General de Merville was a distinguished officer in the British army who was renowned for his actions at the Khyber Pass during the Second Anglo-Afghan War. He was the father of Violet de Merville, who against his wishes became engaged to the notorious Austrian baron Adelbert Gruner. When Sir James Damery visited Sherlock Holmes enlist his services in breaking up the engagement Holmes initially assumes General de Merville to be his client. Sir James, however, contradicts him, informing Holmes that since the engagement the general has been thoroughly demoralized and reduced to a "weak, doddering old man." The client is, instead, a very intimate friend of the general, with a paternal interest in Violet's well-being.