Picky Back No. IV

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
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Picky Back No. IV is the 4th 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 30 december 1903 in Punch magazine.

As this story has no original title, later publishers titled it either: The King of Paflagonia [1] or A Scandal in Paflagonia [2].

Picky Back No. IV

Picky Back No. IV (Punch, 30 december 1903, p. 452)
Picky Back No. IV (Punch, 30 december 1903, p. 453)

(Being the Fourth Passage from the re-inconanation of Picklock Holes.)

It was a foggy evening in the early part of December, and Holes and I were, as usual, sitting together in my modest but comfortable first-floor apartments (£2 a week, lights not included) in Baker Street. The lamp, an Argand, was burning brightly on the centre of the table, and its diffused light, moderated by an unpretending green shade, shone on the cold ascetic features of the most phenomenal thought-expert of this or any other age. His lean hands were extended on the arms of his chair, and a slight drumming noise made by his long lean fingers showed that his mind was busy. I was sitting at the other side of the room, devoting myself, according to my custom, partly to a profound admiration of his many qualities of head and heart, and partly to not being noticed by the impassive object of my enthusiasm.

At last Holes looked up. His hands still remained comparatively idle, but his face was working convulsively, as faces are apt to do under the overpowering influence of some sudden detective emotion. Then he spoke:—

"I don't agree with you, friend Potson," he said sharply. "The man, of course, is stout and has a hare-lip, but he is otherwise not unsuited to the amenities of polite society."

I was about to gasp with astonishment, not having the very vaguest idea of what he was referring to, but a stern expression on Holes's face warned me to be careful. Accordingly I fell back on a formula suitable for all such occasions, and merely remarked in an awe-struck voice, "Holes, you become more and more marvellous every day! How on earth did you manage" — I was about to add (somewhat incautiously, I admit) — "to find out with such extraordinary precision exactly what I was not thinking about?" But Holes interrupted me.

"The simplest thing in the world, my dear Potson, when you once come to know the steps of the process. You want to know how I found out you were thinking that our friend Chickweed was an outsider? Nay, nay, do not interrupt me. I know what you are going to say, so you need not say it. This is how I discovered it. You have an inkmark on the first finger of your right hand. As you looked at it your lips moved. Hence we get ink-lip. The letter before i is h, and n and k are by Donderkopf's well-known law closely related to a and r. Thus, instead of 'ink' we get 'har' and, since Edgar Allan Poe has shown in the story of the 'Gold Bug' that e is the letter of most frequent occurrence in the language, we just pop e on at the end of the word, and thus we get 'hare-lip.' Chickweed is the only man of our acquaintance who possesses that painful labial peculiarity, and therefore I knew that you must be thinking of him. Do you follow me?"

It was now permissible to gasp, and I did so.

"Holes, Holes," I murmured in a deeply appreciative voice, "will you never cease to astound me?"

Holes waved the compliment aside, and I was just about to question him further on his remarkable gift of thought-reading when an agitated step sounded in the passage, the sittingroom door was unceremoniously flung open, and a dishevelled young man with his hat pressed down to his chin and a face bearing the evident marks both of dissipation and of suffering flung himself violently into the middle of the room.

"Mr. Holes," he shouted in an agonised voice, "save me, save me. I am the miserable, the persecuted, the downtrodden — but tush, why should I tell my name to a man who knows everything by intuition? Suffice it to say that, as you have already guessed, I am indeed he, and that the plot of which I am the victim is thickening every moment. Save me, oh save me!"

With these words he collapsed in a heap on the floor, and no efforts of mine availed to resuscitate him. In desperation I was about to apply my 10-horsepower galvaniser, when Holes stopped me.

"No bungling, friend Potson," he hissed. "I know this man. It is" — and with a dramatic gesture he uncovered his (Holes's) head and sang a few bars of what was evidently a national anthem — "It is the unhappy monarch of Paflagonia!"

I knelt and kissed the fallen King's hand. "What shall we do with him?" I asked.

Holes's face grew stern. "Throw him out of the third floor window," he said. "It is what he himself would have wished, for it is the only method of saving him from his relentless foes."

I did as Holes commanded me. At the subsequent coroner's inquest, which Holes very generously attended, the young man's name was given as Smith, and under this name and a plain headstone he was buried. The creature who now sits upon the throne of Paflagonia is, of course, an impostor, but, for reasons of state, which I have never, I admit, been able to fathom, Holes has consistently refused to denounce him.

When I urge him to this course he simply smiles and says, "Potson, you must leave these matters to me. In my own good time I shall do what the necessity of the case may force upon" me, but for the present I shall not disturb the peace of Paflagonia." And with that I am forced to be content.

  1. The Return of Picklock Holes, compiled and introduced by Brian R. MacDonald, Magico Magazine (1980).
  2. The Early Punch Parodies of Sherlock Holmes, compiled by Bill Peschel, Peschel Press (2014).