The Colonial Conan Doyle: British Imperialism, Irish Nationalism, and the Gothic

By Catherine Wynne | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

Empty House and Psychic Landscape: Spiritualism, Mesmerism, and Fairies

In “The Adventure of the Empty House” (1903) the Honourable Ronald Adair, the son of the earl of the Maynooth, the former governor of the Australian colonies, is found shot dead under the “most unusual and inexplicable circumstances.” 1 The seemingly innocuous young man had been playing whist at his club on the evening of his death. Leaving the club at ten o'clock, he had retired to the sitting room of his Park Lane residence, but when his mother and sister attempt to gain access to Adair later that night, they find that the door of the room is locked from the inside. When it is forced, the young man is discovered lying dead near a table on which lay banknotes, some silver, and the names of some of his fellow cardplayers. Adair's head has “been horribly mutilated by an expanding revolver bullet, but no weapon of any sort was to be found in the room.” 2

In his investigation of the outside of the house, Watson discovers that the room that Adair was shot in was twenty feet from the ground, the outside of the house was impossible to scale, and the untouched bed of crocuses at the bottom of the window provided sufficient evidence that the murderer did not make his escape in that manner. At this point Holmes returns disguised as a bookseller to intervene in the murder's solution. He establishes that Adair has been shot by a gun blast to the head, executed by a unique and very powerful air-gun, constructed by a “blind German mechanic, ” Von Herder, to the express order of the late Professor Moriarty. 3 Adair's assassin is, in fact, a Moriarty associate. Colonel Sebastian Moran, formerly of the Indian army and noted for his skills as a shikari, having the finest shot in India, fires the fatal bullet from a tree in the adjoining park. Holmes conjectures that Adair discovered that Moran was cheating at cards and may have threatened to expose him, thus bringing

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