Picky Back No. I

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
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Picky Back - I. is the 1st story of the second series of Sherlock Holmes parodies: Picky Back written by R. C. Lehmann starring Picklock Holes as the detective and Potson as his sidekick. First published on 14 october 1903 in Punch magazine.

As this story has no original title, later publishers titled it The Return of Picklock [1].

Picky Back No. I

Picky Back - I. (Punch, 14 october 1903, p. 260)

(Being Passages from the Re-inconanation of Picklock Holes.)

I was sitting gloomily in my study at 259, Peckham Road, reflecting, as was my invariable habit at this hour of the evening, on the curious and alarming decrease in the statistics of crime since the melancholy disappearance of my superhuman friend Picklock Holes in January, 1894. My life from that moment had been, I felt, a misspent one. What had I done to replace, even in a small way, the gorgeous murders, the dexterous and convincing burglaries, and the ingeniously perpetrated frauds which, before that dreadful event, had made me a happy and, to some extent, a useful man? I ought to have done something — assault and battery or arson or even embezzlement would have been better than nothing but, as a matter of fact, I had not found energy to turn my hands to a single felony or misdemeanour since Holes had left me. The reflection necessarily made me sad. What would I not have given to hear him say with a touch of unwonted asperity, "Potson, you're a fool," or, "Potson, you're a numskull," as, together, we tracked out the hidden mazes of some terrible mystery hitherto unsuspected, or brought the conviction of guilt home to some blood-stained and prematurely triumphant ruffian. To be sure I still possessed my incomparable collection of clues, all carefully labelled and filed in the secret drawer of my roller-top desk, but for the last nine years or more I had not had the heart to use them, even in so simple a matter as the unexplained decrease of my cold legs of mutton or the gradual disappearance of my cambric handkerchiefs. No; Holes had vanished, and the clues, the revolver, the handcuffs, the black silk mask, the footprints, the thumb-marks and all the other paraphernalia of detection should remain undisturbed for ever.

Musing thus I suddenly heard the unmistakable explosion of a pom-pom shell in the street outside, followed immediately by the fall of a heavy body and a succession of shrill screams. In the old happy days I should not have hesitated as to my course. Holes would have been on the spot, and we should without any delay have proceeded to discover the author of the murder, for murder I could not doubt that it was. But now, I am free to confess, the occurrence excited but a languid interest in my mind. However, I rose and went out at the front door, impelled by I know not what mysterious prompting. As I did so a tall figure with a calm impassive face, a marble brow and a meditative aspect, suddenly rose from the pavement on which it had been lying and confronted me at full length. Great heavens! could I believe my eyes? It was — yes — no — it could be no other — it must be — but before I had time to finish my thought my emotion became too great and I fell headlong on to the kamptulicon floor of the passage.

When I came to myself I was once more in my study, and Picklock Holes was bending over me and bathing my temples with brandy-and-water as if nothing had happened.

"You seem surprised, my dear Potson," he said, when I had at length resumed my place in my arm-chair, "you seem surprised to see me. Nerves a little unstrung, eh? Bad sign, bad sign."

I confessed that his appearance had, under the circumstances, unmanned me.

"I know," I added, "that such weakness was unworthy of one who has been honoured with the intimacy of the greatest man of this or any other age. But I trust, Holes, you will not remember it against me."

"Tush, tush," he replied in the kindest possible tone, "you mean well, Potson; you always did, but emergencies (which are by their very nature events of a startling and unexpected nature)" — no words of mine can express how lovingly he dwelt on this parenthesis — "emergencies sometimes overwhelm the strongest of us. And pray, how is Mrs. Potson?"

"Mrs. Potson," I said, "is no more."

"Ah, yes," he mused, "of course. I heard of her death in Khiva."

"In Khiva!" I exclaimed.

"Yes, while I was staying with the Khan — a capital fellow, but no detective. You must know that when I pretended to disappear in the Serpentine about nine years ago—"

"Pretended!" I gasped. "But I thought you were drowned — you and your enemy Sherlock Holmes. How came it that, in spite of all the proofs of your death, you—"

"Still the same old Potson, I perceive,"he murmured, without moving a muscle in his ascetic face. "Amiable, but — well, yes, I suppose we may say so — a fool."

"Then it is indeed you, Holes, and no other," I cried, "back from the grave and prepared once more to lead me into crime."

"Yes," he said calmly, "I am no other. Since leaving you I have been personally conducted through Maoriland by Mr. Seddon; have enjoyed three rounds with bare knuckles with President Roosevelt in the White House; have dined with President Krüger (this was some years back) on a stoep and onions; have given Lord Curzon a course of induction lessons in Calcutta, and helped to provide mules and Whitstable oysters for Mr. Chamberlain on the illimitable veld."

"And now," I exclaimed, after the silence produced by this astounding narration had come to an end, "now you have returned and will once more take me with you wherever you go. Oh, Holes, I have been so lonely."

"No matter," said Holes abruptly. "But stay, there has been a murder outside."

"There has," I said; "who could have—"

"Pshaw," he ejaculated, "don't you know? It was Sherlock, the most accomplished and dashing ruffian in London. He brought the pom-pom from Pretoria. But I have already handed him over. He is safely bound––"

"In cloth?" I ventured to suggest.

"And will certainly be remanded till next month," said Holes, paying no attention to my witticism.

And that is how my matchless friend returned.

  1. The Early Punch Parodies of Sherlock Holmes, compiled by Bill Peschel, Peschel Press (2014).