NB: The circumstances surrounding my access to this manuscript are of such moment that their publication is impossible. Those involved in that unsavory affair can continue to live without fear of exposure. At the same time, it is equally impossible that the manuscript itself be left unpublished. Therefore, I undertake to offer these heretofore unread reflections on a grotesque chapter in the glorious career of Mr. Holmes by his Boswell, Dr. Watson. ∼ STF
November 1926, London
The days grow shivering and short. Much like my own. I wander like a phantom from Kensington, at times hardly knowing where I am going. I do know, however, that when I find myself in Charing Cross, I inevitably find myself buried in the dungeon-like vaults of the bank of Cox and Co., lifting the battered lid of my dispatch-box. Though it seems little more than a travel-worn tin box of Indian Army issue, it is a treasure trove of peculiar mysteries. It is here that I conserve my original records of the problems handled by Mr. Sherlock Holmes. To this day, my thoughts hover over the cold hearth at Baker Street, haunting it like a ghost, and my heart hangs on the memories of that remarkable man. Even now, as he reclusively keeps bees in the Sussex Downs, I recall the adventure we shared in Sussex regarding vampires.
Holmes, who lived by logic alone, never showed a great deal of interest, let alone enthusiasm, for the narratives of his experiences which I, from time to time, took upon myself to publish. His chief criticism of my writings was that they were too sensational, which quality he argued clouded and even diminished the strict, scientific processes of cause and effect which he practiced. He has pointed out to me on numerous occasions that my so-called dramatic renderings of these incidents have only served to inflate simple, deductive procedures into idealistic romances, embellishing what he considered trivialities into monsters of intrigue and awe which sought to excite instead of instruct. Rather than indulging the mass appetite for superficiality, he said, I should grasp at the opportunity to present the factual results of pure intellectualism, and not misrepresent the impersonal, colorless nature of his art. It was for these reasons that Sherlock Holmes has ever been indifferent of my chronicles.
Nevertheless, it is beyond doubt that countless adventures of this extraordinary man surpass the pale of common experience and are indeed wondrous in their outré qualities. “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire,” which I exhumed from the vault this gloomy day, is one of these, and reveals—whether dramatically or not—how Holmes’ inquiries boldly trod the line between the natural and the supernatural, or “between the modern and the medieval” as he put it, and cast the most phantasmal terrors into the broad light of day.
It was on a Thursday in November, 1896, when the post produced a letter from the north end of Cheapside with the ominous word “Vampires” dashed across the header. “What do we know about vampires?” Holmes scoffed as he tossed me the slip from the partners of Morrison, Morrison, & Dodd. Holmes had previously taken successful action for this firm in a case involving the Matilda Briggs, a ship owned by the Oriental Trading Company of Shanghai and associated with the story of the Giant Rat of Sumatra. (I shudder even now to recall that terrible business and entirely shared Holmes’s opinion that it is a story for which the world is not yet prepared—even unto this day.)
The letter recommended the case of a client of theirs and an old Rugby acquaintance of mine, Robert Ferguson, who played three-quarter for Richmond when I was on the Blackheath squad. What Bob Ferguson, a successful tea broker out of Mincing Lane, could have to do with vampires was beyond imagination. Vampires, of all things under the sun!—Or under the earth, I suppose. A reference to our Agency’s good old index under “V” disclosed a few vague entries on vampires in Hungary and Transylvania, but Holmes was far from disposed to consider the possibility of a walking corpse that only keeps to its grave by a stake hammered through its heart.
I recollect, however, three unresolved clippings from 1893 in the index which might have fleshed out the scant section on vampirism. These were a Dailygraph piece on the Whitby storm and the tragedy of the Demeter; a Pall Mall Gazette article on an escaped wolf from the Zoological Gardens; and finally the Westminster Gazette’s “Hampstead Horror” involving the “Stabbing Woman” who attacked children and left her victims with wounded throats. Seemingly unrelated, these chilling incidents were, in fact, connected with a certain Count Dracula: an alleged vampire whose plots threatened London and the Carpathians three years before Holmes’ Sussex case. These secrets I learned from the late Dr. Van Helsing, God rest his soul.
Sherlock Holmes dismissed vampires as absurd, as outside the realm of English criminal practice, and as sheer lunacy. Playing devil’s advocate, I put forward a legend of the old drinking the blood of the young to retain their youth as a form of vampirism, which my friend acknowledged. I wonder now that my mind did not leap to the unspeakably horrific Whitechapel murders of 1888 perpetrated by a veritable blood drinker. There were rumors, in fact, that “Jack the Ripper,” as the murderer was called, was perhaps one of these bloodthirsty demonic beings of folklore. Though it remains something of a wonder to me why Sherlock Holmes never took particular notice of that sensational mystery, he was rather occupied at the time with the equally sensational Baskerville case.
A letter from Mr. Ferguson himself disclosed the disturbing facts that pointed quite invariably to a material case of vampirism in his own house involving his own spouse. Ferguson’s second wife, a Peruvian beauty, was apprehended in two dreadful scenes in the very act of sucking and drinking blood from their infant son’s neck. This terrifying behavior was preceded by the woman’s unprovoked assaults directed towards Ferguson’s fifteen-year-old son from his previous marriage. The incidents were particularly alarming as the boy was a cripple, having suffered a spinal injury which hindered the full use of his limbs. Once the bloodsucking discovery was made, Mrs. Ferguson was immediately confined to her room and no explanation of her ghastly behavior could be wrung from her. A subsequent meeting with the distraught Mr. Ferguson confirmed that something extraordinary was afoot, and so, despite Holmes’ initial reaction of “No ghosts need apply,” we found ourselves rattling over the Sussex clay through the dull November fog to Cheeseman’s, Lamberley, not armed with garlic and crucifix, but rather with the intellectual powers of observation and deduction.
I will never forget the lonely lane leading to that crumbling structure. If ever there was a house of horrors, it was that house. The odor of age and decay, the Tudor chimneys, the lichen-spotted roof, the doorsteps worn to curves, the gaping fireplaces, the ancient paneling, the oaken beams, the uneven floors, the outlandish South American weaponry, and the lame dog that came crawling from the shadows towards us upon our arrival.
I will not prolong these postscript musings with the whole course and culmination of that dark adventure. It is written for those who would read. But that dog! It was a providential circumstance, if such a spiritual claim can be tolerated, that Sherlock Holmes had solved the mystery of Silver Blaze a half-dozen years prior, for his brilliant observation of the sheep in their paddock at King’s Pyland Stables must certainly have lent him light in that crypt of a house. But, of course, it is not unusual for cases to have similar traits and attributes. “Crime is common, logic is rare,” as Holmes was wont to say. The challenge of the Sussex Vampire was the challenge to pit intellectual strength against forces beyond common comprehension, and even common sense—and, therefore, beyond common crime. The result has been duly recorded.
I wonder why it is that this history, of all our histories, draws my mind so keenly? Perhaps because it dwells upon the undead—upon the mystery of immortality. Could it be? As my agent and confidante Dr. Doyle has written, “One likes to think that there is some fantastic limbo for the children of imagination, some strange, impossible place where the beaux of Fielding may still make love to the belles of Richardson, where Scott’s heroes still may strut, Dickens’s delightful Cockneys still raise a laugh, and Thackeray’s worldlings continue to carry on their reprehensible careers. Perhaps in some humble corner of such a Valhalla, Sherlock and his Watson may for a time find a place, while some more astute sleuth with some even less astute comrade may fill the stage which they have vacated.”
So be it.
This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Crisis Magazine.