“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.”
—“The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier”
Nothing captures the imagination like a well-told ghost story. Though the supernatural is, for the most part, mercifully absent from the Holmes canon, its occasional emergence in the later canon after The Hound of the Baskervilles is nonetheless titillating. In “Blanched Soldier,” we encounter a solitary Holmes again taking up the narration of a tale that he hopes will do some mean amount of justice to the adventures usually regaled by (a presumably honeymooning for his second marriage) Watson. The master detective does not disappoint. Structured, for all intents and purposes, like a Gothic tale of ghostly visitation and strange happenings at Tuxbury Old Park, near Bedford, the Emsworth family home.
Spurred on by an excitable client, James Dodd, Holmes is drawn in by the tale (inspired by Conan Doyle’s own exploits and interest in the Second Boer War) of a missing person, one Godfrey Emsworth. Dodd’s own attempts at uncovering the whereabouts of his friend were treated as suspect by the man’s father, the dyspeptic Colonel Emsworth, and further exacerbated by the family butler. It is their unusual behavior that has piqued his curiosity, but, staying the night in Tuxbury Old Park, it is a seemingly ghostly apparition of his friend that finally has driven Dodd to Baker Street for assistance.
Holmes carefully questions his client before undertaking a trip to Bedford and, per usual, Holmes quickly brushes off the ghostly apparition and instead focuses on minute details of Dodd’s visit: the placement of buildings on the property, the number of servant’s present, and a glimpse of some reading material, and where food might be delivered. Holmes interrupts the narrative here, mentioning other cases which he deemed more important (including, in an aside, the “Adventure of the Priory School”)—the trip does not commence until almost a week later. The case, it would seem, had resolved itself sufficiently within the detective’s own mind.
The conclusion of “Blanched Soldier” rests on specialized knowledge that, ironically for a story told by Holmes alone, would be more in character for Dr. Watson. Its satisfactory conclusion, for all parties involved, therefore finds more pride of place in the Holmes canon than around a camp-fire or amid the gloomy shadows of a Gothic estate. Even the spirits, it would seem, or seeming spirits, as it were, are no match for Sherlock Holmes.