Herlock on the War
Herlock on the War
Failing to observe in the pages of the "Piccadilly Magazine " that any-one else had forestalled me, I proceeded to Pastrycook Street the other afternoon to obtain, if he proved to be accessible, an interview with the one, only and original Herlock Sholmes, together with that great man's opinion as to the duration of the war.
It was some time before I could summon up sufficient courage to press the famous crime detector's front door bell, as, from the sounds that emanated from regions somewhere behind it, I judged that a tom-cat fight upon a stupendous scale was raging in one of the rooms within.
At length, however, having taken a long pull of hot tea, which I always carry with me in a Thermos flask for occasions of this kind, I rang the bell and was immediately admitted. I discovered the great detective in his own pet sanctum sanctorum, his beloved violin tucked under his chin, his sparse, elfin locks in disorder, his eyes fixed, yet pensive, staring into nothingness, and his nervous fingers propelling the bow across the catgut strands like the very deuce. When he had been playing for about three-quarters of an hour he suddenly became aware of my presence, asked me, somewhat gruffly, why I had not told him that I had come in, and requested my opinion of the music he had just been playing, a piece of his own composition, entitled "1914-'15-'16——," to which would be added "'18-'19-'20," and so on and so forth if circumstances rendered it necessary.
Quite truthfully, I informed him that in my humble opinion there was no comparison between the child of his own brain and Tchaikowsky's "1812," at the same time tactfully refraining from all mention of cats. The reply clearly pleased Sholmes, for he smiled sweetly and offered me a cigarette from an antique, gold mounted, jewel-encrusted case.
"It is a long time since last I saw you," he remarked, presently.
"A long, long time," I agreed.
"And since then many things have happened."
"Many, many things. Winston Churchill has evolved a marvellous scheme for running the Grand Fleet up the flooded Flemish trenches and blowing the Germans — the polonies, to use the term most favoured by our gallant soldiers — to smithereens or something smaller ; the German Wireless people have despatched a report that was discovered to be accurate too late to allow of its alteration ; one or two members of the Associated Society of Munition Makers have been induced to allow that, after all, the chaps in the trenches and the jolly Jack Tars are doing something, at any rate, to protect England and make life unpleasant for Fritz ; W. W. Jacobs has transformed 'Carmen' into an irresistibly comic nautical yarn, with Watchman, Skipper, First Mate and Deceived, but Determined Female, all complete ; a fellow has been discovered in Fleet Street in undisputed possession of a one pound Treasury note that he became possessed of honestly, and—"
"You base enlisted in the army," interrupted my host with that inscrutable smile of his.
"Something had to be done to put an end to the Kaiser's confounded impudence ; but Sholmes, how in Pastry-cook Street did you come to know of it?"
"It's is gift," replied Sholmes; "I happened to observe that you were wearing khaki ; to a man of my intellect the obvious deduction presented no difficulty. Then, again, the cigarette I just offered you was a Woodbine,' and you are consuming it with obvious pleasure. There were other indications of your newly adopted military culling with which I will not now trouble you."
"Marvellous!" I ejaculated.
Sholmes came slowly across the room, a powerful lens fixed in his eye, and subjected first my left and then my right shoulder to a close and minute scrutiny. My cap was then similarly examined. Next he proceeded to an old oak sideboard, opened a drawer in a bureau thereon, and proceeded to ex-tract from it a large pile of oblong pieces of pasteboard. With close attention he began to examine them care-fully one by one, a cry of satisfaction escaping him when his tank was half completed. Carefully replacing the cardboard slips in the drawer, he as easefully locked the latter, coming back immediately and regarding me with steadfast, sombre eyes.
"Your regiment," he said, slowly and deliberately, "is General Booth's Light Infantry."
"Why, Herlock," I gasped, struggling for breath, "this is nothing less than black magic! Someone must have told you — George Graves has been gagging about it — a question has been asked in the Commons — the Crown Prince Rapprecht has ordered his brave Bavarians to give the regiment a wide berth — you have seen it on the placards — the Kaiser——"
"Nothing of the kind," interpolated the great detective. "The letters G.B.L.I. upon your shoulders and the crest upon your hat are easily discernible to the trained eye. The crest I was able to verify by reference to my matchless collection of crests and badges, one of which is supplied gratuitously with every packet of 'Silver Strand' cigarette. There is nothing very wonderful about it, you see, when you know how to set about the business."
It was a good five seconds before I could recover from the shock which this revelation of his marvellous powers had occasioned me Herlock went across the room and concocted a stiff glass of whisky and soda I proceeded to sit up and take notice.
"Beastly thing, this Anti-Treating Act," remarked Sholmes, disposing of the lot at a gulp.
"In the case of a visitor in a private house——?" I ventured tentatively.
"One cannot be too careful where legal matters are concerned," returned Sholmes. "But let us return to business." There being nothing else to gulp, I gulped down the lump in my throat.
"The real object of my visit," I was able to say after a short interval, "was to obtain from you your opinion about this rotten war."
"The war," said Sholmes, absentmindedly ; "let me see, there is one on, of course. I have occasionally heard the newspaper boys shouting something about it ; now and again there have tires loud reports in the streets. The woe, yes, naturally. President Wilson has something to do with it, I believe."
"Yes — not much," I replied.
"It is some time since I so much as glanced at a newspaper, all my spare time for the last year or an having been devoted to the compilation of a little treatise entitled 'How to tell a "Black-friars" from a "Corona."' I venture to predict for it a fair measure of success."
"It should supply a long felt want," I remarked.
"I hear Watson is in Flanders," I added, after a short pause. "You must miss him considerably."
"Not so much as I did at first," replied Sholmes. "My ever thoughtful friend has found a most satisfactory way out of the difficulty. He has forwarded me two gramophone records, one of them composed of the questions the good fellow usually asks and which I am able to answer so easily, and the other of exclamations of surprise and admiration. I find them most helpful when expounding theories or pointing out the trend of my deductions."
"They should comfort you wonderfully. Talking about the war, I wished to ask you a question."
"Two if you like," said Sholmes.
"What is your opinion of it?"
"I am afraid the Censor would not allow you to publish that."
"It is a bloody business," I remarked helpfully.
Sholmes looked shocked.
I hurriedly explained that the offending adjective was not intended to be taken in the G.B.S. sense and Sholmes looked slightly mollified, although even now he did not appear to be over anxious to resume the conversational thread.
"You would not care to hear me play the violin?" he murmured after a short pause, walking over to the table upon which his famous instrument reposed.
"I would not," I replied, "and besides the pubs open in a quarter of an hour from now. If you will be kind enough to answer one plain, unvarnished question I will be going. How long, in your valuable opinion, is the war going to last?"
"Some considerable time yet," replied Sholmes, taking hold of his violin, drawing the bow across the wailing strings and gazing with vacant, melancholy eyes right through me, "or possibly even longer. Don't slam the front door."
The first wild strains of "1914-'15-'16——," which broke forth as I pub any foot upon the first of the stairs, considerably expedited my departure.