Tuesday Terror! The Retirement of Signor Lambert by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A cautionary tale…

If you have been a visitor to my blog for any length of time, you will know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has his very own pedestal in my bookish hall of fame. Adventure, crime, historical fiction – he was a master of so many genres. Not least, horror! Here’s a deliciously horrid little story for this week’s…

The Retirement of Signor Lambert
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir William Sparter was a man who had raised himself in the course of a quarter of a century from earning four-and-twenty shillings a week as a fitter in Portsmouth Dockyard to being the owner of a yard and a fleet of his own. . . now, at the age of fifty, he owned a mansion in Leinster Gardens, a country house at Taplow and a shooting in Argyleshire, with the best stable, the choicest cellars and the prettiest wife in town.

Life is pretty good for Sir William, but for one thing.

And yet he had failed in one thing, and that the most important of all. He had never succeeded in gaining the affection of his wife.

Oh, he had tried! His pretty wife had married him not for love, but because of his wealth and power. Sir William had hoped to win her love in time…

But the very qualities which had helped him in his public life had made him unbearable in private. He was tactless, unsympathetic, overbearing, almost brutal sometimes, and utterly unable to think out those small attentions in word and deed which women value far more than the larger material benefits.

Well, I’m not so sure in this case. She did marry him for his large “material benefits” after all. Anyway, then Sir William makes a terrible discovery…

…when a letter of his wife’s came, through the treachery of a servant, into his hands, and he realized that if she was cold to him she had passion enough for another.

Sir William was not a man who would forgive such a betrayal…

His firm, his ironclads, his patents, everything was dropped, and he turned his huge energies to the undoing of the man.

He confronts his wife, and insists she write a letter to her lover…

“William, you are plotting some revenge. Oh, William, if I have wronged you, I am so sorry—”
“Copy that letter!”
“But what is it that you wish to do? Why should you desire him to come at that hour?”
“Copy that letter!”
“How can you be so harsh, William? You know very well—”
“Copy that letter!”
“I begin to hate you, William. I believe that it is a fiend, not a man, that I have married.”
“Copy that letter!”
Gradually the inflexible will and the unfaltering purpose began to prevail over the creature of nerves and moods. Reluctantly, mutinously, she took the pen in her hand.

The letter written, Sir William sends his wife to bed. Then he takes out two things and begins to read. The first is a paper…

…a recent number of the “Musical Record,” and it contained a biography and picture of the famous Signor Lambert, whose wonderful tenor voice had been the delight of the public and the despair of his rivals. The picture was that of a good-natured, self-satisfied creature, young and handsome, with a full eye, a curling moustache and a bull neck.

The lover!

The second thing is a medical book on the organs of speech and voice-production…

There were numerous coloured illustrations, to which he paid particular attention. Most of them were of the internal anatomy of the larynx, with the silvery vocal cords shining from under the pink arytenoid cartilage. Far into the night Sir William Sparter, with those great virile eyebrows still bunched together, pored over these irrelevant pictures, and read and reread the text in which they were explained.

* * * * *

Woo! Am I glad I never had an affair with Sir Arthur’s wife! This little story shows Conan Doyle at his most twisted. Sir William’s method of revenge is cruel and carried out with a cold-blooded competence that chills the blood. While it’s hard to sympathise with Signor Lambert, his punishment is harsh indeed. Jacqueline, the wife, doesn’t gain much sympathy either – having married Sir William for his money and then having betrayed him, she seems to think that he should simply forgive. But nothing in Sir William’s personality could have led her to think that he was the forgiving kind…

He could frighten his wife, he could dominate her, he could make her admire his strength and respect his consistency, he could mould her to his will in every other direction, but, do what he would, he could not make her love him.

We aren’t given many details of the aftermath for the characters after the act of revenge – I shiver when I think of poor Jacqueline’s reaction and the fear she must have felt, compelled as she would have been to remain married to a man whose potential for pitiless brutality she now fully understood.

Once read, never forgotten! I read it in Gothic Tales of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but if you’d like to read it online, here’s a link. I think of Signor Lambert often – a cautionary tale for all you adulterers out there…

The porpy reckons this story has made him immune
to female charms for a while…

Fretful Porpentine rating:  😮 😮 😮 😮

Overall story rating:           😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

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30 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! The Retirement of Signor Lambert by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

  1. Trust the great ACD to create such a chilling story, FictionFan! It really does sound like a great psychological horror story along with everything else. I think people sometimes forget that the psychological story isn’t really as modern as we sometimes think…

    • It still surprises me sometimes just how brutal ACD could be – that moustache fools me into thinking he was quite cuddly! 😉 Yes, the more vintage stuff I read, the more I realise that my idea of it is far more cosy than the actuality – they really had as wide a range as we do today (though usually with better grammar… 😉 )

  2. ACD is the man! I’m surprised that some Hollywood producer hasn’t snatched this story for production–with a bunch of unnecessary embellishments of course.

  3. Brilliant as the Sherlock Holmes stories are, it is easy to forget that Conan Doyle wrote many other things too, which he actually prefered over Sherlock. Thanks to your link, I should be able to read this on line, but I will try to get hold of the whole collection sometime and see how I get on with it.

    • He was amazingly versatile and I’ve been enjoying investigating his horror and science fiction stories over the last few years. A lot of the horror stories are based on colonial fears or on his medical knowledge, and he’s more brutal than I expect sometimes! That particular collection of his horror stories is great – I hope you manage to get hold of it sometime.

    • Haha – he seemed to have quite a thing for thinking up awful revenges against adulterers, which given that it’s rumoured he did a spot of adultery on the side himself makes me wonder if it’s a guilt complex… 😉

  4. Geez… this one sounds frightfully serious!! I have the impression it takes “get what’s coming to you” to a whole other level! 😳😰😱

  5. This sounds perfectly creepy, just in time for Halloween. Sorry I haven’t been around for a week or so — I’ve been out of town and offline. Sometimes, that’s necessary (though playing catch-up is pretty dreadful, ha!). Still, how nice to come back to the porpy!

  6. Not normally a reader of horror, I followed your link & enjoyed this short story about an unusual form of revenge 🙂 Written from a different viewpoint, I think this could also have been the basis of a very good whodunnit plot too!

    • Oh, yes, it could! I must say there’s such a range in Victorian horror stories – we tend to think of them all as ghost stories, but they’re not at all. So many good ones – I shall continue to try to convert you into a horror fan… 😉

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