"The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire"


Published in:1924
Set in:1896
Client:Robert Ferguson
Villain: Jack Ferguson

"The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire" is one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short-stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is one of 12 stories in the cycle collected as The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes.


Holmes receives two unexpected letters which make reference to vampires. Mr Robert Ferguson, who comes to 221B Baker Street the next morning, has become convinced that his Peruvian wife has been sucking their baby son's blood. Several times, she has been caught doing this by the nurse, who at first hesitates to tell Mr Ferguson about it. Indeed, Mrs Ferguson bribed her to keep quiet. At last, however, she became too concerned for the child's welfare and told Mr Ferguson about what had been happening, and he refused to believe it. Just then, however, there was a further incident, and the wound on the child's neck and the blood on his wife's lips were evident. She offered no explanation, having only a "wild, despairing look in her eyes".

The woman is Mr Ferguson's second wife, and by his first wife he has an adolescent son of 15, who suffered an unfortunate accident as a child and now does not have the full use of his legs, although he can walk. His name is Jack, and he has suffered beatings at his stepmother's hands, although Mr Ferguson cannot imagine why, as he is such a dear boy and she is otherwise a devoted and loving wife. Ever since being found out by her husband, she has locked herself in her room and refused to come out. Only her Peruvian maid, Dolores, whom she has known for years, is ever allowed in. She takes Mrs Ferguson her meals.

Even before Holmes and Watson set off for Cheeseman's, Mr Ferguson's house, in Sussex, Holmes has deduced what is going on, and it has nothing to do with vampires. Indeed, in some ways, it is much more shocking. Holmes's trip to Cheeseman's is made simply to observe and confirm what he has already deduced.

Mrs Ferguson's maid announces that her mistress is ill, and Dr Watson offers to help. He finds an agitated woman in the room upstairs, and she says something about that "fiend", which Watson does not understand, as he cannot see how Mr Ferguson could be described as such. She speaks of all being destroyed, and of sacrificing herself rather than breaking her husband's heart. She also demands her child, who has been with the nurse, Mrs Mason, ever since Mr Ferguson found out about the bloodsucking incidents.

Holmes examines the South American weapons displayed in the house, obviously brought to England by Mr Ferguson's wife. Holmes meets the two children. Jack, the 15-year-old, seems excessively devoted to his father, although apparently he does not like his stepmother. The baby son is quite cherubic, and has an obvious wound on his neck. While Mr Ferguson is doting on his younger son, Watson notices that Holmes is gazing at the window. He cannot imagine why his friend is doing this, as it is dark outside, and the window is partially obstructed by a shutter anyway.

Holmes realises that this is a very delicate case, as it will mean pain for Mr Ferguson. Mrs Ferguson is relieved that Holmes tells the truth about what has been happening, as this is exactly what she has wanted: for the truth to come from someone else's lips. It seems that the culprit is Jack, Mr Ferguson's older son, who is extremely jealous of his young half-brother. Holmes has deduced this, and confirmed it by looking at Jack's reflection in the window while his father's attention was on the baby. Jack has been shooting poisoned darts — thoughtfully provided by the weapon collection at Cheeseman's — at his brother, and his stepmother's behaviour of sucking the baby's neck is thereby explained: she was sucking the poison out. The wounds were caused by the darts, not by her biting. She could not tell her husband what was going on, as it would break his heart. She could, however, tell Mrs Mason, whom she trusted with the child. Now, the truth is out, but rather than a legal remedy, Holmes prescribes a year at sea for young Jack.

See also