Welcome to another night of Penny Dreadfuls, where I ruin a fifth scary story for y’all.
Tonight’s piece was written by Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes series. No, it isn’t about Sherlock Holmes but– okay, yes. The main character is famous surgeon Douglas Stone and he was almost certainly based on the same man that S.H. was.
Did you guys watch the show, House religiously before discovering Chance? You were like, “This show is just House. It’s literally just another House,” right?
“The Case of Lady Sannox” is to any Sherlock Holmes case what Chance is to House.
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Dr. Stone is described as being an incredibly smart man, destined to succeed no matter which career he had chosen. He as a surgeon is willing to do what other men can’t, he is willing to plan what other men wouldn’t have the heart to plan. Because he’s been a surgeon for so long, he has little energy left for sympathy and pity.
And he’s in love with a married woman.
Lady Sannox is married to a nobody, a gardener, a boring man, so sayeth Doyle. But she is used to a wide range of outside male attention.
On a night Stone and Sannox prepare to meet (this is just one of many, *wink*) Sherlock– I mean, Stone is accosted in his apartment by a client.
The client is a Turk who needs a doctor for his wife immediately. He tells Stone that he is in possession of a collection of dangerous, foreign weapons, and that his wife accidentally cut her bottom lip on a poison-tipped knife.
First, let me just say that of course foreign weapon collections. Of course poison-tipped daggers. “The Case of Lady Sannox” was written after the first Sherlock Holmes, which means Doyle doesn’t even try to break out of his Sherlock Box. But hey, if it isn’t broken don’t fix it. The Sherlock Holmes series made him money.
Stone is agitated at the delay to visit his main squeeze, but he agrees to operate on the Turk’s wife. The poison can’t be removed or cured: Stone will have to cut off the woman’s lip.
In the next few paragraphs, Stone and the Turk spend way too much time talking about how much of a horrible disfigurement this will be for the poor wife. They talk about how she won’t be pretty anymore, what a shame, and oh, she won’t be fun to kiss, either.
And the Turk says something along the lines of “Yeah, shucks, but she’ll die without the operation, so.”
Honestly, I think that exchange is the creepiest part of the entire story.
When Stone arrives at the Turk’s apartment the place is narrow and dark, and completely bare except for his weapons room. The weapons room is cluttered with “Turkish cabinets, inlaid tables, coats of chain mail, strange pipes, and grotesque weapons.”
The Turk’s wife is in some sort of coma from the poison, and Stone notices that her face is hidden behind a religious head-covering.
At this point the Turk utters a line that I think is quite brilliant on the part of Doyle. The Turk says, “You will forgive the yashmak. You know our views about women in the East.”
That doesn’t strike me as something a Turk would say about his own culture. But the line is so subtle.
If you’ve read any of Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes’ cases you’ve probably figured out that the Turk isn’t really a Turk but a white dude in disguise.
All foreigners in Sherlock Holmes stories are white dudes in disguise.
But Stone doesn’t realize this until he’s sliced off the bottom half of the wife’s face.
The woman immediately shoots off the couch, having apparently been lucid and not in a coma.
It’s Lady Sannox. And the Turk reveals himself: Lord Sannox.
As Lady Sannox gushes blood everywhere and screams her head off, Lord Sannox lectures Stone about the dangers of adultery. But I’m not sure how effective it is given that Lord Sannox has already shot Stone with some sort of poison dart that hardcore melts his brain.
Lord Sannox then leaves the two tortured souls alone to seek out his driver downstairs. He tells his driver to take Stone and Lady Sannox home separately and that Stone, “will want leading down-stairs…” that the driver should “tell his butler that [Stone] has been taken ill at a case.”
The driver then asks Lord Sannox what he plans to do, and Sannox replies vaguely that he plans to go live in Venice for the next few months. And that’s the end.
The Terrifying Implications
Um. Why did Lord Sannox have a plethora of Turkish weapons and an entire random apartment at his disposal? He does tell Stone that the cut at the bottom of Lady Sannox’s lip was merely from his ring.
In other words, he hit his wife and told Stone the cut was from a poison-tipped dagger.
So, Lord Sannox, a simple gardening man, apparently moonlights as a master of incredibly convoluted evil plans.
Much more disturbing is the ending dialogue with Sannox and his driver. Sannox essentially admits to the extent of his crimes with everything he relates to the man. And then the driver has to go up into the apartment and witness Lady Sannox’s gory face and the blank stare of one of the most famously intelligent surgeons in town.
Can you imagine if your employer came down from that apartment, said those things to you, and finished with, “And I’ll be… going out of town… for a few months, Jeeves. Look after my bloody wife and her brain-dead boyfriend for me.”
And the driver just goes along with it!
If you guys want the wicked-looking Penny Dreadful book you can buy it here on amazon. It’s got over 20 Penny Dreadful tales, two of which are full-length novels: the original Frankenstein and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
Check out my other Halloween Serials if you haven’t yet, including yesterday’s “The Buried Alive.”