Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (1925)
The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier
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
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
"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 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
"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 Southampton.
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 back.
" '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 camplete 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
" '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 no braver man in the regiment. He pulled me
out once from under the rifles of the Boers, or maybe I should
not be here.'
"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
"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
"He could not face my eyes. He was like a man hypnotized
The answer was dragged from his lips. It was a terrible and
" '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
"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 mind.
"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 certain.
"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
"I had a good look at the 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
" '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 accepted."
"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 Eustonn we
picked up a grave and tacitum 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 a 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 fragments.
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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 stoep 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 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 hear.
"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
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
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
"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 charge of the sufferer. There would be no
reason why the latter should not be 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
scalelike 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."