move at chess,           
and has decided how to meet it.                                             
  "'Many people, Mr. Dodd,' said he, 'would take offence at your            
infernal pertinacity and would think that this insistence had               
reached the point of damned impertinence.'                                  
  "'You must put it down, sir, to my real love for your son.'               
  "'Exactly. I have already made every allowance upon that score. I         
must ask you, however, to drop these inquiries. Every family has its        
own inner knowledge and its own motives, which cannot always be made        
clear to outsiders, however well-intentioned. My wife is anxious to         
hear something of Godfrey's past which you are in a position to tell        
her, but I would ask you to let the present and the future alone, Such      
inquiries serve no useful purpose, sir, and place us in a delicate and      
difficult position.'                                                        
  "So I came to a dead end, Mr. Holmes. There was no getting past           
it. I could only pretend to accept the situation and register a vow         
inwardly that I would never rest until my friend's fate had been            
cleared up. It was a dull evening. We dined quietly, the three of           
us, in a gloomy faded old room. The lady questioned me eagerly about        
her son, but the old man seemed morose and depressed. I was so bored        
by the whole proceeding that I made an excuse as soon as I decently         
could and retired to my bedroom. It was a large, bare room on the           
ground floor, as gloomy as the rest of the house, but after a year          
of sleeping upon the veldt, Mr. Holmes, one is not too particular           
about one's quarters. I opened the curtains and looked out into the         
garden, remarking that it was a fine night with a bright half-moon.         
Then I sat down by the roaring fire with the lamp on a table beside         
me, and endeavoured to distract my mind with a novel. I was                 
interrupted, however, by Ralph, the old butler, who came in with a          
fresh supply of coals.                                                      
  "'I thought you might run short in the night-time, sir. It is bitter      
weather and these rooms are cold.'                                          
  "He hesitated before leaving the room, and when I looked round he         
was standing facing me with a wistful look upon his wrinkled face.          
  "'Beg your pardon, sir, but I could not help hearing what you said        
of young Master Godfrey at dinner. You know, sir, that my wife              
nursed him, and so I may say I am his foster-father. It's natural we        
should take an interest. And you say he carried himself well, sir?'         
  "'There was never a braver man in the regiment. He pulled me out          
once from under the rifles of the Boers, or maybe I should not be           
  "The old butler rubbed his skinny hands.                                  
  "'Yes, sir, yes, that is Master Godfrey all over. He was always           
courageous. There's not a tree in the park, sir, that he has not            
climbed. Nothing would stop him. He was a fine boy- and oh, sir, he         
was a fine man.'                                                            
  "I sprang to my feet.                                                     
  "'Look here!' I cried. 'You say he was. You speak as if he were           
dead. What is all this mystery? What has become of Godfrey Emsworth?'       
  "I gripped the old man by the shoulder, but he shrank away.               
  "'I don't know what you mean, sir. Ask the master about Master            
Godfrey. He knows. It is not for me to interfere.'                          
  "He was leaving the room, but I held his arm.                             
  "'Listen,' I said. 'You are going to answer one question before           
you leave if I have to hold you all night. Is Godfrey dead?'                
  "He could not face my eyes. He was like a man hypnotized. The answer      
was dragged from his lips. It was a terrible and unexpected one.            
  "'I wish to God he was!' he cried, and, tearing himself free, he          
dashed from the room.                                                       
  "You will think, Mr. Holmes, that I returned to my chair in no            
very happy state of mind. The old man's words seemed to me to bear          
only one interpretation. Clearly my poor friend had become involved in      
some criminal or, at the least, disreputable transaction which touched      
the family honour. That stern old man had sent his son away and hidden      
him from the world lest some scandal should come to light. Godfrey was      
a reckless fellow. He was easily influenced by those around him. No         
doubt he had fallen into bad hands and been misled to his ruin. It was      
a piteous business, if it was indeed so, but even now it was my duty        
to hunt him out and see if I could aid him. I was anxiously                 
pondering the matter when I looked up, and there was Godfrey                
Emsworth standing before me."                                               
  My client had paused as one in deep emotion.                              
  "Pray continue," I said. "Your problem presents some very unusual         
  "He was outside the window, Mr. Holmes, with his face pressed             
against the glass. I have told you that I looked out at the night.          
When I did so I left the curtains partly open. His figure was framed        
in this gap. The window came down to the ground and I could see the         
whole length of it, but it was his face which held my gaze. He was          
deadly pale- never have I seen a man so white. I reckon ghosts may          
look like that; but his eyes met mine, and they were the eyes of a          
living man. He sprang back when he saw that I was looking at him,           
and he vanished into the darkness.                                          
  "There was something shocking about the man, Mr. Holmes. It wasn't        
merely that ghastly face glimmering as white as cheese in the               
darkness. It was more subtle than that- something slinking,                 
something furtive, something guilty- something very unlike the              
frank, manly lad that I had known. It left a feeling of horror in my        
  "But when a man has been soldiering for a year or two with brother        
Boer as a playmate, he keeps his nerve and acts quickly. Godfrey had        
hardly vanished before I was at the window. There was an awkward            
catch, and I was some little time before I could throw it up. Then I        
nipped through and ran down the garden path in the direction that I         
thought he might have taken.                                                
  "It was a long path and the light was not very good, but it seemed        
to me something was moving ahead of me. I ran on and called his             
name, but it was no use. When I got to the end of the path there            
were several others branching in different directions to various            
outhouses. I stood hesitating, and as I did so I heard distinctly           
the sound of a closing door. It was not behind me in the house, but         
ahead of me, somewhere in the darkness. That was enough, Mr. Holmes,        
to assure me that what I had seen was not a vision. Godfrey had run         
away from me, and he had shut a door behind him. Of that I was              
  "There was nothing more I could do, and I spent an uneasy night           
turning the matter over in my mind and trying to find some theory           
which would cover the facts. Next day I found the colonel rather            
more conciliatory, and as his wife remarked that there were some            
places of interest in the neighbourhood, it gave me an opening to           
ask whether my presence for one more night would incommode them. A          
somewhat grudging acquiescence from the old man gave me a clear day in      
which to make my observations. I was already perfectly convinced            
that Godfrey was in hiding somewhere near, but where and why                
remained to be solved.                                                      
  "The house was so large and so rambling that a regiment might be hid      
away in it and no one the wiser. If the secret lay there it was             
difficult for me to penetrate it. But the door which I had heard close      
was certainly not in the house. I must explore the garden and see what      
I could find. There was no difficulty in the way, for the old people        
were busy in their own fashion and left me to my own devices.               
  "There were several small outhouses, but at the end of the garden         
there was a detached building of some size- large enough for a              
gardener's or a gamekeeper's residence. Could this be the place whence      
the sound of that shutting door had come? I approached it in a              
careless fashion as though I were strolling aimlessly round the             
grounds. As I did so, a small, brisk, bearded man in a black coat           
and bowler hat- not at all the gardener type- came out of the door. To      
my surprise, he locked it after him and put the key in his pocket.          
Then he looked at me with some surprise on his face.                        
  "'Are you a visitor here?' he asked.                                      
  "I explained that I was and that I was a friend of Godfrey's.             
  "'What a pity that he should be away on his travels, for he would         
have so liked to see me,' I continued.                                      
  "'Quite so. Exactly,' said he with a rather guilty air. 'No doubt         
you will renew your visit at some more propitious time.' He passed on,      
but when I turned I observed that he was standing watching me,              
half-concealed by the laurels at the far end of the garden.                 
  "I had a good look at that little house as I passed it, but the           
windows were heavily curtained, and, so far as one could see, it was        
empty. I might spoil my own game and even be ordered off the                
premises if I were too audacious, for I was still conscious that I was      
being watched. Therefore, I strolled back to the house and waited           
for night before I went on with my inquiry. When all was dark and           
quiet I slipped out of my window and made my way as silently as             
possible to the mysterious lodge.                                           
  "I have said that it was heavily curtained, but now I found that the      
windows were shuttered as well. Some light, however, was breaking           
through one of them, so I concentrated my attention upon this. I was        
in luck, for the curtain had not been quite closed, and there was a         
crack in the shutter, so that I could see the inside of the room. It        
was a cheery place enough, a bright lamp and a blazing fire.                
Opposite to me was seated the little man whom I had seen in the             
morning. He was smoking a pipe and reading a paper."                        
  "What paper?" I asked.                                                    
  My client seemed annoyed at the interruption of his narrative.            
  "Can it matter?" he asked.                                                
  "It is most essential"                                                    
  "I really took no notice."                                                
  "Possibly you observed whether it was a broad-leafed paper or of          
that smaller type which one associates with weeklies."                      
  "Now that you mention it, it was not large. It might have been the        
Spectator. However, I had little thought to spare upon such details,        
for a second man was seated with his back to the window, and I could        
swear that this second man was Godfrey. I could not see his face,           
but I knew the familiar slope of his shoulders. He was leaning upon         
his elbow in an attitude of great melancholy, his body turned               
towards the fire. I was hesitating as to what I should do when there        
was a sharp tap on my shoulder, and there was Colonel Emsworth              
beside me.                                                                  
  "'This way, sir!' said he in a low voice. He walked in silence to         
the house, and I followed him into my own bedroom. He had picked up         
a time-table in the hall.                                                   
  "'There is a train to London at 8:30,' said he. 'The trap will be at      
the door at eight.'                                                         
  "He was white with rage, and, indeed, I felt myself in so                 
difficult a position that I could only stammer out a few incoherent         
apologies in which I tried to excuse myself by urging my anxiety for        
my friend.                                                                  
  "'The matter will not bear discussion,' said he abruptly. 'You            
have made a most damnable intrusion into the privacy of our family.         
You were here as a guest and you have become a spy. I have nothing          
more to say, sir, save that I have no wish ever to see you again.'          
  "At this I lost my temper, Mr. Holmes, and I spoke with some warmth.      
  "'I have seen your son, and I am convinced that for some reason of        
your own you are concealing him from the world. I have no idea what         
your motives are in cutting him off in this fashion, but I am sure          
that he is no longer a free agent. I warn you, Colonel Emsworth,            
that until I am assured as to the safety and well-being of my friend I      
shall never desist in my efforts to get to the bottom of the                
mystery, and I shall certainly not allow myself to be intimidated by        
anything which you may say or do.'                                          
  "The old fellow looked diabolical, and I really thought he was about      
to attack me. I have said that he was a gaunt, fierce old giant, and        
though I am no weakling I might have been hard put to it to hold my         
own against him. However, after a long glare of rage he turned upon         
his heel and walked out of the room. For my part, I took the appointed      
train in the morning, with the full intention of coming straight to         
you and asking for your advice and assistance at the appointment for        
which I had already written."                                               
  Such was the problem which my visitor laid before me. It                  
presented, as the astute reader will have already perceived, few            
difficulties in its solution, for a very limited choice of                  
alternatives must get to the root of the matter. Still, elementary          
as it was, there were points of interest and novelty about it which         
may excuse my placing it upon record. I now proceeded, using my             
familiar method of logical analysis, to narrow down the possible            
  "The servants," I asked; "how many were in the house?"                    
  "To the best of my belief there were only the old butler and his          
wife. They seemed to live in the simplest fashion."                         
  "There was no servant, then, in the detached house?"                      
  "None, unless the little man with the beard acted as such. He             
seemed, however, to be quite a superior person."                            
  "That seems very suggestive. Had you any indication that food was         
conveyed from the one house to the other?"                                  
  "Now that you mention it, I did see old Ralph carrying a basket down      
the garden walk and going in the direction of this house. The idea          
of food did not occur to me at the moment."                                 
  "Did you make any local inquiries?"                                       
  "Yes, I did. I spoke to the station-master and also to the innkeeper      
in the village. I simply asked if they knew anything of my old              
comrade, Godfrey Emsworth. Both of them assured me that he had gone         
for a voyage round the world. He had come home and then had almost          
at once started off again. The story was evidently universally              
  "You said nothing of your suspicions?"                                    
  "That was very wise. The matter should certainly be inquired into. I      
will go back with you to Tuxbury Old Park."                                 
  It happened that at the moment I was clearing up the case which my        
friend Watson has described as that of the Abbey School, in which           
the Duke of Greyminster was so deeply involved. I had also a                
commission from the Sultan of Turkey which called for immediate             
action, as political consequences of the gravest kind might arise from      
its neglect. Therefore it was not until the beginning of the next           
week, as my diary records, that I was able to start forth on my             
mission to Bedfordshire in company with Mr. James M. Dodd. As we drove      
to Euston we picked up a grave and taciturn gentleman of iron-gray          
aspect, with whom I had made the necessary arrangements.                    
  "This is an old friend," said I to Dodd. "It is possible that his         
presence may be entirely unnecessary, and, on the other hand, it may        
be essential. It is not necessary at the present stage to go further        
into the matter."                                                           
  The narratives of Watson, have accustomed the reader, no doubt, to        
the fact that I do not waste words or disclose my thoughts while a          
case is actually under consideration. Dodd seemed surprised, but            
nothing more was said, and the three of us continued our journey            
together. in the train I asked Dodd one more question which I wished        
our companion to hear.                                                      
  "You say that you saw your friend's face quite clearly at the             
window, so clearly that you are sure of his identity?"                      
  "I have no doubt about it whatever. His nose was pressed against the      
glass. The lamplight shone full upon him."                                  
  "It could not have been someone resembling him?"                          
  "No, no, it was he."                                                      
  "But you say he was changed?"                                             
  "Only in colour. His face was- how shall I describe it?- it was of a      
fish-belly whiteness. It was bleached."                                     
  "Was it equally pale all over?"                                           
  "I think not. It was his brow which I saw so clearly as it was            
pressed against the window."                                                
  "Did you call to him?"                                                    
  "I was too startled and horrified for the moment. Then I pursued          
him, as I have told you, but without result."                               
  My case was practically complete, and there was only one small            
incident needed to round it off. When, after considerable drive, we         
arrived at the strange old rambling house which my client had               
described, it was Ralph, the elderly butler, who opened the door. I         
had requisitioned the carriage for the day and had asked my elderly         
friend to remain within it unless we should summon him. Ralph, a            
little wrinkled old fellow, was in the conventional costume of black        
coat and pepper-and-salt trousers, with only one curious variant. He        
wore brown leather gloves, which at sight of us he instantly                
shuffled off, laying them down on the hall-table as we passed in. I         
have, as my friend Watson may have remarked, an abnormally acute set        
of senses, and a faint but incisive scent was apparent. It seemed to        
centre on the hall-table. I turned, placed my hat there, knocked it         
off, stooped to pick it up, and contrived to bring my nose within a         
foot of the gloves. Yes, it was undoubtedly from them that the curious      
tarry odour was oozing. I passed on into the study with my case             
complete. Alas, that I should have to show my hand so when I tell my        
own story! It was by concealing such links in the chain that Watson         
was enabled to produce his meretricious finales.                            
  Colonel Emsworth was not in his room, but he came quickly enough          
on receipt of Ralph's message. We heard his quick, heavy step in the        
passage. The door was flung open and he rushed in with bristling beard      
and twisted features, as terrible an old man as ever I have seen. He        
held our cards in his hand, and he tore them up and stamped on the          
  "Have I not told you, you infernal busybody, that you are warned off      
the premises? Never dare to show your damned face here again. If you        
enter again without my leave I shall be within my rights if I use           
violence. I'll shoot you, sir! By God, I will! As to you, sir,"             
turning upon me, "I extend the same warning to you. I am familiar with      
your ignoble profession, but you must take your reputed talents to          
some other field. There is no opening for them here."                       
  "I cannot leave here," said my client firmly, "until I hear from          
Godfrey's own lips that he is under no restraint."                          
  Our involuntary host rang the bell.                                       
  "Ralph," he said, "telephone down to the county police and ask the        
inspector to send up two constables. Tell him there are burglars in         
the house."                                                                 
  "One moment," said I. "You must be aware, Mr. Dodd, that Colonel          
Emsworth is within his rights and that we have no legal status              
within his house. On the other hand, he should recognize that your          
action is prompted entirely by solicitude for his son. I venture to         
hope that if I were allowed to have five minutes' conversation with         
Colonel Emsworth I could certainly alter his view of the matter."           
  "I am not so easily altered," said the old soldier. "Ralph, do            
what I have told you. What the devil are you waiting for? Ring up           
the police!"                                                                
  "Nothing of the sort," I said, putting my back to the door. "Any          
police interference would bring about the very catastrophe which you        
dread." I took out my notebook and scribbled one word upon a loose          
sheet. "That," said I as I handed it to Colonel Emsworth, "is what has      
brought us here."                                                           
  He stared at the writing with a face from which every expression          
save amazement had vanished.                                                
  "How do you know?" he gasped, sitting down heavily in his chair.          
  "It is my business to know things. That is my trade."                     
  He sat in deep thought, his gaunt hand tugging at his straggling          
beard. Then he made a gesture of resignation.                               
  "Well, if you wish to see Godfrey, you shall. It is no doing of           
mine, but you have forced my hand. Ralph, tell Mr. Godfrey and Mr.          
Kent that in five minutes we shall be with them."                           
  At the end of that time we passed down the garden path and found          
ourselves in front of the mystery house at the end. A small bearded         
man stood at the door with a look of considerable astonishment upon         
his face.                                                                   
  "This is very sudden, Colonel Emsworth," said he. "This will              
disarrange all our plans."                                                  
  "I can't help it, Mr. Kent. Our hands have been forced. Can Mr.           
Godfrey see us?"                                                            
  "Yes, he is waiting inside." He turned and led us into a large,           
plainly furnished front room. A man was standing with his back to           
the fire, and at the sight of him my client sprang forward with             
outstretched hand.                                                          
  "Why, Godfrey, old man, this is fine!"                                    
  But the other waved him back.                                             
  "Don't touch me, Jimmie. Keep your distance. Yes, you may well            
stare! I don't quite look the smart Lance-Corporal Emsworth, of B           
Squadron, do I?"                                                            
  His appearance was certainly extraordinary. One could see that he         
had indeed been a handsome man with clear-cut features sunburned by an      
African sun, but mottled in patches over this darker surface were           
curious whitish patches which had bleached his skin.                        
  "That's why I don't court visitors," said he. "I don't mind you,          
Jimmie, but I could have done without your friend. I suppose there          
is some good reason for it, but you have me at a disadvantage."             
  "I wanted to be sure that all was well with you, Godfrey. I saw           
you that night when you looked into my window, and I could not let the      
matter rest till I had cleared things up."                                  
  "Old Ralph told me you were there, and I couldn't help taking a peep      
at you. I hoped you would not have seen me, and I had to run to my          
burrow when I heard the window go up."                                      
  "But what in heaven's name is the matter?"                                
  "Well, it's not a long story to tell," said he, lighting a                
cigarette. "You remember that morning fight at Buffelsspruit,               
outside Pretoria, on the Eastern railway line? You heard I was hit?"        
  "Yes, I heard that, but I never got particulars."                         
  "Three of us got separated from the others. It was very broken            
country, you may remember. There was Simpson- the fellow we called          
Baldy Simpson- and Anderson, and I. We were clearing brother Boer, but      
he lay low and got the three of us. The other two were killed. I got        
an elephant bullet through my shoulder. I stuck on to my horse,             
however, and he galloped several miles before I fainted and rolled off      
the saddle.                                                                 
  "When I came to myself it was nightfall, and I raised myself up,          
feeling very weak and ill. To my surprise there was a house close           
beside me, a fairly large house with a broad stoop and many windows.        
It was deadly cold. You remember the kind of numb cold which used to        
come at evening, a deadly, sickening sort of cold, very different from      
a crisp healthy frost. Well I was chilled to the bone, and my only          
hope seemed to lie in reaching that house. I staggered to my feet           
and dragged myself along, hardly conscious of what I did. I have a dim      
memory of slowly ascending the steps, entering a wide-opened door,          
passing into a large room which contained several beds, and throwing        
myself down with a gasp of satisfaction upon one of them. It was            
unmade, but that troubled me not at all. I drew the clothes over my         
shivering body and in a moment I was in a deep sleep.                       
  "It was morning when I wakened, and it seemed to me that instead          
of coming out into a world of sanity I had emerged into some                
extraordinary nightmare. The out African sun flooded through the            
big, curtainless windows, and every detail of the great, bare,              
whitewashed dormitory stood out hard and clear. In front of me was          
standing a small, dwarf-like man with a huge, bulbous head, who was         
jabbering excitedly in Dutch, waving two horrible hands which looked        
to me like brown sponges. Behind him stood a group of people who            
seemed to be intensely amused by the situation, but a chill came            
over me as I looked at them. Not one of them was a normal human being.      
Every one was twisted or swollen or disfigured in some strange way.         
The laughter of these strange monstrosities was a dreadful thing to         
  "It seemed that none of them could speak English, but the                 
situation wanted clearing up, for the creature with the big head was        
growing furiously angry, and, uttering wild-beast cries, he had laid        
his deformed hands upon me and was dragging me out of bed,                  
regardless of the fresh flow of blood from my wound. The little             
monster was as strong as a bull, and I don't know what he might have        
done to me had not an elderly man who was clearly in authority been         
attracted to the room by the hubbub. He said a few stern words in           
Dutch, and my persecutor shrank away. Then he turned upon me, gazing        
at me in the utmost amazement.                                              
  "'How in the world did you come here?' he asked in amazement.             
'Wait a bit! I see that you are tired out and that wounded shoulder of      
yours wants looking after. I am a doctor, and I'll soon have you            
tied up. But, man alive! you are in far greater danger here than            
ever you were on the battlefield. You are in the Leper Hospital, and        
you have slept in a leper's bed.'                                           
  "Need I tell you more, Jimmie? It seems that in view of the               
approaching battle all these poor creatures had been evacuated the day      
before. Then, as the British advanced, they had been brought back by        
this, their medical superintendent, who assured me that, though he          
believed he was immune to the disease, he would none the less never         
have dared to do what I had done. He put me in a private room, treated      
me kindly, and within a week or so I was removed to the general             
hospital at Pretoria.                                                       
  "So there you have my tragedy. I hoped against hope, but it was           
not until I had reached home that the terrible signs which you see          
upon my face told me that I had not escaped. What was I to do? I was        
in this lonely house. We had two servants whom we could utterly trust.      
There was a house where I could live. Under pledge of secrecy, Mr.          
Kent, who is a surgeon, was prepared to stay with me. It seemed simple      
enough on those lines. The alternative was a dreadful one- segregation      
for life among strangers with never a hope of release. But absolute         
secrecy was necessary, or even in this quiet countryside there would        
have been an outcry, and I should have been dragged to my horrible          
doom. Even you, Jimmie- even you had to be kept in the dark. Why my         
father has relented I cannot imagine."                                      
  Colonel Emsworth pointed to me.                                           
  "This is the gentleman who forced my hand." He unfolded the scrap of      
paper on which I had written the word "Leprosy." "It seemed to me that      
if he knew so much as that it was safer that he should know all."           
  "And so it was," said I. "Who knows but good may come of it? I            
understand that only Mr. Kent has seen the patient. May I ask, sir, if      
you are an authority on such complaints, which are, I understand,           
tropical or semi-tropical in their nature?"                                 
  "I have the ordinary knowledge of the educated medical man," he           
observed with some stiffness.                                               
  "I have no doubt, sir, that you are fully competent, but I am sure        
that you will agree that in such a case a second opinion is                 
valuable. You have avoided this, I understand, for fear that                
pressure should be put upon you to segregate the patient."                  
  "That is so," said Colonel Emsworth.                                      
  "I foresaw this situation," I explained, "and I have brought with me      
a friend whose discretion may absolutely be trusted. I was able once        
to do him a professional service, and he is ready to advise as a            
friend rather than as a specialist. His name is Sir James Saunders."        
  The prospect of an interview with Lord Roberts would not have             
excited greater wonder and pleasure in a raw subaltern than was now         
reflected upon the face of Mr. Kent.                                        
  "I shall indeed be proud," he murmured.                                   
  "Then I will ask Sir James to step this way. He is at present in the      
carriage outside the door. Meanwhile, Colonel Emsworth, we may perhaps      
assemble in your study, where I could give the necessary                    
  And here it is that I miss my Watson. By cunning questions and            
ejaculations of wonder he could elevate my simple art, which is but         
systematized common sense, into a prodigy. When I tell my own story         
I have no such aid. And yet I will give my process of thought even          
as I gave it to my small audience, which included Godfrey's mother          
in the study of Colonel Emsworth.                                           
  "That process," said I, "starts upon the supposition that when you        
have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains,             
however improbable, must be the truth. It may well be that several          
explanations remain, in which case one tries test after test until one      
or other of them has a convincing amount of support. We will now apply      
this principle to the case in point. As it was first presented to           
me, there were three possible explanations of the seclusion or              
incarceration of this gentleman in an outhouse of his father's              
mansion. There was the explanation, that he was in hiding for a crime,      
or that he was mad and that they wished to avoid an asylum, or that he      
had some disease which caused his segregation. I could think of no          
other adequate solutions. These, then, had to be sifted and balanced        
against each other.                                                         
  "The criminal solution would not bear inspection. No unsolved             
crime had been reported from that district. I was sure of that. If          
it were some crime not yet discovered, then clearly it would be to the      
interest of the family to get rid of the delinquent and send him            
abroad rather than keep him concealed at home. I could see no               
explanation for such a line of conduct.                                     
  "Insanity was more plausible. The presence of the second person in        
the outhouse suggested a keeper. The fact that he locked the door when      
he came out strengthened the supposition and gave the idea of               
constraint. On the other hand, this constraint could not be severe          
or the young man could not have got loose and come down to have a look      
at his friend. You, will remember, Mr. Dodd, that I felt round for          
points, asking you, for example, about the paper which Mr. Kent was         
reading. Had it been the Lancet or the British Medical Journal it           
would have helped me. It is not illegal, however, to keep a lunatic         
upon private premises so long as there is a qualified person in             
attendance and that the authorities have been duly notified. Why,           
then, all this desperate desire for secrecy? Once again I could not         
get the theory to fit the facts.                                            
  "There remained the third possibility, into which, rare and unlikely      
as it was, everything seemed to fit. Leprosy is not uncommon in             
South Africa. By some extraordinary chance this youth might have            
contracted it. His people would be placed in a very dreadful position,      
since they would desire to save him from segregation. Great secrecy         
would be needed to prevent rumours from getting about and subsequent        
interference by the authorities. A devoted medical man, if                  
sufficiently paid, would easily be found to take chance of the              
sufferer. There would be no reason why the latter should not he             
allowed freedom after dark. Bleaching of the skin is a common result        
of the disease. The case was a strong one- so strong that I determined      
to act as if it were actually proved. When on arriving here I               
noticed that Ralph, who carries out the meals, had gloves which are         
impregnated with disinfectants, my last doubts were removed. A              
single word showed you, sir, that your secret was discovered, and if I      
wrote rather than said it, it was to prove to you that my discretion        
was to be trusted."                                                         
  I was finishing this little analysis of the case when the door was        
opened and the austere figure of the great dermatologist was ushered        
in. But for once his sphinx-like features had relaxed and there was         
a warm humanity in his eyes. He strode up to Colonel Emsworth and           
shook him by the hand.                                                      
  "It is often my lot to bring ill-tidings and seldom good," said           
he. "This occasion is the more welcome. It is not leprosy."                 
  "A well-marked case of pseudo-leprosy or ichthyosis, a scale-like         
affection of the skin, unsightly, obstinate, but possibly curable, and      
certainly noninfective. Yes, Mr. Holmes, the coincidence is a               
remarkable one. But is it coincidence? Are there not subtle forces          
at work of which we know little? Are we assured that the                    
apprehension from which this young man has no doubt suffered                
terribly since his exposure to its contagion may not produce a              
physical effect which simulates that which it fears? At any rate, I         
pledge my professional reputation- But the lady has fainted! I think        
that Mr. Kent had better be with her until she recovers from this           
joyous shock."

-THE END-                                       


Login to follow page