Baker Street Wiki
Baker Street Wiki

"The Case of Colonel Warburton's Madness" is a Sherlock Holmes short story by Lyndsay Faye. It was first published in the anthology Sherlock Holmes in America and later included in her collection The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. In it, Watson tells Holmes about a mystery from his brief time living in America, concerning the apparent haunting of an old soldier by visions of his past.


An out-of-work Holmes is in a lethargic mood. To cheer him up, Watson recounts an odd occurrence from his past, during a time when he briefly ran a practice in San Francisco.

During a walk around the city's wealthy Nob Hill neighborhood, Watson observes an old man wearing a military uniform run out of a mansion and collapse in the street, unconscious. A young woman comes running after him, and Watson helps her carry the man back inside with the help of a black servant.

The woman introduces herself as Molly Warburton, and the unconscious man as her uncle, Colonel Patrick Warburton. She explains that her uncle made a fortune in the early days of California statehood. He allowed her and her brother Charles, a struggling photographer, to live with him, as they had no other living relatives. However, lately his mind had becoming increasingly unbalanced. The colonel had seen much bloodshed; he had fought against the Mexicans in the Texas revolt, and against the Confederacy during the Civil War. Now, it seemed, he was being haunted by his past. The colonel had changed his will to donate his entire fortune to veteran's charities; not long after, he began seeing visions of a fierce Tejano soldier when he lay down to sleep. She also mentions that the black servant is the colonel's head butler, Sam Jefferson, and that he had been employed by the colonel since his Texas days.

At that moment, Molly's brother Charles enters. Their introduction is cut short when Colonel Warburton awakens and, in a rage, attempts to escape from the house. Jefferson manages to cajole him into bed, and Watson administers a sedative to calm him. As he does so, he notices the colony's room is nearly empty, with blank walls and a bed facing away from the window. The window looked over the garden, but apart from a hole under the window where a large lilac had recently been removed there was nothing unusual. Jefferson tells Watson that Warburton was always superstitious. However, Jefferson has noted some strange happenings. On a night when Warburton dreamed the Tejano stabbed a Texan soldier, he found a cut in the same place on the colonel's uniform. And when the colonel dreamed that a mob with torches was coming for him, half the kindling was missing. Watson promises to the family that he will return the following day, then leaves; on his way out, he is surprised to see a Mexican heading towards the back door of the house.

The next day Watson meets with Colonel Warburton, who has seemingly recovered. Warburton apologizes for his behavior, and explains that he can't decide if he is going mad or is actually haunted. Watson questions him about the suspicious man he saw the previous day, but the colonel denies hiring any Mexicans. Jefferson confirms this as Watson leaves, assuring him that he personally oversees all hiring in the house.

As Watson departs, he sees the mysterious man again, and follows him to a bar in the notorious Barbary Coast district. Watson approaches the man, who introduces himself as Juan Portillo. He claims to have been hired to do a job in the house, but says he was paid to keep quiet; however, he denies harming the colonel. When Watson persists in asking questions, Portillo calls for several thugs. However, one of them recognizes Watson as the doctor who fixed his leg after a brawl, allowing him to escape.

Watson returns to the Warburton house the following day, determined to report Portillo's suspicious behavior. However, he finds the colonel engaged in a violent argument with his nephew. Charles had sacked Jefferson without his uncle's permission, after accusing the butler of breaking into his darkroom to steal his photographic equipment. Watson decides to return the following day, but when he does, he learns that Jefferson and Colonel Warburton had vanished without a trace. Furthermore, the safe had been opened, with cash and securities taken. A search fails to find the colonel, and Portillo is released when he provides a conclusive alibi in questioning.

Holmes, of course, solves the mystery by the time Watson finishes recounting it. He explains that the "madness" was a nefarious scheme hatched by Molly and Charles Warburton, who were upset at being written out of their uncle's will. To invalidate the changes, they contrived to prove him mad. They hired Portillo to portray the Tejano soldier, and photographed him performing various sinister acts (e.g. stabbing a Texan soldier, using the colonel's uniform on a dummy.) They then used a magic lantern to project the images into the colonel's bedroom after drugging him; the lilac had been removed because it blocked the colonel's window. Jefferson had suspected the siblings, and had broken into the photography studio to find the evidence proving their guilt. He and the colonel then disappeared after taking enough money to live on. The siblings' plot to steal the colonel's fortune was foiled, as with the colonel declared dead the money was distributed among the war charities. Watson congratulates Holmes on solving the mystery, and Holmes thanks Watson for entertaining him with it.