The Deep Mystery of a Suspected Death by Strychnine Poisoning

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

The Deep Mystery of a Suspected Death by Strychnine Poisoning is a Sherlock Holmes parody of the series Memoirs of Curlock Combs, written by Newton Newkirk, published on 6 august 1902 in The Boston Post, starring Curlock Combs as the detective and Dr. Spotson as his sidekick.

A Suspected Death by Strychnine Poisoning

The Boston Post (6 august 1902, p. 26)

The Great Detective and Dr. Spotson, His Understudy, Solve the Deep Mystery of a Suspected Death by Strychnine Poisoning.

I had called to spend a quiet evening with my friend, Mr. Curlock Combs, the great detective, at his quarters in Shaker street. We sat on opposite sides of the table in his study smoking comforting pipes of strong tobacco. Combs began to tell me one of his many adventures in the sleuth business.

"One of the most interesting cases of my entire career," he began, "happened during the spring of 1887, when an unknown man whom the public called 'Jack the Ripper,' was perpetrating so many murders in the Whitechapel district. One of the signs whereby 'Jack the Ripper's' work could always be distinguished from that of the ordinary murderer consisted in the fact that he always mutilated the victim almost beyond human semblance. After the London detectives had all failed to apprehend the murderer, I was employed to investigate his most recent atrocity. This was the murder of a woman. Proceeding to the scene of the crime I found that 'Jack' had hacked up the body so finely that the only clue obtainable was a single hair from the murdered woman's head. This, to the outsider, would have seemed to be a most trivial clue, yet on the strength of it I promised myself that I would run 'Jack, the Ripper' to earth before sundown.

"Placing the hair in my pocketbook. I left the scene of the murder and took my stand on a thronged street corner, where my eagle-eye could observe every passerby. I had not waited long before a man came by who wore a hair clinging to the lapel of his coat. I shadowed him craftily until I established the fact that the hair in my possession and the one on the lapel of his coat were twin sisters. Then I tapped the man on the shoulder and said: 'Hello Jack!' He turned pale and demanded to know how I had learned his name to be 'Jack.' 'Pardon me,' I said, ignoring his question and picking the hair of his coat, 'but are you the gentleman who chopped up the lady with an axe in Whitechapel last evening?' 'Certainly,' he replied; 'what of it?' 'Come with me,' I said sternly; 'I am Curlock Combs, the detective." Thereupon the man confessed his guilt and begged me to release him. This I refused to do until he offered me a shilling, whereupon I accepted it and told him to leave the country. After that I feigned illness and gave that as an excuse to the police for retiring from the case."

As Combs concluded his thrilling narrative a loud knock came at the door. The great detective threw open the portal and a tall, angular man stood framed in the doorway against the blackness of the night. The stranger had a stoop; he may have had more than one stoop, but one was all I observed at the time. His complexion was sallow and his visage emaciated as if from an over-indulgence of dyspepsia tablets.

"Come in," said Combs, and the man entered diffidently. "Do you wish to borrow money," Combs went on, "or to consult me on a matter of professional business?"

"I wish to see you privately on a poisoning case," said the man, looking unwelcomely in my direction.

"Pray, do not hesitate to reveal the details before this gentleman," said Combs, indicating me. "He is Dr. Spotson, my assistant mystery unraveller."

Thus assured the man sat down and hold his story:

"My name is Smith — Henry Smith," he began. "Until about three hours ago I was the owner of a dog named Fido. I am his owner yet, for that matter, but alas, the dog is dead. I have reason to suspect foul play; in short, I believe Fido was poisoned by means of strychnine!"

"Shocking crime!" muttered Combs, hitching his chair closer to the speaker and beginning to make copious notes in his pocket diary.

"Fido was apparently well at at noon," continued Smith, "and ate a hearty meal with the other members of the family. About 5 o'clock this evening, however, he was taken suddenly ill and within an hour a dead dog. Ah, poor Fido! If I only had you back!"

After Smith's emotion had passed somewhat Combs asked a few questions:

"What kind of a dog was Fido?"

"He was a setter."

"Did he ever hatch anything?"

"Sir!" exclaimed Smith, indignantly: "I took it for granted that you know what I meant by a setter dog."

"I do know," retorted Combs contemptuously; "by a setter dog you mean a dog of sedentary habits. Where are the remains of the dog?"

"In my woodshed."

"That is all," replied Combs: "Spotson and I will bring the slayer of your dog to Justice."

After giving us his street address Smith departed. After he had gone Combs disguised himself as a tramp, took down his double-barrelled shotgun from the wall, and, starting toward the door, beckoned silently for me to follow. I had no disguise with me, so I looked cross-eyed, which is a little detective trick I learned in my youth. Not even my wife can tell who I am when I look cross-eyed.

"Most interesting caste, Spotson," Combs commented as we trudged along. "Here we have a setter dog, apparently in the prime of life, cut off from all earthly joys without a moment's notice. Smith said that Fido ate a hearty dinner; we will grant that, because it adds mystery to the case — deep, dark, uncanny mystery which will tax my utmost powers of deduction to unravel."

By this time we had arrived at Smith's woodshed wherein the corpse of the dog lay. I borrowed a lantern from Smith, and, taking this with him. Combs retired within the sanctity of the woodshed to hold a post-mortem examination and thereby detect, if possible, the presence of the poison in the dog's system. Meanwhile, I remained outside the woodshed on guard. The strain of looking cross-eyed was beginning to tell on me, but I dared not resume my natural expression and thus throw off my disguise, for fear of being recognized. After a weary wait Combs emerged from the woodshed wearing a disappointed look oh his face in addition to his disguise.

"What did you find?" I asked eagerly.

"Everything except poison," replied Combs dejectedly, as he sat down on the woodpile close at hand. Then Combs lapsed into deep thought. I knew his marvellous apparatus of deduction was at work trying to cope with this almost unfathomable mystery. Presently Combs seemed to wake up and asked me to call Smith out of the house. I did so at once.

"Mr. Smith," queried Combs, as the owner of the dead dog approached, "how old was Fido at the time of his death?"

"Eighteen years 7 months and 14 days," replied Smith, sadly.

Combs was again silent for a few minutes. Then he spoke again:

"Mr. Smith. I am able to announce to you the direct and undoubted cause of your dog's death!"

"Tell me! Tell me quick!" gasped Smith. "In heaven's name, do not keep the worst from me!"

"Your dog died," continued Combs in a convincing tone, "from the effects of old age!"

When Smith had recovered from this sad intelligence he turned and walked into the house with his head on his chest, while Combs and I faced about and started to walk homeward under the twinkling stars.