The Duke's Feather

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
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The Duke's Feather is the 2nd story of the first series of Sherlock Holmes parodies: The Adventures of Picklock Holes written by R. C. Lehmann (aka Cunnin Toil) starring Picklock Holes as the detective and Potson as his sidekick. First published on 19 august 1893 in Punch magazine. Illustration by E. J. Wheeler.

The Duke's Feather

The Duke's Feather (Punch, 19 august 1893)
"Beside me stood Picklock Holes, wrapped in a heavy, close-fitting fur moujik."
Illustration by E. J. Wheeler

Two months had passed without my hearing a word of Holes. I knew he had been summoned to Irkoutsk by the Czar of Russia in order to help in investigating the extraordinary theft of one of the Government silver mines, which had completely and mysteriously disappeared in one night. All the best intellects of the terrible secret police, the third section of the Government of the Russian Empire, had exhausted themselves in the vain endeavour to probe this mystery to the bottom. Their failure had produced a dangerous commotion in the Empire of the Czar; there were rumours of a vast Nihilist plot, which was to shake the Autocracy to its foundations, and, as a last resource, the Czar, who had been introduced to Holes by Olga Fiaskoffskaia, the well-known Russian Secret Agent at the Court of Lisbon, had appealed to the famous detective to lend his aid in discovering the authors of a crime which was beginning to turn the great white Czar into ridicule in all the bazaars of Central Asia. Holes, whose great mind had been lying fallow for some little time, had immediately consented; and the last I had seen of him was two months before the period at which this story opens, when I had said good-bye to him at Charing-Cross Station.

As for myself, I was spending a week in a farmhouse situated close to the village of Blobley-in-the-Marsh. Three miles from the gates of the farmhouse lay Fourcastle Towers, the ancestral mansion of Rear-Admiral the Duke of Dumpshire, the largest and strangest landowner of the surrounding district. I had a nodding acquaintance with His Grace, whom I had once attended for scarlatina when he was a midshipman. Since that time, however, I had seen very little of him, and, to tell the truth, I had made no great effort to improve the acquaintance. The Duke, one of the haughtiest members of our blue-blooded aristocracy, had been called by his naval duties to all parts of the habitable globe; I had steadily pursued my medical studies, and, except for the biennial visit which etiquette demanded, I had seen little or nothing of the Duke. My stay at the farmhouse was for purposes of rest. I had been overworked, that old tulwar wound, the only memento of the Afghan Campaign, had been troubling me, and I was glad to be able to throw off my cares and my black coat, and to revel for a week in the rustic and unconventional simplicity of Wurzelby Farm.

One evening, two days after my arrival, I was sitting in the kitchen close to the fire, which, like myself, was smoking. For greater comfort I had put on my old mess-jacket. The winter wind was whistling outside, but besides that only the ticking of the kitchen clock disturbed my meditations. I was just thinking how I should begin my article on Modern Medicine for the Fortnightly Review, when a slight cough at my elbow caused me to turn round. Beside me stood Picklock Holes, wrapped in a heavy, close-fitting fur moujik. He was the first to speak.

"You seem surprised to see me," he said. "Well, perhaps that is natural; but really, my dear fellow, you might employ your time to better purpose than in trying to guess the number of words in the first leading article in the Times of the day before yesterday."

I was about to protest when he stopped me.

"I know perfectly well what you are going to say, but it is useless to urge that the country is dull, and that a man must employ his brain somehow. That kind of employment is the merest wool-gathering."

He plucked a small piece of Berlin worsted — I had been darning my socks — off my left trouser, and examined it curiously. My admiration for the man knew no bounds.

"Is that how you know?" I asked. "Do you mean to tell me that merely by seeing that small piece of fancy wool on my trousers you guessed I had been trying to calculate the number of words in the Times leader? Holes, Holes, will you never cease from astounding me?"

He did not answer me, but bared his muscular arm and injected into it a strong dose of morphia with a richly-chased little gold instrument tipped with a ruby.

"A gift from the Czar," said Holes, in answer to my unspoken thoughts. "When I discovered the missing silver-mine on board the yacht of the Grand Duke Ivanoff, his Imperial Majesty first offered me the Chancellorship of his dominions, but I begged him to excuse me, and asked for this pretty toy. Bah, the Russian police are bunglers."

As he made this remark the door opened and Sergeant Bluff of the Dumpshire Constabulary entered hurriedly.

"I beg your pardon, Sir," he said, addressing me, with evident perturbation; "but would you step outside with me for a moment. There's been some strange work down at—"

Holes interrupted him.

"Don't say any more," he broke in. "You've come to tell us about the dreadful poaching affray in Hagley Wood. I know all about it, and tired as I am I'll help you to find the criminals."

It was amusing to watch the Sergeant's face. He was ordinarily an unemotional man, but as Holes spoke to him he grew purple with astonishment.

"Beggin' your pardon, Sir," he said; "I didn't know about no—"

"My name is Holes," said my friend calmly.

"What, Mr Picklock Holes, the famous detective?"

"The same, at your service; but we are wasting time. Let us be off."

The night was cold, and a few drops of rain were falling. As we walked along the lane Holes drew from the Sergeant all the information he wanted as to the number of pheasants on the Duke's estate, the extent of his cellars, his rent-roll, and the name of his London tailor. Bluff dropped behind after this cross-examination with a puzzled expression, and whispered to me:

"A wonderful man that Mister Holes. Now how did he know about this 'ere poaching business? I knew nothing about it. Why I come to you, Sir, to talk about that retriever dog you lost."

"Hush," I said; "say nothing. It would only annoy Holes, and interfere with his inductions. He knows his own business best." Sergeant Bluff gave a grumbling assent, and in another moment we entered the great gate of Fourcastle Towers, and were ushered into the hall, where the Duke was waiting to receive us.

"To what am I indebted for the honour of this visit?" said his Grace, with all the courtly politeness of one in whose veins ran the blood of the Crusaders. Then, changing his tone, he spoke in fierce sailor-language: "Shiver my timbers! what makes you three stand there like that? Why, blank my eyes, you ought to—" What he was going to say will never be known, for Holes dashed forward.

"Silence, Duke," he said, sternly. "We come to tell you that there has been a desperate poaching affray. The leader of the gang lies insensible in Hagley Wood. Do you wish to know who he was?" So saying, he held up to the now terrified eyes of the Duke the tail-feather of a golden pheasant. "I found it in his waistcoat pocket," he said, simply.

"My son, my son!" shrieked the unfortunate Duke. "Oh Alured, Alured, that it should have come to this!" and he fell to the floor in convulsions.

"You will find Earl Mountravers at the cross-roads in Hagley Wood," said Holes to the Sergeant. "He is insensible."

The Earl was convicted at the following Assizes, and sentenced to a long term of penal servitude. His ducal father has never recovered from the disgrace. Holes, as usual, made light of the matter and of his own share in it.

"I met the Earl," he told me afterwards, "as I was walking to your farmhouse. When he ventured to doubt one of my stories, I felled him to the earth. The rest was easy enough. Poachers? Oh dear no, there were none. But it is precisely in these cases that ingenuity comes in."

"Holes," I said, "I admire you more and more every day."