Given the timing of how this story just happened to line up with our calendar, BrokenTune and I didn’t think anyone would have a problem with bumping our regular Friday schedule up just a couple of days so that our vampire story would land properly on Halloween. Seems only right.
There are two points that are well-known to fans of Sherlock Holmes and his creator. First, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle absolutely believed in the supernatural, and that belief made its way in to a number of his stories. He’s written on ghosts and vampires, though none of his other works have the staying power of Sherlock Holmes. Second, as we’ve established in previous entries, Sherlock Holmes himself does not believe in the supernatural, and no elements of it are present within the canon. Conan Doyle somehow managed to keep that separation in place all the way to the end of the Great Detective’s run, a point which has been applauded by all those forensic scientists and would-be crimefighters inspired by Holmes since.
With this in mind, we open this case with a letter, referencing vampires, which Holmes immediately dismisses in favor of logical reasoning. Mr. Robert Ferguson arrives at 221B the next morning, convinced that his Peruvian second wife is a bloodsucker, her victim being their baby son. His 15-year-old son, Jack, by Ferguson’s first wife, suffered an accident as a child, and though he can still walk, he does not have full use of his legs. Once the bloodsucking began, Jack has been struck twice by his stepmother. Since Mr. Ferguson learned of these events, Mrs. Ferguson has locked herself in her room. She refuses to come out, and only her Peruvian maid, Dolores, is allowed in so that she may deliver meals.
This is one of those times where Holmes listens to his client’s account and has the case solved instantly, verifying that it has nothing at all to do with vampires. But he says nothing, and he and Watson make their way to Mr. Ferguson’s house in Sussex to observe and to confirm.
Upon arrival, the maid announces that Mrs. Ferguson is ill, and Watson offers to help. Mrs. Ferguson proves to be an agitated woman, raving about all being lost, and of sacrificing herself instead of breaking her husband’s heart. She demands to see her baby, who has been in the care of Mrs. Mason, the nurse, since Mr. Ferguson learned of the bloodsucking. Holmes examines the house’s display of South American weaponry and meets the children. While Mr. Ferguson attends his baby, Watson catches Holmes staring out the window for unknown reasons.
When he’s ready to reveal the truth, Holmes sends a note to Mrs. Ferguson, who is overjoyed to have it come forth from someone else. The monster of the story is not Mrs. Ferguson after all, but rather, Jack, the elder son, which Holmes deduced by seeing Jack’s reflection in the window. Jack attempted to kill the infant by shooting him with poisoned darts, which he tested on first on the half-paralyzed dog that Holmes met out front upon arrival. Mrs. Ferguson was sucking the poison from her baby’s neck. It explains why she struck Jack, and why she was sick when Holmes and Watson arrived.
As famous as this story is for Holmes having disproven a vampire attack, this story is actually more famous for a reference made in passing to the Giant Rat of Sumatra. Holmes says it’s “a story for which the world is not yet prepared.” You know the old saying about no stone left unturned? This single reference to an unpublished case and a ship known as the Matilda Briggs has provided fodder for a number of other writers, the collection of which could springboard another entire blog project if I were so inclined to chase down every known reference. I’m not, but if anyone else feels the need, please feel to let me know. I’ll be more than happy to follow that misadventure.